The EMRN is technically under the jurisdiction of the Qozernan military forces, but under normal circumstances functions as an independent agency. Primarily consisting of what on Earth would be called paramedics, they are here known as PETs (Planetary Emergency Technicians), each with their own specially equipped high-speed flier. When an emergency occurs, the dispatcher notifies the nearest PETs, who converge on the scene from all directions.
Although most PETs remain at home when on call, there's a two-month intensive training period during which recruits must board at one of the training centers scattered over the planet, and it was this training period that concerned me most when I showed up a few days later in Karuda for my appointment with the recruiting officer.
"Your med school record looks good, Senara," he observed genially, scanning through my application files on his desk telecom. "Senara or Senaria? I see it both ways here."
"Senara's my legal name, but I normally go by Senaria," I explained. "Personal reasons."
He nodded, undisturbed; it wasn't particularly unusual for a person's public name to differ from their official one. "So why'd you drop out? It certainly wasn't your grades."
I explained that six months in medical school had convinced me that I wasn't cut out to be a doctor, not so much out of any squeamishness as because of frustration over the ever-present paperwork and red tape involved. I'd been seriously considering applying to the EMRN instead at about the time the Deshtiran invasion thing had blown up.
He nodded again approvingly. "Any other special qualifications or problems I should know about?"
"Well," I said casually, "I have a Deshtiran driver's license." I saw his expression brighten noticeably at that. Most Qozernan vehicles are designed to follow roadways that have a coded pattern of strips laid down alongside them, and which the vehicles read and interpret like a continuous barcode. The drivers of such vehicles input their destination and desired top speed via the keypad, and the vehicle takes care of the rest. This is the sum total of most Qozernans' driving skills. The Qozernan death rate from traffic accidents is practically nonexistent.
The high-speed fliers used for emergency, peace-keeping and military purposes, on the other hand, utilize two of the three types of drive in common use: the ground-based drive used within the atmosphere (and which subjects the passenger to normal acceleration forces) and the aninertial drive used outside the atmosphere. (The faster-than-light hyperspace drive is found only in starships.) Because they don't rely on a barcoded highway, these vehicles require actual piloting skills, which are rather uncommon on Qozernon.
Until very recently Deshtiran fliers also didn't rely on barcoded roads at all, due to years of Brizal neglect of the planet's infrastructure. For this reason, possession of a Deshtiran driver's license meant a very substantial savings for the EMRN in training (and possibly wrecked vehicles). I didn't mention that I also had considerable experience piloting the fastest starship in the galaxy.
It took him only a moment to confirm my claim on his screen. Qozernans (and Deshtirans) don't carry wallets bulging with credit cards, driver's licenses and the like; instead they carry a small plastic card with an identification code, holographically encoded and encrypted to a level making it almost impossible to forge, which is linked to their online computer records. Information such as credit accounts, licenses, etc. is stored in these records, which are protected as appropriate with passwords, or in extreme cases iris scans.
"It might be another week or so before I can do anything really strenuous," I ventured. "I was sort of in an accident myself recently. There's a medical report in my application files if you need to see it. Nothing serious." I didn't volunteer any details, and was relieved that he didn't seem particularly interested.
In fact, by this time he was practically beaming. "I really don't see any problems with your application, Senaria. We have a training group starting the beginning of next week, and if you're agreeable we'd certainly welcome you."
"Well," I said hesitantly, "there is one other thing. I have a pet."
"A pet?" he said, looking momentarily blank.
"A cat," I clarified.
"You have a pet?" he stammered. I realized that I might be the first person he'd ever met actually living with a pet.
"I really can't leave him alone for two months," I apologized. "He's housebroken, and used to living in a small room. I have all the permits." I waited in an agony of suspense. Because pets are so rare on Qozernon, very few establishments have such a thing as a "no-pets" policy. But that didn't mean he couldn't turn down my application. He looked through my files again.
"I see a reference here to 'paper copies of pet permits in owner's possession.' Why on paper?" I explained that I'd requested paper copies in order to deal with the inevitable harassment I was liable to encounter. "Could I see them, please?" His tone wasn't unpleasant, just extremely cautious. I produced the permits from my carrying case and carefully unfolded and handed them to him. He scrutinized them for a few seconds, then I saw his eyes widen as he encountered the signatures at the bottom.
"Romikor Mikiria?" he gasped, glancing up at me. Then he looked back at the paper, and I could virtually see the wheels turning in his head. The other signature, for Qozernon, would be of Amkor Gelhinda, Qozernan Ambassador to Deshtiris. By now it was probably starting to sink in, and I sighed. He looked at me, and at the form again. "You're that Senaria?" he said incredulously. I nodded, thoroughly embarrassed, and getting angry as well. It hadn't been a good week. "You've been all over the news, you know," he said, now sounding slightly miffed. "Why didn't you say something earlier?"
"Actually, I've been watching Earth television since I got back," I said shortly. "I didn't know I was in the news."
He shook his head. "You have no idea," he said. "I can't believe I didn't recognize you. I guess I wasn't expecting--"
"Enough, dammit," I finally exploded. "Look, I just want to work as a PET. I don't want anyone kissing my ass, and I don't want any special favors. Except I have to take care of my cat. Okay?!" I bit my lip in frustration; I figured by now I'd blown it big time. I debated excusing myself with apologies and going back home.
Except that when I walked out five minutes later I had the job and was due to report for duty in six days, ready to stay for two months' training. And I had permission to keep Tora in my room with me.
Just under a week later I was standing on the station platform at Nedro, duffel in one hand and Tora's cage in the other, once again waiting for the train to Karuda. I'd also made sure that I had Tora's permit handy in a shirt pocket. Because Nedro is a relatively small town, several expresses had whooshed by at high speed on the sunken center track before my local pulled to a near-silent stop.
Within a few minutes I'd settled into a compartment and introduced myself to my two fellow passengers, a pre-teen boy and girl who excitedly explained that they were on their way to visit their grandparents, also in Karuda. At least with them I had no problems over Tora; in fact they were fascinated by the wrinkled piece of paper that allowed me to actually keep a cat with me.
In spite of the high speed of the train (over three hundred miles per hour by Earth measure) the ride was smooth enough that Tora made no complaints, and after exploring the compartment he soon settled himself onto my lap for yet another nap. In less than an hour we were slowing for our stop, and I'd stuffed him back into his carrier for the ride to the training center.
The two children had no trouble setting out for their destination (they had only to key the address their parents had given them into one of the omnipresent public vehicles' keypad and press the "Go" key, something children are taught at a young age on Qozernon), and I was soon unpacking at mine, a small room in the training center's dormitory. For a moment the cramped quarters brought back unpleasant memories of my confinement in the Brizal compound, but I shook them off and looked over my schedule for the day. I found I had just enough time to shower and grab a bite to eat before the opening session.
It turned out I was one of a class of fifteen people, of varying ages and both sexes. We were soon joined by our instructor, an older man with a grave demeanor that spoke eloquently of his long years of experience in emergency work. Our classroom was pretty spartan, the walls as usual doubling as 3D viewscreens (there are no loudspeakers as you think of them, since the screens themselves generate the sounds electrostatically). We each had workstations with our own telecoms and keypads. All in all a pretty primitive setup; I was to learn that the EMRN was chronically short of funds most of the time.
After the usual introductory speech from our instructor, telling us how hard we'd all be working, et cetera, et cetera, he had each of us introduce ourselves. Though I didn't give my family name, I received a few startled looks, but nobody said anything out loud, which was a relief. Then he looked slowly at each of us in turn, until the room was dead silent.
"Hard work alone is no guarantee that you'll make it through this class," he said finally. "You're all smart, or you wouldn't be here. You've also shown in one way or another that you can deal with the sight of blood and guts. Some of you have medical school experience; those of you who don't have taken the psychological stress test and survived it." I felt a shudder run through the class. Although I'd been exempt from the test, I knew that it involved some horrifyingly realistic accident videos using full surround holographic simulators. It wasn't an experience for the squeamish.
"What nothing can prepare you for," he went on, "is the emotional distress you're going to experience. Cleaning up what's left of accident victims is easy. It's dealing with the survivors that can break you. If it does, and you wind up dropping out, you can go home knowing that you tried. There's no shame in being too sensitive to the pain of others."
"One of the reasons we only use given names here is to provide you with a certain amount of anonymity." Yeah, right, I thought wryly. "No one outside the EMRN knows you started this course except for those people you've told yourself. So don't let yourself be torn apart. If it's more than you can take, come see me privately and I'll arrange for you to drop. We'll all be better off if you do that, rather than needing trauma counseling for a year."
Needless to say, after that there was a considerably subdued cast to the proceedings as we started in on the basics of emergency first aid.
During the first break one of the others, a young man in his thirties, couldn't resist sounding off. "Who does he think we are?" he scoffed disdainfully. "A bunch of little kids? Sure, you have to deal with hysterical people sometimes. It's part of the job. The secret is to not let yourself get involved." I heard that refrain from him several times during the next few days. The secret is to not let yourself get involved. I wondered if that was what I needed in my own life. Somehow it sounded too easy. Although the days of training were so intensive that several times I fell asleep across the bed without even undressing, I still eventually woke up, my heart pounding and my throat dry, a fresh nightmare in memory.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|