Dr. Iwamine fluffed out his feathers, contemplating his patient with deep annoyance. The Luzon dove lay pinioned in white gauze, nearly catatonic. The most recent self-inflicted wounds seemed to have stopped bleeding, although there was still a danger of infection in the one where the point of the mapping pen had snapped off. If anything, that had been a stroke of luck, as that had blunted the pen just before it was stabbed at Iwamine.
Iwamine added a careful note to his records from the previous day. "Subject emphatically insists on the name 'Higure Anghel'. Do not address him as 'Akagi Yoshio'."
When Iwamine waved a light over the bed, the unbandaged eye failed to track it, and yet the dove's beak had a constant subtle tremor of whispering his useless prayers. "Rosa mystica, ora pro nobis... janua caeli, ora pro nobis... stella matunina, ora pro nobis... regina angelorum, ora pro nobis..."
Iwamine added a small dose of stimulant to the IV drip, enough from previous experience to induce a narrow projective field of whatever Anghel might be hallucinating. The heart monitor's regular beeps quickened slightly, but nothing else happened. Despite the automatic litanies, his mind now seemed completely blank.
At least this was an improvement on the hypersensory apocalypse from the trigger experiment. Abstractly, it was intriguing how Anghel had combined traditional religious imagery with features of the underground complex around them, although some aspects still puzzled Iwamine. (It might be legitimately upsetting to be locked inside a room full of flames, but it made no sense that the worst part of that vision would be someone pounding on the other side of the door screaming to be let in.) However, the hallucinations had been quite an unpleasant experience while actually in progress, and Iwamine had quickly removed himself to a safe distance outside Anghel's projection radius.
And now, it seemed Anghel had nothing left in his mind to project. A waste of resources and effort, as useless as those prayers.
Iwamine began to mentally review the usual methods of liquidation, but another thought came to him. One final chance to use this tool to further the cause of science.
Iwamine still had a box of feathers from that final field expedition together. Perhaps some of them contained traces of the lethal virus they'd been investigating.
For the next few hours, he extracted and purified DNA from the last feathers he'd collected. It was well past midnight by the time he injected it into Anghel, along with an experimental combination of both stimulants and sedatives to balance the mental projections against physical frenzy.
Iwamine sat by Anghel's bedside and waited.
Anghel is dreaming. He knows he is dreaming. He would much rather see the dream world than the real one, even if the dream world is blank and silent like the inside of an eggshell.
But now the eggshell is dissolving around him to show a warm blue sky above him, and a warm blue sea beneath. He is poised perfectly between them on a small raft, where he blinks his eyes open to see a partridge at his side. There are cormorants in the water in front of them, pulling the raft as they swim.
The partridge strongly resembles Dr. Iwamine, but somehow Anghel does not fear him. Anghel feels very tired, and a bit wistful about things left undone, but he does not feel afraid. When Anghel opens his mouth, his voice and words do not belong to him.
"Hey... good morning, Isa. We're on the ferry, aren't we?"
"Yes. We'll reach the main island in less than an hour. If their hospital can't treat you, we can catch a flight straight back home."
"You shouldn't be changing our schedule like this-"
"Sir. I am not letting you die."
Anghel sighs, weakly flexing his black-barred grey wings. "Did you bring all of the specimens I'd already collected? I'd like to look through them again."
The partridge Isa nods, and begins to rummage through a hastily-packed travel bag. Anghel stares out to sea, enjoying the cool flecks of foam on the tropical breeze. By the time Isa hands him the specimen box, Anghel has made up his mind.
As Anghel sorts through the sealed envelopes of individual feathers, he lightly says, "You know, I think this disease may be another human bio-weapon. It seems to be optimized for killing doves, spreading from one live host to another. It works slowly enough that we can fly around for weeks and spread it to others, but the virus completely self-destructs as soon as the host dies. Other animals, even other birds, are completely immune- not just because their immune system breaks it down, but because it can't survive in them at all. So at least you can't spread it to anyone else when we get back."
"I suppose not." The partridge does not seem to care.
"Me, on the other hand... once we reach shore, I could infect every dove on the main island. From there, they could get onto an international flight with other passengers before they show any symptoms. If you take me all the way back to Japan..."
"We can set up a quarantine area for you with only non-columbiform medical staff."
"It's too risky, Isa." So many feathers. Where is that single one he's looking for?
"Sir," the partridge stubbornly repeats. "I am not letting you die. If I have to, I'll tend you by myself, alone, until you're well again. I can find a treatment, I know I can-"
"Perhaps," Anghel says, at last finding the right envelope. "But I don't think you can do it before we reach land." The shore is growing nearer, with the dark green shimmer of leaves and the cry of seagulls. He smiles at Isa one last time, unseals the envelope, and puts the pitohui feather in his mouth.
Iwamine woke suddenly, lurching off-balance from the unequal force of his own wings. He'd fallen asleep, and the nightmare had been strong enough to cause a startle-flight reflex. Nightmare, or memory... he remembered lunging across the raft, trying to tear the feather out of Kawara's beak, but the rock dove had died even before the partridge could reach him.
So, Iwamine thought. Kawara was right again after all, damn him. The vision had provided no useful information about the virus from his own feathers. Though perhaps this form of psychic telemetry could be useful after all...
Iwamine shook his head to finish clearing away the fog of sleep, and at last realized that the nightmare had not been the only thing to awaken him. The heart monitor's regular beeps had turned into a monotonous flatline drone.
On the way back from the lake, Iwamine encountered the human girl, and her inconvenient primate night vision.
"Dr. Iwamine? Why is there mud on your wing?"
"I was throwing something away. Something that I no longer needed."
[A/N Wikipedia quote: "Batrachotoxins (BTX) are extremely potent cardiotoxic and neurotoxic steroidal alkaloids found in certain species of frogs (poison dart frog), melyrid beetles, and birds (Pitohui, Ifrita kowaldi, Colluricincla megarhyncha). They are the most potent non-peptidal neurotoxins known."