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The Game of Cat and Mouse

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It was a dreadful Tuesday morning. Out of work (unknowingly to anyone) and feeling alone, Rhys watched the time tick by slowly as he played some crossword game on his ECHO. He sat in the waiting room of some broken-down medical unit. Doctor Quinz sat across from him, bouncing in his seat like a toddler after a candy rush. "Aren't you excited, Reece!" He piped, looking around the room, "This was the only thing they had available, but it's great! I promise you the top-notch doctors will be taking care of you- at least, the doctors that can only somewhat compare to me."

As Quinz basked in his glory, a nurse popped her head out and called Rhys' name. "The doctor would like to see you now, Mister Strongfork." When Rhys sat up, she blushed and looked away. A shy one indeed. "My name is Nurse Yasmin Itzel. I'll be checking your blood pressure, heart rate, and be assisting you after your operation. I will need you to sign a few waivers, but I can guarantee nothing bad will happen. Doctor Quinz is the best doctor around!"

Rhys stopped in his tracks. He could feel the color fade from his face as he looked at Itzel. "Excuse me, did you say Doctor Quinz?" To which she replied in a nod, "If I'm being operated by him in here, who the hell is that lunatic that sent me here in the first place?

Itzel laughed and shook her head. "I thought you knew. His name is Thomas Satch. He was an old patient in the quarantine sector- one of Doctor Quinz. He lost it once the sector closed down and he couldn't seek help anymore. Poor man..." She shook her head once more, but this time in a way of sympathy, "Thomas was a good man. He used to work in culinary and catering. He's become quite knowledgable about the medical arts though!"

Rhys gulped and continued to follow Itzel down the hall. "So why does he call himself Doctor Quinz?"

"Oh, poor Thomas looked up to Doctor Quinz- he was kind of like the brother or father figure. Despite his... er, mental deterioration, he's a good man." Yasmin turned to Rhys, "I'm sorry you thought different. I promise that this surgery is legitimate. I hope that doesn't scare you out of this procedure."

Rhys looked back out into the waiting room at the man happily reading a magazine, back to the woman who looked more anxious at the extended silence. "Oh, hell. It's too late to change my mind." He continued to walk down the hall, which made Itzel smile.

They reached the exam room where Rhys sat on the small hospital bed. The bed felt gruff, but it was an upgrade from what would've been provided at Hyperion's mainstream hospitals. Itzel grabbed a plastic cuff and a pump and wrapped it around Rhys' arm. "How are you feeling- a-about the surgery."

"Nervous. Especially considering that I was convinced by a false Quinz." Rhys looked down as Itzel pumped the cuff, "But it's not like I really have a choice. I gotta find work."

"Find work?" Itzel raised a brow, removing the cuff and jotting down Rhys' blood pressure, "Your paperwork says you're in the middle management department."

"That was before my former boss thought I wasn't fit enough for middle management." A sigh escaped his lips, "Besides, data mining sounds more my speed, right?"

Itzel replied by putting her fingers on his wrist to try and find a pulse. It was incredibly high and for a sound reason. "I know you'll get the job, sir." She was trying to comfort and calm him down, "The doctor will be in in a few moments. I'll see you after your surgery." With that, she was gone.

Rhys found himself going through his ECHO, wondering if he should tell Vaughn this new information. No, he thought, because then he would have to explain why he couldn't back out of the surgery. "I'll just tell him that I found data mining more interesting" Rhys began to talk to himself aloud, "I'll never hear the end of it if Vaughn found out I got fired in the second month..."

There was a knock on the door before a man walked in. He was a short and stout man. He wore business casual under a pearly white lab coat. "Good afternoon, Mister Strongfork" He began, "My name is Doctor LeRoy Quinz. I- as well as a few of my colleagues- will be performing your surgery today. Before we administer any drugs or talk further about the procedure, we're going to transfer you to the surgery ward." Quinz gestured Rhys to get up and follow him.

"Don't patients typically go into the surgery ward on a stretcher?" Rhys tried to joke

"Yes. However, you're not unconscious or under any time of medication that would prevent you from walking to the ward." Quinz's voice sounded unenthusiastic, which sent a chill down Rhys' spine. This set up was weird. That might have been why they advertised like a bike sale rather than sending through mainstream media. This Eridium mining thing must have been so shady that nobody in their right mind would want to post it onto their social media or news articles.

Once he was set up and laid in the surgery ward, a male nurse came in and took his grand time finding a vein to stick an IV in. He slid the needle carefully through the skin and into the bloodline. What he lacked to do was make a tourniquet, which meant the nurse was inserting the needle by memory. Not anything that would worry Rhys or whatever, no way!

When the nurse put morphine into the IV bag, Rhys felt himself ease and calm down. Morphine wasn't supposed to be given until after the surgery, but Quinz must have ordered it for both before and after. Rhys wasn't complaining about this part. The less he felt, the better.

Quinz came in as the nurse left. Beside the man was a woman, who claimed she was going to be Rhys' anesthesiologist. "So, I'm sure you're aware of how the surgery works by now, but I am going to give you a small recap." He pulled out a clipboard from the end of the bed, "First, we are going to remove your arm, then we're going to dig into your eye and skull. The surgeries will be done all in this period and will take approximately seven to nine hours to complete. Do you have anyone that could pick you up upon discharge?

Rhys had to think about it. He didn't have any on-planet family. "My best friend Vaughn."

"Contact information is required. We will collect that and begin the surgery."

With that, a mask was stretched across Rhys' face and he could feel himself fading out.

A few hours had passed since Rhys was knocked out. All he knew was that the room was bright and he couldn't feel one of his arms. His head throbbed as one of his eyes was covered. Across the room was a very nervous Vaughn, talking to someone on his ECHO.

"V-Vaughn?" Rhys mouthed, barely able to get a voice out. Luckily, Vaughn heard the whisper and quickly hung up after saying he had to go.

"Rhys! Hey!" He kneeled beside Rhys' bed, taking in his hand, "How are you feeling buddy?"

"Sleepy..." He opened his mouth. It was cotton dry. "Thirsty."

"Blood loss does that to you..."

Rhys' eyes widen and he tried to sit up, but he was greeted by a searing pain in his left side. "B-Blood loss? W-What happened?"

Vaughn shook his head and figured it was a side effect of the anesthesia. "We're gonna get you fed and hydrated, then we're getting you home."

"B-But I don't want to go home!" Rhys whined and closed his eyes. It was hard for him to stay up at this point. He drifted off into slumber again. Vaughn tried to shake him awake, but his attempts were faulty.

When Rhys woke up, he woke up on his couch at home. Just a dream, he thought. However, he still couldn't see or feel his right side. He looked around, but that hurt like nothing else ever did. It was like someone was stabbing a sewing needle into his left eye socket. Vaughn put a hand on Rhys' shoulder, which made Rhys jump. When he turned in response, Rhys noticed that his apartment was much neater than he originally left it. Vaughn must have needed a time killer.

"Hey." Vaughn smiled, holding up an orange bottle, "How're you feeling?"

"Pain..." He coughed, slouching back into the cushion of his couch.

Vaughn tilted the bottle over and shook out two tiny pills before sealing its lid back on. He reached over to a glass of apple juice (Heaven forbid Rhys drink actual water) and looked up at his best friend. "Here, take these." He tried to put the pills up to Rhys' mouth, but his hand was slapped away.

"What are you doing, Vaughn?"

Vaughn blushed, looking down. "S-Sorry. I-I... I thought that maybe it would be hard with one working arm..."

Rhys' expression softened and he looked at his left side for the first time. In place of his original arm was a yellow hunk of metal with wires. It felt numb, but it looked heavy. That's when Rhys realized he'd just gotten out of surgery. This wasn't a fever dream. He'd just gotten rid of twenty-five percent of his body. "I'm sorry... I forgot about that." Rhys took the pills from Vaughn's hand and put them in his mouth before retrieving the apple juice to flush them down.

Vaughn sat there clueless on what to do or say. "Well... a lot of what you normally do you can't really... uh... do." He looked at the kitchen, "Are you hungry, I can make something small. You're on a liquid diet for two weeks- doctors orders. I can make you a mixed berry smoothie!" The mention of making a smoothie not only sounded great to Rhys, but Rhys noticed Vaughn's face lit up. He didn't know if it was because Vaughn liked to make smoothies or because he felt excited helping his best friend.

"Yeah. That sounds great." A yawn escaped from Rhys' mouth and he closed his eyes. "I'm gonna rest my eyes, bro." Rhys could feel the couch losing mass as Vaughn got up. After a few minutes of empty space, it was refilled. A cold substance alarmed Rhys' lap. When he opened his eyes, there was a purple liquid spilled onto his lap.

"Bro? A-Are you okay?" Vaughn was frantically trying to wipe Rhys' lap with his shirt sleeve. Rhys spilled it when he spilled back into an unconscious state.

Rhys laughed. Weird. "I-I'm fine, bro. It feels nice..." Suddenly, Rhys grabbed Vaughn's hand and held it in his own. Vaughn didn't know how to react. He looked at Rhys as his face flushed maroon.

"I-I'm gonna get paper towels!" Vaughn announced as he was quick to get up.

Rhys remained on the couch. His body felt like and numb, and his brain felt at ease. He couldn't feel anything- not just physically. There were no thoughts of embarrassment or careful wording; no voice in his head wanting him to shut up and hold himself back. When Vaughn returned, Rhys didn't even think about the fact this wasn't good. All he did was look at his colleague as his lap was being cleaned off. After that was done, Vaughn threw the paper into the trashcan under the coffee table and looked up at Rhys. "How are you feeling now, Rhys?"

"I feel great..." Rhys giggled and gave a smile. Vaughn looked a little more relaxed at that response but still raised a brow at the laughter.

"Good. That just means that the pills worked." Vaughn looked into Rhys' glassy eye. "Let's get you to bed, you look beat..."

Rhys gave out a whine and shook his head. "Nah, bro. I wanna hang with you." Rhys felt himself lean over to press his body onto Vaughn's, resting his head on the shorter man's shoulder. Vaughn froze but eventually wrapped an arm around Rhys as a comfort. He wanted Rhys to feel safe. He'd want to feel safe too after getting his arm and eye ripped to shreds.

"Rhys." Vaughn looked down at Rhys, "Why did you get the surgery?" Random question, but Vaughn had convinced himself that Rhys was going to chicken out.

"I lost my job last week... gotta make money somehow." No hesitation in his response. No falseness. The drugs refused to let him hold back.

"W-What?" Vaughn whispered, "Y-You lost your job...? Wh-Why didn't you tell me? I could've helped you with a better alternative..." The hurt in Vaughn's voice was visible, but his face tried to show otherwise.

"Because I knew I'd hurt you..." Rhys buried his face deeper into Vaughn's shoulder, "I always do."

Vaughn ran a hand through Rhys' hair. "Dude... You've never, ever hurt me. You've been the only one rooting for me since... Well, since forever. There's nobody else I'd ever look up to more than you." He felt his face flush and refused to look at Rhys.

Rhys looked up at Vaughn and leaned in. Vaughn stared back and jumped, realizing what Rhys was about to do. Quickly, he jumped to the other side of the couch, making Rhys have to fall back the other way. "H-Hey! Something's uh... I-... Wow is that a new light bulb?" He got up and went to inspect his false distraction.

Rhys remained on the couch and closed his eyes. Maybe he'd blown it, but at least he'd be able to sleep it off.