It wasn’t the first time I’d kicked in the door to a house of God, and in all likelihood it wouldn’t be the last. Beck was a bloody sack in my arms—her body lighter than I would have imagined considering the weight of her personality.
“Priest!” I bellowed without any respect to decorum. Unlike the cathedral in Heavy Nicodemia, the Chapel of Saint Benedict’s stark gray walls gave it an institutional feel. Entering through the back deposited me in the business end of the church. Dark, empty offices lined the hall, but I powered forward.
Without bothering to wait for an answer, I burst into the chapel. Beck groaned in my arms. She’d been hit in the side, and based on a quick examination the bullet had passed clean through. That was good, but I didn’t know if it had punctured any organs on its quick visit. My medic training was a stress-panicked jumble in my head. I shouted again for the priest.
I shouldered through a pair of double doors into the narthex where a crowd gathered for the upcoming service. People gasped, startled by my appearance. Blood coated my hands and coat. Beck’s skin was so pale in the warm lobby lights that it glowed against the dark of the bloody smears. She’d bled so much. Why hadn’t Sam shot me instead?
But that’s not how life worked. People around me got hurt, and I always walked away unscathed. Beck might die from this, and it had never been her they were after.
“Excuse me,” came a kind but urgent voice. “Can I help you?”
“You the priest?”
The man was tall and long-faced, and his the surgical starching of his white collar answered a whole lot of questions about who he was. “We have a medical station, let me see if I can find a trained medic.”
“I am a trained medic,” I said. “Just get me the station.”
The priest led me back through long, drab hallways. The lights activated for him as we passed through, bringing a sterile, clipped edge to the otherwise featureless space. This could have been any office in any financial district. Though, I thought, not a very successful one. Any successful finance office would have hung a painting or two.
“In here,” said the priest, waving me through a wide double door.
The room was even more harsh than the hall, with a crisp, acid scent lingering in the cold air. Three steel tables stood spaced evenly in the room, and the far wall was a row of refrigeration units.
“Is this a morgue?” I asked.
“We are not a hospital, but our facilities do contain a standard medical station.”
I placed Beck on the closest steel table. Her blood smeared across the reflective surface, rendering like red clouds in a swirling sky. This wasn’t a painting I ever wanted to see again. It took me back to that day my parents died, but I swallowed back that pain. There was work to do.
The medical station sat in a corner, its blue screen blinking a command prompt. Med stations were one of the few pieces of technology that would still work for me. Trinity ran the whole network, but for some small shred of mercy my excommunication didn’t cut me off from the basic human right to proper healthcare. In my case, I was a trained medic. I could do more with the device than the average citizen. It was one of the few valuable skills I kept up-to-date.
I punched in codes for a trauma kit, painkillers, and synth blood. The first two emerged immediately from the slot. The blood would take a moment to generate. There was a complex system behind these medical stations. What it couldn’t produce with materials on hand it would have shipped from a storage location. It might even come from a warehouse like the one I’d just raced through.
Beck was going into shock, so I hit her with the painkillers first. Trinity used a blended mix of fast-acting and slow burn pain meds, and the second I injected Beck she slumped down into a deeper sleep. Good.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” The priest stood in the doorway looking as out of place as his parishioners must feel in the confessional.
Tearing Beck’s shirt, I took my first good look at the wound. It was low in her abdomen, possibly near the liver. That was bad. I hadn’t done a lot of internal work.
“I’m good, Priest,” I said. “Go tend your flock.”
The medical station dinged and a pouch of synthblood arrived through the chute. I snatched it up and used the included hook to hang it from the low ceiling. Placing the IV was tricky. It took several tries to get a needle into her dessicated veins.
Her breathing was shallow and her skin was cold. She made little hitching sounds in the back of her throat that caused her whole body to shudder as she slept. The wound bled, pooling on the steel table. I took a deep breath, braced myself, and dove in.
Wound care wasn’t my specialty. My focus in my few years of medical training was in comfort care. There were some things that the artificial intelligence couldn’t do well. Palliative care was one of them. I knew drugs, and I understood surgery, but a fully equipped surgical lab would do most procedures better than a human.
The station dinged again, and a surgery kit landed on the tray. Steadying my nerves, I set the thing down on the table nearest Beck. It had all the razor-sharp scalpels one would expect, plus some gadgets I barely recognized from my training. I fixed the augment goggles on my face and took a moment to scan Beck and the kit.
Once I’d looked at everything around, the augment goggles kicked in. I scrubbed in and gloved up at the closest sink. Instructions came with arrows pointing at where I needed to go and when. Clean the area.
I used the included cleaning kit to scrub the area around the wound as well as I could.
Pick up the scalpel. Affix the ultrasound. Open the wound.
The piece I had never used was a flesh binder. It knit together torn flesh, holding it in place until it could heal properly. My hands shook as I used it on the nicked liver. I was a terrible surgeon.
Once the liver stopped bleeding, the augmented instructions walked me through procedures to clean the area. After it was cleaned—and a bullet fragment was removed—the rest of the process was easy. The binder worked the pieces of her skin together, knitting it with an aerosol-applied mesh of fiber and glue.
My head hurt. Vision grew blurry and unfocused. The back of my throat tasted like bile.
But she was alive.
Reconcile? The text on the medic screen said.
“Not today, Trinity,” I said.
Remembering my training, I packed up the remains of the surgery kit, including the augment goggles. They reminded me of the other handyman running around town. He used augment goggles to see in the dark. It gave him even more of an advantage.
These wouldn’t work for me in any other context. Trinity still controlled them, so they wouldn’t even activate in my presence. The whole kit went straight back into the medical station, and by the time I was finished, my joints ached and every muscle felt weak with exhaustion. I picked Beck up, afraid she would roll off as she woke. In a nearby office, I found a single reclining chair—no doubt a sinful luxury for some old priest. I settled into it, pulled Beck close and arranged her so she wouldn’t put pressure on her wound.
Like that, we slept, with her wrapped in my arms. It was the first comfortable sleep I’d had in longer than I could remember.
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Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at: https://www.patreon.com/AWEichenlaub