Chapter 9
The Good Doctor

28th of Thirdmoon, Saintclair 12
E27, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

Root woke up to find himself in a freestanding bunk rather than the foldup rack in his room. There were other bunks to his left and U-shaped curtain rods above him. This was Sickbay.
"Oh, 'e's awake," a woman's voice said.
It took Root a moment to recognize it as Ella. A middle-aged man dressed in a surgical gown and cap approached him, giving him a once-over before saying, "So he is, Miss Ella." He then told Root, "You're lucky just to be alive, Lieutenant. You're blessed by God above to still be in as good a shape as you are."
Scarlet hurried up to the doctor's side and said, "I was so worried, Rootie."
Ella stepped into view as well. Like the doctor, they were wearing surgical gowns and caps over their clothes.
The doctor glanced to his side and commented, "So you know my two new nurses, do you, Lieutenant?"
"Uh, yeah," Root said. "I know a lot of the people in town, just about everyone who signed on for this job."
Looking at Root over his glasses, the doctor said, "I won't ask if you knew them from their former line of work."
"I, ah, don't know what you're talking about."
The doctor smiled at his clumsy evasion.
"The less said, the better, Lieutenant. They do their job competently enough. That's good enough for me. Without them it would just be Master Gallo and myself, so I am grateful for their assistance."
"Doc's jes' terr'ble, Rootie," Scarlet whined. "Always goin' on 'bout Gaw an' forgiveness fer our dissolute lives."
So the doctor was one of that sort of people. Root didn't normally make much objection to a person having religion, but he thought it was something best kept in moderation.
"You know, Doc," Root said, "that's not the kinda thing that kinda lady wants to hear."
"Perhaps I do presume a little much, Lieutenant," the doctor admitted, "but if I must be disliked, let it be in the pursuit of saving souls."
"Stick to savin' lives for this world, Doc."
"I feel it is my duty to save people on both sides of death."
"Well, I suppose you know how to reattach a person's ear once you've talked it off," Root said wryly.
The doctor chuckled.
"Yes, yes, I suppose I can." He stepped closer to Root's bedside and offered his hand. "Medical Officer Filip Melanc at your service, Lieutenant."
Root accepted his hand and shook it, replying, "Lieutenant Rutger Maartens, but I guess you already knew that."
"Pleasantries ought to be exchanged all the same," Doctor Melanc said. "And now to the business at hand. You've been out for the past seven hours. Exhaustion. You also have mild frostbite on your face and extremities, but nothing that will cause permanent damage. You have some bruising on your ribs, so I'm going to advise against any strenuous activity for the next few weeks."
"I may not have a lot of choice on that count, Doc."
"I will see that Mr. Tofels is made aware of your condition."
Root could already see the result of that conversation.
"He probably won't like that," Root said. "I'd steer clear of him if I was you, Doc."
"I'm not so easily intimidated, Lieutenant," the Doctor replied firmly.
"He's the kinda guy that likes a challenge."
"Then I shall give him his fill."
Root couldn't help being impressed. Surely Doctor Melanc knew what bad news the Blackamoors were. Standing up to them was damn near suicidal, something Root knew all too well from personal experience.
"You don't lack for guts, Doc, I'll give ya that."
"And neither do you, it would seem, Lieutenant," Doctor Melanc replied. "There are few officers who lead from the front outside the storybooks."
"Just the ones who don't plan on living long enough to get their pension."
"The Lord Treasurer may think he's saving something by paying out a death gratuity instead of a pension, but our kingdom is better served by its best men remaining alive."
"I wouldn't call myself one the kingdom's best men," Root said.
"You're a good man at the very least," Doctor Melanc said, "and in times like these, good men are hard to find." He then picked up the clipboard hanging off the foot of Root's bunk and started scribbling on it, saying, "I would have you rest a few more hours and then you will be free to go. I will recommend light duty, but I fear I won't be heeded."
"Thanks, Doc."
Doctor Melanc then walked away, leaving Scarlet standing there. She looked at him for a while like she wanted to say something but couldn't find the words.
"D, d'ye need anythin', Rootie?" she asked, clumsily breaking the silence.
"No, I'll be fine," Root said. "Thanks."
Scarlet went quiet again for a moment, pensively kneading the front of her gown before speaking up again.
"Ye know, Rootie, if ye ever break it off wi' dollface, I'd take care a' ye. I could get outta the business. He might not be yers, but Wilde'd do good ta have ye fer his old man."
Root didn't know what to say. She'd never shown this side of herself before. She couldn't show vulnerability in her line of work and without her brassy confidence or makeup to mask the toll of the years, she just looked like an ordinary woman past her prime with the walls closing in around her. His protective instincts weren't stirred enough for him to seriously consider her offer, though, and that did make him feel a bit guilty.
Fortunately for him at least, Ella butted into the conversation and spared him the awkwardness of coming up with an answer.
She cackled and said dismissively, "Aw, that's talk fer a first-year gel, Scarlet. Ye should know better by now. Ye'd have better luck tryin' ta reel in one a' them stripers instead."
Scarlet blushed in embarrassment, angrily growling, "Oh, shut it, Ella."
She stalked off, leaving Root to himself. Honestly, until Scarlet brought her up, Root hadn't thought much about Trish ever since he left Berenice. He remembered the kiss she gave him, the feel of her lips on his, of her hands gripping the lapels of the jacket, but then the memory was interrupted by the golden eyes of Azuki Anju and the warmth that brought him back from the brink of death.
He shook his head and tried to push aside all the women in his life as he went back to sleep.