A Visit to the Clinic

by Alex Fauth, David Kuijt, Rob Rutherford, and Mathieu Roy

It was a slow day at the Clark Street clinic. Only one patient had come in today, with a broken arm received when the second floor room that he was exploring suddenly became a tall first floor room. Quietly, as was her way, Lydia finished putting a splint on the patient forearm. Then, to his surprise, Lydia went to the heavy steel table, gathered the surgery supplies she kept there, and moved them to a gurney.

The patient's surprise was mild, because he was a semi-regular here and he knew that Lydia never did anything without a reason, even if that reason was not immediately apparent. He watched her drape a clean linen on the table and pull the chariot close. The door opened, and without looking, Lydia said, "Bring him here" before walking off to get hot water.

The patient stared towards the three newcomers: one was a tough-looking woman, another was a truly major babe; but he refrained from whistling because of the third newcomer, the biggest man the patient had ever seen, assuming it was even a man. Nearly eight feet tall and very broad for his height, the huge man cast doubt as to his true species. Apparently, this was the patient; his head was covered in blood and he was bleeding from numerous other gunshot wounds, though he seemed to be moving fairly well under his own power. At any rate, Lydia's earlier actions suddenly made sense—besides the steel table, there was no piece of furniture in the clinic that could carry this guy's weight.

Crusher's hair was matted with blood, and his eyes flicked from side to side as if he found the clean, simple environment of the clinic a little threatening. The two women had been helping support him; now for a moment he hung back.

"You know what, Crusher?" Sandra said to the big guy. "You have a bit of a tendency to get in the way of bullets. It can't be good for you."

"No kidding." Kami paused briefly then turned and looked at Crusher. "Now don't tell me that after that last fight the doctor makes you nervous?"

Crusher shook his head, spattering the women with blood droplets. "'Course not," he said nervously. He stepped a little farther into the room, clearly ill-at-ease. "Ain't like I'm here for another bone-coring or spleen graft." His whole body was tense, and his eyes flicked around the room, but he went over to the heavy steel table.

Crusher took off his duster, grimacing in pain, and held it up to the light. The heavy armorcloth jacket looked like swiss cheese; light streamed through more than a dozen holes.

"Bullets are goddamn ruining my coat," Crusher muttered.

The other patient looked at the coat, then got a good view of Crusher's back, and his eyes bulged. His shirt was absolutely soaked in blood, now sticky and congealed. Until then the patient hadn't realized that the big man had been wearing the coat when all the holes were punched through it. He suddenly decided that he could thank Doc Lydia later.

Sandra watched the man with the broken arm leave, turning a shade of green as he went.

Lydia returned from the backroom, bearing a tub of steaming water with her instruments leaning along the edge. She carefully set this down to a small table near the "bed" she'd set up for Crusher. "Lay him down here," she said, patting the steel table.

Crusher finished stripping off his pistol and shoulder holster. After one more look around the clinic he dropped it on his coat and pushed it under the table with his foot, then sat on the table. "On your side, please," Lydia said, before Crusher could ask.

Crusher lowered himself to his side, grimacing, and pillowed the unwounded side of his head on one beefy arm.

"I'm Lydia, the doctor," the mild-mannered older woman introduced herself. She bent over Crusher and started dabbing away the worst of the blood near his head wound. "I'm afraid I don't have an anesthetic that might work on you," she said. "But I don't think it will matter much."

Crusher shrugged. "Nah, pain don't bother me." He was still tense, though he started to relax a bit as Lydia continued cleaning the wound.

"I'm Crusher," he offered, voice a little tentative. There was a few moments more hesitation before he continued, "pleased to meet you, Doc."

"Likewise, Crusher." She said that as if she wasn't talking to a seven-foot-plus mound of titanium-laced muscle. "And your friends?" She glanced at them as she produced a pair of tough-looking forceps.

"Kami 'n Sandra," Crusher gestured in turn at the petite blonde and the tough looking brunette.

The petite blonde stepped forward, "hello." She was warm and smiling, but there was something disconcerting about the expression in her eyes. The other two looked like they'd been through hell, while the young blonde was bright and cheerful, except for the blood and grunge she didn't really look like she'd been involved in the night's events.

"Pleased to meet you," said Lydia, inserting her forceps in one of the bullet-holes. "You'll excuse me if I wait until I'm done to shake your hands, yes?" With a yank, she extracted the first bullet and examined it to make sure part of it hadn't broken off. "There's pop in the fridge if you want some. I'm afraid I have no beer."

Crusher was lying on his front now to give the Doctor access to his shot-up back. He was quiet except for an occasional grimace or twitch as she used her forceps to probe for a new bullet or pull one through the hole it had punched in his dermal plating.

"Thanks Doc." Kami replied as she headed off to the fridge. "Want one Sandra?"

"A clinic with free drinks? Just what I've been missing in my life" Sandra replied. "Throw me one, OK?"

Lydia smiled faintly. "The drinks are an investment," she said, pulling out yet another chunk of lead from Crusher's back.

Kami tossed Sandra a drink, "here ya go." She looked inquisitively over at Lydia; "Investment, huh?"

Lydia nodded without speaking, her attention seemingly absorbed by a particularly recalcitrant bullet embedded in Crusher's flesh.

"So how is our boy?" Sandra asked. She'd been worried about Crusher. Soaking that many bullets couldn't be good for anyone, even him.

"I'd want him to rest and heal a bit but I'm sure he won't," said Lydia. She smiled and added, "But he'll be fine."

"Great." Kami replied, "So what's next?" Kami said looking at Sandra and the doctor.

"This is going to take me a little while," Lydia pointed out.

"Well, he's fine and that's enough for me" Sandra replied. "Right now we have to figure out how to get him... and someone else... out of a wee bit of trouble." She turned to Kami. "Any thiughts?"

Kami smirked, "Just one really." Kami looked Sandra in the eye, "Off the guy who cut the deal with you. But then you run the risk of pissing off all his friends. And that still doesn't solve Crusher's problem."

Crusher turned his head from where he was lying on his belly while the doctor pulled bullets out of his back and shoulders. "I ain't got a problem, I got a job. Problems don't pay. What's this deal, Sandra? If you're in trouble and you need some muscle, I'm your thug."

"OK... confessional time" Sandra replied to him. "Promise you won't hurt me?"

Crusher frowned. "Huhn?"

"Right. Anyway, I got hired by the Yaks to retrieve a certain bag. Only they didn't tell me who had it. Then I found out, and decided that it's something I couldn't do. So now they're after me just as much as you. Hence the little incident back there."

Crusher's eyebrows shot up. "Huhn!" The clank as Doc Lydia dropped another slug in a metal tray was the only noise, but Crusher's eyes stayed on Sandra. After a long moment he spoke again. "So, watcha gonna do?"

"Well that's the problem..." She replighed, sighing. "I'm trying to think of a way to get every Yak in the zon of my back, without dumping you in it. I'd like to get them of your back too, you know. I'm not that selfish"

Crusher frowned. "There ya go again. What's with you two," he glared, including Kami with a look. "Like I've said 10 times already tonight, this is a job. I signed up for it, I'm gettin' paid for it. An' when I pass on the bag, the Yak ain't gonna be all that interested in me no more."

Suddenly Crusher's eyes lit up, and he half rose, then settled again as

Doc Lydia gently pressed him back down to remind him that she was still working on him.

"Hey, I got an idea! It's easy! Get the Yak off both our backs! You and I have a public fight on the Brooklyn Bridge, with me carrying the bag. You shoot me a lot. I fall off the bridge, into the river. I come up again—bag is gone! Lost in the river. Yak think you tried, you're off the hook. Yak know I ain't got it no more, I'm off the hook."

Kami suddenly looked like she had a headache, "Do you actually think the Yaks will believe that," she asked with a sigh.

"I'm not saying TELL them that, I'm saying do it. You shoot enough firepower on the bridge, half of Dockside will see it. If I'm carrying the bag when I fall, and I ain't carryin' it when I come up, they ain't got much choice."

"It may work at first," Lydia put in. "But what if the bag reappears elsewhere?"

"Then Sandra's still off the hook—she doesn't need to get the bag, she just needs to TRY to get the bag. Hell, the Yak ain't looking for that punk Payne; he tried to get the bag and failed. If Sandra shoots me off the bridge, she'll have made a better try than Payne did. The Yak are in the middle of a major shooting war; they've got lots of other things to think about."

"Not if she tricked them," Lydia pointed out.

Crusher nodded soberly. "True. But we got two choices—trick them, or kill them. Reasoning with them ain't gonna cut it. If killing them was easy, the other side in their current war would'a saved us the trouble already. But if we trick them, we gotta make it stand up, so they don't find out." Crusher's eyes were on Sandra.

"You know... that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Sandra replied. "I love it. It gets both of us off the hook at once. As far as I know, they think I'm still hunting the bag... I don't think we've left any witnesses to the contrary. So I can just report back 'sorry, don't have it' and we're all fine." She smiled - a rare occurence. "When can we begin?"

Crusher smiled. "We only need two things. First is a hunk of sheet metal I can strap to my chest under my duster. I've got enough holes in me tonight already, I don't need more."

"Easy. There's plenty of wrecked cars near my place" Sandra replied, thinking of a certain sports car that had driven her crazy awhile ago.

"Only thing in a car that'll stop a bullet is the frame or engine," Crusher shook his head. "But we can just use a manhole cover if we can't find a big cast-iron frying pan."

"And what of the bag in the mean time?" Kami mused. "I have no intention on standing on a bridge shooting at you. If I were 'miss' it would hurt my rep. Besides this is Sandra's job." Kami looked over at Sandra and Crusher.

"Don't mind me. I don't have a rep to ruin" she replied.

Crusher smiled. "Miss? Who's to say these bullet holes weren't yours, Sandra? Probably help your rep, shooting up a lug like me, especially after Payne and forty Yak failed. As for the bag, that's easy," his smile broadened. "Looks to me like that's it right over there." He pointed at a pile of miscellaneous medical equipment carefully stacked on top of a shelf along the side wall of the clinic.

On top of the stack was a stiff-walled plastic container with handles, about a foot in each dimension. On the side it said "Temperature-controlled medical transport container," and on the other side, "Biohazard"

Kami gazed up at the shelf and smiled "Biohazard." Then looked over at Sandra "Besides Crusher's right. and, if I'm helping you, I think my rep might taint your accomplishment. I had a similar problem when I was running with Angel awhile back, it seemed like to took forever to people to acknowledge that I wasn't just her pet or something." Kami winked at Sandra.

"Rrrrriiight" Sandra replied. "It's not a problem though. I think I might be able to pull this off without screwing up too much. And I'm pretty sure there's a few spare manhole covers lying around for us to steal" She paused for another smile. "So, when do you want to start?"

"Soon as the Doc is finished with me," Crusher replied. He scrunched his neck over to see Lydia, who was finishing up on his back. "Doc, can I buy that bag off you?" Glancing around, he spotted a couple of small air canisters with breathing masks for patients with athsma, tuberculosis, smoke inhalation or other breathing problems. "And an air canister too?"

Lydia nodded. "But they are rather expensive, and difficult to find." She smiled. "If you bring them back in good condition I'll buy them back from you."

Kami piped in "Anything I can do to help"

Crusher nodded, his face turning grim. "There's one major Murphy in this plan." His eyes were on Sandra. "You and I've been seen together by lots of people tonight. Anyone in the Vat, Mutt & Jeff; we've been walking in the street together. Yak are gonna hear about it. Only way we can make 'em believe this act is for you to have been using me, trying to trick me, get me to reveal where I got the bag. So that's gotta be our story, all three of us," his eyes flicked to include Kami.

"Sandra tricked me into showing the bag; I had it hidden up on the bridge. She shoots me up, loses me and the bag in the river. Simple enough." Crusher's calm words didn't quite match the sadness in his eyes.

"That means we ain't friends from now on, Sandra. If we are, the Yak'll figure it out, and it's like the Doc said. They'll kill you, and maybe me. After you shoot me into the river, we gotta be enemies.

Crusher's eyes shifted to Kami, still touched with sadness. "And that ain't all. Kami, Sandra's gonna haf'ta tell the Yak all this. In person. That's a major Murphy point, and if things go pear-shaped, she'll need backup. That's you. And that means we can't be friends from now on either, Kami. The Yak might get suspicious. If you aren't on the bridge at the time I probably don't have to be your enemy, so we can still work together at the Underground. But in a betrayal between friends, everyone takes sides. You gotta be on Sandra's side, so she's got someone to watch her back when she meets the Yak and lies to them."

Kami looked at Crusher, "Crusher, betrayals are bad business. Doesn't matter whether its business or friendship. Getting a rep for betraying a friend is almost as bad as having the Yak hunting her. For her to not get completely screwed, everybody needs to know that this is business and friendship's got nothing to do with it." Kami thought carefull for a few moments, "Crusher, do you know how much longer do you have to hold on to that bag." With that the expression in her eye's changed, she had the spark professional Sams like Marta have.

Crusher shook his head, disagreeing with Kami's argument. "Rep is about getting the job done. Employers don't care crap about people, they care about effort and results. Sandra shoots me off the bridge, she can claim she tried to do the job. Her rep ain't gonna get helped much, nor hurt either. But the Yak won't kill her. An' they might stop hunting me, too. An' if they don't, I pass over the bag tomorrow night anyway."

Kami looked over at Crusher, "I think Sandra needs to make the final decision." Then with a flat tone, "Oh, and Crusher." She paused briefly, "Never mention associating with me at the U."

Crusher nodded. "Sure, whatever, Kami. You just told me that was a hot button for you a couple of hours ago; don't have a cow."

The two looked over at Sandra, waiting for her decision.

"It's a crappy deal" she replied, sighing. "Basically, we either got to stop being friends, or we stop being alive. I don't want to have to spend the rest of my life running from the Yak any more than you do." She paused. "I'll do it."

Crusher nodded soberly. For a long moment it was quiet, before Crusher spoke again. "It ain't forever, anyway. Probably blow over in a month, or a year.

"Besides," he smiled, deliberately trying to lighten the mood, "you get the fun part. *I* gotta get shot and take a bath in the East River!"

Crusher looked down at the river, hundreds of feet below, and shook his head resignedly.

"Awright," Crusher growled. "This ain't gonna be fun for me, so let's get it over with." He checked himself out. Under his duster he had a manhole cover securely tied to his chest. He had a big combat knife to cut the ropes when underwater, and the air cannister and simple face mask from Doctor Lydia's EMT supplies was securely taped in a protected position where he could get to it. He had the medical bag from the clinic in one hand and his shotgun in the other.

Sandra was just behind him, still clad in her trenchcoat and combat gear. She had restocked the clips in both her SMG and pistol. She wasn't expecting any trouble, but it paid to be sure. She also checked the smartgun link on her pistol. She wanted to be as "on target" as possible; a mistake would be a very bad thing at this point.

"I'll just shoot into the air" he said, pumping the action of his heavy police-issue combat shotgun. "More noise will draw more attention. Get my shotgun back to Kami; she'll get it to me later," Crusher grumbled. "If I take it over the side with me, I'll lose the damn thing for sure."

"Sure thing, Crusher" Sandra replied. "And thanks again for doing this"

Crusher half shrugged with an awkward smile. "Hey, I'm sure you'd let me shoot you if I was in trouble, too." Then he frowned. "Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean."

The Brooklyn Bridge, or what was left of it, stood high above Dockside. Even in its stubbed-off condition, it was a noticable landmark and visible from much of Bartertown and the Entertainment District.

The sudden loud burst of firing atop the broken-off end of the bridge caught the attention of dozens of denizens of the docks, especially given the strange event last month when two wheelbarrows full of concrete and human parts had fallen from the bridge. This wasn't quite as strange; rapid pistol shots with a few shotgun blasts interspersed, but it didn't last long, and a number of people saw the body fall from the bridge into the river. Nobody surfaced, but that wasn't very odd—people who fell from the bridge usually died.

Sandra looked down at the water from the bridge. There was no immediate sign of Crusher or the case. She wouldn't know for some time whether everything had gone off right or been horribly messed up.

"I hate my life" she muttered. "Poor bloody Crusher. Please, please be OK". She picked up the shotgun and walked off.

The next morning Crusher waited for Tetsutenshi.

The street was located near the East River and on the southern Edge of Darkside. Crusher didn't care for it much. It was a dirty run-down place, even for the Zone, and there was little around in the way of life. Most of the buildings were empty shells, and the smell of the river was strong enough to drive away even the most desperate of shelter seekers. A good place for a quiet meeting... or an ambush.

Crusher waited, squatting in an alley, half-concealed crouched against a short abutment of a brick building wall. His eyes scanned the street for any sign of movement. Aside from a few wild cats, a dog and scattering of ever-present rats, there had been nothing.

He paused from his survey of the street to glance down again the bag he swung idly from one huge hand. It was battered, but whole, and had survived ambushes, gunfights and travel through the sewers. It smelled slightly though, and Crusher had a nasty suspicion about what was in it. Not that that mattered too much to him.

When he looked up again it was to see a short duster-clad form standing out in the empty street, leaning up against the rusted hulk of an over-turned car. He was pretty sure that Tetsutenshi hadn't seen him, and was simply waiting, trusting in the desolate nature of the meeting place to avoid any potential ambushes. Although the Yak contingent of the Zone was mostly busy killing each other right now.

Crusher gave another careful scan of the street, the skyline, and possible ambush sites before he moved. Not that he expected anything—Tetsutenshi was a solo, and tough. An ambush wouldn't be her style.

Crusher hooked the bag over his hip holster inside his duster then stood up. His fingers checked his shotgun and second pistol automatically, and then he started walking towards Tetsutenshi. His eyes were still active, sweeping back and forth for anything out of the ordinary, anything wrong. He didn't expect betrayal, but there was no reason not to be careful.

He looked like hell. Doc Lydia had pulled a half-dozen slugs out of his back and he wasn't coughing blood any more, but she'd had to shave part of his head before repairing the scalp damage. Stitches didn't work in dermal-plate-reinforced skin, but she'd had some stainless steel surgical staples that worked. Even with her care he'd have another nasty scar from that one, and falling eighty feet into the East River hadn't helped much either. Lucky he didn't have to worry about infections, or he'd be on antibiotics for a month. Basically, Crusher looked like a poster boy for Neo York's "Don't Go Into The Zone" public information campaign.

Tetsutenshi didn't look much better. Her long coat was battered and torn, and was splattered with mud, grime and the dark stains of someone else's blood. Her face was darkened by smoke and dirt, and currently the thick stripes of her war paint only served to make her look older and tired. She carried a nagamaki - a weapon composed of three feet of handle topped by another three feet of blade - loosely in one hand, the other rested on the hood of the ruined car.

She turned as Crusher stood and stared intently at the alley's mouth. "Crusher?"

"Yup," Crusher rumbled. He walked toward her.

Relaxing visibly, Tetsutenshi pointed at the distant river. "Think you can make it?"

Crusher shrugged. "Probably."

"Then you can toss it." Looking down, she dug into her coat, not bothering to see if Crusher complied with her request or not. Pulling out a thick packet, she held it out to the much taller cyborg. "Here, the rest of the payment. Don't mind the stains."

Crusher took the money and stuffed it in a pocket without counting. "Thanks." He hefted the bag, looking at her. "Why all the mystery, then? Just trying to spread the heat a little?"

Tetsutenshi shrugged. "Not exactly. I knew that I wouldn't be able to hold the bag and deal with the Yak at the same time. If I hid the bag, there was a chance of someone finding it. So I hired you to hold on to it. I presume you knew the job was going to be dangerous when you took it, right?"

Crusher nodded. "I ain't complaining, just asking. Who's in the bag, then?"

"Does it matter?"

Crusher's brows drew down. "You told me you wanted the bag whole and unopened. Here it is, whole and unopened. You paid me to be a target, I was a target.

He frowned darkly at her. "Job's over. Don't give me any crap."

Tetsutenshi shrugged again. "The Yamazaki-Rengo oyabun and two of his shatei."

Crusher nodded slowly. He started swinging the bag like a sling, slowly at first, then faster at the length of his long arm, releasing it with a blur of speed. The medical bag arced through the air, splashing far out in the river.

Crusher looked out at the river for a moment. "See ya around," he said to Tetsutenshi as he turned and walked away.

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