Ran Mikel pushed the thin hospital blanket away with an impatient gesture, and swung his body out of the narrow bed. "I do not need to stay here," he snapped at the hovering nurse tech. "I'm fine." The effect of his words was marred by the sudden sagging of his legs. He clutched at the bed stand and only just kept from falling into an undignified heap.
Anger, resentment, and shame, all directed toward himself, kept him silent as the n'tech helped him back into bed. "After a good night's sleep, you'll feel better," said the n'tech, more confident once he had Ran where he wanted him. "Is there anything I can get you before I go?"
"The pilot who brought me in," snapped Ran. He knew he was being churlish and unreasonable, but the n'tech's professional cheer was grating on his already irritated nerves.
The nurse tech's expression slipped a bit to reveal a hint of annoyance. "Sorry," he said without sounding so. "As I told you earlier, she seems to have disappeared."
Ran admired the man's restraint in refraining from adding that he had given Ran the same answer every time Ran had asked it for the past several hours.
A hint of admiration for the pilot's resourcefulness brightened his mood, leavening his annoyance at her disappearance, and a smile flickered into being. "The station hounds still haven't found her? She didn't get off station, did she?" he asked; struck by the sudden, unwelcome thought. He couldn't explain to himself why the thought of the pilot disappearing without his having seen her made him so anxious, but it did.
The n'tech shook his head. "The station closed to all traffic right after she brought you in." He didn't try to hide his curiosity as he said, "You know what's going on?"
Ran shook his head. "'Fraid not. I'm in the dark same as everyone else." He frowned. That was wrong. He did know something. He gasped at the sudden, sharp, stabbing behind his right eye. It blinded him to everything but pain.
"Ran Mikel!" The n'tech was at his side, pulling Ran's hands away from his head. "What is it? Where is the pain?" He reached for the call button that would summon the doctor.
"It's gone." Ran drew a shaky breath, then repeated in a stronger tone, "It's gone. I'm alright." Seeing the n'tech was still undecided, Ran said, "Just a stress headache. I get them all the time." Even as the words came out of his mouth, he tried to stop them. He didn't get headaches. He never had. But the words kept coming, almost as if someone else were in control of his voice. "Part of the job. It's fine. The relaxers the doctor left will help."
The n'tech stepped back. His expression was still doubtful, but he said, "All right, but if you have any more pain, ring for me."
"Hounds'honor," said Ran. With that the nurse tech seemed satisfied.
Ran fell back on the pillow as the door closed behind the n'tech. Something was very wrong. His heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest. His palms were moist. Sweat rolled down the back of his neck. It was difficult to catch his breath.