It was almost two weeks before the head nurse of Zeta’s ward would let her consider getting out of the hospital. Quill Mnasen knocked at her door as she was packing up her things. In his first two visits she had either been unconscious or sedated. Now, her color and her strength were back. She gave him that incredible smile over her shoulder, “Come in, Hon.”
“Ready to go?”
She nodded a yes to his question.
“Your Mr. Whittaker has been going crazy,” he went on. “You haven’t answered any of his calls. I told him you were alright.”
Her smile of amusement got tinged by a mist in her eyes. “He worries too much. He gets me great cases but sometimes he tends to smother; you know?”
Mnasen nodded. “Leona has been talking to him anyway. She’s told him that you sound stronger and stronger every day.”
“She’s quite a child. I’m glad she decided to stay at D’nari for a while. One of her cousins is almost her age. What she needs now is family.
“Where are you going?”
“I think I’m going home.” The mist deepened for a moment. “I mean, real home. I haven’t been there for ages. I haven’t seen my folks for ages.” Her eyes narrowed for a moment as Leona’s face came into her mind. A soft blink said goodbye again to the child, and she returned their deep green gaze to Mnasen’s eyes. “Sometimes you forget what you have, until you meet someone who doesn’t.”
Mnasen nodded again. “I read there’s going to be a Chess tournament in D’nari in the Fall.”
Zeta smiled broadly. “Yes! It’s a hop and a skip from there to here. I was hoping to come back and catch the sights of Serena. I make it a point to learn all I can about the worlds I visit. Do you think the good captain will grant you vacation time then?”
“Hey, we did solve the case in 48 hours.” He replied as he picked up her travel bag and walked her to the elevator. “Besides, if all else fails, there’s always Whittaker.”
She grinned and wrapped her arm approvingly around his waist.
“I know how you feel about my father,” Zeta searched Whittaker’s eyes for a hint of softening. If there was, it didn’t show. “We are going to have to bring him in on this. Any other bio-image scan we get done has to be off the books. I bet only a Mil Spec scan will have the resolution to tell what it is. But whatever it is, it is genetically integrated.”
The alarm in Whittaker’s eyes made Zeta skip to the conclusion. “No, no, it is not biological. It’s not alive. It’s… I think it’s nano-electromechanical. That’s the only thing that makes sense. And the total lack of tissue rejection, the seamless transfer of neural impulses through it, imply mechanisms at the scale of ATP synthase.”
“Or smaller.” Whittaker had to agree with Zeta’s conclusion. “It would take active quantum-traverse circuits to explain what you witnessed.” He paused for a second. “Alien technology.”
“Alien, as in from nowhere I know in our Galaxy.”
He glanced down at her report again. “And you think this… device was installed when she was treated for encephalitis.”
“Viral gamma-encephalitis. The hospital data is incomplete. There is an order for intravenous para-steroids in the record after two rounds of immunoglobulin, suggesting rapid onset brain edema; but no one called for surgical intervention. She could have died.”
Whittaker closed the report. “But someone saved her life.”
After a moment of silence, he finished: “Let me know when Ethan is available.” He nodded at Zeta and shut off the comm channel.
In the early evening twilight of his office, Edmund Taylor Whittaker pushed back his chair and rested his head on his hands. Namekeeper: The weight of that responsibility had never felt so heavy.