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His Brother's Keeper

By Betty Ragan
Page 3 of 5

Over the next few weeks, I tried keeping that feeling in my mind; every time I got too annoyed at Avon I'd try imagining it was my brother lying there, and how I'd feel about it. That got harder and harder to do, though, not just because Avon was being even more of a pain in the arse than usual (and the more he thought you might be feeling sorry for him, the bigger of a pain in the arse he got), but because it got to be a worse and worse thing to imagine the more we did to the poor bastard…

And I got to see a lot of it, lucky me, because Cally had decided that I was going to be a nurse.

I tried to argue with her. Pointed out that I tend to faint at the sight of blood and so forth, but she wouldn't have any of it. I think it was when she said "But Vila, you have such dexterous fingers. That is very useful in a medical context," that did it. I never could resist flattery from a pretty lady. She was right about me having a better bedside manner than Avon, too, but that's not exactly difficult...

So, it was Dr. Cally and Dr. Orac and Nurse Gan and Nurse Me tending the patient, with Blake popping in every five minutes to "see if there was anything he could do," and mostly Avon standing there making snide comments and trying not to look worried. He did a better job of it than me, I must say.

Personally, I thought it was all a bad idea from the start. I mean, what does any of us know about medicine? Well, surgery, anyway; Cally and Gan may be good at first aid, but rebuilding a mutoid is a pretty far from slapping a healing pad on a burn. Orac knows everything, of course, and if Orac had fingers I'd be happy to leave it all to him, but none of the rest of us are doctors. I'm certainly not. So I was all in favor of finding an actual doctor, like we did for Gan, kidnapping one if necessary. Blake would have gone along with that, I think, but Avon wouldn't hear of it. Made an annoying speech about how dangerous it would be, and how we had Orac this time to tell us what to do so there was no reason we shouldn't be able to manage it ourselves ("ourselves" being me and Cally and Gan, of course), and, besides, look what happened last time, so on and so forth. And Cally said, well, Avon was the next-of-kin, so it ought to be his decision, and Blake agreed, so that was that, apparently.

I just hope Avon never has to make any medical decisions about me, because I certainly wouldn’t want me poking about in my insides.

We needed to do the surgery and the other physical stuff first, according to Orac, because it would leave the mutoid feeling weak and confused afterwards, and that ought to make the mental conditioning easier. Which seemed pretty callous to me, but then nobody ever accused Orac of being compassionate.

Mostly I handed Cally and Gan instruments and clamped things where they told me to clamp them and tried not to look at what they were doing as much as I possibly could. And, no, I didn't faint, but then there wasn't actually any blood, just this green stuff... Which was disgusting enough, really, but disgusting in an entirely different way than blood is disgusting, if that makes any sense.

So, we -- well, they -- fixed up his digestive system (which Orac said was still functional, but had to be hooked back up and turned back on or something, because mutoids don't need to eat) and removed that horrible needle from his arm, and took out the transponder that Orac, annoyingly, had neglected to tell us about right away (leading to a lot of swearing and Jenna running up to the flight deck to make a course change when he finally did), and one or two other things that, frankly, I'd just as soon not think about too much, thanks.

It all seemed to go smoothly enough, anyway. Orac only had to yell at us that we were doing it wrong twice.

**

We gave him a day or two to recover from the surgery, which he seemed to be doing OK… Well, no he didn't, really, at least not as far as I could see. To be honest, he looked terrible. All pale and sweaty. But Orac said that was only to be expected and would I stop bothering him unless the patient did something interesting, please. Not that he said "please," of course.

But he never did do anything Orac considered "interesting," so eventually we moved on to the next bit, which Orac said was replacing his green stuff with actual human blood.

That conjured up all kinds of horrible thoughts in my mind, that did. My mum used to threaten us with that sort of thing when we were kids. "You get caught stealing, Vila, and they'll give you to the mutoids to drink your blood!" It worked, too. I got very, very good at not getting caught. I remember, I always imagined them sinking vampire fangs into my neck, and it occurred to me that now we'd removed this one's needle, so how was he going to take the blood? No way was I going to let him sink any fangs into me, I don't care whose brother he was, and I'd just as soon not have any sucked out of me through needles either. Blood belongs on the inside of the body, especially my blood.

But Gan just laughed and said, "Don't be silly, Vila. We'll use the artificial blood from the Liberator's stores. It's exactly the same as real blood. And we'll feed in into him through the tube in his chest."

"Oh, that's why we left that in!" I said, feeling greatly relieved. I had been wondering why we didn't take that out along with everything else while we had him open.

Avon looked about ready to hit me, though, and he made some sort of remark about how very glad he was that his brother's life was in the hands of an incompetent like me who couldn't even pay attention when Orac was putting it into baby language for me. Or something like that. And I said "Listen, if you think you can do better, you be the nurse!" He didn't say anything to that, just glared at me, and Cally quickly changed the subject.

Now, if you know Avon, you're probably wondering why he didn't cut me into little pieces -- verbally, if not literally -- and then insist that, yes, he could do better than me and my services would no longer be needed, thank you very much.

Well, I'll tell you a little secret. Avon does not have "dexterous fingers." Avon is, not to put too fine a point on it, a klutz. Oh, he manages to compensate for it when it's really important; he's got pretty good with a gun, for instance, after lots of practice. And he hides it well; you'd never know it watching him fixing all those delicate little computer pieces, but the main reason he has to fix them so often in the first place is that every time he fiddles around with the circuitry, he breaks something. I hear him swearing about it all the time on the flight deck, when he thinks I'm asleep. Thank goodness for auto-repair, that's all I can say, or he'd probably have broken Zen well past fixing by now.

The point is, it's not just my bedside manner that got me elected as nurse instead of him. But don't tell him I said so.

Anyway, Avon didn't say anything more for a while after that, and the blood replacement thing turned out to be simple enough that even Avon could have done it without breaking anything.

There was one minor complication, though, which was that rinsing out all the green blood-substitute stuff also rinsed out all the drugs we'd given him to keep him unconscious all this time. We could have given him some more, of course, but Cally didn't think it was a good idea, for reasons I'm not too clear on... Maybe it was just her usual dislike of drugs again, I don't know. At any rate, it wasn't too long after we finished that he started to come out of it.

We were all gathered around the bed at this point. Well, no, not all of us: Jenna was up on the flight deck on the principle that "someone has to be," or so she said. That's not strictly true, of course; after all, that's what Zen's there for, isn't it? Personally, I think she was just being smarter than the rest of us. Wish I'd thought of it first.

At any rate, the mutoid finally opened his eyes and looked right at Blake -- what is it about that man, anyway? -- and said "Where is my commander?" His voice was all shaky and pale like the rest of him. It was also totally expressionless, otherwise, but I couldn't tell whether that was due to being a mutoid, or due to being Avon's brother.

Blake said, "Your commander isn't here. Do you remember what happened? Do you know where you are?"

Apparently he didn't. He just lay there for a moment, looking like he was trying to access memories he didn't have -- I suppose even a mutoid is going to have trouble remembering things that happened while he was unconscious -- and said, "I have been damaged."

Gan patted him on the arm in a friendly sort of way and said, "We're fixing you up. Don't worry."

The mutoid asked Gan if he was a cybersurgeon, and Gan kind of stuttered a little and admitted that, no, he wasn't, exactly. Sometimes Gan is a little too honest for his own good. Or anybody else's, for that matter.

At this point, Cally took the mutoid's hand in one of hers, and Avon's in the other, and said "Sarl," -- it seemed Avon had told Cally, at least, what his brother's name was, which was interesting -- "Do you know who this is?"

Sarl looked at him for a long moment, in this utterly blank kind of way, and I found myself thinking how totally different his eyes were from Avon's: a pale, washed-out sort of brown, and just totally… empty. He said, "No. Should I?"

Then, before anybody could think of what to say in response to that, he suddenly looked past Avon, like he was seeing the room for the first time, and he frowned. Well, not a frown, exactly, but a definite frowny expression around the eyes. "This is not a Federation facility. You are not Federation personnel."

And I said, "Well, that's very perceptive. You can tell he's related to you, Avon!"

I know, I know, it was a stupid thing to say. I was feeling nervous and uncomfortable, all right? And the thing is, Avon was looking… Well, very not well. Very, very not well. And sometimes the best way to deal with Avon when he's in a black mood is to get him started on an exchange of insults and let him blow some of it off verbally.

Unfortunately, it didn't work this time. He just dropped Cally's hand like it had burned him and turned and stalked out of the room.

Blake gave me a really nasty look and went off after him, and Cally and Gan both looked at me liked I'd just kicked a puppy. Wonderful.

We tried talking to Sarl some more, but he wouldn't give us anything but his serial number (not having a name or a rank). Eventually, he fell asleep (or the mutoid equivalent, anyway, I guess they don't really sleep), and I went off to introduce some green liquid into my own body in an attempt to forget the whole mess. Though I wasn't terribly successful, I'm afraid.

**


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Betty Ragan

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