Matteo sat at his workbench and spread the doped VaporRub Chueco had given him. It was laced with who knows what but he spread it thick on his mouth and throat and chest. He calmed himself by focusing on his heartbeat and figuring out how he was going to get healthy red blood cells for his malaria to invade.
::Mijo, I think you are dying.
“No, not… not for much longer. I’ll get these new malaria cells printed quickly, then inject them into my bloodstream and I’m good.”
::Your color doesn’t look very good. You know that plan will not work. You can’t print infinite supplies of good, infected red blood cells. You’d need liters of crisper.
“I know that! I just haven’t eaten today. Why haven’t you reminded me to eat, today?”
::Sick. You are very sick. I’ve been monitoring your blood. Sin permiso, ya sabo, no te enojes. Pero listen to me, the blood cells, they are more curly than what most people have. Ninety-nine percent of people. I am sure that these malarias will not infect you.
“Walter Mercado was right?”
::When isn’t he?
Matteo sighed. “Very true. Then what do I… If I can’t just print blood, I need to get it from somewhere. Shit. I’ll have to constantly grow these things in someone else’s blood and then transfer them, won’t I?”
::Lo siento. That is a lot of work.
“It can’t be that bad. People live with much worse. They take medicines every hour, give themselves injections. Okay, then. Where’s the nearest hospital? That’s got to be my best bet for getting fresh blood,” he said.
::You will need to get parasite-infected red blood cells into your system within the next twenty minutes. There is a problem, though. You don’t have a properly registered Mist. You will not be able to request blood from a hospital without one. And what if they detect your blood condition? They may realize you are a…
“A mutant freak. You can say it. Ok. Ok. So what do I do? What can I do?”
::Los hospitales are required to help those who are gravely injured.
“You want me to hurt myself? Fall down the stairs or stab myself?”
::Well, not me. No mas —
“No way. I’d just die more quickly. What about blood drives? I could just waltz in and steal some vials, couldn’t I?!”
::Que chevere! Ahi esta un blood drive only a ten minute ride away. Rob them for some bags. Don’t forget your backpack esta vez, Cochino!
“Ok, I’ll figure it out when I get there.”
The blood drive truck was parked outside of a Matholic Temple with a line several-people deep. Matteo had as little grasp of reality and context as his last dream.
::Andale! No tienes tiempo, mijo.
The last time he was this anxious was for a very different reason, when Concha opened the door to Franky Espada’s and she looked into his eyes for the first time with interest. Was she thinking of him, in these, his last moments?
The round, joyful-looking nurse poked her head out. “Saw you pacing around earlier. Needles got you nervous, huh? Or were you hungry? Lines can get plenty stretched this time’a year! Everybody helpin’ us out. Puts a smile on your face, that’s for sure.”
“I just — I have a headache.”
She reached into her front pocket and pulled out a small packet of aspirin. “Here ya go, hun. It’ll only be fifteen minutes or so. I’d offer you an oatmeal cookie, but we only give those out after you donate,” she inhaled wistfully, “Tell you what, if this line doesn’t restore one’s faith in humanity, I don’t know what would!”
::Take it. That dosage will buy you some time.
He swallowed the pills and shaded his face with his hoodie. The people in line hung their lines of sight low, absorbed in whatever they were watching on their Mistview lenses. Lifetimes seemed to pass.
She finally sat him down and grabbed a glowscreen. It was connected by a coiled firewire to a computer inside of the van. She waved it over him a few times with care. “Hmm, no scan? This dumb old thing!” She banged the wall with a tight fist once and tried again. “Well looks like your Mist or our truck’s on the fritz. Always happens at the end of the day and on the last patient of the day, don’t it? Heh, I’ll have to ask you a few questions and enter them in myself on this old keyboard here…”
“No sex, no drugs, no disease, no allergies, no nothing.” And then he remembered to smile. He wondered if how he was feeling was how Jorge feels normally. The he cursed Jorge silently.
“Hmm, alright. Are you absolutely sure you’re not allergic to any medication?”
“No ma’am,” he said sweetly.
Three patient blood bags sat on top of one another within arms reach, still warm. A trail of sweat dripped from beneath his arms.
“Do you know your blood type?”
“O negative… I think.”
Behind the bags were about a dozen rubber stop glass vials, the expensive style of tubes that were super good for culturing.
“Oh! A universal acceptor! One of the lucky ones! You win a prize! Just kidding,” she snorted, “Let’s hope you never have to come in here needing blood, though. OK, hon, let me go ahead and wipe you down before I get the needle. Sorry for asking all that stuff. Heck, this machine’ll analyze it all on its own in a minute, anyway.”
::You’re going to have to immobilize her somehow.
The space inside of the truck was tight, but maybe with the right distraction he could stuff a bag of blood or two into his backpack and run. At the sight of the needle he said, “Oh… my…” and lulled his eyes backwards, feigning a faint, comfortable in his seat. She waddled to the back of the van for some ipecac. He lunged for the blood with his right hand and grabbed a portable transfuser with his left hand, and shoved the items into his bag. Then he emptied two drawers of supplies, including the culture vials.
“Wait a minute now! Those are not yours!” Her bottom lip quivered.
“Sorry, I really need these,” he said.
“You are committing a crime, sir! Employee fifteen forty authorizes route to nearest Ranger station!”
The van kicked into autodrive and its door began to close. Matteo tried to slip through, but the nurse was right behind him with his ankles in her hands.
::I told you to immobilize her, to knock her out.
“Oh fuck!” He fell onto his backpack and felt the blood bags burst. Matteo dropped headfirst into the blood.
“You listen, here. You’re not goin’ nowhere with my blood!”
He tumbled down the steps in front of the doorway as the van moved along at a slow speed, dragging her with him. She bonked her head on the last step and the back of her head hit asphalt. The door snapped tight on one of her knees. She loosened her grip on him completely.
“Oh shi — ” said Matteo, refusing to believe what was playing out in front of him at five miles an hour. Her head bounced on the ground, bobbing more and more freely. The rest of her body went slack and finally her leg relaxed and she slipped off the van entirely. She laid on her back, bloodied, not fifteen yards from where he’d fallen. The truck moved along its predetermined path without them.
He ran up to her and cradled her pebble-studded face. She wasn’t breathing and he couldn’t find a pulse.
“Fuck.” She was probably dead. And how was he going to unspill all the blood he needed to survive the next few hours?
::Look in your bag. Think. You still have options.
At the bottom of the bag was a butterfly needle and hose. He stuck it in her neck. No blood came out.
::Well, debes hacerlo bien. Make her heart start pumping again, like you make mine, even if it’s not real.
“Oh, duh.” He started pumping her ribcage. “I guess I could…”
::You are dying, quick!
He licked his lips and breathed into her turtle-like mouth. Blood began to flow into the bag. It filled halfway, and then her eyes lit up.
“Hey… where… AAAAAH! AAAAIIIEEE!!!! HELP!”
“Oh fuck!” He clocked her right in the temple and she was out cold again. A tranquilizer rolled out of her pocket and he stuck it in his bag.
::Que luck! I can see the truck has unlocked and stopped. It probably has an emergency stop program in the absence of passenger weight. Get more supplies while you can, mi amor.
“Is there anything in the locked storage worth going after — do you know?”
::Yes. She has the key.
He rifled through her pockets, got the key and jogged down to the mobile blood bank, which was stalled and a little lopsided. As he rifled through the cabinets, which held more blood and tranquilizers and needles, sirens blew in the distance.
On the ride back to his trailer, from somewhere deep inside his brain, he imagined Concha seeing that scene, seeing his desperation, and he giggled with her.
::You are so strong, mijo.
Inside he mixed the Church-printed malaria with the new blood, and watched them invade it under a light microscope. He opened the packaging of a sterile needle and syringe and drew up the liquid.
“I’m putting malaria into myself. Wait.”
“Well. I mean. What could go wrong. What does malaria do?” He brought up a search on his Mistview for footage of malaria patients. There were people on hospital beds with high fevers, some moving listlessly.
“Uh. No I can’t do this. This is stupid. I will die!”
::You will die, anyway.
“Shouldn’t I get a drug, like, they must have had medicine, in case this isn’t the friendly drug delivery malaria but just regular malaria, or if it somehow became virulent again?”
::No tienes tiempo.
He breathed deeply and pierced a visible vein in his arm. There was a plume of his blood that pressured back into the needle, and then he pushed the fluid in.
“I need to learn trust. I trust Concha. I love Concha. I feel so bad about that nurse.”
::Of course te sientes mal. You are not violent. Your life is on the line. Tienes todo el derecho.
“I need a drink.”
::What aren’t you telling me? You feel bad… but you also felt… excitement, no?