Characters: Mira Trassano
Mira Trassano squatted on a short stool beside the cot of a young Centauri male. She didn’t know him and they didn’t really trust her yet. The small basement room was full of his compatriots pressed up against the walls to give her room. They watched in morbid fascination as the doctor stitched up a long gash on their friend’s leg without the benefit of anesthesia. The young man flinched with every prick of the needle and his knuckles were white with tension, but he put on a brave face for his comrades and never made a sound. Mira was having trouble resisting the urge to pat them on the head. They were so young and earnest! They reminded her of an earlier version of herself.
When Mira had originally returned home, she had worked with contacts of the Anla’shok, but that hadn’t worked out very well. It had landed her in the Palace dungeons, where she was thankfully neglected. After being rescued, she decided to return to Centauri Prime for a second try.
This time, she worked with the small network of informants that had been connected to a friend of her father’s. She tried to help their resistance efforts as best she could, though she left the actual plotting to better strategists than herself. Mira was a better talent scout than spymaster in any case.
Word quickly went out, however, about a fugitive who was also a doctor. Her fate was sealed, her skill made her popularity skyrocket, and her contacts grew like weeds.
After all, everyone needs a doctor eventually. Criminals especially needed doctors, or so it appeared to Mira. It had been three months now and most of her time has been spent patching people up. She finally understood that Human idiom. She wasn’t actually healing people, just patching them. A few stitches here, setting a bone there, and some pills to top it all off (if she had any, most of the time she didn’t.)
At first, Mira only doctored them and listened. Later, sometimes, she talked to them. Now she worked with nearly everyone. They trusted her with their lives because they had no choice. But as time passed and no one suffered from unexplained disappearances, they began to trust her with their secrets.
Mira finally finished sewing together that nasty jagged wound on the young man’s thigh. He was very lucky that the cut had missed the artery or he would have bled to death before anyone ever thought to send for her. She said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for her aunt’s embroidery lessons and wished in vain for access to even the weakest wound sealants that she had once taken for granted. But the few containers of medical flesh sealant that she had were reserved for true emergency use. She used a cheap adhesive antiseptic cover sealant to cover her stitches and keep the wound clean.
“You will be fine.” Mira heard the room breathe a sigh of relief. “You must rest this leg as much as possible for ten days and try not to drink any alcohol during that time because it causes excess bleeding. Take one of these pills each morning until they are gone.” The young man nodded and tried to read the label on the bottle. Mira frowned at his nonchalant attitude. She could almost hear him wondering how much he could get for them on the black market.
“DO NOT STOP EARLY! Do not share them, and do not forget to take them. If you do any of these things, your leg will rot. The rot will spread to your reproductive organs and all of them will have to be amputated along with your leg.” Mira was gratified to see her patient now staring at the antibiotics like a gift from the gods. She softened her tone.
“After 12 days, you may wash away this sterile covering and snip the threads. Until then, do NOT get this leg wet. Use some tweezers to remove the threads after you have snipped them. It will hurt a little and bleed a tiny little bit. If it bleeds more than a drop or the wound gaps open again, then send for help. Continue to rest your leg for another while. It will grow fatigued easily. If you put too much strain on it, it will fail you. If you have any complications or smell rotting, contact the clinic.”
Mira handed him a card with a false clinic name that worked as a safe-code for her newly formed network of healers and packed up her things. Those who needed medical help could go to the address on the card and drop a note in the box beside the back window. All the doctors and medics that Mira trusted knew to go check this box whenever they could. The box was better than nothing and fairly safe.
Mira’s small medical bag was quickly filled and then she started tucking things into the pockets of her overcoat. The young man’s companions led her back to the street and pressed some money into her hand as they pressed thanks into her ear. Alone on the street in an early dusk brought on by rain clouds, she headed to Avis’ shop for a dose of news and hot jala.
Because of how often she changed her appearance and lodgings, Mira had set up a regular drop point where people who needed help could leave her a note. Avis, the shopkeeper, was another trusted friend who always knew how to reach her quickly. Mira knew this was very risky for both of them. But the doctor in her would rather be able to save a few more lives if she could than worry about being arrested again. Mira did worry about her friend though. The elderly woman had been a close friend of her father’s and, having lost her family to the bombs, now lived alone.
Avis didn’t seem to know or care about the danger, so Mira had made plans a few weeks ago to get her friend mostly out of harm’s way. But, somehow, she never found the right moment to cut her ties to this woman. Avis was the very last friend that Mira contacted regularly and she needed that contact. It made her sad to think of all the wonderful people she knew and longed to talk with, but didn’t dare. Mira did manage to get a recorded message out to Peter, her fiancé, through a chance-met Ranger some weeks ago. It had been ‘interesting’ to try and record the thing with the very limited technology she had access to since the bombings.
Mira walked through the city with a quick and purposeful step to discourage casual conversation. She also watched her surroundings very carefully. When she first returned after the bombings, she had been jumped a number of times before she learned what to avoid.
Her people were still suffering so much. Collapsing rubble, bad water, sudden explosions, and food shortages all took their toll. People felt wild and unwatched, and the uncertainty turned even reasonable people into thugs. The worst damage was done by the criminals who thrived in the lawless aftermath of the attack. Too many people had died and too many city services were disrupted still. The bodies were so numerous that, even now, they were still ignored in some places.
The criminals ran most parts of the city, now. Doctors were tolerated though, and Mira was recognized (when she wanted to be) as both a doctor and a hard mark. She’d had to kill a few attackers in order to earn that respect. But it was worth being able to walk the streets relatively safely when she needed to be somewhere.
Mira reached a clothing shop that had once been a high-end tailor’s business. Now, it sold second-hand clothes scrounged from the rubble. A scan of the area showed nothing amiss. She rang the bell and, using her key, went inside.
“Avis?” she called as she looked around the first floor. It was a single room of packing crates that held sorted clothing. Everything looked fine, so she took the money out of her pocket. She counted it and put most in a jar that she dug out from a pile of rags behind the counter.
“Avis?!” she called again. This time she heard a muffled thump from upstairs. Mira dropped her bag, slouched out of her coat and produced a PPG and a knife in one fast practiced motion. Softly, she padded upstairs, watching the shadows and listening for breathing. Thankfully she was familiar with the shop and the apartment upstairs. She knew which steps creaked.
A door closed off the top of the steps. Before she reached it, she lay flat on the steps with her head kept low. Then she reached up to jiggle the doorknob with the knife and shut her eyes. Two PPG blasts blew thru the flimsy door and sailed past above her head.
She had learned that looking at PPG blasts cancelled out your night-vision, so she didn’t open her eyes until after she heard the shots. Mira could see the shooter through the holes in the door and, taking deliberate aim, shot him once. He collapsed with a soft slithery sound as he slid down the wall.
When there were no more shots fired, she slowly rose and peeked into the room. Avis was tied up on the floor. The shooter was dead and oozing brain. A shame, really, she had aimed for the chest. There was nothing in the shadows. Easing into the room, she untied her friend one-handed. Mira continued to listen and check for movement. She was soon reassured that no one else was present.
“Who was that, Avis?” The older woman had a large bruise on her cheek and a bloody lip. Otherwise, she seemed unharmed.
Avis pulled the gag out of her mouth and wailed. “I don’t know! He just barged in and tied me up! He didn’t even try to question me or anything. He just waited there for you, since last night I think.” The older woman staggered to her feet. “I gotta pee!” She finally looked over at the body and gasped. “Sweet gods! You killed him!”
“Well, he was trying to kill me.” Mira replied mildly. “Go on and tidy up.” She nudged the older woman toward the screen that hid the small corner bathroom.
As Avis took care of herself, Mira searched the body and pocketed anything that looked useful. “You’re going to have to relocate.” She called to her friend. “If people are trying to kill me by finding you, you can’t stay here anymore. Hmmm…. I think I’ll dump him out this back window and then drag him down the alley a bit.” The doctor peered outside. “It’s started to rain, so no one will be able to find the drag trail after a while.” She turned to see Avis gaping at her in complete disbelief. “What?”
Avis closed her mouth with a click and cleared her throat. “Nothing.”
She hemmed and hawed a bit before finally whispering, “You’re different, Mira. You look so much the same that I forgot how different you’ve become. You still look like the short sweet young girl that used to visit my shop with her father and dance around with bits of lace tied to your wrists. I would never believe that you could deliberately break a child’s toy, much less actually hurt someone. And…and then talk about throwing the body out the window and … and dragging it down the st-street.”
Avis stammered to a stop for a moment and stared at a very still Mira who was leaning beside the window, half-hidden in the shadows. “And even now, knowing what I do about you and seeing what you’ve just done….and hearing you say that I’m a liability to you now…I still trust you. Where are you going to send me?”
Mira was completely stunned. She knew that she appeared harmless. She was short, slight, female, and very young-looking with an open and honest-looking face. She also had a rather common face, pretty, but not too pretty. Her appearance had become her best weapon, causing people to trust her. But she never expected it to work like that on her friends. Actually, she never expected her friends to fear her in the first place. Her hearts ached.
“Of course you can trust me! Avis! I’m not going to murder you. I’m just going to send you to an empty shop across the city. I’ve had it ready for something like this for a while now. You’ll still work as the contact for the clinic that I’ve established, but, for your safety, you won’t be my contact anymore. I’ll burn this building and your wares. You’ll have to change you name too. Are you alright with that?”
Avis nodded. “Yes, there’s no one left in the city for me to worry about any more. Only you.” The older woman smiled widely at Mira. “You’re still a good person, Little Mira. No matter what you’ve been doing lately. And only someone who knew you well when you first came here would notice a … ah… a coolness in your eye that wasn’t there when I first met you.”
Mira smiled back and if it was a bit bitter, Avis couldn’t see that in the half-lit room. “Here’s the address to that shop. You should go there now. You should only pack your personal items. Everything else has to burn to be convincing. Remember, you can’t ever come back here.”
Avis nodded again, “Of course.” She quickly threw her small collection of clothes and keepsakes in a bag while Mira hauled the body to the window and heaved it out. There was a dull wet thud when it hit the street. Both women left the store at the same time, locking up behind them. Mira remembered to grab the jar of money on the way out and make certain that Avis took it with her.
“Avis, I’ll tell the clinic doctors where you are and that you’re their new contact, not me. I already put some crates of collected clothing in the shop for you to sort and sell until you get set-up proper. Be careful. There are robbers about and you look like a good mark. I wish I could walk with you. Here’s the key to the front door of the new shop.”
“I’ll be careful. Don’t worry. I know exactly where this new shop is.” Avis was crying and hesitated, “What are you going to do now?”
Mira smiled at her friend and gave her a spontaneous hug. “Don’t worry about me, Auntie. I’ll be fine. It’s safer for you not to know. I’ll send you a letter one day when I’m out of this business. Now go on, I have a mess to clean up and chores still to do tonight.”
Avis hugged her back and gave her one last wave as she walked away. Mira watched until her last friend was out of sight, then she went behind the building and was relieved to find that the body undisturbed. The steady rain seemed to be keeping the vermin and scavengers inside for a change.
As she dragged the body down the street and into a rubbish heap in an alley, she thought about the tiny note she found in the man’s pocket. It could honestly be his instructions, or it could be the bait for a trap. It was going to take a few days to determine which it was and decide on a plan.
In the meantime, she had to dispose of this body, set a large fire, and get back to her room to change. She had someone else to kill today. If she didn’t hurry, she was going to be late.