Vivian Anschauen spends an entirely enormous amount of her life waiting. Waiting for people. Waiting for things. Waiting to see. If our body parts were sized proportionally to the time we spend on various activities, and if our left big toes represented time we spend waiting, then Vivian’s left big toe would be down the street, around the corner, and out of sight.
Waiting for news, waiting for orders.
In fact, Vivian sits in a waiting room right now. This particular waiting room is at a hospital emergency facility on Signus II, a water world orbiting a very distant, very hot sun. Signus II waits, also. Waits for its moons to create tides. Waits to inch closer to its star as its elliptical orbit contracts, then farther away as it recedes. And, ultimately, the planet is waiting to die. The sun will cool, swell into a giant, and envelope it. One day, that star will eat this planet whole.
Meanwhile, the planet waits, and Vivian waits along with it. She is happy. This is peaceful.
Most people hate waiting. Not Vivian. Vivian loves waiting. It’s why she is so good at what she does. In fact, she prizes her ability to wait and her love for waiting above all things.
Right now, she waits for the heads-up display on her contact lenses to tell her that her cracker has finished its job and that she can access the hospital’s network. While she waits for that, Vivian watches the triage nurse. His uniform is clean and crisp and white, almost blending in with the sterile, white walls and the white counter top behind which he stands. He sniffs occasionally, although there is nothing to smell. Vivian lets her eyes go out of focus a bit, and the nurse becomes a pale, white face bobbing up and down, attending various tasks with varying degrees of interest.
The nurse doesn’t wait at all. He checks, then double-checks his displays. He glances around the room. He adjusts his monocular implant. He talks to passers-by. He—good God, he’s cleaning something now. Vivian can’t stand it. How can he stand himself? He is so busy, always moving, observing without watching.
There are only two patients in the waiting room, and Vivian is not one of them. One is a sick child with a fever, waiting with her mother for her father to come. She will be leaving soon, but meanwhile she waits for her father. Later, she will wait to get better. The other patient is a man in his early twenties with a sprained wrist, talking with a friend to pass the time before a practicing nurse or a doctor can examine his injury. These two are workmates, judging from their matching jumpsuits and the same-colored coats they have draped over nearby chairs. From their conversation, Vivian has gathered that the sprain is a result of a workplace accident, and the man’s friend feels responsible for it.
These two don’t seem to mind the wait. Sitting in an emergency room with a cold-press on your wrist and shooting the shit with a buddy is probably a welcome departure from the daily grind in an industrial water refinement facility. Vivian respects them for their waiting capabilities.
But it’s Vivian’s fault that the man hasn’t seen a doctor yet. A victim of extreme and violent physical trauma arrived just a short time ago, and that arrival sent an ordinarily calm and quiet emergency room scrambling. Two surgeons, a handful of technicians, and a team of support staff are currently struggling to save the life of a man she sent here quite accidentally. That man shouldn’t be here. He should be a hundred kilometers out to a cold sea, swept up in the tides into which Vivian had thrown his bleeding, still-screaming body hours earlier.
She doesn’t know how he got here. But, damn it, he is a survivor—she has to respect that. Vivian expects that he won’t turn out to be much of one, though. High-ranking bureaucrats tend to have life-preserving technology at their disposal, but much of this one’s technology has failed him already. One more technical failure, well-timed—that’s all she needs to finish him.
The alert she has been waiting for flashes on her contact display. She is in! Vivian adjusts her seat for comfort and scratches her arm where her radio antenna implant has overheated. She prepares a few network sniffers and waits for the antenna to cool before she proceeds.
Vivian’s appreciation for waiting is not the same as patience, although it is similar. The anticipation is what sets the two concepts apart. Patience is just an ability to withdraw focus from that for which you are waiting, to do other things, to multitask in a manner of speaking. But while you are waiting for something to happen, really waiting, you become wrapped up in the act of waiting. The mind swarms with possibilities and probabilities. Waiting for your ship to come in. Waiting for a train to depart. What is the first thing he will say when he sees you? What will it be like when you get there? What will you see and do? Who will you meet? What will they be like?
But once Vivian is there, once she has seen and done, the wait is over. She has to find something else to look forward to. So, there she is, waiting again. Waiting for the call. Waiting for some indication of progress.
Her antenna is cool now, and she sends her bots into the hospital’s network to search for her mark. More waiting. Waiting for more information. Waiting for things to work out. Waiting to know. Maybe the bureaucrat will die on the operating room table. Maybe she will have to intervene. Maybe he is reaching for life, praying to God.
Or is he still waiting to believe in God? Has he given up that particular wait?
Vivian doesn’t know, but she can at least wonder while her softbot programs interface with the hospital’s machines.
The child’s father arrives, kisses her on the forehead (so sweetly!), and the family leaves together. The parents will wait together for their daughter to be well, and she certainly will be well soon. But she’s young, and maybe she doesn’t know that this sickness won’t last forever. Time is dilated for children, compared to adults. Everything takes on an air of permanence, such that a hungry four-year-old waiting an extra hour for her dinner is in agony. She’s starving! Maybe this child’s illness will teach her the value of waiting, Vivian thinks.
Vivian now has a camera view of the operating room where the bureaucrat lies prone. What fun! Two surgeons are operating on an area near his vitals, and technicians command various robotic arms wielding sutures, clamps, and staples. The image quality is poor on her contact lenses—she can only see four colors in eight shades—but it’s decent enough that she can tell that her mark is still unconscious, still bleeding, and not out of the woods yet—not by a long shot. If she waits, maybe he will just die and she can return home, mission accomplished.
This is the gift of waiting. It’s like opening a boxed present and finding out what’s inside. The experience of waiting and wondering, of dreaming up endless possibilities, is often more rewarding than the gift itself. Imagine receiving a gift-wrapped box. What’s inside? It could be anything. In fact, until you actually open the box, it might as well contain everything. And, in your mind, sometimes it does.
But, now, Vivian has opened the box. “Hmm,” she mutters to herself. “The cat is alive.”
Now is not the time for waiting, unfortunately. Time, now, for action!
Vivian engages the softbots and directs them to root control of the operating room’s robotic arms. She is not a surgeon or medical technician, and she has never operated these types of systems before, so she isn’t sure what exactly she will be able to accomplish. That’s okay, though; she’s just trying to create enough of a distraction to fuck things up for the surgeons.
To Vivian’s surprise, though, the robots are incredibly intuitive to use! Even with a low-quality display and rudimentary cybernetic commands, she is able to do far more damage than she dreamed possible. A suture needle catches a technician in her eye. A nurse bats wildly at a chromed machine intent on thwacking surgical staples into his face, hands, and neck. Psychiatric restraints deploy from a panel in the wall and foil a surgeon’s attempts at pulling his assistants to safety.
The entire operating room is a chaotic mess. Antiseptic mist is now so thick in the air that Vivian’s display has gone foggy, and she is sure the visibility of those present is poor enough now as to render their efforts at saving their patient completely futile. Someone makes for the door and is thwarted by a swift softbot attack on its locking mechanism. No one can get in or out.
Vivian smiles to herself, and the triage nurse addresses her. “Miss, you’ve been here a while. Are you okay? Do you need something?”
“Oh!” she blurts out. “Um.” Her concentration is pulled in so many different directions now by her own wetware and the various programs and softbots of which she needs to keep track. “No,” she says. “I’m just here waiting…for someone.”
“Alright.” The triage nurse fades into the distance, a white face with a dark monocular implant, bobbing away to its own busy place of doing without waiting.
An oxygen valve opens in the O.R., but nothing is attached to it to regulate the flow of ignitable gas. Another tank spills its contents into the room which is already saturated with a mist of sweat and blood and various and sundry medical sprays. As much action as she has already instigated, Vivian is waiting again! Ah, she wonders. What can happen?
The triage nurse is bringing another cold-press to the industrial worker with the injured wrist. The assassin closes her eyes to make the most of her heads-up display. She has been waiting for a bot to find a certain something, and here it is: fire.
Several of the medical staff have implants that show them the gaseous makeup of what they’re looking at. Vivian knows this. She’s waiting for them to notice that the oxygen ratio in the room has risen to dangerous levels before she proceeds, but the cauterizing torch is already deployed and ready to ignite.
Ah. Waiting has paid off once again. One of the technicians is yelling, motioning frantically to the others in the room. Action is taken. Protective measures are employed, faces covered. They will probably all survive, but their patient certainly will not.
Vivian pulls the trigger.
The entire room erupts into one bright, brilliant, well-contained fireball as the breathable air inside is ignited into a sudden blue flame and burns out just as soon as it is started.
The assassin stands up, closes her wetware connections to her softbots, and powers down her antenna. She is done, and already looking forward to the future.