Part 4: And to Compounds Strange

From the Story Arc: O True Apothecary

Previous Story in the Arc: Part 3: To New-Found Methods by Nova Requiem (Wednesday, January 25, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, January 25, 2006)

There were advantages to some of the informal contacts Bella had. One of them was that she could pass the ampoule on to the lab-techs at Chiron without saying anything more except that she'd found it and needed to know what it was. She didn't even have to wait long; the answer was back in half an hour.

Excelsior. The drug that the Freakshow poured into their bodies to overcome the pain of their implants and make them hyper-aggressive and amped up way past anything the human body should tolerate.

It was not an answer she liked. But it was not entirely unexpected. The question in her mind was how had he started taking it? That was going to spell the difference between a successful rehab and one that was--not so successful.

She sighed. Looked like she was going to have some homework to do. And some contacts to make. And--best all done from her home PC. Right now, none of this was official, and it might be best to keep it that way.

After some thought, Bella had decided to make this confrontation as formal as possible. If there was one thing she had learned after being with the CCCP this long, it was that when it came to confrontations, Russians responded to authority with a lack of anger that was astonishing to an American. She had sent a letter, on CCCP stationary, with all the proper protocols, ordering him to her office. And now she waited, empty ampoule on her desk. And there was nothing else on her desk. He could not help but see it when he came in.

And, at exactly the proper time, there was a tap on her door.

"Enter, and shut the door behind you, Comrade," she said.

Krasniy Oktyabr entered Bella's office, shutting the door. He had taken off his gloves, since there was no specification that he was to bring them along. Alexander turned to face the doctor with a crisp salute.

"Am reporting as instructed, comrade Doc--" said the cyborg, breaking off when he saw the ampoule on the desk. He clenched his organic fist.

Bella nodded. "I have had this tested, Comrade. And I know if I ordered a blood sample from you this moment, what I would find. But if I do that--” She paused. "If I do that, the results become official. It will be in your record. If, however, you were to come to your doctor in confidence and discuss your pain issues, that is not a matter of record. That is doctor-patient confidentiality, and I determine what does and does not become a matter of record. I trust you understand me?"

Another thing. Russians were past masters at finding tiny loopholes, ways to subvert the system to get what they wanted. And when you approached such a subject a little slantwise, you often got results out of them that you wouldn't if you forced an "intervention" on them.

The ball's in your court, Krasniy. Come on, shoot a hoop. Work with me here.

Anyone in their right mind knows the corruption that lies at the heart of Crey Industries, and the corruption that it spreads throughout the world. Being a subject of Crey, intentional or not...well, the right mind tends to disappear. The Excelsior drug flowing in Krasniy's veins brought with it a feeling of invincibility, that one could take on the world and come out the victor.

"Blackmail, is it then, "doctor"?" asked Aleksandr with a harsh tone. "Let me tell you something. There is nothing left to destroy. I did not ask for this." It wasn't quite certain what 'this' he was referring to--the drug or the summons.

Bella softened her tone. "Comrade...I am a doctor now." She nodded at the license proudly framed on the wall behind her. "And I am an official of the CCCP. And believe me when I tell you that there is much left to you that could be destroyed and not by me. For instance..." she paused significantly "...what do you think Tasha would do if she learned about this problem? I am not saying that I will tell her. But if it must become a matter of record, all of the CCCP will find out. We cannot have a Comrade fighting beside us in an impaired state. I will have to put you on medical leave. That is my duty."

The mention of his niece made Krasniy grit his teeth. He hadn't really thought about her much since the initial incident with the Freakshow drug. The inhuman rage crept slowly into his mind, which the rational functions fought back. Sweat stood out on Krasniy's brow and he glared at Belladonna Aura. She would be so easy to break, the drug screamed from inside of him, She stands in your way. And there was only one way she could have found out...

Bella did not need her shields down to sense this. And she had come prepared to deal with it.

First, she dropped her primary shields. She was not strongly projective. But she could do one thing every empath was capable of, but rarely used.

She pulled Krasniy into an empathic meld with her. And in that state, he could feel exactly what she felt, and she let it all flood out of her. Compassion. Profound worry. Under it all, grief, terrible grief, for this was the one thing that cut her to the heart, that the bonds of connection among the comrades would become cut, withered, corroded. To her, the net that held them all together was more important than her own life.

And, the practical. She fired off healing auras and metabolism acceleration fields in quick succession. The former would ease some of his pain and the latter burn some of the poison out. And metabolize the rest of the drug, too, she hoped. Mostly what she wanted was to get his head clear, so that he would realize that the last thing in the world she wanted was to hurt him.

The blood inside Aleksandr was boiling, almost literally. The intensity of not only the healing radiation, but of the emotion of this woman was more than his drug-twisted system could take. Every damaged nerve in his right shoulder screamed in agony as the Excelsior rapidly began to deteriorate. The insidious drug had worked its way into every cell, and wasn't about to give up its prize lightly.

With a massive scream, Krasniy clutched at his damaged shoulder. With all of his remaining strength, the Russian cyborg drove his metallic fist through the ancient drywall of the converted warehouse.

Panting heavily, Aleksandr barely managed to croak out, "Pomogite mne, Doktoru Bella..."

She'd studied every word in the literature on Excelsior addiction and its treatment. There was a lot on the addiction; not much on treatment. This was going to be more than a bit of flying blind and relying on the things she had that no conventional doctor had.

She practically flew out of her seat, the concealed hypo spray that had been in her lap now in her right hand. Good old-fashioned morphine...not her drug of choice, but it was going to do what nothing else could, go straight to his pain-centers and kill the agony at the source. Right to the carotid artery....

His eyes widened at the hiss of the spray, and even more as she tossed the empty hypo spray on the desk, and ruthlessly yanked the ampoule of poison out of his arm and capped off the feeding tube.

He passed out. Which was, as far as she was concerned, all to the good.

Now she had some leisure to make up a patch job that she hoped would hold until a real solution could be found. She picked up the phone, marveling that now she could call one of the doctors at Chiron as a colleague rather than a postulant.

"Brian? The case I talked to you about? He's sedated. I hope you have the hardware ready."

Krasniy Oktyabr slowly drifted out of his morphine-induced oblivion. Wearily opening his eyes, he craned his head and noticed immediately that he was in a hospital room. He'd been through enough of them in the recent past, and lay back with a groan. Was he doomed to keep coming back to them?

"The sleeper awakes," said that familiar female voice that had triggered such insane rage before he had passed out. "How, besides marginally in pain and very groggy and not really happy about being in a hospital again, are you feeling?"

"Rather... restricted..." answered Aleksandr slowly, feeling the thick straps holding him to the bed. "Please tell me I did not hurt anyone..."

Bella dropped primary shields long enough to be sure he wasn't going to have some sort of flashback episode, and bent down to unbuckle the first of the straps. "You didn't hurt anyone but yourself, Comrade." She raised an eyebrow, turning so he could see it. "You probably didn't realize it, but I'm not sure that even with a full drug-load in you, you could have truly hurt me. I take down Freak Tanks pretty routinely, and I have the badge to prove it. I don't call myself an 'all-purpose radioactive offender' for nothing, you know. I'm as much offense as healing these days."

"And I would not... fight you... with all of nukes... in old country, comrade," replied Aleksandr. The loosened strap allowed him to breathe a little easier, even if most of the restriction was due to withdrawal. "I... could use... drink, though," he added nodding towards the bedside pitcher.

Still staying alert, Bella got him a drink that was half water and half ice. He was going to need the ice. He was likely to start a fever soon, if he hadn't already. This wasn't going to be fun or pretty for him but he had two things going for him that Freaks on withdrawal didn't have. He had an aura healer to help him. And he had a pharmacological specialist working with his specific blood chemistry.

He just didn't know it yet.

"I'm going to give you another shot," she said. "It's going to give you about fifteen minutes of lucidity without adding too much to your pain-load."

And before he could react, she hit him with another hypo.

Krasniy winced and let out a hiss as the army marching through his body decided to take a break. Still exhausted to his core, but as Bella had promised, clear-headed.

"So." She folded her arms. "Comrade, I think you have a problem. Would you like to talk to me about it?"

This was his opening to make the treatment she was going to give him anyway voluntary. He was not going to get a choice in whether or not he had it. His choice was going to lie in what it was going to cost him to get it. Redemption--or disgrace. She had come a long way from the softhearted Bella that wept so easily over her comrade's troubles and could not bear to force anyone into anything.

Aleksandr closed his eyes, taking a deep, labored breath. "It was not of my doing," he began, putting together the best he could the pieces of his shattered memory. This too seemed to becoming routine. "I would never do this to myself. I may not have been in Army, but am still trained like military. Strength comes from within, not without."

He paused for another sip of water, and continued, "Was...some mission, I do not remember for what. I let guard down, and was ambushed. Was in stupor for days, And when the drug ran dry, I had to, needed to get more. Zig is probably full of Freaks I have placed there, just to get their drug."

Bella let out the breath she had been holding in. "Comrade, that is a great relief to me. Not, given your state of pain, that I would find it in me to blame you for self-medication. But--well, never mind. Let's just say this makes things morally less ambiguous. Doctor Canifer and I have consulted and come up with a short-term palliative and what we hope will be a long-term solution for you. Short-term--” she gestured at his arm. "--is installed. Right now it's pumping pure morphine into you. Brian is going to be testing you at hourly intervals and trying a mix--what we call a 'cocktail'--of drugs to replace the morphine. Some of them are to wean you off the Excelsior, some to treat the pain, some to keep your head relatively clear. We probably won't come up with anything like perfect, except for the detox. You're going to go through seven kinds of Purgatory. But at least it won't be hell."

Krasniy listened intently to Bella's words, even if most of them did go over his head. There weren't many questions going through his mind, mostly because there was no room. "You are doctor, and knowing best of how to proceed," he said, sounding more like his Russian comrades. He had been worn down to the core, and was going to once more need rebuilding from the ground up.

Even when she wanted to beat their heads against the wall for submitting so tamely to authority, Bella had to admit there were times when that trait of her Russian comrades was useful.

"The long term solution is entirely different," she continued. "And it comes in two parts. The first is daily treatment by one of us aura healers among your comrades. Me, probably. We're going to try and regenerate as much of your nervous tissue as we can. Don't count on much. This is wholly new ground we're exploring here. With that will come a pill-packet of supplements to give your body the raw materials to work with. Part two is that you're going to get wired. More and new and better cybernetics. This time it will be a package with a brand new arm and an implant directly into your spine. That Clockwork transportation device you've got lodged in your current gear should be able to be integrated with the new hardware, but I would advise laying off using it until we can know for sure. And listen and start asking questions, because I want you to understand exactly what this means."

She waited for his response and checked her watch. He had about ten minutes of lucid thinking left.

Krasniy absorbed all of this silently, concentrating his focus on his breathing and staying calm. It wasn't easy, but he held on. The long and difficult road ahead was beginning with these few steps.

"You understand about electrical interference, da? And sonic, how one set of waves can cancel out another. The nervous system is no different. We can and will implant a set of stimulators in your spine, and with trial and error, we will find the right frequencies and intensity to cancel your pain before it gets to your brain." She relaxed a little, sensing his acceptance. "The hardest part will be getting you clean of drugs, then finding the right setup--tuning--the device."

Aleksandr shook his head and said, "Nyet, am not really understanding. I flick wrists, lightning comes. But am taking your word for it." He sighed, sinking further into his pillow, He didn't know how much more of this city he could take. Back home, everything was simple, organized, and efficient. Here, in this Amerikanskii place, was chaos and confusion. Heartache and...humiliation. One degrading experience after another. Justice? What justice? There was no justice other than what you made.

Krasniy's eyes snapped open, burning with anger. He strained against the harness and growled, "I'm going to get my hands on every last Freakshow drachevo and--"

Bella felt the heartache, the shame, and then the anger wash over her. The anger...probably drug-triggered, but there was a base to it that was, well, real.

Dropping both sets of shields, she projected calm, frowning with the effort and wincing as his raw emotion battered her. "I felt the same way about the Rikti," she said, and allowed him a brief glimpse of her rage after Area 51. "There's just one problem, Aleksandr. It never ends. There are always more to replace the ones you take out. You don't stop these things by hacking at the branches. You go to the root. That takes time, patience, and knowledge. It takes discipline. It takes intelligence. It takes acknowledging that the end might not come in our lifetime and being willing to deal with that. You folks are really famous for your Five Year Plans. Are you willing to commit to a Fifty Year Plan? I am. Because the end won't be a Zig full of Freaks or Rikti, or a morgue full of body-bags. The end will be no more Freaks. No more Rikti. Ever."

The waves of empathy and words of wisdom washed over Krasniy Oktyabr. The rage subsided, retreating to the far corners of his mind. They couldn't be banished completely, at least not without him remaining human. The Russian's ravaged body, mind and soul had taken enough abuse for one lifetime, and the day was just beginning. Fatigue took the place of anger, and Aleksandr began slipping off into sleep.

Bella felt the--well, it wasn't quite capitulation. Acceptance, maybe. Before she lost him, though there was one last gift, a lifeline, something he definitely needed.

" matter what you think, you are not alone here..." and she showed him what she had always known instinctively, what sharing Seraphic Flame's gift had shown her empirically, and what she lived for.

The Web. The connections. One person to another, to another, holding everyone together, making sure, so far as anyone could be sure, that no one fell without having four to catch him and six more to reweave the Web. Closest, dearest, were the Comrades of the CCCP, but the Web extended far, far past them, farther than Bella could see or even sense. Her job, her trust, was to keep those connections nearest to her strong. It was what she lived for. But he didn't need to see that part. He only needed to see the part of the Web holding him until he was strong again--as he would be--until he could take up his connections--as he would--and he, in turn could catch others who fell. It was the order he craved, the simplicity he needed, and the support he couldn't live without. Because really, no one could, not and still call himself "human."

As Bella turned to leave Aleksandr to his much-needed reprieve, the Russian softly called out, "Comrade Bella...I must know..."

She turned back, and took his hands, the clumsy Russian cybernetic, and the flesh and blood one.

Aleksandr gazed intently at the healer with all of his remaining lucidity and asked, "Did I ever... Is she unhurt?"

"No. And yes. Everything will be fine again. Tasha loves you very, very much, and nothing will ever change that."

Aleksandr smiled for the first time in weeks. He gently squeezed Bella's hands and closed his eyes once more. "Spasibo, comrade."