“Dr. Claybourne, Dr. Claybourne, would you please come over here? There’s someone I would like you to meet.”
“Claybourne, that’s my name.” I thought as I hurried to catch the lift at the end of the JEMS (Joint Endeavor Medical Services) hallway. Ignoring the voice, I allowed my mind to focus on the green-arrowed box ahead. The hallway was cramped with patients, some worrying about a loved one, others trying to get personal attention. But then I heard my name again. “Dr. Claybourne, over here. To your left!”
Turning, I saw the source of the entreaties; Dr. Natasha Libawowski, the highly esteemed grafting technician. She stood motioning me over, framed by two men near the doorway of the staff’s office. As I moved in her direction, someone tripped me. Alright, so I pretend it was someone else other than my own big feet. The box of cotton balls I was carrying hit the ground, sending a spray of mini-puffs across the floor. The flow of foot-traffic did not slow, but continued across them. Catching my balance, I muttered under my breath and glared in the direction of my selected offender, then focused my attention on the sullen beauty. “Dr. Libawowski, sorry about that. Some people just don’t watch where they are going.”
Ignoring my words, she looked down at me through her thick black lashes; her mouth puckered in irritation, like a pimple covered with burgundy paint and said, “I thought you were going to walk right past us. I can’t believe you didn’t hear me call you at first.”
“Oh, you know how noisy it gets and when…”
“I want you to meet Dr. Bright.” She interrupted and turned to indicate the younger of the two men with whom she stood.
“Nice to…” Once again I was interrupted, this time by a courier-bot, with a message for Natasha, requiring her immediate attention. Excusing herself, she stepped into the quietness of the staff’s office to attain the file.
I turned my attention to the two men. Dr. Bright was tall and appeared to be of Asian decent. His serious expression caused me to wonder if a smile had ever crossed his mouth. I sensed that he was judging my every move; I’m sure my earlier mishap had done nothing to impress him. The name Bright seemed familiar, yet I could not place it. Whatever his mental makeup or background, he seemed like the kind of person you want on your good side, even if that meant kissing up to him.
“Dr. Bright, what a pleasure. I’ve heard a great deal about you, you know. Welcome to JEMS!”
His eyebrows rose slightly. “And what exactly is it that you have heard?”
I pride myself on quickness of mind. “Oh, just that you are one of the brightest minds in the medical field today.”
“Is that right?” he asked, his words laced with a refined arrogance. He looked at me, through me as though he knew I was trying to impress him. Pausing to remove a cotton ball that had managed to become affixed to his pant leg, he held it up and said, “Nasty little things. They’re like some people I’ve met, clingy and obnoxious.” Flicking the ball away, he continued. “Even after they are gone, they leave little reminders behind.”
I chose to pretend that I didn’t know he was referring to me. “Perfectly understandable. They seem to be everywhere; I’ll call an orderly to clean them up.” Triggering a control on the side of my belt to issue a callout for cleanup, I tried to regain some authority in the conversation. “So exactly, what brings you to our station? The food?”
“As I was going to tell you, Dr. Claybourne, this center has been turned over to me. I will be directing it, effective as of two hours ago.”
I was busy sweeping several cotton balls into a growing pile with the side of my foot, so at first the significance of what he said didn’t sink in. Then it hit me…new ownership…changes in staff! I could lose my job!
“Calm down.” I told myself. I still had three years on my contract, thanks to the chief of staff, Sarah Gastrick. I had been fresh out of college, having majored in burn trauma care, and needed a job. She had a position available, and I, skilled negotiator that I am, not only took the position but charmed her into an eight-year contract. She owed me a favor; I saved her lizard’s life. I still have the bite-mark to prove it.
The JEMS was a medical center that was established to handle both human and foreign patients, the first of its kind. Its founder was Justin Case, highly esteemed entrepreneur, who rarely showed his face. I didn’t know of anyone who had ever seen him, other then the faded laser photo of him, in his thirties, that hung in the staff’s lounge. All of a sudden, I realized that Dr. Bright was still talking.
“…be able to do wonders with this company. We project a significant increase in profit within two months.”
“Yes, hopefully you will be more concerned with affairs of JEMS then its previous owner. He didn’t seem to take much interest in practicing medicine. I guess he was just more concerned with the money.” I said, trying to appear both intellectual and dedicated.
“Yes, my mentor is a wise man. He left the menial jobs to those without ambition, and improved his financial situation so as to expand the facilities. I can assure you, I will definitely have a tight hand over the affairs of this center, though. Oh but how rude of me. I have neglected to introduce you to my mentor and future father-in-law, Justin Case.” Turning, he gestured to his companion, who had heard every word I just said.
Mr. Case stood there with a cynical smile etched onto his wrinkled white face; he extended his hand to shake mine and said, “I’m so glad you like working here. That was my main goal in opening these places, to help the unfortunate by providing them both medical services and jobs.”
I was speechless. Just as I had resolved to find the nearest sewage porthole to escape out, Natasha saved my life.
Walking out of the room, she moved between the two men. “I see you met my daddy and my hunk of a fiancé George. Perhaps we can continue the conversation in my office.” She beamed, placed her hand in his, and walked ahead of me. I stared at the nap of her lovely swan neck and sighed. My pin-up belonged to someone else. I felt the proverbial dagger cutting away at my heart.
The following morning, I was awake long before my antique Sponge-Bob Square Pant’s alarm clock went off. As I made my rounds at the center, picking up the supply list and inventorying the stockroom, one of the new courier-bots with the annoying electronic nasal voice summoned me to Mr. Bright’s office. Once I got there, I could tell by the dead expression on his face that we were not here for donuts and coffee. Oh, but a maple custard bar sounded delicious right now. He motioned for me to sit down; halfheartedly I did so.
He opened a manila folder and said, “Your file says that you’ve had three years of burn trauma care. Yet, I see you are not on the active duty list. Why is that?”
I looked at him, knowing that he knew the reason; this was clearly an attempt to humiliate me. Resignedly, I admitted, “I…I faint at the sight of blood.”
“But if you took three years of schooling, wasn’t there blood aplenty?”
“I trained in a virtual simulator; there was no real flesh and blood.” I mentally gagged; a second later I continued. “The smell, I never had to…”
“That is quite alright. In an effort to better accommodate our “special needs” personal, I have decided to transfer you to another facility where your medical experiences will be of more use. I noticed that the resume we had on file states that you worked in a botanical nursery during your college years. Therefore, I can assume you would have no aversion to working as a horticulturist…no blood, right?”
“No. I wouldn’t have any problem with that, I suppose.” I answered. I knew he wanted to fire me, but did not have the grounds. I was a prompt and perfect errand boy. However, I had an odd feeling that the next words that came out of his mouth were going to be bad.
“We’re in need of a first-rate horticulturist in our outpost facility JEMS-16.” He said, the sarcasm spread like rich butter in his voice.
JEMS-16, I cringed. The outpost was stationed out, way way out; about 17,000 miles from the nearest inhabited planet, in an area of the universe not so inaccurately called “Blind Man’s Bluff.” It was a small station, an eighth of the size of the Aurora Borealis where I was presently stationed. When I had left Earth aboard the shuttle five years ago, I had visions of going far; I just didn’t really envision it being that far. I forced a smile and responded, “Thank you sir. I’d be glad to help wherever needed.”
“Good man, Ill put in your papers for the transfer. You can leave Friday; I understand there is a freighter heading in that direction.”
I rose and left the room; as the door closed behind me, I pictured him for the first time in his life rolling on the floor in laughter.
Sarah Gastrick threw me a small going-away party in the lounge. I walked away with a plate of cupcakes and her pet lizard. I thought I had gotten the job because of the lizard; turns out Sarah just liked me. The following evening, before I climbed aboard the freighter, she met me at the docking bay to say goodbye. I was never more surprised when she suddenly wrapped her pudgy arms around my chest and mashed her heart-shaped lips against mine. My first kiss. It was kinda sticky. I guess I will miss her too.
Natasha never showed.