Long Night

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"What's going on?" Marcus asked as his fingers traced the door.

Nathaniel lowered his book into his lap and sighed. "Talia is with the doctors, she'll be fine."

"She's been back there longer than the last time," Marcus countered, wiping his face as he resumed pacing the waiting room. As he walked past Nathaniel, Marcus plucked the book from Nathaniel's grip and flipped through the pages. "Don't you have any pressing concerns?"

"Not really," Nathaniel answered as he rushed to his friend and reclaimed his book. "Thankfully, I have a bustling team of assistants whom I trust."

Marcus grimaced, taking several deep breaths. "Fine, when's the estimated completion date for the line to the Western Region?"

"I didn't think you desired to jump into politics."

"I don't," Marcus grumbled as he dropped into a chair. He rubbed his thighs with shaky fingers. "But until those tracks finish, I can't complete my work."

Nathaniel eased across from his friend and wrung his hands. "We've already shaved time off your deliveries to Kethra."

"I thought you completed the tracks to the central hubs of each region simultaneously."

"We worked on them in parallel," Nathaniel concurred, tucking his book under his arm and leaning into the chair. "Unfortunately, those monsters damaged the rails to Kethra's hub."

Marcus leaned his head against the wall and stared at the ceiling. "Are those eggheads still spinning their wheels?"

Nathaniel crossed his legs and pursed his lips. "They've discovered some leads."

"With as much of a nuisance as those giant creatures turned into," Marcus commented, peering down his nose. "Hasn't the brain trust developed anything more than theories?"

With a chuckle, Nathaniel placed his book upon his lap and flipped through its pages. When he found his place, he tapped the page and answered. "You're more than welcome to join them."

"I'm not a scientist," Marcus quipped.

"Besides, I figured you would be more appreciative of their work."

Marcus sat up and leaned over his legs, "Why?"

Nathaniel closed the book around his index finger and laid his forearm across his thigh. "Well, for starters," he said, spreading his arms out like encompassing wings. "They've improved Talia's experience."

"You're kidding me, right?"

"No, I'm not," Nathaniel answered. "They've made amazing strides."

Marcus stared towards the interior of the hospital and shook his head as he climbed to his feet. "That may be true, but Talia isn't reaping the benefits. And their inability to perfect the trains doesn't instill me with confidence."

"They're working on it," Nathaniel muttered as he turned to the next page. "How have the other farmers taken to breeding livestock?"

Marcus shook his head and resumed pacing, "Most have adapted to the task."

"Can they overtake Kethra's group?"

Marcus stopped in front of the door and wrapped his fingers around his chin. With a groan, he dropped his hand. "With Talia's pregnancy, her oversight has dwindled. But despite that, the ones on the borders appear to be breeding enough livestock to support themselves and the other regions."

Nathaniel tapped his book and glanced towards Marcus. "That's excellent."

With a huff, Marcus leaned against the wall, answering, "It's decent news."

"Who's being pessimistic?" Nathaniel inquired. "It has been less than a year, and your farmers are already beginning to distribute livestock."

Marcus started rubbing his weary eyes. "This plan won't work if the trains don't start shipping the animals."

"Give the brain trust a couple months, and I'm sure we'll have everything up and running."

"You've been saying that for over a year."

"We're close," Nathaniel replied.

Marcus rapped on the door while he chewed his lips. "Why haven't they updated me yet?"

"I can always go back there and get one for you," Nathaniel quipped, tracing his book.

Marcus's eyes drifted toward his friend as his fingers clenched into fists. He pounded the wall and grumbled, "I'm not comfortable abusing our friendship."

"It's not abused when I offer, and your lax attitude might be why the doctors haven't told you anything."

With a sneer, Marcus retorted, "Getting an update isn't too much to hope for in a hospital."

"Marcus," Nathaniel muttered, closing his book. "You remember what happened the last time you were here."

Marcus's nails dug into his palms as his mouth strained to contain a retort.

Standing up, Nathaniel walked over and placed a hand on Marcus's shoulder. "Let me get an update for you."

Before Marcus could reply, the door swung open, and a nurse entered the waiting room. Marcus gripped the nurse's shoulders. "Is everything all right?"

The woman peeled Marcus's hands off her and smiled. "It was a tough labor, but Talia is fine."

"What about the baby?"

"There were a few complications," she said. "The doctors are doing all they can."

"What's wrong?" Nathaniel asked, tugging Marcus away from the nurse.

"The baby is a little underweight and having some respiratory problems."

Marcus crumpled to the floor, sobbing.

Nathaniel pulled his friend to his feet. "Take us to Talia."

"This way," the nurse replied and hurried down the hall. Within moments, she opened a door and ushered the men inside. "She needs her rest."

Marcus stumbled out of Nathaniel's hold and raced over to Talia and enveloped her.

She squeezed Marcus and stared at Nathaniel, her resolve shattering. "They won't tell me anything."

"We'll find out what's going on," Nathaniel assured her as a knock rang throughout the room.

All three heads spun towards the door, watching a doctor stride in carrying a bundle. He cleared his throat and walked over to Talia. "Your daughter gave us a scare, but she's doing much better."

"Is she okay?" Talia and Marcus asked in unison.

The doctor nodded and lowered the baby into Talia's arms. "We're going to keep you both for a few days, but we're confident you'll both pull through."

Talia ran a finger along her daughter's cheek and stared into the pale blue eyes. "She's beautiful."

Marcus kissed his child's head and said, "Without a doubt."

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