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Not So Novel: Profession (NN Episode 5)

[continued from episode 4]

As he reached the training area, Nightingale came out of his reverie.  He had received his codename only 4 years ago, but so many things had happened since that time.  It had taken him some time to heal, but just a month after his release from the infirmary he had been challenged to a duel.  The guy had been huge and quite confident he could take Nightingale down quickly.  Nightingale smiled grimly.  He had learned from his previous duel, and though he didn’t employ the same methods the previous Nightingale had, this time he had been the one laying the trap.  The other student had rushed in…and died very quickly.

Nightingale hadn’t quite broken the record that time for the shortest duel ever, but he had come close.  And though what happened in the Dueling Hall was supposed to stay confidential, some details invariably leaked out.  Of course he didn’t receive any slaps on the back or hearty congratulations from the other students, but what he had gotten was the occasional slight nod of the head.  Respect.  He hadn’t just proved that he could get a codename, he had proved that he could keep it.

That respect bought him time to train, and when the next student challenged him he did break the record.  After that no one stepped up to challenge him again.   From the rumors he had heard, if someone thought they could beat him they also believed they could go for one of the top 4 spots, so….   But the other students had been confounded; why didn’t he go for one of the top spots himself?  Nightingale shook his head.  They hadn’t understood.  Being “the best” wasn’t his goal.

So he had graduated 5th in his class, right where he had wanted to be.  Then the missions had started.  He closed his eyes for a moment as he remembered.  Things had gone well for the next 3 years, but then…..  He sighed.  Nothing he could do about it….yet.  He had to get his hands on those test results before they were deleted.  For now, though, training.  He could train, focus, and get his mind straight.  He approached the head trainer.

“So, what’s on the agenda today, sir?  Climbing?  Balance?  Stealth?”

The head trainer looked up.  “For you?  Nothing.”

Nightingale blinked.  “What?  What do you mean, nothing?!  Sir.”

“I meant exactly what I said.  Orders from Naginata herself.”  The head trainer pulled out his iPhone, flipped through a couple of screens, and showed Nightingale an email.  It was depressingly short:

“Nightingale is not to be allowed access to the training areas, nor is he to receive personal training, until such time as he has been deemed fit by myself or a duly appointed member of my staff.

Find something for him to do.

Naginata”

Nightingale gaped.  No training!  “But that… that…. that can’t be right!  I’m an operative!  I have to be allowed access to the training area if I’m going to stay in top shape for missions!  Sir.”

The head trainer listened with his head on one side to Nightingale’s feeble excuses, then said, “Look, kid, I really don’t care what you think.  If you are feeling suicidal, feel free to take this issue up with Naginata.  Hell, I’ll even take you to her office myself!  But until she says you can, you aren’t training, period.  And don’t you think that you can go to another trainer and ask for their help; I’ve told them all about this already.  You understand?”

Nightingale nodded glumly.  “Yes, sir.”

The head trainer glared at him for a minute, then he started tapping on his iPhone.  “Good.  Now Naginata did say to find you something to do.  There are a number of jobs around The School you can do with little-to-no training.  I can assign you to any of them.  So what do you want?”

Nightingale listened with growing dismay as the head trainer read out the options.  Be an “assistant” for the administrative staff in the headquarters building.  Not a chance.  While it sounded interesting to work in HQ, he had heard from his friends how the “junior staff” were treated.  Personal assistant for a couple of the more unpleasant higher-ups didn’t sound any better.  Library assistant?  No way.  He liked books and reading, but he didn’t want to have to deal with the looks his fellow operatives would give him if they came in to do research for a mission.  Work as a assistant in food hall?  Ugh.  Trash and recycling collector?  No.

The next one, however, caught his attention.  “Infirmary assistant?”

The head trainer tapped the screen.  “Yep.  Wasn’t sure you’d want to do it.   It says here that you wouldn’t be allowed to interact with the patients or touch any of the medical equipment.  More than likely you’d be doing janitorial stuff.  Your rank will mean next-to-nothing there.  You sure you’re interested?  There are better jobs to be had.  I suppose I could even find something for you to do here.  There’s always equipment to clean.”

But what the infirmary job did have, Nightingale thought, was access to the infirmary itself.  Which means potential access to the test results…..  “I’ll take it.  Sir.”

The head trainer shrugged, spent a few moments entering things into his iPhone, then told him to be on his way.  He was to report within 15 minutes to the central security office to get set up on the infirmary’s security system.  After that he was to report to chief orderly Kadota for assignment.

Nightingale walked out of the training area, and then ran to the dormitory.  If he moved quickly he knew that he could grab a couple choice items from his room.  Normally all equipment had to stay in their respective areas; The School did not want any individual to take certain matters (such as rank advancement) into their own hands.  However Nightingale, just like several others he knew, kept a couple….tools…..hidden away in his room for private training and……protection.  He strongly suspected that The School knew about these transgressions but let them slide, as long as those involved brought no attention to themselves.  He reached his room, found what he was looking for, carefully concealed the items beneath his clothes, and then ran for the central security office.

His visit at the security office was brief.  His new “job” required only the most basic level of security, since he wasn’t going to be allowed into any of the labs or administrative areas.  That meant keycard access only, whereas all of the labs and administrative areas required additional handprint and retinal scanning.  He frowned as he left the security office.  He knew wherever the test results were stored, it would be somewhere needing more than just keycard access.

He frowned.  There was nothing he could do, though.  He had his assignment.  He found the staff entrance to the infirmary, used his new keycard, and went inside.  Chief Kadota was pretty easy to find: Kadota was waiting for him.

“Took your time, didn’t ya?”  Kadota sneered.  “Well, operative, I have quite the mission for you today.  We don’t get to play on the jungle gym and go galavanting everywhere.  We work for a living!  And as it turns out, we are up to our asses in dirty sheets, clothes, bandages, bedpans, and you name it!  Taro!  Get over here!”   The last part was said to a passing woman who hurried over at the shout.

“Yessir!”

“Take our new helper down to the laundry area….for a start.  Then he can move on to the cleaning rooms.”  Kadota’s eyes gleamed maliciously.

“Yessir!”  The woman grabbed Nightingale’s arm and dragged him away at high speed, but once they rounded a corner she let him go and slowed to a walk.  She grimaced.  “Fucking prick.”

“What’s his problem?”  Nightingale asked.

“Oh, you mean beyond his loving personality?”  She rolled her eyes.  “He never had the courage to go for operative several years ago.  He apparently ‘got sick’ right before his ‘big chance’, and then the class graduated. He ended up here, and somehow the bastard worked his way up to chief.  Nobody likes likes him, but he had been here too long not to get some kind of promotion.  We do what he says because we have to, and we jump when he calls because it’s not worth hearing the lecture if we don’t, but….”  She shook her head.

Nightingale winced in sympathy.

She looked over at him.  “Well, I’m sorry.  I really am.  It’s not often that he gets to pick on a operative.  You guys are generally out of our jurisdiction, other than when you have to be patched up.  And even then….  But like I said, I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

They reached a door marked Laundry.  “Because of this.”  She pushed open the door.  The smell was overwhelming.  Nightingale’s stomach churned, threatening to bring his breakfast back up.  “You see,” she said, “it’s like this.  Yeah, normal dirty laundry doesn’t smell all that nice, I’ll grant.  But this stuff is covered by every kind of bodily fluid you can think of.  All of the various infirmary areas send their dirty linens here.”  She pointed to a rack of machines.  “Those machines will do all the actual work.  You?  You get to suit up in protective gear and help Taro out.”  A man in what looked like a radioactive suit waved at him.  “You will be moving the laundry from one machine to another.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours.  See ya.”  She turned and left.

Taro walked over and pointed to the far wall where a couple more protective suits hung.  Nightingale asked him, “So what did you do?”  Taro shook his head and slowly mouthed the words, “Don’t talk”.  Nightingale soon got the point.  The smell was bad enough going through the nose; it was even worse going through the mouth.  Nightingale could already feel his taste buds shutting down in self defense.

The work was nonstop.  The lady Taro had been right: the machines did most of the work.  But the laundry had to be swapped between machines a few times before it was considered sanitized, which meant carrying it by hand from one giant machine to another.  After the final machine, the laundry had to be sorted, folded, and stacked.  And there didn’t seem to be an end to it!  As soon as it seemed like the piles were getting smaller, another infirmary staff member would roll another cartload in.  After two hours of this Nightingale started watching the clock.  After three hours he practically stared at it.  After four he glared.  Finally the lady Taro returned.

“Did you enjoy?”  She laughed at his expression.  “OK, no, I expected that.  Let’s get something to eat.”

As they walked down the hall chatting Nightingale’s thoughts turned to his task.  He had to find some way…..  Wait, who was that?  Yes!  Walking down the hall towards them was none other than “Taro 1” from this morning.  Nightingale turned to the woman he had started to think of as Lady Taro.  “Do you mind if I just meet you there?  I can see the signs pointing the way to the cafeteria, and I think I left something back in the laundry room.”

“You probably should just forget about it given that smell, but whatever.  Sure.  I’ll see you there.”  Lady Taro walked on.  Nightingale walked back the way they came for a couple of steps, then stopped and stepped into a doorway.  He slid his hands into his clothes, and when the hand came back out it was holding a dagger.  As Taro 1 walked by, Nightingale grabbed him from behind and pulled him into a headlock, dragging him back into the room.  Nightingale placed the dagger carefully against the man’s throat.

Nightingale altered his voice slightly and whispered, “Now, why don’t you be a good Taro and help me out.”

Taro 1 started babbling.  “Now wait, I’m just a lab technician.  I don’t know anything!  I don’t have any rank!  I can’t help you out!  Who are you?”

Nightingale sighed.  It was so much easier out in the field.  “Now you know I’m not going to answer that last question.  As for the others, what you do have is access.  That is what I need.  In particular you have access to some test results that happened earlier today.”

Taro 1 gulped. “What test results?  I don’t know about any test results.”

Nightingale tightened his grip, but as he was about to speak a voice called out, “What the hell is going on here?”  Damn.  Kadota.

Kadota strode into the room.  Nightingale shifted his grip on the dagger.  It would have to be done quickly and at the proper angle.  Couldn’t have him scream.  He pulled Taro 1 further back into the darkness of the room.  As Kadota turned, cursing about finding the light switch, Nightingale deftly knocked Taro 1 out with the dagger’s hilt.  He started to move towards Kadota….the world went dark.

……

……

……

Nightingale’s eyes popped open.  Shit!  Not again!  He sprang up and looked around.  What?  He was still in the dark room next to Taro 1.  He wasn’t expecting that.  So where did Kadota go….?  There!  Nightingale moved stealthily towards Kadota, but once he got closer he saw that he needn’t have bothered.  Kadota wasn’t going anywhere: Kadota was dead.  Very clearly dead.  Nobody could still be alive with their throat cut open like that.  But something was on Kadota’s chest.  Nightingale bent down.  It looked like a file folder and….a flower?  He picked them up. The flower turned out to be a chrysanthemum. The folder?  A label attached to the folder identified it.

It said: “Test results for subject:  Nightingale”.

[to be continued]

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Sara | December 8, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Comments–more of same. :) Now someone is pretty obviously helping him, someone who likes leaving flowers lying about and has or can get access to the test results. Interesting. The laundry stuff in and of itself is not that enthralling, but that’s sort of the point of it, and I feel like you did a pretty good job getting the ickiness of it across without letting it drag down the whole episode. It doesn’t feel like 2000+ words, it moved pretty quickly.

    So… When were you going to write the next one? :)

  2. Jen | December 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Ah, more intrigue! The pacing is better in this episode. When you get the story completed, it might be worth going back over it to see how much of the backstory is absolutely required, whether to reveal crucial plot-related information or provide context for your characters’ behaviors and attiudes.

    Looking forward to the next episode.

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