The three doctors huddled around the E-typer, watching as the decoded message was printed out on the tape. "It started coming in just now," Bones said. "And they've been beaming the signal in a spherical pattern, apparently trying to pick up the closest ship they could get. There's certainly some kind of trouble going on."
The message was brief, repeated over and over: MEDICAL ASSISTANCE NEEDED NOW REPLY AT ONCE. This was followed by the code letters that designated the planet, its location, and the number of its medical service contract.
Christine glanced at the code. "Gornar," she said. "I think that's a Level 1 contract." She began punching buttons on the reference panel and several screening cards came down the slot from the database. "Got it. It's the ninth planet in the Tau Lacertae system, the only inhabited planet of that system with a single intelligent race, reptilian evolutionary pattern." She handed the cards to Bones. "They're called Gorns."
"Are they like bipedal crocodiles, or alligators?"
"Looks that way. They're born from eggs."
"What about the contract?" Valeris asked.
"Level 1," said Bones. "And they've had a thorough survey. Moderately advanced in their own health care, but they have full medical coverage any time they think they need it. We'd better get an acknowledgment back to them. Christine, get the ship ready to warp-jump while Valeris starts digging information out of the bank. If this race has its own doctors, they'd be hollering for help if they're up against a tough one."
Bones settled down with ear buds and transmitter to try to make contact with the Gorns, while Christine went forward to control and Valeris 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 warp-drive, and start gathering data fast. With no hint of the nature of the problem, their job was to get there, equipped with as much data about the planet and its people allowed by time.
The Tau Lacertae system was not distant from the Raphael's current location. Bones calculated that two hours in Cochrane drive would put the spaceship in the vicinity of the planet, with another hour needed for landing procedures. He passed word on to the others, and Valeris began digging through the mass of information in the E-library on Gornar and the Gorns.
There was, fortunately, a wealth of data at her disposal. Gornar 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 Gornar and its inhabitants began to emerge.
The Gorns were moderately intelligent creatures cold-blooded air breathers with an oxygen-based metabolism. Their planet was a tropical jungle world, with less of a tilt than Earth, thereby enabling the atmosphere to trap more heat. With its vast rainforests and great beaches, the planet was a popular resort area for oxygen-breathing creatures; most of the natives were engaged in work related to outdoor sports. They were well fitted anatomically for their climate, with green, rubbery skin, red blood and an average height of approximately two meters.
Swiftly Valeris reviewed the emergency file, checking for common drugs and chemicals that were toxic to Gorns, accidents that were common to the race, and special problems that had been met by previous patrol ships. The deeper she dug into the mass of data, the more worried she became. Where should she begin? Searching in the dark, there was no way to guess what information would be necessary and what part absolutely useless.
She buzzed Bones. "Any word on the nature of the trouble?" she asked.
"Just got through to them," Bones 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." Bones paused. "I think this is going to be your show, Val. Better brush up on Gorn anatomy."
It was better than no information, but not much better. Blob huddled on Valeris's shoulder as if he could sense his mistress's excitement. Very few races under contract with Hospital Earth ever attempted their own major surgery. If a Gorn surgeon had walked into a tight spot in the operating room, it could be a real test of skill to get him---and her patient---out of it, even on a relatively easy procedure. But organ-transplantation, with the delicate vascular surgery and micro-surgery that it entailed, was never easy. In incompetent hands, it was a tragedy in the making.
Valeris took a deep breath and began running the anatomical atlas E-tapes through the E-reader, checking the critical points of Gorn anatomy. Oxygen-transfer system, circulatory system, renal filtration system---at first glance, there was little resemblance to any of the "typical" air-breathing reptiles Valeris had studied in medical school. But then something struck a familiar note, and she remembered studying the odd Gorn renal system, in which the creatures' chemical waste products were filtered from the bloodstream in a series of tubules passing across the peritoneum, and reabsorbed into the intestine for excretion. Bit by bit other points of the anatomy became clear, and in thirty minutes of intense study Valeris began to see how the inhabitants of Gornar were put together.
Satisfied for the moment, she then pulled the E-tapes that described the Gorns' 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 Cochrane drive took over. Valeris tossed the E-tape discs back into the bin for refiling, and went forward to the control room.
Just short of two hours later, the Raphael shifted back to normal space drive, and the orange sun of Gornar swam into sight in the viewscreen. Far below, the tiny ninth 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 humid surface of the planet spread out before them. Great tree-covered mountain ranges rose up on either side. A forty-mile gale howled across the landing field, sweeping sheets of rain 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. Christine slipped into the poncho that she had pulled from stores, and went out through the entrance lock and down the ladder to meet the green leather-skinned creatures that were lumbering out of the vehicle below. The universal translator was strapped to her chest.
Five minutes later she reappeared, rain dripping of her blue collar, her face white as she looked at Valeris. "You'd better get down there right away," she said, "and take your micro-surgical instruments. Bones, give me a hand with the anesthesia 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 as bad as we feared."607Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡe1CoH35VNl
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The Gorn who escorted them across the city to the hospital was a huge scaly creature who left no doubt of the evolutionary line of his people. He had slit silvery eyes, an impressive array of sharp, carnivorous teeth, and his hands and feet had vicious claws, making him look for all the world like a living edition of the dinosaurs Valeris had seen displayed at the natural history museum in Hospital Montreal. Like all beings with oxygen/water-based metabolisms, the Gorns could trace their evolutionary line to minute unicelled salt-water creatures; but with the oppressive heat of the planet, the first land-creatures to emerge from the primeval swamp of Gornar had developed the scaly skin and claws of dinosaur-like reptiles. They towered over Valeris, and even Christine seemed dwarfed by their immense chest girth and powerful shoulders.
As the ground car hurried toward the hospital, Valeris probed for more information. The Gorn's voice was a harsh hiss that nearly deafened the Terrans in the confined quarters of the car but Valeris with the aid of the translator could piece together what had happened.
More sophisticated in medical knowledge than most races in the galaxy, the Gorns had learned a great deal from their contact with Hospital Earth physicians. They really did have a remarkable grasp of physiology and biochemistry and constantly sought to learn even more. They had already found ways to grow replacement organs from embryonic grafts, the Gorn 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.
Valeris looked up at the Gorn doctor. "What organ were you replacing?" she asked suspiciously.
"We were not replacing the entire organ, only a segment," the Gorn said. "The tumor had caused an obstructive pneumonia...."
"Wait a minute? Are we talking about a segment of lung?" Valeris said, nearly choking.
"Yes. That's where the tumor was."
Valeris swallowed hard. "So you just decided to replace a segment."
"We did. But the operation has gone wrong, and we know not why."
"I see." It was all Valeris could do to keep from giving the huge creature hell for his irresponsibility. The Gorns had no duplication of organs, such as Terrans 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 best 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 Gorn had no other to take its place. "Do you have any micro-surgical instruments at all?"
"Yes," the Gorn rumbled proudly. "We made them ourselves, just for this case."
"You mean---you've never attempted a procedure like this before?!"
"This was the first time. As I have said, we know not where we went wrong."
"Obviously, you went wrong when you thought about trying it," Valeris muttered. "What anesthesia?"
"Oxygen and alcohol vaper."
This was no surprise. With many species, alcohol vapor was more effective and less toxic than other anesthetic gases. "And you have a heart-lung machine?"
"The best available, on loan from Hospital Earth."
All the way through the city Valeris continued the questioning, and by the time they reached the hospital she had an idea of the task that was facing her. She knew now that it was going to be bad; she didn't realize just how bad until she walked into the operating room.
The patient was barely alive. Recognizing too late that they were in over their heads, the Gorn surgeons had gone into panic, and neglected the very fundamentals of physiological support for the being on the table. Valeris 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 Valeris's ears as she 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 anesthetized?" she asked the scaly operating surgeon.
"Over eighteen hours now.'
"And how much blood has he received?"
"Any more on hand?"
"Six more, I estimate."
"Then you'd better get it into him. He's in shock right now!"
The surgeon skulked away while Valeris took another look at the micro field. The situation was bad; the anesthesia had already gone on too long, and the blood chemistry record showed progressive failure.
She stepped down from the platform, trying to clear her head and decide the right thing to do.
She had done micro-surgery before, plenty of it, and she knew the techniques necessary to complete the job, but the thought of attempting it frightened her. At best, she was sailing on uncharted waters, with a dozen factors that could go wrong. By now the patient was a dreadful risk for any surgeon. If she were to step in now, and the patient died, how would she explain not calling for help?"
She stepped out to the scrub room where Bones was waiting. "Where's Christine?" she said.
"Went back to the ship for the rest of the surgical pack."
Valeris shook her head. "We need to get him to a hospital ship. I honestly don't know what in the hell to do for him."
"Is it more than you can handle?" Bones said.
"It certainly looks that way."
A frown creased Bones's face. "Val, it would take six hours for a hospital ship to get here."
"I know. But then...." Valeris spread her hands. She felt Blob crouching in a tight frightened lump in her pocket. She 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 she shook her head. "Look, he's a reptile, right? He can shut down his metabolism, and slow down his heart rate. That means we can lighten the anesthesia and maintain him as is, indefinitely."
"It's your call, Val," Bones said. "I'm not a surgeon, don't know anything about it. If you think we should just hold tight, that's what we'll do."
"All right. I think we'd better. Have them notify Christine to signal for a hospital ship. We'll just try to tough it out."
Bones left to pass the word, and Valeris went back into the operating room. Suddenly she felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her 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 her hands. Yet something was wriggling uncomfortably in the back of her mind, a quiet little voice saying this isn't right, you should be doing this yourself right now instead of wasting precious time....
She thrust the thought away angrily and ordered the Gorn physicians to bring in ice packs to cool the patient's huge hulk down to suspended animation temperatures. "We're sending for a hospital ship," Valeris told the Gorn surgeon who had met them at the ship. "Your patient needs specialized care, and we'd be taking too many risks to try to do it your way."
"He cannot wait for a hospital ship. He needs help now!"
"Sorry, but I have no choice," Valeris said.
This news seemed to upset the Gorns enormously. They began hissing and growling among themselves, moving back from the operating table.
"What kind of sick prankster do you pretend to be, doctor?" the operating surgeon hissed.
"I'm sorry, but I can't be responsible if he dies."
"But...it has been said that you Hospital Earth doctors can just step in...."
"I can, but that would mean taking unnecessary risks. We can maintain him until the hospital ship arrives."
The Gorns continued to growl ominously, but Valeris brushed past them, checking the vital signs of the patient as his body temperature slowly dropped. Bones had taken over the anesthesia, keeping the patient under as light a dosage of medication as possible.
"What's eating them?" he asked Valeris quietly.
"They don't want a hospital ship here very much," Valeris said. "Afraid they'll look like fools all over the Federation if the word gets out. But that's their problem. Ours is to keep this living fossil alive until the ship gets here."
They settled back to wait.
It was an agonizing time for Valeris. Even Blob didn't seem to be much comfort. The patient was clearly not doing well, even with the quasi-suspended animation Valeris had induced. His blood pressure was sagging, and at one time Bones sat up sharply, staring at his anesthesia dials and frowning in alarm as the nervous-system reactions flagged. The Gorn physicians hovered around, increasingly uneasy as they saw the doctors from Hospital Earth waiting and doing nothing. One of them, unable to contain himself any longer, tore off his sterile gown and stalked angrily out of the surgical suite.
Twelve times Valeris was on the verge of stepping in. It was beginning to look now like a race against time, and precious minutes were passing by. She cursed herself inwardly for not taking the bit in her teeth at the beginning and going ahead the best she 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 that another ship had been sighted making landing maneuvers. Valeris clenched her 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. Valeris saw the faces of the two men, and her heart sank.
One was a Four-star Surgeon, resplendent in flowing red cape and glistening silver insignia. Valeris 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 oppressive wind and rain on the landing field, was Black Doctor Blasius Chang.607Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡkq7oWFANaP
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Moments after the Four-star Surgeon arrived at the hospital, he was fully and unmistakably in command of the situation. He gave Valeris an icy stare, then turned to the Gorn operating surgeon, whom he seemed to know very well. After a brief barrage of questions and answer, he scrubbed and gowned, and stalked past Valeris to the crude Gorn micro-surgical control table.
It took him exactly fifteen seconds to scan the entire operating field through the viewer, discussing the anatomy as the Gorn surgeon watched on a connecting screen. Then, without hesitation, he began manipulating the micro-instruments. Once or twice, he murmured something to Bones at the anesthesia controls, and occasionally he nodded reassurance to the Gorn surgeon. He did not even invite Valeris to observe.
Ten minutes later he rose from the control table and threw a 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 Gorn physician. "Well done, Doctor, well done!" he said. "Your technique was flawless, except for the tiny matter you have observed."
It was not until they were outside of the operating room and beyond earshot of the Gorn doctors that the Four-star surgeon whirled furiously on Valeris. "My, God! What kind of a doctor are you, woman?! Didn't you even bother to examine the operating field? Where did you study surgery? Couldn't you tell the dumb bastards had practically finished the job themselves? All that was needed was a simple great-vessel graft, which an untrained idiot could have done in his sleep. And for this you've called me all the way from Hospital Earth! Damn you!"
The surgeon threw down his mask in outrage and stalked away, leaving Valeris and Bones staring at each other in dismay.ns 220.127.116.11da2