It was amazing to Valeris just how good it felt to be back on Hospital Earth again.
In the time she had been away as a crewmember of the Raphael, the seasons had changed, and the port of Montreal now lay under a steaming summer sun. As Valeris stepped off the shuttlecraft to join the hurrying crowds in the great spaceport, it seemed almost as though she were coming home.
She thought for a moment of that night, not so long before, when she had waited here for the shuttlecraft to Hospital San Francisco, to attend the meeting of the praesidium. She had worn no uniform then, not even the collar and cuff of the probationary physician, and she remembered her despair that night when she had thought that her career as a physician from Hospital Earth was a dream over before it had begun.
Now she was returning by shuttlecraft from Hospital San Francisco to the port of Montreal again, completing the cycle that had begun many months earlier. But everything was different now. The scarlet cape of the Red Service of Surgery hung from her shoulders now, and the light of the station room caught the polished golden emblem on her collar. It was a tiny bit of gold, but its significance was enormous. It announced to the world Valeris' final and permanent acceptance as a physician; but even more, it symbolized the far-reaching distances she had already traveled, and would travel again, in the service of Hospital Earth.
It was the golden star of the Star Surgeon.
The past week had been both exciting and confusing. The hospital ship had arrived five hours after Black Doctor Blasius Chang had recovered from his anaesthesia, moving in on the Raphael 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 big passenger boat blasted away from the hospital ship's side, carrying two 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 Raphael; 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 Montreal, with the Four-star Surgeons in the lead as they tramped aboard the patrol ship. They found Black Doctor Chang 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.
"Yes, I'm feeling well, you idiot! Would I be sitting here if I weren't?" the Black Doctor growled. "Dr. Valeris is my surgeon and the physician in charge of this case. Talk to her. She'll give you all the details of the matter."
"You allowed a probationary physician to perform this kind of surgery?" The Four-star Surgeon cried incredulously.
"I most certainly did not!" the Black Doctor snapped. "She had to drag me kicking and screaming into the operating room. Lucky for me, this particular probationary physician had the courage of her convictions, as well as the wit enough to realize that I would not survive if she waited for you to gather your army together. But I think you'll find the surgery was handled with excellent skill. Again, I refer you to Dr. Valeris for the details. I wasn't 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 kind here? The dispatch that came to us listed the Raphael as a Rogue ship—"
"Rogue ship!" the Black Doctor exploded. "Oh, yes. Good Lord! I—ahem!—imagine that the dispatcher must have gotten his signals mixed somehow. But, I suppose you'll want to check me over. Do so and be done with it."
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, albeit reluctantly, to admit that there was nothing left for him to do but provide post-operative follow-up care for the irascible old man.
By the time the examination was over and the Black Doctor was taken aboard the hospital ship, word had come through official channels to the Raphael announcing that the Rogue declaration had been a dispatcher's inexcusable error, and directing the spaceship to return at once to Hospital Earth with the new contract that had been signed on Ganavar. The crew of the Raphael had special orders to report immediately to the praesidium at Hospital San Francisco 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 emblem of Blasius Chang, Physician of the Black Service of Pathology.
Now that the ceremony and celebration in Hospital San Francisco were over, Valeris had another appointment to keep. She lifted Blob from her elbow and tucked him safely into an inner jacket pocket to defend him from the crowd in the station, and moved swiftly through to the acceleratubes.
She had expected to see Black Doctor Shah at the investment ceremonies, but there had been neither sign nor word from him. Valeris tried to reach him after the ceremonies had concluded, but all she could learn was that the Black Doctor was not available. And then a message had come through to Valeris under the official Hospital Earth H.Q. priority, requesting her to present herself at once at the praesidium building at Hospital Montreal for an interview of the utmost importance.
She followed the directions on the dispatch now, and reached the praesidium building well ahead of the appointed time. She followed corridors and rode turbo-lifts until she reached the thirty-second story office suite where she had been directed to report. The entire building seemed alive with bustle, as if something of enormous importance was going on; high-ranking physicians of all the services were scurrying about, gathering in little groups at the elevators and talking among themselves in hushed voices. Even more strange, Valeris saw delegation after delegation of alien beings moving through the building, some in the special atmosphere-maintaining devices necessary for survival on Earth, some characteristically alone and unchaperoned, others in the company of great retinues of underlings. Valeris paused in the main concourse of the building as she saw two such delegations arrive by special car from the port of Montreal.
"How weird," she said quietly, reaching in to stroke Blob's head. "Quite a gathering of the peoples, eh? What do you think? The last time I saw a gathering like this was back at home during one of the centennial conclaves of the Federation of Planets."
On the thirty-second floor, a secretary ushered her into an inner office. There she found the Black Doctor Haroon Shah, in a busy conference with a Blue Doctor, a Green Doctor and a surgeon. Black Doctor Shah looked up, and beamed. "That will be all for 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 Valeris in delight. "Ah! How good to see you, girl," he said, "and above all, it's good to see that golden star at last. You and your little pink friend have done a good job, far better than I thought you would do, I must say."
Valeris perched Blob on her shoulder. "What's this I hear about an interview? Why did you want to see me, and what are all these people doing here?"
Dr. Shah laughed. "Don't worry," he said. "You won't have to stay for the praesidium meeting. It'll be a long boring session, I fear. No doubt every single one of these delegates at some time in the next few days will be standing up to deliver a three hour oration, and it is my bad luck as a Four-star Black Doctor to have to sit and listen and smile through all of it. But in the end, it shall be worth it, and I thought that you should at least know that your name will be mentioned many, many times during these sessions."
"My name? Why?"
"Didn't you know that you were a guinea pig?" the Black Doctor said.
"I ... I.....No,I didn't."
"An unsuspecting tool, as it were," the Black Doctor chuckled. "You know, of course, that the Federation of Planets has been delaying and stalling any action on Hospital Earth's application for full status as one of the Federation powers and for a seat on the council. We had fulfilled two criteria for admission easily—we had resolved our domestic problems 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 nicely into the Federation's organization. But the Federation has always had a third criterion for membership, one that Hospital Earth could not so easily prove or demonstrate."
The Black Doctor smiled. "After all, there can be no place in a true Federation of planets for any one race of people that considered itself superior to all the others. No race can be admitted to the Federation until its members have demonstrated that they are capable of tolerance, willing to accept members of other races on an equal footing. Unfortunately, it has always been the nature of Terrans 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."
Valeris stared at him. "You mean---I was the one?"
"You were indeed the one. It was a struggle, yes, yes, but Hospital Earth has finally satisfied the Federation. At the end of this conclave we'll be admitted to full membership and given a permanent seat and vote in the federation council. Our probationary period will be over. Ah, well, enough of that. How about you? What are your plans? What do you propose to do now that you can wear that star on your collar?"
The course of the conversation then turned to the future. Bones McCoy had been appointed to the survey crew returning to Ganavar, at his own request, while Christine was accepting a temporary teaching position in the great diagnostic clinic at Hospital Montreal. There were twelve things that Valeris had considered, but for the moment she wanted nothing more than to travel from medical center to medical center on Hospital Earth, observing and studying in order to decide how she would best like to use her abilities and position as a Physician from Hospital Earth. "It'll be in surgery, of course," she said. "Just where in surgery, or what kind, I don't know just yet. But there'll be time enough to decide that."
"Carry on, then," Dr. Shah said, "with my congratulations and blessings. You have taught us a much, and perhaps you have learned some things at the same time."
Valeris hesitated for a moment. Then she nodded. "Yes, I've learned a few things," she said, "but there's still something I need to do before I go."
She lifted her little pink friend gently down from her shoulder and rested him in the crook of her arm. Blob looked up at her, blinking his shoe-button eyes happily. "You asked me once to leave Blob with you, and I wouldn't. I couldn't see then how I could possibly do without him; even the thought was scary. But now I think I've changed my mind."
She reached out and placed Blob gently in the Black Doctor's hand. "Please keep him, sir," she said. "I won't be needing him anymore. I'll miss him, but I think it'd be better if I don't have him now. Be kind to him, and let me see him once in a while."
The Black Doctor looked at Valeris, and then lifted Blob up to his own shoulder. For a moment the little being shivered as if he were afraid. Then he blinked twice at Valeris, trustingly, and snuggled in comfortably against the Black Doctor's neck.
Without saying another word Valeris turned and walked out of the office. As she walked down the corridor, she waited fearfully for the wave of desolation and loneliness she had felt before when Blob was away from her.
But there was no hint of such desolate feelings in her mind now. And after all, she thought, why should there be? She was no longer a Vulcan. She was a Star Surgeon from Hospital Earth.
She smiled as she stepped from the turbo-lift into the main lobby and crossed through the crowd to the street doors. She pulled her scarlet cape tightly around her throat. Drawing herself up to her full height, she walked out of the building and strode down into the street.
THE ENDns 184.108.40.206da2