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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty Nine

       Last updated: Thursday, March 25, 2004 00:12 EST



    Sharon almost stumbled when she came into the salon of the embassy which, by dint of feverish work throughout the night, had been turned into an impromptu operating room. Fortunately, she caught herself in time to turn the stumble into what she hoped would pass for a dignified pause.

    “Jesus, Stoner,” she hissed, “you didn’t say anything about a mob.” She forced herself to scan the room slowly, instead of doing what she felt like doing, which would have resembled a small girl frantically looking everywhere at once, trying to find a bolt hole.

    “It’s hardly a ‘mob,’” Tom Stone murmured. “Okay, yeah, it’s a lot of people. But—trust me on this one—they’re about as hoity-toity as it comes. No rabble here.”

    He glanced into one corner of the huge salon, where, atop one of the many heavy tables which had been positioned around three sides of the room to serve as an jury-rigged observers’ gallery, Lieutenant Ursinus and two men from the Arsenal were standing. “Well, leaving Conrad and his people aside—but I think both of those guys are guildmasters anyway.”

    Stoner scanned the room also. The gaze, in his case, was genuinely serene—perhaps even smug—rather than Sharon’s desperate attempt to fake it. “You’ve got just about every doctor in Venice worth calling by the name in this room. They’re all good ones, too, I know them. They even scrupulously followed my instructions about being freshly-bathed and wearing clean clothes, so far as I can tell. The rest of the people—the ones I made stand in the back because I’m not sure about how closely they followed my sanitation instructions—are political bigshots of one kind or another. According to Taggart, they include one of the Doge’s aides and at least four Senators. He thinks one of them might be on the Council of Ten. Hard to know, of course. There’s even a cardinal of the church—Bedmar, the Spanish guy. I sent somebody to invite him, too, seeing as how it’s his main man going under the knife. I didn’t think he’d show up, actually.”

    Sharon’s eyes went to the great bank of windows along one wall. The windows faced almost directly to the east, which was the reason she’d picked this salon for her operating room. She had agonized over that decision. Given the nature of Ruy’s wound, she’d wanted to operate as soon as possible. Waiting twelve hours was a terrible risk—an unconscionable one, had she still been in the world she’d come from. But that world had electric lighting and this one didn’t. Sharon had finally decided that the risk of trying abdominal surgery by lamplight was worse than the risk of waiting till sunrise—and would have been, even if she were an experienced surgeon instead of a nurse trying to pass herself off as one.

    “It’s not even six o’clock in the morning,” she protested.

    Stoner smiled. “Yeah, but the light’s pretty terrific, you gotta admit. The sun’s been up for almost an hour, shining right in now, and—” He bestowed a lingering and very approving look upon the eclectic collection of lighting aids which surrounded the operating table. “Billy did one hell of a job. And he was right about those tailor’s globes. Filled with water, they make a lot of difference. Especially with the mirrors.”

    “That’s not what I meant,” Sharon hissed again. “How the hell did you get all these people here this early? Especially when you just got back yesterday yourself?”

    By way of an answer, Stoner simply gave her an ironic little cock of the eyebrow. Sharon understood it, of course. She’d known the answer before she even finished the question. A world which, outside of Grantville and parts of Magdeburg, still had only oil lamps and candles to illuminate the night was a world where early to bed, early to rise was taken for granted. Even for political bigshots.

    “I’m nervous enough already, damn you, Tom. The last thing I need is to try to pull this stunt off in front of a crowd.”

    Stoner started to say something—one of his usual variations on be cool, Sharon was sure—but then hesitated for a moment. Good thing for him, too. If he had said it, Sharon thought she’d just haul off and belt him one. He might be a pacifist, but she wasn’t.

    What he did say surprised her. The tone more than the words themselves. It was the first time Sharon could ever remember hearing Tom Stone say anything harshly.

    “That’s crap, Sharon. You want to know the truth? You’re one of those people who does better under pressure than they do any other time. That’s partly why I did this. Everybody—except you—knows that about you. Your dad makes jokes about it. ‘Best way to make sure Sharon aces a test is to give her no warning.’” He pointed a finger at the operating table. “So just shut up and Sharon, will you? There’s a man dying over there. What do you care who’s watching? Fuck ‘em.”

    The vulgarity jolted her as much as the tone. Unusually, for a hippie—at least, the two-generations-later brand of hippie that Sharon was familiar with from college—Tom Stone very rarely used foul language.

    The jolt made her think about what he’d actually said. Was that true, she wondered?

    It might be, actually. She’d always ascribed her tendency to goof off in school until the last minute to plain and simple laziness. But maybe that was her own unconscious way of maximizing her strengths when the time came. Sharon had never once turned in a paper until the very last minute, and for her the words “study” and “cram” were pretty much synonyms. Still, she’d graduated from WVU magna cum laude. Would have made summa if that bum Leroy Hancock hadn’t blown two whole semesters out of the water, jacking her around with his lies and promises.

    “You’re treacherous, Stoner,” she murmured. But she was smiling by the end of the sentence, and taking her first step toward the table. “Come on, then. At least I managed to get two hours’ sleep, which is more than I usually did before a final exam.”

    She gave him a sidelong glance. “I do hope that you didn’t forget to anesthetize the patient. Being so pre-occupied like were you with plotting and scheming.”

    “Oh, he’s under all right. I’ll keep dripping ether onto the gauze on his face to keep him under, and just have to hope I gauge it properly. I can tell you all you need to know about the chemical structure of ether and how to make it. But how much of it to use...”

    Stoner glanced at the crowd. “I did tell all of them—really clear—that if anyone so much as looked like they were going to strike a match, we’d wrestle ‘em down and slap them onto the OR table. Do an immediate brainectomy to remove what is obviously a malignant foreign body.”

    Sharon chuckled and put a hand on his shoulder. Like she herself, Stoner was wearing a scrub gown. She’d brought several with her from Grantville, on the off chance that she might be called upon to do... well, exactly what she was going to do. She could tell from the warmth and feel of the fabric that Stoner’s gown, like her own, had just recently been sterilized in the steam cleaner that had been one of the first innovations the embassy had made in their little palace.

    “Relax, Tom. I’m a lot more likely to kill him than you are, much less a casual smoker. Remind me to compliment Billy, by the way. He’s done a fantastic job here.”

    They were only halfway to the operating table, since Sharon was moving slowly to help compose herself. Billy Trumble was lying on a cot not far away with an IV in his arm. One of the older Marines was lying on a cot next to him. Only two donors, which Sharon wasn’t happy about at all. Unfortunately, they knew the blood types of only two of the Scot soldiers who made up most of the embassy guard. Lennox was the other one, and he had A-positive which was no use at all since they didn’t know Ruy Sanchez’s blood type either.

    “It’s that silly guilt-trip business,” Tom murmured. “Billy’s feeling bad because he thinks he screwed up yesterday. Dropping the gun the way he did.”

    Sharon’s lips quirked. “I thought he did great, myself. Hey, look, two of us in that madhouse were amateurs. The pro’s the only one who got hurt.”

    “Well, yeah. But Billy probably figures if he hadn’t screwed up the pro wouldn’t have been scratched.” He gave his head a little shake. “As it is, I had to stop him from donating too many units. Especially with him also running around organizing so much stuff. I wish we’d had somebody besides him and Dalziel still here with type O-negative.”

    Stoner’s lips tightened on that last sentence. Sharon knew that Tom had his own worries. His son Gerry had the universal donor’s blood type also. But Gerry had vanished, along with Frank and Ron, nobody knew where. The documents they’d found at the Marcoli house after the deadly brawl had referred to crazy schemes to liberate Galileo and murder the Pope. True, those documents had obviously been planted by Ducos’ agents. But there had also been notes from Joe Buckley—no doubt about it; Joe’s handwriting had been distinctive—which seemed to at least confirm the part about liberating Galileo. Lennox and most of his men were out scouring the city, trying to find out what the truth was.

    Sharon shook her head. They’d reached the table now, and there was no time to think about anything other than the work ahead of her. The OR table itself was something Sharon had had designed weeks earlier, blessedly, in case of an emergency. It was a well-made local product, heavily shellacked and polished, and now covered with sterilized absorbent fabric. It wasn’t quite as good as an up-time OR gurney—and certainly a lot harder to move around, between the weight of the wood and the lack of wheels—but it would do fine.

    She looked down at the patient lying on the OR table. She’d wondered if it would bother her, having to operate on someone she knew. To her relief, she discovered that it didn’t. The man on the table bore a vague resemblance to a man named Ruy Sanchez, what she could see of the face above the gauze over the nose and mouth that Stoner would use to keep administering the anesthetic. But that was all it was. Just a resemblance. The animation was gone. The skin was pale, the cheeks were flushed. That was fever and blood loss.

    The key, though, was the eyes. The patient’s eyes were closed now, but Sharon had seen the dullness come into them in the hours after the fight. Not even Don Quixote on steroids could shrug off these kinds of injuries. The cut to the leg, maybe; that had been a simple flesh wound which Sharon had treated and sewn up quickly hours earlier. But certainly not the other trauma.

    That one was a killer. The type of abdominal wound which, at any time prior to the late nineteenth century, would have been accepted as well-nigh certain death. A slow and tortured death, to boot. Sharon knew full well that the reason Stoner had been able to pack the huge salon with observers was because they all wanted to see if the exotic American Dottora could do what had always been considered impossible.

    She took a slow, deep breath. A man named Ruy Sanchez with dull eyes simply did not exist in the world, she told herself firmly.

    Could not exist. A contradiction in terms. All that lay here was a patient. A body. If she did her job, a human being might return into that body. But, for now, it was just a body. One of many. She’d studied and handled bodies for years now. The father who had sired her and raised her and given her his own talent and love for medicine had done the same for decades before that.

    She felt calm, now. She’d gained that emotional detachment which, however inhuman it might be from one angle, was utterly necessary for what lay ahead of her.

    Stoner had already moved to his part of the OR table and was checking the patient’s vital signs.

    “The last urine sample we got wasn’t too bad,” he said. “That was a little over an hour ago. Low volume, but I don’t think there’s any danger of immediate kidney failure. His pulse right now is... pretty good, I’d say. Weak and rapid, of course, but I don’t think he’s missing any beats.”

    “What’s the systolic pressure?”

    “That’s the good news. A hundred and ten.”

    Sharon hummed a little note of satisfaction. She needed a minimum of ninety to risk an operation like this, and had wanted a hundred. A hundred and ten was higher than she’d dreamed of.

    For an instant, a treacherous little thought tried to worm its way forward. How could I do otherwise? A wish from my intended is like a command from—

    She squashed that, right quick. “Please introduce me to my colleagues,” she said, more loudly than she’d meant to. “And I think we should begin speaking in Italian”—that last sentence said in the language—”except in such instances where I might encounter an emergency.”

    In which case, all bets are off and I’ll probably start hollering at them incoherently. But she saw no reason to add that. The two Venetian doctors standing at the table in their own scrub gowns looked to be even more nervous than she’d been.

    Tom nodded. “To your left, Dottora Nichols, is Dottore Fermelli. He has agreed to serve as your first assist and scrub.”

    He used the English word scrub, not the Italian translation of it. The full term in English would have been “scrub nurse,” but that last word needed to be avoided. In the parlance of the seventeenth century, “nurses” were purely scut-work menials with about as much skill and training—and social status—as a janitor. That was the reason, of course, that the embassy had from the beginning introduced Sharon as a Dottora. And since the Italian word for scrub was every bit as prosaic as the English term, Tom had apparently decided to fall back on the ancient trick—perfected by French chefs—of making something sound glamorous by using a foreign term for it.

    Fermelli nodded politely. Sharon returned the nod and took the opportunity to gauge the man as best she could. He’d be the key assistant. The second Venetian doctor would be the circulating nurse. Which meant, under the circumstances, nothing much more than a gofer. That doctor was standing next to the small table which held the instruments and absorbents. She’d be curious to see what title Stoner had decided to bestow upon him in order to avoid the dreaded “nurse” label. Circulator, probably.

    But it was Fermelli she’d be counting on, in case of trouble. And, perhaps more to the point, it would be Fermelli who’d have to be able to help her with the really grisly parts of the operation. Sharon could well remember her very first experience in an operating room. The operation she was about to do wasn’t that much different. It had been an abdominal hysterectomy. She’d almost lost it when they pulled the woman’s guts out and plopped them on her chest. To this day, she couldn’t eat sausage links.

    And she’d just been an observer. Fermelli was the guy who would have to hold the patient’s guts once Sharon hauled them out so that she could examine them.

    Because of the surgical mask Fermelli was wearing, Sharon couldn’t see most of his face. But the calm and steady look in his eyes reassured her. She’d told Stoner to make sure he found someone who had real hands-on surgical experience. Most seventeenth century doctors—in Germany at least; she wasn’t sure about Italian practice—were really more in the way of medical theorists. Advisers and consultants, potion-prescribers and the like, not what Sharon thought of as a “surgeon.” The word itself was ancient, her father had once told her, deriving from the Greek kheirourgia and passing through the Old French serurgien before entering the English language. But, despite its majestic lineage, it had entered English through the cellar, not the front door. Until fairly recently in the universe she’d come from—not much more than a century, she thought—the distinction between doctor and surgeon had been entirely in favor of the doctor. The “surgeon” was the lowlife who sawed off legs, using booze for an anesthetic—and, like as not, did so while half-drunk himself.

    Satisfied, Sharon looked at the other Venetian doctor. “And this is Dottore d’Amati,” Stoner completed the introductions. “He has agreed to serve as the gofer.”

    D’Amati’s chest swelled and he beamed at her. It was all Sharon could do not to burst into laughter. She should have known! Leave it to Tom Stone to call a gofer a gofer. There were times Sharon really liked that old hippie. She had no doubt at all that by the time Stoner finished with his lectures in Venice and Padua, Italian medical practitioners would have gofer firmly planted in their prestigious lexicon. He’d probably even manage, somehow, to get them clawing for the honor of being called a nurse. Which, as far as Sharon was concerned—she really looked at the world from a nurse’s perspective, not a doctor’s—would be just dandy.

    She felt good. Really good. She’d been almost petrified in the hours leading up to this, knowing that for the first time in her life she’d have to be the one in charge of a critical operation. Now...

    Flesh and blood. She could almost feel James Nichols’ big, capable hands settling over her shoulders, as if from half a continent away his spirit was calming her and guiding her.

    The sensation was powerful enough that by the time Sharon finished sterilizing with alcohol the area where she’d be operating—she’d have preferred iodine but they hadn’t been able to turn up enough in the short time they’d had—she decided she would explain what she was doing while she worked. She’d seen her father do that, before students. He’d told her afterward that he found it a steadying influence on himself.

    “I’m going to begin with what we call an exploratory laparotomy.” She gave Dottores Fermelli and d’Amati a smile, hoping they could detect it under her own mask. “That’s just a fancy phrase that means I’m going to cut the patient open and go exploring to see what’s happening in there.”

    They seemed to be smiling back. Judging from his eyes, Fermelli’s smile was even cheerful.

    Splendid. She made sure of her grip on the scalpel. “The initial incision needs to be made in one firm stroke. It must be firm enough to cut through the skin and part of the initial subcutaneous layer. That’s just another fancy word for ‘fat’. Judging from appearance, I don’t think we’ll find a very thick layer of that with this patient. For a man of his age, he appears—make that any age, actually—to have a very low percentage of body fat.”

    She slid the scalpel in. “I’ll open him from an inch or so below the breast bone to about four inches above the pubic bone. Like—”

    It was a good cut. Really good.





    Cardinal Bedmar was not the only spectator who looked away, at that point. But he suspected he was the only one who did so for spiritual reasons.



    The cardinal from Spain understood many things now which had been murky to him before.

    Some, which had been murky for a short time, he understood very well. Ruy Sanchez’s obsession with the woman had become a mystery to Bedmar, as the weeks had gone by since the Doge’s levee. The cardinal had assumed, at first, that the Catalan’s fascination was nothing more complicated than a taste for exotic flesh.

    And indeed, so it might have been, at the beginning. In the costumes they favored for their wealthy women, as in so many things, the Venetians enjoyed thumbing their noses at the Spain which controlled half of Italy. Where the Spanish style which still dominated much of the continent encased the female form in rigid, stiff—above all, high-necked—apparel, the Venetians preferred to see their women. Decadent and lascivious, in this as in all things.

    And, see them they did. The first time Bedmar had ever attended a Venetian levee, as a man in his mid-thirties born and raised in Spain, he had thought himself somewhere at sea—with surging half-bare breasts making up the waves. He’d been quite shocked at the time, though he’d diplomatically kept it from showing.

    He had not been shocked, of course, when he saw the Nichols woman so attired at the levee in February. By then, the man of thirty-five was a man of sixty-two, the Marquis had become a Cardinal, and Bedmar was as well-traveled, cosmopolitan and sophisticated as any man in Europe. Yet even he had been arrested, for a moment, by the sight of such a magnificent and well-displayed bosom. All the more so when the flesh was as darkly-colored as undiluted coffee.

    But he had misgauged the Catalan, he now realized. Seeing the same woman wearing garments which, though they could not hide the female form did nothing to display it either, had laid bare the truth.

    All his life—and Bedmar had known him since he was a young man—Ruy Sanchez had never been able to resist a challenge. In that, he was much akin to the hero of the Cervantes story that he so adored. The flesh was not the challenge, of course. For a man like Sanchez, flesh was no longer a challenge at all. The challenge came from meeting the first woman in the Catalan’s life who intimidated him.

    And how delightful a thought that was! Ruy Sanchez, abashed.

    A woman so young, yet who moved like a queen, serenely and calmly—even more so in the garments she wore today than she had in the costumes she favored for the levees and operas—and could slice a man open while she described the deed itself. Calmly, serenely; not a tremor in her voice.

    It was all the cardinal could do not to laugh aloud. Don Quixote, indeed, facing the largest windmill he had ever seen. No wonder Ruy had seemed so perplexed; yet, at the same time, so exultant. To such a windmill, such a man would devote the rest of his life. If he could only figure out what sort of lance would do the trick. The one between his legs which had served him so well in the past was hardly up to this exploit. Not on its own, certainly.

    Bedmar’s eyes drifted to the windows. The light was blinding for a moment, as if the rising sun were challenging the cardinal.

    Which, indeed, it was. Bedmar sighed softly, all thought of laughter gone. The sun was made by God, as He had made all things. And now, after a long lifetime devoted to matters of the flesh—politics and intrigue, if not the cruder forms—He who had created Alphonso de la Cueva, Marquis de Bedmar, was reminding him none too gently that He could and did make much greater things than a marquis and a cardinal.

    The sound of many gags being suppressed simultaneously drew Bedmar’s attention back to the center of the room.

    One of those things was the man lying on the table. Not for many years now had Bedmar fooled himself which was the greater, the master or the servant. Did the rest of mankind fulfill their appointed roles on Earth with as much unflinching courage, honor and loyalty as that Catalan once-peasant, Satan’s domains would be far more sparsely populated.

    Granted, Purgatory would be full.

    Another—and Bedmar suspected a greater still—

    There came another and louder simultaneous gag; in two cases, not suppressed. Idly, Bedmar wondered which of these disturbingly efficient Americans had thought to provide those useful sacks he had wondered about, positioned conveniently here and there.

    His own stomach, however, had never been given to queasiness. He leaned forward, to see what was happening better.

    Yes. As he’d thought. The woman was handing the intestines to her assistant. As much of them, at least, as she could pry out of the body. Bedmar wondered, for a moment, if he might someday be able to prevail upon her to allow one of those magnificent Flemish painters—he was partial to Van Dyck himself—to do a portrait of her in the act.

    Probably not. There would also be the problem of keeping the painter to the work, of course. Some of them were delicate fellows.

    A pity, really. It would make such a splendid allegory. The world had many queens—and far more kings—who could disembowel men at a distance using the instrument of their armies. How many did it have who could disembowel a man with her own hands in order to save his life?

    The sun shone in the cardinal’s eyes, asking him God’s question. Bedmar, no fool, did not fail to note that it was a rising sun.



    “—can see only one nick on the intestines themselves. I’ll sew that up later. That’s worrisome, because any cut in the intestinal tract is almost sure to result in peritonitis. But I was a lot more worried that I’d find one of the loops completely severed. That would have been a real nightmare, given what we’ve got available. This cut is small enough that I’m pretty sure we can contain the infection with the sulfa powder I’ll be using as well as the chloramphenicol we gave the patient a few hours ago.”

    Sharon was almost done running the intestines now. “I’d be a lot happier, of course, if we didn’t have such a small supply of the chloram. Uh, that’s a nickname we made up for chrolamphenicol. But at least we’re in pretty good shape with the sulfa drugs.”

    She then took a couple of minutes to double-check herself and make sure she hadn’t overlooked anything. “I don’t need to check the liver or the bladder, given the location of the wound. I will need to check the stomach but I’ll do that later. Right now, the spleen’s in the way.”

    She pulled her head back. “How are the vital signs looking, Stoner?”

    “Holding up. I don’t think he’ll make the marathon, though. Not next month’s, anyway.”

    Sharon chuckled, making no attempt any longer to maintain her earlier reserve. By now they were well into the operation and her team was shaping up as a good one. Fermelli was splendid. D’Amati was still catching up, but doing better than she’d expected. A little relaxed banter was just part of the process.

    That was the way her father ran operating teams, anyway. Sharon knew that some other surgeons didn’t. There was one surgeon back in Chicago whom James Nichols always privately called “the pencil sharpener.” The reference was not to his book-keeping fussiness—though the man had that in full measure also—but to a portion of the surgeon’s anatomy.

    Graveside humor, granted. But what else do you expect to hear on the edge of a grave? Of course, if the patients could hear the jokes, they’d probably die right then and there. Of terminal indignation, if nothing else.

    For the first time since she’d begun the operation, that treacherous little voice crept back.

    Ruy Sanchez wouldn’t. He’d probably kill himself from making the surgeons laugh too hard. His English is even getting the right idiom.

    Never has a man been felt up so well by his woman! I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, swear it is—


    Once she was sure the damn thought was flat as a bug, Sharon straightened and took a deep breath.

    “Okay. The main damage was to the spleen and I’m going to remove it entirely. We call that a splenectomy. The ‘ectomy’ part of it is just a fancy way of saying ‘yank it out.’ And why am I telling you that, anyway? I’m sure your Latin is way better than mine.”

    Her assistants chuckled; then again, and more loudly, when Fermelli added: “Actually, it’s Greek. We Latins are more inclined to putting things in. Unfortunately, the common term for that does not adapt well to medical terminology.”

    Sharon bent over, smiling, back to the work. “There’s going be a lot of blood coming out here. From the looks of it, the capsule which surrounds the spleen tampanaded the bleeding. That’s good—I was hoping for it—because it means the capsule would have acted as a temporary pressure dressing and slowed the bleeding. That’s really important with spleen injuries, since the spleen is the most vascular organ in the body and is normally perfused by something like three hundred and fifty liters of blood a day.”

    It was an odd little speech. The sentence structure was Italian but so many of the words were English. Sharon knew Fermelli and d’Amati would barely be able to follow her here. So why had she spoken at all?

    Was she losing her nerve? Stalling?

    The self-doubt made her hesitate until she realized the truth. She was just immensely relieved, and the relief was as much personal as professional. She’d agonized over her decision to wait until daylight. Wondering if Ruy Sanchez would bleed to death internally because of her own fears.

    Well, he hadn’t. The man’s spleen was as tough as the rest of him.

    To be sure! The spleen of Catalonia is famous! Ask the wretched Castilians if you don’t believe—

    “Oh, shut up, Ruy,” she murmured, still smiling.

    After she perforated the capsule, she reflected that shutting up Ruy Sanchez was easier said than done. Even when the man was under full anesthesia.

    “Would you wipe off my face, please, Dottore d’Amati? And we’ll need to use plenty of that sterilized gauze to soak up as much blood as we can. Despite appearances, most of it went into the abdominal cavity, not onto me. Loose blood like that is a culture medium for infection.”

    She waited until she could see well again. “Thank you, Dottore. Okay, I’ll start the cut here because—”



    Bedmar had been perhaps the only man in the room not to gasp. Where all others seemed to think a desperate emergency had arisen, because they focused on the frightening gout of blood, the cardinal had been watching the woman’s face before it struck. That small, expectant smile.

    He could not see the smile itself, to be sure, due to the mask the woman was wearing. But he did not need to. Something in the calm dark eyes, the set of the jaw, the poise of the body, made it obvious. If anything, was accentuated by the mask.

    It was quite amazing, really. Bedmar was reminded of Diego Velasquez’s The Adoration of the Magi. Not the wise and solemn face of the black king but the serene face of the virgin. It was said that Velasquez had used his wife Juana as the model. The cardinal could well believe it, now. The serenity in that virgin’s face was not the usual ethereal business. Just a young woman’s calm acceptance of God’s miraculous handiwork. Whatever the Child’s conception, after all, pain and labor had still been needed to bring Him forth.

    Quietly, without fuss, the cardinal left the chamber. He would return on the morrow, to see after Sanchez’s welfare. That the Catalan would survive this day, Bedmar had no doubt at all. Not any longer.

    And he had other matters to consider. Much greater issues that were still murky to him, but less so after this day’s instructions. That hidden but so obvious smile, like the blazing sun, had been another challenge from his God.

    A warning, it would be better to say. Sixty-two years of life God had now granted Alphonso de la Cueva, once the Marquis and now the Cardinal Bedmar. God, he suspected, was beginning to lose patience with him.

    As well He might. A life of stature, wealth, comfort and considerable ease. Also a life slowly ebbing away in frustration and self-pity as Bedmar watched his once-glorious nation fade in its colors and become frayed in its fabric. A frustration which, over time, had become its own seductive melancholy.

    Vanity, all it was. In the end, just vanity. Whose only distinction from pride was perhaps its sheer stupidity. But the cardinal was fairly certain that God would not accept a plea of stupidity as an excuse for one of the seven mortal sins.

    Especially given that Alphonso de la Cueva was very far from stupid.

    So, it was finally time to think. The cardinal believed in a personal God. He also believed in personal damnation.

    Far better, he thought, to while away a limited number of millennia in the company of such as Ruy Sanchez. Even in Purgatory, the disrespectful Catalan was bound to make jokes.

    Good ones, too.



    It was over, finally.

    “Two hours and nine minutes,” Stoner announced. “I am genuinely impressed.”

    “Vital signs?”

    “They’re all okay. I’m not going to say ‘good,’ of course. But if he doesn’t catch pneumonia or something down the road, this tough bird should live about as long as he would have.”

    Sharon winced a little.

    “Oh, come on, Sharon,” Stoner scolded gently. “Under these conditions, not even your dad would have tried to resect the spleen. Besides, I doubt if Ruy Sanchez was destined to die of old age anyway. Him? Be serious.”

    “Is something wrong, Dottora?” asked Fermelli.

    Sharon shook her head. “Not... really, Dottore. I considered at one point attempting to repair the spleen rather than remove it. The problem with having the spleen removed is that it helps protects the body against infection.”

    She looked down at the patient. For some reason, he was starting to look like Ruy Sanchez again. Odd, really, since nothing in his appearance had changed except he had a large new scar to add to an already impressive collection.

    “So, Ruy—ah, Señor Sanchez—will be more susceptible to such things as pneumonia from now on. He’ll just have to be more careful, that’s all.”

    Ha. Weren’t you the one making speeches on this subject not so long ago?

    Ruy Sanchez, careful and cautious. Walk with a cane, beware of inclement weather, wear warm clothes—who cares what they look like?—eat the right foods, avoid ruffians. At all costs, stay away from risky women. Which is you, judging from the record, right at the top of the list. Maybe the only one on the list.

    Hell, frozen over.

    She took refuge in trusty jargon. “That can be done using what we call the omentum—that’s part of the lining of the abdomen—as a patch over the site. But it’s tricky. If it goes wrong—which it very likely would working as I am now—I’d have had to go back in and remove the spleen anyway. With a much weakened patient and probably much worse infection. I decided it simply wasn’t worth the risk.”

    The crowd was gathering around now, as Stoner and three burly Marines picked up the operating table—no wheeled gurneys here—and began hefting Sanchez out of the room. They were gathering to congratulate her, Sharon understood.

    Do more than that, really, judging from the faces she could see. That was applause gathering there, applause and admiration. For the first time, she got a glimpse of what Stoner had been angling for when he invited that damned mob to come in.

    She couldn’t resist. Just couldn’t. It was only a little fib, anyway.

    “My father would have undoubtedly attempted the resection,” she announced loudly, after removing her mask. Then, with a demure, well-nigh virginal smile: “But a young woman should know her limitations.”



    Stoner heard her, on the way out the door. He winced a lot more than she had.

    “I’st too heavy then, sair?” asked one of the Marines. “We ken git anot’er man—”

    “No, no. I can handle it. I just worry about Sharon sometimes. Bad vibes. The way she can be so nasty and sarcastic, I mean.”

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