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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 51: Kondor 108
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Previous chapter: Chapter 50: Brown 120
Kondor couldn't sleep. Part of it was his uncertainty, the possibility that someone would try to kill him in the night. Part of it was the horrible gruel that sat unsettled on his stomach. Yet there was something else. He felt like he needed to explore, to find out what was happening here.
It would probably get him shot; but in the darkness he might manage to survive. He wished he had black special forces garb, but the green would be dark enough, and he had the training to move unnoticed. It was worth the risk. If anyone questioned him, he'd say he was looking for the latrine. There had to be one somewhere, and it was natural enough for anyone to want to find it after that meal.
He left his rifle in his tent; the only weapon he took with him was his pistol, concealed as well as he could manage. The dark was quiet. Not even tree frogs broke the silence.
There was a cry, a man's voice in a sudden burst. Kondor turned toward the sound, but it had subsided. There was a glow from that direction, however faint, though. The many tents and dim campfires glared crimson on his infrared, but a touch of orange suggested that there was visible light in the mix.
Rather than attempt to recalibrate his left eye, he moved the patch to it from his right one. The darkness was for a moment shocking, although faint ghosts of hot fires still formed images through the patch. The right eye could see little in this darkness, but that's why the starlight scope was there. In a moment he could see the light ahead, a thick tent with lanterns burning inside, barely illumined but sufficiently that he could see the shadows of people moving within. He turned up the sound on the parabolics, and listened to them.
A man was in pain; his irregular gasps and stifled cries made that clear. Kondor instinctively started to move toward him. Others were moving around him; the clink of metal mixed with voices. This was a surgical tent. They were preparing to operate.
In the back of his mind, Kondor recognized that his help probably was not welcome. These men considered themselves doctors, or surgeons, or whatever they called themselves; and they considered him a member of a dangerous enemy race. They couldn't know that he had studied medicine on a space ship, built a hospital system in a world more primitive than theirs, saved lives on the ocean, and honed his knowledge at a school more advanced than any they had imagined. To them he would be a stranger, an enemy.
Somehow that didn't matter. He quickened his pace. He needed to get there, to help this patient before they did something to him that he could not fix.
In a moment he burst into the tent; everyone looked at him, and he at them. The situation was revealed to his trained eye before the tent flap closed behind him--filthy conditions, dirty surgical tools, neither masks nor gloves, no anesthesia and no antibiotics. Probably this was the best they knew how to do, but their patient had a better chance of surviving if they didn't do it.
"I'm a doctor," he said immediately; "and a surgeon." He remembered that those two professions didn't always go together; in fact, there was a time in history when they didn't even respect each other. "Might I be permitted to examine your patient?"
One of them answered. "Go away, shade. Whatever vile magics you know, we would rather die than permit you to use them on one of our own."
Kondor reminded himself that these people had a lot of reasons to hate people who looked like him. He kept calm, and chose his words carefully.
"I am willing to admit," he said, "that you may know many things I have not learned; are you willing to extend the same courtesy to me? This man's life is at stake. Can you say with certainty that you can save it, and I cannot? All I'm asking is that you allow me to examine him, now, and give my opinion. After that you can decide what course of treatment would be best."
The angry man looked at one of the others, an older man who apparently was chief here. He in turn looked at Kondor for a moment, then stepped back, waving the saw in his hand in the direction of the patient. Kondor walked forward and examined the man quickly, beginning with a badly wounded leg.
"The fibula is shattered and the tibia broken in at least two places, and he's lost a lot of blood, but the femoral artery is intact. There are signs of infection already, and it may be becoming systemic, but it's not out of control. If you cut, it will be very difficult to keep him from bleeding to death."
He looked again at the leg. "I think I can save this leg. I'll need my medical kit; it's in my tent. I'll have to do an open reduction, and it will require a fair amount of cement and some pins, but if we start him on antibiotics immediately and move him away from the front for a long period of bed rest, we can expect him to walk again.
"Of course, he's your patient. What do you want to do?"
The surgeon stared at him. "Do you mean," he said, "that you can open this man's leg and rebuild the bone, like it was a piece of furniture?"
"Well, a lot like that. If the bone is held together, it will gradually grow together, like grafting limbs on a tree."
"And what do you mean about antibiotics?"
They didn't have antibiotics. That would be a setback; but then, he'd introduced such medicines to other worlds.
"It's a difficult thing to explain quickly. I have studied the creation and use of natural medicines which help the body fight infection. I have some of these with me, but I would have to teach you how to make more. It's simple enough, really, once you know."
The surgeon seemed uncertain.
"The pain," he said, "would be unbearable. No one could lie still while you opened his leg and reconstructed it."
Obviously they hadn't discovered basic anesthesia, either. That was tougher.
"I have medicines for the pain. Probably the best one for you to use would be ether, which I don't have, but if you have it I can show you how it's used. In essence, though, if the man is asleep he feels no pain, and if the medicine keeps him asleep long enough to complete the surgery and then lets him awaken again, he will be very sore, but he won't feel the pain of the operation itself."
The surgeon stared at the patient, who was looking back and forth between him and Kondor.
"This Shade," the surgeon said, "says he is a doctor and a surgeon, and that he can save both your life and your leg, or at least that there's a good chance of it. That is more than I can hope; the best I can say is that I can take your leg, and you will probably die, but you might live without the leg. I can tell you that his words sound like he knows what he says. I cannot tell you whether he can save you. But I think you should be asked."
"You're not--" the angry assistant began.
"I am," the surgeon interrupted. "The Shade may know something about medicine we do not know. I will not let my patient die because of my stubbornness."
"What would you do?" the patient asked. "I mean, if you were me?"
Kondor didn't wait for the others to answer. "I would be very frightened, frankly," he said. "If I had to choose between almost certain death and trusting my life to someone I think is my enemy, I might choose to die. But I would not recommend that to someone else; I think people should choose to live, if the choice is offered.
The surgeon spoke after a moment. "I've never been in your place," he said, "so I can't say what I would do. But if a man offered to save my life, and I believed he might be able to do it, and my chance to live otherwise were as slim as yours seems to be, I would take his help."
"Even if he's a demon?" the angry man said.
"Would you like to see my blood?" Kondor answered. "You'll find it's the same color as yours. If you knew enough to be able to study it, you'd find it's pretty much the same blood as yours. If you prefer, you can go ask my white companion about my abilities and my integrity; but you're losing time."
The man on the table fell back. "Do it," he said.
The surgeon said, "What do you need from us?"
The angry man shouted, "I can't believe this."
"Stand down, corpsman. It is my decision, and I will take responsibility for it. Write it up, if you wish; but be certain to include that I did not think the patient could be saved."
"You are dismissed, corpsman. You may return to your quarters."
"No, sir," he said. "If this is going to be done, I'm going to watch."
The surgeon smiled. "Indeed, we may all learn something." Then he turned back to Kondor. "What do you need?"
"I need to retrieve my medical gear from my tent; that should take me a couple minutes. I need everyone who is going to be in this tent during the operation to wash hands thoroughly with soap and clean water up to their elbows, but someone must stay with the patient at all times. If someone can bring me a bucket of clean hot water, soap, and a clean towel, that would be helpful."
"I think we can do that. Corpsman, get the water, and bring soap and a towel, and then go wash up. Nurse, watch the patient while I wash up. I'll then watch while you wash."
Kondor didn't hear if there were additional instructions given; he was already rushing back to his tent to retrieve his gear.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #235: Versers Infiltrate. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: