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.
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"