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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 15

How exciting it sounds, on patrol!

And it was! Subtly everything was changed. Bill Johnson was still my closest friend although since leaving Earth I had not been able to see him all that often. I no longer felt like an outsider. I belonged, even though I was confined to sick bay.

The day after my accident we arrived at Inverness. Unfortunately I was not mobile. Doc Williams had me lying on a cot with the biodex unit covering my leg from the knee down. When I reached sick bay he had carefully examined the fracture.

“Very nasty,” he said. “You’ll be out of circulation for some time.”

“For how long, Doc,” I inquired. I had visions of being crippled for several months.

“Oh, I don’t know yet. Maybe a week or two.”

He kept probing the injury. I do not recall exactly what kind of machines he had in sick bay. They all looked like different kinds of lamps on long, flexible necks, except for the biodex unit, which was attached to one of the cots and looked like a rectangular box made out of metal.

“It’s too bad you won’t be able to set foot on Inverness. But it can’t be helped now. You’ll have to remain here until you are fit for duty again. We don’t have any portable biodex units, and to let a fracture like that heal naturally will take months, probably many months. You are stuck here for a while.” Doc Williams seemed quite happy over my misfortune.

So I was stuck in sick bay. When I did not show up in the rear ward­room at the end of the exercise - Petra and I and Bill and Louise spent our free time there - Petra came looking for me. Doc Williams’ sick bay was the first place she checked.

“What are you doing here?” she asked when she saw me lying on the cot.

“Oh, he took pity on me,” Williams said. “I had nothing to do so he decided to become my first patient. If I were him, I would have waited until after we had left Inverness. But I don’t mind. I’ll have to earn my keep too, you know.”

“So what is wrong with him?”

“It’s nothing serious, Ensign Baird. He has suffered a fractured ankle. In a week or two he’ll be as good as new.”

Petra rushed over to me. She took my hand and squeezed it.

“Are you in much agony?” she inquired.

“No, not at present. Doc Williams did a fine job. At first it was quite painful. But after I reached sick bay the biggest discomfort soon left me.”

“How did it happen? Did somebody push you? Or did you fall?” Petra seemed to be quite perturbed at my misfortune.

“I was a bit clumsy, I guess.” She faintly shook her head. “It hap­pened near the end of the last exercise. I went down the drop shaft when the ship violently changed course. My foot got caught in one of the rungs and snap! I was an invalid.”

“I bet it hurt a lot.” Petra gently stroked my face.

“Well, yes. Yo u don’t fracture your ankle and not feel it.”

“I’ll leave the two of you,” Doc Williams said from the door. “Just stay put, Kester. Don’t move and you’ll be all right.” He left. The door slid silently shut and we were alone.

For a minute neither of us said anything. Petra looked at me with her large brown eyes. “Well,” she said after a while, “there is not much we can do now. I had so looked forward to spending a couple of days with you on Inverness. We’ll arrive there tomorrow.”

“It is indeed bad luck. Nevertheless, Petra, you can go down and tell me about it, what it is like, how it feels to set foot on a brand new world.”

“You don’t mind if I go down without you?” Petra seemed genuine­ly surprised at my words.

“No, of course not. Why should I? Yo u are not my slave.”

She burst out laughing at my remark. “No, I am certainly not anybody’s slave. Do you know you are the first person I have met who used that ancient term? I’ll bet you most people today have no idea what the word implies.”

“Nobody today knows what a slave is? Yo u are joking, of course.”

“Am I?” Petra scrutinized me for some seconds. “You have unusual speech patterns, Carl. Where are you from? Sometimes you use really archaic expressions and words. Most dictionaries today don’t even list the word slave any more. We call such a person a person in bondage, or if you are well educated, a serf or a chattel.”

“I was born on Earth, Petra. I would not be here if I had not com­pleted all the mandatory courses. I imagine the Survey Service is quite careful and judicious in who becomes an officer on an ASV vessel.”

“Aye, that they are.”

Petra stayed with me for the best part of an hour.

“I must leave now,” she said at last. “I’ll be on duty on the bridge in fifteen minutes.” She bent down and lightly kissed me on the mouth. And then she quickly left.

I was too shocked and at the same time elated to utter even one word.

Over the next few days Bill Johnson and Louise Yasuda visited me several times. Petra came by as often as she could manage. She told me about Inverness and where she had been. I deeply regretted my misfortune of being stuck here in sick bay. She brought me up to date on the gossip here on the ship and also what the personnel on Inverness base thought. She told me all the rumors, and how much credence the ship’s company put into them.

After a layover of three days the ship departed Inverness. Those three days had brought Petra and me much closer together. She had been flirting with me all the way from Earth to Inverness and at the same time played hard to catch. At times I had wished that she would be more like Louise Yasuda. She and Bill Johnson got along quite well and Louise seemed to be out to snare Bill and was making excellent progress in that respect.

At first I had made a mighty effort to remain aloof. I had tried my best to look at Petra as just another member of the crew. But it was of no use. I felt myself more and more drawn to her and finally my reserve had collapsed.

I was in sick bay for the fifth day now. And suddenly without expla­nations Petra’s visits had ceased. At first I thought that she was busy and maybe came by when I was asleep. When I asked Doc Williams he said that she had not been back to visit me.

Well, I said to myself, so be it. Although I felt quite at home aboard the ship by now my mind told me that I did not really belong into this period of time, hundreds of years into the future. Maybe Petra Baird found out something about my background. If she backed off, I could not really blame her. But I did miss her. I missed her a great deal.

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