PBW Stories

Paperback Writer's Fiction Blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Excerpt from Omega Games by S.L. Viehl
(StarDoc series book eigh)t
to be published by Ace/Roc SF/F in August 2008

OTR FTE relay 194075/obdistr/source unknown:

Private party free trader offers level-one unilateral bounty in return for the detainment, capture, or information leading to the apprehension of Terran experimental life form Cherijo Grey Veil (aliases: Cherijo Reever, Cherijo Torin, SsureeVa, Jarn.)

Grey Veil, a bioengineered clone, appears to be a typical Terran female (see embedded images.) Educated on Terra as a cardio-thoracic surgeon, the organism escaped custody and fled her creator, the late Terran physician/medical researcher Joseph Grey Veil. While serving as trauma physician to the multi-species colony on Kevarzangia Two, Grey Veil applied for and was denied sentient status by the Allied League of Worlds (reference SSD case #4165998-K2-GVC.) The organism subsequently sought and was granted asylum by Jorenian HouseClan Torin.

Grey Veil is a highly intelligent and manipulative life form, implicated in causing the Kevarzangian colonial epidemic, the capture of three hundred ALW ships during the Varallan disaster, the destruction of Hsktskt slave depot world Catopsa, the Oenrallian upheaval, the Jado massacre, the Akkabarran uprising and the Vtaga plague. Grey Veil’s last known location was serving as a crew member on board the Jorenian star vessel Sunlace, TWSID M7774E1691V.

Responders should transmit all related data, signals and scans to inquirer via OTR FTE obdistr relay; mark S/CGV-LAS 0451 and date. Information directly leading to the location and apprehension of Grey Veil will be rewarded with a level-one bounty fee of four million stan credits.

WARNING: To date Grey Veil has successfully evaded or escaped ALW and Faction custody. She was last known to be traveling under the protection of Duncan Reever, former Hsktskt spy and telepathic linguist, who has been alterformed with chameleon cells and cannot be killed, as well as an entourage of battle-trained Jorenian warriors. Grey Veil and her companions are considered extremely dangerous and should not be directly approached or contacted without appropriate forces and safety measures.

Chapter One

“Who are you?”

That was a very good question.

I looked up from the chart I was reading and waited to see if the tall, broad, blue-skinned Jorenian male on the other side of the berth had anything more to say. His people, I knew from experience, talked a great deal. When his hands went still and he glared at me with his all-white but still-functional eyes, I assumed he had finished. The style and color of his tunic, like my own, indicated that he was this ward’s senior medical healer.

His patient’s condition indicated that he wasn’t a very good one.

“I am a visiting physician. A nurse on this ward indicated this patient was in some distress.” I saw no reason to further identify myself or explain the situation. Every time I did, the subsequent reactions of those around me made it impossible for me to do the work. “Was it your decision to treat this female’s condition with only native dermal emollients?”

“I do not discuss my treatments with outsiders.” His hands moved to accompany his words with cutting bluntness. “We care not for Terrans interfering with our kind. Put down that chart and leave this facility now.”

I ignored his hostility toward Terrans as well as his orders, and focused instead on the patient between us. The female lay unconscious, a bleeding rash marring every inch of her pale blue skin. Monitors showed her vitals were slowing, and notes on the chart told me that she had proven unresponsive to conventional antibiotic therapy.

This might be the homeworld of my adopted family, and the natives here important allies, and we all might be dead five minutes from now, but those were no reason to excuse diagnostic incompetence.

“You did not perform abdominal scans or take a personal history. Nor did you contact her HouseClan to inquire as to the origins of her illness.” I would have to note this on the chart and later discuss improving Jorenian triage and assessment procedures with Squilyp, HouseClan Torin’s Senior Healer. Providing that we survived treating this patient, of course. “What is your name?”

“I am Tarveka, ClanSon Zamlon, attending healer,” he snapped back. “As for this female, she was admitted in a state of delirium, and has since been incapable of coherent communication. The skin rash she suffers from has made it impossible to identify her HouseClan mark” – he pointed to the side of her throat where all Jorenians bore the distinctive black birthmark symbolic of their respective natal clans – “but it hardly necessitates the performance of any internal scans.”

The rash had distorted the outlines of the patient’s birthmark, turning it into a black smear. “What did you do for her?”

"As she is suffering from dermitis, I performed a dermal scan and took some tissue samples for culture. The results should be back from our forensic lab tomorrow morning.” He made an impatient gesture. “Have you nothing better to do than disrupt this ward with your uninformed inquiries?”

I was tempted to point out that his shouting had disrupted the ward far more than my evaluation of his patient, but the greater problem occupied the berth. I almost felt grateful for his initial, inaccurate assessment and the manner in which he had bungled her treatment. He’d probably saved his own life as well as the patient’s and everyone else on the ward.

“This female’s condition will not be resolved by skin treatments.” I switched off the chart display and met his antagonistic gaze. My knees wanted to buckle, but this was not Akkabarr; I no longer had to prostrate myself before angry males. In fact, my new life gave me the right to challenge them. “Do you wish to assist me, or is defending your original, erroneous diagnosis of more importance to you?”

“What say you? Assist you? Think you that I am a nurse?” Dark color flushed the skin of his face, and the elegant lids around his all-white eyes narrowed. “You deliberately insult me.”

“Only if you are correct about this patient’s condition, and I am not.” I displayed some of my teeth. “Fortunately, you are not.”

“Making new friends, Doctor?”

We both turned as a one-legged Omorr male hopped over to the end of the berth. HouseClan Torin Senior Healer Squilyp’s dark pink skin, three upper limbs and long white prehensile facial tendrils formed a colorful contrast to the uniformly blue-skinned, black-haired Jorenians around us. So did his scowl, which he directed at me.

I aggravated Squilyp, but then, I did the same to a lot of my new friends.

The Omorr had brought me with him to this facility this morning to, in his words, “keep me out of trouble.” My husband, Duncan Reever, and our adopted Jorenian family, HouseClan Torin, were presently meeting with planetary security officials to brief them on matters of intergalactic importance. That was how they referred to any matter concerning me.

I did not wish to be on this world or among these people. I had no desire to be of importance on a galactic, planetary, continental or even a provincial scale. If no one ever paid any attention to me again, it would not upset me. I simply longed to be with Reever, the only one who truly understood me.

I should have been with him. We had time now to begin our investigation of the mysterious black crystal that my surrogate mother, Maggie, claimed was spreading like a cancer through our galaxy. Reever had already contacted an old Terran comrade who had promised information about the Odnallak, the last survivors of the race that created the black crystal.

Also ever-present on my mind were the results from the latest series of medical tests I had performed on my husband. Reever did not yet know that the chameleon cells in his body that had twice repaired fatal injuries he had received had also infiltrated every organ in his body.

Reever, like me, was no longer precisely human. Somehow I had to find the words to tell him that.

“Doctor?” Squilyp prompted, tugging me free from the snarl of my thoughts.

“I have disagreed with this healer’s assessment and treatment of this patient,” I told the Omorr as I offered him the chart. “He regards my professional opinion as a personal insult. We must move quickly to treat this female—”

“She is ignorant and insolent,” Tarveka said, interrupting me. “She insulted me, and while I am not Torin, I do not need some bigoted offworlder provoking me into a declaration of ClanKill.”

“You have been busy,” the Omorr said to me.

“I want this Terran removed from this ward,” Tarveka said, drawing himself up with great dignity. “At once.”

Being labeled as a Terran annoyed me. Although Terra was my natal world, I knew little of it or its native inhabitants. They were said to be isolationists and xenophobes, obsessed with themselves and maintaining genetic purity.

My body might appear Terran in form, but I was hardly human. I wasn’t even the original occupant of my body; I had been born to it on Akkabarr after point-blank gun shot wounds had destroyed my former self’s mind. I came to life on the day that she died, and was made one of the Iisleg, the people of the ice. Our ancestors had been abducted from Terra, and brought as slaves to Akkabarr, but the only thing we had in common with Terrans was our DNA.

I was Jarn of Akkabarr, not Cherijo Torin of Terra.

Her name in my mind made my stomach clench. The Iisleg never spoke of the dead. They belonged to the Gods.

I did not relate any of this to Healer Tarveka. Trying to explain my existence, previous identity, beliefs and present state of consciousness to a stranger often took hours, and usually required some visual aids. Besides that, if we didn’t deal with this patient, and soon, she and everyone on this ward were going to die, including us.

Now I simply had to relay that to these males without sending them both into uncontrolled hysterics.

Squilyp took the chart and scanned the display. “Senior Healer, do you know who this Terran is?”

“Squilyp,” I said. “We do not have time to waste on trifling matters. Please don’t.”

“You are acting like an Iisleg again.” To Tarveka, the Omorr repeated, “Do you know who she is?”

Tarveka made an impatient, negative gesture.

“In addition to being a member of HouseClan Torin and the Savior of Varallan,” Squilyp said, “the chief physician in charge of rebel forces during the Akkabarran Insurrection, and the named blood kin of TssVar, the new Hsktskt Hanar, she also happens to serve as a member of the Ruling Council of Joren.” He paused for a moment to enjoy the stunned look on the Jorenian’s face. “May I introduce Dr. Cherijo Torin?”

Trust Squilyp to condense my two lifetimes into a handful of words. I watched most of the healthy dark blue color fade from the Jorenian healer’s face, leaving it taunt and chalky-looking. “You did not mention that I am also an amnesiac, a dead handler, and a bioengineered clone.”

“I will remember to,” the Omorr assured me, “the next time you try to provoke someone into declaring ClanKill.”

“Healer. Torin.” Tarveka seemed to be out of breath. “Your pardon. I. I had no idea you would. That you.” He shuffled back several steps, thumped himself in the chest, and gestured toward the patient. “Please. I would be honored. I will follow. Ah. Any advice. Of course. Please.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too.” As a proper Iisleg woman, that was not something I should have said, but my speech patterns were changing. In fact, since regaining memories of my former self through an intense mind link with my husband, I never knew what would come out of my mouth. I ignored Squilyp’s sharp look as I stripped out of my gloves and signaled a nurse. “Prepare the surgical suite.”

“Surgery?” Tarveka took a step toward the patient’s berth, as if to protect her from me. He also seemed to regain instant control of his lung function and speech center. “How do you intend to treat dermatitis with surgery?”

“The rash is a symptom, not the cause of her condition,” I said. “My abdominal scans show a foreign mass lodged in the primary pyloric sphincter, restricting the passage between the lower chamber of the stomach and the small intestine.”

“It sounds like a gastric bezoar.” Squilyp took my datapad and reviewed the scan results. “Why is the scan so indistinct?”

“The mass is reflecting it.”

“I cannot believe this rash to be the result of a concretion in the GI tract,” the Jorenian healer said. “With all due respect, Healer Torin, an accumulation of unabsorbed fiber or food is not uncommon among those of us who travel offworld for the first time.”

“Synthetics and alien foodstuffs can be difficult for them to digest,” the Omorr agreed. “Are you sure it’s not the scanner malfunctioning? It shouldn’t be this fuzzy.”

“It is not a foodball,” I said, trying not to clench my teeth, “or a hairball. Nor is the scanner at fault. It is a—”

“Whatever its composition, we should begin with a gastrointestinal probe, to determine what formed the mass,” the Omorr said, giving me a disapproving glance. “There are any number of non-surgical treatments we can use for dissolution or removal. Enzymatic disruption, gastric lavage – even pulse lithotripsy.”

The thought of anyone using focused light lithotripsy on this patient made me disguise a shudder.

“That would be extremely unwise.” I tugged back the linen sheet and raised the edge of the patient’s gown, exposing her abdomen. “Observe how dense the rash covers her torso. Here” –I indicated the median area beneath her sternum— “the dermatitis disguises a recent vertical cell displacement measuring two point three centimeters. A puncture wound, likely inflicted by a sharp object, perhaps a bladed weapon. It ruptured the small intestine, and although the peristalsis has prevented any leakage, peritonitis is imminent.” Among other things.

“She was stabbed?” Tarveka murmured, aghast and furious. Jorenians were extremely protective of their kin, and would eviscerate anyone who even threatened to hurt them. “Who could do such a thing on Joren and escape ClanKill?”

“I cannot say, but whatever pierced her body likely deposited the mass into her stomach cavity. She is tachycardic and hypotensive; her condition is deteriorating rapidly.” I didn’t want to say more in front of the Jorenian, so I turned and addressed the nurse. “I will need a drone surgical assistance unit, a shielded container in which to deposit the mass, and an isolation chamber prepared with full detox for recovery.”

“Healer, should I not prep the patient?” the nurse wanted to know.

“I thank you, but I will do that.” I went to a diagnostic unit, cross-referenced the forensic database, and entered all the information I had discovered from my scans. The unit compared the data to all such devices known to the Jorenians.

Device not found. Just as I had suspected.

“What are you looking for?” Tarveka came to my side. He looked distressed and still slightly affronted. “Permit me to assist you, Healer.”

“I prefer drones in the operating room,” I lied. I thought of the communications center, located on the lowest level of the hospital. Sending him there would get him out of my face. “Would you be so kind as to go and inform HouseClan Torin that my return to the pavilion will be delayed?”

“Of course.” Hiding his irritation with the exquisite manners of his kind, the Jorenian made a complicated hand gesture of regret and respect, and left the ward.

Squilyp put a membrane on my arm as soon as the Jorenian was out of earshot, and said, “You are not being completely candid. Why do you want a shielded container, and why won’t you let a nurse prep her? Why are you accessing the weapons database? You have never liked using drones in surgery.”

“I will not know for certain until I open her up.” The look in his dark eyes made me add, “Don’t become alarmed, Senior Healer, but the abdominal wound smells of destabilized arutanium.”

His gildrells straightened into stiff, white spikes. “You can smell that?”

“During the rebellion, we would always check casualties for the odor,” I admitted. “Our wounded were sometimes used by the Toskald that way. I will not know for certain until I open her abdomen.”

“But Jarn, for there to be traces of destabilized arutanium—”

“—someone had to plant an explosive inside her body,” I finished for him. “One that has yet to detonate. Which is why when I go into surgery, you must evacuate everyone from this facility.”


Squilyp wished to argue with me, but he now knew why we did not have time to debate my decision to operate. He did, however, insist I activate the transmitter in my vocollar and keep the channel open as I worked on the patient. A training monitor in the surgical suite would provide a visual feed for him to observe the entire procedure.

“You may need something,” he argued, “and you will not be able to send the drone out to retrieve it for you.”

I was not enamored with the idea of being monitored while I worked, but he was right. It would also allow me to quickly relate exactly what I found inside the patient’s body, and how much danger it presented to the facility and surrounding area. “Very well.”

While I made the adjustments to my vocollar, the Omorr instructed the nurses to begin moving the patients, and then came over to give me an earpiece.

“This will allow for two-way communication,” he advised me. “I have summoned Torin security to surround the facility. What should I tell Reever?”

“Tell him that I am working,” I said as I injected the patient with neuroparalyzer and secured her body with motion restraints. I rolled the berth over to the surgical suite, but I didn’t transfer her onto an operating platform. I couldn’t take the chance of jarring her and possibly triggering an explosion.

Squilyp stayed with the patient while I donned a surgical shroud, and then stopped me as the drone surgical assistance unit rolled its instrument tray past us and into the suite. “I cannot allow you to do this alone. I will stay and assist.”

The Omorr could be very male when it came to situations like this. He would also die along with the patient if the round exploded while I was operating. Thanks to my bioengineered physiology, I would not.

“You’ll get out of here and keep me on remote monitor, or I’ll signal your mate and tell her what you’re doing,” I told him as I fastened a surgical mask over the lower part of my face. “Then I’ll signal mine.”

“You would not dare.”

I looked at him over the edge of my mask and let Cherijo’s words answer him. “Try me.”

“Of course you would.” He sighed. “Very well, Doctor. If you change your mind—”

“I won’t.” I swept a hand toward the ward exit panels. “Get out.”

When Squilyp had left, I grasped the edge of the gurney and eased the patient through the air lock and into the main surgical suite. The drone had followed its programmed instructions and set up for an intestinal laparotomy while I scrubbed.

“Initiate sterile field.” As the containment generators created an envelope of clean air around us, I administered the appropriate prophylactic antibiotics and instructed the drone to commence anesthesia before I spoke to Squilyp. “Senior Healer, is the channel clear?”

“It is,” the Omorr said over the earpiece as I used the lascalpel to make the midline incision. “This is madness, you know.”

“It is a routine procedure with potentially hazardous complications,” I corrected. “Cherijo’s first surgery after leaving Terra was much like this.”

“You remember that bowel obstruction?” Like everyone who knew my former self, Squilyp still hoped I would recover the memories of that life.

“No, I read about it in her entries on Kevarzangia Two. And it was a strangulated colon.” I did not personally recall the procedure, but thanks to Cherijo’s journals and my husband’s telepathic abilities, I knew many details of my former life. “She did not mention if the surgery was a success.”

“It was, barely,” Squilyp said. “Another physician named Rogan had misdiagnosed the patient, you told me, and you had to remove the entire bowel, which had turned putrid. She nearly died.”

I felt an odd shift in my mind as learned memories blended with my own. “Strangulation obstruction carries a twenty-five to thirty percent mortality rate if surgery is delayed more than thirty-six hours after onset of symptoms. The patient lived. Did I clone a new colon for her?”

“She was an Orgemich,” Squilyp said. “That species has twin bowels.”

I could just imagine what Cherijo would have said: I should have strangled Rogan with the gangrenous ones.

Once I had cut the patient’s abdomen open, I performed a visual inspection of the stomach and small intestine. Jorenians had the same basic digestive system as most humanoids, with a few exceptions caused by adaptive evolution, such as their dual-chambered stomach, which allowed them to digest their food in stages.

“Color is normal, with some arterial pulsation. I see a considerable amount of distention in the valve, but the tissue appears viable. Thermal scanner.” I used the non-invasive instrument to pinpoint the exact location of the mass. “The obstruction is still partially lodged in the pyloric sphincter adjunct to the secondary chamber. That is causing the bulge.” I noticed an unusual, dull yellow discoloration around the insertion point in the sphincter, and felt my heart skip a beat.

“Use an isotonic lavage,” the Omorr suggested. “You can introduce it through the esophagus and force the blockage to move down into the small intestine.”

“Not this time,” I said as I studied the scanner readout, although the yellow discoloration already told me exactly what had been shoved into the gut of this female. “The obstruction is a pulse grenade, modified with a contact trigger.”

“That’s impossible,” the Omorr snapped. “Jarn, if she had that sort of grenade in her belly, she would have exploded the first time she took a deep breath or bent over.”

“The grenade is encased in an organic material that quickly decays and dissolves once it’s placed inside the body,” I explained. “The process creates a significant echogenic arc of air around the grenade.” I didn’t bother explaining the trigger. If I did, he would insist I leave.

“If you bleed the air pocket or touch the grenade with any instrument, it could blow,” Squilyp said.

“No.” Memories from the rebellion rushed through me. Acrid smoke hanging in frigid clouds. Wet, red ice. Kneeling beside a rebel who had bitten through his lips to keep from screaming. Like all Iisleg men, he believed if he showed bravery, he would be given a second chance to live. He had died three minutes later. “I know what this is. What it does.”

“Then you know you can’t remove it,” he added. “Close the patient and get out of there.”

“I don’t have to touch it.” I held out my glove. “Mesentery clamp.”


“We’ll have to think up a new name for this procedure, Senior Healer,” I said as I clamped off the segment of bowel I intended to vivisect. “What do you think of gastric grenade bypass?”

“I think I should be addressing you as Cherijo,” Squilyp said sourly. “You’ve become as reckless as she was.”

“Gastric suction tube. This is not reckless. You should have seen how we often we were forced to remove live ordnance from the wounded during the war. Sometimes we had to use blades and our hands, right there on the battlefield.” I made a tiny incision and inserted the tube through the upper chamber of the stomach to evacuate the contents of the lower chamber. “The patient should be scheduled for gastric reconstruction as soon as she is stable. I will perform the procedure.”

“Stop her from blowing us all to the moons,” Squilyp said. “Then we will worry about who rebuilds her stomach.”

“Indeed. Bypass setter.” I applied the large, vise-like instrument to the division between the divided stomach, and tightened the grip until it effectively clamped off the lower chamber. “Fill the specimen container with suspension gel,” I told the drone as I brought down the lascalpel and adjusted the beam. Before I made the final cut, I asked Squilyp, “Has everyone left the facility?”

“Everyone but us.”

I quickly changed my gloves and sterilized the outside surfaces to remove any possible trace of my DNA. “I am removing the grenade now.” I cut the stomach in half, and then did the same to the clamped-off section of bowel on the other side of the bulging valve. Once I had resolved the severed vessels on either end, I carefully extracted the vivisected section in which the grenade remained lodged. Dull yellow streaked the entire section, and silver-blue, viscous liquid streaked the green blood dripping from either end. “Specimen container.”

The drone presented the open container to me, and I carefully lowered the section and immersed it in the suspension gel. The smell of the device made my eyes water and sting.

“I’m sending out the drone,” I told the Omorr. “Advise security that the grenade is leaking heavily.”

“Aruntanic fluid?”

“Yes. They must take it to be detonated immediately.” With the drone gone, I had to pick up my own instruments, and I groped for hemostat. “Can you come and assist me now, Senior Healer?”

The Omorr didn’t reply, but hopped into the suite a few minutes later, properly scrubbed, gowned and masked. “How is she?” he asked as I momentarily lowered the sterile field for him.

“Young and strong. If there are no complications from the vivisection or the arutanic fluid, and we can grow her another lower stomach chamber, she will survive. Clamp.” I stopped the resection as a muffled blast from outside the facility caused a shimmer in the curtain of energy around us. “Security?”

“Militia.” Squilyp eyed the view panel. “They sent in a combat munitions unit with a blast-absorption dome.”

Since the building still stood, I assumed they had deliberately detonated the grenade. “How often do Jorenians present as living bombs?”

“Never in my experience.” His dark eyes narrowed as he inspected the abdominal cavity for a moment. “Jarn, this was not an accident.”

“I agree,” I said as I began suturing again. “But who would do this, and why?”

“That is what I would like to know,” the cool, unemotional voice of my husband, Duncan Reever, said over my ear piece.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Sheila Kelly
All rights reserved.

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