Monday, August 31, 2015

The Great Air Monopoly - Part One - Deep Breath

In the previous Ole Doc Methuselah story, the plot depended upon future spacemen being too stupid to bring a Geiger counter along when they explored alien worlds.  The author also took a stand against slavery, yet seemed to forget that his hero owned a slave himself.  This tale, I think, is even worse.

It starts innocently enough, with Ole Doc sitting outside the Morgue, "his ship-laboratory," puffing on a pipe.  We established a while ago that the Morgue is another of Hubbard's luxury spaceships, so it's little surprise when we learn that it has a fold-out awning to make a pavilion worthy of its owner.  Hippocrates, Ole Doc's "little super-gravitic slave," is fretting about his owner's indulgence - "Nicotine on his fingers, poisoning him, nicotine in his lungs.  Poison, that's what it is."

Alrighty, research time...  "The Great Air Monopoly" was first published in 1948... German anti-smoking groups as early as 1912... 1950 British Medical Journal study suggesting link between smoking and lung cancer... 1964 US Surgeon General's Report describing similar link...  Well, Hubbard might be ahead of his American contemporaries in denouncing smoking, but as usual got the science wrong and thinks it's the nicotine causing lung cancer and not the tobacco smoke.  The guy's heart is in the right place; shame about his brain.

While Hippocrates starts reciting the list of poisons, going on through "Nilophine, Novocaine and Nymphodryl," of which only one is recognized by Wikipedia and is an anesthetic instead of a poison, Ole Doc continues to sit and puff on his pipe and do calculations on the golden cuff of his sleeve because in the grim darkness of the far future, there are no laptops.  "His filing case was full of torn cuffs containing solutions which would have rocked even his brothers of the Universal Medical Society, much less the thousand and five humanoid systems in this one galaxy."  I'm deeply cynical that he ever remembers to share these revolutionary discoveries - not that the rest of the galaxy would really benefit from them even if he did dump off a drawer full of shredded, scribbled clothing next time he passed by headquarters.

Now, the reason these two are chilling out is not because Ole Doc whimsically decided to land on a planet he happened to be flying by to do some fishing.  No, it's actually Ole Doc's 905th birthday!  So they're celebrating by landing on a pretty planet to do some fishing.  All... two of them.

Huh.  Nine centuries of life, and Hippocrates is the only being that Ole Doc gets to celebrate his birthday with.  Not even one of his fellow Soldiers of Light is around.  That's actually kind of sad.

The weird thing is that the author never comments on this, never points out the implications of this two-person birthday.  So either this is the one time in his entire career that L. Ron Hubbard made a subtle point, or it was totally accidental and unintentional.  After all, after hundreds of birthdays, Ole Doc may not see much point in making a big deal of them.

Well, since Ole Doc hasn't gotten a mission from his bosses or an empty fuel tank to address, the plot in this story will only get started once trouble finds him.  And like in the first Ole Doc story, a hawt women will ultimately be what prompts our hero to get "political" and stop the local bad guy.

He didn't hear the clanking chains or the bark of the guards on the march, even though they came closer with every second and would pass hard by the ship.  It was nothing to Ole Doc that Arphon was a boiling turmoil of revolt and murder.

Where is this galactic empire occasionally mentioned?  Or even that Systems Patrol from the first story?

In the eight hundred and eighty years since he had graduated from John Hopkins medical school in Baltimore, Maryland, First Continental District, Earth, Orbit Three, Sun1, Rim Zone, Galaxy1, Universe - or 1, 3160, 1 m. ly hub1, 264-89, sub-328, which will find it for you on the space charts if you are going there - he

Where to start... why is Baltimore still considered to be in the state of Maryland while the rest of the United States has become the First Continental District?  Why the need to specify that Earth is the third planet from our star and not that Maryland is the 7th state in the former US?  Why doesn't the sun have a proper name?  Why not specify that the Solar system is in the galaxy's Orion Arm instead of vaguely and unhelpfully locating it in the galactic rim?  Why are we not in the Milky Way galaxy?  If there is no way to travel to another universe yet, what is the point of specifying that we're in the one universe we know about?

he had seen everything, done everything, felt everything, tasted everything, been anything including a Messiah,

You couldn't lead a starving man to a buffet, Ole Doc.

a dictator, a humanoid animal in a glass dome and a god,

Eat me.

and there were few things left to amaze or interest him.

Keep this comment in mind about twenty pages from now.

It's actually another page before Ole Doc notices the slave train mentioned at the start of that stupid paragraph.  He's busy calculating the ninety variables of the limb regeneration technique he's working on, or musing that "some day he would crack up or get shot or forget his regular youth treatments" and get one of those expensive coffins.

Hippocrates of course reacts first... sixteen minutes after first hearing it, but he's busy, okay?  The little superdense alien hits some switches that "utterly camouflaged the Morgue, screened Ole Doc without making him invisible, trained outward a brace of 600 mm. blasters rated at a thousand rounds a second and turned down the oven so his cake wouldn't burn."  Heh.  Alright, that was mildly amusing.

Ole Doc only notices the slave train because it is about to run right into the invisible spaceship, raising the question of where they parked it.  I mean, he probably didn't put the Morgue down on a highway, but if he's out in the woods thinking about doing some fishing, why is the slave column marching through them?  For that matter, why are they marching?  Is there not a truck available?

It was a weird sight, that column.  The lush grass bent under white human feet

Oh, thank goodness.  If it was a bunch of Mongolian slaves, who knows if Ole Doc would bother to get involved?

and became stained with red.  Clothing ripped to nothing, eyes sunken and haunted, bent with iron fetters and despair, the hundred and sixteen people captive there appeared like shades just issued forth from hell for a bout with Judgment Day.

The slaves' tenders aren't even human, or at least not anymore, but beings "eugenicized" into "ape-armed, jaguar-toothed devils were like humans mad with a poisonous stimulant or like Persephons dragged from their pits and injected with satanic human intelligence," shaggy, heavy, pointy-headed brutes.  And I wonder why they get to be abhumans, and not aliens.  Is it to maximize the shock value, to horrify the reader with what careless (or sadistically careful) breeding can do to the human form?  Or a sign that, aside from Hippocrates and those radiation-pooping grayskins from the last story, this is not a very diverse galaxy?

Anyway, all Ole Doc does when he sees the slaves coming up is raise a "microglass" to read the brand on one of them, which reads "Air, Limited."  And the narration tells us that might have been the end of it, and the whole encounter would be nothing but a footnote in the Morgue's logs, had Ole Doc not seen "her," a slight but appealingly curvy girl clapped in irons.  Something about the way her hair flows down her back or the way her eyes and nose form a triangle makes Ole Doc drop his pipe and stand up with his knees wobbling.

She sees him too and slows enough to make the old man chained behind her stumble and the guy in front of her jerk back, then the "Persephon humanoid" sees the tangle and gets out his brass rod.  But before any beatings can occur the monster "sort of exploded into a mist" while his arm ends up sixty feet away, landed on top of the still-invisible Morgue.  See, Ole Doc is not only packing, but he's a genuine Galactic Medalist in short arms, and though he's merely four hundred years out of practice he manages to quick-draw and hip-shoot the offending slavedriver.  The other five Persephon guards open fire to kill some grass, and are similarly reduced to little craters.

Nothing like a low-stakes, completely one-sided action scene to start the story off right, eh?

The slaves are all stunned at the sudden violence, one old woman got "pinked" by a wild shot and is staring at her blood, while Ole Doc is shaking from the excitement and chastising himself for getting a thrill out of killing.  He picks up his pipe and all the slaves scream and recoil from "this smoking monster..."  Wow.  So if Ole Doc, who was visible when he did all this, had picked up and put on a rubber mask, would they have wet themselves at his horrible transformation?  Even if smoking has become "extinct most everywhere for hundreds of years," this is pretty stupid.

Hippocrates is annoyed, both with himself for barely managing to take aim with the ship's cannons before Ole Doc took care of the threat, and with Ole Doc for engaging in violence.  He shrilly chews out his owner, reminding him that "It says right in your code that 'Whosoever shall kill large numbers of people solely for satisfaction shall be given a hearing and shall be fined a week's pay, it being the mission of this Society to preserve mankind in the galaxy-'" ...wow.  This would really mean something if we knew what a Soldier of Light's weekly pay was.  Or saw them spending money on anything.  As it is, this sounds like a laughably light slap on the wrist for a heinous crime, all the more alarming because the organization in question is supposedly a group of doctors protecting the human race.

And oh, it gets better.  Hippocrates trails off when he realizes he's actually quoting the Parody Code, and the Universal Medical Society's real rules say its members shouldn't "kill large numbers for experimentation."  So by implication, small numbers are fine.  And again, killing large numbers of people is an offense worthy of a hearing and small fine.

I'd wonder whether Hubbard was being remarkably subtle, and actually intended for the reader to rail against the injustice of this dictatorship of the physician he's set up for us.  But I don't think so.  Ole Doc has always been glorified as a hero, the actions he takes are presented as right and proper, and nobody in the story ever wishes that "ordinary" doctors could handle the emergencies that the Soldiers of Light occasionally deign to solve.

Anyway.  Hippocrates shuts up, but Ole Doc doesn't notice him, or even the dropped pipe - which the alien slave slyly picks up and breaks.  Hippocrates is happy he solved his master's filthy habit until he realizes that Ole Doc and that girl are staring at each other, and thus groans "A girl!", because he and we have seen this song-and-dance before.

Now, it was no plan of Ole Doc's to inspect Arphon of Sun12.

You can make up a planet's name but not a star's name, huh, Hubbard?

He was on his leisurely way to hand a deposition warrant to a System Chief over in Sub-Rim 18, 5260, that worthy having failed to respect Section 8, Paragraph 918 of Code 94 of the Universal Medical Society.

Meaningless words and numbers, just wasting paper and ink.  Not even the effort to name this System Chief, to say nothing of explaining what medical law he violated.

And if Arphon has slaves like this, it was theoretically none of his medical business.

But she was staring at him.

He flushed a little and looked down. But he was caped in gold and belted in scarlet with metal wings on his yellow boots and was decent.

Yeah, "decent."  Not a garish spoof of Hermes or anything.  Funny thing is, the cover artist seems to have forgotten to add the little wings to Ole Doc's booties.  Wonder why?

Hippocrates sighs, breaks the girl's bonds with his bare hands, puts her aside, and tries to shoo off the other 115 former captives, telling them to go home.  But they complain that they can't, and the girl mentions an "air tax" while the rest get down and crawl towards Hippocrates, groveling and begging for money.  Hippocrates has "definite limits on his skills and when these were reached he had but one god," and so cries for his master to do something, but Ole Doc is still staring at the girl.  He only reacts when she blushes and adjusts her ragged robe.

Ole Doc finally snaps out of it and orders Hippocrates to "Put her in the ship!"  The other hundred slaves?  "Go back to your homes!  Beat it!"  Our hero.

Alas, an old man chooses that moment to choke out "Air!  Air!  Oh-" and collapse, followed by two others.  Ole Doc sniffs and orders Hippocrates to "Test for air."  I can't help but feel that this is something you should do before you set up a little pavilion to relax in on a foreign world.

While Hippocrates, "master of machinery," checks the instruments for... air, or whatever, he takes satisfaction in how the other slaves freak out when this makes the Morgue turn visible again.  I wonder how common this stealth technology is?  We certainly haven't seen anyone else use it.  Is this another piece of "medical" knowledge the Soldiers of Light seized for themselves?

The air turns out to be good, though Ole Doc still puts on his helmet.  He examines the keeled-over old guy and eight other victims of this mysterious affliction, and has Hippocrates test a saliva sample for bacteria and junk, but nope, nothing.  And then "She" faceplants and goes still.

Ole Doc immediately rushes Her into the Morgue's medical suite, while the others are presumably left outside under a force field as Hippocrates goes around, spraying a sterilizer and breaking their chains.  It sure is reassuring to know that the degree of treatment you can expect from a Soldier of Light is directly tied to how much he wants to bone you.

Finally acting professional instead of merely horny, Ole Doc declares that he's never heard of anything like "mal-oxygenation," and spots a tag on Her ear, reading "Property of Air, Limited.  Repossessed Juduary 43rd, '53.  By order of Lem Tolliver, President, Air, Limited."  He tears the tag off and stomps it underfoot, then spends a moment healing the ear so there's not even a scar.  Then he goes back to handling that little breathing problem she's experiencing by sticking an oxygen mask on her.

Hippocrates jumps aboard again to report that another ship is coming in for a landing, and also that "Guns ready.  Tell me when to shoot."  Ole Doc gets his slave to settle down and keep a force field up until they know what the newcomers are doing.  His air treatment finished, he helps the girl ease upright and take off her mask, and they make gooey eyes at each other.

"Ugh!" said Hippocrates.  "Nicotine, women!  You never live to be ten thousand, I bet.  Next, rum!"

"Fine idea," said Ole Doc.  "My dear, if you'd like to step this way-"

And he opens some doors, leading Her into a stateroom, and Hippocrates knows that she'll soon shower and get dressed in one of Ole Doc's robes, then they'll sit in that salon and talk.  I guess we can assume that at some point afterword they'll enjoy some "coffee" or whatever euphemism is appropriate.  At first Hippocrates is like "Ugh!  It had been exactly nineteen years and six days since Ole Doc had show any interest in a woman-", but then he remembers that, well, it is Ole Doc's birthday.  So he grins and climbs into a gun turret, leaving the two "love"birds alone.

There is still a crowd of people gasping and crying for "Air!" outside the bloody spaceship.  And Ole Doc has a treatment that can alleviate their problems.  But he is ignoring them in favor of getting into this woman's pants.  Also, that bleeding woman who got winged by a blaster bolt never got treatment.

While Ole Doc and this woman he just met are doing something private in his quarters, Hippocrates sits in one of the Morgue's gun turrets, watching the approaching Scoutcraft Raider, a vehicle with "enough armament to slaughter a city and it was manned with humans who, even at this distance, looked extremely unreliable."  Presumably this vessel is open-topped, but... well, just wait.

Five goons disembark from the raiding craft with guns drawn, followed shortly by a big guy in black who reminds Hippocrates of a vulture.  The alien switches on the "near screen," throwing up another force field and disregarding how doing so "kicked about twenty slaves a dozen feet or more outward from the Morgue."  None of them were hot chicks, so it's no loss.

The goons examine the scorched grass where there used to be some sort of mutant, glare at the groveling, pleading slaves, but miss the crossed "ray rods" on the medical ship's nose and don't see U.M.S.S. Morgue, Ole Doc Methuselah spelled out on its side.  They certainly didn't pick up the vessel's transponder on the way in, and of course they didn't make radio contact at any point.

But... well, Ole Doc's ship has to have a radio or something, because Hippocrates is able to warn "You'd better stop" from the turret, and the bad guys stop.  Because how else would that work?  What, is the turret exposed and uncovered, allowing Hippocrates to yell at them from the gunner's seat?

Except the goons' leader shouts back at Hippocrates, there's no mention of a communicator in his hand or anything... so are they really having this conversation through sheets of glass and metal and miscellaneous energy fields?  Is Hippocrates' nasally, whining yelling throwing off Ole Doc's groove right when he's trying to get to know Her in a biblical sense?

Anyway, the big bad guy introduces himself as Big Lem Tolliver and demands to know why his Persephons are greasy stains on the ground.  Hippocrates advises the man to retreat because "If my master sees you, he'll cut you open to see the size of your liver or drill holes in your skull to equalize the vacuum."  The bad guys ignore this, and one of Tolliver's flunkies reports that there's 115 slaves here, but the radio report said there were 116.  So they do have radios in this universe, they just never seem to use them when they should.

Tolliver orders his thugs to search the Morgue, Hippocrates explains whose ship this is and that they "specialize in dead men named Lem Tolliver."  Hippocrates is, in fact, having some fun adapting dialogue from Tales of the Early Space Pioneers to everyday life.  This would be more endearing if I didn't find Hippocrates so annoying, and if this didn't have deadly consequences.

"Spacecrap!" said Lem Tolliver.

Sweet Earthchrist...

"That's no U.M.S. ship!  You'd never steal a slave if you were."

Yeah, why would anyone expect the benevolent dictators of the galaxy to rescue even a single slave?

"Slaves are U.M.S. business, pardner," said Hippocrates.

By which he means to say a UMS doctor will do business with slave traders and purchase a slave such as himself.

"And even if they weren't, we'd make it our business, son.  You going to go along and tell your mama to wipe your nose or am I going to have to wipe it myself - with 'sploders?  Now git!"  He was certainly converting well today.

Man, every frontier after the 19th century is going to turn out like the Old West, isn't it?  We'll settle new planets while wearing cowboy hats, dusters and sixshooter blasters at our hips.  We'll colonize the ocean floor with sombreros attached to the top of our diving suits and ponchos over our oxygen tanks.  We're explore the quantum universe on quark-sized nano-horses for easy movement between the atoms.  And we'll talk with a drawl the whole time.

Tolliver tells his henchmen to search the Morgue, but Hippocrates looses a dozen explosive shots in front of the bad guys.  And we're told he would've shot "a thousand more as warning," but the raiding ship had orders to respond if the Morgue did anything.  And boy does it respond, with "a resounding vomit of fire," a big, acidy splatter of electric death, heaving out of the gullets of the raider's cannons.

The Morgue reeled as the screen folded.  The top turret caved into tangled smoke.  The side port fused and dripped alloy gone molten.  And Big Lem Tolliver looked on in some annoyance for there went his chance of recovering the missing repossessed slave.

And that's "The Great Air Monopoly," everyone!  Guess we'll never see what the title was talking about, but kudos to the author for pulling off such an unexpected, even shocking, ending!  What a refreshing subversion to the idea that some boring invincible hero can show up, chase the first skirt he sees, and leave crucial business unfinished and important interactions to his incompetent sidekick.  You really have to hand-

Okay, I kid, I kid.  But I can dream.  Maybe the final Ole Doc Methuselah story will end this way.

Now, you might be wondering - wasn't the last story about slaves?  And didn't it end with Ole Doc convincing the Soldiers of Light to work to ban the interstellar slave trade?  Well, you're not the only one confused, because when he first sees those mutant slavedrivers, our hero thinks "this was odd because Ole Doc himself a hundred or was it fifty years before had thought the practice stopped by his own policing."

Wait... I think I'm reading that wrong.  The slaves are only mentioned once, that paragraph is more about the beings guarding them.  I think Ole Doc is remembering that he supposedly stopped the practice of using eugenics to make those monsters, not the time a hundred years ago when he convinced a guy to ship some plutonium-eating slaves home.  He doesn't really wonder that there's still slavery in the galaxy.  Hell, he wasn't even going to get involved until he saw that hot slave.

Sure is nice to know that our hero can make a difference, isn't it?


Back to "The Expensive Slaves"

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Expensive Slaves - Part Three - The Invisible Enemy

The Arlington douche is understandably alarmed when Ole Doc comes running into his office holding a bloody liver, though this quickly changes to anger when our hero tells him that he's got to return the Kufra to where they came from.  "Why should I spend a fortune doing that?" he asks.  More on this later.

The slavemaster talks about having the Kufra all killed for causing the plague, but Ole Doc is like 'nuh-uh, I'm a doctor!'  He also points out that killing the aliens would just leave the "poison" behind, and brings up that tale he misremembers as an Italian turning his daughter into a biological weapon.  When the Arlington douche still refuses to cooperate, Ole Doc gets out his big guns: a piece of yellow paper with

George Jasper Arlington
Never

written on it.  Unlike in the first story, our bad guy doesn't understand the significance of this, forcing Ole Doc to explain that it's

"A personal yellow ticket.  I go now to give them to all your spaceships, all your captains, all your towns and villages.  No one will come to you, ever.  No one can go from here, ever.  There will be no export, no import.  I abandon you and all space abandons you.  I condemn you to the death you sought to give your slaves.  I have spoken."

So a half-assed attempt to reason with the guy, followed by a threat to kill an entire settlement through disease and starvation.  Our hero, laddies and gentlewomen.

The Arlington douche finally asks just what's wrong with the slaves, and what disease or poison they're spreading.  Ole Doc doesn't quite answer, though - he shows off the liver again, and points out "the remains of a malignant and commonly fatal tumor of this particular species of colloid.  It is a cancer, Arlington."  Now a colloid is just a term for a certain type of mixture, with nothing really to do with cancers or livers, so I'm not sure whether this is some primitive, early 20th century medical science going on or just Hubbard not knowing what he's talking about.

Anyway, the Arlington douche complains that cancer isn't contagious, but Ole Doc just says "Look at it" and presumably waves the organ at him until he agrees to return the Kufra to Sirius 68, alive and unharmed, in exchange for Ole Doc's help treating the rest of the settlement.  The ruler of Dorab whines that shipping the slaves out will cost him "half my fortune" and all his laborers, and Ole Doc recommends hiring the galaxy's best engineers to make "some machinery" for the timber industry, and the doctor will whip up some Potions of Resist Cold so normal humans can spend some time out of doors.  Not mentioned: frakking robots.

Now, that stuff about space travel - Dorab is worth fifteen trillion spacebux, and the Arlington douche controls the majority of it.  So if we take his comments at face value, it would cost trillions of dollars just to ship one load of slaves between two worlds.  So space travel in this setting is advanced enough to allow movement between galaxies, across distances so vast that the mind doesn't just boggle, but curls up in a little ball and pulls blankets over its head, and yet it's also prohibitively expensive.  This makes the first "Old Doc Methuselah" story even more problematic, and casts serious doubts on the feasibility of interstellar trade in general.

And just how much was that little atomic "pile" Ole Doc picked up last story worth, anyway?

Ultimately it's fear of Ole Doc's threats and "the thing in his hand" that makes the Arlington douche relent - try flourishing a bloody, diseased liver the next time you're haggling with someone - and so the next page is our hero saying goodbye to the Kafra.  Their still-nameless leader shakes hands with Ole Doc, promising to build a shrine and direct their prayers to the physician as if he were another deity.  Ole Doc smiles and pulls out another piece of yellow paper - well, a sheet of "eternium satin" - that reads

Quarantine!

Know all wanderers of space, all captains of ships, generals of armies, ministers of governments, princes, kings and rulers whatsoever that this
Planet Sirius Sixty-eight
Has been declared in perpetual quarantine forever and that no inhabitant of this planet is to depart from it for any cause or reason whatsoever until the end of time.
 By my hand and seal, under the watchfulness of God, by the power invested in me, so witness my command:
ODM
Soldier of Light

And Ole Doc tells them to enshrine that, and "show it to all who would come for you and be deluded by your manlike appearance into thinking you could be slaves."  So the closest to the human form a species is, the more likely people are to think it's okay to clap them in irons?  Also, "None will violate it for the men who conquer space are not the men who rule its petty planets and they know."  Hooray brave explorers, boo politicians.

So now, if any slavers show up over Sirius Sixty-Eight, and they just so happen to decide to raid the settlement of these specific Kufra, and they just so happen to examine the primitives' shrine or pay attention to their pleading, they'll read the note and turn around and go home, having wasted trillions of spacebux on an easy yet incredibly expensive space journey.

As opposed to Ole Doc giving the crew of the spaceship sending these guys home a little automated beacon they can put in orbit that will automatically radio any incoming ships a warning about the quarantine.  I mean, these space men do have generic communicators, so they must have radios in their spaceships, right?  Surely the super-genius Soldiers of Light have a better way to mark a quarantine than a single sheet of paper?!

Ugh.  Once the former slaves are on their way home, Ole Doc goes around using the "proper rays" to treat the survivors in Dorab.  The day is saved or whatever.  An awed Arlington douche apologizes for mistaking the 792-Earth-years-old Ole Doc for "some kid," but asks for more information about just what was going wrong with the slaves.

"I don't mind telling you," said Ole Doc, "now that they've gone.  Slavery is a nasty thing.  It is an expensive thing.  The cheapest slave costs far too much in dignity and decency.  For men are created to do better things than enslave others.  You'll work out your industries some better way, I know."

I'm really looking forward to the part where Hubbard explains why Ole Doc's relationship with Hippocrates, who he purchased and who treats him as a beloved master, is different and healthy.

The Arlington douche nods and agrees, but presses Ole Doc to answer the actual question.  So our hero explains that the various creatures in the galaxies can have very different metabolisms, such as Hippocrates, "My man there," and his gypsum-based diet.  He figured out what the Kufra eat when he found that cancerous liver, a cancer that had been healed.  It's not stated, but the conclusion is that the dead girl's liver had been given impromptu chemotherapy, because the Kufra have a plutonium-based diet.  So those "rather expensive slaves" were irradiating everything and everyone around them.

In other words, these spacemen don't have Geiger counters.  They don't take any steps to avoid falling victim to biological pathogens, and they have no way of telling whether the worlds they're exploring or the people they're meeting are hotter than Chernobyl.  The Universal Medical Society has created a terminally stupid galaxy, so their agents get to fly around solving problems that shouldn't exist in the first place.

The Arlington douche is very respectful and asks if he can give anything to Ole Doc in exchange for rescuing his people from their own idiocy, and Ole Doc initially shrugs it off before remembering that one of his fellows asked for a bottle of Mizar Musk.  And that wraps up our story,

Which was how Miss Rogers received a full hogshead of Mizar musk

Well, I say fellows, but since she isn't "Dr. Rogers," I guess the Universal Medical Society lets the girls stay in the kitchen while the boys do the real science.

and why the Soldiers of Light, wandering through a thousand galaxies,

It's almost like Hubbard is being stupid on purpose.

bear to this day the right to forbid the transportation of slaves from anywhere to anywhere on the pain of any one of those peculiar little ways they have of enforcing even their most capricious laws.

Grrrrr.  They don't bother to appeal to universal human rights or anything, the Soldiers of Light just can, if they feel like it, stop any slave trading they come across with one of their medical quarantines.  Nothing about stopping slave trades that are confined to a single planet, of course, God forbid these galactic medical overlords get political.

Every Ole Doc story I read, I hate these "Soldiers of Light" even more.


Back to Part Two 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Expensive Slaves - Part Two - The Almost People

Ole Doc "assumed instantly" that on a world as hostile as Dorab, all the settlements would be constructed underground.  Since he had to assume this, we can conclude that he didn't do any research about the planet he was visiting, and he received no instructions to look for the tunnel to Hab Complex Alpha or whatever from Dorab's air traffic control.  Once again, there's nobody on this planet in a tower watching scanners and sensor readings, making radio contact with incoming vessels that wish to land.

The best they can do is post a guy in the entrance tunnel, a "wild-eyed youngster" who is of course surprised to see the Soldier of Light because as I said, nobody saw the Morgue coming.  He leads Ole Doc down deserted streets, the shops along the sides all boarded-up and closed... with "heavy timbers," they didn't just disengage the motion-activated automatic door openers for the metal portals.  This future keeps finding ways to disappoint me.

Only a few lights are working, though the author doesn't specify if they're torches or oil lamps, and the gutters (of this subterranean settlement) are filled with rotting bodies "spoiling the already foul air of the town."  And this raises the question of helmets.  Ole Doc is entering a town being ravaged by an unknown disease, so it'd be pretty stupid to be doing so without fully-sealed environmental gear, yet he can smell the air of the crisis zone.  In a page or two there will be an idle mention of the "gold glass of his helmet" frosting a bit, so at that point he's certainly wearing a helmet, but we can't be sure here.  Maybe it's sealed enough to protect him from germs but not bad odors?  

There's no mention of the kid at the door wearing any sort of environmental gear, and when Ole Doc is led past "empty warehouses and broken villas" to a basalt castle and the office of that Arlington douche, the man isn't wearing a mask or anything either.  I'd say that the Soldiers of Light's crackdown on medical know-how has left everyone else in the galaxy too stupid to cover their mouths during a disease outbreak, except as I said we can't be certain Ole Doc is taking any such precautions either.

Also, let's look at what little we know about this underground city: gutters, warehouses, shops, villas, and a freakin' castle.  If the place was just bored into the rock, we wouldn't have any of this, just a bunch of closed doors in the sides of the tunnel that could lead anywhere.  You wouldn't need a castle, just a particularly reinforced entrance to your most secure area.  The only non-stupid way this would come about would be if they were lucky enough to find a huge natural cave to build in, otherwise they dug out a much larger excavation than they needed just to build conventional structures in it.

Ole Doc has a meeting with that Arlington douche, described with "eyes like a caged lion and his hair was massed over his eyes," a "huge brute of a man, with strength and decision in every inch of him."  But no face mask.  The douche jumps out of bed, promising to pay any amount to the Soldiers of Light if they will save him from this disaster, then bluntly ordering Ole Doc to get to work in the same paragraph.  Our hero explains that his organization doesn't accept any fees... you know, this is such a weird concept coming from the founder of Scientology.

Anyway, Ole Doc also explains that he can "make no promises about ridding you of any plague which might be on you.  I am here to investigate, as a matter of medical interest, any condition you might have."  After all, the space telegraph just said to "look into" the disease decimating Dorab-Mizar, nothing about actually curing it.  The book's introduction says that the Soldiers of Light are only sworn to keep disease "within rational bounds," remember.  And what's one lost timber colony on one world in one galaxy of many?

I think I'm starting to hate these guys.

That Arlington douche gets tetchy at that, and tells Ole Doc that "Every man owes a debt to humanity," and the humans on Dorab are dying, so the doctor is obligated to help him.  The colonists also "raise all the insulating fiber used anywhere for spaceships."  Which I really hope is hyperbole.  Also, the place is worth fifteen trillion spacebux, and the Arlington douche controls most of that, so food for thought.

Ole Doc clarifies again that "I didn't say I wouldn't try," but "I only said I couldn't promise."  And then he gets some details about the outbreak from the Arlington douche - three months back a party brought in some slaves from "the Sirius Planet," but the expedition also picked up some plague that killed half the starship's crew before spreading to the rest of the planet.  The settlement had two other doctors, but of course they were no Soldiers of Light, and died early on.  Guess they were acceptable losses to the Soldiers of Light's plan to keep dangerous medical knowledge out of the wrong hands.

When Ole Doc asks to be shown around, the Arlington douche pales and says that he's needed in Central - the guards are panicking and there might be slave uprising.  It's only this second mention of forced labor that gets Ole Doc asking about slaves, and the Arlington douche talks more about those captives from Sirius Sixty-Eight, excellent loggers who don't tire and don't even eat, so they're wonderfully cheap.  Aside from being accompanied by the plague that's wiping out the city, of course.  A plague that doesn't seem to be affecting them for whatever reason.

Ole Doc thinks that he should have a chat with those Sirians' leader, and learns from the Arlington douche that although the slaves have a medicine man called a "cithw" ...witch.  There, I cracked your code, Hubbard, aren't you proud of me?  Anyway, the Arlington douche explains that nobody's bothered to talk to these filthy savages, because "We are superior to them in culture and weapons and that makes them inferior to us.  Fair game!"  Stop it, Hubbard, you're making me nostalgic for Buckskin Brigades.

Nevertheless, Ole Doc wants to talk to these subhumans, and in an amazing coincidence, at that very moment someone yells that "those goo-goos" are on the move, and all the guards are too scared of the plague to go near them.  The doctor sees himself out as the Arlington douche tries to keep things in order, telling someone that the "soldier" he was sent "Doesn't look more than twenty and he's just as baffled as we are."  Stop it, Hubbard, you're giving me Mission Earth flashbacks.

Ole Doc looked down the empty corridors.  He didn't know why he should save the planet.

Because people are dying, you tremendous asshole.

He had prejudices against slavery and the people who practiced it.  Somehow, away back in Nineteen Forty-six when he graduated from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, people had got the idea that human beings should be free and that Man, after all, was a pretty noble creature intended for very high destinies.  Some of that had been forgotten as the ages marched on but Ole Doc had never failed to remember.

He just didn't spend any effort reminding anyone else.  I didn't mention this last time, but the narration states near the story's start that those Soldiers of Light don't get involved in such "political" affairs as combating slave states - "But none of this was the business of the Universal Medical Society, for man, it seemed, would be man, and big fleas ate smaller ones inevitably."  They can't be arsed to squash these parasites, and don't feel like educating people on how to avoid picking them up, they just watch as bigger vermin snap up the smaller vermin.  And occasionally handle an outbreak of illness "within rational bounds."

And good grief, just look at that paragraph I just quoted.  Fourth sentence, Ole Doc mentions that he was taught that Man was "a pretty noble creature," second sentence, Ole Doc wonders why he should save these people.

The UN has a pretty spotty record when it comes to stopping conflicts and supporting freedom, but at least it tries.  Its lack of success is due to things like Russia and China having veto power or reluctance among its member nations to committing to stopping the Rwanda genocide, but advancing human rights and peace are in the organization's mission statement.  These Soldiers of Light aren't even committed to saving lives.  They just handle some plagues, and make sure all the other doctors in the galaxy are too incompetent to deal with the rest.

I don't think I'm starting to hate these guys anymore.

When Ole Doc reaches "the eighteenth barrier of the city," which I'm just going to assume is a guarded checkpoint of some sort, he finds three hysterical guards with a "machine blaster" and a crowd of slaves advancing from down the corridor.  He introduces himself as "a medic who just drifted in" and asks if he can speak with the aliens' leader.

"Are you crazy?"

"I have occasionally suspected it," said Ole Doc.

Hur hur hur hate you.

But he gets his face-to-face with the... sigh... "cithw."  The ancient leader of the beings from Sirius looks astonishingly normal, and "except for his deep gray color and the obvious fact that he was not of flesh, he might well have been any human patriarch."  When Ole Doc sees the sage wisdom and quiet dignity in the guy's eyes, he wonders, "Was this a slave?"

Now, if he'd been some pale, six-limbed, whiny, wheezy, squat frog-lizard like Hippocrates...

They talk in "lingua spacia," a language with a mere 489 words, so of course it's perfect as a galactic Common Tongue.  Ole Doc insists he's a friend and a cithw like the alien, and surmises that the aliens are in trouble.  The other cithw, who does not bother to introduce himself, not that Ole Doc asked, explains that his people call themselves the Kufra, after what they eat every other year.  They're hungry right now, they're not part of the galactic empire, they don't anything about humans or the rest of the galaxy, they don't like the snow and the "dead faces," and really they just want to go home.

Ole Doc asks about the disease and confirms that none of the Kufra have even seen sickness until the paleskins around them started dropping from it, and then the alien leader goes back to begging for rescue.

Wise one, if you are a man of magic among these peoples, free us from this living death.  Free us and we shall worship you as a god, building bright temples to your name as a deliverer of our people.  Free us, wise one, if you have the power."

God damn it Hubbard.

Ole Doc felt a choke of emotion, so earnest were these words, so real the agony in this being's soul.

All those corpses in the gutters he passed on the way?  Meh.

Ole Doc promises to free the Kufra is they'll return to their quarters for now, they do so, the guards are astonished when he finally reveals that he's a Soldier of Light, dramatic swish of Ole Doc's golden cloak as he goes back to town.  Having used a generic communicator to arrange things off-camera, Ole Doc is able to meet Hippocrates there.  The alien hauled in fifteen hundred pounds' worth of equipment under one arm because he "was lawful in everything but obeying Newton's law of gravity."  I kinda wonder how he could manage that without tipping over.

While his slave recites the manual for plague protocol, Ole Doc gets to work on some autopsies of the corpses collected from the streets.  Right in front of that "castle."  Guess those so-called doctors didn't have a clinic or anything for him to appropriate.  The Arlington douche looks out his window to see what's going on, blanches, and draws the blinds.  Hippocrates also has to wave off a few onlookers, because good grief these people haven't the slightest idea of how to behave during an outbreak of an unknown disease.  Well done, Soldiers of Light, these people won't be able to misuse the forbidden arts of basic sanitation!

The first corpse Ole Doc examines would have died from Grave's disease (again with the thyroid) but shows no sign of "the plague."  Three more dissections bear no fruit... eww... but then Ole Doc examines some slides under a microscope and sees sign of anemia, "bad enough to kill."  Hippocrates recites the "sixty-nine thousand seven hundred and four known diseases," but none of them quite fit the bill, so Ole Doc keeps autopsy-ing.  He finally feels "something like pity" while examining the corpse of a malnourished woman, but then he discovers something while digging through her innards.

He seized the liver and held it closer to the light and then, with a barked command at Hippocrates, raced up the steps and kicked open the door of George Jasper Arlington's office.

What did Ole Doc find?  What could be causing this mysterious plague that threatens Dorab?  Something that shows just how amazingly, fatally stupid these spacemen are.


Back to Part One

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Expensive Slaves - Part One - Cold Blood

If you remember the relationship between our two recurring characters, you can probably guess that there's a fundamental problem with this story...

Our story opens with an introduction to one George Jasper Arlington, who at the age of ten traveled to the Mizar system and the planet Dorab.  He conquered the ice world thanks to his bulk, energy, and ability to find a way to make a settlement there profitable.  You see...

In the early days of the second millennium of space travel, when mankind was but sparsely settling the habitable worlds, land was worth nothing - there was too much of it.  

Wait, so then how did the plot for the first Ole Doc story - screw it, continue.

But it is an economic principle that when land is to be hand for little then there are but few men to work it and wealth begins to consist not of vast titlings of soil but numbers of men to work it.  Inevitably, when man not earth is the scarcity, capital invests itself in human beings; and slavery, regardless of the number of laws which may be passed against it, is practiced everywhere.

Uh huh.  Well, I can look back on history and say that yeah, the settling of the Americas coincided with the use of slave labor, but I think that was mostly about producing as many cash crops as possible for as cheap as possible rather than the result of any economic "law."  Societies like ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome practiced slavery despite lacking an abundance of excess land to claim, after all.  I think it's better to say that slavery happens wherever people would rather pay to keep other people in bondage than give them wages.  And are big enough douches to do that to their fellow man.

But yeah, here's our story premise: slave labor in space.  Kinda like how the story before last was land speculation in space.  This Arlington douche solved Dorab's labor shortage by advertising seven-year labor contracts to "less advantageous" worlds around it, but that stopped working when people found out that no human could survive that much labor on such an inhospitable world.

So he came up with a new plan: send expeditions to planets without humans on them.

Located here and there throughout space were worlds which held no converse with man.  Because of metabolism, atmosphere, gravity and such, many thousands of "peoples" 

That's racist.

were utterly isolated and unapproachable.  Furthermore, they did not want to be approached for what possible society could they have formed with a carbon, one g being?  Man now and then explored such worlds in highly insulated ships and suits, beheld the weird beings, gaped at the hitherto unknown physiological facts and then got out rapidly.  For a two-foot "man,"

Or maybe it's speciest?

for instance, who ate pumice and weighed two tons - Earth - had about as much in common with a human being as a robot with a cat.

From this careless sentence we can conclude that robots exist in this setting, something I'll expand on later.

And so such worlds were always left alone.  And therein lay the genius of George Jasper Arlington, lordly in his empire on Dorab.

So to recap: aliens exist in this setting (like Hippocrates, doy).  But they're all stuck on their home planets and boggled at for having different environmental or dietary requirements than Earthlings, none of them seem to have any interstellar capability of their own.  And humans can't think of anything to do with them after making first contact. 

Imagine if in Star Trek, Kirk or Picard or whoever spent every week going to a different world, visiting the weird aliens down there in space suits to survive the local environment, doing some medical scans, shaking hands at the end of the episode, and then moving on, never seeing the Vulcans or Klingons again.

Anyway, Arlington had the bright idea of enslaving some of these freaks of nature, and had just picked up nine hundred workers from Sirius Sixty-Eight... the 68th world orbiting Sirius?  But then people started sickening and dying, and Arlington "reacted violently."

Enter Ole Doc, cruising along towards "important affairs" in the Morgue, only to be interrupted by a "flash" from the great super galactic Medical Center central command:

IF CONVENIENT YOU MIGHT LOOK IN ON DORAB-MIZAR WHERE UNKNOWN DISEASE DECIMATES PLANET.  DR. HOLDEN WON INTERGALACTIC TAMERLANE CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP. MISS ROGERS WOULD LIKE A FLASK OF MIZAR MUSK IF YOU STOP.  BEST.  FOLLINGSBY.

Spaceship able to travel across galaxies and pick up transmissions from anywhere, and the messages it receives are a few "STOP"s away from being telegraphs.  The Hubbard Future, ladies and gentlemen.

And geez, "if convenient."  These assholes hoard medical knowledge allegedly to protect humanity, and here they are responding to a plague outbreak "if convenient."  And don't forget to pick up some booze for the lady doctor while you're there.  The Soldiers of Light, ladies and germs.

So Ole Doc goes back to that stupid salon, where for the first time since he had the thing installed 120 years ago, he activates the Morgue's Speary Automatic Navigator, changing course by simply saying "Dorab-Mizar, capital."  Point two for robotics, we have sophisticated autopilots for spaceships that can respond to verbal orders.  Hippocrates, "his ageless slave," cheerfully serves his master a dinner of wild goose on "a diamond-set platter of pure gold," because if you've got the technology to keep yourself from dying, there's really no downside to selling your soul to Mammon.

For some frog-like, subhuman slave, Hippocrates is strangely cultured - he entertains his master by reciting the story of "Rappacini's Daughter."  And gets it wrong.  According to the Wikipedia article, in the original tale, a man falls for a herbalist's daughter and discovers that she has spent so much time tending her father's poisonous plants that she's become toxic herself.  The way Hubbard tells it, Rappacini "fills up his own daughter on poison to which he immunizes her and then sets her in the road of his rival's son," thus killing the lad to get his revenge.  Yeah, that sounds more Hubbard's style.

Ole Doc gets introspective about the yarn, it's something he'd forgotten over the past three centuries or so.  He also realizes he's got so many more ways to kill people than some ancient Italian alchemist.

Maybe, he mused over dessert, it was just as well that people didn't dig into literature any more but contented themselves on sparadio thrillers and washboard weepers.  From all the vengeance, provincialism, wars and governments he had seen of late, such devices could well depopulate the galaxies.

Not many educated experts have a pro-ignorance platform like that.  But then again, not many doctors try to make sure they and their buddies are the only ones with access to advanced medical technology.

Also, Ole Doc?  You own a slave.

Any further thoughts are interrupted when the Morgue announces that they've landed at Nantay, capital of Dorab-Mizar.  So the ship was smart enough to know what the planet's capital was called even when Ole Doc didn't, and for all we know handled the exchange with air traffic control - I'm going to be extraordinary generous and assume that this settled world has someone in its spaceport with a radio to hail incoming ships.

Hippocrates gets Ole Doc kitted up in a suit of "lead fiber," helmet and blasters and everything, and after the squat little six-limbed alien, "awful to behold," takes a moment to admire his owner, Ole Doc steps out onto desolate Dorab.  This planet has an irregular orbit between two nearby stars (Mizar and Alcor actually form a six-star system, but I guess this planet's going between two of them), which results in extreme variations in climate.  During hot periods the world's thorny and poisonous flora, including "huge, almost sentient trees," goes into overdrive, while the rest of the time the environment turns subarctic.  The temperature thus ranges between "two hundred above and ninety-one below zero," and settlements are buried underground.  Right now the world's coming out of a cold period.

But now, with a winter almost done, the trees were thick, black stumps standing on an unlimited vista of blue ice.  It was much too cold to snow.  The sky was blackish about Mizar's distant glare.  No tomb was ever more bleak nor more promising of death.  For the trees seemed dead, the rivers were dead, the sky was dead and all was killed with dead.

And so Ole Doc trudges straight into all this heavy environmental symbolism.

Now then.  The problem with the first Old Doc Methuselah story was that it didn't fit the technology of the setting.  If space travel was hard, a planet like Spico wasn't worth landing at, while if it was easy, there was no reason to do so.  In this case, we have a world with extreme temperatures and a need for resource extractors that can handle it.  And on the way there, the hero flies in an auto-piloted spaceship, and the narrative mentions robots.

It's Battlefield Earth all over again, the bad guys using slave labor instead of freaking robots.  With an initial investment and regular maintenance, you have a workforce that doesn't tire, won't revolt, doesn't need food, won't get you in trouble with law enforcement, and can handle any environment that doesn't melt steel.  But let's use slaves instead, so we can tell this story. 

Hey, wait a second - if the economic situation in the galaxy made resorting to slavery inevitable, why was this Arlington douche the first to resort to it?


Back to "Her Majesty's Aberration"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Her Majesty's Aberration - Part Three - The Face of Evil

Ole Doc is able to talk his captors into giving him his kit so he can, y'know, doctor.  He uses an impractically small two-inch plate of some sort to examine the prince's innards, and is impressed that his patient isn't dead yet.  A "vial of mutated bacteria mold" shoved in the guy's mouth will set him straight - obviously you fight TB-causing bacteria with more bacteria, duh.  No need for those antibiotics our so-called "doctors" peddle in this unenlightened era.

The princess is in remarkably good health, but Ole Doc finds a spot on the still nameless baby's lungs.  No bacteria for him, though... her?  Huh, the story not only fails to name this royal child, we don't even get its gender.  Can't Ole Doc tell?

Our hero advises his patient-prisoners to hold their noses, then throws a thumb-sized bomb to the floor, releasing "A dense white cloud, luminescent with ultraviolet light" that fills the chamber.  Yes, the smoke is glowing with light of a wavelength shorter than that of visible light.  Or in other words, it's shining with invisible energy.

This upsets the guards, who rush in, stick gun barrels into Ole Doc's ribs, and haul him up to the throne/powder room.  Ole Doc, Soldier of Light or no, is a little creeped out now that he knows what's behind the mirrored curtains, "For it seemed that black rods of evil were thrusting out from it."  And Ole Doc is not interested in black rods thrusting themselves at him, evil or otherwise, no sir.

Anyway, he reports that the patient will recover, "No thanks to you," which makes the guards nervous but only gets a laugh from the curtained throne.  But then he adds that "you might be interested to learn that diseases are no respecters of rank and glory and that I scent yet another in this very room."  Yes, he smells the smelly smell of schizophrenia, "dementia praecox with delusions of persecution," a lethal illness that "destroys both victim and executioner."

Her Majesty responds with silence, and not thoughtful or fearful silence, but "the silence of ignorance."  So Ole Doc has to explain some more.

"It is a dreadful thing, born from psychic shock.

Just ignore all that stuff in the Wikipedia article about prenatal factors, substance abuse or an urban environment.

I scent here a broken schizoid of the persecution type,

Paranoid type.

a paranoiac as dangerous to herself as to those about her." Ole Doc thought he spoke plainly and for the life of him, after what he had witnessed below and seen outside, he could not have refrained from this. But plain as he thought it was, only some annoyed glimmering was transmitted.

"I think you mean to be insulting."  The curtains shifted.

"Far from it," said Ole Doc.  "I only wish to help.  I speak of a thing which I know.  Here, I will show you."

And then it gets weird.

Ole Doc turns to a guard, uses sleight-of-hand to whip out a little spinning disc, holds it under the guard's nose, and speaks "in a fierce, rapid voice."  He palms the disc before anyone else can see it, and the next thing we know, the guard is running around on all fours going "Bow wow!  Woof!" and sniffing boots.

The story never out and admits it, but I can't help but feel like our hero has hypnotized someone here.  Sure, we're not told that there was a spiral on the disc, and it's weird that Ole Doc was aiming it at his victim's nose instead of his eyes, but he just went and turned someone into an animal.  Combined with his yammering about paranoid schizophrenics, it's almost like our hero is some sort of psychologist or something.  But that can't be right, this is an L. Ron Hubbard story!

Ole Doc turns to Her Majesty and uses a man running around on all fours as proof that schizophrenia is contagious, that "merely shoving" at a soldier turned him into a puppy.  The mad queen orders the poor man removed and demands to know whether anyone else shows symptoms.

With something like disgust when he realized the mentalities with which he dealt, Ole Doc faced Sir Pudno.

"I see traces of it here."

"No!" bawled Sir Pudno, backing and stumbling.

But the disc appeared and Ole Doc's voice was harsh if almost unheard even by Sir Pudno.

"Woof! Bow wow!" said Sir Pudno and instantly began to gallop around the room.

And another one bites the dust.  The rest of the guards scream and flee, Her Majesty yells for them to stay, Ole Doc cautiously approaches the curtain and starts talking about how hard it must be to go through what she has and - bing, little spinny disc.

It does not take many years for a powerful personality to acquire the trick.  Ole Doc, in a purely medical way, had been practicing it for the past seven hundred.  One gets a little faculty that way.  And the little disc spun.

Sure is lucky that the one-way glass around the dais doesn't mess up the... hypno-rays or whatever.

When he hears a sigh behind the curtains, Ole Doc pulls them back to behold the throne, a bed, some furniture, a dresser whose mirror has been replaced with a portrait of the queen as a young woman, and of course what's left of Her Majesty.

Had he not known the things she had done, pity would have moved him now.  For the sight he saw was horrible.  The bomb, six orbits ago, had left but little flesh and had blackened that.

She's so horribly injured, in fact, that we might wonder how, on a world that can't handle tuberculosis, she survived the bombing in the first place.  Even though we really shouldn't and ought to just focus on finishing the story.

Ole Doc throws another smoke bomb (of medicine!), deploying a cloud of a nameless narcotic to finish what his spinny disc had started.  Then he gets out a nonspecific "catalyst," his "all-purpose knife," and with Sir Pudno growling at anyone trying to enter the room, Ole Doc goes to work, using the portrait on the dresser as a reference.

The catalyst went in with every thrust of the knife and before he was finished with the back, it had already begun to heal and would only slightly scar.  The shiny grease was the very life of cells and hurled them into an orgy of production.

Cosmetic surgery, ladies and gentlemen!  That's how we're saving the planet this week!  Cosmetic surgery that allows new, healthy cells to grow as if by magic, since there's no mention of Ole Doc setting up some intravenous feeding to provide the raw materials for this cellular regeneration.  Or maybe she's gonna come out looking like a supermodel, all physically "flawless" but skeletal from starvation.

It takes three hours, what with all the cartilage and eyelash follicles and optic nerve repair, but I guess Sir Pudno is a good guard dog because nobody disturbs the surgery.  When he's done with the knife work, Ole Doc props Her Majesty up and talks to her as her scars fade and her eyes slowly clear.

It was a good thing Hippocrates was not there.

No argument here!

Hippocrates would have said a thing or two about the unmedical quality of some of Ole Doc's statements

You mean the lies?

and Soldiers of Light are not supposed to stray from medicine.

It was time now to do other things.

Sir Pudno reportedly "barked his compliance" when ordered to gather some workmen, there's no mention of Ole Doc undoing his mind (bleep)ery or the effect wearing off at any point, and in fact that sentence where he "barked" is the last time he appears in the story.  So since we aren't told otherwise, I'm afraid we have to assume that he'll continue to think he's a dog for the rest of his miserable existence.

Anyway, dudes come in to restore all the paintings and mirror to the throne powder room now that Her Majesty isn't caged in her ruined husk any more.  And whenever someone demands to know on whose authority they're acting, "Ole Doc only had to shove a hand inside the curtains and a signature came out."  The story assures us that this "was an opportunity which he did not abuse," and also that Ole Doc's enjoying himself.  Which kinda makes it sound like he's abusing the opportunity a little.

A properly dressed, shaved and non-tuberculosis-y Prince Rudolf is brought up along with Princess Ayilt and their - oh, it's a prince.  Way to let us know at the last minute.  They're all quite surprised to be rescued from a miserable death to be placed on a pair of restored thrones, and are just full of questions, but all Ole Doc has for them are orders.  In five minutes they're going to be declared the proper king and queen, Her Former Majesty is going to be shipped off to a luxurious villa for an early retirement, and nobody's going to mention the past six years to her.  Because... well, he doesn't have to justify his orders, he's a doctor.

Ayilt says Ole Doc "must be an angel."

"Others think very differently, I fear," said Ole Doc with a grin.  "Charge it up to the Soldiers of Light, the Universal Medical Society.

I thought they explicitly didn't accept any fees?

And never breathe a word of how I've taken a hand in politics here.

When anyone asks where the old queen went or why she looks hot again, just shrug.

Now, any questions?"

They looked at him numbly but there was life and hope in them once more.  "We have inherited a terrible job, but we'll do it," said Rudolf, pumping Ole Doc's hand.

That wasn't a question.

And that's about it.  Pauma stands "looking obediently at Ole Doc until, after a few swift words, he broke the spell," but before the new monarchs can say anything to her the doors bust in and a crowd of common folk and loyal soldiers come rushing in to greet everyone.  Somehow making a madwoman beautiful again and bringing two nearly-dead prisoners out of the dungeons has led to "fled garrisons and a populace burst from the bonds of slavery."  The former queen does nothing but admire herself in a mirror.  Ole Doc leaves, passing dead guards and broken shackles as he helps himself to a "small two-billion-foot-thrust pile" from the supply stores near the hangar.  There's environmental symbolism when the sky is brighter because Algol's smaller star is no longer blocking the brighter star.  And Hippocrates bitches at our hero when he gets back to the Morgue.

"One would think piles were hard to get!" he complained.

"This one," said Ole Doc, "was."

And three sentences later they leave, as Ole Doc sings "Fiddler of Saphi" some more.  And the story comes to a sudden and unsatisfying end.

So the machine to make someone crazy that the former queen wanted?  Irrelevant and not followed up on.  Those pirates who came in and incited the Mongolians to revolt?  Presumably still out there somewhere.  Queen Pauma, whose tyrannical and insane six-year-reign nearly destroyed the system?  It's not really her fault, and now that getting her good looks back has fixed all her mental problems, she gets to live the rest of her life in a private mansion, free of any consequences.  The armies of convicts and rebels that brought Algol to its knees?  Scampered off the minute they heard two royals had taken power, never to trouble anyone ever again.  The populace who was brutalized for most of a decade?  Just needed to hear that the right two people had sat upon the right two chairs to rise up and take their nation back.

And the kicker is, if Pauma was doomed because of her Convict Blood, how are her kids supposed to be any better?

Monarchies are stupid.

Wait, was Pauma even cured?  Because Ole Doc diagnosed her the same time he was BS-ing about a mental illness being communicable, and secretly hypnotizing hapless guards to prove his point.  So was he lying about the cause of her madness as well?  So is she still insane, but was just hypnotized into passivity so her son and daughter-in-law could take over?  And now she's set to terrorize everyone around her during her future of house arrest?  What's to keep her from returning to power?

And did she strictly need the surgery?  If Ole Doc was willing to lie, why not just declare her insane and use his medical authority to bring up the rightful rulers from the dungeons?  Is he obligated to give nosejobs and fake boobs to any homely women he comes across during his travels?

And why couldn't he just hypnotize the grunts who stopped him from getting the stupid pile at the story's start?  I mean, he's clearly willing to break the law and violate minds.  So why wait?

Ugh.  Next time, Ole Doc, just remember to fill up the bloody tank.


Back to Part Two 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Her Majesty's Aberration - Part Two - The Reign of Terror

Ole Doc marches out of his ship and follows the sound of tools to reach the "subsurface shops" next to the hangars of the starport he just landed in.  Then he stops in amazement when he sees "ten or twelve mechanics there and they did mechanic's work," except they're all chained together.  But not with mundane, boring chains from the 20th century, but "plastiron which was electrically belled every few yards to warn of its breaking."  You know, like how stuff in Star Wars is ferrocrete and transparisteel.  And stuff in our time is fiberglass and asbestos.

Our hero is a bit thrown by the presence of a chain gang, but doesn't try to interact with them, much less free the poor sods.  We're told he "would have backed out to look for the supply office," but Ole Doc is accosted by a dumpy guard quite unlike "the usual supereducated artisan-engineer" we should expect to be supervising this... chain gang.  The guard pulls his "machine blaster," orders Ole Doc to stay where he is, yells for someone named Eddy, and then an alarm goes off.

So apparently this spaceport doesn't want strangers coming in after all.  They just don't take any steps to prevent that from happening.  Guess air traffic control is all busy watching the forced laborers?

Now, our hero is a combination educated genius and space cowboy, so the narrator explains that "It was a toss-up whether Ole Doc drew and fired or stood and explained."  As it happens he takes too long to decide whether he's doing a pacifist run on this adventure or not, and someone sticks a gun in his back.  And Ole Doc is really amazed by this turn of events.

For who did not know of the Soldiers of Light, the Ageless Ones who ordered kings?

This pair, obviously.

They were animals, nothing more. Mongrels of Earth and Scorpon stock, both bearing the brands of prisons on their faces.

I guess when the story assured us that Ole Doc is an elite hero of the universe dedicated to ensuring the "ultimate preservation of mankind," it should have specified that he's dedicated to protecting the right race of humans.  Can't waste super-medicine on the Mudbloods and Muggles.

The guards realize their visitor must have recently landed, and cut off Ole Doc's one attempt to explain the situation.  Our hero notes that one of them "was obviously a victim of an unmentionable illness," leaving us free to wonder which of the myriad of maladies much be represented in this nameless mook.  Then a bunch of similarly slovenly, yellow-eyed soldiers turn up to take Ole Doc into custody, though not before one of them mentions "Ain't he pretty, though."

Wonder if Ole Doc would've stuck around if his ship's sensors indicated that the local population was big on musical theater?  Or does the Morgue not have a gaydar?

Despite all this, Ole Doc holds his temper in check and goes along with being captured instead of using his medicine-fu to fight free.  He just needs to be patient until he finds someone capable of being reasoned with.  "People weren't entirely stupid on Dorcon.  They couldn't be!"

So off they go on some sort of flying space "sled."

He mounted the sled which promptly soared off toward the city, ten feet above the ground and traveling erratically. In the glimpse he had of the blue-green pavements and yellow houses of the suburbs, Ole Doc was aware of neglect and misery. A number of these inhabitants were evidently of Mongolian origin for their architecture had that atmosphere,

You know the one.

but now the once-gay pagodas looked more like tombs, their walled gardens gone to ruin, their stunted trees straggling out from broken bonds.

I usually associate traditional Mongolian architecture with yurts, not Buddhist influences introduced through China.  Or maybe Hubbard/Ole Doc is thinking of the Yuan dynasty?

The desolation was heightened by the hobbling gait of a few ancient inhabitants who dodged in fear below the sled.  It shocked Ole Doc to see that each was chained to a round ball.

Yeah, it's kind of impractical.  Like if you wanted them stationary you'd chain them to something too big for them to move, while if you wanted them to move you wouldn't bother with the chain.  So this planet's sinister overlord is evidently out to really inconvenience everyone.  What a dick.

They approach what Ole Doc initially mistakes for a palace, what with its blue towers and everything, but he soon finds that these are wrapped within layers of gray walls, "each manned like some penitentiary on Earth."  And no where else in the entire galaxy, evidently.  Ole Doc is sent to the first guardhouse to meet a greasy, dirty drunk who asks "Where's identity card?"  Our hero shows him his Universal Medical Society membership card, then has to explain that it means he's a physician.  That finally gets the drunk's entrance, and the guard gets on "an antique gadget Ole Doc recognized dimly as a telephone" to tell a Sir Pudno that he has a doctor.

Eighteen checkpoints later, Ole Doc is led down a staircase to an underground chamber well under the metal-roof, bombproof dome at the heart of the complex.  It's a dreary room decorated with blue silk where a "flabby, fat Mongolian of no definite features" climbs out of bed.  This Sir Pudno... good Mongolian name, Pudno.  He asks if Ole Doc is indeed a doctor, Ole Doc offers to treat someone but reminds everyone he really would like a pile for his ship, and he's quickly shoved into a new chamber.

So here's the thing - the next scene takes place somewhere "more like a powder magazine than a throne room," but the narrator still assures us that "once it had been pretty."  So just imagine the fanciest, most aesthetically-pleasing storehouse for gunpowder you ever - wait a minute, how the woods hell does Ole Doc know what a powder magazine looks like?  Those things had to be obsolete by the time he was born.  Did he go to a national historical site when he was a kid?  Why use such an archaic comparison here?

Whatever, the powder magazine/throne room is gloomy, and there's evidence suggesting that many murals or mirrors have been removed and replaced with sheets of metal.  The throne itself is on a dais surrounded with heavy curtains, which in turn has been set with "the kind of glass which admits light and therefore sight only one way."  Ole Doc can see someone - or something - sitting on the throne.  Through this one-way glass.  Hubbard, come on.

Sir Pudno of Karakorum bows and salutes the glass and introduces the doctor he happened upon, while in a raspy voice Her Majesty asks about his fee.  Ole Doc says he doesn't need one and once again tries to explain that he's a member of the inviolate Universal Medical Society and should not be detained.  Her Majesty says "He talks like he thinks he's somebody."

600 super-doctors are hoarding advanced medical secrets for themselves and running around the galaxy purportedly protecting humanity.  And they're doing such a good job of it that these miserable people have no idea they exist.

"You treat crazy people, too?" said Her Majesty.

"I have been known to do so," said Ole Doc, looking fixedly at the curtain.

In-ter-esting.  Ole Doc isn't being coy and really saying that he helps mental patients with their physical problems, he actually knows enough about how minds work to make some diagnoses and - well, we'll see next time.  Point is, this Hubbard hero might, technically, be a psychologist.

I know, right?! 

"You seem to be pretty young.  Curly hair and pink cheeks.  Would you know how to make somebody crazy, now?"

"Perhaps."

"Build a machine or something to make people crazy?"

"That is possible.  Sometimes machines aren't necessary."

"Oh yes they are.  I'd pay you well if you did it."

Now I've read this short story, and while it was pretty early in the morning when I did it, I don't remember this 'crazy-making machine' idea going anywhere.  But maybe I'm wrong.  Anyway, Ole Doc demurs and so Her Majesty sends him off to see a mysterious patient with an escort of twenty guards.

So down a "torturous way" they go, until Ole Doc reaches a chamber two hundred feet beneath the earth, ultimately ending in a dark and stinking dungeon.  Again, Ole Doc is shoved into the next scene.  The chamber is pitch black and those jerks took his kit, but luckily our hero's cloak is studded with buttons that double as floodlights, so he uses one to look around.  It reveals three people in the cell with him - a defiant woman in "ragged finery" shielding the eyes of a child in her arms, and a young man laying in filthy straw for want of a bed.

The nameless lady is all "You shan't touch him!", and we know she's good people if she uses language like that.  Old Doc explains why he's here and examines his patient - the spots on the guy's cheeks, his rattling breaths, his smell, it all indicates an advanced case of tuberculosis, and Ole Doc is amazed to see an illness he hasn't encountered in two hundred years.  Man, if only there were local physicians with the knowledge to combat these ancient enemies of mankind...

He's especially shocked to have a child stuck in close quarters with this infected fellow, and asks how long these people have been down here.

She was protecting her eyes from the light but she raised them now, proud of her endurance.  "Six orbits.  My child is three."

"And they permitted..."  Ole Doc was angry.  He had not seen brutality such as this for a long, long time.

Did you forget about all those people in chains you passed on the way here?

For these people were not criminals.  The woman and the man both looked highborn.

Of course.  It's not that people are being abused, it's that the wrong people are being abused.  I mean, when have nobles or kings or other people born into wealth and power ever done anything to deserve being imprisoned?

Ole Doc finally asks who these people are and what they're doing in this cell, and we get over two pages of hot, steaming exposition.  His patient is "Rudolf, uncrowned king of Greater Algol," his wife and queen is Ayilt, and I guess the baby doesn't matter.  They all ended up down here after Rudolf's daddy Conore died and his queen Pauma took over.  And that bitch be crazy.

The long story is that the folks of Algol "came from pirate stock - not the best to be sure.  And the mainstay of our population had been the terrestrial oriental who can live anywhere."  Despite those clearly inferior genes, poverty and general ignorance, Algol had known about two centuries of happiness, and the late King Conore was a pretty good ruler.  Again, despite all those nasty criminals and orientals.

Since the beginning, because of our pirate origin, we discouraged traffic with space and it was well, for we had white and Scorpon stock and, outcast as it was, it often went bad.  We had many prison colonies, but little crime.  King Conore, like his forbears, was kind to prisoners.  He gave them their chance in their own society and though he would not let them return to our worlds, they prospered in their way.  But the terrible error was in the sentencing of women to these colonies, for women, I am ashamed to say, often descend from criminal stock as criminals.  And so it was that our prison settlement population was large.

Is there a Crime Gene or something we should be screening for?

The Algolians (Algolans?  Algolese?) at least snatched any promising kids from these prison worlds and hoped that eugenics would eventually fix things, but... okay, this came out in 1948?  Three years after the end of World War II, when the Nazis made eugenics pretty unpopular?  So is this deliberate, a way of showing how backward this society is?  Or did Hubbard just not get the memo?

Anyway.  King Conore, wise or not, made the mistake of marrying a princess of the Olin lineage who had been born in a prison settlement.  Then some pirates came in, incited those filthy Mongolians to revolt, and bombed the royal carriage during a pageant, killing the king and leaving Queen Pauma horribly disfigured.  It's unclear whether her injuries or her disgusting criminal blood is to blame, but at any rate she went all Bloody Mary - six hundred palace guards executed for their failure, all the royal servants killed, prince and princess thrown in a the dungeon, a million people tortured to death, and so on.

"We had forgotten her origin.  We had forgotten the bitterness of a beautiful woman turned ugly.  We had forgotten the prison settlements.

You had forgotten a form of government more complex than hereditary rule.

Now say what you will about criminals, but they know a lunatic when they are being disemboweled by one.  So all the prisoners rose up to purge and take over the army and government, and since there were one of them for every three law-abiding citizens, they soon rampaged across the system.  But the mad queen remains in power, since she has her son as a hostage.

"Royal line or not, Pauma was a gutter urchin.  A prison settlement child.

Riffraff.  Come to think of it, the whole 'criminals taking over the government' angle sounds familiar too...

She told Rudolf that he meant to depose her and kill her.  But she has to keep him here.  While he lives no one dares raise a hand against Pauma for she has often threatened to execute him if this is so and then would ensure nothing but night for all Algol.

And that's the situation.  Queen Pauma is insane, the convicts have taken over, and the best people can hope for is that the wise Prince Rudolf will someday return and fix his mother's mistakes, except he's coughing up blood in an oubliette at the moment.  Ole Doc can fix physical and mental problems, but can his medical skills cure an ailing society and save six worlds from the Mongols?

Yes.  But probably not in the way you're expecting.


Back to Part One 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Her Majesty's Aberration - Part One - Forest of the Dead

This short story opens with "There is a slight disadvantage in being absent-minded," which is a way of understating that our hero is literally too stupid to live.  In his debut, we saw that Ole Doc couldn't remember to take the regular medical treatment responsible for both extending and preserving his life, while this story begins with Ole Doc forgetting to refuel on Spico, even after Hippocrates "pointedly and repeatedly" asked if he took a moment to pick up a new "pile" before they left the asteroid-planet.

I'm assuming this means "atomic pile," suggesting that 1) the Morgue is nuclear-powered and 2) Hubbard is confusing a nuclear reactor for a nuclear energy source.  It's possible that Hippocrates really was asking to replace the whole shebang, but reading ahead indicates that Ole Doc is after a "small two-billion-foot-thrust pile" that is able to fit in his pocket.  Maybe it's an extremely small nuclear reactor.  That you can carry around without any sort of shielding or safety measures.  Not that we should be surprised if this author is dangerously misinformed about radiation and nuclear theory.

All this to say, Ole Doc forgot to fill up the tank, and he and Hippocrates only realize this when they're ninety light-years from Spico.  The little alien voices his disapproval by waving his four arms and reciting a two hundred thousand-word document on "fuels and their necessity in space travel," and it really is remarkable that someone wasted that much ink to express the notion that spaceships need fuel to go zoom.  Sealed in the cockpit, Ole Doc has to cut off all the communication channels with the rest of the ship so he can use the "inertia converters" to make a detour to the Algol system.  Sure is lucky there was a habitable planet nearby that might have some spare go-juice, and they had enough at the bottom of the tank to get there. 

Algol, as I'm sure you know, has a bit of a reputation as an unlucky heavenly body, with nicknames like the "ghoul star" or "demon star" because it... regularly flickers or blinks, I guess.  Be a merrier world if the ancients had called it the "flirty star."  Well, in the far-off future of 2700-whatever, these old superstitions have been reinforced with ghost stories from the early days of space colonization: the first exploration ship crashed on one of its planets, the first colony attempt disappeared, a "transgalactic flier" went up in flames while passing nearby, and so forth.  So the system became a pirate base, then "as is natural in such evolutions" grew over the centuries into a monarchy, so that now Algol boasts a six-planet polity centered around the planet Dorcon, capital city Ringo.  Ole Doc looked all this up in United Planets Vacugraphic Office Star Pilot, a book he reads on his knees and not, say, the ship's computer screens.

Our hero tries to tell his slave where they're going, but Hippocrates is still reciting that paper, so Ole Doc focuses on landing.  This involves a lot of noise.

A gong rang.  A whistle blew.  A big plate before him began to flick-flick-flick as it displayed likely landing spots, one after another.  A metal finger jutted suddenly from the gravity meter and touched off the proximity coil.  The ship went on to chemical brakes.  The cockpit turned at right angles to ease the deceleration of the last few hundred miles and then there was a slight bump.  The Morgue had sat down.  There was a clang inside as her safety doors slid open again, a tinkle of ladders dropping and a click-click-click as instruments dusted themselves and put themselves out of sight in the bulkheads.

That gimbaled space furniture again.  Was this a convention of 1940's science fiction?  Or did Hubbard just have a thing for it, even when his spaceships were using artificial gravity to keep people from floating and to handle g-forces?

Also, notice what's all missing during that landing sequence.  First, there's no communication.  No system patrol craft hails the Morgue as it approaches Algol's outer reaches, the Morgue doesn't pick up radio chatter between the planets in the system, and Dorcon Air Traffic Control doesn't demand that Ole Doc submit a flight plan and request for a landing field.  The future, it seems, is pretty unconcerned when it comes to strange spaceships showing up and alighting on your planet.

Second thing is that this super-smart space doctor spares not a moment's thought for any foreign pathogens he may be introduced to on this world he has never visited before, or of what he might be bringing to the population viz-a-viz spacepox.

Third is that Ole Doc doesn't get a good look at his intended landing zone until he hits the dirt and pops the doors, to increase the shock when he sees what's out there.

After taking off his helmet, Ole Doc spares a moment to look over the ship's instruments - now, after landing, after popping open the ship's hatches.  All the stuff measuring the local atmosphere, gravity, flora, weather, temperature and radiation come up green (nothing for disease), but "it said red-red-red to soldiers, weapons, dead men, women, and hostility."  I can't help but read "dead men" and "women" as separate categories.  Eww, space cooties.

Anyway, the ship's conclusion is a line reading "Relatively unsafe.  Recommend take-off."  And so after wasting precious fuel entering the world's gravity well and moving through its atmosphere, Ole Doc is prepared to burn even more after learning that he probably shouldn't have landed in the first place.  This is why the Enterprise came up with long-range sensors.

But before Ole Doc can hit the button, Hippocrates, sweet, loyal Hippocrates, jams his head into the cockpit to continue his lecture.  Ole Doc bellows "STOP IT!" and stomps out to have some milk in the spaceship's salon.  Since this is a Hubbard sci-fi story, the author of course spared no expense when it came to designing impractically-opulent accommodations for his hero.  In this case, the Morgue's salon is "paneled in gold and obsidian and exquisitely muraled with an infinity of feasting scenes which, together, blended into a large star map of the Earth Galaxy as it had been known in his time."  Er, Hubbard means the Milky Way Galaxy.  Naming a galaxy of around 300 billion stars after one planet in it would be pretty stupid.

This masterwork by the famed Siraglio... hmm, was that intentional, Hubbard?  Well, the effect of the murals is quite spoiled by what's visible through the viewports they surround.

Six hundred and nineteen dead men swung from the limbs of the landing field trees.  They were in uniforms bleached by suns and snows and their features were mostly ragged teeth and yellow bone.  The blasts of the Morgue's landing had made a wind in which they swung, idly, indolently as though in their way they waltzed and spun to an unheard dirge.

Maybe the parts of Ole Doc's brain that would normally help him remember to take the medicine that keeps him alive or put fuel in his spaceship are instead busy instantly tallying things like the number of nearby corpses.

Now, when it was just the "dead men" sensors advising him to clear out, Ole Doc was ready to leave, but now that he actually sees the dangling corpses, he sets down his milk to have a good look out the window at the bodies as well as the well-kept grounds surrounding them.  Then he calls for Hippocrates and tells him to put up good ol' Force Screen Alpha if anyone but him approaches the ship.  After donning a golden tunic and "sun-fiber cloak" and belting on a pair of blaster pistols, our space cowboy descends the landing ladder and sallies forth.

A man develops, after a few score years, certain sensitivities which are not necessarily recognized as senses.  Carrying on the business of the Universal Medical Society was apt to quicken them.  For though the members of the society possessed among them the monopoly of all medical knowledge forbidden by the various systems and states and although they had no sovereign and were inviolate, things happen.  Yes, things happen.  More than a hundred ebony coffins lay in the little chapel of their far off base--Soldiers of Light who had come home forever.

He directed, therefore, his entire energy to getting a pile and escaping Ringo within the hour if possible.

Ah.  Well.  For a minute there I thought Ole Doc's "certain sensitivities" were picking up on something about the situation on Dorcon that desperately called for a Soldier of Light.  But instead it looks like his keen instincts have suggested, after he looked out a window and saw hundreds of corpses on display, that he might want to be careful when poking around this planet.

Maybe all his Common Sense is busy stating the obvious instead of reminding him to gas up when at a convenient spaceport.

One last thing - Hubbard's narration explains that Algol's "blinking" phenomenon is due to a darker star in a binary system passing in front of the brighter one as it orbits.  If you've read its Wikipedia article you may have learned that Algol is actually a three-star system, but this fact was only discovered in the 1950's, while "Her Majesty's Aberration" was first published in March, 1948.  So he gets a pass on this one.


Back to the end of "Ole Doc Methuselah"