“What was the number again of the antidote?” the doctor asked above the din. The hospital on the nearest side of Xailier was so overcrowded that there were no available emergency beds at all. Jeremiah sat collapsed in a chair and Shanda sat beside him, holding his limp hand.
Orlacc repeated the formula. “LDX 128.”
“How long ago did the poisoning occur?” the doctor asked, walking toward an office, dodging patients and medics as he flipped through a folder.
“Uh, about twelve hours... more or less, I think.” Orlacc followed him.
“Let’s hope less.”
“Why, Sir?” Orlacc’s heart dropped.
“Permanent damage occurs after twelve hours.”
“What kind of permanent damage?”
“The whole neurological system begins to deteriorate.” The doctor said. “Now, I’ve got to search all our stock for that antidote. Let’s hope we have it.”
Orlacc made his way back to his friends.
“What did he say?” Shanda asked.
“He’s ordering up the antidote. Now, Miss, about your arm--”
“It’s okay. We have to take care of Jeremiah first.”
“You’re bleeding,” Jeremiah said.
“You’re dying,” Orlacc stated gently. Shanda looked at him sharply. “But don’t worry, Sir,” Orlacc continued, “they’ll find it.”
Jeremiah spoke no more. His eyes were closed now and his breathing was irregular again. Shanda clenched his hand tightly. How could she have let this happen? She should have never let him come along. She ruined his and Orlacc’s lives with her selfishness to have them do her dirty work. She was sure her conference plan would have worked just as well with the senator. But Jeremiah sat dying beside her, and Peter Orlacc stood in wait while he could be in his bejewelled home on Mochase.
Within ten minutes, although it seemed like hours, as Jeremiah grew steadily worse, the doctor returned with a rectangular object in his hand.
“We had it ordered in. Mr. Handell?” Jeremiah didn’t respond. The doctor pushed up Jeremiah’s sleeve, laid the device on his arm, and pressed a button, releasing the LDX 128 agent into Jeremiah’s bloodstream. “He must be watched after carefully,” the doctor said. Looking around, he decided out loud, “But we can’t do it here. He’ll have to be taken to the hospital along Halvasee River. We’ll transfer him immediately.” The doctor hurried away to call the medical transfer craft.
“You stay with him, Miss. I’ll take the ship over.” Orlacc pulled his coat further around his shoulders and, in an instant, was gone.
When the medical transfer ship took off, Jeremiah was not getting any better. But he was also getting any worse. The antidote had succeeded in rendering the poison ineffective.
Orlacc climbed the ramp to his ship. What could be done? It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. He hoped more than anything that Jeremiah would be alright. Peter Orlacc knew now that he had been wrong his whole life after his bride-to-be had died. What was the point of living if there was no one to live with? He never spoke to anyone, he never did anything that involved other people, and where did he chose to live,but a mansion on Mochase, the loneliest and most uncaring planet in the whole system.
That was when he decided to forget his tough exterior and find some people to share life with. He had a good start on his vow, because he had already had found two people willing to let him into their circle. They were three loners pulled together by hatred and drawn together by friendship. If they would let him in, he would stay.
He fired up the engines and took off into the open sky, smiling.
The hospital on Halvasee River had been alerted to their arrival, and action was quick, due to the available staff and lesser population within the building.
“Mr. Handell!” said a nurse, surprised.
“You know him?” Shanda said to him as Jeremiah was taken to an observation room.
“Yes....” The nurse squinted at Shanda. “Princess Ania?”
“Yes,” Shanda murmured.
“Oh, Your Highness! Come, we shall fix you up.”
“He’ll be alright, Miss.” Orlacc had just appeared in the door behind. “Go. Get yourself fixed up.”
The princess allowed herself to be taken away.
Orlacc sat down, exhausted and fearful.
The doctors had repaired Shanda’s arm completely and the pain was gone. She entered Jeremiah’s room softly and sat beside him. He was very hot and his breathing was still irregular. He shifted his position now and then, in discomfort.
The princess sat with him until morning when she awoke, and realised she had been dozing. It was still dark in the room, as the drapes were pulled.
“Jeremiah?” she said quietly.
Jeremiah shifted and moved his hand toward her.
“How are you?” she asked, hoping he would reply.
“I’ve felt better,” he mumbled, barely moving his lips.
Shanda smiled in relief. “Can you move?”
“I doubt it, at the moment.” he said. That sentence wore him out and he drew a deep breath and waited until he felt he could speak again.“Are you?” He kept his eyes closed, in weakness.
“Am I? Alright? Yes, I’m fine. And you will be, too.” She squeezed his hand and stood up. “Now I guess I should go and let you rest.” She gave him a quick kiss on the forehead and departed.
Early in the afternoon, they returned. Orlacc had gone back to the palace with the princess to catch some sleep.
“How is he?” Shanda asked the doctor.
“Well, he was right. The LDX 128 worked. It fought back the poison. He’s still quite weak, but you can go see him.”
Shanda opened the door and Orlacc followed behind.
“Jeremiah?” she said softly.
He turned his head. “Hi, Beautiful.”
“You can see?”
“No, not yet, but I know you’re beautiful.”
Shanda lowered her eyes, partially because she was upset about him, and partially because she was pleased and embarrassed by his remark.
“You’re hopeful?” Orlacc said. “About your sight, that is?”
“I don’t know, Orlacc, I don’t know. They’re not. Not with my own eyes, anyway.” He paused. “Someday...” he said. He held onto Shanda’s hand. “So when do I go home?” He was still quite groggy from the effects of the mixture of the poison and the antidote.
“We’re home. We’re on Xailier. Where is your home, anyway?”
Jeremiah was silent for a moment. “My home was my ship,” he said. Shanda hurt for him. “So, I guess I’m in trouble.”
“No, you’ll come with me,” Shanda said. She looked at Orlacc. “You will, too, so that I can repay you. No objections.”
Orlacc looked at Jeremiah who shrugged his shoulders. “I guess we’ve been told,Orlacc,” said Jeremiah.
Orlacc put his hand on Jeremiah’s shoulder. “We’re glad you made it.”
“Thanks.” Jeremiah fell silent for a moment. They were good friends. “So when DO I get out of here?”
“I’m sure it will be soon,” assured Shanda. “Mr. Handell, you’re a very impatient fellow.”
“Yeah, I’ve been told so,” he mumbled.
“Oh, and the Pegasus says congratulations. We took him back to his home. He lives up in the mountain behind the castle.”
“Why don’t you keep him, Shanda?” Jeremiah asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe he would not like it.”
In Shanda’s mind was a soft plea. Yes, I would like it. Shanda narrowed her eyes. What was that? It’s me, the pegasis. I’ve mind-fast-ed.
“Um,” said Shanda. “I think you are right. Maybe he would like it.”
The doctor came in. “Mr. Handell. Feeling better?”
“Ah, Doctor... yeah. When do I leave?”
“Eager aren’t you?”
“Yessir. Have things to do.” He squeezed Shanda’s hand.
“This guy and I go back a ways,” the doctor said, “and it seems to me that he’s always trying to get out of here early.”
“Were you his doctor before?” Shanda asked.
“He sure was,” said Jeremiah. “And I hate to keep bothering you, but--”
“Well, Jeremiah, we’ll do some more tests. If all checks out, you should be able to leave this evening. But you must rest and stay in bed.”
“Ah, Doc, I don’t think I’m goin’ anywhere. I can barely move.”
“Well, we shall go and get your horse,” said Shanda.
“Mine?” He laughed. She leaned over and kissed his cheek and then left with Mr. Orlacc.
Jeremiah waited until he heard the door close. “Doc?”
“Yes, Jeremiah?” the doctor replied.
“So you don’t think I’ll get... my...,” Jeremiah paused, dreading the answer.
“Well, Jeremiah, it doesn’t look promising. The poison affected the brain as soon as it was put into the bloodstream. You’re lucky that it only did the minimal amount of damage that it does. We’ll be sure to notify you if anything should come up. Right now I think you should concentrate on learning--”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jeremiah turned away.
The fight was over. But Jeremiah was still afraid.
“Sorry, Doc,” Jeremiah said. “Gotta run.”
Princess Ania held onto Jeremiah’s arm. She was now in her regal finery, and really was a princess. “I guess he really wants to go,” she said to the doctor. The doctor smiled.
“Take care,” the doctor said as they began down the hall. “I’ll be over to see you in a couple of days.”
Orlacc was on the other side of the captain. He was very relieved that they were all alive. He knew that he was with his best friends now, and that he was no longer alone.
Jeremiah leaned close to the princess. “I was thinkin’ `bout the Pegasus-horse. Uh, he needs a name, better than what you gave him.”
“What did I give him?”
“Pegasus,” Jeremiah said. Ania laughed.
“Okay, Mr. Handell, what have you decided on?”
Jeremiah paused. “Rena,” he said.
“Your father?” Ania asked quietly. Jeremiah nodded. How about Rena? Shanda asked the pegasis in her head. After Jeremiah’s father?
Yes, came the answer. It’s a very noble name.
“He likes it.” Ania said.
“Oh, he does, does he?” Jeremiah laughed quietly as they went out the doors to the street cruiser that would take them to the train. Mr. Orlacc had left the Entity at the palace. They were silent in the cruiser until Orlacc pulled into the train stop. They boarded the train and settled down. Orlacc sat across from Ania and Jeremiah.
“You’ve never been to my palace, have you?” Ania asked Jeremiah.
“No, actually, Princess, I never wanted to go. I always thought she... you, were something too stuck-up to care about anything. I was wrong.”
“You... you truly were right. I didn’t care. But my father kept coming to mind. I only barely remember him. He was gentle. Everyone told me of his hatred of the Police. So I had to care.”
Orlacc cleared his throat. “Yes, well...,” he muttered. “Now you can get your information to the new FXT’s.”
“Yes,” said Ania as she took the disc from her pocket.
“There may be,” said Jeremiah, dismally, “a lock shield on that disc. Knowing Alkis like I do... did... he probably did it.”
“Lock shield?” Shanda asked, tipping the disc over, examining it closely.”
“Yeah. We’ll never get in it if it’s there.”
“Not at all?” Shanda demanded softly.
“It’s done by a private computer.”
“The Police are gone,” said Orlacc. “And so by destroying those plans, we destroy the remains of the Police.”
It was early the next morning when they reached their stop. Jeremiah picked up his and the princess’s sacks, and held onto her arm while Orlacc helped them off. He pointed to the Royal Carrycraft and they piled inside. The stillness and darkness of the yet unbroken morn laid heavily around each of them. The moon sat in the sky like a large face, looking down on them.
When they reached the palace, they got out and walked up to the beautiful glasshouse. The door opened and the employees of the palace practically spilled out, bustling around the princess and the entourage. The master butler stood in the open door with a serious look on his face. The princess stopped when she saw him.
“Your Highness,” he announced. “I have received this telegram from the Remdis System Embassy Court.”
The princess took the paper into her hand and read it to herself. Then she looked at Jeremiah with worry.
Orlacc took it and read it. Jeremiah could sense them staring at him.
“What? What is it, Princess?” Jeremiah asked nervously.
“You are to be brought to court to find if you are guilty of murder.”
“Murder?” Jeremiah asked.
“Somehow, someone knew. What are you going to do?”
Jeremiah walked with her into the palace. “I will go, and I will prove myself not guilty, that it was not murder. I didn’t kill him. I tried to save him from falling. He fell. He was the one who poisoned me.”
“I’ll stand with you, Jeremiah. I saw it. You won’t be put in jail.”
“And for what it’s worth, Jeremiah,” said Orlacc. “I’ll lend my word as well.”
“Thanks, Mr. Orlacc,” Jeremiah said.
With that, they sat down to contemplate their case, before going to a unsuccessful sleep full of tossing and turning.