Many of the editors who rejected this story did so out of concern that I would offend their sensitive readers.
Others had stated restrictions against profanity that I somehow missed.
Of those rejections most liked the story personally. Some even went on to publish other stories I wrote.

Here are some rejection notes from editors who don't fit those categories before you begin:

My publisher would kill, then fire, me if I printed this.
You cannot sexualize nuns.
There is nothing funny about fatal diseases.
There is something seriously wrong with you.

Okay, now you have a basic idea what you're getting into.


by Bill McCormick










recorder off.

Day 2 of recuperation. Fuck do I hurt. I tried to talk to J'Hannz, the trader I came to Kaznur to meet, but he's in the same shape as me. According to the auto-med, we both had to go through the first 2 stages of the cure twice before they let us out. Fucking scientists told everyone that only one species at a time could catch Vorbliss and no one could catch it twice.

Well, proved them fucking wrong, didn't we?

I should be on water and some liquid protein by now but keep puking everything up. The auto-med's got me tethered to an IV and that seems to be all that's keeping me alive right now. Hoo-fucking-ray. I once said that going through the cure for Vorbliss was like sucking the fetid sweat off of rancid donkey balls. That would have been better than this.

Fuck I hurt.

recorder off.

Day 3 of my, alleged, recuperation. Last night I began hearing voices in my head. Oddly, they were speaking Kaznurian. The reason that's odd is that I don't speak Kaznurian. A ship passed by mine in orbit and I could hear every thought of the crew. I called down to Kaznur and spoke to J'Hannz for a bit. He said the same thing's happening to him. Since we are the first beings to ever experience a double case of Vorbliss the Galactic Medicos are already copying all of our journals. I bet they'll be fucking thrilled by this little development.

Fuck you medicos.

recorder off.

Day fucking 4. Today the medicos said that I need extra care. The same goes for J'Hannz. He's getting a cadet from the local military academy. Good for him. Me? I'm getting a nun from the local priory, Our Lady of Christ's Mercy. They are some sort of Jesuit order that counts 4 humans among their members. I guess they are afraid of more cross contamination.

That may have been a joke. I'm not sure.

Either way, I get what they mean. Even so, a fucking nun? What the fuck am I going to talk about with a fucking nun?

Hey Sister, ever been bar hopping on Jashey 3? Know any good porn sites?

This is really going to suck.

recorder off.

Day 5. Her name is Sister Agnes. I could read the mind of the captain who brought her here and he must be hopelessly in love with his wife, or gay. How his thoughts didn't warn me that Sister Agnes was hotter than a supernova in the summer is beyond me.

Even in her long dress, comfortable blouse, loose vest, bandeau, veil and coif, she still has curves that could melt Saturn's rings. When she bent over to pick up a piece of paper off the floor all I could think of was two casaba melons wrapped in silk slowly undulating.

I don't care if casaba melons undulate or not, it's what I thought.

Hmm, maybe my appetite really is coming back.

Be that as it may, she's here. Her thoughts are easy to read. She's happily devoted to celibacy and her God and all the rest of that stuff. I'm convinced I'm going to hell for the thoughts I'm having, but she can't read minds so maybe God'll cut me a break.

She talked to me for a couple of hours. I had no idea how much I missed the sound of a human voice until then. She also helped me keep down one full glass of water and a bowl of something that may have once been pudding. Or grout. I'm not sure. Either way, I didn't puke.

I even got to speak to J'Hannz for a few minutes. Like me, he's really hurting. He says his cadet's okay, but full of stupid thoughts of being a hero. Nevertheless, he seems 50% convinced he will survive. I am nowhere near that confident.

Sister Agnes has never met anyone who had Vorbliss twice. Neither has anyone else in the universe, but I keep that to myself. She asks me to write about what it's like and so on. She says it will be helpful to the sisters, in case it happens again. Turns out most of them are medical professionals. Who knew? I'll do it tomorrow. Tonight I am going to bathe in wantonly impure thoughts of Sister Agnes and hope that God has a sense of humor.

He must have to build nuns like that.

recorder off.

Special entry to be copied to Sister Agnes, Assistant Prioress, Our Lady of Christ's Mercy, Ozbankin City, Kaznur. Thanks to the computer for knowing all that.

Before I can talk about Vorbliss I need to fill in some of the gaps on the history of the disease. Given what I endured, was told by the medicos and later read, I can - at least - give a layman's perspective to the whole thing.

While there are epidemics that precede this, the date that is most important is November 15th, 1532, on the old Earth Gregorian calendar. Just under 200 Spanish conquistadors arrived in the holy city of Cajamarca, right in the heart of the Incan Empire.

They were exhausted, outnumbered and scared [WORD SUBSTITUTION] stiff. Just ahead of them were camped, approximately, 80,000 Incan warriors and the entourage of the Emperor himself. Yet, within just 24 hours, more than 7,000 Incan warriors lie slaughtered by the Spanish guns. Weapons that were unheard of to the Incans. Within a few months after that, almost 95% of the Incans lay dead.

Those unfortunates were killed by disease. Most likely smallpox carried by a Spanish slave. It wasn't until much later, in 1796, that Dr. Edward Jenner created the first, viable, smallpox vaccine. He based it on his study of milk maids, which is as fine a way to make an important scientific discovery as any I know.

But, people had to wait until 1860 for Louis Pasteur to discover that bacteria caused illnesses. He called the bacteria "germs."

To prevent people from being harmed by these germs he invented a process that got called Pasteurization. However, while it worked on beer and wine, the important stuff he was interested in, and later worked on milk, it was not such a great method for treating people.

Turns out that heating people up to 135C is not very good for their health, no matter the motive. Their flesh separates from their bones, their organs explode and, basically, they die horrid deaths. A result that would seem to blatantly contradict the whole [WORD SUBSITUTION] idea of keeping them healthy. I'm getting too picayune here so I am going to jump forward. Over the next 100 years drugs were invented that did just as good a job as Pasteurization without the lethal side effects.

Ta daa!

A couple of centuries after that, humans discovered the Hyper-Jump and began exploring the galaxy. A consequence of that was that they began running into alien races. As fate would have it, most civilized worlds had similar horror stories of contamination in their histories and the ones who didn't grasped the concepts quickly enough.

So, for 50 years after the first contact, species would only meet Earthlings via electronic transmission or in sealed, heavily guarded, rooms where they would wear complete Haz-Mat suits. As historians have noted, this was not helpful for interpersonal relations. Most forms of trade were clearly out of the question. Who would buy something that could possibly wipe out their entire race?

Then Dr. Salina Fariq-Leibowitz, a xeno-biologist with a rebellious streak, stated that all the fear and precautions were stupid. To prove her point, she surprised Dr. Iznnk on Xanthos late one night while wearing nothing but her regular clothes. He, of course, was sleeping when she arrived so he had no chance to get into any protective gear.

For 20 days and nights they stayed locked in his house. His family terrified, his pets skittish. And then it slowly began to dawn on him and his family and their pets, and the military blockade that surrounded them at this point, that nothing bad was happening. In fact, everyone seemed to be in perfect health.

Dr. Fariq-Leibowitz explained her theory of incompatible blood to the waiting throngs. It seems that on Earth all blood is iron based. That makes sense since the planet has a molten iron core, iron permeates everything humans eat, from vegetables to meat and people even take iron supplements to make their blood stronger.

But, on Xanthos, the primary metal that infuses the natives' blood is nickel. Nickel in the food, nickel supplements, you get the idea. Germs that thrived in nickel based blood simply died in iron rich blood. They literally starved to death. Since most of the planets had different base metals running through their veins the chance for infection was nearly nil. A broad spectrum anti-biotic and some simple precautions were all you really needed.

As time has gone on she has, obviously, been proved right. Throughout billions of inter-species contacts there have only been three reported cases of true cross contamination. All three of those were cured without fatalities.

I don't know why this part interests me, but it does. After winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine she divorced her husband, moved to Canssata and began a successful career as a lounge singer.

Back on point here. As every school kid knows, nature abhors a vacuum. About 150 years later nature filled the infectious void. Boy did it [WORD SUBSITUTION] ever.

The first case of Vorbliss was reported on Slemina Prime. A merchants' group from Wa-Nahu was meeting there to discuss the possibility of trading for various food stuffs. One merchant felt feverish and went to the local infirmary. Despite the prescribed treatments, the second day saw his eyes swell out of their sockets and his body temperature spike by 35%. By the third day his body had bloated to 200% of its original size and he was in excruciating pain. The fourth day saw him saddled with random bouts of paralysis and delusions of extreme happiness. On the fifth day he fell into a vegetative coma and never recovered. Within 10 days of the first symptoms being spotted the entire Wa-Nahu delegation lay comatose. Except for one member who managed to kill himself during stage four.

As you might imagine, this whole affair caused some concern.

Over the next decade another 93 instances were recorded. A total of 13,457 beings were in comas. Another 497 managed to kill themselves. All in stage four. They all had only one commonality; the infected were always the visiting aliens and never the hosts.

The Galactic Medicos were going insane. A cure had to be found. Trade was dropping, economies were tanking and people were, justifiably if you ask me, panicking to the point of riots. It was on Feznar 7, now known as The Nerd Planet, the answer was found. The Feznarians named the disease Vorbliss after an ancient phrase of theirs which means "Stalking Death."

They discovered that prions, nature's most ancient form of protein, were universal, in one form or another, to all beings. As immune systems adapted to the various threats of intergalactic germs, they left a path wide open for prions to mutate and wreak havoc. Which is exactly what they did.

Since it was the prions of one race that would be infected first, all the members of that race would succumb. The other race would be spared. Seeing as how the species on a home planet had immune systems which were not overly stimulated to avoid more inter-galactic diseases, they remained immune to Vorbliss.

"Hooray!" said the Galactic Medicos, "Now if there was only a cure."

The Feznarian scientists were aghast. "A cure?" they asked, "Is that all you wanted? We had that months ago. We thought you wanted to know the cool stuff."

Thus, "Nerd Planet."

Yes, they had a cure, but it wasn't anything a rational person would sign up for.

Stage one; Induce coma in the patient and then infiltrate the body with near lethal doses of radiation for 3 days to cause the prions to bloat and change shape. Stage 2; Filter the blood for 3 days to remove all traces of radiation poisoning and the mutated prions. Stage 3; Revive the patient and allow it to rest and slowly re-learn how to drink liquids and ingest food.

Once cured, you were supposed to be cured forever.

Your hair, feathers, scales or what have you would grow back within a month or so.

Like I said in my personal log, I have been through this once. It wasn't fun then, it's not very much fun now.

Of course, with J'Hannz and me getting infected at the same time and suffering new symptoms together, the old fears have come to the fore again. No one could mistake us for the same race. His third eye would be the first give-away. My external [WORD SUBSTITUION] penis would be a close second, if you were looking that closely.

According to Galactic records, of the 397 known races, only two are true telepaths. I do know, from my conversations with the auto-docs and the medicos, the Galactic Counsel's keeping a tight lid on this until they can figure out exactly what's going on.

I sure as heck hope they aren't looking to me for any answers.

Remove profanities, edit for content and send.

recorder off.

Day 3 of Sister Agnes. I guess someone can figure this out with my original timeline, but I just think about her more than the days I spent puking. And, certainly, in a more favorable light. Anyway, today I kept down half a sandwich, some soup that actually tasted like food and a glass of Herzine milk. According to Sister Agnes I have some color back in my cheeks and am looking much better.

She is heading back to her priory first thing tomorrow. She says there's nothing more for her to do for me. I think I may be making her uncomfortable. While she isn't psychic, she doesn't need to be to spot my raging hard on every time she walks in the room. I thought nuns were supposed to ignore stuff like that. Oh well.

J'Hannz is feeling better too. We even got in a game of Tri-Chess on the monitors. We got to laughing about how fast the Kaznurian medicos got me evacced to my ship once the diagnosis was made. They dumped me in a container, surrounded it with automeds and shot it into space.

I don't remember much of that, but J'Hannz says he has a vid somewhere and will get me a copy. Even so, it is the first time I have laughed since this all began.

J'Hannz also says he has a case of Kaznurian bourbon and that we can split it once the quarantine is lifted.

That may be the best news I've heard so far.

recorder off.

Day 1, after Agnes. The pilot this morning was not one of the pious types. He nearly ripped the gangway off my ship when he was trying not to undress Sister Agnes with his eyes. He could have ripped out a whole section and I would have understood.

J'Hannz and I discovered a little problem with our trade negotiations. Since we can easily read each other's minds, there was no room for subterfuge. As J'Hannz said, you can't pull the wool over someone's eyes when you are shearing the sheep with them.

He loves mangling Earth metaphors for some stupid reason.

So, we canned the whole negotiation process, worked out a deal that works for everyone and logged it with the Galactic Trade Commission. As it turns out, the new deal is going to make both of us filthy rich. Somehow that doesn't rank as high with me as the case of bourbon, but I know good news when I hear it and that's definitely good news.

recorder off.

Day 2 after Agnes. Yeah, I'm still having teenage dreams of the carnal variety. All of which involve the incredibly pure Sister Agnes. I am also eating well. I guess the medicos need to know that shit.

J'Hannz and I spoke for about 2 hours today. His cadet finally left and things were quieting down until about 1500 hours. That was when we both got the message from Sister Agnes extolling the "Merchants' Miracle" as she was calling it.

Over and over again.

She can read minds. Clearly and without having had to catch Vorbliss. I guess that last part is a miracle of sorts, but I'm not sure what J'Hannz and I really had to do with it except almost die and eat soup. I am very sure that whacking off to her dream image doesn't get me any extra points.

Even so, all of Kaznur is "abuzz", as the newsies say, about the whole affair. She is on every channel talking about her God, the "Merchants' Miracle" and the 203 things YOU can do to help the poor.

She talked a lot about the poor.

That makes sense since Ozbankin City may be a space port, but it's mostly a ghetto. Skin joints, watered down booze and tweaks for every perversion. Even most of mine.

She was walking around among them, cameras following her every move, passing out advice, handing out charity and calling out the liars with ease. It was all very uplifting, I suppose.

But, for J'Hannz and me it means our quarantine has been extended while they try and capture Sister Agnes for more study. You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but she seems to have eluded the authorities at every turn.

Go Sister Agnes!

recorder off.

Day 3 after Agnes. To say that J'Hannz and I are stupidly bored would be a serious understatement. We spent 4 hours trying to make each other pass a cheese sandwich nasally. We never accomplished it, but it did kill some time.

The Galactic Medicos got our test results back from the Feznarians today. They said that J'Hannz and I were the pictures of perfect health. That has caused some problems. I can't be a 'picture of perfect health' since I already had Vorbliss before this and had my appendix removed on Alatian 7. I can't even count the number of times I had to go visit a clinic to get those little shots that come with the warning; "WHY THE HELL WEREN'T YOU WEARING PROTECTION YOU STUPID ASSHOLE?!?!"

In other words, I should be alive, but nowhere near perfect health. But, the results were clear, I have a new appendix, all my blood work is 100% 'A #1' skippy good and the same applies to J'Hannz, who admitted to even more perverted discretions than me.

The auto-meds are sending stored samples for more tests and the Galactic Medicos are extending our quarantine.

Hoo-fucking-ray. Can this day get any worse?

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Day 4 after Agnes. Never, EVER, ask if a fucking day can get any fucking worse. Not an hour later, snug in my bunk whacking off to memories of Sister Agnes and a ship sails by mine. It was full of Galactic Medicos and they were seriously considering terminating me, J'Hannz and, maybe, all of Kaznur.

Publicly they said there was nothing to be alarmed about.

Fuck them! I was very alarmed and told them so in no uncertain terms. J'Hannz is completely freaking out. He's no fucking help at all. He just keeps babbling about the sex he hasn't had, the booze he hasn't drunk and so on. I sympathize, I really do, but there has to be a better option than whining until the Grim Reaper shows up at your airlock.

Sister Agnes continues to, somehow, evade capture for testing and still work among the poor. The police are going fucking nuts. She has been sighted in 20 or 30 different locations. Sometimes in as many as three places at once. I have no idea how she's doing it, but I guess reading minds would help. You'd certainly know who was an undercover cop or a risk before you set foot in a room.

Well, good for her I say. A little adventure is good for the soul.

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Day 5 after Agnes. I should have seen this coming. I mean seriously, how did I fucking miss this? Today all of the nuns at the priory reported that they, too, can read minds. More reports are coming in from all over Ozbankin City from people who had contact with Sister Agnes and they are, each and every one, thanking God for the miracle of sight beyond sight.

The most obvious after effect of J'Hannz' and my encounter with Vorbliss has turned the entire city into a city of telepaths. And not just the city, spacers from all over who were near her are reporting they can do this too.

Oy fucking vey.

It is spreading like a cliche' and there is nothing the Galactic Medicos can do about it. She's like the modern version of Paul, but without having to have assassinated all those Christians to earn her street-cred.

Well, I guess this is the kind of thing that would make her happy.

Meanwhile, J'hannz and I are stuck in bureaucratic hell. Half the Almighty Fucking Medicos want to keep us quarantined forever to stop the spread of the "telepathy disease" and the other half figure that ship has already sailed so they may as well let us go.

We've been promised an answer "as expeditiously as possible."

Fuck them.

recorder off.

Day 6 after Agnes. I finally got to get out of this fucking ship for a day. I went down to J'Hannz' home and killed the day with the first bottle of bourbon. Man that shit was the nectar of the gods.

We finally totaled up how much we are going to make off the trade and the Galactic Medicos' licensing of our blood and came up with a number that is slightly higher that HOLY SHIT! We'll never have to work again.

The news channels are completely slammed with reports of more and more beings becoming telepathic. Some of the stories are pretty fucking funny. J'Hannz did finally pass a cheese sandwich through his nasal orifice when the story broke about the mayor's wife reading his mind and finding out about his 13 mistresses and Zarkan addiction. Man that is going to be one fucking messy divorce.

Neither J'Hannz nor I liked the guy. He was a complete asshole. Well, I guess he still is.

Before I was ready to head back to the ship a story broke about one planet that seems to be immune to the Merchants' Miracle. The residents of Canssata have some sort of pre-altered prion that prevents them from being able to read minds. It took J'Hannz and I about five minutes to find out that the planet features warm beaches, is clothing optional everywhere, has a whisky that is widely considered to be the best in the known universe and allows polygamy.

We leave tomorrow.

recorder off.
Bill McCormick

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