Of Eternal Life Online - Micah Persell

Chapter One

Abilene Miller, sitting cross-legged on the floor, squinted at the rolls of gauze on the shelf in front of her through the fringe of her lashes. When the gauze blended into something resembling a snow-covered mountain, she sighed with satisfaction and leaned her head back against the wall behind her. The supply closet was the coolest place in the hospital, and with this little trick, she could almost fool herself into thinking she was not in the God-forsaken Mojave Desert.

“Southern California, you lying bitch,” she murmured as she took a vehement bite from her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Dreams of rolling ocean waves, vibrant night life, and Disneyland had quickly given way to the reality that was Needles, California: a small town of 4,000 outside of the Mojave National Preserve.

Of course, the two military recruiters who had come to her hometown of Aspen, Colorado, right after med school to convince her to come work in their “cutting edge” research facility had played up those very tourist attractions in a way that merited a court martial for perjury. If that was even a thing that could happen. She didn’t know. Military I am not, she thought in amusement as she set aside her sandwich for a baggie of Oreos.

She sighed again, this time in disgust. Top 5 percent of my class at Duke University Medical School, and I get duped. She hadn’t even begun her residency, and these guys had wanted her. Really, really wanted her. Enough to throw an obscene amount of money at her, making “no” an impossibility. And if she had thought it was suspicious that they wanted to hire her before she had even seen the facility, the pull of finally being on her own had overshadowed the oddity.

She snorted. “On her own” was proving to be an elusive concept. In fact, she felt as though every step she took was measured. She lived in a military dormitory with the four other women who worked in the labs. They all carpooled to work each morning, and the head of the hospital, Major Taylor, seemed to lurk around every corner, as aware of her movements as her overbearing parents.

Abilene knew she’d made a mistake in taking this job. She just so badly needed to prove herself. What was that old adage? If it sounds too good to be true, don’t effing move into a military compound?

“Abilene, you in here?”

She gave an unfeminine grunt in response and returned her attention to her Oreos. The door edged open, and Dahlia looked in.

“Oh, Abi, hon, are you fantasizing that the gauze is snow again?”

“Among other things,” Abilene replied.

Dahlia shut the door behind her and sank down to the floor beside Abilene, reaching over and snagging an Oreo from the baggie. She turned her warm caramel-colored eyes toward Abilene.

“Tough day?”

Abilene met her friend’s gaze. “Dahlia, how many patients have you seen today?”

Understanding lit in her friend’s eyes. Dahlia had been at the facility longer than Abilene. She had been recruited straight out of the University of Pennsylvania, also before her residency, and had been working here for nearly ten months. From their talks, Abilene knew it had been a long ten months.

“Abi, I haven’t seen any patients today. You know that.”

Abilene nodded. Both women had come to this hospital in part because they believed in the cause. According to the military recruitment team that had visited each of them, the government was conducting an experiment in which they planned to refurbish small, abandoned military buildings in rural areas. These facilities would be for the local population as well as for the processing of the armed forces’ medical tests. The facilities would employ civilian doctors, but they would be funded by the government and sanctioned by the military.

It was nice in theory; however, the largely Native American population in Needles viewed any help from the government with suspicion, understandably so, and avoided the new hospital as though they still used plague-ridden blankets — a reaction the government had to have expected, which lead Abilene to wonder what the real purpose of this facility was. It was hard to believe she and the other women were here just to run labs.

“What are we doing here?” Abilene pushed a hand through her short blonde curls in frustration. “Damn it, I want to see patients. I want to save lives. I want to do something.” Dahlia broke eye contact and looked at the floor.

Abilene blew out a breath. “Sorry.” She offered a smile. She’d gotten carried