I sold Larry Robfort enough Narcoplex to tranquilize a walrus but I could tell there was something else he wanted. It was quarter to seven in the morning and the two of us were crammed into the bathroom at the Pickled Puffin, that extra-jurisdictional outpost of depravity and cheap booze that sat on the lunar surface fifty metres above Avalon Station.
“Listen, Jayna,” he said. “I gotta ask you something.” He started to undo his pants. “As my doctor.”
“Christ, Robfort,” I said. “Make an appointment.”
But he was already committed. He dropped his drawers and closed his eyes. “Does my bird look alright?”
“This how you treat all the girls?”
The desperation in his voice got the better of me and I knelt down for a closer look. What hung between his legs looked normal and I was about to tell him so when an alarm sounded in my ear.
“Do your pants up,” I said. Robfort flinched. “Belinda’s calling. Don’t forget my fee.”
He tapped at a keyboard only he could see and a second later I got a little richer. The shiver of victory at carving off a few more hours of my indentured Lunar servitude didn’t last long before Belinda appeared in the tiny bathroom between us. One hundred and ninety centimetres of woven-steel Quebecois female, Belinda wore her shoulder-to-ankle fitted grey dress the way a hunter carries a freshly slaughtered deer. The smoke that spiralled from the tip of her long cigarillo floated in way smoke doesn’t on the moon. Judging by the way Robfort was standing at attention, Belinda had chosen to project herself into his AR lenses too.
“Thirteen miners have called in sick this morning,” she said. “I hope Mr. Robfort isn’t one of them.”
“He was complaining of an upset stomach,” I said. “Figured I’d check him out over a pub breakfast.”
Robfort looked over at me as we waited the four seconds for our message to reach Belinda and the four seconds it would take her response to reach us.
“Have I not made it clear that what you do with your free time is of no interest to me, Dr. Patel? We’re paying thirteen miners double time to fill in for those who called in sick. Chung Fat does not like to see its profits wasted away on petty illness. See that these men are back at work tomorrow.”
She touched something on a desk we couldn’t see and disappeared. For some reason, the AR decided to let the illusory cigarillo smoke linger.
Thirteen miners crowded the small waiting room of my clinic. Their silence spoke volumes: these were men who wouldn’t keep quiet at their grandmother’s funeral, yet they grimaced and clutched their stomachs in absolute silence while I moved through the waiting room to Schedulor’s niche.
“Who’s first?” I asked my robotic assistant.
That broke the silence. Without leaving their seats, the miners jumped into a heated argument over who should be seen first. One faction argued that those sickest should be attended to first, while those who’d arrived early expounded upon the time-tested right of the first-come to be the first-served. Then Luke, a young miner who hadn’t committed to either philosophy, lost control of his bowels and made the whole argument moot.
“Prep subdermal cephalosporin tabs,” I told Schedulor. “And do we have cholera hammocks stocked?”
I hoped it wasn’t cholera, but all the signs were there, and the only way to beat cholera is to assume you’re dealing with cholera and act fast.
“Not stocked,” Schedulor said. “But I’ve already started fabbing them.”
Schedulor’s one good arm patted his belly, which gave off a burning-plastic smell. My assistant could only really be called half a robot. Fortunately, he had the more useful half: a head, one functional arm, and a torso that also doubled as a fabricator. He was a permanent fixture in the clinic in his niche in the wall. He’d been here long before I arrived and, once I paid off my debt, he’d be here long after I left.
His belly beeped and spat out a freshly minted hammock. I stuck the adhesive tabs to the ceiling and helped Luke into the polymer webbing. Just in time. The pouch hanging beneath the hammock swelled like an udder.
“Seeing as you popped first, I’m calling you Patient Zero,” I said to Luke as Schedulor went to work on the next hammock. I put the kid on a saline drip. “When exactly did you start to feel sick?”
“I’d say about fifteen minutes after I took this tincture Dr. Earthborn gave me.”
He took a vial of brackish liquid from his pocket.
“Why are you dealing with Earthborn?” I snatched the vial and slipped it into my lab coat. “You get sick, you come to me.”
He found all sorts of interesting things to look at on the newly printed hammock. “Earthborn said he could help.”
“Help with what?”
That hammock so fascinated him that he wouldn’t look at me again.
“You boys go to Earthborn too?” The other miners nodded their clenched faces. “Anyone care to tell me why?” They clammed up quiet as a bunch of school boys who’ve found a hole looking into the girl’s locker room. “If I find out you all overdid at the Puffin last night, you won’t be seeing any sick pay, got it?”
Grumbling stomachs and corked flatulence answered. A mechanical finger tapped my shoulder. “Should I continue with the hammocks?” Schedulor said.
“Forget the hammocks. These boys don’t have cholera. Go home, lads, and drink lots of water. I’m going to go have a word with Earthborn.”
Across the hall from my clinic, Dr. Doronzo was greeting one of his clients in the clinic Selenity had built for its pharmaceutical workers. He gave me the slightest bow, his botched-rejuve face impassive as always, and I nodded back. For a second, I had a glimpse inside his clinic. Calm blue light spilled out from a spacious waiting room, where the only things doing the waiting were three luxurious leather chairs, so clean they looked like they’d been upholstered that morning. The grass is always greener, I told myself, and prepared to kick some witch doctor ass.
I rode the elevator up to the star dome.
Synthetic rubber mats were scattered around the room like a makeshift triage, the people on the mats contorting in poses that the girls at the Puffin would only agree to for a fat wad of moon cheese. Earthborn was the only one standing. A snow-white braid hung to the dimpled small of his back, bisecting a physiology so lean and fit that it looked like he had a family of snakes living beneath his tanned skin. He spoke in an endless sentence, mostly English, but highlighted here and there with Sanskrit. For some reason I couldn’t fathom, he’d decided that a puffy white loincloth was an acceptable thing to put on that morning.
When the door slid shut behind me, he turned, got halfway through inviting me in, then saw who he was talking to. The pharmaceutical workers all tensed up as the New Age logorrhea stopped tumbling from his lips.
“Doctor Patel,” he said. “I do believe this is the first time you’ve joined our practice.”
“Not here to stretch,” I said.
“Our practice is about so much more than stretching.”
“Is your practice about making my miners shit their pants?”
The snakes beneath his tanned skin coiled. “Go through three more modified Surya Namaskars,” Earthborn said to his students. “While I talk to the miner doctor.”
The way his lips twisted when he said “miner” made me want to slap him.
“We can talk right here,” I said, my voice low. I showed him the vial Luke had given me. “What did you give my men?”
“Privet fruit tincture.” He reached for the vial, but I slid it back into my lab coat. “In low doses, it is harmless.”
I sent him a photo of the scene in my waiting room. “My boys got it in their heads that they needed to take a higher dose. Why?”
A grey tongue licked his glossy lips. “Doctor patient privilege.”
“Chung Fat finds out that a doctor of what, magical herbs and fungi, has made their workers sick, it will take a whole orbital container full of patchouli to buy your way back to the moon.”
“I am a trained physician in addition to a holistic practitioner.”
“So tell me, my trained physician friend, why you gave them the potion?”
“I gave them privet to restore yang in the kidneys.” I stared at him as if he were speaking Esperanto. “They’re suffering Koro. Now let me return to my class.”
“What the hell is Koro?”
“You’re the doctor.”
The yogis stared at me through their legs as I stepped into the elevator. Some were my clients. Let them stare. The moment the elevator doors closed, I summoned a search bar and by the time I reached the bottom, I had a pretty good idea what Koro was and what to do about it.
I put in a call to Robfort as I was hoofing it back to my clinic.
“Send out a message to your men,” I said. “There’s a free pitcher at the Puffin tonight for every one of them who shows between eight and nine o’clock.”
“Got a new treat for us?”
“This isn’t marketing, it’s medicine. I’ve gotta have a little chat with your men, and it will be best if they have a few drinks before they hear what I have to say.”
Two hundred and three empty pitchers stood on tables, on chairs, were clutched in hands, balanced on shelves, and forgotten beneath the booted feet of the miners crowded into the Pickled Puffin. They’d drank so much beer that Quinn had to send a few boys down to the Vats to bring up fresh kegs.
Back when the Americans had a real stake on the moon, they’d built a half-dozen modular moon-bases, tin-cans that snapped together like children’s toys. After the disaster at Copernicus Station, everyone went underground. Not the Puffin. Quinn purchased it at auction, ran a tunnel up to it from the station below, and started selling Avalon’s cheapest booze. Most nights it was filled with the sleaziest, drunkest, loudest, meanest men in the station – my best customers – but that night, after I’d gone through what these men needed to know about Koro, the room was silent.
“Last chance,” I said. Again, silence, from men who couldn’t keep their mouths shut even if they were stuck under sixty feet of water. “I’m going to say it one last time and then we can never speak of it again: Koro is a memetic disease, an idea that makes you sick. I know some of you think your penises are shrinking – ladies, you may think the same of your vulvae or breasts, but I promise that’s a delusion brought on by the Koro. Your genitals can’t retract. You don’t need medicine, certainly not the potions Earthborn was selling you. You’re fine. Your genitals aren’t going anywhere. Got it?”
I expected something from them, even a “Show us your tits”, but the men just shuffled their feet, none of them looking at me or each other for that matter. On the walls of the Puffin, I’d put up virtual posters exploring the anatomical impossibility of genital retraction and the history of Koro; those got as many looks as a beggar in front of a strip club.
The bell behind the bar rang and Quinn hollered: “Shots are two-for-one for the next fifteen minutes.”
Miners surged toward the bar. I got out of the way. I didn’t like what this would do to my business. If I kept selling at my current rates, I only had six months of service to endure up here, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be moving product anywhere near the rate I had been. No one wants to buy drugs from a woman who just spent an hour talking about the size of their members.
If the Puffin was the dirtiest, dingiest bar anywhere above Near Earth Orbit, the Gannet must have been the dullest. Red pleather benches were filled with Selenity Pharmaceutical employees who sipped on cocktails, never drinking too much, never getting too loud. Most months I barely made enough in the Gannet to cover the fee I paid its owner to sell my wares in his establishment.
I found Dr. Anthony Doronzo sipping red wine in a far corner of the bar. Word had it that Doronzo had been on the moon longer than any other living man or woman. No one was quite sure how many rejuvenation treatments he’d endured, or which of that number had turned the skin of his face to what looked like emotionless plastic. He was a good doctor, his second or third career over his ambiguously long life, who on more than one occasion had helped me sort out a particularly challenging malady.
“I imagine you could use a drink,” he said when I arrived at his table.
“Word travel that fast?”
“Adams’ law: nothing moves faster than bad news.”
“What are you drinking? I’ll get you another.”
He shook his head and showed me a small bladder that he kept in a cloth bag beneath the table. “At my age, you get very particular about what you drink. Made this myself in the Vats. The good people at the Gannet don’t mind if I bring it in. Care to try?”
He filled a bulb and passed it over. Sharp tannins stung my pallet, but beneath the sharpness were hints of cherry and pencil shavings. “It’s wine.”
“That the best you can do?”
“Red wine? Sorry doc, I didn’t attend too many wine tastings growing up in the ruins of Calgary.”
“This is Frappato. A Sicilian red. Still quite green but give it a year or three and it will be perfect. A shame you won’t be here to share it when it’s ready.”
“In six months, if I want Sicilian wine I’ll just go to Sicily.”
“Assuming, of course, that your little lecture did the trick.” He tried to smile, but that’s the thing about a botched rejuve: it makes it really hard to show when you’re joking.
“Seen anything like it before?”
“Koro? Not in my patients.” Doronzo took another long sip from his bulb of wine. Tiny lights flickered against his cornea as his lenses fed him information. “There hasn’t been a Koro epidemic for 250 years. Not surprising that it would appear among the unschooled miners with whom we share Avalon. From the literature, it looks like you did the right thing.”
The literature, in this case, meant the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IX; that great catalogue of all the ways our minds can harm themselves. I’d read the same and had done everything the manual suggested for treating a Koro epidemic.
“I think I’ll write a paper about it when I get back dirtside,” I said. “It would be nice to have something to show for six years up here.”
That face of his, scar tissue sculpted into a grotesque approximation of youth, twitched the way a crab might if you passed an electric current through it. He raised his glass. “To an effortless departure.”
I touched my bulb to his, then had another look around the room. None of my usual customers were here, but there were a few faces I didn’t recognize. Maybe I could unload some of my stash.
“Don’t you worry someone will overdose?” Doronzo said.
I laughed, a bitter sound. “Have any of my clients ever showed up on your doorstep?” He shook his ageless head. “Mine neither. I’m careful.”
“What if they already are on your doorstep?” Doronzo said.
The self-righteous bastard. I pushed the bulb of wine back across the table. “First taste was half-decent,” I said. “But it’s a little too bitter for me.”
I left the crab-faced old man to drink his home-brewed piss.
Damn Doronzo. I lay on the couch in my apartment nursing a whiskey, trying to convince myself to go to bed, but Doronzo’s accusation kept running through my head. He’d voiced what I try not to think about every time one of my clients becomes a patient: did I make them sick? The physician’s mortal sin. Sure, I was using the proceeds from my recreational drug sales to crank down the years I owed Chung Fat for paying my way through med school, but they way I sold it to myself, I was reducing harm: I tested all my products in the lab to ensure they were pure, and I always talked to my clients, checked that things weren’t getting out of hand. I’d coerced several of them into rehab. Doronzo was making me doubt my methods all over again.
But nothing I gave the boys could have caused the disease. There were two main forms of Koro: an isolated form that afflicted lone sufferers, and cultural Koro that came in epidemics which hadn’t been seen for centuries. For my sins I’d been handed the cultural variety. Epidemic Koro was an infectious meme, a disease passed via language from one misguided mind to another mind. “I think my penis is shrinking,” is surprisingly potent when whispered in a vulnerable population. The syndrome received its name somewhere in the East, China or Korea, where Koro epidemics used to sweep through a town, back before literacy became a widespread condition. Epidemics happened in the West too, but no one had ever bothered giving it a name. Women weren’t immune, but men seemed to be more susceptible. Things could get nasty if the epidemic was left untreated, yet all it took to end an epidemic was a well-written pamphlet. Information immunized vulnerable minds. With the advent of mass communication, Koro epidemics went from an occasional bizarre scourge to a historical curiosity.
I poured myself another glass of whiskey and sent Belinda an email telling her the situation was under control. I’d done right by my boys, I was sure of it.
After I sent the email, my right nipple brushed the inside of my shirt. I could swear it felt smaller. This was like med school all over again, when, as we worked our way through the DSM, I became convinced that I alternately had OCD, Chew-Z, and Locutus Delusion. I drank the whiskey and forced myself to ignore what was clearly a figment of my imagination.
Five whiskeys later, I passed out on the couch.
The miner limped into the clinic as Schedulor was pouring my first coffee of the day. Luke, Patient Zero. I remembered that he had a girl dirtside who wasn’t answering his calls. He’d told me all about her a week earlier when he’d bought some Valizoom.
Luke wouldn’t meet my gaze when I asked him what was wrong. Looked like my little talk at the Puffin hadn’t reached everyone. He made sure the door of the examination room was locked before he would so much as take off his toque.
He swore me to secrecy as he climbed up onto the examination table. “My uncle, Marcel, had this lump growing on the side of his head. Didn’t have medical insurance, but he had a knife. He boiled the knife, daubed the lump with moonshine, and toked until he was floating. Didn’t even feel the cut. Stapled it up himself and he’s been fine ever since.”
“What did you do, Luke?”
“Didn’t have a knife, but I had plenty of wire and Valizoom.”
He unzipped his moonsuit. His member hung at a sharp angle, the tip swollen to the size of a grapefruit. When I touched it, he howled. I subdermed morcaine and that quieted him.
“Weren’t you at the Puffin last night?” I said as I applied a cold compress to reduce the swelling.
“I heard what you were saying, about this Koro business, but my cock was disappearing back up inside me, doc. I had to do something or I would’a died.”
The morcaine knocked him out. Anti-inflammatories helped bring the swelling down, and I did my best to elevate him to drain away the accumulated blood. In a few hours, I’d have a better idea if there was any permanent damage. I gave Schedulor control of the subderm feed.
“Keep him under. If he so much as tries to scratch down there, increase the dose.”
When I was sure Luke was sleeping, I slipped into my office. Everything I knew about Koro told me that my information vaccination should have been enough to kill the epidemic, but Luke had been vaccinated, he should have been cured. That meant something else was going on here.
I brought up Luke’s file. Nothing I read made him exceptional, but I cross-referenced him with the others who’d been in my office, Larry Robfort included, until I found a line I could draw through most of the men I knew were suffering the delusion. That line led me to the surface.
I called Robfort on my way to the golf course. His face appeared in a small window in my homeview. He was sitting in the cockpit of one of the big pieces of equipment Chung Fat had crawling across the moon.
“Busy, Jayna,” he said. “Out with a crew trying to convince a busted hauler that it’s got some more kilometres in it.”
“I want you and all your men to drop out of Selenity’s drug trials.”
He placed a circuit tester on the dash. “Mind, now.”
“At least until I know what’s causing the Koro. Something’s got your men all riled up, and the only thing the sick men have in common is that they are all on the same drug trial.”
“All my bys are on one trial or another. With the money Selenity pays, I’ll have enough to actually get my girl into university. No way am I dropping out because you have a hunch.”
He picked up the circuit tester again and dove under the dash, so I could only see his rear end bobbing above the dash, a mutant seal at the surface of the sea.
“I’m not asking, Robfort; either you send out the note, or I will. It won’t be for long, just a few weeks until I’m sure this has been put to bed.”
“My name won’t be anywhere near it,” he shouted from beneath the dash. “You realize you’re lobbing off the hand that feeds? Drug trials are the only way my bys make spare coin, coin they spend on your products.”
“I’ll get by,” I said, and cut the connection.
Earthlight bathed the crater in a gentle glow. Alanna stepped up to the tee, fit the steel spear into her chucker, and did this three-step dance across the rock before she threw. The spear glinted in the earthlight before I lost track of it, then my golf app picked the spear out as a glowing green arrow, soaring across the moonscape. It landed some five hundred metres away, and a good hundred and fifty short of the pin.
I took to the tee and tried to do the same dance she’d just performed and almost fell over in the process. My spear flew too high, landed two hundred metres away. The golf app floated several helpful tips across my homeview.
“Piece of shit,” I said.
“That’s what you get for shutting down my trial,” she said. Alanna worked at Selenity. She sold me some of the pills and potions my clients preferred, and she also happened to be running the experimental drug trial in which all my sick men were enrolled.
“If you can give me some more info on V2P426, I’ll let my men back into the program.”
“You know I can’t talk about active trials. What the hell has you so jumpy, anyway? Most of Chung Fat’s miners participate in our trials.”
“A bunch of my miners are suffering a rather unique set of side-effects. Have you heard of Koro?”
Alanna laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
I did my best to shake my head in the pressure helmet, then realized it was a futile gesture. “Most of my men who are suffering Koro happen to be in your trial. Have you seen the same thing in other test subjects?”
She wagged her index finger at me, a much more effective means of non-verbal communication when wrapped up in vacuum suit. “Not for V2P426, but Koro is a legend around the office. Hell, I thought it was a myth.”
As we finished the hole, she explained. In Selenity’s early days, drugs that promised to non-surgically enlarge male genitalia were a cash-cow for their competition, even if none of the products actually worked. A bright young designer at Selenity’s new Avalon facility came up with an idea to take advantage of that market: why not just sell a drug that made men believe their penises were bigger? Koro, a syndrome that made people believe their genitals were shrinking, was the starting point. If they could isolate a compound that caused Koro, they might be able to cause the opposite. Five trials later, the drug was pulled. The best results were men who reported no change in genital size, the worst were genital mutilations like I’d seen with Luke.
“What happened to the drug formula?”
“It’s in Selenity’s databases, I suppose. Nothing is ever thrown away up here.”
“Who ran the trial?”
“That, I can’t tell you. Not because I’m trying to hide anything; I really don’t know. It was probably fifty, sixty years ago. Now can we play some golf?”
I checked in with Schedulor: Luke was still unconscious, the swelling down, vitals good. Otherwise the clinic was empty. I told her I could play a few more holes.
Shortly after my next drive, all my alarms went mad.
Schedulor sent me the video footage as I was cycling through the airlock: Bleary Ron stumbled into my clinic, blood soaking his pants, and placed a Ziploc bag in Schedulor’s one good hand before the old miner tumbled to the floor.
“Hope my prick is still good,” Bleary Ron said. “The bag had kippers in it.”
He crumpled to the floor.
I hopped down Smallwood Avenue faster than an urchin with pockets full of stolen Placentia Bay noodles. Bleary Ron was still lying on the ground when I arrived. I dragged him through my clinic, inertia more of a hassle than his weight, and lugged him up onto an examination table. Schedulor logged into the room’s manipulator arms and helped me staunch the blood flow and clean up the wound. Then I opened the Ziploc bag to see what we could do about reattachment.
The base of Bleary Ron’s member was as torn as the place it had been attached. I went to work with antiseptic rinses, followed by a growth enzyme.
“Looks like we have another,” Schedulor said.
“Another doctor?” I hoped.
“Another patient. Correction, make that two.”
I left Schedulor to work on Bleary Ron’s severed member while I rushed back into the lobby. Two more miners occupied my waiting room: a man everyone called Dumper clutched an ice pack to his groin, and blood stained the front of Carlo Del Monte’s trousers. Their files popped up in my homeview: both men had been at the Puffin yesterday, they’d been memetically vaccinated. They shouldn’t have been sick.
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “Your penises were retracting and you tried to stop them?”
Both men nodded. By the time I had them in separate examination rooms and had convinced them to take their pants off, three more miners limped into the waiting room. One of them was a woman, Carina, who cradled bleeding breasts in both hands.
There wasn’t enough of me.
I hopped across the hall to the Selenity clinic. Dr. Doronzo’s receptionist, John, sat behind the desk admiring the work of art that was his reflection.
“I need Doronzo’s help,” I said. “It’s an emergency.”
John batted eyelashes that should have belonged to a 2130s starlet. “Sorry, hon, Doronzo’s out of the office at the moment. Doesn’t appear to be answering his phone either. Care to leave a message?”
“Tell him to get here as soon as he can. I need another set of hands.”
Back in the intersection between my clinic and Doronzo’s, I hesitated. Six injured miners was too much for me and Schedulor, but there was another doctor on the station, even if he barely qualified.
Larry Robfort stumbled through my rumination. Boots red, tears soaking his cheeks, his hands holding a mass of oil sorbent cloth.
“Get in line,” I told him, then hopped out onto Smallwood Avenue. As I did, the emergency tone rang in my ear. Belinda overrode my AR and placed herself in my field of view.
“Eight men failed to report to shift this morning, including Larry Robfort. I thought you had this little problem resolved?”
I dodged a pair of Selenity employees who were sipping coffee, arms linked. “I’ll stop it, I swear.”
The awning for the Whole Earth Wellness Centre loomed up over the crowded street.
“Those lost wages are being docked from your pay, as will the overtime fees for the replacement workers. Any further absenteeism will also be added to your education repayments.”
A merchant pushed a cart of fruit-analogues into my path and I leaped over it. “You can’t keep me here any longer.”
By the time I arrived at the Wellness Centre, the message returned from Belinda. “We won’t keep you there. If you can’t prevent these men from hurting themselves, we’ll send you somewhere where you won’t do as much damage to ride out the rest of your contract. I hear Ceres is lovely this time of year.”
She flickered out of my field of view as I cycled into the Wellness Centre. Dr. Earthborn stood in front of twelve cross-legged miners, each of whom held a steaming mug that smelled like composting squid. The good doctor wore a long, flowing silk robe over his white loincloth, and he intercepted me before I could get three steps into the place.
“They came to me for treatment and I gave them the tea in the proper dosage.”
“If they aren’t ripping their penises off, that’s good enough for me. You claimed you were a medical doctor, in addition to all that lotions and potions stuff, right?”
I grabbed his wrist and dragged him to the door. “I hope you remember your basic surgical training.”
He pulled out of my grip. “All that’s keeping these men from self-harm is my management of their yang. I can’t abandon them.”
Several of the miners tugged at themselves through the fabric of their moonsuits. Earthborn was right: these men would end up in my clinic soon if something wasn’t done to stop them.
“They’re coming too,” I said. “I think I know how to help. All of you, let’s go.”
On the hopping-run back to the clinic, I sent a description of my plans to Schedulor. By the time we walked through the door, Schedulor had finished the first pair. Reinforced chastity underwear, still steaming, slid out out of his belly.
I handed them to one of the miners from Earthborn’s clinic. “Put these on.” He looked at me like I’d just asked him to list all the prime numbers below 1231. “Doctor’s orders.” I led him toward the toilet. “The rest of you, when Schedulor finishes a pair, you put them on. They’re one size fits all, and I promise, they’ll help.”
A yelp echoed from the toilet. “Hey, these things don’t come off.”
“Exactly,” I shouted back.
I led Earthborn into my surgery.
Schedulor was stitching Bleary Ron back together. Earthborn and I started on Robfort, who had calmed down a bit thanks to the morcaine. Earthborn swabbed away the blood and followed my commands.
I dictated a mandatory order for all Chung Fat employees to report to my clinic. While we prepped Robfort for reattachment, I had Schedulor send it out.
Eleven hours later, we were stitching together a nightshift worker by the unfortunate name of Riel Noseworthy who’d come in for a pair of my mandated underwear, but who had torn himself in the toilet when he was supposed to be putting them on. I recognized Riel from the lecture I’d given at the Puffin. All the men who had hurt themselves had been at my information session, they shouldn’t have been sick, yet here there all were. Riel wasn’t part of any of Selenity’s trials. Could the Koro be both a drug side-effect and memetically transmitted? I still had no idea.
“That should do it,” Earthborn said.
For a man who hadn’t touched a scalpel in almost thirty years, Earthborn was keeping his cool. We’d worked without rest and he only stopped once for a quick “Ohm”. Once our patient was stable, I went to see if Dr. Doronzo had returned to the clinic. We still had four more surgeries and Earthborn and I were getting exhausted.
“There she is,” someone shouted the moment I stepped into the hallway between the two clinics.
Over two hundred people were queued up for their pair of Doc Patel Specials.
“No way I’m putting no locking gitch on my Johnson,” said McEwen, a frequent client of mine.
“The underwear will prevent you from hurting yourself,” I said. “They won’t impair normal bodily functions, and once the Koro delusions subside, I’ll unlock them all.”
Orlandia Wright, a burly female miner who was also an occasional client, pushed through the crowd. “These girls fly free,” she said, hoisting her impressive bosom to make her point. “I don’t have no squirrely ideas about my nipples burrowing, so why must I strap them up?”
“Hell yeah,” someone shouted from the crowd.
“A few days,” I said. “That’s all I ask.”
The door to Dr. Doronzo’s clinic opened and the good doctor stepped out beside Lynn Periwinkle, one of Chung Fat’s drilling foremen. What the hell was Periwinkle doing in Doronzo’s clinic?
“Hey, Doc Doronzo,” McEwen said. “I want a second opinion. Doc Patel says I gotta wear padlocked panties. Whadda you say?”
Dr. Doronzo’s inscrutable face stared at me. He might as well have been wearing a pressure helmet for all the information that mug transmitted. “You aren’t the first to ask for a second opinion,” Doronzo said. He patted Periwinkle on the back. “My good man here asked me to take a look at him. Mr. Periwinkle, I hope you don’t mind me discussing the results?” The foreman shook his bearded head. “He was poisoned. I can’t be certain, of course, but my guess is it was the Narcoplex that Jayna Patel sold him last week.”
The crowd started to grumbled. Not all of them were my clients, but enough were that a critical mass formed, fury catching fire on the kindling of their desperation.
“Please, people,” I said. “I test all my product, make sure it is safe. That’s why you come to me, you know you get the good stuff.”
“She’s been selling you whatever garbage she could get her hands on,” Doronzo said. “So she can head back dirtside a few days sooner.”
“That’s not true.”
The crowd growled out their frustrations.
“She wants off the rock so bad,” McEwen said. “Let’s show her the way. Where’s the nearest airlock?”
They surged toward me, suddenly ferocious. I backed up until I felt the door of the clinic against my spine. It opened, but when I tried to walk through I backed into more miners, these ones wearing my underwear, and they too looked ready to toss me out into the void.
“Please don’t hurt the doctor,” Schedulor shouted over the PA.
The miners closed in on me. Doronzo’s ancient eyes twinkled with righteous glee in his plastic face. As I stared into those clouded grey orbs, I saw myself through the man’s eyes, some young bitch soiling the honour of the profession, and in that instant I saw what he’d done, why my men got even sicker after my speech at the Puffin. But it was too late to do anything about it.
McEwen tried to pull off my lab coat, and as I struggled with him, I felt something in my pocket.
I slipped Earthborn’s vial out and held it above my head. “Take another step and you’ll all be ripping your dicks off.”
Liquid the colour of cholera swirled in the slim vial. The crowd took a step away from me. I pointed a finger at Doronzo’s immutable face. “I found this in Doronzo’s office.”
“Lying bitch,” he said. “I have never seen your little vial.”
“He’s been dosing the beer at the Puffin,” I said. “It’s an old drug, one of Selenity’s from decades ago. Doronzo was on the team that developed this poison.”
The crowd engulfed Doronzo like an anemone wrapping pseudopodia around its victim. The ageless doctor bellowed about his innocence, my treachery, my shaming of the profession, my utter contempt for life on the moon. The crowd lapped it up. Those hands turned to talons and shredded my lab coat. Doronzo goaded them on, even as miners gave him a taste of the same. Seems anyone with a stethoscope had it coming.
“What in the hell are you bys doing to our doctors?” Larry Robfort said.
All that rage leaked out of the crowd as the big union president waddled out of the clinic.
“One of them’s been poisoning us,” McEwen said.
Doronzo wriggled free of Orlandia’s grip before I could get a word out. “I’ll settle this right now,” he said. “Give me the vial, I’ll take as much as she wants me to and prove it is nonsense.”
I got up on one knee. “Not the tincture. The beer. You’ve been dosing the Puffin’s beer, down in the Vats where you make your wine. Drink the Puffin’s beer, Doronzo. Prove you haven’t been poisoning us.”
Crinkling around the corners of his eyes. “I’m one hundred and seventy two years old. Beer would devastate my system. There is no way I will drink that swill.”
Orlandia wrapped one huge arm around the doctor and pulled him close. “Oh yes you will.”
The big union president nodded. “Those of you who’ve been fitted with your Patel Specials, help me get these two up to the Puffin. Once the rest of you have your privates locked away, you can come see how this turns out.”
The miners were used to listening to Larry Robfort, and they spared no time marching Doronzo and I to the Puffin.
The Puffin’s air circulation system struggled to scrub the carbon dioxide all those sets of lungs were pumping into the cramped tin can. Quinn brought us each another round. I raised my glass to Doronzo and sucked back half of it.
“No problems, doctor?” I said.
Doronzo stared ahead, sipping at his half-litre glass.
The Koro was working in me. My nipples felt like they were hard nubs, little more than skin tags. I tried to pick at them to keep them from disappearing, but the reinforced sports bra, locked with a passcode only Schedulor knew, kept me from ruining myself. I knew that when my nipples finally did retract I’d die, with the same certainty I knew that should a grenade detonate beside my skull, I wouldn’t be around long enough to even think “I’m toast”. Knowing that the delusion was all in my head didn’t make one iota of difference to how terrified I felt.
Heart pounding, sweat pouring down my temples, I tried to distract myself. On the wall, dozens of little plastic plaques commemorated miners lost to the harsh lunar mistress. The crew of ’87, ’24’s fateful accident at North Tycho. A little plaque for Ace Jones. Every one of the plaques meticulously dusted and polished. Loved. People could love this place.
Doronzo coughed, sprayed beer out his nostrils. He covered his cartilaginous mouth with a smooth hand.
“Feeling funny, Doc?” Robfort said.
The union president paced between the two of us, trying to itch and tug at his recently re-attached member through bullet-proof underroos.
“Beer doesn’t agree with me,” Doronzo said.
“Sorry we can’t accommodate.”
All the miners in the place squirmed in their new undergarments. They drank from old bottles of moonshine that Quinn assured us couldn’t have been contaminated.
The airlock door hissed open, way at the back of the crowd, and they moved aside to let the man through. Earthborn, still in his surgical scrubs. He held a stoppered graduated cylinder that contained a sample of the pale ale Doronzo and I were drinking.
“Schedulor finished his analysis. Trace amounts of an IP protected substance: Selenity owns the copyright to it, so we can’t see what it is.”
Doronzo pushed back his beer. “That doesn’t mean I put it there.”
One of his smooth hands clutched with infantile obliviousness at his belt.
I took another swig of my ale. Despite Doronzo’s tampering, the beer was delicious. Crafted with love by Quinn’s crew in the Vats.
“Does it bother you more that I’m a doctor who moonlights as a drug dealer,” I said. “Or that I make more money as a drug dealer than as a doctor?”
That lifeless flesh rippled. He hissed through clenched teeth. “I had nothing to do with this.”
“No, that’s not it either. I see it now, Doronzo. You love this place. Avalon. The moon.”
I wobbled to my feet, which seemed to have grown very far away from my hips. Doronzo also stood, and backed away from me.
“And I hated it. Made a mockery of everything you love up here. I didn’t just disrespect the profession, I disrespected your home.”
My arms went wide. Sure, it was the beer, it was the fear that my disappearing tits were gonna kill me, but it was also this sad old man with a face that couldn’t show people how he really felt.
“I disrespected you, Doronzo, and you’ve spent what, two, three lifetimes falling in love with the place?” I wrapped him in a hug. That ancient body felt like sections of model train track wrapped in thin polyester sheets. His arms remained rigid at his sides. “Come on, doc. Hug it out. Let’s put this behind us.”
He stabbed me. The blade glanced off my impenetrable sports bra, but the next jab sunk into an unprotected kidney.
“Why you slippery jerk,” I said.
By the time I pushed him away, he’d stabbed me three more times.
“Do no harm!” he said. “Do no harm!”
He hopped for the door. Over one hundred miners danced after him, but they stumbled and tripped over themselves, their movements dulled by the restrictive underwear I’d made them wear. Beer and blood leaked out of me.
With a moan, I brought up the spear golf app in my homeview and assigned the back of Doronzo’s head as the target. The app told me where to throw and I did as I was told. For a moment, I could have sworn I heard the Beautiful Blue Danube playing as the half-litre glass tumbled end-over-end through the one-sixth-g.
The glass hit Doronzo in the back of the skull. He crumpled to the floor. I too was falling by then, all the light draining out of the overheads, but hands kept me upright. My throw didn’t knock him out, just knocked him over, and loosened the control he’d been exerting over himself ever since we started drinking the Puffin’s finest. He unzipped his moonsuit, revealing what looked like a mummified piece of bait fish hanging between his legs, and he went to work tugging it free.
Four days later, I came out of the induced coma. Bandages covered my arm and side. Hundreds of digital flowers filled the recovery room. Larry Robfort snored in the chair at the foot of my bed. I watched him for a moment, the big man childlike in his slumber, then I gave him a kick.
“Get back to work,” he said, blinked, seemed to realize where he was. “‘Bout time. We need you out there, Jayna.”
I shook my head. “I’m done with dealing.”
He wiped the sleep from one eye. “Not what I’m talking about. The arse has gone out of her. Bunch of our bys have come down with some kind of rash Earthborn can’t fix it. Schedulor’s doing the best he can, but he’s just a damn robot. We need a doctor. When can you get back on your feet?”
I was about to explain to him that I’d only been conscious for about two minutes, and that I might require a bit longer before I could return to my post, when Belinda appeared in a cloud of simulated cigarillo smoke beside Robfort at the foot of my bed.
“Took you long enough to come around,” she said. She slipped on reading glasses and read from a tablet. “Chung Fat wishes to express its sincere gratitude for your efforts to investigate and put an end to the alleged poisoning incident at the Pickled Puffin. Dr. Doronzo has been transferred to Tycho Station where he will stand trial for his alleged actions. As a token of our appreciation, Chung Fat has offered to grant you a small bonus for your efforts, in an amount equal to the outstanding balance and remaining interest payments on your education loan. The loan shall be considered paid in full upon your acceptance of this bonus. You will be free to leave as soon as you are well enough for travel.”
“Hold on a moment,” Robfort said.
“Should you accept this bonus, you will absolve Chung Fat of all responsibility -” Belinda lowered the tablet. She seemed amazed that someone had dared interrupt her.
“We’re short two doctors up here,” Robfort said. “You can’t be sending her home.” He rolled his chair over to my side. “We need her, Belinda.”
His huge, calloused hand held on to mine as if he expected me to get up out of bed and run to the nearest Earth-bound shuttle if he were to let go. Those eight seconds as we waited for Belinda’s response seemed to take years. Robfort caught me looking up at him and wouldn’t meet my eye, but this was a different kind of bashfulness than the “Does my bird look alright?” variety.
“Should Dr. Patel wish to stay, Chung Fat would of course continue to employ her, but she has made her intentions clear to me since the outset of her lunar tenure. What do you wish, Jayna?”
Belinda removed her reading glasses, and Robfort turned to face me, his shovel-blade jaw chewing something over.
I waited. Let them think I was weighing pros and cons while I enjoyed that moment. With my debt paid off, I wouldn’t owe Chung Fat a thing. I could leave whenever I wanted to. But I could wait another month or two, maybe a few more. My miners needed me, and the pharma staff would need help too. Despite the Koro, Quinn’s beer was pretty damn tasty and I still had so much room to improve at spear golf.
I gave her my answer.