Portland Free Commerce Zone Echelon Tertiary Medical Center November 2005

Snake awoke with a start.

He lifted his head from a warm cocoon of medical gel and opened his eye. Klieg-hot light burst into his brain like a bullet. Pain gouged his skull, poked deep into his gray matter. He dropped his head back into the goop.

"Hurts, doesn't it?"

Snake turned his ear to the husky voice off to his side. The movement made Snake's stomach swim. He turned his head to puke into the gel surrounding his head. Nothing but bile and water, but it really reeked, and made Snake dry heave. He tried to lift his arms, but they were trapped under the surface of the gel. Each time he moved, the gel recongealed around his new position.

"That's MediGel. Field-grade; good stuff for severe trauma, war wounds, that kind of thing," came the voice again. "And much needed. You got your ass handed to you by that bus."

"Nuts... Bus Driver..." rasped Snake.

"Is he delerious?" A female voice this time, near the male voice. Snake struggled to resolve the images before him. Two fuzzy, lumpy shapes, one taller than the other.

"Where... Where am I?" said Snake. The taller of the figures, the male, came forward, put a disposable plastic cup of pisswarm water to Snake's lips.

"Slow, slow." Snake chugged the water. "You're at Echelon. It's a tertiary care facility run by the company you tried to rob." Snake choked and spit up the water, coughing.

"You thought maybe we wouldn't know about that little stunt you and your jerk-off friends cooked up?"

"So, what, you're the welcome committe then?"

The figure through the rest of the water in Snake's face, stinging his eye and getting some of the water up his nose. Snake sputtered.

"I'm your wake up call, asshole. There's work to be done. And time, it's a'wasting." The man snapped his fingers. "Drain his bed. Now."

There was a click, and a pleasant hum that sent pleasant tingles through Snake's body. The gel seeped from between Snake's naked limbs, into an unseen drain. The silky feel of the departing gel as it glided over his naked body and exposed him to the air-conditioned room gave Snake an immense woody.

The female gasped. Dropped a metal tray with equipment on it. Snake sneered at the two fuzzy, images slowly coalescing before him.

One of the figures, the male, was about Snake's height. Blondish/gray, spikey hair, heavy jowls and sad, dead eyes. He had a military bearing about him, and something else too. An electrically charged air of repressed violence, hatred.

"Enough of this horseshit." The man reached down and clasped Snake's arm. Snake noticed the tattoo of a snake, not a cobra but something familiar to him, running up the man's forearm. The man hauled Snake out of the bed and onto his feet in one smooth motion. The female came by, draping a hospital gown over Snake's shoulders, tying the back flaps of the gown.

Probably trying to feel him up, Snake thought. He grabbed the female's wrist and brought it down to his crotch.

"Here's for the scrap book, lady." The female yelped and backed away.

"You've been kept in an artificially induced comatose state for a month now," said the male. He readjusted Snake's robe, smoothing the sides and fixing its collar. "Broken fibula, broken tibia, broken pelvis, broken clavicle, cracked L5 and L8 vertebrae, ruptured spleen, massive abdominal hematomas. And a cluster fuck of a brain injury. Six surgeries and a full three weeks in the tank. Lucky for you we were here to fix you up."

"My head's pounding still. And I'm sore as fuck."

"Don't push it. You'll find that you don't even have long term limb atrophy from our procedures. You can walk as if you're just getting up from a nap." The man put his arm around Snake's shoulder and began walking to the door with him. Snake felt too weak to shrug the man's arm off his shoulder, let alone put him face-first through plate glass 50 stories up, as he'd like to.

"Well, thanks, I guess. Now, just get me my clothes and I won't have to stay long enough to kick the living shit out of you. I've got a date with a certain bus driver that can't wait."

"Not so fast. You owe us for what we did for you. For what the company did for you. Don't you think?"

"I owe you dick. So bend over, or get out of my way."

"Plus, there's the little matter of six dead company employees, two injured cops, attempted robbery of a company financial office and wanton and reckless destruction of property. Or did you think we forgot that? Any one of those is a New York-worthy offense. Combined, you'll be lucky to make it to Liberty Island before you get tossed out of the helicopter by the USPF."

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

The man spun Snake around, facing him, nose to nose.

"Yes you do. And one of those dead guards your asshole friend gassed back at the pay office? He happened to be my daughter Kim's fiancee, and a pretty damn good guy at that. So why don't we dispense with the banter."

The man kneed Snake in the balls. Snake slid to the floor.

"Yes, why don't we?" whispered Snake, breathlessly.

The man grabbed Snake by his hair, and kneed him in the face with enough force to yank a bloody clump of hair from Snake's head. Gasping, Snake fell flat on his back.

"You've got a big debt to pay, friend, and not a lot of time to pay it. Welcome to Frostzone, Plissken. The name's Bauer. Captain Jack Bauer. We'll talk more soon."

And with that, for good measure, Bauer stomped on Snake's face.