Thirteen hours. Dr. Shea Tristan’s twelve-hour shift had ultimately run long when a wounded peace officer had burst through the emergency room doors of her hospital wing. The young man was top priority med-transported and needed immediate attention, yet Dr. Tristan’s replacement had yet to show in the twelfth hour of her already-exhausting shift. So, despite the ache in her bones and the drowsiness clouding her muddled thoughts, she’d prepped for emergency surgery.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Jeffries, your husband made it. He’s going to be alright; His Fortune Shines,” Dr. Tristan had said to the patient’s sobbing, woeful wife in the waiting lobby after forty-five tiresome minutes in the operating room.
The peace officer had taken a serrated knife to the abdomen while trying to break up a scuffle between two rival gang members in the Middle sector. He was lucky to have been med-transported in time. Few were as fortunate. The surgery ran longer than she’d anticipated, but he would’ve been lost if the med-transport had arrived only five minutes later.
Patients suffering more gruesome injuries occasionally rolled into the emergency room, particularly when Shadow and the Trinities were directly involved. A peace officer had been lost just the week before after she’d attempted to arrest a Shadow operative caught selling smuggled cigarettes from the Dome. The officer had taken a knife to the throat and died within minutes. Dr. Tristan hadn’t been the doctor on call, but she’d come into the hospital that night and found the mourning silence in the halls unsettling. Gang-related violence had become too common over the past few cycles, and although it twisted at her heart to know that another life had been lost, she couldn’t afford to let it distract her for long. Too many people, patients and their loved ones alike, depended on her to remain focused.
She’d been so exhausted and focused on saving the poor officer’s life that she’d forgotten to wash herself after the surgery. She reached to shake the distraught wife’s hand with the man’s blood speckled and dried on her pale skin. It took a moment of examining the horrified expression rising across the woman’s plump, flush face for her to realize the unfortunate mistake.
Two more shifts, then I can crash in bed all weekend. She closed the office door shut behind her. Her fingers reached to flip on the lights, hesitated, and then dropped again. Her eyes ached. Dark. Dark is better.
She pushed herself forward and plopped down in the chair behind a small desk in the corner. Her office, though cramped and no larger than a common patient’s room, was wonderfully peaceful and quiet.
Sitting brought relief to her sore feet. She leaned back against the chair, stretched her arms high above her head, and parted her lips to yawn. Her heavy gaze drifted to the computer screen, and she blinked her weary eyes. The small, flashing envelope icon in the bottom corner caught her attention, and she sat up and scooted the chair forward against the desk: an intramail. She clicked the icon and smiled when she recognized the sender.
Hey sis, I know we’re only supposed to use the intramail for official business, but I wanted to remind you that today is Dad’s birthday. He’s not celebrating it—you know how he is—but I think it’d really make his day to hear from you. It’s been rough out here lately at Apex, but don’t overthink it—I don’t want you to worry.
Hope you’re doing well. We love and miss you.
A wave of guilt rushed over her—she’d forgotten her father’s birthday. Whether it was due to her busy schedule or mere absentmindedness, she would’ve let the day pass by unnoticed had Charles not broken official comms-protocol to remind her. A simple intramail message wouldn’t assuage her guilt at this point, and although it was against practice to use the ministry’s computers and intramail for personal use, she nevertheless slid open the cover to the webcam built inside her monitor.
“Sorry, Uncle Alex,” Shea said, motioning absentmindedly toward a portrait of a young, stately gentleman hanging from the adjacent wall. “One personal intramail won’t hurt, will it?”
The blue light at the top of her monitor flickered to life when the webcam activated. Her smile waned when her face appeared on the screen, illuminated by nothing more than the pale glow. Not only was Shea exhausted after her thirteen-hour shift, but the arduous hours had visibly taken their toll on her. Dark circles enveloped her tired, drooping hazel eyes and her long brown hair, originally drawn back in a bun at the base of her neck, hung loose to frame her slender, weary face. The longer she peered at her own image, the more she yearned for sleep. She imagined looking at herself through that wife’s eyes and figured she may have had the same reaction under similar circumstances; Shea wouldn’t want Dr. Tristan to be her physician either, if she looked as terrible as this.
Shea rose from her chair and strode to the sink in the adjacent restroom. She didn’t bother switching on the ceiling lights, and instead groped for the faucet handle to twist it open. The water chilled her skin when she rinsed her fingers and leaned forward to splash her cheeks. She yanked on her hair tie to release her messy bun before re-collecting the thick hair into a neat ponytail. Returning to the desk, she strained to smile against her exhaustion. She took a breath and pressed ‘Record.’
“Hi Dad! I know, I know, we aren’t supposed to use intramail like this, but—” she greeted, then began to sing. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Da-ad!” Her voice faltered against the dryness in her throat.
She hesitated, and then spoke again with feigned levity. “My singing voice hasn’t improved over the cycles, clearly. But happy birthday, Dad, I hope you’re at least doing something special with Charles today to celebrate. I wish I was with you two at the facility, but I know you wouldn’t have it.”
She wavered for a moment and sat in silence, her smile weakening. “I just miss you two, is all. It’s been hard lately without you guys. I’m one of the newer physicians on staff here at the hospital, so they’re assigning us the longer night-shifts that no one else wants. But I’m holding up alright. If Mom handled it, so can I. The house is quiet without you two stomping around, though.”
Shea glanced up at the clock on the wall—11:35. Her warm, soft bed at home beckoned to her the longer she stayed seated in that office.
“I’ll write to you soon, Dad, I promise. Tell Charles I say hello, and that I love him.” She strained to smile through her exhaustion. “I love you both. Take care out there and stay safe.” With a wave, she ended the recording. Her smile dropped and she sat motionless staring at the screen, waiting for the message to send.
A knock at the office door startled her. Shea slid the computer webcam lens shut.
“Who is it?” she asked, rising from her chair.
“It’s Brad, open up,” a man answered from the other side, impatient.
Shea took a deep breath before opening the door with a strained, wide smile. “Dr. Wilson, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
Dr. Wilson, a tall, jowled, middle-aged man with dark graying hair, eyed her up and down with a scowl. “You look ghastly.”
And you’re a colossal dick. “Just finishing up a shift, actually. On my way home now, if that’s alright.”
“Sure, not a problem. You’re free to go home right after you visit with Secretary Willis.”
Shea stared at him, stunned. “Begging your indulgence, Dr. Wilson, but Dr. Mohan is scheduled to take over and can make the visit—”
Dr. Wilson raised his hand to silence her. “Secretary Willis asked for you specifically. He is a Statesman, and is a good friend of your uncle. It would mean a great deal to this department, and me as your supervisor, if you paid Secretary Willis a visit.”
Shea bit her tongue against the ire rising through her chest. Her smile tightened. “Of course. I’ll head that way immediately.”
Dr. Wilson offered a polite nod and turned to walk away. “Please do, Dr. Tristan. His Majesty Guide Us.”
“May Strength Remain.” Shea’s voice remained calm despite herself, and she turned back to shut the door behind her. She marched down the hall, silently cursing her supervisor beneath her breath.
A white laundry transport pulled through the security gates outside. It backed into the narrow delivery dock beneath the Ministry of Health and Wellness and idled for a few moments before stabilizing clamps latched onto its bumper. The driver’s door slid open. A young man stepped out and rounded to the rear of the vehicle, all while darting nervous glances over his shoulders. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and clapped his palm twice against the side of the transport.
The rear double doors slid open and a figure clad in dark clothes, face obscured by a gray scarf, hopped out onto the bay carrying an empty duffle bag.
“You know the drill, Trev. Keep her running, I won’t be long.” The woman checked the time on her wristwatch and strode across the platform toward the ventilation shaft. The driver had already begun lifting heaps of soiled sheets from the damp bay floor and heaving them into the back of the transport.
He glanced anxiously over his shoulder. “Don’t keep me waitin’, alright?”
She didn’t respond, and he watched her disappear into the shaft, leaving him standing alone among the mounds of dirtied linens. He glanced around again and jumped at the announcement blaring from the nearby speakers:
“Be advised, scheduled rainfall set to begin in ten minutes. Be advised, scheduled rainfall set to begin in ten minutes.”
He shuddered and bent down to hoist another armful.