Billy stood at the head of Brandt’s bed with Angela’s wheelchair alongside it. Corporal Williams took a break allowing them some privacy. Billy still wasn’t sure exactly what had happened to him in the confrontation with the demon, but he knew Angela had fixed it. Angela finished recounting all that had happened to Brandt. Billy wondered how much of what she’d said the injured man had heard. He didn’t appear to be listening at all. His eyelids remained half opened from the stupor induced by the pain medication. He had an inkling what burns over forty percent of the body felt like and he was sure Brandt was in a lot of pain.
“I thought he couldn’t feel anything?” Billy asked Angela in a quiet whisper.
“Caught some of the fire up my neck, kid,” Brandt responded. Billy looked shocked that he’d heard his whisper at all. “Legs and arms don’t work, kid. Ears work great.”
“Sorry. Does it hurt much?” Billy asked. Brandt ignored the question and addressed Angela as though Billy had left the room
“So, same thing happened to Cherry?” Brandt asked.
“Yes,” Angela simply said.
“Gotta get one of these Jarheads to teach the kid some moves,” Brandt slurred. “Or he’s gonna get burned too.”
“He did get burned, Brandt. Just like you,” she said.
“Don’t mess with me, Angie, I’m not in the mood. I haven’t been jacked out of the net for this much time, in I can’t tell you how long,” Brandt said, working his dry lips. “Stuff they’ve got me on gives me cotton-mouth something fierce. Give me a little water?”
Angela picked up the plastic jug and placed the straw between his lips. Brandt latched onto the straw and sucked thirstily. “Oh, that’s good. Thanks.”
“We think we have a way to get you healed up and back in the net.” Angela looked at Billy nervously.
“What’s the catch?” Brandt asked furrowing his brow with concern.
“You have to be inside for it to work,” she said.
“I can’t go inside. The drugs interfere with the neural pathways or something the shroud needs to get me inside,” Brandt said, trying to puzzle through the meaning.
“We know. You’d have to stop taking the pain medication for this to work,” she said softly.
“You got any idea how much that would hurt?” Brandt asked. Angela remained silent.
“Yes,” Billy said flatly with downcast eyes.
“And you’re not even sure you can get this to work or that it will work if you do what you think you need to do?” Brandt asked through a moment of clarity brought on by force of will.
“Yes,” Angela whispered. Brandt looked at her a moment, then shifted his eyes to Billy and back to Angela. Finally, he closed them altogether.
“No,” he said. He didn’t open his eyes.
“Brandt, we can heal you. The burns don’t look that bad. We can.” Angela quickly argued.
“No,” Brandt cut her off sharply. “No.”
Billy could see Angela’s cheeks flush with anger. He knew they could heal him, or at least he knew what had happened to him. He believed Angela could do it again. Angela set her jaw and wheeled herself the short distance to a screen attached to a swinging arm. It had been pushed back out of the way when Brandt got burned. She tried to reach the screen but could only get a fingertip on it.
“Let me help. Where do you want it,” Billy said stepping over and pushing the screen toward the head of the bed.
“Set it up so he can see it,” she said.
“No,” Brandt said more forcefully.
“Log in and call up the video feed. Set it to loop the fifteen seconds where I healed your burns,” she said. Billy did as he was instructed. “Now, start the loop and leave it where he can see it.”
“NO!” Brandt yelled, clenching his eyes closed. A nurse came around the corner to investigate the commotion
“You’ll have to leave if you’re going to agitate him like this,” the nurse said.
“Yes, ma’am. We’re leaving now,” Angela said. She turned to face Brandt and leaned in close. “Billy was afraid to go back in after his first encounter with the demons, but he went back in anyway. Are you going to let the Cherry have more courage than our big, veteran leader?”
Brandt didn’t say anything but a tear escaped one eye as he held them, clenched shut, his lips set in a deep frown. Angela started to say something more but stopped herself. She finally leaned away from Brandt who stubbornly kept his eyes shut. She nodded for Billy to push her out of the room, and they both left in silence as the video continued to loop on the monitor.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.