Steve’s shorts: Intern…

Intern

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

[Some readers of this blog are probably familiar with my Dr. Carlos stories. Carlos Obregon is chief medical officer aboard the starship Brendan, part of the Interstellar Trade Union of Independent Planets’ (ITUIP’s) Space Exploration Bureau’s (SEB’s) fleet. His intern Dr. Julie Chen (not a future relation to my detective Dao-Ming Chen, as far as I know) plays an important role in some stories. The following story is about their first meeting.]

“Lester, I don’t need an intern.” Carlos Obregon crossed his arms and tried to look stubborn.

The captain of the starship Brendan knew that his First Medical Officer had a point. He waved off his objection, though.

“SEB says you do, and I agree with them that we need to train new medical officers all the time. They pair interns with experienced officers all the time. Weren’t you an intern once?”

“I did my internship in a New Haven hospital. I once made the mistake of diagnosing an SEB VIP’s ailment who then showed his gratitude by convincing me to sign on. In those days, fleet medical officers were stolen from the civilian population.”

“OK, let me put it another way: Don’t you think you have some obligation to train young people?”

Obregon indicated the young woman’s hologram appearing between them. “This intern already has experience. She could be a medical officer on a smaller ship right now and probably do a good job.”

The captain nodded. “I agree. She seems a bit over-qualified. It’s out of my hands, though. I can do nothing about it. Neither can you.”

Obregon thought a moment. “There are times when I could use some help, but those are probably times when an intern would just get in my way.”

The captain shrugged. “She’ll be boarding sometime this afternoon. You’ll have to talk to her. The faster you get her up to speed, the faster you’ll be rid of her.”

“Not until we have planetary leave again. That could take forever.”

“Or it could be in three standard months if we have a particularly stressing mission. And remember, you’ll be signing off on her being qualified for a regular post. That’s a major responsibility.”

“Can I wash her out if she’s not qualified?”

The captain frowned. “Don’t look for trouble, Carlos. Not being able to train a qualified intern won’t look good on your own record.”

“And here I mistakenly thought that the candidate’s performance would determine their future postings.”

***

“I’ve chosen a few classic texts for you to peruse,” said Obregon.

Julie Chen floated in a lotus position before his desk. Showoff, he thought. I could do that too, but I have a bit more decorum in zero-g. Brendan wouldn’t spin up the artificial gravity until just before going FTL.

They were already in the far reaches of the solar system where crewmembers had enjoyed a short leave on the fifth planet. The captain had ordered an FTL drive inspection that required the zero-g environment.

“I’m starting you with Wave Searcher’s Physiology of Known ET Genotypes and Blamak’s Sentient Lifeforms and their Circulatory Systems.

“I’ve already studied those texts. I remember you wrote a chapter in Wave Searcher’s book.”

“Fine. Look at the other texts then. Things are pretty quiet on the way out. The going gets rough when we have to explore an unknown planet and decide if it’s OK for colonization.”

“Can I also poke around sickbay? I’m not familiar with the Model 5 Portadocs. I did my training on Model 7.”

Obregon had been asking for upgrades for a long time. Yeah, rub it in, woman. “Whatever. Just stay out of my way.”

“Will we be trading off for planetary duty?”

“That’s up to Lester. I mean, the captain. We’ll probably go down together on the first few shuttle trips. You won’t learn much staying safely onboard Brendan. Oh, and one other thing, Dr. Chen. We’re always on call. In case of an emergency, whether on planet or on Brendan, delays in treatment can have deadly consequences. We might normally live for hundreds of years, so dying is a big deal.”

“Understood. What should I wear for dinner at the captain’s table?”

“What you have on is fine. We’re informal unless we have VIPs on board. And we don’t…and won’t.”

***

But upon entering the solar system corresponding to their first stop, a planet designated E-1701, a VIP did arrive onboard. An emergency pod carrying Prince Chala Yonbini was detected via its emergency beacon. His parents’ royal luxury yacht had developed a malfunction in their intra-system drive after they popped out of FTL. The sixteen-year-old had barely escaped. Some of Brendan’s crew had boarded it and found everyone else dead inside—the parents and three servants.

“We’ll get you back to your home planet,” Chen told the boy. “It will take a while.”

“I really don’t want to go back there. My uncle can have the throne. It’s a boring life being an old-fashioned monarch on a backwards planet. My father hated it but felt obligated. I don’t feel obligated.”

“I don’t think you have any choice. We certainly don’t. We have to return you.”

“What am I supposed to do when that happens? I’ll be out of here in no time.”

Chen checked the porta-doc readout again, and then winked at him. “What about now?”

“I was enjoying your great bedside manners and beaming smile,” he said. “Any chance you want to replace our court physician? That old man is an ugly fool in comparison. You could even become my consort.”

“Not a chance. Let’s get you out of there.”

Chen watched Chala dress. A body of a man, but still a boy, she thought.

“You didn’t answer my first question,” he said, pulling on jersey, shorts, and sandals, standard garb for crewmembers while aboard Brendan.

She thought about that question a moment. “Maybe the captain can give you something to do. Do you have any special interests? Talents?”

“I’m good at electrical and mechanical things.” He made a sad face. “My father always said that was beneath my status, so I had to play around with them on the sly.”

Yet he misses his father. “Come along, then, and you can meet the captain.”

***

After the FTL drive checkout, Brendan left ordinary space and began its hops, skips, and jumps through the metaverses on their way to their first destination. Obregon read journal articles; Chen studied many things and made sure she knew everything there was to know about operating a sick bay.

Three subjective weeks into the journey, the captain visited Obregon’s small office just to the side of the sick bay.

“Got a minute, Carlos?”

Obregon looked up from his tablet screen. “For you, Lester, I’ll give you two.”

The captain smiled. “I want to talk about Prince Chala.”

“Just call him Chala. Everybody else on board does. And he’s even asked crewmembers to do so. Besides, I don’t believe in any of this monarchy crap. Earth’s monarchs weren’t often good guys, and even the good ones were parasites.”

“Oh, please, always spouting historical references.” Obregon was a history buff, among other things. “I don’t care about history. I’m more into what our future might bring.”

“Stop sermonizing. What about Chala?”

“He was looking for something to do, said he had an interest in electrical and mechanical stuff, so I told him to go visit Mencheb. They hit it off.”

“That old Tali? I’m surprised. He’s such a grouch.”

Mencheb had the job of keeping Brendan’s shuttles in tip-top shape. They were essential for exploring and studying a planetary surface. Generally they made many trips ferrying scientific crewmembers and supplies down to the surface and bringing them and their samples back onboard.

“Maybe we’re missing something,” said the captain. “Anyway, Mencheb told me the kid has real talent. He needs an assistant. Because he hates surface duty, I was thinking of sending him along in the first landing party.”

“A bit young, I’d say. Did he ask to go? I think he’s enamored with Chen. She’s going, but that’s part of her training.”

“I didn’t know about the romantic interest, but he didn’t ask. I thought of it after reading Mencheb’s glowing report.”

“There’s no future in it. He’s a king, after all.”

“So let him have some adventures. It will be subjective months before we can return him to his planet. And I believe he dreads that. Let’s give the kid a break.”

“So why tell me? You’re the captain.”

“You also serve as consultant for mental health issues. Will he stand up to stress on the surface? Given your comment about the infatuation, maybe not.”

Obregon shrugged. “I never checked his profile. The porta-doc automatically produced one, but I never looked at it. I’ll check. I certainly don’t want him to endanger himself or other members of the crew.”

***

“You are one lucky fellow,” Chen told Chala as she received a box of supplies from him. “I was surprised when you showed up for surface duty.” Chen put the box on the back of rugged terrain vehicle. The RTV was almost full and would be driven to their campsite about two kilometers away by one of the security personnel.

He nodded. “Mencheb has taught me a whole lot. I know these shuttles inside and out now. But I was surprised too. What a great opportunity! But why are you here? You’d think Obregon would come on the first trip.”

“Part of my training. He’ll be monitoring my performance from orbit.”

“Will Mencheb monitor mine?”

“Maybe. But not likely. These shuttles are in great shape, right?”

“The best. Mencheb knows his stuff. I’d like to take him back to my planet so I could continue to learn.”

“That would be like learning a hobby, I guess.”

Chala made a face. “Yes. I guess that’s true.”

***

Three days into the first landing mission, Chen had her first case: a security detail member took sick.

“Porta-doc won’t help you,” said Obregon from Brendan. “I’ll come down on the next shuttle. We’ll need some old-fashioned lab work to find out what’s ailing him.”

Three days and five patients later, Obregon’s shuttle came down. It had a hard landing, though, and there were injuries. Worse, the shuttle’s aerodynamic controls had malfunctioned and caused the hard landing. Chala went into action.

Chen and Obregon tended to the injured. She already had the first problem solved. In her field lab, she’d discovered a new planetary parasite that loved Humans. She thought it was a plant parasite, but there were also many small animals around too, food for a few voracious predators.

“Good job finding the vector for that parasite,” said Obregon, checking the field porta-doc that contained a scientist with a broken leg. “This expedition seems to be having a bit of bad luck. How’s the kid doing with the shuttle?”

“Mencheb sings his praises. I think he wants Chala to be his assistant.”

“Not happening.”

“Why not? Chala’s home planet isn’t part of ITUIP.”

“But we’d want to maintain good relations with them. Stealing their king wouldn’t accomplish that.”

Chen shrugged. “I have no use for monarchies.”

“I agree. In general, ITUIP doesn’t either. But we have a few ceremonial ones even among ITUIP planets. Sometimes a planetary population loves all the pomp and circumstance.” He shut off the porta-doc and gave the scientist a thumb’s up. “You can get out now.”

“I need some lunch,” said Chen.

“Be right with you.”

***

Chala stood with hands on hips and stared at the burned wiring in the second shuttle.

“This isn’t good,” he said to Mencheb via the com unit plugged into the side of his head. “Maybe I’m jinxing us?”

“Nonsense,” said the Tali. “Primitive superstition. Equipment deteriorates. Those shuttles are fifty years old if they’re a day. Our maintenance schedules are rigorous, but wiring problems are hard to detect. I have the same problem with the RTVs. Some have burst into flames. The important question is: can you fix it?”

“I might need some help.”

“I conferred with the captain. With two out of three shuttles out, he doesn’t want to risk sending another one down if he can avoid it, so I’m stuck here for the time being. Let’s see what you can do, Chala. I have confidence in you.”

Chala shook his head. I don’t. I’m in deep water and sinking fast. “Which shuttle do I try to fix first?”

“I’d go for the wiring job. The first shuttle’s controls will be more complicated to fix. Get the second in flying condition and I’ll come down and help you with the controls of the other one.”

Chala downloaded the wiring diagram with his com unit and went to work.

***

“Never been on the surface this long for an expedition,” said Obregon, sipping his tea. “These scientific types are dedicated. They’re going about their business as if our way back to orbit were secure.”

“You’re a scientist too, and they’re all pros,” said Chen. “This planet presents some challenges, which means they’re finding it interesting. They’re having fun.”

“Doctors are more artisans than scientists. Or maybe engineers. We know how to put people back together again. The challenge comes when you meet people with completely different anatomies and/or mental processes. I once had to operate on a fellow who insisted that his shaman be present. You’d never have that experience on New Haven.”

“Is that what convinced you to come to work for SEB?”

“In part. But maybe I’m just lazy. Between planetfalls, I can do a lot of reading and listening to music. Crewmembers are generally healthy. What about you?”

“More the first. And an affair that ended badly.”

“Another doctor?”

“No, an engineer.”

“Engineers have their place. What would Li have done without Holst?” Obregon was referring to Annie Li, the theoretical physicist and mathmetician who had helped develop the theory of the FTL drive, and Ian Holst, an engineer who had made it practical. “They’re a bit dependent on their recipe books, just like we are.”

“You mean, following a protocol. Situation X requires solution Y?”

“Yes. We’re not very creative, generally speaking. What’s on his mind?” Chala was walking toward them. “You look tired, my prince. How’s it going?”

“I’m taking a break. I can’t tell wires apart when I’m bleary eyed.”

“No one else can do it,” said Chen with a smile.

“I’m not sure whether to be flattered by a beautiful maiden or to wonder about your degree of confidence in me.”

“I have confidence in you too,” said Obregon, winking at Chen.

***

The second shift of the exploration party returned to Brendan with Obregon on the shuttle with its wiring fixed. Another shift returned on the same craft along with Mencheb. Chala and he took three more weeks to fix the controls of the first shuttle.

The mission continued for two more months when everyone returned to the ship; it left orbit and headed out of the solar system. En route to their next stop one evening, ship’s time, the captain invited Obregon to join him at the dinner table. Chen and Chala were there, along with Mencheb.

“What’s the wine for?” said Obregon, taking his seat next to the captain. “Is this some special occasion?”

“We’re celebrating three, no four, different events. First, everyone’s healthy and so are our shuttles, the first thanks in large part to Dr. Chen, and the second thanks in large part to Chala Yonbini. Second, the mission went well. After scanning all the reports, I think we can add another planet to our catalog of planets available for colonies, with that pesky parasite and its vector duly noted.” He nodded at Chen. “Third, I’ve approved Dr. Chen’s request to remain on Brendan as Dr. Obregon’s intern.” He smiled at both Chen and Obregon, who first frowned and then smiled. “Finally, I’ve approved Chala’s request to become Mencheb’s temporary assistant until we can drop him off for further training at one of SEB’s technical schools. He won’t be returning to his home planet.” Mencheb gave a Tali’s grunt of approval. “Now, shall we dine?”

After the main course and much pleasant banter, Obregon leaned over to whisper in his captain’s ear. “You didn’t ask me about Chen. And what about returning Chala? The monarchists on his home planet might be upset.”

“About Chen, this isn’t a democracy, Carlos. She did well, and you can use the help. About Chala, I’m sure his uncle will do just fine as king. Now eat your awful dessert and shut up.”

***

[Other Dr. Carlos stories can be found in Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape and Fantastic Encores! Dr. Chen appears as a full medical officer in Rogue Planet. And here’s a bit of background: The Colombian Obregon is a favorite Colombian painter of mine—he and Botero are mentioned in Rembrandt’s Angel—and Carlos was my compadre Gilberto’s eldest son. He was also like a son to me when he died in 9/11. My sc-fi thriller Full Medical is dedicated to his memory. (The entire “Clones and Mutants Trilogy” is now on sale at Smashwords.]

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). See the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!

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