by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 9 appeared
in issue 181.
In the somewhat distant future, Japanese and Arab emigrants share a small planet where they live in separate colonies. They name the planet Hon’ya, ‘world of books’ because the Arabs are a ‘people of the Book’. The Japanese colony into which Skoshi is born has reverted to ancient social norms whereby women are severely repressed and treated as chattel.
Nonetheless, Skoshi acquires an education by stealthily reading books from her father’s large library. While she contemplates with dread an arranged marriage, the premature death of her beloved younger brother frees her to flee with grandmother. A brilliant student, Skoshi integrates very successfully among foreigners in the Space Corps. But she and her grandmother are being pursued...
* * *
Lieutenant Ethan Frazier had never been speechless before in his life. And he certainly had never stared so hard at anyone. Why was Skoshi here? And why was she introducing herself as... Takshi Hara? Where was the rescue party? Ethan just stood there, with his mouth open, staring.
* * *
Skoshi was only slightly panicking. She knew that she was in to be court-martialed anyway, so what did it matter if impersonation was added to the charges of theft and mutiny? But still, she knew that she had a lot of work to do, medical work. And she also knew that some of these men would never let her near them if they knew she was a woman. “Lt. Frazier, can I speak to you a moment in private?” Skoshi asked, and then, not waiting for an answer, she pulled him into a corner. “Ethan,” she said, “Please don’t say anything about me being a girl! Most of these men are injured, and many of them won’t let me treat them if they know I’m a woman. I realize this is a shock to you... but I’ll explain later. We don’t have time now! How much water do you have? Food? Do you have any vacuum suits?”
“Skoshi... er... Takshi, where is the rest of the rescue party?”
“I’m it. I sort of... mutinied and stole a ship to get here.”
“What? You mutinied? You...” Ethan sat down hard. This was not the quiet, meek Skoshi he had known before. The Skoshi he knew couldn’t even fly a ship, let alone steal one. But then, the other Skoshi would not have been able to save their lives either. He sighed. “All right, I won’t say anything. We have no water left, it ran out yesterday, we have plenty of food, and our whiskey supply is never ending. We have enough vacuum suits for all of the men.”
“Why didn’t you use them?”
“Where would we go?”
“True. All right, who are the most injured of the party?” Skoshi asked. Ethan took her directly to the captain. Her face turned grim. “Ethan, there is some water in my pack, give every man here some, don’t be stingy, I have plenty. And bring me some bone sets and sleeper pills.”
Then she turned to the captain and spoke softly, telling him what she would have to do. He had a severely broken arm.
“Ethan, I’m going to need your help in this. I have to set his arm. It’s good that you didn’t try, you would have just made it worse. Fortunately, the doctor on my ship makes sure you know all your lessons very well. Have him swallow this pill, it will put him to sleep, making the job easier for us and much less painful for him.”
“Don’t you have tools that can set a bone? Mend anything?”
“Ethan, those are only in a fully equipped medical facility, and they aren’t exactly portable. You’re lucky I have what I do. Now hold his shoulder.”
Even though the captain slept, he still moaned when she quickly set his arm back into place. She then had to set three of his ribs, and sew up a couple of cuts.
“Ethan, there are fever reducers in my bag, get them and give him two. They also work as painkillers.”
And so she worked all night, as well as far into the next day. Setting bones, sewing cuts, administering antibiotics. All the time Ethan worked beside her. He watched her doing all the work in a efficient matter. She had changed in so many ways. She was confident and ordered the injured men around in a commanding way. Finally, Ethan thought, she was done.
“Ethan,” she called again, “come here and take your shirt off.”
Ethan blinked, “What? No.”
“Ethan, this was exactly what I was afraid of everyone doing. Now come here! You have a bunch of bruises and lacerations on your face and I’m sure you have some to match on your chest and back. Now get over here before I drag you!”
Ethan stared, was Skoshi actually getting... angry? He began taking his shirt off and moving toward the crate she was pointing to. Even though she was tiny in comparison to him, he had the funny feeling that she really would drag him over so she could treat him.
Skoshi examined his back; she gave an exasperated sigh and began scolding him as she applied stuff to his cuts. “Ethan, how did you expect... stop flinching! The stinging means it’s doing you good... How did you expect to take care of all these men when you didn’t take care of yourself? I can tell that you haven’t slept in days, your eyes are bloodshot.
“There,” she said, finishing the last cut. “Now, you go get some water and food, then I want you to get a glass of whiskey and drink it slowly, then lie down and sleep. And if I see you doing anything besides that in the next eight hours, I will knock you out. Don’t worry, I’ll watch over the men.”
“What about you? You need sleep as well.”
“I know. As soon as you wake up I’m going to do the same thing, especially sleep. Don’t worry.”
Skoshi then moved off to check on one of the men. Ethan marveled again at how different she was from that shy little mouse he knew. Now she reminded him more of her grandmother. She had grown stronger, but she was still herself. She was very gentle with the sick and injured men. And, thinking about it, Ethan believed he liked this stronger Skoshi a little better than the shy, quiet, and timid one. Ethan smiled as he moved off to do what she had told him. Good Irish whiskey was always a good idea.
For two weeks Skoshi and Ethan nursed the injured men. With Skoshi’s medical supplies, as well as her knowing and gentle hand, most of the sick and less seriously injured were soon fit again.
However, there was a man who would did not get well, the captain of the Reuben James was not on the mend. Though his breaks were healing, and the stitches had been removed from most of his cuts he still suffered from fever as well as severe aches and pains. Skoshi was sure that it was a form of Latron Radiation poisoning: he had all the symptoms, including nausea; it’s really amazing how much one man can throw up.
Skoshi and Ethan were both his devoted nurses. But they could do nothing but give him medication to lower the fever and pain level. The captain made almost no progress; he would drift in and out of consciousness. Skoshi and Ethan both knew that, again, if help did not come, or if they could not get help, it would be too late.
“Ethan, I think you should take the fit and able men with you and go to Keltar. I think that there is enough fuel, and then you can send back help to me and the men who can’t be moved,” Skoshi told Ethan one night.
“What? And leave you alone here, in this wreck? No sir, you can pilot a ship, you should take the men, and I’ll stay here with the captain.”
“Ethan, you have no medical experience. I don’t have much, but I have enough to handle any emergencies... I hope.” They were saved further discussion by the quite handy sound of the air lock cycling.
* * *
The Journeyman was within a day of the planet Keltar. When the first watch came on, their first order was to send a message to Keltar. The message would contain all information they had found on the Reuben James and most of the happenings around it. They had requested that ships leave immediately to help the wrecked ship. Within two hours the rescue ships were under way. They contained medical personnel, supplies and a fully equipped facility.
* * *
The chief surgeon on the medical ship Hippocratic sighed. He was not looking forward to this rescue. Most rescues were bloody, messy affairs. Men with unset bones, high fevers, open cuts, untreated radiation burns. No, rescue missions were not pleasant things. And he had a hunch this one would be worse than usual. A severely damaged ship, probably without food or water, and an ensign had gone to “help” them. Probably he would set the bones wrong, not sew up important cuts, and administer the wrong medicines.
When he received word that they had docked, he got up and gathered his supplies. When he reached the lock he stopped a moment to prepare himself for an ugly sight. Upon stepping through the lock, he saw not piles of dirty, injured and moaning men as well as vomit and refuse but men smiling, and laughing. He saw neat, clean bandages and not a crooked arm or leg in sight. In the corner of the room he saw one man lying on the ground, obviously with a fever, but he seemed to be the only one who was truly sick.
Watching over the man in the corner there were two men, officers it looked like. The surgeon walked over to them. “Excuse me, is this the ship in need of rescue?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” the younger man answered.
“Are you sure? This is the least distressed ship I have ever seen. Which one of you is the ensign who flew over to help?”
Again the younger man spoke, “I am, sir. I seemed to have helped most of the men, but the captain needs a professional examination. I set his arm and a couple of ribs, but his fever is still high. I’m afraid it might be Latron Radiation poisoning.”
The Surgeon bent down. “Yes, and you did a good job on that arm, too. Tell me,” he asked, as he examined the captain, “have you ever considered transferring to the medical wing of the Corps? You should. Yes, definitely radiation poisoning.”
Turning to his helpers he gave instructions as to how the captain was to be treated. He then turned and began examining the rest of the men.
After all the men had been examined, he supervised the relocation to the ship. Especially as regards the Irish whiskey. Over the next few days he had his hands full with the captain. But despite the radiation poisoning, gradually, after a series of treatments, the captain began to mend.
The Surgeon returned to the other men. As he had noted, they were in excellent shape. He also noticed that the young man, Mr. Hara was his name, was almost constantly in the infirmary. Not because of the doctor himself — all he had needed was a good night’s sleep — but because of the men. He would bring them books and games. He would write letters for them, deliver cards. He always seemed to find something new for them, something to amuse the few men who were still convalescing.
When he was gone the room would be abuzz about what “Our Mr. Hara” had brought, and there was bets and guesses as to what he would bring next. Whenever Mr. Hara entered the room it seemed to brighten. And the surgeon noticed that Mr. Hara was always gentle with the men. If there were bad news from home he would soften it somehow. If they had a pain he would find where it was and get someone to treat it. In fact, some of the men had taken to calling him “Dr. Hara.” The surgeon had a hunch, that if the young man ever entered the medical field he would go very far.
Not for the first time in her life did Skoshi wish she were a man: she could enter the Medical Corps. But she knew that she would not escape detection long if doctors surrounded her. Still, she could learn as much as she could. She spent most of her spare time in the infirmary. She always had something for the men, even if it was just a new joke she had heard.
After the captain of the Reuben James was well enough for visitors she spent a great deal of time there. He was a very nice man who was quick with a joke or smile. She would be sad to leave this ship.
Finally they reached Keltar. She was anxious to get off the ship and find James and her Grandmother, whom she had missed. After the rest of the men had left the ship, she and Ethan went with the captain to the hospital for his last treatment. After it was done and he had said goodbye to them, he asked Skoshi if he could talk to her for a moment.
When they were outside he said, “Takshi, when I was so sick on the ship I heard you and Ethan talking, I heard him call you Skoshi. And, I just want to tell you, Ethan is a fine boy, he’ll make you happy. Goodbye.” And then he walked off smiling.
Skoshi stared after him. He knew, but somehow she wasn’t worried. He knew, but he wouldn’t tell. She turned and looked back at Ethan. Yes, she thought, he was a nice boy.
When the Journeyman docked, the captain, as well as the first officer Mr. Granger were called to the office of the governor. Understandably, they were a bit concerned about it.
“Ah, gentlemen,” the governor greeted them; he was a short man, with a large girth and blue, piercing eyes. The captain had a hard time imagining this man flying that sporty little ship. “What’s this rumor I hear about you letting a ensign fly that little ship? False, isn’t it?”
The captain cleared his throat, “Well sir... um, um... No. I’m afraid it is not false.”
The governor looked at them. “Oh, I see. I had hoped it was a false rumor. It would make things so much less complicated.”
The Captain paled a little, for a lawyer to talk about complications is not a good thing. “Mr. Governor, I assure you that Mr. Hara will not harm your ship. He is an excellent pilot, I taught him myself.”
“I see, and did you teach him how to spend years paying off a ship if he so much as gets a speck on it?”
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Allen