Friday, August 14, 2015

Ole Doc Methuselah - Part Seven - The Name of the Doctor

Anticlimax after anticlimax.

When the little boy opens the Morgue's door from within, everyone's ready to rush in, but then Ole Doc steps into sight, "Charred and battered and breathing hard after great exertion," holding a smoking blaster pistol.  Feel free to imagine for yourself the final, fatal confrontation between the story's hero and villain, what desperate and dirty tricks Blanchard resorted to, and what lethal applications of medicine Ole Doc was forced to unleash in retaliation.  Because the author ain't giving you squat.

Everyone's cheering so loud that it takes Ole Doc five gestures for silence to get them to quiet down enough for him to talk.  He declares that everyone's money is safe... but doesn't actually return it yet... and he orders them to drain their reservoirs and not drink any more water until he tells them to.  Then he yells for Hippocrates, can't find his slave, and so goes back in the ship and closes the door behind him.

Some people look for the alien, then a local "common" physician out for some "reflected glory" rallies others to see to the water supply, but the rest of the crowd hangs around the spaceship, waiting for another glimpse of the Soldier of Light.  They get pessimistic again after finding Blanchard's ID tag in the ash pile, and start wondering if the money got disintegrated too.  Though of course they don't think for an instant that this mysterious stranger might have taken their money, nooo.

Their cries for Ole Doc to come back out are interrupted by the unearthly screaming of dynamos within the spaceship and flashes of light from its windows.  The little kid from last time again breaks into the ship through its emergency access hatch... I think the thing to take away from this adventure is that Ole Doc only locks his spaceship when the villain isn't trying to break into it.  Anyway, the kid quickly comes back out, a ghastly expression on his face as he rushes to sob against his momma.  Whenever someone tries to question him he just screams.  Not everyone can handle Science! happening right in front of them.

So the crowd continues to sour, people start muttering about "some devil's work" going on inside the ship - might be the Manco Devil, might be a woods devil, there's no telling. Someone remembers that the Soldiers of Light are untouchable drifters, and most importantly that they aren't supposed to "interfere with politics anywhere."  And dammit, this one went and apprehended a con artist!  How political can you get?  Someone goes off to complain to the System Patrol, the mob becomes angry again, and Mayor Zoran is called up to rap sternly on the port door.  There's no response.  An hour passes.  There's a lot of milling about during this story's exciting conclusion, isn't there?

Eventually the mob starts battering at the port door again - though no one wants to risk the emergency hatch, that's too scary.  But then the unnatural sounds from the ship cut off, silence falls, and the door groans open to reveal a noble-looking old man, "Bathed in the glare of half a hundred torches," who declares that he's Alyn Elston.  There's awed silence until he explains that tomorrow everyone will either have their money back or a job at some project he'll personally finance.  And the crowd goes wild with cheering and hats flying into the air and Elston is carried back to town on people's shoulders for some celebratory drinks.

In a very short while they would let him speak again.

And he would speak and they would speak and the available supply of liquor would drop very low indeed in Junction City.

So that's the villain sorted out, the old guy from the story's start recovered, the conflict resolved.  All that's left is to tie up the loose ends.

Back on the Morgue, the ship's garbage disintegrator is working on a "certain superfluous mass," while Ole Doc is working on Ole Doc.

And now quietly, palely, the real and only hero of the affair, utterly forgotten, worked feebly on himself, trying to take away the burn scars and the weariness.  He gave it up.  His heart was too ill with worry.  He stumbled tiredly toward his cabin where he hoped to get new clothes.  

But on his way back he stops at the ship's port, where he finds Hippocrates carrying "a burden which was very precious to Ole Doc."  The alien explains that he just so happened to be walking along the river when he saw three goons trying to throw Miss Alicia Elston into the river.  He killed two of them before the last chucked her into the drink, and after "many minutes" walking on the river bottom, he found Miss Elston, dragged her out, and ran her to the nearest spaceship for treatment with "the pulmotor and oxygen."  So she's fine, an indeterminate time spent drowned is nothing some oxygen, warm blankets and bedrest can't cure.

Hippocrates doesn't mention that he had slipped a little "radar tube" into Miss Elston's pocket to make her easier to get a hold of when Ole Doc wanted to pass a note, nor does he explain how it still took him "many minutes" to find her with that assistance.  "There were many things he did which he saw no reason to discuss with an important mind like Ole Doc's."

Ole Doc tries to thank Hippocrates for rescuing the love of his... er, the girl he met yesterday.  But the alien is all business.

"You have Miss Elston, master.  The spaceways are wide.  We can go far.  By tomorrow morning it will be known that a Soldier of Light has entered social relations and politics.

God forbid a doctor try to help someone.

By tomorrow night the System Patrols will be looking for us.  By the next day your Society will have banished us or called a hearing to banish us.  It is little time.  We have provisions to leave this galaxy.  Somewhere, maybe Andromeda, we can find outlaws and join them---"

The Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light-years away from Earth.  If intergalactic travel is simple enough for the Morgue to attempt without having to jam itself full of provisions, maybe even strap one of those extra luggage containers to the roof, then interstellar travel should be so simple that you wouldn't need to use a planet like Spico as a stopping point between two systems that are less than 12 lightyears from Earth.  You can have easy space travel or your stupid sci-fi take on a Western "railway speculation scam" story, but not both, Hubbard.

Anyway, Ole Doc gives his slave a severe look that shuts him up, Hippocrates looks at Miss Elston and his master, and realizes that "things would be different now."  Hey, has anyone asked Miss Elston what she thinks of all this?  She ready to go flying across the darkness between galaxies?  What would she stay if she woke up after her near-death experience and found that some frog-lizard and a doctor she's known for less than a week have taken her along with them to become outlaws unimaginably far from anything she's known, to say nothing of her beloved family members?

Maybe living in a society with slaves makes it easier to treat other people as property too.

Skip ahead to the next morning, as "Junction City stirred groggily.  It scrubbed its eyes, tried to hide from the light, scrubbed again and with aching heads and thick tongues arose."  Nobody really notices that Blanchard's place is empty, or says anything about what happened last night.  Then a System Patrol cruiser lands at the spaceport, and that causes a bit of a stir.

Back on the Morgue, Hippocrates tries to urge his master into action, but Ole Doc, looking "a little gray, a little worn," is deep in thought.  Eventually he gets up, pulls out some old paperwork, and gives the sleeping, "lovely, vital and young" Alicia a long look.  For the record, she's in her own cabin, but not actually dressed, because when Hippocrates goes to look out the window and comes back, the girl is awake, clothed, and talking with Ole Doc.

Well, done talking anyway.  Alicia has a look of horror on her face as she digests what she's been told, then Ole Doc shows her that paper he got out.

She looked.  She turned white and trembled.  Her gaze upon Ole Doc was that of a hypnotized but terrified bird. With an unconscious movement she drew back her skirt from him and then steadied herself against the table.

"And so, my dear," said Ole Doc.  "Now you know.  Pardon me for what I proposed, for misleading you."

With that, Miss Elston stammers her thanks and well-wishes, she bows and bids her farewell, and - argh.  The author distracts from this moment by mentioning Ole Doc's golden silk shirt and jeweled belt.  Frickin' magpie.  But Miss Elston flees from the spaceship.

Shortly after she makes her exit, a "smooth, elegant young man in the scarlet uniform of the System Patrol" comes calling with some friends, and even though Hippocrates tries to shoo them off by replying "Nobody here!", poor dope, Ole Doc invites the officers aboard.  They forgive their audacity for troubling someone with such seniority, but they explain that they heard something about a Captain Blanchard and four accomplices running out of the town, except there doesn't seem to have been a riot.

Ole Doc smiles, says he knows nothing beyond rumors, and the System Patrol guys declare that "Somebody is jolly well pulling somebody's toe" - no radiomen remember sending the message that called them here, and five disappearances is nothing worth bothering them about.  The space police, ladies and gentlemen.  Ole Doc agrees it must be a hoax, and the officers leave.  Welp.  That sure happened.

Hippocrates is "a very staggered little slave," and goes outside to ask a nearby "Man child" if he remembers a riot or what happened to Blanchard.  The kid replies that he don't remember no riot, Blanchard must've been run out of town, and he never heard of no Soldier of Light coming by.  When Hippocrates returns to the ship he finds Ole Doc listening to a record - yes, we have casual space travel and records coexisting - while doing some calculations on his cuff again, in high spirits.

The slave accuses, thereby allowing the author to explain, that Ole Doc dumped some magical space powder into the town water supply to make them "angry and then forget."  Ole Doc doesn't answer, but instead hums and talks to himself, discussing what to do with the twenty thousand spacebux of his own money he recovered from the conman, along with "what is in the safe."  So I guess he really did keep everyone's - nah, Judge Elston surely returned all the innocent townspeople's money.  Ole Doc must be referring to Blanchard's private funds, which he held on to after killing the guy, dumping his corpse in a garbage disposal, and making so that no witnesses would remember that he did it.  And that sounds a bit less heroic when you type it out, doesn't it?

Anyway, Ole Doc gushes about what a wonderful afternoon it is, orders Hippocrates to fix him lunch - "Make it good, now, and no wine" - and that "By Georgette" they're going to Spathi to pick up a new set of "radiatronic" equipment.  When he wonders if Hippocrates is crying with relief, the alien denies it and swipes at his eyes, then fulfills Ole Doc's orders, "the happiest he had been in a very, very long time."

So all's well that ends well, I suppose.  The bad guy was defeated, and the good guy managed to use his secret technology to weasel out of punishment for defying the codes of the ultra-elite organization he belongs to.  How comforting to know that the defenders of humanity can break the law and fix things so that nobody remembers they did it.  But what about Miss Elston's strange reaction to a piece of paper?

While ashing dishes, Hippocrates spares a glance for what drove off "that horrible, detestable woman."

The aged, carefully coated and preserved parchment - brown and spotted with mildew from some ancient time even so - surrendered very little information to Hippocrates.  It merely said that the University of Johns Hopkins on some planet named named Baltimore in a System called Maryland - wherever that might be - did hereby graduate with full honors one Stephen Thomas Methridge as a physician in the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Six Anno Domini.

So in the year of our Lord 1946 in the year of our Lord, gotcha.

Even if this was seven hundred years ago that Ole Doc first learned his trade, what of that?  He knew more than any doctor graduated in the best school they had today.

Which is easy when you and your other conspirators are making sure they don't teach what you know in med schools now.

Well, good riddance, though just why she should so disapprove of that school was more than Hippocrates could figure out.

And why did Ole Doc's age cause her to freak out?  Didn't she read Conquest of Space or hear about how the Soldiers of Light were founded by some immortal assholes who kept their secrets for themselves?  In a future of space travel and medical miracles, she just can't handle someone being hella old?

He sang about the Fiddler of Saphi and forgot it in the happy scramble of departure.

Much like how Ole Doc is already over whatever heartbreak his parting from Miss Elston caused.  And what exactly was it that he "proposed" to her, a woman he met as a patient mere days ago?  Bleh.

Well, that was "Ole Doc Methuselah," and it was kinda stupid and objectionable.  I wonder what adventures await our hero in "Her Majesty's Aberration?"  Maybe Hubbard will try a plot that actually works in the setting he's devised?  Only one way to find out.

Back to Part Six 

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