The uncaring sea roils around the mazelike archipelagos of synthetic coral that support the floating city’s looming skyscrapers, which are being perpetually buffeted by massive sprays of brackish water. Lich-like rays of pallid light struggle through the low, black clouds and fall onto the buildings, painting the city an unholy green. A flash erupts from within the clouds, and a rumble echoes through the skyscrapers. A curtain of icy rain begins to sweep into the city, further reducing the visibility in the ill-defined light of the storm.
Both the authorities and the city’s employs have long since vacated the vast rooftop plazas and commons and have taken shelter inside the plastic-steel walls of their gigantic ivory towers. The only places where people can still be found outdoors are the slums, on the edges of the city, where the skyscrapers seem to fall away into the ocean and leave only the exposed homes of those residents who are either unable or unwilling to work for the city’s regime, and have been forced out of public view. Somewhere within the mountains of storage containers and sheet metal homes, a boy steps through the door of the slums’ bona fide clinic which is nestled in the carcass of an old fishing trawler, in what used to be the vessel’s medical bay.
Inside, Tommy folds back the hood of his tattered jacket and blinks the rain from his haunted eyes. He is greeted by the familiar sight of the slum’s resident doctor. She has just emerged from behind one of the suspended curtains that cordon off the place.
“Hey, handsome,” she says numbly. Her scrubs are stained and splattered almost black, as are her mask and gloves.
“Do you have it?” Tommy asks.
“No small talk? Tsk,” murmurs the doctor as she slides a sealed medical bag across the counter. “What a surprise.”
Tommy ignores her as he slings the bag onto his shoulder and turns for the door. “Take it to the hospital on 9th,” the woman sighs to Tommy’s back, and then he’s gone.
He sprints through the labyrinth of rusted hulls and stacked one-room houses, navigating the slum with memorized efficiency. The pack on his shoulders is pulled tight to his body, but its precious cargo still bounces muffledly from within. The rainfall grows heavier, pinging off all the metal of the buildings in a metallic din.
If he was in any legitimate part of the city, Tommy would have travelled several blocks by now, but the different districts of the slums are far too disorganized to be regarded as blocks. Tommy navigates by way of landmarks; he makes the particularly difficult leap across the nearly abutting construction cranes south of an abandoned, collapsing section of the shanty town, passes the always-crowded illicit corner bar in the belly of a cargo barge by the slum’s water filters, circumvents the conveyor system that the fishermen use to haul their catches higher up into the city proper. Only, no fish are being hauled in today.
Tommy finally emerges from the slums as a vein of lightning streaks white and violent across the sky. He races for the entrance of the community hospital building just as the thunderclap reaches him. He bursts through the glass doors and slides to a stop as a jarring boom! explodes out of the sky. A nurse waiting in the lobby starts at Tommy’s appearance and the nature of his entrance; her eyes widen and her lips part as she intakes a sharp breath. Almost instantly, she steels herself and rushes to Tommy, who is doubled over, panting. The nurse places a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey… hey! I need the bag, okay?”
Dumbly nodding his understanding, Tommy struggles to slide off the pack as he looks up for the first time.
Their eyes lock and the heavy breaths momentarily catch in Tommy’s throat. He chokes and blood rushes to his cheeks before he can regain his breathing. A little smile dances on one corner of the nurse’s mouth, and she reaches out for the bag. Tommy gingerly places it in her hands, passing to her the still faintly-beating responsibility within.
“Thanks for this,” she whispers, then she turns and is gone.
Still panting, Tommy gazes after her through the swinging doors that lead to the OR. “What?” he mumbles between breaths. “No small talk?”