taking joy in human unreason


Ginber 10, 000165

"So, what's your first stop on the station?" Robert asked.

The airlock of the rusty Paradise Island was as dilapidated as the rest of the ship. Everyone in line was fidgeting, inching forward person by person, dragging bags behind them. Hardi was ready to hurt the screaming three year-old that was about ten people back in the line. Kanka's station was just seven slow people away.

Long past time to go, in Hardi's opinion. Hopefully the next liner would have proper meal dispensers set up. And coffee. Tria Bran -- roommate turned terrorist -- was already transferred safely to a cell on the station, where Hardi hoped to step foot sometime this month. The line inched forward one more person.

Tria hadn't coughed up any other useful info in the remaining two days of the trip, but Hardi and Robert hadn't been authorized to use more drastic measures than politely asking. Hardi was fine with that; torture wasn't been high on her list of things to do this week.

"I'll be checking in at the base, of course," she replied to Robert. "What else would I do?"

"Oh, I don't know," Robert sighed as he dragged his five bags up a couple of meters. "Go souvenir shopping? Find a concert?" The line was moving faster now.

Hardi huffed a laugh. "Our -- or at least my -- next flight leaves early tomorrow. Too damn early. No time to screw around." She stepped forward to the attendant at the airlock and gave him her ID.

She could hear the grin in Robert's voice behind her as he said, "Wow, I didn't say anything about --"

"Ms. Rhodes?" interrupted the attendant. His name tag read "Soub".

"Yes?" Hardi asked warily.

"I have this note that says you're supposed to report directly to the Kanka Station military base immediately," he said.

Hardi shot Robert a look. "Looks like my plans are confirmed."

Robert waved a hand at her airily. "Go on, be a bore. I'm going to paint the town."

Hardi smirked and took back her ID from Soub. "Which way to the base?" she asked him.

"Quarter circle clockwise from here, just about, and up 3 levels," he replied.

"Thanks," Hardi said and started in that direction. She vaguely heard behind her, "You too, Mr. Yuk." She smiled and walked faster.

The station a huge cylinder, nearly two kilometers in diameter and about 200 decks long. The Paradise Island had docked in the Grey levels in a poor commercial area, full of old stalls selling cheap trinkets and bad Kankan produce. Hardi moved through the tired-looking shoppers and rambunctious kids with both hands in her pockets and her bag firmly zipped.

The military base was in a differently coded section of the station -- this set of levels were the Silver levels.

There was a young military type at the desk in base who straightened from a slump at Hardi's approach.

"Yes, ma'am?" he asked after clearing his throat. "What can I do for you?"

Hardi said, "I was told to report here 'immediately'. I just got off the Paradise Island."

"Me, too," panted Robert in the doorway. "You walk really, really fast for a short person," he complained to Hardi.

Hardi eyed his two-plus meters of height. "Apparently not just for a short person," she quipped.

Robert grinned tiredly at her. "You've stopped just ignoring me. You're definitely warming up to me," he said.

Hardi rolled her eyes and turned back to the boy, pulling out and handing him her ID. "I'm Harding Rhodes."

"And you are?" the receptionist asked Robert.

"Dr. Robert Yuk," he said officiously. He handed over his ID with a flourish.

The receptionist looked at him dubiously, but checked his computer and called a Captain Relburn. At Relburn's acknowledgment, Hardi and Robert headed down the hall towards Relburn's office, bags in tow.

"Ms. Rhodes, Dr. Yuk, come in and sit," said Relburn, a middle-aged man with a Betan purr to his voice. Rough, square hands were folded on his desk. "Thank you for getting here so quickly," Relburn continued.

"Of course," said Robert earnestly. "We wouldn't lolligag when the military asks for us." Hardi looked at him in shock, but his face was arranged in a mask of polite interest.

"There will be some changes to your travel plans," Captain Relburn stated. "Given the incident with Ms. Bran, commercial travel obviously isn't going to work."

He continued, "To that end, we're putting you on the J.M.S. Merriweather, bound for Beta. It boards in three quarters of an hour and should get you to Beta in two days."

"Wow," Robert said. "Suddenly, we're high-profile."

Relburn smiled slightly. "Not entirely. There's been another attack on Ming Ung. The case is getting a little more press now."

"Oh, well," Robert sighed. "It's not us after all." Hardi shot him a quelling look and he subsided.

"You're the first consultants to be attacked by enemy agents," Relburn said, "but probably not the last. We want you and other relevant travellers out of the public eye."

"Of course," Hardi agreed. "What sort of attack was it? Another bomb? And isn't the planet swarming with consultants and security?"

"Not quite 'swarming', although it will be now," Relburn said. "and the attack seems to have been a biological agent this time. The few scientists there don't know the type or origin of it yet."

"They don't know the type?" Robert repeated incredulously. "Did they pull in the class clown from med school to consult on this?"

"I think so," muttered Hardi. Robert paid her no mind.

"All you have to do to start matching types and labs is to look at the --" he continued.

"Dr. Yuk, please," Relburn said. "I don't know the particulars. You should be able to reach out to the scientists from the ship. It's got FTL comsat access so that you can send and receive messages, although you can't do live calls. In fact, you both have messages that have been forwarded to the ship. They're from your superiors. Before you ask, I don't know anything about the precautions being taken on the planet. This ship just goes to Beta. Any other questions?"

"Just how to find the ship," Hardi replied.

"Up ten levels, pretty much right above us. We have a whole vertical slice of the station. Corporal Collins up front can direct you to our lift, assuming that's all your luggage?"

"It's all of mine," Hardi said, and glanced at Robert's five bags.

"Mine, too", he said distractedly, thinking over the quandary of the bioagent.

"Alright then, you're dismissed."

Hardi blinked at the militant tone, but took it in stride as she rose and headed out. Collins -- the receptionist -- led them to the lift. They headed up, Robert uncharacteristically silent.

"I guess you're a real doctor after all," Hardi muttered.

Robert shot her a sideways glance and a quick smile. "I guess so. Who knew?"

Hardi turned to ask his first thoughts on the attack and found herself kneeling on a tile floor, a woman looming over her with a gun.

"Lady, please," she whispered in French through a raw throat. "Please don't hurt me. I didn't do anything!"

"Don't lie to me!" the gunwoman screamed shrilly. "I'll blow your brains out!" The employees and other patrons in the Provence Premiere Banque cowered further.

"If you do, you'll get in trouble with the police," the kneeling woman pleaded desperately. Anything to make her stop. She had two young kids and a loving wife at home.

"Are you threatening me?" the gunwoman thundered. She turned the pistol around and laid into the kneeling woman with the butt of the gun.

She fought as much as she could with her broken ribs, but couldn't get free. Her last sight was the pistol being lined up between her eyes. "Oh," she whispered.

Hardi jumped, sitting up in bed and getting tangled in monitor wires. A blurry look around revealed Robert sitting in a chair near the bed. He was staring at her somberly.

She started yanking the monitor connections off quickly, and Robert got up without a word to silence the alarms. Freed of the cords and sitting up, she looked warily at him. He was more serious than she'd seem him yet, even after the news of the second attack.

"Do you know where you are?" he asked quietly. He was standing close to her knees, not obviously blocking her, but certainly able to.

Hardi felt the telltale vibrations of a ship or station. "Either still on Kanka Station or on the Merriweather," she said hoarsely.

"Do you know who you are?" His gaze was intent.

Hardi chuckled weakly. "Did I ever forget?"

Robert was silent.

"Harding Rhodes, security consultant," she sighed. "Want my employee ID?"

"No," Robert said, placing warm hands on her knees when she made to get up. "I'm not done testing you yet." When she subsided, he placed two fingers at her wrist and glanced over her shoulder -- at a clock, she saw when she followed his look.

"Now," he continued, "what just happened?"

"Um," Hardi stalled, "I blacked out?"

"Lie," he said softly, "but we'll let that pass for now." He smiled slightly.

Hardi's heart began to pound.

"Has this happened to you other times recently?" he asked.

"Once," she said truthfully. "I don't always manage stress well."

Robert pursed his lips. "All your blood-work came back fine," he said. "There's not much reason hold you here --" he tightened the hand on her wrist when she moved to hop off the bed again, "except that you're lying about what happened."

"Do you have any evidence that I did something other than black out?" Hardi accused. "Because otherwise, my nervousness at a stranger holding my hand and asking me weird questions should probably be written off."

"You collapsed like a ton of bricks and began muttering in what I think was French." His voice was cheerfully smug as he said, "That's not blacking out."

Hardi felt her stomach heave at the memory, and she lurched to the trashcan just in time.

Robert held her hair back and made soothing noises while she lost what little remained in her stomach. When she was settled back in bed with a glass of water, Robert slumped casually in his chair.

"So. A 'blackout' that's associated with a pretty strong memory, it seems," he drawled.

"You'll think I'm crazy," Hardi whispered as she glanced over at him.

"Meh," he shrugged. "You already think I am. You'll be in good company."

Hardi shook her head. "It's not funny. It's creepy, and I don't want to talk about it."

Robert said, "I'm not sure that's safe. If you collapse on Ming Ung, how will we know if it's your blackouts, something Tria did, or this new bioagent?"

Hardi frown as she said, "I'm perfectly fine. Besides, when were you assigned as my doctor?"

"When the alternative was letting these grunts quarantine you while they figured out the issue." He took a deep breath. "Instead, I'm just going to ask you to tell me the truth, and we can go from there."

She looked at him carefully. He was going out on a limb for her.

"Have we left Kanka yet?" she asked. At his exasperated look, she said, "It's relevant, really."

"We've been underway for a day," he replied.

"Okay, get a detailed news report for Provence, and I'll tell you what happened." When he moved to hand her his comm, she said, "No, don't show it to me or tell me. Just look at it yourself."

Robert browsed through his comm for a moment, then said, "Okay."

"Look for a report of a holdup in a bank -- Provence Premiere Banque. A woman was beaten and shot." Her voice shook and she cleared her throat firmly.

Robert searched for another few seconds and said, "Okay, got it."

Hardi took a deep breath. "I saw that woman die. I was that woman."

Robert's head shot up, and his eyes widened briefly before they narrowed. "You think you saw this woman die?"

"Look at when it happened, Robert," she insisted. "I bet there's no way I could have read it in time for my... blackout."

Robert checked the time of the holdup, converted it to Kanka Station time, and double-checked her chart for when she collapsed. The times matched.

"There's a logical explanation for this," Robert said.

Hardi waited expectantly. He didn't say anything else. "Well?" she prompted.

"They're obviously some kind of hallucination," he declared. "We should get you a good brain scan."

Hardi remembered Jon Ettler's hints -- that she get a brain scan and be quiet about it. "Where's a good place to get one?" she asked.

"Sirka would be best, but I think we'll have to settle for Beta. I'll get the appointment set up, and we can hope these goons will let us keep it." He started working on his comm.

"Robert... can you make sure the results don't end up anywhere official?"

His gaze narrowed on her again, but all he said was, "Sure, I'll see what I can do." He made the appointment.

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