In which Dodger gets shot.
In the hands of the professor rested a strange and ominous weapon. The body of the thing was a hand span in length, consisting of a coiled mechanism attached to a hollow chamber of sorts, with the whole affair backed by a plunger that lead to the gun’s trigger. Beyond this extended a thick needle at least twice as long as the rest of the gun.
“Vial, please,” the professor said, holding his empty palm face up and wiggling his fingers at Dodger.
It didn’t take a whole lot of thinking for Dodger to put the obvious clues together. The empty chamber. The needle. The trigger on the ‘gun.’ He clutched the vial to his chest and he stared at the offensive mechanism. “Uh-uh. No way. You are not sticking me with that thing.”
The professor sighed. “Mr. Dodger, give me the vial so we can get you ready for your little tete-de-tete.” He waggled his fingers again.
But Dodger wasn’t having any of that. “No. I … I just … I don’t like needles.” Which was putting it mildly, to say the least. It was one of his many secrets, a truth to which Dodger clung with cheek reddening embarrassment. Dodger more than just ‘not liked’ needles.
He was terrified of them.
Here was a man who had pulled many a lead plug from his bruised and battered body over the years of service to his county. Dodger had reset his own broken bones, bandaged his own wounds, even cut away the occasional chunk of snake bitten flesh. Sure, he had employed a needle for its natural intention, sewing many a wound shut, both his and others. But when it came to a needle designed with the soul purpose of squirting some unknown substance into his body, well, that’s where Dodger drew the line.
“Mr. Dodger,” the professor said. “If you plan on going into the fray with just your fists as weapons, then you will want those fists to be at their peek performance. Now give me the vial and stop acting like such a child.”
“I’m not acting like a child,” Dodger whined, even though he knew he was.
“Shuck it up, Sharge,” Ched said. “We’ve all been on the resheiving end of Doc’sh medishin.”
“Is that how you obtained your mysterious condition?”
“No,” the professor interjected. “Ched obtained his mysterious condition because he is a stupid, stupid, stupid man.”
The driver didn’t argue the point. Instead he tapped the thermometer once more and said, “We’re at prime if you’re ready to run, shir.”
“In a moment,” the professor said. “I don’t want to be underway while administering a number eight.”
“You can go ahead and leave,” Dodger said. “Because you aren’t administering anything today.”
The professor clucked his tongue in reproach. “Now, now. I promise it’s completely safe. You’ll hardly feel it. And the end result might surprise you. That sprain will become but a memory in moments. It’ll boost your energy too. Give me the vial.”
Dodger held fast to the vial with his good hand as he glanced at his bad one. “I don’t care if I grow a whole new hand, I’m not letting you shot me up with some kind of drug.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Grow a new hand. The very idea of a number eight growing a new hand is preposterous.” The professor chuckled a bit, and Dodger smiled with him before the man stopped his laughter short to add, “That would take a number thirteen. Which I’m out of at the moment. Do you know how very hard it is to find gargoyle guano in this area?”
Dodger cringed further away, narrowing his eyes at the men in the cab. “You people are insane. This isn’t a train. It’s a mobile Bedlam.”
Boon begged, Please, Dodger. Let him treat you.
“No. He and his needle can go to hell.”
He is correct. If you are going to go into a brawl, you will need both of your fists.
“I can fight one fisted just fine. I’ve done it plenty of times.”
That as it may be, you could do worse than accept the Doc’s help. Trust me.
“Trust you?” Dodger waved his injured hand at the professor. “This is the same man that got you killed!”
“Is he addressing you, Ched?” the professor whispered.
“I don’t think sho,” Ched said. “I think he’sh talkin’ to himshelf.” The driver twirled a long index finger in the air beside his temple. “Boy ish touched in the head.”
Dodger threw him a vile stare, to which Ched but beamed at in response.
If you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for Lelanea. She is in a danger even worse than you understand. She needs you at your best. We all need you at your best.
Dodger glanced around the cab, from man to man, wondering if he was alone in his hatred of the needle, or if the others were silently reveling in the fact that it wasn’t them under the gun this time. He relinquished the vial. “For the record, I don’t object to the needle. It’s the idea of not knowing what you’re filling me full of I don’t like.”
“I can’t fault you for that,” the professor said as he shoved the vial into the gun. It emitted a soft click as it fit into place. “But all you had to do was ask. I will be glad at any time to divulge the ingredients of each vial.”
“Certainly. I make the offer to all of my staff. You have every right to know what I’m filling you full of, as you put it.”
“Well … thank you. I appreciate that.”
“It’sh all gibberish anywaysh,” Ched said. “Polytri-blah-blah thish. Neutrino-ashidic-blah-blah that. It’sh besht to call it medishin and leave it at that.”
The professor leaned in closer, lowering his voice as he said, “For once I suspect I have an employee who will not only understand my gibberish, he might also appreciate the beauty of the chemical makeup. Yes?”
“We’ll have to see,” Dodger said.
“But enough talk,” the professor said. “I need to get this in your veins right away so you will have time to process it before you attempt to retrieve our Lelanea.”
Rolling up his sleeve, Dodger said, “You just do what you have to do.” He bared his forearm, ready to take the injection like a man.
The professor uncapped a bottle of rubbing alcohol and poured a bit onto a square of clean cloth before he noticed Dodger’s bare arm. “No, no, no. I’m afraid this doesn’t go there.”
For a moment, panic fluttered up Dodger’s spine. “And just where do you think you’re going to stick that thing?” A few very inconvenient and not to mention uncomfortable places sprang to mind.
“Number eight must be injected directly into the heart. It’s the only way to evenly distribute the compound before it breaks down into its basic chemical composition.”
An injection into the heart explained the impressive if not daunting size of the needle. Dodger wanted to refuse again, but supposed it wouldn’t do much good. With a groan, he set to unbuttoning his shirt, much to the pleasure of the professor.
“Excellent,” the man said. “I’m pleased to see you’re up to the challenge. Shall we discuss the contents now or shall I shoot first and ask questions later?” The professor tittered at his own joke. “Sorry, I don’t get to say that very often.”
“Just get it over with.” Dodger pulled open his shirt, then lifted the undershirt to expose the pocked and scarred landscape of his bare chest; the end result of a point blank shotgun blast to the breastbone.
Ched gave a low whistle through his clenched teeth. “Dam, Sharge.”
Son, you’ve seen some sorrowful times.
“I know, I know,” Dodger said as he ran a hand across his scored skin. “It’s not pretty. It’s also one of the reasons I left my last job. Not the main reason, but a close second.”
“If scarring like that is second down the list,” the professor said, “then I wouldn’t dare venture a guess at the main reason you left the work. I now understand why you didn’t want to talk about it.” Despite the cheerless sight of Dodger’s old war wound, the professor managed a weak smile. “I wished I could’ve been there to help you then. I can help you now, if you will allow me.”
“Go ahead.” Dodger said.
Without further warning—which came as a bit of a surprise considering how much jaw jacking the professor had done up to that point—the Doc leaned in with the rag and needle. In one swift motion he swiped the wet cloth across Dodger’s skin then rammed the long needle straight into Dodger’s chest. The professor squeezed the trigger before he pulled the gun away, the needle slipping in and out of Dodger’s heart with little resistance, smooth as warm butter on a hot biscuit. The whole thing took maybe three or four seconds at the most. When it was done, Dodger almost felt like a fool for making such a big deal about the whole thing.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Dodger admitted.
The professor dislodged the empty vial, capped the needle and stowed the whole works in his lab coat again before he said, “Oh, now it might take a moment for you to fully … ah yes, there you go.”
Dodger gave a gasp followed by a grunt as his eyes flew wide.