Whispers of Mars [Chapter 4]
The next time Cecil found himself awake, a familiar voice came to visit the medbay. Agrippa was the man with the bald head and the gentle voice. “How is he?” He asked, definitely directed to Maria at the corner of the room behind the desk.
“I… don’t think…”
Cecil slid up in the bed as silently as possible. Agrippa’s eyes immediately turned his way. The older man nodded a greeting before coming up with the words to speak. “Ah, so you are awake. Are you sleeping properly these days?”
“Yes…. I mean…” Cecil thought to himself. He couldn’t remember what a normal sleep felt like, or when he had last experienced something that resembled such a thing.
“The commander wants you… he wants the bed space here in the medbay back. Your bunkmates have been asking about you as well. How do you feel about getting out of here?”
Cecil nodded. “I could… I could get some food in me,” he said, pursing his lips and trying to decide on an emotion.
Agrippa looked at Maria, who gave a gesture of agreement. “I should avoid offering him the supplements on an empty stomach anyways. Something easy to digest, though.”
Agrippa rubbed his hands together. “I shall… see what they are serving.”
The nurse stood to begin fiddling with the boxes and bottles while Agrippa was absent once again. Her tray rattled as she dosed out the pills and tablets. Soon enough, the older man had returned.
The hefty plastic tray had seen countless meals and countless clacks of utensils. The main dish was a heavily seasoned vegetable protein in an indescribably colorless lump, but it had been plated graciously with a pile of corn kernels. “From the farms?” Cecil asked, looking between the delivery man and the food.
“I managed to snatch some for you,” Agrippa boasted.
“Agrippa,” Maria asked. “While he eats, may I speak to you again. In the hall?”
Cecil glanced their way a few times as he prepared to take the utensils in his hands. The food met with his mouth, sticky and unctuous, salty and peppery— not far from what he remembered. It settled heavily in his stomach after the first of the few arduous swallows. The voices of the other two found their way through the door in muffled bursts.
Cecil attempted to taste the corn adorning one pocket of the tray. The spoon shook, barely able to contain the loose kernels. The motion of bringing the food up to his mouth had somehow exhausted him, and his head pounded. Maria and Agrippa finally returned through the noisy door.
“Cecil,” Agrippa spoke up first. “The commander intended for you to go and report before him tomorrow morning, but we’ve come to the decision that you should be kept here longer for more recovery and evaluation— for your own good.”
Maria nodded from her place beside Agrippa. “We believe… we’re imagining that the return to the regiment of the normal supplements should make you feel normal once again,” her head perked up, and she turned back to the counter to the little reusable cup that rattled with pills.
Cecil watched the nurse’s hand as she walked toward him, adding the cup to the presentation of disappointment upon his tray. “Once you’re finished eating, take those. It’s the same dosage as it has been, so take them slowly. Oh, I’ll get you some water…”
Cecil’s hair stood on end as he heard the word. He didn’t know why. He distracted himself— and hopefully the others— by picking up the cup and staring at the pills.
At some point, the purpose of every last pill and capsule had been explained to them, everyone there who had come there to the red planet. Some were described to be on the experimental side, made specifically for their uses, while most others simply were there to replace that which they would have otherwise gotten under normal human circumstances. The biggest capsule was a slow-releasing melatonin, as it had been discovered that the natural production of it was stunted under their unique conditions. The Vitamin D supplement was for a similar reason— the difference in the levels of sunlight, as well as to help absorb the calcium supplement that was mixed in. Some pills were taken weekly, others every other week, and some once a month. The main rotation was all there, the same pills Cecil had swallowed countless times since his arrival.
Agrippa and Maria muttered to each other, disguising their voices over the sound of the sink’s running water. Cecil shivered at the sight and the sound of the shimmering flow of the tap. He looked back down at his half-finished food as they went silent again, turning their attention back to him.
His eyes traveled back and forth between the two of them. The older, bald man’s gaze was intently fixed on him, while the nurse’s was lowered and transient. The second cup took up another spot on his tray, supported by his lap. Cecil forced a smile, and the other two backed off. He played with the slop and forced down another bite for appearances. Out of the corner of his eyes, he followed the others.
The woman let out a low sigh and returned to the desk at the corner of the room and the creaky stool. The man looked at Cecil, then the woman.
“Well, I still have work to do. I’m glad that you’re on the road to recovery, Cecil. Maria—“
Following the shift in the man’s attention and words to the woman, Cecil took the change to toss the pills back and swallow them dry, then took the cup of water and deposited it in the bedpan on the side table. Before he could place both containers within each other, he caught what seemed to be the man staring him down for a brief moment out of the corner of his eye.
“I will expect her,” The woman said to whatever the man had informed her of.
The man headed for the door and nodded back. “Let me know if anything comes up.”
If the bland food didn’t kill Cecil’s appetite, it was the medication as it began to dissolve and bubble away in his stomach. Maria worked for a short while longer. The late shift nurse, a man, was in soon after, exchanging a few words and instructions with her. When the lights dimmed, save for the focused work lamp on the corner desk, Cecil felt what seemed to be a natural urge for sleep sweeping its way through him…
The peaceful sleep was interrupted by the pounding in his head. Cecil was covered in sweat when he awoke. The blankets were heavy on him. He attempted to breathe, but a great weight seemed to fight against the rising movement of his chest. He attempted to call out, to scream, but his throat was closed up. The pounding in his head grew worse.
Cecil managed to find his hand to the railing of the bed, a set of cold metal bars. He shoved the covers off of him and sit up, twisting himself around for support. The locking mechanism on the railing failed suddenly, causing him to topple forward onto the floor. He landed with a loud crack, followed by a dizzying pain that compounded with his throbbing temples. He couldn’t breathe.
The light flickered on. The male nurse was at his side. Cecil shoved the man’s grasp away from him. He couldn’t breathe. He felt at his throat as the nurse grabbed him by the shoulders. Cecil clawed at his own face and neck, still leathery and tight. His throat rejected the air about him. His fingers entered his mouth as if trying to claw himself open from the inside out. He began to wretch, teeth digging into his skin. The food and pills from earlier came up and slopped onto the ground and down his front. His chest heaved as the air was finally able to return.
The light above flashed red. Maria entered the noisy door, followed by the doctor. They pushed Cecil up, pulled him off the floor, and held him back to the bed. “Breathe. Just breathe. You’re okay.”
Cecil’s chest rose and fell in quick bursts as he sucked in more air.
“He must have aspirated.” The doctor said, stepping around the mess on the floor. “Maria, help me get this cleaned up. Paul, why didn’t you have an eye on him?”
“I was here. The whole time. He was breathing normally, pulse normal until… just now.”
The throbbing of Cecil’s head felt like the beating of his heart and the pull of his lungs on the cold air of medbay. As his breathing slowed, so did his heart and the pain along his brow. The medical staff felt at his wrist, and listened to his heart and peered down his throat and checked his temperature. Sleep returned to him.