Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major
Disclaimers: see Chapter 1
"When Noah was six hundred years old, on the seventeenth day of the second month all the outlets of the vast body of water beneath the earth burst open, all the floodgates of the sky were opened, and rain fell on the earth for forty days and nights… The flood continued for forty days and the water became deep enough for the boat to float. The water became deeper, and the boat drifted on the surface. It became so deep that it covered the highest mountains; it went on rising until it was seven meters above the tops of the mountains."
- Genesis 7: 11-12, 17-20
Marcel Larousse was, quite frankly, bored, but that was quite all right with him. As one of the attending nurses in the trauma room of l'Hôpital Métropolitain de Marseilles, he was quite used to the often frenzied pace of the hospital. Right now, with the most serious case was a tourist with a rather nasty bout of sunstroke. Américains. He shook his head. Tourists were never too bright. For some unknown reason they thought, just because they were in another country, that they were somehow immune to the weather. Of course, to be fair, quite a few of his fellow Frenchmen from more northerly climes were just as bête.
So, for the moment at least, Marcel was quite happy to lean against the admitting desk and flirt idly with Chantal, the cute blonde dispatcher behind the counter. He knew he didn't have a hope, since she was happily married to a cook at one of the nearby restaurants, but at least he knew it, and she knew he knew it, so they were both content to play the game. Besides, it never hurt to keep in practice.
Marcel was verbosely comparing Chantal's hair to spun gold, her eyes to sapphires, and assorted body parts to various other mineralogical phenomena, when she held up a hand and listened intently into the headset connecting her to the hospital's emergency crews.
Her erstwhile suitor obediently shut up as she said, into the microphone attached to her headset, "Oui, continuez." Marcel looked on with interest as Chantal's face reflected her growing confusion. "Oui, continuez... Désolé, veuillez répéter ... Oui... La sécurité, Monsieur? Mais…" She jumped suddenly as an order was barked, loud enough so that Marcel could hear it three feet away. "Oui, Monsieur. Je comprends. Je vous écoute. Immédiatement, Monsieur," she strove to reassure the commanding voice on the other end.
Immediately she grabbed the microphone to the PA system and announced clearly, "Code Un, arrivée de deux blessés. Tous les docteurs en salle de trauma. Je répéte, Code Un." Marcel, realising that the boredom was over, nodded reassuringly at the still shaken Chantal and hurried off to prepare for his part in the drama to follow. Still, he reflected, it was usually against procedure to announce incoming patients over the intercom; it tended to upset the other patients. Whoever had been on the radio had obviously lit a fire under the dispatcher. Taking a last look back over his shoulder across the room, which was now noticeably busier, he saw Chantal talking urgently to the security guard, whom she had frantically waved over. Then he turned the corner and she was lost from sight.
Jean, the elderly security guard, was trying to understand Chantal's slightly hysterical instructions. Finally, he took her by the shoulders and said in French, "Chantal, calm down. Take a breath. Now, what's going on?"
Visibly collecting herself, the dispatcher continued in a calmer voice, "They said to tell you that there's been a diplomatic assault, that you're supposed to clear the trauma room of everyone except necessary personnel, and that you're to co-operate completely with the security that's coming in." Taking another breath, she said, "They said to tell you it's a Gold priority, whatever that means."
Jean was speaking into his radio before Chantal had finished. "Paul? Jean in the trauma room. I've just been told of a Gold --"
*I know, we've just been informed. Merde. Start getting people out. I'm sending down some guys right now to help. The official security guys should be arriving any time now.*
Jean looked out through the outer glass doors and said weakly, keying his mic again, "I think I see them now," just as the doors slid open with a whoosh. Through the doors four men entered quickly, one in a policeman's uniform and three in blue clothing that looked vaguely military. All four wore prominent sidearms and the expressions of people who weren't afraid to use them. Looking at their athletic bodies and quick movements, Jean was acutely aware of his own greying hair and thickening waist, and steeled himself as the police officer headed in his direction as the three military men spread out into the room. The people in the waiting area instinctively drew together as alert eyes scanned the area.
The black-clad policeman, fully outfitted with a Kevlar vest, strode up to Jean and looked him in the eye. "I'm Caronne, Marseilles Police. You in charge here?"
Jean swallowed. "Oui, for now. My superior's on his way down."
"Good. You're the boss now. I have two instructions. Are there any firearms in the hospital?"
"Locked in the security office."
"Fine, leave them there for now. I'll have someone collect them later. As of now, the only weapons allowed here are going to belong to policemen and people dressed like that." Caronne pointed at the still-vigilant Guardsmen who were successfully intimidating everyone in sight. "Got it? You see anyone else with a weapon and you yell." Jean nodded. "Excellent. Two: you have three minutes to get everyone out of this area. After that, anyone who isn't either wearing one of those uniforms or a doctor might get shot. That'll include you. Even policemen won't be allowed in. Questions?" A shake of the head was Jean's answer. "Good. Now move!"
Lt. Caronne strode off to consult with the Guardsmen when he was brought up short by the security guard's voice. "Who was hurt?"
Caronne's lips thinned in a bleak smile. "Princess Evelynne. Next in line for the throne." His eyes flickered briefly to the waiting Guardsmen. "Be careful. They're a little twitchy."
Jean swallowed and hurried over to meet his newly arrived deputies.
Evelynne lay in the back seat of the car almost calmly and listened to the wail of the siren and blare of the horn as it sped toward the hospital. The reassuring bulk of Sir Arthur's body was under her head as he cradled her, continually murmuring assurance, and keeping a steady pressure on her left shoulder. The princess was vaguely aware that her wounded shoulder was hurting more than she could ever remember anything hurting before, but the pain was strangely distant, as if muffled.
I'm in shock, she thought calmly. It is a rather… unpleasant sensation. Looking up though the plexiglass canopy at the blue sky visible between the buildings, she reflected, It's very… bright. So that's what it's like to get shot.
With extreme clarity, Evelynne's memory replayed the preceding events.
Getting out of the car, aided by Uncle Arthur. Feeling his hand give hers a reassuring squeeze before directing her towards the waiting dignitaries. Looking up at them, seeing the genuinely welcoming smile on the face of Mayor Dubois as he starts down the steps to meet her partway. Reaching out to shake his hand, seeing the twinkle in his eye as he brings it up to kiss the back. Turning to greet his wife as he introduces them…
Hearing with shocking suddenness Uncle Arthur's voice bellowing the ultimate code word, "Zulu, Zulu, Zulu." Zulu: imminent terminal threat to the protectee. Immediate Red Three authorisation. The thought barely registering before the step not two meters away seems to explode with a crack, showering the area with stone chips. Turning instinctively towards her bodyguard, barely noticing a large shape moving rapidly toward her. Feeling the sudden impact of the shape with her chest. Falling backwards, sudden shortness of breath as the wind is knocked out of her. Hearing an odd whistle just before another step explodes, much closer this time. Experiencing real fear now, delayed briefly by the suddenness of events. The warm pressure of another body above hers. Looking up into incredibly intense grey eyes, the fear disappearing immediately, leaving behind a totally illogical sensation of complete safety. Cinnamon. A weird prickling sensation running over her skin, followed by a grunt from the person on top of her. I saw her in the crowd. Seeing a jaw clench, and renewed determination etch the soft-featured face above. Then a choked-off scream, dimly recognised as her own, as pain blossoms in her left shoulder. Seeing the face, inches from her own, pale, and the intense focus in the grey eyes falter, then renew for an instant. The person above her stiffens momentarily, as the eyes go blank with shocking suddenness, and then is a limp weight, crushing her…Please don't die.
Oddly, her memories after that point were nowhere near as clear. Evelynne vaguely recalled the weight being rolled off her, though she had tried desperately to hold onto the warmth and security that had been there before. Then Uncle Arthur was there, asking her something she couldn't make out. The next thing she knew she was in the car, looking up into the warm sunshine.
I knew we should have gone to the beach, she thought fuzzily. There was something wrong with the thought, though. But then I wouldn't have met her. Her thoughts seemed to be coming slower now, and the pain was steadily increasing. Shock's wearing off. I don't think I want to be around when it goes. Maybe I'll sleep now. Tired. She could hear, from far away, Uncle Arthur's voice urging her to stay awake, but couldn't seem to find the energy to respond as she slipped into unconsciousness. Please don't die.
Jean had done a commendable job of clearing out the trauma room with a minimum amount of fuss. Not that it had been easy. The patients, along with some of the staff, had naturally picked up on the tension running through the guards and police, and the security staff had been forced to bodily remove a few of them. Still, now the trauma room was clear, and just in time, as the first of the police escorts pulled up, closely followed by the Royal car.
Nurses were waiting with a stretcher, and hurried to help Sir Arthur manoeuvre the princess' limp body onto it. Dr. Martin, who had been on call for just this kind of emergency, wasted no time in demanding a report from the bodyguard.
"Single gunshot wound to the upper left quadrant," he said concisely and gruffly. "Entry and exit wounds seem fairly clean. Looks like it went right through."
Dr. Martin noted his patient's pallid complexion and quick, shallow breaths. "When did she lose consciousness?"
"Two and a half minutes ago. She looked like she was going into shock before then."
The doctor nodded. "Probably. What type of bullet was it?"
"Unknown. It came from a sniper rifle of some kind, though, and a couple of others took chunks out of the museum. Large calibre."
They had arrived in one of the theatres, and one nurse wasted no time in affixing an oxygen mask over the unconscious woman's nose and mouth, another began to draw blood, while a third began to cut away her long blue dress.
"I heard there's another GSW coming in?" Dr. Martin asked, while shining a light into Evelynne's eyes.
Sir Arthur nodded, though Dr. Martin wasn't looking at him. "Someone knocked Her Highness down and then shielded her with her body."
"One of your men?"
"No, a civilian. Female. It looks like the bullet went through them both."
The doctor's head came up at that. "Merde, a hero. I hate heroes." At Sir Arthur's questioning look, he explained, "Heroes always die easily." Turning to one of the nurses, he barked, "Get that dress off, now! What's the hold up?"
The nurse, Marcel, held up the scissors helplessly. "The material won't cut, sir!"
"Of course not," Sir Arthur said. "It's a carbon-fibre weave. There's a tear seam along the side." He showed the rattled nurse, who started ripping the seam with relief. Sir Arthur gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "It's designed to deflect small-arms fire."
The troublesome dress finally removed, Dr. Martin ignored Sir Arthur to direct his full attention to his patient. The bodyguard looked on for a moment, then, satisfied that his charge was in adequate hands, beckoned to one of the other Guardsmen standing nearby. Protocol forbade leaving the princess alone, even - or perhaps especially - in a situation like this one. As the Guardsman - Sergeant Hernandez, he recognised - took up his post, Sir Arthur made his way towards the front doors, just as an ambulance pulled up, bearing the mysterious heroine.
As he moved, a loose, flapping sensation around his lower back reminded Sir Arthur that one of the fastenings on his borrowed armour had finally given way under stress. The reminder just added to his already foul mood. When I find out who lost my suit I swear to God they're going to be guarding the bilges - from the inside - on the dirtiest, most decrepit garbage scow I can find until Atlantis Rises again.
The unknown woman was just being unloaded from the ambulance by another team of paramedics, this one led by a doctor he didn't recognise, and even the jaded Guardsman was shocked at how small she looked. He hadn't had a good look at her at the museum, since his focus was purely on getting Evelynne to the car, but now he was able to see and analyse. She was a tall woman, probably six feet if he was any judge, but her slenderness could be seen in her arms and legs, which were exposed by the shorts and T-shirt she wore. He wasn't able to see the woman's face, since she was currently strapped tightly facedown to a board. The reason was horribly evident in her wounds.
The hole in her right shoulder Sir Arthur knew to be a match to the one in Evelynne's left, and its rate of bleeding was being controlled by the paramedic currently applying pressure to it. The other bullet wound had been left to bleed almost freely, with only a light bandage applied to control it, and the location was the reason for Sir Arthur's sympathetic wince. The bullet had entered right in the middle of her lower back, and the bodyguard had seen and treated enough battlefield wounds to know why nobody was trying to staunch the bleeding. If the bullet's still in there, or if the spine is broken, any pressure will definitely sever the spinal cord. A lot of blood had been lost, if the gurney's sheets were anything to go by. Blood can be replaced, though Sir Arthur pragmatically. Spines cannot.
As the group of medical staff rushed in through the doors, one of them calling for a spinal consult, Sir Arthur stepped up to Lieutenant Martinez, who had ridden with the unknown woman in the ambulance. "Susan, what do you have for me? Who is she?"
Martinez could only shrug her strong shoulders and spread her hands helplessly. "Chief, I don't know. She's about 1.8 meters, 60 kilograms, brown hair, grey eyes, early twenties. That's all I could tell just by looking at her." She shrugged again at her superior's raised eyebrow. "No ID, no driver's licence, no passport, nothing. She had about 28 Euros in her pocket and a receipt from a restaurant where she apparently had breakfast this morning. That's it. Everything else is what you saw." She gestured in the direction of the now disappeared patient.
"Choka!" Sir Arthur swore. "Just what I need." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "A fretin Jane Doe hero."
"Yes, sir," Martinez said, with a half-smile of sympathy. "How is Princess Evelynne, sir?" she asked in a lower voice, genuine concern tingeing her words.
"I'm not sure. They were just examining her a few minutes ago. I'm going to find out. Follow me," he ordered before turning and marching back in through the well-used doors.
It took only a few minutes before they met up with Dr. Martin coming the other way. Before the two Guardsmen could say anything, the doctor interrupted them before they could begin by holding up a hand and speaking. "She's going to be fine. The bullet passed cleanly through her shoulder. There was some blood loss and muscle damage, but no arteries were nicked and no bones were broken." He waved a hand toward the window through which they could see the princess apparently being prepared for movement. "We're taking her up for some x-rays and a CT-scan right now, just as a precaution," Dr. Martin confirmed, and then quickly forestalled Sir Arthur's question. "Don't worry, the area's been secured."
Sir Arthur and Lieutenant Martinez both relaxed minutely. "What about Jane Doe?" asked Martinez. At the doctor's blank look, she explained, "The mystery woman."
The doctor shook his head. "I don't know. She's been taken up to the operating room already. I've also ordered full blood and viral workups, including AIDS tests on both of them, since there was some blood transfer." A nurse waved to attract the doctor's attention. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go."
The doctor walked briskly away as Sir Arthur let out an explosive sigh, then turned to Martinez. "Susan, I'm assigning you to Jane Doe for now. Stick with her. Get a couple of Guards to relieve you when needed. I want to talk to her. Go."
Martinez sketched a salute and turned to leave, but paused as Sir Arthur spoke again. "And Susan? Remember that she did our job for us today. You know what that means."
The Lieutenant did. Jane Doe had just been adopted.
Chorus was beginning to panic, and was hating himself for it.
Like everyone else, he had been taken completely by surprise by the sudden onset of shooting. Well, almost everyone else. Somehow, Ally had recognised the danger and reacted while even the princess' own bodyguards were still unaware of the threat. Damn, the woman's fast. Just like he remembered. And even knowing that his friend had resources that he didn't wasn't enough to alleviate his irrational guilt. I should have been able to do something… anything.
Chorus winced as Ally's voice seemed to echo in his skull. Never say, 'should have done.' It's over, past. Deal with what you are doing now. 'Should have' only assigns blame, and blame is useless. The thought was so real that he almost thought that she was communicating with him somehow. He wouldn't have put it past her. No more thoughts were forthcoming, though, so he had to conclude that the voice was only his own conscience, given strength by his anxiety over his friend's condition.
Great, I have Alleandre as my - what was that thing's name? - my Jiminy Cricket. Celibacy, here I come, the stocky man thought with bleak humour.
In the chaos following the assassination attempt, he had been unable to get anywhere close to his friend; the panicking crowds had instinctively tried to flee the area. Chorus had used his body mass to good advantage, resisting the human river for several minutes, catching a glimpse of Ally's frighteningly limp body as it was loaded into an ambulance. Then he had been swept away by the mass.
A chance snippet of news report overheard on a radio had alerted him to the hospital the princess was being taken to. Unsurprisingly, he had been unable to get closer than a block away from l'Hôpital Métropolitain de Marseilles, before being turned back by a line of police officers zealously guarding the facility from the media and curious alike.
Thwarted, Chorus had decided to try again when things had calmed down, and was now sitting in a coffee shop, watching the special reports on the small television in the corner, along with a large crowd of other customers and passers-by. He wasn't actually paying much attention to the report, which had passed into the stage of repeating previous information ad nauseam. Instead he was busy wrestling with his conscience, when a phrase spoken by one of the reporters snagged his attention: "La femme mystérieuse n'a toujours pas été identifiée par les autorités."
The surrounding people looked on in shock as Chorus leapt to his feet and rushed out the door.
Of course the media hadn't been told the unknown woman's name! If she was as hurt as the reports indicated, not even the officials knew who she was! Her entire wealth of identification was sitting in his backpack, forgotten until this moment. Swearing fluently, extensively, and volubly in nineteen languages, Chorus hurried out to find the nearest police station.
The hospital chair was, naturally, hard and uncomfortable, but Sir Arthur had endured much worse things in the course of his career, and simply ignored it as he kept a weary watch over his charge. She lay on a simple hospital bed, as an intravenous line fed medication into her system, and battery of leads monitored her vital signs. Its usual beeping silenced, Sir Arthur wearily watched the monitor's screen as it displayed reassuring information on Evelynne's pulse rate, respiration, and blood pressure.
At least he had managed to get out of the blasted body armour. Though it was technically against procedure, the Guard figured that if anyone managed to get to him through the fourteen other Guardsmen outside, he wouldn't need a simple body suit; he'd need a tank. Sir Arthur had also managed to catch an hour's sleep, nodding off in the hospital chapel when he went there to pray.
Evelynne's lady-in-waiting, Maîda, had been safely installed on a small cot nearby, where she was now sleeping exhaustedly. She had been escorted into the princess' room after bullying her way through six members of the Heir's Guard. Upon seeing her ward, she had burst into tears, and Sir Arthur had been forced to hold her and awkwardly console her as she cried herself out. Then she had pulled herself together and taken charge of the more domestic details, bringing a few flowers into the otherwise stark room, and also arranging for food to be delivered to the Guardsmen still on duty. She had stood by and watched as she forced Sir Arthur to eat, and her forbidding expression had left the Knight unwilling to resist her. She could give drill sergeants instructions in intimidation if she wanted. Eventually, though, she had succumbed to the lure of sleep.
He knew that he would be at less than optimum efficiency, though, so he had handed over the preliminary investigation to "Dicky" Nixon. So far she had only reported what he already knew. One would-be assassin was dead, taken out by a quick-thinking member of Eagle Two. The other assassin was presumed wounded, based on blood found at the scene, but had managed to escape. That was bad enough, but two Guardsmen, Sergeant al-Latif and Corporal Garner, were dead - shot at close range from behind - the person he was charged to protect with his life had been saved by an unknown civilian, and both of them were wounded. Now, at 7:30 in the morning the day after the attack, the only thing he was truly grateful for was that both were in stable condition, though Jane Doe's situation was still serious.
Now he sat in the chair in the spartan hospital room and prayed earnestly as he watched Princess Evelynne sleep in the bed nearby. God, Evelynne almost died yesterday. I ask that You watch over her and Heal her. Our Father, Who art in Heaven…
A light knock on the door announced the arrival of Major Nixon, who peered into the room. Sir Arthur ignored her until his final "Amen" before standing up and quietly escorting the Major outside, closing the door as he did so. A television was playing silently in the waiting room outside. Sir Arthur watched as the screen showed a scene of large numbers of people placing flowers at the gates of a building. The caption read "London, England", and the Guardsman recognised the Atlantlan Embassy. The scene shifted to another, almost identical, but this time the caption identified Hamburg, Germany.
"It's been like that all morning," the Major said quietly. "Some people are comparing it to Diana's death."
"Lady Diana died, Dicky," replied Sir Arthur. "Evelynne won't." His tone was challenging.
"I know, sir. You know the media. An assassination's more sensational. Even the States have toned down their usual anti-Atlantlan rhetoric. CNN still managed to imply that it could have been rebels out to topple our government, though."
"Government or regime?"
"Listen to the words they use. Calling it a government or administration means that it's good and friendly; they're being diplomatic. A regime is evil and hostile." He shrugged. "Semantics. Technically they both mean the same thing."
"Ah, so for the Americans it's the British government, the German government, the Japanese government…"
"… the Cuban regime, the Iranian regime, the Atlantlan regime. A subtle, but rather clever, form of propaganda."
"Except, of course, that only one's enemy uses propaganda. One's own government publishes only the truth."
Sir Arthur smiled a genuine smile for the first time in what seemed like forever, and patted Major Nixon carefully on the shoulder, mindful of their relative masses. "Now you're learning. I'll make a stateswoman out of you yet." Turning serious once more, he asked, "So, what do you have for me, Dicky?"
"Not much yet. The dead shooter is a white male, no identification. No surprise. We're working on it. The biggest question I have comes from our preliminary ballistics report." Dicky held out a file she was carrying, but Sir Arthur waved it away and gestured her to continue. "Chief, why aren't they dead?"
Her superior's eyes snapped to hers at that. "What the hell do you mean, Major?"
"All I'm saying is that according to what we know, they shouldn't be. The recovered weapon is a modified Israeli-made 7.62 mm 'Galil' Sniper Rifle. It's easy enough to obtain and even modify on the black market. It fired rounds that were likely custom made: some kind of bound hollow-point. We fired a test round at the precinct at an inch of armoured steel. Chief, we had to dig the bullet we fired out of the wall behind the plate."
For the first time since she had know him, Sir Arthur's face displayed naked shock. "Jesu Christe," he whispered.
"That's not all, Chief," Major Nixon continued.
"Isn't that enough?"
The Major's smile was tight. "Not quite. The gun was equipped with an ultraviolet laser targeting scope. There should have been absolutely no way the shooter could have missed the first time." She took a deep breath, let it out. "In short, Chief, instead of lying in bed recovering, both the young women should be lying in a morgue with holes in them big enough to put your fist through."
Sir Arthur shook his head in an attempt to rid himself of the horror of that image. "Well, however it happened, I'm glad they're not. Needless to say, I'll want absolutely everything for my report. Speaking of which, do you have any clue who our Jane is yet?"
"Not yet. Nobody matching her description has been reported missing so far, although the police stations are a mess."
"Well, keep trying. You know where to find me."
Evelynne deMolay swam reluctantly, but inexorably, upwards towards consciousness. Even with her thoughts clouded as they were, she knew that waking would bring with it pain, and light, and noise, and it was very tempting to just remain oblivious. She couldn't seem to hold on to the comforting blackness, though, and her mind drifted up to its inevitable destination. She opened her eyes.
Oh, God. Yes, there it was: bright fluorescent lights stabbing through her brain, a dull, persistent throbbing throughout her shoulder, and the noise… Actually, it was blessedly quiet, a fact which the princess welcomed with relief. Still, the other two more than made up for its lack, and she couldn't hold back a soft groan as a slight movement changed the throb to a stab.
Instantly, a face appeared in her field of vision, fuzzy at first, then resolving into Maîda's visage. A moment later, Evelynne recognised her bodyguard's face as it appeared before her as well. Maîda's eyes were damp with tears, and even Sir Arthur's normally impassive face bore a very slight expression of relief.
"Evy, are you awake?"
Both of the faces spoke simultaneously, shattering the blessed silence.
"Oh, Isis," Evelynne croaked. "I'm dead. I'm in hell, and I have two of my very own personal demons to torment me for eternity."
On cue, Maîda snorted. It was a weak snort at best, though, as she buried her face in Evelynne's uninjured right shoulder and held her tightly.
Sir Arthur's voice was suspiciously husky as he asked, "Evy, how do you feel?"
"Ouch. Did you catch the sa-kim that skewered me? What happened anyway?" Suddenly, the entire memory came flooding back, gasp once, then again as the first pulled her wounded shoulder. "Is everyone else okay? Did anyone die? Is the cinnamon woman alright? Do you know who she is?" The questions came rapid-fire.
Maîda's head came up. "Cinnamon woman?"
Evelynne blushed unaccountably. "The woman who saved me," she explained. "She smelled like cinnamon."
Sir Arthur held up a hand to calm her. "No civilians were killed," he said, deciding not to burden her with the knowledge of the two Guardsmen's deaths just yet. "The Mayor's wife was cut by some flying chips of stone, and a few people were hurt in the panic, but nothing too serious. You were hit once," gesturing to her shoulder. "As for the woman, we still don't know who she is. She had no identification. She was hit twice, once in the shoulder and once in the back." At Evelynne's distressed expression, he strove to calm her. "She's doing okay for now. The one in the shoulder went through with minimal damage -" He still wasn't sure how that was possible given the ballistics report. "- and the other barely grazed her spine." The princess paled. "They had to go in from the front to remove the bullet from her abdominal cavity. There's still swelling against her spine, and it's too soon to know exactly what the long-term damage will be, but the doctors are optimistic. Unfortunately, she's still in a coma." He didn't mention that the neurological tests seemed to indicate some kind of grand mal seizure had taken place, a finding which had greatly puzzled the neurology specialist.
An older woman doctor entered then, in response to Sir Arthur's earlier summons. She had a kind, motherly air, reminding Evelynne of a slightly younger, thinner and taller Maîda, and smiled as she noticed that her patient was awake. "Your Highness, it's good to see you with you eyes open. I've been looking forward to meeting you. Naturellement, I'd have like it to be under better circumstances. How are you feeling?"
"I hurt, I'm scared, and I'm tired. When can I get up?"
The doctor - Dr. Corbeil by her nametag - looked taken aback by the abrupt question. "Get up, Your Highness? You've only been in that bed for twelve hours, and it's been less than twenty-four since you were sh… injured. I really prefer if you could stay here for a while yet. Maybe get some more slee -"
"And I'd prefer to get up and see the woman who saved my life yesterday." Evelynne's temper, normally mild, flared.
"Highness," Maîda tried to calm her. "Please, you were seriously hurt yesterday. Rest for a while. When the doctor says it's safe -"
Evelynne interrupted, "Please, Maî-ma. I need to see her." She turned beseeching blue eyes on Dr. Corbeil. "Please. I need to know she's safe."
Maîda turned to the doctor, but any further discussion was interrupted by Sir Arthur's barked, "What?" Waving a hand to tell the other occupants of the room to wait, he turned his attention back to his earbud. "Say again… You're sure?… It's confirmed?… The British Consulate?… Good… You've searched him?… Fine, bring him up to her room. I'll meet you there." Turning back to the room, he addressed the three pairs of curious eyes. "Well, one mystery may be solved. Someone has arrived who claims to be able to identify our Jane Doe. I'm going to meet him now." Pointing a stern finger at Evelynne, he ordered, "You are not getting out of that bed until the doctor says so." At her imminent protest, he raised a hand and shook his head. "In this situation, I outrank you, Highness." Pointing at the doctor, he continued, "And she outranks me. She's in charge."
Evelynne was devastated. I need to see her. It's important. I don't know why, but it is. She looked up to plead her case with Dr. Corbeil once more just as Maîda finished a whispered consultation with the doctor. Before Evelynne could speak, the doctor did. "I think we can work out a compromise."
Princess Evelynne lay back and tried to look as dignified as possible. It wasn't easy, since she was sure she looked as ridiculous as she felt, being pushed down the corridor by two of her Guardsmen, still safely ensconced in her hospital bed. Isis, I feel like I'm on some kind of royal palanquin. All I need now is two fan-wavers and a bunch of scantily clad young slaves feeding me grapes. Hmm… actually… She was glad that nobody seemed to notice her blush. Actually, the fact that the only people present were the doctor, her Guardsmen, and Maîda - who had refused to leave her side - helped ease her sense of self-consciousness.
The doctor's compromise had been simple: the princess would be moved to the same room as the soon-to-be-identified woman, which was more than large enough to accommodate them both. Sir Arthur had bristled at first, but had been persuaded when Evelynne pointed out that it was easier to guard one room than two.
Up the corridor ahead she could see her the Master of her Guard talking to a distinguished looking young oriental man in a business suit and a well-built black man with a distinctly worried look on his face. In contrast to the smartly dressed people around him, he was wearing shorts and a rumpled T-shirt, both of which looked like they had been slept in. A she was pushed closer, Evelynne caught what was obviously the tail end of their conversation.
"… and so I'll let you get on with trying to contact them," Sir Arthur was saying to the man in the business suit. "Just remember, absolutely no press releases until we authorise them. Understood?"
Assuring Sir Arthur of his discretion, the oriental man shook his hand, turned, and was escorted out by a nearby Guard.
Turning to address the waiting man, Sir Arthur caught sight of Evelynne's little procession, and addressed her instead. "Your Highness, this gentleman claims to be a friend of our young heroine. May I introduce… I'm sorry, sir, I'm afraid I missed your full name."
The black man smiled. "My full name? Keitumetsemosimanewapula Tladi." At his audience's slightly stunned expressions, he conceded, "Please, call me Chorus. Everyone else does."
"I certainly will," Evelynne murmured. Shaking her head, she asked, "You say you know…"
"Her name is Alleandre Tretiak."
"Tretiak?" Maîda questioned. "That doesn't sound like a French name."
"It isn't," replied Sir Arthur, holding up a passport. "She's a Canadian, visiting as a tourist. According to Mr Tladi, here, and the number of stamps in her passport, she's taking a trip around the world." He scowled. "Wonderful. Yet another country dragged into this mess."
"Uncle Arthur," Evelynne chided. "Please." Addressing Chorus again, she said, "You're travelling with her?"
"Yes, ma'am… I'm sorry, is there some title I should be calling you by?"
The princess actually chuckled, despite the pain that flared when she did so. "As you can see," she said, indicating with her right arm her still bedridden position, "I am hardly at my most regal at the moment. I think we can dispense with the formalities for now." Both Maîda and Chorus smiled at that, and her Guardsmen stifled smiles of their own, though Sir Arthur looked vaguely disapproving. "You were travelling with… Alleandre? Are you her husband?"
The question surprised a laugh out of Chorus. "Goodness, no! Ally's a l… lovely friend I met up with a few countries back," he finished awkwardly.
The answer made Evelynne feel better for some reason. "Good," she said, before she could think. At their questioning looks, she blushed. "I mean it's good that you're her friend. Otherwise we still wouldn't know who she is."
Chorus smiled self-deprecatingly. "It took me long enough to get here. When I realised I had all Ally's ID, I went to the police, but the stations are really busy right now for some reason. After getting the run-around for six hours, I went to the British Consulate, but of course they were closed by then. I managed to get back just as they opened, and they got in touch with your staff here."
"The Consulate will inform the Canadian Embassy in Paris, and try to contact Ms Tretiak's parents," Sir Arthur added. "In the meantime, though, I'd like to get you settled into your new room, Your Highness." A glance at the doctor, who had been silent throughout the exchange, was met by a firm nod. "Good, then let's get you out of this hallway. Her Highness has asked to be put in the same room as Ms Tretiak," he explained to Chorus. "She's right through here."
The first thing Evelynne noticed about the silent body in the bed was the lack of vitality. Gone was the intense, vibrant woman who had protected the princess with her own body. In her place was this pale shell, somehow smaller than her six feet of height. She was thin, Evelynne saw, made even thinner by the stark white expanse of the bed and the machines monitoring her life signs. Tubes leading to an oxygen tank entered her small nose, and her short brown hair was unkempt. Evelynne had a strong desire to comb it with her fingers. Alleandre Tretiak would never be considered classically beautiful, especially now, but still…
There was still something there, some ineffable energy, some underlying force of will, which told anyone looking that the woman was still there, underneath it all, just waiting for the right time to emerge.
"Oh, the poor child," breathed Maîda, and Evelynne realised that the woman in the bed was indeed young, probably near Evelynne's own age.
"How old is she?" Evelynne asked Chorus quietly.
"She turned twenty last month," he replied in a hoarse voice. His eyes glistened with tears. "We were in Athens. I actually persuaded her to go out to the tavernae and nightclubs. She got absolutely plastered on Ouzo." He wiped a hand across his eyes. "Jesus, Ally, you always have to be the fucking hero, don't you?" Maîda frowned at him. "Pardon the language."
Evelynne's bed was placed to the left of Ally's, leaving about four feet of distance between them, and Maîda left briefly to get some things which would "add some life to this place."
"You really should sleep, Your Highness," Dr Corbeil urged. Evelynne wanted to protest, but could feel her already depleted energy ebbing away. "Rest. We'll let you know when she wakes up."
Evelynne muttered a sleepy acquiescence and dropped into sleep, listening to the reassuring sound of breathing in the bed nearby.
Continued in Chapter