The interview was held in the main praesidium conference chamber of Hospital San Francisco, and Valeris could feel the tension the moment she stepped into the room. She looked at the long semicircular table, and studied the impassive faces of the four-star physicians across the room from her.
Represented this morning was each of the major medical services. In the middle, presiding over the praesidium, was a physician of the White Service, a Four-star Radiologist whose insignia shone like a supernova 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 Haroon Shah sat to Valeris's left, smiling faintly as the young Vulcan female stepped forward, then busied himself among the PC tablets, cell phones and papers on the desk before him. To Valeris's right sat another Black Doctor who was not smiling.
Valeris had seen him before—the supreme coordinator of medical education on Hospital Earth, the "Black Plague" of the medical school jokes. Black Doctor Blasius Chang was an overweight, short-statured man, blinking owlishly at Valeris over his heavy horn-rimmed glasses. The glasses were purely decorative, with modern eye-cultures and transplant techniques, no Terran had needed spectacles to correct his vision for the past five centuries, but on Blasius Chang's arrogant face they added a look of gravity and solemnity that the Black Doctor could not achieve without them. Still glaring at Valeris, Doctor Chang leaned over to speak to the Blue Doctor to his right, and they nodded and laughed unpleasantly at some private joke.
There was no place for her to sit, so Valeris stood before the table. She had placed Blob almost defiantly on her shoulder, and from time to time she could feel the little being quiver and huddle against her neck as if to hide from sight under her collar.
The White Doctor opened the proceedings, and first the questions were solely medical. "We are meeting to consider this woman's application for assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship, as a probationary physician in the Red Service of Surgery. I trust you are all acquainted with her educational qualifications?"
There was an impatient murmur around the table. The White Doctor looked up at Valeris. "State your name for the record, please."
"Your full name, madam, if you please," Black Doctor Chang rumbled from the right-hand end of the table.
Valeris took a deep breath and began to give her full Vulcan name. It was untranslatable and unpronounceable to Terrans, who could not reproduce the sequence of pops and whistles that made up the Vulcan language. The doctors listened, blinking, as the complex family structure and ancestry which entered into the third generation removed of her father's lineage when Doctor Chang held up his hand.
"All right, all right! We will accept the one name you have used on Hospital Earth. Let the record show that the applicant is a native of Vulcan, a planet in the 40 Erandi A star system." The Black Doctor settled back in his chair and began whispering again to the Blue Doctor beside him.
A Green Doctor cleared his throat. "Doctor Valeris, 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 on medical school examinations. "The principle that environments and life forms in the universe may be dissimilar, but that biochemical reactions are universal throughout creation," Valeris said slowly.
"Well memorized," Black Doctor Chang said sourly. "But do you know what it means?"
"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," Valeris said. "As different as the various life forms might 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. "Now, what in your opinion is the place of surgery in a Galactic practice of medicine?"
That one was a more difficult question, but at least it was one that Valeris's training had prepared her well to answer. She answered it, and faced another question, and another. One by one, the doctors interrogated her, Black Doctor Shah among them. The questions came faster and faster; some were agonizingly difficult. Once or twice Valeris was stopped cold, and forced to admit that she didn't know the answer. Other questions which she knew would stump other students happened to fall in fields she understood better than most Terrans, and her answers were full and succinct.
But finally the questioning tapered off, and the White Doctor moved his tablets and phones around impatiently. "If there are no further medical questions, let us now move on to another aspect of this student's application. Certain questions of policy have been raised. Black Doctor Chang had some things to say, I believe, as co-ordinator of medical education."
The Black Doctor rose ponderously to his feet. "Yes, I do indeed have some things, many things to say," he said, "none of which have anything to do with this Valeris's educational qualifications for an assignment to a General Practice Patrol ship." Black Doctor Chang paused to glare in Valeris's direction. "She has been trained in a medical school on Hospital Earth, and has passed her final qualifying examinations for the Red Service of Surgery. Of that there is no doubt."
Black Doctor Shah's voice came across the room. "Then why are we having his review, Blasius? Valeris's classmates all received their assignments automatically."
"Because there are other things we must think about besides this woman's educational qualifications," Blasius Chang said. "Doctors, I beg you to please take a moment to consider our position. We have thousands of probationary physicians abroad in the galaxy at this time, outstanding young men and women who have been trained in medical schools on Hospital Earth, and are even now gaining experience and judgment as they fulfill our medical service contracts in every part of the federation. Yes, they are probationers, but we mustn't forget that, in a sense, all physicians of Hospital Earth are probationers. We are seeking a permanent place in this great Federation of Planets, which was in existence many thousands of years before the first human walked erect. It was not until our own scientists discovered the Cochrane warp-drive, enabling us to break free of our own solar system, that we were met face to face with a federation of intelligent beings inhabiting the galaxy—among others, the people from whom this same Valeris has come."
"It's an interesting history," Black Doctor Shah broke in, "but really, Blasius, I think we already know it."
"We know the history," Doctor Chang said, flushing a little bit. "But we don't know the history's significance. Permanent membership in the federation depends upon on two qualifications. First, we must have developed a star-drive of our own, a qualification of intelligence, if you like. The federation has ruled that only races having a certain level of intelligence can become members. A star-drive can only be developed with a far-reaching understanding of the physical sciences, thereby making it a valid criterion of intelligence. But the second qualification for federation membership, absurd as this may seem to we Terrans, is little more than a question of usefulness."
The presiding White Doctor looked up, frowning. "Usefulness?"
"Yes. Usefulness. The Federation of Planets, with its exchange of ideas and talents, and all the wealth of civilization it has to offer, is based upon a division of labor. Each member planet must have something to contribute, some special talent. For Terrans, that talent was obvious very early. Our technology was primitive, our manufacturing skills substandard, our transport and communications systems a ghastly mess. 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 decimated their populations, and were caused by nothing more complicated than a simple parasitic virus. Vulcan is an excellent example."
One of the Red Doctors cleared her throat. "But what is the connection? Who's arguing about our skill as doctors?"
"No one, obviously," Black Doctor Chang said. "The point I'm trying to make is that in all of the galaxy, Terrans are by their very nature the best doctors, outstripping the most advanced physicians on any other planet. This, doctors, is our bargaining point. We are useful to the Federation of Planets solely as physicians. The federation needed us badly enough to admit us to probational membership, but if we want to become full members of the federation, we have to demonstrate our usefulness, our unique skill, as physicians. We have worked hard to prove ourselves. We have made Hospital Earth the galactic hub of study and treatment of diseases of many races. Terrans 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 Terrans in service to the galaxy...."
"As physicians in service to the galaxy," Black Doctor Shah's angry voice shot across the room.
"As far as the federation has been concerned, the two have been indivisible," Blasius Chang roared. "But now we've got an alien among us. We have permitted a extraterrestrial to train in our medical schools. She has completed the required work, her qualifications are acceptable, and now she 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 her to go! You will be proving to every planet in the federation that they don't really need Terrans after all, that any race from any planet can produce physicians just as capable as Terrans."
The Black Doctor turned slowly to face Valeris, his mouth set in a grim line. As he talked, his Oriental face had grown dark with anger. "Understand that I have nothing against her as an sentient being. Perhaps she would prove to be a competent physician, although I doubt it. Perhaps she would carry on the traditions of medical service we have worked so long to establish, although I doubt that, too. But I do not doubt that if we permit her to become a qualified physician, it will be the beginning of the end for Hospital Earth. We will be selling out our only bargaining position. We can abandon our hopes for membership in the federation, because one Vulcan this year means two Andorians next year, and ten Edoans the year after that, and there will be no end to it. We should have stopped it nine years ago, but certain ones prevailed to admit Valeris 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 a nurse at the rear of the room. The nurse brought a glass of water and a small capsule which Black Doctor Chang gulped down. The other doctors were talking heatedly among themselves as Black Doctor Shah rose to his feet. "Are you are telling this praesidium that its highest calling is to keep medicine in the hands of Terrans alone?" he asked softly.
Doctor Chang flushed. "Our highest calling is to provide good medical care for our patients," he said.
"The best possible medical care?"
"Do you deny the ancient doctrine that a physician's duty is to help his patients help themselves?" Black Doctor Shah said.
"I deny nothing!" Blasius Chang thundered, jumping to his feet. "But we must protect ourselves. We have no other power, nothing else to sell."
"I, on the other hand, say that if we must sell our medical skill for our own benefit first, then we are unworthy to be physicians to anyone," Doctor Shah snapped. "Your case is convincing, but if we examine all of its aspects, we see that it amounts to nothing but fear and selfishness."
"Fear! Fear?!" Doctor Chang cried. "We have nothing to fear if we maintain our position. But if we must yield to a Vulcan who has no business in medicine in the first place, then we have nothing left but fear!"
"If I were really convinced that Terrans were the best physicians in the galaxy," Black Doctor Shah replied, "I would not have to be afraid."
The Black Doctor at the end of the table stood up, shaking with rage. "Don't listen to him!" he cried to the others. "He is once again defending this alien bitch and turning his back on common sense. All I'm asking is that we keep our skills among our own people and avoid the contamination that will surely result—"
Doctor Chang broke off, his normally yellowish 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. "I have nothing more to say," he said weakly. "I have done what I could, now 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 Chang waved him aside. "It's nothing, Harley. I just allowed myself to become too angry."
Black Doctor Shah spread his hands. "Under the circumstances, I will not belabor the point," he said, "although I think it would be best if Doctor Chang would pause in his duties long enough for the surgery that would greatly reduce the threats his anger poses to his life. Still, he represents a view, and thus has a legal and moral right to state it." Doctor Shah looked from face to face along the council table. "The decision is now yours, doctors. I ask only that you consider what our highest calling as physicians truly is—a duty that nullifies fear and selfishness. I think Valeris would be a good physician, and that this is much more important than the planet of her origin. I think she would uphold the honor of Hospital Earth wherever she went, and give us her loyalty as well as her service. I will vote to accept her application, and thus nullify my colleague's negative vote. The rest of you will cast the deciding votes."
He sat down, and the White Doctor looked at Valeris. "It would be best for you to wait outside," he said. "We will notify you as when a decision is reached."
Valeris waited in an anteroom, feeding Blob and trying to put out of her mind for a moment the terse debate that was now raging in the praesidium chamber. Blob was quivering with fright; unable to speak, the tiny creature nevertheless clearly experienced emotions, even though Valeris himself didn't know how he received impressions, nor why.
But Valeris knew that there was a connection between the tiny pink being's emotions and the odd talent that Black Doctor Shah had spoken of the night before. It was not a psychic power that Valeris and his people possessed. Just what it was, was hard to put into words, yet Valeris knew that all Vulcans relied on it to some extent in dealing with the people around them. She knew that when Blob was sitting on her arm she could sense the emotions of those around her—anger, fear, joy and suspicion—and she knew that under certain circumstances, in a way she did not clearly understand, she could change the feelings of others toward her at will. No big deal, perhaps, nor in any specific way, but just enough to make them look upon her and her desires more favorably than they might otherwise.
Throughout her years on Hospital Earth she had scrupulously avoided using this bizarre talent. Already she was different enough from Terrans in appearance, in her surreal beauty, her ways of thinking, likes and dislikes, etc.. But these differences were not advantages, and she had realized that if her classmates had ever dreamed of the advantage that she had, minor though it was, her hopes of becoming a physician would have been totally destroyed.
And in the praesidium meeting room she had kept her promise to Doctor Shah. She had felt Blob quivering on her shoulder; she had sensed the extreme anger in Black Doctor Chang's mind, and the temptation deliberately to quell that anger had been almost overwhelming, but she had cast it aside. She had answered all of the questions that were asked her, and listened to the debate with a growing sense of despair.
And now the chance was gone. The decision was being made.
She 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 had seemed hostile, but she knew that only worsened the anguish. There was nothing she could do now but wait.
At last the door opened, and a nurse called to her. Valeris felt her legs tremble as she walked into the room to face the semi-circle of doctors. She tried to read the answer on their faces, but even Black Doctor Shah sat impassively, doodling with his stylus on the blank PC tablet before him, refusing to meet Valeris's eyes.
The White Doctor took up his own PC tablet. "We have considered your application, and have reached a decision. We are please to inform you that your application for assignment has been tentatively accepted."
Valeris heard the words, and it seemed as though the room were spinning around her. She wanted to shout for joy and throw her arms around Black Doctor Shah, but she stood perfectly still, and suddenly she noticed that Blob was very quiet on her shoulder. Apparently, there were strings attached.
"We must, however, warn you that this acceptance is not irrevocable," the White Doctor went on. "We cannot guarantee your ultimate acceptance as a fully qualified Star Surgeon at this time. You will be permitted 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 Raphael, leaving from Hospital San Francisco next Tuesday. If you prove your ability in that post, your performance will once again be reviewed by this praesidium, but only you can 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 Valeris, and set the PC tablet down. "The praesidium wishes you well. Any questions?"
"Only one," Valeris managed to say. "Who will my crewmates be?"
"Per custom, a probationer from the Green Service of Medicine and one from the Blue Service of Diagnosis. Both have been specially selected by this praesidium. Your Blue Doctor is Christine Chapel, who has shown great promise in her training in diagnostic medicine."
"Who's going to be the Green Doctor?"
"A young man named Leonard McCoy," the White Doctor said. "Known to his friends, I do believe, as 'Bones.'"ns 126.96.36.199da2