Copyright 1993 - Nicholas Samuel Stember, Print and Electronic Rights Available
Approx. 3700 words long
BLOOD FROM A STONE by Nicholas S. Stember The tiny luminous image flickered onto the holographic screen, depicting a sleeping woman bathed in low blue lights. Medical scanning devices watched her every vital sign, while others watched more keenly and desperately for the one particular sign that they awaited. The stoic observer ran his hands along his greying beard as he brought a cup of cold coffee to his dry lips, never taking his eyes of the holographic image before him. Barely noticing the bitter liquid, he placed the cup back on the control table and checked the bio scans of the woman on the bed, shaking his head at the negative results that remained fixed on the medical readouts. "Any sign of movement yet, Dave?" came from a tall man as he entered the small grey room. "Not yet, Paul," the older man replied serenely as his eyes remained fixed on the screen. "But she'll come around, I hope." Both fell quiet as they looked at their instruments, the readouts, and any other item that could keep their attention off each other. Finally Dave stretched his stiffened muscles and turned to face his colleague. "Damn it, Paul, we're doing the best that we can." "Well that just isn't good enough for Tara now, is it?" the taller one shot back. "After all, were doctors, right?" "That doesn't make us gods, Paul," Dave answered with a sigh. "Perhaps there are some things that just aren't possible to do." Their bickering was silenced by the steady drone of an alert attached to the holo-viewer. Both men pivoted to the tiny screen, as they watched in thankfulness at the readings they beheld. "She's awakening," Paul stated, a huge grin forming on his face. "No, Dave, we're not gods. But we are doctors, and it's our duty to try our best with her. Now sit tight while I go and greet our new guest." With a cursory wave, he exited the control booth, leaving the older doctor to watch on the screen. Dave peered thoughtfully at the image of the young woman lying peacefully on the diagnostic bed, just as his colleague came into view on the monitor. "Yes we are doctors," he wearily agreed to the empty room. "I only hope that this time we can do more than just watch her die." **** Brilliant light painfully sliced through Tara's eyelids as she slowly came to consciousness. For what seemed a brief eternity, she seriously considered letting herself fall back to sleep. However, the humming of the iridescent lights above and the strange steady pulse beneath her induced a desire to open her eyes. "Where the hell am I?" escaped past her dry lips as she took in her stark and sterile surroundings, quickly deciding that this was not the hotel room she had rented for the weekend. "I'm in a hospital," she deduced while trying to recall why she would be in a place like this. "Indeed you are," came the soothing voice to her left, "and quite lucky to be alive, if I do say so myself." Tara sat up and pivoted her head, her sparkling hazel eyes locking on the source of the voice. Before her was a tall blonde man in his late thirties, wearing a simple white lab coat, and holding a portable neuroscan. "Who are you," she questioned, "and where am I?" "I'm Doctor Paul Hastings," he answered with a warm smile, "and this is the Titan Medical Institute...but you can call me Paul." Her memory began to resurface as her hand went to the bandage around her forehead. She recalled being in a hovercar accident last night, while touring Titan's sights. "What happened to Carolyn?" she quickly asked as her mind danced back to her friend who had been in the car with her. "She was thrown clear and came out unscratched," Paul assured her. "Carolyn decided to return to Earth on the next shuttle and wait for you there." Tara nodded as she recalled the important business meetings that Carolyn had to attend. She had been amazed that her friend had even allowed herself the four day weekend excursion to Saturn. "How am I?" she finally asked, realizing that there was no pain in her head. The young woman looked down at the pastel blue hospital gown that she wore and turned her lip in disgust. "Well," the Doctor responded thoughtfully, while glancing down at his neuroscan and adjusting the medical scanner, "essentially you're fine. You received a severe concussion during the accident, but the wound is healing nicely..." He looked back up at her with hesitation, then glimpsed back down at the neuroscan. Tara felt a lump of fear settle in her chest as she watched him carefully. "What is it that you're not telling me?" "Tara," Paul explained, "there were some complications. Let me call in my colleague, he can explain this better than I can." He activated his wrist communicator and brought it to his lips. "She's awake, Dave." "I'm on my way," came the anxious response over the tiny speaker. A bead of perspiration formed on Tara's forehead as she tried to consider what it was that was so wrong with her that the doctor couldn't explain it alone, and decided that this was definitely not a good sign. She nervously played with her long brunette waves, hoping there was a simple explanation to all of this. Within seconds the starch white door slid open. Tara watched as an older man with flecks of grey dotting his charcoal beard entered and stepped forward with his hand extended, a deep smile lit up in his round face as he approached her. "I'm Doctor David Bloom," he announced cheerfully, "but please just call me Dave. Have I been looking forward to talking to you." Surprise washed over her like a cold shower as she accepted his eager hand shake. "Why? Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Biting her lip, she looked from doctor to doctor apprehensively. "I feel fine." "And you are fine," Dave responded, "physically." He hesitated for a moment, while the physicians exchanged a brief glance. "However, your medical records list you as a Tracer." Tara's eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the two men before her. She wondered if they were part of the military. There had been reports of the government trying to conscript Tracers into the secret service, to take advantage of their remarkable ability. "I'm not joining any military," she stated defiantly while lifting her chin to face them eye to eye. Both physicians looked at her in shock, then Paul began to chuckle. "No, no, my dear. We are most certainly not the military." "Far from it," Dave added. "Tara," his voice suddenly grew serious. "We're here because the two of us are this hospital's leading psionics specialists." "Kind of like Ear, Nose, and Brain men," Paul added with a grin. "I don't understand," Tara responded, touching the bandage again. "There was some possible brain damage, Tara," the older doctor informed her somberly. "We haven't picked up any positive psi readings from the neuroscans that we've done on you." Her lips parted slightly as she absorbed what they were telling her. She had always been psi-positive, one of the 'one in ten million' known to the public as Tracers. "Have you tried to Trace anyone since awakening?" Paul asked hopefully. Tara had to admit that she had not. But from the day that she had entered elementary school back in Hoboken she had been taught to repress her powers, her ability to Trace another person's thoughts and lock in on them. In the past, people like her would have been called telepaths, but Tracers could go one step further. They could actually place thoughts in people's minds, and make them think that it was their own. It was for this reason that parents and teachers watched for the signs, so that they could teach the young Tracers to repress their natural abilities and to respect other people's privacy. She let her inner restraints go for a moment, to try and Trace both doctor's thoughts--and felt her heart skip a beat. Nothing came back to her, absolutely nothing. She tried harder, concentrating on Tracing in on Doctor Bloom alone, then Doctor Hastings, both with the same devastating lack of success. She reached out blindly, hoping to Trace any thoughts in the hospital at all, a nurse, a patient, anyone. For a few minutes she sat in silence, her eyes tightly closed, as fear grew in the pit of her stomach. Then she looked back at the doctors, an empty feeling closing over her like a burlap sack. "It's gone," she finally replied in a small frightened voice, as tears formed in her shimmering hazel eyes. Paul placed a hand gently on her trembling shoulder and smiled reassuringly at her. "Now we don't know if this is permanent or temporary." "Agreed," Dave added, his smile returning. "We said it was possible brain damage, not definite. You could still be suffering from the concussion you received ...and that's why we're here." Tara wiped her eyes dry as she nervously glanced up into the confident faces above her. "What do you mean?" "We told you that we're psionics specialists," Paul continued for his colleague. "Our field is sort of along the lines of mental therapy. We'll help you restore your special powers through rehabilitation." "Have you ever helped anyone like me before?" she asked anxiously. The Doctors exchanged a glance that tenuously hung in silence like a spider on its web. Finally Dave turned back to face the young woman. "We've had...similar cases before." "But each case is special," Paul cut in before she could ask another question. Tara sat in stunned contemplation as she reviewed the situation carefully. All her life she had been an outcast because of what she was. But now all she felt was empty...as if something precious had been lost...something that she was determined to regain. Straightening her shoulders, she drew in a deep breath and forced a smile to her soft lips. "Tell me what to do." **** Days trudgingly passed by as Tara struggled to retrieve her ability to Trace. There were morning workout sessions, when she would spend hours concentrating on the thoughts of the two doctors, or any of the volunteers from the hospital, never with any success. In the afternoon, she had subliminal relaxation periods to help her focus her mental energies, and in the evenings, she would return to her workouts. She would eat her meals in the hospital cafeteria, gazing sullenly at the many people around her, and wonder why she couldn't read any of them. Then a thought struck her. "Perhaps I need to get out of the hospital," she suggested after another failed attempt during a night session. Dave studied her thoughtfully, then shook his head. "I'm not sure that's wise." "Why not, Dave?" Paul asked as he put down the neuroscan and leaned against the ivory wall of the workout room. "She's been cooped up in this sterile atmosphere for almost a week now, with absolutely no progress." He glanced over at her and flashed a quick wink. "Let's go." The older doctor's brow wrinkled in deep thought, then he let out a sigh as he packed his neuroscan. The physicians prepared their mobile equipment while a nurse brought Tara some clothes. She anxiously shed the flimsy hospital frock and pulled the black satin dress over her head, grateful of the change of clothes and the prospect of getting out of the hospital, even if for only a short while. **** Tara watched the grey hills of Titan roll beneath the hovercar as they slowly drove out of the city and pulled up to a mountain top park, overlooking the city below. They parked along the inner edge of the crystalline dome that held in the breathable atmosphere and warmth, grateful of the change of scenery. Paul helped her hop out of the hovercar as Dave began to unload the equipment from the trunk. The blonde doctor and Tara wandered across the soft grey sands and settled on a blanket a short distance from the vehicle. Gazing up through the protective material, Tara watched as Saturn filled the sky with majestic colors, its huge rings reaching out like an angelic halo. "Can you see Earth from here?" she asked somberly, thinking of Carolyn and her job...wondering how they were all getting along without her. "I'm afraid not," Paul informed her, then opened his carrying case and pulled out a green bottle and three glasses. "But there's Rhea and Phoebe," he mentioned while gesturing at some of the shapes in the deep magenta sky. Then the younger Doctor applied pressure to the top of the bottle, causing the cork to erupt with a loud bang. Before any of the frothy liquid dripped out of the top, he poured some into the three glasses, and handed one to her and placed one on the ground for his companion. "What's this for?" Tara asked as she lifted the flute shaped glass to her nose and inhaled the sweet fragrance. She laughed as the bubbles tickled against the smooth skin of her face. "This is for success," Paul informed her. "Not to put a dampener on your party," Dave interjected, joining them, "but we haven't met with any success yet." "But success is just around the corner," Paul responded confidently, his infectious grin lifting the somber air. "We've found no evidence of brain damage in our tests, and the concussion is fully healed. Since our lovely subject here has always been quite psi-positive in the past, there is no reason not to have confidence that her recovery is anything but close at hand." Tara smiled, a pink blush staining her delicate cheeks. "No matter what happens," she told them, feeling a warm glow in her heart, "I will always be grateful to the two of you for trying to help me." She lifted her glass to the two of them, as Saturn's glow danced playfully in the bubbling liquid. Paul's lips curled into a grin, then he flashed a sidelong glance at his colleague. For a moment their eyes locked in a microdrama, then they drank to the generous toast offered by their patient. Turning away from her chaperons, Tara gazed back at the jeweled lights of the city below, then up at the magnificent gas giant above. She had always wanted to travel in space, and had jumped at the chance to journey here, to see such wonders. And to think, she sardonically grunted to herself, I came all the way out here to be in a hovercar accident--I could just as easily have done that back on Earth. But then again, her thoughts frolicked cheerfully, I never would have met Paul. He does worry about me so... Her head snapped over to them, interrupting their hushed medical conference with the wild glint in her twinkling hazel eyes. "What's wrong, Tara?" Paul asked, concern lacing his deep voice. "You were thinking about me just now," she asked exuberantly, "weren't you?" "I suppose so," the doctor answered stiffly. "So--" "Did you Trace in on him?" Dave inquired, his own eyes lighting up eagerly. She let her mind stretch out to Paul again as joy bubbled inside her, but she felt nothing. "I-I thought so," she explained, the brief ember of hope within her dying out. A glazed look of despair began to spread across her face. "I was so sure," her small voice whispered as she fought back a sob and buried her face in her hands. Paul reached out to her and gently stroked her soft hair, then pulled her against his broad chest and held her soothingly. "It's alright Tara. I'm sure you felt something." He glanced over at his colleague, who was busy running the portable neuroscan over her shaking form. "Anything at all?" The digital emerald lights played across the doctor's bearded face in the dark, as he hungrily absorbed the information it offered. "I'm not sure. There could have been a slight positive psi reading, but it's not clear." He looked up at the two of them, still in each others arms, his lips tightening in silent objection. "We must go back to the hospital now." Paul nodded as he let her go. "Just hold on to those thoughts of yours," he offered while ushering her back towards the hovercar. As Tara walked off, Dave grabbed his colleague by the arm, his fingers digging in deeply. "With all due respects, what in the hell are you doing?" Paul flashed a glare back at the older doctor, his eyes frosting their brief warning. "My job...and I suggest that you begin to do the same." He shook his arm free, and quickly caught up to Tara, laughing as they shared some private joke. Dave somberly watched them get into the car, his brow crinkling in helpless disapproval, then he picked up the blanket and his equipment, and began the walk to join them. **** "But I am trying," Tara insisted as she paced back and forth in the isolated medical work room. She lifted her fists to her bloodshot eyes to rub the grainy feeling away, then glanced back at Paul for some sense of understanding. "We didn't suggest that you weren't," Dave assured her. "But we're getting nothing on the neuroscan now. When we were outside there was something, it may not have been psi-positive, but it was something." "Then maybe we should go back out there," Paul suggested, while offering her a brief smile of reassurance. "I'm not sure that's necessary," the older Doctor responded, while glancing from his colleague to the young woman. "Tell me Tara, what were you thinking about when it happened?" She glanced nervously up at Paul, and watched the firm lines of his face stoically regarding her, then shook her head as she ran her hand through her wavy hair. "I don't know. I'm tired and I need some sleep. Can we please call it a night?" "We can call it whatever you wish," Paul replied with slight annoyance. "But you did sense my thoughts back in the hovercar, and I want you to try again now." Dave let out a weary groan and looked over at his colleague. "It's possible that it was just a coincidence. Who else would you have been thinking about other than her...she's all that either of us have thought of for over a week now." Paul answered with a sharp glare at his companion, then he walked over and yanked the neuroscan from the older doctor's hands and angrily tossed it onto the table. "Perhaps we should call it a night," Dave commented bitterly as he glanced at his discarded equipment, hoping it was not damaged. Tara turned away from the physicians as she struggled to hold in the sobs that wanted to erupt, trying to forget the disappointment in Paul's face. She was trying, honestly. "Well," Paul relented with a sigh, "she is trying. I honestly believe that." Tara pivoted back on the two men, her lips parting in shock, as she absorbed the tidal-wave of concern which flooded forth from the blonde doctor and into her. A cry of joy formed in her throat as tears of happiness replaced those of sorrow. "Tara?" the tall doctor asked while reaching his hand out to her, as Dave frantically struggled to reactivate his abused neuroscan. "I'm Tracing you, Paul," she exclaimed with jubilation, her smile stretching across her face. "I'm actually Tracing you--" The words died on her lips as the undefined images from Paul's mind slowly came into focus, blackened and then turned her mind into a dark whirling tempest. Intense jolts of agony shot down the core of her brain, like a raging inferno inside her head. Her hazel eyes widened with terror as she reached a shaking hand out to the younger doctor, grasping his strong fingers in hers. "P-Paul?," she managed through the terrible pain, then sank to her knees, her eyes rolling into the top of her head. "Tara!" Paul shouted as he grabbed her in his arms and pulled her in closely. She shook in anguished spasms for a moment, then fell limp in his grasp, a slight crackling sound issuing from her still open mouth. An air of silence hung over them as he lowered her motionless form onto the cold steel floor, his eyes never leaving the contorted features on her face. "Damn," he finally whispered. "I thought we had it this time for sure." He glanced over at his colleague. "Did you get anything?" Dave looked blankly at Tara's still body for a brief instant, then stared down at the glowing green readout on the neuroscan, his gaze focussed on the numbers that flashed across. "Nothing," he replied while quickly clearing the screen, then he raised his eyes to meet Paul's. "What do you think happened?" "I think her synapses overloaded," Paul conjectured as he stood up. "Perhaps the strain of psionics is too much for an artificial brain to handle. Next time we'll have to--" His wrist communication device beeped, demanding his attention. With an internal groan, he activated the small device and lifted it to his lips. "Major Paul Hastings here... No... My report is simply that test subject Tara 18 self destructed... I know, I know, just place 19 in the bed and get set for activation... Out." He shut off the device and turned to his companion. "Well, Captain," he said with a sneer, "do you think that we can do the next one right? Or is it going to take twenty?" "No, sir," Dave let out a sigh as he assured him. "We'll have a working model for the President if it's the last thing we do." "I hope so," Paul added with a relenting grin as he opened the door back to the medical wing, "for both our sakes. After you, doctor." "Why thank you, doctor," his colleague responded while forcing a smile to his lips as they walked through the door together, leaving the work room in blackened silence.