Siv dropped the first bag of used litter from the lab mice cages into the waste incinerator and pressed the button that reduced everything to a pile of ash.
She grimaced. When she’d finished her medical training on the Mora Rash Research Program and applied to stay in an assistant position, she’d expected something more glamorous than the menial work she'd done that far. Her grades and work ethic had impressed everyone, and she’d sailed past other applicants despite her lack of immunity, arriving to smiles and handshakes when she was made an official member. Everyone had assured her that a breakthrough was within reach, that after they had begun from nothing in Year 40, the secrets of the Rash were about to become unveiled, and Siv Karlsson - yes, her - would be on the team that liberated the world from the scourge of mankind.
She dropped the second bag of mice litter into the incinerator and pressed the button again, massaging at her twinging shoulder. None of the over 40 samples she had had a chance to contribute to in her three years there had yielded any success.
And now, mice droppings. Again. It wasn’t a sign that everything was pointless, but it often felt like it. She released a sigh of relief that it was the weekend, and strictly speaking her shift was over. The world might look different on Monday morning.
She slouched to the chemical shower behind the first airlock, let it spray and rinse her hazmat suit, peeled it off her and slouched on into the regular disinfectant shower, let Maja sniff her over in the changing room, and scritched her under her chin until she purred and butted her head into Siv’s hand.
It began raining in the ten minutes it took the ferry to cross from Sandholmen island where both the lab and the Sollerön quarantine facilities were located. As she approached Mora through the downpour, she could see a large dark spot waiting by the docks, but it wasn’t until she disembarked that she recognized one of the horse-drawn cabs that usually preyed on tourists by the station. From behind the windows, someone waved excitedly, and the door was pushed open.
“Siv! There you are! Your schedule said you got off an hour ago, don’t always let people talk you into things! I saw Ebba leave instead of you, you know.”
“Don’t just stand there in the rain, get in before you start looking like a bum!”
Siv rubbed her eyes, glanced at the sky, and shrugged. She got into the carriage and pulled the door shut behind her. “I don’t already do? And why are you here? Did something happ-”
“- abducting you for some stress relief. Darling, you need a break!” Helga beamed at her. She looked tired as well. Rash Research tended to do that to people, especially to senior researchers like Helga, but it would take something other than that to break her spirits. Sharing lab shifts with Helga were some of the rare high moments at Siv’s job.
Sharing an evening with Helga was one of the rare high moments in her life.
A hot blush spread rose into her cheeks at the thought. Siv smiled. “Okay, I’m all ears. What did you have in mind?”
“Dinner first, my treat. I have a table reserved for us, though we’ll have to be quick getting there.”
Helga knocked on the window that separated them from the driver in front. She ran a hand through her hair, and Siv swore that it sparkled in the light of a street lamp they passed when the carriage began rumbling through the streets. “Then - up to you, though my idea involved that spa on Moragatan, champagne… I heard that they have Icelandic strawberries… and in the interest of frugality, we’ll have to share a room later.” Helga winked.
Siv should have a million objections - her salary, how she wasn’t dressed for anything except a weekend at home, the man Helga had met at a fundraising ball not long ago… Tor-something…
… they all died on her tongue when Helga wrapped the pearl necklace she wore around her finger and beckoned Siv closer, the other hand on her knee. “Say yes, darling,” she whispered close to Siv’s ear. “For me?”
Siv thanked her lucky stars that she was sitting, or her knees would have gone weak.
“For you… yes.”