A captain sets out to find a cure but finds much more.
| I saw a boat on the river. I knew who it was immediately. The wanderer had returned. She had set out three moons ago to the wastelands to the west. Her and her crew had been sent by our Elders to consort with the memories of the ancients. Three months ago she had left with all our hopes in search of our salvation. She had been sent to find a cure for the "wasting cough."
The cough had set upon us last winter. It was a terrible affliction that somehow survived the death of the old world and had begun to creep its way back. The afflicted developed delirium fevers, sores all over their lips, and a dreadful cough that destroyed the lungs. The first case was a traveler to our village. He claimed to be a merchant from one of the Core cities. These cities were what was left of the old world hidden beneath the surface of the planet Jannah.
These cities had begun as shelters from a time when humans from Terra waged war with their colonies. Jannah had been a colony of the Terran Empire. The Terrans demanded high tributes and tithes in exchange for their continued protection. When the free people of Jannah refused to meet the quota the Terrans waged war on us with the power of suns. The Terrans abandoned Jannah, leaving much of the planet a smoldering wasteland.
After several millennia's the inhabitants of the self sustaining Core cities returned to the surface. Since the weapons the Terrans had used left no permanent poison in the environment much of the planet's ecosystems had returned. Life, as the elders say, always finds a way. This had been true from the mighty behemoth jellies that floated harmlessly in the atmosphere down to the bacterium that flourished on the surface.
The cough spread quickly in our village. We sent word to the Core city the merchant claimed to be his home but our messengers never returned. We then dispatched a group of Rangers who returned and reported the environ of the Core city had been sealed. The rangers had tried to establish communications with the city but to no avail. More than likely the population succumbed to the wasting cough and had perished.
Our apothecaries told us that the wasting cough wasn't native to Jannah and that it was possibly produced by the weapons foundries of Terra. The Terrans had often maintained a "scorched Earth, dead world" policy. If they couldn't have this world, no one would. Our story tellers argued that the Terrans had not used "biol-magic", as they called it. Without a more rigorous inspection there was no way to fabricate a cure or inoculation.
The decision had been made. Captain Elis Devant would take the Sunset of Autumn and sail to the wastelands of the west. There she would find a Yiyuan where the ancients practice bio-magic with the assistance of cogitating machines. She was given a sample of infected blood. We had all waited with bated breath for her return.
"Captain," I said as she moored her wind boat.
"Lazarus" she said solemnly.
"Any luck?" asked one of the men behind me.
I shot him a look and he fell quiet. The Captain had only just arrived but I could see she intended to finish her mission with stoic resolution.
"Convene the elders," she said as she turned toward the village. I motioned to a runner who tore off a break neck speed towards the town hall. We followed and arrived at the wooden building a while after. As we entered we saw the elders had assembled along with a large group of villagers. The captain grimaced as the villagers looked at her wide eyed with hope.
"Clear the chamber," she said. The guards began directing people out, much to their chagrin and dismay. They began to protest but the captain shot them with such a forceful look that they quickly left. She stood before the elders and cleared her throat.
"Elders," she began but was quickly cut off.
"We have 2000 people in Iso-quarantine and 500 more on their deathbeds, Elis. As much as we are all a fan of formalities, time is of the essence," interjected an Elder.
She nodded in understanding.
"I found a cure. The automated fabricator units of the Yiyuan manufactured enough for everyone on the planet. In addition, the cognator identified the disease as something called "whooping cough". It is a disease from old Terra common among the human populations there. The fabricators created inoculations. Both medicines are being unloaded now and we are going to send caravans to other villages and Core cities with shipments of both. We will be able to stop the plague.
"This is wonderful! But why the somber mood?" asked one of the Elders.
She let out a slow, mournful exhale. Her shoulders slumped slightly and I could finally see the exhaustion within her.
"Because I have grave news. When the cognator accessed the ancient's memories and found the archive on whooping cough it also activated a safeguard programmed by the original apothecaries. This safeguard was intended to mitigate problems during a potential outbreaks of highly infectious diseases, automatically placing the planet in quarantine until the outbreak was resolved and..." she trailed off.
"What?" asked another Elder.
"And alerting the Terran High Command of the outbreak," she said.
"The Terran High command? That was over three thousand years ago. Surely the Terran Empire has collapsed," I said.
She looked at me with dismay.
"But the Empire didn't collapse, did it?" said a third Elder.
She looked at her boots and shook her head no.
"Before our departure from the bio-magic facility we received a reply from the Empire," she said softly.
"And what did it say??" I asked.
She exhaled once again before speaking.
"It said that they were on their way, and they want their planet back."