Ackley assumed that there was a clever plan in place for her extraction. In the Children’s Hospital she had watched several very violent movies, unsupervised, as part of her bucket list. Many of these pertained to the actions of loose cannon Ameran agents who would escape confinement through seemingly any kind of ductwork, building opening (however high up) and elevator system, however guarded and improbable. Ackley envisioned a bold and extremely violent plan to escape from the roof; first fighting their way through several crowds of heavily armed security and even vindictive doctors and nurses, swinging poisonous scalpels and firing needle-guns, to reach the peak of the building; then evacuating in a terrifying helicopter chase, where through a veritable storm of rockets they would finally find freedom.
“I am ready for action.” Ackley said aloud, visibly excited.
Cruciere looked puzzled. “Ready for what?”
“I imagine our escape will be horrific.” Ackley calmly said. “Millions will die and much of the city will be destroyed. I have steeled myself for the consequences. My actions may rock Amera’s core for eternity. I will be remembered as an enemy of Amera and of Memes. But I am ready to face this inevitability.”
“Umm, no.” Cruciere quickly said. “No, I’m afraid we won’t be doing any of that. Whatever all of that is. My wife owns these buildings now, for physics’ sakes, I’m not going to destroy them.”
“Your wife owns Fairway Children’s Hospital now?”
“Amanda Gilded.” Cruciere said. “She bought Fairway Children’s Corporation when Fairway died and his kin squabbled over the assets. So, no horrible violence. I promised her. Besides, is that how you want to thank her for the extractor you received, and various other treatment improvements?”
“Oh.” Ackley sighed with disappointment. Nothing in her life could ever be fast-paced, daring and ultraviolent, even when she explicitly desired it. “Then why did you have to infiltrate like this?”
Cruciere shrugged and smiled, acting as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Well, obviously we can’t just make Asmodeus a nurse overnight. That’d be nepotism.”
Ackley blinked. “Of course, nepotism, that most hideous of crimes. You attempt to destroy the government of Amera every few weeks, but you won’t commit an act of nepotism. That is beneath you.”
“You are completely correct.” Cruciere said. “I have standards. And if I did my usual thing and made a giant vehicle to attack the Hospital it would’ve tanked the asset valuation.”
“Well, you could’ve done that to get the Hospital for cheaper.” Ackley pointed out.
Cruciere frowned. “We’re playing the long game, okay? Look, here’s how it works. Precious wifey buys a wonderful children’s hospital on a whim, fulfilling one of her lifelong dreams, because she is great and wonderful and lovely and of course she deserves a children’s hospital if she wants one–”
Ackley almost laughed. “Oh god, you coddling idiot–”
“–and then I incidentally use it one for my evil schemes, and finally we continue to run the Hospital to provide efficient care and take advantage of several government programs–”
“I hate to break it to you but this Hospital is garbage.” Ackley interrupted. “It has precisely one good nurse,” she nodded toward Asmodeus, who tried to smile again, and failed, “The only donations it ever receives are video games. Nurses have too much power over children. Internet memers are allowed in too easily. In fact everyone is allowed in too easily. There is no patient confidentiality whatsoever. Your wife should look into this.”
“My wife is a venture capitalist, not a saint.” Cruciere said.
“I will forward these issues to Mrs. Gilded.” Asmodeus said.
Cruciere winced. She corrected Asmodeus. “Call her Mom.”
“I will tell Mom to launch inquiries into Ackley’s concerns.”
Ackley now definitively burst into laughter, pointing an accusing finger at Cruciere. What the accusation was, nobody found out, because Ackley could not speak over her raucous cackling.
Despite the disappointingly benign nature of her captors, and their general lack of a penchant for sensational destruction, Ackley was happy to find that Cruciere had still crafted a thorough plan for absconding with her in tow, which she shared and which was agreed upon. Preparations then began for the nightfall exodus. Asmodeus left the room and returned with a little trolley and a wheelchair – one for Ackley’s equipment and the other for Ackley herself. Cruciere easily heaved the extractor unto the trolley with one hand, and set it near the bed. This done, they waited.
“Alright, there is only one final item to take care of.” Cruciere said. She produced a cell phone from her pocket and dialed a number quite familiar to Ackley, but paused before hitting the Call button.
“No.” Ackley said. “I think they would be relieved to simply see me vanish.”
“It may be more effective to scare them.” Cruciere said. “I can send them a threat or something. I could deploy a robot to their house that would spray asbestos everywhere and make a nuisance of itself. I can rig their coffee machine and make it rude. I could rig it to make it lewd, even!”
Ackley raised an eyebrow at her enthusiasm.
“My parents don’t really care; they won’t, whatever you do.”
“I can corroborate Ackley’s statements, Doctor. I have never seen them or talked to them. I believe she is correct that they will take no action to recover her.” Asmodeus said. “When I was assigned as her Nurse I was told that they preferred not to be contacted unless there is a life-threatening emergency.”
“I speak to them over the phone once a month, if I’m unlucky. When we speak they will usually just ask me if the doctors told me anything that they themselves had not already been told. Most of the time I don’t hear from them and I see them even more rarely. They have nothing to say to me – I am not really much of a child to them anymore. I think am already an adult to them and they’ve let go of me, perhaps for another child.”
Cruciere sobbed. “Oh my Physics. That is so sad.”
Asmodeus put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. “Please refrain from crying so openly, Doctor. It could be emotionally distressing for Ackley to see you in this state.”
“But this is a tragedy. A tragedy! You cold fungus!” Cruciere cried.
“I’m quite past done crying about my parents.” Ackley said. “She can cry if she wants.”
“That is so sad.” Cruciere shouted. She shut her eyes, tears streaming down her face.
“Doctor, please.” Asmodeus pleaded. “Look at Ackley. You are ruining her life.”
Unmoved, Ackley settled against her pillows and napped.
As night fell and Cruciere pieced her broken heart back together, the hospital staff gradually departed. A skeleton crew took over the wing past midnight. Lights went out across the corridors. Soft, soothing music played at a low volume over the intercomm. This was the signal they waited for. Cruciere helped Ackley into her wheelchair, and Asmodeus pushed the trolley. Together they crossed the empty halls, past rooms of sleeping children and the occasional wandering nurse. No one so much as glanced their way. After all, there was a doctor and a nurse in tow.
They packed into the elevator, thankful that nobody else had joined them this late at night. As it was they barely fit the trolley and wheelchair. Cruciere had to squish into a corner and Asmodeus stood on the trolley, sitting atop the extractor while Ackley leered, wary of anyone mishandling her only lifeline. When the elevator stopped at the bottom floor there was much banging of flesh on metal as they extricated themselves.
Still rubbing down a few sore spots, they approached the front desk, where a downcast man in a blue garb drew exquisitely realistic, powerfully dripping needles on the back of a health insurance form. Mounds of several other official forms, similarly garnished with needles, buried the rest of his desk. Steeped in his work, the man made no visible effort to acknowledge the outside world. He was viciously crosshatching detailed shadows on the lengths of the needles when Cruciere tapped on the desk, drawing his attention. His face suddenly brightened.
“Wait, wait. I know what you want.” He said. “Sedation! You need sedation don’t you? All the nurses are busy but it just so happens I’m qualified to inject patients as well now!”
Unasked for, he frantically searched through his desk, casting about patient records and surveys and tossing aside towers of reception forms. Within the pile he found a needle in its hermetically sealed packaging, and he lifted it up to Cruciere’s sight as though he had struck gold. He ripped it open, smiled, and rustled again through the mess. “I’ve got a sedative bottle right here Doctor, somewhere, you don’t have to call a nurse–”
Ackley shrank back against her wheelchair and Cruciere raised her hand to stop him.
“We don’t need sedation, you can throw that away now.” She said.
He brought his eyes up from the desk and glared, at first as though he heard an alien tongue. Recognition dawned upon him soon and he slumped pitifully on his desk. He crosshatched some more shadows over the needle, and drew a big glistening drop of fluid from the end of the sharpest one he had drawn.
Cheerlessly, he addressed them anew.
“Well, what do you want then, Doctor? It’s kinda late y’know.”
“I need a temporary release for this patient, Ackley Hermes. We’re going for a walk.”
“Doctor, you realize it is nearly two in the morning?” The receptionist said.
Ackley grumbled to herself. This was her plan? Just to walk her out?
“I have good reasons that may be above your paygrade.” Cruciere said.
The receptionist tapped his pen on the desk. “That’s for me to decide.”
Cruciere cleared her throat, and she and Asmodeus gestured toward Ackley, their faces suddenly fearful of something. “This patient suffers from the rare disease Vampyrus Exsanguinae, rendering her incapable of walking in the light. When she gets restless she also hungers for the warm flesh of the still-living. So it is necessary to physically stimulate her with long walks, to tire her out and satisfy her so she does not prey on us!”
Incredulous, the receptionist pulled himself forward over his desk to stare at the little grayish girl in the wheelchair. Ackley suppressed a sigh and instead tried to smile spontaneously. Her cheeks rose, her teeth bared, her brows arched and her eyes spread wide open. Ackley’s lack of cheer worked to her advantage this time, because her contrived grinning looked to all of the world like a monster’s lust for flesh, mad eyes searching for arteries to sup from, chalk-white maw ready to chew bone. The receptionist recoiled from her and embraced himself.
“Apostles defend us,” he mumbled, “take her, take her!”
He practically threw the release form at Cruciere and made the sign of the cross.
Cruciere signed, Ackley signed, and the child tried to smile again, but this time the receptionist turned his back entirely and cowered. With a renewed disinterest in cheer, Ackley was wheeled out. Outside the hospital doors she scarcely cared about the world which she had not seen in so long. It was a disappointing denouement to her experience. In the dark the garden outside the hospital was just an expanse of dark color, and the statue of Fairway was poorly lit and she could not read the commemorative plaque; down the driveway the fresh air was tinged with smoke and plastic; and then Cruciere stopped by the side of the road and took out her cell phone rather than walk further.
“Honey? It’s me, Anne-Marie. Can you swing by with the SUV and pick us up? We’re carrying some heavy stuff, and I just kidnapped a child.” She paused. “Yes, I’m impressed with how evil I am too.” Ackley heard the clamor on the other side of the phone, the loud ecstatic giggling and shouting. Cruciere grunted. “Could you calm down? Yes we’re keeping the kid, what do you think? You’re too excited about this, quite honestly.”
She hung up. “Amanda’s coming in thirty or so.”
Asmodeus laid hands on Ackley’s shoulders. “How do you feel?”
“Startlingly indifferent. Mildly disappointed. Mysteriously vampiric.” Ackley said.
From the pocket of her hospital pajamas, Ackley withdrew her notepad and flipped the pages to one quite near the last. She wrote “Pretend to be a Vampire” on her bucket list, then crossed it out. As the SUV pulled up near them several minutes later, she was still diligently crossing out the various actions which she had completed from her list. Hopefully for the better, she was now out of Fairway Children’s Hospital, but nothing felt too out of the ordinary about it. It was all just another thing that had happened, and Ackley took it as such, moment to moment.