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The following day, Ressa woke early, and smiled at the cablecar driver when she boarded. He blushed, charmingly, and mumbled a polite stock greeting as she found a seat.
Thlam was already up, standing impatiently in from of the girls' room, when Ressa arrived. "They aren't up yet," he said, grouchy. "I knocked five ticks ago." Ressa gave him one of the sticky buns she had bought from a street vendor, and his aspect brightened considerably. She knocked again, and called in for entrance. Tedra let them in; Tosara was still in cavernous bathroom.
Thlam nodded at their room, but said, pleased, "Mine has a better view."
Tedra immediately wanted to go see it to compare, but Ressa stalled that, handing her a sticky bun. "We're going to the parks today," she said. "Wear comfortable shoes." It was an automatic warning, but it earned her curious looks from her siblings: they had nothing but practical shoes, of course.
"Will we see animals?" Tedra asked, coming out of the bathroom, patting her face with a towel, face red from scrubbing.
Ressa nodded. "They've got pens of marshdeer and a whole netted garden of butterflies, as well as the outdoor gardens. They've even got Yasiluu dogs that do tricks at a show." Thlam looked pleased by that. "You've all got your maps, in case we get separated? You can always ask a monitor, if you get lost."
They all gravely produced their maps from their license pouches to prove it, and, fortified by the sticky breakfast buns, marched out into the city.
Going to the parks required a cablecar ride, and Ressa's sisters and brother were delighted to take another ride on it, climbing the steps to the platform with cheerful chatter.
"I can't believe this thing holds the whole cablecar up," Tosara said as they waited, leaning out over the railing to look at the concrete track. It's so skinny, it looks like the cablecar would just tip over."
"I don't think that's ever happened in the history of cablecars," Thlam scoffed. He tugged at Tosara's hood to pull her back from the edge.
"Quit looking so provincial," Tedra scolded them both, glancing at the other people waiting on the platform. Her cheeks were red.
Before an argument could erupt, Ressa pointed. "Here it comes," she said cheerfully. The people at the platform stood up from their benches and queued to the right side.
"Oh!" Thlam exclaimed, looking at the street below. "A Yasiluu dog cart!" One of the giant breeds of dogs was pulling a compact cart with two passengers and giant wheels. It clacked over a break in the concrete road, and disappeared from behind the cablecar as it pulled up to the platform. Thlam craned to watch it, and Ressa had to grab his arm to keep him in the queue to enter. He resumed watching it from a window immediately after they found seats.
"Don't be an embarrassment," Tedra said crossly, rubbing her face as she slid in to sit across from him.
"You're not from Affamarg, are you," an older man in scientist robes said with a laugh, kindly switching seats so that all four of them could sit together.
"We're from the country," Tosara volunteered cheerfully. Tedra made a miserable noise of mortification and stared out the window.
"Mruuna district?" the man guessed from across the aisle.
"Yes," Tosara said, ignoring Tedra. "Our parents manage the seventeenth largest farm in the district," she added proudly.
"Very impressive," the man said with amusement. "What brings you to the city, then?"
"Our sister," Thlam said, pointing at Ressa. "She studies here, and got us free travel licenses."
"And we're staying in the most gorgeous rooms on the river," Tosara added.
Ressa almost wished she'd chosen to wear her scientist robes when the man gave her an appraising look. He would probably guess right off that she was with the carnal guild, to get free travel licenses for three family members and put them up in fine housing as a student.
She was glad for a short moment when Thlam distracted them, asking urgently, "Are you alright, Tedra?"
Gratitude turned swiftly to alarm when Tedra turned away from the window to reveal that her red face had gotten redder, and was swelling up in an alarming, splotchy fashion. "I... don't feel good," she confessed shamefully.
"Sweet Upheaval," Tosara said in alarm. "What happened?" Ressa sucked in a breath.
"What??" Tedra asked, with a hint of her usual spunk. She raised a hand to her face, and gave a little squeak when she touched the puffy flesh.
The man across the aisle leaned over. "That looks like a hyperreaction attack," he said, frowning. "Are you having trouble breathing?"
At the suggestion, Tedra began to panic, panting and gasping.
"Shhhh," Ressa said gently, reaching for Tedra's hands and using her best calm voice. "We'll take you to the medical guild triage center - it's only two stops off. It's probably just one of the oils from the tidy room. Which did you use?"
"All of them!" Tedra said, bursting into tears.
Ressa patted her hands and put one arm around her shoulder while the man got out of his seat and went forward in the car. The conversation around them shifted in tone, and Ressa was keenly aware that they had gained the attention of everyone around them. Tedra knew it too, weeping in shame and fear. Tosara fidgeted, looking around anxiously, and Thlam awkwardly patted Tedra's knee, murmuring unintelligibly.
The man returned. "The driver will skip the next stop," he announced. "We're going straight through to the next one for you." A rustle of conversation, mostly approving, met that, and Tedra wept harder.
They were the first off the train, the other passengers remained seated or standing away from the aisle so they could rush the crying Tedra off onto the platform. The medical guild was just on the far side of a wide courtyard at the bottom of the platform stairs, and they went at a fast, long-legged walk for the front entrance.
"Licenses," a monitor said at the door, waving them past a queue after one look at Tedra's alarming face - her eyes were nearly swollen shut, tears leaking out around taut flesh. Ressa had her license out already, and took Tedra's license pouch to dig up her medical license while Tosara and Thlam fumbled for theirs. He gave them only a cursory look, not even comparing their tattoos, and pointed them through to the triage area.
An apprentice lay Tedra down on a short bed, tilted her face up into the side light and clucked in concern. "Has" - he looked at the license - "Citizen Tedra had contact with an unexpected substance or plant in the past several hours?"
"Oils and soaps," Ressa said, as calmly as she could manage. The others crowded up around her anxiously. "Perfumes and topical softeners that she's never used before. There were some citrus scents, a rose, and a few musks."
"One smelled like blackberries," Tosara offered meekly.
Tedra sniffed while the apprentice felt all across her face and down her throat, before listening to her chest with a curious horn-shaped devise.
"Breathing is clear," he finally declared. As the siblings started to sigh in relief, he added quickly. "But it might not stay that way. We need to give her an antireactive and keep her for observation. Let's get those perfumes washed off while one of your siblings fills out some papers."
Ressa, as responsible guardian, took over that task while Tosara and Thlam stayed by Tedra's bed.
The plump woman at the admissions and observations desk smiled and nodded in appreciating for her neat handwriting and meticulous answers on the forms. "Very nicely done, dear," she said, friendly. "You should work for the licensing office."
Ressa laughed, and it felt rusty and forced around the worry for Tedra. "That's the second time in two days that's been suggested," she said. "I may have to apply for workstudy there!"
Thlam hailed her from across the room, caught by surprise when his voice echoed back louder than he'd planned, "Ressa!"
The note of panic in his voice sent Ressa scrambling, barely keeping to a walk across the high-arched triage room, and that only at a glare from an apprentice. "What is it?" she asked breathlessly. Two more medics were wheeling Tedra on her bed away from them through a door, and Tosara was crying.
"She started having trouble breathing," Thlam said tightly. "They're putting her in a tent for an herbal flush."
"They said something about a tube," Tosara said in horror. "And heartbeats."
Ressa swallowed her own fear. "Aren't we lucky we were so close," she said gently. "They'll be able to take good care of her here." Tosara clung to her arm and sobbed, and Thlam wrung at his license pouch. Ressa herded them over to the marked room for waiting family, sat them down on the benches there and brought them cups of water.
"What's going to happen now?" Thlam asked anxiously.
Resla shook her head. "I don't know," she confessed. "I've never had to come to triage before." She had plenty of experience with the medical guild - the carnal guild was very strict about the health of its membership, but those had been at other buildings.
He gave in to pacing, as the ticks stretched to tenticks, and then to hours. An apprentice occasionally kept them informed, assuring them that Tedra was still alright, that she was responding to the treatments, but that she was in a very particular observation room where they couldn't go and was going to stay there until the danger had fully passed.
"It's too bad we can't change our train tickets," Thlam sighed,
Ressa fetched them a lunch from a food vender in the courtyard, thinking wryly about the lunch she had been planning to treat them to. She would have to send Thlam and Tosara home on the train tomorrow, whether Tedra could travel or not, and the paperwork if she couldn't was going to be a bear. It seemed unfair that they couldn't change the travel license, given this development, and Ressa chewed on that idea all the way back to triage. The meat pockets were good, and Tosara made muted noises of appreciation, but Ressa found that the taste was secondary to the flavor of worry in her mouth. Thlam devoured his without comment, and resumed pacing.
As afternoon drug on towards evening, they finally got to see Tedra again. The swelling in her face was starting to go down, and although she complained about the soreness of her throat from the breathing tube they had inserted, she otherwise seemed quite fine again.
"We'll need to keep her overnight," the medical guild junior told Ressa solemnly. "We'll discharge her in the morning if she's not worse."
Tedra asked for a mirror, but no one would give her one, and she moaned about how awful she must look while Tosara heartlessly agreed and Thlam laughed.
They were escorted out after only another tentick, and Thlam announced that he was starving. The sun was already low on the horizon, and Ressa took them to a small, modest restaurant just around the corner.
"We didn't get to do anything today, and we leave tomorrow!" Tosara sighed, and then she looked guilty.
"You don't leave until afternoon," Ressa said with an understanding half-smile. "We could still catch the memorial gardens, maybe, or the Empire historical museum. They've got a show of Glifai clothing right now."
"Tedra wanted to see the waterfall most," Thlam offered.
They bent heads over the map and made plans, keenly feeling the absence of Tedra in the lulls of conversation.
After dinner, Ressa took them along the river back to the carnal guild, and they shook off their worry for Tedra to enjoy the lights reflected in the dark water, and watch some of the evening entertainers in the parks and public plazas. Tosara squealed to watch the arcs of flame and daring feats. Thlam bought a set of beginning juggling balls and spent most of the walk back to the carnal guild housing bending over to chase the balls he dropped.
Ressa left them at the outer door, and had to rush back to the cablecar station to catch the last one, only remembering poor Tedra again as she took an empty seat, breathless.
The next morning, Tosara and Thlam were waiting for her in the girls' room, ready to collect their sister. They clapped at the site of the bag she brought with her, a collection of modest gifts to send back to her family, but she wouldn't let them open it. "Wait until you get home," she made them promise.
They had to stand in the queue at the hospital for admittance this time, and by the time they had entered the big double doors, the pastry that they'd brought for Tedra was stone cold and their own were long gone.
Tedra was dressed and waiting for them, eager to be released. Her face was no longer swollen, but still looked rashy and blotchy. "It is so noisy here," she complained. "Everything echos like crazy, and I barely got a wink of sleep." For Tedra, it was a very mild complaint, and she seemed subdued. She nibbled at the cold pastry: the hospital had fed her a plain but nourishing breakfast.
She was disappointed to hear about the evening she had missed, and was unimpressed when Thlam enthusiastically demonstrated a fall or two of clumsy juggling. "We're going to miss the parks and memorial gardens," she said, and it was with unexpected apology. "I'm so sorry."
Ressa put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "We're going to go to the waterfall park right now and maybe we can make it by the memorial gardens on our way to the train station."
But right now stretched into an hour while they waited for the right person to approve their discharge paperwork, and by the time they had waited for someone to correct an error in a form filled out by a rushed apprentice, Ressa had to hurry them back to their rooms to collect their bags and go directly to the train station.
"I am so sorry," Tedra apologized, for the hundredth time, as their bags were taken to the cargo car and they lingered as long as possible before boarding. "I feel like such a dolt."
Ressa hugged her tight, and then Tosara wormed in for a hug, and she gave one to Thlam for good measure before they all retreated to a more dignified distance for being in public. "It was nothing," Ressa assured her. "I'd never seen the inside of that hospital," she teased. "And Thlam at least got to see some of the Yasiluu dog carts, which is all he really wanted to see."
"All we really wanted to see was you," Thlam assured her gruffly.
"Then it was a perfect visit," Ressa told them.
The third whistle sounded shrilly, and a baggage attendant cleared her throat. "That's the last call," she reminded them.
The siblings crowded into the hatchway and onto the train, leaving Ressa to stand on the emptying platform, smiling bravely after them.
After a long moment of thought, she marched back to the Licensing Office and requested a workstudy application.