Grace floated in darkness. Phantasms of wispy blues and greens moved beyond her reach. If she concentrated hard enough, she saw shapes. She watched a green frog, but it rippled and she realized she was looking at a clam through green water.

A horse splashed in the water and she couldn’t delve beneath the surface. She’d have to tie that horse up. It shouldn’t be running around.

She was in a lift with a man in a lab coat like Raj. They stood for a moment, like strangers in a lift will do. She asked him, “Which floor?” and the man, vaguely familiar, began barking like a dog. Grace heard the barking, but there was no doubt, he was meant to be a man.

The floor disappeared and they fell into blackness. She held the man to her and he held her back, calling her Simone.

“I’m Grace,” she kept saying.

Every so often, Grace regained reality. Reality was dark: she saw nothing. Reality was pain in her torso and limbs. Constricted in a medical pod.

Between the realm of darkness and the sphere of pain, she knew that Tim talked to her. Sometimes she understood him. He told her that Maud had tried to cripple her. Reassured her that this medical pod would heal her.

But she still felt pain. If they were healing her, why wasn’t she getting a painkiller? She needed a doctor, not a dog.

But Raj was not there. Only the voice of the man who controlled the dog.

“There is no pain,” Tim said. “What you feel is the memory of pain.”

The memory? It was very real. She felt the spasms in her hands as they curled in on themselves.

“The pod reports one last procedure, Grace.” Tim’s voice flooded her mind. “I’ll see you after you wake.”

Maybe she fell asleep. The pain shrank upon itself. Her senses contracted.

She hoped the damn horse had left the puddle alone this time.

Raj sat in his kitchen, mindlessly consuming a week-old stew while he scanned fact agents for Port Casper. It had become his breakfast routine. He was surprised that Gobi’s death still went unreported. The footage he and Tim had seen earlier was no longer available. Even the conspiracy theories that had clued Raj in on the vid delay were gone.

Stew gone, he went back to his workstation and reviewed the information streaming from Donner’s remote medical pod. The skeletal metarm grafts had been removed from deep within both forearms. The excised dermal grafty port had healed nicely. But there were still many microsurgeries left in the pod’s queue, including fifteen sites on her face to repair nerve damage. Grace’s injuries were supposed to have been permanent. Raj still shuddered when he thought about how close they had come to losing her.

“Tim,” he said into his ptenda, “the medical pod shows Grace is entering the final stage of repair. Had any luck contacting her?”

“Her mind is lucid for brief moments,” Tim replied. “She’s experiencing painful memories. I think she understands the ordeal will be over soon.”

“Good,” Raj said. “Once she’s fully awake, disconnect her from the pod and get her fed. The cabinet next to the door has plenty. Start with broth. If she keeps that down, move to protein.”

“Got it, Raj. The display says she’ll be up in eight or nine hours. Are you coming?”

Corey OstmanPort Casper