The Distress Signal
It was Christmas Eve in the Year of our Lord 321.
In that year, the Emperor Constantine I, recently converted to Christianity, decreed that the day devoted to the ancient god Sol Invictus, Sunday, become a day of Christian worship and rest. Luminaries of the period included: the philosopher Iamblichus, St. Eusebius, the Arian heretic Ulfilius, Ephrem the Syrian, and Constantine’s advisor, Lactantinus. Meanwhile, in the Far East, the Eastern Jin Dynasty held a tenuous sway over a politically tumultuous Chinese region and during the brief reign of the Emperor Yuan, the first accurate depiction of a horse stirrup graced the interior of his tomb. A reunited India was thoroughly enjoying its “Classical Age” during the Gupta Empire. With peace came extensive dividends in science, technology, engineering, art, philosophy, religion, astronomy, mathematics, logic, and literature. To the West, the many independent city states of Mesoamerica were experiencing the “Classic Era” of art, architecture, pottery, lapidary, and relief carving.
It was now, on this very date – relatively speaking of course, that the emergency distress signal finally had arrived at The Survey Institute warning of the potential loss of their first scout surveyor. While through the course of millennia others had met their inevitable fates, a certain amount of sentimentality had grown around the adventurous career of that first scout of scouts. In many respects, that fabled career embodied the survey’s most endearing qualities of curiosity, patience, and perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge. And now, it too appeared to be over.
While a deep sense of loss for that legendary first scout was palpably felt throughout the Survey community, far greater concerns were voiced about the final disposition of the scout surveyor’s starcraft, the Hope. After a brief discussion, a recovery team was organized and dispatched. Traveling at just below eight-tenths the speed of light, the crew of three began to settle down for their voyage that would seem to take thousands of years to those of The Survey Institute in local relativistic terms. Meanwhile onboard the recovery craft the Redemption that duration would shrink considerably, but regardless in human terms, such a journey would be still difficult to grasp. For the recovery team, they considered it practically the norm. After all, their ultimate goal was a distant planetary system located within one of the outstretched swirls of the galaxy. The sheer duration to get there was an accepted given.
One Nasty Bug
Colonel Alexander Andreovich Piankoff’s first tunneled sense of consciousness was framed by the dirty yellow, blotchy, and rust stained squares of an acoustical tile ceiling. While his body was still very groggy from the heavy cocktail of administered antibiotics, the Russian’s mind nonetheless was free to carry on a lively commentary.
My God! Here I struggle, scramble to get back to my own time to prevent a potential temporal paradox, am flown posthaste by those soft-hearted Americans to my mother country, am admitted immediately into the Institute for Tropical Diseases and here I lie numb under their tender loving care!
It’s as if that Egyptian court physician Ankhmes had made me drink again some of his damn opiated raisin wine! At least that tasted good!
At this point the Russian’s initial railing abruptly ended as he began to reconstruct in his still slightly foggy mind just how he had got himself into this present predicament in the first place.
Field craft Alexander! You forgot your basic field craft! Even worse you forgot your basic survival skills! And then how could you shamelessly ignore your own body’s messages?
A short pause and then he again began to berate himself.
How could you go off into the desert without having first gorged yourself with water?
You stupid imbecile! You mentally lazy, stupid imbecile! You doddering, lazy, stupid imbecile!
For the next few moments Piankoff allowed himself to stew in his own juices. When he had exhausted by his count no less than an additional nine adjectives that appropriately described his poor decision making abilities, his temper finally began to cool. What followed allowed him to move on and confront the facts.
Damn it all! The water from that polluted well had indeed tasted divine! As dehydrated as I was, it was a miracle that I had even found it.
Face it, Alexander. You are one very lucky man even to be lying here, especially the way that young pup Richards took care of you. . .
At this point in his personal conversation Piankoff clearly drifted off into another direction as the young American’s image came to mind.
That young bastard! That young, bright, and wonderful American bastard! What philological skills, what a loyal temperament, what sound judgment for one so green. And what a quietly calculating killing machine.
My first field assistant. I his teacher. But truly my dear Sasha, just who taught whom the most?
A blissful mental sigh.
For the first time in my career never had I felt so whole and so secure with another’s assistance and without ever once feeling threatened by it. He is so accomplished. My young Mayneken has come so far, so fast, so well. . .
A mental pause of reflection.
Alexander, I serious doubt that you could have even made it back without his aid. Face it Alexander, you were delirious most of the time. Young Richards got you back and then deftly covered for you during your absence.
I am so proud to have been his mentor. What a fine temporal field agent he has become. . .
Another mental sigh, but this time one of resignation.
He will be more than an adequate replacement for this old and tired horse. Richards has already surpassed me in so many ways. But there remain just a few more rough edges for me to smooth. . .
At this point Colonel Alexander Andreovich Piankoff, the Philology Annex’s first temporal field agent, recipient of the Lenin Cross for valor and achievement in his service to his mother country, honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and special operations officer of one Karlov Drazinzka, the Director of the Special Projects Directorate, quietly and painlessly expired.
As with so many things, the devil is always in the details and Piankoff’s passing was only further proof of that dreaded maxim. On top of that Piankoff had the bad luck of ingesting and therefore introducing the parasitic vectors directly into his large intestine, instead of their more typical mode of invasion. Usually, acute schistosomiasis occurs about five weeks after the worms have burrowed through the epidermis, hitched a ride via the body’s capillary system, and made their way to the large intestine. The Russian’s sudden onset of fever, nausea, headache, and diarrhea were a direct result of a parasitic ingestion versus invasion.
At the site of his recovery in Luxor the American corpsman did precisely what he had been trained to do whenever faced with a dangerously dehydrated soldier in the field: fire up a saline drip and administer two aspirins to ease the aches and heat induced fever. While the drip had sustained the weaken Russian nicely all the way to Moscow, the aspirins had really caused some damage. A powerful vasodilator and blood thinner, the schistosome invasion and the affect of their energetic perforation of his intestinal lining and egg deposits only made matters worse. What was so unbelievable was that the medical staff had not detected the critical nature of the man’s internal bleeding, had failed to note the fragility of his blood pressure, nor had bothered to monitor his fluctuating pulse. Such negligent ignorance is all the more appalling as the treatment for Schistomsoma mansoni is not only well known and understood in the literature, but also that this particular species of schistosome is particular to Egypt. Even more damning is the near 100% effectiveness of artemesinins during the early treatment of such infections. Instead, the medical staff’s chosen course of therapy was to first stabilize the patient with electrolytes and a bolus of off-the-counter drugs and then later deal more directly with his case on Monday. Meanwhile, during the early hours of Sunday morning, Piankoff, true to his nature, defied that medical faculty’s engrained schedule of patient rounds and permanently checked out.
When Piankoff’s autopsy was performed, the criticality of his condition was all too apparent, but just as clear would be the assignment of liability. The third shift’s staffers, four bright internists, were all summarily fired. The three residents assigned to Piankoff’s case, the very same who had admitted him and who were responsible for his initial care, were retained.