When I originally started writing Out of the Tank, I’d thought it was a story about how Liam felt about how Tabby’s recovery from the events of Smuggler’s Dilemma. As I was writing it, I realized that I’d much rather write it from Tabby’s perspective.
The following is very short story from Liam’s perspective. It was originally published only to the email subscribers but I’m now making it available to everyone. If you haven’t joined the mailing list, you’re missing out (but not forever) so I’d suggest clicking here to join.
Out of the Tank
The smell of antiseptic cleanser cut through the fog of my waking moments. If that smell wasn’t enough to remind me of where I was, the ache in my back from trying to sleep while stretched across three visitor’s chairs was.
“Mr. Hoffen? Are you awake?”
I’d heard him ask the question a couple of times already. Apparently, I didn’t look sufficiently asleep for the orderly to answer the question for himself.
“I’m awake. What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m afraid you’ve overslept,” he said. I recognized the voice of Benji, a medical assistant I’d gotten to know over the last few weeks.
I sat bolt upright and looked around. The room we were in was twenty meters by ten meters with a very simple layout. Behind me, spanning one long wall, were the most uncomfortable metal chairs some masochistic paper pushing administrator could find. Along the opposite wall, silver oval cylinders, or med tanks, stood. Tabby, my girlfriend and one of my two best friends since childhood, had been recovering in the tank I had been camped in front of for the last four weeks. She’d nearly died after the Mars Protectorate Naval destroyer she was stationed on had been destroyed by pirates. The encounter had left her seriously disabled; missing both legs and her right arm.
The tank Tabby had occupied for the last month stood against the wall, open.
“What the frak! Why didn’t you wake me? Where’s Tabby?” I jumped to my feet. I must have looked like a madman, because the medical assistant took a few steps back.
“It was our mistake, Mr. Hoffen. I wasn’t here, but, Ms. Masters is awake and asking for you,” he said.
I couldn’t imagine how they’d been able to make the mistake, considering I’d been camped out in front of her tank on and off for the last four weeks. That said, Benji was a kind soul and it wouldn’t do any good to yell at him.
“No worries, Benji. Would you take me to her?” I asked.
He led me to an elevator bank and up to the twentieth floor of Puskar University Hospital.
“There you are,” Tabby’s voice was a forced whisper.
She was seated in an inclined hospital bed with a blanket pulled up to her waist. I approached and leaned in to give her a hug. She pulled me in with both arms, which surprised me, given that her right arm muscles were brand new. They had been regrown and attached to nano-crystalized-steel bones. The same procedure had been done to both of her legs as well. I assumed Tabby would need a lot of rehab before she could use the new limbs.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Strange. I’d gotten used to not being able to feel my arm or my legs. They feel different than they did before. It’s hard to explain,” she said.
“You’ll get over that. Your brain is just now starting to process the signals from your new nerves,” said a voice from the doorway – one I had never expected to hear again. It was Patricia, the physical therapist from the Veteran’s Hospital. I’d given her the nickname of ‘troll breath’ because of her generally pissed-off and offensive attitude.
“Patricia. I’m so glad you came,” Tabby said.
Unexpectedly, she approached Tabby on the other side of the bed and gave her a hug. I’d never seen troll breath say a kind word and for her to jump straight to hugging was difficult to process. I’d have also sworn her eyes were moist.
“It’s not every day I get to see one of my girls walk again. I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said.
“Are you my physical therapist?” Tabby asked.
“No, kiddo. Believe it or not, you’re on your own for this one,” she said.
“How’s that going to work? I have no control,” Tabby said. For emphasis, she jerked her right arm up awkwardly. It smacked into the wall behind her.
“Careful with that. Your muscles are stronger than you’re used to, so you just want to take it slow. If you work hard, you’ll have good control within a few days. Try something for me. Try to lift your arm, but think about lifting a feather very slowly,” she said.
Tabby looked down at her arm and it moved up quickly, but at a controlled rate.
“How will I do it without you?” Tabby asked. I’d never seen her quite so freaked out.
“You’ll get the hang of it. Do everything very slowly and make sure to get your muscles thoroughly massaged a couple times a day. If you have trouble, just call me. Other than that, go easy on your boy here. He’s about to discover what it’s like to get his ass kicked by his girlfriend on a regular basis,” she said.
Tabby laughed. “That won’t be new for him. I used to kick his ass all the time,” she said.
I just shook my head. I knew better than to try to insert myself into a conversation between the two of them. I was willing to consider it a win that troll breath hadn’t kicked me out of the room.
“He seems like good people to me,” Patricia said, sending a look my way. “I’m sending you an exercise program. It will let you know what you should be working on and when.”
“Thank you,” Tabby said.
Patricia gave her a goodbye hug and then looked at me with a smile and a wink and left the room.
“Did she just say something nice about me?” I asked after she’d left.
“Patricia is really not that mean. I just don’t think she likes the emotional stuff new amputees are dealing with,” Tabby said.
“I volunteer to be your masseuse.”
“We’ll have plenty of time for that. Help me get up.” She used her left arm to pull the blanket back, exposing her lily-white, perfectly shaped legs and torso. She was wearing nothing but a thin pair of shorts that didn’t even cover her belly button and a narrow band of cloth wrapped around her breasts.
My breath caught in my throat as a wave of relief and gratitude washed over me. She’d been so injured, so devastated by the horrific attack. It was almost unimaginable that she could look so perfect again.
“See anything you like?” She asked playfully.
Her question broke my reverie and I moved my eyes up to hers, blowing out the breath I’d been holding. I leaned over the bed and hugged her to me. She wrapped her new arm over my back and pulled me in. We stayed like this for several minutes, until I couldn’t ignore the crushing pain any longer.
“You’re cutting off my air,” I wheezed.
“Oh, sorry,” Tabby said, letting go.
I stood up and Tabby swung her legs over the side of the bed. She leaned forward and slowly slid her feet to the floor, putting both of her hands on my shoulders.
“Good?” I asked as she balanced, for the first time on her legs.
“Better than good, it feels great!”
“Take it slow? I’ll walk backwards,” I said.
She shuffled her feet toward me and I kept pace, steering toward the open door. By the time we were five meters down the hallway I’d turned around and was walking next to her. She was focused, but not having a lot of problems.
“Getting tired?” I asked when we’d made it to the end of the hallway.
“Are you kidding? I feel like I’m in .1g,” she said. I could hear the smile in her voice without looking at her face.
I saw a female medical technician of some sort walk out of Tabby’s room and look up and down the hallway, obviously searching for her. I caught her eye and waved. She waved and leaned back against the door jamb, waiting for us to return. When we got closer, I recognized Dr. Sonia Lemaigre, Tabby’s original naval physician.
“Sonia. What are you doing here?” Tabby asked.
“I volunteered to be your attending during transition. I wouldn’t have missed seeing you walk again for anything.”
“How long does transition take?” I asked.
“We’re about halfway through it right now. I just need to take a couple of readings and you can get on your way,” she said, looking at Tabby.
“You don’t waste much time, do you,” I said.
“No, Mr. Hoffen. This is pretty much a victory lap in my profession. Hold on just a moment, Tabitha and let me get a reading on you.” Dr. Lemaigre pulled a small device from her lab coat’s pocket and ran it up and down Tabby’s scantily clad form. “Perfect, just like I’d expect.”
“I’m done?” Tabby asked.
“You’re a free woman, Tabitha. You might consider getting some clothes on though,” she said. They embraced and then Dr. Lemaigre left.
“Let’s get out of here,” Tabby said, her voiced filled with energy and excitement.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked.
“Not even a little. Seriously, I want to leave,” she said.
“Here.” I handed her the earwig I’d been holding since we’d checked in a month ago. She seated the device and it melded into her cheek line and disappeared. “Where do you want to go?”
“I need some clothes,” she said. I was surprised Tabby hadn’t made any effort to cover up. I felt bad that I hadn’t anticipated her release today and, as a result, I hadn’t brought her any street cloths.
We walked through the hospital and down the lift to the first floor. Tabby was getting a lot of looks from men and women alike as she strode confidently through the lobby. It was ten degrees outside and I could see my breath. Tabby, however, didn’t seem to notice.
A silver cab dropped from the sky and landed within moments of our exit. I followed Tabby into the cab as she gave me a mischievous look and pulled me past her lap, flipping me over onto the seat. Even if I’d wanted to resist, I wouldn’t have been able to. The strength in her right arm was incredible and I slammed, hard into the bench. She jumped on top, holding me in place with one arm and straddling me.
“Privacy mode,” I croaked out just before she kissed me roughly. It was a pattern we’d established when I’d first started picking her up at the Naval Academy.
I grabbed on to her hips and pulled her close, trying to gain some position, but I was helpless beneath her. We’d have to talk about her getting too rough, but I wasn’t about to interrupt our momentum at this point.
“Like what you feel?” she asked after ten minutes. We’d been making out with the cab still sitting in front of the hospital. I loved how her skin felt beneath my hands. I’d avoided going too far, but I’d certainly had my hands over most of her body. I was smart enough to keep from getting myself too worked up.
I was out of breath when I answered, “You’re so hot and you feel great.”
“How do you know I’m hot? You can’t even see me,” she said.
“No, seriously, your skin temp is warm. I’d think you’d be freezing.”
“Synthetic skin does that. I’m good to minus ten degrees. Lower than that, I might need to start covering up,” she said.
“Crazy. I doesn’t feel cold to me.”
I instructed the cab to take us to Katheryn’s Boutique in the Open Air District. Katheryn already knew we’d be coming once Tabby was out of the hospital, but I was afraid she wouldn’t be expecting us today. Her daughter, Natalia, or Tali as we called her, had been through a similar reconstructive surgery and she had a soft spot for Tabby.
Uncharacteristically, Kathryne embraced Tabby when we arrived.
“What will it be this time, dear?” She asked.
“Skirt and heels,” Tabby said.
“I might have guessed. I have just the thing,” she said. “You stay here, Mr. Hoffen, you know the drill.”
I nodded and sat in a comfortable chair at the front of the store.
Twenty minutes later, I stood up when Tabby appeared, wearing a short red skirt with bright red heels. She had a translucent off-white, long sleeved blouse on top, with a lacy bodice beneath that elegantly covered her midsection and tucked into the skirt. It was a lot flashier than anything she normally wore.
“We need to go somewhere nice,” I said.
“I want pizza,” Tabby said.