Bad Kitty came to see him. He was still strapped down but they’d loosened the neck collar so that he could turn his head a little to watch the television or look at an e-reader on a stand. A nurse, a new one who looked extremely muscular and was stationed in his room at all times during the day, made her stand in the doorway while she was checked over and checked out. Cort could just see her face out of the corner of one eye. She looked furious but resigned, and she didn’t say anything when the nurse went through the pockets of her dressing gown and made her open the backgammon board up.
“Hi Kitty,” he said when she was finally allowed in. She looked around for a chair, and found that the nurse was sitting back down on the only one.
“I need a chair,” she said to him. One hand went to her hip, and Cort remembered that pose so well from all the times that they’d fought over the years. It signalled the onset of hostilities, and he found himself pressing himself back into the mattress in readiness.
“You’ll have to go and get one,” said the nurse, picking up the tv remote control. Cort didn’t get to choose what they watched.
“No,” said Kitty, and there was a trace of a purr in her voice. “No, because then you’ll have to search me again on the way back in, and apart from that, I’m too weak to carry a chair.” Cort had to control a laugh there, as he could remember Bad Kitty throwing actual elephants at him when they’d fought in a circus once. He managed to catch them all too.
“I can’t leave this room,” said the nurse, his attention back on the television, looking at the program guide.
“Then ring for someone to bring me a chair,” said Bad Kitty. “Please.”
That was it, thought Cort. That was the defining moment when you knew you were old. When you stopped believing that you had the power, or the awe, to make people do things just because it was you, and you started saying ‘please’. Even though Kitty made it sound a bit vulgar when she said it. To his slight surprised the nurse pushed the intercom buzzer mounted on the wall by his chair, without stopping browsing through the program guide.
“Can we a chair for the lady?” he said when the intercom buzzed. “And one of those little trolley tables, they want to play backgammon and if they can’t both see the board they won’t believe there’s no cheating going on.”
“I sometimes wonder,” said Kitty, now looking at Cort, “if I’d have had more success all those years ago if I’d said please more often then.”
“I doubt it,” said Cort. “I said please all the time, and all that ever happened was that people stopped to think about whether they wanted to do me a favour or not.”
Kitty laughed, a giggle mixed with a purr. “You never said please to me!”
“I don’t think I said more than three words to you until I met you here.”
“True, most of the time you’d yell Stop and I’d yell Never and then there wasn’t much chance to talk, was there?”
“There was the council meetings, we talked then.”
“But that was politics!”
The chair and table arrived then, brought by two more nurses who looked stronger-than-average, and Kitty graciously said thank-you and sat down, laying the board where Cort could see it. Cort’s nurse selected a food program from the program guide at last, Masterchef, and sat upright, alert to any movement from Cort, while watching contestants cook a variety of foods.
“Can you stretch your way out of those things?” Kitty indicated the straps and restraints as she finished setting the backgammon board up. “They don’t look very hard to escape from.”
Cort replied by starting to stretch his arm, thinning it out to pull it out from the strap. Almost instantly the strap tightened further, pulling his arm painfully into the bed. He stopped, and the strap stopped binding so tightly.
“That’s clever,” said Kitty. “I never had that kind of thing!”
“I’m glad,” said Cort, smiling a little. “You got me tied up a couple of times!”
“How do they do it then?” She held up the dice pot, and Cort indicated that she would have to roll them for him. “Do you know?” The dice clattered on the board, and a 2 and 6 showed uppermost.
“Actually,” he said, “I do. Build me on the 8-point.” While Kitty moved the pieces as instructed and them rolled the dice for herself, he explained what Dr. Hernandez had told him. “There was a fight between the Cut-throat Kid and Norman Nylon that ended up with Nylon breaking his back. He’s ended up in here as well, but he’s in a near vegetative state, and needs life-support. But, he’s started produced his signature nylon fibres all the time, and so the staff have hooked him up to this machine, a bit like an old-time Jacquard loom, that reels in the fibres so that he doesn’t end up smothered by them all. The fibres are semi-sentient, and when Chip Inside heard about it, he came over to take a look at it. He ended up building them a small AI device that can attach to the fibres and instruct them on how to move. It’s all very clever, and that’s what’s holding me down now.”
Kitty looked thoughtful. “Chip’s still alive?”
“Oh yes, but apparently he’s a working research scientist now. Got a pension and everything.”
“I wish I’d thought about pensions sooner,” said Kitty. “These places are expensive!”
Cort nodded, though it wasn’t all that visible. “I feel sorry for Nylon,” he said. “Sounds like he’s going to be kept alive like that for a long time to come.”
Kitty looked at him oddly, a side-long glance that lingered. “How about you?” she said. “What if you’re producing more of that mucus and Chip comes over and weaponises that?”
Cort shuddered, and all the straps tightened momentarily. The nurse looked up from the tv screen, staring hard at him.
“I really, really hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.