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.
ANY UMS SHIP ANY UMS SHIP ANY DOCTOR ANYONE EMERG EMERG PLEASE CONTACT
You can waste Space Telegraph money on repeating directives but not on fully spelling out "emergency?"
PLEASE CONTACT UNITED STATES EXPERIMENTAL STATION THREE THOUSAND AND TWO PLANET GORGON BETA URSA MAJOR. RELAY RELAY EMERG.
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"