Illegal Infirmary, Lower City, Amin Duum
Muytil 1, 4765
Maali propped a glowing lamp on the bedside table, and leaned over the body of Nenja again. Nastasia, standing on the other side of the bed, could barely breathe as she watched the Servant work. None of the few patients they’d recovered since they arrived bore any comparison to the ravaged body now stretched out on the narrow cot. They at least could walk a little and talk. Nastasia was amazed that Nenja wasn’t already dead; by rights she should be. After scouring the canyon floor around the sites of the bonfires, they’d found only bodies left for the crows and the vultures to pick at. Only this one girl had somehow managed to escape death, although she’d probably be better off if she hadn’t.
“You don’t mind if I observe, do you?” Nastasia asked, keeping her voice low. Somewhere beyond the boarded windows, she could hear guards shouting, and some kind of parade underway. For the first time, she was keenly aware of how close they were to the enemy. They all were. “I’ve never seen a case like this before… I’d like to learn.”
Striding past on a tour of the ward, Daira made a clucking noise in the back of her throat. “This isn’t a teaching infirmary, you know,” she said. “Servants don’t have time to stand around giving lessons. We’re in a war zone.”
Maali, checking Nenja’s pulse again, glanced up at Nastasia. “Sure, no problem. How much emergency medicine have you done?”
“I was on EM and T&T when Arandes asked me to come here.” Nastasia felt more at home discussing the routine qualifications and expectations of a young Senior Duty Watcher. Maali apparently decided to ignore Daira, and went about her work regardless. “I’d only done a couple of months. But… well, you’re never going to see anything like this in a Rad Ruinn infirmary.”
Maali made a face. “Hopefully not,” she said. She stepped back, into teaching mode. “What’s the first thing we should’ve done that we couldn’t do here?”
Nastasia felt that surge of nerves at the need to get the right answer, and hesitated. “You shouldn’t have moved her. Assessment in severe trauma should always take place on site, in case of spinal injuries.”
“Good. So, we’re already learning something.” Maali shrugged, and her teacher stance faded. She was speaking to Nastasia as a colleague now. “In all seriousness, even in a lot of irregular places you’d probably be able to do a bit of assessment. But it was dark out there and we just don’t know what the situation is. You need warriors to keep you up to date and informed. All we can do is hope when we move them that it doesn’t kill them.”
“That sounds… depressing.”
Again, Maali shrugged. “There isn’t much we can do. Your survival rate is going to go down very steeply here. We have no surgical facility, so the other vital things she needs we can’t do for her. We can’t repair her hands, nor her face. If she lives, and part of me hopes she doesn’t, she’s going to have to live with these deformities for the rest of her life. In Amnar, not a problem. Here? She’s probably going to struggle to survive, even if she makes it back onto her feet.”
Nastasia swallowed. “They won’t… support her? Find her somewhere to live?”
Maali shook her head. “She’ll be lucky if they don’t hunt her down and kill her. They were trying to leave victims alive as a ‘lesson’ to everybody else.”
“That’s… harsh.” Nastasia looked down at Nenja. “I can’t imagine what she’s been through. I don’t think I could survive anything like it,” she added, her voice even lower now. She leaned on the footboard of the bed. She couldn’t meet Maali’s eyes. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming here. I keep looking at her and wondering how I’d cope if we were caught. If I was… tortured.”
“You’d do what you had to do,” Maali said, and reached out for Nastasia, touching her hand. “You don’t have to put on an act because of Daira and Kia. Be yourself. You’re here because you have talent and it should be nurtured. Once upon a time, they were in your position. All they’re doing is putting on the tough guy act because this is the most terrifying thing they’ve ever had to face.”
“They’re not scared.” Nastasia shook her head. She bit her lip. “They’ve been in this mess before.”
Maali stepped closer. “No, they haven’t. None of us have seen anything like this unless they’re the warriors who came down here to bring children out after the last fight we had with the Tiomke. Right now, you focus on doing your job. Keep obs on the patient until I’ve had a chance to speak to Arandes. I’ll be back in a bit to see how she’s getting on. Do what you’d do with any trauma patient in any trauma unit. For now, that’s all you can do.”
The Servant patted Nastasia on the arm, and strode off into the gloom of the main gallery.
“Are you sure you can trust her?” Daira stood waiting in the ample shadows at the far end of the ward. “I mean, she’s got no T&T. Not to that level.”
“She’s got to get it somewhere.” Maali strode on. She didn’t want to get involved in whatever ugly business Daira and Kia were plotting against Nastasia, but she could feel they were keen to drag her into it. She had a choice, now. Either she stepped in and said something and possibly made the situation worse, or she let it unfold and probably split everybody into cliques within a few weeks. She stalked to the far end of the gallery, to the table under the statue of Isha, briefly glancing up at the ancient marble figure before she turned to face Daira. She folded her arms.
“You know what position I hold in this infirmary?” she asked.
Daira took a step back, surprised. “You’re… Senior Master?” It was a guess, but a reasonably good one.
“Right. So we’re in the middle of an emergency zone with limited resources, a sound and light restriction, and not enough irregular watchers to do the job at hand. What would a Senior Master expect from all of their watchers at this particular time?”
Daira didn’t speak, her jaw working. She glanced around, looking out for Kia, presumably for moral support.
“You’ve been an irregular, working in dangerous areas for years,” Maali said. “What’s the first thing a Senior Master Watcher in this situation would require of all staff?”
“A… high level of skill,” Daira suggested.
“Extensive technical knowledge combined with an understanding of the political or social environment.” Daira was starting to sound like somebody who’d learned this out of a book, rather than an experienced irregular. She should know better than this.
Daira did not reply.
“Perhaps ‘teamwork’?” Maali leaned back against the table. “We’ve only been here a day and I’ve already seen the way you’ve treated Nastasia. What’s the issue here?”
Daira raised her arms. “She’s not one of us,” she said. “She’s never been in a war zone, she doesn’t even know how to deal with cases like this one. I mean… how can she stand there and ask you to teach her? She should know this stuff. You don’t have time to teach her. You’ve got to save that girl’s life.”
Maali nodded. “Go on.” She pulled herself back so she could sit on the table, and gave Daira her full attention. “What other problems are there?”
Daira looked relieved at the chance to express herself at last. “You can’t have regulars somewhere like this. I don’t know how you’ll find the people to do this, maybe we just have to work small, but this is no place for anybody who hasn’t been thoroughly tested in the field. They need to know how to cope with violence, how to deal with… the crap that people can do to each other. You don’t see that in a standard infirmary. People in Amnar are too bloody nice. On the edges life is cheap, and it’s too much of a shock.
“I saw her face when she looked at that girl. She can’t deal with it. All she can think about is us getting attacked and her having to be tortured. If she can’t put all that aside, how’s she supposed to cope when it gets really tough down here? When there are lots like that girl?”
Maali nodded. “So, for you it feels like you’re having to work with somebody who really isn’t qualified to do the job at hand.”
“Yes.” Daira glanced at the office, where presumably Arandes was busy with other matters. “I just don’t see how he can bring regulars down into a place like this.”
“It’s not like anywhere else, that’s for sure,” Maali agreed. She gazed down at her hands before she met Daira’s gaze again. “Arandes and Cosai and I have been working on this for a long time, and I know a lot of the irregulars were desperate for us to set this up. When we started, we knew it would be tough on all of you. This is like nowhere else on the edges, in Amnar, anywhere. We don’t have enough irregulars to keep all the unofficial infirmaries we have open. Other places are already suffering because we’re doing this. Right now, I’m worried that this whole thing is going to fall apart because I have people who can’t work together well. That bothers me.”
She kept her eyes on Daira, waiting to see what she would do next. “She’s young, isn’t she?” Daira said. She wasn’t ready to give any ground, yet.
“She’s very scared. I don’t blame her. What they did to the people they tortured that night was an atrocity as bad as the purges. That’s not something I can forget easily, which is why I’m here. If our patients survive, they face a very difficult life. They’ve grown up in a world with very little tolerance and justice, and they might have to learn how to cope in another world with lots of different rules they don’t understand. And they’ll carry the memories of what happened to them for the rest of their lives.”
“D’you remember the purges?” Maali asked.
At this, Daira shook her head. “My mother was caught in it, she told me about it. I could see she was scared. But I was still at Am Rune. It was all very… far away.”
“I was here,” Maali said. She looked around at the infirmary. “I remember dealing with the survivors, coming down here, getting people out. I’ve never seen people so afraid. I’ve never seen such… rage. Such pointless rage. The guards tore this place apart.”
“I saw the bodies.” Daira sounded strangled, her throat tight. Suddenly she couldn’t meet Maali’s eyes. “We’ve just spent all the time since we got here clearing it up. I can’t think… about what they did.”
“You bury that kind of stuff and it’s going to destroy you one day,” Maali said.
Daira nodded slowly. “She’s just a kid,” she said, stepping nearer to Maali. They were speaking as colleagues for the first time. “She’s just a kid who’s always been a watcher and always thought the world worked in one particular way. She’s never seen what people can do to each other in the darkest places of the world.”
“You’re giving her a taste of that?” Maali wasn’t harsh, just curious.
“She’s got to be tough. We can’t show how much this hurts or we’ll break.”
“You’ll break if you don’t. You know that. You’ve been irregular a long time. But there was a time, a long time ago, when you were just like her. She could probably learn a lot from you. She’s keen, and so were you. You could really make a great watcher out of her. The kind of watcher who never goes back to regular. Wouldn’t that make all of this worthwhile?”