"I demand an explanation," Black Doctor Blasius Chang bellowed, "at once. I mean at once!!! And do make sure that it is a very sensible explanation."
The pathologist was sitting in the control room of Raphael, his glasses slightly tilted on his Oriental face. He had climbed through the entrance lock ten minutes earlier, shaking the rain off of his cloak and wheezing like a boiler on the verge of exploding; now he faced the patrol ship's crew like a small but ominous black bird of prey. Across the room, Christine Chapel was staring through the viewscreen at the rainstorm howling across the landing field below, a small smirk of satisfaction on her face, while Bones sulked with his hands jammed into his pants. Valeris sat by herself feeling very lonely and sad, with Blob peering discreetly out of her jacket pocket.
She knew the Black Doctor was speaking primarily to her, but she made no effort to attempt a reply. She had known the minute the Four-star surgeon came out of the operating room that she was in serious trouble. It was only a matter of time before she would have to answer for her decision here, yet it was somehow relieving that the moment came sooner as opposed to later.
The more Valeris considered her position, the more indefensible it seemed. Time after time she had thought of Dr. Shah's words about judgment and skill. Without one the other was worthless to a doctor, and whatever her skill as a surgeon might have been in the Gorns' operating room, she now realized that her judgment had been bad. She had allowed himself to panic at a crucial moment, and she had failed to see how far the surgery had really progressed. By deciding to wait for help to arrive rather than taking over at once, she had placed the patient in even greater jeopardy than before. In looking back, Valeris could see clearly that it would have been far better judgment to proceed on her own.
But that was how it looked now, not then, and there was an old saying that the "retrospectroviewer" was the only infallible instrument in all medicine.
But what was done was done, and couldn't be changed, and Valeris knew that she could only stand on what she had done, right or wrong.
"Didn't you hear me?" Black Doctor Change said, scowling at Valeris through his thick-rimmed glasses. "I demand an explanation. Who is responsible for this travesty? Why did it happen at all?!"
Valeris spread her shapely hands hopelessly. "All I can tell you is that I took a careful history of the situation as soon as we arrived here, and then, upon examining the patient in the operating room, I concluded that the surgery was likely over my head. I felt it best not to attempt it if a hospital ship could be reached in time. I thought that patient could be maintained safely long enough for us to call for help."
"Haven't you done micro-surgery before, Dr. Valeris?" the Black Doctor asked.
"And organ transplant work?"
The Black Doctor consulted a data file on his PC tablet, peering carefully at it over his glasses. "In fact, you spent two solid years in micro-surgical training in Hospital Montreal, with all sorts of glowing reports from your instructors about a certain flair you had for the work."
Valeris shook her head. "I—I did some work in the field, yes, but not on critical cases under field conditions."
"Are you saying that this particular case required a different kind of technique than the cases you've worked on before?"
"Not really, but—"
"But you just couldn't quite handle the responsibility the case involved when you got in a jam without anyone to extricate you," the Black Doctor growled.
"I only thought it would be safer to wait," Valeris said helplessly.
"I commend you for your 'conservative' approach," Dr. Chang sneered. "I hope you realized that prolonged anesthesia by itself could threaten that patient's life."
"I did, sir."
"And you saw the patient's condition steadily deteriorating while you waited." It was not a question.
"It was too late to change my mind at that point," Valeris said desperately. "We sent out a call for you knowing that it would be only a matter of hours before you arrived."
"The fact remains," the Black Doctor said, "that it takes only seconds for a patient to cross the boundary between life and death, not hours. Would you have just stood there and allowed him to die had we not arrived at the time we did?"
Valeris shook her head miserably, realizing that was nothing she could say for herself about it. What did she have to say? That the situation seemed quite different now from what it had been under pressure in the Gorns' operating room? That she would have been held responsible just as much if she had gone ahead, and then lost the patient? Her fingers stole down to Blob's soft warm body for comfort, and she felt the little being cling closer to her side.
The Black Doctor looked up at the others. "If the rest of you have anything to say, say it now!"
Christine Chapel shrugged her shoulders. "I'm no surgeon," she said, "but even I could see that something should've been done right away."
"Green Doctor, what is your opinion?"
Bones shrugged. "We just misjudged the situation, that's all. The patient lived, no doubt about that, so why all the fuss?"
"Dr. McCoy, there happen to be other things at stake than just the medical end of this," the Black Doctor shot back. "Gornar has a Level I contract with Hospital Earth. They are guaranteed full medical coverage of all situations---all situations! And we promise them a prompt response to any call for medical help that they may send us. It is the most favorable kind of contract we have; when they must call for help, they will naturally expect their call to be answered by expert medical attention, not by amateurish stupidity."
The Black Doctor watched the data scroll by on the screen of his PC tablet. "We have built our reputation in the Federation of Planets on contracts such as these, and our admission to full membership in the Federation will ultimately depend upon how well we fulfill our promises. Bad medical judgment is inexcusable under any circumstances---but above all, we can't afford to jeopardize a major contract."
Valeris stared at him. "I—I never meant to jeopardize our contract with them," she faltered.
"No, I'm sure you didn't," the Black Doctor said. "However, you were the doctor on the scene, and you were so obviously incompetent to handle the case that even these clumsy Gorn surgeons could see it. You, young lady, have so severely shaken their faith in the doctors from Hospital Earth that they are thinking of letting their contract lapse at the end of this term."
Bones McCoy jumped to his feet. "Doctor Chang, even Four-star Surgeons lose their patients occasionally. These people should be thankful that the doctors they call have sense enough to request help if they need it."
"But no help was needed here," the Black Doctor hissed through clenched teeth. "Any good surgeon would have handled the case himself. If the Gorns see a patrol ship bring in one idiotic doctor, what will they expect the next time they have to call for help? How can they feel sure that their medical needs will be well taken care of?" He shook his head grimly. " This is the kind of responsibility that doctors on our patrol ships are admonished to assume. If you call for help where help is needed, it is not an issue; but the minute you turn and run away the moment things get rough, it shows that you are unfit for patrol ship service."
The Black Doctor turned to Valeris. "You, my dear, had sufficient warning," he said. "You understood that your assignment on this ship depended upon the fulfillment of the duties of the Red Doctor, and now at the first real test of skill, you turned and ran instead of doing the job you were trained for. You have had your opportunity, so don't complain that you haven't been treated fairly. Now, according to the conduct code of the General Practice Patrol, section XXV, paragraph 3, any physician in the patrol on probationary status who is found delinquent in executing his duties can and will be relieved of his assignment at the order of any Black Doctor, or any other physician of four-star rank." Doctor Chang shut off the pad. "Having said that, I can see that I have been left with no choice. Valeris, by the power vested in me by Hospital Earth, you are hereby relieved of duty—"
"Wait!" Bones McCoy burst out.
The Black Doctor looked up at him. "I'm listening."
"This is a bunch of bull!" Bones said. "Why are you picking on her? Or are you relieving all three of us?"
"No, I'm not relieving all three of you," the Black Doctor snapped. "You and Dr. Chapel will stay on duty and conduct the ship's business without a Red Doctor until a qualified man is sent to replace this stupid bitch. That too is provided for in the code."
"I thought we were operating as a diagnostic and therapeutic team," Bones protested. "And I'd like to point out that there's something in the code about fixing responsibility before a physician can be relieved."
"There's no doubt where the responsibility lies," the Black Doctor said, his yellowish face darkening. "It was a surgical matter, and Valeris made the decisions. I see nothing to argue."
"There's a lot to argue!" Bones said. "Good God, Val! Don't you see what he's trying to do?"
Across the room, Valeris shook her head wearily. "Keep out of this, Bones," she said.
"Why should I keep out of it? So he can bounce you out of the patrol for something that wasn't even your fault?" Bones said. He turned angrily to the Black Doctor. "Valeris wasn't the one who wanted the hospital ship called," he said. "I was. If you want to nail a hide to the wall, nail mine."
The Black Doctor pulled off his glasses and glared at Bones. "What are you babbling about?" he said.
"Okay, here's how it went down: We held a conference after she'd examined the patient in the operating room, and I insisted that we summon the hospital ship. Val—Valeris wanted to go ahead and try to finish the case right then, but I wouldn't let her," Bones blundered on. "I didn't think the patient could take it and I thought that it would be too great a risk with the facilities we had here."
Valeris stared at Bones, and she felt Blob suddenly shivering violently in her pocket. "Bones, no!"
The Black Doctor punched the off switch on his PC tablet hard enough to risk damaging the instrument. "Is this true?" he asked Valeris.
"No, it's not," Valeris said. "The call to the hospital ship was my idea."
"Don't listen to her!" Bones said angrily. "She's afraid you'll boot me out too, but it's true all the same despite what she says."
"What do you say?" the Black Doctor said, turning to Christine Chapel.
"I say it's a brother-sister act that's going too far," Christine said. "As far as I know, there were no conferences going on."
"What do you know about it, Christine?" Bones said. "You were back at the ship getting the surgical pack. You didn't hear us talking, and we saw no reason to consult you about it."
The Black Doctor stared from Valeris to Bones, his face growing angrier by the minute, his slanted eyes narrowing to mere slits. He jerked to his feet, and stomped to and fro across the control room, glaring murderously at them. Then he took a capsule from his pocket, gulped it down with a little bit of water, and sat back down. "I've got a good mind to throw you two out on your asses," he snarled. "But I'm forced to control myself. I mustn't allow myself to get angry..." He crashed his fist down on the control panel. "Will you swear to this statement of yours if it came to that?" he asked Bones.
Bones nodded and swallowed hard. "I would."
"Very well," the Black Doctor said tightly. "You win this round. The code says that two opinions can properly decide any course of action. If you insist that both of you agreed upon this decision, then I have no choice but to officially support you. I will file a report of this incident with patrol headquarters, and it will go on the permanent records of all three members of this ship's crew. That, unfortunately, includes my own opinion of the decision." He looked up at Valeris. "Be very careful, young lady. Next time you may not have a technicality backing you up, and I'll be watching for the first plausible excuse to bust you, and your Green Doctor boyfriend as well. One false move and it's all over. This is no mere idle threat, madam. I mean every word of it."
And trembling with rage, the Black Doctor picked up his PC tablet, wrapped his cape around him, and stomped out of the control room.584Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡytEnwSmPMK
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"Well, did you put on a great show, or what?" Christine Chapel said later as they readied the spaceship for launching from the rain-soaked landing field on Gornar. One hour before the ground had trembled as the Black Doctor's ship took off with Dr. Chang and the Four-star Surgeon aboard; now Christine broke the somber silence in Raphael's control room for the first time. "Yeah, you put on a great show, all right, a really great show. Oh, you're a lousy doctor, Bones, but you're one hell of a showman. Think you fooled Dr. Chang with that story? Think again. On the other hand, you did keep your crush's collar and cuff for her, and you put a black mark on all of our records, mine included. I hope you're happy. I'm not."
Bones McCoy took off his earphones and set them down carefully on the control panel. "Count your blessings," he said to Christine.
"Ever heard of the Vulcan neck pinch? Valeris taught me all about it. It's a martial technique developed by the Vulcans centuries ago. It involves applying pressure near the base of the neck, at the shoulder, to nearly instantly render the target unconscious, often so fast that the target is unable to cry out, but not always. Being able to perform it is seen as a mark of true Vulcanhood by some. (You're lucky I don't try it out on you, lady. And don't press your luck, because all I need right now is an excuse." Bones stood up, towering over the golden-haired Blue Doctor. "Damn right I'm happy. If you got a black mark along with the rest of us, baby, you earned it!"
"That still doesn't make it right," Valeris said from across the room.
"Now, you just stay out of this for right now," Bones said. "Christine's got to get a couple of things straight, and now's the time."
Valeris shook her head. "I can't stay out of it," he said. "You saved me by shifting the blame, but you got yourself in big trouble doing it. Dr. Chang could just as well have thrown us both out of the service as not."
Bones snorted. "Why? For a petty little error like this? He wouldn't dare! You should read the logbooks of some of the other GPP ships someday and see the kind of bloopers they make without even so much as a reprimand. Yeah, he could've thrown us both out if he thought he could make it count, but he knew better. He knew the presidium would just review the case and overrule him."
"Still, it was my mistake, not yours," Valeris protested. "I should've gone ahead and finished the surgery on the spot. I knew it at the time, and I just didn't have the guts."
"Okay, you made a mistake," Bones said. "You'll make a hundred more before you get your Star, and if none of them amount to any more than this one, it's a point in your favor." He scowled at Christine. "It's only thanks to this blonde bitch here that the Black Doctor heard about it at all. A hospital ship would have come to take the patient aboard, and the local doctors would have been calmed down and the rest, as they say, would have been history. This garbage about losing a contract is a load of bullshit."
"You think this thing was just used as an excuse to get at me?"
"Was it?" Bones said, looking at Christine again. "Now why did a Black Doctor and a Four-star Surgeon turn up when we just called for a hospital ship?"
"But I did call the hospital ship," Christine protested sullenly.
"Yeah, but you called Dr. Chang too," said Bones. "You've been bent out of shape ever since Val came aboard this ship. You've made things as miserable for her as you could, and when the chance came along to try and scuttle her, by God, you took it!"
"All right, I did it," Christine admitted. "But she was making a mistake. Any fool could see that. Suppose that patient had died while she was standing around waiting? Isn't that what's important?"
Bones started to answer and then threw up his hands in disgust. "It is---but something else is more important. We have a job to do on this ship, and we can't do it if we're always fighting each other. Valeris misjudged a case and got herself in trouble. Great, she 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 nothing. We'll all be kicked out of the patrol before the year is out." Bones stopped to catch his breath, his face flushed with anger. "Well, I'm damn sick and tired of this back-stabbing business. I don't want a fight any more than Valeris does, but if I have to fight, I'll fight to get it over with, and you damn well better watch out. If you pull any more bullshit, you better put me in the mix, because if Valeris goes, I go. You got my word on that."
There was quiet for a moment as Christine stared up at Bones's angry face. She shook her head and blinked as if she couldn't quite believe what she'd just heard. She looked across at Valeris, and then back at Bones again. "You mean you'd turn in your collar and cuff---for her?" she said.
"If it comes to that, yes."
"Hmm." Christine sat down at the control panel, still shaking her head. "You really mean that," she said soberly. "This isn't just a brother-sister act. You really like her, don't you?"
"Personally? Maybe," Bones said. "What I don't like is to watch a lady get kicked around just because somebody else doesn't happen to like her."
The control room was very quiet. Then somewhere below a motor clicked on, and the ventilation fan made a faint whirring sound. The E-typer clicked sporadically down the corridor in the subspace communications room. Valeris sat quietly, rubbing Blob between the eyes and watching the two Terrans. It seemed all of a sudden as if they were talking about somebody a million light-years away as if she were not even in the room.
Then the Blue Doctor shrugged and rose to her feet. "All right," she said to Bones. "I guess I just didn't understand your position, and I suppose it wasn't my place to let the Black Doctor know about the situation here. I don't plan on making all the mistakes you think we're going to make, and I'll be damned if I'm going to take the blame for anyone else's, but I guess we've got to work together in the tight spaces." She gave Valeris a lopsided grin. "Welcome aboard," she said. "We'd better get this crate airborne before the people here come and haul it away like garbage."
They moved then, and the subject was dropped. Thirty minutes later Raphael lifted through the atmospheric pull of Gornar and moved on toward the next contact point, leaving the recovering patient in the hands of the native physicians. It would not be until some hours later that Blob had stopped quivering, and was now resting happily and securely on her shoulder---even when the Blue Doctor was present!ns 220.127.116.11da2