[Prompt: The year is 2050. Everyone has a chip in their body. You are a nurse at an ER. Someone comes in without one. ]
Rhia stomped her feet against the cold, wondering why she had fooled herself into thinking it would be a warm night when March was never anything but cold winds. She wanted it to be spring so bad she had dressed lightly under the dark purple scrubs she had picked out for tonight’s long night shift. She vigorously rubbed at her exposed arms as the goosebumps spread despite her insistence that summer was right around the corner. She should have stayed inside until the ambulance arrived, but the A-1 had expressed that there were additional problems with an incoming patient so she was there, ready to help the EMTs sort out the issue immediately upon their arrival. She also was very curious to know what had stumped the EMTs. She had worked the ER on and off for the last five years, she had seen the results of freak accidents and pure stupidity at first hand, so she was eager to be the first to know what the newest case brought. No doubt the nurses inside were already making bets. Inside where it was warm while she continued to pretend that March was a herald of spring and not just a false prophet.
The ambulance arrived running only flashing lights instead of sirens, which in Rhia’s experience meant that the patient inside was not in dire peril. It likely meant that the person inside was a frequent flyer, and her bet was that it was an elderly patient from the nearest retirement home. Rhia already had her hands set on her hips and a looked settling on the EMT she knew by name, “I thought you said there was a complication, Chris.”
“Oh,” He caught her looked and returned one of his own as he opened the ambulance’s rear doors, “there is definitely a complication.”
Additional flashing lights drew her attention away for a moment. Rhia turned to see a cop car pull up in front of the ambulance. The car didn’t come to a full stop before the officer shifted into park and stepped out. Rhia’s brow rose in silent questioning as she swung her focus back to the patient being wheeled out the back of the ambulance. Things had certainly taken a curious turn if the police were present. She stepped back over to Chris, very interested to learn the identity of their newest patient. The other nurses were started to wander toward the ER doors, but Rhia had first dibs.
“So who is our star?”
“Don’t know,” Chris grinned.
Rhia shot him an annoyed look, “Don’t be a jerk.”
“Scan him yourself,” He shut the rear doors and set his hands on his hips in a mimicry of her earlier stance. “And you’ll know just as much as I do.”
“He was involved in a hit and run,” Bronson, the other EMT, interjected into their conversation after transferring the patient to the hospital gurney. “He has a busted femur, we put him in a traction split. His vitals are stable. That’s all we’ve got for you.”
Rhia lifted her hands in exasperation, “Then what was the complication?”
Chris and Bronson exchanged a look before the former replied, “You’ll see.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Rhia found herself directing spiteful thoughts toward the EMTs. Rhia liked a good surprise, but solving a mystery was something entirely different. A mysterious ailment in a hospital was never a good thing. Chris patted her lightly on the shoulder as they packed up to leave, “He’s your problem now!”
“Get bent,” Rhia shot back and followed the gurney into the warmth of the ER.
The officer passed her, phone to his ear and intent on talking to the RN behind the counter. Rhia shrugged it off and went to investigate the new comer. Patient Seven (since he was the seventh one she had seen so far that night) was placed in the corner section of triage and as Rhia approached she could already tell there were problems.
“Sir, let me see your arm,” a nurse was saying with restrained anger. “Sir, I need to check your vitals, please.”
Rhia pulled aside the curtain, much to the relief of the struggling nurse. “Hi there, what seems to be the problem?”
“He won’t let me see his arm,” The nurse grumbled.
“Is it hurt?” Rhia kept her smile strong as she took position on the opposite side of the bed. She turned her attention to the patient, opting to try and distract him so the nurse could do her job. The man was young, she would guess somewhere between his 20s and 30s, and looked to be in good physical condition. His hair was black and kept short and judging by the scruff along his jaw he must take care of his appearance on a daily basis. His eyes were blue, wide and mildly frantic but there were no signs of dilating. His skin showed good coloring despite being on the pale side. The man looked very agitated to be there, but given that his other arm was handcuffed to the rails, it wasn’t hard to imagine why he didn’t want to cooperate. “Sir?”
The intensity in his eyes as they shifted to meet her gaze made her train of thought hitch for a few long seconds, then once again she was putting on the smile and doing her job, “Can you tell me what happened Mr.. “
She moved her attention to the info monitor at the head of the bed, but found it blank. Rhia’s smile faltered as she reached forward to check the connection to the monitor. If felt secure, so her attention swung to the nurse, “You didn’t scan him yet?”
Rhia might have been annoyed at the shortness in the other nurse’s tone if she couldn’t see her trying to wrestle the man’s arm to lay still long enough for her to run the scanner over the inside of it. The man was strong and he kept pulling his arm out of her grasp. Rhia reached over and put added her own hands to the mix. Even putting her weight behind the hold she could feel the man pushing back. She might have to call one of the male nurses over if they couldn’t get a handle on the situation. The nurse, a young woman named Janice, ran the scanner back and forth over the man’s forearm to no avail.
“It’s not reading it.”
Rhia took the scanner from her and ran it over her own arm to make sure it was working. It beeped and on the monitor his medical history popped up on the screen. She cleared the entry and looked down at the patient. He look interested in what she had done, his face moving from her arm to the screen she just cleared. Rhia noticed and held up the scanner for him to examine, “This checks your chip for your medical history, nothing else.”
“You won’t have much luck there.” The officer that had arrived with the ambulance now stood at the end of the patient’s bed. “He doesn’t have a chip.”
Rhia stared in lack of understanding, “How can he not have a chip?”
The officer shrugged and Rhia decided not to take the man’s word for it. At the moment a birth a person was implanted with a chip, so unless a horrific accident took off the arm containing the implant, it was improbable that a person existed without being chipped. There were incidents of children being born outside of hospitals that lacked chips, but those special case scenarios were quickly remedied when they were detected by the ICN (International Chip Network). But those were children, this was a full grown man. He couldn’t have traveled, worked, or even made purchases without a chip. She took the scanner and ran it over the man’s restrained arm, when it came up empty, she repeated the process over the rest of his body in case he had been improperly implanted. She had heard of a case where a chip had moved all the way up to a person’s shoulder over the years, but patient Seven showed no signs of ever having a chip.
“He probably dug it out,” The officer offered as he removed his cap and scratched at his receding hairline. “I contacted Control about the situation and they are going send someone down in the morning to sort it out.”
“Can’t we just chip him now?” Janice asked.
The officer shook his head, “It’ll need to be calibrated and checked against expired chips.”
A phone call drew the officer away, leaving Rhia and Janice to exchange puzzled expressions. Janice broke the silence left in the officer’s wake, “How do we get a medical history if he’s not chipped?”
Rhia laughed at the younger nurse, “Get me some paper and a pen and I’ll take care of it.”
When Janice left, Rhia closed the curtain to give them the illusion of privacy. When she neared the bedside, the man grabbed a fistful of her scrubs to get her attention. He didn’t jerk her toward him or reached for her arm. Instead he set his hard eyes on hers before growling his next words, “You need to get me out of here.”
Rhia arched a brow at him, masking the flight response her heart gave by racing inside of her chest. “You’re not going anywhere until that leg is in a cast.”
The man’s forehead wrinkled as he took her words into consideration. A look down at his mangled leg was truth enough of his handicap. He released her scrubs and tilted his head back against the thin hospital pillow, “I can’t stay here.”
“Well my job obligates me to stop you from further injuring yourself, but between you and me, I might just start taking bets on how far you can hobble out of here before you are apprehended.”
The man snorted, but beneath his gruff exterior, Rhia caught the hint of an amused smile.
“So you have a name, or should I refer to you as Seven?”
“You’re my seventh patient tonight,” Rhia explained.
The man quietly considered his options, “Seven will do.”
Rhia sighed but let it go because soon after patient eight came into the ER. The night became a blur as the midnight traffic picked up. It wasn’t until the morning began to peak over the horizon that Rhia remembered the man with the broken leg. A quick check of his computer file let her know that x-rays had been taken, followed up by an operation to place external fixtures to keep the bone properly aligned until a more permanent fix was scheduled with surgery. He had been moved into a temporary room to free up space in the ER. Rhia took note of the room number before closing the file. She was curious about the man without a chip.
“Janice, I’m going to take my break. Buzz me if anything comes up.”
Without leaving room for protest, Rhia grabbed her lunch and headed in the direction of the break room. The hall was quiet, but she checked both direction before she ducked into the room where they were keeping Seven. She found him sitting up in bed and looking alarmed at her intrusion into his darkened room. Rhia almost turned and left but her curiosity got the better of her. “Hello, Seven.”
“Hello, nurse,” Seven echoed her tone.
“My name is Rhia,” She was determined to get a proper name out of him. “I wanted to check up on the most mysterious man of the night.”
Seven snorted as he watched her like a wary dog trying to gauge a threat, “He’s still alive.”
“That’s good,” Rhia mused with ample sarcasm, “here at the hospital we aim to keep people alive.”
She pulled out her salad, tossing on the additional garnishes before adding the dressing. All the while she was aware of Seven’s watchful gaze. She tried to roll it around the information, or rather the lack of information, in her mind. Nothing fell into place. She waved her fork in his direction, “You know, if you want me to help you, you are going to have to give me something.”
Seven’s suspicion shifted to thinly concealed interest, “Or you could trust me.”
“It might just be me,” Rhia tilted her head as she continued to conduct her words with grand waves of her fork. “But I think trusting a chipless man errs on the side of stupid.”
“Have you ever believed in something you didn’t understand?”
“You want to discuss religion?” Rhia countered with a tilt of her head.
“I want to talk about faith.”
She hadn’t touched her salad other than to push some of the pieces of romaine around the container. “How is that any different?”
“I’m asking you to have faith in me, even though you don’t know me.”
“You’re not going to make it easy on a girl, are you.”
Seven chuckled, “Nothing is for free.”
“Not even those tiny cheesecake bites they offer for free in the mall?”
He smiled as he laughed, and Rhia felt her stomach somersault in response. Privately she was thankful that her skin was too dark to showcase the blush she felt blooming in her cheeks. She was further saved from embarrassment by the buzzing at her waist. She removed the comm to read the message, groaning as she finished off the text. Two patients with head trauma were due to arrive soon.
“Gotta go,” She packed up her lunch she didn’t get to enjoy. As she passed Seven’s bed she saw him tense and her experience as a nurse made her pause to read the situation. The man was physically hiding something from her. She edged as close as she dared to the man handcuffed to the rails and quickly noticed he had pulled out his IV. The fluid had leaked all over the side of the bed, and from what she could gather from the scene, he had tried to use it to pick at his handcuffs. Rhia scoffed, “Bet you didn’t know that there’s no needle in those.”
Seven shrugged shamelessly, “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Rhia shook her head as she walked out and put the stranger out of her mind. He didn’t cross her mind again until she was changing out of her bloodied scrubs at the end of her shift. She caught herself checking how she looked in the mirror while toying with the idea of dropping in on Seven before she went home. She knew better than to get hung up on a patient. Yet she couldn’t dismiss him entirely from her thoughts. His insistence that she place faith in him, to help him, intrigued her more than she wanted to admit. The idea of a person growing up without a chip was unheard of and she wanted answers.
This time she knocked before stepping into his room. Seven turned his head toward the door, but he was no longer able to sit up straight. As Rhia moved closer she saw they had strapped him to the bed and hand cuffed both wrists to the railing. She should have been afraid of the reason they chose to constrain him, but instead she was overcome with the impulse to free him. She laced her fingers together to curb the desire. “You’ve been misbehaving while I was gone?”
Seven flexed his arm, bringing light to the bandage encircling his forearm.
“Right,” Rhia tucked her chin in toward her chest, “they sent someone to chip you.”
“I tried to tear it out,” Seven strained against strap holding him to the bed.
“If you do, they’ll put you in jail instead.”
“Not if I get out of here first.”
Rhia once again finding herself shaking her head in reaction to the man’s determination, “And how are you going to do that with a busted leg?”
He sagged against the bed, “I need to get out of here.”
“Tell me why,” She moved to the end of his bed, carefully staying out of his reach. “And maybe, just maybe, I can help you.”
Seven wet his lips and considered his options, “I have people counting on me to return, but being chipped makes it so I can never go back.”
Over the years, Rhia had dealt with a number of patients that were mentally ill. It became part of her skill set to know when a man or woman’s mind wasn’t exactly all there and at the moment she wasn’t getting any red flags. Seven sounded like another madman, but there was too much clarity to his words. She should walk out and never look back. This she knew, yet she remained where she stood at the foot of his bed. “Go back where?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
She turned as if to leave, if only to make him try to rise up on the bed to stop her. She turned back, but only slightly, and waited in silence with an impatient look.
Seven growled in frustration before surrendering, “Underground. I’m a scrounger, I come up to barter for supplies to take back down.”
“You live underground,” She stated in disbelief.
Seven nodded in earnest.
“Well you sure are pale enough to play that one off,” Her hands had migrated to her hips as she considered his story. “How many are down there?”
“Haven’t I said enough?”
Rhia smirked, “You want my help? Well, nothing is for free.”