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 attention, 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?"


"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 

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