“Mr. Bernard, I’m a board enhanced internist?”
That’s why I requested you, Doctor Palomares.” Mr. Bernard patted my arm. A silver snake of revulsion shivered down my spine.
“It’s most unusual to deal with non-emergency calls away from the infirmary here on John Glenn. I assume you have a good reason for calling me to the residence module.”
“Of course! Your patient is a public person. Her illness must be treated discretely.
I looked at him. He was somewhat taller than I am—most people are—and compact of build. His face was formed of intersecting blades of flesh and his eyes were dead gray, empty of expression. “Who is your patient?”
“You’ll see.” He gestured toward an inner room. “In here.”
He took my arm and ushered me into the living room of a grade-three luxury apartment. Its décor and furnishings were midnight blue, royal blue, silver and cream. The suite’s multi-screen was set for external view. Earth’s blue and silver globe floated elegantly beyond one of the station’s docking arms. We veered left and entered a bedroom.
Bernard released my arm. “Here she is.”
The room’s bed was deployed as a platform table. The most famous young woman in human space lay upon it. Aluz Mariposa was asleep or unconscious.
“Aluz!” I took a deep breath .
“Yes. You see why we must be discrete about her care. The paparazzi drones are everywhere.”
“Not here, Mr. Bernard. The station’s e-security is complete.” I stared down at composed, delicate features. Nothing in them revealed that this young woman was the most accomplished performance artist of our time. Her enviros were beloved by billions. I owned and treasured her “Redwood Dreams of Fire”. A multi-sensory villanelle—its melody, lilting and teasing at first and then flowing like a river—wove colors, shadows and rhyming images into a potent whole. Its aroma afterglow many times soothed me after a difficult day.
“She just arrived on the liner from Borodin.”
My tongue brushed my right canine and I summoned facts from the web. Aluz had completed a tour several months previously and had dropped out of the public eye—as much as that is possible—to rest and create on Borodin. “Indeed?”
“While visiting the Arzani Canyons to gather new material, she was exposed to an exotic virus.”
“Didn’t she receive pre-visit immunity supplements?”
“Of course, but you know how viruses mutate. If you’ll administer a blanket anti-viral agent, I’m sure she’ll be fine in a few hours.”
“Are you?” I decided to initiate protocol C as I smiled and touched his hand.
“Of course.” He smiled in return.
I stepped to the side of the bed. Aluz’s olive colored skin was clear and her dark hair was clipped short. “How long has she been ill?”
“Can you be precise”
“Is that pertinent?”
“I think so.”
“Two days, but she’s only been feverish like this for several hours. The ship’s nurse administered a strong analgesic and a sedative.”
I extended the index and middle fingers of my right hand and touched Aluz’s throat beneath her left ear. Touch is central to diagnosis, even in 23rd Century Medicine. Does life rise to it, or hide? I sensed struggle in this young woman and purpose. I sensed a burden, too, but illness?
Bernard said, “You see? It’s a simple matter.”
I ignored him and deployed my nanos. All three sets coursed down my fingertips, through her skin and into her throat. Bright, brass light flashed before my eyes like ejected cartridges in sunlight. I closed them. Some masking agent was scrambling my vision sensors, so I listened to her DNA, its countless harmonies, its orchestra of a thousand instruments singing. A strand of dissonance wisped above all. I reached for this thread, but it eluded me.
I tasted her blood. First came the flat, metallic flavor of a common sedative. I discarded it. Then I savored the ripe citrus flavors of young blood, healthy blood, but a trace of astringency puzzled me. I sent seekers after it. My seekers sought and found . . . Soul beads.
My eyes shot open in spite of my self-discipline.
Bernard regarded me in silence.
Shock coursed through me, but I composed my face. Aluz carried soul beads—not a pathogen, not a virus. Several thousand human matrices, each a golden globe, each a life nestled within her womb. This was the burden she bore and it was a burden beyond human design limits, a burden at the boundary of possibility.
I quickly found and scanned the bead index. Aluz had a lover. A cold, blue flame of fury leaped up in my mind. Bernard wanted me to euthanize soul beads. He wanted me to murder three thousand people, including Aluz’s lover.
“That should do it.”
He shook his head. “No, you must finish.”
“I am finished and I have the San Francisco shuttle to catch.”
He frowned. “My tracer indicates that you have not administered the anti-viral sanitizer. Please do so.”
Now fury did twist my lips. “No!”
“You’ve discovered our little secret, I see.”
“Did you think me incompetent?”
He sighed and produced his weapon, a rod of blue crystal.
“You threaten me with nerve fire?
He smiled. “I promise you nerve fire.”
“Why do this?”
“It’s my mission. She is but a mule. Unfortunately, she’s an extremely famous mule. We would have killed her and spaced her body otherwise.”
“This girl’s lover is one of the matrices!”
“Of course. Why do you think she undertook the burden?”
“But why kill them all?”
He shrugged. “Politics on Borodin are unsettled. Aluz visited the southern highlands and dabbled in matters that do not concern her. While she was there, we took thousands of the worst dissidents into custody and executed them. She and her entourage took their matrices before we did so—life insurance of a sort. It wouldn’t do to have their soul beads implanted in blank clones to make more dissidents. ”
“Your planet is seventy light years from earth.”
“These dissidents are dangerous, especially this girl’s boyfriend.”
“Oh, especially here.” He smiled. “The largest media market in the universe is waiting to suck up and savor their sad stories.”
I stared at him.
He motioned with the innocuous blue rod. “Now, cooperate and this won’t be needed.”
“I see.” I pressed my rearmost upper right molar with my tongue.
“Just administer the sanitizing agent and our business will be done.”
A coded signal flashed out from the concealed transmitter in my tooth. I’d only activated it previously in drills, but I knew what the signal produced. Police in full armor now waiting outside this apartment would be at my side in seconds, but they wouldn’t be needed.
Alarm flashed in Bernard’s eyes. He began to raise the blue rod, but his eyelids fluttered shut and he slumped to the floor.
My signal had also activated nano-penetrators and infused Bernard with the binary sedative I’d applied to him when I first touched his hand. Protocol C was intended for use with violent criminals and cases of drug psychosis, but it worked quite well on mass-murderers, too.
I leaned close Aluz. “We will take you to the infirmary now and care for you, young mother, you and yours.” I stroked her brow.
◊ ◊ ◊
Robert Walton is an experienced writer. His novel Dawn Drums was awarded first place in the 2014 Arizona Authors Association’s literary contest and also won the 2014 Tony Hillerman Best Fiction Award. Barry Malzburg and he wrote The Man Who Murdered Mozart, published by Fantasy & SF in 2011. http://chaosgatebook.