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