Chapter 10: The High and Mighty
It was another three days before anyone disturbed the clinic.
In that time, Martin had started delving into the backrooms and storages of the clinic, its facilities and its tools. He had for the most part stayed out of the drawers underneath Sun's desk, out of respect for the man's privacy as much that he simply did not care to rummage through personal belongings, whatever they might be.
The chemistry table, as the letters on its faded, white-painted side proclaimed it to be, was a strange enough contraption that he had to stop and ponder when it finally came uncovered. A series of glass pitchers and bottles and vials were arranged as if ready for use, though the dust-coating betrayed they had not been recently used. It had led him to wonder if perhaps Sun distrusted his own skills in alchemy - these people called it chemistry, he suspected for the lack of the arcane - and instead sourced his medicine from elsewhere. Where then, he wondered. Diamond City was already the largest settlement in the Commonwealth, and no-doubt the most technologically advanced at that. Neither Piper nor Clements had been able to tell him where the medicine actually came from, only that the mayor's office provided for all basic necessities.
He had contemplated, briefly, if it would be worth the bother to inquire directly with the town's leadership. The idea was dismissed almost as soon as it arose, for the sheer amount of complications it likely would entail. The mayor, to his knowledge, was not yet aware of, or at least bothered by his temporary takeover of the clinic.
Piper had been good on her word, though no great surprise there, and had within the day produced a paper for him. Not much larger than a spread-out book, she'd personally plastered it on the wall next to the Dugout's main entrance. He personally wasn't yet sure if she'd had the permission or even knowledge of Vadim or Yefim when doing it, but last he'd seen it, just yesterday, it still hung there. Proudly, it proclaimed a new and innovative medicinal program undertaken by the Diamond City Clinic, in her words, not his, to reclaim knowledge lost to time of herbal medicines used before the War. He hadn't asked her yet if it was completely made-up or if she knew of something, and wagered, it was best to let lie. For now, at least.
Little of substance had come of it yet, only a tarp-covered crate that had been left outside the door to the clinic, lacking any identifiers or request for payment. Martin had found it in the morning when he opened the clinic, devoid of patients now that the Quincy people had moved Josh out, and into the temporary lodgings. The place was...strangely quiet, without the man either snoring or complaining. He understood their desire to remain together, of course. There was little difference in where the one-legged Minuteman was kept, after all, now that the wound had sealed completely, and the skin in no risk of breaking open. Alone now, all he was left with was cleaning up the chemistry table. No one seemed in need of medical aid, and he couldn't leave the clinic itself to wander the streets.
Not that he wanted to, in truth. Much as the area Piper lived in, and were the clinic was, seemed unsanitary and chaotic to him, it was by far the cleaner of the town's many districts. He suspected it was because it was also the entrance proper to Diamond City, and its officials wanted it presentable to outsider merchants and visitors. Only those who lived in the town would venture deeper, and find its grime and filth-caked streets, lined with rust and mud. Martin chewed his lips in thought, pondering over the yet-unpacked crate before him. It wasn't much larger than what he'd used to store supplies in at the College, though he doubted it was stuffed with canis root and reeds.
The crate, as it turned out, contained only a scant few things, and none of them he recognized from his memories of the Encyclopedia Plantae, though, in truth, he'd not dared hoping for that much. Even if this land did have trees and grass and some flowers he could name, it also had a great deal of plants and trees he'd never seen before.
A bundle of flowers, a deep, striking purple, that gave off a bitter smell. The petals were large and misshapen, as if the plant itself had mutated or been damaged during its growth. Rubbing his fingertips against the petals, he licked one, frowning. There was something, certainly, but it was too weak.
There was another kind of flower, which he at first mistook for the same. Its petals were purple too, but of a more bluish character. Its smell was slightly less bitter, and more approaching pungently sweet, like rotting fruit, despite there being no such things neither in the crate nor on what little of its stem had been plucked along with the flower itself. Subjecting it to similar treatment as he had the first, he found no discernible effects outright, though much like the first plant, there was an aftertaste of something, enough that he pushed it aside likewise, for later testing. I need that chemistry table cleaned up, I think...
Among the seemingly handpicked flora, a fist-sized, lumpy root seemed like it had been deliberately nestled in the center. It struck him first as something like a carrot, only brown, wider and shorter. Actually, not at all like a carrot, except that it obviously was a root of some sort. It smelled like soil and sand, and something else that had the hairs on his arms itching. Tentatively, he scratched into its surface and nibbled off the small piece from his nail. It felt as if someone had pinched him, yet the sensation was wholly positive.
"There is decidedly potential here..." he muttered, to himself for lack of audience. He wish he knew these plants, or at least knew a botanist. But in this land of violence and rust, it seemed botany was the last thing on the mind of even the most sheltered. But the potential was there, even if he'd have to start from scratch.
A series of hard knocks on the door broke him from his thoughts, and caused a frown. Sun wouldn't knock, and it wasn't even locked. Piper wouldn't knock like that, would she?
"Anybody in there?"
For a moment, he relived the moment when the Minutemen brought in their comrade, leg a bleeding mess. The scene disappeared as fast as it had come, as the knocks came again. It was a man's voice, more bothered or bored than troubled, and it put him a little more at ease. The first patient of the day? The plants can wait, he decided, and opened the door.
There was a guard outside, one of the town guards at that, dressed up in that strange gambeson of theirs. He couldn't see the man's face, concealed behind the helmet's opaque visors. It felt a little strange, since most of the guards he'd seen so far had visible eyes. Was this a different uniform?
"Yes?" The man didn't appear wounded, or in particular hurry or distress to carry in a wounded person. Maybe he was just sick? But then, why show up in full uniform? Maybe he was here to purchase medicine, but didn't have the time to do so after his duties; "Doctor Sun is unavailable at the moment."
"You'd be his new assistant then, right?" the guard asked, the only expression Martin could read being when he cocked his head a little, as if he was some bird examining a curiosity. He could only nod, uncertain of the man's intent; "Mayor's asked to see you."
At first, the words didn't really register. It was not that the guard had stuttered or mumbled, but that the request was so seemingly senseless and without cause. He hadn't broo
"The M- me?"
"You're that Martin fella, right?" again, he could but nod. It was strange, that something as simple as the authority granted by a uniform affected him so. His father would have laughed, said he'd spent too much time in a city than was good for him. Would he be wrong? "Then yeah, Mayor wants to see you. It's not a request, by the way."
"It's- " he blinked, wiping the confusion away; "Now?"
"No, next week, of course," the man scoffed; "Yeah, now. Smartass."
Martin cast a disappointed glance to the crate, and the chemistry table. He'd wanted to go through the rest of its contents too, and get started cataloging the effects of the plants. Maybe Sun had a book lying around. Local flora was probably documented, even if it was just the name and a few lines. The plants were large and distinct enough that something had to be written down somewhere. He would ask Piper - or whomever else might know - later.
"Let me, just, lock the door?" he fumbled for the keys. He'd been here today, how long, an hour at most? Part of him felt he might as well not have shown, though the crate of plants at least promised some work later. The brass keys required an extra tug in the old locking mechanism, but the door finally clicked affirmingly. He sighed and turned, where the guard was still waiting, arms crossed, a foot tapping the ground in a clear and evident lack of patience; "Okay."
The guard said nothing more, though the grunts and scoffs alone were enough to convey irritation. Martin frowned, mostly to himself. He didn't think he'd done anything to warrant frustration or disapproval. Was it directed at him? What was the Mayor like here, anyway? Much as he trusted Piper - in truth probably with his life - he found it harder to trust her objectivity on people. No one liked officials. The only real interaction he'd had with the Mayor - and it wasn't even directly - was when he ordered and paid for those posters from Piper's printer.
He'd seen the lifts leading up, but never actually had a reason to approach them. Far as he understood, they lead to the upper, more privileged areas. He had no business there. Until now, that was. The guard motioned forward, leading him onto the lift itself. The metal groaned from his weight alone, a sign Martin did not appreciate. Already he was less than fond of heights, and now he was being towed upwards, higher by far than he liked, by a crane-like system that seemed poised to break and shatter beneath him.
It was not the first time he'd wished for an amulet, Divine in question be damned, just to have something to pray to for protection. What Divine even represented this kind of protection anyway? Praying to Arkay seemed too morbid by far, and he wasn't sure if he should seek the benediction of Stendarr's mercy, or Zenithar's protection of proper craftsmanship.
Before he'd managed to decide on it, the lift came to a shuttering halt, jolting him from his thoughts. A door opened before him, sliding aside on rails. It didn't look like it had been part of the original structure, but then... what did, in this place? An arena dedicated to sports, turned into a town. The walls themselves were likely all that remained from what had once been.
When his foot touched the floor, it was with something like a shock that he realized it was clad in tiles, green and white, like a checkerboard. More than that, it was clean, genuinely clean, as if he had stepped into a world where people understood what sanitation meant. So befuddled was he by the stark contrast to the world below, he did not notice the woman behind the desk, until she spoke his name. A guard stood next to her, slightly behind, leaned against the wall. Like the one who had come for him, this one too had concealed his eyes behind opaque glass. The woman, however, claimed more so his attention. Her hair seemed as clean as if no filth existed in this world, and her dress the same, unblemished and untarnished. Truly, a different world up here...
"Ah, you must be Martin," she greeted him, her voice somewhere between friendly and cold. It was probably was people called cordial in this place, though until now he'd not experienced it. People had either been friendly or not, never in between; "The Mayor's eleven-o'clock. You can go on inside, he's waiting for you."
"I...still don't know-"
"Inside," she repeated, something thin about her tone. It reminded him of Madame de Crue, though not in the way of a mentor. He felt no fear of this woman. But he was starting to get the feeling that maybe he should. Officials always had more power than they should. At least, people said that; "if you please."
He hesitated before the double-doors, neither seeming to have come from the same, original source. One was wood, dark and only slightly weathered by age, while the other seemed made from metal, but had been painted over to resemble the other.
"He doesn't bite," the idle guard scoffed, an amused tone to his words. Martin pushed through the doors, before having to suffer the mockery of either present. Whomever this woman was, he found he did not care much for her. Nor the guard, for that matter, but he had no idea as to his identity, let alone his appearance.
Much like the first room, the Mayor's office seemed tremendously wealthier and far cleaner than any place he had so far seen in the town below. The floor was swept clean, consisting of the same green-white tiles as before. Of course, it made little sense for the leader of a town - it only earned the title of 'city' by virtue of apparently being the sole settlement even approaching the required scale - to live as the commoners did. If, that was, the mayor was a hereditary position, akin to a baron or a lord. Yet here, he was just a commoner temporarily raised to such wealth? Martin frowned at the notion, not for the first time either. Senators were elected, yes, but they were of the wealthier classes already. It didn't immediately seem like the same distinction applied here.
"Ah, welcome, welcome," the mayor greeted him the moment he walked in, looking up from a screen of glass like what Piper owned. Computers still puzzled and baffled him, and he doubted they ever would not. For a moment, it seemed as if the man had been surprised by his entry. Or, maybe not so much his entry as his appearances? "Please, come in."
Martin obeyed, cautiously walking across the clean-polished floor. It nearly gleamed in the lamplight from above, lit and bright in spite of the daylight from outside. The windows were glass, he noticed, clean and completely transparent, as if newly installed. It struck him that, aside from here, in this apparent tower of opulence, he'd not seen glass panes of such size yet unmarred here. Even at home he'd have rarely seen panes of such size, glass being what it was. The largest windows he'd ever seen were the multi-colored rosettas of the Divines, and they were framed mosaics. Martin found himself halting before it, taking in the sight. Completely untouched, unspoiled glass. Part of him wished to touch it.
"Ah yes, it, eh, it's quite the view, isn't it?" McDuoough, he remembered the man's name now, got up from his seat and stood beside him, arms folded behind his back. The sudden presence of the corpulent man gave Martin a startle, though he hoped the wince was well enough suppressed; "I stand here every day, before work, looking out over the city. They call it the Green Jewel of the Commonwealth, you know?"
Martin nodded. He'd heard enough times of the supposed splendor of this place before even arriving here. And even still, the people walking its rust-weathered streets called it by the ridiculous name. There was little green to this place but the weathered copper of some rooftops, and the green-painted wall by the agricultural quarters. His admiration was for the glass, however, not the gathering of hovels it allowed him to see. The levels of squalor and filth rankled him, though he tried not to mention it around Piper. It was her home, he would not besmirch it in her presence.
"I have heard," he replied, unsure of what else to say. Should he extend a hand to the mayor, or wait for such a gesture? Should he bow? There didn't seem to be any expectations of courtesy or particular manners, and the man himself was being informal enough. It was all very confusing, and he'd have preferred to have known before coming here; "It is the largest settlement in the Commonwealth, now that Quincy is gone?"
"It always was," the mayor puffed his chest out, adjusting the edges of his coat. It seemed...out of place, for such a town. Or maybe for the land altogether, as if a relic from times past. He'd noticed people wore leather, skins, rags and assorted fabrics. Only a few wore what seemed like clothes older than they were. This was one of them; "Well, since it was founded, at least. Quincy... terrible business, that. Simply terrible."
He didn't even know if he was supposed to give an answer there, either. Already he was starting to get the impression that the mayor preferred conversations that centered mostly around statements. Much like at home, in truth. He nodded, when the mayor didn't immediately continue, and it seemed the expected response, for the man now spoke again, his tone lighter;
"So, rumor has it our clinic has a new assistant? Lord knows Doctor Sun could use the help, but there has simply been no one qualified for the task," Martin turned slightly to regard McDonough as the older man kept his eyes on the town below. Down there, he could see the entrance, Piper's home, as well as the clinic. Strange, to consider how much could be kept in view from this place. Like a lord beholding his lands; "Security tells me you're a visitor though, not a resident of our proud town."
"I did not at first mean to stay."
"Yet, stay you seem to have done," McDonough hummed, folding his hands behind his back; "And I'm told you've earned your keep well so far. Mister Sullivan, the, uhm, guard, handed in his report on the subway incident. It was...not entirely coherent, so I had some inquiries made as to the events that took place. Less vague, those."
"I do not want to make trouble," Martin raised his hands, stepping away from the mayor, who regarded him with some surprise; "I am from Europe, we have different medicine there. I did not know it would create attention... create a problem, I mean."
"Yes," he swallowed a lump, stuck in the back of his throat. This was not where he had thought it would lead when Piper had suggested the origin. If so, he'd have rather picked out some small town or village on a map, and claimed it as his own. What even was Europe, that the mere name caused people to halt in their steps? "I...do not know entirely how I came to be here."
"Well," McDonough hummed, seemingly pleased; "It's no skin of my back that you did," he turned his eyes, old and grey, but sharp, at Martin; "Tell you the truth, was about damn time we had some visitors willing to earn their keep in this place. In fact, I'd say you're prime Diamond City material."
"Now, you have of course been informed as to the workings of our little jewel of the Commonwealth," the older man said, less of a question than perhaps it should have been; "Sun no doubt told you the clinic's expenses are handled through the mayor's office," he adjusted the edges of his coat once more - or was it technically a vest? - as he spoke; "My office, that is. I heard you've started requisitioning some additional resources?"
Additional...resources? Martin, at first, blinked in confusion. He was not aware of any such requisitions, nor had Sun told him he had requisition anything. It was not to his credit that it took him almost a full minute to come to an understanding, the realization that it was him, that he had made a requisition. The ingredients for the laboratory, of course. Daedra take his mind, he'd forgotten it in all this mess of lords and leaders.
He stood straighter, ashamed of his own mindlessness. He'd simply hoped no one would notice the extra costs, especially as he hadn't yet figured out the means of sending said costs to the office. It had been the hope that Sun would return before such became a problem.
"I did, M'lord," the words flew ere he'd a chance to think them over; "I mean, Ser Mayor. It is custom in my homeland that medicien- medicine, requires ingredients, and I do not know the plants and herbs of this land. I put out a notice through Publick Occurrences that the clinic purchases samples of flora and fauna that might have properties useful for healing. Ser."
"Hmm, yes," McDonough nodded, almost sagely, with not a hint of irritation to find; "I received the bill, see. That's what piqued my curiosity, at first. Sun's requests are usually the same old template, the same bills for the same things. You say you want plants?"
"Yes, Ser Mayor," he replied, calming yet still very much aware that he had inconvenienced the ruler of the town. Piper had not asked coin for her work, but had sent the bill to the mayor instead? It was not a good start; "My people make poultices and potions of particular plants, and while I do not yet know the land here, I was hoping people would bring in samples for coin. Caps. It was my hope to in time decrease the expenses of the clinic, without sacrificing efficiency."
"Potions and poultices?" McDonough chuckled, though not unkindly, and Martin felt some stress leaving him; "Well, if it works, who am I to laugh at such old fashioned ideas? Much of what we have today comes from clinging to the ideas of the old world, you know."
"The world before the War was a better one than now," Martin nodded, relieved that he at least knew this much. It was a good thing Piper had been so willing to impart what knowledge she had, and that Clements too had been an eager teller of tales. What little he knew of this world was thanks to them; "I can't imagine how much was lost."
"Your people don't remember the times before the War?" McDonough seemed surprised, and sympathetic; "I understand. I would wager it is the same across much of America. But, here in the Commonwealth, we remember. Or, at least, we do our best to remember. We keep the literacy alive, and through it, knowledge of what we lost. A somber reminder, though one that is needed."
"I think that's wise," he was glad the mayor had simply assumed it was knowledge lost on behalf of his people and moved on, that caused his own lacking knowledge of the world. Martin had a feeling the man was sharper than he let on, and would eventually catch the lie; "We still have literacy though, and our medicine works."
"Yes, your potions..." McDonough hummed, seemingly in contemplation; "I am always interested in projects that could better the lives of my constituents, you know? What say, we give it a shot, in proper scale? A trial period, of course, first. How much time does it take to make one of these 'potions', if you have what you need?"
"I..." Martin didn't quite understand what was going on. He had inconvenienced Diamond City's ruler, and now instead of admonishment he was being rewarded? The question was a direct one, allowing for little vagueness. How much time? For what potion? The simplest was a meager one, he knew, and unlikely to impress a man who was wont to stimpacks and...whatever else medicines they had that he himself did not yet know of. He somewhat lacked a teacher these days; "If I had the proper components, I could make a potion that knits bone and sews flesh, leaving neither scarring nor trauma. It's... a day's work, I think, if I have everything."
A day's work for a potion like that? Proper potioneers would have laughed at such a thought. It could be ground up, cooked and distilled in the span of two hours, even in the most meager and modest of laboratories. But here, he was unsure if he had even thát.
"A month then, to organize and requisition the supplies you need?" McDonough asked, his tone simple enough, yet the words near sent Martin flat. He had not seen such generosity coming, never in a hundred ages! It struck him as bizarre that Piper so disliked the man, when he would extend this kind of opportunity to a strange, one who did not even count amongst his constituents; "If it works out, why, then we can ensure even better treatment of the people of Diamond City, and beyond. All costs will be covered, of course. You just worry about those potions."
It was a deliberate effort of will that Martin did not simply kneel before the man right then and there. He fought back the tear threatening to well in his eye, and swallowed. Breathing in, deeply, he regained control of his emotions and his body. He straightened, taking a long, deliberate breath of air before he dared so much as nod.
"It will be done, Ser,"
It wasn't until later, when Martin finally closed the clinic's door behind him, that the implications of what had just transpired truly hit him. And when they struck, it felt as if a bolt if lightning had pummeled him to the ground, with every ounce of force and shock inherent in such.
The Mayor - the closest thing this land had to an Emperor, or at least a Lord - had invited him for audience, greeted him as an equal, and extended an offer of such generosity towards him that he still even now had trouble believing it had not been a dream. He stared at his hands, fingers opening and clenching, to see if there was the sensation of touch. Maybe there wasn't, and he was dreaming? No, no there was touch. He could feel it, just as surely as he smelled the antiseptics of the room, and the coppery tint of old, dry blood still pooled in droplets underneath the bed on which the Minuteman had been amputated. The mattress itself was clean now, but the floor was long-since permanently marred by fluids. He had tried scrubbing it off, on the first day when the clinic had fallen to him, but to no avail. It had become another decorative splotch.
He had to clean the place up, and proper-like too.
In the meantime, however, awaiting him yet was his charge. The task before him was no small one, and made now no less so by the apparent commitment of the lord mayor, unassuming though the man himself had been. The post carried power, and Martin dreaded defying it, as well as disappointing it. He did not know much yet, of how those who went against civil law and common courtesy were treated here, but had seen enough of the barbarity and violence that marred its streets that he found himself somewhat apprehensive at the prospects.
And so, he had a task at hand. To produce a viable potion, or a poultice, something capable of making an impression, sufficiently potent that he could stand tall and hold it forth, even to the mayor's examinations. Would the mayor himself examine it, or did the upper classes have segregated clinics and healthcare services from the commoner populace? He imagined it was so, and had not yet seen anyone from those upper platforms descend into the streets of the city proper, let alone the clinic. What manner of craftsmanship would they expect from a trained medical professional? Would it be something even better than the stimpacks, whose effect he had already witnessed? He knew not if such was within his capabilities, especially with so little knowledge of the plants of this land.
The plants, yes... the plants yet lay before him too, on the table where he had left them and the crate they had been delivered in. He still did not know who had made such a donation, for it seemed too oddly specific for any merchant to have done so and then not request payment of sorts. His mind briefly fell to the mayor himself, who had expressed his support for the project, but discarded the notion just as soon as it appeared. It was less so the idea of the man being an initiator, as it was the simple fact that the crate had appeared 'fore the mayor had even known of his project. That was the fact, wasn't it? Martin chewed a nail as he pondered, staring down the strewn-out ingredients as if they themselves had wronged him, or at least caused him such unwanted contemplations. In a sense, they had, and all the more so they earned his ire. Would there have been a merchant knocking on the door, clamoring for coin or caps or... whatever by Zenithar people wanted for plants in this land. They technically - he presumed - were not even real articles of trade, but merely random roots and scraps plucked on the wayside. Would such even warrant coin? Caps? Not for the first time he found himself corrected on the currency, and cursed the name of whomever had replaced honest mint with the refuse of drinks. Sheogorath no doubt would have found such moronity most amusing.
Martin made the sign of Akatosh as he thought of the Mad Prince.
It did not matter what he thought of the currency of the land, however. Nor did it matter much whether or not the mayor had known 'forehand of his endeavor. For all he knew the man had servants walking the streets, who had seen the notice Piper plastered by the taver- the Dugout, and made a report. People here did not call a tavern a tavern, but either a bar or an inn. The latter, at least, he understood, but was it not the point of a bar that it was only for drinks? I will have a headache by the end of this...
The root was the first item of interest he threw his attention at, renewed and somewhat refreshed as it was. There was an actual outside interest in his work now, no longer a mere project of self-indulgence.
Throwing off the tarp from the chemistry table, setting apart each article of glass and metal, he formed a somewhat coherent overview of what he had to work with. Pitchers, vials, boiler-stands and a brass boiler that, in itself, seemed added to the construction after its completion. Tubes of colored and transparent plastic - yet another material so unique to this land that he at first did not fully grasp its nature - ran from the boiler into smaller, rust-colored kegs with spigots attached. He turned the crank of one, half expecting something to happen, but was rewarded with naught but the squeaking of unoiled metal, and resistance born of unuse. Valves and dials dotted the large tankard, yet seemed to have remained inert for years. It was a boiler, he was certain of that much, though much larger than any he'd seen in the laboratories. And it was fashioned entirely of copper, whereas the ones he'd seen before had been cast-iron, or hammered together plate by plate. There were nails here, it seemed, but they did not appear to have been hammered in, but driven by a greater force. This was pre-War, he surmised, had to be.
There was a mortar, and a pestle, in the same backroom room from which he'd found the stimpacks for the Minutemen. Old, and wrought in white ceramics, it was almost depressingly alike to the one he'd used the very day that saw him end up in this land. The evident age and wear of the tool itself was no less hard-hitting, once more emphasising just how far ahead of his own people these had been. There was familiarity too, of the less downcasting kind, as his fingers closed around the cold surface of the pestle. He was back home, in that moment, in the laboratory. Around him were not the wooden and metallic walls of the clinic, but stone work and stocked shelves. Candlelights and oil lamps cast their glow on the room, and bathed him in a warmth that could not be measured, but still felt as real as the tool he held.
Then he breathed, and the warm, stale air of the clinic woke him from the dream. The pestle still in his hand now seemed more melancholic than nostalgic, a reminder of what had been him robbed. With a sigh of resignation, he dropped it back into the mortar.
There was work to be done.