Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ole Mother Methuselah - Part Four - The Invasion

Start up a science montage in the cinema of your brain, because Ole Doc and Hippocrates spend the "many, many weeks which followed" peering through microscopes and doing stuff with vials - excuse me, "phials."  It's not just that they have a horde of superstrong, savage babies to contend with, but that silvery battleship is still hanging in the air over them.  And for some reason, they can't take the heavily-armed and armored Morgue to go blow it out of the sky.  I guess Ole Doc's spaceship is only as strong as it needs to be, so Hippocrates can fly it to the rescue in "A Sound Investment" but the ship gets wrecked in "The Great Air Monopoly," and here it gets to sit aside, unused.

Oh, and did you know communications have been cut off?  Yeah, "something or somebody had now supercharged the planet's ionosphere thoroughly enough to damp every outgoing and incoming message."  You might be wondering why the mysterious bad guys decided to do that now instead of weeks ago when O'Hara sent off that distress call, or even earlier when they shot down the Wanderho.  Shut the hell up, says the acclaimed science-fiction author.

At any rate, this means that there's no help coming - Ole Doc gave his last report a long way from Gorgon, and he never sent a message saying that he was heading off to answer a distress signal there.  Space telegrams are expensive, you know?  And of course the US Department of Agriculture isn't concerned that one of their research stations has gone silent and the last freighter sent there hasn't returned.  So it's just Ole Doc, Hippocrates, O'Hara, and thirty-eight thousand babies swarming in the facility's lion and horse pens.  You might be wondering how a single compound can safely contain thousands and thousands of children, much less feed them for weeks and handle all the sewage produced from the tiny horde.  Shut the hell up, says the visionary pulp writer.

Besides doing science-y stuff, Ole Doc is also serving as the kids' teacher, and has rigged up a slideshow and projector system to teach them English, so soon they're able to say things like "How far is it to the nearest post office?" and "Go soak your head."  He also rears five little ones in gestation vats inside his own bungalow, and keeps a little boy and girl in cages while Hippocrates takes notes.  Don't worry, this won't be quite as disturbing after the big reveal.

Ole Doc is at least able to rule out "unusual radiations," "machinery radiation and fluid activity" as causes for the kids' super strength and aggressive behavior.  He uses those "pharmaceutical ray rods" on some bottles and orders Hippocrates to rig up some catapults to fire flasks into the baby pens.  The alien thinks Ole Doc is going to poison the kids, and not in the 'how could you do such a thing?!' sort of way, either.

"And everybody dies?" said Hippocrates expectantly, thoughtful of the bruises he had had wrestling these "babies."

"Rig them up," said Ole Doc.

I think it'd be kinda nice to have our 'hero' recoil in disgust at the thought of poisoning thousands of children.  But what do I know about making a sympathetic main character?

Ole Doc's in a hurry now, because he's noticed that the orbiting spaceship was a hundred miles lower today.  O'Hara hadn't, and only belatedly realizes that Mookah the alien assistant has been missing for three days now.

"Uhuh," said Ole Doc.

"Golly, no wonder you guys live so long," said O'Hara.

Remember how Ole Doc is so thoughtless that he can't remember to get his life-extending treatment from Hippocrates on his own?  'cause I don't think the author does.  Speaking of life-extending treatments - well, just a sec.

For an experiment, Ole Doc gets a chicken, points a rod of Science at it, and the thing immediately keels over.  Then he puts it under a jar and shines some rays of Science down on it, turning it from uncooked poultry to "a blob of cellular matter," also known as a Chicken McNugget.  After repeating the process on a total of seven chickens, Ole Doc asks O'Hara for a baby.  O'Hara of course refuses, since turning even a hyperactive child Hercules into a protoplasm is - oh, never mind, he gives in without a word of argument.

O'Hara repressed a shudder.  He knew that medicine could not make scruples when emergency was present, but there was something about putting a baby, a live cooing little baby - if a trifle energetic - under a bell jar and knocking it into shapeless nothingness.  But at that instant a howl sounded from the pens and O'Hara was happy to assist the now returned Hippocrates in slapping the vigorous infant on the face of the operating table.

I like to think that science is willing to make some hard choices in an emergency, like choosing which patient is most likely to survive and treating them while others die, but would still balk at turning babies into blobs.  Maybe I'm being naive.

Good news is, Ole Doc doesn't blobify the baby.  Bad news is that he instead straps the infant to the operating board, gets a big ass syringe, jabs it into the first jar of chicken blob, then injects the cells into the baby's spine.  He repeats the process for the other jars, sticking the baby in the heart among other places, and O'Hara is nearly sick when the seventh and final shot is "rammed straight into the child's eye and deep into its brain."

This is kind of odd from an author who would go on to spend so much energy ranting about lobotomies, isn't it?

Despite all the stabbing and chicken injections, the baby is fine, and merely coos before falling asleep.  Ole Doc asks for his next patient, but is interrupted when someone says "There isn't going to be a next one."  A "leathery-faced, short-statured character" is leaning against the a post, aiming a gun of some sort "in their general direction."  Ole Doc, seasoned quick-draw fighter and sharpshooter that he is, wastes no time in pulling his pistol and burning the - oh, no, he doesn't do that.  Huh.  Guess Ole Doc is as effective in combat as he needs to be, too.

After a demand to identify himself, the short guy says his name is, wait for it, Smalley.  Ole Doc and Hippocrates exchange a meaningful glance and the narration assure us that some specific orders were carried out while Ole Doc was liquefying chickens, though we won't be told the details until it's dramatically appropriate.  Ole Doc obeys Smalley's command to step away from the Science and stop "playing with the kids," but warns that he was giving them a treatment to save their lives - all those thousands of savage kids have been infected by what "Must be a lion disease or something."

Smalley is skeptical, even when Hippocrates indignantly proclaims that Ole Doc is a Soldier of Light, but the little guy has Ole Doc take him to the baby pens at gunpoint.  On the way Ole Doc asserts his preparedness by mentioning that he thought Smalley or someone would be landing soon, since he noticed the Achnoids' strange behavior and had a detector in his operating kit that told him how Smalley and his colleagues landed south of the base more than a week ago.  Smalley asserts his preparedness by mentioning that his guys have been guarding the Morgue for the past two months.

And here's why I mentioned that rejuvenation treatment Ole Doc gets.  Looking back at "Ole Doc Methuselah," the doctor's life-extending treatment comes from a "serum and the proper rays," and has to be administered every five days.  Since he hasn't had access to the Morgue for two months now, either he brought a large enough supply of those proper rays to last this long - a remarkable bit of foresight, that - or else... well, I guess he'd be dead otherwise.  So Ole Doc commonly forgets to save his own life, but either he or Hippocrates somehow knew they'd be away from the ship for an extended period and brought a stockpile of the miracle serum to O'Hara's compound.

Anyway, Ole Doc remarks that it's lucky he never walked into Smalley's ambush at the Morgue or else "Your harvest here would be dead," and sure enough when they look into the baby paddocks, "As far as these pens reached they could see kids lying around, some inert, some twitching, some struggling but all very, very ill."  They kids aren't just down, they're covered in big red splotches.  Smalley is alarmed and demands that Ole Doc cure them, and Ole Doc agrees provided he gets full access to his equipment.

So, the injections begin.  Ole Doc gets to work with both his hypo gun and big ass needle, and his patients' skins clear and their unconsciousness becomes restful sleep.  By nightfall he's treated a thousand kids, but then Smalley starts screaming and breaks out in a red rash - shortly after he helped Ole Doc climb up out of the pen, hmm.  Ole Doc gets the little guy to order his guards to stand down so he can treat him, and after the physician has impaled his spine and eye with the big ass needle, Ole Doc retires to get a bit of food and rest.

We fast-forward through the rest of the medical work, as Ole Doc continues administering shots to thirty-eight thousand kids, as well as Smalley's minions and ship crew, who soon come down with the same red rashes.  Three days later, Ole Doc has finished, and he stayed awake through the whole job thanks to his "multithyroid."  Hubbard really likes the thyroid.

After a long nap, Ole Doc takes one last look at the "acres of babies," has Hippocrates gather his equipment and an unconscious O'Hara (he tried to help but eventually passed out, so Ole Doc gave him a tranquilizer), and they take their leave.  Five of Smalley's guards try to stop them, and Ole Doc simply ignores them at first, before stopping, looking "sadly" upon them, and then blurring into action, gunning them down while their return fire impacts harmlessly on the personal force screen he totally didn't pull out of his ass.  Why didn't he do that to Smalley, you wonder?  Hubbard doesn't even bother with words, he just flips you off.

They get on the Morgue, which is unguarded and unsabotaged, and take off, pausing only to blast the landed battlecruiser and a little base in the southern mountains.  Then they reach "the black comfort of absolute zero" and Ole Doc makes a call to Center - oh, did you know that they can do real-time communications, and not just space telegraphs?  You might wonder why we've never seen Ole Doc make a space phone call before, but by now you should know better than to ask.

Anyway, let's spend the last two pages explaining what the hell just happened.

"Come in!  Hey!  Come in!" said Center, a tenth of a galaxy away.

"Methuselah with a report."

"Methuselah is enough!" said Ole Doc Cautery at Center.  "We have had five navies and the marines looking for you for months.  We've had six empires scared 'til they can't spit.

Lovely.  The Soldiers of Light are forbidden from getting involved in "political" situations, but can still boss around empires during wild goosebeast chases for a doctor who might, if he thinks it's important enough and especially if he might get laid at the end of it, be willing to solve a medical emergency.

WHERE have you been?"

"Got a report," said Ole Doc.  "Turn this on confidential."

"Circuits on.  Begin report."

So under a "five-way scramble" that the Universal Medical Society has been using for the past two hundred years, which still foils eavesdroppers... I guess that could be considered medical technology you need to keep out of the hands of impressionable Muggles.  The ultimate way to ensure doctor-patient confidentiality, yeah?

Anyway, Ole Doc reports an "Alien extragalactic race attempted foothold for jump-off attacks on Earth," the first "independent space flight originators" known to mankind.  Said race is carbon-based and nearly identical to humans aside from being only three-quarters as tall as the average Earthling, and Ole Doc noted that they're missing "several tissues essential of emotional balance including one brain chord intimately related to kindness, worry and judgment."  Yes, all those supposed kids growing in the gestation vats were actually alien soldiers and workers, skillfully hijacking the Department of Agriculture's colonization efforts in order to raise an invasion force to topple Earth!  And they were in cahoots with the Achnoids, in case you were wondering what happened to those guys.

Luckily it's easy to spot these near-human invaders because they age rapidly, maturing in six years "due to emotional imbalances" rather than anything biological.  And so Ole Doc's "treatment and handling of case" consisted of synthesizing cells to fill their "missing development cells," while also triggering a strawberry allergy to incapacitate the blighters.  And then he injected them with enough stuff so that they now should be considered successfully "converted to human beings," author's emphasis.


Ole Doc recommends that someone tell the US Department of Agriculture about the Wanderho and fate of the research station on Gorgon, and that they - Earth's government, not Center - send a relief expedition with enough nurses to take care of thirty-eight thousand kids ranging from six months to twelve years old.  This means that "Gorgon can now be considered humanly populated."  Ole Doc finishes by announcing that he's returning to base for a refit and gives an order for someone, "preferably Miss Elliston," to air out his quarters.  And that's all.

As he threw the switch he heard a gasp behind him.  "That's all!" said O'Hara.  "You convert thirty-eight thousand one hundred and some odd extragalactic invaders to human beings and you say, 'that's all!'  Man, I've heard legends about the Soldiers of Light, but I never realized what superboys you fellows really are."

Eat me, Hubbard.  Put me between slices of bread, slather me in mayonnaise, add a bit of lettuce so it counts as a serving of veggies, and friggin' chew me.

Ole Doc gave him a very bored look and then and thereafter ignored him.

"Hippocrates," said Ole Doc, "we're almost home.  Let's open those last two bottles of wine."

And so ends the final entry in the saga of Ole Doc Methuselah.  Our protagonist has just forcibly converted a sentient species into another type of creature, with undetermined effects on their minds, and abandoned them on a highly hostile planet despite them now being nothing more than human infants.  Doing so defeated the first non-human spacefaring race ever encountered, which is even more depressing than the sparse number of intelligent aliens seen in this stories, and much is made of the fact that these guys are extra-galactic in origin even though the author casually talks about traveling between galaxies like it's a trip to the chemist.  This means that he was able to save an Earth-based government that he doesn't particularly like, and frankly is pretty incompetent when it comes to running an interstellar empire, but that's fine because as we've seen the Soldiers of Light are really in control of the galaxy.

I just have one last question - why couldn't O'Hara or Ole Doc take the growing non-human embryos out of the gestation vats and put the unwanted human fetuses under those "preservative rays" that the organic cargo is transported under?

Okay, sorry, I have more.  Where, how and why were the Achnoids working for the Department of Agriculture?  Why did they work for the aliens?  Why bother with tricking O'Hara by sneaking the not-human embryos into the gestation vats, why not just throttle the guy and raise the army properly?  Where did Ole Doc come up with the strawberries to trigger the allergic reaction in those aliens?  If these little aliens were able to travel across galaxies, why did they need to invade Earth in particular?  Why not set up shop on the countless other planets that aren't fully settled yet?  What exactly did Ole Doc do when Smalley pulled him out of the baby pen to get him strawberry'd?  Why is his name Smalley?

And why did someone put "warped psychology" on the book jacket even though none of the stories inside discuss it?  Friggin' false advertising.  Hard to imagine being scammed by someone connected to Scientology...

Back to Part Three

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ole Mother Methuselah - Part Three - The Unquiet Dead

Having turned his back on the problem of thousands of children being born on a hostile alien world - and super-strong, abnormally-aggressive children at that - Ole Doc is ready to do some fishing.  But Hippocrates surprisingly hesitates, since he has of course memorized all those space codes, and he knows that according to Article 726 of the Law Regulating the Behavior of Members of the Universal Medical Society, "It shall also be unlawful for the Soldier of Light to desert a medical task of which he has been appraised when it threatens the majority of the human population of any planet."

Well, as the most decorated and honored member of the Universal Medical Society, of course Ole Doc would have to

Ole Doc looked at his little slave in some annoyance.  "Are you going to get my fishing gear?"

"Well?" said Hippocrates.

Ole Doc glared.  "Did I invent the Department of Agriculture?  Am I accountable for their mistakes?  And are they so poor they can't send their own man relief?"

"Well-" said Hippocrates.  "No."

"Then you still expect me to spend a year here nursing babies?"

Sure, as a Soldier of Light our protagonist is 'sworn' or 'honor-bound' or 'obligated' to help people, but he's got better things to be doing than putting up with a bunch of screaming infants.  Like fishing.  And since he didn't directly cause this problem, why should he feel like using his advanced medical knowledge or anything to help solve it? 

In a "happy holiday mood," Ole Doc and his slave reach a yellow lake and use Hippocrates' ray cannon to blast a muddy patch dry so they can set up some tables, chairs and what Hippocrates needs to mix Ole Doc some drinks.  The doctor sits on a log as his "motor lure" tows his bait across the surface, which is a bit surprising - I thought such an old-fashioned country boy like Ole Doc would disdain something that takes so much fun out of sitting in a cloud of mosquitoes, waiting for a brainless stick of protein, cartilage and scales to impale itself upon a metal barb concealed inside a squirming earthworm.  He might as well have Hippocrates chuck in depth charges.

Anyway, a good time is had by all.  Old Doc catches "a strange assortment of the finny tribes" while Hippocrates puts up a "force umbrella" to keep the bugs away.  But then someone quite spoils the mood by dropping a "jetbomb" right on them at two thousand miles per hour.

Luckily that force umbrella, even on its low intensity setting, is sufficient protection from a high-speed bomb designed to flatten houses, and it's able to disperse the blast so that it merely uproots some trees, sends Ole Doc into the lake and knocks over the jug of "rumade" Hippocrates just made.  There's a moment of confusion until the two smell the aftermath and realize they've been bombed, then Hippocrates leaps into action, taking up his trusty 110 mm. blaster cannon, looking into the "magnetosight," and spraying fire up at a silvery speck of a spaceship hovering far above them.  Alas, despite this enthusiasm and Ole Doc's advice ("Up six miles!  Now left!"), the hostile ship is able to move out of range.

No, it doesn't drop another warhead after seeing the first one fail.  Yes, Hippocrates is able to fire up at it despite no mention being made of him disabling that force field umbrella - guess it's one of them one-way force fields.

Ole Doc has Hippocrates gather up the remains of their fishing expedition, then they go to check on the Morgue.  Luckily the ship is under a force screen, not that it's even been attacked, so it's fine.  Oh, and it talks a bit in this story, in soprano.  I think it did in another one?  Can't remember, and it's not terribly important.  Nor is it very good at communicating, either - when Ole Doc asks about the dimensions and armament of the battle cruiser that was overhead eighteen minutes ago, the Morgue says "It isn't friendly."  Though the AI in the ship is smart enough to recommend that Ole Doc move it into the cover of the jungle and engage the "invisio screens."

Why does a medical ship need an invisibility cloak?  Why does a gold-plated medical ship need an invisibility cloak?  I can almost buy the heinous firepower as self-defense in a stupid and hostile galaxy, but this is a bit much.

So they move the Morgue to the jungle, the force screen gets put out and conforms itself to the topography somehow, for reasons.  Those invisio screens project images of the ground underneath the spaceship to the top of it so anyone looking down can't see it.  Finally, Ole Doc sets up all the ship's turrets and cannons to automatically fire upon any target that can't give them a friendly signal.  But this leads to a discovery when a turret locks on to something nearby - there's another spaceship, crashed into the jungle not far from them.

Ole Doc decides to investigate, clomping around with his magnetic boots atop a wreck half-sunk into the mud and covered in creepers and vines.  It is of course very spooky, with broken ports that stare at him "like an eyeless socket," much like that ship in "Plague."  From the state of the crew's corpses, i.e. there are little furry things now living in them, Ole Doc reckons the wreck is a year old.  He also discovers boxes marked "Department of Agriculture, Perishable, Keep under Preservative Rays, HORSES."  After checking the vessel's logs, Ole Doc determines that he's found the Wanderho, a tramp freighter hired to bring supplies to experimental stations like O'Hara's.

With a "sudden decision," Ole Doc stomps out of the wreck and back to the Morgue, where Hippocrates brightly informs him that they can just ditch this joint, since the scanner doesn't read any threats.  Ole Doc tells his slave to knock it off and get a biological kit ready.

"You're not going?" gaped Hippocrates.

"According to article something or other when the majority of a human population is threatened a soldier has to stay on the job."

"But I said that," said Hippocrates.

"When?" said Ole Doc.

I was wondering if anything in the last Ole Doc story would make me start to actually like the character.  Belatedly deciding to follow his organization's rules and do his job?  That's not doing it.

So Hippocrates gets to collect the 172 items needed for a "biological kit," and then he follows Ole Doc back to O'Hara's outpost, where the physician starts snapping "Why didn't you tell me?" in regards to the jettisoned cargo mentioned last time.  O'Hara explains, again, that the freighter captain just stacked it all up and left after complaining of engine problems, and then the rain washed the labels off the crates.  When he mentions that the ship was the month-overdue Wanderho, Ole Doc breaks it to him that the ship has been shot to pieces and downed in the jungle.

O'Hara looked a little white.  "But the cargo!  It was all stacked up in a neat pile-"


"You mean- I don't follow this!"

"Neither do I," said Ole Doc.

Yeah, I don't get it either.  What's so mysterious or unusual about a ship with unreliable engines leaving a stack of crates on a tarmac?  Were they supposed to be scattered, as if the vehicle had taken off, stalled, and had to open the back hatch and dump them a distance?

Guess we should just pretend it's dramatic.  Ole Doc asks about defenses and learns that O'Hara's base doesn't have any force screens, and since the only weapons on the entire planet are O'Hara's hunting rifle and sidearm, they can't arm the army of Achnoids.  So Ole Doc has Hippocrates set up two of the Morgue's turrets in some towers while Ole Doc sets up a lab on the porch.  It's cooler out there, see.

O'Hara suddenly flamed brightly.  "You mean," he cried in sudden hope, "that you're going to help me?  You mean it?"

Ole Doc paid him no attention.  He was already fishing in a pile of equipment for a portable ultraelectron microscope and a box of slides.  He put them on the table.  "Have somebody start bringing me phials out of that preservation room.  One sample from every box you've got!"

I'm still not sure why he's suddenly decided to get involved.  Thousands of aberrant human embryos coming to gestation, he doesn't care.  A downed spaceship with a couple of corpses in it and some suspicious medical supplies, and that's - oh, of course.  Someone's messing with his precious medicine, and as we've seen, the Soldiers of Light could care less about how humans fare in their galaxy so long as everyone plays by their rules when it comes to medical science.

Back to Part Two

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ole Mother Methuselah - Part Two - An Unearthly Child

O'Hara leads Ole Doc and Hippocrates to a fortified compound in the middle of a clearing, full of corrals, sheds and greenhouses.  We also get our first look at those Achnoids, octopi aliens or something that bear more resemblance to "a blue pinwheel than a man," which are as Ole Doc sees it weeding medically-useful herbs from a bunch of "worthless carrots."  I guess our protagonist has so much Science available that he doesn't have to consider nutrition when he eats, he can just shove all the vitamins and whatnot through his skin when he gets those healing ray treatments from Hippocrates.

They arrive at Shed Thirteen, significant because

"This is the lion shed," said O'Hara.

"Interesting," said Ole Doc disinterestedly.

It's not a shed where lions are stored, it's where lions are grown - O'Hara gets shipments of sperm cells and ova held in "static ray preservation," puts them in a bunch of birthing vats, feeds the young animals with artificial udders, and... well, that's all you need, isn't it?  Being born in a sterile lab environment without any parental figures to teach social skills worked out for the raptors in Jurassic Park, right?

The installation has similar set-ups for cattle and whatnot, but they - or maybe it's just O'Hara - decided to introduce lions to Gorgon, to cut down on the number of native catbeasts with some "properly evoluted" Terran catbeasts.

"And then you'll have lions," said Ole Doc.

"Oh no," said O'Hara impatiently.  "Then we'll bacteriacide the lions with a plague.

I think what the author is trying to say is 'bactericide,' except that would be something that kills bacteria, not something that kills with bacteria.  Much like how "evoluted" is probably meant to be 'evolved.'  Look, germ theory and evolution were brand new fields back in 1950, so we have to cut the author some slack for not getting the terminology quite right.

Which is to say, I will.  There isn't any we.  I've been here for fifteen years-"

"Well, maybe you've been here for fifteen years," said Ole Doc without much sympathy, "but why am I here?"

Because there's a chance that you could wrap this little crisis up fast enough to have some fun impaling the local aquatic lifeforms on metal hooks and turning the native flora into drugs.  Dick.

O'Hara gets to his problem.  Because his colonization program is important enough to support but not important enough to properly support, he gets his supply shipments from tramp freighters, and the one that came last year had engine problems and jettisoned its cargo, in the compound apparently.  And of course there's no one to move stuff but O'Hara and those Achnoids, so the crates got left in the rain and the labels came off.  And evidently Achnoids are such creatures of habit that they went and took those crates' contents into the birthing vats, because

"Well, come down to it," said Ole Doc.  "WHAT is your problem?"

Dramatically O'Hara approached the first vat and gave the cover a yank.  The pulleys creaked.  Lights went on and the glass bowls within glowed.

In this one vat there were five human babies.

This raises some very interesting questions about what kind of research goes on at other US Army Corps of Engineers research stations.  Excuse me, "United States Army Engineers" research stations.

At any rate, there's eighteen thousand little babies now growing in the base's artificial wombs.  Ole Doc's suggestion is to send a message to the Department of Agriculture asking for "half an army crops of nurses."  And we can't be sure whether he's being sarcastic or not, because this universe is crazy.

What follows are two pages' worth of rambling exposition, as O'Hara goes on about how their installation can pump out seventy-two thousand lions every year, his specialized coding system doesn't mesh with the records on Earth, there's only three billion people on humanity's homeworld and a third of them work for the government, and when he sent them some "urgents" about the situation they only said that the proper channels had been notified.

Now, O'Hara doesn't know a thing about child illnesses, but when he thought he was just dealing with five kids he figured he could pull this off - after all, he has three thousand Achnoids around to help, "and I can always take a hunting rifle and go grab a chief hostage until I get two or three thousand more."

"And now you don't?" said Ole Doc.

"Now I don't. Now this whole thing has got me. I may be indulging in mass murder or something. Will hey hang me if any of these kids die or something?"

"Well, I expect that a small loss would be excusable," said Ole Doc.

A "small loss" ...this guy is a doctor, right?  Someone who sees the value in preserving human life?  Someone we can root for?

Anyway, O'Hara thought he was fine until he found that shed full of thousands of gestating human embryos.  To make matters worse, evidently those stupid Achnoids had been adding the "lion fluid" meant for other genetic projects, so these babies are gestating in three months' time!  And then O'Hara decides to show Ole Doc the real problem facing him, as he leads the doctor and presumably Hippocrates, who hasn't said anything for pages now, into an improvised arena of sorts, where he can test his augmented lions against captured catbeasts and... you know, maybe we should come up with better names for extraterrestrial creatures than [Earth animal]beast.

The Achnoids turn out to have names like Mookah, and O'Hara orders one to release a catbeast through a gate in the wall.

An Achnoid pinwheeled into view, cast respectful eyes at the observer's box and began to take the pins out of a door.  There were eight pins and he removed them all at once, one hand to a pin.

No automatic door openers in the future, I guess.

"Monstrosity," sniffed Hippocrates.

Oh, there he is.

The Achnoid went sailing to safety over the wall and the cage door crashed open with a bang.  Out of it stalked a beast with a purple hide and enormous, sharp-fanged jaws.  It bounded into the arena, reared up on its hind legs to stand ten feet tall, waltzed furiously as it looked around for enemies and then settled back with a vicious, tail-thrashing snarl.

"Pleasant character," said Ole Doc.

And so cat-like too, what with the rearing back on its hind legs and everything.

O'Hara explains that this is actually a small catbeast - they've lost about fifty Achnoids trying and failing to capture the big ones.  Then he orders Mooklah to release another specimen, this time via a pulled wire.  And so an apparent ten-year-old boy walks into the arena, only half as tall as Hippocrates and clad in a fur loincloth and buskins.  Though the kid is only carrying a sling and a simple knife, he's quite confident, and his eyes are "wise and intelligent" under his unruly hair.

Turns out Ole Doc does have some scruples - he objects to little kids being killed in front of him, at least...

"Whoa!" said Ole Doc.  "Wait a minute!  You're not sacrificing that kid just for my amusement."  And he had a blaster up so fast that only a lunge by O'Hara deflected his aim at the catbeast.

The kid looked curiously at the plowed hole the blaster had made and then glanced disdainfully at the box.  O'Hara recovered from the lunge, hastily pushed a button and got a bulletproof shield in place.

"All right, all right," said Ole Doc.  "I'll stand here and watch murder."  But he held the blaster ready just in case.

...But not too strenuously.

Hippocrates is "decidedly interested" in what's sure to happen, but as he glances over at Ole Doc misses the fight.  The kid blurs his sling, there's a crunch, and the catbeast goes down with its brains and blood shooting from its skull in a plume.  Then Bamm-Bamm walks over to tear the thing's ear off as a trophy and give it one last kick, before firing a chunk of steel from his sling at the observation box hard enough to crack the bulletproof glass.  With that he adjusts his "pants" and saunters back through the door from whence he came.

So there's the biggest part of the problem - it's not just that there's thousands of kids about to be born from the birthing vats, it's that if they turn out like the first batch, they'll be thousands of freakishly strong, hyper-aggressive kids.  O'Hara describes how, back when he had only found two of them, he was "puzzled but not upset.  Strange things occur out here on these far stations."  He set up a home and an Achnoid nurse to feed them cow's milk and care for them, left on a month-long trip to check on the million squares miles of redwood forest he'd singlehandedly planted, and by the time he returned the house was in ruins and the Achnoid nurse only reappeared two weeks later, having lain out in the "bayonet grass."  The little monsters grow up quick, which is why O'Hara is already constructing (or ordering the Achnoids to construct) a hardened refuge.  "In six months or less this planet won't be safe for Achnoids, catbeasts, scumsnakes, gargantelephants, pluseagles or me!"

I'm starting to think O'Hara was the only one assigned to the taxonomy team, too.

Ole Doc looks on the bright side - sure, there's a horde of Superbabies about to run loose on the planet, but at least they're all males, so there will only be one generation of them.  But then O'Hara shows him the horse incubation shed, where there's twenty thousand vats containing females now in their third week of development.

The situation is dire indeed.  And at a time like this, there's only one course of action.

Ole Doc looked around and found Hippocrates.  "Saw a couple lakes coming in.  With all the other fauna you have on this planet, fishing ought to be interesting."

O'Hara straightened as though he had had an electric shock.  "Fishing!"

"Fishing," said Ole Doc.  "You are the man who is in charge here.  I'm just an innocent bystander."

Damn straight.  Just because you belong to an untouchable elite organization with a stranglehold on advanced medical science doesn't mean you're obligated to use that knowledge to help people.

"Now look!" said O'Hara in horror.  "You've got to help me."  He tried to clutch Ole Doc's cape as the Soldier of Light moved away.  "You've got to answer some riddles for me!  Why is the gestation period three months?  Why do they develop in six months to raging beasts?  Why are they so antisocial?  What have I done wrong in these vats and what can I do to correct it?  You've got to help me!"

"I," said Ole Doc, "am going fishing.  No doubt to a bacteriologist, a biochemist or a mutologist your problem would be fascinating.  But after all, it's just a problem.  I am afraid it is not going to upset the Universe.  Good day."

Yeah, it's not that Ole Doc doesn't value human life, it's just that he has much bigger things to worry about, like the fate of the entire universe.  And whether the local fishing is any good.  And the state of his wine cellar.

O'Hara can only tremble in disbelief as the one person most qualified to solve his problems coldly turns his back on him, and tries to protest that "It's thirty-eight thousand human beings!" and he can't just kill them, or unleash them upon the planet.  Ole Doc advises him to abandon the research station, leaves the man weeping in the dust behind them, and has Hippocrates fetch his fishing gear.

And that's it.  We've had the story's main conflict laid out to us and to our protagonist, and the supposed hero doesn't consider it his concern.  So he's going to let thousands of unnaturally-modified human children run wild on an untamed planet, pitting freakishly strong and aggressive tots against the local apex predators.  Because he's more interested in fishing.

Comparing this to previous Ole Doc stories, it looks like, when the title character blunders into an emergency situation while trying to enjoy himself, he will only willingly get involved if there's a possibility he'll get laid at some point.  If only this O'Hara bloke had been an O'Hara sheila, then this story would be a few pages shorter.

Back to Part One

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ole Mother Methuselah - Part One - Colony in Space

Let's get this out of the way - no, there's no MPreg in this story, which isn't to say that it's not dumb.

Bucketing along at a hundred and fifty light-years,

Per what, Hubbard?

just entering the Earth Galaxy,

Much like how the world is called the Europe Planet.

the Morgue, decrepit pride of the Universal Medical Society,

I really hope all our modern medical organizations are proud of something other than the ancient vehicle one of their agents uses when traveling between emergencies.  Then again, this would fit with the UMS' warped ethics pretty well.

was targeted with a strange appeal.


You can waste Space Telegraph money on repeating directives but not on fully spelling out "emergency?"


This message is of course printed out on a stream of paper from some clicking tapes, because like I said this is a Space Telegraph.  And Ole Doc ignores it, because that thing's always making noise and spitting out distress calls and pleas for assistance and other dull stuff like that.  Our protagonist is just chilling in his luxury spaceship's salon, propping his feet up on a gold-embroidered chair, and I have to ask why, if Ole Doc doesn't care about his rich surroundings, he chooses to fly around in a garish golden spaceship with murals depicting "the Muses crowning a satyr."  I'm also curious why goddesses of intellectual and artistic inspiration are crowning an embodiment of lust and revelry often depicted in a state of permanent arousal.  Or maybe "crowning" is a euphemism and the Morgue's inner walls are covered in pornography.

The only thing Ole Doc is concerned about is the fact that they're almost out of wine, and summons Hippocrates to complain along these lines.  The slave points out that they don't have grapes to make wine, and Ole Doc realizes that they're also out of anything to eat but ham and powdered eggs, plus his shirts are all destroyed because some idiot keeps tearing off the cuffs to use as scrap paper.  Most importantly, it's been a full year since he's gone fishing.  Thus, he orders Hippocrates to see what that "tape" is clicking about today, and "If it's good fishing and if they grow grapes, we'll land."

So we make it to all of page two of this story before I want to break the main character's nose.

Hippocrates reads the distress call, remembers that Gorgon in Beta Ursa Major... also called Beta Ursa Minor, which I guess is Beta Ursae Majoris, or Merak.  Not to be confused with Ursa Minor Beta, the coastal resort planet in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where it was perpetually Sunday afternoon right before the beach bars close.  Dammit, Hubbard, you're accidentally reminding me of better things I could be reading.

Anyway, Hippocrates remembers that Gorgon has a lot of swamps, and therefore fish and grapes, but "No women" to get Ole Doc into trouble.  So that's their motivation for answering the desperate distress call.  If Gorgon was an arid world home to the Galactic Nymphomaniac Supermodel Refuge our heroes would have stayed well clear of the place, and as we'll later learn, the fate of the galaxy may have been dire indeed.

So two days later the Morgue lands at Field 1,987,806 of the United States Army Engineers, a half-hour walk from United States Experimental Station 3,002.  From just these facts we add a few things to our pre-space colonization to-do list: first, we need to come up with a better way to name locations than seven-digit numerical designations, and second, we should figure out some way to put a landing field closer than a half-hour walk from the place that landing field services.

And while I guess it's reassuring to know that the United States will still be around for another thousand years, I do have some unanswered questions about how the government has changed over that period.  Is it the United States of Earth yet, or even the United States of the Galaxy since it controls numerous planets?  Are other countries competing with it in the race for extraterrestrial real estate?  Is it still a democracy, or is it as crappy as all the other governments we've seen in these wretched stories?

But like I said, unanswered questions, even if I'm more interested in them than the actual story.  Ole Doc and Hippocrates just chill out on the landing pad for a while - the jungle around it is thick and filled with threatening roars of "aa-um," which prompt Hippocrates to carry a 110-mm cannon over his shoulder and Ole Doc to throw up the good ol' alpha force screen.  Occasionally the alien lets off a spurt of fire to relieve the tension, but what eventually emerges from the undergrowth is a "gray-faced Irishman" instead of a dinosaur or something cool.

The guy introduces himself as O'Hara, and is quite relieved to see these two, since his base's receiver has been inoperable for half a year, and he's the only man on the planet.  This doesn't mean that he's alone, he has some "Achnoids" around, but we'll learn a very little more about them next time.  At any rate, O'Hara's job is to prepare Gorgon not for any planned colonization, but to spruce it up just "in case Earth ever wants a colony planted."

So, more things for our to-do list: set up a protocol explaining that, if a research station's communication system goes down, the Army should respond and investigate within half a year of it going silent, rather than for the research station to send a distress signal meant for one of the vanishingly rare super-doctors that occasionally helps solve some of the galaxy's problems.  We may also want to plan these colonization efforts for planets we absolutely intend to settle, rather than worlds we may potentially want, and we should probably have more than one guy on staff during such projects.

O'Hara promises to explain his problem once they get back to base, and so our protagonists and an Irishman trek through the jungle, dodging airplane-sized "mesohawks," a snake mistaken for a tree trunk, all while the "catbeasts" make their cries of "aa-um."  Next time we'll start the plot proper, and see why Hubbard gave this story its particular title.

Back to "A Sound Investment"

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sound Investment - Part Three - The Mind Robber

You just can't get good help these days.  Six soldiers bringing in boxes of science stuff for Ole Doc stagger from the load, astonishing him because "Hippocrates had always carried it so lightly" and making him snap "Now get out before you break something!" after they barely manage the second crate.  And when Ole Doc approaches the "unlovely thing" on the room's bed, the still nameless girl's hair nearly stands on end, so the doctor has to send her to sit over by the window while he works.

We might ask why Ole Doc is even keeping her around, but there are two answers to that question: to have a viewpoint character who isn't Ole Doc, thus allowing him to surprise us with his brilliance, and to facilitate the plot, as we'll see shortly.

While Ole Doc gets out a portable generator and a bunch of wires, then starts attacking the corpse with a scalpel, saw and chisel, the girl gets to sit and twist a pillow's tassels.  She screams when the generator suddenly turns on, but when things go quiet again, she looks over to see Ole Doc next to a metal box sitting on the bed's (golden, of course) sheets.

Cautiously she approached the Soldier.  "Is... is he in there?"

What an odd question.  What, is the corpse gone or something?  Does she think Ole Doc used his medical super-science to fit the body into a very small coffin?

Ole Doc looked up with a start.  "Just his brain, my dear."

Some doctors, to put their patients or others at ease, will discus a procedure before they start it, so everyone knows what's coming and what to expect.  Of course, some doctors live by the tenet 'first, do no harm' and wouldn't tear open a guy just to prove a point.

The girl gets to sit by the window some more, only now she's staring to worry that she's going to be sacrificed in some scientific necromancy to revive Mr. Giotini or something.  After all, that one man "built up an entire civilization on five worlds which had hitherto been given to outlaws and casual wanderers; his vast energy had been sufficient to make cities grow in a matter of weeks and whole new industries from mine to finished product in a month or two."  You know, like how George Washington liberated the colonies from the British, tamed the western frontier, led the Industrial Revolution, and for an encore invented Australia.

It's only at this point that we learn the girls name, when she muses "Who was she, Patricia Dore, to be weighed in this balance against an experiment involving Giotini?"  Her name is only used twice more in the rest of the story, the rest of the time she's "the girl" or "she."  This is because the fact that she is Patricia Dore isn't important, and her role could be filled by any creature fair enough to be noticed and rescued by Ole Doc and weak enough to be horrified by surgery.

Patricia is so certain that Ole Doc is going to do something horrible to her that she looks out the bedroom window and gauges her chances of surviving a drop to the courtyard below, but then she notices some soldiers gathering in it, soldiers who seem focused on this room.  She points this out to Ole Doc, not as a warning but as a threat if he tries anything unwholesome.  He immediately surmises that they're up to no good and throws open the window "in a burst of indignation" to lecture them, only for one to blow off part of the frame when he sticks his head out.

If you'll remember from the story before last, Ole Doc has several levels of Gunslinger in addition to his Soldier of Light prestige class, and so is able to gun down three attackers, then duck back into cover before the others' "battle sticks" can fire back.  "Battle stick" strikes me as a moniker that could describe a great many weapons, some of them quite primitive.  Luckily the late Giotini seemed to have expected this sort of thing, because he installed "ray-proof" shutters on the inside of the windows, which Ole Doc close.

So there's our excitement for the story - not the nature of the plague, which Ole Doc isn't really interested in, but a siege while Ole Doc performs an autopsy.

Patricia isn't actually bothered by the gunfire, she's read enough books to get "an aberrated idea of just how much men would do for one woman" and assumes that the soldiers are going to rescue her.  She even comes close to trying to assist them in apprehending this obviously fake Soldier before "Ole Doc told her to get out of the way and sit down and she obeyed meekly."  Then he stares at her because "it is easier to think when one has a pretty object on which to fasten the eyes."

And to think I was starting to wonder how someone so squeamish could be of assistance to the doctor.  Obviously she's there to look hot, much like how Hippocrates is usually there to do the heavy lifting.

Speaking of Hippocrates, Ole Doc was conveniently stupid enough to leave his helmet with its inbuilt radio in the generalissimo's car, and in the grim darkness of the near future there are no cellular phones.  In other words, he has no way of calling the Morgue for help.  So he resorts to wadding up some sheets, dousing them in medical alcohol, and tossing them onto a summerhouse and lighting the bundle with a blaster shot, all so quickly that the guards eyeing his room are unable to react before he's closed the shutters again. This creates a crude smoke signal that hopefully Hippocrates will notice.  Then Ole Doc does some calculations, on his cuffs, of course, which reminds him of how his slave burned the old lot and makes him curse out the being he's counting on to rescue him.

Eventually he's interrupted by someone battering on the doors to the room, forcing Ole Doc to get up and double-bar them... and all this security really raises questions about what kind of leader the late Giotini was.  Then he hears the distant sounds of the Morgue's guns, which suggests that rescue won't be coming anytime soon.  And then Patricia decides to do something by unlocking the door while Ole Doc is distracted, leading to a brief firefight that ends with another five soldiers dead.  "Now where do you think you're going?" he asks the hysterical woman.  "Sometimes I think Hippocrates is right!" he says to himself.

But even after she threatens his life with her misguided escape attempts, Ole Doc doesn't send her away - you see, he needs her around to listen to something, the little project he wanted those cuff notes for.

It was the basic formula of cellular memory transmission in the neuro-sonic range, derived from the highest harmonic of nerve cell frequency and computable in this form to calculate the bracket of particular memory types as transmitted from sonic reception to audio-sonic recording cells.  It was the retention frequency of audio memory.

Technobabble that would make the writers of Star Trek blush.  Technobabble that operates under the assumption that there are specific neurons dedicated solely to remembering sounds, and they vibrate at a certain frequency to do so as if they were strings in a musical instrument.

As the nerve cell does not live long and as it is very liable to putrefaction, Ole Doc considered himself fortunate to find as much of Giotini's brain intact as he had. 

Wikipedia says that the overwhelming majority of neurons in the neocortex were formed before birth.  I wonder if Hubbard's writings would have been less scientifically embarrassing if he had access to a free and easy-to-use encyclopedia?  On the other hand, reference books surely existed in the distant past of 1949, so there's no guarantee he would've bothered to do the research even if Wikipedia was on his laptop.

Ole Doc has rigged up a "disc recorder and a mike," and presumably a speaker as well, since he's able to make a man's voice start talking about the plague wracking the planet Hass and a doctor on the generalissimo's staff fearing that the entire population will soon be dead.  Or as Ole Doc explains it, "I have taken Giotini's brain, preserved it and taken from it its various memories in the audio range."

I'm having trouble deciding if this is more or less ridiculous than Wild Wild West suggesting that you could shine a light through a dead man's eyeballs to project the image of the last thing he saw.

Patricia can only listen for three seconds before she starts screaming, after which Ole Doc goes to the door and yells for a parlay with Lebel, explaining that his ship will be there before they manage to batter down the door.  He also says he has something of "considerable interest" to the generalissimo.

"Come here," said Ole Doc to the girl.  "Tell him what you have seen and heard."

"It's horrible!" she said.  "I won't!"

"Oh yes you will!" said Ole Doc.  "Tell him."

"He cut out Giotini's brain!" she cried.  "He put it in a machine and he made it talk and he's got records in here of him talking!  It's horrible!"

Lebel reacts strangely to the news of a dead man talking... I mean, it's a pretty weird scenario to begin with, but the author says that his throat is "strangely constricted" when he manages to speak, so obviously the guy's worried about something more than necromancy.  And Ole Doc cranks up the "recorder" and has the dead Giotini explain that his spies revealed that General Lebel was plotting against him, planning to not only overthrow him but kill everyone in the system.  Dramatic sting.

In another of Hubbard's patented 'undermine serious drama with comedic hijinks' moments, Ole Doc then quickly swings the door inward, causing Generalissimo Lebel, who of course was leaning against it, to tumble into the room, then bars it closed before anyone else can react.  Then Lebel gets a boot stomp to the neck, a gun butt to the head, and so wakes up tied and gagged.  Ole Doc explains the bad guy's scheme - Lebel and some renegade sonic engineer came up with a device that would emit sound waves below the range of human hearing to provoke such a strong, instinctive fear response that their victims would literally die of fright.  Hence why Lebel was so insistent that Ole Doc put on one of his own helmets, which of course would be proof against the thing.

Lebel and his conspirators used the sonic weapon to kill Giotini, then learned that the he had willed the revenue of the entire Fomalhaut system to the Universal Medical Society.  So they kept using their toy to cause a 'plague' that would kill or drive off everyone in the system, allowing them to claim it as salvage.  Yes, according to some space code, "any planet deserted by her populace shall become an object of salvage to whomever shall take possession."

Can we make a note, at some point before we start colonizing other worlds, to make a law or something saying that one person or group of people can't lay claim to an entire planet just because there's no one else on it at the moment?  Even giving them their own continent is pushing it.

Let's wrap this up.  Ole Doc jabs the captive Lebel with what he says is a poison, and won't give him the antidote until the general calls off his guards.  After only a minute, Lebel is in such sweating agony that he relents, allowing Ole Doc to reveal that he actually gave him a shot of an unpleasant but harmless vaccine for the yellow fever.  Then he unties Lebel and tells the man to "put up your fists!"  Ole Doc wants to get his payback for all these inconveniences with a good old-fashioned brawl.

Cut to Hippocrates melting the palace doors with the Morgue's guns, kicking his way into the building, and breaking down the barred door his master is behind to find Ole Doc, both fists broken, standing over "the bloodiest, messiest man it had ever been his fate to see."  Lebel's blind from "fair blows," his lips are split over what teeth are left, and he collapses after feebly trying to get off the floor.  Hooray, the hero has savagely, needlessly beaten a bad guy who was only revealed to be a bad guy a few pages ago.  How satisfying and honorable.

So that's that.  Lebel will be tried by... someone, at Hub City, which I guess is a Universal Medical Society headquarters or something.  Instead of being seized and exploited by the generalissimo and his goons, Fomalhaut's assets will be... seized and exploited by the Universal Medical Society.  Huh.  Can you do that, will an entire system's revenue to a private organization?  Give away all your citizens' money like that?

Oh, and Miss Dore has vanished.  She's there to scream about Ole Doc making a dead man talk on one page, but she has no reaction to Lebel being captured, Ole Doc's motive summation, and the subsequent beating.  The most mention made of her is on the second to last page, where Ole Doc tells Hippocrates that "There's a silly girl around here we'll have to gather up and we've got a lot of psycho-therapy to attend to where we can find anyone left alive."  Wonder when she left?

Wait a minute, this is the closest these stories have come to discussing psychology!  Dammit, I was promised "warped psychology" on the book jacket, and we've only got one story left after this one!

And now, punchline one: Hippocrates asks what to do with all of Ole Doc's equipment, and the Soldier of Light says it's "junk."  See, without those fifty-year-old calculation notes, he couldn't get the right "harmonic of memory retention," so he wasn't able to listen to a two-weeks-dead brain's memories.  The record he played for Lebel was nothing but a fake intended to get the general to cling to the door.  Abusing prisoners, manufacturing evidence - I was wondering why Hubbard wanted his protagonist to be a Space Doctor instead of a Space Cop, but I think it's clear that Ole Doc would be an even worse policeman than he is a physician.

Punchline two: on their way to make space phone calls and get this Fomalhaut situation sorted out, Ole Doc asks why Hippocrates burned all those old cuffs, and the alien responds that he didn't think they looked important when he read them.  Which means, due to Hippocrates' photographic memory, he had all the information in his skull the whole time.

"I thought you just mad because I not file right.  You didn't ask me."

Ole Doc laughed again.  "Well, no loss at all then.  Some of the notes may work despite this fiasco today.  Hippocrates, when I bought you at that auction a few hundred years back, I think I made the soundest investment of my life.  Let's go."

Hippocrates stared.  He almost staggered.  And then he grew at least another half meter in height.  He went out into the corridor breasting a pleading, hopeful, begging throng, carving a wide swathe through them and crying out in a voice which cracked chips from the pillars in the place.  "Make way!  Make way for Ole Doc Methuselah, Soldier of Light, knight of the U.M.S. and benefactor of mankind!  Make way!  Make way!"

And so the conflict at the start of this story was all a stupid, hilarious misunderstanding, and Hippocrates won't have to go free after all.


Back to Part Two 

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Sound Investment - Part Two - State of Decay

Now, in the last story, much fuss was made about the authorities not having the sense to put together a proper quarantine.  Not only did space traffic control let a plague ship take off and set out for parts unknown, but when it spread its pestilent cargo to another world and people were actually dying in the streets, nobody could figure out how to so much as set up a roadblock.

In this story, we just read a message from a Generalissimo declaring that Fomalhaut was under "full quarantine," yet when Ole Doc lands on Gasperand in that system, he spies tramp freighters (standing on their tails, of course) taking in passengers eager to leave the world.  We can't even say 'well, maybe they have the infected areas properly locked down,' because there are diseased bodies rotting in the open literally down the street from the airport these people are departing from.

It just seems like a bit of a health risk, is what I'm saying.  Or maybe these people understand quarantines about as well as they understand how diseases spread, i.e. through spaceship hulls.

Anyhoo.  Ole Doc disembarks to find a mix of civilians and military dudes waiting for him around a car.  Please keep in mind that he's a thousand years old at this point and got his degree in the early 20th century, so it's vaguely disappointing that civilization hasn't come up with a more interesting way of getting around as the year 3000 approaches.

Leading the pack of greeters is Generalissimo Lebel, "a big fellow with a big mustache and a big black mane" in front of "a big staff that wore big medals and waiting for him was a big bullet-ray-germ proof car."  He greets Ole Doc with a lot of exclaimed sentences mentioning the twenty-five thousand dead and the fact that everyone's trying to desert the Fomalhaut system.  Then he tries to give Ole Doc a big smooch.

Ole Doc was almost swept up and kissed before he recalled the customs in this part of the galaxy. He twisted expertly away to shake an offered hand. Generally he didn't shake hands but it was better than getting buried in mustache. The crowed was surging toward him, cheering and pleading. Lebel took Ole Doc by the hand and got him into the refuge of the car. It was a usual sort of reception. The U.M.S. was so very old, so very feared and respected

You can't see it, but I'm rolling my eyes pretty hard.

and its members so seldom seen in the flesh that welcoming parties were sometimes the most dangerous portion for the work.

So we're supposed to be excited about and interested in the disease of this story when the main character is more annoyed with having to shake hands with the local head honcho?  If he's bored, how do you think we feel?

Lebel starts talking about the sudden onset of this terrible disease and its horrible effects ("People die."), but Ole Doc is so disinterested he's literally trying not to yawn, and says that he was headed to this planet anyway since that Giotini guy died and "left the revenue of the system to the U.M.S."  The generalissimo is incredulous that the Society would still want a world being wracked by such a plague and decides to take Ole Doc to see the disease at work.  He's really insistent that Ole Doc put on one of his helmets to keep any germs from getting in, and quite confident that it should be trusted more than any equipment that Ole Doc brought (not that he's wearing a helmet).  What normal and not at all suspicious behavior.

A street ahead was barricaded.  Bodies were piled in either gutter, bodies in various stages of decomposition, of both sexes, of many races and castes.

Oh lord.  I know the super-enlightened Soldiers of Light have watched democracy fade from memory, but could they at least have fought against the notion that some people 'deserve' to belong to an underclass?

Velvet and burlap were brothers in that grisly display.

"Ought to bury them," said Ole Doc.  "You'll have cholera or something if you don't watch it."

One, cholera is usually spread by sewage getting in the drinking water, not corpses.  Two, this guy is supposed to be a medical genius but has to use the words "or something" when warning a patient about sanitation.

"Bury them!  Who'd go near them?  They are thrown out of the houses like that young girl there and nobody-"

Oh no.

"Wait a minute," said Ole Doc.  "Stop the car!"

For the young girl was not dead.  She was dressed in satin, probably in her wedding dress, for a church stood fifty feet further on, and her hair was a golden flood upon the pavement.  She was pressing up with her hands, seeking to rise and falling back, each time screaming.

Of course.  Of course Ole Doc doesn't give a lepertige's haunch about the outbreak until he spots an appealingly woman-shaped pile of meat.

Lebel at least gets Ole Doc to put on the offered helmet before opening the car door and stepping onto the "pave" to check on the woman, who is in screaming, eye-rolling hysterics.  She fights back when Ole Doc tries to pick her up, Lebel starts pulling on his other end to get him back in the car away from the plague victims, and Ole Doc calls out for "Hippocrates!" before he remembers he manumitted his slave.

And this does raise a question - why doesn't this Soldier of Light have an assistant?  Even the best doctors of our time like to have someone on hand to pass them tools when they're up to their elbows in a patient.  Where's the apprentice Soldier of Light learning as much as possible at Ole Doc's elbow before going solo?  For that matter, where's the medical robot who follows orders unquestionably and has the servos to tote Ole Doc's bag of supplies?  Might be less troublesome than a freaking alien slave.

Anyway, it's all a bit of a mess.  Ole Doc has to juggle the girl, the legal notes, and his medical equipment as he gets out his "hypo gun," and then Lebel's bodyguards are instantly on him and confiscate the thing, because "Nobody draws on the generalissimo!"  A glaring Ole Doc inspects his patient, noting her high pulse rate and fully-dilated eyes, while also getting a good look at her body through the tears in her dress, because this doctor sees no reason to have two bedside manners.  Then he asks for the gun, Lebel hesitates, so Ole Doc says Lebel can do the deed himself.

"Oh!" said Lebel, seeing some parallel between this and the treatment he gave cavalry horses with wounds. He brightened and with something close to pleasure did as he was bidden.

So.  We're not just dealing with land-bound, wheeled cars in the year 3000, but cavalry regiments on horseback.  This is just... I know I shouldn't be this disappointed, because that Warhammer 40,000 game I mentioned does the same thing in an even more distant future.  Except that game is supposed to be primitive and dystopian, a sign of how far mankind has slid back into barbarism despite the future setting.  This just seems to be a sign of the author's failures of imagination.

At least have them riding something cool like lizards or terror birds.  Sheesh.

The generalissimo is probably a little disappointed when the "gun" squirts a healing mist that sends the girl into unconsciousness, and remarks that he's survived "ten - fifteen - twenty" assassination attempts but should have known better than to worry that a Soldier of Light would try to kill him.  He's not happy when Ole Doc declares his intent to bring the girl along and make a case history of the disease, and orders two goons to put her back on the corpse heap.

And though we're told that Ole Doc could have drawn a weapon and "burned them to glory long before they reached him," he restrains himself and merely flicks two little darts at the soldiers, making them come to a halt.

"Attention!" said Ole Doc. "You will obey only me. You can never obey anyone else again. Get into that car!"

And the two aides, like wound-up clockwork, turned around and got into the car like obedient small boys.

"What have you done?" yelped Lebel.

Violated their free wills, duh.

"They are in a fine, deep trance," said Ole Doc.  "I dislike being handled by anyone, Lebel.  No Soldier of Light does.  We are only seven hundred in the entire universe but I think you will that it pays to be very polite to us.  Now do you sleep or cooperate?"

"I'll cooperate!" said Lebel.

I think the Universal Medical Society operates more under "fear" than the "respect" they allegedly receive.  Also, isn't it interesting how Ole Doc's methods are devolving over these stories?  In the first story, some three hundred years before this one, he was able to simply tell a guy to become a stone and he went numb, and in one set immediately afterward he had to shine a light and whisper to hypnotize people, and now he's reduced to chemical mind control.

On the bright side, we finally see a medical weapon worth keeping from the rest of the galaxy.  I'm sure it's better to live in a universe where people are ravaged by ragweed and don't know how diseases spread if it means not having to deal with mind-control darts.  This way when the tyrants and monarchs that rule the galaxies want you to do something, they have to resort to threats or physical violence.

So the conked-out girl is loaded into the car by the hypnotized guards, and Ole Doc demands to be taken to where they're keeping the system's former ruler - that's who this Giotini guy was, turns out, Lebel's predecessor.  They are literally able to drive the car all the way into the palace's throne room.   There really aren't enough capitol buildings with drive-thru audience chambers, are there?

They disembark, and Lebel apologizes for his jumpy guards, since y'know, there's a plague and everyone's fleeing the system and it's all a real mess.  Plus this is the first time he's met a Soldier of Light, and Ole Doc looks so young.  "I have heard that they are all old men and you look like a boy."  How does he know Ole Doc's the real deal, in other words?

Never, ever make this mistake.  Never doubt a Hubbard protagonist, no matter how boyishly handsome they appear.

Ole Doc squares his shoulders and gives a little speech about the Soldiers of Light safeguarding "the health of mankind through the stars against plague and medical warfare" since their founding seven centuries ago, and offers to give a little demonstration to prove his identity.  So he gestures at a sergeant to step forward, and gets him to look at a shiny button until his eyelids start fluttering and he's swaying slightly on his feet.  Oh good, the more conventional hypnosis is back.  Wonder why Ole Doc didn't do that instead of the mind-control darts just a few pages ago?

"You cannot feel anything in your entire body!" said Ole Doc. Out came a lancet. Up went the sergeant's sleeve. Ole Doc gashed a five-inch wound into the forearm, picked up the beating artery like a rope, dropped it back and pressed the flesh to stop the bleeding. He reached into a cape pocket and extracted a small rod, a ray rod of pharmacy

I'd just like to point out that pharmacy is associated more with drugs than magical medical science sticks.

with a Greek symbol on it.  He passed the rod over the wound.  It closed.  He reversed the rod and passed it once more.  The scar vanished.  There was nothing but blood on the floor to mark what had happened.

Ole Doc thinks that by showing off his medical gadgets and knowledge of anatomy he'll prove that he's a real doctor, while the fact that he just needlessly tore open a person proves exactly the opposite, I feel.

So Lebel declares that he never doubted Ole Doc for a moment and offers his full assistance, and Ole Doc gets to haul the unconscious woman from the car, which makes him miss Hippocrates.  Not because he values the alien's personality or insights anything, but because "Doing manual labor was a thing that Ole Doc did not particularly enjoy."

Then it's time to check the stiff.  Ole Doc briefly meets Giotini's widow before shooing her out so he can get to work on his body, which is still lying in bed under a sheet.  And Ole Doc got the notification of Giotini's death a full two weeks ago, meaning he's probably been dead even longer than that.  That strikes me as a little long to keep a body out.  You might even catch cholera from it at that point.

Ole Doc puts the unconscious, still-nameless girl down on the room's couch, then throws back the sheet to examine the "sodden lump of dead flesh" (ick) that used to be Wilhelm Reiter Giotini, "unblooded ruler of Fomalhaut, creator of empires and materializer of dreams," the statesman and scholar now humbled as are all men by the reaper's scythe.

Our protagonist barks for Hippocrates again, but of course the alien is still back at the Morgue, languishing under the horrors of liberty.  So Ole Doc gives the girl a pill to wake her up, then reassures her that he's a Soldier of Light, here to help.  She tries to talk about how she was dying from the disease that is as nameless as she is, but Ole Doc reveals "There is no disease, no poison" that he was able to detect.

He asks her to tell her story (but doesn't ask for her name, that's just not how Ole Doc rolls), so the girl explains how she was a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding when everyone suddenly started screaming and falling over dead, another sudden outbreak like had been seen before elsewhere on the planet, and other planets in the system.  She breaks down in tears when she realizes that her sister, brother-in-law, mother, her whole family is now dead.  So Ole Doc jabs her with "a heavy charge of neo-tetrascopolamine" to blank out her memory of the past three days or so.

Um.  I get that the Soldiers of Light are trying to keep this sort of medical technology from falling into the wrong hands - this would be one hell of a date-rape drug - I'm just not convinced that they are the right hands for it, either.

The girl's face goes blank and she asks where she is and who this man is and where she's been for the past few days, which I understand are scary questions to have to ask, especially on a sofa in a strange building with a man you can't recognize.  At least she's able to recognize a Soldier of Light on sight, so our protagonist doesn't have to cut anyone open to prove his identity.

"I brought you here so fast your dress got torn," said Ole Doc.

"You promise you'll get back in time for my sister's wedding?"

"We'll do what we can," said Ole Doc. "Now you don't mind dead people, do you?"

And then she notices the weeks-dead corpse on the bed, and almost loses control of her stomach.  But Ole Doc tells her to pull herself together and they'll see what they can do for him.

"Do what - Why, bury him, of course!"  She added hesitantly and a little afraid: "You are going to bury him?"

"No, my dear.  I am afraid I am not."

So let's see.  Ole Doc uses mind control drugs on two hapless guards, programming them to obey only him for the rest of their lives.  He hypnotizes a man and rips into the guy's arm just to prove that he can and is therefore a real doctor.  He picks up a pretty-looking "plague" victim on a whim, wipes her memory, and more or less kidnaps her into working as his assistant, all because he got mad at his slave and let him go.  And he lies through omission about her dead family members so she won't be distracted while she plays nurse.

Well, he must be the story's hero, because we don't exactly have a villain at this point, do we?

Back to Part One 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Sound Investment - Part One - The Parting of the Ways

If you were like me and was hoping for a bit more information about Ole Doc and Hippocrates' relationship, stuff about how they met, you are, to a small extent, in luck.  If you were like me and hoped that this would help you understand why Hippocrates is so devoted to Ole Doc... well, there's one story left after this one, and maybe it has the answers.

The self-righteous Hippocrates was just returning from a visit to the Alpheca when the first blast hit him.

It was, however, not a very serious blast.  The entire force of it emanated from the larynx of Ole Doc Methuselah, Soldier of Light and member extraordinary of the Universal Medical Society.

But if it came from a larynx, it was a much revered organ and one which, on occasion, had made monarchs jump and thrones totter.

"Where are my old cuffs?" howled Ole Doc.

"Revered organ," oy.  Unless Ole Doc is an exquisite singer in addition to being some medical super-genius, there's no reason to show such devotion to... ah, who am I kidding, of course he's got a great voice.

The unexpected verbal blasting comes right after Hippocrates spent his time aboard the Alpheca "lying and bragging" about "what a wonderful master Ole Doc was," and involves said master calling him a "multi-finned monkey!" and threatening to dump enough water on the gypsum-based lifeform to "make a plaster demon out of you!"  So lies and death threats, that's what we're starting out with in this story whose sideplot is about Ole Doc and Hippocrates properly appreciating each other.

Now, the reason for all this is simple: remember in the first story when Ole Doc was writing notes on the cuffs of his shirt?  He's been doing that for some three hundred years now, and has never gotten around to moving those equations from scraps of cloth to some sort of storage system.  It hasn't mattered, since he's never gone back and actually reread what he jotted down on those pieces of fabric... until today, when Ole Doc wants to look at "those sonic notes I made two years last Marzo."

So as Ole Doc screams at his "gypsum freak!" to fetch what he's looking for, poor Hippocrates gets to dig through filing cases, which contain anything from old reports to "pictures of actresses and autographed intimate shots of empresses and queens."  And I'd like to take a moment to focus on these pictures, if you'd indulge me.

Ole Doc would seem to be a swingin' bachelor, yeah baby, wooing women that meet his eye as he cruises across the galaxy occasionally righting wrongs while keeping everyone else stupid.  If he's married there's no indication of it, and he shows no fidelity to this hypothetical spouse.  So it's probably safe to assume that those photos are of his past dalliances.  Now, Hubbard is implying here that his hero has the affection of actresses, who as performers in a chiefly visual medium are typically exemplars of their society's standards of beauty.  Ole Doc has no time for the fuglies.  The pictures of monarchs are there because the author thinks that owning a crown makes you important, so suggesting that Ole Doc has knocked that crown off a lady's head via vigorous pelvic motions gives him some secondhand prestige as well.  We shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that this association puts the empresses on Ole Doc's level, of course - right in this story's first sentences we're told how even kings tremble when Ole Doc clears his throat.

So why doesn't Ole Doc have a love interest who is his equal?  Why do we always see him fraternizing with his patients rather than politely turning down their romantic overtures and reading a letter from his distant lover Ole Doc... huh, can't find any mention of the biblical Methuselah's wife.  But that would be a good match, wouldn't it?  One of the few people Ole Doc is said to be able to relax around, his peers the Soldiers of Light?  Or does this august organization have a strict No Girls Allowed policy?

Anyway, back on track.  Ole Doc realizes that Hippocrates is stalling, and straight out asks where the cuffs are, forcing Hippocrates to shut his eyes and admit that he had the decaying bits of cloth all burned two weeks ago.  When he opens them again, Ole Doc is slumped in "a reasonable facsimile of intense despair," prompting Hippocrates to fall to his knees.

"Don't sell me," begged Hippocrates.  "Don't sell me, master.  I won't ever burn anything again.  I'll let the whole place fill up with anything you want to bring aboard.  Anything!  Even women, master.  Even women!"

But Ole Doc says nothing, leading Hippocrates to shuffle into the galley and remember stories from Tales of the Space Pioneers about a space cowboy or something saying farewell to his trusty "griffon" ...wait, what?  The story and the circumstances are so sad that Hippocrates starts to get sniffly, which is dangerous "because it might soften his upper lip."

So despite water being potentially deadly to Hippocrates' undefined species, to the point of dissolving him if he's fully immersed in it, he still cries the stuff.  You know, like how we humans occasionally squeeze sulfuric acid out of our tear ducts whenever we're sad.

Hippocrates steadies himself with a swig of ink, then returns to his owner to ask why he wanted that cuff about sonic whatchamados.  Ole Doc doesn't answer, but carelessly drops some messages he just read.  Doesn't put them on a table to get them out of the way, doesn't pass them to Hippocrates, just drops them to the floor.  A good little slave, Hippocrates immediately bends and picks them up, taking the time to read and therefore memorize the missives.

The first is from an Adjutant Thorpe, informing Ole Doc that someone named Wilhelm Giotini has died but willed his lands in the Fomalhaut system to the Universal Medical Society, and advises our protagonist to go accept them.  The other two are from Generalissimo Lebel of Fomalhaut, one directed to Ole Doc to tell him that Wilhelm Giotini expired "Earthday U.T." from "mind congestion following attack by assassin using sonic weapon," and that his body is waiting as requested for examination.  The other is a general alert to all Soldiers of Light announcing that Fomalhaut is in full quarantine following an unidentified disease, which he begs their assistance in combating.

At least now we know why Ole Doc was wanting those particular notes.  When Hippocrates is finished reading the messages, Ole Doc is already gone, and the ship suddenly takes off with only a clipped warning.  For two weeks the Morgue flies through space, and Hippocrates and Ole Doc don't say a word to each other.  The little alien gets to occupy himself reading and memorizing a new batch of "large, thick tomes" on machinery and medical force fields (and two pirate novels) delivered from Hub City, which can provide books in normal print and "micro form," but not e-books or digital files, because this is the old future.  Also, do you think we'll still be reading stories about pirates in a thousand years?  Is there something timeless about the swashbuckling sailors, or will we have a more interesting genre that makes them obsolete?

When they arrive at their destination, the "green and pearl and gold" planet Gasperand around the star Fomalhaut, Hippocrates loads up on blasters and legal handbooks in addition to Ole Doc's medical kit, then meets his caped and capped master.  But Ole Doc makes as if to tote the supplies himself. 

"I will carry it," said Hippocrates, put out.

"Henceforward," said Ole Doc, "you won't have to carry anything."  He pulled from his belt a big legal document, complete with U.M.S. seals, and thrust it at Hippocrates.  "You are free."

This is gonna suck.

Hippocrates looked dazedly at the paper and read "Manumitting Declaration" across its head.  He backed up again.

"Take it!" said Ole Doc.  You are perfectly and completely free.  You know very well that the U.M.S. does not approve of slaves.

They don't approve of it, and after that one story they apparently have the authority to free any slaves they encounter being shipped between worlds on grounds of potential spread of disease, but it's not actually illegal, and they haven't stripped Ole Doc of his title for owning a sentient being as property.  They've got better things to worry about than emancipation, like making sure people don't know how diseases spread.

Ten thousand dollars is pinned to this document. I think that-"

"You can't free me!" cried Hippocrates. "I won't have it! You don't dare! The last dozen, dozen times you tried to do it-"

Ah, see, it's not Ole Doc's fault he still owns a slave, Hippocrates is just too stubborn to accept his freedom.  Because...

Now would be a good time to offer an explanation, Hubbard.  Seriously, why can't Hippocrates voluntarily help out Ole Doc while a free whatever-he-is?

"This time I am serous," said Ole Doc.  "Take this!  It makes you a full citizen of the Confederated Galaxies,

Guess that explains why there's still slavery, hyuck.

gives you the right to own property-"

"You can't do this to me!" said Hippocrates.  His mind was not very long on imagination and it was being ransacked just now for a good, telling excuse.  "I... I have to be restored to my home planet.  There is nothing for me to eat-"

"Those alibis won't do," said Ole Doc.

Liberty means having the freedom to starve to death.  And also the right to die from want of medical treatment, because government-run health care is even worse.  All ya'll socialist communists in Europe should take note.

"Slavery is frowned upon.

Burping at the dinner table?  That's "frowned upon."  Treating another person as livestock?  I hope you do something more substantial than frown at that.

You were never bought to serve me in the first place and you know it.  I purchased you for observation of metabolism only.

Oh, that's reassuring.  Ole Doc never meant to get a manservant, it was simply an added bonus after picking up a freak of science for study.  A study that he never got around to doing, as we saw two stories ago.

You tricked me.

...The hell?

I don't care how many times I have threatened to do it and failed.  This time I really mean it!"

And not because Ole Doc loves freedom dearly, and thinks his longtime companion - who has repeatedly saved his life, for example by remembering to give Ole Doc his life-extending treatments - deserves liberty.  No, he's freeing Hippocrates because he's a bad slave who throws away things his master hadn't been using up until now.  The little gypsum turd should be grateful Ole Doc didn't eject him from the garbage chute with the other rubbish.

With that, Ole Doc throws the manumitting document down on a table, picks up his medical kit, and goes out the airlock, leaving Hippocrates to sigh, his antennae wilting, and shuffle back to his quarters.  Freedom.  Horrible, horrible freedom.

Well, maybe something will happen over the course of this story to make these two appreciate each other again.  And we should probably investigate that plague or whatever.

Back to "Plague" 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Plague - Part Three - Full Circle

For eight days (Terran standard?), Ole Doc zooms along, dodging comets and even powering through a magnetic space "maelstrom" at full throttle, "fire in his sleepless eyes, one ear glued to the channels which would tell him if anything serious would happen before he got there and one ear to the ticking meters which said that if he kept stretching the Morgue like this, she wouldn't have a sound seam in her whole, ancient hull."  Wonder how old his ship is?  At least two hundred years, Ole Doc is nine hundred something in this story and seven hundred something in his introduction.  Has he been upgrading it incrementally instead of replacing it?  Or can standard shipyards not produce anything comparable to some Universal Medical Society-exclusive vessel even after all those years?

However old and advanced the Morgue is, turns out the tub has its limits, because on day eight of the voyage, "three-thirteen s.g.t.," the port tubes jam and Ole Doc and Hippocrates get to presumably step out an airlock to install new linings so the ship can fly straight again.  But eventually they reach their destination, a grand mustering of a hundred thousand ships in formation around the world of Green Rivers.  Yes, "fully half of the navies of the galaxy" have come together to stop one plague-stricken space liner, because they're that scared of a contagious illness, because they're that incompetent at preventing or treating a contagious illness, instituting a quarantine, detaining a civilian spaceship, tracking a civilian spaceship, and letting planetary defense forces in on the straightforward plan of blowing up a plague-infected civilian spaceship.

But I guess it makes for a dramatic finale.  A hundred thousand ships full of trigger-happy jarheads, opposed only by our heroic doctor belonging to the cabal whose monopoly on medicine allowed this situation to happen in the first place.

It was an imposing sight. Here lay, side by side, navies which had within the past century been searing one another out of the darkness. Here were reunions of peoples who had long since forgotten any connection with Mother Earth.

I just can't shake the feeling that all of these peoples are white, English-speaking men.

It was a blinding, majestic array.

Ole Doc was indifferent to its majesty. He wanted the flagship of Garth.

The fleet's patrol craft don't just hail the Morgue once they spot it with their sensors, they have to come in close enough to see its gold paint to "blare a surly warning," and of course they scamper off when realize it's one of those Soldiers of Light.  The heroes actually beat Garth to the rendezvous, so Ole Doc takes a nap until he hears Garth's radio order for all admirals to gather at a conference aboard his flagship.  Ole Doc has time for a hot bath before he goes, though Hippocrates doesn't approve because "it would have dissolved the little slave in a splash had he neglected to grease himself up first."  Then-

Hang on.  "Ole Doc Methuselah," yeah, forty-five pages into the story in my version - Hippocrates rescues the girl of the week by walking around on the bottom of a river "for many minutes" until he finds and fishes her out.  A river Hippocrates was only walking along because he was sad Ole Doc was mad at him, not because he was really planning on doing so.  Now, there's no mention of grease here, but he must have greased himself up, right?

So just how vulnerable is Hippocrates to water?  Is it just full immersion that would dissolve him?  Would that work in any liquid?  What about rain, would that erode him?  Water vapor? Is this Signs all over again?  Or does the water need to be a certain temperature?

All this from one little throw-away sentence.  Oy.

Hubbard spends the rest of the big paragraph on Ole Doc getting dressed, deciding at the last minute to swap out his new ostentatious cape for his old ostentatious cape that at least matches his scuffed boots and space helmet, because the author wants to present the hero as someone focused more on getting the job done than his personal appearance, despite dressing him as decadently as possible for the past four stories, to say nothing of having him fly around in a golden spaceship.  Ole Doc and Methuselah get on the Morgue's lifeboat and shuttle over to Galactic Admiral Garth's flagship, the Tangier-Mairlicon.  Hmm, maybe I'm wrong and "Garth" is actually an old Moroccan name.

There's one of those moments when the conference's guards see this weirdo in a cape and some six-limbed gypsum monster approaching and have to whip out an etiquette handbook to figure out how to respond, only to see that the man is a Soldier of Light, who orders them to skip the fanfare and just let him in.  They do so, and an officer decides to consult his handbook again.

"It won't be there, commander," said the chief warrant bos'n, for he had known the commander as a midshipman and ever afterward treated him with a hint of it the way old spacemen will. "That's a Soldier of Light."

"It isn't here," said the commander.

"Neither," said the old chief warrant, "is God."

I can't really articulate the growling, spitting-through-your-teeth sound I made in response to this line.  All I can say is that Hubbard's hero more closely resembles the demiurge than a proper deity.

Ole Doc gets to walk into the conference room right when Garth is about to pound his fist to make a point, and in the silence that follows cracks a wry comment about needing all these ships just for one plague boat.  After demanding to know how Ole Doc found out about this conference (Ole Doc lies about cracking the code instead of abusing the trust of his profession and drugging a patient to get it), Garth explains the situation to the meddlesome physician.  The Star of Space landed on Green Rivers, two men escaped from it, and now there's plague in or around the settlements of Piedmont, Hammerford and Hartisford - seventy-one cases all said, which means that "the planet is rotten with it."

No quarantine, of course, "not even a road has been blocked."  Nobody on the world below can think of what steps they could take to keep a disease from spreading into their area, and nobody on the... what was it, hundred thousand?  Yeah, no one on those hundred thousand spaceships around the planet has any way of, I don't know, blocking roads or forcing air traffic to be grounded.  You'd need, like some sort of vehicle with a lot of firepower that could make demands and use deadly force if necessary, and the ability to fly through the air or even the vacuum.  Some sort of space-ship.  With guns on it, in some sort of navy, I'd expect.

So there's nothing to do but go all Warhammer 40,000 on the planet, purging all life with an orbital bombardment.  Nine million people in over thirty settlements, all gone.  Garth doesn't feel this is necessary simply because the world is a lost cause, no, he has a stupider reason.  See, if they don't sterilize this disaster area, Garth says, the fifty million men in the assembled fleet risk catching the plague as well.

These people.  Are balefully.  Balefully.  Stupid.

They're so ignorant that they can't fight this plague, fine.  They're too stupid to institute a blockade or quarantine to keep the plague from spreading, less acceptable.  But now they're afraid that the plague germs are going to somehow fly up from the planet below, through the vacuum of space, and penetrate the hulls of the spaceships to fly into the lungs of their crews?  And they have these fears after ordering a hundred thousand ships from all corners of the galaxy to assemble over the epicenter of the next outbreak?

I do believe the Universal Medical Society has made the rest of the universe so stupid that they don't know how diseases actually work.

Ole Doc protests that the men, women and children on the plague ship are innocent, and so are the nine million inhabitants of the planet, and they have "homes and farms and children.  They have churchs and projects for celebrating the harvest." But Garth remembers how the red death left Guyper the ruin it remains to this day, asserts that they'll start sterilizing in a few hours, and refuses to let Ole Doc down to examine the plague for fear of him bringing the sickness back with him.  Because how could a super-doctor like a Soldier of Light properly protect himself from a plague?

I ask that like it's sarcasm, but as we'll shortly see...

"One moment," said Ole Doc.  "You have forgotten something."

Garth glared.

"I am not under your orders, admiral."

"Your ship is staying where it is," said Garth.  "When you go back you will find a cruiser alongside."

"He'll not dare detain me," said Ole Doc.

Garth was dangerously angry.  Authority was as precious as blood to him.  "If you defy me-"

Ole Doc said: "Admiral, I am leaving."

Oooh, dramatic exit.  How could we completely defuse the tension of the situation?

He shook out a handkerchief and delicately fanned the air before his face and then restored it.  "We've got warm in here, haven't we?" 

Now at this point you might wonder whether the story is trying to become a comedy, but rest assured, Ole Doc is up to something.  Because when he goes back to the Morgue to try to leave, and learns from an apologetic officer that someone has ordered the "grapplers" sealed so that he's physically incapable of taking off, he doesn't get mad.  He goes back into his cabin, and takes a nap.  He gargles, squirts antiseptic spray up his nose, shines himself with a "sweet-smelling" light to clean his skin, toys with a lancet to make "short passes with it in the air as though he was cutting someone's jugular - not Garth's of course."  And as the hours pass and the time for the purge grows nearer, Ole Doc gets introspective.

Orders.  Orders were inexorable soulless things which temporarily divorced a man from rationality and made him an extension of another brain.  Orders.  Born out of inorganic matter contained in some passionless book, they yet had more force than all the glib conversations of a thousand philosophers.  Orders.  They made men slaves.  Garth was a slave.  A slave to his own orders.

Yeah, maaan.  And like, generals can give commands to everyone except themselves, duuude.

A mere ten minutes before the killing begins, the Morgue receives an urgent message from Galactic Admiral Garth - the plague has reached the fleet, and they're practically begging the doctor to do something.  Oh, the irony!

Yes, when Ole Doc goes over again and finds Garth, grim but courageously facing his fate, the admiral explains that "The scout vessels which approached the Star of Space must have been infected in the air," and then their commanders came to report in person.  He doesn't start laughing halfway through, or trail off incredulously, he honestly thinks this is what happened.  Because these people are all deliberately stupid, thank you, Soldiers of Light.

Garth volunteers to be a test case so Ole Doc can find a cure for his men, but the doctor insists that he start at the source of this problem.  He brings up how Garth forbade him from going down to the infected planet just so Garth can squirm and rescind his order, nice.  And then Ole Doc is off for the town of Piedmont.

There is the predictable mob of fearful citizens when the Morgue lands, complete with a woman dropping to her knees and praying, though Ole Doc only promises them that he'll try.  He's led to the Star of Space, now in terrible shape, "Her sealed ports were like sightless eyes in a skull."  The survivors that greet him can only sob in relief.

Ole Doc pushed on through.  He was, after all, a mortal.  Disease respected no man, no even the U.M.S.  It is valiant to go up against ray guns.  It took more nerve to walk into that ship.

The stench was like a living wall.  There were unburied dead in there.

Where would you "bury" them in a spaceship?

The salons and halls were stained and disarrayed, the furniture broken, the draperies torn down for other uses.  A piano stood gleaming polished amid a chaos of broken glass.  And a young woman, dead, lay with her hair outsplayed across the fragments as though she wore diamonds in her locks.

And whatever happened to chucking the corpses out the airlock?

Now, I've read these pages carefully, and you know what I can find no mention of?  Ole Doc putting on a hazmat suit.  He's not going around in his space suit like he was back on Dorab, he doesn't even have a little gauze surgeon's mask on.  Everyone else in the galaxy has been deliberately kept as ignorant as possible when it comes to medical stuff, so what's Ole Doc's excuse?

Stepping into a plagued city in the Middle Ages, wearing a crude suit of waxed fabric and a mask with glass goggles and a long "beak" filled with herbs to ward off the miasma, doing what you can to save lives, that's heroism.  Stepping into a plagued spaceship some fifteen hundred years later, wearing no protective covering at all?  Heroism isn't quite the word I'd use.

Let's wrap this up.  Ole Doc interviews patients, learns the disease first started with a man from the ruined backwater of Cobanne, and notes its traits - spots in the mouth, ten-day incubation, death from high fever usually a week later.  Then he has to sit and think for a bit, because there's no disease like this one in any of his books.  After all, "The study of such diseases was not very modern after the vigorous campaigns for asepsis five hundred years ago."  And that's the course of medical knowledge: you painstakingly claw your way up to the heights of enlightenment, learn how to keep a sterile environment, and then forget everything you knew to get that far.

So Ole Doc, sitting by a stream, is thinking hard, but for whatever reason keeps flashing back to fishing in his home of Maryland, and one of his first cases as a doctor.  Then he has a revelation, gets everyone animated, buckets and mixtures and catalysts and a brave lad becoming a guinea pig.  In short order a cure and vaccine is produced, and Ole Doc has the details sent out over an honest-to-God "space-radio."  Then he hails Garth to let him know it's safe for the fleet to disperse, all the ship doctors, useless though they may be, now have instructions on how to produce a cure.  The day saved, our hero goes fishing, because he's still a good ol' country boy at heart.

Yes, I'm skimming, but the actual "inventing the cure" part of the story takes a page and a half at most.

After escaping all the fawning plebeians, Ole Doc takes a break from packing to start writing a note about the importance of not totally eradicating diseases from the universe lest people forget how to deal with them, only to have Garth knock at the door to tell him how wrong he was about doctors, the Universal Medical Society, and so on.  Ole Doc is a good sport and offers his guest a drink, even when Garth starts worrying that the symptoms he and some other admirals are showing are different from what his doctors have been told about the plague on the Star of Space.  Ole Doc prescribes him plenty of water and, in a code only a pharmacist would understand, some simple aspirin.

And now, the punchline.

Hippocrates shows up and accuses Ole Doc of giving the assembled admirals something during that meeting.  Ole Doc admits that his handkerchief he waved at the conference was coated with a specially-brewed variant of the common cold that would show symptoms in hours, something to put the fear of as-good-as-God into them so they'd give him a chance to work.  Because even though everyone (except Garth) is awed and deferential to the Soldiers of Light, Ole Doc had no way of just demanding that he be given a chance to do his job.  And for whatever reason he didn't go straight to the Star of Space after arriving over Green Rivers, and decided to hang out with the fleet instead.

Oh, and as for the plague itself, Ole Doc explains that the problem was that the Star of Space's passengers were

"Too well card for by doctors," said Ole Doc.


"Hit by a disease which they hadn't contacted for a long, long time - say five hundred years."

"What disease?" demanded Hippocrates.  "Not one that you spread?"

"No, no, heaven forbid!" laughed Ole Doc. 

So what's funny here?  It's not laughable that a 'doctor' would ever spread a disease instead of curing one, because you just admitted to doing that you tremendous asshat.

 "It has a perfectly good name but it hasn't been around for so long that-"

"What name?"

"Common measles," said Ole Doc. 

Yep.  Nine hundred years from now, we'll be utterly helpless in the face of this disease we've been living with for most of our history, a disease that can be treated with anything that reduces fever and helps breathing.  Any country with a decent health care system can handle measles without too many deaths, so... thanks to the Universal Medical Society, the galaxy has a woefully inadequate health care system.  Success?

I like that Ole Doc recognizes how the Universal Medical Society was so good at its job that it forgot about this old, mostly nonfatal disease.  But it was also so good at its job that it left the rest of the universe helpless in the face of any disease.  And that, I think, is the bigger problem.

Back to Part Two