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

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