After some time, Bookworm heard steps in the hallway, and turned to see Dr. Sonnerstein. “Ms. Book? Shall we rouse our concerned little friend and head up to see the patient?”
“How is Dr. Solsen?”
Dr. Sonnerstein shrugged. “He is holding up.”
Bookworm nodded, and reached down to gently shake the still-sleeping boy. “Wake up, Tepic.” Tepic muttered a little, and Bookworm shook him again, a touch harder. “We’re going to go see Beatrixe.”
“Mmm… Miss Rouse… Miss Rouse…” Slowly, Tepic roused and sat up. With the constant encouragement of Bookworm and Dr. Sonnerstein, they got Tepic to the elevator and upstairs, where Dr. Solsen was waiting for them. Together, they walked down the hallway to the room where the iron lungs were. Dr. Sonnerstein leaned in closely first, and carefully opened the contraption that contained Beatrixe. “Ms. Rouse, can you hear me?”
His only answer, as he checked her pulse, was her breathing, which seemed stronger to Bookworm than it had been two weeks ago. “She seems to be doing well so far,” Dr. Sonnerstein said as he straightened up. “And her breathing is good.” He stepped to one side, allowing Tepic and Dr. Solsen clear views. Dr. Solsen gasped. Tepic whispered, “Is… is… is her tail all right?”
Dr. Sonnerstein looked surprised at the question, but replied, “Her tail is. But I’m afraid she lost an eye as well as a leg. We had to replace the latter, and fit a hand for her as well. Once she regains consciousness, we’ll be able to better test if the prosthetics work out for her. But, we should be able to move her to a bed now. We will keep her under close observation, of course.”
Dr. Solsen nodded. “That is a weight lifted from me. I just hope she doesn’t hurt herself with those prosthetics.”
“Indeed. It may take some getting used to once she grasps the idea that she’s had such a loss.”
“Ahh, you are all here already.” Bookworm turned to the familiar voice in the doorway. “Mr. Canergak. Lisa.” She nodded to the girl, who was standing behind Canergak. When her employer stepped inside, she quickly scurried to Bookworm’s side, casting a worried glance at Tepic.
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded. “Good afternoon. She’s not conscious yet, but she is doing well.”
Canergak looked at Dr. Sonnerstein, grimaced slightly, and turned to Bookworm. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dr. Sonnerstein smirk faintly. “She is ready to be taken out of the lung,” Canergak said. “I think that was the agreement we had made?”
As Bookworm nodded, Tepic roused, turning suddenly burning eyes on Canergak. “Yer promised ter keep her in ‘til she were well!” he shouted. “I’s keepin’ my bargain, an’ yer gonna keep yers!”
Canergak cocked an eyebrow. “Young man, she is alive and will get better in a bed.” Tepic continued to glare fiercely at the small man, and Dr. Sonnerstein laid a hand on his shoulder. “Tepic, she doesn’t need it any longer. She is able to breathe on her own.” As Bookworm and Dr. Solsen nodded their confirmation, Dr. Sonnerstein continued, “And if she relapses and cannot, we will put her back in.”
“Ohhh…” Some sort of understanding finally seemed to dawn on Tepic, and he collapsed onto the floor.
“She is simply not awake,” Canergak continued, “nor do we know how long that will take. You have no duty to pay for her prosthetics, I have taken care of that. You only paid to keep her alive. You can continue to pay for her care, if you wish.”
Bookworm, though, was having none of that. She knelt down and put a hand on Tepic’s shoulder. “You’ve kept your end of the bargain. And Mr. Canergak has kept his.” She looked back at Canergak and raised an eyebrow, daring him to contradict her.
Tepic, though, mumbled, “Still… gotta work… gotta pay… promised…” He slumped forward. Behind Bookworm, Dr. Solsen exploded. “You’ve made this child pay to keep her alive?!”
“Yes,” replied Canergak simply. Bookworm glanced behind her, and could see Dr. Solsen was visibly seething.
Dr. Sonnerstein looked down at Tepic soberly. “He needs food and rest.”
“He needs to stop,” Bookworm said tartly. “Mr. Canergak, you said he’d be released after these two weeks.”
“He is,” the administrator replied, “from his duty to return to the factory. It’s his choice now. He may choose to keep going as well to pay off the rest.”
“So tell him that!” she said angrily.
“I just did.”
Bookworm looked down on the slumped figure. “You weren’t exactly clear on that. I don’t think he understood.”
“Very well.” Canergak looked down on the boy. “Tepic.” All that answered him was a snore, and Bookworm shook Tepic, trying to rouse him. “It is your choice at this point to return, or not, to the factory to pay off the rest of the debt.
Tepic muttered, “Wassss?” and Canergak shrugged. “I will not waste my breath. Good day. Enjoy and celebrate the end of this.” With that, he turned on his heel and left the room. Dr. Sonnerstein scowled after him.
Bookworm watches as Tepic finally roused. “Tepic, do you understand what Mr. Canergak said?”
The boy pushed himself to his feet and stood there, swaying. “‘s time…”
“No, Tepic. It’s not time,” she said insistently. “It doesn’t have to be time any more, unless *you* want to.”
He looked at her blankly. “Promised…”
“Yes, you did. And you’ve fulfilled the promise. You are free, Tepic.”
“Yes, you can rest now in a bed,” Dr. Solsen said gently. “You look worse than I do.”
“Canergak released you from your promise, Tepic,” Dr. Sonnerstein said. “I swear this to be true.” He gave Tepic’s arm a small squeeze, and Tepic staggered under the touch. “Let us give you a bed for now, where you can rest and feel better.”
“Factory… shift… time…”
Bookworm sighed, wondering what it would take to get through to the boy. “Tepic, I give you *my* word, as the one who helped make the bargain in the first place. It’s done. You are free.”
Finally, something seemed to stir in his eyes. “The bill is paid?” he whispered.
“Yes!” Bookworm leaped on that. She wasn’t entirely sure whether Canergak would consider that true, but at this point, she didn’t care. “Yes, Tepic. The bill is paid.” Both doctors added their confirmation of that.
Tepic looked from one to another of them and then collapsed again, seemingly overcome by that news.
((To be continued…))