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

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Remembering the book and your comments, I feel like there could be a good story in here about a very old space doctor who's kinda given up caring about things but still has a sense of duty to his job. Too bad Hubbard was atrocious at plotting or worldbuilding, and that his concept of the "Soldiers of Light" is ridiculously overpowered and nonsensical.