Rory drops Lilly and Imogen off at the clinic, a few miles outside of town. “All right, cowboys, I gotta get out of here. You have a good time. I hope everything works out with your clinic and your, uh, ‘pipeline’ issues. Okay, gotta go.” With a roar, the vulture bike spins and heads back toward the city. The FRAWD agents turn around and see that the small sign outside the clinic reads, “Our Lady of Perpetual Agony.” The one-story building is reasonably sized, no bigger than a respectable house. Lilly thinks Imogen seems like she has a plan, so she nods her companion forward, and they walk through the large open doorway.
Imogen looks around curiously. As far as fulfilling her Dominion job, all she needs to do is acquire evidence that all the vespene gas is being used legitimately. If none is being stolen and this clinic just has a high demand, then that will be the report she and Lilly submit to Jefferson Duke. But what is the clinic using so much gas for, and why has the usage recently increased? She wonders if they are producing a chemical from it for the medical treatments here. Maybe they are making something safer than terrazine that can have the catalytic effect she seeks.
A young black woman sits at a desk in the main hall. “Would you be Mary, then?” Imogen asks.
The desk attendant looks up. “Oh, no, St. Maria is further back, working with our patients. Do you have an appointment? Are you gravely injured? Do you need medical attention?”
“We’re interested in the good works you do here,” Imogen claims. “Particularly the experimental treatments you have here. Umoja is a way more advanced world than any in the Dominion, and we don’t have any healing techniques based on vespene gas, so this is very intriguing. I’d like to learn more about this place.”
The receptionist replies, “I don’t know anything about vespene, but St. Maria is very good at helping people recover. And not just from zerg attacks or other forms of physical damage. She also makes sure they get well mentally and spiritually. She really cares for her patients. She herself used to be a combat medic, but she retired from that life. Since then she’s been doing her great work out here in the wastes. Let me ring her up. Did you say you were reporters? Researchers?”
“Researchers,” Imogen confirms. “And why are you so far out from the town?”
“I’m not sure myself, but St. Maria can certainly tell you that. It might just be where she could find a building available.” She buzzes the internal intercom, announcing to St. Maria the presence of researchers interested in learning about her techniques. While they wait, in response to further questions from Imogen, the receptionist tells her and Lilly that she herself lives in the city and commutes to the clinic with some of the other workers. So far they have not had any zerg trouble along their daily route.
St. Maria, an older Hispanic woman clad in a well-worn lab coat with old Confederate insignia, enters the room. She looks to be in her sixties, with long, straight gray hair giving her a grandmotherly appearance. She welcomes Lilly and Imogen into the clinic proper to show them her “specialized techniques.” They are nothing like what Imogen was expecting.
The clinic has rows of beds set up along the sides of a large room. The patients are all in various levels of bandaging, some with legs up traction, some with both arms in casts or a limb missing. Imogen asks if all the injuries are from zerg attacks, and Maria breezily agrees that is the case for some of the injuries, but some are just “other wounds.” She tells them that it is a rough world and her patients need a lot of healing.
The patients are all men, and when one catcalls at the women, Lilly stares him down with a growl. Maria steps over to him with a pleasant, “There, there, why don’t you just take a nice easy rest,” and snaps his arm.
Imogen is shocked by Maria’s treatment methods. “She… she just broke his arm!” she sputters to her companion.
Maria rejoins her guests. “As I said, some of these wounds are from other things. It is important to send the appropriate form of reinforcement.” The patient screams in the background.
Lilly privately wonders whether this place is involved in resocialization.
“Now, did you have any specific questions about our special techniques here?” Maria asks.
“Aye….” Imogen draws out the word, still trying to come to terms with what she is witnessing. “Some more questions than I thought I had.”
Maria leads them back into her office and asks what kind of research they are involved in. Imogen replies, “Actually, vespene gas. We heard that your clinic is innovative in its techniques and that it consumes a bunch of gas. And so we were wondering if you were incorporating that into some of your works, or if it is just powering your facility.”
Maria shows off an old medic mech suit with Confederate markings, which she refers to as auto-suture equipment. It consumes vespene for fuel and is capable of stitching up wounds at a distance. She talks some about the inaccuracy of the suit, and how sometimes it is necessary to repeatedly suture wounds, but then she returns to the topic of most interest to her. “What we really strive to do is to correct behaviors here. These folks here have suffered so much that we need to put them back together. Sometimes you have to break a few bones in the process.”
“Did they suffer so much before they got here, or after?” Imogen asks, baffled by what she is hearing.
“Well, the treatment does take a while to be effective, but we have had a few successes. A few of the nice young men here have been able to be fully well again and return to town. But some of them have unfortunately not made it. It is very unfortunate.”
Lilly lets Imogen run the conversation, keeping a general lookout for any trouble. She hovers in the doorway of the office, periodically looking back into the large treatment hall. Through a window at the far end, she notices a small puff of green gas off in the distance. The pipeline was very sturdy the whole way here without any obvious leaks, but it appears there might be one a little further on. She thinks this needs investigating.
Imogen decides to leave the topic of treatment alone and returns to what she cares about. So far, the medic suit is the only major piece of equipment they have seen. If it is a new acquisition, that could explain the recent increase in vespene usage. She asks about it, and Maria says she retained it from her time in the service. “I was a Confederate combat medic for many years until command made the decision that it was cheaper to train new marines than to extend their lives out in the field. I don’t know if that is still true today, but they decided the best course of action was to pull all the medics from the front line back into clinics similar to this one… at least in layout.”
Maria has been running her clinic here for a few years. She likes doing her good work out in the waste because the isolation helps the patients; the town has too many distractions, like drinking to excess, gambling, and other activities absurd in Maria’s opinion. In response to Imogen’s question about whether patients are self-admitted, Maria explains, “Most of them are submitted by the Dominion. Many are recent immigrants from New Folsom.”
Immigrants? Imogen marvels. She has heard of New Folsom; it is a prison planet run by the Dominion. “Have you gotten a bunch of new pri—patients recently?”
“Oh, no. In fact just a month ago we fully treated one of our fellows. He had some quite dangerous tendencies. But I believe he is… he’s stable enough now. We did everything we could for him, so we discharged him. I don’t know if he went back to town. He said he was going on a crusade in the wastes.”
Yeah, that definitely sounds like he was better, Lilly thinks.
The clinic does not have more patients than before or new equipment. As far as Imogen can tell—and she is no engineer—there is only standard technology here. She asks about the operating expenses of the clinic, trying to determine why so much vespene is being used.
Maria’s eyes widen as she concludes that her visitors are undercover collection agents, not researchers. “If this is about a late payment, I assure you we can work around it. If you can get the Dominion to send us more patients, it would be very easy for us to make good on our last bill. I’m sure we can work something out.”
Aye, I can work with this, Imogen thinks, but what she says is, “The manner of the arrangement we can work out depends on whether you think you’re going to keep consuming such large amounts of gas. What have you got going on here that you need all this vespene for, anyway? You were doing so well up until this recent spike. You were paying your bills on time and everything.”
“I don’t know!” Maria insists. “I’m not a utilities expert. I don’t know what happened to the vespene. If you want to check the meter, go ahead. Maybe something is wrong with it.”
Imogen is not sure if Maria is being forthright or if she is hiding something, but she has given them permission to look around, and that is a win. “Aye,” Imogen tells Maria, “we will certainly look around and check the meter. And we will let the right people know about your situation.”
Maria nods. “If we can just get some more patients, we can let our process of healing continue.” There is another scream from the treatment hall. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go deal with this patient.” With a friendly smile, Maria brushes past Lilly and over to a raving marine who seems to be caught up in a flashback.
Lilly steps up to Imogen and speaks quietly, nodding her head toward the window at the end of the hall. “Out there I saw a puff of green gas. I don’t know if they’ve got a leak or what…”
“Well, we’ve got license to check out the area, so let’s go take a look.”
“I’m okay if we don’t.”
Imogen thinks back to their conversation about jobs last night. “I’d still like to get a paycheck from FRAWD.”
“Oh, no,” Lilly clarifies. “I meant, I’m okay if we don’t have license to check.”