Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 10

IT HAD BEEN A LONG, GRUELING FIRST WEEK. IT SEEMED LIKE THE INFIGHTING would never end, crewmen were constantly being insubordinate, there were several who seemed to think the ship should be as foul as their own personal hygiene, and he was feeling more and more like a single parent with undisciplined children. Did Old Mother Hubbard ever feel like this?

To get his mind off of it, he decided that today he would remove his parent’s books from his personal library. The lack of concentration allowed his mind to wander back to the several hours he and Jackie talked at the edge of Beaver’s pond in the Catacombs. He’d had a couple Sileriums with split personalities but they had all been telepaths and he believed their psyche fractured to deal with the onslaught of voices that never ceased. However, Jackie said she wasn’t a telepath and he hadn’t seen any tell-tale signs to contradict that statement. She didn’t react to an event before it happened or avoiding situations and places because she knew something bad was going to happen. There was nothing in her file to indicate she had ever seen a therapist or psychiatrist about her split personality disorder, but then again, when he mentioned it to Jackie, Joan showed up and gloated about how she had been smart enough to delete those records before they applied for Merchant Raitor.

Tru stopped moving when a thought hit him.

“Gracie.”

Yes, Truman?

“Who is my head surgeon?”

Master Equ’Wixal or Doctor Wixal.

“Where is he?”

He is currently in Sickbay.

“Ask him to come to my study regarding a private matter.”

Requesting now. He has approved and will be here shortly.

Tru continued mentally working on the problem, losing track of time. He glanced at the door when the doorbell beeped, quickly recalling his request to see the doctor.

“Enter,” Tru said.

The door cleared and Q’al entered. He stopped, looking around the room.

“Was this your father’s study?” Q’al asked.

Tru smiled. “Yes. Did you know my father?”

Q’al walked up to the stack of books, looking across the titles on the spines. “I met him a few times, but I wouldn’t say that I knew him. I visited the ship’s library and was surprised to find so many paper books alongside reading nodules. Was he the reason you decided to keep the library that way?”

“I would say yes. I learned a lot in those old books.”

Tru added a stack to the pile sitting on a small transport pad. “Gracie, transport these to the librarian’s desk.”

You are transporting your parent’s personal books from your study?

“I am.”

Tru, perhaps—

“Gracie, don’t give me a hard time. Just do it.”

She didn’t answer.

“Grace.”

Transporting. The books disappeared.

Q’al watched Tru to see if he reacted to the terse, upset tone in the computer’s reply, but he didn’t appear to notice. He walked to the bar and poured a drink.

“Would you like a drink, Doctor?”

“Gin and tonic, please. Does Gracie always give people a hard time? There have been a few times today she instigated a debate or argument over a command I issued.”

“She’s been that way for as long as I can remember.”

Tru handed Q’al his drink and walked to the sitting area, settling into one of the wingback chairs.

“Join me.” Tru motioned to the other furniture.

Q’al sat down in the chair across from him and sipped his drink. “A very good drink, Captain. Have you moonlighted as a bar tender?”

“No. It’s one of my brother’s favorite drinks.” Tru crossed one leg over the other. “Have you met our ship’s psychiatrist? A Yeoma, I believe.”

“Doctor Hachee Arighet. I served with her about twenty years ago. It’s been refreshing catching up with her.”

“I’ve only been able to speak with her for a few minutes since we left spaceport. Her credentials are impressive.”

“Indeed. But then…” Q’al smiled at his drink. “So is our human psychiatrist’s.”

“I’m afraid I can’t keep myself too far from my practice, even as a captain. I’ve debated telling the crew.”

“You should tell them. They might feel more comfortable telling you about things before they get into fights.”

“Perhaps. Since you brought that up I’m one of the ship’s psychiatrists that should help get us past the red tape on the request I need to make.”

Q’al lowered his glass to his lap, noting the serious tone in Tru’s voice.

“Which would be?

“I want to review Ensign Jackie Rhoades’ medical records.”

“For what reason?”

“Jackie has split personality disorder and she told me that one of her personalities deleted her medical records before joining Merchant Records. I want to see if any information was missed.”

“I can forward you all those records, but bear in mind, Captain, she is a Silerium.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve treated some.”

“Yes, which is why I don’t understand your remark.”

“They may be human, but the mutations they’ve gone through have made them very unstable. There may be no curing her. Most psychiatrists I know don’t even take them on as patients because they don’t believe there is any way to help them.”

“So you’re suggesting I should abandon her because she’s a Silerium? Let her disorder go untreated because you don’t feel a Silerium should receive the same medical treatment a Drasken with split personality disorder?”

“I’m simply saying that by nature they are emotionally volatile and unpredictable.”

“Are you referring to Sileriums with this disorder or all Sileriums?”

“Most that I’ve encountered have been difficult to deal with. I’ve served with Ensign Rhoades before and she causes problems.”

“So you know quite a few Sileriums?”

“I have been a doctor for nearly fifty years, Captain. I’ve treated my share.”

Tru fell silent, staring at Q’al. He was disturbed by Q’al’s racist views on Sileriums, but he had to be more tactful with him.

When Tru didn’t continue right away, Q’al realized that perhaps his captain was a Silerium sympathizer, which meant he had misunderstood the conversation entirely. He wasn’t asking Q’al if he thought he should treat Jackie’s disorder. It struck Q’al a little strange though. Most humans weren’t sympathizers, and even if they were, they weren’t easily offended by his negative opinion of Sileriums.

Carefully choosing his words, Q’al asked, “I’m afraid I don’t understand the direction our conversation is going. Could you perhaps enlighten me about your views on the topic?

Tru shifted in his chair and sipped his drink. “Have you ever read the entire records of a crewman? Both service and medical?”

“When something comes up, I usually do.”

“You should do it as an occasional past time, just to become familiar with your potential patients. I’ve found it is very helpful, especially before an emergency arises. Why don’t you start with mine? And could you transfer Jackie’s records to me in the morning? Good night, Doctor Wixal.”

Q’al was worried. The quick dismissal was an unmistakable indication that the conversation had angered Tru. “It’s Q’al, sir, and did I do something wrong?”

Tru smiled, but it held no charm. It was meant to dismiss Q’al and suggest he should leave without question. “I have work to do. You’re dismissed, Doctor.”

Q’al stood, setting his glass on the coffee table in front of him. He walked to the door, resisting looking back.

Tru watched him leave, sipping his drink. He leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up on the coffee table.

“He was rude,” Gracie snarled.

Tru smiled a little. “Yes, he was. How about we listen to my angry playlist to get our minds off of it?”

From hidden speakers, a strong guitar rift began, erupting into a hard rock song.


Q’al didn’t want to admit it, but he was lost. He wasn’t even sure how he’d gotten so lost. He’d left Tru’s study and knew, or thought he knew, exactly where his quarters were. But clearly he didn’t, because none of the halls or numbers next to the doors were familiar to him. He stopped outside a door and held his hand up to the biometric pad. Nothing happened.

Doctor Q’al, you have entered an unauthorized area, Gracie informed him.

Q’al exhaled a breath, venting his frustration with the impossible computer. He guessed that was why it sounded like she was being snide.

“I’m sure am. Direct me back to my quarters.”

You must leave immediately.

“Give me directions.”

You should know the directions.

Q’al stopped short. He looked at an intercom panel down the hall. “Who said that?” he asked.

There was no reply.

“Gracie, do you detect any other biosignatures in my area?”

Only you and you are not authorized to be in this area.

Q’al rolled his eyes. “Yes. I know that. Can you transport me out of here?”

Transport restrictions will not be lifted until tomorrow.

“Gracie, transport me or give me directions back to my quarters.”

You’re supposed to be smart. How can you possibly be lost?

Q’al’s eyes narrowed. That was definitely a tone of sarcasm. “Am I talking to a computer?”

Yes.

“Then why would you ask me if I’m really lost or have an attitude?”

Instead of answering, the computer replied, I’ve dispatched a security droid to escort you to an authorized area.

“Don’t you know how to get me back to an authorized area?”

Yes.

“Give me the directions and cancel the security droid?”

No, Gracie snipped.

Q’al was surprised by the response and he felt foolish when he realized he was arguing with a computer. “I cannot be talking to a computer. Who are you?”

A security droid came around the corner, the single red bar across its ‘head’ glowing bright.

I no longer have any respect for you. Follow this droid or the only place I’m transporting you is to a Brig cell!

“Who is this? Who’s pulling this prank?”

There was no reply.

“I asked you a question, Gracie. Respond.”

Gracie didn’t respond. He looked at the droid. It was a machine that didn’t care about the situation one way or the other.

“Escort me back to my quarters,” Q’al told it.

“Follow me,” the droid’s disinterested, computerized voice replied and it marched away.

Q’al followed.

Part of him was sure that the voice had been someone playing a prank on him, but his irrational side said it wasn’t. He and several cargo grunts – crewmen responsible for moving and keeping an eye on the cargo – had drinks the night before in celebration of the first week out of spaceport and that their captain had so far been a decent one, which was rarity in itself. As the spirits slowly took over, the conversation changed to the gossip and ghost stories that surrounded Prosperous. He learned that the ship was well known among the grunts for both good and bad reasons.

They talked about how fast she was and that her systems were kept up-to-date with the most cutting edge technology. The late Doctor Barnet had contributed a lot to space exploration and the sciences with her. The rumors said that she had been built faster than any ship before, or after, her. These were the good stories.

Then they talked about the ship’s battle stories. She was said to be the quickest ship known to any race. Some said that the late Captain Barnet often let the computer take control during attacks and that the computer seemed to have artificial intelligence.

Some said the main processor, Gracie, was actually technology from another realm, or an unknown part of the universe, or from humans in the far, far future. Others said that the ship wasn’t really a ship at all, but a large life form that just looked like a ship, and she needed a full crew because she ate one a week.

Of course, these were just irrational ghost stories. Irrational ghost stories that made Q’al keep looking over his shoulder until he was safely in his own quarters.



10 May 2520

There was a growing concern among the Lunar colonies about the increasing number of babies being born with psychic abilities. When the miners began to threaten a strike and demand the mining corporations help protect their children from this fate, Lunar colony Governor, Steve Parish, issued a statement:

“These birth defects created by the Silerium dust are a shame, but [the miners] were aware of the risks when they took their jobs. They knew full well what they were getting themselves into. There isn’t a corporation in existence that doesn’t tell miners – male and female – what exposing unborn fetuses to this dust will do. If the miners continue to procreate in the Lunar colonies, they do so at their own risk. If the women continue carrying their babies to term, they do so at their own risk. We will continue offering government funded abortions, but we will not be harassed into providing services for miners beyond that. If you don’t like what happens here, go back to Earth or your own colony.”

This statement sparked a strike that lasted for almost ten months. It ended without any of the miner demands met.

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