In the darkness, where the void meets the dawn, a ship's gash spilled jetsam and bodies like misty blood. The wound tore across the starboard belly and trailing fire and debris. The bulk transport staggered and began its long fall. Mom... Dad... Don't leave me...
But they didn't listen. I wasn't the only one screaming.
Perfect black and perfect quiet came and wrapped around me. I was safe and there was nothing...nothing to fear. I was going to die. At least I wouldn't be alone anymore. But god didn't listen. And the ship breathed...
Somebody get that goddam light outta my face. I ain't dead yet, and I'm gonna kick your ass. I know I ain't dead, because I can hear the wheeze of ventilation systems...
I wish I had a real home. One where I could go to school like they show on the vids, the ones in the shop windows. I'm not allowed to watch them at home. 'Fill your head with foolish dreams', they said. Maybe my parents; foster folks, were right. I'd never amount to anything. I must be stupid. Only an idiot would get shit on his boots when mucking out the stables. I shoulda been more careful. Now I can't go inside. Maybe they'll let me back inside in a couple of days. I'll hafta sleep in the barn until then. Can't forget my chores or I'll get beat again. I wish they were dead. If only I didn't smell like...
...cinnamon and baby powder. Oh well, Chaz always did like burning candles while we hyped some skunk. Helps to cut the stink when you're cookin' it down. I got the spoon if you got the needles. Naw, he won't miss me. He's not so bad. As long as he has hooch and a whore willing to squirt 'im when his pension check comes in, he leaves me alone...not like the last family I got stuck with. Speakin' of some squirt...how about it Chaz? Aww, you know I ain't got no dosh. Gimme a freebie... sigh... I guess I don't warrant even a charity squeeze... Just pass me that rusty nail you call a hypo... just enough to ease the pain...
... gonna leave another track in my arm. You'd think a nurse would be gentler with a deadman when suckin' his blood out and hyping skunk in his veins. I can't feel anything or see anything, but I can hear the ventilation system running. Funny how it just happens to be going at the same pace as my breathing. whoosh. wheeze. whoosh. wheeze. I can't move so I might as well take a nap...
Wakey wakey... naptime's over... darn.
I opened my eyes and looked around. They must have been closed for a long time because even the dark hurt. After I blink a few times, I can keep them open for a bit to look around. Glancing around, I can tell I'm in a bed and that its night-time; no light shining through the curtains. I can't feel my body and I can't move my head. Just as well. I don't really want to draw attention to myself until I know what's what. I must be hurt bad; they have me hooked to a ventilator with tubes up my nose and IV's in my arm.
Oh yeah...three chuckleheads and a tall thin guy. I got tagged with a knife. Where's Friedrich and Rortuvu? I know that I'm in a hospital...now what? Nothing I can do but close my eyes and think about stuff.
That tall guy was aiming for Roary. I remember that clear enough, but why? Dunno...she don't know anybody. She hasn't been out enough to make enemies. More people outside the gate want me dead than her. She couldn't've even met that thin man. He seemed to be keying on her the moment we entered the diner. But how'd he know that's where we were going to be? This didn't appear to be a random attack. We hadn't decided to go there until just 15 minutes earlier and we didn't tell anyone. Hell, we weren't even talking to each other. This stinks.
Someone came into the room. I sneaked a glance and saw a nurse's silhouette. I'll just play dead. Like that'll be real hard.... I keep still as she adjusted the tube up my nose....holy crap! What's that god-awful smell ?!? It smells like rotting fish heads. I can't help but to gag. Yooooww...Now someone shoved a firecracker into my liver and lit the fuse. Hurry nurse goddamit. Get that tube back up my nose! Mercifully, she injected something into the IV and night night sweet charlotte...playing dead suddenly became too easy.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Stracker, Miss Rortuvu, but he is not able to see visitors at this time. No visitors may enter the intensive care ward."
The doctor was tired and overworked. He hadn't wanted to speak to anyone but tradition forced him to speak to the patients' loved ones. If only the time wasted by doing just that could be spent caring for the sick... He shook his head and turned away.
"But doctor," insisted Friedrich, "it was only a simple knife wound, wasn't it? It's been 10 days. He should 've been fixed up already."
The doctor faced the two scouts and sighed.
"Yes. If it had only been a knife, he'd have been discharged days ago. Some sutures, antibiotics and slow drug and he'd have been as good as new. You have to understand that the blade was poisoned. This poison is an unusual sort that we haven't seen here before. We don't have an anti-toxin for it. The toxicology lab is working on an antidote."
Roary shifted uncomfortably, her kimono making a soft rustle. She knew that she had been the assassin's target, but now, Ishmael James was dying in her place, and it made her shiver to think of it. She offered up a silent prayer to the creator in hopes that he would keep Mr. James safe.
"Will he die, then?", Rortuvu asked quietly, her voice almost breaking into tears.
"We hope not."
The doctor forced a comforting smile, one he could do now, almost by reflex, when talking to relatives. He had learned how to smile like that soon after his internship.
"This poison seems to attack the cell wall, rupturing it before attacking another cell. In other words, it is liquifying his flesh. We seem to have stopped the process , or at least slowed it by closing off the area of the wound as best as surgically possible and flushing the toxins from his body by flooding the area with fluid. He has lost one kidney, his gall bladder and spleen. His liver has also been badly affected. That is why he is on life support. We are growing replacements from other cells. We can't use metabolism altering drugs like fast or slow, because of dangerous side-effects caused by the toxin. We don't dare perform replacement surgery until the poisons have been flushed completely from his body."
Mr. Stracker's eyes narrowed as he thought. Who would want to kill little Tuvi. And where did the poison come from if it wasn't known to the hospital's lab? His stern looks contrasted greatly with the young Vargr's child-like fidgeting.
The doctor continued. He found that talking sometimes calmed the families of the patients. Let them know the patient made it this far because of them. That way, they wouldn't feel guilty if things went terribly wrong.
"He survived because of your first aid. By not stopping the bleeding right away, a lot of the poison was flushed out before it could affect his body. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go over this report and check on his condition."
The doctor turned and walked away, down the corridor.
They had not stopped the blood flowing from Ishmael's side. Rortuvu had sprung up from where she had knelt, holding the dying man, and with an angry cry of revenge, attacked the three thugs who had assaulted them as they ate. She paused a moment to achieve balance and control her breathing before she leapt towards them. Her arms twirling gracefully, the sleeves of her stained kimono flapping like the birds sewn into the silk.
The leader moved behind his two cohorts for protection. When the little female dog grabbed one's collar and tossed him aside in a fluid unbroken motion, and dodged the other's punch easily without once breaking eye contact with the skinny leader, he felt his pants become warm. When she ducked as a chair came from behind her and slammed into the thug in front of her, the skinny leader winced. As she kicked backwards into the chair-swinger's gut, knocking him back across another table that collapsed, the skinny leader was standing in a puddle. When the Vargr chick calmly picked up two pieces of the broken chair and whirled them expertly in his direction, the skinny leader fled for the door.
She was about to give chase when Fred cried out.
"That's enough! We have to get Ish to the hospital. He's still alive and I want to keep him that way!"
She stopped but gave the moaning thug on the floor next to her a vicious kick out of frustration.
Fred took off his jacket and wadded it up against the gash but the blood and yellow pus still flowed but not quite as much. It'd have to do until the ambulance got there.
The assassin was nowhere to be seen. It was as if he was simply swallowed up by thin air.
Not much had been done around the ship in the past few days. They refit was now an entire week behind schedule and falling further behind fast. The hull was painted hastily in mauve and dark blue mottled patches; colors from quickly mixed shades of pink, blue and black with light grey on the bottom. It looked like the coloring of a dull purple sea creature. Final control section wiring test were to be done and various little interior stuff still needed to be done, but neither Fred nor Tuvi felt like doing much anymore. Those were the jobs Ishmael was assigned to accomplish. If Ishmael couldn't do the control work, then Fred decided that he wouldn't allow anyone else to touch it. Even if it meant the end of the project.
"Call for Friedrich Stracker... Mr. Stracker, you have a call..."
The tinny female voice of the paging system sounded cheerful. Fred made a note to have the voice changed. Yes, a simple chime would be nicer. At least it wouldn't sound as fake. He keyed the system and answered. It was the hospital. That would mean that the news was very good or very very bad, with nothing in the middle.
"Mr. Stracker? This is Dr. Quinlon. I have some news about your friend. Is this line secured? Very well... The toxicology lab has determined the type of poison used and is synthesizing an antidote. Mr. James should be okay once it is administered. I should be able to do the replacement surgery in a couple of days. But there is something I think you should know about this... It was a tailored poison. But luckily, it was not tailored for him. Otherwise, he'd have been dead before the ambulance team had even arrived to help. "
"How is that possible, doctor? He is going to be okay? A tailored poison you said?"
Tuvi pranced in the background. All she had heard was that her shipmate would be okay. Fred gave her a weak smile.
"Yes," continued the Dr. Quinlon, "Becasue it was not targeted at Mr. James, its attack was slowed greatly it seems. In fact, it was not targeted for humans at all... But we share over 97% of the genetic material with the intended victim."
Fred's smile grew weaker as he understood and watched Tuvi.
"That poison is optimised for Vargr."