Birth defects were common enough in those days. Four out of every ten infants didn't survive their first week, some hopelessly ravaged by malformation, others appearing perfectly normal until they simply...stopped. And of the six remaining, one would be born Sheen. Brittle, translucent; a creature of mica and glass. The fires of Ley pulsing through its veins...The Sheen were never in darkness. Diosect scribes had the unmitigated gall to refer to them as elves, for clearly an ethereal creature of mystery was far more palatable to the common sensibilities than a wretched, Ley-riddled mutant. But not in Alphesia. There, away from the sheltered cloisters and perfumed estates of the God's Lands, they were only Sheen. Mirrors on the land's degredation. Children born of rape. Rape has ever been the mother of Progress.
The Physician nodded slightly, and clucked his tongue. In anyone else, it would have been a human gesture, but somehow, it only served to emphasize his alien nature. The patient looked up expectantly, nervously licking his cracked lips and running stubby fingers across his bristly, shaven scalp. "Very good," the skeletal healer intoned, reaching into his dark canvas bag with spidery fingers. "Very little scar tissue, and the lesions are showing few signs of progression." Emerging from the bag, like some pale, malformed insect creeping from beneath a rock, the Physician's hand reappeared, more a delicate phial of amber fluid, its stopper etched with Diosect ideograms. "Take three drops daily," the healer continued, presenting the bottle to the patient on the end of his bony digits, "with your ale. If your cough begins to rattle again, add a fourth drop, but no more." Then, without prelude or segue, "Six guilders for the examination, and twelve for the distillate. Eighteen guilders." The miner's eyes showed a brief flicker at the minor indignity...Though his numbers and sums were in fact poor, the Physician had no need to simply assume as much. If the healer noticed, he made no display to that effect, calmly collecting his instruments and returning them to his bag as the miner scrabbled paltry coins in his strongbox.
Outside the dormitory, the Physician mused, oddly enough, on the strongbox. The sturdy little container was hopelessly generic, bearing the stamp of Central Materiel. Leeching salary on a box in which to keep one's salary was business as usual for the company store. Shaking his head, the Physician glanced across the dingy landing to the woman lounging indolently against the railing, her rangy limbs dangling over the pitted iron into the dark nothing of the central air shaft. "That didn't take long," she commented in a rough, husky voice, the warm updraft from the shaft ruffling her short scruff of straw-colored hair.
"No," the Physician agreed, straightening the hem of his crimson frock. "The Outbreak removed most of the weaker bodies...the workers left in this stack are generally sterner stuff."
"Bad news for you," the woman joked with a smirk, but the Physician merely regarded her with a level gaze. "Too bad your sense of humor got shot off in the war," she muttered with a dismissive shrug, straightening. The Physician's mouth creased in a tight line of disapproval, and his eyes shifted momentarily to the woman's right hand, and her absent third finger. It was the briefest of glances, but the sudden tightness around the corners of the woman's eyes indicated she'd noticed, both the glance and the unspoken reproof attached to it. One of us is still bound to the Physician's Creed...Forsworn. Breaking the uncomfortable moment with a broad stretch of her lean, muscular form, the woman quickly assessed in all directions with a bodyguard's efficiency. Taking one last breath of the airshaft's relatively grit-free breeze, she donned the repirator previously dangling around her neck. "We should get going, Doc," she declared, the usual levity returning to her voice, even muffled by the mask. "You've got a third-bell consultation with that whistler in Extractor Seven. I'm sure he's contracted a half-dozen new and debilitating poxes by now, as usual."
"Quite," replied the Physician wryly, only the faint quirk at the corner of his mouth indicating his amusement. While Dun was certainly correct about Apprentice Extractor Second Class Hobbes...in his mind, the man had suffered every ailment from Shunt Rot to Blacktongue Fever...it wouldn't do to encourage her. "Though I would prefer to spend my time tending to legitimately ill pati--" The Physician was cut off by the soft hiss from his bodyguard, and calmly glanced about himself. "How many," he inquired, the faintest touch of anxiety edging into his voice.
"Four," replied the woman grimly, her lithe frame sinking into a fluid stance as she drew the slender, razored tsunai from her boot. "Four more for the hoppers."