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“Would you like me to bring you anything special to eat? Or maybe something else?” James asked before leaving, just like he always did. He visited me at the veterinary hospital every day, even though it was almost an hour’s trip by aircar from where he was staying with the Royal Governor. Only now was I beginning to appreciate what a good, true friend I’d made for myself.

“No thank you,” I answered as I always did, lowering my head so as to hide the reddening of my still too-soft and tender ear-linings. The Tank had rebuilt my body from practically nothing, and every inch of me was still as soft and fluffy as if I were an infant. The chief vet said that I still had weeks of supervised toughening-up to go through before I could return to heavy labor, which seemed to be the only standard of health he recognized in regard to we Rabbits. Until then I was stuck sharing a clinic room with Patrick, a grizzled old field-buck who knew nothing of the universe except plows, seed drills and harvesters. He’d had to grow a new liver after being over-exposed to a certain fertilizer, and seemed to think I existed for no better purpose than to listen for the tenth time to his story of That Terrible Day when he’d had to corral a sixty-ton runaway tractor with a passed-out Rabbit at the controls. After all, it was obvious to him that with me being as young as I was, I couldn’t possibly have any stories of my own to tell…

“All right then,” James agreed, glancing around nervously. He always did that before he left, as well. Near as I could figure out, this was because of something that’d happened upon my arrival. The vet on call when I’d arrived, still riding in a portable Tank, had flat-out refused to treat me once he learned I was a free Rabbit and not a slave anymore. While on the one hand he felt that it was okay for Rabbits to be manumitted, on the other he felt that they shouldn’t have their lives prolonged afterwards by artificial means. “Eventually they turn all sullen and sour when they’re not owned anymore,” the vet tried to explain to First Officer von Selkim. Apparently I’d only been accepted as a patient in the end because I was in the navy, or more specifically because I was part of Hummingbird’s crew. These days even a mere Rabbit from Hummingbird was a celebrity, liable to have his ears scratched for him by perfect strangers at any moment. Or so Pedro assured me, the one time Pieter brought him by for a visit. “All right,” the vet reluctantly conceded in the end. “If the navy’s paying the bill, then who am I to object?” Still, James had given me a little emergency-medallion to press if I felt I was being treated badly. Not that there was the faintest chance I’d ever activate the thing. If the vet spoke brusquely and ordered me to ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ sometimes, what did it matter to me? I was getting better and stronger every day, and that’s all that really mattered. Soon enough I wouldn’t have to live behind a locked, barred door.

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