And it's time -- finally -- for us to see if we can get our eighth crewmember back...
"Thank you for trusting me with this most delicate task, Ariane Austin." Mandallon said.
Ariane smiled at him. He really did have that earnest-young-man air about him. "Thanks for coming, Mandallon. Follow me, we have Laila in here." She led the way towards one of the side rooms from the main Embassy entrance. "I didn't know if you needed anything… equipment, special materials…?"
"No, nothing like that, Captain Austin," Mandallon replied. "Just my own faith and, I hope, the blessing of the Creators upon me, that I shall see her spirit and guide it back to you. I have done much studying in the past few days of the old records, and meditated and prayed, and I think I now understand clearly what is to be done, if she has been harmed as you say."
The door rolled open in front of them and they entered. Gabrielle looked up, while Steve, Simon, and Carl stood. "Gabrielle, this is Mandallon, Initiate Guide of the Faith. Mandallon, Dr. Gabrielle Wolfe, our Chief Medical Officer." Also our only medical officer. I wonder how long we can actually keep people confused about just how few of us there are?
The diminuitive blonde doctor exchanged curtsey-bows with Mandallon, having been shown the gesture previously by Ariane. "Pleasure to meet you, Mandallon. Must say, I'm not really used to the idea of having someone pray as a principal method of healing, but I'm about at the end of my rope."
"Doctor Wolfe, I am sure you've done everything you could. But truly, if I understand the problem aright, there is little that you could do here, or perhaps even in your home system, for such a terrible injury to the mind." His filter-beard flip-flopped nervously. "I cannot guarantee that it will work, you understand; the blessing comes only through me, it is not truly of me."
"All we ask is that you give it your best." Gabrielle looked down at the still, blank-faced form of Laila Canning and sighed. She ran her fingers gently down the woman's straight hair, a gesture of affection that Ariane recognized as part of her concerned bedside manner. "Ain't as though she could be much worse off than she is." She looked over to Ariane. "If this doesn't work… I don't think anyone at home could do anything. They'll probably… probably pull the plug once they examine her."
Ariane shook her head; she'd only known Laila for a few days, but in that time she'd come to like the direct, matter-of-fact manner and razor-sharp mind behind the biologist's plain brown bangs. There was no way she was going to just let her stay a vegetable on a table if there was a way to change that.
"Then… should I begin?" Mandallon asked hesitantly. "Or are there… rituals, observances? Any taboos?"
Gabrielle and Ariane exchanged smiles at the young Initiate Guide's diffidence, and DuQuesne's deep chuckle rumbled around the room. "Not really, Mandallon," he said. "There's taboos on various things, sure, but doctors and such generally get a pass, and you not even being our species, we're not worried. Unless you're going to get out knives or something like that, just go and do whatever you have to."
"Oh, no, no, I will do no cutting or anything of that nature!" Mandallon looked either scandalized or afraid he'd given the wrong impression. "Just some gentle contact and prayer."
"Do you mind if I keep recording everything?" Gabrielle asked. "We've got her wired up like a Christmas tree with sensors, and if you do fix her up, I'd really like to have a chance to try to figure out exactly how you managed it."
Mandallon's laugh was more natural-sounding, less tense, now. "You are of course welcome to use all the sensing devices you wish. Analyzing the power of the Creators is, I am afraid, likely to be beyond you, but there is no forbiddance of such an attempt." He gave one more glance around. "Then… I shall begin."
One six-fingered hand reached out and rested, feather-light, on Laila Canning's forehead. Mandallon closed his eyes and bent his head, feathery topknot nodding down over his face. After a few moments, Ariane heard Gabrielle gasp; a faint blue glow was emanating from the young Initiate Guide. At the same moment, Mandallon began a prayer, one in the ancient incomprehensible language that the Faith believed was that of the Voidbuilders themselves:
"Dilkare deon arlyo
Camven rangestel ancfrin…"
"Well, bless us all," murmured Gabrielle. "Look at that…"
As the blue light began to extend out, bathing Laila Canning in insubstantial illumination, the vital monitors reacted. Her pulse, previously a slow 40 beats per minute, rose swiftly, passing 70. Her breathing quickened. The brain monitors showed increasing activity. "Not normal, though… completely unrecognizable. My God, look at that, Marc!"
"I see it." DuQuesne was suddenly standing next to them.
Ariane wasn't sure what she was seeing, but it looked to her as though almost all of Laila's brain was becoming active. "Isn't that good?"
"Looks more like a seizure," whispered Gabrielle.
"Tolfas niperod ingecar," Mandallon intoned. "Meriban…"
Small blue sparks danced suddenly along Laila's body and rippled almost playfully across Mandallon's hand. The alien priest stiffened. "I… I see her! Creators and watchers, helpers and healers, heed me now! Bring back this woman, Laila Canning, from the place within herself, regather her memories and feelings, her loves and joys, return them to this her mind and body, to we who still walk the Arena!" His other hand joined the first. "Come now, Laila Canning! Return! Satwond norlew hite!"
A brilliant flash dazzled them all momentarily, and the displays went blank; apparently the sensors had been overloaded. Mandallon sank down, exhausted; Ariane stepped forward to help ease him into a chair as Gabrielle practically leaped to the bedside.
Then Laila Canning opened her eyes, gave a tiny gasp, and began to cry.
But is eight enough?