The Outlaw God
By Dolores J. Nurss
Volume 1: In the Shadow of Til
Friends in Hospital
Thursday, March 9, 2705, continued.
Zanne shoved back from the console. She rotated her neck, trying to get the kinks out. So much to learn! She wanted full certification in Field Pharmacology so badly that the keys in front of her began to look like tablets. And she almost had it. Her paper on the treatment of Tipsy Fever (or mycobacterium pseudobacchae, as Don had named it while co-authoring the piece) should clinch it. But...so much to learn!
She rubbed her aching temples. She had the mental capacity, no doubt of that. It cost enough, she ought to know. But the intake of data took time, even speed-read so fast that she seemed to leaf through books perused in depth. She stole the time from hours needed for relaxation--she couldn't keep this up.
She looked out her window. Midmorning inched towards noon. It felt like midnight--this wouldn't do!
She opened a window and a smoky autumn sweetness rushed in, crisp and cool--even the underlying sulphur odor of the nearby marsh smelled better than the indoor staleness. The fresh air beckoned her outdoors, insisted that things didn't have to get so bad.
She could take a walk to the pier, maybe hang out till Merrill finished his own studies; then the two of them would sail to Carmina Island. She could visit Deirdre before they took Don home from the same hospital that held them both–the isolated facility, established long ago for agents.
She didn't want to read anymore. Had less than five years really passed since she only read for fun?
The rain had fallen most nights lately, but the sun shone brighter still by day for that. When its light hit all the damp-enriched colors Til looked like a city of jewels. She wouldn't need a cloak.
She pulled a red knit tunic over her green unitard--that would suffice for warmth. It'd also hide the little bulges here and there that she'd almost fought back down. Five years of exposure to new and plentiful cuisines had caught her by surprise--no one ever fattened in her old village, for lack of wherewithal--but Zanne had a will to match her steel-blue eyes, which she'd buckled on like a corselet, with the result that her figure rapidly approached perfection. Now only she would notice the defects, really, so she could risk the waist-high slits in the tunic. She tightened the green belt with a smile.
As she stepped out, the purple lawn quivered, then resumed its original green hue. She frowned; for a moment the illusionist effect had disturbed her. She couldn't allow that. She strode down the walkway as only Zanne Charlotte could, walking through illusions like a native and so much more.
Merrill watched her from their upper story. She sauntered, oh, how she moved! His love for her twisted inside him like a thing of blades, till he almost cursed her for being so beautiful, so proud, for being something more of a goddess of impudence than a woman that a man could touch. He wanted to lay trophies at her feet, but he feared she'd laugh, feared it so much that he despised all that he could do. Why'n'erth had he ever augmented the intelligence of such a one? He dug fingernails into the finish of the wood, then forced himself away from the sill. Marrying her hadn't done any good at all.
He pressed his fists together and paced the room. He had finished his studies an hour ago; he just felt reluctant to visit Don, his best friend, virtual brother--at least less of a mystery than this woman his wife.
He resolved it. He pulled black socks and boots onto his bare feet, threw a scarf like knit stained glass around his turtleneck for color, whistling at the mirror, trying to feel jaunty. He force himself downstairs and out the door. Don--and Deirdre, now, too--deserved his attention. After all it was perfectly natural that Zanne should visit members of her own friendclan--especially Don, who'd given her a taste for the medical sciences. Besides, simple courtesy expected it of old lovers.
Merrill found his fists clenched in his pockets, the words, "How could they!" just under his breath. How could they, how dare Don and Deirdre get themselves injured in adventures without Merrill to protect them!
A crisp wind flushed his cheeks; he gasped it in with a hunger that he recognized as the beginning of an asthma attack. He stopped in his tracks. He forced a controlled inhalation, as deep into his lungs as he could get, then let it out slowly. It only triggered a coughing-fit. He'd had a lot of trouble lately with the cold weather; maybe he should do something about it.
Almost conversationally he remarked to the wind, "They're collaborating." Don and Zanne. Collaborating on their medical discoveries beyond his range of specialties, reaping glory. The scholar didn't need a new mission; he already had purpose and the beginning of acclaim. At least he had Zanne intrigued. How come the threedees never showed that the heroes didn't get the girl, she always went for the "sweet" guy who sits quietly on the sidelines making witty observations?
He felt fabric tear; his fist in his pocket had shoved through the bottom. He had to move his wallet to the other side.
And now Don had to go and get wounded on some daring rescue-attempt. He wouldn't even stick to his role as a charming book-worm.
Suddenly Merrill realized that he didn't walk anywhere near the pier. He shrugged and kept on walking. Zanne needed time alone; besides, they probably had Deirdre sedated. Or maybe Zanne could catch a ferry and beat him to Carmina. Why not? They never seemed to synch unless the pressures got intense; the aftermath of disasters already cared-for by institutions didn't qualify. Now if the hospital burned down, he and Zanne would make a fabulous team. Zanne went for heroes or scholars--not men who took twenty minutes to find a matching sock.
As For Don, "big brother" had always ragged Merrill about his lack of patience. Now Don could take a turn cultivating it.
Merrill saw a figure in the distance, who stood in the sun between two pillared ways to stare at him. A small, dark person in a djellaba of deep bronze that fluttered in a hectic way, though the person never moved. Merrill tried to identify it as male or female; then, as he neared, he discovered e was neither, but Julie Quorentin, Deirdre's friend.
"Ah, Merrill Ambrey," the hermaphrodite greeted him. "I've been meaning to talk to you.”
* * *
Yes, Zanne did catch the ferry, and no, Deirdre was not sedated, and certainly not sedate. Apparently the preferred medication didn't work on her. "I want out of here," she complained to Zanne, but the other woman only held her hand while Deirdre's free one fretted fingers into the blanket’s waffle-weave. "I'm not doing anybody any good here."
"Except yourself, dearheart. Give yourself a chance."
"I'm fine, I tell you!" Almost. She still saw a sort of halo of accentuated color around things, but she judged her sense of space and time to match the truth close enough for working purposes.
"We'll let the doctors decide that."
"The doctors!" Tension crackled in her laugh. "Do you know what the doctors say?"
"They can't understand why I've reacted so atypically to the drug. It shouldn't still affect me."
"So of course you should stay in the hosp..." Zanne stopped. She didn't move a muscle.
"Until they run more tests?"
"Has anyone actually commented on your..."
"Anomalous neurosystem?" Deirdre smiled grimly. "Don's licensed to cut me loose--get him over here."
"Oh. That's right. You don't know."
Deirdre tensed. "Know what?"
"You were out when I tried to call you. He's hospitalized, too."
"Easy, Deirdre." Zanne pushed her back into bed. "A hang-gliding injury, nothing more. They should release him today, as a matter of fact." Deirdre's agitation beat on Zanne till she itched to leave. Thank the Gates she had no focus on her--even so, snatches of distortion still troubled her telepathy like a reflected radiation. One more thing to learn how to handle!
"Is he conscious? Can he get in here from his bed? If he's got a concussion no one will listen if he tries to release me..."
"Nothing like that. He has a torn muscle."
Deirdre started. "You hesitated."
Inside, Zanne cursed the acuity that made it so hard to hide anything from her Friendclan. She put on a stern face and said, "I am not lying, Deirdre. I do not lie to my friends. Don has a torn deltoid and pectoral. Why should I say otherwise?"
Suspicion smoldered in Deirdre's face.
"Look," Zanne sighed. "Do you want me to borrow a crystal so I can project my thoughts to you?"
"What good would that do?" Textbooks claimed that the sufficiently detailed imagination and supremely powerful will necessary to lie telepathically surpassed human capacity. Zanne and Deirdre both knew of exceptions.
"You're right." Zanne took a deep breath. "You'll just have to trust me or not, as you see fit. But try and understand that you're in an altered state, you're just a wee bit paranoid and things are not necessarily what they seem."
"Perhaps. But I still have to get out of here."
"Agreed. But not to work. You're in no condition to work."
"We'll debate that after I'm out."
Zanne shook her head. "I'll see if I can get Don wheeled in to 'examine' you.”