The Next Page

Characters: Peter Carlacci, Dr. Mira Trassano

Medlab was quiet, almost tranquil, as Mira entered. There was little sign of the tension of the days — and night — before. The staff on duty this shift smiled at her almost dreamily. But the morning was not without its surprises. The first was as Mira realized the healing accelerator field had been activated.

A slight frown creased her brow as she walked over to see who it was getting that treatment. Mira blinked in surprise, almost gasped, as she recognized Darquin. Nimble fingers pulled his chart up on the bed’s screen. It showed that he had suffered three stab wounds in the back, the worst of which had damaged a kidney slightly, and a life-threatening blood loss. In fact, his heart had stopped once during transport back to the ship. The first report was signed by Daanike. Hellecat Brannon entered the second post-op report on the suggested continued treatment. Typical, since she would have been the senior physician.

Pursing her lips as she read, Mira almost tsked. He was as fine as could be expected, healing well from Very Serious Wounds. Noting the names of the attending physicians, she smiled in pride. Mira turned off the chart with a firm nod and headed for her office. She had some very happy reports to write.

Mira did wonder just what Darquin was doing to have gotten himself stabbed. But then, maybe she didn’t want to know, she thought as she turned on the lights in the office. Peter doesn’t look at all comfortable. Daanike will make a wonderful doctor, she decided. Peter?

Sitting in her chair, head and shoulders resting on the desk, was Peter Carlacci, sound asleep. A string of wooden beads lay under one hand. Mira blinked at the man in her office. A completely extraneous thought ran through her mind. Father would have liked him.

The sound of the opening door and sudden change of illumination caused Peter to stir. “Oh, hello,” he said, looking up and quickly shaking the sleep out of his eyes. “Sorry I sort of hijacked your office.”

He’s cute when he’s rumpled. “Not at all, Mr Carlacci. My office is open to everyone. Even when I’m not here.” She smiled and winked. “I didn’t know you were back onboard. How’s your leg?” She came around the side of the desk and turned a shrewd critical eye to his thigh.

“Better,” he said, slipping the string of beads into his pocket as he spoke. “It starts hurting when I get tired though.”

Mira snorted. “Yes, that’s the point. You shouldn’t allow yourself to get that tired. I’ll examine it later if you don’t mind. I want to make sure that none of the muscles will be affected long-term.” She pulled a chair from behind one of the other desks.

He nodded, unabashed by the mild scolding. “I wouldn’t have, but I got some leads that I wanted to follow before they got too cold. And after last night, I’ll probably need another day’s rest before I can go anywhere.”

“Mmmm, yes … I stayed awake too late last night myself.” She glanced away into the distance and smiled softly. “Did you get … umm …” She stopped, suddenly unable to ask such a personal question.

He only smiled. “A visitor, you mean? Yes.”

Mira’s answering smile glowed from her eyes. “Yes. Exactly.” A sound from out in MedLab brought her back to the present and what Peter surely had been waiting to ask her. Shaking her head slightly, she said, “I’ve analyzed all the data on those overdoses and drawn a few conclusions.”

“Have you now?” He started to stand, swayed slightly then quickly sat down again. “Could I trouble you for some water?” he asked after pausing for several deep breaths. “I think I’m still feeling the effects of being a pint low.”

“Of course.” Moving briskly to the drug storage room, she slipped out her card and pressed it, along with her hand, to the key plate. She went inside, reappearing a moment later with two bottles of chilled water and some cheese and crackers. The door slid shut behind her. Grinning apologetically, she shrugged. “It’s refrigerated. You should eat something as well.” Mira laid it all out on her desk and opened one of the bottles for herself. “I’ve written out my findings, but can give the conclusions to you verbally now if you like.”

“Please,” he said, reaching for both food and water.

“Well, we were correct about the pebbles. One of them still had traces of the drug on it. What apparently would happen is that the drug is coated on the pebble and then the pebble is swallowed. The digestive system slows and regulates the effect of the drug slightly. It is not an ‘instant high’ that intravenous or inhaled drugs cause.” She took a sip of water.

“What’s the effect of it, can you tell?”

“Yes, I can extrapolate from the chemicals it affects. When it hits full force, it causes a … a euphoria. It brings the Abbai version of endorphins to a dangerously high level. In the average Abbai, this would cause a heightened sense of well-being, pleasure, sensation itself, perhaps. At the moment, it would be a very hard temptation to resist.”

“Parasites,” he grumbled, nodding grimly as he thought of the people taking such advantage of the Abbai’s despair. “We’ve got to find the source of this stuff. If it isn’t killing people outright, it’s doing awful things with the addiction. The Abbai have enough problems.”

“Actually, it might be doing more than that. The reason there is such a rash of overdoses is that this is a very powerful drug. Dosing is difficult when dealing with liquid forms and the Abbai are especially sensitive to foreign chemicals.” She frowned. “At the moment, it’s very difficult to tell what the long-term use of this drug will affect. It could be even more serious than I care to think about.”

“How is Reeakiss? I hadn’t had a chance to check in on her.”

In the middle of taking another sip of water, Mira nodded. “Mmm.” Swallowing, she leaned across him and tapped some quick commands one-handed into her computer. A view of the iso-chamber appeared. Lynne was writing something on a pad in a chair near the sleeping Abbai. “She seems to have fallen into a normal sleep, now.”

“Good. Poor kid.” A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “If she had a visitor last night, we’ll probably have to convince her it wasn’t a withdrawal hallucination.”

Mira chuckled. “I had a moment wondering about hallucinations myself.” Fleetingly, she wondered who would have visited Peter. Perhaps it was the mother of his adopted daughter. Shaking her head, she switched off the feed and pulled up the report that she had started on earlier. “Here is a formal version of what I just told you. Included are the chemical compounds and a few darker extrapolations. The problem is that I’m not sure what can be done about this. My people are such hedonists that we don’t really have addictions. Everything I know, I’ve had to dig out recently.”

Peter smiled. “I’m sure you’re doing just fine with it. This should be of some help tracking things down. Darquin had suggested the manufacturers might be Gaim … I’m still following up on that lead.” He paused a moment, his eyes looking beyond the office toward post-op. “Is he going to make it?”

“Yes. Never doubt it. He will be a long time healing thoroughly. It’s a little soon to tell the long-term problems he might have to deal with or be treated for.” She glanced out there as well and settled deeper into the chair. “He had the best of doctors to attend him when he came in. No one could have done better.” The pride showed through in her voice.

He nodded. “You’ve got good people here. I could see that when they called me in … and they were kind enough to let me stay.”

“Yes.” She smiled. “Lately, though, they all work too hard. All work and no play makes opaque people.”

He chuckled, rubbing his forehead and smoothing back his ruffled hair. “Something like that,” he said. “I’m going to see what more information I can dig up from here, but probably not go planetside until tomorrow.”

“Good. You should rest and eat … a lot.” Eyeing him critically, she continued. “Healing takes more of the body’s energy than most people seem to want to believe.”

A light tap at the door preceeded its swooshing open by a bare second or two. Lynne Travis stepped inside the office. “Doctor Trassano. Sir.” She nodded to them both. “Reeakiss is awake now and eating a little something. But she asked about you, doctor.”

“I’d better leave you to it,” Peter said, rising slowly from his chair. After a moment to make sure he was steady, he asked, “If I need to eat … I don’t suppose you’d care to share dinner with me this evening?”

Mira froze for a moment, bottle of water suspended in its journey to her lips. Lynne tried to look everywhere, anywhere, but at her CMO. A sudden blush tinted Mira’s cheeks. “Yes, I’d like that.”

“Good. I’ll be back at the end of shift.” He smiled and left the office with only a slight limp.

Copyright (c) 2001 Mona Hinds and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.


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