Cael pushed the door open and leaned against the frame, “Well, I was going to finish looking through the files.”
“I need to have some idea of what’s going on. Ilya… look, you are yelling, a lot; and that’s making it very difficult to talk. Go make yourself something soothing. I’ll let anyone in the hall know we’re closed for the day.”
“Do it, and then we’ll talk; I promise.”
She started to stand but slumped down again.
“Well, aside from blood and stool samples, you don’t really have a lot to work with out there.”
Cael sighed and rubbed his face, “I’ll get something from downstairs. Some mattha sound good?”
Ten minutes later, Cael sat reading through the files as Ilya sipped at the hot, creamy tea. He refused to say anything until the mug was half emptied.
She cleared her throat, “There.”
He gave the pages a final glance and set them down. “Feeling better?”
“I see. Well, while you’ve been sulking, I have been looking into the Alberich’s files, as he asked, and let me tell you why. One: he has intimated that he knows something about me. I haven’t always had assistants like you to keep me out of trouble, so with my history, it’s very likely he has something good. And by good, I mean very bad, which… we’ll… talk about later. Two: he is obviously desperate. He’s done an extensive bit of traveling, which I can assure you, is not cheap. And yet, he comes to this backward little planet to blackmail an ‘out of the way doctor working out of his shit apartment’ when he could afford to go where these tests are available. Do you understand?”
“Backward little planet?”
“I think this man is in real trouble.” Cael’s voice was full of concern, but there was a hint of something else. Ilya could see the gears turning in his head, and her stomach started turning with them, unless that was the mattha.
“How can you be so calm about this?”
“Let’s just say it’s not the first time I’ve been forced to take on a patient. By comparison, Alberich has been quite the gentleman.”
“A gentleman. What kind of ‘trouble’ are we talking about?”
“I have no idea, Ilya, that’s why I need to look through…”
“No, you! The trouble you got into, before. All he had to do was hint at knowing something and you’re jumping at the chance to… to….”
“I am going to find a way to help him, Ilya. He needs us… He was right, you know. If there’s a way, I’ll figure it out.”
Ilya crossed her arms and stared at him in silence.
“Look. I’ll find a safe place that has what he needs and then send him on his way; but I need to know what I’m dealing with. He wants these tests, but I need to know why he wants these tests.”
“What kind of tests?”
Cael’s eyebrows knotted, “You really want to know? Okay. Well… the first one… will,” he shuffled through the pages, “map the age of connections throughout the frontal lobe…”
She sighed impatiently, “What does that mean?”
“It’s about memory. It would create a visible timeline of when his memories were created.”
Ilya shrugged and shook her head, “Why?”
“I would assume… it has something to do with the unknown trauma. Cross reference the first test with the second test, and he should have a good idea of when it happened. However, it’s really the third test that I find interesting.”
“How many tests is he asking for?”
“Well, the third test leads to a procedure…”
“So you are just going to find someone and then send him on to them.”
Cael gave a tight grin as he reached over and squeezed her hand. He watched Ilya process everything. She was certainly not happy, but her expression softened from an agitated grimace to a sullen acceptance.
It was dark before Cael was able to make his way through most of the files. So Ilya spent her time running tests on the various samples they had collected from their patients that morning. She couldn’t understand what possessed Cael to jump into this mess so suddenly, so carelessly. Why today he would stop listening, and then explain things to her as if she were a child, even when she was proven right?
After she finished with the tests she cleaned and sanitized everything, eyeballing Cael as she wiped down the examining table. After three years of carefully following her family’s instructions to create this business, it was as if he was throwing it all away.
Once done with the cleaning, Ilya went back and double checked her notes. It had to be because he was foreign. She would never understand foreigners. The idea of flinging yourself through the vast emptiness of space in a tiny metal shell, possibly never seeing your family ever again, seemed terrifyingly irresponsible. It must be in their blood to take stupid risks
Ilya’s thoughts drifted and circled around these ideas as she worked, and she could feel those gears turning in her stomach, creating a gnawing tension up into her chest. If only he had just listened to her and refused to see this Alberich. Instead of staring blankly at her notes she should be closing up for the day and hopping her bike to ride home, and Cael should be making his way downstairs for a drink. She wanted to run downstairs and call her mother so badly, but Cael had somehow convinced her to wait until he’d read through the files.
Finally, she locked up the tube fridges beneath the counter and leaned into the office doorway.
“Are you still looking through that?”
“It’s as he said, many of the people he saw concluded he was either lying, some sort of a hypochondriac or mentally unstable. Clever boy, keeping tabs on his doctors… I assume the moment he got a less than favorable diagnosis, he would lift the files and run. But look here, this doctor, she seemed to think he had a second personality.”
“… So, he stayed with her for almost 6 months after that. It seems he found her conclusion to be the favorable one. And here, she was the one that called for the tests he wants us to perform now…”
“Great! Why don’t we send him back to her?”
“That’s just it! If this was his doctor of choice, why is he here with us now? Why did he tell me he had amnesia and this story of strange memories but nothing about a personality disorder?”
Ilya waited, but it was clear Cael was not going to include her in his thought process unless she said something. “I give up!”
“She could have come to another conclusion at a later point; one which he neglected to include in this massive stack. Or it could mean something else….”
“I think it means he’s sumansidshka and we should contact the authorities, now.”
Cael turned to the skrina and opened communication with the Zhouwen Gate. It only took a few moments to establish a link as Ilya’s people rarely showed interest in anything off planet. She moved behind him to see the two foreign characters that spelled out “Zhouwen” as they floated before a stunning vision of the ancient, swirling galaxy. To Ilya, they looked like two stylized stick figures with motion lines behind them, two travelers. A happy coincidence?
“What are you doing?”
“I think I need a second opinion.”
“Wait, didn’t he say not to contact anyone?”
“Oh, you just said he was crazy. Now you want to listen to the crazy guy?”
“But I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Cael typed in an address from the documents. The Zhouwen characters drifted away into the now expanding galaxy. The skrina followed the characters as they picked up speed and closed in on a spiral arm; dust, self-illuminated clouds of gas and all manner of stars slid past their vision. Ilya felt herself sway with vertigo. As they approached a particular solar system, their pace slowed then veered off to the side to focus on a particular planet. The Zhouwen characters danced across the face of the rotating planet until they found the correct city. Their vision sank further until they were drifting down between the skyscrapers of a metropolis far more advanced and grand than anything on Ilya’s world. Even from their angle, she marveled at the smooth, alien architecture and the sheer magnitude of the buildings. Each stood as a city within itself, with little information windows sprouting to advertise the various businesses they passed at each level.
The Zhouwen characters settled down from their dancing and the view of the city dimmed. At the bottom of the skrina appeared a prompt in Ilya’s language, asking if they would like to visually conference with this address if the option was available. When Cael confirmed, he was asked to submit a base payment for the connection. The price to connect seemed exorbitant to Ilya. Considering the little bit of money they received per visit, it was well beyond their budgetary means. It would be weeks before they could get another lab to run any tests for them.
Their call was answered not by a person, but by a slick emblem representing the office they were trying to contact. The lettering was blockier than the stick figured Zhouwen characters and less fluid than alphabet of Ilya’s language. They circled around a stylized eye at the center. Beneath it scrolled a new message in her language.
“Apologies, for contact was made to these offices on the outside of the hours open. If it pleases you to do so, there is availability for conference visual and verbal between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.”
Ilya snorted, “Do they really talk like that there?”
“Zhouwen translators are always going to be a bit… ajiba, but you get the message if not the nuance. It’s better with speech, where there is intonation to help the translators along. Even better when there is a face to show proper expression.”
“… If this conference was an attempted emergency, you are greatly urged to contact your local services emergency. If it pleases you to do so, a message may be left for one of the doctors esteemed for a fee following…”
“He Bhaga, another fee?”
Cael ignored her and accepted the fee. A new message asked for the doctor they wished to connect to. He leaned toward the bottom of the screen and blew at the inset microphone. He could have spoken in any language and trusted it to get translated on the other side, but Ilya suspected he stuck to Sakhimi for her benefit.
“Doctor Branca Sabela Vitor-Bieito, please. Uh, yes, I am Doctor Cael Dimini. I’d like to talk to you about a former patient of yours; a Mr. Alberich, though he went by Alberte Xosé … Iago-Lino, according to the records he brought with him…”
The office emblem blinked off, cutting Cael short as he was shuffling through the papers. A “request to hold if it pleases you to do so” message appeared long enough for him and Ilya to exchange worried glances.
A man appeared before them, clothed in stiff, seamless, dark fabric that clung to his frame. He bore the same features as Alberich; broad, strong shoulders, a long, angular face, though thinner. His hair was much fairer, also with hints of red, and was neatly parted back. He was seated in a spacious office. The desk that stretched to the bottom of their view appeared to be made of a luxurious dark wood. The wall behind him was all window, with a view of the sunny cityscape they were just looking down upon moments before. He spoke in another language and Ilya had to read the simultaneous translation below.
“My apologies, sincerely for having kept you waiting.”
“Eh… hello. We were leaving a message for Dr. Vitor-Bieito. Is she available?”
“She is not; though I will be happy to take your message free of charge.”
“Yes, unfortunately, doctor-patient confidentiality prevents me from discussing this information with anyone but the doctor herself.”
“I understand… I see you are calling from Sakhim on Bhara. If you could give me the time of your next appointment with the patient in question, the doctor will make herself available for conference.”
“Hmm… I would really like to talk to her before… the next appointment.”
“Have you had contact with the patient recently?”
“I’m sorry, what was your name?”
“Please excuse me one moment,” The man winked off the skrina, replaced by the hold message, again. Ilya looked at Cael. He sat back, rubbing his hand over his mouth.
Since wouldn’t say anything, Ilya spoke first.
“Well.” He dropped his hand to his chin, “That was very bad.”
He didn’t feel the need to elaborate, so she spoke up again.
“Hmm, where to start? Um, that man does not work for that office.”
He nodded, “He’s not a native.”
“How do you know?”
“Coincidentally, I’ve been there before. He doesn‘t look like those people, and he spoke with a weird accent. I’m sure even you could’ve heard it. Nothing you would find on any continent of that planet.”
“But he looks like Alberich.”
“Still not the same accent; which doesn’t matter either way as Alberich is not from that world, either.”
“But you travel between worlds. Maybe he…”
“Strict immigration laws there. No legitimate business would hire a foreigner; especially to answer the phones.”
“So, I believe we may have just found the reason Alberich has been traveling so much.”
Ilya paused to think, “The message said we were calling outside of office hours… it was broad daylight shining through those windows.”
A small bell sounded from the kampyuskrina and they both turned in time to see the “hold” message replaced with the office again.”
“That is…” Cael cleared his throat.
This time it was a middle aged woman sitting before them. Ilya guessed this was the Dr. Vitor-Bieito. She had almost no bridge to her nose which along with her hooded, slanted eyes, lent to her face appearing broad and flat. Her whole complexion appeared washed out with her blond hair and bright blue eyes. Then Ilya noticed the red that rimmed those eyes. Had she been crying? The woman looked uncomfortable. Her bright, frizzy hair was tucked back haphazardly; her clothes were of a lighter, more organic material than the man they seen before and the flowing fabric wrinkled as if she had slept in it. Something about the woman made Ilya doubt she was the type to do such a thing. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke; Ilya still couldn’t understand the words but she could feel their slow, controlled rhythm.
“Accept my apologies if it pleases you to do so, Doctor Dimini, I have not been feeling well. I understand you were inquiring about a patient formerly of mine?”
“I’m sorry, I hope we weren’t disturbing you. We were trying to leave a message.”
“No.” She hushed. “No apologies.”
“Oh… m’sorry. Um, right, Alberte-”
“Yes. How is he? When was his last episode?”
“Episode? I’m afraid I’ve only just taken him on as a patient. He’s told me about having a problem with amnesia, and um, strange memories but didn’t mention any episodes.”
“Good sir…” the woman’s voice broke and she paused to clear her throat. “I must warn you, Alberte is a very sick man. His memory loss is due to a second personality within him.” She looked off to the side, “During an episode this secondary personality becomes dominant and he can be very dangerous.”
“Is that so? Does this second personality go by a particular name
Ilya grabbed Cael’s arm as she kneeled beside him.
The woman strained forward and stared directly into the little camera. “It is very important that you protect this man. He is very vulnerable in this state as well.” She stayed for a moment, and Ilya felt those reddened eyes bore into her. Even knowing the woman was staring into a camera, she couldn’t shake the feeling.
The woman then leaned back and looked off to the side again. “If you could find a way to safely contain him, I will send some men to collect and bring him back. You understand I have more resources here.”
“Yes, Doctor, of course. Who should we be expecting, and when?”
Doctor Vitor-Bieito still held her gaze to something off camera. “The man you spoke to earlier, Lukas, he will be your contact. If you may permit my question, when is your next appointment with Alberte?”
Cael took in a breath.
“Tomorrow morning,” Ilya blurted.
“Then Lukas will be there by… tomorrow? He will contact your authorities for assistance and keep you updated. I am certain you will be able to watch over Alberte until that time.”
Cael looked down at Ilya, but she could tell he wasn’t seeing her at all, his mind racing through some quick calculations.
Cael looked up, “Yes?”
“I am so truly grateful to know someone is taking care of him. I have been so worried since he disappeared. You have lifted a burden, truly.”
Cael swallowed and nodded. She nodded back. Then the skrina blinked back to the view of the city.
“Is that it? What just happened? Cael?”
He seemed to be lost in thought, when suddenly he sat up and squinted at the skrina. Leaning forward he used the pad on the desk to highlight a little blip hiding under the advertisements that were again floating next to the buildings.
“Cael? What is that? You’re not going to…”
He tapped the pad and the blip instantly expanded.
The city was replaced by what looked like a series of windows, dozens and dozens lined down and across to fill up the entire skrina. Each looked in on the same figure seated in the center; the same blocky, foreign characters lining the bottom of each window. Cael opened one randomly. It expanded, the figures animated, and it was Alberich that sat before them. Dr. Vitor-Bieito’s voice floated to them, soft and clear.
“Cael, what is she saying?”
“She’s counting backwards…. This must be a record of their therapy sessions. She managed to send these to us right under his nose.”
The soothing voice from the skrina coaxed and questioned gently until Alberich began to stir.
“Got it,” He fiddled with the pad until subtitles started scrolling across the bottom.
“Tell me where you are,” cooed Dr. Vitor-Bieito
“It’s not me.”
“Alberte, tell me where you are.”
“I’m on a ship… a transport, there are… long hallways of stasis kistes. All those people, they look dead. They’re not sleeping. They’re dead… all dead.”
Ilya had seen stasis kistes in films only. She imagined a never ending hallway of the coffin-like structures with glass windows looking in on people standing with their arms folded like sleeping vampires.
“How old are you?”
Alberich twists in the padded chair.
“My name is Alberich.” There was a menace in his tone that gave Ilya chills, but Dr. Vitor-Bieito continued as if she hadn’t noticed.
“Alberte. How old are you?”
He breathed deeply a few times. “I am, Alberich… old… ancient. Centuries.”
“Alberte. How… old… were you?”
“I was… four.”
Ilya waited but she realized the screen had frozen.
Alberich’s voice came from behind her. “That’s private.”