Red Between the Lines
Parker Foye © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The doctor was running late. To distract from the nervous shake of his leg and the sidelong looks from a woman with more metal than meat, Wynfield read about Nutrindustry’s latest attempt to address food shortages in the outer settlements. Two lies in, he lost patience and tossed the flyer aside. Propaganda wasn’t good for his blood pressure.
He chewed his nails, itching for a cigarette—for something to do with his hands. Desperate, he started drumming his fingers on his legs. The woman turned her glare up a notch and Wynfield stopped. He clenched his jaw. For all he wanted to quit the clinic and the woman’s stares, he needed to play nice. His eye had been glitching for weeks, and he’d never fly until it was fixed.
He’d resorted to reading the flyer again. Eventually a beep sounded from the drone at the desk, and the automated bolt unlatched from the consulting room door a beat later. Wynfield waited for someone to exit, but no one did. The drone beeped again, sounding as irritated as a fully artificial being could.
The impatient woman cleared her throat. “Are you going in or—?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going. Don’t short circuit.”
Wynfield rose to his feet, pausing when the change in altitude messed with his vision. When his eye didn’t recalibrate, he swore and covered it with his hand, navigating to the consulting room with his other hand outstretched so he didn’t fall on his ass. What a joke. If he tried to enlist now he’d be laughed out of the recruitment office; even with the bullshit about mods being superior to fleshware, and laws to prevent discrimination against people careless enough to lose their original parts, the Corps didn’t want cyborgs flying their ships. They’d been clear about that when Wynfield woke from his coma six months ago.
Now the life he’d managed to scrape together was threatened by hiccups in mods gained through flying the Corps’ tin buckets. The universe had a shitty sense of humor.
Letting the consulting room door slam shut, Wynfield headed for the worn seat at Dr. Razafindratsima’s desk. He glanced up to greet her as he did and stopped with one hand on the back of the chair, the other still over his eye.
“You’re not the doc.” Wynfield looked the guy behind the desk up and down, pausing at the top of his messy hair. “Not unless she’s grown ten inches.”
Dr. Razafindratsima was a squat woman with soft features and hard eyes, like she’d seen some shit. The lanky streak in her place had the same hard eyes but little of Dr. Razafindratsima’s softness, like he hadn’t come through the other side quite yet. It’d have to be close enough, since Wynfield’s insurance only got him service at one clinic, and he stood in it.
The guy smiled wide, but strangely uncertain, like he hadn’t a lot of practice. He gestured to the open seat. “Please, sit. I’m Yeven, and I’ll be covering for your regular doctor for the next month.” Yeven consulted his tablet, still smiling like Wynfield wouldn’t see through the glare if he cranked up the wattage. “You’re here about your upgrades?”
“Upgrades.” The guy had the right language at least, all sanctimonious hand-holding. Wynfield snorted and sat. He stretched out his legs to cross at the ankles and, reasonably sure the ground wouldn’t move on him, lowered his hand from his eye. His hair fell over his face in a tangle, and he shoved it behind his ear.
“You’re definitely a doctor, right?”
“Technically, I’m a bioworks interface engineer. And you’re Mr.—Mr. Wynfield?” Yeven’s smile dimmed, before turning conspiratorial. “You’re the interface, by the way.”
“I know.” Wynfield tilted his face so the doc could better see the mess he had to work with. “And this interface is fucked. Scans ain’t working, and my head feels like it’s on fire half the time. Can you fix this, or should I come back?”
He didn’t have time to come back. He needed fixing. Hell, Wynfield had needed his eye fixed for weeks, but it was only with his cash from Rawling’s retrieval job that he could cover the difference. But talk about your dirty money…
Whatever. It spent the same. And it would get Wynfield into the sky.
“Let me have a look.”
Yeven put down his tablet and leaned in with a small flashlight to inspect Wynfield’s eye. His breath was minty, and his hands warm when he cupped Wynfield’s face. Wynfield was self-conscious about his scars most days, with lines crawling out of his eye socket like a hand clawing from a grave, but Yeven simply hummed as he pressed at Wynfield’s brow and cheek in firm motions.
And there was another difference between this guy and the doc; Wynfield’s dick had never chubbed up when Dr. Razafindratsima took his vitals. He didn’t shift in his seat, because he was a grown-ass man and could control himself, but it was a relief all the same when Yeven returned to his side of the desk and picked up his tablet.
The smile was gone. Wynfield kind of missed it.
“What’s the prognosis, doc?”
Yeven didn’t look away from the tablet. “Swelling around the socket is impinging the setting. Caused, I suspect, by someone punching you in that pretty face.”
Comedian. Wynfield grunted. A woman with a devil of a roundhouse kick had left her boot print on his face when they clashed on Rawling’s retrieval job. Wasn’t outside the realm of possibility Yeven knew about identifying injuries, “interface engineer” or otherwise.
His sense of aesthetics was shot, though. Pretty face, my ass.
Yeven huffed out a breath and glanced at Wynfield. “I can’t do anything about the scanning function without a full work-up, and I’d need to schedule a session—”
Yeven continued like Wynfield hadn’t interrupted. “In the meantime, I can give you something to reduce the swelling, but you should return for an appointment to examine the damage. Too long without a proper tune-up and you risk vertigo becoming a major problem, in addition to the loss of functionality.”
He’d had a tune-up a month ago, as part of his phased rehab arrangement with the Corps. Wynfield bit back his first reply since it wasn’t Yeven’s fault Wynfield was defective. He made himself nod.
“I’ll take the fix and call back for the scans. How much?” It always came down to how much.
Yeven looked at Wynfield in surprise, as if the question hadn’t occurred to him. Must be nice being some fancy fucking doctor.
“It’s covered by your Corps insurance.” Yeven scribbled something with the stylus before replacing the tablet on his desk. “You can confirm the prescription and your next appointment at the front desk.”
Wynfield could smell shady shit when it fermented under his nose. His insurance barely covered minimum tweaks when everything ticked by as usual; no way would it cover extraneous damage. Dr. Razafindratsima was always real nice about it, but she ran a tight ship and Yeven was going to put her in the red. Something was messed up.
Keeping his expression neutral, Wynfield got to his feet and shook Yeven’s hand. Yeven’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. Wynfield tried not to think about those long nights in his ship toward the end, when he’d been avoiding his own reflection; he’d felt, then, how Yeven looked. He just thanked the man and got the hell out of the room.
On the way out Wynfield showed his ID to the drone at the front desk, confirming his prescription. He didn’t bother making a follow-up appointment. He didn’t trust anyone apart from Dr. Razafindratsima when it came to his eye.
Wynfield stepped outside and glanced at the sky. Habit. He couldn’t see the winking lights of the satellite settlements during the day but knew they were there. Sudden pain spiked at his temple, making him flinch, but his hands were steady when he looked down to light his cigarette. Those years steadying the wheel against gravity had to count for something. Else what was the point?
Wynfield blew out a spiral of smoke. Ain’t that the goddamn question.