Docking Bay 27,
T Tauri, Independent System
They were waiting for him at the entrance to Hangar Bay 27. A tall woman with grey, neatly trimmed hair, wearing a simple black flight suit, accompanied by two man with grey overalls and blue protective vests with white lettered "Station Security". James walked towards them in casual manner, with his Predator Mk3 revolver strapped in a holster to the thigh.
"So, this is a standard welcome on this station?" - he asked as he stopped around two meters away from the waiting party.
"Indeed. We need to make sure that all the newcomers get to know all the rules before they have an opportunity to do anything... stupid" - the woman didn't smile - "What is your business here, commander?”
“I am visiting an old friend. I understand she is in trouble.”
One of the guards leaned over to the woman and whispered something. Her eyes narrowed and then she looked James up and down sharply. He didn’t like it.
“She is in the med bay, level C-2. I hope you will take her off our station. Last thing we need around here is an outbreak of some previously unseen disease”.
With that she turned around and walked out of the bay, followed by two soldiers. James stood there for a few seconds, looking at the door which closed behind them.
“Grand. Just grand”.
Medical Bay, level C-2
T-Tauri, Independent System
“Hey there lass, how are ye holding up?” - James tried to make it sound as cheerful as he could, but he knew it was more a shriek than a friendly hail.
Sib looked at him and smiled faintly. She was in solitary confinement, separated from the world outside by two layers of thick glass. James barely recognised the girl. Her hair were trimmed short, or maybe has just started growing back. She lost a lot of weight. Her eyes were swollen and tired. She looked much older than when she saw her last in Pleiades
, shortly before she took his Diamondback Scout and went berserk trying to avenge her brother. She looked completely broken and worn out.
"I remember better times, hon... but I am so happy to see you. Didn't expect you to arrive this quick. In fact... I guess I didn't expect to see you at all..."
"Ah stop busting my balls, lass. I would never leave my First Officer alone, after all the craic times we had? Look, I came as fast as I possibly could. What do ya need? And what happened to ye?"
"You mean after I got out of the hospital when they fried the Grasshopper? I had to pay off my bills for the treatment, so I took various jobs on different vessels. At some point I joined a crew on a 'conda, tasked with gathering and delivering some Thargoid samples back to the bubble. We got them in the most straightforward way: fighting the bugs".
She paused and started coughing. When she finally finished, she took a few deep breaths before she was able to continue.
"I was in charge of securing the samples. I wore the protective gear and all that and I was putting what we scooped in sealed containers. It was on our way back to the Core Worlds when it happened..."
James remained silent, looking at Sib intensely.
"We had an alarm going off in the hold. I ran there immediately and saw that something was wrong with one of the containers. Without thinking twice, I ran towards it and tried to adjust the seal, but then the whole damn thing exploded right in my face.. a green cloud of bug tissue..."
"Aw, that's cat... when was that?"
"A month ago. I managed to close down the lid and re-seal it and then ran directly to the shower. I then went on about my business pretending nothing happened. And it was fine.. until probably a week ago or so. I was already here when I started to feel very bad... I was loosing hair like crazy, vomited more often than a cat, hallucinated... I still do. It was on a mining run on a nearby asteroid ring. Other crew members saw what happened and brought me here. When the doctors heard my story they just locked me up in here. They said that they didn't have the right equipment to run detailed tests or something.. but also can't really let me off station without performing them. I can't pay, so I am stuck here..."
"How much" - James asked immediately.
"125 grand. I don't have that money..."
"Consider it done, lass. I'll talk to them directly and then get back to you, OK?"
"You will? Thank you, James. I knew I could count on you, hon."
"Aye, ya can. We'll get you out of here and into some proper hospital in no time lass. I mean, there must have been others that suffered from the same since the Thargoids arrived. Don't go anywhere".
She smiled faintly for the second time, watching as Barrett headed towards the med bay offices.
20 minutes later
Medical Bay, level C-2
T-Tauri, Independent System
Dr Jeremiah Cole was a short, balding man wearing old - school thick glasses and a stained duster. His office was small and cluttered. Two large fans built into the far wall turned slowly, providing some sort of air circulation, but even with them the air seemed gritty. Everywhere on this asteroid felt like that: dirty and covered with dust.
"So, commander Barrett... we suspect that your friend is suffering from a rare and little known condition, but we don't have the necessary equipment to properly diagnose it, not to mention treating it..."
"Yes, Sib mentioned the costs. How much?"
"Well, it is not only a question of money..." - doctor Cole took off his glasses and leaned closer to James, who was sitting across the desk - "Don't get me wrong, but we are a very small facility, yet the very nature of people occupation around here means that we usually have our hands full with victims of pirate attacks, mishaps at the refinery or storage facility, mishandling explosives and lots of other reasons... we cannot really afford to dedicate time or manpower to treat such a rare case as your.. friend's. Plus the presence of someone affected by a xeno-disease is not beneficial for the local morale."
"I asked how much do you need to get the proper equipment, examine her and then prepare her to be shipped to another location that would be better suited for helping her?"
"Well, I think that 125 000 credits should cover all the costs..."
"Grand. I will speak to your Executive right away" - James stood up and went towards the door, but then hesitated and turned around.
"Doc... she will survive, right? There is a cure for this?"
Dr Cole looked at him and sighed.
"I do not know, commander. The symptoms of this particular illness are very worrying. It behaves like a cancer, but affecting many internal organs at once and developing much faster. Now, we've found the cure for normal cancer centuries ago, but this is something completely new. But I wouldn't be too optimistic..."
"We are doing what we can to ease her pain. But these are symptoms. We don't have means to fight its roots".
"Thank you, doc. I'll get you that money right away".
15 minutes later
Administration, level A-3
T-Tauri, Independent System
The payment was accepted without any further questions. A promise was made that the specialised medical equipment will be bought and delivered within the next 4-5 days. As James retrieved his credit chip, Executive Divya Steiner of the Taurus Mining Ventures said:
"Commander, I am really sorry about your friend. We'll do what we can to help her or to prepare her to be safely shipped to another facility, but it will take time. While you wait, may I have a suggestion?"
"We are currently preparing to expand our operations to one of the nearby systems. Therefore we'd welcome and handsomely pay for any exploration data you might gather for us. We're looking for systems with pristine mineral reserves within 40 light years from here... do you think you could help us out?"
"Aye, lass, I could. And I will. I'll see ya later".
With that he left her office. As he walked towards the med bay, he didn't even try to stop the tears that rolled down his face.