Dear Daddy and Papa,
Thank you for the strawberry wine and tell the kelser that it was good. The whole first-aid station shared the bottle and Zheck showed us a dance from his corridor; he can’t dance very well, though. The centurion says that we won’t have to move forward until the fighting to starboard is done. That might be ten kiloseconds or a megasecond, he says, we simply don’t know. When the Sternies attacked two generations ago, he says, one ring held out for twenty days, almost two megasecs.
You asked about my work, so I’ll tell you about today. There were eleven wounded, plus some more whom we bandaged and sent back to the front, where they are fighting bow-men. No poisoned wounds today, thank the Builders. So one of the wounded died during his sleep-cycle, and we said the prayer for the dead and called a kelser to recycle the corpses. This far forward the kelsers sing a different hymn when they take the body, but they still thank you and they still thank the dead man. I was busy changing dressings on a man with a belly wound that stank terribly, so I didn’t see all of it.
After dinner two of the patients were awake, and pretty clear-headed, so I played five-stones with them in the cell. They seemed to enjoy it. One was a man from two corridors to port of where you grew up, Papa, and he asks whether Mrs Sawah and her wife were your schoolteachers. I can’t remember her wife’s name, but didn’t we meet her at the dice-party when I was a little girl and the Sternie circus came to our ring?
The centurion’s scribe came in just a moment ago to where she, and the chaplain and I are staying, and said that the soldiers are moving further forward, but that they’d send for the aid station when they thought it was safe to move us. So I don’t know when that is.
The scribe says to seal this, and it’ll go back with the next messenger to the Airkeeper’s staff two decks down, in a couple myr’secs. So all my love,
From the Archives
...The Heinlein, named for a now-forgotten author, was a generation ship launched during the Late Mygrern Era of the Tsesan Free State, assembled from 2984 to 3004, with boost phase beginning in 3009; its target the water-world Kepler 186f. The distance traversed was very great, longer than any ramscoop had yet covered, and so the ship was set up for a self-sustaining journey of fifteen hundred years. Arrangements by the builders covered food supply, air and water circulation, propulsion, and linguistic and cultural drift while the voyage was underway. After a transmission in 3211, however, contact with the ship was lost...
--Winji Nu fa Ya Kiad(“New Childrens’ Encyclopedia”), 3251 CE, pub. Zhubwatog Buka, New Tucson, Laska Republic
Dear Daddy and Papa,
We’ve moved three corridors over and a deck down, and we’re actually one ring forward. I can’t tell the difference in the jee, but the wounded complained until we threatened to send them back and muster them out. They were quiet then. We’re bunking in what was a pretty bad slum two generations ago, and the Airkeepers cleared it all out, vented the whole place. But only a few people died, they said, and most were resettled forward of here. Then they started using it for food storage. Zhwogzhat found two rats’ nests and shouted when the rats ran over her feet. They didn’t bite her, though.
Two soldiers got sent back to their corridors on litters. It was good to see them well enough to go, but they wanted to fight the bow-men. I had to send them home, and promised them that they can return to the army if they heal fully. It’s not as though we’ve got too many men, after all.
I saw the centurion-our centurion, I mean, Barban Jannockson, and he looked to be in pain. I don’t know why.
Yes, please send some of the raisin cake, if you can.
You won’t believe what happened. I am working on these wounded soldiers, as I said in my last letter. And we’ve been assigned further forward, since another ring is safe now and the bow-men are pushed further fore-ward. So, the troops got issued some rice-beer, and it turned out that the sutler who sells wine had just gotten two porter-loads of fig wine, and I met, well, I didn’t really meet him; we’ve known each other for a while, but if you know what I mean, dear, I really met him. It’s our centurion, and he had been married, years ago, when he was on Deck Ten, and he was a peace officer, because a lot of those farmers down there--well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I think there’s a rule about him sleeping with soldiers, but I’m not one.
So we sat and we had some fig-wine and talked, and he really likes it when I quote poetry to him, and we both like the picture-shows with the dancers in them that they show on festival days in the eating-halls. Well, one thing led to another, and then we--I guess I shouldn’t say! I told him that I didn’t have a breeding-ticket, but that I can keep from having a baby. You know, the way they taught us in girls’ classes, for the girls who like it with a boy, anyway. He doesn’t need to worry. He had two breeding-tickets and he used them with his wife, who’s dead now. I think I said that.
It’s early and my head hurts. I need to make rounds and order some more medication for the soldiers. We have ten more wounded here and it’s a lot of work. I guess that’s why you’re not a doctor, hee hee!
Best to your girlfriend and give Silly Cheeks a kiss for me,
Dear Daddy and Papa,
The news criers have probably said this already in home corridor, but now you get to hear it from me. We took another ring and it’s safe from the bow-men. And, no, Papa, it’s another ring fore-wards, not stern-wards. Hee hee! Ten more wounded are in the aid station, and I’m getting four of them ready for shipping back to home corridors. One of them took a spear right through the spine; if we save him he’ll never walk again. The Waterkeepers have been very generous toward those men--two of them got permission to emigrate up to no-weight. Only one of them wanted to go, though.
Daddy, I know you worry about me and boys. Especially since Dr Yebrum sent me to take this job with the army, which is mostly boys, after all. A few women but not as many. But I met a nice boy and he’s very polite. Older, a man really, but he knows all about the breeding tickets and who has them and who doesn’t. Please don’t worry. I wanted you to hear from me that I had gotten to know a boy before you heard it from someone else. Daddy, I want you to promise not to be all upset about it. You promise now? You must or I won’t write any more!
I need to go and mix some pain-medicine; the burn cases are very bad and their screaming keeps the other men up at night. I can’t do much about it because it’s so hard to move them.
Love you always, and don’t worry about me. I’m safe.
From the archives
Codes of Doctrine and Law, Eleventh Generation
19) A.89 The Ship shall be maintained in the future as it was maintained in the past in order to convey human beings to its goal. Because of this, no one shall teach anything false or allow it to be taught. False teachings consist of lies which are not supported by Doctrine.
34) V. 329 There will be no doctrine taught about “planets” or about “earth” or “worlds”, as these are demonstrably false. Humans do not live on “Earth”, but on the Ship Heinlein. Nor shall doctrine of the “outside” or “space” be taught.
Memoirs of Elon Xianghui, designer, Heinlein
Ch. 24, page 450. Basically, on a generation ship, get one thing wrong and you all die.
Dear Dr Yebrum
I hope that this finds you well, sir. I am writing to ask for your help.
While working with a soldier in the Fourth Hundred of the army, I found a bleeding, itchy lump in his abdomen, on his skin, and more on his shins. As it was not painful, I consulted my medical slate and found mention of a disease called cancer. I recall my grandfather mentioning deaths from cancer but have not treated a case. What treatment do you recommend?
I might note that his soldiers (he is a centurion) were the ones who insisted that he come to see me, as he did not wish to be treated himself. When I found the lump, he denied that it was an illness and blamed it on chafing of his armor; no other soldier has such blemishes, whether they wear armor or not.
If you know of medicine which can cure it, please send some along. The Waterkeepers have been generous with funding my medical work since they deem it needful to have medical care for soldiers.
Best to Marco and your two sons,
Dear Daddy and Papa,
Yes, the boy is very nice, and no, I did not meet him while he was sick and flat on his back so that he would be mine forever, Papa, ha ha! You have a strange sense of humor. Thank you for the sweet-potato cake. We cut it into little pieces and everyone at the aid station got one. It wasn’t but a little dry. The porters do a nice job of bringing us what we need even when there is someone shooting at them. They say to send more things that are soft like cake, so that when the bow-men shoot at them they can hold it in front of them and be safe, hee hee. Actually they give them armor just like the soldiers’ armor, made of cotton wadding, so that arrows just stick into them like a pin-cushion.
The bow-men are holed up in corridors all forted up, with barriers on everything. Their airkeeper must be driving the kelsers crazy to make enough air, and they might not have anything to eat but air-algae. I’d feel bad for them if they weren’t the enemy.
They’re calling me to cut out arrows, so I must be up.
It’s been a day, so I will just seal this and send it. I was up the whole time because we joined with the First Hundred of the army and then the bow-men came at us with fire.
Don’t worry about me.
Your hurried daughter,
It was a pleasure to hear from you. I trust that you are taking good care of the soldiers, since they take care of us. I would have gone out again, but this last year has not been kind to my old knees and I won’t run again.
It has taken me a long time to look up the information you requested, since I had to go down to access data on deck nine in a data well near the sternie border. The corridors there are mostly culs-de-sac, and a lot of people have tea-bushes growing at the door of their compartment. I liked that. The well is hung with faded tapestries sagging with the beads that are woven in, since the jee is so heavy on them; the datapillars are so encrusted with pilgrim’s flags that I could hardly use the data, and I had to spend a lot of time scribbling it all down on paper, since nothing can but put on a dataslate. Of course we’re at peace with the stern’s Khefate, but the local waterkeepers are very vigilant. In any case the information was there, though I have been reading for more than a megasec. There was a guest’s compartment in the same corridor and I was able to pay them in airkeeper’s scrip.
Cancer is a rare illness that the Builders wrote a great deal about. A scribe-priest who operates the well was able to translate some of the Builders’ writings but we could not find the cure, since the amount of information was so large and all of it was in Mygrern, which almost no one can read. We were able to find out some things that may be useful. Cancer is caused by the division of cells, and any living thing can get it. It was very common amongst the Builders, but on the She'ab it is so rare that whatever caused it must be extinct or the Builders must have changed our cells so as to prevent it. I don’t know. There was a cancer for each part of the body and many more. Skin cancer was prevented by not exposing oneself to Sa’o, the Builders’ god who lived above the ceiling of their world. I don’t think that Sa’o will be a problem for you.
The drugs that they used were all named but I have no idea how to make them. I think that many people must die of cancer without knowing that they have it. They also used to cut the cancer out. You could do that, as with any sore.
There was another way to treat it by exposing it to radiation, which comes from the forbidden wilderness in the stern, or from outside the She'ab, below Deck Ten or fore of the Bow-mens’ land. If cutting does not work, then you could try taking him to one of those places and exposing him to the radiation. Since cancer can kill the person who has it, entering the forbidden wilderness would surely be less terrible, since condemned criminals are sent there to die.
I would have little expectation of him surviving the radiation. And cutting out the cancer sometimes kills the patient as well.
May he meet a kinder fate.
My husband and our children are well, my dear. A patient waits for me to finish this, and so I must remain,
From the Archives:
The Heinlein? Oh, we designed’ er as simply as we could. Ten decks, ten corridors running the length of her payload cylinder, ten ring corridors. CELSS tanks that could accommodate ten times the thousand or so we crewed her with, enough redundancy in her lifesystem that she could lose three, four of the ring segments and still generate enough O-- oxygen, I mean-- for a thousand.
We knew the fifty-five hundred rule, and loaded her with ten million embryos from Earth, Ell-Five, Callisto, whoever wanted to send’em. Did the usual modifications-- their cells divide slower, so some kinds o’neoplasms are less likely. Fiddled with the bone density. They don’t lose bone density in micrograv, since Deck One was pretty light-G even with the big core we put in Heinlein, for storage. Encouraged same-sex’in, so a population boom’s less likely.
Oh, breeding? I’d guess that they’d grant permission like-so some’a the habs do now, grant permission when someone dies, or when there’s more food an’space. When they get to the new planet, chances are there’ll be more room, but not on the ship.
The motor--isn’t all of this in the stats? Oh, you didn’t read’em. Well, she had a fusion motor, since antimatter isn’t stable for a thousand metric years. Got a palladium shield there- from that strike in Geographos, we got it cheap. Bought it on spec. The fusion fuel is that big solid ball ahead of the ship. Keeps’em shielded from cosmic background radiation.
Oh? You all still use old-style, don’t you? Well, a kilosec is fourteen ‘minutes’; a megasec is eleven ‘days’ on Earth. A myr’sec is two point seven ‘hours’ and ten of’em make a metric day. Simple, isn’t it? Most’a the habs out here use it.
How much is a year? Three hundred sixty-five metric days, and a gigasec is about thirty-one ‘years’. Assuming your planet doesn’t move, ha ha.
The motor? Oh, a standard mag-confinement fusion system. We made it, again, as simple as we could. That Orion thing works great for shorter flights but on this mission the radioactives would’ve decomposed to lead. We just used hydrogen and froze it solid. Simple, no? The motor throws it into a plasma nozzle outside the ship, pinches it, and hey, fusion! That way we can get by with smaller heat radiators, bothers us a lot less. The radiators? See, here, on the design, these long plank things coming out of the hull? Yes, they’re the heat radiators, run water through’em for the lifesystem, and the ones out back take care of the fusion motor, then cool down for about forty--oh. About a thousand years. Easy, see? A gigasec is about one generation, isn’t it? Forty of’em, and you’re there. At the target world. Uh, about twelve hundred years. Twelve hundred and seventy-four years if the boost phases go okay.
The hab module, they can live there however they want, but we have those diamond vision screens on every corridor, running the basic ed programs, continually. So they don’t forget who they are, don’t forget where they’re going. The sims of this voyage predicted that as a major problem. So we designed it in.
Eat? We set the CELSS tanks to be able to grow the basic human food plants, the ones that do well in space, and raise some fish, clams and so on. Animal meat? You all still eat that stuff where you are? Well, it’s inefficient. I don’t think that it will be a major part of their diet. No.
Power structure? We set one up, based on the colony at--
Interview, Carson Tsunhai, designer, Heinlein
Barban Jannockson led his hundred by devious ways to meet the hundred of Kellan Gaffickson at the Fountain of the Three Shenecks. He argued that the noise of the Fountain would mask the noise of the soldiers. Since the corridor there was loyal to the lawful Airkeepers, we did not have to vent. Guards ensured that no one left the corridor until the soldiers were well on their way. Then the two hundreds ran the whole distance to the arcade where we knew, by reports from spies, that the two hundreds of the Bow-Men were camped.
When we arrived at the ring behind the Arcade, scouts went ahead and removed the sentries, and then the force split, with fifty of Kellan’s men ready to take positions as sharpshooters, while the other fifty and Barban’s hundred charged into the arcade. It’s a huge space, my Keeper, with three decks’ balconies looking out onto it, all planted with sweet potato vines and hanging baskets of strawberries and climbing grape arbors. The bow-folk were unprepared and scattered in panic while a wedge of Barban’s spears went into them killing as easily as shooting wild dogs for fun. When the foe tried to climb the arbors to safety on balconies, the archers shot them down.
The bow-folks’ false Khefate was not sleeping, though, and rallied his forces. Soon seventy of his picked men charged into us with hullmetal swords and took down some of our spears while a ten of archers shot with crossbows at us, finely trained markswomen they were, by the Builders! The medic, Rayann, distinguished herself at this time by rescuing five men while under fire and twice was shot. Only one bolt penetrated her cotton armor, however, and she will soon recover, or so I am told. Barban Jannockson took two tens of his men and charged into the foe, spearing an enemy Second and taking his hullmetal blade, then climbing a trellis to where the crossbow-women shot at our troops, and clubbing all into submission whom his men did not slay. His legs were broken in a fall and he was burned as well.
A shrine of Örgd, the false god, was found in the headquarters of the false Khefate, consisting of two circular deck plans of the imaginary world of the Builders. This material was destroyed before sworn witnesses and the priests captured in the shrine were turned over for prosecution.
The false Khefate escaped, taking some few of his troops with him, into the builder-damned mess of machinery to the bow-wards of Ring One. We hope to have the whole area pacified and ready for settlement in a very short time, and will keep you informed.
Barban Jannockson is recommended for reward as are Cavwer Snanthson and Khunun Denoelsdaughter.
May the Builders bless and keep you, my Lady.
–Report of Meyak Uthosson to Waterkeeper Ilal XV
By now you have probably heard of the huge battle in the Arcade at the bow of the She'ab. I don’t know, honestly, who hasn’t save for some savages flying round the Core. So, as you know, Barban is going to be decorated by the Khefate, and the war is mostly over except for sweeping-up operations and processing the prisoners. I examined a lot of them today, the ones that had some kind of problem we could treat. Most of the wounded ones just died before we could do anything, since we’re under orders to treat our own people first. I don’t like it when kids die, but I suppose that if we keep on fighting, we’ll get used to it. Myr after myr, I was there cutting arrowheads out, amputating, closing wounds, treating burns--the Bow-men set a huge store of grease on fire to drive the Second Hundred away from a kelser’s farm-tank where the Bow-men had stored arms-- and letting a priest in to give the Last Rites and call the blessing of the Builders on the the dying. I had never appreciated religion more than in this part of my life.
When we are done on this frontier the Airkeeper will move in from court and set up a permanent government, but they will call Barban back and the First of the army said I should go as well, to tend to him. He was badly hurt.
And if you know anyone who wants to get hold of a breeding-ticket, they say that the first hundred to agree to move to the bow-rings will get one. You didn’t hear it from me. Best to Silly Cheeks,
Daddy and Papa,
I am writing from the Hospice of St Isaac on Deck Eight, since the wounded men were moved there when they were evacuated from the bow, and I was moved with them. I am sorry that I haven’t written, but I’ve been busy night and day tending to the wounds and burn cases.
I am afraid that you’ve found out that my new boyfriend, who isn’t really a boy any more, is Barban Jannockson, and no doubt you know from the news-singers that he is the hero of the war on the Bow-men. He says not to -- I went and saw him, because it was just now dinner time -- not to believe the singers because they care less about truth than about making something rhyme. I have had to spend a lot of time tending him because he was badly hurt in the battle. A crew of crossbow-women grabbed him and threw him off a balcony two decks down. He says it doesn’t hurt, but he’s being brave for me, and I give him the same amount of pain medicine as the others. He also says that since he didn’t capture the enemy Khefate, or kill him, and since he didn’t destroy the shrine, the false shrine of Öghd, then he isn’t really a hero. I saw them burn the false shrine. It was pictures of the magic world where the heretics say the Builders lived, a world where the decks were, they said, on the outside, and where the farm-tanks were on the outside too. Who lived on the inside, they did not say. Of course it’s a fairy tale. Remember those fairytales you used to read to me, and how excited I got when the hero-girls fought the monsters, or when a boy swore to his comrades? Well, there were stories about worlds with all kinds of decks, or where the decks had no core, or where a deck was full of water, and so on. I think that they shouldn’t execute the Bow-men, if they agree to give up this silly made-up religion. But I don’t get to make those decisions, now, do I? I’m not noble born!
Oh, I didn’t say. Both of his legs were broken. I had to amputate one of them at the knee and the other one might mend, with a lot of time and work. The priests at the shrine will be helpful, I think.
Enclosed is a gift that Barban found in an Airkeeper lady’s compartments. It has spices in it from the Hub, to be chewed to freshen the breath. I thought you’d like the designs.
I need to go make my rounds. All my love,
From the Court of Khefate Yebhrhugm IV Wymn’s Son:
Be it known that Barban Jannockson, the Hero of the Arcade, be granted the rank of Hero, and that he be maintained, at Our expense, throughout his life. Be it known also that he is granted a silver breeding-ticket to be used as his discretion.
By My Hand and Seal, [Date]
[signature and chop]
Dear Old Whiskers,
I will be coming home with my new husband and I can’t wait for you to meet him. He will be able to travel soon by sedan chair and I will walk beside him. The Khefate made him a Hero, so we will see if he can get a leg made from plastic and try to get him walking again. It may take a long time.
I send a blade of real hullmetal, from the treasury of the bow-men.
I got your letter about cancer, and I think that we can try the radiation. I have poppy for the pain and an ointment for his burns.
He has a breeding-ticket, and so I want children soon.
I want you to come to our wedding, and I won’t hear any excuses, understand me? There will be corn-beer and plenty of dancing, and you and your husband must be there.
Dear Papa and Daddy,
I will be home soon with Barban. I think he will be recovering for a long time, and Dr Yebrum will help me with his care. I am writing to tell you that, if it’s not too much trouble, could you make sure that our application for a compartment gets to the Airkeeper? I know that there are a lot of people waiting for a compartment and sleeping on deckplates and so on. Maybe being a Hero means we can help them- I’d hate to think it only meant we’re to help ourselves.
I was reading an old novel that was in the library of one of the priests in the bow. It talked about Öghd, and the hero was one of seventeen children. Seventeen! They didn’t even talk about breeding tickets. I guess either they were too polite to talk about breeding-tickets, or that the daddy had a silver breeding-ticket, since he had all those kids out of one woman. (I don’t see how she was even alive after that many children, but maybe they were stronger than we are.) Of course Öghd is only a fairy tale. But authors’ stories always reflect the real, don’t they?
I wonder what deck he lived on.
I will be home in two days, I think. Troops are moving back from the front. Oh, and in the novel, they traveled hundred of kilometers. I wonder how big they thought the She’ab was in those days!
Enclosed is a length of silk from the wardrobe of an Airkeeper lady. I thought that Daddy could make a neck-scarf of it and Papa one of his sashes, like he likes.
Your little girl,
I went again to the Sternies and sought the information that you needed, with Dr Sathifen covering my practice, as she did before. I was put up in another guest compartment, along a side corridor, since pilgrims were coming to pray thanks for the end of the wars. They insisted that the priest enter all of their prayers into the databanks, where they would speak directly to the Builders. The guest compartment has lights that fail sometimes while I am in the compartment, and the bulkheads are worn- I can see the wires and conduits in the wall spaces.
Their faith was strong. I pray and make the proper prostrations, but unlike the mystics, I don’t claim to hear the Builders answer. The answer came from their data-- when I asked for information on how to use radiation to treat cancer. There was a great deal written in Mygrern, and once the pilgrims had left, we managed to translate some and write it down into my notebooks. (I came prepared, you see!)
There are two ways of treating the cancer that we could understand by using radiation. One of them involves shooting the radiation into the cancer. This requires either a machine, such as the She’ab no longer can make, or that radiation somehow come in from outside. According to the textbooks which the priest consulted for me, the radiation comes in many different sorts or species, and we would have to know, first, which could treat the cancer, and then figure out how to get Barban into a place where the She’ab allowed the radiation inside. I can’t see how to do this, and neither could the priest; her name is Zha’uheh, by the way.
The other way involved a ‘seed’ of metal boiled in the radiation and put into the cancer to stop it. The body’s flesh prevents the radiation from killing the person. I realized that the wilderness of the stern was a place to find such metal, if one was careful.
I am going to petition the Khefate for permission to harvest metal from the wilderness of the stern. If he permits, I will bring the metal and treat your new husband as soon as time permits.
Thank you for the gilded box. I do appreciate it.
In haste, I remain,
I went over to the Khefate’s court today to beg for a piece of the metal that we need, or that, at least, I think we need. It was a long walk for me, from my lodgings up two decks and back at least a hundred meters into Sternie country, passing porters with loads of vegetables and sacks of wheat, a chicken-seller with baskets of birds, and waste-carriers with cans of shit for the kelsers’ farm tanks, of course. There was even a hunting party coming back from shooting rats in the upper decks-why the Builders put rats into the world, I don’t know, but most people can’t afford other meat, so they sell well.
We stopped-- myself and the priest who was escorting me-- at a park where a potato-seller was doing business with his cart and his heatcoil ablaze. I bought potatoes and we ate, and washed them down with bread-water, which the Sternies seem to like. We went on, my leg aching despite the poppy I’d taken for the pain. Dear Rayann, I fear that I won’t make a trip this long again.
The Khefate holds his court in a long hall, and sitting in a chair said to be thirty gigasecs old. Legend was not my concern, however, as he greeted me, asking after his noble cousin, our own Khefate, and the Airkeeper Loanna of my home deck, who is married to another relation of his. His hall is hung with tapestries of dyed wool which show the legendary flight of Nyiw Oa’urstwohuan to the world of the Mu’a in the time of the Builders, excellently stitched. The lamps in the Khefate’s chamber are globes which burn and aren’t diminished.
I gave him a packet of plums, damsons, which I had heard that he liked. He said that I would not poison him, unlike his other doctors, and that I could be his doctor if he did not do so.
He is a small man, dark-skinned, and with excellent teeth. His hair is grey and he wore a jacket of red wool and knee-pants of silk. When he had asked after my lords and masters, he wanted to know my business in the Stern, full five hundred meters and fifty from my home. My response was as above. He granted me permission, laughing, as long as I did not tear down the great Wall which shields the decks of Humans from the wilderness of the Stern which is death. He did insist that a priest give me the blessing, which she did in Mygrern, shaking a branch dipped in water over me. I was then dismissed by his lordship, and sat down in an antechamber with relief.
The priest Zha’uheh Wedsdaughter, who accompanies me, told me when we left that that Mygrern prayer was the one for the dead, and it is recited for all who go to the Stern itself, since they’re not asked to return.
We will go tomorrow.
I remain, dead or alive,
Dear Dr Yebrumm,
I can’t help but worry about you, even though I am sure that, as many sleeps as have passed, you will have gotten to the stern wilderness and come back. Isn’t it dangerous there? I know that the Sternie despots use it for death sentences. Or so we’re told, anyhow, by the news singers. How would I know? I haven’t been there.
What is this treasure you want to bring from the wilderness of the stern? The old tale-tellers said that the stern holds the secret of fire, from which all fire and light must come. Is that the cure for cancer? Will you bring it back to us? Once you do, will no one get cancer again?
Please, please write and tell me you’re okay.
I worry so much.
Dear Daddy and Papa,
We’ve stopped at the Gardens of Sehuvm Flawgh to rest-with luck, this letter should get to you before we do. Barban is doing very well traveling by litter and never complains, despite the pain that he must be in. I’m proud of him. We saw the Gardens, which were under truce during the early part of the war when the b0w-men invaded, and then were under the guard of a twenty of soldiers for a while. The kelsers who raise the flowers gave us a tour. I noticed that some of the flowers were supposed to have come “unchanged from Öghd,” but what that was supposed to mean wasn’t explained, possibly because of the war and how the bow-men heretics got killed. Of course no one is going to kill a kelser for prattling about how they got their plants. Probably there was some garden on some deck called Öghd, and they’re talking about that, and the plant came from there.
Barban’s wounds reopened from ill handling as we came down a deck, and he fell, so we’re staying and letting him sleep. I spread aloe on his burns where the skin was not broken and wrapped them up, and where it was broken I pasted them with coca and resin. I had to give him poppy ere I changed the dressings, or he would jerk away and do himself more harm. I treat burns routinely, of course, but this was painful to me. I plan to give him skin grafts once his wounds are better healed.
We should be home tomorrow. Only three hundred meters left to go- we need to carry him almost half round the She’ab to get him home. Or me home, really.
I hope that this reaches you in the Sternies’ wilds.
Dear Rayann Cleandasdaughter,
Dr. Yebrum has asked me to write to you on his behalf, and to assure you that he is ill, but expected to make a full recovery. He went into the Stern, and was exposed to the curse of the stern. He is resting in a hospice nearby. I was allowed to visit him and he requested that I write to you, as well as to his husband and children.
I hope that this finds you well. Dr Yebrum sends his love,
Dear Dr Yebrum,
What in the Builders’ name is wrong? I got home with Barban, and he’s asleep, and doing fine. And you aren’t here! Where are you?
Your husband says you’re ill and lost in the Stern somewhere and showed me a letter from some Sternie priest woman. What is going on?
I’m very worried. Your husband is too.
Please get well before Barban marches out and makes war on the Sternies to get you back.
I sent a letter to my husband earlier today. My illness has abated, thanks to the Sternie nurses, and I am arranging to pay for it all as we speak. Yes, I went to the Stern itself and survived the Curse. I am bringing some of the Stern itself back to mend your husband’s cancer if you will allow.
Once we left the court we walked for two rings further after, and circled a quarter of the way round the She’ab. The prison colony is locked behind some corridors that are supposed to be infested with wild dogs, but I saw nothing of the kind. The area is a dirty mess, and overgrown with mold and wall-algae. The convicts were there for crimes such as insulting the Khefate’s majesty, husband-beating, and fighting while drunk. A guardsman allowed us in, since the prisoners’ colony is where the Wall of the Stern itself is located, and joked that they don’t get many tourists. I told her that I was there as a healer, and she welcomed me. Few doctors are willing to come since the prisoners do not pay lavish fees. The priest waited outside.
I treated some injuries, and the Stern-curse, of course, can’t be cured while they remain there. One woman, sadly, was pregnant, and I performed an abortion; otherwise she would have died when her pregnancy was discovered, since none of them had breeding-tickets. Better an abortion than birthing a monster. The convicts shared their poor food with me, and showed me to the Stern on the fifth deck.
The wilderness of the Stern is a great open space, decks high, a framework of bamboo loaded with huge tanks of water, made of plastic, with lights strung all up and down it, running on the power from the Stern’s fire, grown all over with vines and ferns and alive with rats and pigeons. No human being will live there because of the Curse from the great fire beyond the world. The convicts’ task is to move the tanks of water on a schedule that lasts gigaseconds: the idea, the priest told me, is that the water will soak up the curse of the stern to keep it from killing the Sternies. So each huge container of water must be shifted closer, left for three gigaseconds, then removed; of course by then the convicts who shifted it have died and more have come (What the Sternies will do if people stop committing crimes, he did not say). There is no way to keep plants and vermin out, of course. We walked through the place, past boxes of earth planted with potatoes and bamboo, to the Wall at the end of the world.
It is a huge metal wall, running through compartment after compartment, deck upon deck, and supposedly thicker than can be measured. Beyond it, according to the words of the Builders, is the Fire which drives the whole world. The wall is of some metal too heavy to shift. Since moving it would unloose the great Fire on us all, it’s best left alone. From the Stern come the power cables which run below Deck Ten and power all the She’ab, of course; I know that during the war there was talk of cutting power to the Bow-men, but that the Sternies quashed it. The convicts could cut everyone’s power, but they don’t seem to want that to happen.
The wall is pitted, uneven, bumpy, blistered. I took the hullmetal knife that you sent me and scraped and pounded until some slivers came loose, and tucked them into the silver box. They will serve, I hope.
The convicts urged me to leave ere the Curse affected me. I left, and before we had gotten to the hospice, I began to vomit. It has been unpleasant. They tell me that the red blemishes, puking, and the loss of my hair are the Curse; no one wished to enter my room lest they be cursed. They put the food at my door.
I will return as soon as I can walk the distance.
May you and sir Barban be well.
This is horrible. Stay right where you are. We’re coming to get you.
Rayann and Barban
So we mustered a ten of Barban’s troops, pleading emergency, and went unarmed to the Sternies. They let us carry him home, where his husband was nearly mad with fright, and their children hardly more coherent. We tended him, Barban stomping on his hand-made legs and canes, till he could use the medicine-seeds on Barban’s cancer. Rose came and stayed with us until Barban’s tumors disappeared from the medicine, and then Dr Yebrum dug them out, washed them, and put them away; perhaps they’ll be needed again.
a You came along about fifty megasecs later, I remember, and your brothers after that. Not much has happened since then, it seems, or everything has. I came on these letters in a box that Old Whiskers’ son sent me on his death, and wanted you to have them. So now you have it all down in writing, and I can go back to working as,