By Jamie Jeans, Jeff Skagen, Mathieu Roy

If they needed any reminder that they were in a war zone, Dr. Lydia's clinic was plenty.

The place was crammed with wounded. Most were sitting in ragtag chairs, if they could, saving space for the innumerable improvised stretchers crowding every corridor and almost every inch of each room on the first floor. The injuries near the entrance were the less grievous ones—broken limbs suffered while escaping Jinsei patrols, gunshot wounds in non-critical areas, amputees in the last stage of convalescence. The life-threatening cases were in the improvised ICU at the other end of the building.

People in white uniforms roamed about the wounded, Lydia's corps of volunteer nurses, weariness evident on their faces as they distributed what comfort they could. A few of them were Lynx synthetics with combat medic programs, but most were willing Zoners who could not fight, but wanted to help. Some of them were even the lightly wounded, unfit to return to the front, but not so much that they could not lend a hand in other ways. Their "uniforms" were mismatched, basically whatever white clothes were available, but surprisingly clean, as was the rest of the clinic; the doctor ran a very tight ship even in these desperate circumstances.

As she walked in, Raven grabbed an apple off the basket set on a small table near the entrance, and bit into it with gusto. Round and red, the fruit in the basket were always in plentiful supply and a marked contrast to the desperate straits of the area. How Lydia managed to get ahold of the fruit despite all the barricades was a mystery to all, but none seemed to press the issue, perhaps for fear that the magic would vanish and the apples lost to all.

Unerringly, Raven weaved among the stretchers, leading the group to where she knew Lydia would be. Unsurprisingly, her Auntie was exactly where she expected, in the back near the ICU, flitting from one badly wounded patient to the next, checking for any complications. She looked up as the group entered. "Hello, Raven, Lora. Your friends need help?" She was running the only clinic in the middle of a war zone, she had more patients than it was humanly possible to handle, and yet, the wizened old woman didn't even look or sound frazzled.

Shoko reluctantly stepped forward. After seeing all the injured people being tended, she found herself feeling as if her search was too small a problem to bother Doc Lydia with. "Yes, hello, um... I'm Shoko. I guess I the one who needs help. I'm looking for... well, for some people who were injured last I saw them. I'm hoping you may have treated them, and can tell me where they went."

"And I'm Ray, I've been assisting Shoko in her search," Ray added. "But so far, we have found only faint clues as to where they may have gone."

"Let's see..." Lydia looked at them thoughtfully. "You're looking for a nine-tailed synthetic, her lover, that delightfully talented musician, and good old Bell, aren't you?" She smiled warmly. "They were here, perhaps two weeks ago, with scrapes and a few more serious wounds, but nothing life-threatening. And they are all right, which is why they are gone, now." Her smile grew wry. "It's an odd thing with clinics, people rarely stick around once they are healthy."

Shoko's eyes widened in shock and excitement. "Yes! Yes, they're who I'm looking for! How did you know that? They're okay? Really? What about CK? He was shot in the shoulder. He was still with them, wasn't he? Is he okay too?"

"Ah yes, he was with them. He had a gunshot would, yes, but there was no lasting damage—a 'flesh wound', you could say. He'll be all right."

"That's' great!" exclaimed Shoko, almost bouncing in place before visibly taking hold of her racing emotions. "That's... um, that's wonderful news. Thank you so very much for your help, Lydia - for them and for me." She paused a moment, then added "I don't suppose they happened to talk about where they might go from here, did they?"

"I'm afraid they didn't", Lydia said sadly, "and I didn't have much time to ask, unfortunately." She waved at the grossly overcrowded clinic for illustration.

"I guess you'll have to look", Raven put in. "Need any help?"

"Well..." Shoko bit her lower lip as she thought. "I have no idea where they might have gone from here, so I don't know where to begin searching. About all I can ask you to do is keep an eye out for them or their tow truck, and let me know if you see either. And if you find them, please tell them that I'm alive and looking for them. I'm currently staying with Korey and Ray. Do you have Korey's number, Raven?"

Anticipating her negative answer, Ray stepped forward with, of all things, a business card, and handed it to the dark haired esper. "You can reach us here. If possible, we may organize a search party from there as well as gather supplies that Shoko's friends may need before embarking once more."

"Well, lemme know", Raven said, taking the card up with a smile. She glanced at it as she added, "I could use a break from all the fighting but I can't stand not doing something useful while all of this is happening."

"Then this certainly provides the perfect opportunity to do as such," said Ray. "Plus, I believe you may enjoy meeting my partner, Korey Winters."

"I'm looking forward to it", said Raven.

"Thank you, thank you both." said Shoko, glancing between them. "Raven, I really appreciate your offering your help. I can imagine how valuable your time must be. And Ray, you've got some great ideas that never even occurred to me. You've obviously put a lot of thought into this. Unfortunately, for the moment at least, I think we've done all we can do here - unless you guys can think of anything else?"

"Can I talk to you for a moment, Shoko?" Raven said out of the blue.

"Yeah, sure. What about?" Shoko answered, then glanced at everyone else standing around. "Or did you mean somewhere in private?"

"Uh yeah", said Raven. She glanced back at Eliza-Puma, then turned back to Shoko. "I think that'd be best."

"Okay, um... lead the way," said Shoko, remembering that Raven had wanted to talk to her about something even before the mission in which they'd rescued the esper children here. Raven gestured for Eliza to remain as she led Shoko through another doorway. Shoko wondered a bit nervously what a powerful esper would need to talk to a simple combat synth like her about, especially privately. Of well, I guess I'll find out soon enough...

Return to Kazei 5 PBEM Stories