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“Good morning, Captain Aspen.”

“Mmmn?” I open my eyes and blink blearily at the person standing over me.

The doctor looks a lot sharper without the drugs in its system. It’s cleaned up, shaved its matted hair a lot more neatly than I did to my own, and dressed in a white wrap gown in what I’m pretty sure is an Arborea Pacifica style. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” I sit up, and wince. My injuries had been restrapped (presumably more competently) while I slept, but moving my torso still hurt.

The doctor pushes a small cup of water and two pills into my hand. “I studied your medical files while you were sleeping. I recommend that you take these, for pain and swelling. You’ve probably done damage to that ankle by walking around on it so much.” It frowns. “Why didn’t you use a crutch?”

“Broken arm,” I remind it.

“Ah. Right. This friend’s advice here is that we take fresh X-rays to ensure that the bones haven’t moved out of place, and cement it. We also have biodegradeable flexplates for your ribs, which is a more invasive procedure but would make the healing process far more comfortable for you.”

“You can’t cement ribs?”

To the doctor’s credit, only the barest flicker of an expression flitting across its face reveals how phenomenally stupid my question is. “Ribs are flexible bones by nature. Cementing them would permanently restrict your breathing and make them more vulnerable to rebreaking.”

“Oh. Okay. Let’s not do that, then.” I take the pills and wash them down. Waking the Friend had been an excellent choice. Things feel more under control already.

“his friend would like to get with fixing you up immediately, but.” The doctor scowls at its own hands.

“Post-chronostasis clumsiness?”

“Yes.” It sits heavily on the edge of its own bed, wincing a little.

“Are you alright? Have you done your own scans and stuff?”

“Some. This friend is waiting to properly absorb the tracers. In the meantime, what happened here?”

So I explain everything, from the top. It’s not the neatest of explanations – the doctor has to ask a lot of clarifying questions – but by the time the doctor has to go off for its scans, we’ve got pretty much the whole story hashed out.

I’m left alone while the doctor goes off to get scanned and analyse its results. When it returns, it sits on the edge of its bed and says, “This situation is not optimal.”

“Yeah. No kidding.”

“This friend is quite concerned by the fact that we’re currently breathing in so many pathogens. This friend should get to cleaning the ventilation systems right away.”

“Hey, whoah. You’re still clumsy.”

“Too clumsy to administer bone cement, yes, but this friend can shove some pillows into a shaft.”

“That’s what I thought, and that’s why the bone cement is even needed. What good is it going to be if we’re both incapacitated?”

“What good is it going to be if we both get lung infections?”

“Well… you’re the doctor. What do you think is the higher risk?”

The doctor heads for the computer terminal. After half a minute or so of tapping, it says reluctantly, “Short term exposure to these spores is probably not a serious concern. We can afford to wait a day or two.”

“And by then I’ll be on my feet and it’ll be a two person operation. Hey, while you’re over there, can you check the current crew manifest? It’ll be useful to know what our official jobs actually are.”

“Yes, captain.” More tapping. A lengthy hesitation. “You’re Dr Aspen Greaves?”

“That’s me.”

The doctor Aspen Greaves?”

“I feel like that decision is a little unfair to the other Aspen Greaves’ who probably exist, some of which I’m sure also have doctorates.”

“Forgive the friend if this is a rude question, but why – ?”

“If you need to preface it with that, it probably is a rude question.”

The doctor is silent for a beat, before saying, “Well, captain, it appears that you hold the roles of captain, psychologist, navigator, computer technician, engineer and gardener. This friend is the logistics officer, doctor, scientist, and maintenance. We are, of course, each others’ assistants and backups, in all applicable roles.”

I try not to feel disappointed by that. Having an actual medical doctor on hand is amazing; hoping that the Friend would also be a better engineer and IT specialist than me was greedy. Anyway, the roles suggest that it has better scientific skills, which might come in handy.

“Is there anything else you want looked up while this friend is over here?”

“No. Thanks.” I swing my legs over the side of the bed. “I’m going to go get something to eat, I think.”

“You are to stay off that ankle until your arm is capable of supporting a crutch,” the doctor says firmly. “This friend will get some food.” It stands, then hesitates. “The nearest food storage is…?”

“Aft,” I say, gesturing in the appropriate direction. “Everything’s aft of here. The fore airlocks lead to CR1, so they’re locked.”

“Right. Walking on the walls of a cylinder like this is very disorienting.”

“You get used to it pretty fast.” I rub my eyes. “You weren’t one for long-distance space travel before this?”

“No. Never left Earth, actually.”

“You weren’t missing much.”

“What a thing to say, on a five-year journey to a new planet, knowing we’ll never see Earth again.”

“Nobody ever accused me of being an optimist.”

“It really doesn’t seem to run in your family, does it?”

“Only someone who’s never met Fir Greaves could say that.”

Mercifully, the doctor leaves in search of food without pushing the subject. I would’ve thought that getting on a ship destined for a distant star and saying goodbye to the earth forever was a pretty strong indication that someone doesnt want to talk about their past, but whatever.

As soon as the doctor’s out of sight, I get up and go take a shower. The medbay has its own little shower, with a chair for the infirm and everything, so this isn’t a strenuous journey. The doctor already had to remove the top half of my jumpsuit to restrap my arm and ribs, so even getting undressed isn’t difficult. I dry off and exit to see the doctor standing in the doorway of the medbay, lips a disapproving line as it glances at my ankle, but it doesn’t say anything. It’s holding a cup of post-chronostasis broth, and a bowl of hot, steaming food! Not the protein bars I’ve been subsisting on, but actual food!

“That smells amazing!” I exclaim as the doctor pushes the bowl of stew into my hands.

“It’s honestly quite plain.” It sips its own broth. “The ingredients were dehydrated and haven’t had time to soak properly, so expect disappointment.”

I shove a forkful of lamb and onion into my mouth. “Technically, this is the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in thirty five years.”

A smile ghosts across its mouth. “Or seventy, if we go by Earth time. Probably longer, given that our course is apparently twice as long to us as we expected.” It frowns. “Do we know why that is?”

I shrug. “We could probably look up the computer’s projected course, but there’s no way I know enough maths to understand it. You?”

“This friend wil lfind out.” It tap sat the terminal for awhile, then shakes its head. “No, sorry. We’re headed straight to HD 217017 as expected, it’s not some circuitous route or anything. This friend doesn’t know why it’s taking so much longer.”

“Unless this just is the minimum amount of time, and they lied to us.”

“But why would they do that?”

“No idea.” I eat some more stew. It really is great. I mean, it’s probably pretty average, with no flavour more exciting than salt and the ingredients just a little chewier than properly rehydrated ones would be,but to someone who’s been staving off hunger with protein rations for a couple of weeks and is currently high on relief at not being alone, it’s like dining at Astra Ljunaru.

We eat in silence, the Friend sneaking glances at me over its cup of broth, which I can’t exactly be discomfited by since I’m sneaking glances back. I suspect that we’re both thinking the same thing: I have to spend five years with this person. I hope theyre not an arsehole.

“Are you going to wake any more crew?” the Friend asks out of nowhere.

“I… wasn’t planning on it,” I say. “But why do you say that like it’s solely my decision? Do you think we need more crew?”

“You’re the captain,” the Friend reminds me.

“Maybe I should wake a real captain,” I grumble. My leadership qualities have never been fantastic. A crew of people who are all worse at leadership than me sounds like a terrible idea. “I’m not going to wake anyone else unless we have to. We all signed up for a colony, not… this.”

It nods in acknowledgement, its expression unreadable.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “For waking you. You didn’t sign up for this, either.”

It shrugs. “A Friend’s place is wherever it’s needed.” Without further comment, it takes the dishes and leaves. I lie back and stare up at the ceiling.

I don’t see the Friend for several hours after that. Maybe it’s off playing computer games or something, I don’t know. I put on an old talkfract comedy about space pirates meeting aliens in deep space and just kind of lay around. I know I should be up and working on something, but I’m on doctor’s orders to rest my ankle, so it’s medically necessary laziness.

Eventually, the Friend returns with a bowl of oatmeal, and hands it to me. There are little sultanas in it.

“We have oatmeal?!”

It wrinkles its nose. “Highly preserved oatmeal. This friend has cooked with some poor ingredients before, but oatmeal designed to last thirty five years in storage is a new one.”

“Were you a cook, before? As well as being a doctor, I mean?”

“Only by necessity, not career. Unfortunately, most of the fresh foods available to us right now are citrus, which neither of us can eat.”

“You’re allergic, too?” I grin. “I knew you were Arborean!” I gesture at the style of robes it’s wearing.

“Friendshave no nation,” the Friend asserts firmly. “But this body carries the DIVR-32 geneset, yes.”

Not a huge surprise, if it’s of Arborean origin. About twenty per cent of Arboreans carry DIVR-32; it was a popular genetic amendment during the GE Craze in our great-great-grandparents’ day and quickly fell victim to the Founder effect.

“This friend has retaken the coordination assessments and my coordination is at ninety eight per cent,” the doctor informs me. “This friend can heal those bones for you now, if you like.”

“Might as well get it over with. Thanks.”

The doctor takes fresh X-rays, just to make absolutely sure that the bones haven’t moved around at all, before paralysing my arm with a fairly small needle and then going to fetch a much, much bigger needle. Calling it a needle is misleading; it looks more like a caulking gun. I’d swear I’ve used mechanical pencils thinner than the needle on that syringe.

“Some people prefer not to look,” the doctor advises me as it moves the giant, complicated syringe towards my arm.

I decide that some people have the right idea, and close my eyes.

I can’t believe that this is the state of modern medicine. I’d almost rather let the bone heal naturally than –

“Alright, it’s done.”

“… Already?”

“Already. This friend recommends holding your arm completely immobile for the next sixty seconds while the cement solidifies. If the bones shift out of alignment now, they’ll be glued like that, and removing the cement will require surgery.”

I hold my arm very, very still. “Thanks for the warning.”

“Once the cement is solid, you can lay down and we’ll brace the three broken ribs.”

“Will those needles will be as big?”

“Those needles are much thinner.”

“Oh, goo – ”

“And much, much longer.”

“… Oh.”

It wasn’t kidding about the rib needle. The thing is thin and curved, and seemed slightly flexible; it’s also massive. It is, in fact, approximately the length of a rib.

“The bracing filament is inside this needle,” the doctor explains, gesturing to it like it isn’t the most horrifying medical device that anyone has ever threatened to puncture me with. “This friend will line it up with your actual rib and inject it. It’ll unfold into its full shape inside you, and act as a bracing for your rib as it heals. Do you understand?”

“I think so. Is this, um… dangerous?”

It shook its head. “An extraordinarily clumsy doctor could, in theory, puncture a lung with this, but since there’s nobody to jump up behind this Friend and push it over mid-injection, we’re safe.”

“You sure? You did just wake from chronostasis.”

“This friend did the coordination tests and this body is fine. But it’s up to you, of course.”

“Let’s do it.” I’m sick of the pain and the painkillers.

The doctor nods. “This friend is going to numb your left side. It won’t be paralysed, for fear of interrupting your breathing, but – ”

“Hang on, is this even a good idea, with my ribs moving about from breathing?”

“It’s a very common procedure. They shouldn’t pose a problem.”

“Alright then.”

“Your side will be numb to pain, but you’ll still be able to move and feel other sensations. The needle going in will probably feel alien and unpleasant. Please don’t jerk or move in response.”

“I’ll keep as still as I can.”

“Good. Please lie on your left side and raise your right arm above your head. Yes, that’s right; no, roll a little forward, so this friend has access to your back. Perfect.” The doctor rustles around behind me for a bit. “The numbing agent is being applied now. This will take about two minutes to come into effect. Breathe in and out slowly for me, okay? In… out. In… out. Yes, keep up that exact rhythm. Just concentrate on your breathing.”

I concentrate on the rhythm of my breathing. In, out. In, out. Long, slow breaths. Not deep breaths, not with broken ribs, but long and slow.

“The first filament is being inserted now. Stay limp and motionless, no matter how you feel. Concentrate on continuing to breathe in that rhythm. In, out.”

I feel a pressure on my back, and then something moving in a place where nothing was supposed to move. Something poking and pushing and burrowing where there should be bone. My breath hitches; the movement stops.

“Breathe, Aspen. In, out. Hold the rhythm.”

I try to find the rhythm again. The doctor waits patiently and then, when I have it, continues its work. The thing inside me presses deeper.

“Very good, Aspen. Injecting and withdrawing now.” The needle is pulled out, far quicker than the speed at which it went in. “One brace, perfectly positioned. Two to go. Relax your shoulder and relax your torso. Nice work. Keep breathing.”

I let myself sort of float on my breathing while the other braces are injected and, before I know it, the process is over.

“They’ll take about three hours to unfold in your body and settle into place,” the doctor says, as if that doesn’t sound horrifying. “After that, you should be able to use a crutch. You’ll be properly mobile and have full function back in less than a week.”

I sit up and finish my oatmeal. It’s still warm.

Yeah, this ship is going to be much more manageable with two of us.

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4 thoughts on “016: SUPPORT

  1. I stan the friend.

    //since there’s nobody to jump up behind me and push me over mid-injection, we’re safe.”//

    I think this might be a typo — the Friend only refers to itself as “this friend” and so forth, right?


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