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Justin - Chapter Seventeen

by Machelli

There was nothing particularly special about the door in front of which they now stood. In fact, aside from the word "infirmary" stenciled on it, the door was not at all different from the others. It looked just as gray and dull as the grooved walls around it.

"Well," said Sam. "Here we are. Just go right in."

Justin walked forward and through the infirmary door.

The dismal gray motif of the rest of the Plant had not been neglected here. As a matter of fact, the only thing in the infirmary that was not a shade of gray was the uniform of the nurses. Bright splotches of white moved here and there, from one bed to another, aiding Lunars back to health.

Justin suspected that the nurses had been Lunars themselves, once, and that this was just another occupation created explicitly for freed persons. After a few seconds of simply standing in one place, Justin was ushered over to a vacant bed by one of the infirmary personnel and was told to wait.

For a few minutes Justin just watched the nurses do their business, tending to the people who were more obviously in need of medical attention than he was. There were people who had mangled limbs and people who were as white as the nurse's uniforms. Some people were screaming in pain while others wore a hauntingly calm expression.

Justin was beginning to feel increasingly awkward. He hadn't been in a hospital for quite some time and, when he had, it definitely had not been like this. The hospital he had been in had a separate room for each of its patients and it had looked cleaner.

The circumstances under which he had been in his last hospital had been different, too. He had been fooling around with Jeff at his house when Justin had slipped and hit his head on the edge of the wall. That was the funny thing about Jeff's house; it had a lot of edges and corners. Justin recalled that his house - his former house, that is - had no sharp places in it at all. Every turn in the walls had been rounded off. It gave the impression that the entire house had been fashioned from one, single piece of semi-flexible plastic. Everything seemed to seamlessly flow into each other. But that had not been the case with Jeff's house and, consequently, Justin had to go to the city hospital.

He had awakened late in the morning in the hospital bed to the sound of Jeff talking rather loudly to the attendant outside the door.

"Well?" Jeff had asked. "Is he awake yet? Can I go in? Can I see him?"

"What am I?" Justin had called outside, playfully. "A piece of art?"

And, of course, Jeff had responded with the obvious humorous reply.

"Oh, you're a piece of something, alright!" he had yelled back.

Then, for one reason or another, (Justin suspected the medication) he had started laughing with Jeff starting shortly behind him. Justin had laughed until it hurt, which didn't take long for he had still been monumentally sore.

That's what he missed here. The segments of pure good humor where the reason to laugh was not fully understood, one just inexplicably did it.

"And how are you feeling today?"

The question yanked Justin out of his nostalgic thoughts. There was a nurse standing in front of him and she was obviously where the question had come from. Justin did not want to waste any of her time for she seemed rather frazzled and rushed.

"My leg hurts," he said simply, lifting up his pant leg.

The nurse's eyes widened. Justin looked down as well because he felt that the condition of his leg should not have caused such a reaction. Once he looked, though, he understood.

The area around the stitches had swollen up considerably. In fact, his entire calf looked larger than normal.

"Looks like you have quite an infection there," said the nurse. "I'm going to get some antibiotics. Don't go anywhere."

As if I'm actually going to sprint out of here, Justin thought to himself as the nurse walked away.

After a few short moments, the nurse returned with two pills.

"One's for the infection and the other's a painkiller," explained the nurse, handing Justin a small cup of water as well as the pills.

The nurse turned away again, ready to quickly help another person while Justin downed the pills but was approached by an older man in an outfit very much similar to that of the nurses. As Justin swallowed both pills, he watched them talk. The man had a manila folder in his hand with some papers in it that he was showing the nurse. He flipped through a few pages and stopped at one near the end. When she read what was on the page her shoulders fell. It looked as though the man had shown her something dishearteningly tragic. The man handed her the piece of paper and disappeared into the crowd. The nurse turned around and walked toward Justin's bed, passed it, and entered a room behind him. After a short while she came back out through the door and walked over to Justin, the paper in one hand and a small container in the other.

She handed the container to Justin and said "those are painkillers. Take both of them tomorrow, after lunch."

Her lower lip twitched in a seemingly involuntary manner. Justin was struck by the odd impression that she did not like what she was doing right now.

"You can leave now if you're feeling okay," she finished, in a slightly wavering tone.

"Thanks," said Justin, pulling down his pant leg and standing up to leave. As he did this, the nurse turned around and walked away. The piece of paper she had been holding was now facing Justin and he got a good, clear look at what was on it.

A picture of him!

Granted, there was also a great deal of print around the picture but nevertheless, the fact that Justin had seen his own face on the piece of paper had surprised him. And wasn't it odd that that particular piece of paper had saddened the nurse?

Perplexed, Justin exited the infirmary.

Sam had been waiting for him outside the door and now joined him as they walked back down the halls.

"How was it?" he asked. "Feeling better?"

"A little, I guess," Justin replied. "But I saw something that was a bit strange. Do they keep records on people who've gone to the infirmary?"

"Sometimes," Sam answered. "Why?"

"Well, it looked like they already had a file going on me," Justin explained.

"That's interesting," said Sam, mostly to himself. "You haven't been there before."

"But maybe I have," Justin said, thoughtfully. "Maybe that's where my leg was sewn up."

"Maybe," Sam agreed. "But how'd you see your file? I'm sure they don't go around handing them out."

"My nurse had it," said Justin. "She got it from this guy - he could've been a doctor but I don't know - and when he handed it to her, she got all depressed like it was bad news or something."

"Maybe it was," Sam mused. "What happened after that?"

"Well, she gave me these painkillers and said that I could leave," explained Justin, holding up the small container for the pills.

"Can I see those?" asked Sam.

Justin handed him the tiny, plastic box. Sam popped it open and looked inside. There were two, half green, half white pills secured to the bottom of the container. With a snapping sound, he removed one of the painkillers and turned it around in his hand.

"Funny," he said after a while. "They don't look like painkillers."

"I know," Justin agreed. "The pills the nurse gave me in the infirmary were all white."

A concerned yet thoughtful expression grew on Sam's face. It looked as though he wished to say something to Justin, something that had been on his mind for a while. He handed the pills back to Justin.

"What?" Justin asked, wondering what was bothering Sam.

"Well," said Sam, hesitating in a perplexed manner. "I was thinking about this during the day and. . . well, don't you think it's weird that you're still alive?"

Even though Justin's initial reaction was that of shock, the truth was that he had given that particular issue a lot of thought himself. After all, why was he in the Plant? Wouldn't it have been easier to kill him?

"I don't think your father knew about the whole helicopter thing, do you?" asked Sam.

"I'd like to think he didn't," Justin admitted.

"But I bet he found out pretty quick after it happened, right?"

"Right. . "

"And I'll bet that he found out you weren't really dead either. So, if he's the kind of person you say he is, I'll bet that he tried to keep whoever set up the helicopter thing from actually killing you. Whether he offered a compromise or what - I really can't figure this part out - somehow you ended up in here. But I can imagine that Chief Drake - that's who I think is behind all this - wanted you dead nevertheless. And that's where that file came from. I bet it says to give you something that'll make you worse, maybe even kill you, which is probably why that nurse seemed so sad."

"But why didn't she recognize me?" Justin asked. "Why doesn't everyone recognize me?"

"The nurses are just Lunars who took a few tests," Sam explained. "They aren't out of the Plant yet. And the only reason I knew who you were, like Derek said before, is because I saw the news broadcast about you. Hardly anyone else even looks at the television! I think the only people who would stand a chance of recognizing you would be the guards. But you know they wouldn't say or do anything about it. After all, Drake is the Chief."

"So," said Justin. "You don't think I should take the pills?"

"I don't think you should take anything that nurse gave you."

Suddenly, Justin experienced a short moment of panic when he remembered that he had, in fact, downed the pills he had received in the infirmary. However, he was soon put at ease with the memory that the nurse had gotten the paper after she had given him the painkiller and antibiotic. After the feeling passed, a thought occurred to Justin that seemed to put a hole in Sam's theory.

"But if they're trying to kill me then how come I earned points?"

"Actually, we don't know if you got any points or not," Sam replied. "Though we're going to check that right now."

He had stopped in the middle of the main hallway and was looking at a large, rectangular contraption that was a dull, red color. It was as tall as the hallway would allow and very long. It looked as though it had been built into the wall.

"What's that?" Justin asked.

"This is a place to exchange points for little things. You probably don't have a toothbrush or any toothpaste, do you?"

"No," said Justin.

"Well, this is the place to get them," Sam explained. "Derek told me you tried to use the shower; this works the same way."

Justin walked up to one of the many keypads (there was a long row of at least twenty) and typed in his name. After he did that, he ran his finger down the selection list below the keypad and pressed the button that depicted and said "toothbrush." Once again, he was presented with the scrolling message, "You have zero points to your name. This item requires five points."

Justin looked back at Sam, saddened. But to his surprise, Sam was shaking his head with an amused expression on his face.

"I forgot to tell you," said Sam with a whisper of a chuckle. "You have to enter your number, too. It's part of your name."

"My number?" asked Justin, confused.

"Yeah," said Sam. "It's sewn on the inside of your pocket."

Justin turned his pants pocket inside out. Sure enough, the number 71352 could be plainly seen. Justin turned back to the keypad and typed in his name, followed by his number and selected the toothbrush again. Perhaps now it would work. Perhaps "Justin Evarb 71352" was in the computer's roster instead of just "Justin Evarb." After all, didn't it make sense that a non-existent name would have no points? It would kind of be like using the wrong password to get into something.

Contrary to Justin's hopeful thinking, the message "You have zero points to your name. This item requires five points." appeared again.

"Looks like you were right, Sam," Justin said disappointedly. "I can't earn points."

"Yeah," said Sam. "I wouldn't take those pills if I were you."

"But what am I going to do?" Justin asked. (Though he felt more like he was complaining, which was something he didn't want to do; he didn't want to look weak in front of Sam.) He then gestured toward the objects on the list. "I need some of this stuff."

"I'll buy it for you," Sam offered. "And I'll give you some of my extra things."

Would Jeff have done something like that? Justin wondered. Under these circumstances, would his former best friend have given so thoughtlessly of himself? Perhaps it has something to do with the situation, the atmosphere of this place. Maybe hard times shared between everyone can bring out the best in people.

Whatever it was that made Sam so generous, Justin was grateful for it.

At the end of their visit to the big red vending machine-like contraption, Sam had purchased toothpaste, a toothbrush, and soap for Justin.

"I suppose you'll want to take a shower tonight, right?" Sam asked

"Yeah," Justin said, reluctantly. He didn't want to be leeching off of Sam.

"I'll take care of that, too," he stated.

And then, despite everything that had gone wrong that day, Justin felt better. He knew that he couldn't go to the infirmary anymore. Therefore, he also knew that he would no longer have access to painkillers and his leg would start to throb by tomorrow. He knew that someone (perhaps Francis) had betrayed him and was responsible for his winding up in the Plant. He was aware of all these things and yet all of them were diminished in size by Sam's simple act of kindness.

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