As the door slid open, Desolas wished fervently that the voices belonged to the plumbers.

They did not.

The man wore white and blue and black. The symbol on his cowl matched the one on the skycar downstairs. He was kneeling, and he had his back to Desolas. He had a tiny vial between his talons. A complex-looking machine sat on the ground nearby.

The woman wore the same colours, but her face was bare. In one hand she held what appeared to be a thermometer, and in the other, Saren’s wrist. 

“You’re a precocious thing, but you should listen to her,” the man said. “Patience is key, remember.”

“The recommended exercises are all on the handbook,” the woman said gently, pocketing her instrument so she could clasp Saren’s hand in both her own. The scales on her right thumb were a different colour from the rest. “I’ve updated the community caretakers and systems with your new access level. Be a good soldier. Don’t make me revoke it.” She winked.

“I won’t.” Saren hesitated, and slowly winked back.

The door started to close. Desolas kicked it, forcing it to retract properly. All three people in the room turned to him.

“Who are you?” He asked, though he knew the answer. 

The man tapped a shiny card on his chest. “I’m Dr. Triden from C5 Arcology General Hospital, and this is–”

“I know, but you’re early.” His mandibles clacked.

The man and woman looked at each other. “Yes, traffic was light today,” the doctor said.

“We’ll be out of your fringe in just a moment.” The officer activated her omni-tool and began to type. She must have had implants that let her use the haptic interface without gloves. Saren was staring at her fingers, as if trying to see where the incisions had been made. For a moment, Desolas also tried to find them, tilting his head to see past the broad-shouldered doctor. He pulled back quickly. It was a standard procedure. He could look it up on the extranet, later.

The doctor hummed as he packed up his machine, secreting the vial somewhere deep in its innards. He folded up a stool he had been ignoring, and gestured for the officer’s seat. She passed it to him by the handle, sliding to a crouch in a single fluid motion, still engrossed in her screen. Saren tried to sneak a peek. The officer raised an exaggerated brow, and he shrank back.

When the doctor stood to clip the stools to an aluminum frame, he paused. The single beam of sunlight seemed to ignite the sterile white plastic in his hands. He turned to Desolas, squinting, and asked: “Why don’t you come in, then?”

Desolas kicked the door again, smiling apologetically — or so he hoped. “I’m fine holding the door. Don’t rush on my behalf.”

It took both people to lift the machine in its cradle. He could almost see the nylon rope emerging from the padded handles stretch and fray, melting in the afternoon heat of late spring. As the doctor passed by, he transferred the weight to one hand and tapped the sigil on Desolas’s shoulder. “Five bars already? The future’s looking bright.”

“Yes,” he answered stiffly, caught unawares. “Seems that way.”

“The legions will be glad to have you, especially out there near the Traverse. See if you can sign on to one. Standards are high, but they won’t say no. You’ll both make great contributions to the Hierarchy.” The doctor patted the machine. “I have it on good authority.”

“What he means,” the officer said as she followed him out, “is to not worry. The Cabals can be generous with opportunities.”

“Thank you,” he said, and locked the door behind them. He dropped his shopping bag on the ground. 

Saren spun on his toes, staring at the shrink-wrapped sausages rolling across the floor, his tiny mandibles pinched to his jaw. “I can’t come over. I’m not supposed to move too much for the next eight minutes.”

“Yeah,” Desolas sighed, shoving his jacket into the locker. This time last year, Saren hadn’t even been able to reach the kitchen counter. “Ok.”

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