Garran wheeled behind Doc as they entered the room that served as the ships common room and crew lounge. Aurra’s stomach did that little pleasurable flip like every time she laid eyes on him. She wondered idly if he would have the same effect on her if he weren’t confined to the wheelchair. She didn’t think so. Sure he would still be just as handsome, but there was just this something that she could neither clearly define nor explain. It’s the incongruence, she thought. This handsome, strong, virile man missing a leg and using a wheelchair created some sort of magical pull on her libido. If she had met him walking on his own two legs she would probably still have found him attractive, but the instant sexual tension would have been absent, while an unattractive man using a wheelchair and missing a leg would have left her completely cold.
Suddenly Aurra became aware that she was staring at Garran while everyone had fallen quiet and was now looking at her expectantly. Damn, she really needed to keep her mind better in check. Double-damn, she should rather have thought about what to say because now she was drawing a blank on how to begin. “Crew,” she ventured. “I know the last six months haven’t been easy on anyone of us.” Fortunately now the words just seemed to tumble out.
“And I wanted to use this opportunity of introducing two new crew members to thank the rest of you for supporting me and bearing with me while I got my head screwed back on straight.” She smiled at them and was glad to see approval on their faces in return. Only now she realized how disconnected from the crew she had become. She looked at Doc who was leaning casually against the wall to her right.
“I want to thank Doc for pushing me to do the right thing before I really failed all of you. While I was supposed to provide direction, you have steered. While I was supposed to take responsibility, you were responsible. I am really glad to have you all as my crew.”
She looked around the room again. “Now, let me introduce the new guys. Next to Jason, please meet our new cook DF.” Cheers and welcomes broke out across the room, probably attesting less to the promise of culinary delights than the prospect for the rest of the crew of not having to cook anymore.
“And next to Doc, Commander” Aurra stopped in mid-sentence. Damn she hadn’t considered the ramifications of just announcing Garran’s name—a convicted traitor to the world at large.
Garran seemed to pick up on her predicament. “Commander Garran Raulsten, and no—I was not stupid enough to try to take on the entire military of Horlus I on my own. What you saw in the news over the last two weeks was political propaganda and misinformation of note. In fact I believe this whole thing was a set-up from the get-go.” He nodded at Aurra to pass the word back to her.
“So consider this our good deed of the week to give Commander Raulsten the opportunity to clear his name.” She nodded back at him and smiled, thankful for his quick grasp of the situation. “Now, let me briefly introduce the rest of the crew.” She pointed to her left at the dark-skinned man of slight build and with unusual almond shaped, blue eyes. The contrast between his skin color and his pale eyes was startling. “I already mentioned Jason; Second Engineer, with his primary area of concern being our computing hard and software.” She moved on to the couple that sat next to each other across from her; the man had an arm possessively around the petite woman’s shoulders. Aurra smiled at them. Newlyweds she thought wistfully. “And those two love birds on the sofa over there,” Aurra pointed across the room, “are Mila, our life support systems engineer and next to her, her husband Brent, First Engineer and master of the engine room. And finally Doc—our medical doctor and councilor. Crew, please welcome the new members and make them feel at home. Get to know each other over the next two weeks until we arrive at Horlus III where we’ll have two extra days this time. We have some routine maintenance we need to take care of, so everyone start planning what to do with your extra free time.”
The announcement of the extended stay was also met with cheers and good humor. Aurra brought the meeting to a close. “Okay guys that’s it. Except for Doc, DF and Garran, please resume your stations.”
Once they had finished their discussion about Garran’s and DF’s obligations, the terms of their contract and so on, Garran followed Doc to the medical bay for a thorough examination. Aurra had offered DF a three year servitude after which he would be a free man. Garran had seen the tears in the man’s eyes as he thanked all of them profusely over and over again. Even just the prospect of being treated as an equal while a member of Aurra’s crew had had him giddy with excitement.
Garran’s situation was different of course. Aurra had explained her financial predicament to him and he had agreed to compensate her to enable her to hire another pilot to replace him once they arrived at Horlus III. She hadn’t explained how they had come to be without a co-pilot—only that the previous one had left unexpectedly six months earlier. He figured that it had probably something to do with the clothes he was wearing now.
Doc stepped through a door that opened automatically. Garran followed him into a surprisingly well equipped medical bay. “Welcome to my kingdom.” Doc pointed at the examining table in the middle of the room. “How much do you weigh?”
Garran regarded the table skeptically. “I need to get up there, huh? 110kg minus half a leg.”
It took them a while to figure out how, but eventually with Doc’s assistance Garran was lying on his stomach on the examining table. Doc positioned a scanner above his lower back and butt and took a number of scans that eventually coalesced into an image on a monitor. Doc adjusted it so that Garran could see what was going on; not that he could make heads or tails of what he was seeing. Doc ooh’ed and aah’ed over the images for a while, mumbling to himself, until Garran got impatient and asked. “So Morris, can you explain to the uninitiated what’s going on in there?”
“Well,” Doc pulled up Garran’s wheelchair and sat down in it so that he was practically at eye-level with Garran. “Unfortunately it’s a bit worse than I had hoped, but I can start on getting you fixed up.”
Garran’s heart did a two-step in his chest. “What do you mean it’s worse than you’d hoped?”
“Okay, so here is what they did. They basically cut three nerves on each side, the femoral, obturator and sciatic nerves. If a nerve injury is very recent, you can reconnect the ends and induce conditions under which the nerve fibers will knit back together. But in your case they didn’t just sever them; they cut out a few centimeters each. Nerves can’t be stretched over that distance. I have to put something in place to replace the piece that is missing. It’s called entubulation. You get artificial grafting materials, but I don’t have any.”
Garran tried to swallow down the panic that was starting to creep up on him. “You said that for nerves to grow together the injury has to be recent, so if you don’t have anything to bridge the gap soon, then they will not re-connect?”
“No, they can’t reconnect because a piece of the nerve is missing, but they’ll regrow. You can think of the nerves in your body like old-fashioned power cords connected to the muscle and sensor cells in your legs. Each cell has its own cord and at the other end it’s basically plugged into your spinal cord. Some time after a nerve is cut, the distal end, the one that is attached to the muscles starts to disintegrate, leaving behind a hollow tube that acts as a conduit, while the proximal end, the side plugged into the spinal cord starts growing into this conduit until it reaches the muscle cell it needs to supply. To reach your toes it has to grow almost a meter in length.”
Garran had gotten ever paler as Docs explanation continued. “And how fast does a nerve grow?”
“With the right stimulation up to 10 millimeters a day; so to reach your toes I would say something like four months. All in all my best guess is that you will need the wheelchair for about six months until your legs are strong enough for you to walk normally—with a prosthesis that is. I wouldn’t advise to consider a transplant until the paralysis is fully resolved.”
Garran breathed a sigh of relief. “Six months in the wheelchair is more than I had hoped for, but I can handle that. I was really worried there for a moment that you were going to say it was going to be a couple of years.”
“Glad you feel that way. Believe me; a positive outlook will make your recovery much easier.”
“So now I have to wait until we get to Horlus III before you can do anything?”
“No, there is a shortcut. I can use a cross-section of each of the severed nerves in the tissue replicator to create your own custom nerve conduits for you. If I harvest the tissue now the process should be complete in about two days. And there is something else we should do as soon as possible.”
“And what is that?”
“Remove that little explosive device they have planted inside your iliac artery.”
Aurora - Part 10
Aurora - Part 10