The Caledonian physician stood grinning by the large copper tub, as if he expected Giles to erupt into applause. Instead, Giles Berithos just stood staring. “What is it, exactly?”
Dr. Arctus beamed, “Only the latest treatment, sir. You see, the patient sits in the tub, his lower half submerged in water. Then, we send sound waves through the water, breaking up the stone into small pieces which can be more easily passed. It really is the next generation of medical science.”
Berithos’ eyes roamed over the wires and tubes running between chugging generators and the tub. And people called HIM a quack? “Dr. Arctus, if I were to consent to treatment in your… contraption, I have little doubt that I would be electrocuted. Barring that, if your mad scheme actually worked, it would probably shatter my bones as well as this damned stone. I completely understand the need for test subjects, but might I suggest you find them among the condemned and in the poorhouses, rather than attempting to experiment upon your fellow physicians? Now, I would ask that you treat my calculus in the conventional method.”
“Dr. Berithos, I assure you that…”
Giles cut him off. “Doctor, please… prepare for surgery.”
* * *
The airship trip from New Babbage had not been uneventful. Berithos had spent most of his time up on deck, huddled in thick blankets to fight the chill of the high altitude and sipping cranberry juice with ten drops of laudanum a glass. His thoughts, as usual, were with Phaedra. He had left her in New Babbage, alone, unless one counted that walking nightmare, Pip. Berithos shuddered involuntarily at the thought of that unnatural creature, although he knew it would protect her from Underby. He should have stayed, should have had the calculus removed at Wilde Hospital, but Phaedra said she couldn’t trust any hospital built underwater and staffed by Babbagers and Giles tended to agree. So, it was off to Caledon, to see a surgeon of some renown.
On the last day of the two week flight, he was laying in a lounger on deck, as usual, when an oddly dressed woman approached him. Giles pulled his top hat lower and tried to ignore her, but the woman, clad in gypsy rags, took no notice. She merely leaned over and hissed in his ear, “You hexed, doctor man.”
Giles was startled enough to respond, “What?”
“You hexed. You gotta curse upon your very soul, man. Sum one out dere don like you very mush.”
All common politeness forgotten, Giles responded, “Who the hell are you?”
The small woman grinned, “I’m Miss Simone of New Toulouse, but dat don matter. You need a doctor.”
“I know that. I’m on my way to see one of the best right now.”
“No, no, not a medicine doctor, man. You need a root doctor.”
“Why in God’s name would I need a botanist?”
“You ‘ear but not lissen. A root doctor, the hoodoo.”
Giles clucked his tongue and turned his attention away from the insane woman and back to the woolen, thick clouds. Really, they should keep these sorts of people below decks. Miss Simone fell silent and begin rummaging in her leather satchel. Giles did his best to ignore her murmurings. Fifteen minutes later she tossed a red flannel sachet into his lap. Giles gingerly picked it up. It reeked of… actually, it smelled rather pleasant, an earthy fragrance with floral undertones.
“Dere, dat will ‘elp. Jes keep it wit you all de time, city man.” Closing her eyes, she forcefully clasped her rough hand to his forehead and said, “Liberate nostrum malum.”
“Libera nos a malo,” Giles automatically corrected, brushing her hand away. Simone opened her eyes and glared at him.
“Dis will make you better now, but it don ‘elp wit your other curse none,” she said.
“What other curse?”
“De one you put on youself, long ago. You wan’ help wit dat one, you come see me in New Toulouse.” With that, she turned and strode away.
Giles looked down at the little bag and cocked his arm, preparing to throw it over the rail. Something stopped him though, and he tucked it tenderly in his coat pocket.
* * *
The ether had given him severe nausea, but Berithos struggled to consciousness through the fog. He ached from thigh to umbilicus. Gradually, he became aware of Dr. Arctus at his bedside.
“The surgery was a success, Dr. Berithos. Of course, it wouldn’t have been necessary if you had only allowed…” Giles waved him away and reached for his cigar case beside him.
A pert nurse stood nearby. “Sir, you really shouldn’t be smoking so soon after…” She was interrupted as Giles gave a gasp of pain from the movement.
“Madam, be so good as to hand me my cigars and then depart.” With a furious look on her face, the nurse complied.
A few moments later, Giles exhaled thick, delicious smoke and held the red bag in front of his eyes. It dangled by cotton cords and emanated that earthy, enticing fragrance. In his other hand was the ticket for his return flight to New Babbage. Turning it over, he read that it was exchangeable for other destinations… including New Toulouse.