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In Surebleak Transit Orbit, Outgoing

Patient Win Ton yo’Vala

Function Change Percentage Report: Treatment Location #03

Cardiovascular     65% > 1%

Dermal     57% < 3%

Neurological / nervous     62% > .9%

Muscular     46% < 2%

Skeletal     83%     =

Lymphatic     45% > .1

Endocrine     38% < .1

Reproductive     21%

Urinary     47% =

Digestive     63% =

Senescence     Quotient     53% >

Retro-senescence     Activity     14% =

Whatever else he might be—and the theories, legends, and outright guesses surrounding that question were legion—the Uncle was a man of his word.

He had informed Win Ton that his time in the healing unit would be…less quiet than one might suppose. He had explained that there would seem to be progress—and that seeming might equally be true, and less than true.

Indeed, at first, and in the rare moments when he was fully conscious, the pain seemed less, and he felt, not strong, but stronger. Win Ton, who had been taught by the Scouts to believe the Uncle a man made of deceit, allowed himself to hope for recovery.

This was an error, for, later, the pain returned, and the weakness grew worse.

As befit a man of his word, the Uncle had explained these declines in technical terms, inquired after Win Ton’s state of mind, and from time to time spoke of the wider universe, attempting, perhaps, to keep information flowing into a system that was working against itself.

Oddly, it seemed that the Uncle also was an honest man, which was not necessarily the same as a man who, thus far at least, had kept his promise; and the honest man had come to wake him from a dreamless sleep, Dulsey not in attendance this time, as she had been on former occasions.

“Scout yo’Vala, it appears that the medics and shipmates who brought you to me have less hope than I do; this is not a surprise, but it is unfortunate. Healers having failed you, physicians having failed you, ordinary medicines having no advantage to offer you, you are left with me, and my chief technologist. Alas, we are not adequate to your survival, either.”

The Uncle had brought him a robe for what comfort it might give, and he offered a choice of liquid refreshment, ranging from water to fruit juice to salted-soup to high-grade alcohol.

Win Ton gathered himself together, shrugged the robe more firmly about his shoulders, looking as little as he might at the unnatural shade of his skin or the ice-blank fingernails somehow still attached to his hands. He stared at the offerings, making an effort to fix his mind on them, while sorting the sense of his odd host’s words. Finally, he raised his eyes in wary question.

He had seen the high security records indicating that this man—or his mind, or his personally experienced knowledge—pre-dated the advent of Liadens into this particular universe and into these particular galaxy clusters. The Uncle had long been involved with the nefarious doings of those who chose to collect items which might also pre-date that arrival, items which might have precipitated and fomented the very wars of crystallization.

“Do you come to offer me my choice of dooms, then? A pill, a sip of liquor, and I am gone?”

The Uncle’s mouth twitched as if he thought the question had a touch of humor, though his eyes were unflinching.

“No,” he answered, “that is not my purpose. I offer you these things as a way to wake you, to stimulate you, and to ready you. For now, having kept you alive after the Scouts could not, I in my turn will relinquish you to another situation. You pass now into the care of the ship you woke, and the crew that mans it, and to the one resource beyond Healers and physicians and engineers and technologists and Scouts, that may, only possibly, aid you.”

The ship he woke…

Win Ton bore down in very nearly a physical effort to focus his thoughts, his understanding.

There—of course. The ship.

The sentient ship.

The ship that was the root of this tangle of trouble in which he was embroiled.

Bechimo,” he said, finding the name among his soft memories, “has come for me?”

“Theo Waitley comes for you,” the Uncle corrected, which was…even more surprising. He had thought Theo quit of him, her thoughts and her necessities focused upon kin.

The Uncle may have read his surprise, for he explained further.

“She pilots Bechimo,” the Uncle continued, “which carries the last trustworthy sample of yourself. Since Pilot Waitley is alive, and the ship is also alive, it would seem that she may possess that spark of luck which infects all of Korval. I cannot guarantee that her luck will serve you; I merely note and state that it has served her.”

Win Ton frowned, finding both memory and focus sharper for the moment.

“Theo is of Korval?” Surely, that was an error. Theo counted herself Terran, born on the academic world of Delgado, properly in line to a scholar-mother and a father nearly nameless.

“Does this surprise you?” the Uncle’s voice was dry.

Win Ton held up a trembling hand, doggedly pursuing the memory. Theo’s father had been Liaden, his name ancient, and undoubtedly not his own. He recalled it! In a moment, he felt that he would have even the name—Kiladi. Yes. A joke there. Very nearly a Scout’s joke. But Kiladi, for all it had been Liaden before its dissolution, was no blood-line belonging to Clan Korval. Korval Lines were yos’Phelium, the delm’s blood; yos’Galan, the traders; and…and…bel’Tarda! the subordinate Line.

He paused a moment, breathing hard with the exertion of recalling all of this, that a child not yet out of the schoolroom might recite off of the top of his head…

But with regard to Theo, there had been…something more.

He closed his eyes, the better to remember—ah, yes.

Her father had given to Theo a lesson—that she was to call upon the delm of Clan Korval only in the most extreme necessity.

I am, Win Ton thought, opening his eyes, a fool.

“No,” he said slowly, recalling too that the Uncle had asked a question. “That Theo is of Korval…does not…entirely…surprise me.”

His host smiled, and moved a hand, which might have been a hint that Win Ton avail himself of the ignored refreshments.

Carefully, he selected a pod of juice, not because he favored it, but because he saw no benefit to not feeling all that he could feel.

The Uncle likewise took up a juice-pod, and for a moment they sipped in companionable silence. Win Ton found his fingers strong enough to slowly collapse the pod and impel the juice into his mouth, but he knew better, now, than to hope.

“The situation is yet uncertain,” the Uncle said, putting his empty pod on the tray. “We shall not properly dock with Bechimo, but rather use a tube. From our side, you shall be hurried, as the instant occurs. Please accept my regret for this haste, which I fear will dismay you. Against such dismay, I will administer a small stimulant, and at Dulsey’s word that Arin’s Toss is free, I will escort you to the quick-lock, and see you through.

“First, then, we shall dress you; which means we shall move you, under your own locomotion if possible, into the prep room, where all that you brought with you to my ship is gathered, and from whence we shall hurry at the call. You will carry with you a record of what has transpired in our healing unit, with the current trends. The units Bechimo carries will be able to access and work from these records.” He looked sharply into Win Ton’s face.

“Do you understand everything I have said to you, Scout yo’Vala? Is there anything you wish to have clarified?”

Theo was coming for him, as pilot of a ship out of legends even murkier than those which surrounded the man before him. He would be transferred to that ship’s medical unit, which was likely of a provenance that a Scout ought not to think of.

This was his last hope; in truth. If Bechimo failed him, he would die.

“I understand,” he told the Uncle. “And I thank you, for your care.”

* * *

The tube was taller than he by a hand-span, and the Uncle shoved a small package down in front of him as the first of the cooler air flowed out of the tube, toward themselves, and into the Uncle’s own ship. The darkness gave way to light; there was an opening some distance ahead.

His clothing disturbed his skin; he been nude in the Uncle’s healing unit, which had turned him, fed him, washed him, dealt with details.

And to what amazing trust he bore witness, Win Ton thought, alert with the first rush of stimulant. The Uncle was accepting the high-pressure side of a transfer tube! Win Ton stood forward, cooling rapidly in the breeze Bechimo pumped at them.

There was a line attached to the side of the tube, and the Uncle’s voice behind him.

“I may not accompany you, nor go into the tube itself. This is your walk from here on. Scout yo’Vala—good lift, and safe landing.”

A bow was not possible. Nor could he bring himself to say to this man—brigand, outlaw, or saint, as he might variously be—the proper—and very true—Liaden phrase, “I am in your debt.” Still, a safe lift might perhaps have been proper, but the pressure on his back grew firmer, and he leaned into his mission, moving those few steps that were somehow down, his uncertain feet gaining a hazardous momentum, pain thrilling into his legs and along his arms, vibrating into his skull with each step, until of a sudden, Theo’s arms caught him, swung him into the fresh light of another ship. He had gained Bechimo.

Very nearly, he collapsed. Theo was a whirl of motion, kicking the plate to seal the door, holding him away from the wall, and mustering a strong, firm voice:

“He’s in. Seal us up!”

Another voice answered, said things which were out of the range of his understanding. His view was of Theo, wiry, graceful, and strong.

Korval, he thought. Of course, Korval.

Balance was nearly beyond him, and he knew better than to perform the ordinary…but he would not fall!

“Theo,” he tried, and his voice failed him. He gathered himself against his throat.

“Theo,” he got out this time. “Forgive me, that I do not bow.”

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