Skyla and Darian arrived just as chaos erupted outside the medical bay. Later, I will deal with it all later, she promised herself silently as curious citizens and determined reporters and guards and medical professionals created a human wall around the entrance to the hospital. Darian squeezed her through and instructed his men to create a perimeter around the area. No one would get in and see what was going on. There would be no more surprise headlines this time.
Two nurses dressed in dark containment suits were in the now-quarantined room, positioning Lady Dominique’s unconscious body on an empty bed next to Lady Harmony. The two juniors were huddled together in the corner, unblinking, clutching each other frantically as if they were struggling to keep afloat in plain air. When the nurses were finished with Lady Dominique, they tried to approach the girls but they hid their faces in each other’s shoulders and burst into tears. Skyla didn’t blame them; the containment suits, while sleek, had a robotic air to them. As the nurses marched into the connecting surveillance room, where Skyla and Darian waited, Skyla had an overwhelming sense of déja vu…
(…something was coming to get her, faceless death in the mist…)
…but it was probably that dream again.
Skyla eyed the two nurses suspiciously. Their faces were difficult to see, as they were hidden behind the dark helmet. It was a little unnerving talking to the faceless women, even though rationally she knew there was nothing to be afraid of. “Who let the Ladies in here?”
“A nurse at the front desk,” one of them replied. Her voice was tinny from the helmet. “Do not worry, your majesty, she’s been dismissed from the service.”
Worry? Skyla was past worrying. She needed answers. “Where is Doctor Leeland?”
“Here, ‘majesty.” Leeland’s expression was grim as he shuffled into the increasingly crowded room. He handed her a datapad. On it was a series of numbers and graphs zigzagging over the screen, accompanied by a CT scan of what looked like a brain, but could have been a series of dark, never-ending swirls contained in a large, wobbly bubble.
Skyla rubbed the rest of the sleep from her eyes. “Explain this to me, Doctor.”
“You’re lookin’ at Lady Harmony’s brain, your majesty.”
“And the long and the short of it is…?”
“Long and the short, she’s in some sort of high-intensity REM-sleep state.”
“I take it that’s not normal?” Darian asked.
“Normal? Definitely not,” Leeland scoffed. “People in comas have little to no brain activity, but her scans are lighting up like a Christmas tree on the Fourth of July, if you get my meanin’. And there’s somthin’ swimmin’ around in her brain soup that’s messin’ with my instruments.”
“Something?” Darian prompted.
“Well, that’s one way to put it.” Leeland waved dismissively. “That unidentified mineral I found in her bloodstream? Well, it’s in her brain too.”
“It showed up on the CT scan,” Skyla said.
“Not at first, it didn’t. Like I said, it’s messin’ with our equipment, so I can’t get a clear read on what it is, other than what the computer has told me it’s not. And it’s not organic matter. So I reconfigured the equipment—something I hate doin’, your majesty, but I figured under the circumstances—anyway, see these black clusters? Smack dab in the center of the frontal lobe, and another little cluster in the temporal lobe? And the ol’ king of the clusters seems to be surrounding her hypothalamus.”
“What does all this mean, Doctor?”
“Short of it?” Leeland shrugged. “No clue. The long? Could mean that she’s dreamin’ up a storm, but unless we can wake her up, we won’t have a clue what’s going on inside her brain til she’s ready and willing to tell us.”
“Can’t we wake her?”
“Wouldn’t recommend it, not until I can do some more tests. Opportunity for science and all that nonsense, your highness. I’d like to run a similar scan on Lady Dominique, and see if she’s also infected with our mystery mineral.”
“Do it. And see if you can’t run a similar scan on the junior ladies as well.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“I’d like to question the junior ladies myself, your highness,” Darian said. “Before Doctor Leeland’s tests, at least, so we can get a clear understanding on what happened here.”
Skyla nodded. “I’d like to sit in on that.”
Darian opened his mouth to protest, but seemed to think better of it. “Very well, your majesty.”
Anything to keep her from returning Ambassador Conrod’s call, and anything to get her closer to discovering the true cause of this epidemic—if it could even be called that.
Skyla turned and the nurses were still there, still as stone and as silent as space itself. She breathed in sharply and suppressed a scream.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” she snapped.
The nurses whirred to life and shuffled out of the room.