Setira clutched her mother’s hand while her father ran her to the clinic. If she held tight enough, it could drown out the agony in her leg. It thrubbed with her father’s every step, and she screamed harder. She squeezed her mother’s hand.
“Sh! We’re almost there.”
Long minutes of pain later, Setira opened her eyes in a bright, clean space. People sat on benches scattered around the open room.
“Bring her here!” An old woman in a smooth, white robe patted a white bed set into the back wall.
Kissing her hand, her father lowered her into place. Her mother squeezed her hand, kissed her, and let go.
“Lie back.” The woman in white pushed her back then straightened her leg.
She awoke in a new room, gasping for breath, her throat still raw from screaming. Her chest hurt. She bolted up. “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
Another old woman in white guided her back down. “You’re okay. Take some deep breaths. You’ll feel better in a half kilosecond or so.”
Setira studied the woman’s warm eyes.
The stranger leaned closer. “I’m Doctor Mila. I’m going to take care of you today. Can you tell me why your parents brought you?”
Setira pointed at her leg, and the doctor looked.
“Oh my, you got your pants all bloody. Let me roll them up and take a look at your leg.” Gingerly, she did just that, with Setira staring on in morbid fascination.
When she’d last seen her leg, something white had been ticking out through her skin. What would the doctor say? Would it surprise her?
When Dr. Mila tucked the fabric up, nothing remained but smooth skin and light bruises. Setira gasped.
Chuckling, the doctor rolled her stained pant leg back down. “Looks like it was just a broken leg. It’s all back together now. While you’re here, though, let’s check to see if anything else is wrong.”
She patted Sarah’s shoulder and crossed the room to stand at a control screen that showed an outline for a body with a blue outline of a break on its leg where hers had been. “Okay, sweetie, I’m going to run you through the other teleporter to see if anything else is wrong. When I say so, I want you to blow out as hard as you can and not breathe back in. Can you practice for me now?”
Seitra nodded. The doctor looked like a parent’s parent right before leaving for retirement; she was easy to trust. Setira blew out really hard.
“Good job! Now, breathe normally.”
She gulped down air.
“Okay, one more time.”
Setira blew so hard, the room winked out. She blinked. “What happened?”
“The teleporter took you away to scan your body then put you right back where you were.” Dr. Mila studied the screen, which now showed every feature Setira saw for herself, from her curly red pigtails to her newest freckles. Holding still on the screen, though, it didn’t quite look like her. “It looks like you have an incipient cardiac condition, um, a heart problem that isn’t affecting you yet. Let’s take care of it now.”
Setira shrugged. “What does that mean?”
“Nothing bad. I’m going to tell the computer how to fix you, and I’ll run you through the teleporter one more time. Then you’ll be all set to go home.” Dr. Mila tinkered with the screen a little while longer. Smiling at last, she looked up. “One last time: breathe out.”
Setira did, and the room winked, and she put her hand over her heart to feel the difference. Nothing seemed unusual.
“Sweetie, you won’t be able to tell. That’s the point: so you’re always as healthy as you are now.” She guided Setira to her feet like her mother’s mother had before she retired. “You’re all ready to go. Your parents are through that door and down the hall. Play safe from now on. Promise?”
Nodding once, Setira ran out.
This warm-up scene was the bridge between the original idea and the story of how Setira got involved with the Gertewet. Originally, I was seeking only to explore more about the Kemtewet health care for human colonies, but that quickly turned into a “kill all the characters!” story.