Author’s Note: This story was originally written for the release of System Gateway; however we realised that two people had written stories for Jinteki, so this was posted on the Patreon as a timed exclusive. It inspired the next piece I wrote – Tāo’s introductory story, “A Helping Hand“.
After it came up again in conversation lately I realised that we hadn’t ever published it properly, so here it is…
Doctor Kun paced back and forth behind his desk, six neat strides in each direction, flicking through notes on his wrist-mounted PAD and soundlessly mouthing the words he planned to say as he moved. A soft chime brought him back to reality, and he turned to his desk.
“Yes, Janice?” he asked his assistant, as her image appeared on one of six displays there.
“The board indicated that they will be ready for you in two minutes. Additionally, I have instructed maintenance that the carpet behind your desk will need replacing ahead of schedule due to increased wear”, she added with a hint of mischief on her otherwise expressionless face.
Doctor Kun chuckled lightly, “Excellent, I will join them now. And Janice? Thank you.”
With the edge taken from his nerves, the doctor moved to the telepresence pod and quickly checked his image in the preview before instructing his PAD to connect to the most important meeting in his quarterly schedule.
Moving through the worker canteen, Sara spotted the rest of her workshift and joined them at their usual table. Nudging her neighbour, Em, she pointed her spoon at a slumped figure at the opposite corner. “What’s up with Gav?” she asked between mouthfuls of algaeloaf and protein broth—she hadn’t bothered to ask what kind. They all tasted the same after a month in low gravity anyway.
“He can’t sleep.”
Throwing a lump of bread at Gav, she snorted, “He looks like he’s doing a good job of it now!”
Gav shifted slightly, raising a hand with extended middle finger in Sara’s direction, and mumbled something.
“Didn’t catch a word of that, mate, but don’t worry, I love you too,” Sara cackled.
With obvious effort, Gav pushed himself off the table. “I said, get lost. And your laugh is enough to crack the dome.”
At seeing Gav’s reddened eyes and ghost-white skin, the whole table grimaced.
“Gav, you look like hell.”
One moment he was in a tall cylinder lined with a soft grey static, the next he appeared to be standing in front of a long table in a plush meeting room, opposite five immaculately groomed individuals. He knew their faces. They haunted his dreams when work was not progressing smoothly.
The second person sat from the left, a dark haired middle-aged woman in a perfectly pressed black suit and his own immediate superior, spoke. “Doctor Kun, we’ve just had some disappointing news from one of your colleagues working in Nova Scotia. I do hope that your report is not going to make this a trend.”
“No ma’am, I do not believe it is. As you can see from the latest batch of A/B data, we have isolated genomic regions contributing to the drop in red blood cell count due to lunar gravity.” Pausing briefly to send the relevant files from his PAD, Doctor Kun continued. “We’ve already simulated the effect of nearly three thousand variants of the potential regulatory and coding combinations, and expect to finish mapping the possibility space in fifty-six hours at the current speed. Of those combinations, seven are viable so far. We have requested the Franklin Institute produce test batches of each g-mod transfusion as soon as possible, and they are just awaiting your authorization to proceed.”
“Granted. I presume you have seen the latest findings from the Metis laboratory?”
“I have. While we in the lunar department do not have the same requirements as our friends in micro-gravity, this does open up some intriguing possibilities for dealing with calcium flood in lunar workers. The potential to avoid the shortened lifespan of asteroid-based clones is an additional benefit.”
As they walked to their next shift, Gav stumbled, and would have fallen had Sara not been there to catch him. She waved the rest of their work unit on, and pulled the weakened Gav up to her shoulder.
“Time for you to see the doc, mate. You can’t work like this. There’s got to be something wrong with your gee-tees, nobody else has got this bad.”
Half carrying, half dragging, Sara eventually got him to the medical lab and just managed to get him on a bed before dropping him. “Doc, Doc! You gotta come check my friend!”
The doctor, a young man in his mid-thirties with dark blonde hair and small surgical marks around his eyes, came over. “Now, what seems to be the problem? Mr. Sarson, correct?” he asked, eyes darting as he reviewed Gav’s records on his Times Square Marquee implants. “According to that wrist monitor you’re wearing, you’re in perfect health!”
“I can’t sleep, Doctor Strake, and I’m always tired. Plus, I keep feeling dizzy,” Gav replied.
Sara interjected. “He just collapsed on our way to shift, so I brought him straight here. It’s his gene-tailored treatment, right? It’s gotta be.”
“I can’t speak about the cause yet, but you did the right thing, Miss O’Neill. Our patient here is definitely not safe to be operating machinery right now. May I have your monitor, please, Mr. Sarson?”
Strake reached out and took the small wrist-bound device, and connected it to a small diagnostic machine. “Oh dear”, he said, “it would seem this machine has not been correctly assembled. It’s been stuck transmitting the same data since you arrived at this base. I’m going to have to send it away for analysis, but I’ll provide you with a replacement.” He reached into a drawer and pulled out one that looked identical. “Pop this on, and then we’ll do some scans to see what’s wrong”.
Gav struggled for a moment to clip the new monitor on before Sara reached over and closed the clasp. “What do you think it is?” he asked.
Strake lowered a large imaging unit over Gav’s torso. “Well, I hate to invalidate my seven years at medical school, three years as a postdoc and decade of research into low-gravity medical conditions… but I fear Sara here is correct. It would seem that your ‘gee-tees’ have indeed not functioned correctly, and that you have Low-Gravity State Anemia, commonly known as LGSA or Richman’s Syndrome. Frankly, you’re lucky you came to me when you did, as your chances of a serious incident if you had continued to work are very high. At this point, you have two choices. The first is that I mark you down as no longer fit to work, and you return home on the next transport. That will, unfortunately, count as breaking your contract.”
“No offence, Doc, but that option sucks. What else can we do?” Gav said, weakly.
Your second option”, the doctor continued, “is that you stay here, I keep quiet, and your shift-mates cover for you until this is done. From what I understand, Sapphire Dome will be complete in under a month?”
Sara nodded. “Yes, that’s right. We’d cover for him, definitely.”
After fifteen minutes of in-depth technical questions, Doctor Kun’s director nodded appreciatively.
“Very good, Doctor. Assuming this project completes according to the timescale you have laid out for us, I see a substantial bonus and perhaps the path of promotion in your near future. I will be watching your results with great interest. Do not let us down.”
“Thank you, Ms. Ekorsa. I won’t. Before I go, I would just like to congratulate the Director of Personal Aides on the Janice line. I have never had an assistant like it, and I’m grateful to have been chosen for the preliminary trials.”
The doctor did not even get a chance to see a response to his comment before the conference suite vanished, and the dull grey of the pod reasserted itself. As he stepped out, his PAD gently pinged with multiple notifications now the DND function has been disabled.
“You had two calls while you were unavailable sir, Professor Batte from the Franklin Institute, and Doctor Strake. Would you like me to call either of them back for you?” his assistant enquired.
“Yes please, Janice. The Professor first, I think – but route it to my PAD, and arrange for my hopper to be ready in a few minutes. I think I should buy my children a few trinkets from Lunacent Central Plaza to make up for my lack of presence recently,” he replied, strolling cheerfully from his office as his screen lit up with the incoming call. “Gio, how the devil are you?”
“Very well, Praj, thank you. I see from my work order that your meeting went well, and approval came through as you hoped. It seems neither of us are going to be in trouble for jumping the gun on this! You can expect your reworked turtlebacks to be decanted in the next six weeks, a full two months ahead of the deadline.”
“Marvelous, if this bonus turns out to be as big as I hope then I can see a few cases of your favourite brandy making its way over… I’m just off shopping now, so expect a little taster of my gratitude in the next few days.”
Second call completely forgotten and his face lit up with smiles, the doctor stepped into the roof-bound elevator.
“Look, you know we’ll cover for you but this is ridiculous. You look like you’ll be dead in a week, even if you don’t work!”
Sara punched the wall for emphasis, only slightly spoiling the move with a wince.
“I can’t afford it, Sara! You’ve read your contract – or at least I hope you have. Bailing out now and covering the cost of shipping me home early will cost me more than I’ve made this entire job. We’ve got two more weeks until the synthcoral spire is finished, another week to fit the solar dome, and then I’m done. After that, the renew point comes up and I can ship out with no penalty. You sure you can fool the Site Manager? I can pay bribes if needed, still cheaper than breaking contract.”
Gav slumped in his chair. “I can survive three weeks, no worries.”
“Good morning, Dr. Strake, Ms. Ekorsa. Would either of you like a coffee, or perhaps tea?”
The two arrivals turned to look at the speaker as they entered the small reception office.
“Ah yes,” the older woman said, “this position comes with an assistant from the new Janice line. Your predecessor spoke highly of its usefulness. As you can hear, a Janice is always in the know about organisational minutiae and changes.”
“A pleasure to be working for you, Dr. Strake”, the assistant replied. “We have spoken many times, before your calls to Doctor Kun. I hope I can be as of-use to you as I was to him.”
Doctor Strake nodded once, before striding forward to the door opposite. “It is gratifying to see the rest of it, rather than just the wall behind the late Doctor’s desk on a screen!”
“Indeed. A shame he didn’t listen on all those calls, else he may have realized his work was based on data from a malfunctioning medical monitor before wasting millions of credits on a worthless clone batch. I expect your proposals to tighten up the data quality on our in-house testbeds, as they will feature prominently at the next review meeting. Try not to disappoint us.”
Doctor Strake said nothing, just smiled tightly.
Sara whistled cheerfully as she pushed Gav’s wheelchair along the stark white corridor. “This time tomorrow, buddy, we’ll be home on terra firma where we belong. Just one more trip to see the doc, and we can go straight to the shuttle. Em already dropped your bags there, so we don’t even need to return to your room.”
“Three weeks hiding in there, with only medical treatments and your visits to break up the monotony, I’m sure you can understand why I never want to see those synthcoral walls again. Hell, any synthcoral at all!” Gav exclaimed, looking happier than he had all month.
Deftly reversing through the doors, Sara spun the chair in the medical room and stopped in front of the nearest bed. “One invalid and one escapee reporting for final medical exams!” throwing a mock salute towards the doctor. “Wait, you’re not Doctor Strake?”
“Nicely spotted—I can see I don’t need to test your eyesight! I’m afraid he’s been transferred back down the well. I’m his replacement. Doctor Sanderson, at your service,” the doctor replied. “Now who are you?” she asked, pointedly looking at Gav. “I don’t have any notes about any workers here confined to a wheelchair.”
“I’m Gavin Sarson, or Gav, and this is Sara O’Neill. We’re here for our pre-flight check, both shipping home today. Did Doctor Strake not leave any notes? I’ve been suffering from LGSA, after the gee-tees failed.”
Tapping away on her PAD, the doctor grimaced. “Gav, according to my records, you left three weeks ago after a slow degradation of your condition, and your medical transmitter returned to stock. So if you’re not lying to me about who you are, what’s that I can see at your wrist?”
“Dunno, Doc, but I am me for sure. Look, here’s my ID,” he said, pulling a lanyard from inside his shirt.
“Okay, so you are Gavin Sarson, or else this is just one very weird prank.” The doctor reached down to Gav’s arm, and connected his wrist monitor to her PAD with a thin cable. “This monitor is switched on, but marked missing and so blocked from reporting back. Let me just unflag that, allocate it to you and…” Her voice trailed off, and her face fell.
“Gav, I hate to break this to you, but your body is no longer strong enough to survive adjusting to Earth’s gravity.“
“You can’t go back.”