With the grace of a dancer, she came down a ladder and across the cargo bay t
o where Kurt and the MPs stood face-to-face.
“But Dr. Ambrosini . . .” one of the foreign medics protested.
“But nothing, Dr. Ravishaw. He saved my life, the lives of eighteen others, and he’s given us the best clue to the origin of this problem since the beginning of our investigation.”
“This is highly irregular,” Dr. Ravishaw said.
“Yes,” she replied, “as a matter of fact it is.”
Kurt took some pleasure in the exchange and noted wryly that Dr. Ambrosini was the smallest person in the room but undeniably in charge. She seemed genuinely pleased to see Kurt, yet a few smiles and kind treatment weren’t enough to defuse his anger. “You want to tell me what’s going on here?”
“Can we talk in private?”
“I’d love to,” he said. “Lead on.”
Dr. Ambrosini made her way to a small office next to the cargo hold. Kurt followed and shut the door after he stepped through it. By the look of it, the office was normally meant for a quartermaster, but it had clearly been co-opted by the medical personnel.
“First off,” she began, “I want to thank you for saving me.”
“Looks like you just returned the favor.”
She laughed it off, brushed a strand of hair back from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I highly doubt I’ve saved you from anything,” she said. “More likely, I saved those poor MPs from a painful scuffle that would have bruised their egos, at the very least.”
“I think you overestimate me,” Kurt said.
“I doubt that,” she replied, folding her arms in front of her chest and leaning against the edge of the desk.
It was a nice compliment. Probably half true, but Kurt wasn’t here to exchange pleasantries. “Can we get to the part where you tell me why those quacks out there are doing experiments on my dead friends?”
“Those quacks are my friends,” she said defensively.
“At least they’re alive.”
She took a deep breath, as if deciding how much to say, and then exhaled. “Yes,” she said. “Well, I understand why you’re upset. Your friends, like everyone on the island, have suffered quite a bit. But we need to find out—”
“What kind of toxin killed them?” Kurt said, interrupting. “I think that’s a great idea. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s done through blood tests and tissue samples. And while you’re at it, maybe someone should be testing the smoke coming from that freighter. But unless you can tell me something I’m missing, there’s no need for the Dr. Frankenstein treatment I just saw out there.”
“Dr. Frankenstein treatment,” she repeated. “That’s a surprisingly apt description of what they’re trying to do.”
Kurt was confused. “And why is that?”
“Because,” she said, “we’re trying to bring your friends and the rest of them back to life.”
For a moment, Kurt was at a loss for words. “Say that again” was all he could muster.
“I don’t blame you for being surprised,” she said. “As Dr. Ravishaw said, the situation is highly irregular.”
“More like crazy,” he replied. “You can’t really believe you’re going to reanimate people like some kind of witch doctor?”
“We’re not ghouls,” she said. “It’s just that the men and women in that cargo bay aren’t dead. At least not yet. And we’re desperately trying to find some method of waking them back up before they do pass on.”
Kurt considered what she was saying. “I checked several of them myself,” he replied. “They weren’t breathing. On my rounds, while I was waiting for the Italian military to arrive, I passed rooms filled with patients hooked up to EKGs: there were no heartbeats.”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m aware of that. But the fact is, they are breathing and their hearts are pumping blood. It’s just that their respiration is extremely shallow and occurring at long intervals, with less than one breath every two minutes on average. Their heart rates are hovering in the single digits and the ventricular contractions are so weak that a typical monitor won’t pick them up.”