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.”
“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.”
“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
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.
THE BUD’DHA KE D HAIRYA
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.”
“Yes, strange. He wouldn’t give a last name.”
The screen slid through a few more posts.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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?”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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?”