Sunday, 5 November 2017

The twelfth of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. This is another very short fiction, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 678 words.


A dedication to myself, who didn’t really think this through: “You’re really done it this time, pal.”


Divine Devotion

"Our Lord visited his flock and saw that all was not good.
Blasphemy and heresy ruled the land.
The Lord punished the sinners and drowned them in their own blood.
But the people of Amarr lived righteously and in fear of God.
Thus they were saved and became God's chosen."
- The Scriptures, Book II 2:1

The metal plating was inscribed, he could tell. It pressed sharply into his brow and forehead deeply, and he could feel the symbols continuing outwards with his hands. Still, he remained sharply immobile, as to move from his chosen position was to disrespect God himself. ‘Not long now’, he prayed inwardly. Soon, it would all be over, for all of them. The Heresiarch would be dead and so would his guards, heretics all. To act in the service of one such as him, without divine purpose, was to act as a demon’s servant. Had Molok not led the Amarr astray, as this demon had?  Only God’s will could destroy such a malevolent spirit.

He pressed his forehead harder into the carvings, feeling every ache in his flesh. The golden plates had grown warm minutes ago, even as he prostrated himself atop them. The City was beginning to breathe, reaching out to embrace its demonic master. Such a shame, he told himself, that it was impure. This was not what God had wrought, that no man could put asunder, this was the work of mortal, sinful hands. Hands that rejected His teachings and rejected His judgement. Hands that should be severed.

At last, he heard it. The noise of an approaching group, echoing within the cavernous space. He breathed deep and slow, working each group of muscles individually. Hands, he flexed invisibly, then legs. Each muscle warmed slowly, shaking off pains and aches as they had done so many times before. It was, he reflected, their usual routine now. Hours of penance before God had strengthened his mind and his flesh, all the better to embody the divine will. The footsteps grew closer still, even as he stretched.

When he finished his obeisances, he was surrounded. Heavy gauntlets rested on his shoulders, threatening to drag him away. Thankfully, the Devil interceded, “He is my grandson, really! There is no need to treat him like some common slave.”

One of the Paladins grunted an affirmative and the hands lifted. Inwardly, he exulted. The Divine Will acts even on the heretic! The slipper-shod man shuffled forwards, and reached for him, placing one gnarled hand on each of his shoulders. He stiffened, ’How dare the demon profane him?’

Gradually, the man drew him upwards, clutching him close. “Inire,” he called. “Grandson! You don’t need to prostrate yourself before me. God knows there are enough lackeys in Amarr without my own Grandson joining in.”

If he had been jesting, it fell flat. Inire stood in his grasp, as still as death, and said nothing.The Demon profaned his grandfather’s body ever more deeply. His grandfather tried again. “Why have you come here, Inire? We’re meant to be feasting.”

Still he said nothing. Both hands were clasped in prayer, holding the inverted cross in a white-knuckle grasp, and his eyes were focussed on the mighty throne before him. Sallow gold rotated around it, forming, by turns, the seals of the Empire and his family. A deliberate heresy, he knew. No-one was equal to God. With each rotation, his eyes bulged further. His grandfather eyed the cross, and recognising it, smiled. “You still have that? You honour me with it.”

He howled suddenly, lunging. He pulled the blade from the cross, sinking it deep in his grandfather’s neck.  As the blood spurted, he sawed it in and out, screaming denunciations of heresy.

The Paladins fell back, stunned. His grandfather fell, oh so slowly, to his knees, wheezing from a ruined throat.

He raised the blade to the Imperial seal, blood dripping along its length.

“a Manu Dei e Tet rimon!”

The Paladins fell on him in a storm of blades, yet he died smiling. He had freed them all.
The eleventh of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. This is another very short fiction, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 479 words.

Myth and Memory

To me, all lore is fascinating, but some parts attract closer attention than others. I have dedicated my life to what we have forgotten, deliberately or otherwise. When it was Gallente-Caldari relations after First Contact, few bothered me about it. When it was the travails of the Golden Age of the Minmatar, I suffered little. Now that I have chosen to investigate this Zaragram II, the howls of outrage will not die. It’s a far cry from Amarr, but they’ve made their voices heard, let me tell you.

So, a precis. Zaragram II was an Emperor of the Amarr, before the Moral Reforms, His actions, whatever they were, caused or inspired the usurpation of his power by the Apostle’s Council. He did this, the received wisdom states, because he was ‘mad’. What precisely “mad” means, we only can guess at. Most of what we have that does agree is, unfortunately, seen through the lenses of the people who usurped his power and erased his legacy. The lore that we have is so fragmented that I have travelled to the most remote corners of New Eden, in an attempt to get the authoritative, authentic truth. Even there, there is no greater store of truth.

What we are left with is a caricature of a man, magnificent in his depravity, but utterly one dimensional. This cannot be accurate, as any student of History will know. No man is one-dimensional. Even a man such as Luc Duvailer was a patron of the arts, in his own way. This man existed, and I seek to tell his whole truth.

There are those of you in the audience, Amarr and otherwise, who feel that I should not test this precept. You feel that some roads should be left untraveled, explored only by those forewarned of what they might — no — what they must find.

To you, I say this. Anyone who goes out, already determined as to what he will find, is no true explorer and no true scientist. I denounce those who say that they are.

When the Udorians crossed the seas, they sought out unknown horizons, looking for knowledge and mutual advantage. When the Gallente travelled to Caldari Prime, they went not as conquerors, but as explorers and guides. When the Thukker caravans travelled the ocean of Pator, they did not seek to dominate, but instead to disseminate and distribute.

When we crossed the horizon and when we crested those waves and when we took to the stars, we crossed the boundaries of our knowledge. I will cross every boundary and tear down every wall in the pursuit of truth. You can block me, you can imprison me, you may even try to kill me.

I will not concede.

I will not back down.

I am a warrior of truth.


Speech to the Aidonis Foundation by Samar Alekhine, Biographer and Historian.

The tenth of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. This is a much longer fic, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one 4524 words, and may have footnote tags within. Since Blogger does not 'do' footnotes, I can't insert them. I do not believe that this harms the story overmuch, but some jokes have been lost.

(For this piece, it would be worth refreshing your knowledge of the original Eve Online soundtrack from way back in 2004.)
To CCP RealX, whose most excellent work has delighted so many of us, I present a ‘tribute’,
(Please don’t be offended.)
The Interview

From “Before they were famous: Conversations with celebrities, Series 243, Episode 3: The Physician to the Stars. All programs are broadcast live.”
I begin, once the formalities are over, “Dr Iwanz, tell me about the Rose, please.”
– His hand moves towards his lapel, involuntarily. –
“We met up at the bar around 8, local time. You know the place, you went to UC, as I recall, The Green Nebula; it’s got nothing on The Glittering Dream, you know, but we were students, and Gods knows there wasn’t much money about for students back then. It was the night before the Rose – before I won the Rose - that is. Lord knows, with the new regulations I’d’ve been disqualified for being over the blood alcohol concentration levels by the time I walked in. But ah, back then, the rules were different.”
I interject: “That was when Doctor Avarda organised the Rose, correct?”
“Ah, Dr. Avarda, that old stick. All mysterious prophecies and hokey wisdom, – he feigns Avarda’s notorious accent – “Apple per day keep doctor away!”. What is an apple anyway? I betcha he didn’t know. I still don’t!”
He takes a breath
“Where was I? Oh, yes, The Rose of Victory! So long ago now, but still, ah, the joy of winning. But what were we talking about?”
I smile, “You were describing the night before---”
“The night! Oh, I was young then, and handsome! – He winks at me – Well, handsomer than I am now. Anyway, we were drunk, and getting drunker. UC has always subsidised the alcohol, a bequest from the Age of Rouvenor, and so we were well-greased in our conversations.”
My producer coughs quietly into my ear, “Wrap this up”, he signals
“Now, you have to understand, my year was the first year that at least one student of every empire qualified for the Rose. Now, being outcasts – he gestures to his face, where his half-Caldari ancestry is plain to see – we banded together naturally. It didn’t all happen at once, but let me tell you, when we got together, no single person could stop us ---- “
I cough politely. –
“Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked, aren’t I? The four of us, right?”
I nod.
“Well, Enam, ‘Sera, Trey and I were in fine form that night: We got each other with some real stinkers. ‘Sera was always the wittiest, but Trey knew how to get you where it hurts.”
His face crinkles into a smile.
“You’ve gotta understand, we were like a pack of Slaver hounds; nipping each other, but always at each other’s backs. The Rose encourages competition, but, for people like us, it can be… dangerous. After all, when the first Amarrian entered the Rose, well, I shan’t mention what happened.
He frowns, and takes a deep breath
“Anyway, ‘Sera was taunting me about a girl I liked. She used to use this phrase, “your traditional Gallente Refuge” – I see the Caldari in the audience smirking. Yes, yes, she’s calling me a coward. We got her back though; Enam used to sing old Masses, substituting in Caldari Corporations for the Saints. There was one…
He hums a little ditty
“Love, honour and obey the State! Cal-dar-i Con-struc-tion your homes shall cre-ate! Lai Dai, the plane you fly, Ish-u-kon-e, your mon-ey ho-ly….”
He trails off
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that live: Enam should have sung live, I always said… I see the producer gesticulating visibly; yes, yes, let’s move on. Now, where was I?”
“Your group of friends…” I prompt him gently.
“I got Enam once or twice, you know. We placed a prayer drone inside her closet, got it to blast that old Imperial March when she was… busy He winks even more slowly at me – with a Minmatar student Trey and I didn’t like. He’ll know who he is; it’s rather memorable to get “We fight proud for the holder” when you’re ‘conquering’ the Amarr.”
His proud smirk is ‘youthful vigour’ personified
“It wasn’t one-sided for me, either. You know as well as I do that ‘we’ Gallente revere our miners. Now, I won’t say who did this, but just before my second date with a very famous Senator – No, I won’t say who –, someone snuck some helium into my room. Apparently, “primordial gas clouds” are an ‘aphrodisiac’, but, let me tell you, no woman of her stature respects a man who squeals…”
He cracks a wry smile
“Good times.”
He sighs wistfully
My earpiece coughs three times, reminding me vigorously that this isn’t meant to be a chance for our guests to recount their youthful indiscretions, let alone cause an incident with the Amarr Empire. I make a final attempt to bring us back to the Rose.
“Now, a more serious question. You’re often credited with starting the fashion of grouping up to compete for the Rose that led to the incident of YC 93. How do you feel about that?”
He bristles righteously
“I think that’s a ridiculous assertion! We got together because we were threatened! I know that some people don’t believe the U-Nats still exist, but they’re still around, and still dangerous! Duvailer is long dead, but his ideas live on. Why, the stories I could tell you… I’ve been spat on, threatened, beaten and, one time, I was almost stabbed! I’ve been called any number of names, even a damned “Noivelle Rouvenor Hero”.The crowd hisses – Exactly! And just remember, of the four of us, I’m the half-Gallente one! The number of complaints we filed with University Administration, well, I can recite you the form from memory, right now!”
He calms down
“I’m serious about the U-Nats, you know. They’re not gone.  No doubt they’re celebrating being mention on the GalNet, so enough about them.”
He pauses, casting about for a topic. I really should have stepped in then…
  “Hmm, ah yes. I’m addressing this to any current, or future, University of Caille students. On page 7 of the official incident report form, there’s a list of ‘appropriate’ causes. We tested that list to its limits, and we never managed to exhaust its options. My challenge to you is this: Reason 469, an incident due to Merchants, Looters and Ghosts. There might even be some money in it for you. Personally, we never did quite manage the supernatural, and we had a future priestess of the Amarr on our side!”
My Producer slams his hand against the glass, which cracks: I’ve never seen that signal before.
I clear my throat hurriedly
“What’s that? Oh, Darling, did I say something wrong?”
I roll my eyes: this can’t get any worse.
I start again; “Tell us about the Rose. Please.”
Why didn’t you say so earlier, Darling?  It’s all terribly simple: one day of diagnosis, three days of tests (and no more!) – He wags his finger broadly – and then a final day of treatment. Only 10 hours of sleep, of course, and only the most difficult patients around. A five day long endurance challenge; oh, but I had stamina back then.”
A lascivious wink follows
I groan audibly. The mic picks it up…whoops. The audience cheers: my director swears in my ear. 17 Sacred Moons, this isn’t going as planned.
“Please, Doctor, we’re here to talk the Rose of Victory, not your…explorations.”
“But my explorations were so much fun!” He interjects.
I can’t believe this is happening.
“Just get back to the Rose. Tell us about how you won, please.”
He grins from ear to ear, the smug little shit.
“Well, you remember Dr Avarda? – I nod, and silently thank the Gods that he’s cooperating – Well, Dr Avarda found some real tough cases for us, worse than his usual lot. 48 patients with some of the most deceptive and mysterious diseases, and each and every one of them the attitude of some dire predator or foul-minded beast of burden. He always said he had ‘A surplus of rare artifacts’ with which to humbug us. You can see how his optimism would irritate us!”
He looks thoughtful.
“We never did learn how the old bastard got them in such a foul mood. I’ve always suspected that he used that old trick they do with older bulls…You know, the bulb of spices, inserted into the–––“
“That’s enough, thanks,” I gasp out. – Who does he think is watching this program?
“The day of the Rose”, I bite out. “What happened?”
He knows he has me rattled, the bastard. Somehow, that smug grin gets worse.
“Well, we were ‘gathered’ together in the old fashioned way. For our year, it was Lian’li vine. It grows on Oniteseru, the fifth planet of New Caldari, for those of you who don’t know, where it preys on the animals that feast on its blossoms. Nothing like waking up cocooned in a lethal predator to get you in the right mindset. It certainly set ‘Sera off: going on about “Omens” this, “Storm Wind” that. It didn’t help that that was the year of the Great Storm. But I see I’m getting distracted again, so let’s move on.”
I attempt a smile as best I can.
“So, we were gathered in the great hall, and flown to the event; that year it was the Aidonis Federation’s headquarters. You get two hours to prepare each room to your personal specifications, and then it’s on. My goodness, I can still remember the stress of it all! The timer buzzing, and the first patient walking in. My, they’re imprinted in my memory even now! She was a construction inspector, from Heuromont. A real Khuumak, declaring this and declaiming that! Why, I think she insulted my parentage four or five time within the first 20 minutes. Eventually I got her to settle down, and then we got to the symptoms: fatigue, iron deficiency, irritability – and didn’t I know that!”
“Now, the thing is, you can’t recommend any treatment that might harm the patient: that’s an instant failure. So I’m thinking about Anaemia, wondering if this is too easy. It might be a haemoglobin issue. The good Doctor installed a sense of paranoia in all of us, and mine is going fit to burst! So I’m marking down test after test I need to do: CBCs, complex and simple Haems. What can I say? I panicked!”

– He gestures wildly to the crowd, as if to say, “Who, me?” They play along. –
“I’ve only got three days of tests, and I’ve just marked off one for just one patient! It didn’t look good at all. I thank her for her time and I move on. Only one day to meet 48 …troublesome… patients, and I’m not going to get stalled on the first! The second was one of the jokers of the pile: An Amarrian made up to look like a Matari, – I told you Dr Avarda liked his little jokes, didn’t I? – and so the trick was to figure out what the trick was. Of course, sometimes you just know: when he dropped his glasses, I just knew."
– I relax; finally we're on the right subject. Oh how premature this action was.–
"Turit's, of course. Named after one of their silly Saints, they used to think it was True Amarr only, but then, uh-oh, some Matari got it... I wonder how that happened? – He winks blatantly – Of course, that's not for repeating within the empire, and you didn't hear it from me. Check the records: it'll say that Dr Avarda got together the largest gathering of Turit's sufferers in New Eden, just to show off. 20 of them, one for each candidate, the show off! I trumped him, though, I got together
"Tell us more about the Rose", I interrupt bluntly. He pauses, rather crestfallen.
– He pauses, gathering his memories. –
"Well, the third patient, a young lady, was, wait for it, bright yellow! Icterus, jaundice to the novices, and later in life, so not from one of those few gene disorders we haven’t cured yet.  I ask the usual questions,” – he mimes a conversation with his hands – “and nothing stands out. All the while, I’m eyeing her up. What can I say? She had some mighty fine legs, a great chest; she obviously took care of herself,  all rather spoiled by the fact that she was as yellow as the sun outside––”
“Is this really necessary?”, I say flatly. He smiles, roguishly.
“Absolutely, my dear, don’t you trust me? Oh? No? I’m hurt. But back to the story: She obviously took care of herself, and I’m getting the vibe that perhaps she’s a little interested in me. She’s smiling, laughing at my jokes; they always do! – He grins again. I snort. –  So I ask her if she’s ever been to Peregrix. It’s not my best pickup line, but I wasn’t at my best at the time. She’s...not impressed. “I’m not one for the city”, she says. “I like to experience true nature”, she says. “Cities are for losers”, she says. Well, she didn’t actually say that, but she implied it. Now, I’m knocked off course, but I’m not one for wasting a chance, so I say, “Oh, a naturist, are you?” Oh, I blew it. How I blew it. Her face, I’ve never seen the like of it, before or since. “No”, she says, “I’m a survivalist.” And suddenly I knew what was wrong.”
I gesture for him to continue.
“Well, it’s not common, not least after the extermination programmes we’ve been carrying out, but there’s a rare parasite that can infect humans through poorly sanitised meat. Now, my potential date had, I presumed, gone on one of her trips to ‘get in touch with nature’. – He says derisively. – She’d eaten some animal or other, infected with this parasite, which had matured in her liver, which caused her ‘tragic’ affliction – He gestures contemptuously. – I had a lot of pleasure describing the worms which had caused the issue…”
– He trails off, unsure of himself. Serves him right, the arsehole.  –
“Still, She wasn’t a half problem compared to that young man with Kaalakiota Tick Fever; It’s not like I’ve not seen a penis before! The poor thing, his balls were swol––”
“No more of that”, I yelp, “This is daytime broadcasting!”
– He laughs loudly. –
“It’s nothing they can’t find on the GalNet, you know. Why, you can get an education on any number of––”
– My producer cuts his mic off. –
“Doctor Iwanz, contain yourself!”
– He stalls out, shocked at the interruption. –
“Thank you”, I say, when no more rubbish comes out. “Dr Iwanz, could you tell us about patient 48?” It was, I say to myself, the part of the reason we invited you.
“Ah, patient 48, the last and the most difficult of the bunch. Some patients were briefed to be difficult, some were naturally that way. 48 was both! An older Gallente gentleman who could barely sit still, completely full of himself and a veteran of the Gallente-Caldari Wars,   Odd, that the war produced the fiercest patriots when the fighting had all but stoppedand how did he hate me. I must have represented everything wrong with the world to him. Mutts, they used to call us, – he gestures to himself – Part Gallente, Part Caldari, traitors to both! Any part Caldari, and you can’t be party.
– He wrings a savage smile from himself. –
“Of course, he was at Tierijev, or so he told me. This cantankerous old g–– I’m sorry, this lovely old man wouldn’t say why he was here. Not to me, at least. I tried all the tricks I had: I fawned, I simpered, I lulled, I promised, I did almost everything. He wouldn’t say anything!”
– He plays the crowd for all he’s worth. –
“At last, I lost patience. “Do you know where you are?”, I yelled. That startled him, I could tell. “You’re ill, else you wouldn’t be here. Tell me what’s bloody wrong with you!” He told me, eventually, what the issue was. He was having memory issues; losing things, forgetting names. Of course, now I feel awful, but how was I meant to know? I put him in for the remaining hours of testing, and then I sent him away. He couldn’t sit still, you know, he was out that door like he’d gone through a stargate! I was so tired, I think I ticked every box on the sheet. Thank god I did, right? Then I got the two hours of sleep I’d budgeted for, and then I got to work.”
“One day of meetings, two days of tests, one day of treatment, right?”
“Uh uh uh, young lady. Three days of tests, for the three great temple-hospitals of dos Rouvenor III. He founded UC, did you know that?”
I nodded, “They still have a imitation of his sceptre, to open new buildings.”
“Quite. – He smiles. The testing wasn’t so challenging. Some of them, I was lucky with: that day of tests I booked for Patient 1? Freed up immediately. She’d inspected some building on one of the space stations above Heuromont, and they’d used Augumene instead of Pyroxeres. Stage two, luckily. A programme of blood filtration and dialysis, and she was right as rain. She sent me a wonderful apology. The second, Turit’s, as I said. The degeneration was profound, I’m amazed he could even move his fingers at all. A simple genetic test, but they don’t often perform it these days.”
“Some of the others were more challenging: Kaalakiota Tick Fever is one of a family of illnesses, and some treatments can be harmful if the disease is identified incorrectly. That poor boy. I had to examine several biopsies and, well, – he winces in sympathy –.  At least we got to him before he developed Peyronie's. That is not a disease I wish to have.”
“What about Patient 48?”, I ask.
“That was my second stroke of luck. After a bit of trouble with the appropriate drugs for that survivalist on day two, allergies, you know, and some issues with a gene disorder of the Caldari I didn’t quite remember, I got to the third day with three hours spare.”
“And how much sleep?”
“Not enough, truth be told. Anyhow, I needed every minute. So many of the tests we do now are machine-led, but sometimes the oldest are the most helpful. Memory disorders and deficits are often the most challenging to identify: had he been younger I would have looked into malfunctioning implants, but he didn’t have any. It had to be innate to him. I started off with his genes: nothing problematic, a propensity for high blood pressure. His lifestyle surveys didn’t work either: no exposure to any of the most problematic chemicals, no recent medicines. He was a conundrum.”
“Did the machines turn up anything?”, I ask.
“Raised antibody and WBC counts, some minor dehydration, and not much else. This was a major problem, of course. How could I treat someone, if I don’t know what’s wrong with them?”
“So what solved it?”, I prompt.
“Ah, that’s the fun part. Remember how I ticked all the boxes? – I nod – Well, one of the boxes I’d ticked, was one asking for a stool sample. It’s terribly old fashioned, in this world of nanites and mass spectrometers, but sometimes, it helps.... – He pauses. – There was blood, bright red, in his stool. That woke me up, let me tell you.”
I motion for him to explain.
“It’s a bad sign, to be short: colorectal cancer in someone his age would have been difficult to overcome. Gene therapies only go so far, and modified viruses can have problematic side effects: there was a study in the CJM about it; mis-targeting of viruses leading to pronounced carcinogenesis. That’s ‘it caused more cancer’ in plainspeak.”
– He pauses, contemplatively. –
“Thankfully, FOB testing didn’t reveal any unfortunate truths, and the precautionary scans came out clear; well, as clear as it can be for any man of his age. It, luckily, had to be external bleeding, from the anus. – He looks at me quizzically. – I can say anus?”
I nod.
“Well, there are a few reasons why it could have been happening: fissures, IBD, Ulcers, the like. None of them pleasant, and none of them explaining the memory disorders. – I obviously looked puzzled – That’s what we’re here for, dear,  remember? – He pauses, smirking at me. – Perhaps not. Regardless, I’m still stumped. Two hours left, and no more clarity than before. I’m knackered, and utterly lost. But, that’s the point of the challenge, right?”
– He glances out into the crowd. –
“6 hours of sleep, I’d had, and all-but-4 days in, your ability to function is just … gone. I learned later that half of the candidates had already withdrawn. When you’re functioning purely on adrenaline, time begins to stretch. – He draws out the word. – Hallucinations, tremors, false memories. Half of what I remember, well, it’s a blur, flashes and fragments, really.”
“You were talking about Patient 48?”, I prompt softly. He nods.
“I don’t remember what I marked him down with, truth be told. An anal fissure, probably. His memory troubles, it could have just been old age. I wanted it to be. – He shrugs. – He presented with it, and I couldn’t fix it. Can you imagine it, to come so far, and to fail at the last? Nightmarish.”
I wait for him to continue, but he doesn’t. Eventually, my producer presses us onwards: “How did the final day go?”, I ask at last. He takes a deep breath.
“It was hard, you know. Even with four hours of sleep, I could barely write my name, I shook as I ate. My eyes defocused. My fingers flexed over and over.  – He demonstrates. – I paced, I muttered, but I treated them.  – His shoulders firm up.  – Most of them, they’re comparatively easy. Tablets, nano-treatments, surgery for that poor boy with the  – He coughs politely – problem. Some of them, though, they’re really, really hard. How can you deal with Turit’s in a day, let alone an hour? People need reinforcement and preparation, building up, not shock treatment. Cybernetics installation can take days, especially with preparatory explorations. I set him up with Riluzole, exercise and so many tablets to deal with the side effects. That’s just…  – He sighs.  – It was ... hard.”
– He pauses, frowning deeply.  –
“Perhaps the hardest thing I ever did.  – He wrings his face with his hands. –  The surgery on the survivalist, the cysts were enormous, most of her liver was gone… You can’t puncture them, you know. Trying to remove these bloated cysts with shaking hands was... It might have been easier to remove and regrow it, but that doesn’t guarantee to remove all the worms, and no-one wants to suffer this twice. All the way through, though, I was chewing over 48.”
“Did it help?” I ask.
“Not as much as I needed it to.”
– He smiles. –
“Poor old man, I think, when we met again, that he was as confused as I was. He did his routine again, – He mimes shaking his fist angrily – but I knew how to get through to him. It must have been a terrible surprise, to meet someone more foul-tempered than you.”
– His grin broadens. –
“Oh, why’s that?”, I query.
“A doctor isn’t meant to yell “I saw your shit!” at you. – The crowd snorts. – Sacred Moons, I was awful. What kind of doctor is meant to do that? I was just so awfully tired.”
– My producer sighs deeply.
“It got through to him, though. He straightened up sharpish; told me everything. Well, everything he could remember. The poor man, his memory was still impaired, so he wasn’t totally reliable, but he got the gist of it through. The blood was from, well, the most terrible set of piles I’ve ever seen. How he could even move, I don’t know. The pain he must have been in – He groans. – Well, at least I had something I knew how to fix!”
“I will say, it wasn’t my best work: nano-treatments require targeting, and with my shaking hands, well, it was hard going. That was when I caught my final lucky break: ‘Good things come in threes’, as Dr Avarda says. I asked him about how difficult he’d found it, providing the samples. Samples, you see. Ah, how lucky I was to have a loquacious patient. – He mimes wiping his brow. – He gave me all the gory details. The blood, the colour, the pain, the problems he had urinating. Urinating!”
– He slaps his forehead. –
“It’s tragic, really. His problem wasn’t his piles; it was below the haemorrhoids. The delirium was a product of a urinary tract infection, not old age, or mental degeneration. Once I knew that, it was simple. Sometimes, it’s the illnesses we’ve all but defeated, that can come back to haunt us.”
“You passed, then?” I question.
“Oh, sure, sure. I passed, as did seven other candidates. I was the best of them, – He gestures to his shirt. – I couldn’t wear this otherwise. Funny, that they awarded it to me. Before it happened, I was sure I deserved it the most. Why wouldn't I be? I worked harder than anyone. But after, once you’ve been through it, it all seems so … “
– He trails off, deep in thought. –
“Pointless?”, I fill in.
– He jerks. –
“What? No! Not pointless, never pointless. No, so prosaic, that’s the right word. That it wasn’t all that. I don’t regret doing it, whatever you think. – He huffs. – I helped them all, and I did it gladly. – He takes out his mechanical wrist-watch. – I still have this from Patient 48, you know. – He reads the inscription aloud. – “ All that was lost, has now been regained. Thank you.”  He died 10 years later, you know, but for those 10 years, he was happy. He made it himself, for me.”
“That was my first contact with Celebrity, you see, my first real induction into their world.”
– He stares off somberly into the middle distance. –

That’s a perfect time to take our first break, then,” I say brightly. “We’ll be back in 5, with Dr Iwanz, to learn more about that heady world we’re all so interested in.”