07
Jan
17

Safety Nation Chapter 11

There are only three more days until Safety Nation is published! Until then, enjoy one more chapter!

In case you have missed the chapters so far, here are links to them:

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5

Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10

Announcement/Blurb

Cover Art

As always, the chapter below, and entire novel, are copyrighted.

— — —

Safety Nation by Logan Riley

11

I sipped my coffee, wishing it was hotter.

All of Healthcare Detail had swarmed onto Hospital Twelve. The facility was one of the major downtown healthcare centers. It was a gigantic building that served hundreds of patients a day.

Atwood walked at a brisk pace. The other agents hurried to keep up with her. I walked at my regular pace. I couldn’t run because I would spill my coffee.

I was so tired from last night’s investigation that I bought a cup of coffee from a Central Office vending machine. It tasted a month old and was lukewarm. Even so, I drank the sludge, eager for the caffeine to hit my brain.

At Healthcare Detail, Atwood pointed to the electronic map which displayed blueprints of Hospital Twelve. The map blinked and was replaced with the names and faces of three physicians. Atwood told us they were violating safety regulations and had to be arrested immediately. She assigned us each to a group of four. My team consisted of Zamyatan, Lowry, and Atwood herself.

Before the briefing adjourned, Atwood said, “This is a huge case, everyone. Career defining. Don’t screw this up for me.”

The other agents nodded in the affirmative. The bevy of people broke up and departed for the parking garage. My team piled into Zamyatan’s car. Zamyatan took the driver’s seat, Atwood the front passenger’s seat, and Lowry and I were consigned to the back.

“Nice to see you again,” I said to Lowry.

“Thanks,” she said, looking slightly ill.

The Auto-Driver engaged and the vehicle took off. Atwood craned around and looked at me, stone-faced. “Don’t get any ideas, Inspector Smith. I only put you with us so I could keep an eye on you. I don’t want you ruining this.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

The car slowed as the hospital came in sight. We stopped at the front entrance. The electric motor shut off. Atwood was out of the car in a flash.

All of the agents were here now, clustered near the front doors. A few citizens goggled at our congregation. Everyone turned their attention to Atwood. “Remember your assignments. Do everything by the book and this should go flawlessly,” she said.

The teams scrambled into the hospital, each team headed in a different direction. One team was positioned at each of the hospital’s main entrances, one team monitored the elevators and stairwells, and one team went into the administration office. The last two teams, including my own, were tasked with the apprehension of our targets.

Despite racing to the elevator, Atwood was forced to wait. I continued my leisurely walk through the lobby. When I caught up with my teammates, the elevator doors slid open.

The eight of us piled in. My shoulders pressed tightly against two other agents. Lowry was squished somewhere in the back. A harmonious ding signaled our arrival on the sixth floor.

Atwood squeezed her way out of the elevator, made a right turn, and walked quickly down the hallway, her arms firmly planted against her sides. Everyone else struggled to get out of the elevator. They scurried after her.

Lowry exited last. I waited for her. “How’ve you been?” she asked.

“Good,” I said. “I don’t want you to get in trouble. You’d better catch up with the others.”

She gave me a disappointed look, and then ran to catch up with the group.

I resumed my languid pace. I passed a sign that read, “Department of Internal Medicine.” Ahead of me, the other seven agents bustled into the ward. They swarmed in and out of rooms. Their shouts echoed down the hallway. I walked around the Nurses Station. The nurses didn’t notice me. They were flabbergasted. As I passed the patient rooms, I peeked in. People were in varying degrees of embarrassment or anger. Some were in bed, some were upright, some dressed, some naked. Atwood’s raid and privacy infringement must have been a safety violation of some kind.

A crash rang out near the end of the hallway. It sounded like a metal tray hitting the floor. A moment later, a man in a long white coat flew out of a patient room. Zamyatan’s arms were wrapped around his legs. The doctor waved his arms to catch his balance. He couldn’t. He hit the floor, and his nose crunched. Zamyatan quickly handcuffed the doctor. The other agents surrounded them.

“Doctor,” Atwood said in her usual monotone. “You are in direct violation of Safety Statute 99-45-99. You are under arrest.”

Two agents hauled the doctor to his feet. The lower half of his face was smeared with blood. He looked dejected. He said nothing, only groaned.

“Take him away,” Atwood said with a wave.

They escorted him to the elevator. By this time I had finally caught up with the cluster of agents. Lowry looked uneasy. The others masked their emotions.

“What did the doctor do?” I asked.

“Inspector Smith,” Atwood said. “You had better learn the safety codes of this department. Now, let’s get going.”

Atwood started to walk, but stopped when she noticed a puddle of blood on the floor. With a slight tremble of agitation in her voice, she called out, “Does anybody know the penalty for a biohazard violation? Unless you want to find out, someone had better clean this up ASAP.”

Atwood, Zamyatan, and the other two agents marched back to the elevators. A nurse swiftly cleaned the bloody floor. Lowry stayed behind and said, “He was prescribing a medication off-label.”

“What was it?”

“He gave someone an antihistamine for sleep.” She looked down the hallway and saw the others were nearly at the elevators. “We should hurry up.”

I took another sip of my coffee. It had grown cold. I pitched it and followed Lowry.

With only six of us, the elevator was less cramped. Atwood stood across from me. I could see something smoldering behind her eyes. She noticed me scrutinizing her, straightened her posture, and blinked away the emotion.

The elevator dinged and we entered the thirteenth floor. The sign on the wall read, “Department of Geriatrics.”

Events repeated themselves. The group ran down the hallway, intruded into patient rooms, and shouted menacingly for their target. I shook my head, still feeling fatigued. I should have called in sick today.

To the right of the Nurses Station was a little alcove. Standing there was a fresh pot of coffee. While the team continued their flurry of activity, I strolled over expectantly.

I began opening cabinets, looking for a cup. There weren’t any, so I borrowed a mug that was in the sink. I rinsed it out as I heard a barrage of screams. There were bangs and shouts, and the din of footsteps racing back and forth. I poured the coffee, listening to the sweet sound the liquid made as it filled the mug. I took a sip. It was nice and hot.

Stepping toward the Nurses Station, I heard more commotion. I leaned one elbow against the station’s desk. I raised my mug, drinking slowly.

The doctor they were after was causing quite a ruckus. He was yelling and running laps around an old man who stood, befuddled, in the middle of the hall. Another agent was chasing him in a circle. The doctor was knocking over everything he could find to trip his pursuer.

Atwood decided she had watched this display of buffoonery long enough. She drew her weapon and fired. She missed.

The electrodes struck the old man in the arm. He went stiff, and his eyes rolled back in his skull. When the pulse of energy stopped, he collapsed. The absurd circular chase halted. The doctor and agents gawked in disbelief. Atwood dropped her weapon, and then ripped Lowry’s weapon out of its holster.

“Take this you bastard!” she shouted.

This time her shot hit the mark. The doctor’s body danced with a surge of electricity. He, too, collapsed to the floor, partially over the unconscious patient. His white coat was singed black where the electrodes had buried themselves.

The two nameless agents collected the doctor and dragged him to the elevator. Atwood and Lowry retrieved their weapons. They walked toward me with Zamyatan close behind.

I swallowed the rest of my coffee in a single gulp. It burned its way down my throat. I set the mug onto the desk as the agents walked by.

“Seems like a lot of trouble for a prescription,” I said.

“Prescription? Ha! That guy’s a murderer!” Atwood said. She marched past me, her arms swinging. Color blushed in her cheeks.

I fell in with the group and walked beside Lowry. She had actually paid attention to the briefing this morning, and she knew the details of each offender. “He euthanized someone,” she said.

“How could he? The law is clear that’s illegal.”

“The patient was ninety years old. Terminal cancer. Awful pain. He just had a stroke. He asked the doctor to end his suffering.”

Our pace slowed. Atwood and Zamyatan continued onward, putting some distance between us and them. Lowry lowered her head and spoke more softly than usual.

“I don’t know, Smith. I know what he did was a safety violation, but it feels like the right thing. Arresting him for helping someone, it feels wrong.”

“I’m sorry, kid. We have a terrible job.”

The next elevator ride was more comfortable. With four of us remaining, we had much more room. Above the doors, red digits blinked the floor numbers. As we ascended, Atwood said, “Inspector Smith, I want you to wait in the hallway by the elevator. I want you out of the way. But if you see the suspect, I want you to stop her. Can you handle that?”

“Sure. What’s her name?”

“Doctor Bennett.”

“What did she do?”

“Abortion.”

The First Government, in their infinite wisdom, outlawed all abortions no matter what. Even if a pregnancy could harm the mother, everything had to be done to save the fetus. As far as I knew, no abortions had ever occurred in my lifetime. Now I knew why Atwood considered this a career defining case.

We walked onto the twentieth floor. The sign read, “Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.”

I followed the group until we reached the ward’s entrance. I leaned against the wall and watched as the others resumed their hospital raid. With only three of them, it took much longer than before. They moved in and out of rooms, banging, running, and shouting. Atwood must have really wanted a promotion.

Behind me, I heard the whoosh of a flushing toilet. A minute or so later, a figure appeared on my right. She gasped.

I looked over and saw a tall woman with mousy brown hair wearing a long white coat. She had a plain but comforting face. An ID badge hung from the lapel of her coat. It featured a terrible photograph accompanied by her name: Dr. Bennett.

“What’s happening, Inspector?” she asked.

I tipped my hat back. She had no idea we were here for her. I pushed myself away from the wall and said, “Don’t be alarmed. They’re looking for you.”

“For me?” she asked, her voice becoming tremulous.

“It’s okay,” I said in my most soothing voice. “It’s because of the abortion.”

Her face blanched.

“Listen to me. Those other agents, all they care about are the rules. But I’m not like them. Tell me what happened.”

“Well, I was on-call three nights ago. This girl came in. She was only fifteen. She had an ectopic pregnancy. Based on the location, she was going to die. I couldn’t let her. I had to do something.”

“You’re saying that if you hadn’t done it, the patient definitely would have died?”

She nodded and continued, “I know abortions are safety violations. I’d never done one before. But how could I just let her die? Isn’t that a safety violation, too?”

Bennett had a point. A safety agent could just as easily arrest her for letting the patient die. Given the contradictions, I’m surprised anyone would want to be a physician.

I looked into the ward. The team had covered two-thirds of it. In a few minutes they would turn back. I didn’t have much time.

“I’m sorry, doctor, but your career is over. If you want, I can spare you a lifetime in Safety Re-Education.”

Her eyes turned to liquid, and she stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. At last, she nodded. With a growing sense of urgency, I said, “First, we need to ditch your clothes. Where can I get one of those hospital gowns?”

“The Clean Utility, down there,” she said, pointing at the opposite end of the hall.

“Wait in the bathroom,” I said.

I jogged to the end of the hall. The door to the Clean Utility was locked. I pulled out my multi-tool and set the device to its universal key setting. The lock clicked open and I entered.

There were several large bins holding clean sheets, clean gowns, and clean blankets. There were also a series of smaller bins that housed toothbrushes, combs, shampoo, and other personal care items. I grabbed a gown and an electric razor.

As I exited, I saw Atwood had reached the far end of the ward. Her face was bright red, and she was jumping up and down and screaming. She was too far away to notice me. I dashed into the bathroom.

“Doctor Bennett?”

She hesitantly poked her head out from one of the stalls.

“Put this on,” I said, tossing the gown to her.

She grabbed it, and I turned around. I stared at the tile wall while she dressed. I heard the soft rustle of clothes. She said something doleful under her breath.

She told me she was finished. I turned back and realized I had grabbed the wrong size gown. It went down to her shins and billowed around her body. Her regular clothes were rumpled on the floor.

“The next part won’t be fun. I’m sorry,” I said.

I brandished the electric razor. Bennett kneeled in front of a toilet, and I hovered over her. The razor buzzed as it ran over the contours of her skull. Clumps of brown hair floated into the toilet bowl. Once her head was cleanly shaved, I flushed. I worried for a moment that the toilet would clog. Fortunately, it didn’t.

I gathered Bennett’s white coat, ID badge, and stethoscope. I stashed them in the toilet tank. I grabbed the rest of her clothes and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

We made our way to the door. Bennett caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She froze. The reflection gazing back at her was not the same person she was used to seeing.

“Come on,” I said, pulling her out of the bathroom.

I looked down the hallway. Atwood was screaming at several nurses. She was halfway back. We had to move faster. I hurried to the Clean Utility and dropped Bennett’s clothes down the laundry shoot. I raced back to the hallway. Bennett was standing in front of the elevator, twisting her hands together. I pressed the call button.

We waited.

And waited.

“Hey!”

Bennett’s body shook with surprise. Atwood stormed up to me. “What the hell are you doing?” she shrieked.

“Watching for the doctor, just like you asked.”

“And who’s your friend?” she asked, eyeing Bennett. Bennett looked petrified. I tried to get Atwood’s attention back on me.

“She’s a Psych patient.”

“Psych?” she asked.

“Wandered off the ward, I think.”

“Oh? Well, where’s her wrist band?”

All patients wore wrist bands to identify themselves. Atwood was turning back to Bennett again.

“She ate it,” I said.

Atwood shifted back to me once more. She wrinkled her nose. “Ate it?”

“Yeah. Right in front of me. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Bennett burped. The break in the tension made me want to double over with laughter. I somehow managed to restrain myself.

“Why’d you do that? What’s wrong with you?” Atwood asked.

Bennett stiffened again under Atwood’s laser vision.

“She can’t talk,” I said. “She’s catatonic.”

“Catatonic?”

“Yes, I believe that’s what it’s called.”

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. I grabbed Bennett by the arm and pulled her inside. “I was just about to take her back to the Psych ward. You don’t mind, do you?” I asked.

“No, but hurry up. I need you here. We’ve got to find that damn doctor,” Atwood grumbled.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Atwood narrowed her eyes. I shouldn’t have been so compliant. She must have thought something was up. I smacked the button for the lobby. The elevator doors closed, and the machine started its descent. Bennett and I both breathed sighs of relief.

“Is there a secret way out of here? One the agents won’t be guarding?” I asked.

Bennett thought for a moment. “There’s no secret exit, but the third floor has a bridge to the doctor’s parking garage. They might not know about that.”

“It’s worth a try.”

I punched the button for the third floor.

Bennett’s hunch had been right. There weren’t any agents guarding this area. We hustled across the connecting bridge and into the parking garage. It was a brightly lit behemoth of concrete walls and floors. Bennett’s gray gown blended in nicely. I pointed to a corner of the garage and told her to hide there.

I backtracked, working my way down to the hospital’s basement. It, too, was deserted. I went to the laundry room and found Bennett’s clothes and shoes in the laundry shoot. I grabbed them and raced back. Going back up again, my luck held out. I didn’t encounter any other agents. When I reached Bennett, she quickly changed her clothes.

The back of the garage had a stairwell that led to the street. We descended and escaped into an alley. Ten yards to the right was the street.

“This is as far as I can take you,” I said.

“What should I do now?”

“Get a cab. Go to the train station. Get out of town. Pay cash. You’ll have to start over, and you won’t be a doctor again, but at least they won’t find you.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Do you have any family? Anyone you want to bring with you?”

She shook her head.

“Okay. Good luck.”

I offered my hand for a shake. She wrapped her arms around me. She was sobbing. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”

I squeezed her. I couldn’t recall the last time I had hugged someone. It felt nice. We couldn’t stay here long, though. I pulled away and ushered her toward the street.

Bennett hailed a taxi. She opened the door and put one foot inside. She turned back and said, “I don’t even know your name.”

“I’m nobody.”

Bennett waved before ducking into the vehicle. The taxi drove off. I didn’t know how far she would get. I hoped, wherever she went, she would be safe.

Before I returned to the twentieth floor, I had to get a prop. It would help explain my prolonged absence.

The elevator doors opened. I walked to the Nurses Station. Atwood had transformed it into a command center. A dozen agents were present. She ordered them this way and that. Lowry sat in a chair off to one side, cradling her head in her hands, looking dazed. Zamyatan stood behind Atwood like a thick piece of oak.

“Smith!” Atwood shouted as I approached. “Where the hell were you?”

I raised my prop. “Cafeteria. Getting a cup of coffee.”

She cursed at me, and then resumed her dictatorship. I stood outside the Nurses Station, drinking my coffee and feeling content. The agents tore the hospital apart. Eventually, Bennett’s white coat was discovered. Bennett herself never was.

— — —

To be continued!

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