Chapter 31: Beat
One last thought flashed through Deena’s brain as the hydrostatic shock waves from the bullets smashed through her rib cage, her heart, and lungs, rupturing cells throughout her torso.
I want to live!
The nanobots interpreted the order, and went to work.
After the mass conversion to the tectonic project in the San Francisco area, only a small percentage of the nanobots were left in the host body. The remaining orders were limited—archive all the information they had learned about how to control this type of host and monitor the sensory stream. If the host managed to return to the vicinity of the forest transmitter, the information would be passed back to the other nanobots, and perhaps new orders would be sent.
Organizers had calculated the minimum necessary active population and sent the datastores, the assemblers, the pulsers, into protective hibernation in the interior of large bones.
They were prepared to wait over three years before autodestruct timers would cause them to disintegrate.
But now there were new orders.
My skin itches, like bugs are crawling all over me.
Memory returned in short clips. Deena saw the flash of the gun. She remembered the world tumbling as she fell back from the impact.
That must have hurt.
It should have killed me.
The impulse to scratch at the itches stalled. Her hand didn’t move.
Oh, no! I’m paralyzed!
But then the full scope of her situation connected.
I’m not breathing. She waited, for the distress of suffocation if nothing else. But it didn’t come.
Maybe I’m dead. She strained to hear her heartbeat. She could hear car traffic in the distance. She could even hear the waves of the Pacific crashing on the beach a couple of blocks away. A bird gave a long drawn out call. Little cricket-like noises were even closer.
But there was no shush-shush of her heartbeat.
I must be dead. The fact caused no shiver, no feeling of terror. More than anything else, her lack of emotional reaction was convincing.
Well, this is annoying.
She much preferred the traditional way. You get shot. You hover over the dead body and go towards the light, get met by friends and relatives who had died before, and go on to heaven.
Daddy? Are you there?
There was no answer.
Her afterlife was seriously messed up. Unless...
Unless her soul had already left—done the floating off to heaven thing. She would have. She was a good girl. Aggravating her mother didn’t really count.
Maybe this was just her decaying brain, left behind like a farm gone to ruin and weeds without an owner to run the place. Once a few more brain cells died, this last burst of consciousness would run its course and she wouldn’t have anything to worry with.
The gun flashed again. In memory, she saw Luther getting out the car, horrified, coming to her rescue.
That was stupid. I hope he realized that and made his escape.
The gun flashed. I’m gonna have nightmares about that. Or no, maybe not.
The itch was getting worse. You don’t suppose...Oh, gross! If she were dead, then the scavengers would already be at work. Those were probably insects. Any moment now the vultures would come down and start to peck away at her eyes. Just as well that I can’t see. Would it hurt?
She was sensing things—hearing, smelling, itching. But the gunshot wound should hurt, and there was nothing but a gaping numbness in her chest.
The gun flashed.
Wait. That was different.
Flash. Flash. Flash.
Her left eyelid was fluttering. That was real light, real vision.
Wait a minute. Corpses don’t start blinking.
It was a risk to bring the host brain back to consciousness, but recovery was not going to be possible without host assistance.
For one thing, one of the bullets was blocking the reconstruction of a heart valve. Moving it themselves would take valuable time.
For another, attacks from other life forms were causing new damage to the skin faster than they could repair it. Internal organs had a much higher priority.
Communicating the needed activities would be difficult, but there was no choice.
Deena’s first sight after her death was her bloodstained blouse.
Oh, great. Another outfit ruined after one wearing. I’ll never get that stain out.
It’s probably torn, too. There would be a bullet hole.
The blinking eyelid seemed to be on auto, like a windshield wiper.
Her head jerked a fraction of an inch.
When it happened again, the pieces came together.
Nanobots. I still have nanobots.
They were moving her like a puppet.
They’re trying to do something. Well anything more than letting her dead body lie there and decompose was a positive step.
Hey, nanobots! I’m here. Can I help? I do know how to drive this body, you know.
There seemed to be no reaction. Her head kept its minute adjustments.
Okay, if they were trying to move her head, she’d go along with it. Going with the flow, she willed her head to move.
Progress. It wasn’t easy, but it was the first voluntary muscle movement since she had died. Deena was pleased.
Until she saw the gory mess that had been her chest.
Her other eyelid blinked.
They all said I was smart. High IQ, good SAT scores, all that. Let’s see if I can figure this out.
She was looking at the bullet holes. Three of them!
The nanobots had gone to great effort to show them to her. Now they were getting her other eye in shape to be used. The only reason for two eyes was binocular vision.
They wanted her to be able to see clearly and estimate distance correctly.
They need me to do something. I need to move my hand.
It twitched. The left hand was behind her, trapped by her body, but the right hand was free. However, it was still a long way from being under her full control.
Deena put her mind to the task. Shortly, walking like a crab—thumb and index finger—she edged it toward her chest.
The blouse itself was a barrier. Long past worries of modesty, she released the two top buttons.
The bullet holes were clearly visible now.
She could only wince mentally, but that she did. Her index finger pushed past the dried blood and poked inside.
Did the nanobots turn off the pain? If so, she was grateful. The fingernail scraped the bullet. Concentrating, she managed to hook the edge. It took minutes, but she edged it out.
The second one took longer. It had been deeper.
But by the time she moved her finger to the third bullet hole, she was startled to realize that it had already closed up. She could feel fresh skin forming over the hole.
Her head abruptly relaxed.
Okay, they must be done. Either the bullet wasn’t critical, or it had gone out through her back.
Time to rest, I guess.
There was still no heartbeat. No breathing. Considering where the bullets had gone in, she wasn’t really surprised. If the nanobots could keep oxygen and nutrients moving without a heartbeat, at least in limited fashion, then it would make sense to wait until repairs were completed before they started. No sense in pumping more blood out the holes.
How much of their effort is spent keeping my brain ticking over?
Suddenly, she wasn’t overly worried about scratching the itch. She could do without large muscle movements for now.
A honking car woke her. Her eyes opened to the red clouds of sunset.
And a large black beetle walking across her face.
She reacted. Her hand moved quickly, plucked up the insect and dropped it in her mouth. With a crunch, she bit, squirting juice down her throat.
Oh, gag! What did I do?
She shivered. Heartbeat pounded in her ears. She gasped.
I can move!
Struggling against severe weakness, she attempted to sit up.
I need food! That was plain. One clear look at her arm showed why.
Her worst fear of ending up skin and bones was close to reality. She was a skeleton with skin.
The repair work had been extensive, with major reconstruction of her chest—after significant blood loss. That biomass had to come from somewhere. They had scavenged from her other muscles.
I just hope I can walk.
She needed food—more than just stray bugs.
Sitting up, she felt her blouse stick to the ground. How much blood had poured out of her?
The effort caused her heart to beat rapidly.
Slow and steady wins the race.
She rolled to one side. The vegetation showed the trail where she had been dragged. The street had to be that way.
Crawling through the leaves caused some of them to squash against her skin. The moisture felt good. I’m badly dehydrated.
For now, the nanobots had her pain turned off, and her mind was oddly calm about the whole strange situation. She was grateful, but she would need to feel pain, feel thirst and hunger, if she had any hope of getting back to normal.
Bushes lined the street. Low branches gave her the support she needed to stand up.
It was dusk. She was grateful. Bloody, emaciated, wearing torn clothes, anyone who spotted her would know something was wrong.
Now is not the time to get acquainted with a hospital emergency room.
If the nanobots stayed in her, it might be too dangerous to see the inside of a hospital ever again.
Reaching apartment 113 took over an hour, including two close calls with passing cars. What little strength remained in her was almost gone by the time she reached the doorknob.
It was locked.
Tears welled up. It’s not fair. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and then tried the knob again.
I was strong before. Nanobots, can you hear me? Make my arm strong again.
She strained against the lock, but it didn’t budge.
Once started, her tears seemed to be flowing on their own. Oh, great. That’s just what I need. More fluid loss. When she tried the doorknob again, her hand slipped from the tears.
She couldn’t stay there in the doorway. People would see her.
But she just knew there was food inside. Katy was missing, but she must have had a refrigerator. Food, water, a bath! Everything she needed was inside.
Gripping tightly, she tried again. With a metallic creak, the knob turned. She was in.