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The Eye of the Beholder
She glared, despite being the one to have invaded his space. Sören’s expression remained flat, even as she took possession of his wrist. The touch was an annoyance he was not best comfortable with, but physical retaliation was not high amongst his instincts, and insult made little obvious dent to her demeanour so far. Thus he weathered in silence, and considered alternative routes to rid himself of her company. At least until she said the first thing that actually sparked interest: that she was in fact a doctor.

“What you need, is my consent, Nina.” Unforthcoming, of course. She might feel a samaritan's pull to the cause, but she was mistaken to bestow that concern on him. He would not thank her for it. Whatever rosy glow pushed others to altruism, disappointment would come to sour her recollection of having stopped. Sören didn’t doubt that. “Experimental tech has its drawbacks,” he said finally. He glanced down at the numbers he’d drawn on his arm, the itch of temptation crawling up the back of his skull like obsession. The pain was inconsequential if it provided answers, but if the eye glitched again while the woman lingered she’d be harder to shake off. Patience was among his virtues. But it didn’t mean he didn’t still find it an irritation to have to wait.

He pushed the flask away with the back of his other hand. “I’m looking for someone. A junior doctor at the Guardian until recently, when she was suspended from duty. Her name is Morven Kinnaird.”
“Morven Kinnaird.”

Nina, looking like some small bird whose plumage had been ruffled, walked up and down in front of the man while trying to remember.

Morven, Morven, Morven…

“A junior doctor at the Guardian until recently, when she was suspended from duty,” supplemented the man as he looked at her disparagingly.

Nina was annoyed. Altogether it had been an unfortunate day. Now it was close to noon, and the man’s cold attitude had to render matters still more trying.

She was not much wiser, and yet a faint familiarity seemed to linger around this name. Yes, she remembered something about a fight… in another place… another hospital… an incident, disgrace…

“What did she do—why was she suspended, anyway?” demanded Nina fretfully.

Being a lady considerate of the feelings of others, she substituted the word “suspended“ for “dismissed” which had first risen to her lips.

“Morven,” muttered Nina, dazed. “You mean she treated you— ?”

Light but this was unexpected. She could see her now… a beautiful woman with surgically perfect looks

If Morvan treated him he should be healed, almost certainly. Apparently she was known to work miracles the experts couldn’t… Nina should guess—it’s only guesswork on her part, mind—that Morven might have an ability similar to Nina’s little sister Rena. She should say that it would not be impossible for Morvan to channel the power of gods… just like Rena…

Nina paused a minute, and then said: “if I were you—I should go to her. She’ll be able to heal you. I can help you look for her.” She stuck out a hand, “what’s your name, partner?”

Better Nina find Morven first than any other atharim.
Sören waited patiently to discern whether there was any serendipity to be found in this annoyance, until apparently some familiarity was discovered in the name or description. By the awe in Nina’s expression, he doubted the stupid woman had been circumspect with her gift, despite the numerous conversations they had had about the necessity for a little discretion. His mouth pursed a frown, a rather dismal suspicion beginning to unfurl in his chest. He wondered what strings he might have to pull to gain a glimpse of the Custody’s registration records.

“I imagine her temper caught up with her.” He shrugged in answer to the question, since he only had the barest understanding of the exact circumstance that had led to Morven’s suspension, beyond that it had meant the necessity to offer her lodging. She was too useful to see destitute. He pushed himself up from leaning against the wall. A little dizziness persisted, but he was sure he could walk well enough now the pain eased.

“Wonderful advice, doctor,” he said drily. Clearly she did not appreciate that it was the sole reason he sought the woman out. Still, help was help. In this pursuit, Sören was willing to accept. “Do you have access to hospital records? Can you discover her last patient?” He stared down at her offered hand, not particularly enamoured of the enthusiasm. After a moment of apparent indecision, he took her it, grip firm, but only to twist it round to inspect her forearm. He did not yank to hurt; there was no cruelty to the movement, only efficiency. Her other arm received a similar, brisk inspection before he let her go. Satisfied, at least for now, he dropped her grip. “I suppose you can call me Sören.”
I don’t understand. But—

He reached for her arm and she looked at Soren in surprise for a second, anticipating something, but only sure of the fact she should anticipate. She wondered if he’d pull back if she had roared back a bark of incredulous laughter, but dared not try. This was a true test, and she was loath to break its spell. Instinctively, she let him take the lead. Nina simply looked at him, and allowed Soren to study both her arms.

The man seemed to be in better spirits, but his face was as white as a death mask, and his bright eyes sunken in dark circles like bruises.

He was lucid, but twice he was given to fits of pain and convulsion, accompanied by Nina’s arms pulled around his huddled body, as if for warmth. She began to fear that there was more at work than simple technological incompatibility. Some insensible influence seemed to have Soren in its grip and would not let him go.

Not dying, though. There was something eternally vital about Soren, a wellspring of vigor that had seen him through wounds in the past, including the loss of his original eye. Now scar tissue covered the rupture nerves of his ruined eyes, and the preliminary reconstructive surgery preserved the original integrity of his healing eye socket, and installed the neural plugs for Soren’s augmented implant, providing him with enhanced vision and depth perception. He must’ve looked for all the world like a cyclops of old myth before the surgeon worked on him.

Nina wondered why Soren was so concerned with her tattoos, presuming the young man—with an agitated look on his slender face—intended to build the most complete picture possible in his mind of her now that she’d drawn his assent. Nina didn’t understand. She could not say where his interest had come from, for it had not been there a moment before. Furthermore it was curious that he considered her an ally, but didn’t expect her to lead.

He lifted his head to look at Nina, so that the light fell in under his hair and caught the line of his chin and cheek. He sighed, as if the explanations were a struggle. As if he didn’t have the time to explain.

His words came slower and more halting, as if pain was wracking his insides.

Clearly the pain to his head and eyes delivered by the faulty technology urgently needed attention. Nina thought about that, and didn’t like the sound of it very much. By mark of age and experience, she had seniority here. She couldn’t convince him otherwise. But that’s not reason not to help anyway, is it? She needed him to tell her things. Needled by the urgings of her curiosity, Nina hoped that on her return to the hospital, perhaps if the stars aligned and the right patterns of things happened, Soren would recount the story of how he lost that eye to her…

“Yes, and yes. Fit for a walk, Soren?” Nina chuckled, almost amused at the notion of anyone, even a doctor, forcing Soren to do anything. There was no arguing with a, a thing like that.

“Come with me, then,” she said. “There’s a Guardian hospital just a few minutes behind me.” She looked up at the wide, now darkening skies behind her, surrounded by big rain clouds. She could feel the wind on her skin, though she was already clad in her raincoat again. “There’s a storm coming in. It’s been forecasted for days. We best not be here when it comes. Are you sure you don’t want to drink any water? A smoke?”

She realized with some mystification that she was enjoying her time with Soren. She felt a puff of pride he knew her. Knew her name, her station and her worth. It was as strange to her as a dream, for whims visited her pragmatic mind so seldom. Stranger in fact, for from the start of this encounter, she knew she had to be near him, needed to help him for her own ends.

Nina didn’t turn around. She dared not look around. He was close behind, and Nina took another anxious look ahead at the encroaching storm. The horizon had lost definition as muggy fog filled the air; as above their heads, the bright sun was fading from view.

She was shaking her head.

“Morven treated you…” she said, beginning to shape the truth in her mind. She was half enjoying the strange thoughts in her mind, engaged by the rarity and reality of it, and especially by Soren’s reluctant participation. She felt weightless, as if she could take off and, with one bound, touch the sky.

Nina nodded. Then she frowned. “I still don’t understand this. What would Morven’s last patient files give us? What does that mean?”

Before she could ask more, they were interrupted. There was a peal of distant thunder.

“I need more information. Are you one of our patients at the Guardian? Or did you meet Morven in a place particular to the two of you?” she cried, having to raise her voice now against the moaning of the wind.
She agreed, and he filtered out the rest. The fact they must traverse physically to the hospital in order to gain answers was disagreeable, yet he did not complain. He’d suffered worse for less. No comment passed her assessment of the weather, though he did at least glance upwards at the billowing clouds. “I suggest you walk faster, then.”

The buzz of pain was manageable by now, though Nina’s concern did not seem to dissipate. He followed, quite content to do so silently but for the annoyance of a parade of questions. “I didn’t say that.” he corrected. Morven had been an accessory to his augmentation, but she had outright refused any experimenting that might have saved the eye in the first place. She’d spoken of her limitations before now, but since Sören was unable to learn from her he only retained insomuch as he found interesting or of benefit to him. In any case, he did not consider himself her patient. He needed her help all the same.

“She’s missing,” he said bluntly. Nina could fill in the blanks. Perhaps her last patient knew something, perhaps they did not. A doctor willing to breach data laws for a stranger was not an opportunity he would bypass though. Her apparent awe of Morven’s reputation did not harm either, if it gave her incentive to chase the mystery on his behalf. “She would probably tell you we were old friends.” Thunder groaned, and Sören did not choose to fight against it in order to be heard. His expression twitched into a frown as the rain began to fall.
The wide road and tracks allowed them to make good time to the hospital, but it lent them a sense of vulnerability too. But out here, they seemed lonely a small, exposed in the meadows, dwarfed by the location. Landmarks on the road itself were few, and their appearance almost hypnotically fascinating to her. She stared as shapes spied distantly slowly resolved as these lonely objects came closer. Miserably, she could identity with it all too well.

Already, there was no question of stopping or slowing because of the rain. They moved quickly and steadily. Surgeon Nina, ever the pragmatic thinker, had insisted on covering Soren and herself with her raincoat. She dearly wished they had an umbrella.

At least he didn’t pay the price for their punishing pace. Soren’s stopped the fits and they’d made a good job of walking to the hospital without making frequent stops. Was it trauma? she thought so. An extreme reaction. This poor man was very sick, sick in a way that was hard for her to understand. 

She thought hard. He needed her help. She was going to give it to him. And she wasn’t going to make him feel bad either. Last thing he needed to feel was that she’s somehow against him. Soren had spoken with passionate conviction about Morven “an old friend” as he called her. It had seemed to Nina then that Soren held her in a special regard. He was a cold, bitter and hunched man, but Morven was somehow dear to him. Finding Morven, it was a wild idea, but one that smacked of sense and truth. 

Problem is she was breaking the rules. I gotta play  it careful. She suddenly felt painfully guilty, but it was too late to change her mind. She walked back to the ER and rejoined the fray.

Despite her assistant’s best efforts, another one of the patients had died. Nina nodded when he came to tell her and made an entry in her chart. it was only when they were underway to her office that she realized her assistant’s reaction at seeing Soren. Crap, he’d definitely seen them dripping wet and shivering, and was confused, but…

“When did you last sleep?” Nina asked Soren, offering him a chair in the tiny space that she’d taken as her office. She should be getting back to the ER and Soren needed rest. To be honest so did she. She threw him a towel and started to dry herself off as well.

A wallet chimed to itself in the corner next to the table where her charts were laid out. Grey light poked in at the window. They sat a moment in silence hearing the occasional shouted order or chatter outside. 

She poured two generous glasses of vodka from a bottle the chief had given her and handed one to Soren. She raised her glass to Soren and took a sip of liquor.

She sighed, sitting down and kicking off her wet boots.  Nina sat back and stretched out her legs, gazing down over her chest at her cold toes as she wiggled them. The cotton socks were worn through at the toes and heels. She massaged her foot through a threadbare sock and then realized what she was doing.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She paused and sipped again. “It’s been a long day. Please relax. It’s alright here. I just think you’re interesting. To finding your old friend.” She smiled and raised her glass again in a toast to Morven.
Sören sat when bid, presuming compliance would assure business to be concluded swiftly, but Nina seemed remiss of the urgency. He gave no consideration to the dripping mess he made of her office, but accepted the towel with a short sigh of impatience, dragging it over his head and mopping the worst of the droplets slick along the planes of his face. He watched her in kind as he did so, faintly irritated by the undue concern she showered upon a stranger. At least insofar as it obstructed his access to answers.

For a while he listened to the industrious noises beyond the office walls, and the faint rumblings from the storm beyond that. The question he ignored as irrelevant.

“A doctor who can’t afford new socks.” he said blandly. The words weren’t unkind, but they weren’t friendly either. His mild gaze travelled from her toes to her eyes, seeking a needle of embarrassment for her kindness. He didn’t lift his glass, but did take a sip. Then he tipped his head back against the headrest. The numbers on his arm blurred from the rain, but they were emblazoned in his mind anyway. Little remained of the pain now; so it had been before, and so it would be again, he’d wager. Distaste twisted his lips.

This would be easier if he did not need to rely on another. But even in the safety of Nina’s office, he was loathe to test the eye’s abilities. Thrown upon the mercy of another was not where he preferred to be.

“You said you would discover her last patient for me,” he reminded.
Nina looked at her worn socks for a moment. Then she glanced up, rubbed her eyes. She looked at Soren, and saw that Soren was staring right back at her. He looked at her contemptuously. Nina held his gaze for a second, then, uncomfortable, looked away.

There were big, dark circles under his eyes, rings left behind by pain that was as clear as the marks a coffee cup left on a tabletop. She could see his pain was beyond the limits of elastic bandages and pills. She could read the buried anxiety in Soren’s features, the stress of simply staying upright. He was counting on Morven. He was counting on his miracles doctor to get him out of the shit and back to safety. And counting on Nina to find Morven.

“Fuck it,” Nina said under her breath. She straightened up and walked across to Soren.

Nina was quickly scanning files in her wallet.

“Patients list,” she said, nodding at Soren. “I shouldn’t access one of the other doctor’s files unless I’m treating the patient.“

She splayed her fingers across the touchscreen and opened out four tiers of panes with small headshots and medical data.

“Morven, right?” said Nina, indicating the picture.

“Her list isn’t complete. It doesn’t show you, for example. But you are clearly one of her patients. And this isn’t the only thing missing from the records.”

She pointed at the display with a jut of her chin. “Here, see? Sage Parker,” said Nina, tapping one of the panes. “Says here he was Morven’s last patient, but it doesn’t show pictures of him for some reason.”

“Of course, I already said this list doesn’t show everyone. Besides, the last person to see Morven might not be a patient. He might be a guest, a visitor. A brother. A boyfriend.”

Or something else, she thought.

Nina made her dismissive face. She wasn’t going to worry him. That wasn’t her style. She wasn’t going to say it out loud. But she could hope and she could will it to happen. He needed it. She could sweep the security cams next.

She handed her wallet to Soren.

“Where the fuck did she go?” asked Nina, mainly to herself. “Why is it only Sage’s picture that’s not here?”
Sören was not much concerned with the morality of the task. Nor the legality, come to that. He watched patiently while she processed the request, offering no encouragement beyond the demand of his stare. The name revealed meant nothing to him, with or without an accompanying image. Perhaps Morven had mentioned him, but Sören rarely listened to the crash and storm of her frustrations during the rare times they occupied the apartment together, least of all when the strong rasp of her accent devolved into words he barely understood. Still, a name was something. This was the patient for whom Morven had lost her job.

“She has no family in Moscow. No friends that I know of.” He said it dismissively, but without the hesitation of uncertainty. He knew it to be true. Given her abilities and disposition, it was unlikely anyone had taken her against her will. The most probable outcome was the one he least wanted to entertain, of course. His jaw flexed, less from concern than pure frustration, and his arm tensed like he meant to stand, but the attempt was abandoned. A short sigh followed.

“I do not know,” he said. His limbs sank tired, unwilling to move, and for once he accepted his bodily limitations. He’d rest a while and let Nina forage for answers. She seemed curious, and Sören would take all the free help he could get.
She was pacing. The more Soren spoke, the more she could detect the odd, alien cadence in his accent. She stared at him, bewildered. He sounded hurt. But it was all she could find.

“Damn it,” Nina muttered. “Damn it all.” She glanced at a picture of her little sister Rena on her desk. “No family, you said?”

Nina shook her head. She seemed to bear no particular anger towards Soren. It seemed more as if she were puzzled, disappointed.

“What about Morven’s office?” Nina replied, looking around at Soren.

“We can hunt for clues,” said Nina, suddenly and very quietly.

“Come on,” she said, beckoning impatiently at Soren. A few minutes later, they were in a waiting room, well appointed with seating and a table for meetings. An inner door led into Morven’s office, and they hurried in that direction. 

Nina muted the internal scanners for intruders with her ID. The hazard light panels came on.

The office was functional and standard, but the walls were piled with certificates from Morven’s worthy career. There was a desk with a high backed chair at the far end, a couch, and a side door into a private bathroom.

Nina was sweating. This was down to her, just as Soren had taken pleasure in noting. Not only had Nina been the one to breach patient confidentiality, had she just facilitated getting a complete stranger into Morven’s office?

“This was a bad idea,” she muttered, privately to Soren. “My head’s going to roll for this.”

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