Post 2 of the still unnamed sci-fi story.

Cael pushed the door open and leaned against the frame, “Well, I was going to finish looking through the files.”

“Why!”

“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.”

“What?”

“Do it, and then we’ll talk; I promise.”

She started to stand but slumped down again.

“Ilya.”

“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?”

“… Yes.”

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?”

“No.”

“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….”

“… 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.

“I’m confused.”

“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.

“Still confused.”

“Hmm, where to start? Um, that man does not work for that office.”

“You’re sure?”

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….”

“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

“…Alberich.”

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.

“Doctor Dimini?”

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.

“Cael…”

“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.

“Alberte…”

“Alberich.”

“Alberte-”

“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.”

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First post of an as of yet unnamed sci-fi type story

 Cael lay in his bed as he did every morning, trying to ignore Ilya as she dutifully bustled about the office. The woman made it impossible to slag after a night of bira. The fermented, bitter drink wasn’t the strongest he’d experienced, but it was easy on the throat and he had a habit of over indulging. He ventured a peek. Much to his relief, his musty little room was still dark; the floor properly blanketed with a month’s worth of the local Sakhimi newspapers and crumpled clothing. The wastebasket next to his bed confirmed that he had ended the night without vomiting. Good for him.

There was a polite knock at the door, and he moaned feebly as Ilya poked her head in.

“Svyaha, Cael,” she whispered. “It’s time to start getting up. We have our first patient in one hour.” Through her lips, his name sounded more like cahl.

He brought a finger to his lips and shushed the horrible silhouette in the doorway. The door was thrown open in response, flooding his room with light and he buried his head under the pillow.

Ilya disappeared from the doorway. “If you can manage to drag yourself out of there, your tea is waiting for you.”

Cael groaned.

“And if you come out now, I might make you my special remedy.”

“It won’t work.” He mumbled through the pillow. “I’m still drunk.”

She had started pouring hot water over his tea but set the electric pot down with a heavy thud. After a moment she heard him groan again.

“Alright… you win.”

Cael’s apartment was located above a café on the corner of the largest building in town. Originally the café’s office, Ilya had been able to negotiate free rent in return for complimentary checkups for the staff and their families. The main room was empty with only a small folding table by the wide, arched window and a counter that clung to one of the walls. Attached to it was a tiny room set up to be his office and examining room, its windows thoroughly blocked out for privacy with foil and newspaper. What Cael used for sleeping was no more than a closet.

Ilya stood at the narrow counter, checking the information in her notebook against the tubes of blood she had prepped. Today her curly, black hair was tied back into a skinny braid that hung past her waste. Everything about her face was small and perfect and round; her chin and cheeks, the arch of her brows. Her full lips turned up at the corners in a permanent grin, even when she was annoyed. The warm brown of her skin was complimented by the saturated yellow of the loose kurta that floated about her to the knee, leaving only a suggestion of her true figure. Its long sleeves were tucked over and rolled up to keep them from catching on anything as she worked.

The chemicals and gadgets she learned to use weren’t cheap, so she did as much as she could with what they had. The rest she grudgingly sent off to a properly bribed lab in the city. Once her notes were confirmed she carefully emptied each tube into the deep, steel sink and proceeded to scrub it out with abrasive chemicals. Despite the cleanup, this was her favorite part of being Cael’s assistant. She found the patient examinations to be messier and much too awkward.

Cael cleared his throat as he reached the doorway.

She looked up and saw the bulk of the bedding heaped over his lanky frame. His hair was as black as hers, but the contrast with his hazel eyes and pale skin made it more striking as it stuck out in all directions. It was getting long again; she would have to cut it soon. Still, he kept it much shorter than the men in town, who took to tying back in a bun or braid as Ilya did.

He smacked his wide lips dryly and rubbed at the sleep in his eye. Had she not been used to the sight by now, Ilya would have been concerned about the dark circles, caused by his late nights drinking.

She brought him his tea. “Good. Now, go sit. Would you like me to order you some breakfast?”

Cael made a face as he walked toward the office.

“I saw that.”

“What?”

“Always making faces.”

“No more often than you do.”

“Just tell me no.”

“You only get away with it because you’re so dark.”

Ilya rolled her eyes at the jab. She usually teased him about his ghostly white skin but he decided it was his turn this morning.

“I swear, Ilya, sometimes I can barely see you in the morning.”

“That is because you are hung over and can barely open your eyes.” Cael laughed at that from the office. “You, however, are constantly mocking me with your eyebrows, I swear you are.”

Ilya came to check on him, he was sitting at his desk still buried in the blankets, nursing his tea. He slid through communication boards on his kampyuskrina, a ritual he performed every morning. It was the largest she’d ever seen in a private home. The shallow viewing screen was like a window, as tall as the door, obviously purchased second hand with a hairline crack down the center. It wouldn’t have been noticeable had it not caused the left half to blur ever so slightly. For its size, it took up little room as it hung on the wall over the desk.

Ilya hopped onto the table they used for examinations and watched over his head. “I was able to complete the blood work.”

Cael grunted approval as he continued to lightly stroke a translucent pad on his desk. He seemed to be skimming his way through announcements from the city’s port. News and laymen’s articles she could understand, even the common networking saitos; but the port com-boards? Why was he reading through these? Ilya’s eyes drifted over the information passively as they slide their way up the skrina.

 

 

THE QUEEN MAM

PASSENGER LINER

TO BE DOCKED 01.09 – 15.09

STASIS MECHANIC – WANTED IN FLIGHT

*more information here*

CO-PILOT – WANTED IN FLIGHT

*more information here*

 

“Our morning is booked solid, with only walk-ins expected this afternoon. Except for this… Al-bir-rrik character that came to the door before you woke up.” She said the name delicately; sensitive to its foreign lilt.

“Hmm?”

THE BUD’DHA KE D HAIRYA

MINERS TRANSPORT

TO BE DOCKED 30.08 – 31.10

MANANA MINERAL INC – NOW HIRING

*more information here*

STASIS MECHANIC – WANTED 02.09-30.10 ONLY

*more information here*

HOUSEKEEPING – WANTED 02.09-30.10 ONLY

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

*more information here*

 

“Something about him seemed off.”

“Off?”

“Yes, strange. He wouldn’t give a last name.”

The screen slid through a few more posts.

“… Strange?”

“He Bhaga! You never listen!”

“Shhhhh… didn’t you say you were going to make your special remedy?”

Ilya sighed. “I just have to blend it.”

“I assure you, once this headache is gone, I will be more attentive.”

 

THE PAREESA

LIVESTOCK TRANSPORT

TO BE DOCKED 28.08 – 02.09

VETERINARIAN – WANTED IN FLIGHT

*more information here*

COOK – WANTED IN FLIGHT

*more information here*

 

 

“This is important. He was a foreigner and they never come to doctors like you…”

“Doctors like me? You mean foreigner doctors?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. If he were a tourist, he would have gone to a hospital in the city. Instead he found an out of the way doctor that works out of his shit apartment and takes cash only.”

“Oh, you really think this place is shit?”

“I really shouldn’t talk to you in the morning.” She pushed herself off the table and left the room.

“I’ve tried to warn you.”

The blender exploded to life from the kitchen.

“Oh! Bhaga! Woman!” He reached over and slammed the door.

Ilya returned a few minutes later with the remedy shake, and found Cael reviewing the records for their first patient.

“Oh, good. We won’t be absurdly behind today. You should go clean up, you still have a few minutes.”

Cael took a final sip of his tea before picking up the shake, “Yes, you are probably right.”

Ilya tried to suppress an irate grin.

He managed to change into his alien, form fitting, button-up shirt and trousers before the first patient had arrived. Their drab colors washed him out further, but he insisted on wearing them.

Ilya was always amazed at how he never let his hangovers affect his bedside manner. They saw the usual; an old man with digestive problems, a very pretty male prostitute in for his lab results, one of Cael’s drinking friends in for Ilya’s remedy; one walk-in that morning was a rowdy youth with a swollen cheek and loose tooth brought in by his older brother, followed by a pair of cooks from downstairs in for a checkup. Their last patient that morning had been the elderly mother of four middle-aged sons who had carried her up the stairs for her check-up. They treated her like a queen, and Cael was careful to move slowly and with reverence as they watched him examine her. Ilya loved watching him work and was sure to be in the doorway to learn or assist, and more often to collect any samples he’d need to hand off to her.

Their morning over, Ilya hung the “closed for lunch” sign from the door and went to pick up their usual order. The second floor walkway was open to the inner courtyard, and the delicate wooden pillars that braced the railing branched out as they reached up to the overhanging roof. The intricate lacework arched and met each other at regular peaks, turning each view into a framed picture of the restaurant tables sitting in the open-air space below. A couple of walk-ins had already lined up quietly by the door. When Cael had first opened business, the owner of the café was concerned about sick patients looming over his customers. A protocol had to be worked out where the patients lined up facing the wall before the manager felt amiable enough to offer free refreshments while they waited. One of the waiters was there now and they nodded to each other as Ilya passed.

Cael was sitting at the tiny table when she returned. She watched him, not wanting to disturb his first moments of peace as he gazed out the great, open window. The year was deep into autumn, and the air was brisk and spicy from the cooking below, which helped to clear away the sick and chemical smells that had built up over the morning. When he looked up she handed him a plate of the veggie filled parathas. His appetite back, he devoured the stuffed flat bread with giant gobs of creamy butter. She only picked and pulled her parathas apart without actually eating. Finally she worked up the nerve to speak.

“Cael?”

“Hmm?”

“The next appointment is that .. Al-”

“Alberich.” Ilya blinked at how easily the name rolled off his tongue.

“Yes, that Al-ber-rick I was telling you about.”

“Mm hmm?”

“I do not like him. There’s something suspicious going on.”

“Because he made an appointment with me.”

“Because he is a foreigner.”

“And I am a foreigner.” He scooped an extra helping of butter onto his plate.

“Cael, I am telling you…”

“Yes, there’s something suspicious going on. Do you think he is working for the police?”

“… No.”

Mid-bite, “a spy for the competition?”

“… No.” He had no competition in her home town.

“Well, we all have secrets, Ilya. Whatever he’s hiding, it has nothing to do with us.”

“I am telling you this Alberich will be getting us mix up with what he is hiding. I don’t understand. You have always listened to me before.”

Cael swallowed and brushed his face with his hands, “You have your instincts, I have mine; and I want to see what this Alberich is all about. If what you say is true, this man may really need our help.”

Ilya sat unhappily.

“If it makes you feel any better, you can watch us on the little kampy I have under my bed.”

A knock at the door drew their attention.

Ilya frowned, “He’s early.”

“That’s typically considered good manners.”

Ilya cocked her head and smirked.

“Let him in please.” Cael stood and dropped the plate in the sink before retreating to the examining room.

Ilya walked to the front door, took a deep breath, and pulled it open.

“Svyaha, sir.”

The figure looming before her was hidden by the top of the door from the collar bone up, and he stepped as far back as he could in the balcony walkway to allow their eyes to meet. He wore the men’s kurta over loose payjama pants, both a deep red. It was obvious he was a much, much larger specimen than her people. The top of her head only just reached his elbow and she found herself having to gape up at him as if she were a small child. He was taller even than Cael, who already cleared her by a full head and shoulders. The stranger’s round physique was also bulky with muscle and it caused the tunic to hang off of him in an odd manner that Ilya found very unpleasant. He wasn’t as sickly pale as her foreigner doctor, but still very fair. A mop of reddish brown hair frizzed and softly framed his face. His high cheekbones cut at an angle, but the jaw was softened with the extra weight he carried. Her eyes finally reached his.

“Svyaha, miss….” He smiled. His soft voice was also deeper than Cael’s and seemed to rumble in his chest as he spoke.

“My name is Lyudmila Enkshi. I apologize, Mr.…,” nothing, “Alberich.”

She found herself trying to gauge how old he was. She couldn’t be sure with foreigners, but something about this man felt extremely young, despite his size; maybe a few years younger than herself. She realized she was staring.

“This way.”

Ilya purposefully turned before she could see him duck through the doorway. She and Cael exchanged glances as he followed her to his office.

“Thank you, Ilya, that will be all for now.”

Ilya closed the door and darted to Cael’s tiny, disheveled room. She pulled kampdator from under the trash heap at the foot of the bed and perched herself on the corner with the boxy shape in her lap. She thought of it as a smaller but much bulkier version of the kampuskrina, but it could barely do anything on its own without another kampuskrina to connect to. Her view of the office came from a camera at the bottom of the skrina in the office. The image was of a much lower quality, and she found herself leaning in, squinting.

Cael invited Alberich to sit at the desk while he leaned against the examining table.

After an awkward moment of silence, the large man cleared his throat. “It’s good to see, y-”

“Well, sir, you seem to be in perfect health. Why have you come to me today?”

Alberich paused another long moment before silently producing from his satchel a thick, leather-bound folder that held dozens of loose smaller files. He handed it to Cael, who glanced at Ilya through the skrina before opening it. She watched him flip through the pages dramatically, holding each paper up before him to give Ilya a view. From her vantage point, she could see that the pages all differed in quality, color, some handwritten, some typed, and none as far as she could tell from the quick glimpses were from anywhere locally. They continued to talk as he looked through them.

“I see… ah, so… why don’t you explain what it is you want from me?”

Ilya witnessed another confusing pause. When the stranger found his voice, he spoke slowly as if groping for the right words. Ilya wondered how long ago he had learned her language. She could barely detect an accent from him. It was more of a foreign rhythm applied to the syllables, like he was forcing the wrong words into a song he was singing.

“Well… I have lived for quite some time now with the knowledge that I am missing…” Cael held an X-ray up to the hanging light, “a good portion of my memory. I don’t remember what trauma caused this amnesia or when exactly it happened, except that I was very young.” Alberich shifted in his chair. “Additionally, I’ve had… other memories, um, intrude. They don’t belong to me… I don’t, I don’t know where they come from.”

He seemed to falter for a moment. Ilya squinted at the screen but couldn’t get anything from her backside view of the stranger. She heard him clear his throat again.

“These are the tests and consultations I’ve been able to gather so far. And so far, nothing’s come of it. I would like you to pick up with these tests.” He flipped to a page in the folder.

Cael looked at the page skeptically. “Alberich, I’m sorry, I don’t have the resources for these tests.” Ilya was relieved to hear him say it but thought his tone was a bit too cheerful. Who knew how this giant stranger was going to react to bad news.

“I can pay whatever the cost.”

Cael paused. “Well that’s…. um…”

Not suspicious at all, Ilya thought.

“… but, you misunderstand. I literally do not have the technology available on this planet to run the tests you need. I mostly specialize in primary care; maybe very minor surgery… some dental… What I mean is I think you need someone more along the lines of some kind of specialist… a psychiatrist, or neurologist, perhaps? I make a mean recommendation.”

“What? I…” Alberich adjusted in his chair again, obviously disconcerted. “I don’t understand….”

Cael stared hard at him as the large man took it in. Ilya could hear Alberich take a breath. It seemed to calm him down as his next words came low and evenly.

“Doctor, I did do my homework before coming to you.”

Cael’s expression didn’t change, “Did you?”

Ilya frowned down at the box. What did he mean by that?

“I trust if there is a way to get me these tests, you’ll find it.”

“I will? You seem very confident.”

“If history is any indicator.”

Cael paused for a moment to consider, giving a quick glance at Ilya’s camera.

“If you need to confer with your colleague….”

“Fair enough,” Cael jumped up a little too eagerly. “I’ll look this over tonight and have an answer for you in the morning.”

They shook hands as Alberich heaved himself up to his feet.

“Ah… also, I would advise against trying to contact anyone in the file.”

“Would you?”

“Yes. Some have misdiagnosed me and refused me the benefit of a second opinion. Completely unhelpful.”

“Yes, I can imagine.”

Ilya sat motionless in the dark room and listened to the wooden slats of the floor groan and creak as Alberich saw himself out. A moment later the bedroom door opened and she looked up to see Cael’s face poking through. He took deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“Now, Ily-”

“I told you!”

“Ilya. Try not to get hysterical.”

“He threatened you!”

“It was not that dramatic.”

“‘He did his homework?’ What was he talking about?”

“Okay, well that could be number of things.”

“I cannot believe I’m hearing this!” She shoved the kampdator off her lap. “So, what are you going to do?”