Experts, Masters, And Other Things In Short Supply

A bright flash lights the void as a ship splits in two. Another implodes as its warp drive destabilizes. Don't worry, I'm not even involved. I watch the battle from afar, my ship orbiting a nearby moon. I drift unnoticed, waiting for the conflict to end.   I slide the steel shutter closed and lock it into place. I can't watch anymore. I'm getting anxious. The Eden should have finished them by now. What's taking them so long?   I walk down the painted halls of my ship, dodging the occasional dried brush and pallet. I pass my work feeling unimpressed. It's like the murals scream at me, each declaring their flaws regardless of how small or subtle they may be. The mural near the lounge is the loudest. It depicts Angel's on a field of red as if flying in the evening sun. Their faces are obscured and without form. I intended that, but apparently, now it's a problem. I just can't seem to get it right. Typical… wait.   I stop and rub my temples. I shouldn't say that. That's not me. When did I take my meds? Did I take my meds?   I enter my quarters and the sight seems to perfectly illustrate what's going on inside my head. Everywhere I look I see clutter and filth. Containers with crusted remains of food sit on the shelf, and others sit by my bunk… on my bunk. It's claustrophobic, my head being so full of thoughts it gets hard to breathe. I sigh as I navigate the room. When I enter the bathroom I can't help but groan, chastising myself for letting it get so bad. My toiletries remain buried under brushes and empty bottles of soap. Cosmetics litter the counter, along with data drives and other items that really shouldn't be so close to water.   I scan the counter, then the shelves. I look to the floor and there it is. I reach down and pick up a steel cylinder, a medicine bottle. I smile, but it fades as I give the bottle a gentle shake. Empty.   "Damn it," I scream, throwing the bottle down. The bottle bounces up and onto the shower floor on the other side of the bathroom. I forgot again. Why am I like this?   My head starts reeling. It feels as if it might implode. I was doing so well. Why did I have to stop? Once upon a time, I got mad when someone asked if I had taken my meds. I'd probably still be mad, but at least I wouldn't screw up this bad nearly as often. My thoughts are already betraying me. Lazy, worthless, and other less savory words come to mind. I’ve heard them so many times before. Maybe they’re right... No. Stop.   I press myself against the wall behind me. How could I let this happen? The tears well up in my eyes and I brush them away. I can fix this. It's okay. I catch the sight of my cot and it beckons me to creep under the covers. I'm safer there. Why not? Im exhausted and could use the rest. Then again, if I lay down, I won't be getting up.   Okay. I'm too far away, so I can't make a quick stop to refill the bottle. I just need to make another batch.

I've been out in the void for a while now and I'm starting to notice a misconception others have about humanity. Out here, many would call us a rising star. Some claim we're slowly working our way out of a long dark age. This couldn't be further from the truth.   Our infrastructure collapsed when we left earth, and it's been a smoldering pile of rubble ever since. To accomplish anything of note, we need to get enough people on board. There are so few of us left that it took nearly the entire population to get the dry docks working in Caydie's Cradle. We don't even have a means of establishing infrastructure. Just look at our education system.   To truly thrive, we need a way to share information. The archive has massive amounts of data. My father, The Archivist sifts through it at a constant rate. Since the archive opened to the public, his attention has been divided. While educating to the best of his knowledge, he loses processing power and time, leaving information out of reach. You can't teach what you don't know. In other words, we have no education system.



When what remained of humanity found Safeharbor, the arks carried the best we had to offer; engineers, physicists, doctors, you name it, we had it. As refugees made their way to our new home, this pool of knowledge grew smaller with every boost to our population. Many who came to this planet on dilapidated ships lacked the skills and knowledge needed to help. They were cooks, receptionists, factory workers. While vital for the world to function, they didn't add much to solve the problem.   That was a long time ago, and we've done our best to counter it. STEM education is widespread and now considered common knowledge, but this only gets you so far. The closest thing to a school or university we have is The Wayfarer training facility, which only teaches what Wayfarers need to do their job, a Jack of all trades kind of education.   Specialists, those who are truly experts in their field, offer seminars and reach out for assistants to teach in exchange for employment, but given how few the earth-born humans are, their number dwindles. The only way to specialize in any field and further one's education is to be lucky enough for someone to teach you or to do it yourself.

A long road

I spent so much time locked away in the archive. Everything I learned only led to more information I needed. You can stumble upon textbooks, lecture notes, practice quizzes, and syllabi used by educators on earth sometimes but even then you're out of your depth.   You learn at your own pace, which varies, but eventually, you have to apply that knowledge. The information is free but learning isn't going to get you fed. We have currency, but it's easier to barter on Safeharbor, and you have nothing to bring to the table apart from what you know.   Once I found the right information, I was able to learn the process of actually making medicine. I learned to synthesize chemicals from plants and crafted my own equipment to make the task easier. I learned how to master the chemical reactions, form the slurry, and condense it into pills. Eventually, I even learned how to artificially produce these chemicals, increasing effectiveness and decreasing cost. It's a long road to travel and most won't make it.
I storm out of the room, kicking clothes and whatever else gets in my way. I rush to the makeshift workbench near the bridge, a compilation of steel and wood. Despite its grotesque appearance, it's surprisingly sophisticated. I see my tools, numerous scanners, several drawers for ingredients, and other tools of the trade.   I open a leather-bound book to a bookmarked page. I scan my notes, my hands already dancing to a tune they knew all too well. I begin by putting on the mask and gloves. I reach into a drawer and pull out a handful of vials.   The vials contain a white powder the active ingredient extracted from liberty caps I found in the apiaries of Autumn . I keep several colonies on my ship for this exact situation. I open the vials and pour them into a beaker, along with non-active ingredients to make a good mix. I add dicalcium phosphate along with small amounts of silicon dioxide and magnesium stearate, each carefully measured.   Once it's made, I place the final product in the mixer, a spinning cylinder on an axle that shakes as it spins to perfectly blend the ingredients. The scanners constantly feed information as I work. Too much of any one thing and the pills may not be compact enough and fall apart. They may not have enough of the active ingredient or clog the press if it's too thick. To my surprise, the mixture seems perfect.   I slowly fill the press, a device that compresses the mix into pills. The press is primed and calibrated. The punch drops and a pill ejects from the machine. I pick it up and immediately put it in my mouth. I sneer at the bitterness and nearly gag when I reach the metallic aftertaste. I ran out of coating ages ago and the struggle is real. Coating is good. It helps make the pills tasteless and more aesthetically pleasing. A sip of water later, and the countdown to normalcy begins, or at least the illusion of normalcy. Im excited... too excited. It feels good. I can't help but want to take more. Maybe it could feel even better. I've never done that though. Probably best not to trip before a job.


Becoming a specialist isn't a regulated thing. No one can say if you are or are not a specialist. To be a successful specialist, however, you need a good reputation. It's much like being a bounty hunter, actually. It's a constant balancing act, and any mistake can lead to you closing up shop. You must further your education, while also gaining experience.   Specialists are always in demand, and you are often pressured to step up and meet said demand, even if you haven't been fully trained. If you mess up, all the time invested in learning your chosen field will be wasted. People stop coming to you and instead go to the next guy, and that's if it ends well. I can't speak for other fields, but I know these difficulties firsthand. I have to be more careful than most. I make drugs, and drugs can kill. You don't want your mistake to lead to someone's death.   I can say that being an apothecary is one of the hardest specializations to take. An Apothecary specializes in chemistry, particularly pharmacology. We make medicine, assist the medical crowd in diagnosis, and follow up with treatment. It's a job with countless pitfalls, and don't get me started on the learning curve. Actually no… let's talk about that.

Growing pains

Let's begin with the first step. What do you want to be when you grow up? Once you answer that rather difficult question, you have to set the wheels in motion. You must delve into the archives and learn every bit of information you can. It's on your own Initiative, your own will to succeed.   Learning is the hardest part. It's about both finding the information you're trying to learn, understanding it, and then retaining it. Do you know what a reuptake inhibitor is? You may know about SSRIs and SNRIs. You may even know they're used in treating psychiatric conditions, but what are they, really? What do they do and how are they made?   I'm about to nerd out a bit, so forgive me. It's a good way of showing you just how hard becoming a specialist on your own really is.
  • Reuptake inhibitors are drugs that increase the level of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. They block the reuptake of neurotransmitters, allowing more of the neurotransmitter to be used to counter a deficiency. Simple right?   Here's the real problem: if you have no idea what neurotransmitters are, now you have to figure it out before you can fully understand what I just said. The same goes for neurons, reuptake, etc. Get more specific about which neurotransmitters you're talking about, such as serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine, and it just gets worse.   In one paragraph, I've multiplied the amount of information you need to learn, and until you get that information, you've learned nothing. Now imagine hitting that wall with every paragraph you read.


Once you're thrown to the wolves, it's sink or swim. Either you have what it takes to succeed, or you don't. My father helped in every way he could. He lacked the needs of most humans and suddenly had a mouth to feed. I was able to survive on my own for two years before I needed a way to make a living. It's not much, and it isn't pretty. I trade high-quality medicine, crafted by hand, for fuel, jars of jam, honey, or maybe a loaf of bread if the patient is feeling generous.   Trading with The Others is ideal. They offer technology, weaponry, and large sums of currency that can be used elsewhere. Such transactions are rare. I never made it into Xeno-pharma. My brain isn't primed for more exotic physiology. What works for us may not work for them. Hell, what works for us might kill them.   With all we've accomplished, humanity is still living in the ruins of its own demise. Our infrastructure, our whole society, is post-apocalyptic in just how broken it is. Without specialists, we can't prosper. Sure, we have our own ships, a standing army, a culture, and a governed society, but we walk a road to progress at a snail's pace. If I'm being honest, we haven't been walking long enough for it to matter. We still have a ways to go.


Author's Notes


Just in case you're a little confused...

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Dec 1, 2021 21:57 by Andrew Booth

Love it! A really interesting take on how knowledge decline would have happened, and I really like the interspersal (interspersion? something) of the story. Some really nice details in here :D

Dec 1, 2021 23:21 by R. Dylon Elder

Thanks so much!

Dec 1, 2021 22:53 by Grace Gittel Lewis

I quite like the choice to make Amber an apothecary, it definitely gives her a unique perspective! Also oh my god— you must have had to do so much research to write that bit about her making the pills— I'd have just written a brief sentence or two and skipped over the act if I were to do it haha. Big kudos to going the extra mile there!   Some quick formatting notes— I'd recommend making thoughts italicized or otherwise more visible beyond a color change. Right now it's a little difficult to spot. Similarly, the "actually, no, let's talk about that" in red? Very difficult to read, the color is much too dark and placed on a dark background— something light would likely help!

Dec 1, 2021 23:20 by R. Dylon Elder

Actually, it wasnt as much research as I thought I'd have to do. After a few YouTube videos of someone making ibuprofen, I pretty much had the idea. The main research was the terminology and the equipment. It may come off as a little boring but I really wanted it in there for some reason XD     I WILL italicize cause that's kind of important. The colors are in a weird place. Amber has bipolar so I wanted to help illustrate the threat of depression and mania with color. I shall experiment with different colors and see if I can find one that's not too bright and not to dark. Then again, I may just remove the colors. Those in the know will know, in the end. Hmmm. By the way thanks for pointing it out cause it looked good on my little laptop. Always good to know how it is for others! Thanks so much my friend!

Dec 1, 2021 23:48 by Grace Gittel Lewis

Pro tip: you're not going to find a color that works against both light and dark backgrounds. You're going to need separate colors for each as value contrast is incredibly important for differentiating these things.

Dec 2, 2021 01:11 by R. Dylon Elder

True. Excellent pro tip. Design is not my forte lol

Dec 1, 2021 23:20

It's great how this season already shows the difference in tone with the first ones. We can see how Amber is never mourning the past, just considering the present and the future. It also makes sense that in a situation so dire, people will want to be able to do everything themselves instead of relying on others that could be gone by the next day. But only ten apothecaries... Poor guys must be so overloaded.   Anyway, awesome work again!

Hoo~ Hoo
Dec 2, 2021 01:07 by R. Dylon Elder

Way overloaded, especially where mental health is concerned. Thanks so much!

Dec 2, 2021 13:18 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

Amber's outlook is so different to others in the previous seasons. It's like she's lacking in the hope the others had.   Really fascinating article.

Dec 23, 2021 13:16 by C. B. Ash

Oh this is so very well done! I can't even pick which part is my favorite. This is a great take on the disorder. Very well handled.

Dec 23, 2021 15:22 by R. Dylon Elder

You have no idea how much it means to hear that! Thank you very much. I appreciate it and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Dec 28, 2021 21:13 by Avalon Arcana

I feel like this is a side of expansion that is really never looked at and it makes so much sense, and you display it’s importance incredibly well. It adds to both the decline of humanity and Amber’s character. Fabulous article :D

You should check out the The 5 Shudake, if you want of course.
Dec 29, 2021 04:58 by R. Dylon Elder

Thanks so much!

Jan 13, 2022 21:55 by TC

I very much related to what Pariah was saying about the "not knowing what a word means" because honestly if I actually started asking myself "wait what are all of those things that keep being mentioned" I would be falling down the wikipedia pit :')   Actually this makes me think (to some extent) to Searle's "Chinese Room" experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room). I'm not sure if you'll see the connection, and sadly my brain is too tired to explain it, but feel free to hmu on discord tomorrow :') !   Beyond that another great work, I really love the way your narrative changes the way of giving information. Its just so rich and inspiring, I'll never get enough!

Creator of Arda Almayed
Jan 14, 2022 01:37 by R. Dylon Elder

I definitely see a connection! In a lot of ways this is what people learning their specialization do. They perform a series of steps but may not fully understand what their doing, and thus cant really be specialists. Not to mention doing that could lead to all kinds of problems depending on the profession. Am I getting that right or do you see even more?

Jan 14, 2022 08:39 by TC

Oh yeah thats exactly it! I'd go even as far as to say that one doesn't actually really have to understand what they're doing in order to be very good at what they do (I mean thats basically robots, they don't understand what they're doing and yet they are very good at many things). But I'm glad you got what I meant!

Creator of Arda Almayed
Jan 14, 2022 14:55 by R. Dylon Elder

Oh absolutely. Like I do residential maintenance and sometimes I work on air conditioners. I barely understand what the part do. It's certainly not what I think about when I fix one. It is very robotic. You could take that even further in this setting. Humans dont understand how warp drives work but they can fix them.

Jan 15, 2022 19:26

I like how you did this, a society that has fallen into another dark age, lacking the necessary things that it could once produce only to be made by a small number of people is an interesting idea and storytelling and detail you put into your work always blows me away.

May you forever find your way on the journey you set out on and make yourself greater.
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