We pulled up to the hospital. It wasn't a big hospital; it looked like it had about twenty-five beds. Sandoor was looking at the building layout on the monitor in front of him. He started barking out instructions to the attentive crew. Custor Ray and Billy Bee were in charge of front and back door security; Sandoor and Freddy Savey would round up all the prisoners while the Stinger manned the BFS tanks.
I put the monitor around my neck and jumped out the van with the others. The Stinger pulled his 30-gallon BFS tank behind him. He agonizingly lifted it up and over the door ramp. Thinking of what would soon be inside the glittery stainless steel tank made me shiver with nausea. I kept my eye on the monitor as the rest of the crew popped out of the van one-by-one. Billy Bee was incessantly chewing a huge wad of gum in his mouth. Every ten seconds I heard a "pop" come from his direction. A cloud of cigar smoke followed Sandoor as he made his last minute inspections.
It was show time--no question about it. Sandoor came up to me and leaned on my shoulder so he could see my monitor.
"Take a look, take a look at that stock price. Seventeen lousy credits per share. What a deadbeat city this is. It's time for a little managerial intervention, wouldn't you say? For God's sake, where would this country be today if it weren't for the concern of the investing public like us? I fuckin' shudder to think. I shudder to think!"
Sandoor's pupils were so dilated I thought they were about to pop out of his head. One of the side effects of too much TV5.
"Hey! Look at this." The share price sank another whole credit to sixteen. Sandoor was elated. He typed in a buy order for another million shares. Why the hell not? No one in the whole world knew what he knew at this very instant. No one could possibly know this man was about to restructure this town. Sandoor was laughing in glee.
As I watched him place his order, I realized there was no turning back. Millions of credits were now invested in this little piss hole of a town; now we had to make it good. The minute he placed that second order to buy I knew what Cortez's crew must have felt like when he burned all their ships as soon as they arrived at the new world. There was no turning the hell back now.
We quietly walked up the hill toward the hospital's back entrance. Freddy Savey unscrewed a ventilation screen and popped himself inside.
We all crawled behind him for forty yards until we came to another vent. We all climbed down slowly into the room below us. I smelled something tugging on my nostrils, had to be raw synthetic meat products. I hate that. The motion of our moving bodies triggered the lighting system. I could hear the loud humming of the lights as they woke themselves up, filling the space above me with green neon. Yep, this was the hospital's synthetic meat processing room. Shapeless, white slabs of meat stewing in their own juices. Some guys get hungry when they smell synthetic meat processing. They've been exposed to so much propaganda about how damn healthy it is. "Marinated in minerals," as the advertisements used to say. It never would have been invented if it weren't for all the vegetarians watching out for every living species. I felt nauseous and put my elbow against the wall.
Freddy looked at me and said, "Hey man, A buddy a mine said, never eat anything that had a face. Dude, you think he's right?"
I must a looked pretty sick. Sandoor came over to me and put his arm on my back. "You're not pooping out are you mate?" he said.
"No,no," I pointed to the vats of white slabs stewing under the lamps. "It's the meat. Makes me sick."
"Know what you mean," he said. "Synthetics are bad for you." As he spoke he rubbed in more TV5 onto the backs of his hands.
"Let's get on with it," he said as he walked over to the door.
I, for one, was surprised there wasn't more security in this place. There should have been guards all over us the moment we cut into the building.
"Aren't there any guards in this place?" I asked Freddy.
"Hell, there ain't much in the way of security in a little microbe farm like this one," Freddy said as he scratched his dagger tattoo all the way from the handle on his biceps to the tip at his elbow. Everyone blipped on their monitors and brought up floor plans of the hospital. Sandoor locked his eyes in feverish concentration while in the background I could hear the ripe pods of meat popping open as they stewed in their own juices. The red glow of his monitor against the green glow of the room made him look like a computer-generated cartoon.
Sandoor started babbling on about directions, but I found myself increasingly unable to function. My hands were sweating and my knees felt wobbly. I started falling to the floor--must be too much TV5. I passed out and started dreaming about a boxing ring. My feet were dancing lightly on the spongy white mat. I could see myself from hundreds of feet above: The thousands of people surrounding the mat made it look like a cracker floating in a sea of ants. My opponent took off his robe and skipped over to meet me in the center of the mat. He had no arms! I'm telling you the guy had no arms! He was a boxer all right, he had a muscular as hell torso, a beat-up face, red shorts and shoes, but no arms. As he danced around me, I felt my arms fall to their sides into a "this wouldn't be fair" posture. I looked at the referee who obviously wasn't aware of anything unusual. The crowd was roaring around us. I tried to speak; I wanted time out. I looked the armless boxer straight in the eyes. I felt overcome with embarrassment. I didn't want to call attention to his handicap, but I thought it was my duty to remind him of it. Didn't he see? Why is he making me the one to shatter his illusions? And then the first blow came, square and center to my right eye. I saw an explosion of golden stars as my body flew back onto the mat. I quickly came up to my knees to see his red bouncing feet all around me. I couldn't hear anything except the roaring of the crowd. I watched his feet. Did he kick me? I raised my gloves and faced him. I lowered my gloves ever so slightly to protect my torso from his kicks when, POW! I received another wallop to my chin. Again I fell to the mat. As I was falling into unconsciousness I managed to lift up my head slightly to see his face grinning at me. The armless boxer stood in victory.
"Hey! Wake the fuck up!" Sandoor was shaking me by the collar. "Don't go to fuckin' sleep on us!" He was laughing. I pulled myself up and followed them out the door. I had a bad headache. We went through a series of corridors that seemed to go on indefinitely. I felt like Theseus in the damned labyrinth. And then, without warning, the carnage began. A firefight broke out with two guards. I heard three shotgun blasts as I ducked for cover. Hospital nurses were screaming. Patients were putting their heads down underneath their white bed sheets. The yelling wouldn't stop even after the gunshots cooled down. Three guards lay on the floor, all dead. Sandoor stood over one of the rumpled up corpses and shook his head. I knew what he was thinking: he was upset about the loss of bodily fluids. He hated to see money going down the drain. He was staring at his monitor, oblivious to the screaming all around him. I, too, found myself suddenly able to concentrate. It was all part of our minesweeping training. He looked up at me and I suddenly felt wide-awake. All of us were. I remembered how badly I needed mayhem immersion to concentrate. There is nothing like shotgun blasts to bring a person to attention.
The group of us acted as one giant thunderstorm sweeping through the corridors of the hospital. Alarms rang everywhere, glass shattered under our boots, patients jumped out of windows.
"Keep your fuckin' heads down and follow me. Ain't no fuck-a-round time. I mean, NONE, ZERO, ZIP. We got one minute to exit these premises before the final episode. And let me tell you, there ain't gonna be no reruns." Sandoor said through the voice network. He was thirty feet away, but I could hear him as though he were standing next to me. We ran into one of the offices where he started turning on all the computers.
"Insert one of these disks in each of the machines for me while I key in the program," he said as he frantically sat down and entered a few lines of code. I knew what he was up to. These disks had an explosion code working off the operating system of the computer. The disk had a file programmed to open at a predetermined time, and when it opened: KABOOM!
The disks were all set and programmed and we took off. This whole damn mission had become awfully messy and Sandoor knew it. We were supposed to get in and get out with a minimum of bloodshed. I could still hear gun shots; I knew that was bad news. The Stinger was speaking on the network; he was stuck up on the second floor. I knew what the greedy son of a bitch was trying to do. He was probably collecting PBFs from unsuspecting patients.
"I'm pinned down by gun shots from at least three guards in the West wing. If you guys come in through the South wing, you can ambush them from the side," the Stinger said breathing heavily. We ran up two flights of stairs and approached the doors of the South wing. Sandoor stood back and looked at me with his finger over his mouth. He kicked open the door from the side and we immediately heard a cannon of gunfire blasting in our direction. Sandoor returned the fire. It had been a trap. I could see the Stinger tied up on the floor. A guard had his foot on the Stinger's face. Sandoor reached into his bag and pulled out a TNT pineapple. I didn't know any civilians had access to those things. He set the timer to ten seconds and rolled it straight into the room. We took off down the stairs as fast as we could. I had seen what a pineapple could do during the war. As I ran I felt a sense of horror and glee at the same time, like a child on Halloween night who has just thrown an egg at someone's front porch.
The blast lasted forever. I could feel the shock wave vibrate through the walls. Even as we ran out of the hospital toward the car, I could hear bits of glass raining onto the pavement for a full thirty seconds. I stopped and looked back at the hospital. Fire was pouring out the second story windows. Billibee grabbed my arm and pulled me into the van. Custor Ray and Freddy Savey were on the floor panting like fish out of water. Sandoor was in the back of the van looking out while watching his watch. As I stood next to him, the entire horizon turned bright orange. I closed my eyes and held my hands over my ears as the heat of the blast wormed its way through the van.
No one said a word as we rocketed down the highway placing as much distance between us and the city of xOMA as possible. I thought of all the people who had died in the last few minutes. I imagined them, all of them, as they lay slaughtered---murdered in the name of economic efficiency.
Sandoor took out a cigarette and sat there cloaked in the smoke of his religion. In his own way perhaps he was seeking forgiveness from the smoky white Spirit itself.
Go to chapter 8