I heard Katy complaining almost before the doors to triage slid open. For some reason, probably because I had gotten used to hearing her complain about everything for the last six months of her tour, I mostly ignored her. She was standing at the nurses station holding a stack of charts. One chart sat on the counter in front of her as she sneered sarcastically across the counter at Addie, the attending nurse.
“You take him, Lark, you’re good with his type.”she slid the chart at me with one finger, as if the plastic sheet were infected.
I picked it up off of the counter, trying to not show my irritation with the head rounds nurse. She had been promoted over me a month ago, but not because she was necessarily any better than me. Her career path seemed pretty set to return to civi duty, whereas I was determined to exam out of nursing and, hopefully, get into research. I liked the hist-path lab rotations, the peace and relative quiet of the lab was soothing to me. It was because of this that I passed up the promotion, recommending Katy for the position despite knowing damn well I would regret it, if only temporarily. She would be gone soon, less than a week, and none the wiser about not being first pick until she reached the home-world systems, when the notation would be made public along with all of her other employment records.
I added the chart to my rounds and, with a quiet nod to the rest of the nurses, started in on my bedside observations.
Working on the severe trauma unit was almost as calming as working in the lab. Nearly all of the patients were drugged to the point of being comatose, and the AI unit was mostly responsible for any physical treatments aside from medications the patients needed. Nurses should have been a thing of the past, but a few nasty incidents with malfunctioning AI units made the presence of a living, breathing, trained nurse still considered mandatory, even on state of the art med ships like ours.
This trauma unit was relatively small, not more than one hundred beds, but that came as one of the perks in officer territory. None of the patients in our unit held a rank less than lieutenant. Sargeants were required to stay with their soldiers on the general trauma unit, but the officers in charge of them were segregated out. The privacy was the only perk, as the officers received no different treatment from the general military population. I had been told once that the only reason they were segregated out was to reduce the incidence of officer homicide by the soldiers they commanded and I didn’t doubt it.
Most colony born soldiers never made it above the rank of sargeant. This was either because there were so many fatalities in battle that it was rare to have a colony born soldier survive that long, or because so many Home-world born soldiers had the advantage of attending one of the four elite military schools. Once you became an officer it was extremely rare for you to see any action, and even then, it was usually from the safety of a command post on the transport ship as it maintained orbit over the attack quadrant. Officers rarely set foot planet side. It didn’t take a genius to see why there was so much descent between the colonies and the home-world system, with the bright young youths of the colony mandatoraly sent off to die while the home-world officers watched it all happen on a vid-screen thousands of miles above.
I got to Katy’s cast-off last. I put him there because my primary responsibility was to the patients assigned to me. Anything else I did to assist another nurse complete their rounds was considered extra-credit. I would not be the one reamed out if I didn’t get to it, although I probably would hear it from Katy the next time I saw her. Not that that would happen, officer territory had perks for the rounds nurses as well, such as having plenty of time to do rounds and sit down.
I read over the officers chart before I entered the nook where his bed was. Commander Xander Larson. He had sustained extensive muscular burn injuries while aboard the Gemini during the latest battle with the Virons. I tried to remember where that had occurred, but being on a busy military med ship made keeping track of where in the galaxy what ship met what horrible end basically impossible.
Although techically I only needed to note rank before skipping to the treatment section of his chart, I took a good long look at where he was from. Even on the general rank units, I liked sneaking peeks at where in the known universe my soldiers came from. It interested me more to imagine what part of the home-world systems the commanding officers came from.
It took me by surprise, then, to see the planetary system indicated in his file. He was colony, and not a military school charity case scholarship type either. This one had worked his way up from colony soldier. That took, as the head rounds doctor liked to put it, ball’s harder than steel.
“You must be one tough mother if you’re colony bred.” I murmured as I fed the chart into the slot on the wall by his bed.
“Thanks” croaked out a voice just barely above a whisper I jumped and looked over at the bed. Blue eyes glittered over at me in the semi-darkness of the bed-nook.
“I apologize, Commander, I didn’t realize you were awake.” I turned to check the readouts on the stats screen and realized that all of his pain medication feeds had shut off. The problem with sensitive med equipment was that sometimes it broke easily. In this case, it appeared as though the bed weight monitor was not working and, instead of alarming due to sudden lack of patient weight, the damn computer decided that there was no longer a patient in the bed and stopped all med feeds. I winced inwardly, knowing that had I checked on him at the beginning of my rounds, I might have noticed it sooner. I patched in an over-ride to restart his medications and sent an alert to Technical.
“That’s the first complement I’ve heard in a long time.” The corner of his mouth drew up a little in a smile, but quickly turned into a wince. He was feeling the pain now and I double checked the med flow. Nerve regrowth, while still a miraculous breakthrough in science, was also extremely painful. Considering that with his case we were also regrowing most of the muscle mass on the right side of his body the pain would be double.
“Your medication feed has a short in it. I’m getting it fixed right now. You should be feeling the pain meds kick in shortly. I apologize again, Commander Larson.” I walked to the side of his bed and lifted the plastic gel blanket gently off of his right side.
“That’s fine, Nurse.” His eyes were ice blue as he watched me examine his healing injuries, “Most people see I’m colony and assume the worst.”
His skin where the injuries were was still translucent, but had been regrown over top of his muscle mass so seamlessly that no scar would exist to show the extent of his injuries. Underneath I could see the pulsatile rhythm of blood as it flowed through the tissues. The majority of his muscle and skin regrowth had happened in a bio-tank, but the muscles and nerves now needed time to complete growth outside of the bio-tank.
“I’m colony too. I know how you feel. It takes a lot of hard work to get anywhere, even military, once people know you’re colony bred.” I smiled at him, trying my best at good bedside manners.
I checked to be sure that the feed lines into the blood vessel ports for the regrowth broth had not suffered the same short. For safety reasons, the regrowth nutrient broth system was on a separate consol and power supply as the pain medication and muscle relaxant. The yellow liquid still flowed through the tubes as if nothing had happened. I smiled a little as I finished checking the ports, eyeballing the color of his new-grown skin for anything abnormal. Nothing beats the human eye for finding problems, or else my presence here would be useless.
“All there?” his voice was so raspy, I wondered if he had lung damage too. I vaguely remembered something about a gas missle attack on the main deck had caused over 70% casualties, but again, that could have been any ship.
“I caught the last nurse checking to see if I was ‘all there’” His lips curved a little upward again, but still tight. I glanced at the monitor and could see the pain medication starting to flow again. Then I realized what he had just said to me.
“Really?” I raised an eyebrow at him, “You didn’t want me to check, did you?”
“ No, Ma’am.” He tried to grin at me, but it turned into more of an odd grimmace.
Gently, I covered his right side back up again, tenderly aware of how sensitive his thin skin was. Any contact with it, even the slight pressure applied by laying the gel blanket back down on him, caused some measure of discomfort to the nerves. I had heard another officer describe it as a searing burning that reverberated all over the injured area when fingers had been drawn lightly down his skin.
I could tell the pain medications had started flowing again, the Commanders face held a tight wince as the first venous burn started. Gently, I uncurled his clenched left hand and slipped my fingers under his and let him clench my hand in a strangle hold as the medication spread up his arm. It wouldn’t help to have the IV catheter cut off inadvertantly at the point of entry.
“Hold on, it’ll start working soon.” I said softly to him. Although the medications worked wonders to knock out patients and keep them in a pain-free state of coma during convalesence, nothing could take away the painful burn it caused when first introduced to the bloodstream.
“Jesus…” he whispered, and then the medication hit his brain and I felt his whole body sag. His eyelids drooped closed and his breathing slowed to the deeper, more even rhythm of the heavily medicated. Softly, I slid my hand out of his now lax one and returned it to where it belonged under the gel blanket. I had to flex my hand a few times to get the blood flowing again. The commander was a big man, despite having half his body regrowing and his hand had not only dwarfed mine, but practically crushed it as I tried to hold it open to prevent the catheter from blocking.
“Isn’t this Katy’s patient?” I turned at the sound of the mostly inflectionless voice. Marty stood there, silver eyes blinking in an un-natural rhythm at me.
“Katy said she needed help and I said I would take care of him.” I shrugged as I finished straightening the Commander’s covering and then stepped back so Marty could enter the space.
“Katy didn’t want to get rejected by him again.” Marty gave me as close to an ironic look as she could manage.
Marty was a Chop, an injured veteran who hadn’t been a good match for the regrowth process. The military didn’t like to loose a soldier if they didn’t have to, so they used technology to replace what the soldier lost using a combination of metallic cells called iCHELLS1 and hardware. In Marty’s case, her entire lower half from her lungs down had been replaced with a four legged walking apparatus, her gastrointestinal system completely removed and replaced with an energy converter and iCHELL photosynthesis system which replaced her remaining skin. Everything was controlled by iCHELL based neural network that replaced her spinal chord. Essentially, only her brain, her eyes, and a few underlying tissues on her face were original. Everything else was either machine or iCHELL technology.
“Again?” I raised my eyebrow at the Med Engineer as she plugged into the computer system by my patients bed.
“He caught her checking his apparatus out and reprimanded her.” It took a lot not to be totally creeped out by the inflectionless tone in Marty’s voice, but that’s what happens when your vocal chords are replaced by a sound processor. The technology only goes so far as to allow words to be translated from thoughts to the correct auditory sound. Emotion and inflection were far to complicated a thing for the technology to convey.
“So this isn’t the first time he’s woken up.”
“No. And she didn’t report it. She just amped up his medications and hoped it wouldn’t happen again.” The raised eyebrow and slight scowl on her metallic face was the only indication of Marty’s thoughts on the matter. She had reamed me out when she heard that I had passed up the promotion, the first time I learned that although her voice couldn’t convey much emotion, her face and volume could.
“How do you know it happened?” I leaned gently on the edge of the bed, careful to watch the medication flow and my patients face. I didn’t want him waking up again.
“I was performing a routine system check and caught the short. I saw the security vid when I tried to determine if the medication shut off was human or computer error.” She shrugged, her eyes on the monitor that sped numbers and symbols by at a blinding rate. The iCHELL neural network made most of her sensory reflexes significantly faster than a normal human.
“Is it human error?”
“No. Not any more.” She turned and looked at me, disconnecting from the bedside computer. “I’m putting this bed on temporary shut down for repairs after this patient leaves. He should be complete with the healing process by tomorrow afternoon and able to move to physical therapy wing. I will have to totally shut down and restart the program before I can fix the issue. Until then, this patient will require hourly checks to be certain his pain medications are still running normal. I have made a note on his patient file in the system that will alert his assigned nurse to the issue.”
1iChells= developed in 2011 at the University of Glasgow, they are cell-like bubbles built from giant metal-containing molecules that, when bonded by certain processes, show some life-like properties like creating organelle-like structures and even indicating that they could develop the ability to photosynthesize. I read a short article in New Scientist about it and have run with the idea.