Welcome to Valentine

“Aren’t we a sight?” Dorian thought as the mule sputtered and coughed its’ way into the gleaming heart of the metropolis. All around them was the modern wonder of a core city…a shining example of Alliance expansion. Personal shuttles and transit carriers glided over their heads past gigantic viewscreens and living advertisements affixed to glossy, cloud scraping towers.

In fact, the rusty yellow mule with its’ stake sided trailer and caked on dust from Ezra seemed just about as much out of place here as Vas’ mohawk, which stood proudly in the breeze of their passing. They were garnering their share of stares, mainly from the well dressed sorts who felt compelled to scatter out of their way as the punk and his passenger appeared to take no mind.

Locating the hospital was no challenge; even one who’d never seen this city before would only need follow the glowing red crosses and arrows. That is, if one could avoid gaping at the never ending parade of high toned shops and markets along the way. Jacy shall have a field day, the medic thought of the clothiers and jewelers’ establishments they passed.

Though Dorian took a dim view of the larger cities and the central planets in general, he professed his own hypocrisy when it came to the amenities they could offer. One such establishment, Cornwallis’ Rare Books, would be on his own list for this visit, time permitting. The bookshop was that perfect blend of dust and tight confines, jammed to the ceiling with ancient volumes from Earth-That-Was. Their recorded music library was also a fine source, with copies lifted right from the very disks of a time long, long ago. Another benefit was the bookshop’s location, situated right in the middle of a rather bohemian stretch of town, containing bars, tattoo parlors, and all make and manner of transgression. Padileen’s All Night Diner and Bawdy House was a longtime favorite.

Too soon, the stark white behemoth known as Valentine Central Medical Complex swam into view. “Ovah there,” he directed Vas’ steering. “Emergency.” The mule rattled to a halt before a large pair of sliding glass doors. Vas helped Dorian to his feet, and onto the curb, train case in hand. “This planet’s expensive,” the medic advised the punk. “Tell Riley tah split mah share ‘tween you and tha nun. Ah’ll see yah when Ah see yah.” After a handshake, he made his way into the hospital.

No matter how crisply modern or threadbare and ancient, hospital ER waiting rooms were always cornucopias of human misery. Everywhere, people huddled in the uncomfortable chairs. A baby cried loudly, punctuated by coughing fits from a few other would be patients. An old man cradled an obviously fractured arm as his wife grew impatient with the wait. Bandages, blood, vomit, urine. “A lot like tha boat,” Dorian thought as he moved slowly toward the receiving desk.

The young clerk was surprisingly upbeat. “Ooh,” he exclaimed at sight of Dorian’s dressings. “What happened?”

“Field surgery,” he replied. “Aboard a boat in tha black.”

“Well,” the agent said as he brought up a fresh form onscreen, “let’s get you into the system. Your name?”

Dorian fished for his coin purse. “Adler. Dr. Dorian Adler,” he replied as his ident card traded hands.

“Thank you.” As the card scanned, the screen glowed with alerts. “Dr. Adler,” the young man’s eyes covered the notations as he spoke, “looks like we’re expecting you…excuse me one moment.”

They’re expecting me? he wondered, as his sole eye took in the surroundings. Three entrances, including the main doorway. Fields of fire are atrocious, filled with innocents who’d likely panic and rush about…a good distraction…a single shot into the air would get ‘em all going, which might permit a moment’s stealthy egress…

“This is ER Receiving,” the clerk said aloud. “One of your patients just checked in…Adler, Dorian….yes, that’s right…..no, he just walked in….bandages over the right eye and temple…no, we didn’t get any further. I called you as soon as his ident cleared. Alright…okay…I’ll let him know. Thanks.” The young clerk glanced up from his screen. “Dr. Adler, our trauma surgery department has been on standby for your arrival.”

“Now, how in tha..,” he started to ask.

“You’re checked in. They’re sending an orderly with a wheelchair for you right now. Shouldn’t be more than five minutes. Can I help you find a seat?”

“No,” Dorian replied. “Thank yah.” His injuries were four days old, inflicted on a backwater planet of the outer rim. How in blazes would this hospital have any forewarning of his arrival?
Riley? he pondered. She wasn’t one to broadcast their flight plan. As he settled into a chair, Dorian felt a distinct unease nibbling at his thoughts.

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