Hello again, my lovely readers! I hope you’ve been enjoying Nebulous Heart so far. I’m here to give you another emotional warning. This chapter isn’t quite as difficult as chapter 17, but it discusses the same tragedy, so I wanted to give you the chance to choose what you do. After this chapter, the main way you’ll see this loss referenced is while the couple seek closure. You’ll see how the tragedy transforms them, and what they set out to do as a result.
Chapter Twenty-Two -Alien Care for a Lost Human
In the meeting room, Doctor Ishall Tahkuta had assembled together most of the medical workers who were assigned to the space station. Nurse Iratze sat to his left, the two nurses – Marine and Lanna – who had taken Citlally to her room at his right, and all along the table there were other doctors and nurses. Mannarius and Dhruv were nowhere to be seen.
“Thank you all for being here,” Doctor Tahkuta told them. “I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about the patient who just came in. She is in a very delicate state, and I realize that any of you might help care for her in case her condition worsens.”
“Who is she?” one of them asked.
“She looks human,” someone else noted.
“Captain Mannarius brought her in,” a third told the doctor beside him.
“Another refugee from the K’zzyrch attacks?” she replied. “Where does he find these hopeless cases?”
“Please, listen to me,” Doctor Tahkuta told them. They quickly settled down. “Captain Mannarius may be foolhardy, but he still has a heart of gold. This time, he did what nobody else thought he would be able to do. He found the wife of Doctor Sendrick’s patient.”
The room went awash with awed whispers, comments to fellow doctors, amazement, and even disbelief. Doctor Tahkuta waited for them to settle down before he said anything more.
“In compliance with our medical by-laws, allow me to state that I only share the details of her case because her condition might worsen, and any one of you might need to step in to treat her. In other words, she might not always be able to wait for me.” The others nodded their understanding, and he went on. “My patient is Citlally Winterhawk, human, born on Earth less than three decades ago. On her home-world, according to her husband, she was strong and healthy. They were recently married when they boarded the Hoshi-Narada bound for Space Station Regulus II. They arrived without any problems and were enjoying their stay when the K’zzyrch attacked.”
“That was the station that was split apart!” one of the other doctors exclaimed.
“So it was,” Doctor Tahkuta agreed with a nod. “Both received injections of the k’zshyrk venom because they struggled against their assailants. Citlally had long hair at the time, as was taken to Sardonia to be sold to the Wilang. Endan was taken along a different slave route, and received several more k’zshyrk injections before he stopped fighting.”
“I know Endan’s case,” one of the other doctors noted. “Old Sendrick found him barely able to remember how to get dressed and wash himself. I can hardly believe that he was able to recover from that much venom!”
Doctor Tahkuta nodded again. “We’re all amazed at what love seems to have helped this human remember. Doctor Sendrick insists that his patient would not be able to recover like this if he did not have someone this important to guide him through it.”
“They were meant for each other,” the energetic nurse said dreamily. “It must be true love.”
“Let’s stick to the science here, Nurse Marine,” one of the doctors chided her. Then he looked back to Doctor Tahkuta. “Where is the old man, anyway? I would have thought he’d be here to hear all of this.”
“Captain Mannarius wanted to explain the situation to him in private,” the doctor replied. “You see, things did not go well on Sardonia. Nurse Iratze, if you would?”
Iratze nodded. “Thank you, doctor.” She turned to the crowd, a saddened expression on her face. “Citlally has been through a terrible trauma. So horrific, in fact, that she’s blocked it out of her mind and can no longer remember leaving the Hoshi-Narada. Everything from her arrival on Space Station Regulus II up to her coming aboard the Lionstar is now locked away in some hidden area of her memory. From what I have been able to infer, the Wilang were furious that her long hair didn’t mean the same thing that it does in their traditions.”
“They went with their usual haircut and potion, did they?” another doctor asked.
“Indeed they did,” Nurse Iratze confirmed. “Except this time, the potion had a tragic result.”
“No!” Nurse Marine cried, standing up from her seat. “How could they?!”
“It’s what the Wilang always do,” Nurse Lanna reminded her in a calmer tone. Then she asked Iratze, “What do you know about the child she lost?”
“As far as I can tell, Citlally didn’t know that she was carrying the child. Her memories of Earth and their journey on the Hoshi-Narada are clear, and she never mentioned expecting a baby.”
“What if she selectively blocked out out the knowledge that she was pregnant?” one of the doctors suggested.
“I doubt it,” the nurse replied. “When I first started to treat her, I told her once that she was going through a miscarriage, and she was as surprised to hear about it as she was hysterical that it had perished. I had to give her anolyxidyne to sedate her.”
“Why didn’t you rescue the child?” Marine demanded of her.
“Because in humans,” Nurse Iratze explained, “by the time there is that much bleeding, it’s far too late. All I could do was finish what her body was trying to do on its own so that it would stop emitting so much blood.”
Nurse Marine looked ready to cry. Instead, she hid her face on Lanna’s shoulder.
“Endan could not have known about the child, either, if that is the case,” another doctor said.
“The topic never came up,” Doctor Tahkuta told them. “I’m sure he will be devastated, nonetheless.”
“How cruel, to find out that it was there,” Lanna said as she comforted Marine, “only to have it taken away in the same breath.”
“Are we going to let her remember on her own?” one of the doctors asked.
Doctor Tahkuta shook his head. “Captain Mannarius is going to tell Doctor Sendrick the basics, and from there they will decide the next step. They will either tell Endan first, or tell Endan and Citlally together.”
“The next few days are going to be emotional here in the medical center,” someone commented.
“The news is going to be hard,” Doctor Tahkuta agreed, “but at least the worst of it is over”
“What about her course of treatment?” someone asked.
Doctor Tahkuta pressed a few buttons on the mini-computer on the table in front of him, and a series of information screens appeared before the medical staff. They were holographic in nature, projected by light from hardware stored in the table. On each screen was an article on anemic conditions in humans.
“There are a number of blood-related problems that humans could have,” Doctor Tahkuta explained. “In this case, we are dealing with low hemoglobin levels.”
“Red blood cells,” one of them clarified.
“It’s too bad humans rely on those and white blood cells,” one of the nurses said.
“Not all species can have blue cells,” another nurse told her. “We have to deal with the situation as it is.”
“If I could go on?” Doctor Tahkuta asked, trying not to sound annoyed. “Here is the criteria chart for low blood levels. For a human female of her age, the minimum acceptable level for hemoglobin is 12 grams per deciliter, or 36% hematocrit. Citlally’s lowest recorded level was 4.8 grams per deciliter,” the doctor paused while a series of whispered and murmurs rushed down the line of medics, “and her current level is 7.74 grams per deciliter.”
“That is a hematocrit of only 23.25 percent!” one of the other doctors noted. “She went from over one-third to less than a quarter?”
Doctor Tahkuta nodded. “She was probably much better off than 36% hematocrit when she left Earth, if she was as healthy as Endan has described her. Either way, she needs further treatment.”
“On board the Lionstar, I only had available to me certain fluid and vitamin supplements,” Nurse Iratze explained. “I have already treated her with those as much as I could. At Remote Outpost 3-14, she was given additional vitamin-rich infusions, as well as concentrated oxygen, but she cannot recover on those treatments alone. She lost a lot of blood in the span of only a few days, and she needs a whole-blood transfusion if she ever hopes to make a full recovery.”
“Her physical state is only one matter that we’re dealing with here,” Doctor Tahkuta added. “The mental trauma of this experience is another story.”
“What are your plans, then, doctor?” another of the nurses asked. “Humans cannot receive just any type of blood.”
“We have tried giving them blue cells in the past,” another one told him, “but it nearly proved fatal.”
“Our first hope is that Endan can share what he has with his wife,” Doctor Tahkuta replied. “There is, however the matter of how much k’zshyrk venom he still has in his system, and that’s if he is a match for her at all. Failing that option, we will have to send them to another space station for treatment, or even home to Earth.”
The other medics nodded their understanding, and went on discussing the human girl’s treatment plan, and the protocol for talking to her about her experiences. Meanwhile, down the hall, a very different conversation was going on.
“I really don’t know,” doctor Sendrick was saying as he shook his head. “Humans can be so unpredictable sometimes, and this one has a lot of spunk to him.”
“Come on, doctor,” Mannarius groaned. “You’ve known him for a while, now. She’s ready to see him, but I have to know whether he want would to know before we tell her again, or if they should hear about it together.”
“Yes, I see,” Sendrick said, muttering a little to himself. “It’s a tragic situation, I know. But let me reassure you about one thing, my dear Mannarius. That boy loves Citlally no matter what. He would still love her even if she was pregnant with some other alien’s baby; I can say that for a fact. His love for her is so strong that it pulled him out of the haze of not one but three injections of that nasty venom.”
“So what should we do?” Mannarius asked.
“Do what the humans do and play it by ear, as they say.” Doctor Sendrick tapped away at his computer. “I will call him up here.”
“Where is he now?”
“According to the communication bracelet I gave him, he’s in the station’s garden.”
The captain squinted at Sendrick’s screen. “More like a tracking bracelet,” he scoffed.
“Would you want him getting lost again? His mind still gets cloudy now and then, and he ends up wandering aimlessly. There, he will be up here soon.”
“How do you think he’ll react?”
The doctor shrugged. “She means everything to him. He will probably be relieved that she is alive and they can be together. What about you, captain? What if your girl were to be taken away by the K’zzyrch?”
Mannarius did not look amused by the question. Dhruv noticed him clenching the arms of his chair and was certain that he was holding back a growl. Still, there was not much else for them to do while they waited for Endan to make his way up. “A lot of K’zzyrch would have to die,” he said firmly, “but I would get her back.”
“Oh, really?” Doctor Sendrick asked, raising his brows. “And did any K’zzyrch die during your rescue of this young human?”
“Not that I know of,” Mannarius replied with a shrug. “But I went in so smoothly… I didn’t need to kill anyone.” He winked at the doctor when he noticed his surprised expression.
They went on talking until Endan arrived. The man looked astounded to see that Mannarius was back. He had an expression of sheer dread when he saw the way the captain’s smile faded into a look of pity when their eyes met.
“Y… you,” Endan stuttered. He swallowed hard and forced himself to go on. “Ye’ve returned.”
“I have indeed,” Mannarius said in an even tone.
“But – but what happened? What did you –” Endan closed the door and stormed across the room. “Dammit, man, what happened? Where is she?!”
“Endan, you don’t have to get so worked up,” Doctor Sendrick told him. “We promised you that we’d get her back.”
“And that I’ve done for you,” Mannarius added. “She’s here.”
The human man looked around suddenly, his locks of blond hair flung into the air as his eyes twitched from one corner of the room to another. “Wh – where exactly is she, lads?” he demanded to know, although Mannarius could hear somewhere in his tone that he was trying to be civil.
“She’s in one of the rooms of the medical center,” the captain explained.
“What? Why – why is she being hospitalized?”
“Sit down, Endan,” Doctor Sendrick told him as he got up and crossed the room. He came back with a stainless steel pitcher, which he used to pour hot water into a mug. As the steam rose up, he pulled a teabag from a nearby box and dropped it into the mug. “Here’s your tea.”
Endan glared at him through the tendrils that grew from the mug. “I do not want tea, doctor.” His words dropped hard from his lips as he spoke. “I want to see my wife!”
“She’s asleep right now, according to her readings,” the doctor explained.
“Citlally has been through a lot,” Mannarius added. “I can take you to her, but I thought that you might want to… well, talk about it first.”
“Is she hurt?” Endan demanded. “Why is she in the hospital?”
The captain gave Sendrick a hopeful look, shook his head, and ran his hands through his hair. “Don’t ask me not to tell him,” he groaned. “There’s no call for suspense here.”
“What – why? Just tell me!” Endan commanded, raising his voice.
“She is stable,” Mannarius said, looking straight at the human. “She’s lost a lot of blood, but she’s stable now. My nurse did everything she could for her her on our way here.”
“Blood? How –” Endan stuttered. “How did she lose so much blood? What happened to her?”
“She was taken to a planet – one of the worst ones out there, really.” The captain paused, trying to figure out how to word all the events that had occurred. “They have beliefs there – and this may sound crazy to you – about how women should behave. They ended up cutting her hair an –”
“I don’ care a flippin’ ounce that they cut her hair, laddie!” he interrupted, his full Irish accent coming out. “Just tell me how she was hurt.”
“I was getting to that,” Mannarius told him. He pulled a chair over for the other man. “You need to sit down.”
“I’ll not be told when to sit down!” Endan replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Endan,” Doctor Sendrick added in a softer tone, “I agree with him. He’s already told me, and it’s going to be hard for you to hear.”
Although he glared at the others the whole time, Endan sank down into the chair. “Now tell me what happened.”
Mannarius did not argue the point. “I had tracked her as far as I could when my cousin sent word that there was a human on Sardonia. I knew as soon as he said the planet’s name that things would not turn out well. The first thing I did was hire a medic to work in my ship’s medical bay. And it was a good thing I did.”
“Why? What did they do to her on Sardonia?”
“The dominant race on that planet is called the Wilang. They were sold technology that they were nowhere near ready for, and it has destroyed every fabric of their society. Now they buy slaves because it’s the only labor they can afford. They learned the hard way that they should only buy females, and that they needed to give those female slaves the lavishta potion.”
“Lavishta? What is that?”
“It works as a contraceptive,” Doctor Sendrick told him. “A very crude one, at that.”
“A – a contraceptive? What did they do to her – did they rape her?!”
Mannarius shook his head. “They only breed with virgin aliens. Your wife suffered a different sort of tragedy.” He took a long breath, trying to keep his throat from closing up on the words. “The Wilang hate caring for the offspring of their slaves, or having their slaves stop working because of their young. That is why they use such a powerful contraceptive. Usually the lavishta potion is just a precaution. This time, however…”
“This time what? Finish the story, lad!”
Mannarius shook his head sadly.
“It was too late for Citlally.” Sendrick told him. “The bleeding only happens when the lavishta kills whatever life the woman was supporting. I’m so sorry, Endan.”
Endan stared at the doctor for a long time. Then he stared at Mannarius. Neither of them said anything. The human’s mind raced through the possibilities of what they were trying to get at.
“You… you cannot mean…”
“My nurse could not undo the potion’s work, my friend,” Mannarius told him, his voice shaking. “She saved Citlally’s life, but the… the…” He could not go on.
“So she was – does that mean we were –”
“I can see that neither of you knew,” Doctor Sendrick said.
“I would never have left Earth if I had known that she was –” Endan sat back, feeling his chest tightening. It became harder for him to speak. “I want to see her. No, I need to see her.”
Mannarius looked to the doctor, hoping that he would agree to it.
“Go on, take him down,” Doctor Sendrick told the captain. “She won’t know me; it’s better if you take him in.”
With a heavy sigh, the captain agreed, and showed Endan down the hall to the medical rooms. Several nurses passed them as they walked, offering them sympathetic looks but otherwise letting them be. Mannarius showed him to room eighteen, where it was quiet and still. Citlally was asleep on her bed, which had been laid flat.
Endan gazed down at her, his mouth agape at the sight of her. Mannarius might have said that he looked as though he could hardly believe that they were in the same room once again. The human moved slowly, crossing the room to pull up a chair and sit down beside her.
“I’m almost afraid to touch her,” he whispered, never taking his eyes off of her. “She looks like a ghost… so fragile.”
Mannarius stood at the foot of her bed. “Endan… She doesn’t remember what happened.”
Endan looked up at him, startled.
“She doesn’t even remember going aboard the space station at Regulus II. The last thing she remembers is being aboard the Hoshi-Narada. My nurse said it’s because of the trauma,” Mannarius explained. “Either way, just be careful if you mention it to her…”
“It must have been so terrifying,” Endan whispered with a sad sigh, “bleeding like that.”
“I’m just glad to see you both reunited,” the captain told him. “I should go for now.”
“Yes, Endan?” the captain said, pausing as he began to turn around.
“Thank you,” Endan said, he voice low and soft. “Thank you for bringing her back to me. I do not even know how to repay you.”
“Think nothing of it,” Mannarius replied, his voice filled with sorrow. “I only wish that I had found her sooner.” And with those words, he left the room, making sure to close the door behind him.
In the quiet that remained in the room with him, Endan reached out and took his beloved’s hand. Her fingers intertwined weakly between his, and he caressed the back of her hand with his other one. He stared at her face for a long time, taking in the familiar shape of her nose, her brow, her lips. It was like looking at her through a fog. Her skin, usually so bright and warm, like a new crop of cinnamon, had turned pale and ghostly. His memories of her were tainted by the k’zshyrk venom that had yet to leave him completely. She was thin, her body weak, as though it could so easily give out at any minute.
“My love… If I had known…” he whispered. “Our poor, innocent baby.”
He did not realize until it was too late that his tears had fallen onto her skin. He sniffled and wiped them away, hoping that she would not awaken. But again, it was too late.
“Endan…” her voice whispered, hardly louder than a breath. “Is that you?”
He gaped, eyes wide, as he saw her eyes open and turn to him. “I’ve been asking them to bring you to me for hours,” she said, her voice weak. “And now that the nurses are all gone, you’ve come on your own.”
“My love,” he sobbed, and fell forward. His arms wrapped around her narrow body, pulling her close against his chest. “Och, bhí mé chomh buartha faoi tú. Chaill mé tú an oiread sin. Shíl mé riamh go mbeadh liom a fheiceann tú arís!”
“Endan, slow down,” she murmured, “You know my Gaelic isn’t that good.”
“What would I ha’ done without you, my beloved?” he asked her. “You mean the world to me.”
“It’s so good to see you again,” she whispered, staring up into his eyes.
“And you,” he said back, leaning in to let his lips touch hers. They kissed for a long time, she clinging to him, he refusing to let her go. It felt so good to feel her fingers run through his hair again, to have her breathing on his cheeks. It seemed as though it had been forever ago, something from a bygone age, and having it back was an immense relief.
“Your hair got longer,” she told him as she played with his sun-lit locks.
“And yours got shorter,” her replied, afraid to touch it, afraid to let what Mannarius had told him be all the more real.
“I know,” Citlally said. “I hate the way it feels. It’s like an old friend is missing. Why did I even have it cut? I can’t remember.”
Endan refused to answer her. He only gazed at her with a deep, terrible sadness in his eyes.
“I had a nightmare about it,” she said as though it were merely an off-hand comment. “The worst I’ve ever had.”
“Do ye want tae tell me about it?” he asked, lifting her up into his strong arms. As she always had before, Citlally wrapped her arms around his neck and let him sit in her bed, where he could cradle her and make her feel safe. “Perhaps… perhaps I can chase away the demons.”
“There was… there were cruel aliens everywhere,” she began. “Some of them were destroying spaceships, some of them were pushing people around. I was taken to some kind of stinking dungeon, where they cut my hair and insulted me… and after that they poisoned me. Later, I started bleeding, and I had to climb out of a mountain to find you.”
“My sweet lass…” Endan said, his voice trembling as he held her ever closer. “That was so much more than a dream.”
“How could it have been real, Endan?” she whimpered, laying her head on his shoulder. “It was so terrible… In the nightmare, I even dreamed that there was a baby… but it died.”
“Our dreams can be so cruel, my love,” Endan said in his most soothing tone, “but reality is by far a more vicious creature. If only I could take back all the pain ye’ve been through.”
“It was never real,” she whimpered, uncertainty edging her voice. “It was just a nightmare.”
“Nightmares can be real, my beloved,” he told her, “but this one is over. It was real, but it’s over now.”
“No,” Citlally whispered, her body trembling, dread starting to overcome her.
Endan caressed her shoulders and ran his hands over her hair. “I’m here, my sweet Citlally; ye’re safe now.”
“No!” she cried, sitting up suddenly and looking down into his eyes. “How could all of that torture have been real?”
“It was… it was real, but ye’ve been rescued. Everythin’ is okay now.”
Citlally could only shake her head. There were tears starting to stream down her face. “I wanted that baby, Endan,” she insisted. “I might not have known it was there before, but I would never have wanted it to be gone!”
“Me too, my love,” Endan said, trying to calm her down. “Me too.”
“I wanted that baby,” she said again. “I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby!”
“Citlally…” Endan looked up at her worriedly and she continued to repeat those words. He tried speaking to her, holding her by her arms, but she only went on saying it over and over, her words rushed and tense, desperate to reverse what had happened.
“I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby!”
Within a mere handful of minutes, Nurse Iratze rushed into the room, Marine and Lanna following not far behind. They surrounded the bed, one of them checking her readings, the other one trying to comfort her.
“I saw her heart rate spike on my computer,” Nurse Iratze told him. “What set her off like this?”
“I had tae tell her,” Endan explained. “I couldnae let her think that it was all just a dream… she would ne’er have wanted that.”
“I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby,” Citlally kept repeating, no matter how he rocked her in his arms. Tears stream down her cheeks, and her body shook uncontrollably. “I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby, I wanted that baby…”
“Perhaps we should sedate her,” Nurse Lanna suggested when the human swatted her hand away. “She’s only going to hurt herself like this.”
Nurse Iratze looked into Endan’s eyes. “The last time I sedated her, she woke up not remembering anything. I had to do it,” she explained, “in order to finish off what her body had started and stop her bleeding. But this time…” She shook her head.
“She’ll work through it,” Endan told them. Citlally buried her face in his neck, sobbing dreadfully as she struggled to speak those words again and again.
“What is going on in here?” a male voice asked as it strode through the doorway. The nurses looked up to see Doctor Ishall Tahkuta entering the room. He looked straight at Endan and said, “You’re here already? I just told my staff hardly more than thirty minutes ago to be sensitive to this girl’s case, and here you are telling her, I assume by what she’s saying, everything that she wanted to forget.”
“She didnae forget,” Endan replied, gritting his teeth as he glared up at the doctor. “She’d convinced herself that it was all some kind of twisted nightmare.”
Doctor Tahkuta shook his head in exasperation. “You have no medical training,” he chided. “You could have let her ease into the truth in her own good time. It’s better for patients to gradually realize that it was never a dream than to be shocked into reality.”
“And you have no training in being human!” Endan snapped back. “I know my wife. She wouldnae forgive me if I let her believe a lie.”
“You want her to live, do you not?” Doctor Tahkuta asked him. “You put her in terrible jeopardy when you make her heart race like this.”
“What’s going on?” Nurse Iratze whispered to Marine.
“Doctor Tahkuta and the human haven’t gotten along ever since Doctor Sendrick brought him to the station,” Nurse Marine explained, keeping her voice down. “They always find some reason to disagree.”
“But the patient…” Iratze whispered.
“What if she were to bleed again?” Doctor Tahkuta asked. “Her hemoglobin levels are dangerously low, and we don’t have any human blood stores here.”
“What are ye talkin’ about?” Endan nearly growled. “I am human!”
“How could you possibly be a match?” the doctor asked. “Her blood type is not the same as yours.”
“Ye clearly know nothin’ about human blood types,” Endan replied. Citlally was starting to weaken, her voice hardly a mumble now. He got up from the bed and laid her down in it, then stepped towards the door. “Nurses, please look after her. I want to talk to the doctor out in the hall.”
The girls nodded as he walked through the door, Doctor Tahkuta following him reluctantly.
“What ye’re failing to understand here,” Endan explained once they were out of the room, “is that our blood types are based on antigens. Citlally has the A and B antigens. I have neither of them, and the beauty of that is that I can give blood to anyone. I don’t even have the rH factor.”
“And what, precisely, is the rH factor?” Doctor Tahkuta asked him, his tone dubious and wary.
“You’re the doctor!” Endan shouted. “Who wouldhae thought I’d have tae explain it to you? It’s the Rhesus factor. It comes in positive and negative, and my wife and I are both negative for it. I can give her all the blood she needs.”
Doctor Tahkuta stared into Endan’s eyes for a long time. “You have no medical background.”
“And you have no human studies,” Endan replied. “She’s my wife, doctor. Not by an arranged match, but because she is the love of my life. She is my light, the most important person I know. I would ne’er let anything bad happen tae her. I may nae be a doctor, but blood typing is common knowledge back on Earth. This is one thing tha’ I’am not wrong about.”
“Very well,” Doctor Tahkuta replied. “I will prepare for a transfusion. Don’t expect it to be today, human. I am going to verify your claims first.”
“Do what ye must to preserve your reputation,” Endan grumbled as the doctor turned around and began to walk away. “Meanwhile, I’ll do what I must in order tae take care o’ my dear, sweet Citlally.