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Author Topic: EP116: Ej-Es  (Read 21000 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: July 27, 2007, 02:10:11 AM »

EP116: Ej-Es

By Nancy Kress.
Read by Sheri Mann Stewart.
First appeared in Stars: Stories Based On Janis Ian Songs, ed. Janis Ian & Mike Resnick.

Mia didn’t reply. Her attention was riveted to Esefeb. The girl flung herself up the stairs and sat up in bed, facing the wall. What Mia had see before could hardly be called a smile compared to the light, the sheer joy, that illuminated Esefeb’s face now. Esefeb shuddered in ecstasy, crooning to the empty wall.

“Ej-es. Ej-es. Aaahhhh, Ej-es!”

Mia turned away. She was a medician, but Esefeb’s emotion seemed too private to witness. It was the ecstasy of orgasm, or religious transfiguration, or madness.

“Mia,” her wrister said, “I need an image of that girl’s brain.”


Rated PG. Contains passing sexual references and graphic medical description.


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Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Chodon
Lochage
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Molon Labe


« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2007, 06:29:24 AM »

I really liked this story.  The main question I had was if Esefeb really needed to be "healed" by Mia.  Sure, she was filthy, diseased, and covered in fungus (which was a great visual).  She was blissfully happy though.  Not to turn this into a biblical discussion, but it's almost like the story of the Garden of Eden.  Of course, if you look at it that way I think that would make Mia the devil...

Overall, great story.  I liked the hard-science feel of it.  No warp drive so the laws of physics and high-speed travel were held true.  Also, the description of Mia's bones and even her eye muscles being weak after space travel really hit my sci-fi nerd buttons.  The author even referred to the speed of light as "C", which I loved.  Awesome story.
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madjo
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2007, 09:28:12 AM »

This story demonstrates why we need a Prime Directive. Smiley

Sure these people lived in poor conditions, and perhaps they were sick, but who are we to judge them/try to change their ways?
They were happy with their lives.

A really powerful story. It definitely moved me. And I could feel the pain of Esefeb.

The language was also interesting. Smiley

signed,
another ekket person. Smiley
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Dex
Guest
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2007, 10:48:39 AM »

Very well read by the voice actor.

This story reminds me of EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies from the "Visitor" (technology) point of view.

There is also other interesting parallels that some of us may have seen around us.  I have had experience with drugs addicts who can live in the most squalid of conditions.  But when they are high can appear to be very happy and depending upon the drug delusional.  The weariness and loss of focus/purpose ("why did you become a marine?" is mentioned several times) of the protagonist makes it understandable how she can yearn for the simple oblivion/happiness/rest and escape from loneliness offered by the disease.


Also, the description of Mia's bones and even her eye muscles being weak after space travel really hit my sci-fi nerd buttons. 

Steve mentioned at the end of the story that he was instituting no discussion of whether a story was SF or not SF policy.  I can understand both points of view on this it can become a distraction and on the other hand I can understand how it could improve the genre/story selection.
I'm guessing that saying the story "hit my sci-fi nerd buttons." would fall into that category as some one might say the opposite and thereby starting the "SF, non SF discussion."  Just a thought.
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Chodon
Lochage
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Molon Labe


« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2007, 01:26:56 PM »


Steve mentioned at the end of the story that he was instituting no discussion of whether a story was SF or not SF policy.  I can understand both points of view on this it can become a distraction and on the other hand I can understand how it could improve the genre/story selection.
I'm guessing that saying the story "hit my sci-fi nerd buttons." would fall into that category as some one might say the opposite and thereby starting the "SF, non SF discussion."  Just a thought.

That reminds me of another thing I wanted to post.  I'm really glad Steve put that at the end of this podcast.  I like discussions about the stories themselves, not what genre we want to pack them into.  I really hope people don't take that as an opportunity to start that discussion.  Thanks for the clarification, Dex.  Maybe I just should have said "science nerd buttons" instead?
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eytanz
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« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2007, 02:48:41 PM »

Steve mentioned at the end of the story that he was instituting no discussion of whether a story was SF or not SF policy.  I can understand both points of view on this it can become a distraction and on the other hand I can understand how it could improve the genre/story selection.
I'm guessing that saying the story "hit my sci-fi nerd buttons." would fall into that category as some one might say the opposite and thereby starting the "SF, non SF discussion."  Just a thought.

Well, that's not quite what Steve said - he said it's ok to discuss, but that A - he won't mention those discussions in the outros anymore, and B - he will not let it influence the story selection.

One suggestion I may have - but it should be Steve's choice of whether to implement - is that instead of having the discussion in each story's thread, there can be a thread in the "about the pod" forum dedicated to the topic, and that we should do our best to relegate any debates about a particular episode to that thread. That way, people who want to argue about it (and I confess, I sometimes do, though not always) can, but people who are bored by it, and just want to discuss the actual content of stories, can avoid the discussion altogether.
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Dex
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2007, 03:12:13 PM »

Well, that's not quite what Steve said - he said it's ok to discuss, but that A - he won't mention those discussions in the outros anymore, and B - he will not let it influence the story selection.

I listened to the end again and I think it is a little of both- I don't want to misrepresent anyone or spread confusion.  At the 3:00 minutes remaining mark "I hate to do this but I need to put my foot down on something..." any comments whether it is SF or not aren't going to be covered here (outros) and "start cutting off those arguments when they get heated." (forums).   
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2007, 03:54:20 PM »

First off: Amazing production.  There have been some great readers on Escape Pod, so it really means something when I say that I think Sheri Stewart is the best I've heard.  I loved the use of inflection and accent to portray the characters.  Not only could you you tell who was talking by the voice used, but each character was given a subtle personality that carried through in every sentence.  It sounds like Sheri put some real thought and effort into this, and it shows.  Her skill is evident.  I have always been pleased the production values in Escape Pod, but this is above and beyond.

That said, I dig this story.  This is why I like science fiction.

Heck, this is why I like fiction period.

This piece had compelling, believable characters, a strong grounding in science, vivid narration and a story that worked at all levels.  There have been a couple of EP episodes that stuck in my mind, but this one tugged at my heart.  I felt real sympathy for the characters and consequently I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the resolution.

And all that artistic excellence was put to good use in delivering to us a profound moral question, something to think about and digest as the hours and days go by.  That is the mark of a great story.  That is what makes a story matter.

This story asks us to consider the very meaning of life.  Is the purpose of life simply to feel happy?  Or is there something more?  Is Mia a hero for curing these people of their disease, freeing them to live up to their full potential?  Or is she a villain for stealing their happiness?  A person's answer must stem from their deepest beliefs about the nature and meaning of human existence.  It is a mark of the relevance of fiction (and of science-fiction) that it can ask such questions so powerfully.

Thanks to Nancy Kress for writing this, to Sheri Stewart for reading it to Steve Eley for delivering it to our ears.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2007, 03:58:53 PM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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ajames
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« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2007, 11:12:00 AM »

There was a lot to like about this story, but the principle ethical dilemna, as presented in the story, didn't resonate with me. 

There is very little to agonize over here.  Esefeb cannot tell hallucinations from reality, she lives in her own excrement, and she has minimal recognition, at best, of her own family.  Her baby brother is dying, and neither she or her mother is even aware, or would likely even care in the least if they knew.  But, in some sense of the word, she is happy in her viral, delusional state.  Still, the only thing that would justify withholding a cure would be if all of the alternatives left Esefeb and the others just as they are now, only less happy.  But that wouldn't really be a cure.  In losing her delusional happiness, Esefeb has the opportunity for another kind of happiness, and if I am being judgmental in saying it is a better kind of happiness, so be it.

If a loved one of yours was brainwashed by a cult to the point where they no longer recognized you, no longer could take care of themselves or others, or have even the slightest independent thought, but wore an expression of beatific rapture all the time, would you agonize at all over whether you should just let them be?  Would you be happy for them?  Would you join them? 

To go to the extreme case, if I become brain dead, please shut off my life support.  Don't hook me up to an orgasmatron and call me happy.

I think I am getting into rant territory, and there is no need for that.  I certainly believe that there are many cases where our right to interfere with the choices another person has made is something that must be agonized over.  At what point do we have the right/obligation to interfere with someone's drug addiction, if at all?  Do we have the right/obligation to force psychotropic medications on a person with schizophrenia?  The hypothetical cases are endless, and the complexities are exceedingly intricate and intriguing.

However, as the case chosen for this story failed to engage me, the story fell a bit flat for me.  I couldn't really sympathize with Esefeb when she cried for Jesse, er Ej-Es.  I didn't really feel connected to Mia or any of the other characters, either.  Perhaps if I listened to it again, or read it, I would feel differently.  There were, after all, a number of things I did like, such as the description of space travel and its effects upon the body as well as upon our sense of time, and several other things already mentioned by others.  And I also thought the reader gave a wonderful performance.

And as a final note, I think Steve would say that we absolutely should feel free to state what we like and don't like about the stories.  So if we like it because the science is realistic, we should say so, or if we don't like it because the science is implausible, we should say so.  I think even if we don't like a story because to us it isn't even science fiction, we should feel free to say that.  I think what Steve is trying to discourage is what seems to happen quite often, where one person states they don't think a story is sci-fi because of X, and then another persons agrees or disagrees, and before you know it the thread focuses on this topic, yet again, to the detriment of other discussions about the story. 

So while we could avoid it by not saying anything that might lead to such a discussion, there are other ways, too.  I like the idea that anyone who doesn't think a story is science fiction or even fantasy and expresses it in their post, also state right in their post that anyone who wants to continue the discussion on whether a particular story is sf/f or not, or what sf/f is and is not in general, do so in the "sf/f or not sf/f" thread.

But then again Steve can say what he thinks much better than I can.
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schark
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« Reply #9 on: July 28, 2007, 10:00:51 PM »

I echo much of what ajames said.  This story kind of upset me.  To be blunt, it pissed me off.  It didn't seem to me that the author was posing the question about whether these people should be cured; I thought it was saying that they shouldn't be, and I have a problem with that.  The story seemed to me to be about religion basically ("Ej-Es" seemed too close to "Jesus" to be a coincidence, and there was a rather bald statement about a viral God at some point).  I took it to say that if religion makes people happy, who are we to question that or try to change it?  But if people are clinging to an empty illusion and neglecting the world and people around them, or worse behaving in harmful ways (in my head, a metaphor for all wars fought in the name of some god), isn't it incumbent upon a person with the opportunity to do something about it?  I like the drug addict analogy or brain-washed cult member.  Ignorance may be bliss, but it's still ignorance.

Anyway, I didn't mean to go on a rant.  I was just really bothered, and I realize that I'm responding to my interpretation of the story and not necessarily the intent of the author.  So, having said that, I thought it was generally well-written and well-read.  I just disagree strongly with what I took to be the message.
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Dex
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« Reply #10 on: July 29, 2007, 04:55:25 PM »

So while we could avoid it by not saying anything that might lead to such a discussion, there are other ways, too.  I like the idea that anyone who doesn't think a story is science fiction or even fantasy and expresses it in their post, also state right in their post that anyone who wants to continue the discussion on whether a particular story is sf/f or not, or what sf/f is and is not in general, do so in the "sf/f or not sf/f" thread.
But then again Steve can say what he thinks much better than I can.

I was researching the Damon Knight definition used at the end of the story because I want to understand the quote: "Science Fiction is what I point to to when I say it."
I found: "Science fiction is what we point to when we say it"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_science_fiction

I also found a Mike Resnick article that discusses the issue.
http://www.baens-universe.com/articles/Straitjackets
I found this quote interesting:
"The first major critic to come along was Damon Knight. Damon knew that science fiction was the pure quill. It annoyed him when science fiction writers didn’t know the craft of writing, and it annoyed him even more when they got their science wrong.

But what really drove him right up a tree was when they didn’t even try to make the science accurate. "
------------------------------------
This was also interesting:
http://alcor.concordia.ca/~talfred/sf-def.htm
"Unfortunately, the clearest (or most aggressive) definitions are often the least definitive, although many sceptics have been attracted to Damon Knight's "Science fiction is what we point to when we say it" or Norman SPINRAD's "Science fiction is anything published as science fiction". Both these "definitions" have a serious point, of course: that, whatever else sf may be, it is certainly a publishing category, and in the real world this is of more pragmatic importance than anything the theorists may have to say about it. On the other hand, the label "sf" on a book is wholly subject to the whims of publishers and editors, and the label has certainly appeared on some very unlikely books. An additional complication arises because some writers fight hard to avoid the label, perhaps feeling that it might deleteriously affect their sales and/or reputations (e.g., Kurt VONNEGUT Jr, John WYNDHAM). Publishers apply similar cautionary measures to potential bestsellers, which are seldom labelled as sf even when that is exactly what they are (although this has been less true in the post-STAR WARS period than in, say, the 1970s), on the grounds that genre sf when so labelled, while normally selling steadily, rarely enters the bestseller class."

Is there anyplace I can find out more information about the Damon Knight quote about SF
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Chodon
Lochage
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Molon Labe


« Reply #11 on: July 29, 2007, 09:28:38 PM »

That was without a doubt one of the great parts of this story - the fact that the science was accurate.  This is on par with the accurate science in Firefly.  I never watched the series until I saw the movie.  I was in awe of all the scenes in space, and I couldn't figure out why.  Then it hit me: there was no sound.  It made sense.  No space battle I could remember had done that before.  Even Star Wars and Star Trek got it wrong.  This story hit the same sort of "this makes sense" feeling to me.  It's not that I don't like stories like Squonk (it was one of my favorites), but something about stories that hit on real science themes like this really give me goosebumps.  This story for me is tied with How Lonesome A Life Without Nerve Gas for my favorite escape pod story.

As far as the ethical dilemma goes, I have to disagree with what ajames and schark said.  It's not the same as someone you love being brainwashed.  Esefeb never knew what the real world was like.  Her infant brother had the same hallucinations as she and her mother.  I also didn't see the religious thread there.  I thought Ej-Es was more of a lover or an artifact than the messiah.  I don't think that was the real point of the story.  We're all seeking happiness, and Esefeb found it.  Mia took that away from her and said, "No, you're actually filthy, sick, and covered in worms.  See?"  For all you know you're filthy, sick, and covered in worms but you're hallucinating that you're reading this post.  Or you're hallucinating when you're listening to escape pod.  Is it fair for someone to take escape pod away from you and say, "that's just a hallucination, you're actually on fire."  I don't know the answer, but I would at least want to be presented with the facts before I made my decision (red pill vs. blue pill I suppose). 

Anyway, great story and great discussion.  More stories like this please!
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jonesy
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Making the most of life.


« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2007, 12:14:14 AM »

Esefeb never knew what the real world was like.  Her infant brother had the same hallucinations as she and her mother.  . . . We're all seeking happiness, and Esefeb found it.   

But Esefeb never had the choice to begin with. She was subject to the infection from birth. She didn't find "happiness", it found her and forced itself on her. She never had the opportunity to choose reality vs illusion because all she was ever subject to was illusion.
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« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2007, 07:27:43 AM »

Though I thought the story was good, it didn't really resonate with me.  I guess I'm spoiled by having been introduced to SF via Star Trek, so the whole hard-SF Haldeman-style space travel thing doesn't do it for me.  However, I can appreciate the subgenre and appreciate that it's written well.

I think Kress perhaps could have worked the "Why did I join the corps" line into the babble Mia gave at the end -- unless she did and I totally missed it.

This felt more like a season-finale episode of a show than anything else, the kind where Announcer Guy said in the previews something like "Next week, in our season finale, one member of the corps will leave forever..." and they build it up to be Lolemel just to bait-and-switch to Mia.

I had trouble telling the characters apart in the very beginning -- specifically, Mia vs Keenan -- but that resolved itself.  Perhaps if I had been reading this story I would not have had that difficulty.

The reading was very good, mostly I think because the reader is a professional actor and therefore may have more experience with acting than, say, someone who runs a podcast and a blog.  Not to say those people aren't also good readers, but when you hear "we thank SAG for allowing her to perform for Escape Pod", you (or at least I) set your standards a little higher. 

Overall, not a story I really liked a lot, but I didn't dislike it either.  Kind of like what I felt for Squonk, only somewhat more positive in my general attitude toward the story.
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Zathras
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« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2007, 09:01:50 AM »

Very well read by the voice actor.


Also, the description of Mia's bones and even her eye muscles being weak after space travel really hit my sci-fi nerd buttons. 

Steve mentioned at the end of the story that he was instituting no discussion of whether a story was SF or not SF policy.  I can understand both points of view on this it can become a distraction and on the other hand I can understand how it could improve the genre/story selection.
I'm guessing that saying the story "hit my sci-fi nerd buttons." would fall into that category as some one might say the opposite and thereby starting the "SF, non SF discussion."  Just a thought.

Geez, that's a tad picky.  I think he was just saying it hit his "sci-fi nerd buttons".  I don't think he was starting a SF / non-SF discussion. 

That being said I also loved the story as it also hit the same buttons with me.  Great production and I would love to see more stories from Nancy Kress.  I found the ideas expressed by ajames and schark interesting.  At first listen I was empathic of the natives but after reading the comments I thought a bit a differently about the story.  I would hope the doc would give the "cured" some psychological help along with the meds, but she probably did not yet realize that ej-es was still a factor in Esefeg's life.  It would be interesting to visit this story 5 years in the future to see what became of the humans aboard this planet. 
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #15 on: July 30, 2007, 09:03:54 AM »

I think it is important (and certainly intentional) that we are never told what Ej-Es is.  Lover?  Messiah?  Imaginary friend?  Pink cloud of amorphous bliss?  We aren't told, and that's good, because it makes the metaphor more powerful.  The false ideas which people believe in are myriad, and the ambiguous nature of Ej-Es makes it able to stand in for any of them.

I also thought that the morality of Mia's actions was left intentionally ambiguous.  Esefeb is sad at the end, yes, but I didn't take her sadness as author's condemnation of Mia.  Esefeb would be upset.  Very upset.  That's inevitable, and the portrayal of her grief is simply an acknowledgment of the consequences of Mia's actions.  Any change from a long-standing belief or way of life will bring discomfort with it, even if the change is good.

A great example is the character Brooks from "The Shawshank Redemption."  After spending most of his life in prison, Brooks is unable to adapt to life "outside."  He misses the walls of the jail so badly that, in the end, he commits suicide.  If a man is used to living in a hole, is it a cruelty to let him out into the sunshine?  If a woman is used to being chained, is it cruel to turn her loose?  If someone has lived their whole life in the Matrix, is it right to unplug them?

These are all, essentially, the same question: Is it more important to be happy or to be free?  Esefeb is happy, but she is not free.  She is not able to perceive or understand the world around her and she is not able to make her own choices.  Her happiness comes at the cost of slavery to a disease.  Mia sets her free.  After the cure, Esefeb is able to see the world as it truly is, and in the future she will be able to make choices that effect her own destiny, express thoughts that are truly hers and understand the nature of her own life.

Mia judges that it is better for Esefeb to have these freedoms than to have the ignorant bliss that her disease affords her.  Although the cure is biological in the story, it is really not very different from the shattering of illusion that can be achieved through mere words.

And I wasn't really building up to any conclusion, so I'll trail off here, like this: .........
« Last Edit: July 30, 2007, 11:21:50 AM by Mr. Tweedy » Logged

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Leon Kensington
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« Reply #16 on: July 30, 2007, 09:55:46 AM »

I've heard better, I've heard worse.  It was just not exactly what I like in an EP story.
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VBurn
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I am just an egg


« Reply #17 on: July 30, 2007, 10:06:59 AM »

I was sure 5 minutes into this that I was going to hate it, and found myself hooked by it at the end.  And I really like the ending, it provided closure for the story, but really accented the question raised by the story.  

I think the story was well read, but the audio seemed a bit rough.  I thought I heard pages turning, an airplane flying overhead, and other hiccups through out.  But the 'voices' she gave the characters really help this one work in audio.  This maybe in my EP top 10 list, maybe like one of the 4 tied for 9th type scenario.
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Bolomite
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« Reply #18 on: July 30, 2007, 11:05:13 AM »

This is my first time commenting on a story….

I have to say this wasn't my favorite story.  I felt that it was kind of dry and I had troubles stay focused on it.  But maybe its just because there wasn't very much action in it.  I also didn't really understand why they went to the colony in the first place?
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SFEley
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« Reply #19 on: July 30, 2007, 11:45:11 AM »

I also didn't really understand why they went to the colony in the first place?

There was a plague.  They were the medical response team.  Of course, the slowness of space travel being what it is (there was no faster-than-light in this story), by the time they got there the plague was long over, but they still had to investigate in the hopes of preventing it from breaking out anywhere else, and decide what they could do for the survivors. 

In modern terms, they'd be a bit like a cross between the Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control.
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