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For All Nails #100: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by David Mix Barrington

Near Santerém FN1, Regency of Grão Pará
4 August 1974

Carmen Valenzuela had never thought of herself as a scientist. Oh, a medical student had to learn lots of science, of course, to have some idea how things worked. And, she supposed, you had to do science to learn science.

But at the moment, she mused as she counted the microbes in the area of Ronaldo's blood in the field of her microscope, she was acting as a scientist. As a medical woman, she was finished with Ronaldo -- he had presented three weeks ago with a textbook case of LaSalle's Anemia FN2, she had given him three weekly doses of the blue stuff FN3, and his symptoms had now gone away. What, then, was the point of counting his microbes? (The stolid rubber tapper himself, it appeared, didn't see any point to it, but like most of his neighbors he was willing to cut the crazy white women some slack given their record of medical success.)

There was an obvious point to it, even to her practical medical mind. It was clear to any reader of Darwin that when you used a general antimicrobial to kill millions of little creatures, you were selecting for the one or two of those creatures that were immune to whatever you used. And if they reproduced enough, what you had in practical terms was a patient with LaSalle's Anemia on whom the blue stuff didn't work. And if the pink stuff didn't work either...

The Danielloises, like their legendary founder, were nothing if not methodical and scientific. So Carmen was documenting the process of microbial evolution in the patient, watching to see whether his own antimicrobial defenses would be able to mop up the weakened enemy before enough blue-resistant ones could breed. The study would give Carmen a head start on some of her second-year classes back in Montreal in the fall. More importantly, once published in a medical journal it could help doctors and patients throughout the world.

This wasn't much of a summer vacation, she thought, but she was certainly getting to do some work that made a difference. In her first week she'd immediately been assigned to help some New Day people find a source of contamination in the water system their predecessors had set up twenty years before. A civilized country would have sent government water inspectors or something, she supposed. But the Regency's presence in Santarém consisted of the police garrison, who collected occasional taxes in the intervals between shakedowns and gang rapes. Apparently, though, they considered the Danielloises themselves completely off limits. Some said that the superstitious Regent feared divine retribution for any interference with nuns -- others thought that his saner advisors recognized the benefits of at least some international relief work. There were New Day people in Santarém as well, playing whatever small part they could in helping the people. She remembered jokes from her Mexican childhood about the loco Tory leader Dick Mason. They didn't seem funny at all from the middle of Grão Pará.

The worst thing, of course, was that impoverished, mildly terrorized Santarém was in fact the garden spot of the entire country. FN4 She couldn't herself buy the story about the Regent's respect for nuns -- if even a tiny fraction of the rumors were true about the "camps" near Grão Pará's border with Brazil, the leader's soul would have far weightier sins on it. Not to mention the whispers about "medical research!" Carmen had seen some very unpleasant things in her service on the Rocky Mountain frontier, but these things made her blood run cold.

Sister Angelique and the other three doctors had immediately recognized that Carmen's three years as an army medic were far more useful to them than her one year of actual medical school. She found herself effectively in charge of the walk-in clinic, of the two dozen local trainees, and essentially of nearly any kind of treatment that didn't need an M.D. to perform. She'd picked up the local Portuguese-Spanish-indigent creole pretty well, without much help from the standard Portuguese grammar she'd brought from Montreal. Somewhere she'd heard the phrase "from each according to her ability" -- was it Ste. Danielle? Sounded like something the old girl would have come up with while working herself to death ...

The unmistakable sound of a gyropter interrupted her observations. She wrote down the last figure, quickly straightened out the lab table, and stepped outside. The Regent's boys didn't strike her as very likely to be able keep a gyropter operational for very long. Which meant that this was someone else, didn't it? Well, there was one person in this compound with extensive experience talking to Spanish-speaking soldiers, and that was her. From each according to her ability, indeed.

As the gyropter swooped over the cluster of corrugated-metal buildings, a rope emerged from the bottom, followed by a man sliding down it. A brave man, Carmen thought, since he was offering a free shot to any armed enemies on the ground. He hit the dirt with a roll and came up with his rapid-action combat rifle at the ready. Jungle camouflage FN5 uniform with dangling plants, light pack, no insignia to be seen... The gyropter moved away. Carmen strode purposefully toward the man and addressed him in Spanish.

"Nice of you to drop in, soldier! Something we can do for you?"

"You in charge here?"

"Nah, Sister Angelique's the C.O. but my Spanish is better. You're FANG, FN6 right?"

"Corporal Pedro Rahim, 13th Cazadores. FN7 I have orders to secure this facility." They were now close enough to stop shouting. Carmen noticed various Danielloises and locals peering out of the doors of the buildings. She also noticed at least four more men dressed like Rahim becoming visible out of the jungle at the perimeter of the compound. Any hypothetical armed enemies would not have lasted long after picking off the man on the rope, not that it would have helped him very much.

"Well, we can deal with that, I suppose, given our terms. You got your rules of engagement, we got ours."

Rahim ran his eyes up and down her gray robes. "You don't talk like a nun."

"I'm not." She held out a hand. "Medic First Class Carmen Valenzuela, United States Army, Retired. FN8 Nice to meet you, Corporal."

"Likewise. So you want to dictate terms?"

"We treat anybody, from either side, in the order we choose for medical reasons. You can look around and make sure there's no weapons here, but as long as that thing's up this place has to be demilitarized." She pointed at the blue and gray sigil on the roof of the largest building, identifying a hospital to anyone in the air.

"And if we don't like your terms?"

"We don't cooperate."

"And if we make you cooperate?"

"You a churchgoing man, Corporal?"

"Not in a while."

"Well, let me tell you something. Sister Angelique's a good doctor and a good nun, but you know the only way to really get ahead in this outfit is to become a martyr. I wouldn't fuck with her if I were you."

The cazador's face broke into a broad smile. "I think we can work something out. I don't know how much fighting there'll be in the town, but we might be really glad to have you guys up and running. On your terms."

"So you're 'securing' the town too? And the rest of the country, I suppose?"

"Something like that. The big action's going to be in Belém, assuming the fat bugfuck bastard FN9 is there. We grab him up, his so-called army is gonna fold pretty fast. Why, you got a problem with that?"

"Officially, our order is completely neutral and apolitical. Personally, I think this country could use some new management."

"That's the idea. Say, you said you weren't a nun?"

"That's right."

"Do you get any off-duty time? I mean, after we've secured the town, I'd like to buy you a beer, or something."

"Corporal, I think I'd enjoy drinking a beer with you even if I were a nun. Yes, I get some off-duty time, and I can wear something besides this uniform. If you can manage not to get yourself killed, it's a date."

From Santarém came the sound of more gyropters and scattered small-arms fire. Summer vacation? There were going to be real wounded here soon, the only question was how many. Time to get triage and pre-op ready, the sooner the better. She gave the cazador a last smile and started toward her work.

Forward to FAN #101: The African Queen.

Forward to 8 August 1974: Southern Man Don't Need Him Around Anyhow.

Forward to New Granada: Matchmaker, Matchmaker.

Forward to Carmen Valenzuela: Mail Call.

Return to For All Nails.