ALAN E. NOURSE
[Transcriber's note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.]
DAVID McKAY COMPANY, INC.
COPYRIGHT (C) 1959, 1960 BY ALAN E. NOURSE
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 60-7199
Manufactured in the United States of America
VAN REES PRESS . NEW YORK
Typography by Charles M. Todd
Sixth Printing, April 1973
Part of this book was published in Amazing Science Fiction Stories
1 The Intruder 3 2 Hospital Seattle 15 3 The Inquisition 25 4 The Galactic Pill Peddlers 37 5 Crisis on Morua VIII 54 6 Tiger Makes a Promise 66 7 Alarums and Excursions 78 8 Plague! 98 9 The Incredible People 107 10 The Boomerang Clue 121 11 Dal Breaks a Promise 136 12 The Showdown 151 13 The Trial 165 14 Star Surgeon 175
The shuttle plane from the port of Philadelphia to Hospital Seattle had already gone when Dal Timgar arrived at the loading platform, even though he had taken great pains to be at least thirty minutes early for the boarding.
"You'll just have to wait for the next one," the clerk at the dispatcher's desk told him unsympathetically. "There's nothing else you can do."
"But I can't wait," Dal said. "I have to be in Hospital Seattle by morning." He pulled out the flight schedule and held it under the clerk's nose. "Look there! The shuttle wasn't supposed to leave for another forty-five minutes!"
The clerk blinked at the schedule, and shrugged. "The seats were full, so it left," he said. "Graduation time, you know. Everybody has to be somewhere else, right away. The next shuttle goes in three hours."
"But I had a reservation on this one," Dal insisted.
"Don't be silly," the clerk said sharply. "Only graduates can get reservations this time of year—" He broke off to stare at Dal Timgar, a puzzled frown on his face. "Let me see that reservation."
Dal fumbled in his pants pocket for the yellow reservation slip. He was wishing now that he'd kept his mouth shut. He was acutely conscious of the clerk's suspicious stare, and suddenly he felt extremely awkward. The Earth-cut trousers had never really fit Dal very well; his legs were too long and spindly, and his hips too narrow to hold the pants up properly. The tailor in the Philadelphia shop had tried three times to make a jacket fit across Dal's narrow shoulders, and finally had given up in despair. Now, as he handed the reservation slip across the counter, Dal saw the clerk staring at the fine gray fur that coated the back of his hand and arm. "Here it is," he said angrily. "See for yourself."
The clerk looked at the slip and handed it back indifferently. "It's a valid reservation, all right, but there won't be another shuttle to Hospital Seattle for three hours," he said, "unless you have a priority card, of course."
"No, I'm afraid I don't," Dal said. It was a ridiculous suggestion, and the clerk knew it. Only physicians in the Black Service of Pathology and a few Four-star Surgeons had the power to commandeer public aircraft whenever they wished. "Can I get on the next shuttle?"
"You can try," the clerk said, "but you'd better be ready when they start loading. You can wait up on the ramp if you want to."
Dal turned and started across the main concourse of the great airport. He felt a stir of motion at his side, and looked down at the small pink fuzz-ball sitting in the crook of his arm. "Looks like we're out of luck, pal," he said gloomily. "If we don't get on the next plane, we'll miss the hearing altogether. Not that it's going to do us much good to be there anyway."
The little pink fuzz-ball on his arm opened a pair of black shoe-button eyes and blinked up at him, and Dal absently stroked the tiny creature with a finger. The fuzz-ball quivered happily and clung closer to Dal's side as he started up the long ramp to the observation platform. Automatic doors swung open as he reached the top, and Dal shivered in the damp night air. He could feel the gray fur that coated his back and neck rising to protect him from the coldness and dampness that his body was never intended by nature to endure.
Below him the bright lights of the landing fields and terminal buildings of the port of Philadelphia spread out in panorama, and he thought with a sudden pang of the great space-port in his native city, so very different from this one and so unthinkably far away. The field below was teeming with activity, alive with men and vehicles. Moments before, one of Earth's great hospital ships had landed, returning from a cruise deep into the heart of the galaxy, bringing in the gravely ill from a dozen star systems for care in one of Earth's hospitals. Dal watched as the long line of stretchers poured from the ship's hold with white-clad orderlies in nervous attendance. Some of the stretchers were encased in special atmosphere tanks; a siren wailed across the field as an emergency truck raced up with fresh gas bottles for a chlorine-breather from the Betelgeuse system, and a derrick crew spent fifteen minutes lifting down the special liquid ammonia tank housing a native of Aldebaran's massive sixteenth planet.
All about the field were physicians supervising the process of disembarcation, resplendent in the colors that signified their medical specialties. At the foot of the landing crane a Three-star Internist in the green cape of the Medical Service—obviously the commander of the ship—was talking with the welcoming dignitaries of Hospital Earth. Half a dozen doctors in the Blue Service of Diagnosis were checking new lab supplies ready to be loaded aboard. Three young Star Surgeons swung by just below Dal with their bright scarlet capes fluttering in the breeze, headed for customs and their first Earthside liberty in months. Dal watched them go by, and felt the sick, bitter feeling in the pit of his stomach that he had felt so often in recent months.
He had dreamed, once, of wearing the scarlet cape of the Red Service of Surgery too, with the silver star of the Star Surgeon on his collar. That had been a long time ago, over eight Earth years ago; the dream had faded slowly, but now the last vestige of hope was almost gone. He thought of the long years of intensive training he had just completed in the medical school of Hospital Philadelphia, the long nights of studying for exams, the long days spent in the laboratories and clinics in order to become a physician of Hospital Earth, and a wave of bitterness swept through his mind.
A dream, he thought hopelessly, a foolish idea and nothing more. They knew before I started that they would never let me finish. They had no intention of doing so, it just amused them to watch me beat my head on a stone wall for these eight years. But then he shook his head and felt a little ashamed of the thought. It wasn't quite true, and he knew it. He had known that it was a gamble from the very first. Black Doctor Arnquist had warned him the day he received his notice of admission to the medical school. "I can promise you nothing," the old man had said, "except a slender chance. There are those who will fight to the very end to prevent you from succeeding, and when it's all over, you may not win. But if you are willing to take that risk, at least you have a chance."
Dal had accepted the risk with his eyes wide open. He had done the best he could do, and now he had lost. True, he had not received the final, irrevocable word that he had been expelled from the medical service of Hospital Earth, but he was certain now that it was waiting for him when he arrived at Hospital Seattle the following morning.
The loading ramp was beginning to fill up, and Dal saw half a dozen of his classmates from the medical school burst through the door from the station below, shifting their day packs from their shoulders and chattering among themselves. Several of them saw him, standing by himself against the guard rail. One or two nodded coolly and turned away; the others just ignored him. Nobody greeted him, nor even smiled. Dal turned away and stared down once again at the busy activity on the field below.
"Why so gloomy, friend?" a voice behind him said. "You look as though the ship left without you."
Dal looked up at the tall, dark-haired young man, towering at his side, and smiled ruefully. "Hello, Tiger! As a matter of fact, it did leave. I'm waiting for the next one."
"Where to?" Frank Martin frowned down at Dal. Known as "Tiger" to everyone but the professors, the young man's nickname fit him well. He was big, even for an Earthman, and his massive shoulders and stubborn jaw only served to emphasize his bigness. Like the other recent graduates on the platform, he was wearing the colored cuff and collar of the probationary physician, in the bright green of the Green Service of Medicine. He reached out a huge hand and gently rubbed the pink fuzz-ball sitting on Dal's arm. "What's the trouble, Dal? Even Fuzzy looks worried. Where's your cuff and collar?"
"I didn't get any cuff and collar," Dal said.
"Didn't you get an assignment?" Tiger stared at him. "Or are you just taking a leave first?"
Dal shook his head. "A permanent leave, I guess," he said bitterly. "There's not going to be any assignment for me. Let's face it, Tiger. I'm washed out."
"Oh, now look here—"
"I mean it. I've been booted, and that's all there is to it."
"But you've been in the top ten in the class right through!" Tiger protested. "You know you passed your finals. What is this, anyway?"
Dal reached into his jacket and handed Tiger a blue paper envelope. "I should have expected it from the first. They sent me this instead of my cuff and collar."
Tiger opened the envelope. "From Doctor Tanner," he grunted. "The Black Plague himself. But what is it?"
"Read it," Dal said.
"'You are hereby directed to appear before the medical training council in the council chambers in Hospital Seattle at 10:00 A.M., Friday, June 24, 2375, in order that your application for assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship may be reviewed. Insignia will not be worn. Signed, Hugo Tanner, Physician, Black Service of Pathology.'" Tiger blinked at the notice and handed it back to Dal. "I don't get it," he said finally. "You applied, you're as qualified as any of us—"
"Except in one way," Dal said, "and that's the way that counts. They don't want me, Tiger. They have never wanted me. They only let me go through school because Black Doctor Arnquist made an issue of it, and they didn't quite dare to veto him. But they never intended to let me finish, not for a minute."
For a moment the two were silent, staring down at the busy landing procedures below. A warning light was flickering across the field, signaling the landing of an incoming shuttle ship, and the supply cars broke from their positions in center of the field and fled like beetles for the security of the garages. A loudspeaker blared, announcing the incoming craft. Dal Timgar turned, lifting Fuzzy gently from his arm into a side jacket pocket and shouldering his day pack. "I guess this is my flight, Tiger. I'd better get in line."
Tiger Martin gripped Dal's slender four-fingered hand tightly. "Look," he said intensely, "this is some sort of mistake that the training council will straighten out. I'm sure of it. Lots of guys have their applications reviewed. It happens all the time, but they still get their assignments."
"Do you know of any others in this class? Or the last class?"
"Maybe not," Tiger said. "But if they were washing you out, why would the council be reviewing it? Somebody must be fighting for you."
"But Black Doctor Tanner is on the council," Dal said.
"He's not the only one on the council. It's going to work out. You'll see."
"I hope so," Dal said without conviction. He started for the loading line, then turned. "But where are you going to be? What ship?"
Tiger hesitated. "Not assigned yet. I'm taking a leave. But you'll be hearing from me."
The loading call blared from the loudspeaker. The tall Earthman seemed about to say something more, but Dal turned away and headed across toward the line for the shuttle plane. Ten minutes later, he was aloft as the tiny plane speared up through the black night sky and turned its needle nose toward the west.
* * * * *
He tried to sleep, but couldn't. The shuttle trip from the Port of Philadelphia to Hospital Seattle was almost two hours long because of passenger stops at Hospital Cleveland, Eisenhower City, New Chicago, and Hospital Billings. In spite of the help of the pneumatic seats and a sleep-cap, Dal could not even doze. It was one of the perfect clear nights that often occurred in midsummer now that weather control could modify Earth's air currents so well; the stars glittered against the black velvet backdrop above, and the North American continent was free of clouds. Dal stared down at the patchwork of lights that flickered up at him from the ground below.
Passing below him were some of the great cities, the hospitals, the research and training centers, the residential zones and supply centers of Hospital Earth, medical center to the powerful Galactic Confederation, physician in charge of the health of a thousand intelligent races on a thousand planets of a thousand distant star systems. Here, he knew, was the ivory tower of galactic medicine, the hub from which the medical care of the confederation arose. From the huge hospitals, research centers, and medical schools here, the physicians of Hospital Earth went out to all corners of the galaxy. In the permanent outpost clinics, in the gigantic hospital ships that served great sectors of the galaxy, and in the General Practice Patrol ships that roved from star system to star system, they answered the calls for medical assistance from a multitude of planets and races, wherever and whenever they were needed.
Dal Timgar had been on Hospital Earth for eight years, and still he was a stranger here. To him this was an alien planet, different in a thousand ways from the world where he was born and grew to manhood. For a moment now he thought of his native home, the second planet of a hot yellow star which Earthmen called "Garv" because they couldn't pronounce its full name in the Garvian tongue. Unthinkably distant, yet only days away with the power of the star-drive motors that its people had developed thousands of years before, Garv II was a warm planet, teeming with activity, the trading center of the galaxy and the governmental headquarters of the powerful Galactic Confederation of Worlds. Dal could remember the days before he had come to Hospital Earth, and the many times he had longed desperately to be home again.
He drew his fuzzy pink friend out of his pocket and rested him on his shoulder, felt the tiny silent creature rub happily against his neck. It had been his own decision to come here, Dal knew; there was no one else to blame. His people were not physicians. Their instincts and interests lay in trading and politics, not in the life sciences, and plague after plague had swept across his home planet in the centuries before Hospital Earth had been admitted as a probationary member of the Galactic Confederation.
But as long as Dal could remember, he had wanted to be a doctor. From the first time he had seen a General Practice Patrol ship landing in his home city to fight the plague that was killing his people by the thousands, he had known that this was what he wanted more than anything else: to be a physician of Hospital Earth, to join the ranks of the doctors who were serving the galaxy.
Many on Earth had tried to stop him from the first. He was a Garvian, alien to Earth's climate and Earth's people. The physical differences between Earthmen and Garvians were small, but just enough to set him apart and make him easily identifiable as an alien. He had one too few digits on his hands; his body was small and spindly, weighing a bare ninety pounds, and the coating of fine gray fur that covered all but his face and palms annoyingly grew longer and thicker as soon as he came to the comparatively cold climate of Hospital Earth to live. The bone structure of his face gave his cheeks and nose a flattened appearance, and his pale gray eyes seemed abnormally large and wistful. And even though it had long been known that Earthmen and Garvians were equal in range of intelligence, his classmates still assumed just from his appearance that he was either unusually clever or unusually stupid.
The gulf that lay between him and the men of Earth went beyond mere physical differences, however. Earthmen had differences of skin color, facial contour and physical size among them, yet made no sign of distinction. Dal's alienness went deeper. His classmates had been civil enough, yet with one or two exceptions, they had avoided him carefully. Clearly they resented his presence in their lecture rooms and laboratories. Clearly they felt that he did not belong there, studying medicine.
From the first they had let him know unmistakably that he was unwelcome, an intruder in their midst, the first member of an alien race ever to try to earn the insignia of a physician of Hospital Earth.
And now, Dal knew he had failed after all. He had been allowed to try only because a powerful physician in the Black Service of Pathology had befriended him. If it had not been for the friendship and support of another Earthman in the class, Tiger Martin, the eight years of study would have been unbearably lonely.
But now, he thought, it would have been far easier never to have started than to have his goal snatched away at the last minute. The notice of the council meeting left no doubt in his mind. He had failed. There would be lots of talk, some perfunctory debate for the sake of the record, and the medical council would wash their hands of him once and for all. The decision, he was certain, was already made. It was just a matter of going through the formal motions.
Dal felt the motors change in pitch, and the needle-nosed shuttle plane began to dip once more toward the horizon. Ahead he could see the sprawling lights of Hospital Seattle, stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the sea and beyond, north to Alaska and south toward the great California metropolitan centers. Somewhere down there was a council room where a dozen of the most powerful physicians on Hospital Earth, now sleeping soundly, would be meeting tomorrow for a trial that was already over, to pass a judgment that was already decided.
He slipped Fuzzy back into his pocket, shouldered his pack, and waited for the ship to come down for its landing. It would be nice, he thought wryly, if his reservations for sleeping quarters in the students' barracks might at least be honored, but now he wasn't even sure of that.
In the port of Seattle he went through the customary baggage check. He saw the clerk frown at his ill-fitting clothes and not-quite-human face, and then read his passage permit carefully before brushing him on through. Then he joined the crowd of travelers heading for the city subways. He didn't hear the loudspeaker blaring until the announcer had stumbled over his name half a dozen times.
"Doctor Dal Timgar, please report to the information booth."
He hurried back to central information. "You were paging me. What is it?"
"Telephone message, sir," the announcer said, his voice surprisingly respectful. "A top priority call. Just a minute."
Moments later he had handed Dal the yellow telephone message sheet, and Dal was studying the words with a puzzled frown:
CALL AT MY QUARTERS ON ARRIVAL REGARDLESS OF HOUR STOP URGENT THAT I SEE YOU STOP REPEAT URGENT
The message was signed THORVOLD ARNQUIST, BLACK SERVICE and carried the priority seal of the Four-star Pathologist. Dal read it again, shifted his pack, and started once more for the subway ramp. He thrust the message into his pocket, and his step quickened as he heard the whistle of the pressure-tube trains up ahead.
Black Doctor Arnquist, the man who had first defended his right to study medicine on Hospital Earth, now wanted to see him before the council meeting took place.
For the first time in days, Dal Timgar felt a new flicker of hope.
It was a long way from the students' barracks to the pathology sector where Black Doctor Arnquist lived. Dal Timgar decided not to try to go to the barracks first. It was after midnight, and even though the message had said "regardless of hour," Dal shrank from the thought of awakening a physician of the Black Service at two o'clock in the morning. He was already later arriving at Hospital Seattle than he had expected to be, and quite possibly Black Doctor Arnquist would be retiring. It seemed better to go there without delay.
But one thing took priority. He found a quiet spot in the waiting room near the subway entrance and dug into his day pack for the pressed biscuit and the canister of water he had there. He broke off a piece of the biscuit and held it up for Fuzzy to see.
Fuzzy wriggled down onto his hand, and a tiny mouth appeared just below the shoe-button eyes. Bit by bit Dal fed his friend the biscuit, with squirts of water in between bites. Finally, when the biscuit was gone, Dal squirted the rest of the water into Fuzzy's mouth and rubbed him between the eyes. "Feel better now?" he asked.
The creature seemed to understand; he wriggled in Dal's hand and blinked his eyes sleepily. "All right, then," Dal said. "Off to sleep."
Dal started to tuck him back into his jacket pocket, but Fuzzy abruptly sprouted a pair of forelegs and began struggling fiercely to get out again. Dal grinned and replaced the little creature in the crook of his arm. "Don't like that idea so well, eh? Okay, friend. If you want to watch, that suits me."
He found a map of the city at the subway entrance, and studied it carefully. Like other hospital cities on Earth, Seattle was primarily a center for patient care and treatment rather than a supply or administrative center. Here in Seattle special facilities existed for the care of the intelligent marine races that required specialized hospital care. The depths of Puget Sound served as a vast aquatic ward system where creatures which normally lived in salt-water oceans on their native planets could be cared for, and the specialty physicians who worked with marine races had facilities here for research and teaching in their specialty. The dry-land sectors of the hospital were organized to support the aquatic wards; the surgeries, the laboratories, the pharmacies and living quarters all were arranged on the periphery of the salt-water basin, and rapid-transit tubes carried medical workers, orderlies, nurses and physicians to the widespread areas of the hospital city.
The pathology sector lay to the north of the city, and Black Doctor Arnquist was the chief pathologist of Hospital Seattle. Dal found a northbound express tube, climbed into an empty capsule, and pressed the buttons for the pathology sector. Presently the capsule was shifted automatically into the pressure tube that would carry him thirty miles north to his destination.
It was the first time Dal had ever visited a Black Doctor in his quarters, and the idea made him a little nervous. Of all the medical services on Hospital Earth, none had the power of the Black Service of Pathology. Traditionally in Earth medicine, the pathologists had always occupied a position of power and discipline. The autopsy rooms had always been the "Temples of Truth" where the final, inarguable answers in medicine were ultimately found, and for centuries pathologists had been the judges and inspectors of the profession of medicine.
And when Earth had become Hospital Earth, with status as a probationary member of the Galactic Confederation of Worlds, it was natural that the Black Service of Pathology had become the governors and policy-makers, regimenting every aspect of the medical services provided by Earth physicians.
Dal knew that the medical training council, which would be reviewing his application in just a few hours, was made up of physicians from all the services—the Green Service of Medicine, the Blue Service of Diagnosis, the Red Service of Surgery, as well as the Auxiliary Services—but the Black Doctors who sat on the council would have the final say, the final veto power.
He wondered now why Black Doctor Arnquist wanted to see him. At first he had thought there might be special news for him, word perhaps that his assignment had come through after all, that the interview tomorrow would not be held. But on reflection, he realized that didn't make sense. If that were the case, Doctor Arnquist would have said so, and directed him to report to a ship. More likely, he thought, the Black Doctor wanted to see him only to soften the blow, to help him face the decision that seemed inevitable.
He left the pneumatic tube and climbed on the jitney that wound its way through the corridors of the pathology sector and into the quiet, austere quarters of the resident pathologists. He found the proper concourse, and moments later he was pressing his thumb against the identification plate outside the Black Doctor's personal quarters.
* * * * *
Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist looked older now than when Dal had last seen him. His silvery gray hair was thinning, and there were tired lines around his eyes and mouth that Dal did not remember from before. The old man's body seemed more wispy and frail than ever, and the black cloak across his shoulders rustled as he led Dal back into a book-lined study.
The Black Doctor had not yet gone to bed. On a desk in the corner of the study several books lay open, and a roll of paper was inserted in the dicto-typer. "I knew you would get the message when you arrived," he said as he took Dal's pack, "and I thought you might be later than you planned. A good trip, I trust. And your friend here? He enjoys shuttle travel?" He smiled and stroked Fuzzy with a gnarled finger. "I suppose you wonder why I wanted to see you."
Dal Timgar nodded slowly. "About the interview tomorrow?"
"Ah, yes. The interview." The Black Doctor made a sour face and shook his head. "A bad business for you, that interview. How do you feel about it?"
Dal spread his hands helplessly. As always, the Black Doctor's questions cut through the trimming to the heart of things. They were always difficult questions to answer.
"I ... I suppose it's something that's necessary," he said finally.
"Oh?" the Black Doctor frowned. "But why necessary for you if not for the others? How many were there in your class, including all the services? Three hundred? And out of the three hundred only one was refused assignment." He looked up sharply at Dal, his pale blue eyes very alert in his aged face. "Right?"
"And you really feel it's just normal procedure that your application is being challenged?"
"How do you feel about it, Dal? Angry, maybe?"
Dal squirmed. "Yes, sir. You might say that."
"Perhaps even bitter," the Black Doctor said.
"I did as good work as anyone else in my class," Dal said hotly. "I did my part as well as anyone could, I didn't let up once all the way through. Bitter! Wouldn't you feel bitter?"
The Black Doctor nodded slowly. "Yes, I imagine I would," he said, sinking down into the chair behind the desk with a sigh. "As a matter of fact, I do feel a little bitter about it, even though I was afraid that it might come to this in the end. I can't blame you for your feelings." He took a deep breath. "I wish I could promise you that everything would be all right tomorrow, but I'm afraid I can't. The council has a right to review your qualifications, and it holds the power to assign you to a patrol ship on the spot, if it sees fit. Conceivably, a Black Doctor might force the council's approval, if he were the only representative of the Black service there. But I will not be the only Black Doctor sitting on the council tomorrow."
"I know that," Dal said.
Doctor Arnquist looked up at Dal for a long moment. "Why do you want to be a doctor in the first place, Dal? This isn't the calling of your people. You must be the one Garvian out of millions with the patience and peculiar mental make-up to permit you to master the scientific disciplines involved in studying medicine. Either you are different from the rest of your people—which I doubt—or else you are driven to force yourself into a pattern foreign to your nature for very compelling reasons. What are they? Why do you want medicine?"
It was the hardest question of all, the question Dal had dreaded. He knew the answer, just as he had known for most of his life that he wanted to be a doctor above all else. But he had never found a way to put the reasons into words. "I can't say," he said slowly. "I know, but I can't express it, and whenever I try, it just sounds silly."
"Maybe your reasons don't make reasonable sense," the old man said gently.
"But they do! At least to me, they do," Dal said. "I've always wanted to be a doctor. There's nothing else I want to do. To work at home, among my people."
"There was a plague on Garv II, wasn't there?" Doctor Arnquist said. "A cyclic thing that came back again and again. The cycle was broken just a few years ago, when the virus that caused it was finally isolated and destroyed."
"By the physicians of Hospital Earth," Dal said.
"It's happened again and again," the Black Doctor said. "We've seen the same pattern repeated a thousand times across the galaxy, and it has always puzzled us, just a little." He smiled. "You see, our knowledge and understanding of the life sciences here on Earth have always grown hand in hand with the physical sciences. We had always assumed that the same thing would happen on any planet where a race has developed intelligence and scientific methods of study. We were wrong, of course, which is the reason for the existence of Hospital Earth and her physicians today, but it still amazes us that with all the technology and civilization in the galaxy, we Earthmen are the only people yet discovered who have developed a broad knowledge of the processes of life and illness and death."
The old man looked up at his visitor, and Dal felt his pale blue eyes searching his face. "How badly do you want to be a doctor, Dal?"
"More than anything else I know," Dal said.
"Badly enough to do anything to achieve your goal?"
Dal hesitated, and stroked Fuzzy's head gently. "Well ... almost anything."
The Black Doctor nodded. "And that, of course, is the reason I had to see you before this interview, my friend. I know you've played the game straight right from the beginning, up to this point. Now I beg of you not to do the thing that you are thinking of doing."
For a moment Dal just stared at the little old man in black, and felt the fur on his arms and back rise up. A wave of panic flooded his mind. He knows! he thought frantically. He must be able to read minds! But he thrust the idea away. There was no way that the Black Doctor could know. No race of creatures in the galaxy had that power. And yet there was no doubt that Black Doctor Arnquist knew what Dal had been thinking, just as surely as if he had said it aloud.
Dal shook his head helplessly. "I ... I don't know what you mean."
"I think you do," Doctor Arnquist said. "Please, Dal. Trust me. This is not the time to lie. The thing that you were planning to do at the interview would be disastrous, even if it won you an assignment. It would be dishonest and unworthy."
Then he does know! Dal thought. But how? I couldn't have told him, or given him any hint. He felt Fuzzy give a frightened shiver on his arm, and then words were tumbling out of his mouth. "I don't know what you're talking about, there wasn't anything I was thinking of. I mean, what could I do? If the council wants to assign me to a ship, they will, and if they don't, they won't. I don't know what you're thinking of."
"Please." Black Doctor Arnquist held up his hand. "Naturally you defend yourself," he said. "I can't blame you for that, and I suppose this is an unforgivable breach of diplomacy even to mention it to you, but I think it must be done. Remember that we have been studying and observing your people very carefully over the past two hundred years, Dal. It is no accident that you have such a warm attachment to your little pink friend here, and it is no accident that wherever a Garvian is found, his Fuzzy is with him, isn't that so? And it is no accident that your people are such excellent tradesmen, that you are so remarkably skillful in driving bargains favorable to yourselves ... that you are in fact the most powerful single race of creatures in the whole Galactic Confederation."
The old man walked to the bookshelves behind him and brought down a thick, bound manuscript. He handed it across the desk as Dal watched him. "You may read this if you like, at your leisure. Don't worry, it's not for publication, just a private study which I have never mentioned before to anyone, but the pattern is unmistakable. This peculiar talent of your people is difficult to describe: not really telepathy, but an ability to create the emotional responses in others that will be most favorable to you. Just what part your Fuzzies play in this ability of your people I am not sure, but I'm quite certain that without them you would not have it."
He smiled at Dal's stricken face. "A forbidden topic, eh? And yet perfectly true. You know right now that if you wanted to you could virtually paralyze me with fright, render me helpless to do anything but stand here and shiver, couldn't you? Or if I were hostile to your wishes, you could suddenly force me to sympathize with you and like you enormously, until I was ready to agree to anything you wanted—"
"No," Dal broke in. "Please, you don't understand! I've never done it, not once since I came to Hospital Earth."
"I know that. I've been watching you."
"And I wouldn't think of doing it."
"Not even at the council interview?"
"Then let me have Fuzzy now. He is the key to this special talent of your people. Give him to me now, and go to the interview without him."
Dal drew back, trembling, trying to fight down panic. He brought his hand around to the soft fur of the little pink fuzz-ball. "I ... can't do that," he said weakly.
"Not even if it meant your assignment to a patrol ship?"
Dal hesitated, then shook his head. "Not even then. But I won't do what you're saying, I promise you."
For a long moment Black Doctor Arnquist stared at him. Then he smiled. "Will you give me your word?
"Yes, I promise."
"Then I wish you good luck. I will do what I can at the interview. But now there is a bed for you here. You will need sleep if you are to present your best appearance."
The interview was held in the main council chambers of Hospital Seattle, and Dal could feel the tension the moment he stepped into the room. He looked at the long semicircular table, and studied the impassive faces of the four-star Physicians across the table from him.
Each of the major medical services was represented this morning. In the center, presiding over the council, was a physician of the White Service, a Four-star Radiologist whose insignia gleamed on his shoulders. There were two physicians each, representing the Red Service of Surgery, the Green Service of Medicine, the Blue Service of Diagnosis, and finally, seated at either end of the table, the representatives of the Black Service of Pathology. Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist sat to Dal's left; he smiled faintly as the young Garvian stepped forward, then busied himself among the papers on the desk before him. To Dal's right sat another Black Doctor who was not smiling.
Dal had seen him before—the chief co-ordinator of medical education on Hospital Earth, the "Black Plague" of the medical school jokes. Black Doctor Hugo Tanner was large and florid of face, blinking owlishly at Dal over his heavy horn-rimmed glasses. The glasses were purely decorative; with modern eye-cultures and transplant techniques, no Earthman had really needed glasses to correct his vision for the past two hundred years, but on Hugo Tanner's angry face they added a look of gravity and solemnity that the Black Doctor could not achieve without them. Still glaring at Dal, Doctor Tanner leaned over to speak to the Blue Doctor on his right, and they nodded and laughed unpleasantly at some private joke.
There was no place for him to sit, so Dal stood before the table, as straight as his five-foot height would allow him. He had placed Fuzzy almost defiantly on his shoulder, and from time to time he could feel the little creature quiver and huddle against his neck as though to hide from sight under his collar.
The White Doctor opened the proceedings, and at first the questions were entirely medical. "We are meeting to consider this student's application for assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship, as a probationary physician in the Red Service of Surgery. I believe you are all acquainted with his educational qualifications?"
There was an impatient murmur around the table. The White Doctor looked up at Dal. "Your name, please?"
"Dal Timgar, sir."
"Your full name," Black Doctor Tanner rumbled from the right-hand end of the table.
Dal took a deep breath and began to give his full Garvian name. It was untranslatable and unpronounceable to Earthmen, who could not reproduce the sequence of pops and whistles that made up the Garvian tongue. The doctors listened, blinking, as the complex family structure and ancestry which entered into every Garvian's full name continued to roll from Dal's lips. He was entering into the third generation removed of his father's lineage when Doctor Tanner held up his hand.
"All right, all right! We will accept the abbreviated name you have used on Hospital Earth. Let it be clear on the record that the applicant is a native of the second planet of the Garv system." The Black Doctor settled back in his chair and began whispering again to the Blue Doctor next to him.
A Green Doctor cleared his throat. "Doctor Timgar, what do you consider to be the basic principle that underlies the work and services of physicians of Hospital Earth?"
It was an old question, a favorite on freshman medical school examinations. "The principle that environments and life forms in the universe may be dissimilar, but that biochemical reactions are universal throughout creation," Dal said slowly.
"Well memorized," Black Doctor Tanner said sourly. "What does it mean?"
"It means that the principles of chemistry, physiology, pathology and the other life sciences, once understood, can be applied to any living creature in the universe, and will be found valid," Dal said. "As different as the various life forms may be, the basic life processes in one life form are the same, under different conditions, as the life processes in any other life form, just as hydrogen and oxygen will combine to form water anywhere in the universe where the proper physical conditions prevail."
"Very good, very good," the Green Doctor said. "But tell me this: what in your opinion is the place of surgery in a Galactic practice of medicine?"
A more difficult question, but one that Dal's training had prepared him well to answer. He answered it, and faced another question, and another. One by one, the doctors interrogated him, Black Doctor Arnquist among them. The questions came faster and faster; some were exceedingly difficult. Once or twice Dal was stopped cold, and forced to admit that he did not know the answer. Other questions which he knew would stop other students happened to fall in fields he understood better than most, and his answers were full and succinct.
But finally the questioning tapered off, and the White Doctor shuffled his papers impatiently. "If there are no further medical questions, we can move on to another aspect of this student's application. Certain questions of policy have been raised. Black Doctor Tanner had some things to say, I believe, as co-ordinator of medical education."
The Black Doctor rose ponderously to his feet. "I have some things to say, you can be sure of that," he said, "but they have nothing to do with this Dal Timgar's educational qualifications for assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship." Black Doctor Tanner paused to glare in Dal's direction. "He has been trained in a medical school on Hospital Earth, and apparently has passed his final qualifying examinations for the Red Service of Surgery. I can't argue about that."
Black Doctor Arnquist's voice came across the room. "Then why are we having his review, Hugo? Dal Timgar's classmates all received their assignments automatically."
"Because there are other things to consider here than educational qualifications," Hugo Tanner said. "Gentlemen, consider our position for a moment. We have thousands of probationary physicians abroad in the galaxy at the present time, fine young men and women who have been trained in medical schools on Hospital Earth, and now are gaining experience and judgment while fulfilling our medical service contracts in every part of the confederation. They are probationers, but we must not forget that we physicians of Hospital Earth are also probationers. We are seeking a permanent place in this great Galactic Confederation, which was in existence many thousands of years before we even knew of its existence. It was not until our own scientists discovered the Koenig star-drive, enabling us to break free of our own solar system, that we were met face to face with a confederation of intelligent races inhabiting the galaxy—among others, the people from whom this same Dal Timgar has come."
"The history is interesting," Black Doctor Arnquist broke in, "but really, Hugo, I think most of us know it already."
"Maybe we do," Doctor Tanner said, flushing a little. "But the history is significant. Permanent membership in the confederation is contingent on two qualifications. First, we must have developed a star-drive of our own, a qualification of intelligence, if you will. The confederation has ruled that only races having a certain level of intelligence can become members. A star-drive could only be developed with a far-reaching understanding of the physical sciences, so this is a valid criterion of intelligence. But the second qualification for confederation membership is nothing more nor less than a question of usefulness."
The presiding White Doctor looked up, frowning. "Usefulness?"
"Exactly. The Galactic Confederation, with its exchange of ideas and talents, and all the wealth of civilization it has to offer, is based on a division of labor. Every member must have something to contribute, some special talent. For Earthmen, the talent was obvious very early. Our technology was primitive, our manufacturing skills mediocre, our transport and communications systems impossible. But in our understanding of the life sciences, we have far outstripped any other race in the galaxy. We had already solved the major problems of disease and longevity among our own people, while some of the most advanced races in the confederation were being reduced to helplessness by cyclic plagues which slaughtered their populations, and were caused by nothing more complex than a simple parasitic virus. Garv II is an excellent example."
One of the Red Doctors cleared his throat. "I'm afraid I don't quite see the connection. Nobody is arguing about our skill as doctors."
"Of course not," Black Doctor Tanner said. "The point is that in all the galaxy, Earthmen are by their very nature the best doctors, outstripping the most advanced physicians on any other planet. And this, gentlemen, is our bargaining point. We are useful to the Galactic Confederation only as physicians. The confederation needed us badly enough to admit us to probational membership, but if we ever hope to become full members of the confederation, we must demonstrate our usefulness, our unique skill, as physicians. We have worked hard to prove ourselves. We have made Hospital Earth the galactic center of study and treatment of diseases of many races. Earthmen on the General Practice Patrol ships visit planets in the remotest sections, and their reputation as physicians has grown. Every year new planets are writing full medical service contracts with us ... as Earthmen serving the galaxy—"
"As physicians serving the galaxy," Black Doctor Arnquist's voice shot across the room.
"As far as the confederation has been concerned, the two have been synonymous," Hugo Tanner roared. "Until now. But now we have an alien among us. We have allowed a non-Earthman to train in our medical schools. He has completed the required work, his qualifications are acceptable, and now he proposes to go out on a patrol ship as a physician of the Red Service of Surgery. But think of what you are doing if you permit him to go! You will be proving to every planet in the confederation that they don't really need Earthmen after all, that any race from any planet might produce physicians just as capable as Earthmen."
The Black Doctor turned slowly to face Dal, his mouth set in a grim line. As he talked, his face had grown dark with anger. "Understand that I have nothing against this creature as an individual. Perhaps he would prove to be a competent physician, although I cannot believe it. Perhaps he would carry on the traditions of medical service we have worked so long to establish, although I doubt it. But I do know that if we permit him to become a qualified physician, it will be the beginning of the end for Hospital Earth. We will be selling out our sole bargaining position. We can forget our hopes for membership in the confederation, because one like him this year will mean two next year, and ten the next, and there will be no end to it. We should have stopped it eight years ago, but certain ones prevailed to admit Dal Timgar to training. If we do not stop it now, for all time, we will never be able to stop it."
Slowly the Black Doctor sat down, motioning to an orderly at the rear of the room. The orderly brought a glass of water and a small capsule which Black Doctor Tanner gulped down. The other doctors were talking heatedly among themselves as Black Doctor Arnquist rose to his feet. "Then you are claiming that our highest calling is to keep medicine in the hands of Earthmen alone?" he asked softly.
Doctor Tanner flushed. "Our highest calling is to provide good medical care for our patients," he said.
"The best possible medical care?"
"I never said otherwise."
"And yet you deny the ancient tradition that a physician's duty is to help his patients help themselves," Black Doctor Arnquist said.
"I said no such thing!" Hugo Tanner cried, jumping to his feet. "But we must protect ourselves. We have no other power, nothing else to sell."
"And I say that if we must sell our medical skill for our own benefit first, then we are not worthy to be physicians to anyone," Doctor Arnquist snapped. "You make a very convincing case, but if we examine it closely, we see that it amounts to nothing but fear and selfishness."
"Fear?" Doctor Tanner cried. "What do we have to fear if we can maintain our position? But if we must yield to a Garvian who has no business in medicine in the first place, what can we have left but fear?"
"If I were really convinced that Earthmen were the best physicians in the galaxy," Black Doctor Arnquist replied, "I don't think I'd have to be afraid."
The Black Doctor at the end of the table stood up, shaking with rage. "Listen to him!" he cried to the others. "Once again he is defending this creature and turning his back on common sense. All I ask is that we keep our skills among our own people and avoid the contamination that will surely result—"
Doctor Tanner broke off, his face suddenly white. He coughed, clutching at his chest, and sank down groping for his medicine box and the water glass. After a moment he caught his breath and shook his head. "There's nothing more I can say," he said weakly. "I have done what I could, and the decision is up to the rest of you." He coughed again, and slowly the color came back into his face. The Blue Doctor had risen to help him, but Tanner waved him aside. "No, no, it's nothing. I allowed myself to become angry."
Black Doctor Arnquist spread his hands. "Under the circumstances, I won't belabor the point," he said, "although I think it would be good if Doctor Tanner would pause in his activities long enough for the surgery that would make his anger less dangerous to his own life. But he represents a view, and his right to state it is beyond reproach." Doctor Arnquist looked from face to face along the council table. "The decision is yours, gentlemen, I would ask only that you consider what our highest calling as physicians really is—a duty that overrides fear and selfishness. I believe Dal Timgar would be a good physician, and that this is more important than the planet of his origin. I think he would uphold the honor of Hospital Earth wherever he went, and give us his loyalty as well as his service. I will vote to accept his application, and thus cancel out my colleague's negative vote. The deciding votes will be cast by the rest of you."
He sat down, and the White Doctor looked at Dal Timgar. "It would be good if you would wait outside," he said. "We will call you as soon as a decision is reached."
* * * * *
Dal waited in an anteroom, feeding Fuzzy and trying to put out of his mind for a moment the heated argument still raging in the council chamber. Fuzzy was quivering with fright; unable to speak, the tiny creature nevertheless clearly experienced emotions, even though Dal himself did not know how he received impressions, nor why.
But Dal knew that there was a connection between the tiny pink creature's emotions and the peculiar talent that Black Doctor Arnquist had spoken of the night before. It was not a telepathic power that Dal and his people possessed. Just what it was, was difficult to define, yet Dal knew that every Garvian depended upon it to some extent in dealing with people around him. He knew that when Fuzzy was sitting on his arm he could sense the emotions of those around him—the anger, the fear, the happiness, the suspicion—and he knew that under certain circumstances, in a way he did not clearly understand, he could wilfully change the feelings of others toward himself. Not a great deal, perhaps, nor in any specific way, but just enough to make them look upon him and his wishes more favorably than they otherwise might.
Throughout his years on Hospital Earth he had vigilantly avoided using this strange talent. Already he was different enough from Earthmen in appearance, in ways of thinking, in likes and dislikes. But these differences were not advantages, and he had realized that if his classmates had ever dreamed of the advantage that he had, minor as it was, his hopes of becoming a physician would have been destroyed completely.
And in the council room he had kept his word to Doctor Arnquist. He had felt Fuzzy quivering on his shoulder; he had sensed the bitter anger in Black Doctor Tanner's mind, and the temptation deliberately to mellow that anger had been almost overwhelming, but he had turned it aside. He had answered questions that were asked him, and listened to the debate with a growing sense of hopelessness.
And now the chance was gone. The decision was being made.
He paced the floor, trying to remember the expressions of the other doctors, trying to remember what had been said, how many had seemed friendly and how many hostile, but he knew that only intensified the torture. There was nothing he could do now but wait.
At last the door opened, and an orderly nodded to him. Dal felt his legs tremble as he walked into the room and faced the semi-circle of doctors. He tried to read the answer on their faces, but even Black Doctor Arnquist sat impassively, doodling on the pad before him, refusing to meet Dal's eyes.
The White Doctor took up a sheet of paper. "We have considered your application, and have reached a decision. You will be happy to know that your application for assignment has been tentatively accepted."
Dal heard the words, and it seemed as though the room were spinning around him. He wanted to shout for joy and throw his arms around Black Doctor Arnquist, but he stood perfectly still, and suddenly he noticed that Fuzzy was very quiet on his shoulder.
"You will understand that this acceptance is not irrevocable," the White Doctor went on. "We are not willing to guarantee your ultimate acceptance as a fully qualified Star Surgeon at this point. You will be allowed to wear a collar and cuff, uniform and insignia of a probationary physician, in the Red Service, and will be assigned aboard the General Practice Patrol ship Lancet, leaving from Hospital Seattle next Tuesday. If you prove your ability in that post, your performance will once again be reviewed by this board, but you alone will determine our decision then. Your final acceptance as a Star Surgeon will depend entirely upon your conduct as a member of the patrol ship's crew." He smiled at Dal, and set the paper down. "The council wishes you well. Do you have any questions?"
"Just one," Dal managed to say. "Who will my crewmates be?"
"As is customary, a probationer from the Green Service of Medicine and one from the Blue Service of Diagnosis. Both have been specially selected by this council. Your Blue Doctor will be Jack Alvarez, who has shown great promise in his training in diagnostic medicine."
"And the Green Doctor?"
"A young man named Frank Martin," the White Doctor said. "Known to his friends, I believe, as 'Tiger.'"
THE GALACTIC PILL PEDDLERS
The ship stood tall and straight on her launching pad, with the afternoon sunlight glinting on her hull. Half a dozen crews of check-out men were swarming about her, inspecting her engine and fuel supplies, riding up the gantry crane to her entrance lock, and guiding the great cargo nets from the loading crane into her afterhold. High up on her hull Dal Timgar could see a golden caduceus emblazoned, the symbol of the General Practice Patrol, and beneath it the ship's official name:
GPPS 238 LANCET
Dal shifted his day pack down from his shoulders, ridiculously pleased with the gleaming scarlet braid on the collar and cuff of his uniform, and lifted Fuzzy up on his shoulder to see. It seemed to Dal that everyone he had passed in the terminal had been looking at the colorful insignia; it was all he could do to keep from holding his arm up and waving it like a banner.
"You'll get used to it," Tiger Martin chuckled as they waited for the jitney to take them across to the launching pad. "At first you think everybody is impressed by the colors, until you see some guy go past with the braid all faded and frazzled at the edges, and then you realize that you're just the latest greenhorn in a squad of two hundred thousand men."
"It's still good to be wearing it," Dal said. "I couldn't really believe it until Black Doctor Arnquist turned the collar and cuff over to me." He looked suspiciously at Tiger. "You must have known a lot more about that interview than you let on. Or, was it just coincidence that we were assigned together?"
"Not coincidence, exactly." Tiger grinned. "I didn't know what was going to happen. I'd requested assignment with you on my application, and then when yours was held up, Doctor Arnquist asked me if I'd be willing to wait for assignment until the interview was over. So I said okay. He seemed to think you had a pretty good chance."
"I'd never have made it without his backing," Dal said.
"Well, anyway, he figured that if you were assigned, it would be a good idea to have a friend on the patrol ship team."
"I won't argue about that," Dal said. "But who is the Blue Service man?"
Tiger's face darkened. "I don't know much about him," he said. "He trained in California, and I met him just once, at a diagnosis and therapy conference. He's supposed to be plenty smart, according to the grapevine. I guess he'd have to be, to pass Diagnostic Service finals." Tiger chuckled. "Any dope can make it in the Medical or Surgical Services, but diagnosis is something else again."
"Will he be in command?"
"On the Lancet? Why should he? We'll share command, just like any patrol ship crew. If we run into problems we can't agree on, we holler for help. But if he acts like most of the Blue Doctors I know, he'll think he's in command."
A jitney stopped for them, and then zoomed out across the field toward the ship. The gantry platform was just clanging to the ground, unloading three technicians and a Four-bar Electronics Engineer. Tiger and Dal rode the platform up again and moments later stepped through the entrance lock of the ship that would be their home base for months and perhaps years.
They found the bunk room to the rear of the control and lab sections. A duffel bag was already lodged on one of the bunks; one of the foot lockers was already occupied, and a small but expensive camera and a huge pair of field glasses were hanging from one of the wall brackets.
"Looks like our man has already arrived," Tiger said, tossing down his own duffel bag and looking around the cramped quarters. "Not exactly a luxury suite, I'd say. Wonder where he is?"
"Let's look up forward," Dal said. "We've plenty to do before we take off. Maybe he's just getting an early start."
They explored the ship, working their way up the central corridor past the communications and computer rooms and the laboratory into the main control and observation room. Here they found a thin, dark-haired young man in a bright blue collar and cuff, sitting engrossed with a tape-reader.
For a moment they thought he hadn't heard them. Then, as though reluctant to tear himself away, the Blue Doctor sighed, snapped off the reader, and turned on the swivel stool.
"So!" he said. "I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to get here."
"We ran into some delays," Tiger said. He grinned and held out his hand. "Jack Alvarez? Tiger Martin. We met each other at that conference in Chicago last year."
"Yes, I remember," the Blue Doctor said. "You found some holes in a paper I gave. Matter of fact, I've plugged them up very nicely since then. You'd have trouble finding fault with the work now." Jack Alvarez turned his eyes to Dal. "And I suppose this is the Garvian I've been hearing about, complete with his little pink stooge."
The moment they had walked in the door, Dal had felt Fuzzy crouch down tight against his shoulder. Now a wave of hostility struck his mind like a shower of ice water. He had never seen this thin, dark-haired youth before, or even heard of him, but he recognized this sharp impression of hatred and anger unmistakably. He had felt it a thousand times among his medical school classmates during the past eight years, and just hours before he had felt it in the council room when Black Doctor Tanner had turned on him.
"It's really a lucky break that we have Dal for a Red Doctor," Tiger said. "We almost didn't get him."
"Yes, I heard all about how lucky we are," Jack Alvarez said sourly. He looked Dal over from the gray fur on the top of his head to the spindly legs in the ill-fitting trousers. Then the Blue Doctor shrugged in disgust and turned back to the tape-reader. "A Garvian and his Fuzzy!" he muttered. "Let's hope one or the other knows something about surgery."
"I think we'll do all right," Dal said slowly.
"I think you'd better," Jack Alvarez replied.
Dal and Tiger looked at each other, and Tiger shrugged. "It's all right," he said. "We know our jobs, and we'll manage."
Dal nodded, and started back for the bunk room. No doubt, he thought, they would manage.
But if he had thought before that the assignment on the Lancet was going to be easy, he knew now that he was wrong.
Tiger Martin may have been Doctor Arnquist's selection as a crewmate for him, but there was no question in his mind that the Blue Doctor on the Lancet's crew was Black Doctor Hugo Tanner's choice.
* * * * *
The first meeting with Jack Alvarez hardly seemed promising to either Dal or Tiger, but if there was trouble coming, it was postponed for the moment by common consent. In the few days before blast-off there was no time for conflict, or even for much talk. Each of the three crewmen had two full weeks of work to accomplish in two days; each knew his job and buried himself in it with a will.
The ship's medical and surgical supplies had to be inventoried, and missing or required supplies ordered up. New supplies coming in had to be checked, tested, and stored in the ship's limited hold space. It was like preparing for an extended pack trip into wilderness country; once the Lancet left its home base on Hospital Earth it was a world to itself, equipped to support its physician-crew and provide the necessary equipment and data they would need to deal with the problems they would face. Like all patrol ships, the Lancet was equipped with automatic launching, navigation and drive mechanisms; no crew other than the three doctors was required, and in the event of mechanical failures, maintenance ships were on continual call.
The ship was responsible for patrolling an enormous area, including hundreds of stars and their planetary systems—yet its territory was only a tiny segment of the galaxy. Landings were to be made at various specified planets maintaining permanent clinic outposts of Hospital Earth; certain staple supplies were carried for each of these check points. Aside from these lonely clinic contacts, the nearest port of call for the Lancet was one of the hospital ships that continuously worked slow orbits through the star systems of the confederation.
But a hospital ship, with its staff of Two-star and Three-star Physicians, was not to be called except in cases of extreme need. The probationers on the patrol ships were expected to be self-sufficient. Their job was to handle diagnosis and care of all but the most difficult problems that arose in their travels. They were the first to answer the medical calls from any planet with a medical service contract with Hospital Earth.
It was an enormous responsibility for doctors-in-training to assume, but over the years it had proven the best way to train and weed out new doctors for the greater responsibilities of hospital ship and Hospital Earth assignments. There was no set period of duty on the patrol ships; how long a young doctor remained in the General Practice Patrol depended to a large extent upon how well he handled the problems and responsibilities that faced him; and since the first years of Hospital Earth, the fledgling doctors in the General Practice Patrol—the self-styled "Galactic Pill Peddlers"—had lived up to their responsibilities. The reputation of Hospital Earth rested on their shoulders, and they never forgot it.
As he worked on his inventories, Dal Timgar thought of Doctor Arnquist's words to him after the council had handed down its decision. "Remember that judgment and skill are two different things," he had said. "Without skill in the basic principles of diagnosis and treatment, medical judgment isn't much help, but skill without the judgment to know how and when to use it can be downright dangerous. You'll be judged both on the judgment you use in deciding the right thing to do, and on the skill you use in doing it." He had given Dal the box with the coveted collar and cuff. "The colors are pretty, but never forget what they stand for. Until you can convince the council that you have both the skill and the judgment of a good physician, you will never get your Star. And you will be watched closely; Black Doctor Tanner and certain others will be waiting for the slightest excuse to recall you from the Lancet. If you give them the opportunity, nothing I can do will stop it."
And now, as they worked to prepare the ship for service, Dal was determined that the opportunity would not arise. When he was not working in the storerooms, he was in the computer room, reviewing the thousands of tapes that carried the basic information about the contract planets where they would be visiting, and the races that inhabited them. If errors and fumbles and mistakes were made by the crew of the Lancet, he thought grimly, it would not be Dal Timgar who made them.
The first night they met in the control room to divide the many extracurricular jobs involved in maintaining a patrol ship.
Tiger's interest in electronics and communications made him the best man to handle the radio; he accepted the post without comment. "Jack, you should be in charge of the computer," he said, "because you'll be the one who'll need the information first. The lab is probably your field too. Dal can be responsible for stores and supplies as well as his own surgical instruments."
Jack shrugged. "I'd just as soon handle supplies, too," he said.
"Well, there's no need to overload one man," Tiger said.
"I wouldn't mind that. But when there's something I need, I want to be sure it's going to be there without any goof-ups," Jack said.
"I can handle it all right," Dal said.
Jack just scowled. "What about the contact man when we make landings?" he asked Tiger.
"Seems to me Dal would be the one for that, too," Tiger said. "His people are traders and bargainers; right, Dal? And first contact with the people on unfamiliar planets can be important."
"It sure can," Jack said. "Too important to take chances with. Look, this is a ship from Hospital Earth. When somebody calls for help, they expect to see an Earthman turn up in response. What are they going to think when a patrol ship lands and he walks out?"
Tiger's face darkened. "They'll be able to see his collar and cuff, won't they?"
"Maybe. But they may wonder what he's doing wearing them."
"Well, they'll just have to learn," Tiger snapped. "And you'll have to learn, too, I guess."
Dal had been sitting silently. Now he shook his head. "I think Jack is right on this one," he said. "It would be better for one of you to be contact man."
"Why?" Tiger said angrily. "You're as much of a doctor from Hospital Earth as we are, and the sooner we get your position here straight, the better. We aren't going to have any ugly ducklings on this ship, and we aren't going to hide you in the hold every time we land on a planet. If we want to make anything but a mess of this cruise, we've got to work as a team, and that means everybody shares the important jobs."
"That's fine," Dal said, "but I still think Jack is right on this point. If we are walking into a medical problem on a planet where the patrol isn't too well known, the contact man by rights ought to be an Earthman."
Tiger started to say something, and then spread his hands helplessly. "Okay," he said. "If you're satisfied with it, let's get on to these other things." But obviously he wasn't satisfied, and when Jack disappeared toward the storeroom, Tiger turned to Dal. "You shouldn't have given in," he said. "If you give that guy as much as an inch, you're just asking for trouble."
"It isn't a matter of giving in," Dal insisted. "I think he was right, that's all. Don't let's start a fight where we don't have to."
Tiger yielded the point, but when Jack returned, Tiger avoided him, keeping to himself the rest of the evening. And later, as he tried to get to sleep, Dal wondered for a moment. Maybe Tiger was right. Maybe he was just dodging a head-on clash with the Blue Doctor now and setting the stage for a real collision later.
Next day the argument was forgotten in the air of rising excitement as embarkation orders for the Lancet came through. Preparations were completed, and only last-minute double-checks were required before blast-off.
But an hour before count-down began, a jitney buzzed across the field, and a Two-star Pathologist climbed aboard with his three black-cloaked orderlies. "Shakedown inspection," he said curtly. "Just a matter of routine." And with that he stalked slowly through the ship, checking the storage holds, the inventories, the lab, the computer with its information banks, and the control room. As he went along he kept firing medical questions at Dal and Tiger, hardly pausing long enough for the answers, and ignoring Jack Alvarez completely. "What's the normal range of serum cholesterol in a vegetarian race with Terran environment? How would you run a Wenberg electrophoresis? How do you determine individual radiation tolerance? How would you prepare a heart culture for cardiac transplant on board this ship?" The questions went on until Tiger and Dal were breathless, as count-down time grew closer and closer. Finally the Black Doctor turned back toward the entrance lock. He seemed vaguely disappointed as he checked the record sheets the orderlies had been keeping. With an odd look at Dal, he shrugged. "All right, here are your clearance papers," he said to Jack. "Your supply of serum globulin fractions is up to black-book requirements, but you'll run short if you happen to hit a virus epidemic; better take on a couple of more cases. And check central information just before leaving. We've signed two new contracts in the past week, and the co-ordinator's office has some advance information on both of them."
When the inspector had gone, Tiger wiped his forehead and sighed. "That was no routine shakedown!" he said. "What is a Wenberg electrophoresis?"
"A method of separating serum proteins," Jack Alvarez said. "You ran them in third year biochemistry. And if we do hit a virus epidemic, you'd better know how, too."
He gave Tiger an unpleasant smile, and started back down the corridor as the count-down signal began to buzz.
But for all the advance arrangements they had made to divide the ship's work, it was Dal Timgar who took complete control of the Lancet for the first two weeks of its cruise. Neither Tiger nor Jack challenged his command; not a word was raised in protest. The Earthmen were too sick to talk, much less complain about anything.
For Dal the blast-off from the port of Seattle and the conversion into Koenig star-drive was nothing new. His father owned a fleet of Garvian trading ships that traveled to the far corners of the galaxy by means of a star-drive so similar to the Koenig engines that only an electronic engineer could tell them apart. All his life Dal had traveled on the outgoing freighters with his father; star-drive conversion was no surprise to him.
But for Jack and Tiger, it was their first experience in a star-drive ship. The Lancet's piloting and navigation were entirely automatic; its destination was simply coded into the drive computers, and the ship was ready to leap across light years of space in a matter of hours. But the conversion to star-drive, as the Lancet was wrenched, crew and all, out of the normal space-time continuum, was far outside of normal human experience. The physical and emotional shock of the conversion hit Jack and Tiger like a sledge hammer, and during the long hours while the ship was traveling through the time-less, distance-less universe of the drive to the pre-set co-ordinates where it materialized again into conventional space-time, the Earthmen were retching violently, too sick to budge from the bunk room. It took over two weeks, with stops at half a dozen contract planets, before Jack and Tiger began to adjust themselves to the frightening and confusing sensations of conversion to star-drive. During this time Dal carried the load of the ship's work alone, while the others lay gasping and exhausted in their bunks, trying to rally strength for the next shift.
To his horror, Dal discovered that the first planetary stop-over was traditionally a hazing stop. It had been a well-kept patrol secret; the outpost clinic on Tempera VI was waiting eagerly for the arrival of the new "green" crew, knowing full well that the doctors aboard would hardly be able to stumble out of their bunks, much less to cope with medical problems. The outpost men had concocted a medical "crisis" of staggering proportions to present to the Lancet's crew; they were so clearly disappointed to find the ship's Red Doctor in full command of himself that Dal obligingly became violently ill too, and did his best to mimick Jack and Tiger's floundering efforts to pull themselves together and do something about the "problem" that suddenly descended upon them.
Later, there was a party and celebration, with music and food, as the clinic staff welcomed the pale and shaken doctors into the joke. The outpost men plied Dal for the latest news from Hospital Earth. They were surprised to see a Garvian aboard the Lancet, but no one at the outpost showed any sign of resentment at the scarlet braid on Dal's collar and cuff.
Slowly Jack and Tiger got used to the peculiarities of popping in and out of hyperspace. It was said that immunity to star-drive sickness was hard to acquire, but lasted a lifetime, and would never again bother them once it was achieved. Bit by bit the Earthmen crept out of their shells, to find the ship in order and a busy Dal Timgar relieved and happy to have them aboard again.
Fortunately, the medical problems that came to the Lancet in the first few weeks were largely routine. The ship stopped at the specified contact points—some far out near the rim of the galactic constellation, others in closer to the densely star-populated center. At each outpost clinic the Lancet was welcomed with open arms. The outpost men were hungry for news from home, and happy to see fresh supplies; but they were also glad to review the current medical problems on their planets with the new doctors, exchanging opinions and arguing diagnosis and therapy into the small hours of the night.
Occasionally calls came in to the ship from contract planets in need of help. Usually the problems were easy to handle. On Singall III, a tiny planet of a cooling giant star, help was needed to deal with a new outbreak of a smallpox-like plague that had once decimated the population; the disease had finally been controlled after a Hospital Earth research team had identified the organism that caused it, determined its molecular structure, and synthesized an antibiotic that could destroy it without damaging the body of the host. But now a flareup had occurred. The Lancet brought in supplies of the antibiotic, and Tiger Martin spent two days showing Singallese physicians how to control further outbreaks with modern methods of immunization and antisepsis.
Another planet called for a patrol ship when a bridge-building disaster occurred; one of the beetle-like workmen had been badly crushed under a massive steel girder. Dal spent over eighteen hours straight with the patient in the Lancet's surgery, carefully repairing the creature's damaged exoskeleton and grafting new segments of bone for regeneration of the hopelessly ruined parts, with Tiger administering anaesthesia and Jack preparing the grafts from the freezer.
On another planet Jack faced his first real diagnostic challenge and met the test with flying colors. Here a new cancer-like degenerative disease had been appearing among the natives of the planet. It had never before been noted. Initial attempts to find a causative agent had all three of the Lancet's crew spending sleepless nights for a week, but Jack's careful study of the pattern of the disease and the biochemical reactions that accompanied it brought out the answer: the disease was caused by a rare form of genetic change which made crippling alterations in an essential enzyme system. Knowing this, Tiger quickly found a drug which could be substituted for the damaged enzyme, and the problem was solved. They left the planet, assuring the planetary government that laboratories on Hospital Earth would begin working at once to find a way actually to rebuild the damaged genes in the embryonic cells, and thus put a permanent end to the disease.
These were routine calls, the kind of ordinary general medical work that the patrol ships were expected to handle. But the visits to the various planets were welcome breaks in the pattern of patrol ship life. The Lancet was fully equipped, but her crew's quarters and living space were cramped. Under the best conditions, the crewmen on patrol ships got on each other's nerves; on the Lancet there was an additional focus of tension that grew worse with every passing hour.
From the first Jack Alvarez had made no pretense of pleasure at Dal's company, but now it seemed that he deliberately sought opportunities to annoy him. The thin Blue Doctor's face set into an angry mold whenever Dal was around. He would get up and leave when Dal entered the control room, and complained loudly and bitterly at minor flaws in Dal's shipboard work. Nothing Dal did seemed to please him.
But Tiger had a worse time controlling himself at the Blue Doctor's digs and slights than Dal did. "It's like living in an armed camp," he complained one night when Jack had stalked angrily out of the bunk room. "Can't even open your mouth without having him jump down your throat."
"I know," Dal said.
"And he's doing it on purpose."
"Maybe so. But it won't help to lose your temper."
Tiger clenched a huge fist and slammed it into his palm. "He's just deliberately picking at you and picking at you," he said. "You can't take that forever. Something's got to break."
"It's all right," Dal assured him. "I just ignore it."
But when Jack began to shift his attack to Fuzzy, Dal could ignore it no longer.
One night in the control room Jack threw down the report he was writing and turned angrily on Dal. "Tell your friend there to turn the other way before I lose my temper and splatter him all over the wall," he said, pointing to Fuzzy. "All he does is sit there and stare at me and I'm getting fed up with it."
Fuzzy drew himself up tightly, shivering on Dal's shoulder. Dal reached up and stroked the tiny creature, and Fuzzy's shoe-button eyes disappeared completely. "There," Dal said. "Is that better?"
Jack stared at the place the eyes had been, and his face darkened suspiciously. "Well, what happened to them?" he demanded.
"What happened to what?"
"To his eyes, you idiot!"
Dal looked down at Fuzzy. "I don't see any eyes."
Jack jumped up from the stool. He scowled at Fuzzy as if commanding the eyes to come back again. All he saw was a small ball of pink fur. "Look, he's been blinking them at me for a week," he snarled. "I thought all along there was something funny about him. Sometimes he's got legs and sometimes he hasn't. Sometimes he looks fuzzy, and other times he hasn't got any hair at all."
"He's a pleomorph," Dal said. "No cellular structure at all, just a protein-colloid matrix."
Jack glowered at the inert little pink lump. "Don't be silly," he said, curious in spite of himself. "What holds him together?"
"Who knows? I don't. Some kind of electro-chemical cohesive force. The only reason he has 'eyes' is because he thinks I want him to have eyes. If you don't like it, he won't have them any more."
"Well, that's very obliging," Jack said. "But why do you keep him around? What good does he do you, anyhow? All he does is eat and drink and sleep."
"Does he have to do something?" Dal said evasively. "He isn't bothering you. Why pick on him?"
"He just seems to worry you an awful lot," Jack said unpleasantly. "Let's see him a minute." He reached out for Fuzzy, then jerked his finger back with a yelp. Blood dripped from the finger tip.
Jack's face slowly went white. "Why, he—he bit me!"
"Yes, and you're lucky he didn't take a finger off," Dal said, trembling with anger. "He doesn't like you any more than I do, and you'll get bit every time you come near him, so you'd better keep your hands to yourself."
"Don't worry," Jack Alvarez said, "he won't get another chance. You can just get rid of him."
"Not a chance," Dal said. "You leave him alone and he won't bother you, that's all. And the same thing goes for me."
"If he isn't out of here in twelve hours, I'll get a warrant," Jack said tightly. "There are laws against keeping dangerous pets on patrol ships."
Somewhere in the main corridor an alarm bell began buzzing. For a moment Dal and Jack stood frozen, glaring at each other. Then the door burst open and Tiger Martin's head appeared. "Hey, you two, let's get moving! We've got a call coming in, and it looks like a tough one. Come on back here!"
They headed back toward the radio room. The signal was coming through frantically as Tiger reached for the pile of punched tape running out on the floor. But as they crowded into the radio room, Dal felt Jack's hand on his arm. "If you think I was fooling, you're wrong," the Blue Doctor said through his teeth. "You've got twelve hours to get rid of him."
CRISIS ON MORUA VIII
The three doctors huddled around the teletype, watching as the decoded message was punched out on the tape. "It started coming in just now," Tiger said. "And they've been beaming the signal in a spherical pattern, apparently trying to pick up the nearest ship they could get. There's certainly some sort of trouble going on."
The message was brief, repeated over and over: REQUIRE MEDICAL AID URGENT REPLY AT ONCE. This was followed by the code letters that designated the planet, its location, and the number of its medical service contract.
Jack glanced at the code. "Morua VIII," he said. "I think that's a grade I contract." He began punching buttons on the reference panel, and several screening cards came down the slot from the information bank. "Yes. The eighth planet of a large Sol-type star, the only inhabited planet in the system with a single intelligent race, ursine evolutionary pattern." He handed the cards to Tiger. "Teddy-bears, yet!"
"Mammals?" Tiger said.
"Looks like it. And they even hibernate."
"What about the contract?" Dal asked.
"Grade I," said Tiger. "And they've had a thorough survey. Moderately advanced in their own medical care, but they have full medical coverage any time they think they need it. We'd better get an acknowledgment back to them. Jack, get the ship ready to star-jump while Dal starts digging information out of the bank. If this race has its own doctors, they'd only be hollering for help if they're up against a tough one."
Tiger settled down with earphones and transmitter to try to make contact with the Moruan planet, while Jack went forward to control and Dal started to work with the tape reader. There was no argument now, and no dissension. The procedure to be followed was a well-established routine: acknowledge the call, estimate arrival time, relay the call and response to the programmers on Hospital Earth, prepare for star-drive, and start gathering data fast. With no hint of the nature of the trouble, their job was to get there, equipped with as much information about the planet and its people as time allowed.
The Moruan system was not distant from the Lancet's present location. Tiger calculated that two hours in Koenig drive would put the ship in the vicinity of the planet, with another hour required for landing procedures. He passed the word on to the others, and Dal began digging through the mass of information in the tape library on Morua VIII and its people.
There was a wealth of data. Morua VIII had signed one of the first medical service contracts with Hospital Earth, and a thorough medical, biochemical, social and psychological survey had been made on the people of that world. Since the original survey, much additional information had been amassed, based on patrol ship reports and dozens of specialty studies that had been done there.
And out of this data, a picture of Morua VIII and its inhabitants began to emerge.
The Moruans were moderately intelligent creatures, warm-blooded air breathers with an oxygen-based metabolism. Their planet was cold, with 17 per cent oxygen and much water vapor in its atmosphere. With its vast snow-fields and great mountain ranges, the planet was a popular resort area for oxygen-breathing creatures; most of the natives were engaged in some work related to winter sports. They were well fitted anatomically for their climate, with thick black fur, broad flat hind feet and a four-inch layer of fat between their skin and their vital organs.
Swiftly Dal reviewed the emergency file, checking for common drugs and chemicals that were poisonous to Moruans, accidents that were common to the race, and special problems that had been met by previous patrol ships. The deeper he dug into the mass of data, the more worried he became. Where should he begin? Searching in the dark, there was no way to guess what information would be necessary and what part totally useless.
He buzzed Tiger. "Any word on the nature of the trouble?" he asked.
"Just got through to them," Tiger said. "Not too much to go on, but they're really in an uproar. Sounds like they've started some kind of organ-transplant surgery and their native surgeon got cold feet halfway through and wants us to bail him out." Tiger paused. "I think this is going to be your show, Dal. Better check up on Moruan anatomy."
It was better than no information, but not much better. Fuzzy huddled on Dal's shoulder as if he could sense his master's excitement. Very few races under contract with Hospital Earth ever attempted their own major surgery. If a Moruan surgeon had walked into a tight spot in the operating room, it could be a real test of skill to get him—and his patient—out of it, even on a relatively simple procedure. But organ-transplantation, with the delicate vascular surgery and micro-surgery that it entailed, was never simple. In incompetent hands, it could turn into a nightmare.
Dal took a deep breath and began running the anatomical atlas tapes through the reader, checking the critical points of Moruan anatomy. Oxygen-transfer system, circulatory system, renal filtration system—at first glance, there was little resemblance to any of the "typical" oxygen-breathing mammals Dal had studied in medical school. But then something struck a familiar note, and he remembered studying the peculiar Moruan renal system, in which the creature's chemical waste products were filtered from the bloodstream in a series of tubules passing across the peritoneum, and re-absorbed into the intestine for excretion. Bit by bit other points of the anatomy came clear, and in half an hour of intense study Dal began to see how the inhabitants of Morua VIII were put together.
Satisfied for the moment, he then pulled the tapes that described the Moruans' own medical advancement. What were they doing attempting organ-transplantation, anyway? That was the kind of surgery that even experienced Star Surgeons preferred to take aboard the hospital ships, or back to Hospital Earth, where the finest equipment and the most skilled assistants were available.
There was a signal buzzer, the two-minute warning before the Koenig drive took over. Dal tossed the tape spools back into the bin for refiling, and went forward to the control room.
Just short of two hours later, the Lancet shifted back to normal space drive, and the cold yellow sun of the Moruan system swam into sight in the viewscreen. Far below, the tiny eighth planet glistened like a snowball in the reflection of the sun, with only occasional rents in the cloud blanket revealing the ragged surface below. The doctors watched as the ship went into descending orbit, skimming the outer atmosphere and settling into a landing pattern.
Beneath the cloud blanket, the frigid surface of the planet spread out before them. Great snow-covered mountain ranges rose up on either side. A forty-mile gale howled across the landing field, sweeping clouds of powdery snow before it.
A huge gawky vehicle seemed to be waiting for the ship to land; it shot out from the huddle of gray buildings almost the moment they touched down. Jack slipped into the furs that he had pulled from stores, and went out through the entrance lock and down the ladder to meet the dark furry creatures that were bundling out of the vehicle below. The electronic language translator was strapped to his chest.
Five minutes later he reappeared, frost forming on his blue collar, his face white as he looked at Dal. "You'd better get down there right away," he said, "and take your micro-surgical instruments. Tiger, give me a hand with the anaesthesia tanks. They're keeping a patient alive with a heart-lung machine right now, and they can't finish the job. It looks like it might be bad."
* * * * *
The Moruan who escorted them across the city to the hospital was a huge shaggy creature who left no question of the evolutionary line of his people. Except for the flattened nose, the high forehead and the fur-less hand with opposing thumb, he looked for all the world like a mammoth edition of the Kodiak bears Dal had seen displayed at the natural history museum in Hospital Philadelphia. Like all creatures with oxygen-and-water based metabolisms, the Moruans could trace their evolutionary line to minute one-celled salt-water creatures; but with the bitter cold of the planet, the first land-creatures to emerge from the primeval swamp of Morua VIII had developed the heavy furs and the hibernation characteristics of bear-like mammals. They towered over Dal, and even Tiger seemed dwarfed by their immense chest girth and powerful shoulders.
As the surface car hurried toward the hospital, Dal probed for more information. The Moruan's voice was a hoarse growl which nearly deafened the Earthmen in the confined quarters of the car but Dal with the aid of the translator could piece together what had happened.
More sophisticated in medical knowledge than most races in the galaxy, the Moruans had learned a great deal from their contact with Hospital Earth physicians. They actually did have a remarkable grasp of physiology and biochemistry, and constantly sought to learn more. They had already found ways to grow replacement organs from embryonic grafts, the Moruan said, and by copying the techniques used by the surgeons of Hospital Earth, their own surgeons had attempted the delicate job of replacing a diseased organ with a new, healthy one in a young male afflicted with cancer.
Dal looked up at the Moruan doctor. "What organ were you replacing?" he asked suspiciously.
"Oh, not the entire organ, just a segment," the Moruan said. "The tumor had caused an obstructive pneumonia—"
"Are you talking about a segment of lung?" Dal said, almost choking.
"Of course. That's where the tumor was."
Dal swallowed hard. "So you just decided to replace a segment."
"Yes. But something has gone wrong, we don't know what."
"I see." It was all Dal could do to keep from shouting at the huge creature. The Moruans had no duplication of organs, such as Earthmen and certain other races had. A tumor of the lung would mean death ... but the technique of grafting a culture-grown lung segment to a portion of natural lung required enormous surgical skill, and the finest microscopic instruments that could be made in order to suture together the tiny capillary walls and air tubules. And if one lung were destroyed, a Moruan had no other to take its place. "Do you have any micro-surgical instruments at all?"
"Oh, yes," the Moruan rumbled proudly. "We made them ourselves, just for this case."
"You mean you've never attempted this procedure before?"
"This was the first time. We don't know where we went wrong."
"You went wrong when you thought about trying it," Dal muttered. "What anaesthesia?"
"Oxygen and alcohol vapor."
This was no surprise. With many species, alcohol vapor was more effective and less toxic than other anaesthetic gases. "And you have a heart-lung machine?"
"The finest available, on lease from Hospital Earth."
All the way through the city Dal continued the questioning, and by the time they reached the hospital he had an idea of the task that was facing him. He knew now that it was going to be bad; he didn't realize just how bad until he walked into the operating room.
The patient was barely alive. Recognizing too late that they were in water too deep for them, the Moruan surgeons had gone into panic, and neglected the very fundamentals of physiological support for the creature on the table. Dal had to climb up on a platform just to see the operating field; the faithful wheeze of the heart-lung machine that was sustaining the creature continued in Dal's ears as he examined the work already done, first with the naked eye, then scanning the operative field with the crude microscopic eyepiece.
"How long has he been anaesthetized?" he asked the shaggy operating surgeon.
"Over eighteen hours already."
"And how much blood has he received?"
"A dozen liters."
"Any more on hand?"
"Perhaps six more."
"Well, you'd better get it into him. He's in shock right now."
The surgeon scurried away while Dal took another look at the micro field. The situation was bad; the anaesthesia had already gone on too long, and the blood chemistry record showed progressive failure.
He stepped down from the platform, trying to clear his head and decide the right thing to do.
He had done micro-surgery before, plenty of it, and he knew the techniques necessary to complete the job, but the thought of attempting it chilled him. At best, he was on unfamiliar ground, with a dozen factors that could go wrong. By now the patient was a dreadful risk for any surgeon. If he were to step in now, and the patient died, how would he explain not calling for help?
He stepped out to the scrub room where Tiger was waiting. "Where's Jack?" he said.
"Went back to the ship for the rest of the surgical pack."
Dal shook his head. "I don't know what to do. I think we should get him to a hospital ship."
"Is it more than you can handle?" Tiger said.
"I could probably do it all right—but I could lose him, too."
A frown creased Tiger's face. "Dal, it would take six hours for a hospital ship to get here."
"I know that. But on the other hand...." Dal spread his hands. He felt Fuzzy crouching in a tight frightened lump in his pocket. He thought again of the delicate, painstaking microscopic work that remained to be done to bring the new section of lung into position to function, and he shook his head. "Look, these creatures hibernate," he said. "If we could get him cooled down enough, we could lighten the anaesthesia and maintain him as is, indefinitely."
"This is up to you," Tiger said. "I don't know anything about surgery. If you think we should just hold tight, that's what we'll do."
"All right. I think we'd better. Have them notify Jack to signal for a hospital ship. We'll just try to stick it out."
Tiger left to pass the word, and Dal went back into the operating room. Suddenly he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. There would be Three-star Surgeons on a Hospital Ship to handle this; it seemed an enormous relief to have the task out of his hands. Yet something was wriggling uncomfortably in the back of his mind, a quiet little voice saying this isn't right, you should be doing this yourself right now instead of wasting precious time....
He thrust the thought away angrily and ordered the Moruan physicians to bring in ice packs to cool the patient's huge hulk down to hibernation temperatures. "We're going to send for help," Dal told the Moruan surgeon who had met them at the ship. "This man needs specialized care, and we'd be taking too much chance to try to do it this way."
"You mean you're sending for a hospital ship?"
"That's right," Dal said.
This news seemed to upset the Moruans enormously. They began growling among themselves, moving back from the operating table.
"Then you can't save him?" the operating surgeon said.
"I think he can be saved, certainly!"
"But we thought you could just step in—"
"I could, but that would be taking chances that we don't need to take. We can maintain him until the hospital ship arrives."
The Moruans continued to growl ominously, but Dal brushed past them, checking the vital signs of the patient as his body temperature slowly dropped. Tiger had taken over the anaesthesia, keeping the patient under as light a dosage of medication as was possible.
"What's eating them?" he asked Dal quietly.
"They don't want a hospital ship here very much," Dal said. "Afraid they'll look like fools all over the Confederation if the word gets out. But that's their worry. Ours is to keep this bruiser alive until the ship gets here."
They settled back to wait.
It was an agonizing time for Dal. Even Fuzzy didn't seem to be much comfort. The patient was clearly not doing well, even with the low body temperatures Dal had induced. His blood pressure was sagging, and at one time Tiger sat up sharply, staring at his anaesthesia dials and frowning in alarm as the nervous-system reactions flagged. The Moruan physicians hovered about, increasingly uneasy as they saw the doctors from Hospital Earth waiting and doing nothing. One of them, unable to control himself any longer, tore off his sterile gown and stalked angrily out of the operating suite.
A dozen times Dal was on the verge of stepping in. It was beginning to look now like a race with time, and precious minutes were passing by. He cursed himself inwardly for not taking the bit in his teeth at the beginning and going ahead the best he could; it had been a mistake in judgment to wait. Now, as minutes passed into hours it looked more and more like a mistake that was going to cost the life of a patient.