Copyright 2001 by Paul S. Gibbs. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, reuse, reposting or alteration of this work, without the express written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited.


Volume Ten

October 1, 2380

I did something really stupid yesterday, and I have a feeling I'll be paying for it for a very long time. Not with money, though--that would be too easy--but with pain and inconvenience.

I've already mentioned the room that Sah'surraa had outfitted with gymnastic equipment for my use. Over the last few weeks I've spent quite a bit of time there, doing some basic routines on the rings, the overhead ladder, the parallel bars, and the tumbling mat. I'm badly out of practice, and I've been taking it very easy; but after hours in class, or hunched over the books, a little exercise is not only welcome, but absolutely necessary. Yesterday I decided to try something I hadn't attempted since I was thirteen. I shouldn't have, I know; but I've been staring at that particular piece of equipment for the better part of a Terran month, dying to know if I could still conquer it. Finally my curiosity overcame my good sense.

The Terrans call it the "catwalk"--and to the best of my knowledge, very few humans have ever really mastered it. It's a three-meter length of very thin cable, stretched tight between fixed endpoints, about two meters off the ground. It's used much as the balance-beam is, for various jumps, handstands and tumbles. It's much narrower and bouncier than the beam, though, and needless to say, it requires a finely-tuned sense of balance--which I used to possess.

I started out carefully, just walking back and forth along the length of the wire. That seemed to work out all right, and as I gained confidence I began to do some of the simpler maneuvers. And that's when it happened. I don't know if my concentration wavered, or my foot slipped; maybe I hadn't rosined my pads enough. But during the middle of a jump, I fell. The floor was well-padded, and it should have been inconsequential, except to my pride--but I was all twisted around, and I managed to land with all my weight on my right knee--the very one that ended my budding gymnastic career five years ago.

I was alone, but Ehm'sanzz was in her studio a few doors down the hall, and she heard me cry out. I'm surprised the whole Sah'salaan District didn't. Five minutes later, an ice-pack on my knee, still wearing nothing but shorts and a halter with attached collar (but wrapped tightly in a blanket) I lay in the back seat of Sah'surraa's seldom-used hover-skim, with Sah'sell at the controls and Ehm'sanzz holding my hand, being flown at nearly illegal speed across the savanna to Sah'salaan General Hospital.

The doctors at the Emergency Room called in an orthopedic surgeon--who, as it happened, was Dr. Ehm'ullya, the one who put my knee back together after my first accident. That helped: I'd gotten to know her quite well, all those years ago, and I felt far more comfortable with her than I would have with a complete stranger. Her diagnosis reminded me of one of those old "good-news-bad-news" comedy routines. Good news: the injury wasn't as bad as it seemed: a hyper-extension, with some strained ligaments. Bad news: she wants me to stay off the leg entirely for five days, and I'll be wearing a large, stiff (and not particularly comfortable) brace for weeks to come. And worse news: if my knee had been normal to begin with, it wouldn't have been even that bad.

I've known for a long time that that leg isn't quite right. I've never admitted it--partly out of pride, but mostly because I haven't wanted to upset my bond-mate--but at the end of some of our long hikes in the wilderness, it's been a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other. And the morning after those walks--well, all I can say is, thank the Goddess for anti-inflammatory med-patches. Tom knows, of course; he's heard the story of my spectacular fall from the uneven bars, and he's seen the elastic wrap I sometimes wear. (I was wearing it yesterday, for all the good it did.) And he does try to keep our marches fairly short, bless him. What he doesn't know--or at least I don't think he does--is exactly how bad that original injury was, and how many months went by before I could even walk again.

When Dr. Ehm'ullya performed that surgery, I was only thirteen years old, and still growing--and because of that, she chose to do a more or less temporary, stopgap job, using existing parts (so to speak.) Now that I've reached my full growth, she wants to do something more permanent--which basically means installing a fully artificial joint, made of carbon-fiber ceramics. Once that's done, so she tells me, I'll have no further trouble, and I'll be able to walk from here to Terra and back without pain. But it will mean long, grueling weeks of physical therapy, and there's no way I can do that now--not in the middle of my first semester of college. For better or worse, I'll have to wait until summer.

It will have to be done eventually, though. According to Dr. Ehm'ullya--and she ought to know--this latest injury is just the beginning. No matter how careful I am, they'll keep happening, one after another, and the joint will keep getting weaker and weaker, until the simple act of walking across the street will be hazardous--and excruciating. I'm not overly fond of hospitals, and the thought of another surgery doesn't exactly make me jump for joy--but I have to admit, having a knee that's completely pain-free is an alluring prospect. Sah'surraa--predictably--has promised to get me the best therapists on the planet.

So here I am, on the sofa in my living room, with my leg stuck out before me like a gift-wrapped plank. If only it was as numb as wood. At least I've been made comfortable--Goddess, have I been made comfortable! Say what you will about my bond-mate's grandfather: if he decides to help you, he will quite literally stop at nothing. Even before I returned from the hospital, he had a fold-down seat and grab-bars installed in my shower, and had all the furniture in my suite rearranged for greater convenience. He's also assigned Ehm'haazal to be my personal assistant for the duration, helping me to cook, clean and dress. Embarrassing, that--but undeniably useful. She's carrying a commpak at all times, so I can contact her at any hour of the day or night--but she stops by so frequently, I've had neither need nor opportunity to summon her.

I've sent messages to my family, of course, and to my bond-mate, telling them what happened. No replies yet, but it's a long way to Terra. I honestly don't know which of them will be the more upset. Tom's parents and sister will probably have to forcibly restrain him from hopping a ship to Sah'aar, to be with me--which is an oddly comforting thought, to be honest. And as for my own family…well, at least Father can't possibly blame this on Tom. Not that there isn't enough blame to go around already. Sah'surraa blames himself, for providing the equipment, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has it all ripped out. (Which would be shame, actually.) Sah'sell and Ehm'sanzz blame themselves for not watching me more carefully. And I blame myself for being a clumsy idiot, and for trying something I knew I wasn't ready for.

At least my studies won't suffer. Sah'surraa (is there anything he can't accomplish?) has already made arrangements for me to attend my classes by live video feed, from right here at home. The audio will be two-way, so I'll even be able to ask (and answer) questions. It won't be the same as being there, but it will keep me from falling behind. With mid-terms coming soon, that's important. Sometime next week I should be able to return to campus--and won't that be fun. Not only will I be the only blackfur at Sah'salaan U, I'll also be the only one on crutches. Can't hardly wait.

Other than that, I don't have much to report. More than a week has passed since I last saw Ehm'murra, and she's still missing. With Sah'sell's help I did a little discreet sleuthing, and discovered that she wasn't aboard any of the commercial spaceliners that departed the Orbital Docking Facility in the past seven days. I realize that's scarcely proof positive--but it does make me doubt all the more that she actually left the planet. As for where she did go, though…there are simply too many choices. She could be in any city, town or village on any of Sah'aar's three continents and two-hundred-odd major islands. For all I know, she could even be in the Undercity, or on one of the moons. About the only thing I can say for certain is that she hasn't "gone feral," shedding civilization and clothing and becoming a nomadic hunter. Not with her upbringing.

So…for now, I appear to be in what Tom's father calls a "holding pattern," waiting for Ehm'murra to contact me, waiting for my knee to heal. And right this minute, waiting for the latest dose of painkiller to kick in, so I can take a nap. At least I've chosen a comfortable and congenial place to be lame in.

To Be Continued…

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