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BLUE HORIZON 1261

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 27
Catseye

 

The black domestic feline who examined Jiro was gentle, but thorough. Rather than take the navigator across town from the spaceport to the metro hospital, Merlin had simply instructed their cab driver to take them to the nearest medical clinic.

It was a small facility, staffed by eight, but it was close to the spaceport and was used to serving off-worlders just landed. Merlin sat on a stool in the corner, staying out of the physician assistant's way as she examined his friend.

Jiro blinked rapidly after the effects of the woman's pen light in his eyes, and when he could   focus again, the first thing he looked at was her name badge. Tomi Arden, PA.

"Your name is Tommy?" he rasped. "You certainly don't look like a boy to me."

The black cat smiled down at him, her green eyes brilliant against her dark fur. "It's short for Tomilyn," she explained. There was a pleasant thrum beneath her words, making her voice just as smooth as her coat. "Now, I'm going to take a blood sample, and then I'll need a urine sample from you."

Merlin got up from his seat and headed for the door. "I'll give you some privacy," he said quietly. "I'll be right outside."

"Thank you," said the physician's assistant politely.

Merlin stepped out of the room and then headed for the public lavatory. When he finished, he moved to the large glass window at the front of the waiting room and peered outside. Automobile traffic on the main avenue was heavy this close to the spaceport, but the clinic was on a side street where it was quieter. This was his first time to the world of Kantus and the differences in architecture, clothing styles, and the bulbous look of the cars and trucks intrigued him. There was no telling how the customs and traditions might differ from what he was used to on Alexandrius or Dennier.

The afternoon sun streamed through the window, warming the wolf's fur, and he closed his eyes for a moment. Not long ago, he and his crew had been in danger of freezing; the sunlight was a welcome distraction from his troubled thoughts.

Before Connie Davies, Merlin had known only one human in his life, a childhood friend of his father's who loved to regale fanciful tales of adventure to his family when they were younger. However, that faded memory couldn't overpower his most recent exposure to a representative of that race of beings. Although most of the anthro races of the Planetary Alignment originated from humankind through genetic manipulation, Merlin felt no kinship with that furless race.

In just the past three weeks, Connie had lied to him several times, all of which had resulted in Jiro's worsened condition. It's possible that whatever he got might have run its course by now, but the woman's inept attempts to treat a species she knew nothing about may have put the cougar close to death. Fortunately, they had managed to stabilize his condition well enough to get him to Kantus.

Despite all this, Merlin might have forgiven Connie her inexperience once Jiro was properly treated and back on his feet, but when she broke her contract by jumping ship at the first opportunity, she lost the wolf's sympathy completely.

Originally, the lupine captain hadn't intended to hire a medic for the crew, instead believing that a First Aid kit would be all they needed, but after this situation, he knew he needed someone on board full time. He wouldn't be able to afford a fully licensed doctor, but perhaps a medic or a nurse would suffice, providing he could fine one willing to serve on a mere freighter. He only had three days before they launched, so there would be no real shore leave for him on this first landing of the Blue Horizon.

Merlin's frown deepened when he suddenly remembered something else that needed to be taken care of before they took off again. He pulled out his DataCom and scanned the preprogrammed access list for his crew. He tapped in the code for Pockets' DC unit and the raccoon answered almost immediately.

"This is Jerad."

"This is Merlin, Pockets. I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut your shore leave short."

"What, already? We're still unloading the ship and I've got a date this evening!"

Merlin afforded himself a smile. "A date, you say? Wow, and you haven't even left the ship!"

"She's one of the truck drivers for Handgjorda Kläder, a cute little raccoon, and she's the one who asked ME out. Are you canceling shore leave for everyone, or did you just single me out for your evil purposes?"

The wolf chuckled. "Just you, Pockets, but I might give this task to your brother instead – that is, unless you two are double-dating."

The raccoon snickered. "Nope, I'm the lucky one."

"Okay, I'll contact him. Enjoy your date, Jerad."

"You gonna tell me what's going on?"

"Before we take off for Crescentis, we still need to get that heater core replaced. Your makeshift thingamajig worked well enough to get us here unfrozen, but we need to replace it with the real part."

"Yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you about that…"

"Oh?"

"As soon as we were in range of the Kantus network, I started looking for a replacement. Okami freighters are common enough, but we're rather limited on what we can get here in Toreboda. The only place in town that has one in stock is a wholesale warehouse, and they won't sell to individual buyers."

Merlin frowned, staring out the window at the side street traffic. "Any alternatives?"

"There's a retail parts shop in Askran, but that's on the other side of the planet from us. I checked, and it would take a week to get one to us."

"A week! We can get a third of the distance from one star system to another in a week's time! Why does it take so long to get a part across the surface of Kantus?"

"Surface shipping, boss. There are places that still use it and it appears Kantus is one of them."

Merlin sighed out loud. "Okay, Pockets. Finish up what you're doing and then enjoy your date. I'll get with Jasper and see if he can come up with any better leads."

"Aye, sir. How's Jiro?"

"He's still getting poked and probed. I just hope he's strong enough for all that. Hopefully they'll find out what's wrong with him so he can be treated properly. In fact, I should be getting in there. Change of plan. Do me a favor and talk to Jasper for me before you leave. You can tell him what all you've done trying to find the necessary part so he won't duplicate your efforts."

"Sure thing, Merlin."

"I'll talk to you later, Jerad."

"See ya."

Merlin pocketed the handheld DC and headed back to the exam room. He tapped on the door lightly, and a moment later, a large cougar stepped out into the hallway. Merlin blinked when he saw him, first thinking it was Jiro, but upon second glance, the white smock and a stethoscope draped around his neck identified him as a local physician.

"Excuse me," the feline said in a deep, resonant voice. "Are you Captain Sinclair? I am Doctor Wilder."

"Yes sir. Is my friend going to be okay?"

"Mr. Brannon has been through a rough time, but I believe he will recover well enough with the proper treatment."

Merlin looked relieved. "That's good to hear. Do you know what's wrong with him?"

The cougar put his hands into the pockets of his smock. "His blood work is still in test, but the medications given him were originally engineered for human physiology, the remnants of which we have to filter out. However, from the preliminary examination, he appears to have suffered from the Blodgett virus."

"I don't think I've ever heard of that one," Merlin replied.

"Most people wouldn't. Preventive treatment in standard PA-regulated inoculations have kept it under control for decades, but on occasion it gets by and snags an unsuspecting feline. If untreated, the infected person could suffer permanent muscular damage."

Merlin's ears went flat against his head and then he rapped his forehead lightly with the knuckles of one hand. "I knew was forgetting something!" he said in sudden annoyance. The doctor looked at him curiously when the wolf gave him a look of exasperation. "I forgot to have my crew inoculated before we left Alexandrius!" he explained.

"Yes, that might have prevented Mr. Brannon's illness," Wilder replied. "How long was he on Alexandrius before he became ill?"

"About three months altogether," Merlin answered. "He and I were released from military service and the two of us went to Alexandrius to look for work. It was while there that I discovered I had funds available from investments, so we decided to buy a ship and go into the shipping business for ourselves." The wolf looked up at the large cougar and shrugged. "I don't think either of us even thought of inoculations when we got to Alexandrius, and I didn't think of it when I assembled my crew."

"When is your next departure?"

"Three days."

"How many in your crew?"

"Nine… no, eight. My nurse quit over this incident with my friend's sickness."

Doctor Wilder pulled a notepad from the pocket of his medical smock and scribbled something onto it. He tore off the page and handed it to the lupine captain. "Get with my receptionist before you leave and schedule a time for all members of your crew to get inoculated," the doctor told him. "The annual inoculations are mandatory for all space flight crews and are provided at no cost to you, Captain."

Merlin nodded, folded the note carefully, and placed it in a pocket. "Thank you," he said. "If you inoculate Brannon now, will that cure him of this Blodgett virus?"

"The inoculations are preventive," Wilder replied. "If the tests prove that he does indeed have the Blodgett virus, he can be treated with proper medication. The prescriptions will take about four days to rid his system of the infection, and in the meantime, he will need plenty of rest and room-temperature liquids. He won't have much of an appetite, but the medications will also provide the proper nutrients his body will need during that time. When his appetite returns, his muscles will ache from having suffered this for so long, but he will be tired of being confined to bed. Let him up and feed him. He should feel closer to normal by then, and will get a little stronger each day thereafter. I would recommend some form of physical activity to tone up his muscles again."

Merlin committed the instructions to memory and then held out his hand to the physician. "I appreciate your help, Doctor Wilder."

The doctor took his hand warmly. "You are welcome. You should be able to go inside for now. My physician's assistant should have the test results in about ten or fifteen minutes, and then we will have a definite answer to Mr. Brannon's dilemma."  An intercom called out his name, so he excused himself and left the wolf to attend to business.

Merlin tapped on the door to the examining room and then stepped inside. Jiro was reclining on the cushioned exam table, talking quietly with the PA. His voice was still hoarse, but he seemed a little livelier than he had been when they first arrived.

"Right between the columns?" Jiro asked, his eyes wide in surprise.

The woman nodded, her face alight. "I only had a meter of clearance on both sides, and even less when the stabilizer went through, but I made it across without a scratch!"

"You weren't disqualified?"

"No," Tomi replied, "but the chief wouldn't let me out of his sight after that!"

Merlin stood just inside the door, listening to their exchange for a moment before he realized what they were discussing. "You'll have to make Jiro tell you about the time he nearly took the wings off a Mainoran flyer going after a phantom blip on his scanner," he remarked after a moment when the conversation lulled.

Tomi Arden turned to him with a smile. "Hello, Captain," she said. "I didn't hear you come inside."

"He's good at sneaking up on you," Jiro told her with a smirk. "He once caught me in the shower with his ex-girlfriend and doused us both with icy cold water!"

Tomi turned to look at the navigator with an upraised eyebrow. "Oh really?" she asked. "What were you doing in…. no, I changed my mind. I don't want to know."

"You two seem to be getting along well," Merlin said with a smile. "I take it you're also a pilot."

The black-furred feline shrugged her shoulders, rocking her knees side to side upon her roller stool. "I was never in the military," she replied, "but I caught the flying bug at a young age. I have experience flying seventeen different aircraft models!"

Merlin was impressed. "How about space flight? Do you have any experience out of an atmosphere?"

Tomi held up four fingers and ticked them off one by one. "Cambridge and Labara cruisers, Okami cargo hauler and the Ulysses firefighter," she admitted, "although it's been a while since I was last off Kantus. I've spent the past three years here at the Sable Gamin Medical Centre, but I usually rent a Skyflitter and fly down to the coast for summer vacation each year."

Merlin sat down in a guest chair in a corner of the small room. "Are you a licensed doctor?" he asked.

"I am a licensed health care professional certified to perform certain duties such as history taking, diagnosis, drawing blood samples, urinalysis, and injections, but all under the supervision of a physician," the woman recited. "That's the textbook job description, anyway, but I'm responsible for a lot more, all for low pay."

Merlin raised an eyebrow and gave Jiro a look that the navigator couldn't read.  "Have you ever considered practicing medicine out in space?"

Tomi laughed. "Not without a pressure suit," she replied.

The wolf shook his head with a grin. "Sorry, I meant as in serving on board a ship."

"I've looked into it," she answered, "but although I have a license to practice medicine and dispense medication, I'm not a full doctor. The only place a physician's assistant could get a job would be serving under a doctor on board one of the large pleasure cruisers."

"Have you tried the Merriam Cruise Line?" Jiro asked.

"No, I haven't," she replied.

"You're obviously familiar with feline anatomy," Merlin observed. "What about other species?"

The woman looked at him oddly. His line of questioning almost felt like an interrogation. "We treat them all here, being close to the spaceport," she answered, suddenly guarded. "We can't afford to focus on just one species."

"That makes sense," the wolf replied, pleased with her reply.

The overhead intercom speaker called her name and she stood up from the roller stool.  "That will be your test results," she informed them. "I will discuss them with Dr. Wilder and then will be right back."

After she left, Jiro gave his partner a pointed look. "What was all that about?" he rasped.

"What do you mean?"

"You've been asking a lot about her background, Merle, and she's noticed. Are you planning to ask her out, or are you just concerned with her medical credentials in treating me?"

Merlin leaned against the wall behind him. "I'm not looking for a date," he answered, "but I am looking for a new medical officer for the Horizon."

The cougar raised his head up off his pillow to look at the wolf. "Do you think you can afford her?" he asked. "Those in the medical profession make good money."

"I was paying Connie more than she was getting at her old clinic, and she was a registered nurse," Merlin reminded him. "I don't know what a physician's assistant gets paid, but I wouldn't think it would be as much. She did say that she did all her duties for low pay."

Jiro relaxed against his pillow again, shut his eyes and swallowed against his sore throat. "Go ahead and ask her," he replied, "but I don't think you'll have any luck."

The wolf fell silent, wondering if his friend was right. He mused over his thoughts for long moments, and it was not long before he heard the cougar's breathing slow and deepen.

Merlin closed his eyes too, leaning against the wall, but he was shy of actually drifting off when the door opened again. Tomi walked in alone, a clipboard and several small sheets of paper in her hands. She glanced over at the cougar, and noting that he slept, she moved to the wolf.

"Tests confirm that Mr. Brannon does have the Blodgett virus," she whispered, "but the methods that Dr. Wilder explained to you earlier should get him back on his feet. He should fully recover, but since he's been sick without proper treatment as long as he has, it will take time." She handed Merlin several squares of paper. "Here are the prescriptions the doctor has recommended for your friend. So long as he takes them as directed, you should have him back on your bridge within a week."

"Thank you," the wolf replied, pocketing the prescriptions. "I am glad we found the proper place to bring him to for his illness. We were getting very worried."

The feline smiled and nodded. "Helping people is why we are here," she said. "I am sorry that your nurse didn't have the necessary experience to treat Mr. Brannon. I wish you luck finding a replacement."

"Yes, I'm working on that," Merlin replied.

The woman handed him two sheets of paper, one yellow and the other pink. "If you will give these to the receptionist at the front desk, he will finalize your bill and get your friend checked out. Do you have any other questions?"

"Yes, just one," Merlin said with a smile. "Would you like to come to work for me on my ship?"

Tomi chuckled. "I see you have a sense of humor," she replied. "Seriously, were there any further questions?"

Merlin shook his head. "None about my friend's condition," he said, "but my offer was genuine. I need a flight medic on my crew who has experience with multiple species, and since you also have bridge experience on an Okami freighter, you could also serve as a pilot, alternating the duties with Jiro and myself."

Tomi frowned briefly, but then her smile returned, somewhat. "Captain, I don't think you could afford me," she said.

Merlin named the figure that he had paid Connie, and then added a secondary figure for her flight experience. The feline opened her mouth and then shut it again.

"I… uh… I was unaware that flight medics earned that much," she replied in surprise, her tail tip suddenly animated.

"This is fairly standard," the wolf assured her, "and your services would be worth every credit. It also comes with free room and board."

"Captain… I don't think…"

Merlin picked up a business card from the room's counter and pen from his pocket, and then scribbled something onto the card's blank back side. He handed the card to her and said, "This is my contact number. Think it over for a couple days and then you can let me know if you would like to join us. My ship is called the Blue Horizon and we will be loading up with cargo bound for Crescentis in three days."

Tomi glanced at the card, and then back into the wolf's amber eyes. "You're serious, aren't you?" she asked.

"He is," Jiro muttered from the bed, struggling to get up. "When it comes to his business, Merlin is always serious." Tomi moved to the cougar and helped him sit up. Once upright, he looked over at her and took hold of both her hands with a smile. "I know I would be in good hands if you were with us," he said. "Think it over."

The feline frowned and then helped him off the bed, settling him back into the wheelchair he had come in on. "I admit it is a tempting offer," she told them, "but this is quite sudden and I don't think I would be able to just pick up and go. Thanks for asking, but I have other patients I need to attend to."

Without waiting for a response or accompanying them out to the reception desk, the physician's assistant walked out the door, placed the clipboard on a small table, and then disappeared around a corner.

Merlin let out a sigh, and Jiro looked over at him. "I didn't think she would go for it," the cougar said.

"Yeah, you told me so," the wolf muttered. "There won't be much of a shore leave for either of us, and this was my first visit to Kantus."

"Sorry…" Jiro said with a frown. "I didn't mean to get sick."

The lupine captain raised an eyebrow at him. "No, it's not your fault that I'm missing shore leave," he hastened to say. "It's my fault for failing to get us properly inoculated, and it's Connie's fault for leaving us in a lurch. Even if I didn't need to take care of you until the others get back, I still have to put out a call in the local ads for a flight medic and hope I have enough time to hire someone prior to our launch window."

Jiro sighed. "Okay, let's pay the bill, go get my meds and then get back to the ship."

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.