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Of Opiates and Octopi - Bad Days, Chapter 4
Posted By: kabu<will36@gmail.com>
Date: 29 November 2008, 6:08 pm

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After Outpost 4 went the way of the dodo, the ten of us who survived with both legs and at least one arm were transferred over to Outpost 5. It was hard to tell the difference; these prefab buildings are all the same. It did save me the trouble of scouting out possible fire hazards, and I likewise knew the locations of all the smoke detectors. Ever since I realized that the word "fireproof" doesn't really mean "fireproof," per se, but is really just something they stamp on things they want to be fireproof, I have always made a point of examining the smoke detectors at least thrice a day. To my disappointment, however, I didn't get a chance to check them out when I first arrived. Morphine withdrawal really does a number on my ability to function as anything other than a twitching pile of neuroses.

Backtracking a bit: I had snapped my leg in a rather nasty manner back in the bombardment of Outpost 4 and I was thusly put on emergency intravenous morphine right on the spot. After being moved to the field hospital, they kept up the treatment for a few days to deal with a few plasma burns before shuffling me off to Outpost 5 with my left leg wrapped in plastic. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, when you suddenly cut off access to an opiate, bad things happen. In theory, the military makes sure that you get a few weeks of methadone to wean you off the stuff, so I visited the outpost's infirmary on the first day to pick up my prescription. For those of you unfamiliar with the military, they never get the paperwork done on time. Ever.

It had been about ten hours since they pulled the IV. I kept my chin up (more to keep from vomiting than from any sense of pride) as I hobbled towards the infirmary, aided by a pair of crutches. My broken leg was beginning to twinge a bit, yet another reminder that I needed a dose of something, fast. As a marine, I'd been through basic training. I'd met the physical requirements, but I wasn't the toughest in my class by a long shot (I think they would have turned me away if not for the manpower shortage), and the effects of withdrawal had not been covered in basic. I think you're expected to pick up that particular skill set on the job. Sure, I've been in some bad situations before; I've been blown up a few times, lit on fire at least twice, shot at, sliced at, and gone through a long trek through a jungle with minimal supplies, I've seen my fellow soldiers killed in ways that haunt my dreams to this day, but once I reached the infirmary, the UNSC found the very most diabolical way to make the worst of my condition.

      "Marks... Melvin... Mitchell... nope. No Isaac Meyers here." The burly medic was flipping through a tablet. It looked like a playing card in his massive hand.
      "There must be some mistake. I - I - I've been on morphine for two weeks. I have a busted leg, it's all burned. I know I have a methadone prescription, they- uh, they said they sent it over."
      The medic glowered down at me. "Listen, kid," (he couldn't have been more than thirty, I don't know why he goes around calling people "kid") "I have a list right here, in my hand, see? It tells me what medicines to give to what people. You see the list?"
      "Um. Yes." It was about an inch from my nose.
      "Is your name on my list, Private Meyers?"

I read through the proffered tablet one more time. I noticed that several names on the list were people I was certain I had seen dead. Harris, for example, wouldn't need insulin now that he'd been neatly julienned by a plasma sword right in front of my eyes. Upon further inspection, the I found that list was actually dated four weeks previously. I thought about pointing this out to the medic, but the sheer mass of this guy's biceps changed my mind. Seriously, you could stuff a melon into my sleeve and I would still look wimpy by comparison.

      "Um. No. It isn't."
      "Then get out of here, junkie."
      I did.

Hobbling back to my bunk was a Herculean exercise in not falling on my face. I dropped my crutches by the bed and pulled myself onto the sheets, panting a little. A cold sweat started to soak through my shirt, which I couldn't seem to take off. Somewhere above my head an invisible kitchen timer was clicking down from infinity. I started counting the wires on the bottom of the bunk above me to pass the next few hours, and spent some time reflecting on the phrase "cold turkey." The goose bumps and clamminess of my skin did resemble uncooked turkey, in a sort of corpse-like way. The thought made me both ravenously hungry and unspeakably nauseated, and I lurched my way to the lavatory for the first of many unpleasant excursions in the days to come. After cleaning the walls as best I could, I finally managed to slither out of my shirt and boots to sweat my way back into bed.

Ten or twenty million years later, another marine slouched his way into the room, hands in his pockets and gaze downcast. My eyes were following him to his bunk when the unthinkable happened. Gripped by a sort of horrible paralysis, I could only watch in impotent terror as he casually slapped a piece of duct tape over the smoke detector. Every muscle in my body twitched violently as he leisurely pulled a cigarette out of a pack. In horrified slow motion, I saw his lighter click once, twice, three times before the dreaded scent of flaming butane dug its insidious way into my lungs. I tried to speak, but my convulsing larynx could produce only the sound of a half-dead frog with black-lung stuffed in a pillow.

At this point I had to pause to kick the giant octopi off my legs as they pulled me into an underwater crevice where laughing medics were waiting to beat me over the head with clipboards. That matter taken care of I could turn my attention back to the impending fiery doom.

Apparently, I had spent quite a bit of time with the octopi because my comrade-in-arms was finishing his third cigarette, which joined its brethren on the floor to be stamped out under the heel of his boot, leaving invisible gray footprints on the gray concrete. Before the door was finished swinging closed I broke through the spasms gripping my muscles and jerkily hurled myself at the still-smoldering embers, grasping the nearby table for support. Unfortunately, the table was not expecting this turn of events and decided that the best course of action in response to my flailing was to flip itself over and dump a nuclear payload of papers right onto the ashes.

A single dusky flower of smoke blossomed from the fertile embers, winding lazily through the cool, dry air.

The next few seconds were a bit hectic. Spots swimming in front of my eyes, I whirled around to find something to put out what my fevered brain imagined as the genesis of a world-consuming conflagration. My personal pair of fire extinguishers was tucked under the bunk, but I couldn't quite reach them. I needed something else to smother the coals. Grabbing the bar that connected the top and bottom beds I heaved with all my might in an attempt to cover the ashes as fast as I could.

In slow motion, I saw the flimsy aluminum frame of the beds flex slightly as only two legs suddenly supported its entire weight. The pair of mattresses slid off smoothly and were followed by the perfect parabolas traced by my sodden pillow and small droplets of sweat. The curl of smoke began to shift slightly with the displaced air, a small shiver of chaotic twists and swirls. Private Rodriguez, who had been peacefully asleep on the top bunk for about three hours, let out a piercing shriek of surprise as he tumbled gracelessly with windmilling arms onto the felled table before landing on the coals. A piece of the frame clocked me over the head and drove me facedown onto the floor.

So I spent the next few days awaiting my disciplinary hearing while Rodriguez recuperated from a dislocated shoulder, a broken arm and a cracked collarbone. I passed most of the time slogging through the various stages of withdrawal, knowing, in a half-delirious way, that I had saved Outpost 5 from a devastating firestorm.

And it was a whole week before those bastards got me some fucking methadone.