Igms issue 29, p.1
IGMS Issue 29, page 1
Issue 29 - July 2012
Copyright © 2012 Hatrack River Enterprises
Table of Contents - Issue 29 - July 2012
* * *
The Butcher of Londinium
by J. Deery Wray
Riding the Signal
by Gary Kloster
by Jared Oliver Adams
by Kenneth Kao
Dark and Deep
by Holli Mintzer
The Flower of Memory
by Michael Haynes
InterGalactic Interview With Jack McDevitt
by Jamie Todd Rubin
Letter From The Editor
by Edmund R. Schubert
The Butcher of Londinium
by J. Deery Wray
Artwork by Dean Spencer
* * *
As the hulking rhinoceros gored and trampled its way through the gladiatorial market in New Rome, there was one thought I couldn't get out of my head:
The carnage was impressive.
When the bestiary guards caught up with it, they unloaded more than sufficient rounds from their tranq-dart rifles to down the savage creature. Unwarranted, perhaps, but unsurprising; they had let it escape from its pen. The men who were shackled to me breathed sighs of relief.
I had, during the rhino's rampage, felt a twinge of worry. Chained as I was, I could neither have run nor fought, but the same would be true in the arena. I have no illusions about my own abilities. When I'd heard my sentence, to be fodder for the games, I knew I'd be dead soon enough; why not enjoy the unexpected entertainment? I just wish it had lasted longer.
"Where's the surgeon?" One man cried out, then another, adding their voices to the screams and whimpers of the injured.
For a moment, I thought they meant me. But they found their surgeon soon enough, what was left of him. His spirit was awaiting its final passage across the river Styx.
"We need a surgeon," a panicked voice cried. "We'll lose the merchandise."
That's when I raised my hand, and shouted, "Over here."
I've never been one to waste an opportunity.
Coal soot smeared the sunset into haze by the time I yanked tight the last stitch of thread through living flesh.
"Six men still live today because of you," a man said. He spoke with authority, and wore the clothes to match - an ankle-length black top coat over a winged collar shirt and tweed breeches. "What's your name?"
"Caro." The blood was beginning to dry on my hands. I let it. "They live for now, but I can't say for how long." It wasn't a sterile environment, not even close. "Infection's a killer."
"I'm Silus, Lanista of the Emperor's personal gladiatorial school. My aide tells me you're one of the damnati ad mortem, and that you were among a shipment we have already purchased for the opening hours of next week's Imperial Games."
I smiled. Damnati ad mortem. "I would have that honor." To be released weaponless into the arena to fight any number of strange and ferocious beasts. To die to whet the appetite of the crowd. It was the currently fashionable sentence for all men convicted of capital crimes.
"A waste." The man tapped his fingers against the buttons on his waistcoat as he looked at the stacked corpses being loaded onto a wagon. "We're in need of a surgeon. Where'd you receive your training?"
"At university, and in practice. I worked ten years at a hospital before my . . . conviction."
"Which university, which hospital?"
The answer to both was the same. I'd grown up but fifty miles from here, among the factories on the east side of the Thames, worked hard to earn the coin to live on the west side, but the city that sprawled both sides went by one name. "Londinium."
Silus's sudden intake of breath, the newly bulging vein above his left temple - I found that first flush of recognition never failed to arouse me.
"The Butcher. You're the Butcher of Londinium."
"I prefer Caro Carvetii, but yes, that is the phrase the papers coined."
"You only killed women? No men. No . . . others?"
"Just whores," I said. "Mothers who traded favors to feed their addictions." I didn't expect him to understand, but his concerns were otherwise engaged.
Silus looked between me and the cart that trundled off with the surgeon's body. "I might stay your sentence so long as your skills dictate. There will be no pay, of course, for such as you. And if you fail in your duties, or otherwise garner unwanted attention, the arena will be waiting for you."
After a night spent in my new cell at the Emperor's Ludus, just a stone's throw from the Colosseum, I made my way down the underground tunnel that connected the two to check out my new working quarters. The main room was larger than I had expected, though between the shelves and cabinets lining the walls, and the three cots marooned in the center, it seem crowded. Not one of the many oil lamps was lit. Pale light bled into the room through two air shafts, the only source of ventilation, and not enough of one to mute the stench of whisky in the room.
Someone coughed from behind one of the cots, a phlegm-filled wheeze, followed by a gulping sound. The source of the whisky smell, no doubt.
I rounded the cots and looked down on a man sitting splay-legged with a bottle clutched in his hands. He had a fretwork of broken capillaries across his nose and cheeks, and tear tracks on his none-too-clean face. If it was not for the metal-framed spectacles perched on his nose, I would have thought him a vagrant who had snuck past the guards.
"The new surgeon?" he asked, slurring his words. "Come to claim his place already?"
I have no patience for drunks. I never have. "And you are?"
"His aide." The man brushed at the snot crusting his nostrils. "Yours now. Name's Blaesus." He tried to stand up, but only made it as far as his knees before he took another swig from the near empty whisky bottle. "I heard it was a rhino what got him. Killed by some beastie like a common criminal." He weaved in place when he finally made it to his feet, his bloodshot eyes blinking wearily at the glass bottle. "I've been drinking to him all night. You wouldn't have a fresh bottle, to make a toast to him yourself?"
I shook my head in disgust. "Does he have a book around here - an inventory of the items in stock?"
"No book, no list. He didn't write, and I . . ." He pointed a wavering finger at his forehead - his ear - his forehead. "I keep it all up here." He stumbled over to the nearest cot and crawled on to it, curling up in a ball with the bottle cradled in his arms. "Just need a bit of shut eye's all." Moments later he lost consciousness; it would be a misnomer to say he fell asleep.
I found a stack of blank papers, a nib and a bottle of ink, and spent the next few hours taking an inventory of the location and number of the items in stock while Blaesus snored away on a cot. I'd just finished with the cabinets lining the back wall of the room when I became aware that I was not - Blaesus aside - alone.
Given the delineation of each of his muscles, the man standing in the doorway would have made a perfect model for an introductory anatomy class. He would have made an even better specimen as a corpse on a slab for dissection. Bare-chested, he wore a green loin cloth and sandals, a sleeveless wool jacket his only concession to the chill spring air. He also wore a traditional manicae - a thick leather and cloth padding - on his right forearm, but a bandage encircled his left.
"You're Caro Carvetii, the new Chirurgeon."
The title, with its slurred start and extra syllable, sounded odd to me. I was used to the more commonly used term - surgeon. "I am. And you're . . . a gladiator."
"Flavus. Your predecessor had asked me to come by today, to have my arm checked."
No man entered the Emperor's Ludus until he had a reputation for excellence in the are
"Come sit." I pointed to the cot furthest from Blaesus. "I'll take a look." Flavus sat down and I unwrapped the bandage from his arm, baring the tear in his flesh. He never took his eyes off my face.
Though sufficient for its purpose, the uneven row of sutures in Flavus' arm would have shamed the meanest apprentice. The skin was not inflamed, but the edges of the wound had not yet healed sufficiently to hold together unaided. "You'll need to keep these in a few more days. The previous surgeon, he applied these himself?"
"No. He had the palsy." Flavus made his hand tremble to demonstrate. "A gift from strangers, I believe, though one he received before the Lanista hired him on. He oversaw things here, but had Blaesus do the hands-on work. He kept him sober, for the most part, on game days and during practice." Clenching his hand into a fist, Flavus flexed the muscles in his arm. "And yet he died at the Market. It can be dangerous in the most unexpected places."
"A fact of which I'm well aware." I retrieved a bottle of antiseptic and some fresh bandages.
"Your actions precede you, Butcher. The Lanista hired you because he needed a surgeon, and he need not pay you. The coin he receives for a surgeon shall instead line his pockets. I, too, am not immune to the call of coin. I could buy out my contract today, but I would not have sufficient means to live as I desire. But neither do I mean to die from a wound that's not fatal. I would die on the sands, or live to make the coin to retire in comfort."
After sluicing the wound in antiseptic, I applied a fresh bandage. "I think you'll find that I excel at my job. Just see to your own."
"See that you stay within the bounds of your job. If you so much as look at a woman wrong . . ." Flavus smiled. "You'll die before you ever reach the sands."
As I shut Caepio's sightless eyes, the thundering roar of the Colosseum crowd crested, washing down into my underground surgical quarters before falling to sudden silence. The silence didn't last long. The final fight of the day continued, but that wasn't my immediate concern. Blaesus was with the second gurney and its bearers in case another of the Emperor's gladiators was killed or injured. I'd left him with just enough whisky to stop his shakes, though not enough to inebriate him. Right now, my job was here.
The Lanista had had a box dropped off at dawn, before the games began, the games I was meant to die in. I pulled off the lid, and rifled past the blank embossed sheets, and the journal that, on cursory inspection, proved to list gladiator names and details, until I found a blank death certificate. Caepio had raised his finger, signaling defeat, and had died to satisfy the blood hunger of the crowd. There was no box on the form for that. Why he died and cause of death were two separate things.
I'd just finished filling out the certificate when the roars of the crowd fell to a hush, then burst out louder than before. Victory, and defeat. I closed the box, set the death certificate atop it, and went to the door to see if I was needed. Minutes later I saw two men carrying a gurney bearing a gladiator, blood seeping from his abdomen, and Blaesus trailing behind them. I recognized him from mealtimes - the foreigner, Alfred.
While the two men transferred Alfred to the middle cot, I was able to make out enough of the wound - a deep slash into the muscle of the abdomen just above his wide leather belt- to begin making preparations. If the slash had penetrated into the abdominal cavity, I had little hope of saving him.
I directed Blaesus to wash his hands, sterilize a needle and grab the silk thread, while I soaked a cloth in a carefully measured amount of chloroform - just enough to put Alfred in a state of clinical anesthesia. Too little, and he'd experience serious disorientation or hallucinations, and still be capable of movement, a dangerous combination. Too much could lead to cardiovascular depression and death. It was a fine balance.
After sedating the gladiator, I washed my hands, pulled on a pair of clean gloves, and cleaned away enough of the blood to get a clear look at what I was dealing with. I liked what I saw: a clean slice through fat and muscle that stopped just short of piercing completely through the abdominal wall. I would need to sew the muscles together, and carefully if I wanted him to be able to regain full functionality. I didn't care one way or the other about his future, but it was the type of challenge I loved. I set to work.
Time passed without my awareness until I was finished. The gurney bearers had long since left, taking Caepio's corpse with them, and Blaesus had cracked another whisky bottle. But none of that mattered. I wrapped a wide swath of gauze about Alfred's midriff, then went into the back room to wash up.
When I returned to the main room, Blaesus had disappeared with his bottle, and Flavus stood beside Alfred's unconscious body. He turned to me, and asked, "Will he live?"
"Unless the wound becomes infected, he will." Despite the best of precautions, there were never any guarantees when it came to infection. "If he has the will to."
"Will he be able to fight again?"
"If he lives, he very well could." I had confidence in my work. "But not for months. He'll need to allow the wound to heal fully, and take care in rebuilding his strength."
Flavus nodded, rubbing at the freshly-healed scar on his arm. "He needs to fight to buy out his contract, to return to his wife and children." He looked back to Alfred, at the bandages that bound his midriff. "Did you know he was captured in battle? A skirmish at the north border of Gallia. He's an enemy of the New Roman Empire, a barbarian. Out there. But in here, he's a gladiator, and a brother to me. I've already lost one brother today."
Though Flavus didn't name Caepio, I knew who he meant. I had nothing to add, so I left him alone. He departed a few minutes later, while I finished cleaning up from the surgery. I had just sat down to record my notes on the procedure when Lanista Silus arrived.
"Flavus tells me Alfred's outlook is bright. See that it stays that way." He walked over to the box he'd had delivered, picked up the death certificate, and studied it.
"I'll do my best, Lanista."
"Good. I'll see this delivered to the Magistrate. Have you started on the notification letter?"
"For the next of kin." Lanista Silus' eyes narrowed. "I covered for your predecessor because his hand shook, and Blaesus' handwriting is illegible, but your script is satisfactory. There's a journal in the box, it lists each gladiator at this ludus, and the address for notifying their next of kin upon their death. Write the letter, cross out the deceased's entry in the journal, and bring it to me. I'll see it posted."
An hour later, a guard admitted me to the Lanista's private study. Seated at a heavy oak desk strewn with papers, Silus took a few minutes to acknowledge me. I handed him the letter, and turned to leave.
"Stop," Silus said impatiently. "This will never do. Caepio died with honor serving as one of the Emperor's gladiators. This reads as if you're notifying the family of the slaughter of a chicken, and not a prized one at that. Rewrite it to express our sympathies, and leave out the description of how he died. They don't need a list of his wounds." He crumpled the paper and threw it at me. "And sign the damn thing. It's a personal letter, not an anonymous one."
Though I didn't see the point, I started the new letter with 'I regret to inform you,' left out the salient details, and signed it Caro Carvetii. While I didn't feel any regret, the Lanista had asked, and I would oblige. After all, they were just words on paper.
By the time two more game days had passed, I'd become used to my new daily routine which is why the sound of the guards yelling in the gallery piqued my interest. I'd been sterilizing needles in the side room, and by the time I ducked back into the main room and made it to the doorway, the guards had moved on. But when I turned around and spotted a small foot poking out from behind one of the cots, I suspected I had found the cause.
"If you come out, I'll give you a chance to
A prepubescent boy poked his head above the cot and regarded me for a moment before standing up. Given his shapeless striped shirt and rough canvas trousers, he looked to be a workhouse escapee. His short brown hair appeared to have been finger-combed. "I was just looking for my father. He's to be a gladiator here."
The way the boy was eyeing me, I got the distinct impression he believed his father could beat me up. I never knew my father. My mother had slept with so many men, I don't think she even knew his name. "Your father give you a name, boy?"
"What're you anyway?"
I raised my eyebrows.
"Stolo." He bit at his lower lip before saying, "Your turn."
"I'm the Chirurgeon here." At his blank look, I added, "I sew up the gladiators when they get hurt, among other things."
"So you'll help keep my father safe?"
"I suppose I will."
"His name's Metellus. He's supposed to arrive here today. That's why we came here, to New Rome. We caught a train out when we found out. He'll be fighting in the Emperor's Games next month."
"My sister and me. Do you know where my father is?"
I had no idea if the Emperor's newest gladiators had arrived yet, but I did know which door they'd be coming through. It had to be the same door the boy had used. Only the Lanista, his family and guests arrived through the main door. A part of me wanted to point the boy in the correct direction and be done with him, but if he got lost and mentioned to the guards that he'd spoken with me . . . A little time wasn't worth the potential trouble I could be in. "I know where we can find out, if you'll come with me."
"What do I call you?" Stolo asked as he rounded the cots and headed towards me.
by IGMS have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes