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Title: Star Surgeon
Author: Nourse, Alan Edward, 1928-1992
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Star Surgeon" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



STAR SURGEON

by

ALAN E. NOURSE


[Transcriber's note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the copyright on this publication was renewed.]


DAVID McKAY COMPANY, INC.

NEW YORK


COPYRIGHT © 1959, 1960 BY ALAN E. NOURSE

_All rights reserved_

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 60-7199


Manufactured in the United States of America

VAN REES PRESS · NEW YORK



_Typography by Charles M. Todd_

Sixth Printing, April 1973



Part of this book was published in _Amazing Science Fiction Stories_



CONTENTS


 1 The Intruder                                       3
 2 Hospital Seattle                                  15
 3 The Inquisition                                   25
 4 The Galactic Pill Peddlers                        37
 5 Crisis on Morua VIII                              54
 6 Tiger Makes a Promise                             66
 7 Alarums and Excursions                            78
 8 Plague!                                           98
 9 The Incredible People                            107
10 The Boomerang Clue                               121
11 Dal Breaks a Promise                             136
12 The Showdown                                     151
13 The Trial                                        165
14 Star Surgeon                                     175



STAR SURGEON



CHAPTER 1

THE INTRUDER


The shuttle plane from the port of Philadelphia to Hospital Seattle had
already gone when Dal Timgar arrived at the loading platform, even
though he had taken great pains to be at least thirty minutes early for
the boarding.

"You'll just have to wait for the next one," the clerk at the
dispatcher's desk told him unsympathetically. "There's nothing else you
can do."

"But I _can't_ wait," Dal said. "I have to be in Hospital Seattle by
morning." He pulled out the flight schedule and held it under the
clerk's nose. "Look there! The shuttle wasn't supposed to leave for
another forty-five minutes!"

The clerk blinked at the schedule, and shrugged. "The seats were full,
so it left," he said. "Graduation time, you know. Everybody has to be
somewhere else, right away. The next shuttle goes in three hours."

"But I had a reservation on this one," Dal insisted.

"Don't be silly," the clerk said sharply. "Only graduates can get
reservations this time of year--" He broke off to stare at Dal Timgar,
a puzzled frown on his face. "Let me see that reservation."

Dal fumbled in his pants pocket for the yellow reservation slip. He was
wishing now that he'd kept his mouth shut. He was acutely conscious of
the clerk's suspicious stare, and suddenly he felt extremely awkward.
The Earth-cut trousers had never really fit Dal very well; his legs were
too long and spindly, and his hips too narrow to hold the pants up
properly. The tailor in the Philadelphia shop had tried three times to
make a jacket fit across Dal's narrow shoulders, and finally had given
up in despair. Now, as he handed the reservation slip across the
counter, Dal saw the clerk staring at the fine gray fur that coated the
back of his hand and arm. "Here it is," he said angrily. "See for
yourself."

The clerk looked at the slip and handed it back indifferently. "It's a
valid reservation, all right, but there won't be another shuttle to
Hospital Seattle for three hours," he said, "unless you have a priority
card, of course."

"No, I'm afraid I don't," Dal said. It was a ridiculous suggestion, and
the clerk knew it. Only physicians in the Black Service of Pathology and
a few Four-star Surgeons had the power to commandeer public aircraft
whenever they wished. "Can I get on the next shuttle?"

"You can try," the clerk said, "but you'd better be ready when they
start loading. You can wait up on the ramp if you want to."

Dal turned and started across the main concourse of the great airport.
He felt a stir of motion at his side, and looked down at the small pink
fuzz-ball sitting in the crook of his arm. "Looks like we're out of
luck, pal," he said gloomily. "If we don't get on the next plane, we'll
miss the hearing altogether. Not that it's going to do us much good to
be there anyway."

The little pink fuzz-ball on his arm opened a pair of black shoe-button
eyes and blinked up at him, and Dal absently stroked the tiny creature
with a finger. The fuzz-ball quivered happily and clung closer to Dal's
side as he started up the long ramp to the observation platform.
Automatic doors swung open as he reached the top, and Dal shivered in
the damp night air. He could feel the gray fur that coated his back and
neck rising to protect him from the coldness and dampness that his body
was never intended by nature to endure.

Below him the bright lights of the landing fields and terminal buildings
of the port of Philadelphia spread out in panorama, and he thought with
a sudden pang of the great space-port in his native city, so very
different from this one and so unthinkably far away. The field below was
teeming with activity, alive with men and vehicles. Moments before, one
of Earth's great hospital ships had landed, returning from a cruise deep
into the heart of the galaxy, bringing in the gravely ill from a dozen
star systems for care in one of Earth's hospitals. Dal watched as the
long line of stretchers poured from the ship's hold with white-clad
orderlies in nervous attendance. Some of the stretchers were encased in
special atmosphere tanks; a siren wailed across the field as an
emergency truck raced up with fresh gas bottles for a chlorine-breather
from the Betelgeuse system, and a derrick crew spent fifteen minutes
lifting down the special liquid ammonia tank housing a native of
Aldebaran's massive sixteenth planet.

All about the field were physicians supervising the process of
disembarcation, resplendent in the colors that signified their medical
specialties. At the foot of the landing crane a Three-star Internist in
the green cape of the Medical Service--obviously the commander of the
ship--was talking with the welcoming dignitaries of Hospital Earth.
Half a dozen doctors in the Blue Service of Diagnosis were checking new
lab supplies ready to be loaded aboard. Three young Star Surgeons swung
by just below Dal with their bright scarlet capes fluttering in the
breeze, headed for customs and their first Earthside liberty in months.
Dal watched them go by, and felt the sick, bitter feeling in the pit of
his stomach that he had felt so often in recent months.

He had dreamed, once, of wearing the scarlet cape of the Red Service of
Surgery too, with the silver star of the Star Surgeon on his collar.
That had been a long time ago, over eight Earth years ago; the dream had
faded slowly, but now the last vestige of hope was almost gone. He
thought of the long years of intensive training he had just completed in
the medical school of Hospital Philadelphia, the long nights of studying
for exams, the long days spent in the laboratories and clinics in order
to become a physician of Hospital Earth, and a wave of bitterness swept
through his mind.

_A dream_, he thought hopelessly, _a foolish idea and nothing more. They
knew before I started that they would never let me finish. They had no
intention of doing so, it just amused them to watch me beat my head on a
stone wall for these eight years._ But then he shook his head and felt a
little ashamed of the thought. It wasn't quite true, and he knew it. He
had known that it was a gamble from the very first. Black Doctor
Arnquist had warned him the day he received his notice of admission to
the medical school. "I can promise you nothing," the old man had said,
"except a slender chance. There are those who will fight to the very end
to prevent you from succeeding, and when it's all over, you may not win.
But if you are willing to take that risk, at least you have a chance."

Dal had accepted the risk with his eyes wide open. He had done the best
he could do, and now he had lost. True, he had not received the final,
irrevocable word that he had been expelled from the medical service of
Hospital Earth, but he was certain now that it was waiting for him when
he arrived at Hospital Seattle the following morning.

The loading ramp was beginning to fill up, and Dal saw half a dozen of
his classmates from the medical school burst through the door from the
station below, shifting their day packs from their shoulders and
chattering among themselves. Several of them saw him, standing by
himself against the guard rail. One or two nodded coolly and turned
away; the others just ignored him. Nobody greeted him, nor even smiled.
Dal turned away and stared down once again at the busy activity on the
field below.

"Why so gloomy, friend?" a voice behind him said. "You look as though
the ship left without you."

Dal looked up at the tall, dark-haired young man, towering at his side,
and smiled ruefully. "Hello, Tiger! As a matter of fact, it _did_ leave.
I'm waiting for the next one."

"Where to?" Frank Martin frowned down at Dal. Known as "Tiger" to
everyone but the professors, the young man's nickname fit him well. He
was big, even for an Earthman, and his massive shoulders and stubborn
jaw only served to emphasize his bigness. Like the other recent
graduates on the platform, he was wearing the colored cuff and collar of
the probationary physician, in the bright green of the Green Service of
Medicine. He reached out a huge hand and gently rubbed the pink
fuzz-ball sitting on Dal's arm. "What's the trouble, Dal? Even Fuzzy
looks worried. Where's your cuff and collar?"

"I didn't get any cuff and collar," Dal said.

"Didn't you get an assignment?" Tiger stared at him. "Or are you just
taking a leave first?"

Dal shook his head. "A permanent leave, I guess," he said bitterly.
"There's not going to be any assignment for me. Let's face it, Tiger.
I'm washed out."

"Oh, now look here--"

"I mean it. I've been booted, and that's all there is to it."

"But you've been in the top ten in the class right through!" Tiger
protested. "You know you passed your finals. What is this, anyway?"

Dal reached into his jacket and handed Tiger a blue paper envelope. "I
should have expected it from the first. They sent me this instead of my
cuff and collar."

Tiger opened the envelope. "From Doctor Tanner," he grunted. "The Black
Plague himself. But what is it?"

"Read it," Dal said.

"'You are hereby directed to appear before the medical training council
in the council chambers in Hospital Seattle at 10:00 A.M., Friday, June
24, 2375, in order that your application for assignment to a General
Practice Patrol ship may be reviewed. Insignia will not be worn. Signed,
Hugo Tanner, Physician, Black Service of Pathology.'" Tiger blinked at
the notice and handed it back to Dal. "I don't get it," he said finally.
"You applied, you're as qualified as any of us--"

"Except in one way," Dal said, "and that's the way that counts. They
don't want me, Tiger. They have never wanted me. They only let me go
through school because Black Doctor Arnquist made an issue of it, and
they didn't quite dare to veto him. But they never intended to let me
finish, not for a minute."

For a moment the two were silent, staring down at the busy landing
procedures below. A warning light was flickering across the field,
signaling the landing of an incoming shuttle ship, and the supply cars
broke from their positions in center of the field and fled like beetles
for the security of the garages. A loudspeaker blared, announcing the
incoming craft. Dal Timgar turned, lifting Fuzzy gently from his arm
into a side jacket pocket and shouldering his day pack. "I guess this is
my flight, Tiger. I'd better get in line."

Tiger Martin gripped Dal's slender four-fingered hand tightly. "Look,"
he said intensely, "this is some sort of mistake that the training
council will straighten out. I'm sure of it. Lots of guys have their
applications reviewed. It happens all the time, but they still get their
assignments."

"Do you know of any others in this class? Or the last class?"

"Maybe not," Tiger said. "But if they were washing you out, why would
the council be reviewing it? Somebody must be fighting for you."

"But Black Doctor Tanner is on the council," Dal said.

"He's not the only one on the council. It's going to work out. You'll
see."

"I hope so," Dal said without conviction. He started for the loading
line, then turned. "But where are _you_ going to be? What ship?"

Tiger hesitated. "Not assigned yet. I'm taking a leave. But you'll be
hearing from me."

The loading call blared from the loudspeaker. The tall Earthman seemed
about to say something more, but Dal turned away and headed across
toward the line for the shuttle plane. Ten minutes later, he was aloft
as the tiny plane speared up through the black night sky and turned its
needle nose toward the west.

       *       *       *       *       *

He tried to sleep, but couldn't. The shuttle trip from the Port of
Philadelphia to Hospital Seattle was almost two hours long because of
passenger stops at Hospital Cleveland, Eisenhower City, New Chicago, and
Hospital Billings. In spite of the help of the pneumatic seats and a
sleep-cap, Dal could not even doze. It was one of the perfect clear
nights that often occurred in midsummer now that weather control could
modify Earth's air currents so well; the stars glittered against the
black velvet backdrop above, and the North American continent was free
of clouds. Dal stared down at the patchwork of lights that flickered up
at him from the ground below.

Passing below him were some of the great cities, the hospitals, the
research and training centers, the residential zones and supply centers
of Hospital Earth, medical center to the powerful Galactic
Confederation, physician in charge of the health of a thousand
intelligent races on a thousand planets of a thousand distant star
systems. Here, he knew, was the ivory tower of galactic medicine, the
hub from which the medical care of the confederation arose. From the
huge hospitals, research centers, and medical schools here, the
physicians of Hospital Earth went out to all corners of the galaxy. In
the permanent outpost clinics, in the gigantic hospital ships that
served great sectors of the galaxy, and in the General Practice Patrol
ships that roved from star system to star system, they answered the
calls for medical assistance from a multitude of planets and races,
wherever and whenever they were needed.

Dal Timgar had been on Hospital Earth for eight years, and still he was
a stranger here. To him this was an alien planet, different in a
thousand ways from the world where he was born and grew to manhood. For
a moment now he thought of his native home, the second planet of a hot
yellow star which Earthmen called "Garv" because they couldn't pronounce
its full name in the Garvian tongue. Unthinkably distant, yet only days
away with the power of the star-drive motors that its people had
developed thousands of years before, Garv II was a warm planet, teeming
with activity, the trading center of the galaxy and the governmental
headquarters of the powerful Galactic Confederation of Worlds. Dal could
remember the days before he had come to Hospital Earth, and the many
times he had longed desperately to be home again.

He drew his fuzzy pink friend out of his pocket and rested him on his
shoulder, felt the tiny silent creature rub happily against his neck. It
had been his own decision to come here, Dal knew; there was no one else
to blame. His people were not physicians. Their instincts and interests
lay in trading and politics, not in the life sciences, and plague after
plague had swept across his home planet in the centuries before Hospital
Earth had been admitted as a probationary member of the Galactic
Confederation.

But as long as Dal could remember, he had wanted to be a doctor. From
the first time he had seen a General Practice Patrol ship landing in his
home city to fight the plague that was killing his people by the
thousands, he had known that this was what he wanted more than anything
else: to be a physician of Hospital Earth, to join the ranks of the
doctors who were serving the galaxy.

Many on Earth had tried to stop him from the first. He was a Garvian,
alien to Earth's climate and Earth's people. The physical differences
between Earthmen and Garvians were small, but just enough to set him
apart and make him easily identifiable as an alien. He had one too few
digits on his hands; his body was small and spindly, weighing a bare
ninety pounds, and the coating of fine gray fur that covered all but his
face and palms annoyingly grew longer and thicker as soon as he came to
the comparatively cold climate of Hospital Earth to live. The bone
structure of his face gave his cheeks and nose a flattened appearance,
and his pale gray eyes seemed abnormally large and wistful. And even
though it had long been known that Earthmen and Garvians were equal in
range of intelligence, his classmates still assumed just from his
appearance that he was either unusually clever or unusually stupid.

The gulf that lay between him and the men of Earth went beyond mere
physical differences, however. Earthmen had differences of skin color,
facial contour and physical size among them, yet made no sign of
distinction. Dal's alienness went deeper. His classmates had been civil
enough, yet with one or two exceptions, they had avoided him carefully.
Clearly they resented his presence in their lecture rooms and
laboratories. Clearly they felt that he did not belong there, studying
medicine.

From the first they had let him know unmistakably that he was unwelcome,
an intruder in their midst, the first member of an alien race ever to
try to earn the insignia of a physician of Hospital Earth.

And now, Dal knew he had failed after all. He had been allowed to try
only because a powerful physician in the Black Service of Pathology had
befriended him. If it had not been for the friendship and support of
another Earthman in the class, Tiger Martin, the eight years of study
would have been unbearably lonely.

But now, he thought, it would have been far easier never to have started
than to have his goal snatched away at the last minute. The notice of
the council meeting left no doubt in his mind. He had failed. There
would be lots of talk, some perfunctory debate for the sake of the
record, and the medical council would wash their hands of him once and
for all. The decision, he was certain, was already made. It was just a
matter of going through the formal motions.

Dal felt the motors change in pitch, and the needle-nosed shuttle plane
began to dip once more toward the horizon. Ahead he could see the
sprawling lights of Hospital Seattle, stretching from the Cascade
Mountains to the sea and beyond, north to Alaska and south toward the
great California metropolitan centers. Somewhere down there was a
council room where a dozen of the most powerful physicians on Hospital
Earth, now sleeping soundly, would be meeting tomorrow for a trial that
was already over, to pass a judgment that was already decided.

He slipped Fuzzy back into his pocket, shouldered his pack, and waited
for the ship to come down for its landing. It would be nice, he thought
wryly, if his reservations for sleeping quarters in the students'
barracks might at least be honored, but now he wasn't even sure of that.

In the port of Seattle he went through the customary baggage check. He
saw the clerk frown at his ill-fitting clothes and not-quite-human face,
and then read his passage permit carefully before brushing him on
through. Then he joined the crowd of travelers heading for the city
subways. He didn't hear the loudspeaker blaring until the announcer had
stumbled over his name half a dozen times.

"_Doctor Dal Timgar, please report to the information booth._"

He hurried back to central information. "You were paging me. What is
it?"

"Telephone message, sir," the announcer said, his voice surprisingly
respectful. "A top priority call. Just a minute."

Moments later he had handed Dal the yellow telephone message sheet, and
Dal was studying the words with a puzzled frown:

      CALL AT MY QUARTERS ON ARRIVAL REGARDLESS OF HOUR STOP
      URGENT THAT I SEE YOU STOP REPEAT URGENT

The message was signed THORVOLD ARNQUIST, BLACK SERVICE and carried the
priority seal of the Four-star Pathologist. Dal read it again, shifted
his pack, and started once more for the subway ramp. He thrust the
message into his pocket, and his step quickened as he heard the whistle
of the pressure-tube trains up ahead.

Black Doctor Arnquist, the man who had first defended his right to study
medicine on Hospital Earth, now wanted to see him before the council
meeting took place.

For the first time in days, Dal Timgar felt a new flicker of hope.



CHAPTER 2

HOSPITAL SEATTLE


It was a long way from the students' barracks to the pathology sector
where Black Doctor Arnquist lived. Dal Timgar decided not to try to go
to the barracks first. It was after midnight, and even though the
message had said "regardless of hour," Dal shrank from the thought of
awakening a physician of the Black Service at two o'clock in the
morning. He was already later arriving at Hospital Seattle than he had
expected to be, and quite possibly Black Doctor Arnquist would be
retiring. It seemed better to go there without delay.

But one thing took priority. He found a quiet spot in the waiting room
near the subway entrance and dug into his day pack for the pressed
biscuit and the canister of water he had there. He broke off a piece of
the biscuit and held it up for Fuzzy to see.

Fuzzy wriggled down onto his hand, and a tiny mouth appeared just below
the shoe-button eyes. Bit by bit Dal fed his friend the biscuit, with
squirts of water in between bites. Finally, when the biscuit was gone,
Dal squirted the rest of the water into Fuzzy's mouth and rubbed him
between the eyes. "Feel better now?" he asked.

The creature seemed to understand; he wriggled in Dal's hand and blinked
his eyes sleepily. "All right, then," Dal said. "Off to sleep."

Dal started to tuck him back into his jacket pocket, but Fuzzy abruptly
sprouted a pair of forelegs and began struggling fiercely to get out
again. Dal grinned and replaced the little creature in the crook of his
arm. "Don't like that idea so well, eh? Okay, friend. If you want to
watch, that suits me."

He found a map of the city at the subway entrance, and studied it
carefully. Like other hospital cities on Earth, Seattle was primarily a
center for patient care and treatment rather than a supply or
administrative center. Here in Seattle special facilities existed for
the care of the intelligent marine races that required specialized
hospital care. The depths of Puget Sound served as a vast aquatic ward
system where creatures which normally lived in salt-water oceans on
their native planets could be cared for, and the specialty physicians
who worked with marine races had facilities here for research and
teaching in their specialty. The dry-land sectors of the hospital were
organized to support the aquatic wards; the surgeries, the laboratories,
the pharmacies and living quarters all were arranged on the periphery of
the salt-water basin, and rapid-transit tubes carried medical workers,
orderlies, nurses and physicians to the widespread areas of the hospital
city.

The pathology sector lay to the north of the city, and Black Doctor
Arnquist was the chief pathologist of Hospital Seattle. Dal found a
northbound express tube, climbed into an empty capsule, and pressed the
buttons for the pathology sector. Presently the capsule was shifted
automatically into the pressure tube that would carry him thirty miles
north to his destination.

It was the first time Dal had ever visited a Black Doctor in his
quarters, and the idea made him a little nervous. Of all the medical
services on Hospital Earth, none had the power of the Black Service of
Pathology. Traditionally in Earth medicine, the pathologists had always
occupied a position of power and discipline. The autopsy rooms had
always been the "Temples of Truth" where the final, inarguable answers
in medicine were ultimately found, and for centuries pathologists had
been the judges and inspectors of the profession of medicine.

And when Earth had become Hospital Earth, with status as a probationary
member of the Galactic Confederation of Worlds, it was natural that the
Black Service of Pathology had become the governors and policy-makers,
regimenting every aspect of the medical services provided by Earth
physicians.

Dal knew that the medical training council, which would be reviewing his
application in just a few hours, was made up of physicians from all the
services--the Green Service of Medicine, the Blue Service of Diagnosis,
the Red Service of Surgery, as well as the Auxiliary Services--but the
Black Doctors who sat on the council would have the final say, the final
veto power.

He wondered now why Black Doctor Arnquist wanted to see him. At first he
had thought there might be special news for him, word perhaps that his
assignment had come through after all, that the interview tomorrow would
not be held. But on reflection, he realized that didn't make sense. If
that were the case, Doctor Arnquist would have said so, and directed him
to report to a ship. More likely, he thought, the Black Doctor wanted
to see him only to soften the blow, to help him face the decision that
seemed inevitable.

He left the pneumatic tube and climbed on the jitney that wound its way
through the corridors of the pathology sector and into the quiet,
austere quarters of the resident pathologists. He found the proper
concourse, and moments later he was pressing his thumb against the
identification plate outside the Black Doctor's personal quarters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist looked older now than when Dal had last
seen him. His silvery gray hair was thinning, and there were tired lines
around his eyes and mouth that Dal did not remember from before. The old
man's body seemed more wispy and frail than ever, and the black cloak
across his shoulders rustled as he led Dal back into a book-lined study.

The Black Doctor had not yet gone to bed. On a desk in the corner of the
study several books lay open, and a roll of paper was inserted in the
dicto-typer. "I knew you would get the message when you arrived," he
said as he took Dal's pack, "and I thought you might be later than you
planned. A good trip, I trust. And your friend here? He enjoys shuttle
travel?" He smiled and stroked Fuzzy with a gnarled finger. "I suppose
you wonder why I wanted to see you."

Dal Timgar nodded slowly. "About the interview tomorrow?"

"Ah, yes. The interview." The Black Doctor made a sour face and shook
his head. "A bad business for you, that interview. How do you feel about
it?"

Dal spread his hands helplessly. As always, the Black Doctor's questions
cut through the trimming to the heart of things. They were always
difficult questions to answer.

"I ... I suppose it's something that's necessary," he said finally.

"Oh?" the Black Doctor frowned. "But why necessary for you if not for
the others? How many were there in your class, including all the
services? Three hundred? And out of the three hundred only one was
refused assignment." He looked up sharply at Dal, his pale blue eyes
very alert in his aged face. "Right?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you really feel it's just normal procedure that your application is
being challenged?"

"No, sir."

"How _do_ you feel about it, Dal? Angry, maybe?"

Dal squirmed. "Yes, sir. You might say that."

"Perhaps even bitter," the Black Doctor said.

"I did as good work as anyone else in my class," Dal said hotly. "I did
my part as well as anyone could, I didn't let up once all the way
through. Bitter! Wouldn't you feel bitter?"

The Black Doctor nodded slowly. "Yes, I imagine I would," he said,
sinking down into the chair behind the desk with a sigh. "As a matter of
fact, I do feel a little bitter about it, even though I was afraid that
it might come to this in the end. I can't blame you for your feelings."
He took a deep breath. "I wish I could promise you that everything would
be all right tomorrow, but I'm afraid I can't. The council has a right
to review your qualifications, and it holds the power to assign you to a
patrol ship on the spot, if it sees fit. Conceivably, a Black Doctor
might force the council's approval, if he were the only representative
of the Black service there. But I will not be the only Black Doctor
sitting on the council tomorrow."

"I know that," Dal said.

Doctor Arnquist looked up at Dal for a long moment. "Why do you want to
be a doctor in the first place, Dal? This isn't the calling of your
people. You must be the one Garvian out of millions with the patience
and peculiar mental make-up to permit you to master the scientific
disciplines involved in studying medicine. Either you are different from
the rest of your people--which I doubt--or else you are driven to force
yourself into a pattern foreign to your nature for very compelling
reasons. What are they? Why do you want medicine?"

It was the hardest question of all, the question Dal had dreaded. He
knew the answer, just as he had known for most of his life that he
wanted to be a doctor above all else. But he had never found a way to
put the reasons into words. "I can't say," he said slowly. "I _know_,
but I can't express it, and whenever I try, it just sounds silly."

"Maybe your reasons don't make reasonable sense," the old man said
gently.

"But they do! At least to me, they do," Dal said. "I've always wanted to
be a doctor. There's nothing else I want to do. To work at home, among
my people."

"There was a plague on Garv II, wasn't there?" Doctor Arnquist said. "A
cyclic thing that came back again and again. The cycle was broken just a
few years ago, when the virus that caused it was finally isolated and
destroyed."

"By the physicians of Hospital Earth," Dal said.

"It's happened again and again," the Black Doctor said. "We've seen the
same pattern repeated a thousand times across the galaxy, and it has
always puzzled us, just a little." He smiled. "You see, our knowledge
and understanding of the life sciences here on Earth have always grown
hand in hand with the physical sciences. We had always assumed that the
same thing would happen on _any_ planet where a race has developed
intelligence and scientific methods of study. We were wrong, of course,
which is the reason for the existence of Hospital Earth and her
physicians today, but it still amazes us that with all the technology
and civilization in the galaxy, we Earthmen are the only people yet
discovered who have developed a broad knowledge of the processes of life
and illness and death."

The old man looked up at his visitor, and Dal felt his pale blue eyes
searching his face. "How badly do you want to be a doctor, Dal?"

"More than anything else I know," Dal said.

"Badly enough to do anything to achieve your goal?"

Dal hesitated, and stroked Fuzzy's head gently. "Well ... almost
anything."

The Black Doctor nodded. "And that, of course, is the reason I had to
see you before this interview, my friend. I know you've played the game
straight right from the beginning, up to this point. Now I beg of you
not to do the thing that you are thinking of doing."

For a moment Dal just stared at the little old man in black, and felt
the fur on his arms and back rise up. A wave of panic flooded his mind.
_He knows!_ he thought frantically. _He must be able to read minds!_ But
he thrust the idea away. There was no way that the Black Doctor could
know. No race of creatures in the galaxy had _that_ power. And yet there
was no doubt that Black Doctor Arnquist knew what Dal had been thinking,
just as surely as if he had said it aloud.

Dal shook his head helplessly. "I ... I don't know what you mean."

"I think you do," Doctor Arnquist said. "Please, Dal. Trust me. This is
not the time to lie. The thing that you were planning to do at the
interview would be disastrous, even if it won you an assignment. It
would be dishonest and unworthy."

_Then he does know!_ Dal thought. _But how? I couldn't have told him, or
given him any hint._ He felt Fuzzy give a frightened shiver on his arm,
and then words were tumbling out of his mouth. "I don't know what you're
talking about, there wasn't anything I was thinking of. I mean, what
could I do? If the council wants to assign me to a ship, they will, and
if they don't, they won't. I don't know what you're thinking of."

"Please." Black Doctor Arnquist held up his hand. "Naturally you defend
yourself," he said. "I can't blame you for that, and I suppose this is
an unforgivable breach of diplomacy even to mention it to you, but I
think it must be done. Remember that we have been studying and observing
your people very carefully over the past two hundred years, Dal. It is
no accident that you have such a warm attachment to your little pink
friend here, and it is no accident that wherever a Garvian is found, his
Fuzzy is with him, isn't that so? And it is no accident that your people
are such excellent tradesmen, that you are so remarkably skillful in
driving bargains favorable to yourselves ... that you are in fact the
most powerful single race of creatures in the whole Galactic
Confederation."

The old man walked to the bookshelves behind him and brought down a
thick, bound manuscript. He handed it across the desk as Dal watched
him. "You may read this if you like, at your leisure. Don't worry, it's
not for publication, just a private study which I have never mentioned
before to anyone, but the pattern is unmistakable. This peculiar talent
of your people is difficult to describe: not really telepathy, but an
ability to create the emotional responses in others that will be most
favorable to you. Just what part your Fuzzies play in this ability of
your people I am not sure, but I'm quite certain that without them you
would not have it."

He smiled at Dal's stricken face. "A forbidden topic, eh? And yet
perfectly true. You know right now that if you wanted to you could
virtually paralyze me with fright, render me helpless to do anything but
stand here and shiver, couldn't you? Or if I were hostile to your
wishes, you could suddenly force me to sympathize with you and like you
enormously, until I was ready to agree to anything you wanted--"

"No," Dal broke in. "Please, you don't understand! I've never done it,
not once since I came to Hospital Earth."

"I know that. I've been watching you."

"And I wouldn't think of doing it."

"Not even at the council interview?"

"Never!"

"Then let me have Fuzzy now. He is the key to this special talent of
your people. Give him to me now, and go to the interview without him."

Dal drew back, trembling, trying to fight down panic. He brought his
hand around to the soft fur of the little pink fuzz-ball. "I ... can't
do that," he said weakly.

"Not even if it meant your assignment to a patrol ship?"

Dal hesitated, then shook his head. "Not even then. But I won't do what
you're saying, I promise you."

For a long moment Black Doctor Arnquist stared at him. Then he smiled.
"Will you give me your word?

"Yes, I promise."

"Then I wish you good luck. I will do what I can at the interview. But
now there is a bed for you here. You will need sleep if you are to
present your best appearance."



CHAPTER 3

THE INQUISITION


The interview was held in the main council chambers of Hospital Seattle,
and Dal could feel the tension the moment he stepped into the room. He
looked at the long semicircular table, and studied the impassive faces
of the four-star Physicians across the table from him.

Each of the major medical services was represented this morning. In the
center, presiding over the council, was a physician of the White
Service, a Four-star Radiologist whose insignia gleamed on his
shoulders. There were two physicians each, representing the Red Service
of Surgery, the Green Service of Medicine, the Blue Service of
Diagnosis, and finally, seated at either end of the table, the
representatives of the Black Service of Pathology. Black Doctor Thorvold
Arnquist sat to Dal's left; he smiled faintly as the young Garvian
stepped forward, then busied himself among the papers on the desk before
him. To Dal's right sat another Black Doctor who was not smiling.

Dal had seen him before--the chief co-ordinator of medical education on
Hospital Earth, the "Black Plague" of the medical school jokes. Black
Doctor Hugo Tanner was large and florid of face, blinking owlishly at
Dal over his heavy horn-rimmed glasses. The glasses were purely
decorative; with modern eye-cultures and transplant techniques, no
Earthman had really needed glasses to correct his vision for the past
two hundred years, but on Hugo Tanner's angry face they added a look of
gravity and solemnity that the Black Doctor could not achieve without
them. Still glaring at Dal, Doctor Tanner leaned over to speak to the
Blue Doctor on his right, and they nodded and laughed unpleasantly at
some private joke.

There was no place for him to sit, so Dal stood before the table, as
straight as his five-foot height would allow him. He had placed Fuzzy
almost defiantly on his shoulder, and from time to time he could feel
the little creature quiver and huddle against his neck as though to hide
from sight under his collar.

The White Doctor opened the proceedings, and at first the questions were
entirely medical. "We are meeting to consider this student's application
for assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship, as a probationary
physician in the Red Service of Surgery. I believe you are all
acquainted with his educational qualifications?"

There was an impatient murmur around the table. The White Doctor looked
up at Dal. "Your name, please?"

"Dal Timgar, sir."

"Your _full_ name," Black Doctor Tanner rumbled from the right-hand end
of the table.

Dal took a deep breath and began to give his full Garvian name. It was
untranslatable and unpronounceable to Earthmen, who could not reproduce
the sequence of pops and whistles that made up the Garvian tongue. The
doctors listened, blinking, as the complex family structure and
ancestry which entered into every Garvian's full name continued to roll
from Dal's lips. He was entering into the third generation removed of
his father's lineage when Doctor Tanner held up his hand.

"All right, all right! We will accept the abbreviated name you have used
on Hospital Earth. Let it be clear on the record that the applicant is a
native of the second planet of the Garv system." The Black Doctor
settled back in his chair and began whispering again to the Blue Doctor
next to him.

A Green Doctor cleared his throat. "Doctor Timgar, what do you consider
to be the basic principle that underlies the work and services of
physicians of Hospital Earth?"

It was an old question, a favorite on freshman medical school
examinations. "The principle that environments and life forms in the
universe may be dissimilar, but that biochemical reactions are universal
throughout creation," Dal said slowly.

"Well memorized," Black Doctor Tanner said sourly. "What does it mean?"

"It means that the principles of chemistry, physiology, pathology and
the other life sciences, once understood, can be applied to any living
creature in the universe, and will be found valid," Dal said. "As
different as the various life forms may be, the basic life processes in
one life form are the same, under different conditions, as the life
processes in any other life form, just as hydrogen and oxygen will
combine to form water anywhere in the universe where the proper physical
conditions prevail."

"Very good, very good," the Green Doctor said. "But tell me this: what
in your opinion is the place of surgery in a Galactic practice of
medicine?"

A more difficult question, but one that Dal's training had prepared him
well to answer. He answered it, and faced another question, and another.
One by one, the doctors interrogated him, Black Doctor Arnquist among
them. The questions came faster and faster; some were exceedingly
difficult. Once or twice Dal was stopped cold, and forced to admit that
he did not know the answer. Other questions which he knew would stop
other students happened to fall in fields he understood better than
most, and his answers were full and succinct.

But finally the questioning tapered off, and the White Doctor shuffled
his papers impatiently. "If there are no further medical questions, we
can move on to another aspect of this student's application. Certain
questions of policy have been raised. Black Doctor Tanner had some
things to say, I believe, as co-ordinator of medical education."

The Black Doctor rose ponderously to his feet. "I have some things to
say, you can be sure of that," he said, "but they have nothing to do
with this Dal Timgar's educational qualifications for assignment to a
General Practice Patrol ship." Black Doctor Tanner paused to glare in
Dal's direction. "He has been trained in a medical school on Hospital
Earth, and apparently has passed his final qualifying examinations for
the Red Service of Surgery. I can't argue about that."

Black Doctor Arnquist's voice came across the room. "Then why are we
having his review, Hugo? Dal Timgar's classmates all received their
assignments automatically."

"Because there are other things to consider here than educational
qualifications," Hugo Tanner said. "Gentlemen, consider our position for
a moment. We have thousands of probationary physicians abroad in the
galaxy at the present time, fine young men and women who have been
trained in medical schools on Hospital Earth, and now are gaining
experience and judgment while fulfilling our medical service contracts
in every part of the confederation. They are probationers, but we must
not forget that we physicians of Hospital Earth are also probationers.
We are seeking a permanent place in this great Galactic Confederation,
which was in existence many thousands of years before we even knew of
its existence. It was not until our own scientists discovered the Koenig
star-drive, enabling us to break free of our own solar system, that we
were met face to face with a confederation of intelligent races
inhabiting the galaxy--among others, the people from whom this same Dal
Timgar has come."

"The history is interesting," Black Doctor Arnquist broke in, "but
really, Hugo, I think most of us know it already."

"Maybe we do," Doctor Tanner said, flushing a little. "But the history
is significant. Permanent membership in the confederation is contingent
on two qualifications. First, we must have developed a star-drive of our
own, a qualification of intelligence, if you will. The confederation has
ruled that only races having a certain level of intelligence can become
members. A star-drive could only be developed with a far-reaching
understanding of the physical sciences, so this is a valid criterion of
intelligence. But the second qualification for confederation membership
is nothing more nor less than a question of usefulness."

The presiding White Doctor looked up, frowning. "Usefulness?"

"Exactly. The Galactic Confederation, with its exchange of ideas and
talents, and all the wealth of civilization it has to offer, is based on
a division of labor. Every member must have something to contribute,
some special talent. For Earthmen, the talent was obvious very early.
Our technology was primitive, our manufacturing skills mediocre, our
transport and communications systems impossible. But in our
understanding of the life sciences, we have far outstripped any other
race in the galaxy. We had already solved the major problems of disease
and longevity among our own people, while some of the most advanced
races in the confederation were being reduced to helplessness by cyclic
plagues which slaughtered their populations, and were caused by nothing
more complex than a simple parasitic virus. Garv II is an excellent
example."

One of the Red Doctors cleared his throat. "I'm afraid I don't quite see
the connection. Nobody is arguing about our skill as doctors."

"Of course not," Black Doctor Tanner said. "The point is that in all the
galaxy, Earthmen are by their very nature the _best_ doctors,
outstripping the most advanced physicians on any other planet. And this,
gentlemen, is our bargaining point. We are useful to the Galactic
Confederation only as physicians. The confederation needed us badly
enough to admit us to probational membership, but if we ever hope to
become full members of the confederation, we must demonstrate our
usefulness, our unique skill, as physicians. We have worked hard to
prove ourselves. We have made Hospital Earth the galactic center of
study and treatment of diseases of many races. Earthmen on the General
Practice Patrol ships visit planets in the remotest sections, and their
reputation as physicians has grown. Every year new planets are writing
full medical service contracts with us ... as Earthmen serving the
galaxy--"

"As _physicians_ serving the galaxy," Black Doctor Arnquist's voice shot
across the room.

"As far as the confederation has been concerned, the two have been
synonymous," Hugo Tanner roared. "_Until now._ But now we have an alien
among us. We have allowed a non-Earthman to train in our medical
schools. He has completed the required work, his qualifications are
acceptable, and now he proposes to go out on a patrol ship as a
physician of the Red Service of Surgery. But think of what you are doing
if you permit him to go! You will be proving to every planet in the
confederation that they don't really need Earthmen after all, that any
race from any planet might produce physicians just as capable as
Earthmen."

The Black Doctor turned slowly to face Dal, his mouth set in a grim
line. As he talked, his face had grown dark with anger. "Understand that
I have nothing against this creature as an individual. Perhaps he would
prove to be a competent physician, although I cannot believe it. Perhaps
he would carry on the traditions of medical service we have worked so
long to establish, although I doubt it. But I do know that if we permit
him to become a qualified physician, it will be the beginning of the end
for Hospital Earth. We will be selling out our sole bargaining position.
We can forget our hopes for membership in the confederation, because one
like him this year will mean two next year, and ten the next, and there
will be no end to it. We should have stopped it eight years ago, but
certain ones prevailed to admit Dal Timgar to training. If we do not
stop it now, for all time, we will never be able to stop it."

Slowly the Black Doctor sat down, motioning to an orderly at the rear of
the room. The orderly brought a glass of water and a small capsule which
Black Doctor Tanner gulped down. The other doctors were talking heatedly
among themselves as Black Doctor Arnquist rose to his feet. "Then you
are claiming that our highest calling is to keep medicine in the hands
of Earthmen alone?" he asked softly.

Doctor Tanner flushed. "Our highest calling is to provide good medical
care for our patients," he said.

"The best possible medical care?"

"I never said otherwise."

"And yet you deny the ancient tradition that a physician's duty is to
help his patients help themselves," Black Doctor Arnquist said.

"I said no such thing!" Hugo Tanner cried, jumping to his feet. "But we
must protect ourselves. We have no other power, nothing else to sell."

"And I say that if we must sell our medical skill for our own benefit
first, then we are not worthy to be physicians to anyone," Doctor
Arnquist snapped. "You make a very convincing case, but if we examine it
closely, we see that it amounts to nothing but fear and selfishness."

"Fear?" Doctor Tanner cried. "What do we have to fear if we can maintain
our position? But if we must yield to a Garvian who has no business in
medicine in the first place, what can we have left but fear?"

"If I were really convinced that Earthmen were the best physicians in
the galaxy," Black Doctor Arnquist replied, "I don't think I'd have to
be afraid."

The Black Doctor at the end of the table stood up, shaking with rage.
"Listen to him!" he cried to the others. "Once again he is defending
this creature and turning his back on common sense. All I ask is that we
keep our skills among our own people and avoid the contamination that
will surely result--"

Doctor Tanner broke off, his face suddenly white. He coughed, clutching
at his chest, and sank down groping for his medicine box and the water
glass. After a moment he caught his breath and shook his head. "There's
nothing more I can say," he said weakly. "I have done what I could, and
the decision is up to the rest of you." He coughed again, and slowly the
color came back into his face. The Blue Doctor had risen to help him,
but Tanner waved him aside. "No, no, it's nothing. I allowed myself to
become angry."

Black Doctor Arnquist spread his hands. "Under the circumstances, I
won't belabor the point," he said, "although I think it would be good if
Doctor Tanner would pause in his activities long enough for the surgery
that would make his anger less dangerous to his own life. But he
represents a view, and his right to state it is beyond reproach." Doctor
Arnquist looked from face to face along the council table. "The decision
is yours, gentlemen, I would ask only that you consider what our highest
calling as physicians really is--a duty that overrides fear and
selfishness. I believe Dal Timgar would be a good physician, and that
this is more important than the planet of his origin. I think he would
uphold the honor of Hospital Earth wherever he went, and give us his
loyalty as well as his service. I will vote to accept his application,
and thus cancel out my colleague's negative vote. The deciding votes
will be cast by the rest of you."

He sat down, and the White Doctor looked at Dal Timgar. "It would be
good if you would wait outside," he said. "We will call you as soon as a
decision is reached."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dal waited in an anteroom, feeding Fuzzy and trying to put out of his
mind for a moment the heated argument still raging in the council
chamber. Fuzzy was quivering with fright; unable to speak, the tiny
creature nevertheless clearly experienced emotions, even though Dal
himself did not know how he received impressions, nor why.

But Dal knew that there was a connection between the tiny pink
creature's emotions and the peculiar talent that Black Doctor Arnquist
had spoken of the night before. It was not a telepathic power that Dal
and his people possessed. Just _what_ it was, was difficult to define,
yet Dal knew that every Garvian depended upon it to some extent in
dealing with people around him. He knew that when Fuzzy was sitting on
his arm he could sense the emotions of those around him--the anger, the
fear, the happiness, the suspicion--and he knew that under certain
circumstances, in a way he did not clearly understand, he could wilfully
change the feelings of others toward himself. Not a great deal, perhaps,
nor in any specific way, but just enough to make them look upon him and
his wishes more favorably than they otherwise might.

Throughout his years on Hospital Earth he had vigilantly avoided using
this strange talent. Already he was different enough from Earthmen in
appearance, in ways of thinking, in likes and dislikes. But these
differences were not advantages, and he had realized that if his
classmates had ever dreamed of the advantage that he had, minor as it
was, his hopes of becoming a physician would have been destroyed
completely.

And in the council room he had kept his word to Doctor Arnquist. He had
felt Fuzzy quivering on his shoulder; he had sensed the bitter anger in
Black Doctor Tanner's mind, and the temptation deliberately to mellow
that anger had been almost overwhelming, but he had turned it aside. He
had answered questions that were asked him, and listened to the debate
with a growing sense of hopelessness.

And now the chance was gone. The decision was being made.

He paced the floor, trying to remember the expressions of the other
doctors, trying to remember what had been said, how many had seemed
friendly and how many hostile, but he knew that only intensified the
torture. There was nothing he could do now but wait.

At last the door opened, and an orderly nodded to him. Dal felt his legs
tremble as he walked into the room and faced the semi-circle of doctors.
He tried to read the answer on their faces, but even Black Doctor
Arnquist sat impassively, doodling on the pad before him, refusing to
meet Dal's eyes.

The White Doctor took up a sheet of paper. "We have considered your
application, and have reached a decision. You will be happy to know that
your application for assignment has been tentatively accepted."

Dal heard the words, and it seemed as though the room were spinning
around him. He wanted to shout for joy and throw his arms around Black
Doctor Arnquist, but he stood perfectly still, and suddenly he noticed
that Fuzzy was very quiet on his shoulder.

"You will understand that this acceptance is not irrevocable," the White
Doctor went on. "We are not willing to guarantee your ultimate
acceptance as a fully qualified Star Surgeon at this point. You will be
allowed to wear a collar and cuff, uniform and insignia of a
probationary physician, in the Red Service, and will be assigned aboard
the General Practice Patrol ship _Lancet_, leaving from Hospital Seattle
next Tuesday. If you prove your ability in that post, your performance
will once again be reviewed by this board, but you alone will determine
our decision then. Your final acceptance as a Star Surgeon will depend
entirely upon your conduct as a member of the patrol ship's crew." He
smiled at Dal, and set the paper down. "The council wishes you well. Do
you have any questions?"

"Just one," Dal managed to say. "Who will my crewmates be?"

"As is customary, a probationer from the Green Service of Medicine and
one from the Blue Service of Diagnosis. Both have been specially
selected by this council. Your Blue Doctor will be Jack Alvarez, who has
shown great promise in his training in diagnostic medicine."

"And the Green Doctor?"

"A young man named Frank Martin," the White Doctor said. "Known to his
friends, I believe, as 'Tiger.'"



CHAPTER 4

THE GALACTIC PILL PEDDLERS


The ship stood tall and straight on her launching pad, with the
afternoon sunlight glinting on her hull. Half a dozen crews of check-out
men were swarming about her, inspecting her engine and fuel supplies,
riding up the gantry crane to her entrance lock, and guiding the great
cargo nets from the loading crane into her afterhold. High up on her
hull Dal Timgar could see a golden caduceus emblazoned, the symbol of
the General Practice Patrol, and beneath it the ship's official name:

      GPPS 238
      _LANCET_

Dal shifted his day pack down from his shoulders, ridiculously pleased
with the gleaming scarlet braid on the collar and cuff of his uniform,
and lifted Fuzzy up on his shoulder to see. It seemed to Dal that
everyone he had passed in the terminal had been looking at the colorful
insignia; it was all he could do to keep from holding his arm up and
waving it like a banner.

"You'll get used to it," Tiger Martin chuckled as they waited for the
jitney to take them across to the launching pad. "At first you think
everybody is impressed by the colors, until you see some guy go past
with the braid all faded and frazzled at the edges, and then you realize
that you're just the latest greenhorn in a squad of two hundred thousand
men."

"It's still good to be wearing it," Dal said. "I couldn't really believe
it until Black Doctor Arnquist turned the collar and cuff over to me."
He looked suspiciously at Tiger. "You must have known a lot more about
that interview than you let on. Or, was it just coincidence that we were
assigned together?"

"Not coincidence, exactly." Tiger grinned. "I didn't know what was going
to happen. I'd requested assignment with you on my application, and then
when yours was held up, Doctor Arnquist asked me if I'd be willing to
wait for assignment until the interview was over. So I said okay. He
seemed to think you had a pretty good chance."

"I'd never have made it without his backing," Dal said.

"Well, anyway, he figured that if you _were_ assigned, it would be a
good idea to have a friend on the patrol ship team."

"I won't argue about _that_," Dal said. "But who is the Blue Service
man?"

Tiger's face darkened. "I don't know much about him," he said. "He
trained in California, and I met him just once, at a diagnosis and
therapy conference. He's supposed to be plenty smart, according to the
grapevine. I guess he'd have to be, to pass Diagnostic Service finals."
Tiger chuckled. "Any dope can make it in the Medical or Surgical
Services, but diagnosis is something else again."

"Will he be in command?"

"On the _Lancet_? Why should he? We'll share command, just like any
patrol ship crew. If we run into problems we can't agree on, we holler
for help. But if he acts like most of the Blue Doctors I know, he'll
_think_ he's in command."

A jitney stopped for them, and then zoomed out across the field toward
the ship. The gantry platform was just clanging to the ground, unloading
three technicians and a Four-bar Electronics Engineer. Tiger and Dal
rode the platform up again and moments later stepped through the
entrance lock of the ship that would be their home base for months and
perhaps years.

They found the bunk room to the rear of the control and lab sections. A
duffel bag was already lodged on one of the bunks; one of the foot
lockers was already occupied, and a small but expensive camera and a
huge pair of field glasses were hanging from one of the wall brackets.

"Looks like our man has already arrived," Tiger said, tossing down his
own duffel bag and looking around the cramped quarters. "Not exactly a
luxury suite, I'd say. Wonder where he is?"

"Let's look up forward," Dal said. "We've plenty to do before we take
off. Maybe he's just getting an early start."

They explored the ship, working their way up the central corridor past
the communications and computer rooms and the laboratory into the main
control and observation room. Here they found a thin, dark-haired young
man in a bright blue collar and cuff, sitting engrossed with a
tape-reader.

For a moment they thought he hadn't heard them. Then, as though
reluctant to tear himself away, the Blue Doctor sighed, snapped off the
reader, and turned on the swivel stool.

"So!" he said. "I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to get
here."

"We ran into some delays," Tiger said. He grinned and held out his hand.
"Jack Alvarez? Tiger Martin. We met each other at that conference in
Chicago last year."

"Yes, I remember," the Blue Doctor said. "You found some holes in a
paper I gave. Matter of fact, I've plugged them up very nicely since
then. You'd have trouble finding fault with the work now." Jack Alvarez
turned his eyes to Dal. "And I suppose this is the Garvian I've been
hearing about, complete with his little pink stooge."

The moment they had walked in the door, Dal had felt Fuzzy crouch down
tight against his shoulder. Now a wave of hostility struck his mind like
a shower of ice water. He had never seen this thin, dark-haired youth
before, or even heard of him, but he recognized this sharp impression of
hatred and anger unmistakably. He had felt it a thousand times among his
medical school classmates during the past eight years, and just hours
before he had felt it in the council room when Black Doctor Tanner had
turned on him.

"It's really a lucky break that we have Dal for a Red Doctor," Tiger
said. "We almost didn't get him."

"Yes, I heard all about how lucky we are," Jack Alvarez said sourly. He
looked Dal over from the gray fur on the top of his head to the spindly
legs in the ill-fitting trousers. Then the Blue Doctor shrugged in
disgust and turned back to the tape-reader. "A Garvian and his Fuzzy!"
he muttered. "Let's hope one or the other knows something about
surgery."

"I think we'll do all right," Dal said slowly.

"I think you'd better," Jack Alvarez replied.

Dal and Tiger looked at each other, and Tiger shrugged. "It's all
right," he said. "We know our jobs, and we'll manage."

Dal nodded, and started back for the bunk room. No doubt, he thought,
they would manage.

But if he had thought before that the assignment on the _Lancet_ was
going to be easy, he knew now that he was wrong.

Tiger Martin may have been Doctor Arnquist's selection as a crewmate for
him, but there was no question in his mind that the Blue Doctor on the
_Lancet_'s crew was Black Doctor Hugo Tanner's choice.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first meeting with Jack Alvarez hardly seemed promising to either
Dal or Tiger, but if there was trouble coming, it was postponed for the
moment by common consent. In the few days before blast-off there was no
time for conflict, or even for much talk. Each of the three crewmen had
two full weeks of work to accomplish in two days; each knew his job and
buried himself in it with a will.

The ship's medical and surgical supplies had to be inventoried, and
missing or required supplies ordered up. New supplies coming in had to
be checked, tested, and stored in the ship's limited hold space. It was
like preparing for an extended pack trip into wilderness country; once
the _Lancet_ left its home base on Hospital Earth it was a world to
itself, equipped to support its physician-crew and provide the necessary
equipment and data they would need to deal with the problems they would
face. Like all patrol ships, the _Lancet_ was equipped with automatic
launching, navigation and drive mechanisms; no crew other than the
three doctors was required, and in the event of mechanical failures,
maintenance ships were on continual call.

The ship was responsible for patrolling an enormous area, including
hundreds of stars and their planetary systems--yet its territory was
only a tiny segment of the galaxy. Landings were to be made at various
specified planets maintaining permanent clinic outposts of Hospital
Earth; certain staple supplies were carried for each of these check
points. Aside from these lonely clinic contacts, the nearest port of
call for the _Lancet_ was one of the hospital ships that continuously
worked slow orbits through the star systems of the confederation.

But a hospital ship, with its staff of Two-star and Three-star
Physicians, was not to be called except in cases of extreme need. The
probationers on the patrol ships were expected to be self-sufficient.
Their job was to handle diagnosis and care of all but the most difficult
problems that arose in their travels. They were the first to answer the
medical calls from any planet with a medical service contract with
Hospital Earth.

It was an enormous responsibility for doctors-in-training to assume, but
over the years it had proven the best way to train and weed out new
doctors for the greater responsibilities of hospital ship and Hospital
Earth assignments. There was no set period of duty on the patrol ships;
how long a young doctor remained in the General Practice Patrol depended
to a large extent upon how well he handled the problems and
responsibilities that faced him; and since the first years of Hospital
Earth, the fledgling doctors in the General Practice Patrol--the
self-styled "Galactic Pill Peddlers"--had lived up to their
responsibilities. The reputation of Hospital Earth rested on their
shoulders, and they never forgot it.

As he worked on his inventories, Dal Timgar thought of Doctor Arnquist's
words to him after the council had handed down its decision. "Remember
that judgment and skill are two different things," he had said. "Without
skill in the basic principles of diagnosis and treatment, medical
judgment isn't much help, but skill without the judgment to know how and
when to use it can be downright dangerous. You'll be judged both on the
judgment you use in deciding the right thing to do, and on the skill you
use in doing it." He had given Dal the box with the coveted collar and
cuff. "The colors are pretty, but never forget what they stand for.
Until you can convince the council that you have both the skill and the
judgment of a good physician, you will never get your Star. And you will
be watched closely; Black Doctor Tanner and certain others will be
waiting for the slightest excuse to recall you from the _Lancet_. If you
give them the opportunity, nothing I can do will stop it."

And now, as they worked to prepare the ship for service, Dal was
determined that the opportunity would not arise. When he was not working
in the storerooms, he was in the computer room, reviewing the thousands
of tapes that carried the basic information about the contract planets
where they would be visiting, and the races that inhabited them. If
errors and fumbles and mistakes were made by the crew of the _Lancet_,
he thought grimly, it would not be Dal Timgar who made them.

The first night they met in the control room to divide the many
extracurricular jobs involved in maintaining a patrol ship.

Tiger's interest in electronics and communications made him the best man
to handle the radio; he accepted the post without comment. "Jack, you
should be in charge of the computer," he said, "because you'll be the
one who'll need the information first. The lab is probably your field
too. Dal can be responsible for stores and supplies as well as his own
surgical instruments."

Jack shrugged. "I'd just as soon handle supplies, too," he said.

"Well, there's no need to overload one man," Tiger said.

"I wouldn't mind that. But when there's something I need, I want to be
sure it's going to be there without any goof-ups," Jack said.

"I can handle it all right," Dal said.

Jack just scowled. "What about the contact man when we make landings?"
he asked Tiger.

"Seems to me Dal would be the one for that, too," Tiger said. "His
people are traders and bargainers; right, Dal? And first contact with
the people on unfamiliar planets can be important."

"It sure can," Jack said. "Too important to take chances with. Look,
this is a ship from Hospital Earth. When somebody calls for help, they
expect to see an Earthman turn up in response. What are they going to
think when a patrol ship lands and _he_ walks out?"

Tiger's face darkened. "They'll be able to see his collar and cuff,
won't they?"

"Maybe. But they may wonder what he's doing wearing them."

"Well, they'll just have to learn," Tiger snapped. "And you'll have to
learn, too, I guess."

Dal had been sitting silently. Now he shook his head. "I think Jack is
right on this one," he said. "It would be better for one of you to be
contact man."

"Why?" Tiger said angrily. "You're as much of a doctor from Hospital
Earth as we are, and the sooner we get your position here straight, the
better. We aren't going to have any ugly ducklings on this ship, and we
aren't going to hide you in the hold every time we land on a planet. If
we want to make anything but a mess of this cruise, we've got to work as
a team, and that means everybody shares the important jobs."

"That's fine," Dal said, "but I still think Jack is right on this point.
If we are walking into a medical problem on a planet where the patrol
isn't too well known, the contact man by rights ought to be an
Earthman."

Tiger started to say something, and then spread his hands helplessly.
"Okay," he said. "If you're satisfied with it, let's get on to these
other things." But obviously he wasn't satisfied, and when Jack
disappeared toward the storeroom, Tiger turned to Dal. "You shouldn't
have given in," he said. "If you give that guy as much as an inch,
you're just asking for trouble."

"It isn't a matter of giving in," Dal insisted. "I think he was right,
that's all. Don't let's start a fight where we don't have to."

Tiger yielded the point, but when Jack returned, Tiger avoided him,
keeping to himself the rest of the evening. And later, as he tried to
get to sleep, Dal wondered for a moment. Maybe Tiger was right. Maybe he
was just dodging a head-on clash with the Blue Doctor now and setting
the stage for a real collision later.

Next day the argument was forgotten in the air of rising excitement as
embarkation orders for the _Lancet_ came through. Preparations were
completed, and only last-minute double-checks were required before
blast-off.

But an hour before count-down began, a jitney buzzed across the field,
and a Two-star Pathologist climbed aboard with his three black-cloaked
orderlies. "Shakedown inspection," he said curtly. "Just a matter of
routine." And with that he stalked slowly through the ship, checking the
storage holds, the inventories, the lab, the computer with its
information banks, and the control room. As he went along he kept firing
medical questions at Dal and Tiger, hardly pausing long enough for the
answers, and ignoring Jack Alvarez completely. "What's the normal range
of serum cholesterol in a vegetarian race with Terran environment? How
would you run a Wenberg electrophoresis? How do you determine individual
radiation tolerance? How would you prepare a heart culture for cardiac
transplant on board this ship?" The questions went on until Tiger and
Dal were breathless, as count-down time grew closer and closer. Finally
the Black Doctor turned back toward the entrance lock. He seemed vaguely
disappointed as he checked the record sheets the orderlies had been
keeping. With an odd look at Dal, he shrugged. "All right, here are your
clearance papers," he said to Jack. "Your supply of serum globulin
fractions is up to black-book requirements, but you'll run short if you
happen to hit a virus epidemic; better take on a couple of more cases.
And check central information just before leaving. We've signed two new
contracts in the past week, and the co-ordinator's office has some
advance information on both of them."

When the inspector had gone, Tiger wiped his forehead and sighed. "That
was no routine shakedown!" he said. "What _is_ a Wenberg
electrophoresis?"

"A method of separating serum proteins," Jack Alvarez said. "You ran
them in third year biochemistry. And if we _do_ hit a virus epidemic,
you'd better know how, too."

He gave Tiger an unpleasant smile, and started back down the corridor as
the count-down signal began to buzz.

But for all the advance arrangements they had made to divide the ship's
work, it was Dal Timgar who took complete control of the _Lancet_ for
the first two weeks of its cruise. Neither Tiger nor Jack challenged his
command; not a word was raised in protest. The Earthmen were too sick to
talk, much less complain about anything.

For Dal the blast-off from the port of Seattle and the conversion into
Koenig star-drive was nothing new. His father owned a fleet of Garvian
trading ships that traveled to the far corners of the galaxy by means of
a star-drive so similar to the Koenig engines that only an electronic
engineer could tell them apart. All his life Dal had traveled on the
outgoing freighters with his father; star-drive conversion was no
surprise to him.

But for Jack and Tiger, it was their first experience in a star-drive
ship. The _Lancet_'s piloting and navigation were entirely automatic;
its destination was simply coded into the drive computers, and the ship
was ready to leap across light years of space in a matter of hours. But
the conversion to star-drive, as the _Lancet_ was wrenched, crew and
all, out of the normal space-time continuum, was far outside of normal
human experience. The physical and emotional shock of the conversion hit
Jack and Tiger like a sledge hammer, and during the long hours while the
ship was traveling through the time-less, distance-less universe of the
drive to the pre-set co-ordinates where it materialized again into
conventional space-time, the Earthmen were retching violently, too sick
to budge from the bunk room. It took over two weeks, with stops at half
a dozen contract planets, before Jack and Tiger began to adjust
themselves to the frightening and confusing sensations of conversion to
star-drive. During this time Dal carried the load of the ship's work
alone, while the others lay gasping and exhausted in their bunks, trying
to rally strength for the next shift.

To his horror, Dal discovered that the first planetary stop-over was
traditionally a hazing stop. It had been a well-kept patrol secret; the
outpost clinic on Tempera VI was waiting eagerly for the arrival of the
new "green" crew, knowing full well that the doctors aboard would hardly
be able to stumble out of their bunks, much less to cope with medical
problems. The outpost men had concocted a medical "crisis" of staggering
proportions to present to the _Lancet_'s crew; they were so clearly
disappointed to find the ship's Red Doctor in full command of himself
that Dal obligingly became violently ill too, and did his best to mimick
Jack and Tiger's floundering efforts to pull themselves together and do
_something_ about the "problem" that suddenly descended upon them.

Later, there was a party and celebration, with music and food, as the
clinic staff welcomed the pale and shaken doctors into the joke. The
outpost men plied Dal for the latest news from Hospital Earth. They were
surprised to see a Garvian aboard the _Lancet_, but no one at the
outpost showed any sign of resentment at the scarlet braid on Dal's
collar and cuff.

Slowly Jack and Tiger got used to the peculiarities of popping in and
out of hyperspace. It was said that immunity to star-drive sickness was
hard to acquire, but lasted a lifetime, and would never again bother
them once it was achieved. Bit by bit the Earthmen crept out of their
shells, to find the ship in order and a busy Dal Timgar relieved and
happy to have them aboard again.

Fortunately, the medical problems that came to the _Lancet_ in the first
few weeks were largely routine. The ship stopped at the specified
contact points--some far out near the rim of the galactic
constellation, others in closer to the densely star-populated center. At
each outpost clinic the _Lancet_ was welcomed with open arms. The
outpost men were hungry for news from home, and happy to see fresh
supplies; but they were also glad to review the current medical problems
on their planets with the new doctors, exchanging opinions and arguing
diagnosis and therapy into the small hours of the night.

Occasionally calls came in to the ship from contract planets in need of
help. Usually the problems were easy to handle. On Singall III, a tiny
planet of a cooling giant star, help was needed to deal with a new
outbreak of a smallpox-like plague that had once decimated the
population; the disease had finally been controlled after a Hospital
Earth research team had identified the organism that caused it,
determined its molecular structure, and synthesized an antibiotic that
could destroy it without damaging the body of the host. But now a
flareup had occurred. The _Lancet_ brought in supplies of the
antibiotic, and Tiger Martin spent two days showing Singallese
physicians how to control further outbreaks with modern methods of
immunization and antisepsis.

Another planet called for a patrol ship when a bridge-building disaster
occurred; one of the beetle-like workmen had been badly crushed under a
massive steel girder. Dal spent over eighteen hours straight with the
patient in the _Lancet_'s surgery, carefully repairing the creature's
damaged exoskeleton and grafting new segments of bone for regeneration
of the hopelessly ruined parts, with Tiger administering anaesthesia and
Jack preparing the grafts from the freezer.

On another planet Jack faced his first real diagnostic challenge and met
the test with flying colors. Here a new cancer-like degenerative disease
had been appearing among the natives of the planet. It had never before
been noted. Initial attempts to find a causative agent had all three of
the _Lancet_'s crew spending sleepless nights for a week, but Jack's
careful study of the pattern of the disease and the biochemical
reactions that accompanied it brought out the answer: the disease was
caused by a rare form of genetic change which made crippling alterations
in an essential enzyme system. Knowing this, Tiger quickly found a drug
which could be substituted for the damaged enzyme, and the problem was
solved. They left the planet, assuring the planetary government that
laboratories on Hospital Earth would begin working at once to find a way
actually to rebuild the damaged genes in the embryonic cells, and thus
put a permanent end to the disease.

These were routine calls, the kind of ordinary general medical work that
the patrol ships were expected to handle. But the visits to the various
planets were welcome breaks in the pattern of patrol ship life. The
_Lancet_ was fully equipped, but her crew's quarters and living space
were cramped. Under the best conditions, the crewmen on patrol ships got
on each other's nerves; on the _Lancet_ there was an additional focus of
tension that grew worse with every passing hour.

From the first Jack Alvarez had made no pretense of pleasure at Dal's
company, but now it seemed that he deliberately sought opportunities to
annoy him. The thin Blue Doctor's face set into an angry mold whenever
Dal was around. He would get up and leave when Dal entered the control
room, and complained loudly and bitterly at minor flaws in Dal's
shipboard work. Nothing Dal did seemed to please him.

But Tiger had a worse time controlling himself at the Blue Doctor's digs
and slights than Dal did. "It's like living in an armed camp," he
complained one night when Jack had stalked angrily out of the bunk
room. "Can't even open your mouth without having him jump down your
throat."

"I know," Dal said.

"And he's doing it on purpose."

"Maybe so. But it won't help to lose your temper."

Tiger clenched a huge fist and slammed it into his palm. "He's just
deliberately picking at you and picking at you," he said. "You can't
take that forever. Something's got to break."

"It's all right," Dal assured him. "I just ignore it."

But when Jack began to shift his attack to Fuzzy, Dal could ignore it no
longer.

One night in the control room Jack threw down the report he was writing
and turned angrily on Dal. "Tell your friend there to turn the other way
before I lose my temper and splatter him all over the wall," he said,
pointing to Fuzzy. "All he does is sit there and stare at me and I'm
getting fed up with it."

Fuzzy drew himself up tightly, shivering on Dal's shoulder. Dal reached
up and stroked the tiny creature, and Fuzzy's shoe-button eyes
disappeared completely. "There," Dal said. "Is that better?"

Jack stared at the place the eyes had been, and his face darkened
suspiciously. "Well, what happened to them?" he demanded.

"What happened to what?"

"To his eyes, you idiot!"

Dal looked down at Fuzzy. "I don't see any eyes."

Jack jumped up from the stool. He scowled at Fuzzy as if commanding the
eyes to come back again. All he saw was a small ball of pink fur. "Look,
he's been blinking them at me for a week," he snarled. "I thought all
along there was something funny about him. Sometimes he's got legs and
sometimes he hasn't. Sometimes he looks fuzzy, and other times he hasn't
got any hair at all."

"He's a pleomorph," Dal said. "No cellular structure at all, just a
protein-colloid matrix."

Jack glowered at the inert little pink lump. "Don't be silly," he said,
curious in spite of himself. "What holds him together?"

"Who knows? I don't. Some kind of electro-chemical cohesive force. The
only reason he has 'eyes' is because he thinks I want him to have eyes.
If you don't like it, he won't have them any more."

"Well, that's very obliging," Jack said. "But why do you keep him
around? What good does he do you, anyhow? All he does is eat and drink
and sleep."

"Does he have to do something?" Dal said evasively. "He isn't bothering
you. Why pick on him?"

"He just seems to worry you an awful lot," Jack said unpleasantly.
"Let's see him a minute." He reached out for Fuzzy, then jerked his
finger back with a yelp. Blood dripped from the finger tip.

Jack's face slowly went white. "Why, he--he _bit_ me!"

"Yes, and you're lucky he didn't take a finger off," Dal said, trembling
with anger. "He doesn't like you any more than I do, and you'll get bit
every time you come near him, so you'd better keep your hands to
yourself."

"Don't worry," Jack Alvarez said, "he won't get another chance. You can
just get rid of him."

"Not a chance," Dal said. "You leave him alone and he won't bother you,
that's all. And the same thing goes for me."

"If he isn't out of here in twelve hours, I'll get a warrant," Jack said
tightly. "There are laws against keeping dangerous pets on patrol
ships."

Somewhere in the main corridor an alarm bell began buzzing. For a
moment Dal and Jack stood frozen, glaring at each other. Then the door
burst open and Tiger Martin's head appeared. "Hey, you two, let's get
moving! We've got a call coming in, and it looks like a tough one. Come
on back here!"

They headed back toward the radio room. The signal was coming through
frantically as Tiger reached for the pile of punched tape running out on
the floor. But as they crowded into the radio room, Dal felt Jack's hand
on his arm. "If you think I was fooling, you're wrong," the Blue Doctor
said through his teeth. "You've got twelve hours to get rid of him."



CHAPTER 5

CRISIS ON MORUA VIII


The three doctors huddled around the teletype, watching as the decoded
message was punched out on the tape. "It started coming in just now,"
Tiger said. "And they've been beaming the signal in a spherical pattern,
apparently trying to pick up the nearest ship they could get. There's
certainly some sort of trouble going on."

The message was brief, repeated over and over: REQUIRE MEDICAL AID
URGENT REPLY AT ONCE. This was followed by the code letters that
designated the planet, its location, and the number of its medical
service contract.

Jack glanced at the code. "Morua VIII," he said. "I think that's a grade
I contract." He began punching buttons on the reference panel, and
several screening cards came down the slot from the information bank.
"Yes. The eighth planet of a large Sol-type star, the only inhabited
planet in the system with a single intelligent race, ursine evolutionary
pattern." He handed the cards to Tiger. "Teddy-bears, yet!"

"Mammals?" Tiger said.

"Looks like it. And they even hibernate."

"What about the contract?" Dal asked.

"Grade I," said Tiger. "And they've had a thorough survey. Moderately
advanced in their own medical care, but they have full medical coverage
any time they think they need it. We'd better get an acknowledgment back
to them. Jack, get the ship ready to star-jump while Dal starts digging
information out of the bank. If this race has its own doctors, they'd
only be hollering for help if they're up against a tough one."

Tiger settled down with earphones and transmitter to try to make contact
with the Moruan planet, while Jack went forward to control and Dal
started to work with the tape reader. There was no argument now, and no
dissension. The procedure to be followed was a well-established routine:
acknowledge the call, estimate arrival time, relay the call and response
to the programmers on Hospital Earth, prepare for star-drive, and start
gathering data fast. With no hint of the nature of the trouble, their
job was to get there, equipped with as much information about the planet
and its people as time allowed.

The Moruan system was not distant from the _Lancet_'s present location.
Tiger calculated that two hours in Koenig drive would put the ship in
the vicinity of the planet, with another hour required for landing
procedures. He passed the word on to the others, and Dal began digging
through the mass of information in the tape library on Morua VIII and
its people.

There was a wealth of data. Morua VIII had signed one of the first
medical service contracts with Hospital Earth, and a thorough medical,
biochemical, social and psychological survey had been made on the people
of that world. Since the original survey, much additional information
had been amassed, based on patrol ship reports and dozens of specialty
studies that had been done there.

And out of this data, a picture of Morua VIII and its inhabitants began
to emerge.

The Moruans were moderately intelligent creatures, warm-blooded air
breathers with an oxygen-based metabolism. Their planet was cold, with
17 per cent oxygen and much water vapor in its atmosphere. With its vast
snow-fields and great mountain ranges, the planet was a popular resort
area for oxygen-breathing creatures; most of the natives were engaged in
some work related to winter sports. They were well fitted anatomically
for their climate, with thick black fur, broad flat hind feet and a
four-inch layer of fat between their skin and their vital organs.

Swiftly Dal reviewed the emergency file, checking for common drugs and
chemicals that were poisonous to Moruans, accidents that were common to
the race, and special problems that had been met by previous patrol
ships. The deeper he dug into the mass of data, the more worried he
became. Where should he begin? Searching in the dark, there was no way
to guess what information would be necessary and what part totally
useless.

He buzzed Tiger. "Any word on the nature of the trouble?" he asked.

"Just got through to them," Tiger said. "Not too much to go on, but
they're really in an uproar. Sounds like they've started some kind of
organ-transplant surgery and their native surgeon got cold feet halfway
through and wants us to bail him out." Tiger paused. "I think this is
going to be your show, Dal. Better check up on Moruan anatomy."

It was better than no information, but not much better. Fuzzy huddled on
Dal's shoulder as if he could sense his master's excitement. Very few
races under contract with Hospital Earth ever attempted their own major
surgery. If a Moruan surgeon had walked into a tight spot in the
operating room, it could be a real test of skill to get him--and his
patient--out of it, even on a relatively simple procedure. But
organ-transplantation, with the delicate vascular surgery and
micro-surgery that it entailed, was never simple. In incompetent hands,
it could turn into a nightmare.

Dal took a deep breath and began running the anatomical atlas tapes
through the reader, checking the critical points of Moruan anatomy.
Oxygen-transfer system, circulatory system, renal filtration system--at
first glance, there was little resemblance to any of the "typical"
oxygen-breathing mammals Dal had studied in medical school. But then
something struck a familiar note, and he remembered studying the
peculiar Moruan renal system, in which the creature's chemical waste
products were filtered from the bloodstream in a series of tubules
passing across the peritoneum, and re-absorbed into the intestine for
excretion. Bit by bit other points of the anatomy came clear, and in
half an hour of intense study Dal began to see how the inhabitants of
Morua VIII were put together.

Satisfied for the moment, he then pulled the tapes that described the
Moruans' own medical advancement. What were they doing attempting
organ-transplantation, anyway? That was the kind of surgery that even
experienced Star Surgeons preferred to take aboard the hospital ships,
or back to Hospital Earth, where the finest equipment and the most
skilled assistants were available.

There was a signal buzzer, the two-minute warning before the Koenig
drive took over. Dal tossed the tape spools back into the bin for
refiling, and went forward to the control room.

Just short of two hours later, the _Lancet_ shifted back to normal
space drive, and the cold yellow sun of the Moruan system swam into
sight in the viewscreen. Far below, the tiny eighth planet glistened
like a snowball in the reflection of the sun, with only occasional rents
in the cloud blanket revealing the ragged surface below. The doctors
watched as the ship went into descending orbit, skimming the outer
atmosphere and settling into a landing pattern.

Beneath the cloud blanket, the frigid surface of the planet spread out
before them. Great snow-covered mountain ranges rose up on either side.
A forty-mile gale howled across the landing field, sweeping clouds of
powdery snow before it.

A huge gawky vehicle seemed to be waiting for the ship to land; it shot
out from the huddle of gray buildings almost the moment they touched
down. Jack slipped into the furs that he had pulled from stores, and
went out through the entrance lock and down the ladder to meet the dark
furry creatures that were bundling out of the vehicle below. The
electronic language translator was strapped to his chest.

Five minutes later he reappeared, frost forming on his blue collar, his
face white as he looked at Dal. "You'd better get down there right
away," he said, "and take your micro-surgical instruments. Tiger, give
me a hand with the anaesthesia tanks. They're keeping a patient alive
with a heart-lung machine right now, and they can't finish the job. It
looks like it might be bad."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Moruan who escorted them across the city to the hospital was a huge
shaggy creature who left no question of the evolutionary line of his
people. Except for the flattened nose, the high forehead and the
fur-less hand with opposing thumb, he looked for all the world like a
mammoth edition of the Kodiak bears Dal had seen displayed at the
natural history museum in Hospital Philadelphia. Like all creatures with
oxygen-and-water based metabolisms, the Moruans could trace their
evolutionary line to minute one-celled salt-water creatures; but with
the bitter cold of the planet, the first land-creatures to emerge from
the primeval swamp of Morua VIII had developed the heavy furs and the
hibernation characteristics of bear-like mammals. They towered over Dal,
and even Tiger seemed dwarfed by their immense chest girth and powerful
shoulders.

As the surface car hurried toward the hospital, Dal probed for more
information. The Moruan's voice was a hoarse growl which nearly deafened
the Earthmen in the confined quarters of the car but Dal with the aid of
the translator could piece together what had happened.

More sophisticated in medical knowledge than most races in the galaxy,
the Moruans had learned a great deal from their contact with Hospital
Earth physicians. They actually did have a remarkable grasp of
physiology and biochemistry, and constantly sought to learn more. They
had already found ways to grow replacement organs from embryonic grafts,
the Moruan said, and by copying the techniques used by the surgeons of
Hospital Earth, their own surgeons had attempted the delicate job of
replacing a diseased organ with a new, healthy one in a young male
afflicted with cancer.

Dal looked up at the Moruan doctor. "What organ were you replacing?" he
asked suspiciously.

"Oh, not the entire organ, just a segment," the Moruan said. "The tumor
had caused an obstructive pneumonia--"

"Are you talking about a segment of _lung_?" Dal said, almost choking.

"Of course. That's where the tumor was."

Dal swallowed hard. "So you just decided to replace a segment."

"Yes. But something has gone wrong, we don't know what."

"I see." It was all Dal could do to keep from shouting at the huge
creature. The Moruans had no duplication of organs, such as Earthmen and
certain other races had. A tumor of the lung would mean death ... but
the technique of grafting a culture-grown lung segment to a portion of
natural lung required enormous surgical skill, and the finest
microscopic instruments that could be made in order to suture together
the tiny capillary walls and air tubules. And if one lung were
destroyed, a Moruan had no other to take its place. "Do you have any
micro-surgical instruments at all?"

"Oh, yes," the Moruan rumbled proudly. "We made them ourselves, just for
this case."

"You mean you've never attempted this procedure before?"

"This was the first time. We don't know where we went wrong."

"You went wrong when you thought about trying it," Dal muttered. "What
anaesthesia?"

"Oxygen and alcohol vapor."

This was no surprise. With many species, alcohol vapor was more
effective and less toxic than other anaesthetic gases. "And you have a
heart-lung machine?"

"The finest available, on lease from Hospital Earth."

All the way through the city Dal continued the questioning, and by the
time they reached the hospital he had an idea of the task that was
facing him. He knew now that it was going to be bad; he didn't realize
just how bad until he walked into the operating room.

The patient was barely alive. Recognizing too late that they were in
water too deep for them, the Moruan surgeons had gone into panic, and
neglected the very fundamentals of physiological support for the
creature on the table. Dal had to climb up on a platform just to see the
operating field; the faithful wheeze of the heart-lung machine that was
sustaining the creature continued in Dal's ears as he examined the work
already done, first with the naked eye, then scanning the operative
field with the crude microscopic eyepiece.

"How long has he been anaesthetized?" he asked the shaggy operating
surgeon.

"Over eighteen hours already."

"And how much blood has he received?"

"A dozen liters."

"Any more on hand?"

"Perhaps six more."

"Well, you'd better get it into him. He's in shock right now."

The surgeon scurried away while Dal took another look at the micro
field. The situation was bad; the anaesthesia had already gone on too
long, and the blood chemistry record showed progressive failure.

He stepped down from the platform, trying to clear his head and decide
the right thing to do.

He had done micro-surgery before, plenty of it, and he knew the
techniques necessary to complete the job, but the thought of attempting
it chilled him. At best, he was on unfamiliar ground, with a dozen
factors that could go wrong. By now the patient was a dreadful risk for
any surgeon. If he were to step in now, and the patient died, how would
he explain not calling for help?

He stepped out to the scrub room where Tiger was waiting. "Where's
Jack?" he said.

"Went back to the ship for the rest of the surgical pack."

Dal shook his head. "I don't know what to do. I think we should get him
to a hospital ship."

"Is it more than you can handle?" Tiger said.

"I could probably do it all right--but I could lose him, too."

A frown creased Tiger's face. "Dal, it would take six hours for a
hospital ship to get here."

"I know that. But on the other hand...." Dal spread his hands. He felt
Fuzzy crouching in a tight frightened lump in his pocket. He thought
again of the delicate, painstaking microscopic work that remained to be
done to bring the new section of lung into position to function, and he
shook his head. "Look, these creatures hibernate," he said. "If we could
get him cooled down enough, we could lighten the anaesthesia and
maintain him as is, indefinitely."

"This is up to you," Tiger said. "I don't know anything about surgery.
If you think we should just hold tight, that's what we'll do."

"All right. I think we'd better. Have them notify Jack to signal for a
hospital ship. We'll just try to stick it out."

Tiger left to pass the word, and Dal went back into the operating room.
Suddenly he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his
shoulders. There would be Three-star Surgeons on a Hospital Ship to
handle this; it seemed an enormous relief to have the task out of his
hands. Yet something was wriggling uncomfortably in the back of his
mind, a quiet little voice saying _this isn't right, you should be doing
this yourself right now instead of wasting precious time...._

He thrust the thought away angrily and ordered the Moruan physicians to
bring in ice packs to cool the patient's huge hulk down to hibernation
temperatures. "We're going to send for help," Dal told the Moruan
surgeon who had met them at the ship. "This man needs specialized care,
and we'd be taking too much chance to try to do it this way."

"You mean you're sending for a hospital ship?"

"That's right," Dal said.

This news seemed to upset the Moruans enormously. They began growling
among themselves, moving back from the operating table.

"Then you can't save him?" the operating surgeon said.

"I think he can be saved, certainly!"

"But we thought you could just step in--"

"I could, but that would be taking chances that we don't need to take.
We can maintain him until the hospital ship arrives."

The Moruans continued to growl ominously, but Dal brushed past them,
checking the vital signs of the patient as his body temperature slowly
dropped. Tiger had taken over the anaesthesia, keeping the patient under
as light a dosage of medication as was possible.

"What's eating them?" he asked Dal quietly.

"They don't want a hospital ship here very much," Dal said. "Afraid
they'll look like fools all over the Confederation if the word gets out.
But that's their worry. Ours is to keep this bruiser alive until the
ship gets here."

They settled back to wait.

It was an agonizing time for Dal. Even Fuzzy didn't seem to be much
comfort. The patient was clearly not doing well, even with the low body
temperatures Dal had induced. His blood pressure was sagging, and at one
time Tiger sat up sharply, staring at his anaesthesia dials and frowning
in alarm as the nervous-system reactions flagged. The Moruan physicians
hovered about, increasingly uneasy as they saw the doctors from Hospital
Earth waiting and doing nothing. One of them, unable to control himself
any longer, tore off his sterile gown and stalked angrily out of the
operating suite.

A dozen times Dal was on the verge of stepping in. It was beginning to
look now like a race with time, and precious minutes were passing by. He
cursed himself inwardly for not taking the bit in his teeth at the
beginning and going ahead the best he could; it had been a mistake in
judgment to wait. Now, as minutes passed into hours it looked more and
more like a mistake that was going to cost the life of a patient.

Then there was a murmur of excitement outside the operating room, and
word came in that another ship had been sighted making landing
maneuvers. Dal clenched his fists, praying that the patient would last
until the hospital ship crew arrived.

But the ship that was landing was not a hospital ship. Someone turned on
a TV scanner and picked up the image of a small ship hardly larger than
a patrol ship, with just two passengers stepping down the ladder to the
ground. Then the camera went close-up. Dal saw the faces of the two men,
and his heart sank.

One was a Four-star Surgeon, resplendent in flowing red cape and
glistening silver insignia. Dal did not recognize the man, but the four
stars meant that he was a top-ranking physician in the Red Service of
Surgery.

The other passenger, gathering his black cloak and hood around him as he
faced the blistering wind on the landing field, was Black Doctor Hugo
Tanner.

       *       *       *       *       *

Moments after the Four-star Surgeon arrived at the hospital, he was
fully and unmistakably in command of the situation. He gave Dal an icy
stare, then turned to the Moruan operating surgeon, whom he seemed to
know very well. After a short barrage of questions and answers, he
scrubbed and gowned, and stalked past Dal to the crude Moruan
micro-surgical control table.

It took him exactly fifteen seconds to scan the entire operating field
through the viewer, discussing the anatomy as the Moruan surgeon watched
on a connecting screen. Then, without hesitation, he began manipulating
the micro-instruments. Once or twice he murmured something to Tiger at
the anaesthesia controls, and occasionally he nodded reassurance to the
Moruan surgeon. He did not even invite Dal to observe.

Ten minutes later he rose from the control table and threw the switch to
stop the heart-lung machine. The patient took a gasping breath on his
own, then another and another. The Four-star Surgeon stripped off his
gown and gloves with a flourish. "It will be all right," he said to the
Moruan physician. "An excellent job, Doctor, excellent!" he said. "Your
technique was flawless, except for the tiny matter you have just
observed."

It was not until they were outside the operating room and beyond earshot
of the Moruan doctors that the Four-star surgeon turned furiously to
Dal. "Didn't you even bother to examine the operating field, Doctor?
Where did you study surgery? Couldn't you tell that the fools had
practically finished the job themselves? All that was needed was a
simple great-vessel graft, which an untrained idiot could have done
blindfolded. And for this you call me clear from Hospital Earth!"

The surgeon threw down his mask in disgust and stalked away, leaving Dal
and Tiger staring at each other in dismay.



CHAPTER 6

TIGER MAKES A PROMISE


"I think," Black Doctor Hugo Tanner said ominously, "that an explanation
is in order. I would now like to hear it. And believe me, gentlemen, it
had better be a very sensible explanation, too."

The pathologist was sitting in the control room of the _Lancet_, his
glasses slightly askew on his florid face. He had climbed through the
entrance lock ten minutes before, shaking snow off his cloak and
wheezing like a boiler about to explode; now he faced the patrol ship's
crew like a small but ominous black thundercloud. Across the room, Jack
Alvarez was staring through the viewscreen at the blizzard howling
across the landing field below, a small satisfied smile on his face,
while Tiger sulked with his hands jammed into his trousers. Dal sat by
himself feeling very much alone, with Fuzzy peering discreetly out of
his jacket pocket.

He knew the Black Doctor was speaking to him, but he didn't try to
reply. He had known from the moment the surgeon came out of the
operating room that he was in trouble. It was just a matter of time
before he would have to answer for his decision here, and it was even
something of a relief that the moment came sooner rather than later.

And the more Dal considered his position, the more indefensible it
appeared. Time after time he had thought of Dr. Arnquist's words about
judgment and skill. Without one the other was of little value to a
doctor, and whatever his skill as a surgeon might have been in the
Moruan operating room, he now realized that his judgment had been poor.
He had allowed himself to panic at a critical moment, and had failed to
see how far the surgery had really progressed. By deciding to wait for
help to arrive instead of taking over at once, he had placed the patient
in even greater jeopardy than before. In looking back, Dal could see
clearly that it would have been far better judgment to proceed on his
own.

But that was how it looked _now_, not _then_, and there was an old
saying that the "retrospectoscope" was the only infallible instrument in
all medicine.

In any event, the thing was done, and couldn't be changed, and Dal knew
that he could only stand on what he had done, right or wrong.

"Well, I'm waiting," Black Doctor Tanner said, scowling at Dal through
his thick-rimmed glasses. "I want to know who was responsible for this
fiasco, and why it occurred in the first place."

Dal spread his hands hopelessly. "What do you want me to say?" he asked.
"I took a careful history of the situation as soon as we arrived here,
and then I examined the patient in the operating room. I thought the
surgery might be over my head, and couldn't see attempting it if a
hospital ship could be reached in time. I thought the patient could be
maintained safely long enough for us to call for help."

"I see," the Black Doctor said. "You've done micro-surgery before?"

"Yes, sir."

"And organ transplant work?"

"Yes, sir."

The Black Doctor opened a folder and peered at it over his glasses. "As
a matter of fact, you spent two solid years in micro-surgical training
in Hospital Philadelphia, with all sorts of glowing reports from your
preceptors about what a flair you had for the work."

Dal shook his head. "I--I did some work in the field, yes, but not on
critical cases under field conditions."

"You mean that this case required some different kind of technique than
the cases you've worked on before?"

"No, not really, but--"

"But you just couldn't quite shoulder the responsibility the job
involved when you got into a pinch without any help around," the Black
Doctor growled.

"I just thought it would be safer to wait," Dal said helplessly.

"A good conservative approach," Dr. Tanner sneered. "Of course, you
realized that prolonged anaesthesia in itself could threaten that
patient's life?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you saw the patient's condition steadily deteriorating while you
waited, did you not?"

"It was too late to change my mind then," Dal said desperately. "We'd
sent for you. We knew that it would be only a matter of hours before you
arrived."

"Indeed," the Black Doctor said. "Unfortunately, it takes only seconds
for a patient to cross the line between life and death, not hours. And I
suppose you would have stood there quietly and allowed him to expire if
we had not arrived at the time we did?"

Dal shook his head miserably. There was nothing he could answer to that,
and he realized it. What could he say? That the situation seemed quite
different now than it had under pressure in the Moruan operating room?
That he would have been blamed just as much if he had gone ahead, and
then lost the case? His fingers stole down to Fuzzy's soft warm body for
comfort, and he felt the little creature cling closer to his side.

The Black Doctor looked up at the others. "Well? What do the rest of you
have to say?"

Jack Alvarez shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not a surgeon," he said, "but
even I could see that _something_ should be done without delay."

"And what does the Green Doctor think?"

Tiger shrugged. "We misjudged the situation, that's all. It came out
fortunately for the patient, why make all this fuss about it?"

"Because there are other things at stake than just medical
considerations," the Black Doctor shot back. "This planet has a grade I
contract with Hospital Earth. We guarantee them full medical coverage of
all situations and promise them immediate response to any call for
medical help that they may send us. It is the most favorable kind of
contract we have; when Morua VIII calls for help they expect their call
to be answered by expert medical attention, not by inept bungling."

The Black Doctor leafed through the folder in his hands. "We have built
our reputation in the Galactic Confederation on this kind of contract,
and our admission to full membership in the Confederation will
ultimately depend upon how we fulfill our promises. Poor medical
judgment cannot be condoned under any circumstances--but above all, we
cannot afford to jeopardize a contract."

Dal stared at him. "I--I had no intention of jeopardizing a contract,"
he faltered.

"Perhaps not," the Black Doctor said. "But you were the doctor on the
spot, and you were so obviously incompetent to handle the situation that
even these clumsy Moruan surgeons could see it. Their faith in the
doctors from Hospital Earth has been severely shaken. They are even
talking of letting their contract lapse at the end of this term."

Tiger Martin jumped to his feet. "Doctor Tanner, even Four-star Surgeons
lose patients sometimes. These people should be glad that the doctor
they call has sense enough to call for help if he needs it."

"But no help was needed," the Black Doctor said angrily. "Any
half-decent surgeon would have handled the case. If the Moruans see a
patrol ship bring in one incompetent doctor, what are they going to
expect the next time they have need for help? How can they feel sure
that their medical needs are well taken care of?" He shook his head
grimly. "This is the sort of responsibility that doctors on the patrol
ships are expected to assume. If you call for help where there is need
for help, no one will ever complain; but when you turn and run the
moment things get tough, you are not fit for patrol ship service."

The Black Doctor turned to Dal Timgar. "You had ample warning," he said.
"It was clearly understood that your assignment on this ship depended
upon the fulfillment of the duties of Red Doctor here, and now at the
first real test you turn and run instead of doing your job. All right.
You had your opportunity. You can't complain that we haven't given you a
chance. According to the conduct code of the General Practice Patrol,
section XIV, paragraph 2, any physician in the patrol on probationary
status who is found delinquent in executing his duties may be relieved
of his assignment at the order of any Black Doctor, or any other
physician of four-star rank." Doctor Tanner closed the folder with a
snap of finality. "It seems to me that the case is clear. Dal Timgar, on
the authority of the Code, I am now relieving you of duty--"

"Just a minute," Tiger Martin burst out.

The Black Doctor looked up at him. "Well?"

"This is ridiculous," Tiger said. "Why are you picking on _him_? Or do
you mean that you're relieving all three of us?"

"Of course I'm not relieving all three of you," the Black Doctor
snapped. "You and Dr. Alvarez will remain on duty and conduct the ship's
program without a Red Doctor until a man is sent to replace this
bungler. That also is provided for in the code."

"But I understood that we were operating as a diagnostic and therapeutic
team," Tiger protested. "And I seem to remember something in the code
about fixing responsibility before a man can be relieved."

"There's no question where the responsibility lies," the Black Doctor
said, his face darkening. "This was a surgical problem, and Dal Timgar
made the decisions. I don't see anything to argue."

"There's plenty to argue," Tiger said. "Dal, don't you see what he's
trying to do?"

Across the room Dal shook his head wearily. "You'd better keep out of
it, Tiger," he said.

"Why should I keep out of it and let you be drummed out of the patrol
for something that wasn't even your fault?" Tiger said. He turned
angrily to the Black Doctor. "Dal wasn't the one that wanted the
hospital ship called," he said. "I was. If you're going to relieve
somebody, you'd better make it me."

The Black Doctor pulled off his glasses and glared at Tiger. "Whatever
are you talking about?" he said.

"Just what I said. We had a conference after he'd examined the patient
in the operating room, and I insisted that we call the hospital ship.
Why, Dal--Dal wanted to go ahead and try to finish the case right then,
and I wouldn't let him," Tiger blundered on. "I didn't think the patient
could take it. I thought that it would be too great a risk with the
facilities we had here."

Dal was staring at Tiger, and he felt Fuzzy suddenly shivering violently
in his pocket. "Tiger, don't be foolish--"

The Black Doctor slammed the file down on the table again. "Is this
true, what he's saying?" he asked Dal.

"No, not a word of it," Dal said. "I wanted to call the hospital ship."

"Of course he won't admit it," Tiger said angrily. "He's afraid you'll
kick me out too, but it's true just the same in spite of what he says."

"And what do _you_ say?" the Black Doctor said, turning to Jack Alvarez.

"I say it's carrying this big brother act too far," Jack said. "I didn't
notice any conferences going on."

"You were back at the ship getting the surgical pack," Tiger said. "You
didn't know anything about it. You didn't hear us talking, and we didn't
see any reason to consult you about it."

The Black Doctor stared from Dal to Tiger, his face growing angrier by
the minute. He jerked to his feet, and stalked back and forth across the
control room, glaring at them. Then he took a capsule from his pocket,
gulped it down with some water, and sat back down. "I ought to throw
you both out on your ears," he snarled. "But I am forced to control
myself. I mustn't allow myself to get angry--" He crashed his fist down
on the control panel. "I suppose that you would swear to this statement
of yours if it came to that?" he asked Tiger.

Tiger nodded and swallowed hard. "Yes, sir, I certainly would."

"All right," the Black Doctor said tightly. "Then you win this one. The
code says that two opinions can properly decide any course of action. If
you insist that two of you agreed on this decision, then I am forced to
support you officially. I will make a report of the incident to patrol
headquarters, and it will go on the permanent records of all three of
this ship's crew--including my personal opinion of the decision." He
looked up at Dal. "But be very careful, my young friend. Next time you
may not have a technicality to back you up, and I'll be watching for the
first plausible excuse to break you, and your Green Doctor friend as
well. One misstep, and you're through. And I assure you that is not just
an idle threat. I mean every word of it."

And trembling with rage, the Black Doctor picked up the folder, wrapped
his cape around him, and marched out of the control room.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, you put on a great show," Jack Alvarez said later as they
prepared the ship for launching from the snow-swept landing field on
Morua VIII. An hour before the ground had trembled as the Black Doctor's
ship took off with Dr. Tanner and the Four-star Surgeon aboard; now Jack
broke the dark silence in the _Lancet_'s control room for the first
time. "A really great show. You missed your calling, Tiger. You should
have been on the stage. If you think you fooled Dr. Tanner with that
story for half a second, you're crazy, but I guess you got what you
wanted. You kept your pal's cuff and collar for him, and you put a black
mark on all of our records, including mine. I hope you're satisfied."

Tiger Martin took off his earphones and set them carefully on the
control panel. "You know," he said to Jack, "you're lucky."

"Really?"

"You're lucky I don't wipe that sneer off your face and scrub the walls
with it. And you'd better not crowd your luck, because all I need right
now is an invitation." He stood up, towering over the dark-haired Blue
Doctor. "You bet I'm satisfied. And if you got a black mark along with
the rest of us, you earned it all the way."

"That still doesn't make it right," Dal said from across the room.

"You just keep out of this for a minute," Tiger said. "Jack has got to
get a couple of things straight, and this is the time for it right now."

Dal shook his head. "I can't keep out of it," he said. "You got me off
the hook by shifting the blame, but you put yourself in trouble doing
it. Dr. Tanner could just as well have thrown us both out of the service
as not."

Tiger snorted. "On what grounds? For a petty little error like this? He
wouldn't dare! You ought to read the log books of some of the other GPP
ships some time and see the kind of bloopers they pull without even a
reprimand. Don't worry, he was mad enough to throw us both out if he
thought he could make it stick, but he knew he couldn't. He knew the
council would just review the case and reverse his decision."

"It was still my error, not yours," Dal protested. "I should have gone
ahead and finished the case on the spot. I knew it at the time, and I
just didn't quite dare."

"So you made a mistake," Tiger said. "You'll make a dozen more before
you get your Star, and if none of them amount to any more than this one,
you can be very happy." He scowled at Jack. "It's only thanks to our
friend here that the Black Doctor heard about this at all. A hospital
ship would have come to take the patient aboard, and the local doctors
would have been quieted down and that would have been all there was to
it. This business about losing a contract is a lot of nonsense."

"Then you think this thing was just used as an excuse to get at me?"

"Ask him," Tiger said, looking at Jack again. "Ask him why a Black
Doctor and a Four-star Surgeon turned up when we just called for a
hospital ship."

"I called the hospital ship," Jack said sullenly.

"But you called Dr. Tanner too," said Tiger. "Your nose has been out of
joint ever since Dal came aboard this ship. You've made things as
miserable for him as you could, and you just couldn't wait for a chance
to come along to try to scuttle him."

"All right," Jack said, "but he was making a mistake. Anybody could see
that. What if the patient had died while he was standing around waiting?
Isn't that important?"

Tiger started to answer, and then threw up his hands in disgust. "It's
important--but something else is more important. We've got a job to do
on this ship, and we can't do it fighting each other. Dal misjudged a
case and got in trouble. Fine, he won't make that mistake again. It
could just as well have been you, or me. We'll all make mistakes, but if
we can't work as a team, we're sunk. We'll all be drummed out of the
patrol before a year is out." Tiger stopped to catch his breath, his
face flushed with anger. "Well, I'm fed up with this back-stabbing
business. I don't want a fight any more than Dal does, but if I have to
fight, I'll fight to get it over with, and you'd better be careful. If
you pull any more sly ones, you'd better include me in the deal, because
if Dal goes, I go too. And that's a promise."

There was silence for a moment as Jack stared up at Tiger's angry face.
He shook his head and blinked, as though he couldn't quite believe what
he was hearing. He looked across at Dal, and then back at Tiger again.
"You mean you'd turn in your collar and cuff?" he said.

"If it came to that."

"I see." Jack sat down at the control panel, still shaking his head. "I
think you really mean it," he said soberly. "This isn't just a big
brother act. You really like the guy, don't you?"

"Maybe I do," Tiger said, "but I don't like to watch anybody get kicked
around just because somebody else doesn't happen to like him."

The control room was very quiet. Then somewhere below a motor clicked
on, and the ventilation fan made a quiet whirring sound. The teletype
clicked sporadically down the corridor in the communications room. Dal
sat silently, rubbing Fuzzy between the eyes and watching the two
Earthmen. It seemed suddenly as if they were talking about somebody a
million miles away, as if he were not even in the room.

Then the Blue Doctor shrugged and rose to his feet. "All right," he said
to Tiger. "I guess I just didn't understand where you stood, and I
suppose it wasn't my job to let the Black Doctor know about the
situation here. I don't plan to be making all the mistakes you think
we're going to make, and I won't take the blame for anybody else's, but
I guess we've got to work together in the tight spots." He gave Dal a
lop-sided grin. "Welcome aboard," he said. "We'd better get this crate
airborne before the people here come and cart it away."

They moved then, and the subject was dropped. Half an hour later the
_Lancet_ lifted through the atmospheric pull of the Moruan planet and
moved on toward the next contact point, leaving the recovering patient
in the hands of the native physicians. It was not until hours later that
Dal noticed that Fuzzy had stopped quivering, and was resting happily
and securely on his shoulder even when the Blue Doctor was near.



CHAPTER 7

ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS


Once more the crew of the _Lancet_ settled down to routine, and the
incident on Morua VIII seemed almost forgotten.

But a change had come about in the relations between the three doctors,
and in every way the change was for the better. If Jack Alvarez was not
exactly cordial to Dal Timgar, at least he had dropped the open
antagonism that he had shown before. Apparently Tiger's angry outburst
had startled Jack, as though he had never really considered that the big
Earthman might honestly be attached to his friend from Garv II, and the
Blue Doctor seemed sincere in his agreement to work with Dal and Tiger
as a team.

But bit by bit Dal could sense that the change in Jack's attitude went
deeper than the surface. "You know, I really think he was _scared_ of
me," Dal said one night when he and Tiger were alone. "Sounds silly, but
I think it's true. He pretends to be so sure of himself, but I think
he's as worried about doing things wrong as we are, and just won't admit
it. And he really thought I was a threat when I came aboard."

"He probably had a good thorough briefing from Black Doctor Tanner
before he got the assignment," Tiger said grimly.

"Maybe--but somehow I don't think he cares for the Black Doctor much
more than we do."

But whatever the reason, much of the tension was gone when the _Lancet_
had left the Moruan system behind. A great weight seemed to have been
lifted, and if there was not quite peace on board, at least there was an
uneasy truce. Tiger and Jack were almost friendly, talking together more
often and getting to know each other better. Jack still avoided Dal and
seldom included him in conversations, but the open contempt of the first
few weeks on the ship now seemed tempered somewhat.

Once again the _Lancet_'s calls fell into a pattern. Landings on the
outpost planets became routine, bright spots in a lonely and wandering
existence. The calls that came in represented few real problems. The
ship stopped at one contract planet to organize a mass inoculation
program against a parasitic infestation resembling malaria. They paused
at another place to teach the native doctors the use of some new
surgical instruments that had been developed in Hospital Earth
laboratories just for them. Frantic emergency calls usually proved to
involve trivial problems, but once or twice potentially serious
situations were spotted early, before they could develop into real
trouble.

And as the three doctors got used to the responsibilities of a patrol
ship's rounds, and grew more confident of their ability to handle the
problems thrust upon them, they found themselves working more and more
efficiently as a team.

This was the way the General Practice Patrol was supposed to function.
Each doctor had unsuspected skills that came to light. There was no
questioning Jack Alvarez's skill as a diagnostician, but it seemed
uncanny to Dal the way the slender, dark-haired Earthman could listen
carefully to a medical problem of an alien race on a remote planet, and
then seem to know exactly which questions to ask to draw out the
significant information about the situation. Tiger was not nearly as
quick and clever as Jack; he needed more time to ponder a question of
medical treatment, and he would often spend long hours poring over the
data tapes before deciding what to do in a given case--but he always
seemed to come up with an answer, and his answers usually worked. Above
all, Tiger's relations with the odd life-forms they encountered were
invariably good; the creatures seemed to like him, and would follow his
instructions faithfully.

Dal, too, had opportunities to demonstrate that his surgical skill and
judgment was not universally faulty in spite of the trouble on Morua
VIII. More than once he succeeded in almost impossible surgical cases
where there was no time to call for help, and little by little he could
sense Jack's growing confidence in his abilities, grudging though it
might be.

Dal had ample time to mull over the thing that had happened on Morua
VIII and to think about the interview with Black Doctor Tanner
afterward. He knew he was glad that Tiger had intervened even on the
basis of a falsehood; until Tiger had spoken up Dal had been certain
that the Black Doctor fully intended to use the incident as an excuse to
discharge him from the General Practice Patrol. There was no question in
his mind that the Black Doctor's charges had been exaggerated into a
trumped-up case against him, and there was no question that Tiger's
insistence on taking the blame had saved him; he could not help being
thankful.

Yet there was something about it that disturbed Dal, nibbling away
persistently at his mind. He couldn't throw off the feeling that his own
acceptance of Tiger's help had been wrong.

Part of it, he knew, was his native, inbred loathing for falsehood. Fair
or unfair, Dal had always disliked lying. Among his people, the truth
might be bent occasionally, but frank lying was considered a deep
disgrace, and there was a Garvian saying that "a false tongue wins no
true friends." Garvian traders were known throughout the Galaxy as much
for their rigid adherence to their word as they were for the hard
bargains they could drive; Dal had been enormously confused during his
first months on Hospital Earth by the way Earthmen seemed to accept
lying as part of their daily life, unconcerned about it as long as the
falsehood could not be proven.

But something else about Tiger's defense of him bothered Dal far more
than the falsehood--something that had vaguely disturbed him ever since
he had known the big Earthman, and that now seemed to elude him every
time he tried to pinpoint it. Lying in his bunk during a sleep period,
Dal remembered vividly the first time he had met Tiger, early in the
second year of medical school. Dal had almost despaired by then of
making friends with his hostile and resentful classmates and had begun
more and more to avoid contact with them, building up a protective shell
and relying on Fuzzy for company or comfort. Then Tiger had found him
eating lunch by himself in the medical school lounge one day and flopped
down in the seat beside him and began talking as if Dal were just
another classmate. Tiger's open friendliness had been like a spring
breeze to Dal who was desperately lonely in this world of strangers;
their friendship had grown rapidly, and gradually others in the class
had begun to thaw enough at least to be civil when Dal was around. Dal
had sensed that this change of heart was largely because of Tiger and
not because of him, yet he had welcomed it as a change from the previous
intolerable coldness even though it left him feeling vaguely uneasy.
Tiger was well liked by the others in the class; Dal had been grateful
more than once when Tiger had risen in hot defense of the Garvian's
right to be studying medicine among Earthmen in the school on Hospital
Earth.

But that had been in medical school, among classmates. Somehow that had
been different from the incident that occurred on Morua VIII, and Dal's
uneasiness grew stronger than ever the more he thought of it. Talking to
Tiger about it was no help; Tiger just grinned and told him to forget
it, but even in the rush of shipboard activity it stubbornly refused to
be forgotten.

One minor matter also helped to ease the tension between the doctors as
they made their daily rounds. Tiger brought a pink dispatch sheet in to
Dal one day, grinning happily. "This is from the weekly news capsule,"
he said. "It ought to cheer you up."

It was a brief news note, listed under "incidental items." "The Black
Service of Pathology," it said, "has announced that Black Doctor Hugo
Tanner will enter Hospital Philadelphia within the next week for
prophylactic heart surgery. In keeping with usual Hospital Earth
administrative policy, the Four-star Black Doctor will undergo a total
cardiac transplant to halt the Medical education administrator's
progressively disabling heart disease." The note went on to name the
surgeons who would officiate at the procedure.

Dal smiled and handed back the dispatch. "Maybe it will improve his
temper," he said, "even if it does give him another fifty years of
active life."

"Well, at least it will take him out of _our_ hair for a while," Tiger
said. "He won't have time to keep us under too close scrutiny."

Which, Dal was forced to admit, did not make him too unhappy.

Shipboard rounds kept all three doctors busy. Often, with contact
landings, calls, and studying, it seemed only a brief time from sleep
period to sleep period, but still they had some time for minor luxuries.
Dal was almost continuously shivering, with the ship kept at a
temperature that was comfortable for Tiger and Jack; he missed the
tropical heat of his home planet, and sometimes it seemed that he was
chilled down to the marrow of his bones in spite of his coat of gray
fur. With a little home-made plumbing and ingenuity, he finally managed
to convert one of the ship's shower units into a steam bath. Once or
twice each day he would retire for a blissful half hour warming himself
up to Garv II normal temperatures.

Fuzzy also became a part of shipboard routine. Once he grew accustomed
to Tiger and Jack and the surroundings aboard the ship, the little
creature grew bored sitting on Dal's shoulder and wanted to be in the
middle of things. Since the early tension had eased, he was willing to
be apart from his master from time to time, so Dal and Tiger built him a
platform that hung from the ceiling of the control room. There Fuzzy
would sit and swing by the hour, blinking happily at the activity going
on all around him.

But for all the appearance of peace and agreement, there was still an
undercurrent of tension on board the _Lancet_ which flared up from time
to time when it was least expected, between Dal and Jack. It was on one
such occasion that a major crisis almost developed, and once again Fuzzy
was the center of the contention.

Dal Timgar knew that disaster had struck at the very moment it happened,
but he could not tell exactly what was wrong. All he knew was that
something fearful had happened to Fuzzy.

There was a small sound-proof cubicle in the computer room, with a
chair, desk and a tape-reader for the doctors when they had odd moments
to spend reading up on recent medical bulletins or reviewing their
textbooks. Dal spent more time here than the other two; the temperature
of the room could be turned up, and he had developed a certain fondness
for the place with its warm gray walls and its soft relaxing light. Here
on the tapes were things that he could grapple with, things that he
could understand. If a problem here eluded him, he could study it out
until he had mastered it. The hours he spent here were a welcome retreat
from the confusing complexities of getting along with Jack and Tiger.

These long study periods were boring for Fuzzy who wasn't much
interested in the oxygen-exchange mechanism of the intelligent beetles
of Aldebaran VI. Frequently Dal would leave him to swing on his platform
or explore about the control cabin while he spent an hour or two at
the tape-reader. Today Dal had been working for over an hour,
deeply immersed in a review of the intermediary metabolism of
chlorine-breathing mammals, when something abruptly wrenched his
attention from the tape.

It was as though a light had snapped off in his mind, or a door slammed
shut. There was no sound, no warning; yet, suddenly, he felt dreadfully,
frighteningly alone, as if in a split second something inside him had
been torn away. He sat bolt upright, staring, and he felt his skin crawl
and his fingers tremble as he listened, trying to spot the source of the
trouble.

And then, almost instinctively, he knew what was wrong. He leaped to
his feet, tore open the door to the cubicle and dashed down the hallway
toward the control room. "Fuzzy!" he shouted. "Fuzzy, _where are you?_"

Tiger and Jack were both at the control panel dictating records for
filing. They looked up in surprise as the Red Doctor burst into the
room. Fuzzy's platform was hanging empty, gently swaying back and forth.
Dal peered frantically around the room. There was no sign of the small
pink creature.

"Where is he?" he demanded. "What's happened to Fuzzy?"

Jack shrugged in disgust. "He's up on his perch. Where else?"

"He's not either! Where is he?"

Jack blinked at the empty perch. "He was there just a minute ago. I saw
him."

"Well, he's not there now, and something's wrong!" In a panic, Dal began
searching the room, knocking over stools, scattering piles of paper,
peering in every corner where Fuzzy might be concealed.

For a moment the others sat frozen, watching him. Then Tiger jumped to
his feet. "Hold it, hold it! He probably just wandered off for a minute.
He does that all the time."

"No, it's something worse than that." Dal was almost choking on the
words. "Something terrible has happened. I know it."

Jack Alvarez tossed the recorder down in disgust. "You and your
miserable pet!" he said. "I knew we shouldn't have kept him on board."

Dal stared at Jack. Suddenly all the anger and bitterness of the past
few weeks could no longer be held in. Without warning he hurled himself
at the Blue Doctor's throat. "Where is he?" he cried. "What have you
done with him? What have you done to Fuzzy? You've done something to
him! You've hated him every minute just like you hate me, only he's
easier to pick on. Now where is he? What have you done to him?"

Jack staggered back, trying to push the furious little Garvian away.
"Wait a minute! Get away from me! I didn't do anything!"

"You did too! Where is he?"

"I don't know." Jack struggled to break free, but there was powerful
strength in Dal's fingers for all his slight body build. "I tell you, he
was here just a minute ago."

Dal felt a hand grip his collar then, and Tiger was dragging them apart
like two dogs in a fight. "Now stop this!" he roared, holding them both
at arm's length. "I said _stop it_! Jack didn't do anything to Fuzzy,
he's been sitting here with me ever since you went back to the cubicle.
He hasn't even budged."

"But he's _gone_," Dal panted. "Something's happened to him. I _know_
it."

"How do you know?"

"I--I just know. I can feel it."

"All right, then let's find him," Tiger said. "He's got to be somewhere
on the ship. If he's in trouble, we're wasting time fighting."

Tiger let go, and Jack brushed off his shirt, his face very white. "I
saw him just a little while ago," he said. "He was sitting up on that
silly perch watching us, and then swinging back and forth and swinging
over to that cabinet and back."

"Well, let's get started looking," Tiger said.

They fanned out, with Jack still muttering to himself, and searched the
control room inch by inch. There was no sign of Fuzzy. Dal had control
of himself now, but he searched with a frantic intensity. "He's not in
here," he said at last, "he must have gone out somewhere."

"There was only one door open," Tiger said. "The one you just came
through, from the rear corridor. Dal, you search the computer room.
Jack, check the lab and I'll go back to the reactors."

They started searching the compartments off the rear corridor. For ten
minutes there was no sound in the ship but the occasional slamming of a
hatch, the grate of a desk drawer, the bang of a cabinet door. Dal
worked through the maze of cubby-holes in the computer room with growing
hopelessness. The frightening sense of loneliness and loss in his mind
was overwhelming; he was almost physically ill. The warm, comfortable
feeling of _contact_ that he had always had before with Fuzzy was gone.
As the minutes passed, hopelessness gave way to despair.

Then Jack gave a hoarse cry from the lab. Dal tripped and stumbled in
his haste to get down the corridor, and almost collided with Tiger at
the lab door.

"I think we're too late," Jack said. "He's gotten into the formalin."

He lifted one of the glass beakers down from the shelf to the work
bench. It was obvious what had happened. Fuzzy had gone exploring and
had found the laboratory a fascinating place. Several of the reagents
bottles had been knocked over as if he had been sampling them. The glass
lid to the beaker of formalin which was kept for tissue specimens had
been pushed aside just enough to admit the little creature's two-inch
girth. Now Fuzzy lay in the bottom of the beaker, immersed in formalin,
a formless, shapeless blob of sickly gray jelly.

"Are you sure it's formalin?" Dal asked.

Jack poured off the fluid, and the acrid smell of formaldehyde that
filled the room answered the question. "It's no good, Dal," he said,
almost gently. "The stuff destroys protein, and that's about all he was.
I'm sorry--I was beginning to like the little punk, even if he did get
on my nerves. But he picked the one thing to fall into that could kill
him. Unless he had some way to set up a protective barrier...."

Dal took the beaker. "Get me some saline," he said tightly. "And some
nutrient broth."

Jack pulled out two jugs and poured their contents into an empty beaker.
Dal popped the tiny limp form into the beaker and began massaging it.
Layers of damaged tissue peeled off in his hand, but he continued
massaging and changing the solutions, first saline, then nutrient broth.
"Get me some sponges and a blade."

Tiger brought them in. Carefully Dal began debriding the damaged outer
layers. Jack and Tiger watched; then Jack said, "Look, there's a tinge
of pink in the middle."

Slowly the faint pink in the center grew more ruddy. Dal changed
solutions again, and sank down on a stool. "I think he'll make it," he
said. "He has enormous regenerative powers as long as any fragment of
him is left." He looked up at Jack who was still watching the creature
in the beaker almost solicitously. "I guess I made a fool of myself back
there when I jumped you."

Jack's face hardened, as though he had been caught off guard. "I guess
you did, all right."

"Well, I'm sorry. I just couldn't think straight. It was the first time
I'd ever been--apart from him."

"I still say he doesn't belong aboard," Jack said. "This is a medical
ship, not a menagerie. And if you ever lay your hands on me again,
you'll wish you hadn't."

"I said I was sorry," Dal said.

"I heard you," Jack said. "I just don't believe you, that's all."

He gave Fuzzy a final glance, and then headed back to the control room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fuzzy recovered, a much abashed and subdued Fuzzy, clinging timorously
to Dal's shoulder and refusing to budge for three days, but apparently
basically unharmed by his inadvertent swim in the deadly formalin bath.
Presently he seemed to forget the experience altogether, and once again
took his perch on the platform in the control room.

But Dal did not forget. He said little to Tiger and Jack, but the
incident had shaken him severely. For as long as he could remember, he
had always had Fuzzy close at hand. He had never before in his life
experienced the dreadful feeling of emptiness and desertion, the almost
paralyzing fear and helplessness that he had felt when Fuzzy had lost
contact with him. It had seemed as though a vital part of him had
suddenly been torn away, and the memory of the panic that followed sent
chills down his back and woke him up trembling from his sleep. He was
ashamed of his unwarranted attack on Jack, yet even this seemed
insignificant in comparison to the powerful fear that had been driving
him.

Happily, the Blue Doctor chose to let the matter rest where it was, and
if anything, seemed more willing than before to be friendly. For the
first time he seemed to take an active interest in Fuzzy, "chatting"
with him when he thought no one was around, and bringing him occasional
tid-bits of food after meals were over.

Once more life on the _Lancet_ settled back to routine, only to have it
shattered by an incident of quite a different nature. It was just after
they had left a small planet in the Procyon system, one of the routine
check-in points, that they made contact with the Garvian trading ship.

Dal recognized the ship's design and insignia even before the signals
came in, and could hardly contain his excitement. He had not seen a
fellow countryman for years except for an occasional dull luncheon with
the Garvian ambassador to Hospital Earth during medical school days. The
thought of walking the corridors of a Garvian trading ship again brought
an overwhelming wave of homesickness. He was so excited he could hardly
wait for Jack to complete the radio-sighting formalities. "What ship is
she?" he wanted to know. "What house?"

Jack handed him the message transcript. "The ship is the _Teegar_," he
said. "Flagship of the SinSin trading fleet. They want permission to
approach us."

Dal let out a whoop. "Then it's a space trader, and a big one. You've
never seen ships like these before."

Tiger joined them, staring at the message transcript. "A SinSin ship!
Send them the word, Jack, and be quick, before they get disgusted and
move on."

Jack sent out the approach authorization, and they watched with growing
excitement as the great trading vessel began its close-approach
maneuvers.

The name of the house of SinSin was famous throughout the galaxy. It was
one of the oldest and largest of the great trading firms that had built
Garv II into its position of leadership in the Confederation, and the
SinSin ships had penetrated to every corner of the galaxy, to every
known planet harboring an intelligent life-form.

Tiger and Jack had seen the multitudes of exotic products in the
Hospital Earth stores that came from the great Garvian ships on their
frequent visits. But this was more than a planetary trader loaded with a
few items for a single planet. The space traders roamed from star system
to star system, their holds filled with treasures beyond number. Such
ships as these might be out from Garv II for decades at a time,
tempting any ship they met with the magnificent variety of wares they
carried.

Slowly the trader approached, and Dal took the speaker, addressing the
commander of the _Teegar_ in Garvian. "This is the General Practice
Patrol Ship _Lancet_," he said, "out from Hospital Earth with three
physicians aboard, including a countryman of yours."

"Is that Dal Timgar?" the reply came back. "By the Seven Moons! We'd
heard that there was now a Garvian physician, and couldn't believe our
ears. Come aboard, all of you, you'll be welcome. We'll send over a
lifeboat!"

The _Teegar_ was near now, a great gleaming ship with the sign of the
house of SinSin on her hull. A lifeboat sprang from a launching rack and
speared across to the _Lancet_. Moments later the three doctors were
climbing into the sleek little vessel and moving across the void of
space to the huge Garvian ship.

It was like stepping from a jungle outpost village into a magnificent,
glittering city. The Garvian ship was enormous; she carried a crew of
several hundred, and the wealth and luxury of the ship took the
Earthmen's breath away. The cabins and lounges were paneled with
expensive fabrics and rare woods, the furniture inlaid with precious
metals. Down the long corridors goods of the traders were laid out in
resplendent display, surpassing the richest show cases in the shops on
Hospital Earth.

They received a royal welcome from the commander of the _Teegar_, an
aged, smiling little Garvian with a pink fuzz-ball on his shoulder that
could have been Fuzzy's twin. He bowed low to Tiger and Jack, leading
them into the reception lounge where a great table was spread with foods
and pastries of all varieties. Then he turned to Dal and embraced him
like a long-lost brother. "Your father Jai Timgar has long been an
honored friend of the house of SinSin, and anyone of the house of Timgar
is the same as my own son and my son's son! But this collar! This cuff!
Is it really possible that a man of Garv has become a physician of
Hospital Earth?"

Dal touched Fuzzy to the commander's fuzz-ball in the ancient Garvian
greeting. "It's possible, and true," he said. "I studied there. I am the
Red Doctor on this patrol ship."

"Ah, but this is good," the commander said. "What better way to draw our
worlds together, eh? But come, you must look and see what we have in our
storerooms, feast your eyes on the splendors we carry. For all of you, a
thousand wonders are to be found here."

Jack hesitated as the commander led them back toward the display
corridors. "We'd be glad to see the ship, but you should know that
patrol ship physicians have little money to spend."

"Who speaks of money?" the commander cried. "Did I speak of it? Come and
look! Money is nothing. The Garvian traders are not mere money-changers.
Look and enjoy; if there is something that strikes your eye, something
that would fulfill the desires of your heart, it will be yours." He gave
Dal a smile and a sly wink. "Surely our brother here has told you many
times of the wonders to be seen in a space trader, and terms can be
arranged that will make any small purchase a painless pleasure."

He led them off, like a head of state conducting visiting dignitaries on
a tour, with a retinue of Garvian underlings trailing behind them. For
two delirious hours they wandered the corridors of the great ship,
staring hungrily at the dazzling displays. They had been away from
Hospital Earth and its shops and stores for months; now it seemed they
were walking through an incredible treasure-trove stocked with
everything that they could possibly have wanted.

For Jack there was a dress uniform, specially tailored for a physician
in the Blue Service of Diagnosis, the insignia woven into the cloth with
gold and platinum thread. Reluctantly he turned away from it, a luxury
he could never dream of affording. For Tiger, who had been muttering for
weeks about getting out of condition in the sedentary life of the ship,
there was a set of bar bells and gymnasium equipment ingeniously
designed to collapse into a unit no larger than one foot square, yet
opening out into a completely equipped gym. Dal's eyes glittered at the
new sets of surgical instruments, designed to the most rigid Hospital
Earth specifications, which appeared almost without his asking to see
them. There were clothes and games, precious stones and exotic rings,
watches set with Arcturian dream-stones, and boots inlaid with silver.

They made their way through the corridors, reluctant to leave one
display for the next. Whenever something caught their eyes, the
commander snapped his fingers excitedly, and the item was unobtrusively
noted down by one of the underlings. Finally, exhausted and glutted just
from looking, they turned back toward the reception room.

"The things are beautiful," Tiger said wistfully, "but impossible.
Still, you were very kind to take your time--"

"Time? I have nothing but time." The commander smiled again at Dal. "And
there is an old Garvian proverb that to the wise man 'impossible' has no
meaning. Wait, you will see!"

They came out into the lounge, and the doctors stopped short in
amazement. Spread out before them were all of the items that had
captured their interest earlier.

"But this is ridiculous," Jack said staring at the dress uniform. "We
couldn't possibly buy these things, it would take our salaries for
twenty years to pay for them."

"Have we mentioned price even once?" the commander protested. "You are
the crewmates of one of our own people! We would not dream of setting
prices that we would normally set for such trifles as these. And as for
terms, you have no worry. Take the goods aboard your ship, they are
already yours. We have drawn up contracts for you which require no
payment whatever for five years, and then payments of only a fiftieth of
the value for each successive year. And for each of you, with the
compliments of the house of SinSin, a special gift at no charge
whatever."

He placed in Jack's hands a small box with the lid tipped back. Against
a black velvet lining lay a silver star, and the official insignia of a
Star Physician in the Blue Service. "You cannot wear it yet, of course,"
the commander said. "But one day you will need it."

Jack blinked at the jewel-like star. "You are very kind," he said. "I--I
mean perhaps--" He looked at Tiger, and then at the display of goods on
the table. "Perhaps there are _some_ things--"

Already two of the Garvian crewmen were opening the lock to the
lifeboat, preparing to move the goods aboard. Then Dal Timgar spoke up
sharply. "I think you'd better wait a moment," he said.

"And for you," the commander continued, turning to Dal so smoothly that
there seemed no break in his voice at all, "as one of our own people,
and an honored son of Jai Timgar, who has been kind to the house of
SinSin for many years, I have something out of the ordinary. I'm sure
your crewmates would not object to a special gift at my personal
expense."

The commander lifted a scarf from the table and revealed the glittering
set of surgical instruments, neatly displayed in a velvet-lined carrying
case. The commander took it up from the table and thrust it into Dal's
hands. "It is yours, my friend. And for this, there will be no contract
whatever."

Dal stared down at the instruments. They were beautiful. He longed just
to touch them, to hold them in his hands, but he shook his head and set
the case back on the table. He looked up at Tiger and Jack. "You should
be warned that the prices on these goods are four times what they ought
to be, and the deferred-payment contracts he wants you to sign will
permit as much as 24 per cent interest on the unpaid balance, with no
closing-out clause. That means you would be paying many times the stated
price for the goods before the contract is closed. You can go ahead and
sign if you want but understand what you're signing."

The Garvian commander stared at him, and then shook his head, laughing.
"Of course your friend is not serious," he said. "These prices can be
compared on any planet and you will see their fairness. Here, read the
contracts, see what they say and decide for yourselves." He held out a
sheaf of papers.

"The contracts may sound well enough," Dal said, "but I'm telling you
what they actually say."

Jack looked stricken. "But surely just one or two things--"

Tiger shook his head. "Dal knows what he's talking about. I don't think
we'd better buy anything at all."

The Garvian commander turned to Dal angrily. "What are you telling them?
There is nothing false in these contracts!"

"I didn't say there was. I just can't see them taking a beating with
their eyes shut, that's all. Your contracts are legal enough, but the
prices and terms are piracy, and you know it."

The commander glared at him for a moment. Then he turned away
scornfully. "So what I have heard is true, after all," he said. "You
really have thrown in your lot with these pill-peddlers, these idiots
from Earth who can't even wipe their noses without losing in a trade."
He signaled the lifeboat pilot. "Take them back to their ship, we're
wasting our time. There are better things to do than to deal with
traitors."

The trip back to the _Lancet_ was made in silence. Dal could sense the
pilot's scorn as he dumped them off in their entrance lock, and dashed
back to the _Teegar_ with the lifeboat. Gloomily Jack and Tiger followed
Dal into the control room, a drab little cubby-hole compared to the
_Teegar_'s lounge.

"Well, it was fun while it lasted," Jack said finally, looking up at
Dal. "But the way that guy slammed you, I wish we'd never gone."

"I know," Dal said. "The commander just thought he saw a perfect setup.
He figured you'd never question the contracts if I backed him up."

"It would have been easy enough. Why didn't you?"

Dal looked at the Blue Doctor. "Maybe I just don't like people who give
away surgical sets," he said. "Remember, I'm not a Garvian trader any
more. I'm a doctor from Hospital Earth."

Moments later, the great Garvian ship was gone, and the red light was
blinking on the call board. Tiger started tracking down the call while
Jack went back to work on the daily log book and Dal set up food for
dinner. The pleasant dreams were over; they were back in the harness of
patrol ship doctors once again.

Jack and Dal were finishing dinner when Tiger came back with a puzzled
frown on his face. "Finally traced that call. At least I think I did.
Anybody ever hear of a star called 31 Brucker?"

"Brucker?" Jack said. "It isn't on the list of contracts. What's the
trouble?"

"I'm not sure," Tiger said. "I'm not even certain if it's a call or not.
Come on up front and see what you think."



CHAPTER 8

PLAGUE!


In the control room the interstellar radio and teletype-translator were
silent. The red light on the call board was still blinking; Tiger turned
it off with a snap. "Here's the message that just came in, as near as I
can make out," he said, "and if you can make sense of it, you're way
ahead of me."

The message was a single word, teletyped in the center of a blue
dispatch sheet:

      GREETINGS

"This is all?" Jack said.

"That's every bit of it. They repeated it half a dozen times, just like
that."

"_Who_ repeated it?" Dal asked. "Where are the identification symbols?"

"There weren't any," said Tiger. "Our own computer designated 31 Brucker
from the direction and intensity of the signal. The question is, what do
we do?"

The message stared up at them cryptically. Dal shook his head. "Doesn't
give us much to go on, that's certain. Even the location could be wrong
if the signal came in on an odd frequency or from a long distance. Let's
beam back at the same direction and intensity and see what happens."

Tiger took the earphones and speaker, and turned the signal beam to
coincide with the direction of the incoming message.

"We have your contact. Can you hear me? Who are you and what do you
want?"

There was a long delay and they thought the contact was lost. Then a
voice came whispering through the static. "Where is your ship now? Are
you near to us?"

"We need your co-ordinates in order to tell," Tiger said. "Who are you?"

Again a long pause and a howl of static. Then: "If you are far away it
will be too late. We have no time left, we are dying...."

Abruptly the voice message broke off and co-ordinates began coming
through between bursts of static. Tiger scribbled them down, piecing
them together through several repetitions. "Check these out fast," he
told Jack. "This sounds like real trouble." He tossed Dal another pair
of earphones and turned back to the speaker. "Are you a contract
planet?" he signaled. "Do we have a survey on you?"

There was a much longer pause. Then the voice came back, "No, we have no
contract. We are all dying, but if you must have a contract to come...."

"Not at all," Tiger sent back. "We're coming. Keep your frequency open.
We will contact again when we are closer."

He tossed down the earphones and looked excitedly at Dal. "Did you hear
that? A planet calling for help, with no Hospital Earth contract!"

"They sound desperate," Dal said. "We'd better go there, contract or no
contract."

"Of course we'll go there, you idiot. See if Jack has those co-ordinates
charted, and start digging up information on them, everything you can
find. We need all of the dope we can get and we need it fast. This is
our golden chance to seal a contract with a new planet."

All three of the doctors fell to work trying to identify the mysterious
caller. Dal began searching the information file for data on 31 Brucker,
punching all the reference tags he could think of, as well as the
galactic co-ordinates of the planet. He could hardly control his fingers
as the tapes with possible references began plopping down into the
slots. Tiger was right; this was almost too good to be true. When a
planet without a medical service contract called a GPP Ship for help,
there was always hope that a brand new contract might be signed if the
call was successful. And no greater honor could come to a patrol craft
crew than to be the originators of a new contract for Hospital Earth.

But there were problems in dealing with uncontacted planets. Many star
systems had never been explored by ships of the Confederation. Many
races, like Earthmen at the time their star-drive was discovered, had no
inkling of the existence of a Galactic Confederation of worlds. There
might be no information whatever about the special anatomical and
physiological characteristics of the inhabitants of an uncontacted
planet, and often a patrol crew faced insurmountable difficulties,
coming in blind to solve a medical problem.

Dal had his information gathered first--a disappointingly small amount
indeed. Among the billions of notes on file in the _Lancet_'s data bank,
there were only two scraps of data available on the 31 Brucker system.

"Is this all you could find?" Tiger said, staring at the information
slips.

"There's just nothing else there," Dal said. "This one is a description
and classification of the star, and it doesn't sound like the one who
wrote it had even been near it."

"He hadn't," Tiger said. "This is a routine radio-telescopic survey
report. The star is a red giant. Big and cold, with three--possibly
four--planets inside the outer envelope of the star itself, and only one
outside it. Nothing about satellites. None of the planets thought to be
habitable by man. What's the other item?"

"An exploratory report on the outer planet, done eight hundred years
ago. Says it's an Earth-type planet, and not much else. Gives reference
to the full report in the Confederation files. Not a word about an
intelligent race living there."

"Well, maybe Jack's got a bit more for us," Tiger said. "If the place
has been explored, there must be _some_ information about the
inhabitants."

But Jack also came up with a blank. Central Records on Hospital Earth
sent back a physical description of a tiny outer planet of the star,
with a thin oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, very little water, and enough
methane mixed in to make the atmosphere deadly to Earthmen.

"Then there's never been a medical service contract?" Tiger asked.

"Contract!" Jack said. "It doesn't even say there are any people there.
Not a word about any kind of life form."

"Well, that's ridiculous," Dal said. "If we're getting messages from
there, somebody must be sending them. But if a Confederation ship
explored there, there's a way to find out. How soon can we convert to
star-drive?"

"As soon as we can get strapped down," Tiger said.

"Then send our reconversion co-ordinates to the Confederation
headquarters on Garv II and request the Confederation records on the
place."

Jack stared at him. "You mean just ask to see Confederation records? We
can't do that, they'd skin us alive. Those records are closed to
everyone except full members of the Confederation."

"Tell them it's an emergency," Dal said. "If they want to be legal about
it, give them my Confederation serial number. Garv II is a member of the
Confederation, and I'm a native-born citizen."

Tiger got the request off while Jack and Dal strapped down for the
conversion to Koenig drive. Five minutes later Tiger joined them,
grinning from ear to ear. "Didn't even have to pull rank," he said.
"When they started to argue, I just told them it was an emergency, and
if they didn't let us see any records they had, we would file their
refusal against claims that might come up later. They quit arguing.
We'll have the records as soon as we reconvert."

       *       *       *       *       *

The star that they were seeking was a long distance from the current
location of the _Lancet_. The ship was in Koenig drive for hours before
it reconverted, and even Dal was beginning to feel the first pangs of
drive-sickness before they felt the customary jolting vibration of the
change to normal space, and saw bright stars again in the viewscreen.

The star called 31 Brucker was close then. It was indeed a red giant;
long tenuous plumes of gas spread out for hundreds of millions of miles
on all sides of its glowing red core. This mammoth star did not look so
cold now, as they stared at it in the viewscreen, yet among the family
of stars it was a cold, dying giant with only a few moments of life left
on the astronomical time scale. From the _Lancet_'s position, no
planets at all were visible to the naked eye, but with the telescope
Jack soon found two inside the star's envelope of gas and one tiny one
outside. They would have to be searched for, and the one that they were
hoping to reach located before centering and landing maneuvers could be
begun.

Already the radio was chattering with two powerful signals coming in.
One came from the Galactic Confederation headquarters on Garv II; the
other was a good clear signal from very close range, unquestionably
beamed to them from the planet in distress.

They watched as the Confederation report came clacking off the teletype,
and they stared at it unbelieving.

"It just doesn't make sense," Jack said. "There _must_ be intelligent
creatures down there. They're sending radio signals."

"Then why a report like this?" Tiger said. "This was filed by a routine
exploratory ship that came here eight hundred years ago. You can't tell
me that any intelligent race could develop from scratch in less than
eight centuries' time."

Dal picked up the report and read it again. "This red giant star," he
read, "was studied in the usual fashion. It was found to have seven
planets, all but one lying within the tenuous outer gas envelope of the
star itself. The seventh planet has an atmosphere of its own, and
travels an orbit well outside the star surface. This planet was selected
for landing and exploration."

Following this was a long, detailed and exceedingly dull description of
the step-by-step procedure followed by a Confederation exploratory ship
making a first landing on a barren planet. There was a description of
the atmosphere, the soil surface, the land masses and major water
bodies. Physically, the planet was a desert, hot and dry, and barren of
vegetation excepting in two or three areas of jungle along the equator.
"The planet is inhabited by numerous small unintelligent animal species
which seem well-adapted to the semi-arid conditions. Of higher animals
and mammals only two species were discovered, and of these the most
highly developed was an erect biped with an integrated central nervous
system and the intelligence level of a Garvian _drachma_."

"How small is that?" Jack said.

"Idiot-level," Dal said glumly. "I.Q. of about 20 on the human scale. I
guess the explorers weren't much impressed; they didn't even put the
planet down for a routine colonization survey."

"Well, _something_ has happened down there since then. Idiots can't
build interstellar radios." Jack turned to Tiger. "Are you getting
them?"

Tiger nodded. A voice was coming over the speaker, hesitant and
apologetic, using the common tongue of the Galactic Confederation. "How
soon can you come?" the voice was asking clearly, still with the sound
of great reticence. "There is not much time."

"But who are you?" Tiger asked. "What's wrong down there?"

"We are sick, dying, thousands of us. But if you have other work that is
more pressing, we would not want to delay you--"

Jack shook his head, frowning. "I don't get this," he said. "What are
they afraid of?"

Tiger spoke into the microphone again. "We will be glad to help, but we
need information about you. You have our position--can you send up a
spokesman to tell us your problem?"

A long pause, and then the voice came back wearily. "It will be done.
Stand by to receive him."

Tiger snapped off the radio receiver and looked up triumphantly at the
others. "Now we're getting somewhere. If the people down there can send
a ship out with a spokesman to tell us about their troubles, we've got a
chance to sew up a contract, and that could mean a Star for every one of
us."

"Yes, but who are they?" Dal said. "And where were they when the
Confederation ship was here?"

"I don't know," Jack said, "but I'll bet you both that we have quite a
time finding out."

"Why?" Tiger said. "What do you mean?"

"I mean we'd better be very careful here," Jack said darkly. "I don't
know about you, but I think this whole business has a very strange
smell."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was nothing strange about the Bruckian ship when it finally came
into view. It was a standard design, surface-launching interplanetary
craft, with separated segments on either side suggesting atomic engines.
They saw the side jets flare as the ship maneuvered to come in alongside
the _Lancet_.

Grapplers were thrown out to bind the emissary ship to the _Lancet_'s
hull, and Jack threw the switches to open the entrance lock and
decontamination chambers. They had taken pains to describe the interior
atmosphere of the patrol ship and warn the spokesman to keep himself in
a sealed pressure suit. On the intercom viewscreens they saw the small
suited figure cross from his ship into the _Lancet_'s lock, and watched
as the sprays of formalin washed down the outside of the suit.

Moments later the creature stepped out of the decontamination chamber.
He was small and humanoid, with tiny fragile bones and pale, hairless
skin. He stood no more than four feet high. More than anything else, he
looked like a very intelligent monkey with a diminutive space suit
fitting his fragile body. When he spoke the words came through the
translator in English; but Dal recognized the flowing syllables of the
universal language of the Galactic Confederation.

"How do you know the common tongue?" he said. "There is no record of
your people in our Confederation, yet you use our own universal
language."

The Bruckian nodded. "We know the language well. My people dread outside
contact--it is a racial characteristic--but we hear the Confederation
broadcasts and have learned to understand the common tongue." The
space-suited stranger looked at the doctors one by one. "We also know of
the good works of the ships from Hospital Earth, and now we appeal to
you."

"Why?" Jack said. "You gave us no information, nothing to go on."

"There was no time," the creature said. "Death is stalking our land, and
the people are falling at their plows. Thousands of us are dying, tens
of thousands. Even I am infected and soon will be dead. Unless you can
find a way to help us quickly, it will be too late, and my people will
be wiped from the face of the planet."

Jack looked grimly at Tiger and Dal. "Well," he said, "I guess that
answers our question, all right. It looks as if we have a plague planet
on our hands, whether we like it or not."



CHAPTER 9

THE INCREDIBLE PEOPLE


Slowly and patiently they drew the story from the emissary from the
seventh planet of 31 Brucker.

The small, monkey-like creature was painfully shy; he required constant
reassurance that the doctors did not mind being called, that they wanted
to help, and that a contract was not necessary in an emergency. Even at
that the spokesman was reluctant to give details about the plague and
about his stricken people. Every bit of information had to be extracted
with patient questioning.

By tacit consent the doctors did not even mention the strange fact that
this very planet had been explored by a Confederation ship eight hundred
years before and no sign of intelligent life had been found. The little
creature before them seemed ready to turn and bolt at the first hint of
attack or accusation. But bit by bit, a picture of the current situation
on the planet developed.

Whoever they were and wherever they had been when the Confederation ship
had landed, there was unquestionably an intelligent race now inhabiting
this lonely planet in the outer reaches of the solar system of 31
Brucker. There was no doubt of their advancement; a few well-selected
questions revealed that they had control of atomic power, a working
understanding of the nature and properties of contra-terrene matter, and
a workable star drive operating on the same basic principle as Earth's
Koenig drive but which the Bruckians had never really used because of
their shyness and fear of contact with other races. They also had an
excellent understanding, thanks to their eavesdropping on Confederation
interstellar radio chatter, of the existence and functions of the
Galactic Confederation of worlds, and of Hospital Earth's work as
physician to the galaxy.

But about Bruckian anatomy, physiology or biochemistry, the little
emissary would tell them nothing. He seemed genuinely frightened when
they pressed him about the physical make-up of his people, as though
their questions were somehow scraping a raw nerve. He insisted that his
people knew nothing about the nature of the plague that had stricken
them, and the doctors could not budge him an inch from his stand.

But a plague had certainly struck.

It had begun six months before, striking great masses of the people. It
had walked the streets of the cities and the hills and valleys of the
countryside. First three out of ten had been stricken, then four, then
five. The course of the disease, once started, was invariably the same:
first illness, weakness, loss of energy and interest, then gradually a
fading away of intelligent responses, leaving thousands of creatures
walking blank-faced and idiot-like about the streets and countryside.
Ultimately even the ability to take food was lost, and after an interval
of a week or so, death invariably ensued.

Finally the doctors retired to the control room for a puzzled
conference. "It's got to be an organism of some sort that's doing it,"
Dal said. "There couldn't be an illness like this that wasn't caused by
some kind of a parasitic germ or virus."

"But how do we know?" Jack said. "We know nothing about these people
except what we can see. We're going to have to do a complete biochemical
and medical survey before we can hope to do anything."

"But we aren't equipped for a real survey," Tiger protested.

"We've got to do it anyway," Jack said. "If we can just learn enough to
be sure it's an infectious illness, we might stand a chance of finding a
drug that will cure it. Or at least a way to immunize the ones that
aren't infected yet. If this is a virus infection, we might only need to
find an antibody for inoculation to stop it in its tracks. But first we
need a good look at the planet and some more of the people--both
infected and healthy ones. We'd better make arrangements as fast as we
can."

An hour later they had reached an agreement with the Bruckian emissary.
The _Lancet_ would be permitted to land on the planet's surface as soon
as the doctors were satisfied that it was safe. For the time being the
initial landings would be made in the patrol ship's lifeboats, with the
_Lancet_ in orbit a thousand miles above the surface. Unquestionably the
first job was diagnosis, discovering the exact nature of the illness and
studying the afflicted people. This responsibility rested squarely on
Jack's shoulders; he was the diagnostician, and Dal and Tiger willingly
yielded to him in organizing the program.

It was decided that Jack and Tiger would visit the planet's surface at
once, while Dal stayed on the ship and set up the reagents and
examining techniques that would be needed to measure the basic physical
and biochemical characteristics of the Bruckians.

Yet in all the excitement of planning, Dal could not throw off the
lingering shadow of doubt in his mind, some instinctive voice of caution
that seemed to say _watch out, be careful, go slowly! This may not be
what it seems to be; you may be walking into a trap...._

But it was only a faint voice, and easy to thrust aside as the planning
went ahead full speed.

       *       *       *       *       *

It did not take very long for the crew of the _Lancet_ to realize that
there was something very odd indeed about the small, self-effacing
inhabitants of 31 Brucker VII.

In fact, "odd" was not really quite the proper word for these creatures
at all. No one knew better than the doctors of Hospital Earth that
oddness was the rule among the various members of the galactic
civilization. All sorts and varieties of life-forms had been discovered,
described and studied, each with its singular differences, each with
certain similarities, and each quite "odd" in reference to any of the
others.

In Dal this awareness of the oddness and difference of other races was
particularly acute. He knew that to Tiger and Jack he himself seemed
odd, both anatomically and in other ways. His fine gray fur and his
four-fingered hands set him apart from them--he would never be mistaken
for an Earthman, even in the densest fog. But these were comprehensible
differences. His close attachment to Fuzzy was something else, and still
seemed beyond their ability to understand.

He had spent one whole evening patiently trying to make Jack understand
just how his attachment to the little pink creature was more than just
the fondness of a man for his dog.

"Well, what would you call it, then?"

"Symbiosis is probably the best word for it," Dal had replied. "Two
life-forms live together, and each one helps the other--that's all
symbiosis is. Together each one is better off than either one would be
alone. We all of us live in symbiosis with the bacteria in our digestive
tracts, don't we? We provide them with a place to live and grow, and
they help us digest our food. It's a kind of a partnership--and Fuzzy
and I are partners in the same sort of way."

Jack had argued, and then lost his temper, and finally grudgingly agreed
that he supposed he would have to tolerate it even if it didn't make
sense to him.

But the creatures on 31 Brucker VII were "odd" far beyond the reasonable
limits of oddness--so far beyond it that the doctors could not believe
the things that their eyes and their instruments were telling them.

When Tiger and Jack came back to the _Lancet_ after their first trip to
the planet's surface, they were visibly shaken. Geographically, they had
found it just as it had been described in the exploratory reports--a
barren, desert land with only a few large islands of vegetation in the
equatorial regions.

"But the people!" Jack said. "They don't fit into _any_ kind of pattern.
They've got houses--at least I guess you'd call them houses--but every
one of them is like every other one, and they're all crammed together in
tight little bunches, with nothing for miles in between. They've got an
advanced technology, a good communications system, manufacturing
techniques and everything, but they just don't use them."

"It's more than that," Tiger said. "They don't seem to _want_ to use
them."

"Well, it doesn't add up, to me," Jack said. "There are thousands of
towns and cities down there, all of them miles apart, and yet they had
to go dig an old rusty jet scooter out of storage and get the motor
rebuilt just specially to take us from one place to another. I know
things can get disorganized with a plague in the land, but this plague
just hasn't been going on that long."

"What about the sickness?" Dal asked. "Is it as bad as it sounded?"

"Worse, if anything," Tiger said gloomily. "They're dying by the
thousands, and I hope we got those suits of ours decontaminated, because
I don't want any part of this disease."

Graphically, he described the conditions they had found among the
stricken people. There was no question that a plague was stalking the
land. In the rutted mud roads of the villages and towns the dead were
piled in gutters, and in all of the cities a deathly stillness hung over
the streets. Those who had not yet succumbed to the illness were nursing
and feeding the sick ones, but these unaffected ones were growing
scarcer and scarcer. The whole living population seemed resigned to
hopelessness, hardly noticing the strangers from the patrol ship.

But worst of all were those in the final stages of the disease,
wandering vaguely about the street, their faces blank and their jaws
slack as though they were living in a silent world of their own, cut off
from contact with the rest. "One of them almost ran into me," Jack said.
"I was right in front of him, and he didn't see me or hear me."

"But don't they have _any_ knowledge of antisepsis or isolation?" Dal
asked.

Tiger shook his head. "Not that we could see. They don't know what's
causing this sickness. They think that it's some kind of curse, and
they never dreamed that it might be kept from spreading."

Already Tiger and Jack had taken the first routine steps to deal with
the sickness. They gave orders to move the unaffected people in every
town and village into isolated barracks and stockades. For half a day
Tiger tried to explain ways to prevent the spread of a bacteria or
virus-borne disease. The people had stared at him as if he were talking
gibberish; finally he gave up trying to explain, and just laid down
rules which the people were instructed to follow. Together they had
collected standard testing specimens of body fluids and tissue from both
healthy and afflicted Bruckians, and come back to the _Lancet_ for a
breather.

Now all three doctors began work on the specimens. Cultures were
inoculated with specimens from respiratory tract, blood and tissue taken
from both sick and well. Half a dozen fatal cases were brought to the
ship under specially controlled conditions for autopsy examination, to
reveal both the normal anatomical characteristics of this strange race
of people and the damage the disease was doing. Down on the surface
Tiger had already inoculated a dozen of the healthy ones with various
radioactive isotopes to help outline the normal metabolism and
biochemistry of the people. After a short sleep period on the _Lancet_,
he went back down alone to follow up on these, leaving Dal and Jack to
carry on the survey work in the ship's lab.

It was a gargantuan task that faced them. They knew that in any race of
creatures they could not hope to recognize the abnormal unless they knew
what the normal was. That was the sole reason for the extensive
biomedical surveys that were done on new contract planets. Under normal
conditions, a survey crew with specialists in physiology, biochemistry,
anatomy, radiology, pharmacology and pathology might spend months or
even years on a new planet gathering base-line information. But here
there was neither time nor facilities for such a study. Even in the
twenty-four hours since the patrol ship arrived, the number of dead had
increased alarmingly.

Alone on the ship, Dal and Jack found themselves working as a well
organized team. There was no time here for argument or duplicated
efforts; everything the two doctors did was closely co-ordinated. Jack
seemed to have forgotten his previous antagonism completely. There was a
crisis here, and more work than three men could possibly do in the time
available. "You handle anatomy and pathology," Jack told Dal at the
beginning. "You can get the picture five times as fast as I can, and
your pathology slides are better than most commercial ones. I can do the
best job on the cultures, once I get the growth media all set up."

Bit by bit they divided the labor, checking in with Tiger by radio on
the results of the isotopes studies he was running on the planet's
surface. Bit by bit the data was collected, and Earthman and Garvian
worked more closely than ever before as the task that faced them
appeared more and more formidable.

But the results of their tests made no sense whatever. Tiger returned to
the ship after forty-eight hours with circles under his eyes, looking as
though he had been trampled in a crowd. "No sleep, that's all," he said
breathlessly as he crawled out of his decontaminated pressure suit. "No
time for it. I swear I ran those tests a dozen times and I still didn't
get any answers that made sense."

"The results you were sending up sounded plenty strange," Jack said.
"What was the trouble?"

"I don't know," Tiger said, "but if we're looking for a biological
pattern here, we haven't found it yet as far as I can see."

"No, we certainly haven't," Dal exploded. "I thought I was doing
something wrong somehow, because these blood chemistries I've been doing
have been ridiculous. I can't even find a normal level for blood sugar,
and as for the enzyme systems...." He tossed a sheaf of notes down on
the counter in disgust. "I don't see how these people could even be
alive, with a botched-up metabolism like this! I've never heard of
anything like it."

"What kind of pathology did you find?" Tiger wanted to know.

"Nothing," Dal said. "Nothing at all. I did autopsies on the six that
you brought up here and made slides of every different kind of tissue I
could find. The anatomy is perfectly clear cut, no objections there.
These people are very similar to Earth-type monkeys in structure, with
heart and lungs and vocal cords and all. But I can't find any reason why
they should be dying. Any luck with the cultures?"

Jack shook his head glumly. "No growth on any of the plates. At first I
thought I had something going, but if I did, it died, and I can't find
any sign of it in the filtrates."

"But we've got to have _something_ to work on," Tiger said desperately.
"Look, there are some things that always measure out the same in _any_
intelligent creature no matter where he comes from. That's the whole
basis of galactic medicine. Creatures may develop and adapt in different
ways, but the basic biochemical reactions are the same."

"Not here, they aren't," Dal said. "Take a look at these tests!"

They carried the heap of notes they had collected out into the control
room and began sifting and organizing the data, just as a survey team
would do, trying to match it with the pattern of a thousand other
living creatures that had previously been studied. Hours passed, and
they were farther from an answer than when they began.

Because this data did not fit a pattern. It was _different_. No two
individuals showed the same reactions. In every test the results were
either flatly impossible or completely the opposite of what was
expected.

Carefully they retraced their steps, trying to pinpoint what could be
going wrong.

"There's _got_ to be a laboratory error," Dal said wearily. "We must
have slipped up somewhere."

"But I don't see where," Jack said. "Let's see those culture tubes
again. And put on a pot of coffee. I can't even think straight any
more."

Of the three of them, Jack was beginning to show the strain the most.
This was his special field, the place where he was supposed to excel,
and nothing was happening. Reports coming up from the planet were
discouraging; the isolation techniques they had tried to institute did
not seem to be working, and the spread of the plague was accelerating.
The communiqués from the Bruckians were taking on a note of desperation.

Jack watched each report with growing apprehension. He moved restlessly
from lab to control room, checking and rechecking things, trying to find
some sign of order in the chaos.

"Try to get some sleep," Dal urged him. "A couple of hours will freshen
you up a hundred per cent."

"I can't, I've already tried it," Jack said.

"Go ahead. Tiger and I can keep working on these things for a while."

"No, no, it's not that," Jack said. "Without a diagnosis, we can't do a
thing. Until we have that, our hands are tied, and we aren't even
getting close to it. We don't even know whether this is a bacteria, or a
virus, or what. Maybe the Bruckians are right. Maybe it's a curse."

"I don't think the Black Service of Pathology would buy that for a
diagnosis," Tiger said sourly.

"The Black Service would choke on it--but what other answer do we have?
You two have been doing all you can, but diagnosis is _my_ job. I'm
supposed to be good at it, but the more we dig into this, the farther
away we seem to get."

"Do you want to call for help?" Tiger said.

Jack shook his head helplessly. "I'm beginning to think we should have
called for help a long time ago," he said. "We're into this over our
heads now and we're still going down. At the rate those people are dying
down there, we don't have time to call for help now." He stared at the
piles of notes on the desk and his face was very white. "I don't know, I
just don't know," he said. "The diagnosis on this thing should have been
duck soup. I thought it was going to be a real feather in my cap, just
walking in and nailing it down in a few hours. Well, I'm whipped. I
don't know what to do. If either of you can think of an answer, it's all
yours, and I'll admit it to Black Doctor Tanner himself."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was bitter medicine for Blue Doctor Jack Alvarez to swallow, but that
fact gave no pleasure to Dal or Tiger now. They were as baffled as Jack
was, and would have welcomed help from anyone who could offer it.

And, ironically, the first glimpse of the truth came from the direction
they least expected.

From the very beginning Fuzzy had been watching the proceedings from his
perch on the swinging platform in the control room. If he sensed that
Dal Timgar was ignoring him and leaving him to his own devices much of
the time, he showed no sign of resentment. The tiny creature seemed to
realize that something important was consuming his master's energy and
attention, and contented himself with an affectionate pat now and then
as Dal went through the control room. Everyone assumed without much
thought that Fuzzy was merely being tolerant of the situation. It was
not until they had finally given up in desperation and Tiger was trying
to contact a Hospital Ship for help, that Dal stared up at his little
pink friend with a puzzled frown.

Tiger put the transmitter down for a moment. "What's wrong?" he said to
Dal. "You look as though you just bit into a rotten apple."

"I just remembered that I haven't fed him for twenty-four hours," Dal
said.

"Who? Fuzzy?" Tiger shrugged. "He could see you were busy."

Dal shook his head. "That wouldn't make any difference to Fuzzy. When he
gets hungry, he gets hungry, and he's pretty self-centered. It wouldn't
matter what I was doing, he should have been screaming for food hours
ago."

Dal walked over to the platform and peered down at his pink friend in
alarm. He took him up and rested him on his shoulder, a move that
invariably sent Fuzzy into raptures of delight. Now the little creature
just sat there, trembling and rubbing half-heartedly against Dal's neck.

Dal held him out at arm's length. "Fuzzy, _what's the matter with you?_"

"Do you think something's wrong with him?" Jack said, looking up
suddenly. "Looks like he's having trouble keeping his eyes open."

"His color isn't right, either," Tiger said. "He looks kind of blue."

Quite suddenly the little black eyes closed and Fuzzy began to tremble
violently. He drew himself up into a tight pink globule as the fuzz-like
hair disappeared from view.

Something was unmistakably wrong. As he held the shivering creature, Dal
was suddenly aware that something had been nibbling at the back of his
mind for hours. Not a clear-cut thought, merely an impression of pain
and anguish and sickness, and now as he looked at Fuzzy the impression
grew so strong it almost made him cry out.

Abruptly, Dal knew what he had to do. Where the thought came from he
didn't know, but it was crystal clear in his mind. "Jack, where is our
biggest virus filter?" he asked quietly.

Jack stared at him. "Virus filter? I just took it out of the autoclave
an hour ago."

"Get it," Dal said, "and the suction machine too. _Quickly!_"

Jack went down the corridor like a shot, and reappeared a moment later
with the big porcelain virus filter and the suction tubing attached to
it. Swiftly Dal dumped the limp little creature in his hand into the top
of the filter jar, poured in some sterile saline, and started the
suction.

Tiger and Jack watched him in amazement. "What are you doing?" Tiger
said.

"Filtering him," Dal said. "He's infected. He must have been exposed to
the plague somehow, maybe when our little Bruckian visitor came on board
the other day. And if it's a virus that's causing this plague, the virus
filter ought to hold it back and still let Fuzzy's molecular structure
through."

They watched and sure enough a bluish-pink fluid began moving down
through the porcelain filter, and dripping through the funnel into the
beaker below. Each drop coalesced in the beaker as it fell until Fuzzy's
whole body had been sucked through the filter and into the jar below. He
was still not quite his normal pink color, but as the filter went dry,
a pair of frightened shoe-button eyes appeared and he poked up a pair of
ears. Presently the fuzz began appearing on his body again.

And on the top of the filter lay a faint gray film. "Don't touch it!"
Dal said. "That's real poison." He slipped on a mask and gloves, and
scraped a bit of the film from the filter with a spatula. "I think we
have it," he said. "The virus that's causing the plague on this
planet."



CHAPTER 10

THE BOOMERANG CLUE


It was a virus, beyond doubt. The electron microscope told them that,
now that they had the substance isolated and could examine it. In the
culture tubes in the _Lancet_'s incubators, it would begin to grow
nicely, and then falter and die, but when guinea pigs were inoculated in
the ship's laboratory, the substance proved its virulence. The animals
injected with tiny bits of the substance grew sick within hours and very
quickly died.

The call to the Hospital Ship was canceled as the three doctors worked
in feverish excitement. Here at last was something they could grapple
with, something so common among the races of the galaxy that the doctors
felt certain that they could cope with it. Very few, if any, higher life
forms existed that did not have some sort of submicroscopic parasite
afflicting them. Bacterial infection was a threat on every inhabited
world, and the viruses--the tiniest of all submicroscopic
organisms--were the most difficult and dangerous of them all.

And yet virus plagues had been stopped before, and they could be stopped
again.

Jack radioed down to the planet's surface that the diagnosis had been
made; as soon as the proper medications could be prepared, the doctors
would land to begin treatment. There was a new flicker of hopefulness in
the Bruckian's response, and an appeal to hurry. With renewed energy the
doctors went back to the lab to start working on the new data.

But trouble continued to dog them. This was no ordinary virus. It proved
resistant to every one of the antibiotics and antiviral agents in the
_Lancet_'s stockroom. No drug seemed to affect it, and its molecular
structure was different from any virus that had ever been recorded
before.

"If one of the drugs would only just slow it up a little, we'd be
ahead," Tiger said in perplexity. "We don't have anything that even
touches it, not even the purified globulins."

"What about antibodies from the infected people?" Jack suggested. "In
every virus disease I've ever heard of, the victim's own body starts
making antibodies against the invading virus. If enough antibodies are
made fast enough, the virus dies and the patient is immune from then
on."

"Well, these people don't seem to be making any antibodies at all,"
Tiger said. "At least not as far as I can see. If they were, at least
some of them would be recovering from the disease. So far not a single
one has recovered once the thing started. They all just go ahead and
die."

"I wonder," Dal said, "if Fuzzy had any defense."

Jack looked up. "How do you mean?"

"Well, Fuzzy was infected, we know that. He might have died too, if we
hadn't caught it in time--but as it worked out, he didn't. In fact, he
looks pretty healthy right now."

"That's fine for Fuzzy," Jack said impatiently, "but I don't see how we
can push the whole population of 31 Brucker VII through a virus filter.
They're flesh-and-blood creatures."

"That's not what I mean," Dal said. "Maybe Fuzzy's body developed
antibodies against the virus while he was infected. Remember, he doesn't
have a rigid body structure like we do. He's mostly just basic protein,
and he can synthesize pretty much anything he wants to or needs to."

Jack blinked. "It's an idea, at least. Is there any way we can get some
of his body fluid away from him? Without getting bit, I mean?"

"No problem there," Dal said. "He can regenerate pretty fast if he has
enough of the right kind of food. He won't miss an ounce or two of
excess tissue."

He took a beaker over to Fuzzy's platform and began squeezing off a
little blob of pink material. Fuzzy seemed to sense what Dal wanted;
obligingly he thrust out a little pseudopod which Dal pinched off into
the beaker. With the addition of a small amount of saline solution, the
tissue dissolved into thin, pink suspension.

In the laboratory they found two or three of the guinea pigs in the last
stages of the infection, and injected them with a tiny bit of the pink
solution. The effect was almost unbelievable. Within twenty minutes all
of the injected animals began to perk up, their eyes brighter, nibbling
at the food in their cages, while the ones that had not been injected
got sicker and sicker.

"Well, there's our answer," Jack said eagerly. "If we can get some of
this stuff injected into our friends down below, we may be able to
protect the healthy ones from getting the plague, and cure the sick ones
as well. If we still have enough time, that is."

They had landing permission from the Bruckian spokesman within minutes,
and an hour later the _Lancet_ made an orderly landing on a
newly-repaved landing field near one of the central cities on the
seventh planet of 31 Brucker.

Tiger and Jack had obviously not exaggerated the strange appearance of
the towns and cities on this plague-ridden planet, and Dal was appalled
at the ravages of the disease that they had come to fight. Only one out
of ten of the Bruckians was still uninfected, and another three out of
the ten were clearly in the late stages of the disease, walking about
blankly and blindly, stumbling into things in their paths, falling to
the ground and lying mute and helpless until death came to release them.
Under the glaring red sun, weary parties of stretcher bearers went about
the silent streets, moving their grim cargo out to the mass graves at
the edge of the city.

The original spokesman who had come up to the _Lancet_ was dead, but
another had taken his place as negotiator with the doctors--an older,
thinner Bruckian who looked as if he carried the total burden of his
people on his shoulders. He greeted them eagerly at the landing field.
"You have found a solution!" he cried. "You have found a way to turn the
tide--but hurry! Every moment now is precious."

During the landing procedures, Dal had worked to prepare enough of the
precious antibody suspension, with Fuzzy's co-operation, to handle a
large number of inoculations. By the time the ship touched down he had a
dozen flasks and several hundred syringes ready. Hundreds of the
unafflicted people were crowding around the ship, staring in open wonder
as Dal, Jack and Tiger came down the ladder and went into close
conference with the spokesman.

It took some time to explain to the spokesman why they could not begin
then and there with the mass inoculations against the plague. First,
they needed test cases, in order to make certain that what they thought
would work in theory actually produced the desired results. Controls
were needed, to be certain that the antibody suspension alone was
bringing about the changes seen and not something else. At last, orders
went out from the spokesman. Two hundred uninfected Bruckians were
admitted to a large roped-off area near the ship, and another two
hundred in late stages of the disease were led stumbling into another
closed area. Preliminary skin-tests of the antibody suspension showed no
sign of untoward reaction. Dal began filling syringes while Tiger and
Jack started inoculating the two groups.

"If it works with these cases, it will be simple to immunize the whole
population," Tiger said. "From the amounts we used on the guinea pigs,
it looks as if only tiny amounts are needed. We may even be able to
train the Bruckians to give the injections themselves."

"And if it works we ought to have a brand new medical service contract
ready for signature with Hospital Earth," Jack added eagerly. "It won't
be long before we have those Stars, you wait and see! If we can only get
this done fast enough."

They worked feverishly, particularly with the group of terminal cases.
Many were dying even as the shots were being given, while the first
symptoms of the disease were appearing in some of the unafflicted ones.
Swiftly Tiger and Jack went from patient to patient while Dal kept check
of the names, numbers and locations of those that were inoculated.

And even before they were finished with the inoculations, it was
apparent that they were taking effect. Not one of the infected patients
died after inoculation was completed. The series took three hours, and
by the time the four hundred doses were administered, one thing seemed
certain: that the antibody was checking the deadly march of the disease
in some way.

The Bruckian spokesman was so excited he could hardly contain himself;
he wanted to start bringing in the rest of the population at once.
"We've almost exhausted this first batch of the material," Dal told him.
"We will have to prepare more--but we will waste time trying to move a
whole planet's population here. Get a dozen aircraft ready, and a dozen
healthy, intelligent workers to help us. We can show them how to use the
material, and let them go out to the other population centers all at
once."

Back aboard the ship they started preparing a larger quantity of the
antibody suspension. Fuzzy had regenerated back to normal weight again,
and much to Dal's delight had been splitting off small segments of pink
protoplasm in a circle all around him, as though anticipating further
demands on his resources. A quick test-run showed that the antibody was
also being regenerated. Fuzzy was voraciously hungry, but the material
in the second batch was still as powerful as in the first.

The doctors were almost ready to go back down, loaded with enough
inoculum and syringes to equip themselves and a dozen field workers when
Jack suddenly stopped what he was doing and cocked an ear toward the
entrance lock.

"What's wrong?" Dal said.

"Listen a minute."

They stopped to listen. "I don't hear anything," Tiger said.

Jack nodded. "I know. That's what I mean. They were hollering their
heads off when we came back aboard. Why so quiet now?"

He crossed over to the viewscreen scanning the field below, and flipped
on the switch. For a moment he just stared. Then he said: "Come here a
minute. I don't like the looks of this at all."

Dal and Tiger crowded up to the screen. "What's the matter?" Tiger said.
"I don't see ... _wait a minute!_"

"Yes, you'd better look again," Jack said. "What do you think, Dal?"

"We'd better get down there fast," Dal said, "and see what's going on.
It looks to me like we've got a tiger by the tail...."

       *       *       *       *       *

They climbed down the ladder once again, with the antibody flasks and
sterile syringes strapped to their backs. But this time the greeting was
different from before.

The Bruckian spokesman and the others who had not yet been inoculated
drew back from them in terror as they stepped to the ground. Before, the
people on the field had crowded in eagerly around the ship; now they
were standing in silent groups staring at the doctors fearfully and
muttering among themselves.

But the doctors could see only the inoculated people in the two
roped-off areas. Off to the right among the infected Bruckians who had
received the antibody there were no new dead--but there was no change
for the better, either. The sick creatures drifted about aimlessly,
milling like animals in a cage, their faces blank, their jaws slack,
hands wandering foolishly. Not one of them had begun reacting normally,
not one showed any sign of recognition or recovery.

But the real horror was on the other side of the field. Here were the
healthy ones, the uninfected ones who had received preventative
inoculations. A few hours before they had been left standing in quiet,
happy groups, talking among themselves, laughing and joking....

But now they weren't talking any more. They stared across at the doctors
with slack faces and dazed eyes, their feet shuffling aimlessly in the
dust. All were alive, but only half-alive. The intelligence and
alertness were gone from their faces; they were like the empty shells of
the creatures they had been a few hours before, indistinguishable from
the infected creatures in the other compound.

Jack turned to the Bruckian spokesman in alarm. "What's happened here?"
he asked. "What's become of the ones we inoculated? Where have you taken
them?"

The spokesman shrank back as though afraid Jack might reach out to touch
him. "Taken them!" he cried. "We have moved none of them! Those are the
ones you poisoned with your needles. What have you done to make them
like this?"

"It--it must be some sort of temporary reaction to the injection," Jack
faltered. "There was nothing that we used that could possibly have given
them the disease, we only used a substance to help them fight it off."

The Bruckian was shaking his fist angrily. "It's no reaction, it is the
plague itself! What kind of evil are you doing? You came here to help
us, and instead you bring us more misery. Do we not have enough of that
to please you?"

Swiftly the doctors began examining the patients in both enclosures, and
on each side they found the same picture. One by one they checked the
ones that had previously been untouched by the plague, and found only
the sagging jaws and idiot stares.

"There's no sense examining every one," Tiger said finally. "They're all
the same, every one."

"But this is impossible," Jack said, glancing apprehensively at the
growing mob of angry Bruckians outside the stockades. "What could have
happened? What have we done?"

"I don't know," Tiger said. "But whatever we've done has turned into a
boomerang. We knew that the antibody might not work, and the disease
might just go right ahead, but we didn't anticipate anything like this."

"Maybe some foreign protein got into the batch," Dal said.

Tiger shook his head. "It wouldn't behave like _this_. And we were
careful getting it ready. All we've done was inject an antibody against
a specific virus. All it could have done was to kill the virus, but
these people act as though they're infected now."

"But they're not dying," Dal said. "And the sick ones we injected
stopped dying, too."

"So what do we do now?" Jack said.

"Get one of these that changed like this aboard ship and go over him
with a fine-toothed comb. We've got to find out what's happened."

He led one of the stricken Bruckians by the hand like a mindless dummy
across the field toward the little group where the spokesman and his
party stood. The crowd on the field were moving in closer; an angry cry
went up when Dal touched the sick creature.

"You'll have to keep this crowd under control," Dal said to the
spokesman. "We're going to take this one aboard the ship and examine him
to see what this reaction could be, but this mob is beginning to sound
dangerous."

"They're afraid," the spokesman said. "They want to know what you've
done to them, what this new curse is that you bring in your syringes."

"It's not a curse, but something has gone wrong. We need to learn what,
in order to deal with it."

"The people are afraid and angry," the spokesman said. "I don't know how
long I can control them."

And indeed, the attitude of the crowd around the ship was very strange.
They were not just fearful; they were terrified. As the doctors walked
back to the ship leading the stricken Bruckian behind them, the people
shrank back with dreadful cries, holding up their hands as if to ward
off some monstrous evil. Before, in the worst throes of the plague,
there had been no sign of this kind of reaction. The people had seemed
apathetic and miserable, resigned hopelessly to their fate, but now they
were reacting in abject terror. It almost seemed that they were more
afraid of these walking shells of their former selves than they were of
the disease itself.

But as the doctors started up the ladder toward the entrance lock the
crowd surged in toward them with fists raised in anger. "We'd better get
help, and fast," Jack said as he slammed the entrance lock closed behind
them. "I don't like the looks of this a bit. Dal, we'd better see what
we can learn from this poor creature here."

As Tiger headed for the earphones, Dal and Jack went to work once again,
checking the blood and other body fluids from the stricken Bruckian. But
now, incredibly, the results of their tests were quite different from
those they had obtained before. The blood sugar and protein
determinations fell into the pattern they had originally expected for a
creature of this type. Even more surprising, the level of the antibody
against the plague virus was high--far higher than it could have been
from the tiny amount that was injected into the creature.

"They must have been making it themselves," Dal said, "and our
inoculation was just the straw that broke the camel's back. All of those
people must have been on the brink of symptoms of the infection, and
all we did was add to the natural defenses they were already making."

"Then why did the symptoms appear?" Jack said. "If that's true, we
should have been _helping_ them, and look at them now!"

Tiger appeared at the door, scowling. "We've got real trouble, now," he
said. "I can't get through to a hospital ship. In fact, I can't get a
message out at all. These people are jamming our radios."

"But why?" Dal said.

"I don't know, but take a look outside there."

Through the viewscreen it seemed as though the whole field around the
ship had filled up with the crowd. The first reaction of terror now
seemed to have given way to blind fury; the people were shouting
angrily, waving their clenched fists at the ship as the spokesman tried
to hold them back.

Then there was a resounding crash from somewhere below, and the ship
lurched, throwing the doctors to the floor. They staggered to their feet
as another blow jolted the ship, and another.

"Let's get a screen up," Tiger shouted. "Jack, get the engines going.
They're trying to board us, and I don't think it'll be much fun if they
ever break in."

In the control room they threw the switches that activated a powerful
protective energy screen around the ship. It was a device that was
carried by all GPP Ships as a means of protection against physical
attack. When activated, an energy screen was virtually impregnable, but
it could only be used briefly; the power it required placed an enormous
drain on a ship's energy resources, and a year's nuclear fuel could be
consumed in a few hours.

Now the screen served its purpose. The ship steadied, still vibrating
from the last assault, and the noise from below ceased abruptly. But
when Jack threw the switches to start the engines, nothing happened at
all.

"Look at that!" he cried, staring at the motionless dials. "They're
jamming our electrical system somehow. I can't get any turn-over."

"Try it again," Tiger said. "We've got to get out of here. If they break
in, we're done for."

"They can't break through the screen," Dal said.

"Not as long as it lasts. But we can't keep it up indefinitely."

Once again they tried the radio equipment. There was no response but the
harsh static of the jamming signal from the ground below. "It's no
good," Tiger said finally. "We're stuck here, and we can't even call for
help. You'd think if they were so scared of us they'd be glad to see us
go."

"I think there's more to it than that," Dal said thoughtfully. "This
whole business has been crazy from the start. This just fits in with all
the rest." He picked Fuzzy off his perch and set him on his shoulder as
if to protect him from some unsuspected threat. "Maybe they're afraid of
us, I don't know. But I think they're afraid of something else a whole
lot worse."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was nothing to be done but wait and stare hopelessly at the mass
of notes and records that they had collected on the people of 31 Brucker
VII and the plague that afflicted them.

Until now, the _Lancet_'s crew had been too busy to stop and piece the
data together, to try to see the picture as a whole. But now there was
ample time, and the realization of what had been happening here began to
dawn on them.

They had followed the well-established principles step by step in
studying these incredible people, and nothing had come out as it should.
In theory, the steps they had taken should have yielded the answer. They
had come to a planet where an entire population was threatened with a
dreadful disease. They had identified the disease, found and isolated
the virus that caused it, and then developed an antibody that
effectively destroyed the virus--in the laboratory. But when they had
tried to apply the antibody in the afflicted patients, the response had
been totally unexpected. They had stopped the march of death among those
they had inoculated, and had produced instead a condition that the
people seemed to dread far more than death.

"Let's face it," Dal said, "we bungled it somehow. We should have had
help here right from the start. I don't know where we went wrong, but
we've done something."

"Well, it wasn't your fault," Jack said gloomily. "If we had the right
diagnosis, this wouldn't have happened. And I _still_ can't see the
diagnosis. All I've been able to come up with is a nice mess."

"We're missing something, that's all," Dal said. "The information is all
here. We just aren't reading it right, somehow. Somewhere in here is a
key to the whole thing, and we just can't see it."

They went back to the data again, going through it step by step. This
was Jack Alvarez's specialty--the technique of diagnosis, the ability to
take all the available information about a race and about its illness
and piece it together into a pattern that made sense. Dal could see that
Jack was now bitterly angry with himself, yet at every turn he seemed to
strike another obstacle--some fact that didn't jibe, a missing fragment
here, a wrong answer there. With Dal and Tiger helping he started back
over the sequence of events, trying to make sense out of them, and came
up squarely against a blank wall.

The things they had done should have worked; instead, they had failed. A
specific antibody used against a specific virus should have destroyed
the virus or slowed its progress, and there seemed to be no rational
explanation for the dreadful response of the uninfected ones who had
been inoculated for protection.

And as the doctors sifted through the data, the Bruckian they had
brought up from the enclosure sat staring off into space, making small
noises with his mouth and moving his arms aimlessly. After a while they
led him back to a bunk, gave him a medicine for sleep and left him
snoring gently. Another hour passed as they pored over their notes, with
Tiger stopping from time to time to mop perspiration from his forehead.
All three were aware of the moving clock hands, marking off the minutes
that the force screen could hold out.

And then Dal Timgar was digging into the pile of papers, searching
frantically for something he could not find. "That first report we got,"
he said hoarsely. "There was something in the very first information we
ever saw on this planet...."

"You mean the Confederation's data? It's in the radio log." Tiger pulled
open the thick log book. "But what...."

"It's there, plain as day, I'm sure of it," Dal said. He read through
the report swiftly, until he came to the last paragraph--a two-line
description of the largest creatures the original Exploration Ship had
found on the planet, described by them as totally unintelligent and only
observed on a few occasions in the course of the exploration. Dal read
it, and his hands were trembling as he handed the report to Jack. "I
knew the answer was there!" he said. "Take a look at that again and
think about it for a minute."

Jack read it through. "I don't see what you mean," he said.

"I mean that I think we've made a horrible mistake," Dal said, "and I
think I see now what it was. We've had this whole thing exactly 100 per
cent backward from the start, and that explains everything that's
happened here!"

Tiger peered over Jack's shoulder at the report. "Backward?"

"As backward as we could get it," Dal said. "We've assumed all along
that these flesh-and-blood creatures down there were the ones that were
calling us for help because of a virus plague that was attacking and
killing them. All right, look at it the other way. Just suppose that the
intelligent creature that called us for help was the _virus_, and that
those flesh-and-blood creatures down there with the blank, stupid faces
are the _real_ plague we ought to have been fighting all along!"



CHAPTER 11

DAL BREAKS A PROMISE


For a moment the others just stared at their Garvian crewmate. Then Jack
Alvarez snorted. "You'd better go back and get some rest," he said.
"This has been a tougher grind than I thought. You're beginning to show
the strain."

"No, I mean it," Dal said earnestly. "I think that is exactly what's
been happening."

Tiger looked at him with concern. "Dal, this is no time for double talk
and nonsense."

"It's not nonsense," Dal said. "It's the answer, if you'll only stop and
think."

"An intelligent _virus_?" Jack said. "Who ever heard of such a thing?
There's never been a life-form like that reported since the beginning of
the galactic exploration."

"But that doesn't mean there couldn't be one," Dal said. "And how would
an exploratory crew ever identify it, if it existed? How would they ever
even suspect it? They'd miss it completely--unless it happened to get
into trouble itself and try to call for help!" Dal jumped up in
excitement.

"Look, I've seen a dozen articles showing how such a thing was
theoretically possible ... a virus life-form with billions of
submicroscopic parts acting together to form an intelligent colony. The
only thing a virus-creature would need that other intelligent creatures
don't need would be some kind of a host, some sort of animal body to
live in so that it could use its intelligence."

"It's impossible," Jack said scornfully. "Why don't you give it up and
get some rest? Here we sit with our feet in the fire, and all you can do
is dream up foolishness like this."

"I'm not so sure it's foolishness," Tiger Martin said slowly. "Jack,
maybe he's got something. A couple of things would fit that don't make
sense at all."

"All sorts of things would fit," Dal said. "The viruses we know have to
have a host--some other life-form to live in. Usually they are
parasites, damaging or destroying their hosts and giving nothing in
return, but some set up real partnership housekeeping with their hosts
so that both are better off."

"You mean a symbiotic relationship," Jack said.

"Of course," Dal said. "Now suppose these virus-creatures were
intelligent, and came from some other place looking for a new host they
could live with. They wouldn't look for an intelligent creature, they
would look for some _unintelligent_ creature with a good strong body
that would be capable of doing all sorts of things if it only had an
intelligence to guide it. Suppose these virus-creatures found a
simple-minded, unintelligent race on this planet and tried to set up a
symbiotic relationship with it. The virus-creatures would need a host to
provide a home and a food supply. Maybe they in turn could supply the
intelligence to raise the host to a civilized level of life and
performance. Wouldn't that be a fair basis for a sound partnership?"

Jack scratched his head doubtfully. "And you're saying that these
virus-creatures came here after the exploratory ship had come and gone?"

"They must have! Maybe they only came a few years ago, maybe only months
ago. But when they tried to invade the unintelligent creatures the
exploratory ship found here, they discovered that the new host's body
couldn't tolerate them. His body reacted as if they were parasitic
invaders, and built up antibodies against them. And those body defenses
were more than the virus could cope with."

Dal pointed to the piles of notes on the desk. "Don't you see how it
adds up? Right from the beginning we've been assuming that these
monkey-like creatures here on this planet were the dominant, intelligent
life-forms. Anatomically they were ordinary cellular creatures like you
and me, and when we examined them we expected to find the same sort of
biochemical reactions we'd find with any such creatures. And all our
results came out wrong, because we were dealing with a combination of
two creatures--the host and a virus. Maybe the creatures on 31 Brucker
VII were naturally blank-faced idiots before the virus came, or maybe
the virus was forced to damage some vital part just in order to fight
back--but it was the _virus_ that was being killed by its own host, not
the other way around."

Jack studied the idea, no longer scornful. "So you think the
virus-creatures called for help, hoping we could find some way to free
them from the hosts that were killing them. And when Fuzzy developed a
powerful antibody against them, and we started using the stuff--" Jack
broke off, shaking his head in horror. "Dal, if you're right, we were
literally _slaughtering our own patients_ when we gave those injections
down there!"

"Exactly," Dal said. "Is it any wonder they're so scared of us now? It
must have looked like a deliberate attempt to wipe them out, and now
they're afraid that we'll go get help and _really_ move in against
them."

Tiger nodded. "Which was precisely what we were planning, if you stop to
think about it. Maybe that was why they were so reluctant to tell us
anything about themselves. Maybe they've already been mistaken for
parasitic invaders before, wherever in the universe they came from."

"But if this is true, then we're really in a jam," Jack said. "What can
we possibly do for them? We can't even repair the damage that we've
already done. What sort of treatment can we use?"

Dal shook his head. "I don't know the answer to that one, but I do know
we've got to find out if we're right. An intelligent virus-creature has
as much right to life as any other intelligent life-form. If we've
guessed right, then there's a lot that our intelligent friends down
there haven't told us. Maybe there'll be some clue there. We've just got
to face them with it, and see what they say."

Jack looked at the viewscreen, at the angry mob milling around on the
ground, held back from the ship by the energy screen. "You mean just go
out there and say, 'Look fellows, it was all a mistake, we didn't really
mean to do it?'" He shook his head. "Maybe you want to tell them. Not
me!"

"Dal's right, though," Tiger said. "We've got to contact them somehow.
They aren't even responding to radio communication, and they've
scrambled our outside radio and fouled our drive mechanism somehow.
We've got to settle this while we still have an energy screen."

There was a long silence as the three doctors looked at each other. Then
Dal stood up and walked over to the swinging platform. He lifted Fuzzy
down onto his shoulder. "It'll be all right," he said to Jack and
Tiger. "I'll go out."

"They'll tear you to ribbons!" Tiger protested.

Dal shook his head. "I don't think so," he said quietly. "I don't think
they'll touch me. They'll greet me with open arms when I go down there,
and they'll be eager to talk to me."

"Are you crazy?" Jack cried, leaping to his feet. "We can't let you go
out there."

"Don't worry," Dal said. "I know exactly what I'm doing. I'll be able to
handle the situation, believe me."

He hesitated a moment, and gave Fuzzy a last nervous pat, settling him
more firmly on his shoulder. Then he started down the corridor for the
entrance lock.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had promised himself long before ... many years before ... that he
would never do what he planned to do now, but now he knew that there was
no alternative. The only other choice was to wait helplessly until the
power failed and the protective screen vanished and the creatures on the
ground outside tore the ship to pieces.

As he stood in the airlock waiting for the pressure to shift to outside
normal, he lifted Fuzzy down into the crook of his arm and rubbed the
little creature between the shoe-button eyes. "You've got to back me up
now," he whispered softly. "It's been a long time, I know that, but I
need help now. It's going to be up to you."

Dal knew the subtle strength of his people's peculiar talent. From the
moment he had stepped down to the ground the second time with Tiger and
Jack, even with Fuzzy waiting back on the ship, he had felt the powerful
wave of horror and fear and anger rising up from the Bruckians, and he
had glimpsed the awful idiot vacancy of the minds of the creatures in
the enclosure, in whom the intelligent virus was already dead. This had
required no effort; it just came naturally into his mind, and he had
known instantly that something terrible had gone wrong.

In the years on Hospital Earth, he had carefully forced himself never to
think in terms of his special talent. He had diligently screened off the
impressions and emotions that struck at him constantly from his
classmates and from others that he came in contact with. Above all, he
had fought down the temptation to turn his power the other way, to use
it to his own advantage.

But now, as the lock opened and he started down the ladder, he closed
his mind to everything else. Hugging Fuzzy close to his side, he turned
his mind into a single tight channel. He drove the thought out at the
Bruckians with all the power he could muster: _I come in peace. I mean
you no harm. I have good news, joyful news. You must be happy to see me,
eager to welcome me...._

He could feel the wave of anger and fear strike him like a physical blow
as soon as he appeared in the entrance lock. The cries rose up in a
wave, and the crowd surged in toward the ship. With the energy field
released, there was nothing to stop them; they were tripping over each
other to reach the bottom of the ladder first, shouting threats and
waving angry fists, reaching up to grab at Dal's ankles as he came
down....

And then as if by magic the cries died in the throats of the ones
closest to the ladder. The angry fists unclenched, and extended into
outstretched hands to help him down to the ground. As though an
ever-widening wave was spreading out around him, the aura of peace and
good will struck the people in the crowd. And as it spread, the anger
faded from the faces; the hard lines gave way to puzzled frowns, then to
smiles. Dal channeled his thoughts more rigidly, and watched the effect
spread out from him like ripples in a pond, as anger and suspicion and
fear melted away to be replaced by confidence and trust.

Dal had seen it occur a thousand times before. He could remember his
trips on Garvian trading ships with his father, when the traders with
their fuzzy pink friends on their shoulders faced cold, hostile,
suspicious buyers. It had seemed almost miraculous the way the
suspicions melted away and the hostile faces became friendly as the
buyers' minds became receptive to bargaining and trading. He had even
seen it happen on the _Teegar_ with Tiger and Jack, and it was no
coincidence that throughout the galaxy the Garvians--always accompanied
by their fuzzy friends--had assumed the position of power and wealth and
leadership that they had.

And now once again the pattern was being repeated. The Bruckians who
surrounded Dal were smiling and talking eagerly; they made no move to
touch him or harm him.

The spokesman they had talked to before was there at his elbow, and Dal
heard himself saying, "We have found the answer to your problem. We know
now the true nature of your race, and the nature of your intelligence.
You were afraid that we would find out, but your fears were groundless.
We will not turn our knowledge against you. We only want to help you."

An expression almost like despair had crossed the spokesman's face as
Dal spoke. Now he said, "It would be good--if we could believe you. But
how can we? We have been driven for so long and come so far, and now you
would seek to wipe us out as parasites and disease-carriers."

Dal saw the Bruckian creature's eyes upon him, saw the frail body
tremble and the lips move, but he knew now that the intelligence that
formed the words and the thoughts behind them, the intelligence that
made the lips speak the words, was the intelligence of a creature far
different from the one he was looking at--a creature formed of billions
of submicroscopic units, imbedded in every one of the Bruckian's body
cells, trapped there now and helpless against the antibody reaction that
sought to destroy them. This was the intelligence that had called for
help in its desperate plight, but had not quite dared to trust its
rescuers with the whole truth.

But was this strange virus-creature good or evil, hostile or friendly?
Dal's hand lay on Fuzzy's tiny body, but he felt no quiver, no vibration
of fear. He looked across the face of the crowd, trying with all his
strength to open his mind to the feelings and emotions of these people.
Often enough, with Fuzzy nearby, he had felt the harsh impact of
hostile, cruel, brutal minds, even when the owners of those minds had
tried to conceal their feelings behind smiles and pleasant words. But
here there was no sign of the sickening feeling that kind of mind
produced, no hint of hostility or evil.

He shook his head. "Why should we want to destroy you?" he said. "You
are good, and peaceful. We know that; why should we harm you? All you
want is a place to live, and a host to join with you in a mutually
valuable partnership. But you did not tell us everything you could about
yourselves, and as a result we have destroyed some of you in our clumsy
attempts to learn your true nature."

They talked then, and bit by bit the story came out. The life-form was
indeed a virus, unimaginably ancient, and intelligent throughout
millions of years of its history. Driven by over-population, a pure
culture of the virus-creatures had long ago departed from their original
native hosts, and traveled like encapsulated spores across space from a
distant galaxy. The trip had been long and exhausting; the
virus-creatures had retained only the minimum strength necessary to
establish themselves in a new host, some unintelligent creature living
on an uninhabited planet, a creature that could benefit by the great
intelligence of the virus-creatures, and provide food and shelter for
both. Finally, after thousands of years of searching, they had found
this planet with its dull-minded, fruit-gathering inhabitants. These
creatures had seemed perfect as hosts, and the virus-creatures had
thought their long search for a perfect partner was finally at an end.

It was not until they had expended the last dregs of their energy in
anchoring themselves into the cells and tissues of their new hosts that
they discovered to their horror that the host-creatures could not
tolerate them. Unlike their original hosts, the bodies of these
creatures began developing deadly antibodies that attacked the virus
invaders. In their desperate attempts to hold on and fight back, the
virus-creatures had destroyed vital centers in the new hosts, and one by
one they had begun to die. There was not enough energy left for the
virus-creatures to detach themselves and move on; without some way to
stem the onslaught of the antibodies, they were doomed to total
destruction.

"We were afraid to tell you doctors the truth," the spokesman said. "As
we wandered and searched we discovered that creatures like ourselves
were extreme rarities in the universe, that most creatures similar to us
were mindless, unintelligent parasites that struck down their hosts and
destroyed them. Wherever we went, life-forms of your kind regarded us as
disease-bearers, and their doctors taught them ways to destroy us. We
had hoped that from you we might find a way to save ourselves--then you
unleashed on us the one weapon we could not fight."

"But not maliciously," Dal said. "Only because we did not understand.
And now that we do, there may be a way to help. A difficult way, but at
least a way. The antibodies themselves can be neutralized, but it may
take our biochemists and virologists and all their equipment months or
even years to develop and synthesize the proper antidote."

The spokesman looked at Dal, and turned away with a hopeless gesture.
"Then it is too late, after all," he said. "We are dying too fast. Even
those of us who have not been affected so far are beginning to feel the
early symptoms of the antibody attack." He smiled sadly and reached out
to stroke the small pink creature on Dal's arm. "Your people too have a
partner, I see. We envy you."

Dal felt a movement on his arm and looked down at Fuzzy. He had always
taken his little friend for granted, but now he thought of the feeling
of emptiness and loss that had come across him when Fuzzy had been
almost killed. He had often wondered just what Fuzzy might be like if
his almost-fluid, infinitely adaptable physical body had only been
endowed with intelligence. He had wondered what kind of a creature Fuzzy
might be if he were able to use his remarkable structure with the
guidance of an intelligent mind behind it....

He felt another movement on his arm, and his eyes widened as he stared
down at his little friend.

A moment before, there had been a single three-inch pink creature on his
elbow. But now there were two, each just one-half the size of the
original. As Dal watched, one of the two drew away from the other,
creeping in to snuggle closer to Dal's side, and a pair of shoe-button
eyes appeared and blinked up at him trustingly. But the other creature
was moving down his arm, straining out toward the Bruckian spokesman....

Dal realized instantly what was happening. He started to draw back, but
something stopped him. Deep in his mind he could sense a gentle voice
reassuring him, saying, _It's all right, there is nothing to fear, no
harm will come to me. These creatures need help, and this is the way to
help them._

He saw the Bruckian reach out a trembling hand. The tiny pink creature
that had separated from Fuzzy seemed almost to leap across to the
outstretched hand. And then the spokesman held him close, and the new
Fuzzy shivered happily.

The virus-creatures had found a host. Here was the ideal kind of body
for their intelligence to work with and mold, a host where
antibody-formation could be perfectly controlled. Dal knew now that the
problem had almost been solved once before, when the virus-creature had
reached Fuzzy on the ship; if they had only waited a little longer they
would have seen Fuzzy recover from his illness a different creature
entirely than before.

Already the new creature was dividing again, with half going on to the
next of the Bruckians. To a submicroscopic virus, the body of the host
would not have to be large; soon there would be a sufficient number of
hosts to serve the virus-creatures' needs forever. As he started back up
the ladder to the ship, Dal knew that the problem on 31 Brucker VII had
found a happy and permanent solution.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back in the control room Dal related what had happened from beginning to
end. There was only one detail that he concealed. He could not bring
himself to tell Tiger and Jack of the true nature of his relationship
with Fuzzy, of the odd power over the emotions of others that Fuzzy's
presence gave him. He could tell by their faces that they realized that
he was leaving something out; they had watched him go down to face a
blood-thirsty mob, and had seen that mob become docile as lambs as
though by magic. Clearly they could not understand what had happened,
yet they did not ask him.

"So it was Fuzzy's idea to volunteer as a new host for the creatures,"
Jack said.

Dal nodded. "I knew that he could reproduce, of course," he said. "Every
Garvian has a Fuzzy, and whenever a new Garvian is born, the father's
Fuzzy always splits so that half can join the new-born child. It's like
the division of a cell; within hours the Fuzzy that stayed down there
will have divided to provide enough protoplasm for every one of the
surviving intelligent Bruckians."

"And your diagnosis was the right one," Jack said.

"We'll see," Dal said. "Tomorrow we'll know better."

But clearly the problem had been solved. The next day there was an
excited conference between the spokesman and the doctors on the
_Lancet_. The Bruckians had elected to maintain the same host body as
before. They had gotten used to it; with the small pink creatures
serving as a shelter to protect them against the deadly antibodies, they
could live in peace and security. But they were eager, before the
_Lancet_ disembarked, to sign a full medical service contract with the
doctors from Hospital Earth. A contract was signed, subject only to
final acceptance and ratification by the Hospital Earth officials.

Now that their radio was free again, the three doctors jubilantly
prepared a full account of the problem of 31 Brucker and its solution,
and dispatched the news of the new contract to the first relay station
on its way back to Hospital Earth. Then, weary to the point of collapse,
they retired for the first good sleep in days, eagerly awaiting an
official response from Hospital Earth on the completed case and the
contract.

"It ought to wipe out any black mark Dr. Tanner has against any of us,"
Jack said happily. "And especially in Dal's case." He grinned at the Red
Doctor. "This one has been yours, all the way. You pulled it out of the
fire after I flubbed it completely, and you're going to get the credit,
if I have anything to say about it."

"We should all get credit," Dal said. "A new contract isn't signed every
day of the year. But the way we all fumbled our way into it, Hospital
Earth shouldn't pay much attention to it anyway."

But Dal knew that he was only throwing up his habitual shield to guard
against disappointment. Traditionally, a new contract meant a Star
rating for each of the crew that brought it in. All through medical
school Dal had read the reports of other patrol ships that had secured
new contracts with uncontacted planets, and he had seen the fanfare and
honor that were heaped on the doctors from those ships. And for the
first time since he had entered medical school years before, Dal now
allowed himself to hope that his goal was in sight.

He wanted to be a Star Surgeon more than anything else. It was the one
thing that he had wanted and worked for since the cruel days when the
plague had swept his homeland, destroying his mother and leaving his
father an ailing cripple. And since his assignment aboard the _Lancet_,
one thought had filled his mind: to turn in the scarlet collar and cuff
in return for the cape and silver star of the full-fledged physician in
the Red Service of Surgery.

Always before there had been the half-conscious dread that something
would happen, that in the end, after all the work, the silver star would
still remain just out of reach, that somehow he would never quite get
it.

But now there could be no question. Even Black Doctor Tanner could not
deny a new contract. The crew of the _Lancet_ would be called back to
Hospital Earth for a full report on the newly contacted race, and their
days as probationary doctors in the General Practice patrol would be
over.

After they had slept themselves out, the doctors prepared the ship for
launching, and made their farewells to the Bruckian spokesman.

"When the contract is ratified," Jack said, "a survey ship will come
here. They will have all of the information that we have gathered, and
they will spend many months gathering more. Tell them everything they
want to know. Don't conceal anything, because once they have completed
their survey, any General Practice Patrol ship in the galaxy will be
able to answer a call for help and have the information they need to
serve you."

They delayed launching hour by hour waiting for a response from Hospital
Earth, but the radio was silent. They thought of a dozen reasons why the
message might have been delayed, but the radio silence continued.
Finally they strapped down and lifted the ship from the planet, still
waiting for a response.

When it finally came, there was no message of congratulations, nor even
any acknowledgment of the new contract. Instead, there was only a terse
message:

      PROCEED TO REFERENCE POINT 43621 SECTION XIX AND STAND BY
      FOR INSPECTION PARTY

Tiger took the message and read it in silence, then handed it to Dal.

"What do they say?" Jack said.

"Read it," Dal said. "They don't mention the contract, just an
inspection party."

"Inspection party! Is that the best they can do for us?"

"They don't sound too enthusiastic," Tiger said. "At least you'd think
they could acknowledge receipt of our report."

"It's probably just part of the routine," Dal said. "Maybe they want to
confirm our reports from our own records before they commit themselves."

But he knew that he was only whistling in the dark. The moment he saw
the terse message, he knew something had gone wrong with the contract.
There would be no notes of congratulation, no returning in triumph and
honor to Hospital Earth.

Whatever the reason for the inspection party, Dal felt certain who the
inspector was going to be.

It had been exciting to dream, but the scarlet cape and the silver star
were still a long way out of reach.



CHAPTER 12

THE SHOWDOWN


It was hours later when their ship reached the contact point
co-ordinates. There had been little talk during the transit; each of
them knew already what the other was thinking, and there wasn't much to
be said. The message had said it for them.

Dal's worst fears were realized when the inspection ship appeared,
converting from Koenig drive within a few miles of the _Lancet_. He had
seen the ship before--a sleek, handsomely outfitted patrol class ship
with the insignia of the Black Service of Pathology emblazoned on its
hull, the private ship of a Four-star Black Doctor.

But none of them anticipated the action taken by the inspection ship as
it drew within lifeboat range of the _Lancet_.

A scooter shot away from its storage rack on the black ship, and a crew
of black-garbed technicians piled into the _Lancet_'s entrance lock,
dressed in the special decontamination suits worn when a ship was
returning from a plague spot into uninfected territory.

"What is this?" Tiger demanded as the technicians started unloading
decontamination gear into the lock. "What are you doing with that
stuff?"

The squad leader looked at him sourly. "You're in quarantine, Doc," he
said. "Class I, all precautions, contact with unidentified pestilence.
If you don't like it, argue with the Black Doctor, I've just got a job
to do."

He started shouting orders to his men, and they scattered throughout the
ship, with blowers and disinfectants, driving antiseptic sprays into
every crack and cranny of the ship's interior, scouring the hull outside
in the rigid pattern prescribed for plague ships. They herded the
doctors into the decontamination lock, stripped them of their clothes,
scrubbed them down and tossed them special sterilized fatigues to wear
with masks and gloves.

"This is idiotic," Jack protested. "We aren't carrying any dangerous
organisms!"

The squad leader shrugged indifferently. "Tell it to the Black Doctor,
not me. All I know is that this ship is under quarantine until it's
officially released, and from what I hear, it's not going to be released
for quite some time."

At last the job was done, and the scooter departed back to the
inspection ship. A few moments later they saw it returning, this time
carrying just three men. In addition to the pilot and one technician,
there was a single passenger: a portly figure dressed in a black robe,
horn-rimmed glasses and cowl.

The scooter grappled the _Lancet_'s side, and Black Doctor Hugo Tanner
climbed wheezing into the entrance lock, followed by the technician. He
stopped halfway into the lock to get his breath, and paused again as the
lock swung closed behind him. Dal was shocked at the physical change in
the man in the few short weeks since he had seen him last. The Black
Doctor's face was gray; every effort of movement brought on paroxysms of
coughing. He looked sick, and he looked tired, yet his jaw was still set
in angry determination.

The doctors stood at attention as he stepped into the control room,
hardly able to conceal their surprise at seeing him. "Well?" the Black
Doctor snapped at them. "What's the trouble with you? You act like
you've seen a ghost or something."

"We--we'd heard that you were in the hospital, sir."

"Did you, now!" the Black Doctor snorted. "Hospital! Bah! I had to tell
the press something to get the hounds off me for a while. These young
puppies seem to think that a Black Doctor can just walk away from his
duties any time he chooses to undergo their fancy surgical procedures.
And you know who's been screaming the loudest to get their hands on me.
The Red Service of Surgery, that's who!"

The Black Doctor glared at Dal Timgar. "Well, I dare say the Red Doctors
will have their chance at me, all in good time. But first there are
certain things which must be taken care of." He looked up at the
attendant. "You're quite certain that the ship has been decontaminated?"

The attendant nodded. "Yes, sir."

"And the crewmen?"

"It's safe to talk to them, sir, as long as you avoid physical contact."

The Black Doctor grunted and wheezed and settled himself down in a seat.
"All right now, gentlemen," he said to the three, "let's have your story
of this affair in the Brucker system, right from the start."

"But we sent in a full report," Tiger said.

"I'm aware of that, you idiot. I have waded through your report, all
thirty-five pages of it, and I only wish you hadn't been so
long-winded. Now I want to hear what happened directly from you. Well?"

The three doctors looked at each other. Then Jack began the story,
starting with the first hesitant "greeting" that had come through to
them. He told everything that had happened without embellishments: their
first analysis of the nature of the problem, the biochemical and medical
survey that they ran on the afflicted people, his own failure to make
the diagnosis, the incident of Fuzzy's sudden affliction, and the
strange solution that had finally come from it. As he talked the Black
Doctor sat back with his eyes half closed, his face blank, listening and
nodding from time to time as the story proceeded.

And Jack was carefully honest and fair in his account. "We were all of
us lost, until Dal Timgar saw the significance of what had happened to
Fuzzy," he said. "His idea of putting the creature through the filter
gave us our first specimen of the isolated virus, and showed us how to
obtain the antibody. Then after we saw what happened with our initial
series of injections, we were really at sea, and by then we couldn't
reach a hospital ship for help of any kind." He went on to relate Dal's
idea that the virus itself might be the intelligent creature, and
recounted the things that happened after Dal went down to talk to the
spokesman again with Fuzzy on his shoulder.

Through it all the Black Doctor listened sourly, glancing occasionally
at Dal and saying nothing. "So is that all?" he said when Jack had
finished.

"Not quite," Jack said. "I want it to be on the record that it was my
failure in diagnosis that got us into trouble. I don't want any
misunderstanding about that. If I'd had the wit to think beyond the end
of my nose, there wouldn't have been any problem."

"I see," the Black Doctor said. He pointed to Dal. "So it was this one
who really came up with the answers and directed the whole program on
this problem, is that right?"

"That's right," Jack said firmly. "He should get all the credit."

Something stirred in Dal's mind and he felt Fuzzy snuggling in tightly
to his side. He could feel the cold hostility in the Black Doctor's
mind, and he started to say something, but the Black Doctor cut him off.
"Do you agree to that also, Dr. Martin?" he asked Tiger.

"I certainly do," Tiger said. "I'll back up the Blue Doctor right down
the line."

The Black Doctor smiled unpleasantly and nodded. "Well, I'm certainly
happy to hear you say that, gentlemen. I might say that it is a very
great relief to me to hear it from your own testimony. Because this time
there shouldn't be any argument from either of you as to just where the
responsibility lies, and I'm relieved to know that I can completely
exonerate you two, at any rate."

Jack Alvarez's jaw went slack and he stared at the Black Doctor as
though he hadn't heard him properly. "Exonerate us?" he said. "Exonerate
us from what?"

"From the charges of incompetence, malpractice and conduct unbecoming to
a physician which I am lodging against your colleague in the Red Service
here," the Black Doctor said angrily. "Of course, I was confident that
neither of you two could have contributed very much to this bungling
mess, but it is reassuring to have your own statements of that fact on
the record. They should carry more weight in a Council hearing than any
plea I might make in your behalf."

"But--but what do you mean by a Council hearing?" Tiger stammered. "I
don't understand you! This--this problem is _solved_. We solved it as a
patrol team, all of us. We sent in a brand new medical service contract
from those people...."

"Oh, yes. _That!_" The Black Doctor drew a long pink dispatch sheet from
an inner pocket and opened it out. The doctors could see the photo
reproductions of their signatures at the bottom. "Fortunately--for you
two--this bit of nonsense was brought to my attention at the first relay
station that received it. I personally accepted it and withdrew it from
the circuit before it could reach Hospital Earth for filing."

Slowly, as they watched him, he ripped the pink dispatch sheet into a
dozen pieces and tossed it into the disposal vent. "So much for that,"
he said slowly. "I can choose to overlook your foolishness in trying to
cloud the important issues with a so-called 'contract' to divert
attention, but I'm afraid I can't pay much attention to it, nor allow it
to appear in the general report. And of course I am forced to classify
the _Lancet_ as a plague ship until a bacteriological and virological
examination has been completed on both ship and crew. The planet itself
will be considered a galactic plague spot until proper measures have
been taken to insure its decontamination."

The Black Doctor drew some papers from another pocket and turned to Dal
Timgar. "As for you, the charges are clear enough. You have broken the
most fundamental rules of good judgment and good medicine in handling
the 31 Brucker affair. You have permitted a General Practice Patrol ship
to approach a potentially dangerous plague spot without any notification
of higher authorities. You have undertaken a biochemical and medical
survey for which you had neither the proper equipment nor the training
qualifications, and you exposed your ship and your crewmates to an
incredible risk in landing on such a planet. You are responsible for
untold--possibly fatal--damage to over two hundred individuals of the
race that called on you for help. You have even subjected the creature
that depends upon your own race for its life and support to virtual
slavery and possible destruction; and finally, you had the audacity to
try to cover up your bungling with claims of arranging a medical service
contract with an uninvestigated race."

The Black Doctor broke off as an attendant came in the door and
whispered something in his ear. Doctor Tanner shook his head angrily, "I
can't be bothered now!"

"They say it's urgent, sir."

"Yes, it's always urgent." The Black Doctor heaved to his feet. "If it
weren't for this miserable incompetent here, I wouldn't have to be
taking precious time away from my more important duties." He scowled at
the _Lancet_ crewmen. "You will excuse me for a moment," he said, and
disappeared into the communications room.

The moment he was gone from the room, Jack and Tiger were talking at
once. "He couldn't really be serious," Tiger said. "It's impossible! Not
one of those charges would hold up under investigation."

"Well, I think it's a frame-up," Jack said, his voice tight with anger.
"I knew that some people on Hospital Earth were out to get you, but I
don't see how a Four-star Black Doctor could be a party to such a thing.
Either someone has been misinforming him, or he just doesn't understand
what happened."

Dal shook his head. "He understands, all right, and he's the one who's
determined to get me out of medicine. This is a flimsy excuse, but he
has to use it, because it's now or never. He knows that if we bring in a
contract with a new planet, and it's formally ratified, we'll all get
our Stars and he'd never be able to block me again. And Black Doctor
Tanner is going to be certain that I don't get that Star, or die
trying."

"But this is completely unfair," Jack protested. "He's turning our own
words against you! You can bet that he'll have a survey crew down on
that planet in no time, bringing home a contract just the same as the
one we wrote, and there won't be any questions asked about it."

"Except that I'll be out of the service," Dal said. "Don't worry. You'll
get the credit in the long run. When all the dust settles, he'll be sure
that you two are named as agents for the contract. He doesn't want to
hurt you, it's me that he's out to get."

"Well, he won't get away with it," Tiger said. "We can see to that. It's
not too late to retract our stories. If he thinks he can get rid of you
with something that wasn't your fault, he's going to find out that he
has to get rid of a lot more than just you."

But Dal was shaking his head. "Not this time, Tiger. This time you keep
out of it."

"What do you mean, keep out of it?" Tiger cried. "Do you think I'm going
to stand by quietly and watch him cut you down?"

"That's exactly what you're going to do," Dal said sharply. "I meant
what I said. I want you to keep your mouth shut. Don't say anything more
at all, just let it be."

"But I can't stand by and do nothing! When a friend of mine needs
help--"

"Can't you get it through your thick skull that this time I don't want
your help?" Dal said. "Do me a favor this time. _Leave me alone._ Don't
stick your thumb in the pie."

Tiger just stared at the little Garvian. "Look, Dal, all I'm trying to
do--"

"I know what you're trying to do," Dal snapped, "and I don't want any
part of it. I don't need your help, I don't _want_ it. Why do you have
to force it down my throat?"

There was a long silence. Then Tiger spread his hands helplessly.
"Okay," he said, "if that's the way you want it." He turned away from
Dal, his big shoulders slumping. "I've only been trying to make up for
some of the dirty breaks you've been handed since you came to Hospital
Earth."

"I know that," Dal said, "and I've appreciated it. Sometimes it's been
the only thing that's kept me going. But that doesn't mean that you own
me. Friendship is one thing; proprietorship is something else. I'm not
your private property."

He saw the look on Tiger's face, as though he had suddenly turned and
slapped him viciously across the face. "Look, I know it sounds awful,
but I can't help it. I don't want to hurt you, and I don't want to
change things with us, but _I'm a person just like you are_. I can't go
on leaning on you any longer. Everybody has to stand on his own
somewhere along the line. You do, and I do, too. And that goes for Jack,
too."

They heard the door to the communications shack open, and the Black
Doctor was back in the room. "Well?" he said. "Am I interrupting
something?" He glanced sharply at the tight-lipped doctors. "The call
was from the survey section," he went on blandly. "A survey crew is on
its way to 31 Brucker to start gathering some useful information on the
situation. But that is neither here nor there. You have heard the
charges against the Red Doctor here. Is there anything any of you want
to say?"

Tiger and Jack looked at each other. The silence in the room was
profound.

The Black Doctor turned to Dal. "And what about you?"

"I have something to say, but I'd like to talk to you alone."

"As you wish. You two will return to your quarters and stay there."

"The attendant, too," Dal said.

The Black Doctor's eyes glinted and met Dal's for a moment. Then he
shrugged and nodded to his attendant. "Step outside, please. We have a
private matter to discuss."

The Black Doctor turned his attention to the papers on the desk as Dal
stood before him with Fuzzy sitting in the crook of his arm. From the
moment that the notice of the inspection ship's approach had come to the
_Lancet_, Dal had known what was coming. He had been certain what the
purpose of the detainment was, and who the inspector would be, yet he
had not really been worried. In the back of his mind, a small,
comfortable thought had been sustaining him.

It didn't really matter how hostile or angry Black Doctor Tanner might
be; he knew that in a last-ditch stand there was one way the Black
Doctor could be handled.

He remembered the dramatic shift from hostility to friendliness among
the Bruckians when he had come down from the ship with Fuzzy on his
shoulder. Before then, he had never considered using his curious power
to protect himself and gain an end; but since then, without even
consciously bringing it to mind, he had known that the next time would
be easier. If it ever came to a showdown with Black Doctor Tanner, a
trap from which he couldn't free himself, there was still this way. _The
Black Doctor would never know what happened_, he thought. _It would just
seem to him, suddenly, that he had been looking at things the wrong way.
No one would ever know._

But he knew, even as the thought came to mind, that this was not so.
Now, face to face with the showdown, he knew that it was no good. One
person would know what had happened: himself. On 31 Brucker, he had
convinced himself that the end justified the means; here it was
different.

For a moment, as Black Doctor Tanner stared up at him through the
horn-rimmed glasses, Dal wavered. Why should he hesitate to protect
himself? he thought angrily. This attack against him was false and
unfair, trumped up for the sole purpose of destroying his hopes and
driving him out of the Service. Why shouldn't he grasp at any means,
fair or unfair, to fight it?

But he could hear the echo of Black Doctor Arnquist's words in his mind:
_I beg of you not to use it. No matter what happens, don't use it._ Of
course, Doctor Arnquist would never know, for sure, that he had broken
faith ... but _he_ would know....

"Well," Black Doctor Tanner was saying, "speak up. I can't waste much
more time dealing with you. If you have something to say, say it."

Dal sighed. He lifted Fuzzy down and slipped him gently into his jacket
pocket. "These charges against me are not true," he said.

The Black Doctor shrugged. "Your own crewmates support them with their
statements."

"That's not the point. They're not true, and you know it as well as I
do. You've deliberately rigged them up to build a case against me."

The Black Doctor's face turned dark and his hands clenched on the papers
on the desk. "Are you suggesting that I have nothing better to do than
to rig false charges against one probationer out of seventy-five
thousand traveling the galaxy?"

"I'm suggesting that we are alone here," Dal said. "Nobody else is
listening. Just for once, right now, we can be honest. We both know
what you're trying to do to me. I'd just like to hear you admit it
once."

The Black Doctor slammed his fist down on the table. "I don't have to
listen to insolence like this," he roared.

"Yes, you do," Dal said. "Just this once. Then I'll be through."
Suddenly Dal's words were tumbling out of control, and his whole body
was trembling with anger. "You have been determined from the very
beginning that I should never finish the medical training that I
started. You've tried to block me time after time, in every way you
could think of. You've almost succeeded, but never quite made it until
this time. But now you _have_ to make it. If that contract were to go
through I'd get my Star, and you'd never again be able to do anything
about it. So it's now or never if you're going to break me."

"Nonsense!" the Black Doctor stormed. "I wouldn't lower myself to meddle
with your kind. The charges speak for themselves."

"Not if you look at them carefully. You claim I failed to notify
Hospital Earth that we had entered a plague area--but our records of our
contact with the planet prove that we did only what any patrol ship
would have done when the call came in. We didn't have enough information
to know that there was a plague there, and when we finally did know the
truth we could no longer make contact with Hospital Earth. You claim
that I brought harm to two hundred of the natives there, yet if you
study our notes and records, you will see that our errors there were
unavoidable. We couldn't have done anything else under the
circumstances, and if we hadn't done what we did, we would have been
ignoring the basic principles of diagnosis and treatment which we've
been taught. And your charges don't mention that by possibly harming two
hundred of the Bruckians, we found a way to save two million of them
from absolute destruction."

The Black Doctor glared at him. "The charges will stand up, I'll see to
that."

"Oh, I'm sure you will! You can ram them through and make them stick
before anybody ever has a chance to examine them carefully. You have the
power to do it. And by the time an impartial judge could review all the
records, your survey ship will have been there and gathered so much more
data and muddied up the field so thoroughly that no one will ever be
certain that the charges aren't true. But you and I know that they
wouldn't really hold up under inspection. We know that they're false
right down the line and that you're the one who is responsible for
them."

The Black Doctor grew darker, and he trembled with rage as he drew
himself to his feet. Dal could feel his hatred almost like a physical
blow and his voice was almost a shriek.

"All right," he said, "if you insist, then the charges are lies, made up
specifically to break you, and I'm going to push them through if I have
to jeopardize my reputation to do it. You could have bowed out
gracefully at any time along the way and saved yourself dishonor and
disgrace, but you wouldn't do it. Now, I'm going to force you to. I've
worked my lifetime long to build the reputation of Hospital Earth and of
the Earthmen that go out to all the planets as representatives. I've
worked to make the Confederation respect Hospital Earth and the Earthmen
who are her doctors. You don't belong here with us. You forced yourself
in, you aren't an Earthman and you don't have the means or resources to
be a doctor from Hospital Earth. If you succeed, a thousand others will
follow in your footsteps, chipping away at the reputation that we have
worked to build, and I'm not going to allow one incompetent alien
bungler pretending to be a surgeon to walk in and destroy the thing I've
fought to build--"

The Black Doctor's voice had grown shrill, almost out of control. But
now suddenly he broke off, his mouth still working, and his face went
deathly white. The finger he was pointing at Dal wavered and fell. He
clutched at his chest, his breath coming in great gasps and staggered
back into the chair. "Something's happened," his voice croaked. "I can't
breathe."

Dal stared at him in horror for a moment, then leaped across the room
and jammed his thumb against the alarm bell.



CHAPTER 13

THE TRIAL


Red Doctor Dal Timgar knew at once that there would be no problem in
diagnosis here. The Black Doctor slumped back in his seat, gasping for
air, his face twisted in pain as he labored just to keep on breathing.
Tiger and Jack burst into the room, and Dal could tell that they knew
instantly what had happened.

"Coronary," Jack said grimly.

Dal nodded. "The question is, just how bad."

"Get the cardiograph in here. We'll soon see."

But the electrocardiograph was not needed to diagnose the nature of the
trouble. All three doctors had seen the picture often enough--the
sudden, massive blockage of circulation to the heart that was so common
to creatures with central circulatory pumps, the sort of catastrophic
accident which could cause irreparable crippling or sudden death within
a matter of minutes.

Tiger injected some medicine to ease the pain, and started oxygen to
help the labored breathing, but the old man's color did not improve. He
was too weak to talk; he just lay helplessly gasping for air as they
lifted him up onto a bed. Then Jack took an electrocardiograph tracing
and shook his head.

"We'd better get word back to Hospital Earth, and fast," he said
quietly. "He just waited a little too long for that cardiac transplant,
that's all. This is a bad one. Tell them we need a surgeon out here just
as fast as they can move, or the Black Service is going to have a dead
physician on its hands."

There was a sound across the room, and the Black Doctor motioned feebly
to Tiger. "The cardiogram," he gasped. "Let me see it."

"There's nothing for you to see," Tiger said. "You mustn't do anything
to excite yourself."

"Let me see it." Dr. Tanner took the thin strip of paper and ran it
quickly through his fingers. Then he dropped it on the bed and lay his
head back hopelessly. "Too late," he said, so softly they could hardly
hear him. "Too late for help now."

Tiger checked his blood pressure and listened to his heart. "It will
only take a few hours to get help," he said. "You rest and sleep now.
There's plenty of time."

He joined Dal and Jack in the corridor. "I'm afraid he's right, this
time," he said. "The damage is severe, and he hasn't the strength to
hold out very long. He might last long enough for a surgeon and
operating team to get here, but I doubt it. We'd better get the word
off."

A few moments later he put the earphones aside. "It'll take six hours
for the nearest help to get here," he said. "Maybe five and a half if
they really crowd it. But when they get a look at that cardiogram on the
screen they'll just throw up their hands. He's got to have a transplant,
nothing less, and even if we can keep him alive until a surgical team
gets here the odds are a thousand to one against his surviving the
surgery."

"Well, he's been asking for it," Jack said. "They've been trying to get
him into the hospital for a cardiac transplant for years. Everybody's
known that one of those towering rages would get him sooner or later."

"Maybe he'll hold on better than we think," Dal said. "Let's watch and
wait."

But the Black Doctor was not doing well. Moment by moment he grew
weaker, laboring harder for air as his blood pressure crept slowly down.
Half an hour later the pain returned; Tiger took another tracing while
Dal checked his venous pressure and shock level.

As he finished, Dal felt the Black Doctor's eyes on him. "It's going to
be all right," he said. "There'll be time for help to come."

Feebly the Black Doctor shook his head. "No time," he said. "Can't wait
that long." Dal could see the fear in the old man's eyes. His lips began
to move again as though there were something more he wanted to say; but
then his face hardened, and he turned his head away helplessly.

Dal walked around the bed and looked down at the tracing, comparing it
with the first one that was taken. "What do you think, Tiger?"

"It's no good. He'll never make it for five more hours."

"What about right now?"

Tiger shook his head. "It's a terrible surgical risk."

"But every minute of waiting makes it worse, right?"

"That's right."

"Then I think we'll stop waiting," Dal said. "We have a prosthetic heart
in condition for use, don't we?"

"Of course."

"Good. Get it ready now." It seemed as though someone else were
talking. "You'll have to be first assistant, Tiger. We'll get him onto
the heart-lung machine, and if we don't have help available by then,
we'll have to try to complete the transplant. Jack, you'll give
anaesthesia, and it will be a tricky job. Try to use local blocks as
much as you can, and have the heart-lung machine ready well in advance.
We'll only have a few seconds to make the shift. Now let's get moving."

Tiger stared at him. "Are you sure that you want to do this?"

"I never wanted anything less in my life," Dal said fervently. "But do
you think he can survive until a Hospital Ship arrives?"

"No."

"Then it seems to me that I don't have any choice. You two don't need to
worry. This is a surgical problem now, and I'll take full
responsibility."

The Black Doctor was watching him, and Dal knew he had heard the
conversation. Now the old man lay helplessly as they moved about getting
the surgical room into preparation. Jack prepared the anaesthetics,
checked and rechecked the complex heart-lung machine which could
artificially support circulation and respiration at the time that the
damaged heart was separated from its great vessels. The transplant
prosthetic heart had been grown in the laboratories on Hospital Earth
from embryonic tissue; Tiger removed it from the frozen specimen locker
and brought it to normal body temperature in the special warm saline
bath designed for the purpose.

Throughout the preparations the Black Doctor lay watching, still
conscious enough to recognize what was going on, attempting from time to
time to shake his head in protest but not quite succeeding. Finally Dal
came to the bedside. "Don't be afraid," he said gently to the old man.
"It isn't safe to try to delay until the ship from Hospital Earth can
get here. Every minute we wait is counting against you. I think I can
manage the transplant if I start now. I know you don't like it, but I am
the Red Doctor in authority on this ship. If I have to order you, I
will."

The Black Doctor lay silent for a moment, staring at Dal. Then the fear
seemed to fade from his face, and the anger disappeared. With a great
effort he moved his head to nod. "All right, son," he said softly. "Do
the best you know how."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dal knew from the moment he made the decision to go ahead that the thing
he was undertaking was all but hopeless.

There was little or no talk as the three doctors worked at the operating
table. The overhead light in the ship's tiny surgery glowed brightly;
the only sound in the room was the wheeze of the anaesthesia apparatus,
the snap of clamps and the doctors' own quiet breathing as they worked
desperately against time.

Dal felt as if he were in a dream, working like an automaton, going
through mechanical motions that seemed completely unrelated to the
living patient that lay on the operating table. In his training he had
assisted at hundreds of organ transplant operations; he himself had done
dozens of cardiac transplants, with experienced surgeons assisting and
guiding him until the steps of the procedure had become almost second
nature. On Hospital Earth, with the unparalleled medical facilities
available there, and with well-trained teams of doctors, anaesthetists
and nurses the technique of replacing an old worn-out damaged heart with
a new and healthy one had become commonplace. It posed no more threat to
a patient than a simple appendectomy had posed three centuries before.

But here in the patrol ship's operating room under emergency conditions
there seemed little hope of success. Already the Black Doctor had
suffered violent shock from the damage that had occurred in his heart.
Already he was clinging to life by a fragile thread; the additional
shock of the surgery, of the anaesthesia and the necessary conversion to
the heart-lung machine while the delicate tissues of the new heart were
fitted and sutured into place vessel by vessel was more than any patient
could be expected to survive.

Yet Dal had known when he saw the second cardiogram that the attempt
would have to be made. Now he worked swiftly, his frail body engulfed in
the voluminous surgical gown, his thin fingers working carefully with
the polished instruments. Speed and skill were all that could save the
Black Doctor now, to offer him the one chance in a thousand that he had
for survival.

But the speed and skill had to be Dal's. Dal knew that, and the
knowledge was like a lead weight strapped to his shoulders. If Black
Doctor Hugo Tanner was fighting for his life now, Dal knew that he too
was fighting for his life--the only kind of life that he wanted, the
life of a physician.

Black Doctor Tanner's antagonism to him as an alien, as an incompetent,
as one who was unworthy to wear the collar and cuff of a physician from
Hospital Earth, was common knowledge. Dal realized with perfect clarity
that if he failed now, his career as a physician would be over; no one,
not even himself, would ever be entirely certain that he had not
somehow, in some dim corner of his mind, allowed himself to fail.

Yet if he had not made the attempt and the Black Doctor had died before
help had come, there would always be those who would accuse him of
delaying on purpose.

His mouth was dry; he longed for a drink of water, even though he knew
that no water could quench this kind of thirst. His fingers grew numb as
he worked, and moment by moment the sense of utter hopelessness grew
stronger in his mind. Tiger worked stolidly across the table from him,
inexpert help at best because of the sketchy surgical training he had
had. Even his solid presence in support here did not lighten the burden
for Dal. There was nothing that Tiger could do or say that would help
things or change things now. Even Fuzzy, waiting alone on his perch in
the control room, could not help him now. Nothing could help now but his
own individual skill as a surgeon, and his bitter determination that he
must not and would not fail.

But his fingers faltered as a thousand questions welled up in his mind.
Was he doing this right? This vessel here ... clamp it and tie it? Or
dissect it out and try to preserve it? This nerve plexus ... which one
was it? How important? How were the blood pressure and respirations
doing? Was the Black Doctor holding his own under the assault of the
surgery?

The more Dal tried to hurry the more he seemed to be wading through
waist-deep mud, unable to make his fingers do what he wanted them to do.
How could he save ten seconds, twenty seconds, a half a minute? That
half a minute might make the difference between success or failure, yet
the seconds ticked by swiftly and the procedure was going slowly.

Too slowly. He reached a point where he thought he could not go on. His
mind was searching desperately for help--any kind of help, something to
lean on, something to brace him and give him support. And then quite
suddenly he understood something clearly that had been nibbling at the
corners of his mind for a long time. It was as if someone had snapped on
a floodlight in a darkened room, and he saw something he had never seen
before.

He saw that from the first day he had stepped down from the Garvian ship
that had brought him to Hospital Earth to begin his medical training, he
had been relying upon crutches to help him.

Black Doctor Arnquist had been a crutch upon whom he could lean. Tiger,
for all his clumsy good-heartedness and for all the help and protection
he had offered, had been a crutch. Fuzzy, who had been by his side since
the day he was born, was still another kind of crutch to fall back on, a
way out, a port of haven in the storm. They were crutches, every one,
and he had leaned on them heavily.

But now there was no crutch to lean on. He had a quick mind with good
training. He had two nimble hands that knew their job, and two legs that
were capable of supporting his weight, frail as they were. He knew now
that he had to stand on them squarely, for the first time in his life.

And suddenly he realized that this was as it should be. It seemed so
clear, so obvious and unmistakable that he wondered how he could have
failed to recognize it for so long. If he could not depend on himself,
then Black Doctor Hugo Tanner would have been right all along. If he
could not do this job that was before him on his own strength, standing
on his own two legs without crutches to lean on, how could he claim to
be a competent physician? What right did he have to the goal he sought
if he had to earn it on the strength of the help of others? It was _he_
who wanted to be a Star Surgeon--not Fuzzy, not Tiger, nor anyone else.

He felt his heart thudding in his chest, and he saw the operation before
him as if he were standing in an amphitheater peering down over some
other surgeon's shoulder. Suddenly everything else was gone from his
mind but the immediate task at hand. His fingers began to move more
swiftly, with a confidence he had never felt before. The decisions to be
made arose, and he made them without hesitation, and knew as he made
them that they were right.

And for the first time the procedure began to move. He murmured
instructions to Jack from time to time, and placed Tiger's clumsy hands
in the places he wanted them for retraction. "Not there, back a little,"
he said. "That's right. Now hold this clamp and release it slowly while
I tie, then reclamp it. Slowly now ... that's the way! Jack, check that
pressure again."

It seemed as though someone else were doing the surgery, directing his
hands step by step in the critical work that had to be done. Dal placed
the connections to the heart-lung machine perfectly, and moved with new
swiftness and confidence as the great blood vessels were clamped off and
the damaged heart removed. A quick check of vital signs, chemistries,
oxygenation, a sharp instruction to Jack, a caution to Tiger, and the
new prosthetic heart was in place. He worked now with painstaking care,
manipulating the micro-sutures that would secure the new vessels to the
old so firmly that they were almost indistinguishable from a healed
wound, and he knew that it was going _right_ now, that whether the
patient ultimately survived or not, he had made the right decision and
had carried it through with all the skill at his command.

And then the heart-lung machine fell silent again, and the carefully
applied nodal stimulator flicked on and off, and slowly, at first
hesitantly, then firmly and vigorously, the new heart began its endless
pumping chore. The Black Doctor's blood pressure moved up to a healthy
level and stabilized; the gray flesh of his face slowly became suffused
with healthy pink. It was over, and Dal was walking out of the surgery,
his hands trembling so violently that he could hardly get his gown off.
He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, and he could see the silent
pride in the others' faces as they joined him in the dressing room to
change clothes.

He knew then that no matter what happened he had vindicated himself.
Half an hour later, back in the sickbay, the Black Doctor was awake,
breathing slowly and easily without need of supplemental oxygen. Only
the fine sweat standing out on his forehead gave indication of the
ordeal he had been through.

Swiftly and clinically Dal checked the vital signs as the old man
watched him. He was about to turn the pressure cuff over to Jack and
leave when the Black Doctor said, "Wait."

Dal turned to him. "Yes, sir?"

"You did it?" the Black Doctor said softly.

"Yes, sir."

"It's finished? The transplant is done?"

"Yes," Dal said. "It went well, and you can rest now. You were a good
patient."

For the first time Dal saw a smile cross the old man's face. "A foolish
patient, perhaps," he said, so softly that no one but Dal could hear,
"but not so foolish now, not so foolish that I cannot recognize a good
doctor when I see one."

And with a smile he closed his eyes and went to sleep.



CHAPTER 14

STAR SURGEON


It was amazing to Dal Timgar just how good it seemed to be back on
Hospital Earth again.

In the time he had been away as a crewman of the _Lancet_, the seasons
had changed, and the port of Philadelphia lay under the steaming summer
sun. As Dal stepped off the shuttle ship to join the hurrying crowds in
the great space-port, it seemed almost as though he were coming home.

He thought for a moment of the night not so long before when he had
waited here for the shuttle to Hospital Seattle, to attend the meeting
of the medical training council. He had worn no uniform then, not even
the collar and cuff of the probationary physician, and he remembered his
despair that night when he had thought that his career as a physician
from Hospital Earth was at an end.

Now he was returning by shuttle from Hospital Seattle to the port of
Philadelphia again, completing the cycle that had been started many
months before. But things were different now. The scarlet cape of the
Red Service of Surgery hung from his slender shoulders now, and the
light of the station room caught the polished silver emblem on his
collar. It was a tiny bit of metal, but its significance was enormous.
It announced to the world Dal Timgar's final and permanent acceptance as
a physician; but more, it symbolized the far-reaching distances he had
already traveled, and would travel again, in the service of Hospital
Earth.

It was the silver star of the Star Surgeon.

The week just past had been both exciting and confusing. The hospital
ship had arrived five hours after Black Doctor Hugo Tanner had recovered
from his anaesthesia, moving in on the _Lancet_ in frantic haste and
starting the shipment of special surgical supplies, anaesthetics and
maintenance equipment across in lifeboats almost before contact had been
stabilized. A large passenger boat hurtled away from the hospital ship's
side, carrying a pair of Four-star surgeons, half a dozen Three-star
Surgeons, two Radiologists, two Internists, a dozen nurses and another
Four-star Black Doctor across to the _Lancet_; and when they arrived at
the patrol ship's entrance lock, they discovered that their haste had
been in vain.

It was like Grand Rounds in the general wards of Hospital Philadelphia,
with the Four-star Surgeons in the lead as they tramped aboard the
patrol ship. They found Black Doctor Tanner sitting quietly at his
bedside reading a journal of pathology and taking notes. He glared up at
them when they burst in the door without even knocking.

"But are you feeling well, sir?" the chief surgeon asked him for the
third time.

"Of course I'm feeling well. Do you think I'd be sitting here if I
weren't?" the Black Doctor growled. "Dr. Timgar is my surgeon and the
physician in charge of this case. Talk to him. He can give you all the
details of the matter."

"You mean you permitted a probationary physician to perform this kind of
surgery?" The Four-star Surgeon cried incredulously.

"I did not!" the Black Doctor snapped. "He had to drag me kicking and
screaming into the operating room. But fortunately for me, this
particular probationary physician had the courage of his convictions, as
well as wit enough to realize that I would not survive if he waited for
you to gather your army together. But I think you will find the surgery
was handled with excellent skill. Again, I must refer you to Dr. Timgar
for the details. I was not paying attention to the technique of the
surgery, I assure you."

"But sir," the chief surgeon broke in, "how could there have been
surgery of any sort here? The dispatch that came to us listed the
_Lancet_ as a plague ship--"

"_Plague ship!_" the Black Doctor exploded. "Oh, yes. Egad!
I--hum!--imagine that the dispatcher must have gotten his signals mixed
somehow. Well, I suppose you want to examine me. Let's have it over
with."

The doctors examined him within an inch of his life. They exhausted
every means of physical, laboratory and radiological examination short
of re-opening his chest and looking in, and at last the chief surgeon
was forced reluctantly to admit that there was nothing left for him to
do but provide post-operative follow-up care for the irascible old man.

And by the time the examination was over and the Black Doctor was moved
aboard the hospital ship, word had come through official channels to the
_Lancet_ announcing that the quarantine order had been a dispatcher's
unfortunate error, and directing the ship to return at once to Hospital
Earth with the new contract that had been signed on 31 Brucker VII. The
crewmen of the _Lancet_ had special orders to report immediately to the
medical training council at Hospital Seattle upon arrival, in order to
give their formal General Practice Patrol reports and to receive their
appointments respectively as Star Physician, Star Diagnostician and Star
Surgeon. The orders were signed with the personal mark of Hugo Tanner,
Physician of the Black Service of Pathology.

Now the ceremony and celebration in Hospital Seattle were over, and Dal
had another appointment to keep. He lifted Fuzzy from his elbow and
tucked him safely into an inner jacket pocket to protect him from the
crowd in the station, and moved swiftly through to the subway tubes.

He had expected to see Black Doctor Arnquist at the investment
ceremonies, but there had been neither sign nor word from him. Dal tried
to reach him after the ceremonies were over; all he could learn was that
the Black Doctor was unavailable. And then a message had come through to
Dal under the official Hospital Earth headquarters priority, requesting
him to present himself at once at the grand council building at Hospital
Philadelphia for an interview of the utmost importance.

He followed the directions on the dispatch now, and reached the grand
council building well ahead of the appointed time. He followed corridors
and rode elevators until he reached the twenty-second story office suite
where he had been directed to report. The whole building seemed alive
with bustle, as though something of enormous importance was going on;
high-ranking physicians of all the services were hurrying about,
gathering in little groups at the elevators and talking among themselves
in hushed voices. Even more strange, Dal saw delegation after delegation
of alien creatures moving through the building, some in the special
atmosphere-maintaining devices necessary for their survival on Earth,
some characteristically alone and unaccompanied, others in the company
of great retinues of underlings. Dal paused in the main concourse of
the building as he saw two such delegations arrive by special car from
the port of Philadelphia.

"Odd," he said quietly, reaching in to stroke Fuzzy's head. "Quite a
gathering of the clans, eh? What do you think? Last time I saw a
gathering like this was back at home during one of the centennial
conclaves of the Galactic Confederation."

On the twenty-second floor, a secretary ushered him into an inner
office. There he found Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist, in busy
conference with a Blue Doctor, a Green Doctor and a surgeon. The Black
Doctor looked up, and beamed. "That will be all right now, gentlemen,"
he said. "I'll be in touch with you directly."

He waited until the others had departed. Then he crossed the room and
practically hugged Dal in delight. "It's good to see you, boy," he said,
"and above all, it's good to see that silver star at last. You and your
little pink friend have done a good job, a far better job than I thought
you would do, I must admit."

Dal perched Fuzzy on his shoulder. "But what is this about an interview?
Why did you want to see me, and what are all these people doing here?"

Dr. Arnquist laughed. "Don't worry," he said. "You won't have to stay
for the council meeting. It will be a long boring session, I fear.
Doubtless every single one of these delegates at some time in the next
few days will be standing up to give us a three hour oration, and it is
my ill fortune as a Four-star Black Doctor to have to sit and listen and
smile through it all. But in the end, it will be worth it, and I thought
that you should at least know that your name will be mentioned many
times during these sessions."

"My name?"

"You didn't know that you were a guinea pig, did you?" the Black Doctor
said.

"I ... I'm afraid I didn't."

"An unwitting tool, so to speak," the Black Doctor chuckled. "You know,
of course, that the Galactic Confederation has been delaying and
stalling any action on Hospital Earth's application for full status as
one of the Confederation powers and for a seat on the council. We had
fulfilled two criteria for admission without difficulty--we had resolved
our problems at home so that we were free from war on our own planet,
and we had a talent that is much needed and badly in demand in the
galaxy, a job to do that would fit into the Confederation's
organization. But the Confederation has always had a third criterion for
its membership, a criterion that Hospital Earth could not so easily
prove or demonstrate."

The Black Doctor smiled. "After all, there could be no place in a true
Confederation of worlds for any one race of people that considered
itself superior to all the rest. No race can be admitted to the
Confederation until its members have demonstrated that they are capable
of tolerance, willing to accept the members of other races on an equal
footing. And it has always been the nature of Earthmen to be intolerant,
to assume that one who looks strange and behaves differently must
somehow be inferior."

The Black Doctor crossed the room and opened a folder on the desk. "You
can read the details some other time, if you like. You were selected by
the Galactic Confederation from a thousand possible applicants, to serve
as a test case, to see if a place could be made for you on Hospital
Earth. No one here was told of your position--not even you--although
certain of us suspected the truth. The Confederation wanted to see if a
well-qualified, likeable and intelligent creature from another world
would be accepted and elevated to equal rank as a physician with
Earthmen."

Dal stared at him. "And I was the one?"

"You were the one. It was a struggle, all right, but Hospital Earth has
finally satisfied the Confederation. At the end of this conclave we will
be admitted to full membership and given a permanent seat and vote in
the galactic council. Our probationary period will be over. But enough
of that. What about you? What are your plans? What do you propose to do
now that you have that star on your collar?"

They talked then about the future. Tiger Martin had been appointed to
the survey crew returning to 31 Brucker VII, at his own request, while
Jack was accepting a temporary teaching post in the great diagnostic
clinic at Hospital Philadelphia. There were a dozen things that Dal had
considered, but for the moment he wanted only to travel from medical
center to medical center on Hospital Earth, observing and studying in
order to decide how he would best like to use his abilities and his
position as a Physician from Hospital Earth. "It will be in surgery, of
course," he said. "Just where in surgery, or what kind, I don't know
just yet. But there will be time enough to decide that."

"Then go along," Dr. Arnquist said, "with my congratulations and
blessing. You have taught us a great deal, and perhaps you have learned
some things at the same time."

Dal hesitated for a moment. Then he nodded. "I've learned some things,"
he said, "but there's still one thing that I want to do before I go."

He lifted his little pink friend gently down from his shoulder and
rested him in the crook of his arm. Fuzzy looked up at him, blinking his
shoe-button eyes happily. "You asked me once to leave Fuzzy with you,
and I refused. I couldn't see then how I could possibly do without him;
even the thought was frightening. But now I think I've changed my mind."

He reached out and placed Fuzzy gently in the Black Doctor's hand. "I
want you to keep him," he said. "I don't think I'll need him any more.
I'll miss him, but I think it would be better if I don't have him now.
Be good to him, and let me visit him once in a while."

The Black Doctor looked at Dal, and then lifted Fuzzy up to his own
shoulder. For a moment the little creature shivered as if afraid. Then
he blinked twice at Dal, trustingly, and snuggled in comfortably against
the Black Doctor's neck.

Without a word Dal turned and walked out of the office. As he stepped
down the corridor, he waited fearfully for the wave of desolation and
loneliness he had felt before when Fuzzy was away from him.

But there was no hint of those desolate feelings in his mind now. And
after all, he thought, why should there be? He was not a Garvian any
longer. He was a Star Surgeon from Hospital Earth.

He smiled as he stepped from the elevator into the main lobby and
crossed through the crowd to the street doors. He pulled his scarlet
cape tightly around his throat. Drawing himself up to the full height of
which he was capable, he walked out of the building and strode down onto
the street.

       *       *       *       *       *



_Also by Alan E. Nourse_


ROCKET TO LIMBO

SCAVENGERS IN SPACE





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