Sasha woke with several nurses surrounding her doing incomprehensible things and a doctor with a stethoscope around his neck applying it to her chest, gaze glued to a monitor attached to the wall beside her bed.
She sat up in bed, quite rested, and looked interestedly about.
“What’s happening?” she said.
The doctor looked at her in astonishment. This did not affect the young redhead’s bedside manner. He pushed her gently back down to lie flat. One of the nurses was quick enough to fluff Sasha’s pillow before her head rested upon it.
“Do you always sleep this soundly, young lady?” Sasha found his mode of address funny; he looked little older than her seventeen years.
She resisted laughter at his pretence of august authority, then had to fight doubly hard to stay outwardly calm. A delightful thought had occurred to her.
She had been certified dead by expert medical personnel armed with experience and all the latest diagnostic equipment. And deep within herself some esoteric perception told her that they had been right. Yet she was undeniably alive, certifiably so by the same equipment and experts who had declared her dead. They would never let her leave this hospital until they had an explanation for their seeming failure. Not the least because they feared a lawsuit by her mother, an influential corporate attorney who had once been an assistant district attorney so fierce she had been nicknamed The Shark.
“Why, yes, doctor. Very soundly. My sisters joke how I sleep like the dead when I’m very tired.”
Their monitoring equipment had apparently signaled the medical people around her that she had been near death. Or maybe even dead. No wonder they were excited.
They needed distracting to let their minds wander toward the speculations she hoped her words would set off.
“Is my mother here? I was told she was on her way.” An exaggeration, but it had the effect she had hoped for. The nurses returned to their other duties and the doctor took a step away from her and examined her face. He seemed to be seeing her a bit more as a person.
Just then her mother did indeed show up, walking fast into the room and stopping very still while examining the oldest of her daughters. She was breathing fast, as if she had been running, and a strand of her usually perfect chin-length blond hair strayed across her face. She swept it into place while continuing to look closely at Sasha.
“It IS you. You ARE alive.”
“Yes, Mamá. I’m alive.”
Suddenly her usually unflappable mother was weeping and rushing to embrace Sasha, slowing at the last minute to turn her hug into a gentle cradling motion.
Sasha was weeping too and hugged her mother fiercely. “I’m OK, Mom. I’m not hurt. I’m fine.”
Her mother straightened enough to look her daughter in her face, eyes roving.
“You do seem so. But don’t you go disobeying the doctors.”
She turned toward the one standing on the opposite side of the hospital bed. Sasha noticed as she followed her mother’s gaze that he had freckles.
“Is she truly well?”
“She certainly seems so, Ms. Canaro. We had a small concern a few minutes ago but that turned out to be a false alarm.”
“What was the … concern?”
“Sasha’s cardiac and respiratory rate dropped very low. We may have had a machine malfunction.” He waved a hand at the wall beside Sasha’s bed and the wires running from the equipment in the wall to Sasha’s body.
Her mother glanced at Sasha and her attention checked. She touched her daughter’s hair and frowned slightly, then absent-mindedly began stroking Sasha’s hair while turning back to the doctor.
“What happened to my daughter? First everyone was sure she was dead. Now she seems fine.”
“I was just nearby when her monitoring equipment acted up. I haven’t been in on discussions of that subject.”
Sasha wished she knew a more convincing explanation than “Sasha sleeps deeply” for what had happened to her. And suddenly her newly acquired knowledge of human biology offered up just such an explanation.
“One of the doctors thought it might have been a … protective reflex to oxygen deprivation and … carbon dioxide poisoning. It shut down my lungs or something.”
“Carbon MONoxide poisoning. Yes, I suppose that’s possible.”
Sasha knew the difference between atmospheric carbon dioxide and deadly fire-made carbon monoxide. But the malapropism had seemed more convincing.
“Well ….” The young doctor was interrupted by the hurried arrival of the handsome middle-aged doctor she had met earlier.
“Ms. Canaro. Joseph Carnaby. I’m your daughter’s personal physician. Thanks, Michael, for being so quick to handle the situation. I’ll let you get back to your duties.”
The red-head (nice wide shoulders, face quite good-looking, Sasha thought, despite his pale skin and freckles) frowned a bit but suffered his dismissal gracefully. He murmured a polite goodbye to the two women and left with one final backward glance at Sasha.
She reflected a moment on the fact that a woman working to go to the Olympics had little time for dating. But maybe an ultra-busy doctor like the red-head would be content with a quick bout of sex now and then and let her get on with her own ultra-busy life.
Sasha pulled her attention back to the moment. Her “personal physician” had just mentioned the need for advanced tests on her. She did not want that. Or if unavoidable she wanted someone on her side who would consider her well-being before anything else.
“Mom, I was thinking of Doc O’Neill earlier. Is he back from the Caribbean?”
Their personal physician ever since she could remember had retired several years ago. He and his wife traveled a lot but he kept a few patients “to keep his hand in.” He had twice been president of the local American Medical Association and once of the national. He would not let anyone treat Sasha as a guinea pig.
“Yes, dear. They came home as soon as they heard … about you.”
“I want him as my personal physician. I’m sorry, Doctor. It’s just that I’ve known him all my life.”
“I’d be happy to have Doctor O’Neill to consult with us. When his health allows, of course.” The man was not going to easily give up on his chance to poke into a medical mystery.
Sasha exchanged a glance with her mother, who blinked slowly, almost sleepily.
Sasha knew this look well. It meant We’ll see about that. Sasha was suddenly cheerful.
“I’m very happy that such a capable doctor took care of our little girl. Could we have some time together? It’s going to take some getting used to the idea that my daughter is not dead after all.”
The doctor seemed to be smart enough not to take lightly the wishes of the small, seemingly fragile, forty-something blond beauty before him. He made a graceful exit.
Her mother took both Sasha’s hands in hers and looked at searchingly at her daughter. “Are you really all right?”
“I’m fine. Better than fine, in fact.”
“You do seem so. You are a little changed, though.”
Her mother dipped her hand into her fashionable purse and pulled out a round hand mirror. She gave it to Sasha.
“My hair turned white!” Instead of dark and curly it was platinum blond, straight, and arranged in a pageboy that curved gently inward. Exactly like the hair of a movie star she had admired recently. And not unlike her mother’s.
“My eyes are blue!” Not grey. And a bright sky blue. This startled her more than a hair-color change.
Her mother let her spend a minute or so examining herself in the mirror before she interrupted. “You seemed not to like the idea of them giving you more tests. Don’t you think we need to know more about what happened to you? To make sure it doesn’t happen again?”
“I know what happened. And I’ll tell you all about it. But after I get out of the hospital.”
“There are more changes, aren’t there? Ones you don’t want anyone to know about.”
“Except you. And Dad. Please, I need to get away from this hospital.”
“Very well. I’ll make it happen. But only if you let Doctor O’Neill in on your big secret.”
Sasha thought a moment about that. Then nodded. The old man was still very sharp despite his age, and he put the welfare of his patients above anything else.
Her mother pulled out her cell phone. It was answered at once.
“Jonathan, could you get over to Sasha’s hospital right away? She’s not dead.”
It took a few exchanges to convince Doctor O’Neill that she was not drunk or delusional, but soon she snapped her phone shut.
“He’ll be here right after lunch. Now, I’m going home. I want to tell your father about you personally, not over the phone. Then we’ll collect your sisters and come back. Oh, and your brother. He got into town this morning. He insisted on being here despite that training camp.”
Her older brother was a football star nearing graduation from a prestigious eastern college.
“Oh, I’ll be so happy to see him! And everyone else!”
Her mother stood looking at her a moment. Then hugged her, fiercely this time. She left with tears at the edges of her eyes. Sasha sniffed and let her own tears fall.
Sasha let herself drift off to sleep again after giving her body a silent lecture on sleeping normally rather than super-deeply. It must have worked. Only a cheery nurse bringing her lunch awakened her next time.
Sasha thanked her politely, but her thoughts were less polite as she ate. Soup with soft crackers followed by Jell-O was not what she wanted. But it was food and she devoured it all and licked the soup and dessert bowls clean. The nurses were nice enough to give her extra milk; her body told her she needed extra calcium.
Afterward she again lay back in her bed with her eyes closed. But this time she sought enlightenment rather than sleep.
First she followed the progress of her food inside her. Like everyone else, or so she supposed, she had always had a mild inward perception. But it had been no more specific than full tummy, too-full, hungry, and such. Or full bladder, etc. And headache, nauseous, etc.
Now she could visualize — and sense — the food’s progress down to details so minute she could practically do chemical analyses on what she ate. She even followed the absorption of the digested food into her blood stream.
This led her to explore the flow of her blood, from large arteries from her heart to increasingly small ones. These led to capillaries, veins so small and finely meshed that they delivered blood to every cell of her body. Capillaries grew into ever-larger veins, and these eventually delivered depleted blood back to her heart for continued circulation.
During circulation her blood also picked up food from her gut and oxygen from her lungs.
Next she examined her muscles, from the inside out. She found she could sense and understand them even better than she had when she took a sports physiology class. Better yet, she could command her muscles to be stronger. As a result she was able to pick up the heavy bedside rolling table with one hand and lift it with no strain.
Watching this action from the inside she noticed that her finger bones were deforming and near to breaking at points. She quickly let the table down, with a bit of a bang. She had strengthened her muscles without strengthening her bones.
She also had a sudden thought which frightened her. She could have broken her mother’s back earlier when she hugged her. Clearly super-powers, as she was beginning to think of them, had to be carefully studied and trained.
With that thought her fear lessened. Much of her life had been spent in studying and training her body to, eventually, go to the Olympics. This was just more of the same, a sort of advanced education course if she did it right.
Noise in the hall outside interrupted her thoughts. Her family had arrived.
Gianna, “the elf,” flew to Sasha’s bedside, then checked her nine-year-old ballet-trained body a step away from the bed. She stared at her older sister, her large chocolate eyes accusing. “They said you were dead.”
“Hey, Gia, it’s not my fault! I was in a, a sort-of coma. It was so deep they thought I was dead.”
Their sixteen-year-old middle sister, Silvana, “the beauty,” pushed Gianna aside. “Try not to be quite so childish.” Her hair was dyed the same gold as their mother’s. Her face seemed serene but Sasha could tell from the sheen in Silvana’s brown eyes that her sister was holding back tears. Silvana leaned over the hospital bed and gracefully laid a delicate kiss on Sasha’s cheek.
“Hey!” said Gianna. “I was here first.” She gave Sasha a robust kiss.
Then their father was there, tears streaming down his brown handsome face. “Thought I had lost you!” he said in Spanish. He approached her reverently, his gaze intent on her face. He bent and embraced her carefully, as if she would shiver into tiny china shards from a mere touch.
“Papá! I was only sleeping!” She hugged him as carefully as he hugged her and with greater reason. Even so, he grunted and pulled away, laughing.
In English he said, “I see you are well. Or feel it. You almost broke my ribs.”
“I did not!” she said, half truly indignant and half playing along with his pretend accusation.
Her brother Brandon, half a head taller and broader than their soccer-lean father, hugged his dad with one arm and simultaneously crowded him aside. “Hello, Shrimp. You would give me a heart attack. And force me away from training camp.”
“Come here, idiot.” She spread her arms wide. When he leaned down to hug her she grabbed him around his massive chest and gave a hug carefully gauged to be painfully but not crushingly tight.
“Ouch.” He stood, surveying her watchfully. “Guess you are OK. Hey, I gotta warn you. I phoned the Mutant Twins to let them know the good news. They’re going to descend on you the moment school lets out.”
The “Twins” were her two closest girl friends, dark-haired and -eyed Rocio and Tina, blond, blue-eyed, and called Tiny because she was not. Despite their physical differences calling them twins was not irony. Their temperaments were similar, as was how they moved, and they sometimes finished each other’s sentences. Most people who saw them together thought they were fraternal twins.
Lastly her mother kissed her cheek. Then she stood by the bed, a hand on Sasha’s shoulder. “We need more chairs,” she said. The three children left and quickly returned, each bearing a chair. These had light metal frames and brown or grey plastic backs and seats, padded and shaped to fit a body.
Sasha’s father sat in one of the two easy chairs but her mother stayed where she was. The two girls sat in the chairs they had appropriated from somewhere. Brandon leaned against the door frame.
“I spoke to Doctor O’Neill again,” her mother said to Sasha. “He repeated that he would be here soon, after we’ve had a chance to visit. Now, tell us what you remember happened.”
“There’s not much to tell. I went to bed as usual. I woke up in a metal … coffin? I put my hands over my head and straightened my body. My feet pressed against the foot end. I pressed hard and snapped the lock on the door. The bottom of the box slid out and I got off.”
She snickered. “The morgue attendant was really shocked. He screamed and ran out of the room. I found a lab coat to wear and looked myself up on his computer. That’s when I found out what happened. And now you know everything I know.”
Except that I died and came back to life. Improved. I think.
The family settled down to chatting almost normally, but eyeing Sasha intently. She soon switched the subject from herself to them. Gianna was the easiest to switch, her father the hardest.
After a bit over a half hour she thought she heard the voice of old Doctor O’Neill down the hall. She listened intently and suddenly his voice was so easily understood it was as if a volume control had been turned up. He was talking to the little senior nurse, perhaps at the nurses’ station. Apparently they knew each other from far back; their manner was unusually informal for doctor-nurse conversation.
The nurse was saying that everything she had seen of Sasha said she was perfectly healthy and rational, and that all the vital signs they were monitoring electronically agreed. The doctor then asked the nurse about herself and her family, then they talked a bit about his Caribbean trip. Finally he said it was time to see his patient.
“Dear,” her mother had just said, “are you getting tired?”
“Oh, no. It’s just that I thought I heard Doc O’Neill.”
Every one turned to look at the doorway, where Brandon was looking down the hallway and grinning at someone. He held out his hand and Doctor O’Neill grasped it, coming into view near the doorway. They exchanged a few comments, which Sasha could not make out. Apparently her super-hearing switched back to normal if she did not try to listen hard.
The doctor punched one of her brother’s shoulders and entered the hospital room. He was tall, thin, had a lined face and bushy silver hair, but stood erect and moved easily. He was wearing a loose short-sleeved shirt of a wildly floral tropical print. Bermuda shorts and open-work sandals showed tanned skinny legs and feet.
He shook Canaro’s hand, tousled Gianna’s curly hair, shook Silvana’s hand, and hugged Sasha’s mother with one arm. Then he took her mother’s place and gazed at the supposed invalid.
After long seconds gazing intently at her he put his hands in his pockets. “Getting into more trouble, I hear.” His face was straight but a smile lurked behind it.
“Still pretending to be a doctor, I see.” She couldn’t hold her face straight. She felt a large smile curving her lips.
He turned toward her family. “OK, all out. I’ve got to pretend now.”
They left, though not without fuss. Shortly the doctor and Sasha were alone together.
She started to speak but he held a finger up his lips. She mimed shock, then puzzlement. He tapped an ear and pointed and looked upward.
Might listening devices have been planted in her room? She doubted it. But he might know something she did not, and it could not hurt to play along.
She mimed exasperation, then resignation.
He took the listening end of his stethoscope in one hand so that it would warm. “Very well, let’s go through the motions. Though these instruments they have you hooked to can measure a mouse fart a mile away.”
Despite his casual words he listened to her heart intently through his old-fashioned pneumatic ‘scope. Then he had her sit up and breath deeply while he listened to her breathing with the ‘scope touching her back in several places.
He put away his stethoscope and took her pulse, examined her finger nails, looked closely at her eyes, and tapped various nerve endings on the soles of her feet with a fingernail long enough to almost to prick her skin.
Finally he stood back and looked at her critically, looking from one eye to the other.
“Just as I thought. Healthy as a horse. A healthy horse.”
“Can I leave now?”
“And give all the old grannies here a shit fit? No, I’ll write orders to cut you loose in the morning. And call the General to marshal her troops for ought nine hundred.”
“I’m afraid they’re going to force me to have more tests.”
“We’ll fix that.” He took the record holder from the record wallet at the foot of the bed and made several entries. The last one was obviously in big letters, followed by a slashed signature.
He said, “‘To ensure needed total rest no further tests.’ If they try to ignore that they face possible legal action. And not one lawyer in this state is going to go up against the General.”
That wasn’t quite true, but her mother was not an attorney for anyone to take lightly.
“Just to make sure, I’m going to go straight to that broken-down old hack who runs this hospital, tell him my orders, and buy him a drink. That should get him out of this place before dark. If he keeps overworking he’s going to end up a patient here. And wouldn’t that be fun.”
“Look who’s calling someone a hack.” A man who could have been O’Neill’s younger brother — and was — was standing in the doorway.
“Look who the cat drug in.”
The man wore a dark suit with a red tie. He came in and looked at Sasha. “So you’re our star patient. Glad you’re back with us, young lady.”
“Me too!” She smiled her best smile at him. Though she did not equal Silvana’s beauty her smile could still cause men to run into doorways. It did not show any outward effect on this man, but Sasha did hear a slight increase in his heart rate.
After a few more pleasantries all around the two men left, her doctor with an arm slung casually over the shoulders of the head of the hospital. In minutes a nurse and an aide came into the room and removed Sasha’s IV. They also had her fill out a dinner menu. Sasha ordered solid food and lay back to sleep.
Whispers woke her a couple of hours later. She noticed another emerging talent. She had an internal clock. It said the time was 4:13 pm. This was just enough time for her two best friends to get out of school and make their way to the hospital.
“She looks OK,” said one whisper.
“Should we wake her? Maybe we should just sit here a while.”
Sasha cut the conversation short by sitting up in bed, making a face, and raising her hands arranged in claws.
Two gasps answered her. Before her the two girls clasped each other in alarm and stared.
“Gotcha!” Sasha could not contain her laughter.
The two girls released each other and glared at her.
“You are so mean.” Tina was a tall thin blond with a face which trembled between plain and elegant. She had the pale skin of her Scandinavian ancestry. She was a ferocious basketball player.
Rocio was short and built, with emphatic dark eyebrows and meltingly lovely large dark eyes from her own ancestry, Italian and Greek. She was a cheerleader and a senior like her sort-of-sister Tina.
Sasha’s family and Rocio’s were kin two or three generations back. Partly because of that, and partly because Sasha’s brother was hot, Rocio had adopted Sasha when she entered high school one year behind the pair. She had been not quite five feet tall, careless of convention, and intensely focused on acrobatics and getting good grades.
The twins soon found Sasha needed no protection. The most vicious insults usually aroused mild curiosity in the younger girl. If somehow they aroused mild annoyance she counter-attacked with ruthless efficiency. She had inherited her mother’s gifts with words and verbal combat in full measure.
Sasha held out her arms and her two friends came to her for a group hug, one on each side of the bed. They were very careful with Sasha, she not quite so gentle with them. After a moment their hugs became tighter.
They drew back. Almost in unison they said, “What happened to you?”
“I don’t KNOW!” She relayed the theory that her body went into a coma to keep her from dying of smoke inhalation. “But that’s just a theory.”
Tina looked thoughtful and tapped her teeth with a knuckle for a second before stopping. She was breaking herself of the habit.
“It sounds pretty unlikely.” She and Rocio had long been set on medical careers of some kind. They were still vague about exactly what career.
Rocio said, “Don’t let them turn you into a guinea pig.”
“I got my old doctor to veto any further tests. He’s letting me out in the morning.”
“Great!” said Tina. “So you are really OK?”
Rocio was looking at the instrument readouts on the wall. “Looks that way from here.”
Tina rounded the bed to join her “twin.” She peered at the readouts too.
Sasha watched with amusement. Then she put on a pout. “Hey, who’s more interesting here? Me, or those?”
“These,” said her friends in unison. Then they turned back to her. She put her hands on her hips and frowned at them. Then all three burst into laughter. The two girls converged on her in another group hug.
They broke apart and Sasha steered the conversation into more normal arenas. The twins laughter had verged on tears.
Dinner came early in the hospital and her friends left when food arrived, promising to visit her tomorrow after she had settled in to her home.
Sasha’s sleep that night was very deep, but not deep enough to alarm anyone. It began at 10:00 when she decided to sleep and fell instantly aslumber. At about 7:00 she awoke just as quickly when a nurse’s aide wheeled a tray into her room.
She was just finishing licking her dessert bowl spotless when Dr. O’Neill came in, looking properly professional in a suit and tie overlain by a white lab coat. They exchanged greetings and he went through an exam routine.
“Yep, you are good to go, young lady. I’m going to want to see you in my office day after tomorrow. How’s 11:00 am suit you?”
“I’ll be there.” She paused. “And thanks for not letting them turn me into a guinea pig.”
Shortly thereafter the handsome doctor who had been so fascinated by her case came by to do his own exam. He urged her to get more tests but seemed half-hearted in his urgings. She hoped he had indeed decided not to pursue her further.
Then her parents and her brother descended upon her and she was finally rescued from the hospital.