by Jane Lebak (4/03)
After two days in a hospital room, things had finally gotten a little more interesting.
Jason was fine. He knew he was fine, and Anderson knew he was fine. The doctors knew he was fine. In an action which would go down in history in the Annals of Responsible Law-Making (right alongside the lawyers who had to sing form K-28), when the quarantine regulations were written, a $5-an-hour secretary had mistyped "Devalian Flu" instead of "Pevalian Flu." The orders were amended to include the omitted one, not omit the extra one. All this was fine until a planet actually called Deval joined the Federation, and three of the G-Force team took sick shortly after visiting there.
Tiny actually was ill and didn't mind spending a week alone in his hospital bed. By Princess's accounts, he spent the long days sleeping and catching up on his comic books. Jason and Mark, however, had perked up after a nap, and both felt ready for action. The doctors, who would rather ignore their protests than lose their licenses, ignored their protests. So did Anderson--at least, he was able to ignore them once he'd blocked their bracelets' signals.
Jason had managed to work on the cutlery from his inedible hospital meals until he had developed a rather nice drywall knife. In this fashion, he had confirmed that Mark was, indeed, in the next room. He had immediately replaced the section of the wall, and thus he had escaped detection.
This afternoon, the hospital pediatrics ward had sent over Cluseau The Clown, who had offered to make Jason any balloon animal. Jason promptly asked for an octopus, then spent the rest of the morning untying all the little knots. The head was a nice round purple balloon. Jason filled it with water. He chirped Mark with his bracelet, and receiving no answer, he slipped out of bed and approached the small rectangle of wall beneath the head of his hospital bed. He'd cut a little peephole, and through the peephole he visually confirmed a sleeping target.
Sliding out the section of the wall, he grinned. With the silence of a ninja, he slipped through into Mark's room, then crept up to the bed. He rested the water balloon on Mark's legs, then retreated. After replacing the section of drywall, Jason readied a straw-and-needle contraption he had turned into a pea-shooter. It took a few minutes to get a good angle through the peep hole, but once he was sure, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and blew the needle out the straw and across Mark's room, right into the water balloon.
By the time Mark's shocked scream had finished reverberating through the room, Jason was already tucked back into his bed. The sounds of frantic activity on the other side of the wall made it difficult not to laugh as he hunched beneath his blankets and feigned sleep.
Death. Flaming death served up hot.
Mark changed into new pajama pants and threw the old ones, sopping from mid-thigh to mid-calf, into the corner of the room. He stripped down the blanket and sheets from his bed.
Mark went to his bedside table and pulled out the drywall knife he'd been making out of the hospital cutlery. Apparently Jason had beaten him to it. A brief inspection of the walls located the place where Jason had probably emerged. He pushed gently on it and realized that Jason had managed to cut the panel in such a way that once shut it became, effectively, a one-way door. He pushed one of the wheeled equipment tables in front of the opening, then balanced a book between that and the wall. If Jason pushed it aside, he'd hear the book fall.
Revenge would be childish. Revenge would serve no purpose. But it beat catching up on his reading.
Jason's bracelet chirped at 8:30pm.
"I think you need to turn on your radio."
"I think you're whacked."
"I think you need to listen to 102.5."
"That's Delilah. I'm not listening to a bunch of sorry sops phoning in and asking for Celine Dion pablum to ease their broken hearts."
"Oh, I think you should..."
Jason clenched his teeth and turned on the radio...
...and heard himself, or a very good imitation of himself, telling Delilah, "I cry myself to sleep every night, thinking about her and wondering..."
Jason raised his bracelet. "Mark, your life is forefit."
"I think the score is even now."
"I'll have them carve that into your tombstone."
"Only if people can look you in the face without laughing to death."
On the radio, "Jason" was saying, "So if you could please play 'Cry' by Faith Hill, even though I can't ever find the courage to tell her I love her--"
Nice fresh Eagle, spit-roasted, served up with a side order of butt-kicking.
It had seemed like a great idea at the time to let Mark be the one who took the lessons in disguising his voice. Mark could sound like Zoltar and infiltrate other bases--what a great idea.
Jason hopped out of the hospital bed and rummaged through his duffle bag. It's my move, huh?
At 12:00, Mark awoke to his bedside alarm clock screaming static on its highest volume. He fumbled in the dark momentarily until he managed to get it shut off.
Okay, now the big question is, was that an accident, or was that Jason?
In the field it's always best to assume anything you find disturbing is deliberate. Mark turned on the lights and found the hole in the wall undisturbed. So it could theoretically have been an accident that his alarm clock turned on full blast at midnight--or it might have been something Jason left planted during last night's visit. Nothing else appeared displaced in the room. Mark shut the lights and returned to bed.
At 12:30 the alarm clock blared again, awakening Mark out of a sound sleep. He pressed the button for the lights, then found that it wasn't his alarm clock making the noise. Following the sound, he located a second alarm clock plugged in beneath his bed, volume turned up to full and, just for a nice touch, set to the wrong time.
On the positive side, Mark now had proof that Jason had accessed his room. He had his teeth clenched, though: it was hard to look on the positives right now.
The furniture with its little leaning book was still untouched--how the hell had Jason managed to get inside without him hearing? And then replaced the book afterward? Or had Jason set this up at the same time as the water balloon?
All the same, he placed little pieces of scotch tape over the scored panel.
Mark searched the room again, but since both of the alarm clocks were standard hospital issue, it made sense that he wouldn't find a third. Jason couldn't set up an alarm clock he didn't have, after all. By 12:45, Mark had returned to bed.
At 1:15, a third alarm rang. It was the simple rattle of a wind-up clock, amplified to a head-breaking racket after being placed underneath tissues inside a trash can in the tiled bathroom. Mark spent the rest of the night taking apart the clock with a screwdriver. Revenge casserole. Simmer for twelve hours on low heat until thickened....serve over noodles or the dead body of your second in command.
In the morning, Princess came to Mark's room with the team's Travel Scrabble game. Because board games tended to get messed up when the Phoenix went into combat, even travel-style games, she had photocopied an entire Scrabble board and all the tiles, then taped the paper board to a cookie sheet and pasted all the tile letters to magnets. The result was a board game you could turn upside-down without losing track of "tangerine" sitting on a double-word score or needing to replace stacks of tiles after every evasive maneuver. She had been bringing the game between hospital rooms a few times a day since quarantine began.
She found Mark in bed, muttering to himself as he ate his hospital breakfast. "Don't you look lovely." She gestured to the piles of springs and gears on the tray alongside his bed. "You sure taught that alarm clock a lesson it won't soon forget."
"I thought you might need a diversion, so I brought you some things to pass the time." Princess opened her shoulder bag. "Your laptop computer and your cell phone, plus a few cables."
Mark looked at her with eyes gleaming. "Would you mind bringing me a universal remote as well?"
Jason looked up with a smile as Princess entered his room with Travel Scrabble. "Don't you look lovely," she said. "You're happy this morning."
"Thanks. And thanks again for bringing my little alarm clock."
"No problem." She had the slightest of sly glimmers to her smile. "It makes it easier on you to be cooped up here. In fact..." She dug in her bag. "Here, I brought you your cell phone and a roll of duct tape."
Jason thanked her as he tucked them into his end table drawer. "I was wondering if you could also bring me my label gun and a raw egg."
Princess patted his hand in gentle understanding. "If it makes your stay any easier, of course I would."
Ten minutes after Princess left, Jason's cell phone rang. But instead of his normal ringtones, it played an MP3 of the guitar solo from Dr. Hook's "Cover of Rolling Stone." At top volume.
Jason answered the phone and received the distinctive click of a hangup.
What's going on with the ringtones?
Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again with the same loud, obnoxious guitar solo. Jason answered, and it hung up.
The third time it happened, Jason let the phone ring. It got up to the vocalist saying, "Oh, that's beautiful, man," and then it cycled back through the entire clip. It continued ringing for six minutes and looked fit to continue forever.
Mark, you jerk.
Jason picked up and then disconnected right away, but before he was able to dial out, it began to ring again. He shut off his phone.
How did he manage to reprogram my phone?
Jason set the phone back to his normal ringtones (the opening riff from "Only Time Will Tell") and set it aside. But half an hour later he became curious, and turned it back on. Within fifteen seconds it rang again--and again it played "Cover Of Rolling Stone."
How is he doing this?
How irritating. Jason shut off the phone and sat back in bed with his arms folded.
Ten minutes later, his hospital phone began to ring with hang-up calls. Jason pulled the cord out of the wall and realized that he was effectively incommunicado for now. Except for his bracelet.
Mark awoke the next morning after a very good night's sleep. The tape on the cut section of the wall remained undisturbed...except for a small blue label pasted over it. Leaning closer, he saw it said, "PATHETIC".
When he turned back to his bed, he saw a label there too: "BED RAIL".
There was one on his pillow. It said, creatively, "PILLOW".
Mark laughed out loud. Jason must have been in his room for a good fifteen minutes to half an hour to label everything this way. "DOOR" "TRAY TABLE" "DIRTY GLASS" "SLIPPER #1" "SLIPPER #2" "COMPUTER" "PHONE" "MIRROR" "TOILET" "SUITCASE" "BOOK"
Okay, this one wasn't so bad. Maybe I won't deep fry him in hot oil. Mark chuckled. Of course, this doesn't change my plans.
It took Jason approximately three hours to determine that the intermittent clattering (which came at erratic intervals, never lasted longer than three seconds, and sounded as if it came from everywhere) was coming from the air vent in his ceiling. When he finally got the vent open, he discovered that Mark had reassembled his mechanical alarm clock into a tiny robot which periodically flailed its metal limbs into the sides of the narrow vent. Mark had apparently taken apart the hospital bed rail in order to push the little device within twelve inches of the edge of the vent right above Jason's head. He couldn't get his hands far enough along the shaft to extract the device, even though he was able to see it by using the credit-card sized mirror provided by the hospital. He wasn't certain, but the glint at the other end of the shaft might just have been Mark using his own mirror.
It took Mark approximately six hours to determine that the slightly unpleasant odor in his room wasn't his imagination. After that, it took only half an hour of disassembling the entire room to discover that the smell, which was mildly sulphuric and just at the edge of his senses, was coming from the radiator. When he finally opened the radiator cover, he discovered four eggs sitting along the heating unit with pin-prick holes in their shells. One of them had a little plastic label like the ones from earlier this morning: "BAD EGG".
Jason was no longer able to watch television. The volume changed for no reason. The channels hopped around from one to the next without pause. Sometimes the set went on or off without any help from him. The results were sometimes amusing: "And next on Larry King Live / we'll be deep-frying this / lovely 24 karat gold / labrador retriever / so tell your mother / to grow back that hair." Sometimes.
Princess came into the room in the middle of one of the television's epileptic seizures. "Gee," she said. "That's too bad. It's your turn, by the way."
She laid the Travel Scrabble board on the hospital bed, and Jason dumped out all the letters from the pouch onto his bed.
He pulled out a few letters and spelled, "JERK"
Princess dutifully scored him 14 points.
"Thanks for the label gun. Do you think you could bring me some baking soda?"
Princess nodded. "If it makes you feel any better, sure."
Princess entered Mark's room to find him disposing of four eggs in a plastic bag. "Gee," she said, waving her hand to disperse the smell. "That's too bad. It's your turn."
Mark pulled tiles from the tile bag until he came up with the right letters for "CRETIN". Princess gave him 20 points and didn't remind him he was cheating. She glanced at the universal remote which had been hooked up to Mark's computer via a connection which probably hadn't existed yesterday.
"Oh, thanks for the remote," he said. "Do you think you could bring me some baking soda?"
What happened next was a lesson in "Great Minds Think Alike."
Or as Mark would later add, "And so do ours."
There are several common household chemicals which, when mixed with other common household chemicals, will create a lovely odor and thick smoke without becoming toxic. Mixing bleach and ammonia will produce a very effective cleaning solvent while creating an equally effective toxic cloud: do not do this. But baking soda when mixed with other innocuous chemicals, such as those found in Jell-o or Kool-Aid, raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing, or the cream filling from a Twinkie, creates a sweet little colored cloud. The Kool-Aid is good for adding color. Jason had been stockpiling lime Kool-Aid for his entire hospital stay, desiring to achieve a toxic chlorine hue. Mark preferred orange for that "the city is on fire and the world is ending" tint.
Unable to extract the alarm clock robot from the heating vent, Jason had settled for looping some dental floss around one of the limbs. He had followed that up with the drawer string from his pajama pants, and then tied it to a drinking-glass and plastic-bag contraption. It had two compartments, each with a separate mixture of common household products. Eventually, Mark would have to pull back the entire bed-rail/alarm clock contraption in order to wind it up for another 24 hours of fun and games. When he removed it from the vent, he would end up tipping over the glass and mixing the contents, creating a sweet little gas cloud, and as a side effect creating a bunch of interesting words and a semi-permanent green stain on the flat white paint of the ceiling. (Semigloss, he had discovered, does not stain. Chief Anderson's office was painted in semi-gloss.)
At about three in the afternoon, the mini-robot ceased its clattering. Half an hour later, Jason heard a faint scraping in the vents, and he sat up in bed grinning, waiting.
Halfway along the vent, the loop of string slipped off the drinking glass, leaving it standing alone in the darkness.
In his room, Mark extracted the mini-robot without incident. He noticed the string attached to it, which was empty, and surmised that Jason must have unsuccessfully tried to pull it from the vent. He inserted his own drinking-glass-and-plastic-bag contraption into the vent, and used the reassembled bed rail to push it along the vent toward Jason's room.
Halfway along the vent, the two glasses met one another. Mark's glass knocked over Jason's, which mixed and created a thin green smoke cloud. Mark pushed harder on his glass to get it past the obstruction, and his tipped over as well, starting its own chain reaction. Within a minute, thick green and orange smoke had finished mixing.
Brown smoke poured out of both ceiling vents.
I think I may have miscalculated.
Momentarily, the smoke set off the sprinkler system.
Yep. Major miscalculation.
Chief Anderson located the boys in the throng of people milling around outside the evacuated hospital building. Jason had a poker face that would have confirmed all of his worst suspicions, had he needed confirmation. Mark seemed genuinely confused, but the orange stains on his fingertips would have convicted even Mother Teresa.
"I'm only going to say this once," he said softly. "I have spoken to the hospital administrator. They will conveniently forget that you were in those two rooms as long as you agree not to return once the fire alarms are disengaged."
Mark and Jason nodded quickly.
"There are one hundred and twenty-three hospitals in the New York City area," the Chief said. "For your sakes, I hope this war is over quickly. We're running out of hospitals."
He walked away without a word. Jason said, "I have to get back inside to get my cell phone."
"My computer is in there too."
"And I probably should get rid of that duct-tape contraption..."
"It wasn't important. Next time."
"Terrific." Mark squinted. "How were you getting into my room? I taped up the hole in the wall."
Jason grinned. "I scored the wall lightly so you'd think that was the entrance. There was another cut further down. So how were you reprogramming my cell phone?"
"Oh, so I did remember your phone number correctly." Mark smiled brightly."I had to access four servers on three continents to get my bluetooth connection to work, but eventually I could hack into your phone and have a server in Guam dial you every thirty seconds."
Jason nodded. They kept their arms folded as they stood side by side watching the fire department personnel exiting the hospital. On the third floor, a window had just been opened, releasing a putrid brown cloud.
"I think that was my room."
"I didn't think the windows could open."
"They didn't. There wasn't enough of a window-ledge to do anything even if they did."
Mark started to laugh. Jason laughed. Momentarily Princess found them. "The Chief sent a car. Do you think you can come home now?"
They nodded. Jason pulled Princess aside and thanked her for all her help. She assured him it was nothing. Right before they got into the car, Mark pulled Princess aside and thanked her for all her help. She smiled and assured him that really, it was nothing.