Jeff called April and asked to came over with Heather a couple hours after the shooting. It was really unusual to see Jeff angry. April remembered what Gunny had said about wanting to see if he really shot laser beams out of his eyes. Except that look would freeze anything solid rather than vaporize it. Jeff, angry, spoke softly and was scary cold.
“Jon said the man who tried to shoot you had tattoos that are common to Chinese special forces. They just don’t seem capable of leaving us alone. You know I’ve been diverting some income to buy rods. They are cheap and very hard to stop. However they have to be dead on a target to do any damage since they are just kinetic weapons.”
Bad enough to knock out a nuke sub, Gunny thought but didn’t say anything.
“I have five other special weapons stealthed and in orbit. They use a new tech based on some of my mom’s work. I wanted to sneak one off and test it before releasing them to you and Heather, but this decided me to give you the orbital elements and go codes. If you call them up in your spex or on a screen you can see a cone of possible maneuver. Or if you designate a point on the Earth’s surface it will tell you when the next one can reach it.” Open your pad and I’ll transfer the full data set to you.”
“Why couldn’t you test these like you wanted?” April asked.
“I needed two vehicles. One to carry a sample around the other side of the sun, and one to record the test and return. It’s expensive and would take months. It’s hard to cover up buying and sending them off. And more important right now it would take too long and waste one of them when it will be months before I can get the materials to make more. I’m sure they’ll work, I’m just not sure what the yield will be.”
“You must have a guess though,”
“I’m pretty sure it will yield fifty megatons. If it fused all the hydrogen and lithium it would yield near a hundred megatons. My Mother thinks we may get secondary reactions fusing heavier elements. You get declining energy boosts from secondary reactions all the way to iron after all. I’d be really, really surprised if as it is presently configured it went over two-hundred megatons. That may sound like a big range, but it’s all within an order of magnitude,” he pointed out.
“How do you intend to use these?” April asked, worried.
“I’d reserve them for if Home itself is directly attacked, or if one of we three are assassinated. If you find some circumstances that warrant using them, you have the codes now. I wouldn’t expect you or Heather to use them lightly,” he assured her.
“If my assassin had succeeded?” she wondered.
“Beijing and the entire communist party hierarchy there would be a huge smoking crater, decapitating China as the strategists say.” He looked like he wanted to say more, so she kept quiet. Gunny looked scared to death.
“If you drop one on Beijing, and that just hardens their resolve, the other four dropped off their coast will remove half their population and a third of their industry. It would remove them as a world power for the next several decades. If that doesn’t break them talk to my Mum. She’ll finish it for you. I don’t know how, but said she can, and I believe her. Although if it has gotten to that point I’m guessing she won’t need requests to act on her own. She has no love of China.”
“Does China have any idea its existence is so precarious?” April asked.
“No, and I doubt you could convince them. They are such arrogant liars they can’t imagine anybody else isn’t like them. April, they still think they own my Mother. They are just frustrated they can’t reclaim their slave and the value of her education. They are very bad people.” he said sincerely.
“Not so much different than North America,” Gunny growled. “I’m paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to basically buy my freedom from them,” he pointed out.
“Thank you for listening,” Jeff told them. “I know it’s late and you have to still be upset about the shooting, but I just felt like if I waited until morning to tell you and pass the codes I was taking a chance. I feel like we are all at risk now, every hour, and I wanted these codes in you and Heather’s hands.”
“Not my business, but I’m curious since you are letting me hear this, it isn’t something the militia has access to?” Gunny asked.
“No this is our private system. I don’t think ill of the militia, but I’m hesitant to give that many people access to a system that can obliterate a few hundred square miles with one strike. There are a lot of armed merchant ships now, so no telling who has private weapon systems. I do doubt if anybody has weapons this large,” he allowed.
“But you don’t know,” Gunny suggested.
“No, no way to really know because there are no laws or limits to give us authority to even ask,” Jeff agreed. “Atomic weapons are 1940s technology after all,” he reminded them. “Getting the materials is the only real barrier. Laws have always been secondary to the physical difficulties of obtaining the plutonium or uranium. These weapons don’t use either. If I found a way around that somebody else may have also,” he said modestly.
“Well, we know Loonies can make at least tactical nuke size weapons. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could manage strategic sized,” April guessed.
“If they think on it,” Jeff suggested, “they may see you could use the devices they already have in an implosion geometry to compress fusibles. It would require detonator circuitry with very accurate timing, but only slightly better than a plutonium fission bomb.”
“If you see a way to do it that easily then the only safe way is to figure everybody has them,” Gunny decided. “I’ll keep this to myself,” he volunteered, though they hadn’t asked.
* * *
April didn’t sleep well. She thought she was over the shock of the assassination attempt in the cafeteria as soon as her heart rate was back to normal. Instead it roused memories of her gun battle on Earth when Preston Harrison had tried to arrest her. Jeff’s announcement and the burden of the codes probably didn’t help either. The mish-mash of irrational confused images woke her up and she had to get up and have a hot chocolate and calm herself before she could go back to bed and eventually sleep.
In the morning Gunny was not up and she went ahead and went back to the cafeteria for breakfast without him. Ruby wasn’t there and she wanted to thank Ruby for protecting her face to face, not on com. She was surprised when Gunny arrived at the cafeteria door at a jog. He slowed down and walked in normally, but she wasn’t fooled. She’d heard him running. He’d been really moving only three or four paces outside the door.
He scanned the tables first, and only then, after she was located and the room appraised did he get a tray and go through the line.
“Aren’t you afraid to be here alone after yesterday?” he asked when he joined her.
“Not especially. If they can throw an assassin a day at me I won’t hold out very long anyway. It costs a lot to send one up here. Surely we have until at least the next shuttle before we have to worry about another.”
“Perhaps. I am a professional paranoid. I’d don’t want to make any assumptions if an error means you are dead. I read last night that they have a solution to long term Bucky Ball toxicity and new life extension treatments might take us out to about three hundred years. It would be a shame to see that cut off for you at sixteen.” Gunny suggested.
“Look at the curve for life extension,” April said cutting a climbing graph in the air with her hand. “If we’ll have three hundred now the curve is really turning up sharply,” she said running her hand almost straight up. “I can’t imagine another thousand and more won’t be added on during that new period. Pretty soon homicide and suicide will be the only serious sources of morbidity. Beside the people who die young from stupidity before they have a chance to get any sense. Males especially,” she said trying to tweak him a bit. He didn’t bite. He agreed actually.
“I don’t think you’ll ever completely get rid of people who thrill seek like sky divers and folks who race cars. But I bet most will shun risk taking. Maybe even pay for delivery of groceries and stuff in order to hole up at home to avoid the risk of travel and exposure to disease.”
“True,” April agreed, “but trauma medicine is getting better and better too. You may have to really splatter yourself beyond scraping up or burn yourself up to be permanently dead.”
“And yet they still can’t freeze a large mammal and have it thaw completely normal and live a full life after. If your buddy Jeff really does make a star ship somebody better perfect that or it will be a mighty long boring trip to those stars if you need spend it awake.”
“That’s a problem. I assume there is probably somebody working on it who is a wizard at the biological sciences, just like Jeff is working at nano.” April looked up sharply. “In fact I know just the person to commission,” she said suddenly happy.
Gunny had jerked and scanned the room quickly when she looked up so abruptly. April examined his breakfast and he hadn’t eaten much at all.
“Gunny, do you need a couple days off? I’m afraid yesterday imprinted you and you can’t relax. Maybe there is some Post Traumatic Stress you need to deal with? There’s medicine that eases that isn’t there?”
“You should be the one stressed. Nobody was shooting at me.”
“I am a little. I had weird, mixed up dreams last night and got up in the middle of the night and walked around and made myself some hot chocolate. I’ll go by the clinic after breakfast and talk to the doc on duty about it.”
“I’ll listen to whatever he tells you, but I’m not going to take anything that slows me down or will numb my valid judgment.”
“Okay, but eat please. You can’t stay fast and alert without fuel either,” she pointed out.
Gunny considered his omelet. “I’ve let this get cold. I’ll get it heated and some fresh hot cakes. Maybe you are right. We’ll both talk to the doc.”
When he came back Margaret was with him.
“Thank you so much for your protection last night,” April said. She went around the table and hugged her after she put her tray down. Margaret hugged her back and didn’t hurry to end it.
“That’s why I was here,” Margaret explained. “Alvin tagged that guy when he got off the shuttle as bad news, and we had a watch on him every time he moved. Jon had me pre-positioned in the cafeteria as soon as he left his room and headed this way.”
“You knew he was after April?” Gunny asked, frowning.
“No, we just figured he was up to no good. He could have been after somebody else, or been a saboteur. He was just too young and in too good a shape to be a pharmaceuticals salesman. If we knew he was targeting April, or anybody else, we’d have never let it progress so far.”
“Good, I wouldn’t approve of using her for bait,” he said bluntly.
“I will never do that. Not only do I value her personally, after last night I’d never do anything to piss you off. I Tased him, but it was just following through what I’d started. By the him I hit him he was a dead man standing. You had two rounds in him before I fired. I was primed to draw and watching him. You had to react to his actions from a blank slate.”
“You’d have gotten him before he fired though,” Gunny ceded, “and Ruby…That woman is scary. She pushed off the counter instead of just using traction to go at him. I’m not sure she wouldn’t have had her knife in him before he had that pistol extended and aimed.”
“Even if he got it extended, it’s tough to aim and fire effectively with a face full of scalding hot coffee,” Margaret pointed out.
“Ed Page works out with our Thai Chi group most Wednesdays,” April told them. “We don’t just do the slow. We even do sword. He wasn’t getting up to ask the guy for the next dance.”
Margaret, had to yank her napkin up and catch her explosive laugh. She folded it over and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “Sorry, your droll humor catches me now and then. I just had this mental image of Ed posed holding his hands held like guys do to ask for a dance. By the way, Jon has the guys pistol and says it’s rightfully yours as a trophy of combat,” she told Gunny.
“Wow, the cops Earthside would never do that. I think you should give it to Ruby.”
“Ruby probably has better,” April told him. “I know she and Easy own a Singh laser. Easy is the sort, well, when we flew together he brought his own Russian anti-armor missiles along. He had those and was holding them before the war last year. So who knows what he owns now?”
“Fine, then give it to Ed. He was just as brave as Ruby and maybe he needs an upgrade from a coffee mug.”
“I’ll tell him. Jon instructed medical to not do an autopsy on the guy. He just had them doing a toxicology work up, because Ruby said one of the reasons she was so suspicious of him was he had dilated pupils. They may have had him on some kind of drug.”
“That would be stupid. It would ruin your sight picture. April wants me to see the clinic about some medication for PTS. I have concerns it would mess up my ability exactly like that.”
“I’m on a low dose of two drugs that complement each other. I have been over a year, since the war. I haven’t felt any need to adjust them for yesterday.”
“Well whatever you’re taking sure didn’t seem to slow you down. I find that encouraging,” Gunny said.
“Are you modified like April?” Margaret asked. “You just got here so you couldn’t be a customer of Jelly, could you?”
“Nickname for our local gene-mod doc from his college days. He’s Okay and I’d say he’s just as fast as you or April. I can’t afford it yet.”
“Ruby wondered the same thing, but no, I am as I was born. I’m just naturally quick.”
“If you go to the clinic talk to Dr. Lee. He’s the one who helped me. Later guys.” She was done with her light breakfast and hurried out.
“So, she fought in the war?” Gunny asked, fishing.
“She wiped out a squad of a dozen Space Seals by herself and folded the Heavy Space Shuttle Cincinnati over double, with its nose against its belly. In all fairness she did write on the lock not to enter or they’d be met with lethal force. The idiots came in anyway.”
“You have some scary friends.”
April decided that was some genuine humility. “Come on let’s see if this Lee is in.”
Doctor Lee was in and busy. They waited while he treated a beam dog who got pinched by a slow moving but massive truss. He left limping a bit with a three day rest order. He wasn’t happy to lose suit hours even though he got base pay, and even less happy that he was cut off from drinking while he used the pain medication.
It appeared Dr. Lee and one nurse practitioner were the entire duty crew.
“What do you do if you get a bunch of casualties all at once?” Gunny wondered.
“I have an off shift doctor I can wake up. There are a number of people trained in Emergency Medicine I can call on, and residents who have said they would respond in an extreme emergency trained as nurses or military medics. It’s possible to overwhelm local medical facilities anywhere,” he asserted.
“That sounded more critical than I intended it to. It was a serious question. I am looking at living here so it concerned me.”
“You have the same level of medical care here you’d expect in a suburban city in the USNA or Europe. If you need very specialized surgery you have to go down to a large Metro area just like if you lived in a very small town in Idaho. There are places in large cities that have better trauma centers. But really good trauma centers are the result of areas where violence is common. Living close enough to one to be taken there is often riskier than living further away and having less chance of needing it.”
“Then your crime level is very low here?” Gunny asked.
“I do not believe we have treated anyone in the last year injured as a result of crime.”
“How about that guy in your freezer with a knife stuck in his back and the three rounds I put in his chest?”
“I don’t count war and political assassination as crime, but believe me, he was well past any possible treatment when we got him here. That’s a pattern I am seeing. Such violence tends to produce dead bodies and little treatable injury. Even when we had fighting on station back in the war there were only six wounded I am aware of needing treatment.”
“Ask Jon if you want,” April suggested. “I don’t know if he keeps records of minor problems, like if somebody is drunk and disorderly and he escorts them home. He has not presented what you’d consider a felony to the Home Assembly since the war. He has the authority from the company to expel troublemakers who are just working here on temporary contracts.”
“Interesting. I’m used to more crime even inside the sheltered environment of a base.”
“We are a small community. A lot of crime like theft is harder to do here than down in an Earth town. You can’t take your loot and drive to a town a little bit away to sell it,” Lee said.
“I’ve seen you don’t have big apartments full of status symbols. And some things like a video screen everybody seems to have one. There aren’t any ‘have nots’ to steal out of envy.”
“How is the clinic funded?” Gunny wondered, looking around at an abundance of equipment. “Can three thousand people generate enough income to make it viable?”
“Mitsubishi carries most of the expense because they need it for the construction workers. The voting citizens agreed to kick in eight hundred dollars each as a base fund.”
“A month?” Gunny interrupted.
“No, annually. That all covers cubic, power and some of our upkeep on equipment. We are charging a hundred and fifty dollars an hour for myself and the other doctor. And we are the only pharmacy for now so we make a little on drugs.”
“I assume my USNA medical card is no good here?”
“No, just as you could not use on Earth in a foreign country we would not be reimbursed if we offered treatment on it. However we have a policy of no tiered prices. Everybody pays the same and we will try to quote as accurately as possible what elective services will cost. Did you want an estimate on some service?” He looked funny at April. “Do you need privacy?” he added.
“No, April is my employer at the moment. She actually urged me to come along because she intended to see you for the same reason. We are concerned we may be suffering from a degree of PTS. We, well, we’ve had a lot of people shooting at us lately. It’s not paranoia because they really are,” he emphasized.
“There are characteristic patterns of brain activity for which we can look. If they are evident to a degree there are several drugs that can offer some relief. If there is a really severe problem then there are stronger drugs and behavior therapy, but I’d say offhand that is not present or I’d see an overt presentation of inappropriate behavior.”
“Well you were willing to sit sideways to the door and look away from it. That is not the behavior of a severe case. I’d say we need about two hours of diagnostic time, which includes taking a general medical history and some base line testing, a brain scan and reading it. Say four to five hundred dollars and if you need a prescription it will probably run twelve to fifteen dollars a day.”
“Sounds cheap. Let’s do it. Can you do it right now or do I need to come back?”
“Right now. We might get interrupted if I need to treat someone, but that’s not likely. Here let me give you a questionnaire on your pad,” he held his out to transfer a file. “I have April’s data. If you’d go in the first room there and fill it out I should be done with April when you come out.”
April was done and even had a couple bottles of pills on the counter beside her when Gunny came out. Dr. Lee was wiping out a clamshell helmet with a sani-wipe. “This is a military field model of NMR scanner. We use a lot of military and EM model equipment because it is more compact. We have full body scan too, but this is optimized for the brain and has specialized software. If you’d sit here we’ll project some images and sounds and get a baseline response.”
Gunny sat tense for awhile. The helmet played tones and showed various scenes and then music. Dr. Lee walked around behind him and picked up a clipboard from the counter.
“Ah that’s Virginia,” Gunny noted after a scene. “Heh, you have some oldies too he commented about the music.”
Dr. Lee didn’t reply. He watched the readout on the helmet and when it reached a certain point he slammed the clipboard on the counter with a crack like a pistol shot.
Gunny levitated straight up a good three inched grabbing the chair arms like he might float off. He gasped and started to reach up for the helmet and then controlled himself. “Was that really necessary Doc?” He was very unhappy.
“I’m supposed to use a starter pistol, but we had reports that some patients threw off the helmet and the sight of even a starter pistol triggered worse responses. It really was necessary to generate a startle response. And yes you have a spike response I’d recommend mitigating with medication.”
“Did you do that to April too?”
“I’d rather not discuss details of April with you. In any case she is much younger. The growing brain is different and has different concerns. I can offer you appropriate medication that will make you process threats much better. You will be able to do your job just as well and not wear yourself out expending attention at unsustainable levels. You should sleep better too. And yes if you compare medications with April you will see that while you share one, the others two are different.”
“It won’t slow me down?”
“It absolutely will not reduce your reaction time.”
Gunny sighed. “Okay then I’ll try it.”
“I’ll write you a prescription for three weeks. If you feel it is making you ill in any way come see us right away. If you have any unexplained rash or difficulty breathing or anything serious like that, please don’t hesitate to request emergency transportation.”
“Is that likely?”
“No, some doctors don’t like to admit there might be any problem, but hey, some people can’t take aspirin. You never know who will have an allergy. If you are happy with how you feel get a refill when the three weeks are up. If you want another scan to try to quantify how it is working I’d be happy to do that.”
“How many refills do I get?”
“We don’t work it like that here. You’re an adult. If you need drugs we’ll sell them to you. If you want our advice a prescription is a recommendation not a straight jacket. You want to try something else based on what you read or sell or give these to somebody else, well, it’s your property not mine. You have the freedom on Home to be very smart or very stupid. Up to you.”
“April mentioned even marijuana is legal.”
“Yes, but the plant varies considerably in potency, and it is terribly inconvenient to smoke in our environment. If you want it for an actual medical condition and not just recreational use I’d suggest looking into synthetic cannabinoids. There are different ones tailored for specific uses. Many of them will treat medical problems at a dosage that doesn’t induce euphoria.”
“This is going to be an adjustment for me coming from North America.”
“I’m sure it is,” Dr. Lee agreed. “But we haven’t had that long to adjust ourselves,” He punched in an order and got two small bottles from an automated pharmacy panel, he opened them and checked them critically before handing them to Gunny. “I’ll bill you against your com code number. Most of Home runs a cash or 30 day business settlement. If you think of any questions here is our com,” he offered it and let Gunny take the address. “They won’t bother me off shift unless it is an emergency, but they have your data here.”
“You have to have a life too, Doc. Thank you for the help.” He gathered his medicine and followed April, standing at the door already.
“That was reasonable, but I suppose I should see about some kind of insurance for really catastrophic medical expenses.”
“I’m not sure who sells it,” April admitted. “You’ll have to research it.”
Gunny looked at her alarmed. “You have enough strangers shooting at you to consider it for yourself,” he suggested.
“Maybe. You can tell me what you find out. You heard what Dr. Lee said. You tend to be dead more often than just wounded in his experience.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that like it’s a positive thing.”
April stood in the corridor indecisive.
“Forget where you parked?” Gunny joked.
“I’d have never believed that possible before I visited Earth,” April admitted. “I’m not hungry yet, but by the time we go home we’ll need to turn around and head back for lunch. I’m not sure what to do.”
“Do they have delivery or carry-out?”
“Actually, I inherited shares in a company that picks up food at the cafeteria and delivers it to your door for a small fee. But we’re so close, we can get stuff in a thermal pack to take back.”
“Let’s do it then. I haven’t seen that yet.”
“Okay,” she said, turning back the way they came. “I have Eddie coming to talk business this afternoon. I don’t want to worry about rushing back to meet him.”