Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major Chapter 4

By PsiDraconis

Disclaimers in Chapter 1

Chapter disclaimer: The literary excerpt come from The Colour of Magic by the brilliant and talented Terry Pratchett. I'm kind of hoping that if I flatter his ego enough he will not try to sue me for this, since I own nothing except my Discworld collection (by Terry Pratchett). I think he probably already owns copies. In exchange for his indulgence, I offer this opportunity for free advertising of his work: Read Terry Pratchett!!!!!! Pick a book, any book!!! Thank you, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming already in progress.

"The people to their settlements I will restore;

Citiesá they shall buildá

Their shade I will make restful.

The bricks of our temples they will lay in pure places.

Ourá places they will lay in pure places."

- Incantation 10673 (III Exp. Box 13): Mesopotamian inscription describing the aftermath of the Deluge, c. 3000 BC

Chapter 4

The second time Alleandre woke up, she was much more wary. She slowly rose out of the depths of unconsciousness, at each stage prepared to fall under again if necessary, but inexorably drawn by a soft voice speaking nearby. While a dull pain was still present, centred on the middle of the young woman's spine, the rest of her body felt surprisingly good. Not perfect, but definitely better than her last ill-fated trip to the land of the living.

Having finished her quick appraisal of her own well being, Ally turned her attention to her external surroundings. Still in the last layer between sleep and wakefulness, it took her a moment to decipher the meaning of the words being spoken. Whoever it was was just next to her, she realised. Slipping up the last level which would allow comprehension, Ally listened to the soft, melodious voice, and realised that the person - female, she recognised - was reading.

"At the top of the cellar steps Broadman knelt down and fumbled in his tinderbox. It turned out to be damp.

"'I'll kill that bloody cat,' he muttered, and groped for the spare box that was normally on the ledge by the door. It was missing. Broadman said a bad word.

"A lighted taper appeared in mid-air, right beside him.


"'Thanks,' said Broadman.


"Broadman went to throw the taper down the steps. His hand paused in mid-air. He looked at the taper, his brow furrowing. Then he turned around and held the taper up to illuminate the scene. It didn't shed much light, but it did give the darkness a shapeá

"'Oh, no-' he breathed.

"BUT YES, said Death." The reader chuckled, then continued reading.

Now extremely curious as to the identity if the reader, but unwilling yet to stop the comforting murmur of words by revealing her awareness, Ally cautiously extended her perceptions, seeking the correct mental frame that would enable her to see. There was difficulty, resistance, as she sought the correct shape. It was even more difficult than it usually was, the mental pathways feeling bruised and tender. Well, of course they are, the part of her not concentrating thought. You tried to stop at least two bullets. She vaguely remembered that now. You're lucky they're not scraping your charred cerebellum off the inside of your skull with a spatula. Shrugging the thought aside for now, Ally continued expanding her perceptions. It was slow going, but the young woman had plenty of patience.

Starting with the obvious sensory input - the voice beside her, the barely audible hum of fluorescent light, the feel of linen sheets, the faint but sharp smell of disinfectant - Ally's mind slowly built her a mental picture of her surroundings. Finally, after several false starts, the vague mental image slipped into a true vision of her environment.

Despite the fact that her eyes were still closed, the sight was clear and vivid. More clear and vivid, in fact, than her purely optical vision. Despite a year of practice, though, the image arriving in her mind was slightly skewed; nothing that Ally could specifically point out, but just a general feeling of oddness. Alleandre suspected that it was due to the images arriving directly in her visual cortex and bypassing her optic nerves, with their highly evolved adaptations for perspective and distance. The result was a picture where, instead of focussing on a single object, she had the strange sensation of looking at all the objects nearby at the same time. Added to the fact that a slight shift in perspective would enable her to see the opposite side of an object - or, stranger still, both sides at the same time - the result felt decidedly unnatural and unreal. Sometimes the sensation made her sick.

Practice had taught Ally to adapt to, or at least ignore, the sensory shift, and, once she was sure that the sight was secure, she focussed her mental gaze on the young woman seated beside her bed. Fiery red hair tumbled around slim shoulders. One of those shoulders - the left - was wrapped in a white bandage, and its accompanying arm was bound in a sling. She was seated in a wheelchair at the left side of Alleandre's body. She was reading aloud from a small paperback book, awkwardly using only her right hand to turn the pages when necessary. There was another bed in the room, and its unmade state showed that it had been recently occupied.

The colour of the hair sparked a memory, of gentle words and hands in the aftermath of terrible pain. Princess Evelynne, Ally's brain supplied. What was she doing here before? And why is she still here? Shouldn't she be surrounded by bodyguards or something? A quick mental scan showed that, except for the two of them, the room was empty of other people. And what is she reading, anyway? It sounds familiar. Shifting her perspective so that she could see the book, Ally got another surprise. That's my book! It has that little torn bit in the corner. Why is the Heir to the Atlantlan throne sitting in a wheelchair reading one of my own books to an unconscious woman in a hospital room?

Alleandre could feel the strain that maintaining the sight was placing on her energy. Deciding that no new information could be obtained in that manner, she allowed the vision to fade, letting her awareness collapse back into her more mundane senses. The switch left behind the familiar feeling of vertigo and slight nausea, this time accompanied by a mild ache behind her eyes as Ally's brain protested the strain on her still-healing neurons.

Pushing away the slight pain, Ally opened her eyes, blinking rapidly as the light stabbed at her retinas. Remaining motionless, as memory reminded her of the results of her previous ill-advised movement, the young woman glanced quickly around the room to orient herself. Then she shifted her eyes to look at Evelynne beside her.

The sight wasn't particularly promising. The princess was seated just far enough away that she was outside Ally's range of clear sight. To Ally's short-sighted gaze, Evelynne existed merely as a pale, red-topped blob; darker blotches showed the locations of her eyes, and a moving fuzzy line was obviously her mouth. Ally was disappointed that she couldn't see the brilliant sapphire eyes that she remembered were there.

Deciding to announce her presence, Ally spoke up.

Or tried to. What actually emerged was a rough croak, her throat announcing that it had been far too long since and sort of liquid had wet it.

It was still enough to catch Evelynne's attention, her voice breaking off in mid-sentence and her gaze flying to the figure that had until now been lying so still and silent in the bed. "Ally?" she asked, relieved when she saw grey eyes looking back at her with awareness. "Can you hear me?"

Ally tried to speak again, but once again only an unintelligible croak issued from her lips, and she swallowed convulsively against her dry throat.

Realising the problem, Evelynne placed the book on the small table beside the bed and picked up the plastic water cup and straw lying there. Before she did so, though, she pressed the button which would summon the doctor to the room. Raising the straw to Ally's parched lips, she held the cup steady with one hand as the woman in the bed sipped.

The water was room temperature and slightly stale, but Ally thought that it was the best thing she had ever tasted as she let the liquid soothe her throat. It reminded her of being in northern Australia, when the temperature hit 43 degrees Celsius, and she had foolishly forgotten her water bottle before setting out. When she had finally reached a tiny abandoned watering station, the water had been brackish, metallic and tasted like ambrosia. The water she was drinking now tasted even better.

All too soon, though, Evelynne was taking the straw away. When Ally made a small noise in protest, she said, "I'm sorry, but the doctor said not to give you too much. You haven't had anything in you stomach for over five days."

Though disappointed, Ally understood. She had neglected to ration herself at the watering station in Australia, and the water hadn't tasted as good coming up as it did going down.

"Thank you," she said, and though her hoarse voice couldn't support much emphasis, she strove to convey her earnestness.

Evelynne smiled, though there was a rueful quality to it. "Actually, I wanted to thank you," she said softly. "You saved my life. I don't know how I'm ever going to repay you for that, but I swear that if there is ever anything I can do for you, you just need to ask." The princess let out a sigh. "I really don't know how I'll ever be able to truly thank you. None of my words seem strong enough." She paused a moment. "I Owe you my Life." The words were deadly serious, and filled with an undercurrent of hidden meaning that Ally couldn't quite interpret.

Alleandre was a little uncomfortable at the attention. "Your Highness," she started to rasp.

"Please," Evelynne interrupted. "Call me Evelynne. That's what my friends call me. I'm hoping that given the circumstances I can add you to that list." She wiped briskly at her eyes, and indicated her current state with a little chuckle. "Besides, I hardly look like a 'Highness' in this delightful little hospital number." She gestured again to include her wheelchair. "And they seem to misplaced my throne."

Ally couldn't stop the laugh that briefly burst from her, though her mirth didn't last long as the movement caused a spike of pain to lance through her abdomen. She gritted her teeth and waited it out, consciously attempting to relax the tense muscles. When she opened her eyes again, she could see Evelynne's worried face looking at hers. Ally realised that Evelynne had leaned forward, allowing Ally to fully focus on the princess' features, and had also taken hold of her hand, gently rubbing the back of it with her thumb.

God, she's gorgeous. The thought crossed her mind before Ally could stop it. The thought brought back memories of earlier ones, in the aftermath of incapacitating pain. I can't believe I thought that then. In that situation. I know I'm not a masochist, so I hope that was whatever medication they gave me talking, she thought. It was, another part of her answered, but this is your real sense of sexual aesthetics speaking. She's hot. Ally blushed uncontrollably at the thought, and then realised that Evelynne was speaking.

"Are you okay?" the princess asked.

"I'má better," Ally replied. "Just please don't make me laugh right now." She stared into the blue eyes less than half a meter from her own. There was something there, some connection tickling the back of her mind, something that felt a little likeá

The door to the hospital room opened before Ally could finish tracking down the thought, letting in Dr Corbeil, Sir Arthur, and another woman in a doctor's uniform. The newcomer was about the same age as Dr Corbeil, but over a foot shorter, and with silvery-grey hair pulled back into a tight bun. Both doctors smiled when they saw that Ally was awake. Sir Arthur took up a post just inside the door, his face impassive, but Evelynne could detect a hint of satisfaction in his features. To Ally, though, they were just a collection of vaguely man-shaped blobs.

"Ally, it is good to see you awake again," said Dr Corbeil. "How are you feeling this time?" Taking out a small penlight, the doctor proceeded to shine it into each of Ally's eyes. She seemed pleased by the response. Putting away the light, the doctor pressed two fingers to her patient's wrist, checking her pulse. "You gave us a little scare last time. Do you remember?"

Ally winced at the recollection. "I remember," she replied, her voice still hoarse. "Much as I don't want to."

"Ah, oui, I understand. So how do you feel right now?"

Ally took stock of her body, subtly stretching her arms and wiggling her fingers. She grimaced at the residual ache and stiffness, but otherwise felt much better - aside from the continuous dull throb in her right shoulder and lower back - and told the doctor as much. "I've felt better, but then again, as you reminded me, I've felt worse," Ally answered. "All in all, I think I'll -" She broke of suddenly, and her face drained of colour. "I can't move my feet!" she exclaimed, panic in her voice.

The new doctor - whose nametag identified her as Dr Calinot - gently but firmly pushed Dr Corbeil out of the way and made her way to the foot of the bed. Flinging back the blanket from the young woman's feet, she took one of them in her hands. "Ally, je m'appelleá I am Doctor Calinot," she said with a thick French accent. "I am neurologueá how do you say? Nerve specialist. You have bullet enter near spine. I think there is no damage toá spinal cord. There isá swelling, it push spinal cord. Now I check your nerves." Despite her halting English, the doctor's tone served to reassure Ally, pushing back her panic.

Ally gave a short, sharp nod.

"Before start, though," Dr Calinot continued, turning and pointing at Sir Arthur and Evelynne, "you two, sortez."

Alleandre started to protest Evelynne's removal, then stopped, uncertain. Do I want her to see this? Does she want to see this? She's a princess; am I allowed to ask her to stay? Why do I want her to stay? Before she could answer even one of these questions, Sir Arthur had come forward to collect the princess. Before leaving Ally's side, Evelynne gave her hand a final squeeze of encouragement and whispered, "I'll be right outside." Ally didn't know why the statement reassured her so much.

Then the two Atlantlans were out the door, leaving Ally to the competent, but not so tender mercies of Dr Calinot, while Dr Corbeil stood nearby, ready to give assistance.

By the time the examination was over, Ally was glad that Evelynne had left the room. The doctor had tested her sense of feeling all the way up both her legs, and the blanket - and underlying hospital gown - had moved all the way up in response. Despite Dr Calinot's clinical, detached manner, the young woman was blushing beet-red by the time it was over. At least she was thorough, she thought sardonically.

Both doctors seemed pleased. "Très bien, Alleandre," said Dr Calinot. "I think you have fullá" A whispered question to Dr Corbeil. "á full sensation in your legs and feet. Now weá test movement." Taking hold of Ally's foot once more, she directed, "Now, you move toes."

Obediently, Ally tried to wiggle her toes.

Dr Calinot frowned. "You are trying?"

"Yes, I'm trying!" Ally snapped, barely contained panic and frustration adding bite to her tone. Ignoring the doctor's sharp glance, she concentrated harder on getting even a twitch from her unresponsive digits. Suddenly she was rewarded as her toes twitched once, spasmodically, in unison. Feeling the movement, Ally relaxed once more into the bed, letting out a breath she hadn't been aware of holding.

"Excellent," the doctor smiled, though Ally couldn't see it. "Now, l'autre pied."

Ally groaned softly, but tried once more. This time it seemed easier, and her toes obediently twitched several times in succession.

"It's good, I think," said the doctor with satisfaction, writing notes on Ally chart. "You have full sensation, some movement. I think l'enflureá the swelling in wound is stopping movement. When swelling goes, movement returns." Rehanging the chart at the foot of the bed, the doctor paused to rest a hand reassuringly on Ally's uninjured shoulder. "I make time for l'examen radioscopiqueá the X-ray." Her eyes twinkled. "Soon you run, dance, play with the pretty ladies, oui? Soon."

Ally's eyes widened at this. "Iá butá umá" she stuttered, but Dr Calinot had already left the room with a glance at Dr Corbeil.

Dr Corbeil smiled down at the woman in the bed. "So, it is good news. Dr Calinot is a very good doctor. If she says you will be running, dancing andá playing soon, you will." She looked at her watch. "It will take time to schedule the x-ray. Do you want company now? I know your friend wants to see you, and the princess' bodyguard wants to ask you some questions. It is up to you. I can tell them to come back later if you want."

A moment passed as Ally considered. "I'd like to see them," she said, the stress and fatigue of the last while showing in her voice and expression. "But can you give me five minutes alone? I need toá" She trailed off.

The doctor nodded in understanding. "I will tell them five minutes, and then to knock. You let them in if you want." Leaning forward, Dr Corbeil rested her hand in the same position that Dr Calinot's had lain. "You will get better," she said emphatically.

A somewhat shaky smile was Ally's response. "Before you go, could I ask you two things?" At Dr Corbeil's nod, she continued, "Do you know where my glasses are? I can hardly see a thing without them."

"I do not know where you glasses are." The doctor frowned. "They may have been lost. Do you have your prescription?"

"If anyone has my fanny pack, it should be in there, with all my other papers."

"I will look and see what I can do. And what is the second question?"

This time Ally's blush returned. "Umá Can you take out thisá umá catheter?" She was bright red. "It's a littleá uncomfortable."

Dr Corbeil strove to contain a laugh, knowing it would only embarrass her patient more. Besides, she sympathised. "I am sorry. Until we get the new x-ray we cannot put you in a wheelchair. Hopefully it won't be much longer. Be patient."

Be patient, hmph, Ally grumbled internally, her blush slowly fading. You're not the one with the tube up herá hmph. The blush was back.

By the time Dr Corbeil left the room where Ally was resting, Evelynne's anxiety had been raised to new levels. She had a length of hair in her hand, and was nervously twisting it around her fingers. Chorus was also waiting in the anteroom, and he wasn't faring much better, but he was able to hide it more. Dr Calinot had exited a few minutes earlier, but had refused to answer any questions. Her response to Evelynne's increasingly persistent enquiries had been to say that Dr Corbeil would speak to them soon. Before she left to schedule more tests, the doctor had bestowed a knowing smile on the princess, as if she knew some secret joke.

The smile didn't reassure Evelynne much, though, and as soon as Dr Corbeil came through the door, closing it firmly behind her, the princess was asking about Ally's state. "How is she? Is she going to be okay?"

"Dr Calinot believes that Alleandre will recover. We will run more tests to be sure, but things look good now. Not perfect, but good. We will know more after an x-ray."

Evelynne visibly relaxed. "Can we see her now?" She was already moving towards the door, but was stopped by the doctor.

"Alleandre has asked for five minutes alone." She smiled apologetically. "I think she needs some quiet to think and relax. The examination wasá stressful." The doctor's pager went off suddenly. Glancing at it, she finished, "I have to go now. I will be back. Before you go in, please knock." With that, she hurried off to attend to her other patients.

Disappointed, Evelynne turned back to face Sir Arthur and Chorus. She went back to twisting her hair. "Well, that was good news. I think. Do you think so?" she asked the two men.

"I'm no doctor, but it sounded good to me," answered Chorus.

Sir Arthur added, "I agree, Your Highness. Of course, as the doctor said, we'll know more when these news tests are completed."

Evelynne let out her breath in a burst, trying to relax a little. "Isis, I hope so. If she's paralysedá" She didn't finish the thought. Turning her attention back to Sir Arthur, she asked, "Has anyone been able to track down her parents yet?"

"No, Your Highness. I must admit I'm getting discouraged. The closest relative we've been able to find is her grandmother living in England, and she doesn't know where they are. It's been two days since Ms Tretiak's name was leaked to the press, so I'd expect them to have seen something on the news by now." Despite the best efforts of all involved, reporters had discovered the identity of the mysterious "Marseilles Heroine" and her name and picture - a rather unflattering high school photo - were now plastered across televisions and newspapers world-wide. Sir Arthur was actually rather surprised that it had taken almost three days before the facts became known.

"I'm worried too," put in Chorus. "Although I've never met them, from what Ally's said, they're quite close. I really don't think it's that they don't care."

"Well, that's another thing we can ask Ms Tretiak now that she's awake," said Sir Arthur. The injured woman in the next room bothered him. Having studied the more detailed forensics and ballistics reports, he was more curious than ever about how both the young women had escaped death.

Evelynne looked at him sharply. "You won't be asking anything detailed right now," she declared firmly.

Sir Arthur set his jaw stubbornly. "Your Highness, I have to get some answers now, while the events are still clear. I must -"

"No." Evelynne's jaw was set even more firmly, and a fire burned in her eyes. "She has just woken up from a five day coma. You will not ask her any questions which might cause her stress. She was hurt saving my life, and I forbid any more distress." Despite her wheelchair and attire, Evelynne was every inch the princess now, in command. "If you try, I will call Dr Corbeil and get her to have you removed." As Sir Arthur opened his mouth to protest, she overrode him. "She outranks you in this situation, remember?"

Caught by his own words, Sir Arthur subsided with a scowl. Despite his ward's attitude, he felt strangely proud that she was flexing her regal muscle. He was, however, a little concerned about the princess' fiercely protective stance towards Alleandre Tretiak. "Very well, Your Highness," he acquiesced grudgingly.

Deflating slightly, Evelynne turned to Chorus, who had instinctively stepped back during the exchange. "Can we go in to see her yet?"

Recognising the princess' still-brittle mood, the young man quickly looked at his watch. "Another two minutes," he replied.

His eyes widened when the princess swore softly.

Precisely five minutes after Dr Corbeil had left, there was a knock at the door to Ally's room.

"Come in," she croaked out, her voice still hoarse from disuse.

Ally had spent several minutes simply relaxing, dealing with her anxiety, adjusting to the dull pain and getting a bit more used to her stubbornly unresponsive body. Concentrating her breathing, she had managed to attain a measure of mental calm, and had pushed the discomfort into an easily ignorable corner of her mind. Her sore, dry throat refused to be ignored, however, and Ally could vaguely remember herself screaming the last time she had awoken. The cup of water was tantalisingly out of reach of her questing fingers, and she didn't want to risk further discomfort by stretching for it.

The young woman had considered using her talent to bring the cup closer, but didn't want to risk further strain to her still recovering concentration and mental energies. Even worse would be someone walking in and asking difficult questions about why there was a cup full of water floating in the air above her bed.

Ally had put that scheme out of her head and resigned herself to her thirst when the hesitant rapping came at her door. Steeling herself for the coming intrusion into her space, reckoning that at least she'd be able to ask for some water, and hoping that it would be the princess who would give her some, she bade them enter.

The door opened, and Evelynne hesitantly peered around the doorjamb into the room. "Can we come in?" she asked softly.

Pleased to recognise the princess' voice, Ally carefully waved her in with her good hand. "Please."

The short flame-topped blob that was Evelynne entered the room, her wheelchair being pushed by a much larger purple-and-silver blob that filled the doorway. A slightly smaller, darker blob followed.

As they came closer, the darker blob spoke, and Ally recognised her good friend Chorus. "Hey, Ally," he said. "How are ya feeling?" He took up a spot at her right side and bent down to carefully give her a slight hug, mindful not to jostle her too much. As he pressed his slightly bristly cheek to hers, he whispered almost silently, "They don't know anything."

Nodding slightly to signal her understanding before he pulled away, Ally felt a knot of tension loosen slightly inside herself. Though nobody had mentioned anything, she had wondered if anybody had seen how she had saved the princess' life. The odds had been against it, as there was no direct physical link between her talents and their results, but the fear had still been present.

"Hey, Chorus," Ally replied to her friend's audible question. "I'm feeling better now. And I'd feel even better if you'd give me some water."

Evelynne was the one who quickly grabbed the cup and brought it to Ally's lips. "Here you go."

Ally slowly sipped several mouthfuls of water. When she was done, she released the straw and fervently said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome. What did the doctor tell you?"

"Yeah, Ally, did she examine you well?" Chorus added.

Both of her questioners were puzzled when Ally blushed deeply at the questions. "Yes, she was very thorough."

A slow grin spread over Chorus' features. "So when you say thorough, you meaná"

"Very thorough," said Ally curtly, feeling as if her face was going to explode.

The grin grew broader. "Oh, come on, Ally, I need details. Some thoughts to keep myself warm at -" He broke of at the glare of death directed at him from Ally's red face. The glare broke briefly as her eyes flickered to Evelynne on the other side of her bed. Chorus instantly felt guilty, recognising that this was more than Ally's normal embarrassment at any kind of sexual innuendo. The embarrassment had quickly morphed into bone-deep mortification. Well, of course, Chorus castigated himself. This is one of the most sexually repressed lesbians on the planet, and she's in the same room with the most gorgeous woman in the northern hemisphere. Lay off her, you putz. She doesn't need your "doctor" insinuations right now. Even if she probably wouldn't be averse to playing a little "doctor" with the princess hereá He cut off the train of thought. "Sorry," he mouthed silently.

Evelynne watched the exchange. She felt oddly envious of the young man's easy manner with the woman in the bed, and also intrigued by the Ally's deep blush. Why is she embarrassed about a medical exam? she asked herself. Unlessá they were examining her lower body. I don't get it. Why is she ashamed of her legs? While the princess had not directly seen Ally's legs, from what she could see of the rest of her body Ally's legs couldn't be terribly deformed. Maybe she has a scar? A part of Evelynne had a strong urge to find out.

Brushing the unsettling thought aside, Evelynne cleared her throat to gain Ally's attention. "Hello, Ally. The doctor told us that your prognosis was good." A discreet tap of a finger on her shoulder reminded the princess of her Guardsman standing beside her. "Oh, yes, this is Sir Arthur Ramirez, the Master of my Guard."

"I'm pleased to finally meet you, Ms Tretiak," the bodyguard said, touching his fingers to his forehead in salute. "On behalf of myself and the rest of the Heir's Guard, I would like to sincerely thank you for saving Her Highness' life. You did our jobs for us, and we can never fully express our gratitude." Losing some of his formality, he continued less stiffly, "I want to personally thank you for saving Evelynne's life. I consider her to be almost my own daughter. Thank you again."

Ally was becoming tired of blushing continuously, and firmly told it to leave. Encouraged by the attention she was receiving, it ignored her and stayed. "Um, you're welcome," she stuttered, then cursed herself for her lack of eloquence.

"On a slightly more official note, I do have a couple of questions I need to ask you. Do you feel up to it?" Sir Arthur ignored Evelynne's cautionary glance.

"Um, I guess so," Ally replied tensing up again. Does he know anything? Did he see anything? I think he was the closest to us.

The bodyguard sought to reassure Ally with a stiff smile, but she couldn't see it. "Good. First of all, we've been trying to contact your next of kin for the last five days, but haven't been able to find them. Do you know where they are?"

Ally was startled. "Five days? I've been asleep that long?"

"You were in a coma for four days," Evelynne explained. "You woke up briefly yesterday, and have been asleep since then."

"Jeez," breathed Ally, still shocked. Five days? Why wouldn't Mom and Dad be here? Oh, shit, that's right. "Mom and Dad are on vacation. Dad's a teacher and Mom's a marine biologist. Every summer they pack up everything and spend five straight weeks camping. No phones, no TV, no radio, nothing. This summer they were going toá somewhere around Alkali Lake, I think. In the interior of British Columbia. I can't remember exactly where. They leftá two weeks ago, so they're going to be gone for another three. They don't stay at regular campsites, so I'm not sure how you'll find them." Thinking a moment, Ally continued, "They go into town for supplies every once in a while. That's the only thing I can think of." She gave an apologetic smile.

Sir Arthur returned the smile with a genuine one of his own. "That is actually quite helpful. Instead of searching the whole of North America, we can narrow it down a lot. Thank you." Switching topics, he said, "I have a few more questions if you -"

"That's enough for now," Evelynne stated, cutting him off. With a warning glare, she said, "There will be time enough for that later. For now, though, I have a question of my own." Directing her attention back to the woman in the bed, the princess asked, "So your parents might not be home for three weeks?" A nod. "Do you know what you want to do until then?" At Ally's puzzled look, she explained, "Do you want to go back to Canada? I can arrange that if you want. Or you can stay here. My family will pay for anything you need." Ally started to reply, but Evelynne cut her off, wanting to get her the next part out before anyone could stop her - though she knew that both her father and her bodyguard would be more than a little angry that she had not discussed her suggestion with them first. She blurted, "You can come and stay with me. In Atlantl. As soon as the doctors say it's safe we can fly you out there." The princess ignored the angry gaze she could feel boring into the b! ack of her head. Before Sir Arthur could interrupt, she hurried on. "I'm going to be spending some time recuperating myself. I was planning on spending some time in the Summer Palace anyway when I got back. I can arrange for doctors, therapists, whatever you need." Coming to the end, Evelynne sucked in a deep, needed breath.

Ally was surprised, to say the least. "Um," she said eloquently.

Mistaking the hesitation, Evelynne said, "Naturally, you don't have to if you don't want to. Whatever you choose is entirely up to you. Just think about it, okay?"

Ally looked into the earnest blue eyes near hers. "Okay," she said bemusedly. "I'll think about it."

Chorus didn't think she'd have to think for long. He knew what she'd eventually say before Ally did.

Continued in Chapter 5

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