Apothecary: noun [archaic]
Derived from the Ancient Greek word ἀποθήκη (apothḗkē, "a repository, storehouse")
A term for a person who prepared and sold medicines and drugs
From Classical Latin repertōrium
A catalogue, an inventory
Egger 2-4-7 sat in space like a planet of dirt. Its only appealing feature, as far as TC was concerned, was the fact that it was so far away that he would not have to look at it. This was, however, he reflected, only possible the further away from the planet he got. It did not quite work if he was getting closer to it.
TC, close to 30 years of age, with yellow hair, tanned skin and bright eyes, stalked his way down the tight, metal corridor of his ship. His white coat billowed behind him, flapping around his legs as he moved. In his hands he held a vial of bubbling liquid that was quickly rising in level. His stalk turned into a run. His arms outstretched away from his body, his gloved hands doing their best to remain steady so that the bubbling liquid did not spill over the top.
‘Tahlya!’ he called, dashing around a corner, hitting the wall and then carrying on. ‘Opening door 13!’
Ahead of him the dull metallic door 13 remained closed. He barrelled towards it, the liquid almost reaching the top of the vial. ‘Tahlya!’ he called again. ‘Open the door!’
The door clicked, hissed and opened seconds before TC ran through it. His feet skidded to a halt before a workbench covered in chemistry stands and he placed the vial into a holder, turned up the heat, pulled on a welding mask next to a stack of papers and dived behind cover. A split second later there was a bang and a puff of orange cloud expanded through the room, covering everything in a sticky film.
The cloud disapated and TC sighed, unclicking the straps from the mask and lifting it off. His eyes blinked at the slightly misty air and looked around at the now orange room. The vial had melted in the stand.
Dropping the mask on the floor, TC turned the boiler off, picked up the melted glass with a pair of foot long tongs and dropped it into the bin that sat by the wall. He surveyed the mess again, clicking his tongue. It wasn’t a complete waste of time. There was just too much turmeric and the solution had had too long to cool down. He walked over to the chalk board on the other side of the room and wrote out a quick formula. Next time, half the turmeric. That was key. That would work. He nodded. It was good work for one day.
He looked around at the mess the liquid solution had caused. That would take some cleaning. ‘Tahlya, he said, accident in chem lab 3. Solution 42 another failure. Too much turmeric and too long a cooling period. The result,’ he reached out a gloved hand and ran a finger along his work bench. The finger tip of the glove stuck to the film and pulled the glove off. ‘A sticky situation.’
‘Yes,’ an automated female voice said. ‘I shall begin decontamination process immediately as well as a deep clean. May I suggest you change before leaving the room as the solution has covered your clothes, and tracking it through the corridors may cause issues.’
‘Right,’ replied TC. Stripping down, he dumped his clothes into the dumb waiter shaft in the wall, then carefully stepped out of his shoes and stepped into the clean corridor outside. The door closed and TC heard of a soft whoomph, as Tahlya began the decontamination and deep clean.
‘May I also remind you that you are now clothesless,’ came Tahlya’s voice through the intercoms spread throughout the corridor.
‘Oh, yeah,’ TC looked down, absently taking in the situation. His mind was occupied with the formulae for the sprain cream. It was supposed to be a cooling product that released the tension in the muscles, however the issue was that when it cooled down it had a tendency to explode. An exploding cream was really the last thing you wanted to put on a sprain. And keeping it at a boiling temperature so it didn’t explode didn’t help a sprain either.
‘When will the room next be available?’ he asked, moving down the corridor.
‘About an hour. Perhaps it’s time to give Solution 42 a break for the time being? Focus on something else. You have been working hard, a break would do you good.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ replied TC. He rounded the corner and took a ladder set into the wall that took him to his room above.
His room was squat, with a curved wall on one side, a bunk that slid out of the wall, a desk covered with pages of absent and midnight scribbles, toffee wrappers, glue smudges, ink blots and tubes of antibacterial hand gel. A door across the room led to a shower and toilet and sink. By the bed, in the curved wall was a closet. TC quickly pulled on some clothes and exited the other door that led to the corridor outside on the 2nd floor of the ship.
His ship’s AI, Tahlya, was probably right. He glanced at his watch, realised he had taken it off and shrugged. He had been working too hard. But that was the issue. He passed a port window and stared out into space. On a 6 month journey in space, when every day is nighttime, it was hard to keep track of time and proper hours. When were you supposed to wake up and start work and when were you supposed to stop work and sleep?
But ever since leaving Egger 2-4-7, he needed something to occupy his mind. If he didn’t, then, well, he glanced moodily back out the window at the speck far behind them that close up resembled a planet of dirt, something else would.
‘Time?’ he asked.
’12:44 am,’ Tahlya’s gentle, electronic voice told him. ‘You have been up for 19 hours, taking only one hour to eat. You need to rest.’
‘Anything in the mess?’
‘Besides a mess from when you last made a meal three days ago and still haven’t cleaned up? There are meal tablets in the pantry. 1 minute on high power will hydrate them. And don’t forget to drink water.’
TC chuckled. ‘Thanks, Tahlya. Where would I be without you?’
‘Still covered in a sticky orange cocktail of chemicals.’
The kitchen and mess was at the front of the ship, a corridor down from the bridge. The AMZ Tahlya was a sub-standard shipping crate used for transporting material across planet. It had been retrofitted for deep space travel, it’s large hold that took up the belly of the ship had been separated into half a dozen large rooms that TC used for his chemistry labs. At any one time on long journeys, 4 out of the 6 labs were in use brewing up his potions, salves, and pills for sale. The other two alternated between being used for experiments, or being cleaned due to failed experiments.
The upper half of the ship contained the bridge at the front, 4 cabins for the 8 main crew that the ship, as a shipping container, had had, but now only one cabin and bunk was taken up by the single man crew. The ship was not difficult to fly single handed, and with an updated, and slightly illegal in use for being over the power limit recommended for standard AIs for the class of ship, the ship was a breeze. Behind the bridge was the kitchen and mess, a lounge room for comfort, the cabins beyond that, spare storage facilities, and then the engine room that took up the back of the 2nd and bottom floors.
TC made his way into the kitchen, pulled a packet of meal tablets from the pantry above the sink, popped one onto a plate, and slid the plate into the microwave over. The oven dinged a minutes later and he pulled the steaming plate of chicken casserole out and collapsed onto a chair by the dining table.
‘Tahlya?’ he asked absently as he prodded the meal before him.
‘Earlier, when I was running to door 13, why didn’t you open it immediately?’
‘System powers were focused on other areas,’ said Tahlya. ‘Apologies for the delay, it will not happen again.’
TC frowned. ‘I called you twice and you didn’t even answer, that can’t happen again. What in blazes were you doing that took up all your system attention?’
The AI was silent and TC continued to frown, his brow creasing into wrinkled lines. ‘You’re doing it again,’ he said, throwing his fork onto his plate.
‘Sorry, abnormal power fluctuations throughout the ship.’
As Tahlya spoke, the lights in the ceiling above flicked a second, dimmed and then brightened to normal.
‘What was that?’ demand TC, rising quickly from his chair and rushing up the corridor to the bridge.
A battered leather car seat with the stuffing leaking out of the corners sat before a console that curved in an S shape. In the other curve, another chair sat facing the opposite direction.
He slid into the chair, tapping a screen on the left that lit up the console. Power pulsed through the console, flickering.
‘Power is being drained from an unknown source,’ Tahlya’s voice called through the intercoms in the ceiling.
‘Powering engines down now as we speak,’ she said, interpreting TC’s order ahead of his mouth.
The dull thudding that normally rocked the ship and set jitters up TC’s legs eventually stilled and the power on the console stopped flickering. The ship continued to power forwards, still moved by the inertia of the engines, but now the power was focused on the ship’s bridge, which meant TC could scan the ship’s systems as the power was isolated to just one area of the ship.
‘Power from engines routed to bridge and life systems,’ Tahlya told TC as he brought up the ship’s systems on the computer on his right hand side and began eyeing the scans of the ship’s interior hardware.
‘Well it’s not the ship that’s the issue,’ he commented, flicking through the channels. ‘All systems are online and routed properly. It’s some outside source.’ With quick fingers he tapped out of the interior view of the ship and tapped through the codes that took him to an outside view of the ship and the surrounding space. His left hand brought to life the screen he had used to log onto the console and tapped away at the controls.
‘Scan surrounding space for abnormalities, something outside has caught us. Another ship with a magnetic device? Talk to me Tahlya.’
‘Scans show empty air space, no other ship within radar range,’ Tahlya told him. ‘However, satellite and radar are showing small blips off starboard bow. Increasing range and magnification of scopes.’
TC settled back, awaiting Tahlya’s news of what the blips were. Pirates were possible, but he hadn’t heard of any hanging around T Quadrant. There were barely half a dozen inhabited planets in the sector, and none of them had wealthy populations, and certainly no wealthy ships ever visited them, and very rarely would a supply ship ever visit. There was more wealth on the planet than in the surrounding air space off planet, and that was saying something.
Tapping through the monitor he brought up the radar and stared at the blips off the starboard side of his ship. They were clumped together in a stream, there were maybe a dozen or more blips heading towards them.
‘Hard to tell,’ replied Tahlya. ‘I am hailing in all frequencies in case they are friendlies.’
‘Worth powering up the engines and making a break for it? Powering up the engines while we still actually have power to move?’
As if on cue, TC felt a rumble ripple through the ship and his chair began to vibrate softly. Space outside his window curved as the ship began to turn until the blips were directly behind them.
Stupid space. The only reason he was in T Quadrant at all had been a week to visit… his face darkened and he drew a deep breath. It had been a wasted trip anyway, and a loss as far as profits had been concerned. He had hardly sold any of his wares as the medication he supplied was too fancy and untrustworthy he recounted the words of the men and women in the market places. They preferred old fashioned methods such as waving twigs of parsley over their heads on a full moon to cure stomach ache. Which was ridiculous in and of itself, it meant you had to live with a stomach-ache until a full moon showed up, which on some planets wasn’t a regular monthly occurrence as it was on some planets.
So as soon as he was far enough away from Egger 2-4-7 he would hyperdrive it to C Quadrant and skip across the planets selling his wares until he reached Ar Cena, the largest medical planet in the quadrants.
The blips on the radar screen increased in size as the neared until they were close enough for the exterior scanners to pick them up and relay the image.
‘A shower of meteors with magnetic properties,’ Tahlya’s voice filtered through. ‘They are colliding as opposites and the field is large enough to reach us and it is messing with our systems. We are far enough out, however, that we will be able to evade out of the way. They will pass us by without harm.’
‘What about power?’
‘We will continue to experience power fluctuations until they have fully passed us by,’ explained Tahlya. ‘We will not be able to fully outrun them, however, with the head start we have and the distance already between us, the fluctuations and the magnetic fields will not cause any long standing damage.’
‘Alright, I’ll leave evading them in your capable hands, then,’ said TC, rising from his chair. His stomach gurgled and he remembered his plate of casserole still sitting on the kitchen table. It would be a cold glob now, but a quick reheat in the microwave would bring it back to its usual, slightly edible self.
‘How long you reckon until they pass us?’
‘About 7 hours, by my calculations,’ – which were always correct, mused TC – ‘The journey will only take us one hour off track, so we should be able to enter hyperdrive speed in another 12 hours.’
‘Call me if there is anything else to worry about, I’m going to finish lunch.’
‘Will do, TC,’ Tahlya said.
TC felt the ship under him rock slightly as she powered it in a turn that would take them out of the path of the meteors. Strange, really, for them to appear away from the gravitational pull of a planet, and with such strong magnetic composites to mess with the ship’s systems. Ah well, TC shrugged. What did he know about physics and space anyway? He was a chemist.
One hour later found TC walking through the corridors of the belly of the ship, passing between the chem labs. One hand in the pocket of his white lab coat, the other held a note pad with a ringed spine. Deftly using his one hand, he used a finger to slid under a piece of paper, and then used his hand to flick the page over, turn the book over and continued reading.
His feet took him automatically across the steel grated footpath, his heavy leather boots with the steel caps thudding as he walked. The walls of the corridor were of matching silver steel, that rose up 6 feet on either side before they began to curve and connected above him. While the corridors ceiling stood 7 feet from the ground, the chem labs stood at ten feet, a result of the renovation of a storage hold into single rooms.
His office sat at the far end of the hold, near the cargo bay doors. The room doubled as the control room that opened the double bay doors, lowered the ramp, as well as controlled the hoist chain that ran the length of the corridors.
His boots brought him to his office and he entered, his nose still buried in his book. Barely glancing up, he pulled his chair out from the desk, sat down, opened another note pad and began scribbling.
After a moment he put down the ring bound note pad he was reading and examined the scribbles on the other note pad in front of him. Lines of equations greeted him, mixed in amongst lists of ingredients and quantities.
TC was an apothecary. With diseases came people trying to cure those diseases, and with them came those that wished only to waylay the cause of disease without eradicating it fully so that there would always been a supply of income.
The pharmaceutical companies took over worlds and across the galaxy spread their companies and chemists, providing pills, drugs, vaccines, powders, salves, creams, tonics, a cure for everything, at a price. And the aim was, always, to cure only temporarily so that customers would always be repeat customers and there would always be a profit to earn.
And across the galaxy went the travelling Apothecaries, individual chemists that prepared medicine and drugs and sold them, earning just enough to keep them in supply of ingredients to make their wares so they could continue to bounce them from planet to planet. All apothecaries were under contract by the major pharmaceutical company Ar Cena. They were to use ingredients bought and supplied solely from Ar Cena, a percentage of their wage was to be taxed by Ar Cena, and any new developmental drugs they may chance to concoct was to be sent directly to Ar Cena for approval, and if successful then a royalty fee might make its way back.
TC, like the others, contracted from Ar Cena. His license was to sell his wares across the galaxy, and like all apothecaries, he worked on his own stuff in his spare time. Not the usual recipes that the Chemist Log supplied, but better improvements in medicine. If he could create something that was powerful enough, and new enough to cause a stir, then he could sell it to Ar Cena, and, hopefully, find a place alongside the chemists in the labs of Arcaon.
He would be able to leave the wandering lifestyle behind, leave the customer service of always arguing and trying to upsell his wares, barely scraping by. In Arcaon, he would be able to live comfortably, always have a home, proper labs that weren’t makeshift. TC looked at the recipe before him and sighed. All he had to do was concoct the perfect drug. Heh. It was easier thought of than achieved.
At the back of his mind he felt the AMZ Tahlya vibrating as Tahlya powered it through space towards their destination. A trip in space was not all that long. Hyperdrive would take them halfway across the galaxy in a matter of days. The only restriction was it was not to be used next to planets. All air space within a 24 hour radius of residential planets was restricted. Which was fair enough. No one wanted a ship to break out of hyperdrive too late and end up shooting through your home.
Not that Tahlya would do that. She was… too good for the ship, if TC was honest. Technically she was illegal. Her brainpower was over the limit his tiny ship was allowed. But she had been a rare find, in an abandoned piece of programing in the junkyard he had found the container ship on. The computer had been left out for scrap; the junkyard owner hadn’t even tried to turn it on. He had sold it to TC for a hair-growing tonic. The container ship he had had to pay a fair bit more for, but once Tahlya was onboard, well, there was no other ship’s AI he would rather trust.
With her superior IQ he could basically leave the entire running of the ship to her, which was a huge benefit to him as it gave him more time to focus on his products and ensure he had more than enough wares to sell. He could go further, with better produced wares he could charge more, he was working his way up. All that would complete it would be to land a job at Arcaon. Then he could finally afford to keep Lauper-
TC’s brain froze and he bit his lip, but the thought had already escaped. They could both be on the same planet, living in style, but he would still be himself, and she would still be herself. Distance wouldn’t close the wounds they both felt. He had tried, but ever since her mother… his eyes burned and he wiped away invisible tears. His hand agitated his eyes and a tears spilled down his cheeks.
‘She’s gone, and Lauper’s an independent girl. She survived without one father, she’s already made it clear she won’t have me as one,’ he murmured to himself.
Flipping his note books shut, TC stood, his body rocking from the power of the engines. They were silent runners, two engines that sat either side of the AMZ Tahlya and had the ability to power forwards and backwards. Both engines had the capacity to rotate 90 degrees up or down, depending on the manoeuvre the ship was called to perform.
He made it to the door as the ship rocked, knocking him into the metal doorframe. Papers on his desk slid down and his note pads toppled over the edge and hit the floor, covers open and pages bent and sprawled under the hardbacks.
‘Tahlya!’ he called, slamming his hand against the fingerprint recognition pad by the door. ‘What’s going on?’
The door shuddered open and he staggered out, aware that the ship was turning on its side.
‘The meteor shower has changed course and is powering towards us,’ Tahlya’s voice came faintly through the speakers.
‘What do you mean they changed course?’ demanded TC, staggering down the corridor, hands holding onto the wall for support as his feet slipped against the grated floor. The ship was now at a 10 degree angle and increasing. He had to get out of the hallway quickly, otherwise he would be running on the walls, and they eventually stopped
‘They are now following our course. I noticed it shortly after we changed trajectory in order to escape them. They curved slightly, but at our travelling rate we would still be able to out run them so I did not bother alerting you. However, they have slowly increased speed through the hour and are now directly behind us.’
‘Bugger that!’ shouted TC, breaking into a run, his feet slipping down the corridor as he sought to keep his balance. Ahead of him loomed the service elevator and the ladder beside it. He caught the rungs of the ladder as the ship tilted to a 25 degree angle. He glanced briefly behind him at the slopping roof and floor of his ship. His chem labs! There was valuable equipment in there! He could only imagine it falling of the benches and shattering. If they didn’t sort out the ship soon who knew what unstable chemicals would mix and what sort of mess they would cause.
‘So why is the ship falling on it’s side?’ he demanded as he began half crawling half climbing up the ladder to the second floor.
‘The magnetic field is pulling us around to face the meteors. Engines are firing at full power to right us, but resistance is futile.’
‘Don’t give me that cliché,’ snapped TC, emerging out the other end of the passage. He righted himself as best that he could and ran towards the far end of the ship. His feet hitting the corner of the floor where it met the wall and the wall where it met the floor as he ran along. He passed through the corridor and the cabins, into the lounge, through the kitchen, pushing his hand against the top of the table as he passed to support himself as the ship lurched to 50 degrees on its side. He pushed himself through the bridge door and slammed into his chair and buckled himself in. His body sat at an almost right angle, the seat belt and arm rest cutting into his body as it restricted him from falling off the chair. His hands worked the screens, bringing the console to life.
‘What’s gonna happen if the meteors hit us?’ he asked, bringing up the video feed screen of the meteors powering through space behind them.
‘If they hit us, the AMZ Tahlya will go down,’ came Tahlya’s calm, robotic voice through the monitor. ‘At first impact, we will lose access to the engines, life supports will be badly damaged and shields will be at low percent. Automatic control will be lost, which means you will have to pilot the ship down.’
‘Down? What do you mean down?’
‘We are outside the airspace of planet XHB-312, also known as Chouri. When the meteors hit, that is where we will fall.’
TC’s fingers clicked across the keyboard in front of him and the window shields in front of him slowly clicked open. He twisted his chair as best he could to face the window. Outside, black sky faced him speckled with coloured tips of far away stars. Just at the bottom edge of the screen, he could see the bluey brown outline of a planet as it peaked at the edge of the window
‘Tahlya,’ he said, his voice strangely calm. TC licked his lips, aware of how dry his mouth was. His sides were numb from where the seatbelt bit into his waist. His neck hurt from bending at an angle.
‘Yes, TC?’ came the voice of his AI through the speaker. Tahlya was calm. She was always calm. A slither of anger bit at him. Damn AI’s, they were always calm. If they were so smart, couldn’t they be programed to act a little like humans, to at least share slightly the sense of urgency expected to be heard in a situation like theirs?
‘You said “when the meteors hit us” just before.’ TC’s heart was pounding in his chest, his stomach was churning and his mouth wasn’t quite dry any more, it was filling with the taste of saliva brought up from his stomach. He was going to be sick.
‘That is correct,’ Tahlya told him.
‘How long do we have?’
‘Prepare to take hold of manual control. I will guide you as best I can.’
‘Tahlya,’ said TC, glaring at the control panel before him. ‘How long do we have?’
‘Brace for impact.’
‘10 – 9 – 8,’ Tahlya began to count.
TC was aware of a bright light filling the edges of his windshield. The room was heating up and sweat dripped down his forehead, down between his brow, to the tip of his nose and dropped sideways and with a splat onto the floor.
The ship was shaking uncontrollably as he gripped the wheel that folded out from under the control panel. He flicked a switch. His seat belt tightened as two more belts automatically came out from the top of the chair, over his shoulders and plugged themselves in.
‘4 – 3 – 2 –‘
TC breathed in, held it for a split second, breathed out quickly and then filled his lungs immediately.