The shuttle shuddered, and there was the sound of metal screeching, but it came to a halt without the dropping feeling that Aurelia had feared. Then there were mechanical noises, hissing and the hum of hydraulics. Aurelia sat up. They were here.
The announcement system told everyone to stay in place and that they would be evacuated as soon as possible. Aurelia assumed that those on the hospital decks would be amongst the first off the shuttle, so she and the other female Med Worker went around to the patients, administering anti-tranquilisers wherever possible so that people would be able to move under their own steam.
It was about half an hour before the hull door on the undamaged side of the ship opened. Suddenly, the deck was full of Med Workers and Sec staff, lifting patients out or supporting them as they walked. Aurelia waited until almost all the patients were gone, then accepted the offer of a fellow Med Worker to see her off the ship.
The transport arm was the same as the one back on Earth: narrow and windowless, so Aurelia could see nothing outside it.
“You'll be taken straight to Lunar City Hospital,” the Med Worker told her as they walked. “But you look like you're supposed to be there anyway.”
“I am,” Aurelia said.
“Well, they'll check you over before giving you clearance to go about your business. Normal procedure.”
Aurelia could see the door of the transport arm coming up. She quickened her pace, and the Med Worker skipped to keep up with her.
Coming out into the terminal, Aurelia was disappointed to see that she still wasn't going to get a look at Lunar. Once again, there were no windows. It wasn't until she was loaded into a transporter along with three other shuttle passengers that she saw the city.
The transporter hummed and lifted itself off the ground, before turning and pointing its nose towards the city. Then, as it pulled out of the shuttle bay, Aurelia finally got her view.
The first thing she noticed was light. There were lights everywhere, in colours that Aurelia could barely even name. Huge vid screens shimmered and fluttered from the sides of buildings, which were far taller than she was used to. The buildings themselves were the familiar white, soaring up towards the dome. And then, the dome. The feat of engineering that had made Lunar City possible. A huge, arching presence that glowed dully, a pale white-blue colour, and protected the entire population from the atmosphere, or lack thereof, outside.
It was only because of the dome that humans had been able to build a permanent settlement here. The structure was sentient, could heal itself, and changed in both colour and brightness depending on the time of day. Huge machines built at strategic points of the city manufactured the correct composition of gasses to make the air breathable, and the whole shebang was pressurised as well. Under this dome had risen one of the greatest cities ever built. Thriving, rich and the heart of the Earth Empire, Lunar City was enormous. It supported a population just less than a third of that of Earth, although only a tenth of that was permanent residents. The rest were the Workers who were responsible for the day-to-day running of all the systems that kept Lunar alive.
Aurelia was stunned into silence. As she watched, the transporter dropped a level and began its route to the hospital. The transport lanes here were not only split into floor levels as in City 01, but also into channels, so six craft could share one floor level. Aurelia soon saw that this was very necessary, as there were far more personal transport pods here than she was used to seeing on Earth.
Not only that, but there were people on the streets. It was clearly night time, as the dome had a pale colour and the dome light was dull, but everywhere she looked Aurelia could see people. There were a fair amount of Workers in their familiar uniforms, but there were also Elite, their clothes unique, wearing bright colours and fashionable styles, with hair dyed every shade imaginable.
Aurelia had seen Ruling Class citizens before, but never in such numbers, and never in their natural element. The Ruling Class on Earth tended to be government functionaries and conservative in their dress, or else they toned down their fashion sense for the trip. Here, though, she could see the true freedoms of the Elite.
And she realised why Lunar was bigger, brighter, and more exciting than Earth. Here there were people who had both leisure time and money, and the City had grown to accommodate them. On Earth there was little time for pleasure; life was devoted to work and training, and there was no need for a vibrant, sparkling nightlife. On Lunar, things were different.
Different. That really was the right word. After a lifetime growing up in a city where everything was always so much the same, Lunar was full of differences. And looking around her, Aurelia was torn with emotions. Primarily, she was afraid. This place looked loud, busy and dangerous; she would have no idea how to navigate the city. But she was also jealous. It took her a moment to identify the feeling. But she was envious, envious of these people's freedom, envious of the colours, lights and excitement that she had never had.
The transporter dropped another level as it went around a corner, and on a nearby vid screen Aurelia caught sight of a picture of a shuttle. As they got closer it became obvious that this was a report about what had just happened to her, and as the camera moved around the ship, Aurelia was shocked to see just how much damage it had incurred. Massive Sections of one side of the shuttle were gone, held together only by the healing film. She found it hard to believe that they had made it to Lunar at all. Seeing the picture brought her mind back to what she was here for, and she checked on the other three patients in the transporter. Two of them were tranquilised, and the third was sleeping.
“Destination imminent,” the transporter announced.
Aurelia looked up and saw Lunar City Hospital. She'd seen pictures of it before and was familiar with the large white stone building, but it was far, far bigger than she'd ever imagined. The building towered above anything else in the area, and as the transporter slid through the gates, Aurelia felt dwarfed.
The transport pod had been programmed to take them straight to the trauma docking bay, and after docking, Med staff swarmed over the bay, carrying patients out of the arriving pods. Aurelia exited her pod and stood, waiting, until a tall female came over to her.
“Go to the door and you'll be directed to a free exam bay,” she said, curtly.
The woman had long, blond hair that was curled neatly into a bun, and her skin had a translucent glow. She was beautiful.
“Actually,” said Aurelia, “I'm here to work; my name's...”
But she didn't get to finish. “Were you on the shuttle?” the woman asked in a sharp voice.
“Then you'll be examined before anything further can be done.”
Aurelia bit her lip and refrained from responding to this, and the woman turned and walked away, hurrying to the next transport pod. Fine. If that's the way it has to be. Aurelia began walking over to the large doors guarding the entrance of the trauma centre, but she was interrupted on her journey by someone shouting her name. Looking around, she saw Jonathon. He was alert but carried on a stretcher.
“Hey! Tell these guys that Med Workers are supposed to be gentle!” he yelled, with a smile.
She went to his side. “They're doing the best that they can, and anyway, patients aren't supposed to complain,” she said.
“Or they get extra vaccinations that come in very big syringes,” Aurelia grinned.
“Ah.” Jonathon looked thoughtful. “I shall have to learn to keep my mouth shut, then.”
They arrived at the door, and the Med Worker standing there directed them to a free exam bay. Aurelia stood back to let the stretcher bearers through, and once they had deposited Jonathon on a bed and left, she went in to join him.
“Nice place you've got here,” she said to him, hopping up onto the edge of the Second bed.
“Not bad,” said Jonathon. “Little cramped, maybe, but I like the minimalist feel.”
The room was seemingly empty except for the two beds. Looking more closely, Aurelia could see the tell-tale cracks in the walls that indicated cupboards. She knew that the only way to open these cupboards would be with a hand scan. As an experiment, she got up and went to the nearest door and held her hand over it. Nothing happened. Hmmm, she must not be logged into the system yet.
She'd just sat on the bed again when the door opened and a Tracker came in, his long white coat fluttering as the door slid shut behind him. Wordlessly he pressed his tracking instrument into the crook of first Jonathon's and then Aurelia's elbow, and then he left.
“They never speak, do they?” mused Aurelia, lying back on the bed.
“They can't,” said Jonathon, looking surprised.
“Didn't you know that?” he asked. “They're incapable of speech. It prevents them from leaking Secrets that they might learn from genetic analysis. Imagine if a Tracker could tell anyone what he found in your blood tests.”
“But...” This was definitely news to Aurelia.
“It's voluntary,” Jonathon told her. “Those who choose to be Trackers know the price that they will pay, and they are ultimately rewarded. Trackers have not only a high Worker rating but also higher salaries, bigger living quarters and a cash stipend every month with which to buy luxuries.”
Aurelia was quiet at this. That was fair, she supposed, though she couldn't imagine losing the power of speech.
“You're shocked by things like this, aren't you, Aurelia?”
“Sometimes,” she shrugged. “There are a lot of things that I don't understand, I guess.”
“Maybe you understand more than you think,” Jonathon responded.
The door slid open and the tall, blonde woman Aurelia had met outside flew through it. “Gods! I'm so sorry!” she said.
“Er, about what?” asked Aurelia. The woman looked half mad.
“I totally didn't realise it was you; I'm really sorry. I just got the Tracker report. Crap, what an impression I must have made.” She shook her head and apologised again.
Aurelia decided that she should probably just be honest about things. “Look, I've got no idea who you are,” she said.
“And there I go again,” the woman answered. “I swear that I'm a far better Med Worker than I am a mentor. My name's Elza, and you're Aurelia, and I'm supposed to be your new mentor at Lunar Hospital. And I'm really sorry about being so short with you outside.”
Aurelia smiled. “You were under stress and very busy,” she said. “And it's nice to meet you properly.”
“What, no introductions?” Jonathon called over from his bed.
Turning to see who was speaking, Elza imMediately flushed a bright shade of scarlet. “Crap. I am not doing well today.”
“Jonathon Hansen,” Jonathon said, holding out his hand.
Elza went to shake it, and Aurelia watched the exchange. She had the feeling that something was a little off here. But what? There was something about Jonathon's smile - he looked almost mischievous. Weird. Probably just winning himself some more popular approval, she thought.
“You're gonna have to stay here a while,” said Elza, turning back to Aurelia. “Not much I can do about it, I'm afraid. Everyone's been assigned priority numbers, and you're not visibly injured, so...” She shrugged. “I did get you bumped up the list, though, because you're Med staff and we might need you.”
She turned back to Jonathon. “Mr. Hansen, I'm sure that you'll be given the highest priority possible. Someone should be with you shortly.”
Jonathon looked pained. “No, no thanks. If you could, can you please tell someone to abide by my regular priority number?”
Elza raised an eyebrow. “Why? Why would you want to wait longer than you have to?”
“Because I don't want special treatment,” Jonathon said, irately enough to brook no further argument.
“Okay,” Elza said.
“Actually,” said Aurelia, “I've got a favour to ask. I'm looking for a friend of mine who was on the ship.”
“Give me a name,” said Elza, pulling a roll-up screen from her pocket.
“His name's Nicholas, er...”
“‘Nicholas er’?” Elza smiled. “Well, should be easy to find him.”
Aurelia realised that she didn't know his last name. “Well, maybe it is; he's a Clone.”
Elza lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “Right.” She put the screen away again. “He'll be in the next corridor over; all the Clones on the ship were placed there.”
“Would it be okay if I head over there for a few minutes?”
“Well...” The woman thought for a Second.
“Or I could ask someone in charge, if you like. I don't want to put you in an uncomfortable position, asking favours and all on my first day.”
Suddenly, Jonathon started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” Aurelia asked him, confused.
“I don't think you'll find anyone more in charge,” Jonathon spluttered.
“I think you'll find that Elza, here, is the head of Lunar City Hospital.” He chuckled to himself. “You really had no idea!”
“And you did?” said Aurelia, defensively.
“Sure, Elza is pretty famous around these parts.”
Elza had the grace to blush. “Look, I'm sorry. I should have told you. I don't really have my head together right now; this isn't exactly how I imagined us meeting, after all. And, well, I'd already been rude enough in the entrance bay, so I didn't think I should intimidate you again.”
Her smile was self effacing, and Aurelia couldn't help but smile back. The head of the hospital as her mentor, though. Wow. Someone obviously thought she was going places. She wanted to ask why Elza had chosen to mentor her, but felt that it might sound like fishing for compliments, so she refrained.
“Well, if I could go check on Nicholas, that would probably make up for everything,” she ventured, deciding that she liked Elza very, very much indeed.
“Go on, then,” the blonde said. “But just for five minutes. If anyone asks, tell them I sent you.”
“Great.” Aurelia jumped off the bed. “Oh, er, I sort of tested the cupboards, and, well, they didn't open.”
Elza looked puzzled. “Hmm. Maybe your info hasn't been plugged in yet. I'll deal with it. In the meantime, just get another staff member to open doors for you. And I'll come in and check on both of you later.”
She opened the door and stood back, allowing Aurelia to leave first.
“Five minutes, remember?” she said, as Aurelia turned to walk towards the next corridor.
The hospital was teeming with people and activity, more and more patients from the shuttle were being rushed into exam bays, and Aurelia had to dodge several stretchers. She found the entrance to the Clone corridor blocked by a coded door.
“Excuse me,” she said to the closest person in a Med uniform. “I need to get through here; Elza sent me.”
The male Med worker looked surprised at the name Elza, but he said nothing and just momentarily placed his hand on the door, which then slid open. He was gone before Aurelia could thank him.
Inside the corridor were more Med Workers, their red-and-grey uniforms emblazoned with a large C that marked them as specialist Clone Med staff. Aurelia stopped one of them and asked for Nicholas. Again, she mentioned the magic name of Elza and was immediately taken to an exam bay on the far right of the corridor.
Entering the bay, she could see that these rooms were obviously intended for lower-ranked Workers, since each held twelve beds rather than two. The rooms were longer than the one she and Jonathon had been in but were otherwise identical. It took her a couple of Seconds to identify Nicholas in one of the beds, and then she hurried over to him.
“Hey,” she said, startling him out of a daydream.
“Well, hey there,” he said, smiling up at her. “I know I said we'd meet again, but I didn't really expect it to be so soon.”
Aurelia sat on the edge of his bed. “Listen, I don't have much time,” she said. “I got special permission to come here, and I've got to be gone in five minutes. So start talking.”
“I want to know what's going on, and you owe me,” said Aurelia. “If you told anyone else that you were in the toilet of deck 31 and they bothered to check, they'd know you were lying, since the central column was damaged. I saved your ass, and in return you're going to tell me what's going on.”
Nicholas had the grace to look abashed. “Look, Aurelia, there's nothing going on, seriously.”
“Yeah, I'm not buying that,” she hissed. “I want to know what's going on, Nicholas,” she said again, loudly this time, wanting people to overhear.
Nicholas frantically looked around. “Shhh!”
“If you want me to be quiet, you're going to have to start talking,” she said.
The Clone sighed. “Fine. But not here.”
“Are you in one of the high-rank exam bays? The ones with only two beds?” he asked.
“Alright, when I'm through here, I'll come find you. We'll have more privacy there. I'll be done sooner than you; we're only getting cursory look-overs.”
Aurelia thought about this for a minute. “Can I trust you?” she asked.
Nicholas's blue eyes dimmed a little. “Do you not think you can?”
She knew she could. “Okay. But I need you to tell me something first. Did you know what was going to happen to the ship?”
“No, I swear I didn't. I promise you that I knew nothing about the attack.” His voice was deep and sincere, and she believed him.
“Did you know Hansen was on the ship?” she asked.
“Did you...” She found it hard to continue, so she swallowed and tried again, keeping her words as quiet as she possibly could. “Did you in any way try to hurt him?”
Nicholas looked deep into her eyes. “I swear to you, Aurelia, that I saved him. You saw me come onto the hospital deck carrying him. If I'd wanted to hurt him, would I have done that?”
Grudgingly, Aurelia admitted that he had a point. “Fine. And...”
But Nicholas wouldn't let her finish. “Not here. We'll talk later. I promise.”
She got off the bed. “I will find you if you don't come to me,” she threatened. “I deserve to know what's going on; I covered for you.”
Nicholas smiled at her, and she suddenly wanted to touch his face, to stroke his cheek. “I told you that you were a very interesting person,” he said. “And I meant it. I think you might be a lot more interesting than you realise. I will come to you, Aurelia. Now, go. Your five minutes are up.”
She walked out of the room, not turning back to look at him, not wanting to attract any more attention to herself than she already had done. Once again she was forced to wait for another Med staff member to open the door to the Clone corridor, and then, when she reached her own corridor, the door to her exam bay.
“Who's this Nicholas fellow?” demanded Jonathon as soon as he saw her enter the room.
Aurelia realised that Jonathon not only didn't know Nicholas's name, but also didn't know that the Clone was responsible for saving him. She didn't tell him, though she wasn't sure why. Someone would come out with the news sooner or later.
“Wow, jealous much?” she teased him.
He frowned at her. “Come here,” he said.
“I'm supposed to be resting on my own bed,” she responded.
“No, Aurelia, come here.” His face was serious. “Please,” he said, when she didn't move.
Sighing, she went over to his bed. And yet again she was faced with a pair of deep blue eyes. Jonathon and Nicholas were extremely alike, she had to admit, though one was dark and one had lighter hair. They were both teasers; both had brilliant smiles. And, though she hated to even think it, both had the ability to make her heart skip.
“What?” she huffed, with more irritation than she'd intended.
That wasn't what she'd been expecting at all. “What?” she repeated.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound jealous; it was stupid of me. If I've done something wrong, I always try to apologise for it. And I was wrong. Who Nicholas is is none of my damn business.”
“True,” Aurelia said. Then, relenting, she sat on the edge of his bed. “He's a friend,” she added.
“A Clone friend?” Jonathon asked, curiously. “Interesting.”
Aurelia made as if to stand up, and Jonathon put his hand on her arm. She felt small tingles where their skin came into contact.
“Was I prying again?” he asked, with a small smile. “If I keep on like this, I'm going to have to apologise to you every time I speak.”
Aurelia laughed. “Let's change the subject,” she said. “It might be safer.”
“Very well.” Jonathon lay back on his bed. “A change of subject, then. How would you react, purely hypothetically, if I asked you to come to dinner with me?”
Whoa. Hold up here. Dinner. With the possible future president. With an Elite. With Jonathon. Aurelia suddenly wished deeply that she were at home with her parents. In the space of less than a day, her entire life had turned upside down.
He noticed her concern. “No pressure; it's only hypothetical,” he said with a grin.
Oh Gods. Alright, thought Aurelia. She should break things down to the simplest factors that she could. Did she want to have dinner with this man, regardless of who or what he was? Yes. Yes, she did.
“Hypothetically, yes,” she said. “But not tonight; I've had a hard day.”
Jonathon was still laughing as she returned to her own bed and lay down.
It was only when she was lying down that Aurelia had a horrifying thought. Nicholas was going to come here, to the exam room, and she'd neglected to tell him not only that the other bed was occupied, but that it was occupied by Jonathon. Shit, she was so tired she wasn't even thinking straight. There wasn't much she could do about it now. The only thing that she could hope for was that, due to his status, Jonathon would get discharged faster than either she or Nicholas, which was a solid possibility.
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but she just kept thinking of Nicholas and Jonathon. Both so alike and yet so different. She liked both of them, but... She thought she preferred Jonathon because he made no attempt to lie to her, even if that left her frustrated and wanting information. But Nicholas was a Clone, and deep down she considered the possibility that that may be the reason she was more drawn to Jonathon. She couldn't allow herself to fall in love with a Clone. There was no future in it. Yet Nicholas gave her such a sense of warmth.
Fantastic. Less than a couple of hours in Lunar City and she was in love with two men, stuck in a hospital bed and unable to sleep. How much better could life get?
The door opened. A tall man came in. Unsurprisingly, he went first to Jonathon's bed. Well, he was Elite, after all.
“Mr. Hansen,” the man said. “I'm Jake Ellis, head of trauma. I'll be taking a look at you today.”
Aurelia coughed, feeling that she should maybe introduce herself to someone with whom she would probably be working closely.
Ellis turned, and she caught a sharp light in his eye. Anger? But why? Then he gave her a hard smile. “And you must be Ms. Cole, our new Med Worker. I've heard a lot about you.”
Aurelia was unsure what to say to this, but any answer was unnecessary, as Ellis simply turned back to Jonathon.
“I'm sure you won't mind, Mr. Hansen, if I take a look at Ms. Cole first? It should only take a moment, and the truth is that we could use her Medical skills outside if she's up to working.”
Jonathon looked at Aurelia and shrugged. “Sure, ladies first,” he said.
When Ellis came to her bedside, Aurelia got her first good look at him and didn't like what she saw at all. He had flinty grey eyes, and his mouth had a cruel curve to it. She also got the impression that his politeness was fake, put on to impress Jonathon, perhaps, but definitely not natural.
“Quite a day you've had, Ms. Cole. I'd thought you were sleeping,” Ellis said, reaching for her arm to take her pulse.
“Call me Aurelia, please,” she said. Best to get off on the right foot, after all. And first impressions could be misleading, she counselled herself, remembering her first run-in with Elza.
“Thank you, Aurelia. Let's just take a quick look at you.”
His hands moved deftly over her head, checking for skull damage, and then he placed a hand on her chest, feeling her breath.
“Hmmm,” he said after a few Seconds. “How long has it been since you last slept?”
Aurelia had no idea. “Er, last night, I mean, last Earth night.”
Ellis nodded. “Alright, I think the best thing to do is to tranquilise you for now.”
“What? Why?” said Aurelia, trying to sit up.
Ellis pushed her back to the bed. “Because there's nothing more ineffective than tired Med Workers. A tranquiliser, an hour or so of sleep, and then an antidote should set you up for the rest of the night. You'll really be far more useful when you're not exhausted.”
He placed his hand on the wall, opening a cupboard, and then handed Aurelia a small white capsule and a glass of water. He was watching carefully but failed to notice as Aurelia tongued the capsule into her cheek and drank down the glass of water. She had a funny feeling about Ellis, and anyway, she hated being drugged, always had. If she needed sleep, she'd get it the natural way.
Ellis nodded at her. “Good girl. I'll come back in an hour and give you that antidote to wake up.”
Aurelia snuggled down on the bed, looking as if she were preparing for sleep. As soon as Ellis's back was turned, she spat the capsule out and slipped it into her pocket. She then closed her eyes in case he checked on her again, and she consciously breathed more deeply.
“So, Mr. Hansen,” she heard Ellis say. “Let's have a look at you now.”
There were a couple of minutes of silence.
“Looks like you had a nasty leg wound there, and a knock on the head too, right?”
“Agreed,” Jonathon said. “Not feeling too bad, though, all things considered.”
Ellis gave a cold laugh. “Well, I think I should be the judge of that,” he said. “I'm not sure about the healing done on that leg. I think what I'm going to do is give you a quick injection against any infection that might be there. Then you can rest here for a couple of hours before we discharge you.”
Aurelia heard Jonathon mumble something, but she was too busy thinking to listen closely. An injection? She'd perforMed the healing, herself, and knew it was perfect. There was no reason at all for Jonathon to be injected with anything. Was Ellis just being overly careful because of Jonathon's status? She wasn't sure. She was sure that Jonathon was doing fine, though, and should probably be discharged to free up the bed.
Dammit. She was faking sleep and couldn't argue with the head of trauma or do anything else to draw attention to herself. Chances were that Ellis was simply playing things safe. She heard the soft click of a cupboard opening, and she guessed that the trauma head was grabbing a syringe. If so, his back was close to being turned, so she squinted her eyes and chanced a look at what he was doing.
What she saw made her blood run cold. Ellis was keying a number into a locked vial. And as far as Aurelia knew, there was only one kind of vial that needed to be locked.