art by Void lon iXaarii
by John P. Murphy
Helena held Jack's hand tightly as the doctor returned to the exam room, with an unfamiliar man in a suit in tow. Helena said hello to them both. Jack said nothing, because since the morning prior, Jack couldn't say anything.
Doctor Steiner closed the door and sat at her desk, then busied herself at her laptop. The unfamiliar man in the suit glanced around at the now chairless room, frowned at the exam table, and finally stood with his back to the door and his arms crossed in front of his name badge. He looked unhappy, which made Helena unhappy. Jack said nothing, but Helena expected that he was unhappy too. According to the clock on the wall, they had been there for seven hours.
"I'd like you to meet Doug," Doctor Steiner said. "He's the chief of security at our hospital. He's the expert I asked your permission earlier to consult."
"Nice to meet you," Doug said.
"I don't understand," Helena said. "Why is he here?"
"Doug has been advising physicians on staff on certain trends in health security."
"Wait, are you accusing us of something?"
Doctor Steiner's eyes went wide. "Oh no, no no. I'm sorry. This is hard to explain."
"Maybe you should show them," Doug said.
"Show us what?" Helena held Jack's hand tightly. He squeezed back. "We've already seen all his test results. Haven't we?"
"Not quite all of them," Doctor Steiner said. "We swabbed your husb--" She cleared her throat, and turned her head. It hadn't been the first time she'd had to force herself to address her patient instead of the person who could speak. "We took a viral culture and sent it for analysis and sequencing while you were down in Imaging."
Helena recalled the lengthy series of brain images taken while asking Jack to try to speak or write, and the increasingly frustrated instructions from the white-coated techs when nothing seemed to pan out, or even appear out of the ordinary.
Jack nodded to the doctor, who swiveled her computer screen around to show them. In the middle of the screen was a block of text. Most of it was gibberish, but there was English in the middle, highlighted in blue.