next morning, Ruis awoke in his bunk on the Ship feeling
terrible. His eyelids were stuck closed. He could barely
breath, and only through his mouth. Somewhere close came
wheezing that matched his own. Samba. The legendary blight
Ruis huddled miserably on his bunk. He groaned, stopped
as a cough ripped from him, racking his body. With great
effort, he pried his eyelids open, then squinted at his
Fam. Her sides heaved, her nose looked crusted, her harsh
panting ended with an awful rattle with each breath. She
his eyes, which had felt as dry as if they'd been rolled
in grit, watered. An irresistible wave rose within him,
tickling his nose. He sneezed. Chain reaction had him
coughing again, jerking upright to try and ease his pain.
He still felt as if he tore his insides.
he croaked. "Ship!"
is the blight," he ran out of energy and flopped
back down on his bed.
He thought he heard a soft whirring, but wasn't sure because
his ears rang as well.
are scanning the crew for health readings," Ship
he was cold. Ruis pulled the slippery covers up to his
chin, no small feat with Samba lying on them. She opened
a reddened eye and mewed weakly between ragged breaths.
Ruis snuffled, in desperate need of a softleaf. "Softleaf,
now!" he commanded.
are unfamiliar with that term," said Ship.
words stuck in his throat. He coughed them out with phlegm
onto the bedclothes, then snorted with revulsion. He groaned
again at his own repulsiveness. His self-image included
immaculate grooming and style. "I need something
to wipe my nose, and a wet cloth to clean my linens and...."
he stopped to cough again.
His body ached all over, this time from the inside out.
It brought back memories. Usually Uncle Bucus had preferred
binding young Ruis to a tree outside his cottage and using
razorslits, but a couple of times Bucus had beaten Ruis.
He hurt like that.
to insert a cleaning robot into the Captain's Quarters,"
yes, yes," Ruis agreed, closing his eyes and concentrating
on breathing. He didn't like how he sounded, or Samba.
"My Fam has the blight, too."
have determined that you simply have a common cold,"
Ruis pummeled a headrest the Ship had called a "pillow,"
and curled into a fetal position. Yet he still heard the
doors to his quarters open and a tinny rumbling.
didn't answer. The mechanical clinking came closer. Ruis
squeezed open an eye. A small achine, no taller than the
bunk and looking like a bulky stool, trundled in. At any
other time, Ruis would have been fascinated and his fingers
and mind would have itched to learn the robot. Now all
he wanted to do was find a comfortable spot on the bed.
He straightened out his legs and started to roll on his
back. Samba hissed, and he turned back onto his side.
little robot stopped right in front of Ruis' face. Lights
in a circular pattern around the top flickered green and
yellow and red and white set in polished silver. The shine
hurt Ruis' eyes.
sat up, stumbled over him, and Ruis grunted. The cat settled
herself near his waist. Her rheumy eyes peered at the
robot, then she squawked when the thing clicked open one
of many round ports and telescoped an appendage. The end
was covered in a soft sponge. It dabbed at Ruis' nose.
He sneezed. It dabbed. He shot upright, appalled. "Stop
sponge was sucked down the tube of the appendage and a
new swab appeared. The flexible arm wiped at the phlegm
on the sheet. A strong scent of chemicals penetrated Ruis'
clogged nostrils. Ruis and Samba sneezed in unison. "Ship,
what is ACommonCold?" Ruis wanted to thunder, but
his voice cracked.
The robot beeped as if in alarm and rolled back. Its top
opened and a box of thin stuff appeared, then was catapulted
to Ruis. He caught it reflexively. The box was of sturdy
papyrus, the wisps of material extruding was soft on his
hands. He pulled at it and sneezed into it. It held up.
Samba came over to paw at the stuff, shredded some near
her then buried her nose. She sneezed.
have determined that crew has the common cold. We have
also sampled the Celtan atmosphere around the Ship. There
is no indication that the two hundred viruses associated
with the cold have survived on the local planet. Therefore
we extrapolate that this temporary sickness is not well
known on Celta. We were not aware that the bacteria were
so virulent as to affect visitors after such a short amount
of time, but we hypothesize that without any immunity
to the viruses--"
explain ACommonCold," Ruis shouted.
are having trouble understanding you this morning, Captain.
The common cold affects the sinuses and therefore the
speech pattern of those who have it. Crew may rest assured
that we have located the breeding grounds of the viruses
in the air vents and will eradicate them immediately.
We believe that in the small ducts, even the rare opening
of the Ship's ports to the local atmosphere did not allow
so much air in to destroy the viruses as happened planetside."
leaving, then. Outside will cure me." He stood, weaving,
dizzy. The robot squeaked and trundled over to a corner.
"I'm taking Samba with me. The blight," he said
in disgust. "There really was a blight. No wonder
none of your visitors returned if this is how you treated
extrapolate that the outside atmosphere will not kill
the viruses any faster than our methods," Ship said
stiffly. "In fact, from what we can garner from various
records, we believe that the local medicos, the Healers,
usually let the sickness take its course. It is troublesome,
but not dangerous at this point. Crew should not be concerned."
pulled on the old-fashioned robe he'd retrieved from his
former rooms. The clothes he'd come aboard wearing had
yet to reappear. "Healers couldn't help me anyway.
I suppress their Flair. There is one animal Healer, though,
and D'Ash can relieve Samba, at least." He scooped
up his Fam, grunting again at her weight. She gave a polite
mew but rested limply in his arms, eyes closed. A piece
of tissue stuck to her nose.
whirred. "We request that the Captain and crew remain
aboard. We have every concern for your health and will
treat you well with old Earth remedies. The greensward
will have raw materials for fresh medicines. You have
not visited the great greensward. The area has a proven
effect for soothing the nerves. The temperature is eighty
local temperature is forty-nine. We humbly remind the
Captain that we did listen to his words about the anxiety
he and crew experienced. We did investigate, and we did
solve the matter of the subsonics before he returned last
evening. We will also resolve this problem. We respectfully
submit that the Captain is not up to standard operating
levels and would be better off resting in the Ship."
blinked at the passion of the lecture. Words seemed to
fade and sharpen in his ears as he snuffled, trying to
think. Ship still seemed afraid that he might abandon
it to be alone again. It couldn't prevent Ruis from leaving,
he'd learned enough to open any portal manually. Ruis
sighed. He knew that once he felt better he'd be compelled
to return to work on the myriad alluring projects in the
rippled through him. He was cold here, outside it would
be worse. "The greensward," he coughed and grabbed
more of the strange softleaves. He remembered "greensward"
from ancient texts that never defined it, but stated that
each Ship had one and they were essential for human emotional
nourishment and recreation.
greensward will calm you. Miriam's Glade is still well-kept,
per instructions of the last Captain. The rest of the
greensward is overgrown. There's a stillroom near the
glade that can be used to make remedies under our instruction.
We are quite knowledgeable regarding this sickness and
can cure you of it in a few days. If you leave the Ship,
we calculate that the outside environment will kill the
viruses over a period of two weeks."
words buzzed in Ruis' brain. He frowned, irritated that
it was taking him so long to think, as if his mind swirled
with thick fog he had to batter through. The greensward
was warm, warmer than a Celtan autumn. His knees weakened
and he locked them, then moaned as his joints ached with
the effort. Samba protested by nipping his arm. The small
pain cleared his head a bit. He was in no shape to try
and outwit the guardsmen of Druida. He had no place to
go outside the Ship.
lak dub gwnsshhhwwahhhd," Samba muttered. Ruis shook
his head, trying to figure out what she'd said. Ship was
right, the blight affected her elocution. Ruis looked
down at her. The tip of her tail raised languidly. The
sickness also blurred the crispness of her movement that
she used to communicate.
he make it to D'Ash with Samba? There was the formidable
T'Ash, looming like a black shadow in Ruis' vision, the
equally impressive Fam Zanth, sire to Samba, who would
recognize her in an instant.
thought of crafting a plan to leave Samba with D'Ash without
revealing himself to the others made his very bones hurt.
coming through," Ship said.
outside doors opened and a small, four-wheeled vehicle
pulled up in front of Ruis. Bright yellow of spotless
material that didn't look like any Ruis had ever seen,
it rolled on four fat wheels and had a control panel in
front and a lever that appeared to be a steering mechanism
angled over a padded bench. He blinked in amazement at
the sight of the antique. Celtans had used psi-spelled
air-cushion technology instead of wheels on their gliders
since the second generation. This thing was a relict of
a past on a different planet. Tingles of fascination prickled
through Ruis, diverting him from his sickness. A wheeled
conveyance. He wondered how fast it would go.
to the greensward," Ship announced.
snorted and it echoed. Ah'll not catch mice 'n greensshwahd,
packed with irritation, her meaning was clear.
is relieved of carrying out her duties until she is well,"
eyed the cart, then slid onto the bench and sank into
cushions. He was comfortable. Samba hopped up next to
eyes watered. He looked for the controls, but the cart
started itself, wheeled into a neat three-point turn and
sped out from his bedroom into the sitting room then through
the doors and out of his quarters.
metallic walls zoomed by in a recurring rainbow theme.
The ride was smooth and noiseless. Ruis found himself
grinning with cracked lips as the speed lifted tendrils
of hair from his face. He licked his mouth and wondered
about the greensward and the stillroom and the cart and
the robot. There was much to learn.
go play," he croaked.