Ghosts of the Past by DezoPenguin

Chapter 5

"You're lucky you got her to us when you did, Sejanus," Dr. Karuta told me. The slim, olive-skinned man adjusted his glasses, a mannerism that less than three minutes' acquaintance had told me inevitably preceded bad news. "Healing medications such as a Trimate would have cured the wounds, and a Moon Atomizer perhaps even dealt with the injured organs, but the internal hemorrhage would have been fatal without proper medical treatment."

I winced at the thought. My own injuries had been far less severe, and typical wound-healing methods combined with bone repair just below the knee had patched the damage. Dr. Elessa, a slightly plump blonde, had barely entered the room while the nurse worked on me. I'd need a brace on my left leg for added support for a couple of days while the bone-fix set permanently, but that was the full extent of it.

"The irony is, the broken collarbone—"

I remembered Rouge's clubbing blow to Talissa's neck.

"—actually did more damage than the abdominal wound, from the point of view of our current medical technology. The broken end, you see, cut her windpipe and typical field medications have no way of clearing fluid from the lungs." Karuta's expression brightened. "But as it stands, she should be back on her feet within two or three days."

I let out a heavy sigh.

"I'm glad to hear that. For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell me there was permanent injury."

"Oh! My sincere apologies. I find it irritating, myself, when people give me incomplete information, so I tend to overcompensate when I speak to others."

"You don't need to apologize for that, Dr. Karuta. I spend most of my life, at least the work part of it, wishing that someone would give me the whole story for once."

"Yes, but I'd wager that most such stories do not turn you a faint green shade with medical-detail-induced nausea," he said with a trace of humor I hadn't expected from him.

"You'd be surprised," I told him dryly.

"Perhaps so..." he responded with a slow nod.

"In any case, thank you for telling me. Is Liss able to receive visitors?"

Karuta slid his glasses up his nose.

"I'm afraid not, at least for another six or seven hours. After that, it could be as much as another day before she regains consciousness, though of course this is by no means a bar to her friends and family coming to sit by her bedside. But as I said, it will be some time before even that is possible. If you like, the medical center can notify you by simple-mail when that happens."

"I'd like that; thanks."

"Well, then, if that is all...?"

When I did not respond, he turned to leave, but then the thought hit me that I had a basically friendly source of information right in front of me.

"Dr. Karuta?"

He turned back to me.


"I know it doesn't relate to Liss's condition, but isn't this the same medical center where Dr. Mome is being treated?"

"That is true. What of it?"

"Well," I said, putting on my best worried face—not hard since about a half-second after thinking up my excuse for asking I began to genuinely be concerned about it, "isn't there some question about D-cellular infection? As a hunter, I know how pernicious these cases can be, and with Liss being down for an extended period, I'm...worried."

"How did you know about that?" he asked, a bit suspiciously. Of course, somebody would have gagged the release of any information about the D-Factor. The one constant among the various groups warring in the shadows over Ragol was that they all had their reasons for keeping the general population in the dark.

I shrugged and favored Karuta with a grin.

"You know how Pioneer 2 is with rumors. Liss and I were here earlier today to see Mome," I added. The fact was verifiable and looked bad for me if I concealed it, but supported my story if I told it up front. "We're concerned about him, you see, so we wanted to find out whatever we could."

"I see." Again with the glasses. "I have to admit that Dr. Mome's case is a very puzzling and disturbing one. He is actually Dr. Elessa's patient, so she would have more details, but there is a persistent toxic effect which treatment has been able to hold largely in check but not eliminate, keeping him in a comatose state. Of course, I am speaking generally and in layman's terms."

"When it comes to medicine, I'm as lay as a man gets. You don't have to apologize to me for keeping it simple."

"Thank you. In any case, we are keeping Dr. Mome under quarantine as a precaution, but thus far we have detected no signs of...contagion...whatsoever. In fact, we have thus far been stymied in our attempts to find a cause. We are by no means convinced that the so-called D-Factor is involved, other than the stubborn resistance the condition is displaying towards treatment. I've seen nothing that would indicate, however, that Talissa would be in any danger. Dr. Mome has been here for two days, and there has not been a hint of his condition spreading in any way."

"That's a relief," I said with a very genuine sigh of that emotion. "By the way, do you know who brought Mome in? That's someone I'd like to thank."

I'd thought Karuta might have seen the request as odd, but apparently it didn't strike him that way.

"As Talissa ought to thank you. Let me just consult the records." He took out a Personal Data Link, a pocket model instead of the wrist-mounted type we hunters favored, and quickly accessed the data from the medical center's files. "Here it is. Two days ago, Dr. Mome was admitted for emergency treatment as an apparent poison case at 14:43 by two hunters named Parlo Astwell and Gene Dyson."

"Astwell and Dyson. Thanks, Dr. Karuta, and please make sure that I get that message about Liss's condition."

"Actually, so long as I have my PDL out, I'll go ahead and log the request now. Take care of yourself, Sejanus; while we appreciate the business you hunters bring us, I for one personally hate to see all my work go to waste when someone reinjures themselves, and I daresay Dr. Elessa agrees."

"Well, it tends to get to me, too," I admitted.

"Yes," Karuta agreed with a smile, "I suppose it would."

I was not in a good mood when I left the medical center. Sympathy for Talissa's injuries was one part of it, though at least Karuta's reassurance that she'd be all right had started dissolving the cold knot of fear I'd had over her when I'd first seen the shot pierce her body. Added to that was the inescapable fact that we'd blown the job, blown it badly. The data I'd downloaded was either buried in the Seabed among the corpses of the enemy hunters or—if Scarface and the Force had been able to escape the disappearing Sinow and the Dolms—in the hands of that enemy.

Can't save your sister, can't keep your military contract, can't do your job as a hunter.

No. No!

I couldn't change the past, but I didn't have to be a slave to it, either. Until Liss had hauled me out of the Hatless Dezorian, I'd been laying down and letting my problems steamroller over me. Not any more. Not when a friend was lying bleeding and broken.

What I wanted—no, needed—to do was to identify the opposition and bring them down. If they had Mome's data I'd recover it; if not stopping them at least meant that they wouldn't be hiring more hunters to get in the way of a retrieval operation. I knew that there would be such an operation if the disk hadn't made it back, because with the terminal destroyed the copy I'd made was the only compilation there was.

I had two threads of inquiry: Mome's poisoning and the hunters who'd ambushed us in the Seabed. The latter was the better route, the more direct connection, but I'd investigate both. Every scrap of information was useful, and I couldn't afford to put all my efforts on one route only to find myself deadended. At least two of the four hunters were dead now, maybe all four, and the dead made for poor leads.

Besides which, all the initial questions could be asked of the same source.

I used my PDL to send a simple-mail message via the BEE network. Unlike ordinary communications, simple-mail was very hard to hack into. Some said it was impossible, but I doubted that—things that were allegedly impossible happened all too often since our arrival at Ragol. Still, it was better than a data-link call; with the apparent interest in this mission, I wouldn't put it past the bad guys to tap my calls.

The message was simple: Hopkins, I need to meet with your father.

I spent a bad five minutes waiting for a reply. The way things had been going for me lately, he might be tied up with something, or worse yet down on Ragol's surface. He'd gotten a new spinner from somewhere and had been talking about taking on a quest to bag a De Rol Le...

The beep from my PDL indicating an incoming message brought with it a wave of relief. Even better, though, was the content of his terse reply:

The Hatless Dezorian. Fifteen minutes.