A GEN ROOMMATE
The sign on the door said, DOCTOR HOWARD BRANOFF, DIRECTOR, WESTFIELD MEMORIAL HOSPITAL. Digen rested his fingers on the handle. Behind him, Gens strode up and down the intersecting corridors of the hospital, intent on their own business. The whole building throbbed with a collective, ambient nager—overtones of pain, narcosis, worry, anxiety, and death dominated.
He wished forlornly that the hospital were as well insulated as the Sime Center. But it's not, he thought, and I'll have to stand it anyway. After a couple of hours’ sleep under Im'ran's skilled care, he was again in the state of dulled, chronic Need in which he had lived the last two years of medical school. I can do it, he told himself.
Pushing all doubts aside, he opened the door and went into the waiting room. A secretary came out of the inner office. Digen said, "I was told to report to the director. Some problem about my room, I believe?"
She looked him over, eyeing the retainers peeking from his sleeves, and said, "Dr. Farris? Won't you have a seat, please?"
Digen picked up a magazine and settled into one of the armchairs, while the woman went back inside. He was worried. He had reported to the front desk, expecting to receive his room assignment, work hours, and ward assignment routinely, like all the other interns reporting in today. Already, at the very first step, he was being singled out. Why?
His eye fell on the magazine in his lap, and he recognized its blazing orange and blue cover. It was the latest issue of The Surgeons' Society Journal. The lead article headlined on the cover was: SIME GRADUATES LASSER; an evaluation. He flipped to the page and began reading. It seemed to be a fair article, not shrill or hysterical, but in the end the author turned bitterly against Westfield for accepting Digen as an intern: "When the foremost surgical service in the country accepts such an intern, how can the rest of the hospitals turn any of them down?"
Digen let the pages riffle shut. They're afraid, he thought. Surgery has always been the one profession no Sime could ever enter. They're afraid that if I make it, hordes of Simes will follow, taking surgery away from Gens completely.
From the Gen point of view, it was a perfectly rational fear. Sime dexterity could not be matched by any Gen. Sime endurance in the physically arduous practice of any branch of medicine had always given Digen an edge. When his fellow students were exhausted from long hours in the lab, running from building to building, and working their stints in the hospital, and when they then had to take an exam bleary from lack of sleep, Digen was still fresh enough to tackle anything at top mental capacity. That had lost him many potential friends along the way. He suspected it would not make him popular as an intern, either.
Out-Territory Gens tended to view Simes as basically superior and therefore a perpetual threat in any competitive situation. Medicine was highly competitive, both physically and intellectually. For every opening, in a good medical school there were a hundred applicants. For every internship in a great teaching hospital there were ten equally qualified applicants. Digen had won his place against a field of thousands, all Gens, and all convinced that they would have been chosen had Digen not been Sime.
What they did not know was that Digen, because of his unique lateral injury, was probably the only Sime who would ever be able—or willing—to attempt to learn surgery. Fighting his way back to life after the injury, Digen had developed a vriamic control never before seen in any channel. It allowed him to withstand the peculiar, grating shock of slicing or puncturing Gen flesh much better than could other Simes.
In-Territory, it was commonly believed that the first steps back toward the kill, toward going junct, were exposure to Gen pain, fear, or injury—inflicting such sensations on Gens—and then sharing the junct's strange gratification in these things. All through medical school, Digen had faced frequent demands that he be tested for any hint of a weakening of his antikill conditioning. He had always tested clean—so far. But he couldn't use that as an argument with the Gens, because, if they suspected surgery might cause him to turn junct, he would never complete his internship.
Digen eyed the door to the inner office. Maybe it was all going to be for nothing, anyway. Why would they call him up here on his first day?
The secretary returned, saying, "You may go in now." She gave him a tentative smile. She was an out-Territory Gen unaccustomed to dealing with Simes. Digen made a fatalistic shrug and went in.
The office was larger than Mickland's and just as formal. The man behind the desk was white haired and had a ruddy complexion; he was perhaps fifty-five or sixty. From the large windows behind him, the early afternoon sun threw beams across the desk, spotlighting the two file folders that lay there.
"Dr. Branoff," said Digen, coming across the deep red carpet toward the desk. "You wanted to see me about something?"
As Digen neared the two high backed wing chairs before the desk, he realized one was occupied. "Oh!" he said, as he recognized the Gen he had rescued in Sorelton.
What has he told Branoff? Digen looked back at the administrator, wishing he could read minds. He could see that the older man was tense, grave, but not openly hostile.
Branoff gestured to the empty chair. "Have a seat, Dr. Farris. Let me introduce Dr. Joel Hogan."
Hogan had his elbows propped on the arm of the chair, which pushed his shoulders up around his ears. He was avoiding Digen's gaze, and his nager was a muddy swirl of mixed emotions. Branoff reached into a drawer and pulled out an orange and blue magazine, shoving it across the desk at Digen. "Have you seen this?"
"I glanced at it in your outer office, sir."
"I've been in an emergency board meeting all morning, discussing it. It's only been out forty-eight hours, and already pressure is being brought to bear on this hospital."
Digen nodded. It was to be expected. It had been the same when he'd finally been accepted into a medical school. Lasser had withstood it because they were the best, they had enough prestige to afford it.
Branoff slapped the magazine against the desk. "I've never knuckled under to this kind of pressure in my life and I don't intend to start now. But I think you're entitled to know what's going on. I've just come from a meeting with a committee of our new interns. Five have threatened to quit unless you are dismissed immediately."
Digen looked at Hogan. Is he one of the ones who has threatened to quit?
"The board," continued Branoff, "is very disturbed at the idea of losing five interns over this. So I offered the interns and the board a compromise. You were hired as a surgical intern, to go directly into the surgical ward. Instead, you will be put into the general program."
Digen sighed with relief. It would be harder to get a surgical residency, but at least the door wasn't slammed in his face. And he would still get to do some surgery. "Thank you, sir."
"A man who's just been axed doesn't usually say thank you. Didn't you want the spot?"
"Yes, sir. You know I did. Almost every day I have to watch somebody die in-Territory, somebody who could be saved by surgical techniques. I see people survive, only to live crippled because we don't have those techniques. Sometimes—sometimes they're my patients, people I'm responsible for. And all the time I know that the skills to save them are practiced routinely. And I know that I can learn those skills. And I watch my people die. I nearly died myself, when I was fourteen."
There was a silence. The two men who had dedicated their lives to medicine could not contemplate such a situation without sharing Digen's feelings; and the Gens, projecting his feelings back at him, magnified them painfully.
"Yes," said Branoff, "I can understand your single minded pursuit of surgery in that context. Nevertheless, my colleagues insist on seeing you as a threat. And they're going to do everything they can think of to stop you. This may be a lot harder than you expect it to be."
"I won't know if I can do it until I try. I'm grateful to be allowed to try."
Branoff eyed him thoughtfully, and then, seeming to come to a decision, said, "By shuffling schedules around, I've managed to put together a program for you that will give you a full six months on the surgical service, a lot more than a general intern usually gets."
Digen brightened. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't thank me," said Branoff. "Thank Dr. Hogan, here. He gave up his own surgical internship and split his surgical ward time with you, so you'll both have six months."
Digen's head whipped around to Hogan. "Why…"
Their eyes locked for the first time since they had parted to board the train. Hogan flushed with embarrassment, and said in a deeper accent than usual, "I don't like to see everybody gang up against one guy, is all. You deserve a chance like the rest of us."
"Have you really thought this through?" asked Digen. "There's such a power structure aligning against me—if you're going to take my side, they'll attack you too. It could ruin your career."
Hogan's eyes went to Branoff.
"They tried to buy him off," said Branoff to Digen. "That was when he threw his appointment in their faces and stalked out of the interns' meeting. I'm afraid you've got a friend whether you like it or not."
"I've got a terrible temper," said Hogan. "But in all my life I've never regretted anything I did on an angry impulse, and I don't expect to regret this."
Digen fell silent. An ally can be a terrible responsibility, he thought. Especially if he's a Simephobe. "Well, that's settled, then," said Branoff, shuffling his folders around. "Only one more item. We have twenty-four interns on staff this year, and only twelve rooms. I know I promised you a room to yourself, Dr. Farris, but the new building won't be ready until late next spring, if then, so everybody has to double in the old building. When your assigned roommate found out who he was doubling with, he started this whole thing. So I asked for volunteers. There was only one."
"It's all right with me, sir. I've been assigned to double with someone all through college and med school." And then it dawned on him who the volunteer would be. He eyed Hogan apprehensively. The last two years his roommate had been a Third Order Donor, and it had been no strain at all. He was used to the luxury.
"Yeah," said Hogan. "Who else?"
Biting his lip, Digen said, "There's another way. I've already been assigned quarters in the Sime Center residence tower—the new one, on this side of the center. It's hardly a ten minute walk away, and I can have a direct phone patch put in."
"That would be the most reasonable solution to the problem," said Branoff. "However, the men who sit on the accreditation board were raised in the days when medicine was taught like a religion of revealed secrets. And those rules are still on the books. All interns, like medical students, have to reside on the grounds of the hospital in regulated and inspected accommodations. And in Westfield, we regulate and inspect to the letter."
Digen understood part of the rationale for that. Medicine had borne most of the blame, in the popular Gen mind, for the mutation of the human race into Sime and Gen. The irresponsible use of drugs and certification of chemicals as safe for release to the environment had come about, people had believed, through the low moral standards of the men of medicine. The medical profession was determined to see that they were never blamed again.
Branoff said, "I know it's ridiculous to hold you to the residency rule after you've already been through four years of it. But in your case, with more than half the medical profession just aching for an excuse to dismiss you, any request for special treatment, any bending of the rules, will be due cause for dismissal. If it has to come, I'd rather it came over some significant issue, something related to your competency as a surgeon, not your popularity among ignorant Gens."
"That's another thing, Digen," said Hogan. "When they get to know you, I don't think they'll be so frightened. Give it some time."
All because I saved his life—doing nothing more than my job? "You don't know me," said Digen.
"I've spent all winter studying up on you, ever since I found out you'd be here. Fifteen biographies, in English alone, and every translated article I could lay hands on. And—we met in Sorelton. I believe the biographies now."
Digen got up and paced around behind Hogan's chair. Need was driving him to an insuppressible restlessness. He came in front of Hogan and half sat against the desk. "I don't think you really appreciate all you'd be getting into. I don't wear retainers in my room. I have a Diplomatic Corps sign I post on the door that makes it legally Sime Territory. I've been using it since I was a high school exchange student and lived in a Gen house. I couldn't survive any other way. About ten hours in retainers is my limit."
Hogan said, "I thought you wanted to be a surgeon. But you keep trying to slam the door in your own face. Don't you have the courage of your convictions?"
"Of course I…!" Digen bit off the retort. His Need made him altogether too sensitive for such a discussion. "I'm sorry," he said, and went on in a cooler tone, "Joel, you have no idea how many times my courage has been tested since I started this, or in what ways. I'm used to opposition. I'm not used to help."
Branoff broke in. "So accept the offer gracefully, and go somewhere to work out your modus vivendi. I've got work to do, and you've only got three hours before you go on duty in the emergency ward."
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Search amazon.com for Jean Lorrah or Jacqueline Lichtenberg.
Find out why we so vigorously support amazon.com
Feedback about this page.
Feedback about Sime~Gen Inc.
Feedback about technical problems with this site.
Concerned about your privacy? Simegen Inc. respects your rights, and the protection of children. Please read our Privacy Statement.