Authors: Alan Dean Foster
“Uh-huh. I’m sure you do.” Rising, the officer gestured with her pad. “You know, the police in this city have tangible things to do—running down criminals, protecting the public, stopping fights, trying to solve actual crimes. That’s why we prefer to receive reports like yours via the box. It conserves manpower and saves money. So far I’m not hearing anything that leads me to believe this to be an especially sensitive matter demanding the immediate allocation of scarce departmental resources.”
The head of hospital security, muttering to himself, led the visiting trio out of his office. “We just feel it’s important that this be kept as confidential as possible,” Marinsky was telling the officer, “for the patient’s sake more than anything else. Information sent through the box is often intercepted by the media. If this were to be splashed all over the tridee, the patient’s right to privacy would be seriously compromised.”
anyone in the media was interested,” the officer pointed out, “which, given the very general nature of your report, I don’t think they would be.” She stretched, the lightweight blue-gray material of her tunic lifting with her shoulders. “That’s a choice you made, however. Just don’t make a habit of this sort of thing. Next time you need the police for something like this, use the box.”
“We will,” Marinsky assured her, giving her colleague and superior a firm nudge with one forearm to preserve her silence.
The officer sighed. “We’ll see if we can find your missing Arthur Davis. His being well above average height should help. But Reides City is a big place. There are a lot of tall human males here.” She finally relaxed a little. “I know. I’m regularly on the lookout for them myself.”
Thanking the hospital chief of security for his help, the doctors watched him trundle back to his office, still muttering to himself.
“I did not find that officer very responsive.” Like his tone, Sherevoeu’s expression was pinched. “Nor did I approve of the way you repeatedly truckled to her.”
“She was already in a bad mood when she got here,” Marinsky sensibly pointed out. “Antagonizing her further would have been a bad way to secure the police department’s cooperation.” They headed for the central lift.
“I wish we could have made it clear to her how important it is that we get that patient back. He really
unique. Of course,” Sherevoeu added prudently, “that is only a preliminary finding. Proper verification awaits further investigation.”
“There’s not much more we can do. Unless,” Marinsky added, “we want to go wide with it and involve the very public we told the officer we want to keep on the sidelines.”
Sherevoeu nodded. “Alerting the media would certainly locate him faster. But then everyone would know of our interest, and want it explained.” Including other doctors and researchers, and that would result in the dilution of whatever renown that might be gained from further scientific study of the distinctive and regrettably missing Arthur Davis.
“I see no need to resort to such publicity except as a last option.” He eyed his colleague intently. “You follow my meaning?”
“I believe I do, Eli. Surely the police will be able to locate our patient. Reides is a modern municipality, with efficient civil services. The constabulary will do its job.” She checked her work pad. “Meanwhile, we must do ours.”
“Yes, of course.” He checked his work pad. “I have four post-ops to look in on and half a dozen surgeries to program over the next several days. A new piece of capillary dilation software just added to the thrombosis AI needs a final checkout before we can start programming it for work. Whereas you, I believe, have some time off.”
“Two days, starting in the morning. I’ll be thinking of you, hard at work,” she added playfully. In a more serious tone she added, “You’ll notify me immediately if there’s any sign of our red-headed Mr. Davis? I’ll gladly forgo my downtime and get back to town as fast as transport will bring me.”
“You’ll be the first to know. Tell me something, Neila: do you think he just wandered off, or left intentionally?”
“A patient doesn’t remove his ident tag and stick it in a sandwich on the spur of the moment,” she replied gravely. “His flight had to have been carefully thought out. We can ask him about it when the police bring him back.”
“Yes,” he replied absently as he turned toward his own office. “At least by keeping this quiet we can ensure no one else develops an interest in him.”
But the neurologist was wrong.
Dr. Neila Marinsky’s house backed onto a section of carefully preserved evergreen forest on the outskirts of one of Reides’s more exclusive suburbs. From her private transport, encrypted signals were broadcast through the high, camouflaged outer wall of the urb, through the gated fence that surrounded her personal property, and into her garage. From there, it was steps to the interior. She was scanned and processed by additional security before she was admitted inside.
She loved her house. Nestled among the trees and the indigenous wildlife of Goldin IV’s southern temperate zone, it was her refuge from the pressures of hospital work and private practice. Though she occasionally shared it with visitors who did not come to discuss matters medical (though physiology was sometimes involved), she was single again, after one marriage made too early and messily terminated four years earlier.
So she was more than a little shocked when she entered the sunken living room to see that despite all the expensive, supposedly state-of-the-art home and urb security, her cherished sanctum had been violated.
The couple waiting there were less than threatening. They were well dressed according to the fashion of the moment, which usually reflected and ran half a year behind what was currently in style on Earth or New Riviera. The short woman seated on the couch had dark hair and eyes that were active and intelligent. Body in constant motion, eyes often downcast as if he were perpetually looking for something he had dropped, the man was undertall and skinny, his attitude apologetic but determined. They were about as innocuous-looking a pair as one could expect to encounter on the streets of Reides. Except they weren’t on the streets of Reides.
They were in her living room, in her home.
Though both wore small satchels slung at their waists, neither of the intruders brandished anything resembling a weapon. The woman smiled. “Good day of those that remain, Dr. Marinsky. You
Dr. Neila Marinsky, resident physician at Reides General Hospital?”
Strange greeting, she mused. She saw no reason to deny the query—or for that matter, to respond to it. “Who are you and how did you get into my house?” Reaching into her own bag, she drew out her com unit. While it might take the nearest police ten or fifteen minutes to get here, urb security would arrive in a third of that time.
The man nodded regretfully at the device. “That won’t do you any good, I’m afraid.” His gaze dipped. “We’ve cloaked your property in a privacy sphere.”
She tried anyway. The intruder was as good as his word. Nothing in the way of electronic communications could get in or out. Putting the com unit back in her bag, she set it down on a table. There were no weapons in the house, but the kitchen contained devices that could cut and bruise. Focusing on the intruders, she wandered slowly in that direction.
“It doesn’t matter how we got in,” the woman was saying. “What matters is that we are here. Matter is what matters.” To this cryptic observation, her companion nodded somberly. “We just want to ask you some questions, then we’ll leave.” She gestured at the austerely elegant surroundings. “You can see that we haven’t disturbed anything. We’re not thieves.”
Marinsky hesitated. If she could get rid of these two without trouble . . . “What do you want from me?”
“Just some information.” The man tried to smile pleasantly, but a quirk of his facial structure rendered it crooked. “You are treating a young man named Philip Lynx?”
Marinsky frowned, wondering if it might be better to make a break for the front door. Outside, it was unlikely anyone would hear her screams, but she might well make it to her vehicle. Once locked inside, she would be safe and could either leave or wait for urb security to arrive. Neither of her unannounced visitors looked particularly athletic.
“I am not. The name is entirely unfamiliar to me.”
The man’s smile grew more crooked as it widened. “He may have declared himself by another name. As he travels, he often disguises his identity. We know he is on Goldin Four and in Reides. By sheer good fortune we happened to see him, as we were watching the news, being carried, in an apparently unconscious state, onto a hospital transport. The tridee commentator observed that he was among a number of people who had lapsed into a simultaneous and inexplicable comatose state while walking through a local shopping complex. It was announced that all those thus afflicted were taken to Reides Central for treatment.”
Marinsky blinked. “I saw the manifest for everyone who was brought in. The name Philip Lynx was not on it. You’re tracking this individual?”
The woman spoke up without responding to the accusation. “He’s very easy to identify, our Philip Lynx. Handsome in a boyish way, red hair, quite tall.” Her tone was confident. “He travels in the constant company of an Alaspinian minidrag. Not a profile that matches many.”
“Arthur Davis,” the doctor blurted without thinking. So their patient had retained enough presence of mind, even when emerging from his coma, to give a false name. But why?
The peculiar couple was quietly pleased. “Then it is him,” the woman murmured.
Her companion nodded, the movement terse and jittery like everything else about him.
“What do you want with Mr. Dav— with this Philip Lynx?”
The man responded quietly, as if what he was saying was the most natural thing in the world: “We have to kill him.”
Absence of visible weapons or no, a chill trickled up the doctor’s spine. “Kill him?” she echoed dumbly. “But—why? He seems like a perfectly nice, ordinary young man.” No, not ordinary, she told herself. Which prompted the sudden thought: Could this somehow have anything to do with the patient’s unusual brain scan?
The woman replied with perfect calm, “If we don’t kill him, it is remotely possible he may find a way to kill Death. The Death that is coming for us all.”
“The great Cleansing that will remake the universe—may it hasten on its way.” Though softly spoken, there was no mistaking the messianic undertone in the man’s voice.
Not Qwarm, members of the professional assassin’s guild, an increasingly alarmed Marinsky told herself. These two didn’t dress like Qwarm, they didn’t act like Qwarm, and they didn’t look like Qwarm. They especially did not talk like Qwarm, who worked for money. No, the preternaturally polite but still unsettling intruders she found herself confronting were most likely a pair of religious nuts—though representative of what sect or cult she did not know. What was important, she told herself, was not to alarm or upset them. If she could do that and still satisfy them without compromising her personal or professional ethics, they might leave quietly, just as the man had insisted they would. Then she could notify the authorities and have them dealt with appropriately.
“Well, I can’t help you with this Lynx person.”
“You were identified as the physician in charge,” the woman responded. It was not a question.
“Yes, and I did see and treat the individual to whom you refer.” Marinsky disliked having to admit to it, but given the emotional volatility that was common to self-confessed fanatics, she knew that the important thing was to get them out of her house without upsetting them. She smiled in what she hoped was an ingratiating manner. “There’s no mistaking the flying creature that accompanies him.”
The man looked pleased. “What is his condition, and what healing chamber does he occupy now?”
“The last time I saw him,” she replied truthfully, “he seemed to be doing fine. As to the latter, he doesn’t occupy any room. He skipped out on us earlier today. Left the hospital without authorization.” She spread her hands. “I don’t know where he is, or even if he’s still in Reides. The constabulary is searching for him even as we speak.”
“Why would they do that?” Both of them were looking at her with sudden, fresh interest. Had she let something important slip? Reviewing her response, it seemed innocuous enough.
“He left without following proper hospital procedure. There are issues involved. Payment for emergency services rendered, for one thing.”
That seemed to satisfy them. “And you have no idea where he might have gone?”
Marinsky’s confidence returned. “If I did, the police wouldn’t be looking for him. He’d be back in the hospital already.” Could she put them more at ease by showing an interest in their bizarre theology, whatever it might be? “What’s this about killing death?” Though she had changed her mind about making a break for her transport, she still continued to unobtrusively work her way toward the front door.
The man lifted his eyes ceilingward. “It comes for all of us. For everything. All sin, all inequality, is to be washed away. In its wake, the cosmos will be born anew.” He lowered his gaze to meet hers. “What do you know about theoretical high-energy physics and extragalactic astronomics?”
The shift in subject matter startled her. “Not—nothing much, really. They don’t exactly impact on my chosen field. What does that have to do with killing death and with Mr. Lynx?”
“Everything.” Rising from the couch, the woman eyed her partner. “We’ll just have to keep looking.”
Now she and Sherevoeu had another reason to bring the young man back to the hospital: for his own protection. Did he even know that certain crazed fanatics were looking for him? When the police located him and brought him back, she would so inform him. He should be properly grateful.
“Was there anything else?” she asked optimistically, hoping to speed her unwanted visitors on their way.
“No, that seems to be, sadly, all you can tell us.” The woman preceded her companion in exiting the living room’s conversation area. “Thank you for your help.”