[Prompt: The year is 2050. Everyone has a chip in their body. You are a nurse at an ER. Someone comes in without one. ]
Chaos didn’t quite meet the level of disfunction that currently surrounded me. Crying and moans of pain came from every direction, doctors and nurses barked orders at one another, moving equipment, beds, body parts. I stared at the flow of insanity pouring in through the Emergency Room doors, unable to command my body. Like a deer in the headlights, I stood still and unmoving, not sure of what was about to hit me.
A hand gripped my shoulder and shook me, ripping me free of the daze. I nearly dropped my MedPad as I jumped in response. My eyes shot to Ann’s face.
Her voice sounded like it was coming from the end of a long tunnel. I squinted my eyes at my fellow nurse, hoping to decipher her words by reading her lips.
“Hey, Bethany,” she shook my shoulder with more force, “snap out of it!”
Her words echoed like a ringing bell in my mind as I grasped at the meaning of her statement. A thick fog hindered my thoughts, making my progress slow and disorienting. I nodded slowly as she waited expectantly, her brow furrowed with annoyance.
“Are you there? We need you in Recovery Room 4, stat. Get it together!” Ann squeezed my shoulder one last time before pushing me towards the hallway. My reluctant steps caused me to stumble clumsily, but I regained my balance before falling. Breathing shakily, I turned on the screen of my MedPad as I walked swiftly towards Trauma.
The fog in my head was thinning. Tapping an icon on the MedPad, I pulled up the patient’s information. Blinking with confusion, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder, seeking Ann. She was already gone. My eyes skimmed the busy intake room; even if she was somewhere within, I couldn’t interrupt her to ask a question. My reputation had been tarnished enough since starting the job a month ago.
Getting the call to join the nursing staff at Riverside Medical Clinic had validated all the hard work I put in during nursing school. Countless late nights and weekends spent studying, sacrificing the lures of friendship and fun. The painfully dull internship I endured after graduation almost soured my chosen professional direction, but acceptance to Riverside had refreshed my outlook.
Riverside Medical Clinic was one of the largest medical centers in Manchester. Boasting world-renowned doctors in countless specialties and state of the art facilities. Patients from around the globe travelled there to receive care. The staff at Riverside was known for their level of care and expertise, and only the best of the best were drafted onto the team.
I wish I could say that my position was the result of hard work and determination, but that wouldn’t be the whole truth. Thanks to the potential one of my professors, Dr. Nemo, saw in me, I had gotten the call. My high grades and extracurricular work had been helpful, but it really came down to a conversation Dr. Nemo had with Riverside’s president, who happened to be an old colleague of his.
As tidbits of information tend to do, gossip quickly spread through the clinic upon my arrival, offering an explanation of what I had done to get the position. I overheard a secretary tell one of the nurses I came from a wealthy family and my father had purchased my position. While in a bathroom stall I eavesdropped on two women proposing the sexual favors I’d preformed for the Chief of Surgery. But my favorite explanation I’d heard had been between two young guys on the transport team as I happened to be walking behind them down a hallway.
“You know the new nurse in the ER?” said the tall one.
“The hot one or the grumpy one?” replied the short one.
“The hot one,” the tall one clarified.
“Uh, yeah, of course I know her,” the short one said, matter of factly.
The tall one’s voice adopted a knowing tone, “Well, did you hear how she got the job?”
“I think I heard Lacy say something about buying her position,” the short one shrugged.
“Wrong,” the tall one continued, “She’s in the witness protection program, VIP level. Heard it from Tim.”
“What?” the short one stretched the word, disbelief in his voice, “Tim from IT? He would know! Wow, man, that’s crazy!”
I had been slightly disappointed when I had to turn down an adjacent hall and couldn’t hear the rest of the exchange. Regardless of the emotion the rumors evoked, my reputation was already in question before I had gotten a real chance to prove my skills.
My fellow nurses were the hardest on me. They seemed to always be waiting for me to slip up so that their low opinion of me could be validated. On my first day, I had struggled to find a vein in an elderly patient, Nurse Diane had politely pulled me from the patient’s side and then reprimanded me about knowing the basics of care in the privacy of a supply closet. I had spent the remainder of my first day stocking supplies instead of treating patients.
It had been touch and go since then, most days I spent the majority of my time doing menial tasks. I was only allowed to tend to patients with minor injuries, and was typically closely monitored by another nurse. It was degrading, but I was determined to gain prominence, so I kept coming to work and doing my best.
Looking down at the MedPad, I swiped through the various screens for the Trauma Rooms. Patient information for Recovery 1, 2, 3, but Recovery 4’s section was empty. Perhaps Ann had made a mistake. Hurrying forward, I reached the hall branching off for Recovery, I turned the corner and paused, examining each door. The screens outside each room indicated there were patients inside. Glancing at my MedPad, I considered the possibility that perhaps the patient in Recovery 4 hadn’t been scanned yet.
It made sense, of course Ann would send me to take care of a simplistic task in the middle of a catastrophe. Sighing, I walked past the first three rooms and to the fourth, pulled open the door and went inside.
The room was vacant except for the individual laying on the gurney. The lights had been dimmed, I assumed for the patient’s comfort. It was difficult to tell much about the person on the bed standing all the way at the door. Taking a deep breath, I approached the foot of the gurney and took a closer look.
A young man, probably close to my age, laid on his back with his eyes closed. His blonde hair was a messy, medium length. The bicep of his right arm had a bandage around it, and it appeared a gash had been stitched on his forehead. His bare upper body was lean and fit, I didn’t see any other obvious signs of trauma.
Pulling my MedPad up, I accessed the scan mode and pointed the lens at him, assessing his body for any broken bones. Holding the pad at face level, I squinted as I moved the lens from his feet up to his head. I repeated the motion, furrowing my brow in confusion. I couldn’t locate his chip.
Chips had been introduced ten years prior as part of the Modern Medicine Advancement. After two years of volunteer success, the chip implant became a mandatory procedure done at birth. All of a patient’s medical history was stored on the chip, along with their identity, address and emergency contact.
Conspiracy theorists believed the chips were used to track and perform mind control on the populace, but the Modern Medicine Advancement vehemently denied the claims, pointing to the countless lives that had been saved during emergency situations. It was impossible to be a citizen or apply for a job without a chip, so even the theorists were left without an alternative option.
The chip was located in the base of the skull, a location less likely to suffer damage from bumps and bruises. There was also less risk of the chip moving within the tissue, which had been a failure of alternative locations. The chip wasn’t visible to the naked eye, only detectable with a medical scanner.
It wasn’t possible for a patient to make it to this level of the hospital without a chip. There were countless failsafes in place to prevent this sort of situation. Any personnel that scanned him with a MedPad would have automatically logged his chip information. I hadn’t even been trained in what to do if a chip was missing.
The sound of a throat being cleared startled me, I lowered the device to find brown eyes staring into mine.
“I don’t usually let a woman see what’s under my clothes until after we’ve shared a meal or two.” the man said, grinning as slyly as a fox.
A flush washed over my face, I stammered to answer the inappropriate comment, “I-I apologize, sir. I’m Nurse Bethany, I’m here to take your vitals and complete your check in. Has anyone scanned you yet?” Perhaps there was a simple explanation.
One corner of his mouth twitched, but the grin remained on his face. He continued to look into my eyes. “Bethany,” my name sounded familiar on his tongue, he seemed to savor it before continuing, “I don’t suppose you’d be keen to check this bandage on my arm here, would you? I think the nurse before you wrapped it a bit too tight.”
“Oh, of course,” I stepped around the bed, setting the MedPad on the side table. I turned and reached for the bandage, “Which nur—“
He pulled me onto the bed with him, one arm wrapped tightly around my chest, his other reaching to cover my mouth. His legs pinned mine through the thin sheet as I tried to struggle free.
“Bethy, shh, it’s me. You have to calm down.” I could feel his breath against my ear as he spoke. “I’m not here to hurt you. You have to hear me out. If you can promise to listen to me, I will remove my hand from your mouth. Nod if you will allow me to explain.”
My heart beat like a caged bird’s wings. Pinned by his strength, I couldn’t see an alternative to his request. Even if I decided to yell when he moved his hand, the likelihood of someone hearing me was minimal. The staff was spread paper thin since the bombing at the metro earlier in the morning, I didn’t know when someone would be making their rounds through this wing again. With slight reluctance, I nodded.
His hand slid from my mouth to rest on my cheek. I bit my lip and furrowed my brow with confusion and discomfort. I didn’t know this man, yet he treat me with a familiarity one might expect between lovers. I hadn’t been able to gleam any information from the MedPad about injuries, but now I began to wonder if he had suffered a head trauma. It might explain his odd behavior and the fact that I couldn’t locate his chip. I allowed my body to relax slightly, no longer actively pushing against him with my legs and arms, and waited for his explanation.
His arm around my upper body squeezed me as he spoke again, “I’ve missed you, Bethy. More than you will ever understand.” The pressure of his arm lightened. “I know this is strange to you, but you have to believe what I’m saying. You have to trust me.” He began to stroke my cheek with his fingers, “I’m here to bring you home.”
I tried to turn away from his fingers, burying my face into the pillow. My stomach turned with each new contact from him. I didn’t want to be so close to him. I didn’t want to hear his soft voice in my ear. I didn’t want to be part of his psychosis.
But presently, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Although he’d stated that he meant me no harm, I wasn’t sure how mentally stable he actually was. Maybe talking with him would help him relax and I could figure out what was really going on with him. Taking a deep breath, I pulled my face from the pillow and resumed staring at the wall as I spoke, “I don’t remember who you are…would you mind refreshing my memory?”
I heard the smile through his voice, “Bethy, it’s me. It’s Tom.”
“Tom,” I tested the name. It was such a common name, I had said it before. I didn’t feel any sort of connection with it. But why would I? This patient was speaking nonsense. “It’s nice to meet you, Tom.”
“Bethy…” his voice softened, “You already know me.” His voice raised as he continued, “Why must you do this? You have to stop pretending!”
“Pretending? I’m sorry, I’m not sure that I follow.”
“This is what happens when they erase your mind and put the chip in you!” he was nearly shrieking and his arm had tightened painfully around my chest.
I chose my response carefully, it was obvious he was about to come unhinged, “Tom, let’s talk this through. I want to understand, I think I’ve just forgotten, that’s all…” I reached a hand up to squeeze his arm with encouragement.
The response settled him, his arm loosened again and he let out a deep sigh. “I knew they would make you forget us. That’s why I had to come and get you.”
“Who did I forget?”
“Everyone. Your family. We lost you six years ago when we had to come close to the walls for supplies. I told your father I would bring you back, no matter what.” his voice swelled with pride, “And now I’ve found you! Just like I knew I would.”
I shifted uncomfortably, not sure what to make of his words. My family had died, many years ago. I had been on my own for a long time, longer than six years. The fog began to roll into my mind as he continued to babble.
“We’ve been planning this for months, ever since we got the news you were getting the job here. We knew this would be the perfect place to make contact. We didn’t have a choice, we had to create a distraction, Cecil took care of the metro while I blended in with the injured and made my way here, bribing that nurse to send you this way. It all worked out just like we thought it would, it’s almost too good to believe.”
My body went rigid as his words sunk in. He had been one of the terrorists that attacked the metro. I was trapped in a windowless room with a psycho who believed I was his long lost lover. A psycho who had murdered and maimed countless people simply to get to me. I felt the bile rise in my throat.
“It’s all going to work out, Bethy, we’re gonna get out of here and you’ll see.”
I turned my head and sunk my teeth into his hand with as much force as possible. His cry was a mixture of confusion and pain as he ripped his hand back reflexly. It was enough of a distraction for me to wiggle free of his hold and roll off the bed. As I fell, I knocked the MedPad to the floor, it clattered against the tile as it landed in unison with my body. I grabbed it and scrambled across the floor, trying to get as far away from Tom as possible.
“Bethy! No!” He yelled. He cradled his bloody hand against his chest, trying to untangle his legs from the sheet so he could get to me.
His struggle was enough time for me to press an icon on the MedPad and call security to me. The officers were at the door before he had made it halfway across the room. My backwards progress had been halted by the wall, and I sat disheveled on the floor. The thick fog of my mind hindered any further recognition of what happened next.