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The Last Nurse

Painted faces of clowns greeted Diane from the walls of the Labor and Pediatric Unit. She understood their frustration. They hadn't seen a new face for three months or a new baby in over a year. The cartoon visages had welcomed Diane's own children into the world and now the giant smiles and dinner plate eyes couldn't hide their boredom and disappointment. Ultrasound machines and speculums sat perfectly organized, covered in a fine layer of dust. The ghostly fog was thin here, as if they knew this place tipped the scales of existence against their favor.

With a chair in hand she walked over to the row of windows on the eastern wall. The latches were soldered and the creases painted over, an egress never meant to be opened. The chair passing through the window created a shower of tiny gems whose drops landed with a sparkling twinkled crunch. The late afternoon breeze spread warm kisses across her shoulders.

The fog played with the curls of Diane's hair as she waved her hand over the biometric scanner. It read the heat of her hand and the medication alcove went dark. Every drug was accounted for. No one else worked in the building, making the narcotic count more force of habit than loss prevention. She was fairly sure the vials of morphine and pills of dilaudid had expired months ago anyway. Fresh prescriptions were hard to come by.

The rollout of commercially available medical nanobots had bankrupted most of the pharmaceutical companies. Those that had the means converted their empires to manufacturing microscopic circuitry or writing the software to run it. A visit to the doctor had become little more than a diagnostic run down and an injection of highly specialized bots. The scope was simple, repair something good or destroy something bad. Innovation had reduced humanity's medical knowledge to a series of if/then commands.

Her lonely footsteps rang hollow through the internal medicine corridor where she had gotten her start as a bright eyed nursing student. In school she was taught that technology was going to change the face of medicine. They were referring to ultra-sensitive specimen testing, electronic medical records, and laparoscopic surgery. Her instructors could have never imagined a world where doctors knew more about nano-coding than disease processes. Diane wondered if some of those old teachers made up the supernatural mire that filled the wards.

Small shards of glass wedged themselves into the bottom of her heels as she paced the halls. At first she was breaking every other window she came to, but her pattern had become chaotic. Her old arms were getting tired and it was almost time for her shift to end. A howl sounded through the halls as she set the chair down. She couldn't tell if it was in opposition to her releasing the chair, or applause for what she had done with it. 

She pulled the last notice off the cork board, "Last one out - discharge the stragglers" and grabbed her worn pack off the table. The familiar clank of little bottles and the sweet scent of their oils perked her senses. She used to rub lavender on patients to help them sleep, chamomile to calm their nerves, or patchouli on her own wrists to remind herself of younger, better days. She had debated sprinkling rosemary through her office space to keep the spirits at bay, but disembodied company was better than no company.

Rows of beds with perfectly mitered corners acted as cadets saluting a General as she made her way down the hallway. Her wrinkled finger tapped the button to activate the sign out function of the time clock. With a swipe of her badge the machine's little electronic voice sprang to life. "Goodnight Diane your next scheduled shift is…" an hour glass popped up on the screen and Diane knowingly smiled to herself. "System Error 7824 no future assignments found, please contact your system administrator." It was comforting to know that even today's all powerful technology had trouble finding what it was looking for. She slipped the badge into her pocket, a memento of a different world.

As Diane opened the front doors, the cloud of spirits inched past the threshold. Looking up at the building behind her, a thin steam spiraled from the broken windows. Locking the doors, she wondered if Florence Nightingale was looking down at her. She imagined The Lady with the Lamp wiping a tear from her cheek as the final piece of her legacy, the last nurse, walked away for the last time.

About the Author
William Gilmer William Gilmer is a writer and poet with a penchant (attention span) for short form and abstract styles. He lives in Michigan with his lovingly acquired family, obligatory cat, and odd curios. Available or forthcoming works in Transmundane Press' "After the Happily Ever After" anthology, 200ccs, Firefly Magazine, and Speculative 66. You can follow his tweets at @willwritethings.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link