The Long Summer

Originally published on Medium 10/14/16.

There had been a human sound somewhere, staccato, sharp and slight as a scalpel. The blue lights pulsing at the nurse’s temples slowed. The nurse was programmed to pay attention to anything human; the workings of the other nurses and the wind’s brshh, brsshh was mere white noise. Silky metallic fingers brushed Mr. René’s skin as the nurse continued to listen. Nothing. The ambient glow increased and the blue lights paused completely as the nurse slowly reviewed its records.

Name: Martin René.

Birth date: March 31st, 2064.

Blood type: O+.

Diseases: none. Allergies: none. Biomodifications: René gene complex®, complete X-Skin® dermal transplants. Miscellaneous notes: favorite movies are Jurassic Park, Gattaca; he prefers fruit cocktail to applesauce.

“Good morning, Mr. René. It is…” — the nurse searched flash-frozen cells — “Monday, June 17th, 2102.”

The bag of M-Electro®, taken from its dust bed, was below the 50% mark and needed to be refilled. A rusty syringe replaced one of the nurse’s fingers. The needle’s tip rose, glinting in the half-light, as the nurse searched for and then jabbed the needle into a blue vein in its throat, one line amongst a dozen dusty gray threads. After filling the syringe, the nurse injected its blood into the M-Electro® bag. Blue shot through the clear liquid and then dispersed, melting into transparency as the nurse’s blood went to work.

50%. 50%. 51%. 51%. 52%.

A downpour of plaster and rusted metal threw up a small mushroom cloud of red and white dust, exposing cracked linoleum. The nurse looked up, joints creaking. The glow was stronger. The nurse carefully picked up Mr. René to bring him to safety, but a wall stopped its efforts. Blue lights raced. UV was not good for biological cells.

The nurse gently placed him back into the dust and crossed Mr. René’s right arm and leg — which were beginning to turn boiled red — across his body to keep it in the shade. Fingers caressed the burnt skin, giving electrical commands to the X-Skin®. Repair cells. Protect cells. This done, the nurse patted its head, face. Its lips, ears, cheeks had been the first to go. Mr. René’s lower body had long ago incorporated the long jelly-like strips of X-Skin® the nurse had peeled from its toes to its groin. There was a small square between its shoulder blades. Off it came, and the nurse injected another syringe full of blue blood into the square. Another electrical command: make more.

The wind, fed by virulent glow and heat, created a small room of silence around the two. Check the production of M-Electro® (move it into the shade). Check the replacement skin. The nurse’s fingers stroked Mr. René’s skin. Command cells to repair. Command cells to protect. The nurse moved through these patterns of care slowly. Protecting Mr. René was the first objective. It had done well, taking supplies from the hospital store during that first 48-hour period of searing daylight, when sirens and human sounds had been the white noise, not the wind. Carrying Mr. René to this nook under crumbling wall and precarious roof. Giving of itself, skin and blood, past aesthetics, past necessities, working within an ever-smaller pool of energy and resources. It calculated the barest minimum of energy to use on itself so that it could continue caring for Mr. René.

At 2:50 pm, the nurse placed all of its digits on Mr. René’s chest. The blue lights flashed: one, two, three. Energy coursed through its body, its fingers, to shock Mr. René’s heart. 3:00 pm. One, two, three. 3:20 pm. One, two, three. 3:30 pm. One two…Mr. René jumped. The nurse’s fingers rested against scar-smoothed skin. The joints creaked softly, bent slightly and then straightened, as Mr. René’s chest rose.

Blue lights blazing, the nurse’s fingers seemed to work independently as it commanded the cells within. Rush to Mr. René’s heart, Mr. René’s lungs. Keep it beating. Keep them moving.

“Welcome back…Mr. René. It is June 17th…”

Mr. René’s mouth cracked open, dust, skin flaking from his lips. A human sound rushed past shredded, dried vocal cords. Staccato, sharp and slight. A choked scream.

Blue lights slowed. Stopped. Fingers brushed the spot above Mr. René’s heart.

The chest was still. Mr. René had died.

The nurse’s temples went dark.

June 17th, 2102. June 12th, 2017. June 17th, 2012. Now June 17th, 2102. Data points awaiting analysis.

One by one the blue lights at the nurse’s temples reappeared. Hesitantly, sluggishly, the blue lights reached the steady monotonous pulse. Check M-Electro®. Check skin. Hold Mr. René close. Command cells: repair, protect. Withdraw more blood.

The wind softened and for a moment the nurse registered a separate aspect of the white noise.

“W-welcome back, Mrs. Elias…”

“Ms. Smith, it is June 17th…”

“Good m-morning, Mr. Donaldson…welcome back.”