Have y’all missed me? I am soooo sorry for missing the last two weeks. As I said in my announcement post, I have been very ill with some chronic digestive problems. So I went to the doctor, and from there to get some tests done, and finally, after two years, we have a diagnosis: hiatal hernia. I don’t find out what the long term treatment plans are until my next appointment, which is on Halloween. What a way to spoil my favorite holiday, right? But I can’t really complain; I’m exceedingly tired of being ill, and the weight loss that I’ve been enduring is starting to get scary (I’m thirty pounds underweight, which is wreaking havoc on my heart and liver, not to mention deflating my own muscle mass).
While I waited to do the tests and waited for the palliative medications to kick in, I couldn’t focus on writing too much; I was just in too much pain, and too busy hurling. So I crawled into my pillow fort and spent my time reading books and surfing the Internet. Found a few treasures I’ll be sharing on Friday, which will be more Fun than usual.
Real quick: y’all recall me talking about the Decoder Ring Theater podcasts of New Pulp? Yeah, I’m not going to rehash my review; go back and read the post if your memory is spotty on the subject. I think I mentioned that Gregg Taylor, the writer of the Red Panda audio drama, has written several tie-in pieces for the show, including both comic books and novels? Well, I broke down and read them during my hiatus. The comic books were okay, but the novels were good fun. There are four novels available at the moment: The Crime Cabal, The Android Assassins, the Mind Master, and The Pyramid of Peril (dig the alliterative titles) Read CC on Saturday, and the other three on Sunday. My personal favorites were the Pyramid of Peril (cuz Egypt and mummies! YAY!) and Mind Master (just cuz it was fun). They’re very light reading, no hard depth, no heavy mysteries, no significant character development (they save that for the radio show, I guess). Just a rollicking adventure, light brain candy. Quick reads (about ninety minutes each for me, but I’m a fast reader), and lots of fun. I recommend them if you’re in the mood for a tongue-in-cheek Shadow pastiche.
Okay, enough randomness. Time to get back to business. I owe you an installment of Fortuna and company. Without further ado, here comes…..
Cat Like Tread
Five minutes found Helen back in the medical bay. Andi sat at the low table that was currently serving as her office; she was poring over the scrolling text on her computer screen.
“What’s this about a quarantine?” said Helen, panting as she came in the door.
“What’s with you?” said Andi, swiveling her chair until she was facing the door and Helen.
“I’m getting too old for climbing all those stairs between the Bridge and your office,” said Helen.
“You’re twenty nine, Helen. You’re not ‘too old’ for anything except diapers and adolescent hyperbole,” Andi sneered.
Helen nodded. “Point. Now, what’s this about a quarantine?”
“Pull up a chair, Granny Grunt, and I’ll show you,” said Andi. Helen hooked a rolling chair with her foot, dragged it over to her, and straddled it, resting her arms on the chair back. She leaned forward, reading over Andi’s shoulder.
“According to the comm report, Alberada Mining Hub number 114 — that’s the outermost space station in this system — has been closed to all external ship traffic, whatever that means, due to — and this is all it says — ‘a viral outbreak.’ Whatever the hell that means. I’m starting to go cross-eyed from all the vague-speak.”
“Closed to external ship traffic means that the mining ships that are based out of Station 114 can come and go as they please, but can’t land anywhere but their home base. Ships from outside – supply ships, ore transports, etcetera — are barred from approaching the station,” said Helen. “That way mining ships can continue their runs out into the asteroid belt without violating quarantine.”
“Okay, that kinda makes sense,” said Andi. “But the ‘viral outbreak’ explanation makes even less sense. Why be so vague? When you came in, I was trying to hack the station medical logs, so I can unvague that whole ‘outbreak’ thing.”
“You can ask Casey to help,” Helen suggested.
“Pass,” Andi said, scowling.
“Your problem,” said Helen with a shrug. She didn’t stand up from her chair; she merely pushed off with her feet, rolling her across the room to a wall comm panel. She touched it. “Medbay to Bridge, Mac, anything new up there?”
“Casey’s started quoting Shakespeare,” Mac answered, his voice filtered and staticky through the tiny speaker.
“Uh oh. What play?” said Helen.
“Ummm….Yeah, it’s Henry V; he’s auditioning for Falstaff again,” said Mac.
“Oh, good. Falstaff I can deal with; it always puts him in a good mood. Just so long as it’s not Titus Andronicus. You remember what happened last time.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Mac. “What did Andi say about the quarantine?”
“Very little. Which of the mining stations are we closest to?” said Helen.
“Stand by….” Helen could hear beeps and clicks as Mac consulted his console. “Yeah, looks like it’s number 114; we’re practically on top of it, only two hours out at our present speed. Next one out is 115, and that’s sixteen hours out. You want me to alter course to dock with 114?”
“No! That’s the one under quarantine,” said Helen. “What’s our present course?”
“There’s another jump gate about 48 hours away, nearest station 116; I altered course for those coordinates as soon as I located it. I’m hoping we can jump out of here before those Alliance ships figure out how we traveled off beacon and find their way here,” said Mac.
“I’m in!” called Andi from her position at the computer.
“Great! Give me a second,” Helen said over her shoulder. “Mac is there any way we can shorten the travel time?”
“Yeah. We can make the distance in about 4 hours, but we’ll eat up all our extra fuel doing it; I don’t like the idea of being stranded out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.”
Helen sighed. “You’re right, Mac. Stay on our current course and speed. Slow but safe. And if those Alliance cruisers make an appearance, let me know, okay?”
“Just listen for me screaming like a little girl,” said Mac. “Bridge out.”
Helen toggled off the comm panel and pushed off again, rolling back over to Andi. “You said you were in?”
Andi’s default facial expression was stuck on “scowl,” but now she looked even more perturbed than usual. “Yeah, I’m in, and this doesn’t make any sense,” she said, pointing at the computer display. “This thing says it’s a level two quarantine, which is what I’d expect for an outbreak of meth-resist necrotizing fungal colitis, which basically turns your small intesting into goo over the course of a screaming agony of a week.”
“Let me preface this by saying, ‘eww! I didn’t need to know that.’ But what about this quarantine forced you to put that horrible image into my brain?” said Helen.
“If I’m reading this correctly,” said Andi, pointing to a block of text on the screen. “they’re issued a level two quarantine for an outbreak of Gerner’s Pox.”
“Gerner’s — wait, what?”
“You heard me the first time,” said Andi.
“That’s a kid’s disease! I had Gerner’s Pox when I was six years old. I caught it from Mac, who caught it from some kid in day camp,” said Helen. “The sore throat sucked, but it was the itching that nearly drove me mad. My dad wrapped my hands in bandages so I wouldn’t scratch at night. If I scratched and broke those blisters, everywhere the pus touched would start itching even more. And every broken blister left behind a pockmark scar; I have a dozen or so, mostly on my hips and back, where the bedclothes rubbed me.”
“That sounds about right. And I did the same thing; I had it when I was four years old,” said Andi. “Ninety percent of reported cases involve pre-adolescent children. Maybe one percent of those kids suffer major complications or long term effects, and even then, it’s mostly the kids who are immuno-compromised, or kids who didn’t receive any sort of treatment, like on some of the religious colonies that reject modern medicine. Point one percent of cases are fatal. Among adult cases, there is a marginally higher chance of complications — usually sterility — but even then, there’s only like a two percent chance of fatality.”
“So why quarantine an entire space station for a relatively harmless children’s disease?” said Helen.
“Exactly the question I’ve been asking myself,” said Andi. “I’ve put out a call to the station medical officer. Having to use realspace bandwidths though. They’ve locked out civilian communication on the ansible.”
“Realspace bandwidths? That’s gonna take forever,” said Helen. She pushed back over to the comm panel. “Medbay to the Bridge. Mac, Andi needs an ansible channel to contact the space station. Can she use one of the navigation priority channels?”
“It’s okay with me, but if she gets caught, that’s a thousand mark fine for every minute,” said Mac.
“We’ll be quick,” said Helen. “Hey, real quick: has Casey ever had Gerner’s Pox?”
“Stand by,” said Mac.
Helen could hear a brief exchange, too muffled to understand. A moment later, Mac’s voice came over the comm: “Yeah, he says he had it when he was a baby,” he said. “He also said if you play connect the dots with the pox scars on his belly, you get a drawing of the Flying Dutchman.”
Helen rolled her eyes. “I bet he actually did connect the dots.” She sighed.”Just give us that channel.”
“You got it. I’ll route access to Andi’s station. Mac and Wanna-Be Falstaff out.”
Helen toggled the comm panel and spun the chair around so she was looking at Andi. “That should help, Andi. Just hurry; we can’t afford to be fined.”
“Have you forgotten the part of job description that says criminals? We don’t pay fines, remember?” said Andi.
“I don’t mind going up against security teams, police forces; I even like tweaking the government’s nose from time to time. But two people I don’t piss off if I can possibly help it: Imperial Revenue, and the Ansible Communications, Inc. Some sharks are just too big and scary.”
“Chicken,” said Andi.
“Guilty,” said Helen. Over Andi’s shoulder she saw a dialog box pop up on the computer screen. “There’s your ansible channel. Make it count.”
Andi turned around and began tapping the keyboard. Helen leaned forward to rest her chin on her folded arms. She didn’t like this. One or two things going astray was just typical bad luck; but this many made her paranoid. There had to be something she was missing. What was it?
Okay, so I think that’s it for me today. Look for me on Wednesday with an installment of horror and fun. In the meantime, write, share, comment, tweet. If you have a treat for Fun Friday, don’t hesitate to contact me through my email, twitter or Facebook (all of which are linked on my About AJ page).
Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!