Smol Doctors at Large – Chapter 6

30 Hours almost always seems like a long time.

Well. If you want to be pedantic about it, then we’d have to define almost every word in there except 30. And “a”. Point is, 30 hours is a long time if you have nothing to do but hurry up and wait. And hurrying was something that a group of humans was doing, if only because everything was so frickin’ far away from everything else, and the newest addition to the hospital was, of course, the furthest thing away from anything around it. Somehow.

“I really… don’t think we’re going to get a good group this time.” Tiny-chomper-lookit-him-jump – eer, RN Than mo Tran said, idly rolling his arm to work out a persistent kink in his shoulder as he power-walked with the group. “The ones that remained were either spooky or squeamish.”

“Spooky will leave.” Tiny-chomper-needle-poke, AKA RN. James Wilson said, drawing in a sharp intake of breath to mask the power-walk struggle. “Squeamish is the issue. We haven’t even given them the rugber beggie bebbie breakies ye-”

“The. Rubber. Breaky. Baby. Bodies.” Tiny-chomper-sassy-slaps (and you would get those slaps if you called her that, so instead use her human name of) RN Laverne Roberts said between panting breaths, doing her best to follow the group. “And if I had known. You wanted me to get. My 10,000 steps in. 5 minutes. Doctor. I would have worn. Tennis shoes. Instead of flats today.”

“Look I’m sorry but we do have a tight schedule.” Dr. Nicholas Silver said, breathing heavy himself as he rounded the corner with his group on his heels. “Point being, I think we’ll get one… maybe two out of this group. Five would be stellar.”

Than mo gave a little half-jog to catch up before slowing back down to the breakneck walking pace. “Five would be excellent, but I doubt it. We’ve only got 7 out of the past three months; at this rate we’ll be an ambitious day clinic forever.”

“7 is better than nothing.” Dr. Silver said, checking his watch. “We should be arriving on-time for our preliminary walk-through…” Rounding yet another corner, the sound of footfall-on-tile turned to footfall-on-padded-plastic, the signs of new construction suddenly springing into existence. Down yet another unfortunately long hallway, a safety-vested Jornissian rested, talking idly with a few of her construction crew, including quite a few humans. Whatever the conversation was seemed to be a good one, as the crew was listening with rapt attention to their foreman – eer. Forewoman. Forenissian?

“[And then, so I say, Hey honey – if you’re that solid on the outside, how about we see how solid you are when you’re insi-]”

“Please. God. Not. Today.”

The Jornissian straightened up as Laverne panted out her exhaustion, coming to a stop a few yards behind the rest of her group. The rest of the crew immediately found something important to do and dispersed, letting the Jornissian team captain handle the spotlight all on her own. “[I… was not expecting you to arrive on time, Doctor. Nurses.]” The forenissian said, sheepishly bowing her shoulders slightly. “[Uh, usually it takes quite some time unassisted for your people to make it from point A to point B, as it were, so-]”

“What. Do you. Mean. Our. People?!” Laverne said, leaning heavily against the wall as she caught her breath, slumping down onto one of the still-covered-in-plastic-wrap benches in the waiting hallway.

“[I-I mean, just, your legs are so tiny-]”

“Look, I don’t know about you, but I don’t skip my calf raises. Point being, we have a tight schedule, so how about we just get to it – did the package arrive?”

The Jornissian looked at Dr. Silver flatly. “[Yes, it did. We set it up just down the hall-]”

There was a groan from the waiting hall bench behind him, and Dr. Silver sighed. “How far?”

The Jornissian team captain pointed to a small nearby alcove. With quick, purposeful steps Dr. Silver closed the gap, letting out a little laugh of joy – or relief. “Thank GOD. You’d think they’d give us more of these things, considering we’re going to be chronicallly understaffed for the near future…]”

“[If you don’t mind me asking, what is it?]”

“No way – that’s a Medical, Environmental, Defensive Inferrance Binural Omnidirectional Thinking assistant!” RN. James Wilson cooed, stepping around the confused Jornissian to look at the piece of high-tech equipment. “Who the hell did you bribe to get us a MEDIBOT, cap’n?”

Dr. Silver laughed again, flipping a switch on the MEDIBOT’s side. Round eyes glowed bright blue, the hum of internal machinery kicking into drive.

MED-I-BOT.” Medibot so helpfully said, earning a pat on the head from the good Doctor.

“I just showed central our dismal pass rates, and they decided to let one of these top-of-the-line robots come out to little ol’ nowhere, Gentle Expanse.” Dr. Silver said, as Medibot whirred loudly. “They originally forecasted a massive volume of students, which – sure, they were right. But the fail rate was something central didn’t plan for, so.” Nick gave Medibot another pat on it’s antenna, and the tin-can looking assistant robot stood up.

“MED-I-BOT.” Medibot suggested, raising it’s grabber arms forward in the universal symbol of “hug me please.” Or possibly “ex-ster-min-ate”… it was very hard to tell.

“Ah. So you basically pointed out that we’re chronically understaffed even with 400,000 applicants.” Laverne called out, the wind finally back in her sails. “Bout damn time they started to listen to us out here.”

Medibot whirred to life, it’s cylindrical base starting to fan out and slowly vacuum the floor underneath as it trundled it’s way across the hallway, bumping into the wall, turning 15 degrees and moving further down into the construction pathway. The Jornissian looked at the humans… questioningly. “[That’s… That’s a medical robot?]”

“Yes. What?”

Medibot gently bumped into a potted plant, turning another 15 degrees and continuing his way down the corridor.

“[I just… um. That seems like very odd behavior for a medical drone.]”

Dr. Silver shrugged. “His father was a roomba, you see.”

And with that serving as the only explanation, the group followed Medibot further into the freshly-built Human medical wing.

= = = =

Juan Esteban coughed, once, clearing his throat, and frowned. His office was mostly silent, save for the whir from the HVAC system kicking into higher gear as it attempted to filter the outside air before circulating it indoors. For the first few months of the illegal burns it did fine; the weather hadn’t shifted to be a bother, and the fragrance was even something sickly-sweet when the wind blew the green-blue smoke over his property. When this all started, at least there were companies – shell companies, sometimes – that would be monitoring the situation on the ground.

Now?

Now sometimes they had to keep the livestock inside because the smoke was so bad, and there was never anyone around to call and bitch to. Nobody wanted to admit fault to a wildfire, especially to nobody in code enforcement, but Juan had a sneaking suspicion that some palms were greased and greed was making men do stupid things. The new MO seemed to be setting large patches of wild acreage alight at random, see what turns up once the coals died down… but these fires were started and then abandoned, and damn the consequences to any bystanders.

But who would stop them? Who could blame them?

It’s not Juan’s land – it’s not anyone’s land – there’s no infrastructure damage, no danger of life lost, the forest would need to be cleared anyway for new development, and Mothing was an incredibly nascent and lucrative industry to get into.

“[…So, as your people say, my hands are tied.]”

Juan rolled his eyes at the screen, raising his arms in exasperation. “Persimmon, come on. Wiggles has to have filled you in on what we’re facing here! Hell, AQI puts the PM in the air well into the orange and red zones some days! I’ve had to send half my family home – not to the farmhouses, but back to Silver City – and -” Juan paused to clear his throat, which turned into a wet cough attack.

“[…you should get that looked at.]” The Jornissian on the other end of the screen said, tilting his body to the side slightly in thought. “[That can’t be healthy-]”

“Fucking exactly, Persimmon! This shit – ahem – only started once the burning got out of control! You NEED to do something! Central NEEDS to do something-”

The Jornissian sighed, the low bass rumble from the speakers rattling Juan’s desk slightly. “[Juan, I’ve said this before. What am I going to do? Have the fire brigades patrol every stretch of abandoned land on the planet? Do we have the PDF pull over and arrest every solo transport that lands in the wilderness? Are we to start tracking every transport on the planet that leaves any metro area, and put a satellite on them for their duration?]” With a copied exasperated Jornissian shimmy, Persimmon let his arms rest on the table. “[Juan, I want to help you – I’m serious, I do – and we stopped those registered companies from doing controlled burns near your livestock. Those who didn’t obey were fined, or had their licenses revoked. I can help you with legal activity, but I can’t do anything about illegal activity.]”

Juan cleared his throat, drinking deeply from a close bottle of water. “Ah, look. Persimmon, I know, and I appreciate you helping – but damnit, I can’t run a business like this if I have to keep everything shut up and my people can’t breathe!”

“[But it’s just the human population, correct?]”

“Yes! Which is an issue when Mothing is basically a human-only sport, Persimmon! I’m thankful for the hired hands, but I’ve had to shutter classes for the rest of the month, the air’s so bad – and on days when it’s good everything still smells like smoke! Fuck’s sake, Wiggles and the temps have spent every clear day scrubbing down everything just so it smells normal again, and I’m replacing 90 day filters every single week!” Juan leaned forward, raising one hand in a pleading gesture. “Do you have any idea how bad it is for everything when you bring a school full of kids to your farm and every single one of them goes home sneezing?!

Persimmon looked at Juan with pity, shaking his head in a very human-like gesture. “[I understand the frustration, friend, but I can’t help you. You have to keep lodging burn complaints with the PDF. At some point, if you can show enough of a business loss we can start looking into it, but you are, so far, the only businesssuffering.]”

“So what, we wait until the smoke hits Silver City – and then what, suddenly everything will be taken care of? Once my farm’s written off because nobody can stand to live or work here from the fires?!

Persimmon looked down at his desk, thoughtfully. “[I can help you apply for some emergency relief funds-]”

“GOD-just…” Juan’s outburst earned him another coughing fit, and he held up a hand to stop his friend from worrying. “Keh-It’s, khm, fine. Just – sore throat from all this…”

The silence was punctuated by a few errant coughs, the HVAC whining to full steam in the lull.

“Yeah. I’d like to apply for those loans, Persimmon.”

“[I’m sorry-]”

“I know.” Juan sighed, running his fingers through his thick black hair, a few errant strands coming away with his hand. “I know. Thank you.”

Persimmon tapped at his console, bringing up a few documents that he shared on the screen. “[Certainly, Juan. So, the first is a grant for non-agriculture payroll…]”

= = = =

The wiring in the Human hospital wing was perfect. O2, H2O, H2O2 and various other more exotic gases and liquids wound themselves in insulated coils behind pristine walls, the only indication that they existed were the outlets to plug in the necessary machinery of the moment.

Speaking of the machines, they were all lined up, ready to use – the pinnacle of human medical technology. Each one a semi-autonomous beast, capable of helping the doctor or nurse on call to identify medication dosages properly, administer them, notify of conflicting side-effects, keep patients updated, update the line nurse as to patient statuses, and even perform certain life-saving tasks automatically if the AI’s subroutine figured a human was too far away to help.

Speaking of help, Medibot was there too. So that’s nice.

However, once you’ve checked the machines, wheeled them into either storage or the first few rooms, gone through diagnostics and let Medibot help there was just nothing else to do, and as we covered earlier, 30 hours is a long time to hurry up and wait.

Than mo figured that while everyone else caught dinner, he could wander around the complex. The hospital, although still well within Silver City’s municipal area, was massive. Like, square-city-block massive, if Than mo was comparing the building to something found on a human colony. As he meandered around it slowly dawned on him why – the hospital was basically four hospitals inside one building; although some spaces could be shared, like dining or the waiting room, others had to be purpose-built: an examination pad for a Jornissian was useless for a Karnakian, for example. This duplication of effort was found in anything from door sizes to room layouts, down to individual medical devices and, laughibly enough, cotton swabs. Well. Cotton-analogues.

Point being, Than mo wasted a few hours meandering the halls, stepping out of the way of other professionals, and making light small talk with the visitors as he explored. He was never lost, per se – every wing and every floor had helpful kiosks to point him in whatever direction he wanted to go – and if he did get turned around, there were dozens of people willing to “help him get to where he needed to be”.

Why some of them wanted to carry him there was beyond him.

And so Than mo wasted time, and explored, and pondered, and stole from vending machines using that flap trick until he found himself face-to-face with a very very excited Karnakian.

“So… what’s all this here?”

“[Oh! Why, it’s our day care center!]” T’ciki’briiki trilled happily, wiggling a little in place. “[Would you like for me to show you around?]”

Shrugging, Than mo rested his mountain of half-eaten snacks on the desk. “Sure! What harm could it do?”

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