The Wake-Up Call
Chapter 1.33: Second chance
Light broke through Hetch's eyelids as his senses rebooted. One by one they woke him from a confusing mix of past events and disjointed dreams. The smell of surgery chemicals brought him finally online. He was in a dim room with sloping walls and large blacked out windows. It wasn't the last place that Hetch remembered many hours ago. For a start he was inside, no garbage or homeless crowd, no barking dogs on rusty chains, but the jack hammer in his skull gave another glimpse of his past few days. He instinctively rubbed his side. The faint scars of a burn was rough to touch and looked like crumpled red sandpaper. Then he noticed the collection of ticket stubs and junk payment cards in his pocket, the one he was found on the shuttle. Then he wondered where Splice had gone and who had brought him here, and where the hell was here? His dry mouth gulped down a sour tasting lung full of cool air.
He scanned the room, barely able to make out the boundary where walls meet the floor or ceiling. His eyes, dry and bloodshot, could offer no detail; it was a low-res scene of unfamiliar objects and smart concealed technology. The air was cold and odourless, clinical and strangely calming. It was an expensive private room in a hospital complex. Beyond the faint blur limits of his eyesight was a glass surface cut into the wall and a silver box on top. It looked out of place in this overly engineered room, everything else was tucked away, folded or rotated behind computer controlled panels covered in light emitting material. In a moment of madness Hetch imagined it to be the case; that damn case, the harbinger of so much pain, so many lies and acts of deception. He pushed his legs in the table's direction and crossed the room. He ran his hand against the sidewall looking for a control, some form of mechanical device to cast more illumination into this dark, mysterious room. A panel clicked open and between the small crack was an empty wardrobe with a shiny metal pole for hanging clothes on inside. He approached the table and picked up the small message device, its neon display blinking with the capital letters "PAUSED - 1 of 2" in a sickly blue-green colour.
The message cast an eerie beam onto the black window pane while Hetch looked around for something to drink. In an expensive place like this there had to be a concealed bathroom or mini-bar filled with every kind of alcohol imaginable and Hetch was determined to try every one. A synthetic voice interrupted his quest as the encrypted vid-mail began to play.
"Hetch. If you've got this then we failed and the McKaffs have won" said Splice looking into a small, hand-held cam. "Inside the case are 150,000 credits. Don't worry, all untraceable and clean. Take it and scram, get to the outskirts of the city and stay there. It seems like this is it. Time to tell the truth. Mewco hatched the plan to find the mole in his outfit and squash him. That's where you came in. A rookie courier smart enough to survive, but dumb enough to make mistakes to get the McKaffs interested. It ain't easy being a punk, is it?"
Hetch lifted the heavy metal case off the table and threw the recording device in its place. The faint projector continued to cast the message onto the sloping wall.
"Carena was a good kid. I'm sorry. We tried to take care of business and settle Mewco's debt. Run with the 150,000 in the case. Grab a transport, avoid the tech surveillance systems and hide out for a few years. You wanted to find out what its like to be a courier? What it's like to live on the edge? You've had your chance. What do you think now?"
Hetch wrestled with the thoughts in his head and pulled at his eyes, wiping the sweat and sleep from them, or so he told himself.
"And here is the real kicker. What's it like knowing that you risked your ass for an empty case? You were the decoy." Splice looked away from the cam for a second "Now, we are almost here. It will take an hour for this scrambled vid-stream to be decrypted on that decoder. I just hope you understand why we left you there. You're young kido. This is your chance to get out of this rat shit life. Take it."
"END OF MESSAGE"
Hetch sat motionless on the floor. His eyes tightly closed and fists shaking in front of him. "So, this is how it ends" he thought "no, big explosion, no incredible gun fight or heroic act, just sneak out with a case full of credits and hide underground for the rest of my natural life." He would have given another arm for this option a few months ago, hell, even on the shuttle he would have snatched it, but he had changed. The thought of survival was not enough to keep him going, he need more, something to survive for, a reason to live and 150,000 wasn't it.
Twenty minutes passed before he once again stood up and collected his possessions and the heavy metal case.
He pushed his palm towards the wall sensor and the door opened. Before him was a long corridor in both directions. The floor was covered in non-slip material designed to repel blood and every other bodily fluid that a hospital was likely to produce from the dead and the dying. Hetch looked at this expensive black floor as he played with the miniature message device in his pocket. He continued to think and walk towards a row of elevators. There was something he was missing. The elevator doors opened and inside the tall, globe-like container was a large advertisement screen showing medical insurances and the latest cosmetic surgery techniques.
"1 or 2" said Hetch quickly pulling the device from his pocket and selecting the next message in the list. It was dated before the first message and was audio only. Hetch pressed play and waited, and waited. The elevator had descended five levels before he noticed the I-R icon on the small display. Hetch scrolled through the output menu and pointed the device at the elevator's interface panel on the door. A few moments later the elevator slowed and then reversed direction and headed upwards towards floor 84. He gave a half-smile. This was Splice's sense of humour, controlling other people's computer systems with a 5-credit disposable device. The hospital personalised navigation signs recognised the I-R signals and sent a clear path for Hetch to follow along the maze or corridors. Small arrows pulsated along the floor and wall panels as he approached them. At each junction came a synthetic voice reconfirming the directions.
Hetch swapped hands with the heavy case back and forward as he followed this ghostly tour guide through the hospital complex. He wondered how much further it would take him as he passed a small automation drone cleaning the black floor and checking for contamination. The security door prevented Hetch from entered the room at the end of a side corridor. As if to highlight this fact the navigation system pulsed a red cross above the door handle. He pressed his ear against the cold alloy door and could make out the sound of a man's voice and the occasional beep from a machine.
His mind raced. It could be a trap, one of the McKaffs ready to take the case. But this didn't make any sense, why not just hand him over to them while he was still unconscious? Everyone who has helped him has ended up dead now. He wondered if he was cursed. Maybe there was a jinx on the case. "Trust no-one" Mewco told him and now he didn't even trust himself. All of his decisions had gone bad, but he knew it was too late to turn back now. He had to know why Splice had gave him these directions.
Hetch knocked on the door and waited as the handle began to slowly turn.
To be continued...