Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:
Her Instruments, Book 1
Under Allacazam’s care, Hirianthial felt divorced from the outside world, even the parts of it his physical body would typically report. He floated in a sensory deprivation that would have alarmed him had he not been so tired. Instead, he sank into the exhausted unconsciousness of healing and woke only infrequently to “feel” the Flitzbe’s mental touch. On one occasion he remained aware long enough to wonder at the sutures one bound an invisible wound with. Instead of floss, did one use sunlight? Was the needle a memory of a mother’s touch? What kind of antibiotics did one use on a person’s mind?
The Flitzbe healed the way he talked—invisibly, using mechanisms that seemed as natural as the waves on a pebbled beach. Hirianthial had no idea how long it would take, only that it wanted all his strength.
The memories began to seep back into him. This time, Allacazam let them filter through. The touch of the boxes, the sense of unease, the nausea… the screams.
“I need to wake up,” he said.
Allacazam showed him the barely stitched bits of his mental center. To shield with it would be impossible. Waking would mean subjecting himself to everyone’s thoughts and wishes and feelings, and though he would now remain centered in his body the experience would undo some of the Flitzbe’s work.
But the screams rang in his ears. “It’s that important.”
Unease, like seeing shadows in an empty house when walking alone to bed. Warning, as well, this time pulled directly from Hirianthial’s own memories of a haloarch monitor emitting a piecing siren as its patient attempted to break free. Hirianthial ignored it and rose toward the light.
Riding through the Well would have proven pleasantly monotonous had it not been for Hirianthial’s state. He remained unconscious, so deeply so that Kis’eh’t had had only marginal success hydrating him and they were now all worrying about him drinking. With the ship guiding itself on its pre-determined course, each of the crew took a shift at his side, sometimes doubling up if fear overcame other considerations.
Reese arrived for her shift to find Kis’eh’t facing the door, hands clenched on her paw’s wrists. Some of the medical supplies Hirianthial had brought with him were laid out on her lap on a clean towel. There was a needle there. And a tube. And a bag of some fluid Reese couldn’t identify.
“Is that what I think it is?” Reese asked, stopping at the door.
“It’s been five days,” Kis’eh’t said. “We have to do something about this or he’s going to die.”
“We’re not doctors,” Reese said.
“No,” the Glaseah agreed. “We’re just going to have to follow the instructions in the manual and hope we get it right.”
“But we might puncture something!”
Kis’eh’t bent forward and examined the needle. “I hope not. Or at least, I hope we puncture the right thing.” She covered her face. “Aksivah’t hear me, Reese. I don’t want to. But I can’t think of anything better to do.”
“I thought… isn’t there some other way to keep him alive?” Reese asked. “Something besides needles? One of those pumps?”
“Pumps require vials full of something to be pumped,” Kis’eh’t said. “I found plenty of anti-toxins, antibiotics, anti-virals, vaccines and anti-fungals, but I didn’t find anything we could use to sustain him. Only this. And before you ask, no I can’t break open the bag, or it won’t be sterile anymore. And even if I did I have no idea if the hydration formula for the pump is different from the one for the needle. The pump is pushing through tissue, the needle isn’t… I have no idea if that makes a difference, but I don’t want to be wrong.”
Reese waved a hand at the mysterious-looking machine Kis’eh’t had brought with her from Harat-Sharii. “You synthesized glass beads… can’t you synthesize whatever the pump needs?”
The Glaseah choked on a laugh, then covered her eyes with a hand. “No. I need a formula to make something I’m not familiar with and appropriate supplies to make it out of. My specialty is inorganic chemistry, Reese, not medicine and not pharmaceuticals. I can identify drugs but I don’t know how to make them. And I certainly don’t know what you inject directly into someone’s bloodstream to hydrate them, beyond it not being plain water.” She sighed and dropped her hands onto her wrists. “Look, all we have that we know will work is this bag. I looked and looked, but the u-banks all say if you don’t have a halo-arch and you don’t have medical facilities and you don’t have what you need for the AAP and you do have one of these… this is what you use.”
Reese sat next to Kis’eh’t before her shaky limbs dumped her there. “I can’t stick a needle in him. What if we do it wrong?”
“Then I guess he’ll die,” Kis’eh’t said. “He’ll certainly die if I can’t get more water into him somehow. The health monitor in his own pack says so.”
Reese stared at the limp body and its cocoon of blankets. “Someone should get first aid training.”
“What a good idea,” Kis’eh’t said. “Too bad we didn’t think of it, oh, say, several years ago.”
Reese eyed the Glaseah, ready with a retort of her own, then let it die in her mouth. She’d never seen Kis’eh’t so exhausted. Embarrassed, Reese looked away and found Hirianthial’s face among the blankets. “I guess we should get it over with.”
“Yes,” Kis’eh’t said.
But neither of them moved.
They remained that way for a while. Long enough for Irine to show up for her shift and pause at the door, as startled by the tableau as Reese had been when she’d entered.
“Are you sticking him with that thing?” Irine asked.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that we should,” Reese said.
Kis’eh’t nodded. “Definitely.”
Irine looked from one to the other. “And that’s where you stopped.”
“Do you know how to do it?” Reese asked hopefully.
Irine sat between them and shook her head. “No.” She looked clear-eyed but her coat was dull. Had any of them been resting well? “Maybe Bryer knows.”
“We could consult Allacazam,” Kis’eh’t suggested.
Reese started laughing. “Consult Allacazam. I like that.” It continued to seem funny until it stopped. “Wait a minute. That might actually work.”
Both women stared at her.
“Allacazam knows the things that are in your mind,” Reese said, working it out as she spoke, “that’s how he communicates with you. He’s hung in Hirianthial’s arms long enough to pick up something of what’s in his mind. Maybe he’ll have a memory of putting a needle like this in!”
“I’m not sure I followed that,” Kis’eh’t admitted.
“Me neither,” Irine said. “Try it anyway!”
Reese reached for the Flitzbe’s mottled fur, patched in magenta and deeper purple. Her hand creased the fibers. “Allacazam?”
A distracted bobble made her close her eyes and brace herself. She hadn’t realized the Flitzbe could make her doubt her senses.
Please, she said. We need help—
A wall this time. Not slammed before her, but just there. Was the Flitzbe actually turning her away? She listened carefully and heard a low buzz, like an annoyed insect. It didn’t seem directed at her. She caught edges of images that made no sense: a monitor above a patient, maybe. A distant alarm.
Is this a bad time? Reese asked.
“Reese! Come back!”
Reese blinked a few times to clear her vision; as she pulled her hand away she saw the wound again, a translucent hole barely pulled together with brilliant white stitches. Allacazam’s fur wriggled as it released her fingers, and the vision vanished. The thick white lashes lining Hirianthial’s nearest eye trembled, then parted to reveal something mostly pupil, a great black hole with the slimmest rim of dried-blood red.
“He’s awake!” Irine squeaked.
Technically we didn’t make our donation cap for this post, but I put it up anyway. :)