This was written for a themed flash fiction contest (the theme was Technological Dystopia) and ended up losing, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to share it here. It's not my proudest work but, as flash fiction, I think it works well enough. I hope you enjoy!
She was three floors from the bottom of the sunken tower when the crying first reached her. A quick swipe earned her a pair from the rack nearby and she continued her descent.
With the aid of technology this process had been streamlined and systematized such that these checks were only needed once a month, but everyone dreaded them. She had drawn the short straw this time and, though it had been years since last she’d ventured to The Lab, she still remembered her last haunting experience. It wasn’t that she was a dissenter or rebelled against that which needed to be done. This was a necessary evil to save their species, but she was still a human being. Seeing them all like that, all tubes and tapes running from frail flesh, was enough to turn any stomach.
A pair of heavy iron doors sat ominously in her way as she bottomed out. She could see the white, crisp interior of The Lab beyond and pushed forward, swallowing her hesitance as best she could.
Before her lay a large room with clean white tile, walls and harsh, flourescent light. It smelled and looked like a hospital because that’s exactly what it was. 10 rows and columns of small, clear, plastic boxes stretched between her and the far wall. The muffs were doing their job exceedingly well, but she could still hear the awful racket bouncing around her memory. She took a deep breath, steadied herself, and started working.
Her primary duty was to make sure the machines were functioning correctly, mostly the arm that glided to and fro above the boxes, administering medicine or changing bags of various fluids as need be. She would also be checking the tubes for clogs that may have been missed by any old or worn out sensors; this was the part she dreaded the most. She flipped the lid on the nearest box and checked the left, then the right, and lastly the tube running into its belly button, and closed the box quickly.
It couldn’t have taken her more than 5 seconds but that short time was enough for the anguished face to plaster itself onto her mind. Everyone does their part, she reminded herself, from the start to the end. It didn’t serve a purpose to bemoan that which she could not change. She moved on to the next crib, hoping this would go by faster than she expected.
Halfway through her checks she hit a snag. There was a clog in Crib 54. She could register the fault in the system and it would fix it on its next hourly cycle, as were her orders, but it was such a small clog. The tube simply needed to be changed, and as a nurse she was well-versed in the procedure. In that moment it was decided.
The tubes themselves were specially designed to be thin and flexible, but rigid enough to fit the shape of a tear duct. Her first task, after finding a pair of gloves, was to gently remove the tube currently in the eye. She hovered over the crib and gently pulled the tube out of the right tear duct. It came slowly, millimeter by millimeter, each bit covered in more goop and mucus than the last. It wound its way up into the sinuses which meant, by the end of it, she had pulled at least five inches of tubing. This she discarded.
Next she had to insert the new tube (these were kept in abundance in a draw underneath the crib). She grabbed one, snipped it to length with a pair of scissors hanging from the IV stand, and took a moment to recent herself. Inserting the tube while the child was crying would be much more difficult than removing it.
As gently as she could she reached down and, with her index finger and thumb, pried open the eye of the little one. With one came the other, the muscles young and unwilling to work independently, and she found herself staring into a pair of brilliant green pools. Her heart melted and, for the briefest moment, she thought of taking it. She could smuggle it out. The bed being empty would trip the system but she could clear the error and explain it away somehow. But no, that was silly. This wasn’t a decision for her to make; things were done this way because there was no other choice.
She pushed the tip of the tube into the tear duct confidently, shoving the traitorous thoughts from her mind as the child’s cries were renewed with pain. She was here to do a job, cold and emotionless. It wasn’t her place to question the way things were done. The tube went in without a hitch and the child’s eyes snapped closed again once she released them. The little bundle of agony before her squirmed and she saw the tears begin to flow anew. With swift, definite movement she closed and latched the lid.
The rest of her checks went smoothly, but she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that now ran rampant in her gut. She hated Lab duty, and she expected that would always be the way. With a heavy heart she signed the documents needed to record her visit, noted the tube change in the work log, and left The Lab through its heavy iron doors. The trip upstairs would be long and tiring, but at least she could try and forget ever having been here.