About Space & Time
The Galaxy is a big place. No matter how well you prepare, you aren’t ready for it.
Jregli thought she was tricking someone into buying her; she got more than a new Master. Shdr’edno thought he was buying a machine, and he got a slave who outsmarts him at every turn. Frank Neim thought he was pursuing a military career, and he got an opportunity to fail. Their lives collide as they try to survive Space & Time.
A sharp knock on the door frame of his office startled Lieutenant Dr. Greenwich from his intense concentration. Jumping slightly, he had to refocus his eyes to make out who stood there.
“Commander!” He stood up quickly, knocking his chair backwards and spilling a stack of memopads. “Good to see you, sir!” He grabbed the ‘pads and tried to restack them. Neim chuckled.
“Good to see you, Sam,” he replied. “What’s got you scowling so hard? You look like you think ‘biological warfare’ involves hand-to-hand combat!”
“Ah, sorry about that; just … ah, caught up in some research, you know?” Greenwich combed his pale brown hair back from his face self-consciously.
“Oh? What’s caught your fancy now?” Neim scratched his own close-cropped locks casually.
“Ah, well, I really can’t say, sir. Patient privacy, you know.”
“Say no more; I get the drift.” Neim smiled crookedly. “Well, I’m just in for my quarterly physical, and I don’t have much time, so I’ll leave you to your research and get on with my check-up. Oh, you up for some fishing this weekend?”
“Umm … I think so, but let me double-check my calendar …” Greenwich located his chair, tugged it to the desk, and plopped down in it. After a moment, he’d brought up his schedule on the console display and glanced over it. “Yes, I do have two hours tomorrow afternoon. Say 1445 at the officer’s rec room?” He glanced back up at Neim.
“Sounds good. I’ll reserve the ‘tainment units when I get done here. See you then!” He waved and was gone. Greenwich waved halfheartedly and chuckled to himself. He and Frank Neim had known each other for years, ever since they’d served at the Randaran Post. It had been his first Post out of his residency, and the last year of his stay there had been Neim’s first. Their mutual love of cavefishing provided the introduction, and they’d found other shared interests since. Fishing would be a relaxing distraction from his current problem.
He just didn’t know enough about Yerbrans. Not about their physiology, and not about their culture. The young Yerbran he’d treated a short while ago had bothered him deeply. No, he was more than bothered; he was horrified. The last time he’d encountered someone with so much physical damage had been the time he served with a Marine Battalion, and those injuries had been earned through combat. The Yerbran who’d been his patient looked like she’d been torn apart and glued back together backwards.
She had come in with two Hunsids, which had surprised him greatly. Greenwich had been in his office when they arrived and realized that only Hunsids could make that kind of ruckus, so he had hurried to the waiting room. It looked like they had forcibly dragged her to the Med Center, and they were in a towering rage. What surprised him, actually, was not that they had decided to “adopt” someone from another Race. He knew that Hunsids tended to latch onto anyone they liked; in fact, Greenwich himself could claim a tenuous kinship to a clan for his treatment of one of their own who had come down with a nasty virus. That had been, what, six years ago? No, what surprised him was that there were only two of them. He had never seen Hunsids travel in family groups of less than ten.
Though he was not surprised to see a Hunsid “adoptee,” he was intrigued that they had chosen a Yerbran. Yerbrans were as unaffectionate as the Hunsids were over-affectionate. Two more different Races he could not imagine. But that was immaterial, and if he stood there gawking one second longer, the two before him would have started throwing things.
“I’m Dr. Greenwich,” he walked forward to meet them, saving the receptionist, who was too fresh from her Home world to know how to handle Hunsids with an injured family member. Dinnie was an excellent receptionist but tended to get overwhelmed by new things; it was better to let her sit this one out. “How may I be of service?”
“This is our sister, Jregli,” the one on the left announced flatly. Greenwich blinked. They actually claimed her for their sister? Usually, they called other sentients they “adopted” kin-sister, kin-cousin, or something like that. Oh, boy. “She is injured; her hands are severely infected!” He thrust the wrist he held forward, jerking the Yerbran slightly, and turned the palm up. His brother mimicked his movement, and Greenwich obligingly examined the Yerbran’s hands.
“You’re right; these lacerations do need attention,” he soothed, glancing up at the patient in question. That gave him his first shock of the afternoon. The first of many. Somehow, he instantly recognized that it was a very young child who stood before him, and his next realization was that she was badly frightened. Greenwich had never seen a Yerbran who wasn’t fully grown, and never had he seen one less than nine SS-UH tall. This child was a little over six and shook like the proverbial leaf in the wind. He could see the tension in her body, and he could see nearly every bone in her body. The child had been starved; in fact, it might have been the worst case of malnutrition he had ever seen.
“I will see to filling out the required forms,” said the Hunsid on the right, “so that you may begin treating her immediately.” He looked just as upset as his brother, but he was holding up better, was in better control of himself. Greenwich pegged him for the level-headed “diplomatic” half of the Twins, which would make the one on the left the “protector” and more volatile Twin, and decided he could probably keep himself together long enough to not scare Dinnie witless.
“That sounds fine,” he said calmly. “Dinnie will help you with the forms while I treat your sister’s injuries.” He had a feeling that there would be more to treat than just her hands, which looked absurdly large for her body and whose claws were rough and cracked, an indication of improper nutrition and lack of cholecalciferol — or whatever the Yerbran equivalent of vitamin D was. He’d never seen a Yerbran with less than pristine claws, and his concern mounted exponentially.
As a medical professional, Greenwich had learned how to distance himself empathetically from his patients so that he could focus on treating and healing them rather than on the emotional trauma that so easily distracted both patient and family. He didn’t make himself not care, and he certainly wasn’t unkind to them, but he’d learned to let the emotions slide away from him. It was a defensive measure that everyone in medicine practiced; they had to, or they would be completely consumed by the tragedies they saw every single day. Even Fluerans, the most unemotional Race in the Mutuality, had to keep extra distance in their hearts and minds to be able to help sick and hurting sentients on a regular basis.
Treating the Yerbran girl (he determined that after a quick glance at her feet, which had no spurs at the heels indicating the male gender) was one of the hardest cases he’d ever worked. It was worse than his first post-battle triage of the 673rd Marine Battalion, when he was still green enough to think that wars didn’t really hurt people that badly. His horror then had been due to his ignorance and his innocence. A decade later, his horror was due to his knowledge and experience. And he had known from the moment the girl spoke up that he had never come across anything like this.
“Oh, please, it’s not that bad!” she had protested pathetically. Her voice was like gravel, indicating a malformation in her vocal membranes, likely due to lack of proper lubrication by the mucous glands. “I was just clumsy; I tripped and scratched myself, that’s all!” She tried in vain to free her wrists. “There’s no need for all this fuss!” She spoke excellent Mutual for one so young. Then Greenwich had the thought that she might be older than she looked. Malnourishment didn’t allow children of any Race to grow properly.
“Well, if it’s not bad, then it won’t take but a few moments to clean them up and get you on your way,” Greenwich had said with calm he did not quite feel as he ushered the patient, dragged by her smaller “brother”, into a room. “If you would just hop up on the table and make yourself comfortable, I’ll get this over with.”
It wasn’t hard to convince the Hunsid (named Harvit) when the girl had admitted to never having had a full physical that Greenwich should thoroughly examine her. She kept cringing and protesting, though her protests grew weaker after a while. In fact, she seemed frighteningly resigned by the time Greenwich was done. When the other brother showed up and introduced himself as Hevrit, Greenwich had nodded politely and finished the examination. He had disinfected the girl’s hands and sealed them with a bonding medical wrap and given instructions for their care. He had also prescribed some of the basic nutrient supplements and an antibiotic to help with the healing. And then came the hard part. Who did he reveal his findings to?
The Hunsids claimed her as family, but she was legally the ward of Shdr’edno nn’ ‘Ovvunnith, who apparently ran one of the better eateries on the Station. Both the Hunsids and the girl obviously did not care for him and did not “want to bother him” with the knowledge of “their sister’s” condition. The girl was terrified of her uncle while the Hunsids were disgusted by him. The problem was that she was both his legal ward and an officially adopted family member of a Hunsid clan; Greenwich had been quick to note that in the file Dinnie had created. This was shaping up to be a nasty custody case. And someone had to be told just how bad off the girl was. Frankly, Greenwich didn’t know how the child was still alive, and he didn’t have high hopes that she could live much longer.
Most of the long bones in her body had “greenstick” fractured at least once, and none of them had healed properly. Chronic blunt trauma to her thoracic and lumbar vertebra and upper caudal vertebra had caused permanent damage to her tissues, nerves, and overall bony architecture, resulting in malformation, stage three degenerative arthrosis, and atrophy to those systems. The gross osteochondral deposition at her main areas of trauma had effectively capped her growth plates, which meant that her tail in particular would not be able to grow much longer. That would be a problem; Yerbrans needed their tails to balance when they ran or jumped, which they did a lot of.
Integumentary depletions made her scales thin and weak, offering no protection to her desiccated skin, which was badly scarred. Her muscles were acutely underdeveloped, and she had depletion of her adipose tissues, which resulted in no reserves of subcutaneous or visceral fat, even on the pads of her feet, which were supposed to be the last reserve for any Yerbran. The resulting catabolysis gave her the extreme wasted look as her muscles were metabolized to compensate for her lack of caloric intake.
The doctor shook his head angrily.