The girl looked exactly like several others the nurse had seen so far today. Less far along than most, perhaps; her young belly was still completely flat.
So: Her first child. That sometimes made them more compliant, but usually they were harder to manage. They had so many questions and didn't want to understand what was happening. The nurse often obliged them — it was always easier for everybody when they decided to believe her lies.
"Did the doctor explain how this works?" she asked. The girl shook her head. Damn those lazy doctors straight to the core of the earth, she thought. They never wanted to be the ones to break the news.
"All right." She sat in the chair next to the girl's. Patient, collected. Emanating I am your friend to the girl. "We have confirmed your pregnancy. That test is free.
"For the rest of your prenatal care, or any other tests, we will have to be paid upfront," she continued. "You will be responsible for the entirety of the bill. No payment, no care.
"Of course, we aren't monsters," the nurse added. "If you can't pay but still need the care, we'll work something out."
"Like what?" the girl whispered. It was the first time she'd spoken, and the nurse realized she was seventeen at the very most. Just a child herself.
"Well. As I'm sure you know, there are people suffering from terrible illnesses all over the country, ever since the bombs were dropped. Many of them have the money to pay for stem cells or even entirely new organs, but there is so little supply. And of course, so many wealthy families anymore just can't have babies at all, so if you don't like the idea of promising one of your child's eyes or kidneys to someone who could use it, then there's always the option of keeping the little one fully intact and paying your bills that way."
The nurse took a deep breath. The worst of the typical speech was over. Now she just needed it to sink in and for the girl to make a decision.
But this one looked like a fighter, the nurse realized sadly, and her suspicion was confirmed when the girl spoke again.
"How much for everything?" she asked. "I can earn it myself."
She wouldn't laugh at the child — that was one reason they always sent her in to see the difficult ones. "It's quite a lot," she said. "For a normal birth with zero complications, our hospitals charge $150 million. The price goes up if you require an epidural. And if you need a cesarean or another atypical procedure, it can cost as much as $10 billion. An abortion is significantly less expensive — only $10 million — so if you'd prefer not to deal with being pregnant at all, that could be a better decision for you."
She watched the girls' face as she absorbed the numbers. Nobody who came to this clinic would ever be able to afford the astronomical prices of care; this was just how it was, how it had been for years. The nurse knew that if they were sitting in her clinic, they would take whatever deal she offered or walk away hurting.
"You can have the baby at home, too," she lied smoothly. "That's always an option that some people take if they can't afford the cost of health care."
The girl shook her head vehemently. "My sister did that," she said. "They came and took the baby anyway. Said it was dying and wouldn't survive."
The nurse opened her mouth to reply, but the haunted look in the girl's eyes stopped her. "Anna heard little Jason crying like the devil the whole way down the elevator to the car that took him away. He wasn't dying. He was perfectly healthy."
"Often children look healthy, but ..."
"Anna is a nurse, like you," the girl interrupted. "Or was." She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, tears leaking down her face. "What am I going to do," she whispered, and the nurse knew she probably didn't even know she was speaking out loud. "What am I going to do," she repeated.
The nurse sighed and made her decision quickly.
She'd only done this once before — if her supervisors knew that she had any idea the path to Outside even existed, she'd be fired immediately and taken before a court to reveal its location ... and no doubt tortured until she did.
It was a risk. That's why she was placed here, though — to decide if softening one individual's despair was worth exposing the Movement.
She leaned close and whispered: "There's one more way. Go to the garden shop in the central square and ask the old woman behind the counter if she has iris bulbs for sale. Tell her you need only two. She'll take you somewhere safe."
The girl's eyes filled with tears. She opened her mouth as if to ask a question, but the nurse spoke first: "I hope you talk to the finance department on your way out to decide how you're going to pay for this pregnancy," she said.
The girl nodded, eyes downcast, looking appropriately upset and bewildered. "Good girl," the nurse said, pushing open the door back into the hallway.
She checked her timetable. No break for two more hours. The nurse pushed open the next door down and couldn't help a quick rush of gladness when she saw the woman's dead eyes and knew she knew the deal.
(Post photo by Daan Stevens.)