I am bowed over the stick, vomiting and snotting blood all over the ship. Being lifted out of the cockpit by Dillon and Lincoln and being carried to a room full of medical equipment. IVs full of blood thinners and anti nausea drugs. Coming to and passing out and coming to again. I am absolutely filthy and profoundly sick, even though I was fine when I left 1965. After a while a doctor comes in and I look at her and say, RU going to fuck me?
She laughs and says, If i did that now it’d kill you. Ask me again when you feel better.
Oh, yes, I realize. She’ll fuck anything. And the fact that she’s a psychiatrist is nonrandom. She’s crazy as a shithouse rat. And the fact that she’s a psychiatrist is not incidental. She fucks and she is completely crackers.
I notice that Dillon is sitting in a corner chair, enveloped in darkness. When he sees me looking at him he says evenly, Welcome back to this old world.
What happened? I croak. It was radiation, wasn’t it? Hoggins didn’t shield that Plutonium adequately, did he?
The shielding was more than adequate. We record the rems before and after a trip and the levels were indistinguishable. The difference was like how much more radiation you get from living in a brick house than a wooden one. In other words, next to none.
He seems to be gathering himself up to say something and I wait patiently. Finally he says, You right about one thing; it was radiation.
What…I start to speak and he shuts me up. It’s a very obvious thing we all overlooked. When you travel in that ship you are going close to lightspeed. Now we know from Special Relativity that when you go that fast and hit something there’s no different from being the other way around.
I didn’t crash into any thing, I say angrily.
In parts of space there are pockets and currents of things like Hydroxyl radicals and Hydrogen nuclei, which are bare protons. Now what happens to that radical when you hit it at 99% lightspeed?
I face palm and say, It smears out quantumly into a gamma ray photon that will fry your ass.
That’s right. That’s what happened to you. This time the rems absorbed caught up with you. The medical people are guessing some kind of lymphoma.
I’m going to die?
No one’s saying that. They just don’t know.
They know. They know i’m going to die. They act like they’re acting when they feel impotent.
I need to get cleaned up, I say.
What’s your hurry? He says, looking at me sideways
Man owes nature a debt,
Goethe, he says. You’ve read Goethe. I’m not impressed.
Nothing impresses you, I say hatefully.
Who was she, Chones? He asks evenly. The abrupt change of topic trip me and I say, What? Uh..
The girl, he says patiently. Who was she?
A towny. A nobody. Just a girl. How did you know? You’re not the sensitive kind.
Sensitivity has nothing to do with, he says. The smell of pussy was all over you. What did you tell her?
Nothing, I say. Just the cover story about being a travelling salesman on vacation.
Yes, I say.
You sure? He says. Just a story get her down?
That’s it, I say, relieved. That girl fucks. She may have done the whole town.
Uhhuh, he says, Do you really want a bath that bad?
Yes and I can bathe my self.
Let’s see if you can stand up, he says.
I manage to do that smoothly enough. Dillon goes outside the door and he talks and then in comes Lincoln and a boy with corporal’s stripes.
These gentlemen will bathe you, Colonel, he says.
Like hell they will, I say.The corporal grabs me roughly and i kick the legs out from under him and he lands on his ass. Dillon looks amused. Lincoln looks bewildered. The Corporal looks at me peevishly.
I look down at the corporal and say, Don’t ever do that again. You underestimated me. Just because I was sick you thought I was helpless. Next time you could turn into a corpse damn quick.
Yes, Colonel, he says, mustering what dignity he can.
I can bathe myself, I say to Dillon. Have somebody in the bathroom if you have to, but I want my privacy. Understand?
Oh yes,yes, he says.
And that’s how I got my shower.
Being a walking corpse carries a few privileges. .. .