Aurelia heard a click and knew that the vial was open. It took a matter of Seconds to fill a syringe, and she had to think fast. With no weapons in the room, she only had one option. As Ellis turned, the filled syringe in his hand, she launched herself off the bed, colliding with him in the middle of the floor.
“Stop!” she shouted, the only word that she could form.
Ellis had landed on his front, but his hand still clutched the syringe. Aurelia grabbed his wrist, putting all her weight onto his back, trying to force him to let go.
“Bitch,” screamed the trauma doctor, struggling beneath her.
She knew that she had little chance of subduing him for long. Her heart pounding, she looked up at Jonathon, who was half off his bed. He put his weight on the bad leg first and crumpled to the ground, the bone unable to bear him. Shit. Ellis stopped moving, but Aurelia could feel his muscles tensing, getting ready to throw her off.
She released his wrist, balled up as much power as she could in her hand, and punched hard. Her fist glanced off the side of his temple and seemed to have no effect whatsoever. Aurelia could sense Jonathon moving, and his hand crept into her peripheral vision. But it was too late - Ellis grunted and in one fast movement threw Aurelia off him. She landed hard on her side, her hip bone making a crack as it hit the floor. Ellis was on his knees now, half turned away from her, and with all her might she pushed him so he sprawled back onto the floor, again on his front.
Once more she launched herself onto his back, and it took her a moment to notice that he wasn't struggling. Looking down at the wrist she was holding, she saw that the syringe was gone. He must have switched hands as he got up. For a moment she felt a fluttering under her fingers, and then it stopped. There was an instant of complete stillness and silence, and she instinctively knew what had happened.
She had felt that brief pause in the world before. When she was a student, she had been called to the City hospital for her district, and she had known what was going to happen. All students had to give at least one injection under supervision to prove that they were capable of performing the process. Aurelia had dressed carefully; the call had come late in the evening when she was already in bed, and she had felt butterflies in her stomach. But no doubt, no guilt.
Walking into the hospital room, she had seen her Trainer standing by a bed with a woman on it. All was quiet and calm, the woman in a drugged sleep, her breathing even. Moving closer, Aurelia could see that the woman was younger than she had thought. In her mid-twenties, maybe, only slightly older than Aurelia herself.
The Trainer had nodded, and Aurelia had drawn back the sheet that covered the woman's naked body. There was nothing visibly wrong, but she had guessed that the Trainer wouldn't give her an easy one. Not her. Not the class superstar. Taking a deep breath, she began to examine the patient by feel. The woman's skin was warm and soft, pulsing with life. Slowly Aurelia began to palpitate the patient's abdomen. Her fingers found the mass after just a few Seconds.
Glancing up, Aurelia had seen her Trainer watching her closely, and he had smiled as she touched the right area. Her instincts had been correct.
“Pancreas,” Aurelia had said.
The Trainer had nodded again. He’d taken a vial out of his pocket and keyed in his number. When the vial was open, he handed it to her, and she deftly filled a syringe. Taking the woman's arm, she turned it to access the inner crease of the elbow, then smoothly and methodically injected her.
The injection had worked fast, and just as Aurelia had removed the syringe, she’d encountered that strange stillness for the first time. It was as if the entire world had stopped turning just for an instant. Then she had let out her breath, and the moment was gone.
It wasn't until she was leaving the hospital that she had realised she hadn't even bothered to look at the woman's name.
Now, Aurelia brought herself to her knees, hushing Jonathon as he began to speak. She reached down and grabbed a handful of Ellis's uniform, twisting him until he was lying on his back. The syringe had punctured his chest, close to the heart. He must have fallen on it when she’d pushed him. Out of habit, she pulled the needle out of his chest and then turned to look at Jonathon.
“He's dead,” she said, hardly believing it herself.
Jonathon's eyes clouded. “Dead.” It wasn't a question. It was clear that the trauma doctor was gone; it was a simple restatement of what she had just said.
“That syringe was meant for you,” said Aurelia softly.
She closed her eyes for a Second. “What should I do?” she whispered, half to herself.
Jonathon managed to slide himself closer to her, close enough that he could put a hand on her leg. “Aurelia, I was here; I saw everything. It was an accident, but Gods, the man was trying to kill me!”
“What if they don't believe me, us?” she said, her eyes still closed as though she could block out the dead man on the floor in front of her. The man she had killed.
“They will believe me,” he said firmly.
She was shaking now, her entire body trembling with adrenaline that couldn't be used. “But...” Her voice trailed off.
“But nothing,” said Jonathon, coming even closer. “There was no way you could have done this deliberately; think, Aurelia.”
At this, she opened her eyes and stared at him dumbly. Think about what?
He smiled gently. “Your number hasn't been logged into the system, remember? There was no way for you to open the cupboard and take out the injection. Me neither. Ellis was the only one who could have taken that vial out of that cupboard.”
With a rush of relief that slowed her heartbeat, Aurelia realised he was right. Without her data in the system, her handprint wouldn't open the door, and she'd told Elza that less than an hour ago. In fact, the cupboard would log anyone whose print had been used to open it, as the vial would log the number used to unlock it.
“How did he expect to get away with this?” she asked.
Jonathon shrugged. “Maybe he didn't.”
There were so many questions buzzing around in her mind that she didn't know which to ask, and Jonathon probably couldn't answer them anyway. Aurelia struggled to understand the situation, that she had killed someone. Then Jonathon's hand tightened on her thigh, and the door gave a small click as it prepared to slide open.
“So,” began Elsa, but she didn't finish.
The door slid quietly shut behind her as she stood, taking in the scene before her. Aurelia was about to leap to her own defence, to explain things, but she found that the words just wouldn't come. Elza's eyes moved from the dead doctor on the floor to the vial lock casing lying beside him and the syringe that was still in Aurelia's hand. Then, coolly and calmly, she stepped over the body of Ellis and supported Jonathon's weight as he lumbered to his feet and climbed back onto his bed. After she had done this, she turned and helped Aurelia, whose head was still spinning. Both patients back in bed, Elza nodded in satisfaction and went back to the door, hitting keys on a pad on the wall and sending a locking mechanism shooting across the door itself.
“Now,” she said, turning back to face them. “Perhaps you should tell me what's going on here?”
Aurelia looked at Jonathon, who nodded at her. “Go ahead,” he said.
She told the story as quickly as she could, not embellishing, speaking as clearly and coldly as if she were giving a Medical history. At several points Elza asked questions but refrained from giving any judgement or sign that she either believed or disbelieved Aurelia's story.
“Do you concur with this?” Elza asked Jonathon when Aurelia had finished.
“Every word,” he responded.
Elza sighed and relaxed. “That makes things simpler,” she said. “So now you, Mr. Hansen, have been subject to two assassination attempts in one day.”
“Indeed,” agreed Jonathon, who looked as calm as if having people try to kill him was part of his daily routine. Perhaps it was, mused Aurelia.
“And you, Aurelia, seem to have killed my head of trauma.” Elza said this without regret, as though she frankly didn't care.
“But how did he expect to get away with it?” asked Aurelia again. “All the data logs will show that he opened the cupboard.”
Elza raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I expect that Dr. Ellis was much smarter than that, Aurelia, don't you?”
Aurelia gave her a confused look.
“Did you not think it odd that whilst we've known that you were coming for weeks, have arranged accommodation, a mentor, even a uniform in the correct size for you, that your data wasn't logged into the system?” Elza asked her. “In a place that's as organised as a hospital in a city that's as organised as Lunar, that would be more than a small oversight.”
Aurelia furrowed her brow. “I don't understand.”
“I didn't either,” Elza said, pulling her rolled-up screen from her pocket. “I knew damn well that I'd given the comp Workers your data to put in the system. So when you said that you couldn't open the doors, I didn't get why. But now I think I do.”
Elza unrolled her screen and tapped on a few icons.
“Hmmm. It seems that only one Med Worker has accessed the vial cupboard in the last few hours,” she said.
“Ellis, right?” said Aurelia.
“No,” said Elza. “You.”
Aurelia's heart dropped, and her pulse started racing again. “But I didn't...”
Elza held up a hand to stop her. “I know you didn't,” she said. “You can prove it. Go to the cupboard now and try to open it.”
Getting off her bed, Aurelia did as she was told. She hovered her hand over the sensor, but the cupboard remained closed. She turned to look at Jonathon and Elza. “So?”
“So,” said Jonathon, his face still pale, “Ellis switched his data with yours. That way he could use his print to open the doors but the data logs would show that it was you who opened them. Presumably he intended to switch the data back again after he killed me, and then it would look like you'd done the deed.”
Aurelia got back onto her bed. “But how did he know that we'd be here together, or here at all, for that matter?”
“Probably he didn't,” Jonathon said. “It was pure chance, and he took advantage of it. If you hadn't been here, he'd have found another way of taking care of the problem. Or else he simply intended you to be the doctor who was blamed for it.”
Aurelia let all of this sink in. “But he must have had help to change the data,” she said.
“Nope,” Elza said, rolling her screen up and putting it away. “Ellis was a Switch.”
The word described a student who had switched his area of training mid-study. Switching was possible only if you showed equal aptitude in two areas, and it was not something that happened often.
“I just checked his employment record,” continued Elza. “He switched from comp Worker to Med Worker in his Second year. Switching the data would have been easy enough for him.”
“What do we do now?” Jonathon said.
Elza came and sat on the other end of Aurelia's bed. “I'm not sure,” she confessed. “I believe you, and we can prove more or less what happened, but that could take weeks or months. In the meantime, I'd be out two doctors, and you,” she looked at Aurelia, “would be in a holding cell until a judgement was passed.”
Jonathon looked thoughtful. “There might be something we could do,” he said after a moment. “But first we need to know what Ellis did with his own name.”
“What do you mean?” Aurelia asked him.
“Well, when he paired his data with your name, what did he put under his own name?”
“On it,” said Elza, who was apparently following Jonathon’s trail of thought better than Aurelia.
Without really understanding why, Aurelia permitted Elza to take a blood sample and analyse it. After a couple minutes of waiting, Elza came back into the room smiling.
“All clear,” she said. “No match.”
Aurelia was starting to get impatient now. “Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” she demanded, forgetting for the moment that she was speaking to both Jonathon Hansen, political golden boy, and Elza, the head of the hospital.
Jonathon laughed. “Okay. I needed to know if Ellis simply switched the data, yours and his, in which case we'd be in hot water. Turns out that he didn't; he just used a random data set as a placeholder for his name until he had time to go back and return his own data. That means we have a plan.”
“We do?” asked Aurelia, still confused.
Elza nodded. “I think so. At least, if I'm thinking the same thing as Jonathon is, we do.”
“We replace your data with your own real data,” explained Jonathon. “That means that anyone who takes a sample from Ellis is going to come up with no name to match his data.”
“There are enough dead coming in from the shuttle attack that one more body won't be noticed,” Elza put in. “Though eventually someone will find him, no one will know who he is, and he'll be someone else's mystery.”
“And what are you going to say happened to Ellis? I mean, you're missing the head of trauma,” said Aurelia.
Jonathon shrugged. “This is Lunar, not City 01; people disappear here from time to time. Maybe he was a rebel, maybe he got on the wrong side of an angry young Elite - whatever. They'll do a cursory search, but as long as nothing comes up to say that he's left the Moon, which it won't, then they'll give it up as a lost cause.”
Aurelia considered all this. She was wondering exactly why it was that these two people were willing to go out of their way to help her. Sure, their plan sounded good, and plausible, but why would two such high-ranking citizens want to protect her from murder charges? She voiced her suspicions, and once again Jonathon laughed.
“Look, you just saved my life,” he said. “It seems like I might owe you a favour or two.”
“And I can't afford to lose another Med Worker,” said Elza. “Particularly one as talented as you.”
Aurelia had the feeling that she might not be hearing the whole story here, but she let it go for the time being. “Okay, let's do it,” she said.
Elza bade them both to stay in the room. “We need to move Ellis, so I need to find a uniform to put on him,” she said.
“You need to get Aurelia's data in the system ASAP,” Jonathon reminded her.
“Will do,” Elza said. She then left, promising to be back as soon as she could.
Trying desperately to ignore the body of Ellis on the floor, Aurelia sat back on her bed. He was not the first person she had killed, she reminded herself. But she knew this was different. Deliberately taking life in this way was something...was something that was left to Clones. To the Military Class. And suddenly she understood why Nicholas had acted so strangely when he’d talked to her about taking life. What was it that he had said? Sacrificing many to save one. That was it. She still didn't completely get it, but she felt that she was getting closer. All of this was somehow intertwined.
“Jonathon,” she said after a few moments of silence.
“Mmm?” He seemed half asleep, as though the events of the past few hours had been nothing more than a normal day's work for him.
“Why is it exactly that people are trying to kill you?”
He gave a soft chuckle. “Now, that's a long story,” he said. “And maybe one for another day.”
“I helped save you,” she reminded him. “You owe me, remember?”
He turned so that he could see her face, and she was surprised again at the depth of his blue eyes. “Indeed I do, but I'm not sure that this is something that can be explained here and now.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Power is a dangerous thing,” he said, finally. “Those who want it shouldn't be allowed to have it, so it gets thrust upon those who don't want it, as they will use it better. Avoid abusing it. Which in the end means that those with the power end up fighting to keep something that they never wanted in the first place.”
Aurelia digested this. As convoluted as it sounded, she knew what he was getting at. History was full of leaders who had destroyed and killed to get the power that they desperately wanted, and it tended to be those who hadn't wanted to lead who made the best leaders. Was all this just a question of jealousy? That seemed to be what Jonathon was saying. But he was a Hansen, a member of the leading Empire family - surely he was used to all this?
She was still thinking when there came a soft tap at the door. Jonathon opened his eyes and looked at her, and she shrugged back. The best thing to do seemed to be to remain silent and let whoever it was go away. Jonathon looked pointedly at the body of Ellis, and again Aurelia shrugged. The tap came once more, followed by a murmur of voices. Then the door slid open.
Shit, thought Aurelia. She'd presumed that Elza had locked the door behind her, yet she obviously hadn't. The sight of a locked door might arouse more suspicion than that of one that was simply closed. She realised she was breathing too fast, and then someone called her name.
Thank the Gods. She opened her eyes.
“Nicholas?” she hissed. “Come in and close the door.”
The Clone stepped into the room and immediately saw Ellis.
“Maybe not the best time for a visit?” he said.
“Maybe not,” said Aurelia. “But you might be able to help.”
He came to her bedside. “Are you okay?”
Nicholas lifted his hand and gently touched the curve of her cheek, and Aurelia felt the soft perfection of his fingertips and almost closed her eyes to sense his touch better, feel closer.
“So you're Nicholas?”
Jonathon's voice was hard, though he was attempting to sound neutral, Aurelia thought.
Nicholas turned and saw who was in the next bed, and then he looked at Aurelia, his eyebrows raised.
“I'd like to say that I've heard a lot about you, but I really haven't,” Jonathon went on.
“Uh, I'm Nicholas. Nicholas Haliem. I'm a friend of Aurelia's, right?”
“Pleased to meet you. I'm Jonathon Hansen.”
“I know who you are,” said Nicholas quietly.
Aurelia could hear the strain in their voices and wondered where the hell this was going. The two men were very much alike, maybe too much. It was clear that something was going on, but she wasn't sure what to do to make things easier. Did Nicholas regret saving Jonathon? But why? And as far as Aurelia knew, Jonathon had no idea that the Clone had saved him.
“I just came to see if you wanted to grab that coffee,” Nicholas said, turning back to Aurelia. “Maybe tomorrow? Are you going to be working?”
Smooth save. Nicholas obviously wasn't going to talk to her here now that he'd seen who her temporary roommate was. But Aurelia didn't even get the chance to answer.
“Aurelia's having dinner with me tomorrow,” Jonathon said. “So she won't be able to make it.”
Aurelia sat up straighter. She didn't like being told what to do, especially like that. What the hell did he think he was doing?
“Actually,” she said, “I'm having coffee with Nicholas tomorrow.” She saw Jonathon's face darken. “But I'd be happy to have dinner with you later in the evening,” she proffered. She didn't want to make him any more jealous than he already was, and it was rapidly becoming obvious that the only problem in the room was her.
“With a Clone?” Jonathon snorted.
“With a friend,” Aurelia said quietly.
Nicholas's eyes had hardened. “I can defend myself,” he told Aurelia. “With a Clone,” he said to Jonathon. “A Clone who happened to save your life.”
“Bullshit. You had nothing to do with it; that was all Aurelia. And as far as I'm concerned, you can get the hell out of here. Go on.”
“I'll leave when Aurelia asks me to, and not before,” Nicholas said, his cheeks red. “I came to visit her, not you.”
“You will do what I tell you to because you're a Clone and I'm a Hansen.” Jonathon struggled to sit up in his bed. “And if you don't get out of here, I will throw you out.”
Nicholas laughed a short, sharp laugh. “You don't look as if you could even get out of bed.”
Jonathon's eyes narrowed. “Just try me,” he said. “And when I'm done throwing you out, I'll have you posted to the ends of the fucking Earth, got it?”
Okay, that was enough. Aurelia knew that it was time to intervene. The last thing she needed was another fight in the room, and she knew damn well that Jonathon couldn't get out of bed even if he wanted to.
“Enough!” she said loudly.
Both men turned and looked at her.
“You're behaving like spoilt trainees fighting over a bag of candy. Quit this shit; I don't want to hear it from either one of you.” Internally, Aurelia cringed at the fact that she was yelling at a Ruling Class, but she hadn't liked the way Jonathon had pulled the class card on Nicholas. That wasn't fair, not fair at all.
“Both of you are, I hope, newfound friends, and I enjoy the company of you both. And frankly, I don't really care whether or not you like each other. But you won't argue in front of me, clear?”
Nicholas and Jonathon nodded, both seeming chastened, and for a Second Aurelia fought against the desire to laugh. They really did look like little kids.
“My apologies,” Jonathon said.
“And mine,” Nicholas hurriedly added.
“Accepted. Now, Nicholas, I'd love to have coffee if I can, but I don't know when I'll be able to leave the hospital. Can I intercom you?”
“Sure thing,” the Clone said, with a smile.
“Perfect. And then maybe, as long as I'm not working, we could have dinner?” she asked Jonathon.
“Of course,” he said. “And you can intercom me too.”
“Right. All settled, then. It was lovely of you to come and check on me,” Aurelia told Nicholas, in an obvious message that it was time to go.
“Uh, yeah, right. No problem.” The Clone grinned at her. “You seem to have found your feet up here pretty fast; it's quite the bark you've got there.”
Aurelia grinned back. “I'll explain everything tomorrow,” she said.
“Sure. I'm out of here.”
“Not so fast,” said a female voice.
Crap. Aurelia saw Elza standing at the door.
“What exactly is going on here?” asked the head of the hospital, frowning.
In her hands she was holding a Chem Worker uniform that looked like it would probably fit over Ellis's broad shoulders. She stepped into the small room, closed the door and then locked it.
“And you are?” she asked Nicholas.
“He's with me,” Aurelia said. “He can be trusted.”
Nicholas smiled a little when she said this, and Aurelia noticed that he stood a little straighter.
“Do you agree?” Elza asked Jonathon.
Reluctantly, Jonathon nodded. “If Aurelia trusts him, then yes.”
Elza looked doubtful. “It wasn't a good idea to invite any more people to be involved in this than was really necessary.”
“I butted in,” said Nicholas. “They didn't invite me; I came to check on Aurelia.”
“So you're her Clone,” Elza said. “Very well. You can be useful.”
My Clone, thought Aurelia. She hadn't been around Military Class very often. They weren't generally stationed in the middle of Cities; encampments tended to be closer to the Dark, to the edges, where the soldiers might be needed. And, of course, up here on Lunar. She knew about Clones, about the Military Class, but she'd never really experienced how other people treated them. It was like they were servants, just there to do the bidding of anyone who told them to do something. This made Aurelia feel uncomfortable. She, herself, wouldn't like to be ordered around like that, and so she didn't like hearing other people do it to Nicholas. He, on the other hand, seemed fine with it, but she supposed he was used to being spoken to in this way.
“What can I do?” Nicholas asked Elza.
“I need him,” Elza pointed at Ellis, “dressed in this,” and she handed Nicholas the uniform that she was holding.
“I'll help,” Aurelia said, getting down off her bed and wincing. Her hipbone hurt where she had crashed into the floor before.
“Nope,” said Elza. “You're going to be checked over first. I'm going to need you in a while.”
Nicholas deftly began undressing Ellis, discarding his Med Worker uniform, as Elza took a look at Aurelia's hip.
“Bad bruise,” the Med Worker said after a couple of minutes. “Here.” She went to a cupboard and pulled out a painkiller tab. “Stick this over your hip.”
“Er...” Aurelia didn't particularly want to undress in front of the others.
“The sooner you do it, the sooner you'll feel better,” Elza pointed out. Then she took pity on Aurelia and ran her hand over a wall sensor. A screen descended around the bed, allowing Aurelia some measure of privacy, and she quickly pulled her uniform down and stuck the patch over her hip. She could already see the green and purple beginnings of a bruise forming.
“I'm done,” she said when she was dressed again.
The screen ascended, and Aurelia could see that Ellis was now dressed as a Chem Worker.
“Alright,” said Elza. “Here's the plan. We need to get Ellis, here, out into the hospital where we can blend him in with the rest of the bodies coming off the shuttle.”
Nicholas looked a little confused, but he asked no questions. So used to following orders, Aurelia thought.
“I was going to have him take Aurelia's bed and then get orderlies to come and take him away, but now that we've got a Clone on board, I think it'll be safer to just carry him out of here, ourselves.”
Nicholas nodded. “I can do that. Just tell me where to take him,” he said.
“I'll come with you,” Elza told him. “No one will stop or question me. We'll go down to the end of this corridor and take a right, which will bring us back to the entrance, where you can join the others who are coming in. At the first door you come to, you'll find a Med Worker doing triage. Just say that you pulled him off the shuttle. The Worker will take care of things from there, and you turn around and walk out as though you were going back to help carry more patients. Got it?”
“Got it,” said Nicholas.
“You,” Elza said to Aurelia, “are going to leave the room with us. You will then come straight back in here.”
“Huh?” Why would she go out then come back in again?
“Your data is in the system now, and I want a log of you opening the door and coming inside,” explained Elza. “You'll then treat Mr. Hansen. As soon as you've done what's necessary, you can discharge him.” She looked at Jonathon. “It's best to get you out of here as soon as possible now, whether you want to have special treatment or not, okay?”
“Agreed,” said Jonathon.
“Great. Everyone ready?”
They all nodded, and the plan went into action.
Aurelia felt foolish going out of the door, waiting for it to close and then opening it again. But her data worked this time, and the door slid open for her imMediately.
She then went to work, opening cabinets to find the equipment that she'd need to examine Jonathon. Thankfully, the man was quiet, and Aurelia knew that he sensed she was angry with him because of the way he had spoken to Nicholas. She really didn't want to talk about it right now, though. She had laid out her instruments when Elza returned.
“Better hurry things up in here,” Elza said.
“Why?” asked Aurelia.
“Because you're needed outside. I'm missing a head of trauma, and since you're the one responsible for his demise, it seems only fitting that you fill his shoes.”