I did make money with that healing. And though I was expecting it, the stone did not try to halt me. It wanted to make people better. Loctus was pleased with her twenty percent. Gaeven was grateful that I asked Loctus if she could be my helper. The owner of the bar agreed. Anything, I think, to keep me happy and there earning her money for something she did not do.
I asked Gaeven, "Why aren't there more like me on this planet? Why aren't they doing any healing?"
"Most of them head for the bigger cities. Some of them get quite famous and not with just curing ills either. They become musicians, singers, writers . . .."
"You have to have emotions to write," I protested.
She shrugged. "Some of them head off world."
I thought, "Which is what I'm going to do, just as soon as I get the chance."
An old man came in after three days. There was always a line. I saw him leaning on one of the others, and made Gaeven bring him in first. No one protested although I was prepared for that. I could tell he was dying. His face was pale grey. He was weak. His eyes were dull, sunken. Gaeven led him to the chair, helped him sit. The old man looked up at me. "I'm dying. I need your healing, but all I have to offer is this treasure map. It's yours if you help me."
I looked back at him. "Treasure map?"
"Yes. It's for this planet, over in the dead city on the Alpina plain. I had planned on going there, excavating, but I'm too ill to do anything about it."
"Are you well enough to answer a few questions?"
I doubted it but to say so would be to call him a liar. I've noticed that people do not take kindly to being called deceivers. "Who are you?"
"Dr. X'Aviar Cor."
"Are you native to this planet?" Gaeven giggled. I looked at her.
"He is," she told me. "I've seen his picture in the papers. He digs in the soil."
"It's more than just digging," he argued.
I asked him, "What kind of treasure is it?"
"Artifacts. Very old, very valuable."
"Where did you get this map?" I asked him.
"I found it in an old library. I was investigating something else and discovered it."
"If I help you, and if that map is real, will you agree to go with us?"
"Go with you?" His faded, blue eyes seemed puzzled. "You want me to go with you?"
"I don't want the whole treasure or anything valuable to you. I just want enough money to leave this world. I assume some of the things can be sold."
"All of it. The museums and universities will buy everything we find."
"Then, will you go with us?"
His eyes lit up. Then he shrunk back down into himself, so obviously debilitated. "Yes!"
So I touched him and the stone healed him. It took longer than it usually did but I saw the life returning to his eyes, to the way he held his body. I swear he seemed to loose a few years as well but it might have been whatever illness he had that made him look older. For one second, I too was tired and then that vanished but the gemstone refused to do any more healing that night. The people who waited were disappointed but they left quietly.
Loctus was upset when she learned what I had done. She stared at me, incredulous. "You healed him for a map?"
Her eyes snapped with anger. "And what do I get out of this?"
"All the money I earned tonight. Does that sound fair?"
Placated, she nodded. "Yes.
X'Aviar came to me then. "Thank you."
"It wasn't me."
"I know; it was the Heart Stone, but the only way I have of thinking it is by thanking you." I nodded at his logic, his truth. "When do we start?"
"How soon can you get everything we need lined up? I've never been on an excavation before and I assume you have."
"Loads of them. I can have everything ready by the end of this week. Do I contact you here?"
"Yes." Satisfied, he left. I watched him go, hoping I had not done anything stupid.
I worked all week, earning money, but it was a meager yielding for the people who came were poor. I yearned to get off this planet, continue my search for my father. I wanted desperately to find him, to look him in the eye, but every time I reached where he was, he was already gone. I waited impatiently for X'Aviar to return. The gem was healing a child when he entered the bar, almost walking on air. His eyes sparkled with vitality. He waited until the gem had finished.
"Everything is ready," he said as the mother led the child away, a very hungry, little boy. He sat down at the table next to me.
I asked, "Can we go tomorrow morning?"
"How long will we be gone?" He told me we would be gone about a week. We sat down and went over the map. He pointed out the work area. We discussed his plans. Gaeven, by my side, listened avidly.
"John wants to go," she said as X'Aviar rolled up the map.
"Why?" I asked her.
"He used to do digging back in school. He likes getting dirt beneath his nails. And he has a friend, Alphonse, who is interested. Can they come?"
I looked at X'Aviar and he nodded. "Yes," I agreed. She smiled hugely. I told X'Aviar, "You're the Master. You have the knowledge. You make the decisions."
He seemed very pleased. "Thank you!"
Now all I had to do was tell Loctus I would be gone at least a week. I didn't think she'd take it very well.
The heat beat down on my head. I wiped perspiration away with the back of my hand. The zeeras squealed as one got too close to another and they nipped at each other. They had been unloaded of the things they carried and were safe in an enclosure. I had finished putting down fodder and filling their buckets with water. I watched Gaeven and John talking softly by the tents. I watched her laughing in joy. Alphonse and X'Aviar were speaking at the work table. I saw X'Aviar nod in agreement. Maybe bringing Alphonse wasn't a mistake. I had had my doubts. Gaeven had automatically took over the cooking for our group of six for X'Aviar had brought a young man with him to do the heavy digging. It seems the Pipecs always covered their death vaults with a heavy overlay of dirt, to shield their caches from public eye. The entrance would be a foot down, if X'Aviar were correct and I had no reason to suspect he wasn't.
I walked over to X'Aviar and Alphonse. They stopped talking to look at me in curiosity.
"The animals are fed and watered; the food and water are secure," I informed them. Alphonse viewed me with inquisitiveness. He had watched me a lot since he was came into the group. He smiled at me. He did not try to hide that he was interested in me as a woman. It could go no further than him being fascinated. The gem wouldn't allow that. I gave him a little nod.
"We start excavating tomorrow," X'Aviar told me. "The heavy digging will be out of the way by then."
I nodded and turned to go. Alphonse hurried to me, walked in companionship next to me. "They say you're a Heart's Blood."
"I've never met one before."
"Neither have I."
I think that disconcerted him for he grew quiet. I went into the tiny tent I shared with Gaeven. I saw his shadow on the canvas wall, just standing there for a second or two, and then watched it leave.
That night at dinner, he sat next to me. "What can you do?"
"Nothing." I sipped my water.
"But . . ."
"You should ask her what the Heart Stone can do," Gaeven told him.
I stood up, my dinner only half eaten. Because I had no desire to speak about that rock, I told him, "If you're so curious, ask the stone." And then I left them, going to the tent. I lay on the bed, listening to them laugh and talk. The night wind was coming up. It rattled the door flap, the tent material. A gentipol walked across my cot. Because I knew it was not dangerous, I simply watched it for a moment. It looked like a walking stick. Not wanting to kill it, I simply picked it up and placed it on the floor. It scurried away.
Gaeven came in carrying a plate of food and a cup of water. "I've brought your dinner. You didn't eat all of it."
I sat up, my stomach growling. "Thank you." I took the plate and cup. "I am hungry."
She yawned. "I haven't done anything but I think I can sleep for a year!" The tent flaps shook. "We might get a storm tonight." She lay back on her bed. She fell asleep. I finished eating and took the plate and cup out to the table. The sky were full of stars. Their pattern was different of course. The moon was out. Clouds rushing in on the wind obscured it every so often. I stood there, looking at the area where we would be tomorrow. The worker had done a good job with his digging.
"I thought I heard someone out here," Alphonse said from behind me. I turned slowly. He smiled at me. "Can't sleep?"
"I'm not tired." I took a step away from him, back towards my tent.
"Don't go. I thought we could sit and talk."
"About what?" My tone was cool but the anger bubbling up quickly vanished as my fingertips went to the gem embedded in my body.
"If you want to talk about the stone, forget it."
"Then we won't talk about it. Please stay." He motioned towards the table. I sat down. He talked about his earlier life, the time before he came to this world. He ended with, "My world was on a massive economic downfall, so when they came and asked if any of us wanted to join the Battalion and leave to work at docks on other worlds, many of us signed up."
"And you ended up on this planet?"
"Well, actually, this is the third world. One had a war and we were evacuated and the other simply closed down their port. So, what about you? I can see you're human."
"My father was. My mother was Nanrobi." Fleeting thoughts of the pain I had experienced because I wasn't pure blood dissipated as the gem took it away. My own grandparents had treated me like filth. They treated my mother even worse. None of that was his concern. That was between me and my father. I did tell him, "My mother died two years ago. I've been searching for my father ever since."
"I hope you find him. Family is important. My parents died when I was young. I was raised in an orphanage. I missed having a mom and a dad."
"I should be going to bed. We're supposed to be up before the sun tomorrow and I have to feed and water the animals." He seemed disappointed but he nodded. When I left, he was still sitting there, lost in thought.