Mira finished calmly slicing the second victim’s equivalent to a liver with the very large knife while Carlacci “ran the gut.” He had watched her do this for the first victim and thought it was completely amazing that she hadn’t retched into the sink. She had explained that the intestines had to be cleaned under water before inspection. They were finally clean when he heard Mira murmur behind him.
“Mmmm…stew. I’m hungry.” The doctor straightened up, away from the freshly opened stomach and its smell of acid, and wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. She had been a bit rusty with the autopsy equipment at first, but the knife felt like it had never left her hand. She wished she had had a chance to get rustier. There was just something about autopsies that could really get to her after a while.
It is easier when they don’t look so much like yourself, though, she thought. You can concentrate better. And thank the gods, they aren’t anyone I knew. The doctor had a quick flash back to the autopsies she had done after finding White Star 24. She firmly forced away the feeling of being followed by a floating dead body.
Mira stretched her back and noticed as she twisted around that Carlacci was staring at her with a completely undecipherable look on his face. Remembering herself back in her first year of Medical School, her mood lightened and she smiled. “What? It’s been six hours since we got here. Aren’t you hungry?”
His mouth moved first one way, then another, as if he was considering and discarding several replies. Finally, he said, “Maybe once I can’t smell this person’s last few meals, I’ll be able to think about my next one.”
Mira suppressed a laugh into a soft chuckle. “Well, we shall be finished here in another hour or so. Then, I can get a printout from the computer. After that, I can digest the findings while I ingest some food.” The short woman was struck by her unexpectedly clever turn of phrase and had to stifle another giggle. She turned back to the stomach she had been inspecting. Moving it under a stream of water, she heard a loud clack. She reached down and retrieved the small black pebble. “I’ve found another one. I think this is definitely something connected.”
“I don’t think Abbai have to swallow stones, not for digestion or anything,” Carlacci said. “Never saw one do that, anyway.” He placed the double handful of intestines on a shelf beside his sink so Mira could look at it more closely if she wanted, then stepped back to the far corner of the room, stripping off his gloves.
He took a deep breath as he pulled a small gold medallion from around his neck under his shirt, and pressed it to his lips with a murmured invocation. He hadn’t been lying to Mira when he’d said he’d seen plenty of death, but in the past few hours he’d learned there was a big difference between seeing the face of death, and literally smelling its guts. With a soft sigh, he replaced the medallion and stepped back over to the box for a fresh pair of gloves. “What’s next?”
Mira frowned down at the pebble in her hand. “The same as before,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ll take the tissue samples and put the rest of the parts back in the body, if you want to mop up. We should be out of here in an hour if the print out doesn’t take long.” She dropped the pebble into a handy evidence bag and got back to the business of inspecting parts.
An hour later, Carlacci sighed, looking up to the sky as he and Mira walked down the front steps of the hospital. “It’s late,” he said. “Most places to eat are already closed.”
Mira finished shoving all the print out into the MedKit and forced the over-full bag closed. “Any place will do, I’m not sticky.” Her mind was on the tissue samples she had left for the lab to run tests on.
He squinted for a moment, then murmured, “Picky …. all right. There should be a place not too far from here, although we’ll have to be careful. It’s not a very nice neighborhood.”
Mira nodded her agreement, “Pick at what?”
“Picky. You’re not picky,” he said, hitting the last word with a little emphasis. “Not sticky.”
The doctor laughed. “Oh! But that word doesn’t make any sense there either. Sticky means ‘likely to adhere.’ Why would a word meaning ‘likely to choose’ make that phrase make sense?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea. The English language is a strange thing.”
“I have to agree with you there. You seem to know where we’re going, were you here for long before?”
They had entered a neighborhood of tall buildings that threw the streets below into shadow. The streetlamps were plentiful, but most of them weren’t working. Carlacci looked around, confirming that there was no one else around before answering. “Several weeks, gathering all kinds of information,” he said.
“About the Raider activity here?” Mira threw a glance over her shoulder. Carlacci’s caution was making her nervous.
He nodded. “Yeah, among other things. Almost didn’t –” he paused as a brightly lit sign loomed ahead. “Ah. Here’s a place. Food should be okay for both humans and Centauri.”
Mira smiled in relief. It was always safer indoors. “Wonderful! I’m famished.”
Despite the hour, the little restaurant still appeared busy. Carlacci guided Mira to a small booth toward the back, with high sides offering decent privacy. A tired-looking Abbai dropped two menus on the table, murmuring, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Mira dumped her bag under the table where she could prop her feet on it. She was accustomed to being too short to touch the floor. Picking up the menu, she noticed that it was a bit sticky and faded. She also noticed that she had it upside down. “Oh look! They have spoo!”
Carlacci couldn’t help but grin. “A spoo gourmet?”
“I love spoo!” Mira grinned at him. “It reminds me of home. My Mother would make spoo every fourth day. It was my favorite.”
“Well, I hope it’s fresh today then. Probably is.”
Mira chuckled. “Actually, spoo tastes better old. About two or three days is best. My brother is the only Centauri I know who actually prefers it fresh like the Narn do. I generally don’t. But they have marked here on the menu a recipe for aged spoo.”
“Learn something new every day,” he said. The Abbai waitress returned, and Carlacci said, “Salad and bread for myself, please. And a large pitcher of water.”
“The spicy aged spoo and one glass of house wine.” Mira handed back the menu and smiled at the waitress. She thought that maybe the pitcher of water was a hint. But, I need a little sedative after those autopsies.
The Abbai woman managed a smile, and said very quietly, “A pleasure, Anla’shok,” before hurrying away.
Mira turned her smile back to her companion. Deciding that she didn’t want to make him sick by bringing up the autopsy, she racked her brain for small talk. “So, how did you get into the Rangers?” The doctor was always amazed at how little she knew about people that she felt close to and she always felt close to people she worked with. It was probably a result of having grown up working with her Father.
“I worked a lot of freighters and passenger ships over the past ten, twelve years …. ever since the war. I always wanted to learn as much about other races as I could. I heard about them on one of those runs, and Candace and I headed straight for Minbar. It was the right thing to do.”
Mira felt the oddest twinge. “So, you simply ‘found’ each other. That seems to be the way the Anla’shok works. Who’s Candace?” she tried to sound casually interested.
A warm smile spread across Carlacci’s face, lightening features that had been grim for most of the evening. “My daughter. She’s back in Tuzanor.”
Mira released a breath she wasn’t aware she had held. “Doesn’t she worry about you?”
He nodded. “She does. But she’s already made up her mind she’s going to join the Anla’shok too, when she’s old enough.”
Mira smiled fondly. “Daughters do that. Follow their fathers.” The food and drink arrived with the over-worked waitress. “Thank you. This smells lovely.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, “enjoy.” She took the cred-chit Carlacci offered and slipped it though a small reader before handing it back and going on her way.
Silence descended as they both concentrated on food for a moment. Mira ate fast and neat, like she was late for surgery. Carlacci discreetly added a drop of purifier from a vial in his pocket to the pitcher of water before pouring himself a glass.
“Is that medication?”
He shook his head. “No,” he said quietly, “just a precaution in case there are some microbes here my system can’t handle. It’s strange,” he said, going back to the earlier conversation, “it still feels strange being a father. Maybe because of how it all happened.”
“Oh?” Mira’s ears perked at the hint of a story. “Most men get more than enough time to become accustomed to the idea during gestation.”
He chuckled, spearing a large forkful of leaves as he answered. “Well, that’s the strange part. It was near the end of the war. I was on a small frigate off Io. One of the last we had. The navigator — Marie — was a good friend. Her husband had already been killed. Then in the battle, she was killed too.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“She was a good woman,” Carlacci said, “I wish I’d gotten to know her better. Anyway, as she was … dying,” he tried to speak quickly, to keep the images out of his head, “she told me she had a child, a baby girl, just a few weeks old. She made me promise to take care of her. I made it back to the children’s creche on the Io station, and found her. That’s Candace.”
“That’s wonderful!” Mira smiled warmly at him and sipped her wine. “With all you’ve seen, I’m surprised you don’t mind that she wishes to join the Anla’shok. My father forbade me to a be a doctor. Despite the fact that I had been helping him for so long. He had such Plans for me.”
He chuckled between bites of salad. “Even if I wanted to, I doubt I could stop her. She’s got her mind made up. So why did you become a doctor, even when your father didn’t want you to?”
Mira shrugged. “I had no other idea of what to do. He had sent me off-planet to protect me. He told me to become lost in the crowds, in fact. I didn’t know what to do, I was very young. So, I applied to Medical School. Thankfully, I received a scholarship on Minbar before my money ran out.”
“Trouble at home? I’m sorry.”
Mira frowned down at the last bits of greyish spoo floating around in the brown curry sauce. She became caught in the stream of her thoughts. “Actually, I was the trouble all along. But, when Father sent me away, he told the Court that I had run. Then, the Court punished the Family. They would never have been sold if I had simply stayed. But, if I had stayed, I wouldn’t be here now. Sometimes, I simply wonder at the plans the gods might have swirling around in their minds. Whatever could they be thinking.”
Carlacci wasn’t sure he understood all of what she was telling him, but he could piece together enough to understand the anguish. His throat suddenly felt as if he’d swallowed a rock. He reached across the table, gently touching the side of Mira’s face. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault,” he said.
She blinked suddenly, remembering where she was but not yet able to pull away from the abyss. “I know that,” she said softly. “The trouble is that my hearts don’t believe. My Father died in slavery. My family is only recently free. Those who survived. We were once very wealthy — minor members of the Court. Now, they have to start all over again.” She shook her head and forced a smile. “I shouldn’t trouble you with old scars. They all fade in time.”
“I don’t mind,” he said quickly, then paused, trying to think of the right words to respect both Mira’s pain, and her clear desire to drop the subject. “But,” he said at last, “it is true we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. Are you sure you didn’t want to go back to the Phoenix to sleep?”
“Yes, we would only have to be back here in the morning to study the results of the tissue samples.” Mira threw off her former mood like an old coat and pushed her dish away.
“All right,” he said, draining his glass. “There’s a lodging house which should be safe enough, not far from here.”
She nodded and snagged her bag. “That’s good. I’m suddenly very tired.” Mira followed Carlacci out of the restaurant and paused outside the door. “At least it’s a pleasant night for a walk.”
“That it is,” he said, though he held his fighting pike folded in one hand as they set off down the block.
Mira was about to say something else when she heard a cry, a high, sharp sound of pain and fear. Carlacci paused, holding up a hand to stop Mira and keep her behind him as they neared a corner. The sound had come from the other side. He quickly crept forward.
Mira’s hearts were pounding in her chest. This is nothing like being accosted in MedLab. She leaned over and peeked around both Carlacci and the corner.
The street was silent and empty except for an Abbai male and a female he had by the arm. Her brightly colored, gauzy robes were worn and tattered, stained with dirt and fresh blood from the inside of her lip.
The male punched the female again and she cried out as her head snapped back. Mira gasped loudly. That was not what she expected to see.
The male’s head whipped around at the unexpected sound, and he stared directly at the two Rangers.
“Oh, hell,” murmured Carlacci.
Copyright (c) 2000 Mona Hinds and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.