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:


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"

1 comment:

  1. Hubbard was a big fan of sending official dispatches via Telex, which was a form of teletypewriter, a technology that was one step removed from the telegraph. Who needs lowercase letters?