Read Wounds, Book 1 Online

Authors: Ilsa J. Bick

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Space Opera, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Literature & Fiction, #TV; Movie; Video Game Adaptations, #Star Trek

Wounds, Book 1 (9 page)

BOOK: Wounds, Book 1
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“No. Because if I accept that more and more of me isn’t flesh and blood, then I give up what it is to be a man.” Saad’s eyes lingered on hers. “And, above all, I’m a man, Elizabeth Lense. I have lived and I will die as one.”

She stared back, and the insight was like the quick flash of a shooting star:
A little like the Borg, but without the collective
. Her eyes searched Saad’s face, its clean lines and strong bones. No scars at all, and that struck her as odd, though perhaps his scars were hidden by clothing. But she liked what she saw, and it had been a long time since she’d seen a man she hadn’t dismissed out of hand.

And then, on the heels of that thought, she remembered what Julian had said:
I am a person, and I have feelings to hurt…

“And me?” she asked. She looked away and hoped that Saad hadn’t noticed that shame, not embarrassment, burned her cheeks. “What about me?”

“You are a free woman, Elizabeth Lense. You may live and die as one.”

“But only if I stay here.” She glanced at him askance. “Right? Otherwise, I’ll die free, only a lot sooner.” When he nodded, she said, “So I can be your medic, or you’ll kill me. Not much of a choice.”

“No, but it is a choice. Whichever you take, however, one thing is certain.”

“And what’s that?”

“Either way,” he said, “there is no going back.”

Chapter
12

T
wo hours later, after the patient had been stabilized and a corporal had wheeled the gurney out of the ER for an isolation unit in the ICU, Blate came and stood over Kahayn and Arin, who were seated at a workstation, busily entering their notes and data into the official computer record. Arin saw him coming first, casually stabbed a control that blanked the 3-D VR, and gave Kahayn a gentle nudge with his elbow.

“Yes, Blate?” Kahayn sighed, pushed wisps of brown hair from her eyes, looked up. “What now?”

“Don’t think that your heroics here will preclude a full account of your conduct. I intend to make my report, and I will most specifically make note of your carelessness.” The security director’s right eye skidded left, then tacked out to fix a glare. “You may be cavalier with your own life, Colonel, but I have a complex to think of and a command to which I owe my loyalty.”

“As do I, Blate.”

“Don’t be stupid, Colonel. You had no way of knowing if that man was infected. For that matter, you still don’t know. He could be incubating some disease.”

“Well, then if I die, I won’t have to worry much about what you report, will I?” Then Kahayn snorted. “You know something, Blate? I can’t figure out if you’re mad because
he
didn’t die, or because
I
didn’t keel right over and kick off from some phantom virus.”

“Perhaps you will.”

She was tempted to point out that then he’d likely dance a jig but quashed that as unhelpful and downright dumb. “Blate, there’s nothing there. I sent off blood for culture. We’ll see if anything grows. But I doubt it. As for the patient, I’ll tell you what. I’ll keep him in isolation. In a couple of days, I’ll move him to the research wing. How about that? The wing’s got no systems that feed back to this complex, and I’ll be the only doctor, okay? Me and a couple of nurses, and that’s it. Arin to take over in a pinch. We’ll take full precautions.”

Blate’s eyes clicked from her to Arin and then back again. “I’m still making my report. And I expect updates and
all
your data, Colonel. All of it.”

“Of course,” Kahayn said and managed to sound like she’d expected that. “It’s standard procedure for a potential security risk, right?”

“Yes,” said Blate, and then his lips thinned to a smile. It didn’t improve his looks. “Because I have eyes, Colonel, I have eyes.”

“Of course you do.” She paused. “And I should know; I put them in myself, and just like you wanted them, too. But you really ought to come in and let me adjust the tracking on that leftie, Blate. It’s downright scary.”

“No, thank you. I like my eyes the way they are. But I have eyes, Colonel. I can see as well as the next man, and I saw that patient.” Blate waited a beat. “No scars, Colonel. He doesn’t have any
scars
.”

Her pulse ramped up. She swallowed back a flutter in her throat. “Except the one on his forehead.”

“Which he got today. Which you gave him. But nowhere else.” Blate breathed in, pulled himself up. “Not one. That’s interesting for a…native, don’t you think?”

She said nothing.

Blate nodded as if she had. “This isn’t over, Colonel. This is far from over.”

Arin waited until Blate was gone. Then he sighed, stabbed at his glasses and looked over them at Kahayn. “That’s not good.”

“Don’t start.” Weary to the bone, Kahayn slumped, washed her face with her hands. “One disaster at a time.”

“Mmmm.” Arin hesitated and then said, “How did you know? Without my having to say anything?”

“I didn’t.” Her eyes were still closed and she cocked her head to one side. “I…
heard
it. Or I didn’t hear it. That’s what it was.” She opened her eyes and gave Arin a tired smile. “No click. So, no periatrium. It seemed the only explanation.”

“And the defibrillator? That was one-fifty above the recommended charge.”

She hunched her left shoulder, let it fall. “Without the periatrium to kick in at the PA node, I figured there’d be more resistance. So I jacked it up. Lucky guess.”

“Yah,” said Arin. “Lucky.” Then he brought up the 3-D VR they’d been studying just before Blate approached. The heart was outlined in green; the lungs were gray and air-filled spaces were black. Arin pointed. “A heart with four chambers instead of five. That’s amazing. And look at that left lung. Two lobes.”

“And not three, yah. You’d expect that, the heart shifted over to the left. No room for another lobe. How the hell does he get enough oxygen without the extra surface area?”

“That’s a damn good question. And that organ on the left wedged under the diaphragm, what is that? Too small for a spleen, and his thymus is a third the normal size.”

“Beats me. For that matter, why is the blood ferrous? Like it’s much more deoxygenated and he requires way more oxygen, a higher partial pressure than we do.”

“I don’t know. But he’s different, that’s for sure.” Arin massaged the bridge of his nose between his thumb and right index finger, then blinked and resettled his glasses. “Weird, but I’m not getting that creepy-crawly feeling you get when you
know
some guy’s a mutant. Know what I mean?”

“Yah. I know. I’ll bet when he’s tuned up, his system’s going to work just fine. That kind of throws out mutant right there.”

“So, if he’s not a mutant…”

They were silent. Kahayn thought of that weird suit. Then she said, “Don’t go there. Not yet. Give it some time.”

Arin nodded. “Okay. I can do that. I’d do anything for you; you know that?”

“Yah.” She squeezed the back of his hand with her good one, her right. “I know. Would have fallen apart a long time ago without you.”

Arin’s eyes roamed her face, and his lips parted as if he were going to say something. But then he seemed to change his mind and, instead, said something else. “Idit, you won’t be able to hold off Blate forever. Sooner or later, he’ll be back and he’s going to ask for this stuff, and we’re going to have to turn this stuff over.”

“I know that.” Then she gave her friend a narrow, sidelong glance. “But that guy’s pretty sick. I mean,
really
sick…”


Very
sick.”

“And we wouldn’t want a relapse.”

“No. We wouldn’t.”

“Because he’s very sick, and I think we both know what will happen if we act too soon.”

“He’ll relapse.”

“Right. So how about we make sure that we turn these over much later?”

“How much later?”

“Say…a month. Six weeks?”

“That’s a long time,” said Arin. “I think it’s too long. Remember, Blate’s got the suit and that helmet. That piece of jewelry, or that pin, or whatever it was. And that uniform…I have to tell you, I agree with Blate on that one. That patient? He’s military in someone’s army, and it’s sure not ours. So Blate’s going to be back long before that month’s up. I give him a week. Then he’s going to want some answers.”

“We’ll give him answers.”

Arin shook his head. “It’s one thing not to volunteer information; but it’s another to lie. We got away with it today because we didn’t lie, not technically. We simply—”

“Didn’t mention a few pertinent details. Like that heart, his left lung, and the iron in his blood.”

“Right. And you’re going to be seeing this guy every day. You’ll have more data, right? So when Blate asks, how are you going to hide things? There are records, you know. Lab values in the computer any person with two neurons on a T-connector could pull up.”

She thought. “I can keep two records. One here. The other on the computer in the lockout room of the research wing. That’s an isolated system, doesn’t tie in here at all by design. So it’ll just be a sin by omission. Things that I was just kind of storing. For study, you know?”

“Might work for a little while.” Arin laced his fingers in his lap in thought. “Either way you look at it: We do this, there’s no going back. This is like being a policeman or a detective and not handing over evidence. You know?”

“I know that. In a way, we are the detectives, aren’t we? The police? We’re all part of the same military, and the military runs things.”

“Runs everything.”

“Yah.” She paused. “You like that?”

“I don’t know any different.”

“But I can
imagine
different. I can imagine a time when the military serves the people, not the other way around.”

Arin poked at his glasses. “Careful. Now you’re talking like a Jabari. An Outlier.”

Like Janel
. A talon of grief snagged her heart. “I can’t…cooperate with that kind of thing. Not now.”

Arin was silent. Kahayn said, “I think a lot of the work we do is important. Otherwise people die. I’m a doctor; I don’t like that. But what I also don’t like is using what I do to take away a person’s freedom. That’s not right.”

“But you’re doing it anyway, Idit,” said Arin. “With the primates. That neural implant.” He didn’t have to add:
and those test subjects
. She knew that was there, by implication.

“That’s,” she searched for the word, “different. You know it is. I don’t have a choice about that.”

“No,” said Arin. “You do. You could choose to give it up. I really don’t know why you haven’t. But you don’t like the consequences of giving that thing up, whatever you think they are. There are no test subjects anymore. Just the primates. So I don’t get that. Anyway, let’s just say that you aren’t wild about the choices you
do
have.”

She wanted to argue, but he was right and she told him so. Then she said, “So, this guy…They don’t ask, we don’t tell. Okay?”

They stared at each other without speaking. Then Arin nodded, sighed. “Okay. Let me ask you something, though.
Why
are we doing this?”

In reply, Kahayn tapped a command into the computer, and the image of that strange heart vanished. Not forever. Nothing, Kahayn knew, was forever except, maybe, love. Or its ghost. And Arin was right because Blate would be back, and then, maybe, there’d be more hell to pay. But she did it anyway.

She looked up at Arin. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Right or wrong, there’s no going back,” Arin said again.

“Yeah,” she said. “You got that. No going back.”

Chapter
13

H
e came to himself in bits and pieces, and in tremendous pain. Everything hurt. Pain knifed his brain; his throat was raw and felt bloody. His lungs burned. There was something hard in his mouth and down his throat and when he tried to swallow, he couldn’t.

Then he heard a weird gasping groan like the wheeze of an old bellows. There was a gabble of voices, all overlapping, like the conversation of too many people in too small a space—or maybe that was a memory. He couldn’t tell. But there was someone, a woman, telling him not to fight the tube:
Don’t fight, try not to fight, try to relax, let us help you…

His eyelids peeled apart, slowly. Light, too bright, out of the corner of his right eye. The light hurt. Felt like a red-hot poker jammed into his eyes. Bed. Pillow under his head. Bars to either side. Linens and something scratchy on his right arm. Blanket, maybe. Something in his mouth. That queer grunt of air, pulling in, pushing out. His chest rising. Falling…

Falling. He remembered falling. And he remembered blood in his eyes, the iron taste of it in his mouth. The crawl of blood on his neck, dripping from his fingers. He also remembered the moment the runabout shattered in an agonized squall of metal shear that spiked his brain at the same time that a steely vice of panic squeezed his chest. He remembered the way his lungs exploded with pain as superheated air and gases scorched his throat and boiled away his voice so there was no sound when he screamed.

Runabout…gone…Elizabeth…

He must’ve moved because something stirred in the darkness. Movement to his left. He tracked it with his eyes, and then he saw the opaque white of a tube attached to a machine.

Ventilator. Tube down my throat; what’s wrong with my lungs?
He realized now that he was hooked to a machine that breathed for him. He didn’t like it; he wanted that tube out; except when he tried to raise his arms, he couldn’t move.

And then he panicked. Maybe he didn’t have arms anymore; he couldn’t feel them, and he was so cold, and there was the machine breathing for him. Fear clutched his chest, and suddenly he couldn’t breathe at all, despite the machine. He was back in the runabout, superheated air scorching his throat and he couldn’t even scream…

“Easy, easy. Relax.” A woman’s voice, and then she materialized out of the shadows: a shoulder-length fall of dark-brown hair framing a square chin, full lips, and brown eyes, but her skin was dark, an odd shade of blue, and there was something about her eyes, something not right…

BOOK: Wounds, Book 1
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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