The Smoke Blocked The Sinking Sun (25.4)


This story segment contains descriptions of medical procedures.

44th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Dbagbo Dominance — Town of Benghu, Chanda General School

“Forceps please!”

Leander looked over the tools atop the medical cart and unwrapped the forceps from their sterile kerchief. He deposited the object in Dr. Agrawal’s waiting hand. She nodded to him, and slipped the forceps gently into the incision, pulling it quite open. There was blood, and such a gradation of fleshy colors, that Leander felt a little sick, and had to avert his eyes from the patient. Dr. Agrawal used a hand-pumped drain to suck off excess blood.

“Elena, vitals?”

On the opposite side of the table, Elena tapped on the patient’s neck to check for a pulse, and lowered her head to the chest to check breathing and feel out the man’s heart. She stood upright again and nodded. “He sounds normal!”

“Good. I can see the main fragment.” Dr. Agrawal said. “Clean tweezers!”

Eyes half-closed, Leander picked the tweezers from the assortment of surgical instruments, unwrapped them and handed them off. He felt strangely squeamish in such close proximity to a minor surgery. While he had shot people and potentially caused much worse damage than this in battle, he never had to see the wounds he inflicted up close. He didn’t have to watch a supine person, unconscious from injury, picked open with metal tools.

“Leander, drain; blood is pooling over the fragment.” Dr. Agrawal asked.

“It’s really easy Leander, you’ve seen me do it!” Elena said reassuringly.

Leander tried to hide the apprehension in his eyes as Elena and Dr. Agrawal looked at him. They all wore masks and caps, but Leander’s entire body language gave away his discomfort. For Dr. Agrawal this was just routine; and Elena had her convictions as a burgeoning medical officer to carry her. Her expression and body language were nonchalant. As they should be, he supposed. He picked up the pump, pushed aside the cart with the tools, and leaned in on the patient beside Dr. Agrawal. With one hand he dipped the pump tube in the blood, careful not to touch the patient’s open flesh, while his other hand squeezed the bulb and slowly drained the blood pool.

“You’re doing good Leander!” Elena cheered. She had had her turn with tools while assisting a previous patient. They traded places twice that day.

For Leander, it never got easier to look at people cut up on the table.

He tried to avoid looking directly at the incision, but he caught glimpses of it nonetheless. It was inevitable. He could see the splinter embedded into the person’s flank. Luckily it had not managed to cause any major damage — just a small nick into the stomach. Dr. Agrawal calmly pulled the piece of metal with a pair of tweezers and deposited it in a plate held out by Elena.

This splinter was a sharp, jagged bit of metal, perhaps 4 millimeters long and 1 millimeter wide. Enough to kill if it went too far inside; even if it stopped short of the vitals, it would cause sickness and a slow death. Many modern weapons were designed with the delivery of cruel fragments in mind. Fragment pulling had been most of their work for the past few days.

Once the splinter was out, Leander stepped back, and Elena came around his side. She was more delicate with her hands and better suited for the final stretch of each operation. She helped clean the incision and Dr. Agrawal sewed it back. They applied surface disinfectant on a cotton swab.

One more surgery completed. Dr. Agrawal sighed with relief. Elena covered the dormant patient in blankets and wrote up a few things on the clipboard stuck to the end of the table, and they left the room, Leander pushing the medical cart. Once outside they removed their masks and head coverings. A pair of soldiers nodded to them and walked in. They would carry the patient from the operating table to a more permanent bed for observation.

Dr. Agrawal wrapped her wavy hair into a part-black, part-white ponytail. She removed her blue operating gown, as did Elena and Leander. Under them, Leander and Elena had their territorial army uniforms, standard green. Dr. Agrawal had her white coat, her button-down blouse and her skirt. They dropped their gowns in a tub under the cart, slated for thorough disinfecting.

“You both did very well today. You’ve been a great help.” Dr. Agrawal said.

“Thank you!” Leander said, smiling brightly and waving his hands.

“I’m glad to help.” Elena said. She looked admiringly at the Doctor.

“I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you with the medical corps.”

Elena beamed, lighting up with good humor. Leander felt happy for her. Finally she got a taste of her ultimate goal. It must have been nice to know what you wanted and to be able to carry it out even in a small way.

Dr. Agrawal smiled back. Though the subtle wrinkles around her eyes and mouth didn’t disappear, she looked a lot less weary and weathered when she was in her element. It made her appear younger and more energetic — she was visibly in good spirits whenever she was taking care of somebody.

“I’ve got a little task for you two, and then you can take off the rest of the day.” She said. “Please check up with your friends in the supply depot and fetch me a crate of Notatum. We’re running low; I wouldn’t want to have to run out and search for one in an emergency. Situation’s still fluid out there.”

Elena took down a note on her pad; Leander looked down the hall. No new patients were coming in, but the battle was still ongoing, and had been for the past week. Any moment now a chronic patient could be rushed through.

“Of course, Doctor!” Leander nodded his head, turned around and ran off to the supply depot without a moment’s delay. Elena looked up from her pad, shouted for him to wait and ran after him. Dr. Agrawal waved as a parting gesture, but the two barely saw it, they were already taking the corner.

* * *

After arriving in the Dbagbo Dominance, Leander and his unit, as well as the other remnants of Battlegroup Lion, were put under the custody of Dbagbo’s regional army unit, Battlegroup Rhino. Rhino troops fed and housed and clothed them as comrades but ultimately, Battlegroup Lion was limping too badly to continue to fight. Units like Leander’s were parceled off to rear echelon positions in need of staffing while Rhino fought to defend Dbagbo.

Meanwhile the Civil Council was still in disarray. Dbagbo was on its own.

Dr. Agrawal pulled some strings to get Leander and Elena assigned out of the supply corps into her little surgery unit. Leander because she liked him well enough, he supposed; and Elena because Leander confided in the Doctor that Elena was eyeing a position in the medical corps. Dr. Agrawal approved.

Thankfully his other friends were not far away. They had elected to work in the town of Benghu several kilometers to the northeast of Shebelle, one of Dbagbo’s primary cities. Benghu was also within a reasonable distance of Dbagbo’s coastal capital of Lamu. So while Benghu itself was a sleepy rural town stretched over a few meadows and woodlands, its roads and railroad brought daily news from the front in Shebelle and the Army HQ in Lamu.

It was a good spot for any Lion troops who wanted to be near the action.

Chanda General School was primarily a pair of long, rectangular two-story classroom buildings painted peach built parallel to one another, flanked by a small square administration building and a big field for sports and other activities. This field had a sporting supplies warehouse that had been turned into a supply depot for the few army support units stationed in the school.

“Today’s patients weren’t that bad. And there were comparatively fewer of them too.” Elena said. “So I guess the front might be stabilizing.”

“I hope so; it’d be nice to have a break. Everyone still seems to be in a hurry. I thought we’d be less desperate here than in Knyskna, but I guess it’s bad everywhere you go.” Leander replied. As they passed through the school halls they saw various people coming and going, bringing food and medicine to patients, carrying tubs of water and sponges to bathe the bedridden.

One whole building of the school had been taken up as a hospital, because the local infirmary in Benghu was too small. There was a field hospital several kilometers closer to the front line, but there was only so much that anyone could do for the injured out in the mud while under fire. Rear echelon hospitals were the best bet for the incapacitated and heavily wounded.

Outside the hospital building, they followed a dirt path, lined with decorative shrubs, that led between the two big buildings out toward the gate on one end and the field in the other. Through the windows on the opposite building they saw teachers, still teaching, and small children and a few teens still attending school. Not everyone could be evacuated. Not even all of the children.

“You’d think they could spare at least one truck.” Leander said as they passed. He waved to the classroom window, but all the children were marveling at a science experiment, a little fake volcano erupting.

“Literally everything is tied up. It takes us how many days just to get new tools in? I think Dbagbo’s hit its limit on transportation.” Elena said.

“Still, they’re kids, y’know? I wish they could be gotten out of here.”

“I know. But the children who had parents willing to leave were allowed to leave already. So those who are left, maybe they can’t or won’t go.”

“That’s true.” Leander said. It hadn’t crossed his mind that maybe some people wouldn’t want to run away from home. He felt suddenly ashamed. Perhaps he was a coward, thinking about running and retreating all the time. But who could blame him? He was a Zigan; his people had always been running. He always thought first of preserving life than “homes.” Most of his life he hadn’t “a home,” but when things got bad, you moved and survived.

Together the two soldiers left the buildings and started across the field. For once, Dbagbo was seeing a fairly nice day, so there were people outside partaking of the partly cloudy weather. There was a circular track for races and dashes, and in the center a broad, grassy green area for football and exercises. Leander saw a few recovering soldiers running laps; Elena pointed him toward the center field, where a teacher was sitting with a gaggle of small children all around her. They sat in a circle and had a little picnic, singing songs and eating snacks drawn from army patrol ration boxes. Elena started waving to the children, and they waved back.

Their teacher joined in the waving and urged Leander and Elena forward.

Leander pointed at himself in confusion, and she nodded and waved again.

Elena wasted no time and ambled toward the group. Laughing and smiling she pulled Leander along by the hand. There were a few different children present; very dark-skinned little umma, light and tan zungu kids with blond and brown and red hair, arjun children with long black hair and grey eyes. Meanwhile their teacher was a zungu woman with dusty olive skin and wavy brown hair, in a simple brown dress with an orange sari. She looked very young — perhaps not that much older even than Leander himself. Early into her twenties perhaps. She was pretty, with a gentle appearance to her.

All of this group, from the children to the adult, stared expectantly at them.

The teacher stood from the grass and bowed her head. She spoke softly. “Sorry, I know you two must be busy; I’m Ms. Balarayu. I took the children out of the classroom to reassure them, and I was hoping you could help.”

“Oh!” Leander nodded. “Sure! I’m Private Gaurige. Army medical corps; temporarily.” He added quickly, so they didn’t think him a doctor.

Elena looked at the children as though she had found a glade of fairies. She looked quite taken with the kids and excited to be in their presence. “I’m Private North, also Army medical corps. Pleased to meet you! You have such a wonderful class! Anything we can do to help you, consider it done!”

Ms. Balarayu bowed her head. Her smile never faded. And it looked very natural too, like that of a cheerful teenage girl accustomed to smiling. He supposed working with small children meant a lot of smiling, whether one wanted to or not. But he truly couldn’t tell if she was putting on an act.

“Children, these two are soldiers, here to help people! Our soldiers are our friends who are trying to make things better for us. Isn’t that right?”

She smiled at Leander, and Leander smiled back. “That’s right, children.”

“There are bad soldiers who are trying to do bad things, but our good soldiers here, they are heroes who will do everything to protect us.” Ms. Balarayu said. She gestured toward Elena. “For example, Private North is a doctor.”

Now it was Elena’s turn to point at herself in confusion. “Well, I– yes, I’m a doctor. I help people who get hurt or sick!” She quickly seemed to gather that the children could use as simplified a version of the events as possible.

“It can be a little scary to have soldiers with weapons at the school and around the town, but they are good people who are here to help us. They are nothing like the bad soldiers you’ve heard about. Those bad soldiers are not Ayvartans like you and I. Ayvartans are good people.” Ms. Balarayu said.

All of Ms. Balarayu’s children looked at Leander and Elena. They were dressed in simple tunics and pants. Some of the girls had skirts and sari. None of them could have been older than ten years. Leander felt a little awkward from all the attention. He was probably not much of a sight for them. He wasn’t very strong or tall — he was pretty slender, soft-faced, more the picture of a singer or dancer than a soldier. Elena wasn’t much either.

“Do you have any questions for our new soldier friends, children?”

One child eagerly raised his hand, a little umma boy, with brown curly hair and very dark skin. Elena leaned forward, hands on her knees, and smiled at him. He looked past her — he seemed fixated on Leander above all else.

“Mr. Soldier, I heard there was a big fight. My daddy is a soldier too, Mr. Soldier, like you; what will happen if my daddy loses the big fight?” He said.

Leander froze up. His eyes drew wide. Elena looked on speechlessly at the little boy. Ms. Balarayu clutched her skirt, but tried to keep up a picture of strength. Leander collected himself as fast as he could. This was not a question anyone was expecting. It was such a dire question on so many levels. It touched upon him, upon his insecurities; but it also meant that this boy, circumstances depending, might never see his father again after this.

Though the responsibility was suddenly enormous, Leander spoke up.

“Your father is trying his best to protect you and all of us. He won’t lose; even if he has to run away from the bad guys sometimes, he’ll come back a winner, because he fought hard to save everyone.” Leander said. He made it all up quickly as he went. But he found as he spoke, it captured his feelings.

After all, he believed that he lost at Knyskna, and he was still here. No amount of tanks destroyed changed that outcome. Maybe this boy’s father would lose the battle; but Leander knew, if it was him, like it was before, he would retreat so he could fight back some other day. He had to believe that he was meant to be here even though he lost. That life went on beyond one battle, and that there would be more chances. Knyskna, Dbagbo, they were not about winning or losing, not yet; he had to believe that to be the case.

“That’s right.” Elena said. She stared briefly at Leander, a little mystified.

Opposite him, the little umma boy nodded his head and smiled at Leander.

Thank everything; his words had reached the boy. Leander sighed a little.

Ms. Balarayu seemed to sigh with relief as well. “Thank you, Private Gaurige.”

Thankfully, the two of them found cause to extricate themselves from Ms. Balarayu and her group after that exchange. Waving goodbye, he and Elena made their way quickly to the tin warehouse under a big tree across the field.

Inside, there were many dozen crates of supplies. Sitting near the open back of the warehouse, they found Bonde and Sharna lying around near a table. Sharna was lying atop the table, taking up most of it — she was a big girl. Bond meanwhile was balancing a patrol ration box on his index finger.

“Hujambo!” Leander said, waving his arms happily as he entered.

“Hujambo!” Elena joined in, sweeping her red hair behind her ears.

Bonde looked up from the ration box and dropped it. It crashed on the floor and made a noise that seemed momentarily to startle the young man.

“Hujambo, Leander, Elena! Nice to see you again. You both look like you’ve had it pretty easy.” Bonde cheekily said. He spoke nonchalantly as though he did not care that he had dropped that box so noisily on the floor.

“How’s the work today? You look busy!” Leander said, grinning at him.

“Don’t get cocky, my friend; you’ve come right after peak hours for us.” Bonde said, wagging his finger. “You should see it when a truck comes.”

Sharna raised her head from the table. She waved half-heartedly, and shifted against the surface. “We’re waiting on a truck right now.” She moaned sadly.

“You sound under the weather, did something happen?” Leander asked.

This happened.” Sharna said. Her voice was a long, slow droning.

“Not yourself outside a sniper post?” Elena said, poking her plump belly.

“You weren’t here when it happened,” Sharna moaned, “you don’t know.

“She’s just whining because we had to take inventory of everything here.” Bonde said. “We weren’t exactly efficient about it so it took us all night.”

“They had us count down screws. Do you know there’s special screws for medical stuff? Do you know there’s more than one kind? I had to count and sort how many of each different size we had. There’s a LOT of sizes.” Sharna said. She shifted from lying on her side to lying on her back, and spread her arms and kicked her legs on the table. She seemed to be trying to fly.

Leander burst into laughter at her antics. Elena cocked a little grin.

“Oh ho ho, then you’re poised to help, Sharna.” Elena said. “We need a crate of antibiotics, if you please. You must know where they are, I’m sure.”

“Doctor, help thyself.” Sharna said, sticking out her tongue childishly.

Leander continued to laugh, while Elena sighed and walked past them.

“I wasn’t paying close enough attention to what I put where I’m afraid.” Bonde said. He went back to trying to balance the ration box on his finger, while Elena dug through medical crates. Leander would have helped but he was still busy giggling to himself over uncontrollably over everything.

* * *

Dr. Agrawal had a dedicated office on the second floor of the occupied school building. There she had her desk, a cabinet for medical records, a telephone, and enough space along the wall for a trio of sleeping bags. Though she slept relatively little, her assistants both made good use of the little nook.

Elena and Leander took turns carrying the wooden crate of anti-biotics gingerly up the stairs. They found Dr. Agrawal sitting behind her desk, looking at herself on the back of a steel plate while applying pigment to her lips. She was startled when they opened the door, but managed not to run the brush off course. She quickly applied the rest of the bright red layer, put away the pigments in her desk, and addressed her two waiting assistants.

“You sure took a while to return! But thank you.” She said. She took the crate and laid it atop the desk, cracking open the top to check the contents.

“Everything in order?” Elena said, hands behind her back.

“Yes, it looks quite fine.” Dr. Agrawal smiled. “Thank you so much.”

Elena looked relieved. She must have wanted to make a good impression on the doctor. It was easier for Leander, he had nothing particular riding on the outcome of these errands. Elena must have thought each of them a test.

“Yes. You have both done splendidly, comrades.” She said.

Leander and Elena both saluted her at once.

“Thank you ma’am!”

Dr. Agrawal chuckled. Her eyes lingered on Leander for an instant.

She sat farther back on her desk chair. “Elena,” she began, “I would like to speak to Leander in private. Patient-Doctor confidentiality, you know. I look forward to working again with you tomorrow. Please go relax for now.”

Elena looked concerned for a moment. She gave Leander a hesitant look. Leander nodded to her and smiled, trying to communicate silently that he would be alright. She nodded back; her concern not quite alleviated.

“Yes, of course.” She finally replied. She bowed and exited the room.

Leander closed the door behind her and returned to Dr. Agrawal’s desk.

“Hey, um, what is going on Doctor? Anything bothering you?” He asked.

The Doctor beamed at him and withdrew a very large foil paper package from under her desk. She handed him the package and a letter that came with it.

“My friend Dr. Kappel is very excited about meeting you.” Dr. Agrawal said. “She sent me a gift for you, as well as a letter to help lift your spirits.”

“Oh wow!” Leander said. He put down the foil package, unable to discern what it was from shaking it. It was flat and broad. Instead he broke open the letter and started reading. In Knyskna, Dr. Agrawal had turned Leander on to the science of Dr. Willhelmina Kappel, who was studying gender and gender identity — things quite important Leander, as a very non-conventional man.

His eyes crawled hungrily over the soft cursive scribbles of Dr. Kappel.


Dearest Leander,

Guten Tag! Or should I say, “Hujambo!” Do you like my hand-writing? Can you read it? Please ask Dr. Agrawal to recite it to you in a safe place if you cannot read it. I do not like to type to kindred souls. It feels too cold. Besides which, handwriting is a better way to practice my Ayvartan than typing.

My name is Willhelmina Kappel, PHD from Rhinea University, and I am today both a Master Surgeon and Chief Psychotherapist in Solstice’s Ulyanova Medical Center, as well as a voting member of Solstice’s Commissariat of Health. To me, however, those things matter less than my job as a teacher. A teacher to surgeons, to psychotherapists. But more importantly, a teacher to my fellows, all over the world, who have not had a friend who is like them and that understands them as they are.

I want to share with you something that I think you will understand. You see, when I was very young, my family had it in their heads the odd notion that my name should rightly have been “Willhelm.” I think you can relate to this situation! I indulged myself in secret, feeling like a deviant; but in reality, the deviation is in society, not in ourselves. I am a woman just as much as you are a man, or whatever or whoever you desire to be, Leander.

I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are not sick in any way; what you have is not a disease. You do not need to be cured, and with some help, you can become your ideal person. Doubtless you have met some very ignorant people in your life. But I want you to know that there are many people who understand, who appreciate you, who do not look down on you for who you are; and many others who are exactly like you and I.

This world is a different one than the one “Willhelm” was forced to grow up in. There are people who don’t understand, but there are also people and cultures that have been paving the way for us. Since I began looking and sharing, I have found many people like me, and with all of their experiences and my own expertise, I have begun to compile a lot of documentation about our many situations. But those words and documents don’t mean anything by themselves; making people happy and healthy is what I am after. I will do everything in my power to help you, Leander, because I know what it feels like. Until then, I urge you to be calm and hopeful.

Medicine has come very far; I have personally seen to it that it has!

Should you require professional-sounding words to describe us try these: “transgender” persons. It is an adjective, not a noun or verb. I took it from chemical literature. So you can say with pride, I am a transgender man! Or just a man, you know, whatever makes you happy! There are many traditional words in the Ayvartan language, such as Hijra or Kojja, but I hesitate to use them as I am a whole foreigner — not even a Zungu! 

Excuse the ramblings of a silly woman, but I am very excited about this!

Because Panchali shared with me some details about you and your case, I’ve begun to make preparations. As a token of my appreciation for you and what you have experienced thus far, enclosed you will find a much better binder than any you can fashion for yourself or encounter casually.

Wear it around people — it can pass as a form of underclothes easily, and it will smooth the form of your breasts under your uniform. PLEASE DO NOT BIND USING BANDAGES. This is very important. Some disclaimers: for safety concerns, try not to sleep in your binder if you can help it. Also, stretch your arms over your head and twist your chest often. This is not perfect, but hopefully it will keep you comfy until we can meet in person.

I apologize for the length and casual character of this letter. I hope I do not assume too much about you. I promise to have the most open of minds when we meet, and to listen to every word of yours without judgment. Let us meet, for it is always an auspicious occasion when people like us do.

I wish you the best of luck and health. Say hello to Panchali for me too!

You can trust Panchali; I trust her too. She is one of the good ones!


Dr. Willhelmina Kappel


Leander felt his eyes tearing up as he read the letter. Dr. Agrawal stood up from her desk and tentatively approached, putting a supporting hand on his shoulder. She looked at him as he read, and grasped the paper in his hands, and of course she could only see the tears in his eyes, and not the swelling of his spirit, the immeasurable feeling of relief that rushed through him as he read the words of this woman he had never seen. He felt so immensely strong to finally have words for what he felt and to finally meet someone like him.

“Leander, is something wrong? Did Willhelmina write something insensitive? She can be a little over-eager; just tell me and I will have words with–”

He shook his head, and suddenly embraced Dr. Agrawal as if in Kappel’s place. He started to weep into her chest. She returned the embrace, stroking his short wavy hair and patting his back. Leander whimpered, “it’s fine, everything is fine, everything is wonderful,” to her and she quieted and allowed him to sob and work everything out. He was so stricken with emotion that it was hard to think. It was an eerie but delightful experience.

“Thank you for everything, Doctor Agrawal.” Leander said. He felt an outpouring of affection for her too. After all, when he had no idea if he could trust anyone, she was so kind to him. “Dr. Kappel says hello.” He added.

Dr. Agrawal smiled. “She can be a handful, but I know she means well.”

After Leander calmed down, they opened the foil package together, and there was a black sleeveless shirt inside. It looked flat enough at first sight, like normal clothes, but with some sort of panels and meshwork inside. The neckline was fairly concealing and the underarm too. It was an incredible piece of clothing. When Leander picked it up it had a bit of heft to it too.

“Dr. Agrawal, could you stand by the door, facing away? I want to try this on, but I’m a little uncomfortable being looked at.” Leander said softly.

“Of course! Of course! You needn’t hesitate to ask.” Dr. Agrawal replied.

She quickly turned her back and stood in front of the door, blocking it in case anyone tried to go in unexpectedly. Once out of her sight, Leander removed his jacket and undid his shirt. He removed the medical brace that he had been using to bind his breasts. Easily, he slipped into Kappel’s binder.

Leander pressed his hands against his chest. He never quite considered the size or shape of his breasts much, he didn’t think they were especially big or cumbersome, but there was still something incredible and interesting about being able to slide his palms and the underside of his fingers over a suddenly smooth chest. There was no mirror in the room, but he knew it looked flat.

“Doctor, you can turn around; what do you think, how does it look?”

Dr. Agrawal turned around and smiled at him with delight. She approached, and walked all around him, checking the garment. She pulled on the straps and on the back, and stared directly at his chest. “Not even a little bump left behind. It is indeed a much better binder than we had. Is it comfortable?”

He moved his arms and twisted his waist and chest. “It’s very flexible.”

“That Willhelmina is incredible. In such a short time, to produce this–”

Suddenly the door opened behind them; a woman with a bandana leaned her head inside the door and looked at the two of them, at first casually and then with a growing confusion. Both of them froze up, Leander shirtless, Dr. Agrawal hovering near him. The Doctor stared back nervously over her shoulder. Leander fought his instinct to cover his breasts with his hands — after all they were bound down and covered, so he should have been fine.

“Oh, excuse me, I didn’t know you were busy.” said the woman at the door.

Dr. Agrawal turned around, hands behind her back, smiling and speaking with a contrived, sweet affect. “It’s nothing Dr. Chukwu. You are not intruding. What brings you to my office today? Would you like a mint?”

Leander cringed reflexively, averted his eyes and started putting his shirt and jacket quickly back on. Dr. Agrawal stretched her arms out, picked up the tray of mints and thrust it toward the door, beaming ear to ear. Her hand was shaking a little and it was quite obvious she was nervous about this.

Dr. Chukwu quirked an eyebrow and waved away the mint tray.

“Not today, Dr. Agrawal. Anyway. Ma’am. I need to consult with you about our amputation procedures. There’s a few borderline cases here.”

“Of course! Let’s go see the patients.” Dr. Agrawal briefly nodded toward Leander, and then pulled Dr. Chukwu away down the hall, defusing their little situation. Leander remained behind, sighing with embarrassment.

At least now he knew that people had no visceral reaction to him.


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