ASH: "Worse Than The Disease" one-shot
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon Feb 20 07:35:33 PST 2012
[cover shows Doctor Huang Sheng symbolically holding Earth in one hand
and Santar in the other, like a mad god.]
.|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED presents an ASH Universe Tale
'|` /|(`| | "Worse Than The Disease"
/-|.)|-| copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen
[November 12, 2005 - The Citadel, Khadam]
"Please, sit...what *is* the correct honorific?" Doctor Huang Sheng
pondered, then waved his hand. "No matter. You are not here on the sort of
business that is within the boundaries of protocol, in any case."
Agrap Cas'r frowned, although it was more at the entire situation than
any perceived lack of respect from the Terran. "Quite outside the
boundaries, yes. Understand, I do not find you distasteful because you are
non-Santari, I find you distasteful because you are a criminal and surround
yourself with criminals," he gestured dismissively, taking in the entire
population of Khadam with his contempt.
"And yet, I am a useful criminal, am I not?" Sheng smiled greasily.
>From his posture, you'd never know he was anything but the frail old man he
appeared to be, although had the Santari nobleman decided to express his
contempt in a more physical manner he would have found that the the body that
had once belonged to Jiang Sheng retained all of its combat prowess.
"That remains to be seen," Agrap snarled. "I may be the head of House
Cas'r, but I can be overruled at times, and this is one of those times. My
cousins believe that your unnatural scientific talent might be able to solve
a problem that has plagued our people for centuries, since the T!rir taught
us enough to let us develop advanced medical science."
"The transplantation rejection issue," Sheng nodded. "Despite all your
scientific advances, you cannot determine how to make transplanted Santari
tissue take. Even your rather ingenious work with what humans call stem
cells only got you far enough to facilitate cybernetic replacement."
"And you no doubt know how distasteful we find cybernetics. As well as
our reluctance to place subvertable computer interface systems in our
bodies," Agrap nodded, a glimmer of hope dancing in the corner of his eye.
Perhaps this Terran would be able to help after all.
"But of course. Those of us with artificial enhancement...oh, I have
many such parts myself, at the microscopic scale...are legally property in
your society. Should I wish to leave Earth, I would need a minder, lest
someone decide to 'steal' me. But please, you have not yet taken advantage
of my hospitality. Sit. I will understand if you do not wish to drink, of
course. I would not trust me either, in that regard."
Warily, Agrap seated himself, but not in the chair indicated. "I do
have some influence in the government. An exemption in your case could be
arranged as part of your payment. A grateful Santari race would bend quite a
few rules to be free of this curse."
Doctor Sheng chuckled.
"What is it you find amusing?"
"Excuse an old man his humor at your ironic choice of words, Lord
Cas'r. You see, I found the cause of your problem nearly twenty years ago,
merely to satisfy my curiosity. But I saw no advantage then to revealing the
information. And, tragically for you, I still do not. In fact, this has all
been a rather elaborate trap set for you by one of those cousins you
mentioned, one who has far fewer qualms about dealing with criminals such as
"What?" Agrap tried to surge to his feet, but found that nothing below
his neck would obey the commands of his brain.
"One of those enhancements I mentioned is a nanite swarm that protects
me from airborne nerve toxins such as the one suffusing this room. Your
ability to speak will fade soon enough, and shortly after that you will die.
But on the off chance Santari have spirits that might become restless, allow
me to both set your mind at ease on behalf of your race and indulge in a
pasttime I so rarely have the opportunity for in this post-heroic age:
Sheng stood and walked to where Agrap sat immobile in the chair, slowly
tilting over due to being unbalanced when the paralysis hit. "Your
transplant predicament truly is a curse. I examined several Santari cell
samples down to the atomic level, and like your scientists found no reason at
all for rejection. In fact, you have a severe genetic bottleneck roughly ten
thousand years in your past, you should all be genetically related enough to
allow for universal transplantation. And yet...you are NOT. I was working
on analysis of various magical powers at the time, and so I turned to those
procedures. Imagine my amusement to find the distinct signature of a godly
power! I had several later opportunities in the nineties to examine other
divine effects, and they confirmed my earlier analysis. Some god put a spell
on your entire race, it is bound to your very DNA. Maybe it was intentional,
maybe your inability to engage in transplantation was an unintended side
effect of whatever the spell was supposed to do. But there you have it. I
suppose a powerful enough Anchor would let you safely transplant organs, but
godly magic can be remarkably tenacious."
"Nnno c-c-cure?" Agrap forced the words past lips that felt like they
were cast from lead. He was remarkably unmoved by the prospect of his
imminent death, although he supposed that might be an effect of the toxin.
"Oh, there's a very easy cure, if you're willing to wait and let nature
take its course. And a more ethically difficult one that I have started to
take advantage of. Both come from a very simple truth that will remain a
secret once you die, as I have no intention of revealing it: Santari are
human. Specifically, from ancient Roman stock, no doubt tranplanted through
time and space by the god who cursed you. That means that human organs can
be used by your doctors to successfully replace your own failing parts...I
tested it, and human organs lack the mystic autoimmune elements while being
otherwise genetically compatible. In fact, a certain percentage of humanity
matches your bottleneck perfectly, making them a sort of universal donor to
any Santari, no issues at ALL. Yes, selling some of the more useless refuse
of our streets to Pranir medical smugglers has done wonders for Khadam's
"Of course. It's INHUMAN," Sheng tittered evilly. "You may prefer the
other solution, although it offers me no particular advantage in the short
term. Santari are human, and Terrans will find their way into your space.
Given that humans will mate with anything that has compatible orifices, I
give it no more than a few centuries before most of the offspring have
diluted the curse sufficiently to render it powerless. Who knows? Some of
those offspring may even be related to you...."
And then darkness claimed Agrap of House Cas'r.
This is one of those "deep background best not poked too roughly" parts
of the ASH Universe, my plot device for explaining why ASH had the standard
superhero cliche of the an alien race that is human to six decimal places (or
AAAAAA in Lensman notation). I laid it out in the short story "Undone" back
in 1997, but few readers found that satisfactory. I was willing to leave
them unsatisfied, but at the same time it bugged me that I had to keep anyone
from ever figuring it out in-story, although I did consider writing a Spear
Carriers arc about someone finally making the key discovery.
Then it struck me that the few people who might figure it out probably
wouldn't be altruistic enough to actually do anything about it.
Specifically, Doctor Huang Sheng, Fiend of the East, probably found the whole
thing dreadfully amusing. Thus I had the germ of this story.
As I fleshed out the germ, I realized that along the way I could clean
up the whole Universal Donor thing with some appropriate jargon in-story
(having out-of-story decided a while back that while any human made for an
acceptable donor, only certain ones were no-muss-no-fuss donors, and those
were the kind Barnes detected). My original intention back in the Academy
series had been that all humans were perfect donors for any Santari, but then
Rossi brought in the idea that certain individuals were "Universal Donors"
and most weren't, which I didn't realize was a contradiction until way too
late. And now it's no longer a contradiction. ;)
Finally, I haven't abandoned the Quixote arc in ASH, I'm just finding it
easier to get motivated to write short pieces right now given my work
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