The chronicle of the final voyage of the medical relief ship GSC Nightingale.
Friday, October 22nd 2213
Lucy shifted in her seat in the cavernous auditorium. Emma sat next to her, hunched over a tablet with an email screen open. She giggled to herself and sighed here and there, seemingly oblivious to the mood of her compatriots.
Jack sat on Lucy’s other side, massive arms crossed. “What’s this for again?”
“I don’t think anyone knows,” Lucy said, grateful to have something to concentrate on other than Emma’s giggle-inducing emails. “The Captain wants to address us.”
“You’d think he’d have done that weeks ago,” Jack said. “Like when we first got on the ship.”
Lucy agreed. She had initially chalked his absence up to captainly duties, but when days turned into weeks, she started to wonder if he was ever going to interact with them at all.
They had begun the day normally: wake up, breakfast, then into the simulated hospital to work on their patients. Every patient was doing worse and worse every day. It seemed like an epidemic on the floors, one that most of the students were sure was intentional. Even the normally cheerful Otto had been in the dumps in recent days, saying very little and sleeping more. Daryush had diagnosed him with diabetes and was attempting to treat it with medication and a dietary regimen, but it didn’t seem to be working.
Lucy had just taken a blood sample from Otto when the intercom buzzed to life: “All students and faculty, please report to the main auditorium for a meeting with Captain Azikiwe. Thank you.” Otto had gone limp, paused for the moment, so Lucy had no option but to leave. Daryush hadn’t been with her at the time, and she hadn’t seen him in the auditorium.
Emma finally put her tablet away and leaned into Lucy and Jack’s conversation. “Hey! So, what’s this for?”
“We don’t know,” Jack said. He nodded at her tablet. “What’s making you so giggly?”
Emma blushed and giggled again. “Oh, it’s just…” Her blush intensified. “My missionary. I finally got an email from him. He’s on the Neptune station, so I think I’ll get to see him!”
Jack and Lucy exchanged confused looks, and Emma wrinkled her brow.
“What?” she said.
“What do you mean, your missionary?” Jack asked.
Emma frowned. “My missionary. My… well, when he left, we promised we’d wait for each other for when he came back. They have five-year missions, so it’s been hard. He can’t send me as many emails as I’d like, but when he does…” She sighed. “They’re wonderful.”
Lucy said, “Are you going to marry him, Emma?”
“Yes!” Emma breathed a dreamy sigh. “Well, if he asks me to. Which he should. I mean, why wouldn’t he? We love each other. I love him sooooooo much.”
Lucy heard Jack mutter, “Christ,” under his breath, and she nudged him surreptitiously with an elbow.
“That sounds great, Emma,” Lucy said, and was prevented from saying more by the appearance of a woman on the stage.
The woman was dressed in the uniform Lucy had seen most of the crew wear, and she marched across the stage in perfectly polished boots. She halted at the central podium and spoke, her voice magnified by speakers around the room.
“Captain on deck!” she barked, and the crewmen present jumped to their feet and stood at stiff attention.
The students followed suit, climbing to their feet and standing uncertainly, waiting for the Captain to emerge onto the stage. When he did, he moved with an unnatural smoothness, hands clasped behind his rigidly straight back. He stalked to where the uniformed woman stood at attention, and the microphone and speakers magnified his soft voice: “At ease.”
“At ease!” the woman echoed, shouting up to the crewmen and students.
The crewman sat down as a unit, and the students again rushed to follow suit.
The woman remained nearby the Captain, unmoving and silent. The Captain himself turned toward his audience with a stern expression.
“I have captained this ship for sixteen years.” There was no emotional inflection in his voice. “This will be my fifth voyage. I have seen a great many things during my time as a captain here, and many more during my military service. We have been out for just over a month, and I already find myself faced with a problem I have not only never experienced before, but never heard of.”
He paused, turning to his gathering of crewmen and then shifting his hard gaze to the students. As his eyes passed over Lucy, she felt like someone had breathed cold air down her neck.
“Every living soul aboard this ship is here,” he said. “Even my helmsman, which is why I’ll keep this short. Whoever you are, whatever your ends are, know this: I have noticed your actions. And though I haven’t discerned your plans, I will not stand for any continuation of…”
He trailed off, hesitant to specify. Lucy glanced at Emma, who watched the Captain with a downturned lip and furrowed brow.
Captain Azikiwe continued: “I will not stand for mischief aboard my ship. This was once a military vessel and it still contains a functional brig, one which I am not hesitant to use. Consider this your only warning.” He turned away from the stage and muttered, “Dismissed,” to the woman as he exited the stage.
“Dismissed!” the woman barked, and then followed the Captain away.
The crew dispersed like fireflies in a stiff wind, while the students lingered for a minute or two.
Jack stood and stretched. “I wonder what the hell that was about.”
“Someone’s doing something bad,” Emma offered.
Jack laughed. “Thanks, Emma.”
She flustered for a moment before clarifying. “I mean, someone must be doing something really bad to have gotten the Captain worked up like that. I wonder what it was.”
“I hear there are drug problems out past the belt,” Jack said. “You guys know what ‘heavy’ is? A lot of the guys in prison committed whatever crime they were convicted for while they were high. It messes with your brain, bad. Maybe someone’s got a stash, trying to sell it out there.”
“I heard about that stuff,” Lucy said. She had seen what it did to people firsthand. “It makes people crazy.”
Jack nodded, solemn for the moment. Emma regarded the two of them with wide eyes.
“Is that the drug stuff my dad was talking about?” she asked.
Lucy held in a sigh. “Probably.”
Before Emma could say anything, a voice from behind Lucy said, “Okay everyone! Up, up, up!”
As she stood, Lucy turned towards Natalie’s voice. The nurse clapped her hands with each “up” she barked.
“It’s time for the best part of the day!” Natalie said, and everyone groaned. “Yeah, yeah, shut up your faces and get to the hospital for your huddle.”
She set off, with the students trailing behind. At the hospital desk, Lucy and the other students of Areas One through Five gathered around Natalie and Dr. Baranov, the latter of whom rubbed hand sanitizer into the skin of his hands.
“Is this everyone?” Dr. Baranov asked. “Okay, good. Sorry we’re starting the huddle so late. That meeting kind of set us back some, but he’s the Captain so we do whatever he says.” He kind of chortled, then said, “Okay, Area One goes first. Someone start this so we can end it.”
Lucy spotted Daryush and scooted around the crowd toward him. She heard Sarah say, “I guess I’ll start. Patient presented with what appeared to be depression, but then symptoms evolved into seizures and impaired kidney function.” Sarah continued, detailing the conditions she had eliminated through lab tests, as Lucy reached Daryush.
“Hey,” Daryush whispered as Lucy reached him. “I looked for you at the briefing.”
“You did?” Lucy perked. “I looked for you, too.”
Sarah had finished her report, and Dr. Baranov said, “Very good. Who’s next?”
Daryush raised his hand. “We can be next. I originally thought our patient had diabetes, but none of the conventional treatments have helped symptoms. My goal for today is to decide whether to go on to unconventional treatments, or to reconsider my diagnosis.”
Dr. Baranov nodded and went to the next presenter. He was obviously trying to rush the huddle, which usually ended up taking about an hour for everyone. At this rate, it would be done in twenty minutes. Which was fine with Lucy. She hadn’t eaten anything yet, and it was nearing lunchtime. She was starving.
Lucy shifted back and forth on her feet, waiting for the huddle to end. Daryush leaned toward her and whispered, “You okay?”
“I’m hungry,” she said. “I didn’t eat breakfast.”
He offered a mock gasp. “But that’s the most important meal of the day.”
Lucy rolled her eyes at him.
Daryush reached into his lab coat pocket and presented a stick of string cheese to her. “I keep snacks around all the time. It’s not cold anymore but it’s better than nothing.”
Lucy accepted the string cheese with a whispered, “Thank you!” just as the huddle ended.
“All done!” Dr. Baranov announced. “Off you go to your patients. Nurse Delacroix and I will be around in a bit.”
The students dispersed, making room for the next huddle. Lucy clutched the string cheese, trying to figure out a good time to eat it. She opened the top just as she reached Otto’s room, but before she could take a bite, Natalie arrived.
“Hey!” she said. “What’s the deal with Otto here?”
Lucy dropped the cheese into her pocket and said, “Well, uh, he always complains of thirst and fatigue. Plus his blood sugar is through the roof, no matter what he eats.”
Natalie pointed a finger at Daryush. “So this one thinks it’s diabetes?”
Daryush and Lucy nodded.
“Well,” Natalie said, “what do you think it is?”
Lucy had no idea. Her brain had emptied itself of knowledge. She could hardly remember her own name.
“Well,” she said. “I guess I agree with Daryush. As far as I know. I don’t really… I mean, I haven’t studied the pathophysiology of these diseases yet, and—”
“Oh hush,” Natalie said, waving a hand at Daryush. “Neither has he. You’re both in the dark here, and you need to help each other find some fire so you can get the hell out. Is your official diagnosis diabetes?”
Daryush and Lucy exchanged a glance and a shrug, and then Daryush said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Well your diagnosis sucks,” Natalie said. “It’s not diabetes. And your assignment from me, due next week, is a ten-page paper on the pathophysiology of diabetes mellitus, with an emphasis on why Otto does not have it. Got it?”
Lucy nodded. “Yeah.”
Natalie directed her finger at Daryush once again. “You too, buddy. Same thing. One week from this moment. Go.”
She left then, turning on a heel and going to the next room down.
Lucy and Daryush stood in the hall, stunned by Natalie’s revelation that their diagnosis was incorrect, and then Daryush said, “I have no idea what it is. I thought they’d give us something easy for the first one.”
“Yeah,” Lucy agreed.
Daryush said, “I’m going to take his history again. Maybe we missed something.” As Lucy moved to follow him, he stopped her with a hand up. “Go eat something, Lucy. You look completely drained.”
She felt completely drained. “Okay. Good idea.”
“I think there are crackers in the supply closet,” Daryush said. “I bet no one would even notice if you grabbed a few.” He smiled at her and then disappeared into Otto’s room.
Lucy hurried to the supply closet. She agreed with Daryush that no one would ever notice missing crackers; in fact, she was sure no one ever came into the closet at all. Everything was perfectly stocked in full piles or sealed boxes. Nothing appeared missing or altered in any way.
The bin full of crackers sitting on the counter suddenly intimidated her. She couldn’t remember if they’d been told they could even be in the supply closet, let alone eat crackers out of it. What if someone did notice?
She fidgeted for a moment and then grasped a little cracker package. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and it was better to steal a couple crackers than have hypoglycemia and pass out in a patient room.
She had just opened the crackers and stuffed one in her mouth when the door opened. Lucy almost choked on the cracker, and in her panic at being caught, she did something ridiculous: she wrenched the lower cupboard open and, seeing it was empty, hid inside.
Lucy pulled the cupboard door shut as much as she could. Whoever was using the closet would probably grab whatever supply they needed and then leave, and Lucy would never steal another cracker ever again.
Two pairs of footsteps entered the closet, with clothing rustling and stumbling and grunting, and Lucy realized with a considerable amount of alarm that the two people who had entered the closet were making out.
Stacy’s voice said, “We’ve got to hurry.”
Lucy wrinkled her nose. Yeah, he needed to hurry and get out.
The other voice almost made Lucy groan out loud. Sarah said, “I know. Get your pants off.”
Lucy’s eyes widened. Oh no.
“I thought I was in charge today,” Stacy said.
“If you were in charge, we’d still be in that whiny patient’s room.” Sarah’s voice was getting closer, and a thump on top of the counter made Lucy wince. Sarah was standing next to the counter, or sitting atop it.
In either case, she was too close.
Lucy concentrated on breathing as silently as possible, and tried to will Sarah and Stacy to abandon what Lucy was certain was about to be sex. Keep your pants on, Stacy. Go back to your patient.
Stacy didn’t listen.
When he spoke, his voice was just as close as Sarah’s. “We’re not in the patient’s room, now. So I get to be in charge. Turn around.”
Lucy screwed her eyes shut as the dainty thumps of Sarah’s hands on the countertop echoed down into the cupboard. The soft whump of clothing hitting the floor was followed by a sharp inhalation from one of them, Sarah presumably, because the next words of hers were moaned out instead of spoken: “Oh, Stacy…”
Stacy said nothing, just breathed hard in a rhythm that matched with the thumps against the cupboard door. Lucy pressed her palm against her mouth and concentrated on not making a sound.
Sarah was not content to be silent like the other people in the supply closet. “You know,” she said, “for a gay guy with a girl’s name, you sure do know your way around a woman.”
“Shut up, Sarah,” Stacy grunted. The order was followed by a particularly loud thump and a sharp intake of breath by Sarah.
“You mad?” she said, voice teasing.
Those hard, loud thumps continued—thud, thud, thud—and with every one, Sarah’s squeaked noises got louder and higher-pitched. The thumping sound—that obvious rhythm of sex—resurrected the memory of another fast thumping rhythm. The artillery that the military had used made that sound, and the distant chatter of automatic weapons sounded like soft whumps.
Thud, thud, thud. That was the sound that Lucy had listened to while her father bled to death in her arms.
The cracker Lucy was afraid to chew was fast turning to a gooey mush in her mouth. She could smell blood, and she couldn’t tell if it was real or memory.
“Shit,” Stacy breathed, and the thumping stopped.
“You didn’t seriously just—”
“I told you we had to hurry.”
“But I didn’t—”
“I’ll get you later,” Stacy said. “Lucy goes to study with Daryush after dinner all the time. Come over once she leaves.”
Lucy almost choked on her cracker. What?!
“I bet that’ll make her mad,” Sarah said. “If she knew.”
“So don’t tell her,” Stacy said. “I’m going back to Linda’s room.”
The smooch of a kiss intruded into Lucy’s hiding spot, and then the closet door opened and shut. Sarah rustled around for a handful of seconds, and then she left the room.
Lucy remained in the cupboard, trembling as memories of home abused her memories, afraid that she’d have a panic attack. After a few minutes of silence and settling herself, she cracked the cupboard open and peered out. The room was empty.
Lucy spat the cracker out in the sink, suddenly without appetite. She shoved a handful of crackers into her scrubs pocket and then left the supply closet, hurrying back to Daryush and Otto and hoping Stacy and Sarah didn’t see her emerge from the supply closet.
Lucy sat at the table in the mess hall, picking at her plate of food while Daryush talked about his ideas about Otto’s malady. She wasn’t listening. Rather, her eyes roamed the room, trying to find Stacy and Sarah.
It became apparent that Daryush had stopped talking, and when she looked at him, he was staring at her with a frown.
“You’re not listening to anything I’m saying,” he said.
“I’m…” She was about to defend herself and deny his accusation, but instead she sighed. “Okay, I’m not. I don’t feel great.”
“So go lie down,” Daryush said. “We can meet tomorrow. Don’t get sick.”
She hesitated. She didn’t want to leave him—her study sessions with Daryush were what she looked forward to every day—but she knew in her current frame of mind, she’d never get any real studying done.
“I will,” she said, rising from the table. “Thanks, Daryush.”
He nodded. “Let me know how you feel tomorrow. I might be able to help.” He offered her a smile. “I’m in med school, after all.”
Lucy loved his smile; it anchored her to the mess hall for a moment. She thought maybe Stacy and Sarah having sex in her room wasn’t that bad after all, but then she clenched her fists as memories of blood and pain tumbled around behind her eyes. The mess hall was suddenly too public and too crowded, and she hurried out without even bussing her tray.
She was in such a hurry to get into her room and away from public view that she didn’t pause to consider that Stacy and Sarah might have decided to forego dinner.
A wall of musk hit Lucy as soon as the door to her room opened, and her brain switched from wartime memories to donkey rides as a child. They hadn’t smelled the best, and the odor invading her nostrils as she charged into her room conjured burros and her father’s laughing face.
“Oh my God!”
The shrill cry from the darkened room startled Lucy into present time, and she made out Stacy and Sarah on the floor before her, nude and scrambling for cover as Lucy loomed in the bright, open doorway.
“What the hell, Stacy?” Lucy shouted, shielding her eyes from their copulation. “This is… I can’t believe you!”
“Close the door, Lucy!” Stacy yelped as he covered his genitals with splayed hands.
Lucy did, exiting first. She wavered just outside the door for a moment before falling face-first onto the couch in the center of the room, smashing her face into the fabric.
When she thought about whether Stacy and Sarah had engaged in intercourse on the couch, she groaned and rolled off, remaining on the floor until Stacy’s face appeared above her.
“Lucy,” he said, “I’m so sorry.”
“You ass,” Lucy said.
He pursed his lips as Sarah leaned in. Lucy did nothing to hide her ire at Sarah’s arrival.
“Stay out of my room,” Lucy said.
“Or what?” Sarah put her hands on her hips. “I’m glad you know. Less sneaking around. It’s Stacy’s room, too, and he can have guests. Unless you want to be privy to some seriously depraved sexual acts, I’d suggest you don’t go in there while we are.”
Stacy looked nervously between the two women. “I mean… Lucy, we can set up some kind of system where I can put something outside the door to—”
“To tell me not to go into my own room?” Lucy snapped. She could feel her chest tightening. “No. No, that’s unacceptable. Go perform your depraved acts in your own room, Sarah.”
Sarah scoffed and walked away. Stacy remained, looking desperately apologetic. “I’m so sorry.”
“Why are you with her?” Lucy asked. “She’s so… mean.”
Stacy grinned. “Yeah. She is.”
“I can’t help it,” he said. “She really does it for me. We’re on this ship for four years, and I can’t go four years without some kind of action.”
“Lucy, go date Daryush or something,” Stacy said.
That was it. Lucy sat up, stood up, stormed into her room. The odor of fresh sex assaulted her nose, and she was tempted to retreat. She didn’t, however, and instead turned to Stacy and fixed him with her harshest glare while she shut the door.
She missed real doors that slammed. Slamming a door in someone’s face was therapeutic, and boy was she in dire need of some kind of therapy just then.
Episode 7: Diagnosis
Coming March 27th!