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CHAPTER FORTY-TWO: ON THE MEND

The attempt to substitute policy for character—in the form of alcohol control, drug control, gun control, speed control, wealth control, all of them amounting to life control—is the root of all nanny-state evils. It’s amazing—and sometimes amusing—how indignant the nannies become when they discover, over and over and over again, that it just doesn’t work.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

“They escaped?”

The man who thought of himself as the Fastest Gun in the Moon sat up in bed and immediately regretted it. His head began to throb and a cluster of electronics on the table at his elbow began making worried noises. Immediately, the supercharger that kept pressure in the room a couple of pounds higher than what it was outside, went to work with a whir.

He felt his ears go “pop!”.

“Is so,” replied one of his new visitors, the one with the beard. “Was rescue mission, not criminal apprehension. They search spacecraft—part that is not squished flat—but nobody even looks for tracks. To save myself, my friend, I cannot help thinking this is most tragic and disgraceful oversight.”

“Nobody” being the crews that had pulled Manzel from the wreckage of the yacht, where he might easily have died without their speedy ministrations.

“I trust you will forgive me, if I remain grateful in my own small way.”

For decades—perhaps even for centuries—popular fiction had encouraged the public in the strange belief that an individuals might be rendered temporarily unconscious, but left otherwise unharmed, by a judicious blow to the head. The ability to do this was sometimes attributed to priests or priestesses of ancient healing cults in the classical world.

Manzel’s first visitor this morning had been a young doctor whose description of the injuries he’d suffered gave the lie to that popular belief.

“You have a serious concussion, Mr. Manzel,” the doctor had said. “That’s somewhat like a bruise,” she told him, “that the brain often suffers when the head is struck by a twelve-inch stainless steel frying pan, which they found lying on the deck beside the pilot’s seat that you were taking your little snooze in. Some of your hair was found sticking to its underside.”

“Yech!”

She nodded.”I think that puts it reasonably well.”

He liked her, even though she appeared young enough to be his daughter’s daughter (if he’d had a daughter). He guessed that she was originally southern Chinese, even if her name happened to be Rachael Abernathy. (He wondered, as he always did, how that had happened.) The young woman was unabashedly straightforward and businesslike with him, but with a sparkle of humor in her eyes and a pleasant lilt in her voice.

“I don’t know why you don’t have a depressed skull fracture,” she’d told him, examining the computer display in her hand. “I think you came about as close to it as humanly possible. You must be taking your calcium supplements, or have a pretty hard head in general. They didn’t even break the skin, although you’ve got yourself a spiffy bruise.”

“Spiffy?” He hadn’t heard the expression in decades.

“An old-fashioned word I’m trying out this week. Last week it was ‘singular’.”

“You’re not kidding.”

“I’m not kidding. You don’t seem to have suffered any permanent damage, although one never knows. All of that pain and swelling will gradually go away, but please pay attention to them, and rest. We’ll keep an eye on you against stroke—you don’t live here on Mars, do you?—but I’ve filled your circulatory system full of damage-control nanobots to help clean up your brain-bruise and prevent dangerous clotting.”

“And … ?”

“And I’m going to discharge you to outpatient care early tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?” He’d felt worse than this before and managed to work. “Why not this evening, Doctor? Why not right now? I have things I have to—”

“What you have to do, Mr. Manzel,” she said, “Aaron, is relax. Let us watch you for the rest of today and tonight. You’ll have lunch and supper with us—all our meals are catered by Maxwell’s, the best restaurant in the Solar System—and the best night’s sleep you ever had.”

“Because … ?” He knew what she was going to say.

“Because after I get a little more information from you for our records—”

“Sorry, Doctor, but I already declined.” She looked frustrated. During the brief period when Mars had a formal government, one measure it had stringently enforced was the right to absolute privacy of its citizens. No one could keep a dossier on anyone else, or even take their photograph, without their explicit, written permission. Another was the strict separation of science—especially medicine—and state.

“I’m going to give you some morphine anyway, to help your brain heal.”

He shook his head—which hurt. “And make me groggy and useless tomorrow.”

“You’re supposed to take it easy. Want to pop one of those damaged capillaries?” He didn’t know if she was persuasive because she was so pretty, or just because she was persuasive. A good night’s sleep was tempting.

“How about VR? I can’t stand 3DTV,” he asked.

She took a breath and let it out. “I’m inclined to say no. Those things can be pretty exciting; they tend to raise the blood pressure. 3DTV’s okay. The news is full of the hijacking, and there’s always baseball.”

“Baseball. I can always fall asleep during baseball. You’re the doctor.”

“Don’t you forget it.” She’d taken her little computer and left.

Now, he had a couple of real visitors who had flown here all the way from the western end of Valles Marineris to see him. He felt he had some explaining to do to them, since they were the individuals who had hired him to look after Llyra Ngu and their own daughter, Jasmeen Khalidov.

“Escaped?” Mohammed Khalidov repeated the word. He was a short man, slender, but with powerful arms and hands. As he spoke, his huge walrus moustache blew out with his consonants. “They were never even caught! People who rescue you do not know they are aboard spaceship. Perhaps, by time rescuers got there, they were not. Survival gear and supplies are gone from airlock. Two pairs tracks lead west, then vanish.”

“How do you know this?” Manzel asked. He liked these people very much, and it hurt him—almost as much as his head—to have disappointed them.

“We just came from there,” said Mohammed’s wife, Beliita. Where her husband was slight, she was tiny, perhaps no more than five feet tall. In her middle years, her looks had coarsened a little, as looks tend to do, and she was plump. But Manzel could see that she had once been a real beauty, like her daughter. “We stopped on way to Coprates City. Was in unclaimed area, so we do not trespass, and broken spacecraft is very hard to miss.”

Manzel nodded. “I imagine.” He had told them of his decision to board the Null Delta Em getaway vessel. It had contained the last two people who had any wish to harm the girls. He deeply regretted losing Johnnie Crenicichla and Krystal Sweet and still didn’t quite understand how she’d managed to get loose from the ship’s makeshift infirmary.

“Simple,” Mohammed said. “She chewed her way out of uppermost strap. This I think I could not do, myself.” He bared his teeth which were very large, white, and shiny. “Also climbed all the way through ship while you are making with vigorous landing maneuvers. She must be strong.”

Beliita shook her head. “Strength, is nothing. She must have will of iron.”

“Or teeth of iron,” Manzel suggested. Nobody laughed.

“In any case, friend Aaron, we have determined is not your fault. Two dangerous criminals are loose in Coprates City. We would rather you help us find them than berate—is this the word, ‘berate’?—than berate you for what you could not foresee. Four inches wide of zylicon belt! It makes my poor teeth ache just to think of it for too long!”

Manzel glanced up at the 3DTV screen—the volume was turned down all the way—where coverage of a baseball game was being interrupted by news, apparently, that the City of Newark was finally under way again. Photographs showed the ship under tow by a cluster of asteroid hunters. No doubt Wilson Ngu’s Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend was among them.

The channel then went back to baseball.

“Mohammed, Beliita,” he said. “I think I know how to catch our criminals.”

******

“Here we go again,” said Shorty.

Wilson hung in the control dome of Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend, his engines hot, but at zero acceleration relative to the space liner, all of his senses on high alert, wondering if this was ever going to end.

Scotty said, “Pipe down! Keep the frequency clear!” They were having some trouble with a strange, pulsing interference across all bands.

“What?” Mikey asked. “So we can hear them holler ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!‘ as they come in? We’ve tried talking to them and they won’t play.”

Shorty laughed. “What he said.”

Two ships about the size of Wilson’s—hunters’ ships, maybe even pirates’ ships—were presently braking toward the City of Newark. Sensors of his own and the other seven vessels in his makeshift fleet, spread wide for the best resolution, were fairly sure that one of the newcomers was actually an oldcomer, Pimble S. “Fatty” Pharch’s Lilac Waffle.

Not for the first time, Wilson shook his head. “Why Lilac Waffle?”

It was impossible to be absolutely certain, of course. Six very powerful hybrid thermonuclear engines—the spacegoing equivalent of swift coastal cutters and big oceangoing tugboats combined—pointed directly at the observer and bathing his electronic instrumentation with fragments of disassembled atoms, tended to confuse them. Wilson thought he might have seen the other guy’s subatomic signature before, as well, but he hadn’t been keeping a record of such things—until now.

Mikey was right, of course. Even as he’d prepared his battered ship as best he could for combat—not much could be done; she wasn’t even remotely any kind of fighting ship—Captain West had tried continuously to communicate with the pair of vessels about to arrive, but there had been no reply. At the urging of his comrades, Wilson had tried, too, in his capacity as “commodore” of the little hunters’ fleet.

It was possible to see them now with the naked eye, two bright stars so close together that they almost looked like one. Projecting their course and changing velocity, his ship’s computer told him that they’d stop here, at this arbitrary line in space along which they were all still plunging toward Mars at a horrific velocity, rather than speeding past, after having delivered bombs and bullets, rays and beams.

Wilson had his doubts. He didn’t know how good a tactician Mighty Mouse’s Girlfriend was—although she regularly beat him at every kind of combat game he could download from the SolarNet. Braking to a stop—relative to the spaceliner, of course—might be just the way to attack, if you didn’t know any more about tactics than your ship’s computer.

He’d prepared as well as he could, he thought, putting all seven hunters in a disk-shaped formation between the liner and the oncoming ships. He occupied the center of the disk because he had the most powerful weapon, his particle cannon. As he’d learned, an engine’s plasma flare was a pretty good defense against it, but show him any other part of another ship, he’d slice it off and cut it up for French fries.

They’d even put to good use the five plastic explosive bombs Shorty had found in the City of Newark‘s engines, five of the hunters having loaded them into their chainlink launchers, exactly like torpedos. They had been adjusted to detonate from the heat of impact.

Wilson had requested that Scotty be the only user of lidar among them, relaying his results to the rest of the ships, because seven sets of returns would be impossibly confusing for men and machinery. For the same reason, Merton would be the only user of active radar on this day.

Wilson also had lasers potent enough to shear off slices of stony or nickel-iron asteroids. As with the cannon, he could point to a few pixels on his main screen, and that was where they would direct their energies.

“Ten miles!” Merton and Scotty sang out simultaneously. That was almost the useful limit of lidar, Wilson knew. The two vehicles were moving, now, at a slow crawl relative to the little squadron and the helpless passenger liner they were protecting. Wilson felt a tingling in his trigger fingers as they rested lightly on the firing studs of his control yoke, and decided that it might be time for a brief lecture.

“Remember, now,” Wilson told his little fleet. “We need to figure out what their intentions are before we start shooting. After all, they might just be coming to offer help. I know that waiting for the other guy to draw first sucks, but we’re the goodguys. That’s what we do.”

“Remind me to apply for a transfer,” Casey muttered. “Pay’s better, too.”

“Hey, amigo,” Shorty answered, deliberately thickening his native Lost Angeles accent. “Be careful—I never said I was no goodguy, man.”

Wilson said, “No, you never did. But I could tell it by your grammar.”

“You leave her out of this!” He broke into a fit of giggling. It was funny, Wilson thought, but not that funny. They were all tired and nervous, and trying to deal with it in their own different, individual ways.

Suddenly, the flares disappeared as the engines were shut off. The hunters blinked their eyes, watched as attitude thrusters turned the newcomers over, and presently two ships hung before them, dead in space, relative to the City of Newark. Lidar indicated that they rested about twenty-five feet apart, cabelled together.

One of them was, indeed, Pharch’s Lilac Waffle.

The other vessel was equally familiar—to Wilson. It was the Space Viper, Swede Vargas’ ship. Its portside airlock door swung open and a dozen large items of what appeared to be white fabric spilled into space. Each seemed to be about six or seven feet on a side.

“Hold your fire, guys!” Wilson abruptly shouted to his friends. “It’s the Swede! Swede Vargas! I think he’s trying to show us a white flag!”

“Yes,” Mikey said. “And he’s got Fatty in an envirosuit, with his arms and legs spread wide, attached by his hands and feet to his navigation dome—just like a kid’s stuffed animal in a car window!”

“Would somebody give me a hand?” Swede’s voice came over a short range suit frequency. “Those are my bedsheets floating away! We had a little firefight over reaction mass out there, and knocked out both long range transceivers.”

******

Facilities on Deimos were “rudimentary”, Ardith recalled.

That was what the travel guides all said, Ardith thought, and none of them stressed it nearly enough. Earth held a grudge against Mars it hadn’t forgotten in half a century and didn’t seem likely to forget soon.

On the flattest surface the little moon offered—it was an unusually dark carbonaceous chondrite that circled Mars every thirty hours, its longest dimension was ten miles, its shortest seven and a half—East American Spacelines and a handful of other interests had grudgingly constructed a radial series of tubes, two dozen altogether, of various lengths and diameters, for the transfer of passengers and cargo from incoming vessels to shuttles designed to take them down to the Martian surface.

One of the few laws still remaining on the Formerly Red Planet forbade the landing of large vessels there. In another time, it had helped the fledgling Martian culture avoid military invasion by its enemies from the Mother planet. These days, it served mostly to keep shuttle operators wealthy, and there was growing pressure to rescind it.

In the meantime, there was the facility on Deimos.

At the point where all the tubes came together, like the spokes of a wheel, a simple, cylindrical, barn-like structure had been erected, two high-ceilinged stories tall. It was on the lower level that cargo of all kinds was transported by moving “slidewalk” from one vessel to another.

Similar transportation for arriving passengers took them upstairs (at several points, Ardith had noticed places where metal detectors had only recently been ripped out; most of the people she saw carried weapons) where there were bathrooms, what were supposed to be quiet waiting rooms, a few locker-like Japanese-style sleeping cubicles, and a mostly-automated restaurant serving execrable food and unimaginably bad coffee at ruinous prices. The place itself was dirty and smelled even worse than the food.

There were a few automated bank tellers and similar conveniences of modern civilization. Having made whatever transactions they didn’t have any choice but to make, passengers were then routed down whatever tube would take them to a ship going wherever it was they wanted to go.

Mostly away from here, Ardith thought.

Individuals native to Pallas are known System-wide for a tidiness and cleanliness almost Dutch in character. Ardith was shocked by what she saw here at Deimos. She thought that it must be like having to eat in the restroom of a dilapidated filling station back on Earth.

“How much do you suppose it would cost us to buy this place?” She was speaking to Adam, who was with her at a circular wrought iron table with a glass top, near a mezzanine rail over which they could watch what was happening on the ground floor. The iron was almost paintless, the glass was scratched and smudged and had chewing gum on the underside.

They sat close together, holding hands like newlyweds. Each knew that something had changed in their marriage, but each was reluctant to speak of it, or even think about it too much, for fear it might go away.

“To fix it up, I assume, and make it a pleasant place to stop?” he asked. He was enjoying this time with her—he had enjoyed simply being with her since they were school children—and it didn’t matter, for the moment, why they were here or what they were talking about.

She nodded. “Something like that.”

“I can’t say I haven’t considered it, myself,” He shrugged. “The real trouble is that it was built, primarily, for shipping high-tech industrial products off planet, and almost nobody else uses it. If they can, they stay aboard whatever ship brought them here until the last minute, when it’s time to take a shuttle. They hardly see the place.”

“Then there’s the monopoly East America holds on the Earth-Mars run,” said a familiar voice behind them, “which guarantees shoddy services.”

They both turned where they sat, and Adam, from courteous reflex, jumped to his feet, coming close to throwing himself into the air. There was some gravity here, he reminded himself, but damned little of it.

“Mom!” said Adam.

“Julie!” said Ardith.

Looking as young as she ever did—unknown to Adam as yet, Ardith had begun considering asking her mother-in-law about this DeGrey rejuvenation process—Julie rushed forward to embrace both of them in turn, then pivoted lightly on her heel and said, “I thought this would be a good place to meet without media attention. Just look who I’ve brought with me!”

Behind her were Mohammed Khalidov, with his cloth workman’s cap in hand, and his wife, Beliita, in her native Chechen dress. For just a moment, the thought flashed through Ardith’s mind that they looked like a quaint pair of salt and pepper shakers. She shook her head to rid herself of the vision.

“Mohammed!” Adam said, holding on grimly despite the older man’s vigorous handshake. “Tell me what’s with the peasant dress all of a sudden?”

Adam had good reason to ask. Respectively an engineer and a scientist to begin with back on Earth, Mohammed and Beliita Khalidov had been part of growing secularist movement within what had once been a uniformly Moslem civilization. Unpopular with the Russians because they were Chechen, they had sometimes suffered as badly at the hands of their more religious neighbors, which had motivated them to help colonize Mars.

Hanging from Mohammed’s waist was a very unpeasantlike plasma gun. Most of the time, Mohammed dressed as Adam did, in what had been called “engineer casual” for almost two centuries. Beliita favored bluejeans.

“Partly is joke. Our daughter is always thinking—I can tell this, although she will say nothing—her parents are hopelessly old-fashioned.”

Beliita added, “Partly is to make our Jasmeen feel happier, after everything she has been through, with something warm and familiar. We often dress like this—our daughter, too—just for the fun, on holidays.”

A tenet of the secularist movement was that everybody’s holidays should be enjoyed to the fullest. It was an attractive notion, Adam thought, unless you were trying to get a construction project finished on time.

“That means I’d have to dress up like the Easter Bunny,” he told them.

“Wilson and Llyra never cared much about Santa Claus,” Ardith explained with a grin. “They used to call him ‘God with training wheels’.”

Ardith suddenly realized that someone else had come with Julie and the Khalidovs, a man who, despite his unusual height and distinctive appearance, had somehow managed to remain inconspicuous until he wished otherwise.

She looked at him and said, “And you are … ?”

“Oh, forgive me,” Julie answered for him. Ardith, Adam, this is Aaron Manzel, an old friend of the Khalidovs, who’s been looking out for—”

Mohammed shook his head. “Not old friend, Julie, new friend. We hired Aaron to look out for Jasmeen and Llyra. After this we became friends.”

Adam nodded. “You’re the one who threw the—”

“The table knife,” Aaron answered. “Yes, guilty. It was I. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time. But no matter what I do from now on, that’s what people are going to remember, isn’t it?”

“You’re damned right, Aaron.” He reached out for the man’s hand. “You killed the sonofabitch who’s been trying to kill my family for the last two years. Whatever Mohammed and Beliita paid you, it wasn’t enough!”

“Thank you, Dr. Ngu, very much. But It isn’t over, yet. Two of them escaped, and they’re loose on Mars, right now. They may just want to disappear, but it’s more likely they’ll want to finish what they started.”

Adam blinked. “Finish—oh, I see what you mean. Who are these people?”

“Johnnie ‘The Fish’ Cernicichla,” Aaron said. “He served as the liaison and ‘credible deniability’ man between the late unlamented Paul Leugner of Null Delta Em, and the Mass Movement’s Anna Wertham Savage. The other is Krystal Sweet, an accessory to the murder of Fallon O’Driscoll. She led the assault on City of Newark.”

Ardith asked, “How dangerous can they be if they messed that up so badly?”

“Plenty, Dr. Ngu. It was a good enough plan, they just failed to count on me, or on a ship’s captain who refused to let himself be disarmed.”

“A common enough error among East Americans,” Julie observed.

As everyone sat and ordered something to drink—mostly things in baggies, given the lack of local sanitation—they compared notes on what they knew of the hijacking. Some were saying that the entire bridge crew had been massacred, others that the passengers had massacred the would-be hijackers. Manzel set them as straight as he could.

“On any other ship, the latter would be likely,” he told them. “The problem, of course, is the East American Spacelines tariffs that, in effect, prohibit individual self-defense. But the Captain had a gun, and he returned the weapons that belonged to Llyra and Jasmeen as quickly as he could. As for me, I can make practically anything into a weapon.”

“Perhaps silliest aspect of gun control,” Beliita observed. “I notice are no more weapons detectors here. Just wires hanging, in front of unpainted sections of bulkhead. What do you suppose is going on?”

Julie laughed. “I am, among others. East American has partners in this, uh, enterprise. I spoke to them about sharing liability for what happened on the City of Newark. I offered to buy East American out on Deimos and fix the place up, as long as they pulled the detectors out.”

“See what I mean?” Adam asked his wife. “There’s always some sharp operator—”

His mother leaned toward him and peered into his face, “Don’t finish that sentence, Sonny, and I’ll cut you in for twenty-five percent.”

“Thirty,” insisted Ardith.

“Done. And I’ll bet you have some cute decorator ideas already, dear.”

“Yes, Julie, I have. They start with several hundred gallons of disinfectant.”

“Dr. Ngu! Dr. Ngu!” Suddenly there was a commotion at the door they’d entered by. A young woman already familiar to some of them thrust by Manzel and the Khalidovs, a small recording device in her hand. “Remember me, I’m Honey Graham of the Interplanetary Interactive Information Service. Is this a private party, or can anybody jump on in?”

Together, Julie, Adam, and Ardith groaned.

******

“Gold,” observed the doctor. “How quaint.” He glanced at the coins in his soft, pink palm and put them away in his pocket. He went to the sink to wash his hands and returned, pulling on a pair of syntex gloves.

Annoyed, Crenicichla frowned. “Is there something wrong with our money, doctor? Or is there something else you’d prefer—blood, possibly, or a pound of flesh? How about our firstborn?” It had taken them most of a day to find this part of town—there was always a part of town like this, except perhaps in Amherst, Massachussetts—an inexpensive hotel that didn’t ask questions, and a physician of ill repute who makes housecalls.

Things hadn’t turned out too badly, so far. Everything on Mars was fresh and new, compared to everything on Earth. So in spite of it all, the hotel room they’d chosen was clean and so was the doctor. He was also sober. When the window wasn’t blackened all the way, as it was now, you could look right down into the Old Survivor baseball stadium several stories below, with its highly unMartian emerald green field, and its impressive stainless steel statue—four times life size—in the forecourt.

Just now there was no ballplaying going on. Instead, machines and men labored over the grass, fighting to keep it alive in an unfriendly environment.

The hotel even offered room service, of a sort, delivered from a cafe next door that specialized in soups made of macaroni plant. They created dozens of variations, the proprietress had told him on the phone, based on stock grown under glass so it would have less need to make oxygen and could dedicate itself to making protein. He had ordered a soup with mushrooms, turning down an offer of macaroni plant beer. The remnants of the meal he’d shared with Krystal were on a tray in the hall.

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “You have a firstborn?” Scanning had indicated that despite being in her thirties, his latest patient was a virgin.

“We have a firstborn?” Krystal asked. She was sitting in a hard, straightbacked chair near a dresser where the doctor had laid out his instruments. She’d been drugged heavily, both for the pain and the examination.

Or the pain of the examination.

“Oh, I see what you mean. The saying out here is ‘As long as it bends, it spends’. That doesn’t count government paper. The rule there is, ‘If it crinkles, it stinkles’. I’m just accustomed to being paid in platinum. The only individuals who ever use gold out here are you Earthers.”

On Earth, at least in East America, gold was the officially favored “illegal” currency, and a legislated value had been established for it. Elsewhere in the System, the inflation caused by discovering so much of it among the asteroids had driven its value down considerably. Sitting on the nearby bed, Crenicichla sighed. “We’re really that obvious?”

“I’m not from Earth,” Krystal protested with a slur. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

“Obvious in small ways,” shrugged the doctor. “You still move as if you were born and raised in a full one-gee field, although you’ve both recently lived in less gravity than that. At a guess, I’d say the Moon?”

“That’s some pretty damn good guessing.” He now had to decide whether to kill the man or not. For the time being, although he hated to admit it, even to himself, he’d had more than his fill of killing. Maybe when she was feeling better, Krystal would like to do it.

“Not really. There’s a reward bulletin out on you. Two thousand platinum. It includes photos, artists’ sketches, backgrounds, and a fair estimate as to the young lady’s injuries. It seems you’re wanted for ship theft—my word, that was you two out in the desert, west of town, wasn’t it?—hijacking, hostage-taking, and murder.”

“Now we have to kill him,” Krystal observed, but they both ignored her.

Crenicichla nodded. “But, of course, Doctor, you’re far too humanitarian—”

The doctor drew himself up into a semblance of dignity. “I happen to believe that everyone deserves whatever medical attention they require. Also, Mars is famous for being the place for a fresh start in life.”

Crenicichla laughed. “Especially if you get paid up front, and in cash.”

“Especially. Don’t worry, I won’t turn you in. I make more than this on the average plastic surgery, and I don’t want my reputation spoiled among people who need their faces and fingerprints changed quickly.”

“So you do fingerprints, too,” Crenicichla shrugged. “I can see that.”

The doctor nodded. “Well, I could keep this up all day, but do you want—”

“Yeah,” said Crenicichla. “Give it to us, straight, doctor.”

“Yeah, give it to us straight, dokker,” said Krystal. Crenicichla wasn’t amused to see her like this, in fact it hurt him a surprising amount.

“Very well. Your young lady friend, here, is completely blind on one side, but needn’t be for all her life. The eye is thoroughly gone, of course. The vitreous humor looks as if it had been boiled, poaching the inside of the eye, including the retina. The good news is that the optic nerve is intact. It will take two weeks to clone her another eye.”

“Two weeks,” Krystal repeated.

“Two weeks.” Cloning was against East American law, and among the major reasons people traveled to the Moon and Mars. “And until then?”

“She can wear sun-glasses. Lots of Martians do. We don’t have a nice magnetic field like Earth, or a selectively permeable canopy like Pallas. We get higher doses of radiation, even down here in the gloom. She may prefer a rakish eyepatch, although it could give you both away.”

“Sunglasses it is, then. How much do you want for the cloning, up front?”

The doctor snapped his glove off. “Plenty.”

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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