Alpha system - Coreworld Terra - District 38.92.14. Student Residential: 3100 local time. [0800. 2/11/2002 Omega time]
Dr. Rachel Plasse, Doctor of clinical bacteriology, recently licensed by the Federation based Board of Natural Sciences.
She took a cautious sip of the searingly warm drink and paused to savor the moment. Closing her eyes to breath in the rich scent of pure cocoa, bathing her tired yet youthful brow in the pleasantly climbing warmths of steam; the bitter sweet taste hung upon her tongue as she swallowed and opened those light blue eyes, reluctantly returning them to the screen before her.
Her name was Rachel Plasse… Doctor Rachel Plasse. It had already been six months since her ‘coating’ (lab coat ceremony), yet the title still felt strange attached to her name. She had practiced that signature - Doctor Rachel Plasse - ever since she first decided she wanted it seven years ago in second school. Now that the omnisciently massive Board of Natural Sciences had justified those sleepless post-university years of endless tests and menial residencies, she still didn’t quite know how to process this new found freedom. After the initial joys and familial adulations had quieted down, what had shocked her was the huge gaps of time that was hers again; no classes, no examinations or boards to study for, no instructors breathing down her cricked neck… and no job.
Thankfully a student’s life was cheap, and her frugal living and few scholarships had alleviated the massive financial burdens. Burdens wrought by the subsistence pay the ever stingy government funded university hospitals generously bestowed, and the huge tuition rates imposed by said hospitals. She honestly never would have survived debtless without her wealthy family to rescue her. For that matter she probably wouldn’t have persevered through the residencies had her older sister not commed her weekly to encourage and drive her on. Her ’s administrative connections with the hospital certainly didn’t hurt either, or her mother’s constant scrutiny of her grades. Even in the early-soul searching days when she switched her concentration from Human Medicine to the Bio-sciences they remained steadfast.
Though she loved her family dearly, she still loathed to admit that she would not have made it without them. Though she had inceptive difficulty, she had made those near-perfect grades, she had passed a test after analyzing samples all night long for the fifteenth time. No, she might not have the genius of her older sisters or the stunning looks and suavity of her younger brother Caiden, but she could work. She could study for days and hammer through an impossible subject. She could spend hours researching and defining some strange rimworld bacterium and recite the mandated procedures for cleansing that bacterium and the medical risks involved. She was fifteen when she got accepted into the University, and was always the youngest in her class. Her head instructor, Dr. Simms even once told her in one of his rarely personable moments that she was one of his most promising students. The vast majority of her coworkers and fellow students had been older than her; in fact, now as a licensed bacteriologist at 24 almost all of her students were a decade older than her. So sure, she had a great family behind her and the shadow of her siblings to stand in, but in the end, she could risk a moment of mild megalomania.
Rachel Plasse sat on her favorite couch in her small apartment room, a mug of steaming chocolate in one hand and her computer lying on her lap. The room was small by common middle class domestic standards, yet relatively spacious for a single student. The room was in a state of careful chaos, with datapads and paper books overflowing past the shelves and scattered across the room in organized knee high stacks. Considering the terabytes of information that even the cheapest of these pads contained, all told her room was a ridiculous database almost exclusively focused toward bacteria. Research for the thousands of essays and profiles she had written about individual bacterium, examinations of health concerns for different colonies and outbreak studies across the galaxies. A cornucopia of compiled knowledge to whoever could navigate the labyrinth of stacks cataloged roughly by subject, species, lethality, instructor, and intergalactic system. A cornucopia that only Rachel could comprehend, and would be thrown into upheaval - well, upheaval to her - if so much as one stack was bumped; thankfully no one ever visited to risk knocking about her system. Which was just as well, for between these stacks of knowledge were a bare few pieces of furniture, the bare minimum for a single student; the fluffy couch she currently rested on, a small bed that folded up into a couch, and a small folding coffee table with clean utensils and several small plates stacked neatly. That was all the silver and dinnerware Rachel owned, the old kitchen cabinets and spacious drawers normally intended for them instead simply held more datapads. Her small netcast receiver rested on a corner of the coffee table, on the rare occasions that she turned it on, it projected a large, crystal clear display of the dozens of newscasts available on the Federation net.
Her exacting and taciturn mother always hated this “absolutely inexcusable fault,” but no matter how much disapproval she preached on the subject, in this Rachel always allowed herself some freedom. This was her room, she knew where everything was, and there were no actual ‘messes.’ She liked her careful chaos, and as long as she lived here alone it would remain this way.
Thankfully her father - James Plasse - was a more sanguine parent. Though he had also kept her focused throughout her scholastic pursuits, the day she graduated he started playing the matchmaker. Planting suggestions and pushing various men in her direction. The thought was nice as the men were all incredibly intelligent, if usually poor conversationalists or not downright awkward. Rachel couldn’t have that, not at all. She’d be the last to claim possession of any consequential wit or quick humor like the heroines in her novels, yet she could certainly carry a conversation. And she didn’t want to spend that much time around an ineloquent brick. It was a pity that all of her peers who spoke fluently with brilliant minds to match were also around twenty years her senior.
Yet none of that really mattered, even with so much extra time on her hands, she didn’t want another distraction to gobble it back up. Her life was hers at last, it was time to spend it on getting experience and putting the last decade to use.
This was the same apartment Rachel had kept throughout most of her academic career. As a creature of particularly set habits, Rachel had done her best to keep as many constants as she could. The private room, the daily chocolate comfort, the personalized surroundings, and most importantly, her precious few novels tucked away under the bed/couch. Those books remained there unless things were truly dire, only when home sickness struck, or the collective stresses of competitive academia overwhelmed her would she reach for these old books. and artistically printed hardbacks with colors faded from reading in sunlight; pages rendered brittle and crisp, both from the original excited thumbing through of the pages to the endless later more careful and familiar turnings.
Her chestnut hair was uncharacteristically loose and tustled about her shoulders; it might be called ‘morning hair’ if that didn’t imply sleep the night before. Rachel - already rendered an insomniac through necessity - had spent the night reading research articles and reviewing one of her dozen-plus job applications. This one that caught and kept her eye so readily was a research position with the Federation Navy; not a formal contract, nor even a one time tour assignment. The basic form aositioned that she’d be signing onto a Federation ship for 8 months as a civilian resident doing humanitarian research, and hence she wouldn’t be restricted to military regulations or requirements, “Thank god.”
Rachel considered herself a fairly apolitical person; her job was her life after all. Her parents, however, were anything but ‘apolitical.’ Her mother - Dr. Yutah Hareensy - was a hardlining member of the Imperialist party, with a very active and vocal family; her father James was (of course!) a diametrically liberal Corporatist. They disagreed on almost every major issue that came on the broadcasts and commentators; whether it was the ‘propaganda/Public relations scandal’ back in ‘34 or the more recent kitchen knife bans spreading from the core worlds. It got worse as her siblings got older and started declaring for one party or another. She remembered the actual tears James shed after her older sister first voted for the Conservative Centralist minister that increased military spending by another percentile of the Federation’s GDP. Or how angry Yutah had gotten when Caiden went with her father to go vote against criminal conscription for the military. Or both parents’ frustration with Rachel’s bureaucratic ambivalence; she hated the endless simmering debates and those silent disapproving looks they always gave her when she threw up her hands about an issue.
Politics was a sore subject with the Plasse family, taking a civilian contracting job with the military would not endear her to James or Caiden.
Yet these concerns were momentarily pushed from her mind as she came across the pay description. It wasn’t the amount that fascinated her, though the position paid very well. Her entrancement focused upon a single line:
“Contested Zone Service Compensation: 500 credits per MUTA day that the employing vessel has been engaged.”
The omnipresent international threats like the Tautoan Empire, the Caliphate, Shaog, or the Disuka constantly loom near. The Feds hadn’t actually been at war with any of them for over forty years, but that didn’t mean that billions weren’t still deployed internationally fighting Insurrectionists, pirates, fringe worlds, star lords, war chieftains, dictators, or the mercenary clans… As Yutah said many times before, “The list of Federation enemies is long.” Federation trans-system commitments were massive; trade routes had to be protected, colonies had to be maintained, vital resources had to be occupied, and humanitarian law had to be enforced… Or so Yutah told her.
But she didn’t want to think about that right now, that’s not what was drawing her to those two words.
Contested Zone… Combat…
She let that thought sink in for a minute. Allowing the odd sensation of excitement coupled with a prickle of fear to flow through her body. What better opportunity could she ask for to see what the real world was like? What could possibly make a better - albeit sharp - transition from the purely academic and hypothetical world to the physical and result focused?
As she continued reading, another line of the contract caught her eye.
“You will conduct your work on a Federation Naval Vessel during an active tour to a moon called ‘Tahara.’ Once you arrive you’ll be receiving assignments to save these underprivileged peoples from weaponized diseases and native bacteria.
Save millions of innocent lives, explore this fringe world, earn excellent pay, and serve your country.”
She knew the name, she’d read about that moon before. An apparent shocking coincidence considering the millions of cultivated and populated worlds, moons, asteroids, and stations in the universe. Yet still apparent since aside from her thousands of research essays, she had simply ‘read about’ tens of thousands more. So only a minor coincidence.
Besides, Species 37A42/ Strain 18 was nicknamed ‘Baby Ghorta’ by the scientist who defined it just a couple years ago (Dr. Samantha Voor.) ‘Ghorta’ was a some reference to some big movie scene where lots of people died. She didn’t know or cared; what made it stick in her memory particularly well was the parasite’s durability. It was waterborne and almost impossible to exterminate or purify. Basic coagulation and flocculation and the chemicals normally associated didn’t cleanse it. The native Taharan sedimentation method didn’t work. Any form of advanced filtration completely failed. Even distillation was useless. Dr. Voor eventually developed a complex disinfection method involving repeated exposures to intense UV radiation coupled with additional chlorine treatments. Apparently the nearly permanently overcast Taharan sky didn’t allow many bright skies.
But in the end, the process was only effective with individual samples of water. And it proved too expensive for the impoverished native population. Which honestly wasn’t that big of a deal since the natives had lived with it for the last few centuries. Every native Taharan lived their entire life with the microparasite in them. It was found even in breast milk. The infant morality rate was unusually high even for a third world, nearly a fifteenth of all local children died soon post childbirth. She hadn’t read those studies, but the link had yet to be found between the infant morality rate and the parasite, though they had to be connected. The more conclusively proved damage done by the parasite was a slight increase in hyperthyroidism; barely .03% if she remembered correctly, which she usually did. Additionally, though the natives had adapted to drinking the water, foreigners would get terribly sick for anywhere between 24 hours to a month after the smallest cup. The adjustment was sometimes so bad for aliens, that one out of sixty would die. Though there her memory failed her as to exactly why or how. Even after a person was infested with the parasite, it was nearly impossible to remove it. She really hoped that the humanitarian work did not include finding some answer for it.
The terse tone of a call notification from her computer suddenly shook Rachel from her thoughts. She gently laid her mug on the floor beside the couch before tapping a flashing green icon on the corner of her screen.
“Hey Rachel! Please tell me you went to bed last night after our midnight chat.”
Rachel leaned back on her couch and stretched out her arms, smiling at the familiar and eager feminine voice.
“Sleep is for pre-grads and philosophy con’s Olivia.”
“And smartmouth Doctors! It’s been forever since your coating, you need to get back on a human schedule.”
“I am on a human schedule, haven’t done anything all night except drink Chocolate and read job proposals and articles.”
“Yeah! Where will you be going? Have you picked which one yet?”
“I think so…”
“…AND? Just tell me already! Is it the Handel contract?” (Handel International was one of the giant medical research corporations between the Feds, League, or the Union.)
“Well, I’ll be going offsystem.”
“Oh! Thayer corp then!” Olivia had nearly squealed with excitement; Rachel was very fond of her friend, though she could be a little grating at times like this.
“No… Not Thayer, though it will be on a ship.”
“Just TELL me!”
Rachel wasn’t really certain how Olivia was going to take this; politics had never really come up in their midnight chats or lunch dates.
“It’s a humanitarian job with the navy.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, Rachel visibly cringed as she could hear Olivia’s slight intake of breath on the other line.
“…Ohhh. That sounds… Adventurous.”
She wasn’t offended, good. Yet she wasn’t pleased either. Rachel spoke plainly,
“You don’t like it.”
“No, no, no, it sounds like fun. And I’m sure you’ll be helping a lot of people. It’s just…”
“Isn’t that sort of thing really… dangerous?”
“Yep, really dangerous. This humanitarian mission is actually a cover mission to kill Prime Minister Azarov. My scanners are actually a kind of wrist gun, and the slides are bombs.”
“Rachel!” Olivia sounded shocked, “The FSI’s going to track this call now with those three words. And I was being serious.”
“So what? They’ll know I’m joking, and I appreciate it Olivia. I really do, but you shouldn’t worry about it. Humanitarian missions don’t get into any battles, that’s why they’re called humanitarian.”
“I’m sorry for being worried, I don’t mean to rain on your parade. And I am happy for you! This job really sounds wonderful if you get to help so many people like that. Where are you going?”
“This moon called Tahara.”
Olivia gasped again, the excited exhilaration rushing back into her voice.
“What? Tahara!? as in the Ankor border system Tahara?
This genuinely surprised Rachel, Olivia was never really one for geography.
“Yes… You’ve vacationed there or something?”
“No! Silly! You haven’t heard about Take Down Ariseny?”
“No, is it big or something?”
“YES! It’s HUGE! Even the newscasts have mentioned it a few times. It’s ALL OVER the net! Just how have you not heard about it?”
“What can I say? I live under a scholastic rock.”
“Anyway,” Olivia continued in that rushed voice she always spoke in when talking about something she was passionate it. “Tahara is in some sort of civil war, and Ariseny is a horrible, horrible war criminal. He has killed aid workers, civilians, tortured people, burns villages. And some of his soldiers are as young as ten! The movement was started by a few aid workers that came back from Tahara and wanted him brought to justice; they’ve been legislating parliament to send an intervention force and the proposal just passed like last month. Their site has over half a billion subscribers! And I’m guessing that you get to be a part of it all!”
Tahara was just becoming more and more interesting. It always hurt to read and hear about the suffering of others, even in the vague, academic language of her journals on the net. Her first memory of violence had been catching glimpses of syndicated adult only newscasts, showing helmetcam footage from soldiers on the frontlines or enforcers fighting crime in the streets. Yet the sounds of violence and sight of blood were always carefully censored for the standard, politically correct upper middle class audiences. Rachel guessed that partly created her distaste for blood, which was the reason she switched away from human anatomy and medicine early on. She threw up after seeing her first cadaver, and from there it only got worse and worse. Even after switching, the many symptom photos and case studies showed the first pictures of real suffering that she’d ever seen. And they still made her a little queasy. She had a weak, upper middle class stomach.
Still, as an intelligent professional woman, Rachel hated what she saw as a superficial facade of her popular culture. How could the Federation ignore the unbridled violence going on in the universe? Though she wasn’t an activist and had simply been too busy in the last several years to develop that belief, Rachel did sympathize when her father’s party wanted to enforce international humanitarian law. ‘Order Saving Chaos’ and similar slogans to some extent resounded with her.
Yet she still replied with a sardonic pitch in her voice.
“Courtney Wilson’s fan site has over three billion subscribers.”
“Oh come on! It’s a lot of people to support a parliament proposal. PM’s (Parliament members) were scrambling over themselves trying to appear at Ariseny rallies.”
“It does sound like a good cause, and it’s great people went out and actually supported it. It’ll be nice to be doing something that actually matters.”
“Heey now! Who didn’t even now about it?”
“Again, scholastic rock.”
The chime of Olivia’s chuckle echoed through the apartment, “Hey, gotta go now, get some sleep Rachel!”
Rachel sat aside her computer and stood up from the couch, looking down at her disheveled appearance. Time to get presentable.