Slowly, patiently they drew the story out of the representative of Ganavar, the 7th planet of 42 Messler.485Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡQvh2fEAlJ9
The small, six-armed bug-like creature was painfully shy; he needed constant reassurance that the doctors did not mind being called, that they truly wanted to help, and that a contract was unnecessary in an emergency. Even at that the representative was reluctant to give details about the plague and about his stricken race. Every little tidbit of information had to be extracted with patient questioning.
By tacit consent the doctors didn't even mention the odd fact that Ganavar had been explored by a Federation ship eight hundred years earlier and no evidence of intelligent life had been found. The little, sleepy-eyed creature before them seemed ready to turn and run at the first hint of attack or accusation. But little by little, a picture of the present situation on the planet developed.
Whoever they were, wherever they had been when the Federation ship had landed, there was without a doubt an intelligent race now occupying the lonely planet of Ganavar There was no doubt of their scientific progress; a few well-timed questions revealed that they had harnessed atomic energy, possessed a working knowledge of the nature and properties of anti-matter, and a workable warp drive that operated on the same basic principle as Earth's Cochrane drive but which the Ganavarians had seldom, if ever, used because of their shyness and fear of contact with other races. They also had an second-to-none understanding, due to their eavesdropping on Federation subspace radio chatter, of the existence and functions of the Federation of Planets, and of Hosptial Earth's work as doctor to the galaxy.
But about Ganavarian anatomy, physiology or biochemistry, the little representative refused to tell them anything. He seemed genuinely scared when they pressed him about the physical make-up of his people, as if their questions were somehow irritating a raw nerve. He insisted that his people knew nothing about the nature of the plague that had stricken them, and the doctors couldn't budge him so much as one inch from his stand.
But, yes, a plague had indeed struck.
It had begun six months earlier, striking great masses of the people. It had walked the streets of the cities, the hills, and the valleys of the countryside. First three out of ten had been stricken, then four, then five. The course of the disease, once begun, was always the same: illness, weakness, fatigue and depression, ultimately leading to 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 eat food and to drink was lost, and after an interval of one week or more, death invariably ensued.
Finally the doctors retired to the control room for a puzzled conference. "It must be an organism of some kind that's doing it," Valeris said. "There couldn't be an illness like this that wasn't caused by some kind of a parasitic germ or virus."
"Don't jump to conclusions just yet," Christine said. "We don't anything about these people except what we can see. We'll have to do a complete biochemical and medical survey before we can hope to do anything."
"We're not a survey ship, Christine," Bones protested.
"We are now," Christine said. "If we can just learn enough to be sure that it is an infectious disease, we might stand a chance of finding a drug that to cure it. Or at least a way to immunize the ones that aren't infected yet. If it's a viral infection, all we have to do is 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 uninfected. We'd better make arrangements as fast as we can make them."
One hour later they had reached an agreement with the Ganavarian emissary. The Raphael would be allowed to land on the planet's surface just 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 Raphael orbiting one thousand miles above the surface. Without question their first job was diagnosis, discovering the exact nature of the illness and studying the afflicted people. This responsibility rested solely on Christine's shoulders; she was the diagnostician, and Valeris and Bones willingly gave in to her in organizing the program.
And so, it was decided that Bones and Christine would visit the planet's surface immediately, while Valeris 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 Ganavarians.
But in all the excitement of planning, Valeris was unable to cast of the lingering shadow of doubt in her mind, some instinctive cautionary voice 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....
Unfortunately, it was only a faint voice, and all too easy to push aside as the planning went ahead at warp speed.
It didn't take very long for the Raphael's to realize that there was something very odd indeed about the small, six-armed inhabitants of Ganavar.
Well, "odd" was not really the proper word to describe these beings at all. Who knew better than the doctors of Hospital Earth that oddness was the rule, not the exception, among the various members of the galactic civilization. All kinds and varieties of lifeforms 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 Valeris this awareness of the oddness and difference of other races was especially acute. She knew that to Bones and Christine she herself seemed odd. Her pointed ears and upswept eyebrows set her apart from them. But these were understandable differences. Her close attachment to Blob was something else, and it still seemed beyond their human capability to understand.
She had spent one whole evening patiently trying to make Christine understand just how her attachment to the tiny pink being was more than just the fondness of a woman for her cat.
"Then, just what is it?"
"Symbiosis," Valeris had replied. "That's when two lifeforms live together, and each one assists the other. Together each one is better off than either one would be alone. Don't all living creatures live in symbiosis with the bacteria in their digestive tracts? We provide them with a place to live and grow, and they aid us in digesting our food. It's a kind of partnership—and Blob and I are partners in the same sort of way."
Christine had argued, and then lost her temper, and finally, albeit grudgingly, agreed that she supposed she would have to put up with it even if it made absolutely no sense to her.
But the beings on Ganavar were "odd" far beyond the reasonable boundaries of oddness—so far beyond that the doctors simply could not believe the things that their eyes and instruments were saying to them.
When Bones and Christine returned to the Raphael after their first trip to Gavanar's surface, they were visibly shaken. Geographically, they had found it just as it had been described in the exploratory reports---a barren, desert world with only a few large islands of vegetation in the equatorial regions.
"But those people!" Christine said. "They don't fit into any kind of a pattern. They've got houses—if you can call them houses—but every one of them is like every other one, and they're all bunched together in tight little packs, with nothing for miles in between. They've got advanced technology, good communications, sophisticated manufacturing techniques, my God, everything---but they just don't use them."
"Weirdest part is," Tiger said, "they evidently don't want to use them."
"It just doesn't add up," Christine said. "There are thousands of villages, 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 rebuild the engine just so they could take us from one place to another. Yeah, things can and do get disorganized with a plague running wild, but this plague just hasn't been going on that long."
"Is the disease as bad as it sounded?" Valeris asked.
"Actually, it's worse," Bones said gloomily. "They're dying in droves, and I hope we got those suits of ours decontaminated, because I don't want anything to do with this plague."
"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, Bones described the conditions they'd found among the stricken people. There was no doubt that a plague was stalking this planet. In the rutted mud roads of the villages and towns the dead were piled high in storm gutters, and in all of the cities an eerie stillness hovered over the streets. Those who had not yet fallen victim to the illness were nursing and feeding the sick ones, but these unaffected ones were growing scarcer and scarcer. The entire living population seemed resigned to hopelessness, barely even taking notice of the doctors from the patrol ship.
But worst of all were those in the last stages of the disease, wandering vaguely about the street, their faces blank and their jaws slack as if living in a silent world of their own, cut off from contact with the reality. "One of them nearly bumped into me," Christine said. "I was right in front of him, and he didn't see me or hear me."
"Don't they have any knowledge of antisepsis or isolation?" Valeris asked.
Bones shook his head. "If they do, we couldn't see it. They don't know what's causing this sickness. They think that it's some kind of curse, and they never imagined that it might be kept from spreading."
Already Bones and Christine had taken the first routine steps to deal with the plague. They gave orders to move the uninfected people in every town and village to isolated barracks and stockades. For half of a day Bones tried to explain ways to prevent the spread of bacteria and virus-borne diseases. The people had stared at him as if he were speaking gibberish; finally he gave up trying to explain, and just laid down ground rules which the people were instructed to follow. Together they had collected routine test specimens of bodily fluids and tissue from both healthy and infected Garavanians, and come back to the Raphael for a break.
Immediately, all three doctors began to work on the specimens. Cultures were inoculated with specimens from respiratory tract, blood and tissue taken from both sick and healthy. Six fatal cases were airlifted to the ship under specially controlled conditions for autopsy examination, in order to reveal both the normal anatomical characteristics of this strange race of beings and the damage the disease was doing. Down on the surface Bones had already inoculated twelve of the healthy ones with various radioactive isotopes to help outline the normal metabolism and biochemistry of the people. After a brief sleep break on the Raphael, he went back down alone to follow up on these, leaving Valeris and Christine to carry on the survey work in the ship's lab.
It was a mammoth task they were facing, for they knew that in any race of beings they could not hope to recognize the abnormal with knowing what the normal was. That was why such intensive bio-med surveys were always done on new contract planets. Normally, a survey crew with specialists in physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, radiology, pharmacology and pathology might spend months, maybe years, on a new planet gathering baseline information. But here there was neither time nor facilities to do a study like that. Even in the 24 hours since the Raphael arrived, the number of dead had risen to nosebleed heights.
Alone on the ship, Valeris and Christine found themselves working as a well organized team. For arguments and duplicated efforts, there was simply no time; everything the two doctors did was closely coordinated, a coordination so close that Christine seemed to have completely forgotten her previous antagonism. There was a crisis here, and one hundred times more work than three doctors could possibly do in the allotted time. "You handle anatomy and pathology," Christine told Valeris at the start. "I bet you can get the picture five times faster than I can, and your pathology slides are better than most commercial ones. I can do the best job on the cultures, once I set up the growth media."
Bit by bit they subdivided the labor, checking in with Bones by radio on the results of the isotopes studies he was running on the planet's surface. Bit by bit the data was gathered, and Terran and Vulcan worked closer than ever before as the task that faced them seemed increasingly formidable.
And still the results of their tests were baffling. Bones came back to the ship after forty-eight hours with circles under his eyes, looking as if 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 ran those tests twelve times and I still didn't get any answers that made sense."
"The results you were sending up sounded pretty weird, I'll say that," Christine said. "What was the matter?"
"Hell if I know," Bones said, "but if we're seeking a biological pattern in this mix, we obviously haven't found it yet."
"Obviously, we haven't!" Valeris exploded. "I thought I was somehow doing something wrong, because these blood chemistries I've been running have been totally absurd. I can't even find a normal level for their blood sugar, and as for the enzyme systems...." She put a PC Tablet down on the counter in disgust. "Logically, these people shouldn't even be alive, not with a screwed-up metabolism like this! I've never seen anything like it."
"What kind of pathology did you find?" Bones wanted to know.
"None whatsoever," Valeris said. "I performed 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 peoplebear a striking resemblance to Terran crustaceans, in structure, yet they possesses hearts, lungs, vocal cords, and everything else a bipedal species has. But I can't find any reason why they should be dying. Did you have any luck with the cultures?"
Bones shook his head glumly. "I get no growth on any of the plates. I thought at first I had something going, but if I did, it died, and there's no sign of it on the filtrates."
"We have to have something to work on," Christine said desperately. "There are some things that always measure out the same in any intelligent being regardless of his home planet. That's the cornerstone of galactic medicine. Although creatures develop and adapt in different ways, the basic biochemical stay the same."
"Not here, they don't," Valeris said. "Look at these tests!"
They all synchronized their PC tablets and opened the files containing the notes they had collected while seated in the control room. They began to sift and organize the data, just as a survey team would do, trying to match it with the pattern of a thousand other living beings that previously been studied. Hours passed, and they were no closer to an answer than when they began.
The trouble was, this data did not fit a pattern. It was different. No two individuals showed the same reactions. In every test the results were either impossible or the exact opposite of what was expected.
Carefully they retraced their steps, trying to identify what might be going wrong.
"There's got to be a lab error," Valeris said wearily. "We've undoubtedly slipped up somewhere along the line."
"But where?" Christine said. "Let's see those culture tubes again. And put on a big pot of strong and hot coffee. I can't even think straight any more."
Of the three of them, Christine was beginning to show the strain the most. This was her specialty, the place where she was supposed to excel, and nothing was happening. The reports coming up from the planet were not encouraging; the isolation techniques they'd tried instituting were failing, and the spread of the plague was accelerating. The communiqués from the Ganavarians were beginning taking on a note of desperation.
Christine watched each report, her apprehension growing. She moved restlessly from lab to control room, checking, rechecking things, trying to bring some order out of the chaos.
"Get some sleep," Valeris urged her. "Two hours worth will freshen you up a hundred per cent."
"I can't, I've already tried it," Christine said.
"Go ahead and get your rest. Bones and I will keep working on these things for a while."
"It's not that," Christine said. "If we can't diagnose this, we can't do anything about it. Without a diagnosis, our hands are tied, and we're not even getting close to it. What the hell is this thing, anyway? A bacteria? A virus? Frankly, I'm beginning to thing the Ganavarians are right: it's a curse."
"The Black Service of Pathology would never buy that for a diagnosis," Bones said bitterly.
"The Black Service would strangle on it—but what other answer do we have? You two have been doing all you can, but diagnosis is my job, the job I'm supposed to be good at. But the more we dig into this, the farther away from the answer we seem to get."
"Think we should call for help?" Bones said.
Christine shook her head helplessly. "It's too late for that," she said. "We're into this over our heads now and we're still going down fast. At the rate those people are dying down there, there's just no time to call for help now." She stared at the screen of the PC Tablet on the desk and her face was very white. "I don't know, I just don't know," she said. "The diagnosis on this case should have been a piece of cake. I thought it was going to be a real feather in my cap, just walking in and nailing it down in just a few hours. Well, I'm defeated. I don't know what to do. If either of you can think of anything, it's all yours, and if Black Doctor Chang is looking for a head, he's welcome to take mine."
It was a bitter medicine for Blue Doctor Christine Chapel to swallow, but that fact gave no pleasure to Valeris or Bones now. They were as stumped as Christine was, and would have welcomed help from anyone who could offer it.
Ironically, the first glimpse of the truth came from an unlikely direction.
From the very start Blob had been watching the proceedings from his perch on the swinging platform in the control room. If he sensed that Valeris was ignoring him and leaving him to his own devices most of the time, he showed no sign of resentment. The tiny being 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 Valeris went through the control room. Everyone assumed without much thought that Blob was just tolerating the situation. It was not until they had finally given up in desperation and Bones was trying to contact a Hospital Ship for help, that Valeris stared up at her little pink friend with a puzzled frown.
Bones put the transmitter down for a moment. "What's the matter?" he said to Valeris. "You look as if you just bit into a rotten apple."
"I just remember that I haven't fed him for twenty-four hours," Valeris said.
"You mean Blob?" Bones shrugged. "He could see you were busy."
Valeris shook her head. "That wouldn't make any difference to Blob. When he gets hungry, he gets hungry, and he's pretty selfish. It wouldn't matter what I was doing, he should've been screaming for food hours ago."
Valeris walked over to the platform and peered down at her pink friend in alarm. She took him up and rested him on her shoulder.
Valeris walked over to the platform and peered down at her pink friend in alarm. She took him up and rested him on her shoulder, a move that invariably sent Blob into raptures of delight. Now the little being just sat there, trembling and rubbing half-heartedly against Valeris's neck.
Valeris held him out at arm's length. "Blob, what's wrong with you?!"
"You think something's wrong with him?" Christine said, looking up suddenly. "Looks like he's having trouble keeping his eyes open."
"His color's not right, either," Bone said. "He looked kinda---blue."
Quite suddenly the little black eyes closed and Blob began to tremble violently. He drew himself into a tight pink globule as the fuzz-like hair disappeared from view.
Something was wrong, no doubt about it. As she held the quivering creature, Valeris was suddenly aware that something had been nibbling at the back of her mind for hours. Not a clear-cut thought, just an impression of pain, anguish and sickness, and now as she looked at Blob the impression grew so strong it almost made her cry out.
Abruptly, Valeris knew what she had to do. Where the thought came from she didn't know, but it was clear as crystal in her mind. "Bones, where's our biggest virus filter?" she asked quietly.
Bones stared at her. "Virus filter? I just took it out of the sterilizer an hour ago."
"Get it," Valeris said, "and the suction machine too. Stat!"485Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡDf3BJ5nl8R
Christine took off down the corridor like a bullet, and reappeared a moment later with the big porcelain virus filter and the suction tubing attached to it. Swiftly Valeris dumped the limp little being in her hand into the top of the filter jar, poured in some sterile saline, and started the suction.485Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡJCQUDZXW2m
Christine and Bones watched her in amazement. "What are you doing?" Bones said.
"I'm filtering him," Valeris said. "He's infected. He must've been exposed to the plague somehow, maybe when our six-armed Ganavarian visitor came aboard the other day. And if it's a virus that's causing this plague, the virus filter should hold it back and still let Blob's molecular structure through."
Tiger and Jack watched him in amazement. "What are you doing?" Tiger said.485Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡtZpptdoeiX
They watched and sure enough a bluish-pink fluid started 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 Blob's entire 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 terrified shoe-button eyes appeared and he poked up a pair of ears. 485Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡu9w6ptkfZp
And on the top of the filter lay a faint gray film. "Don't touch it!" Valeris said. "That's bona-fide poison." She slipped on a mask and gloves, and then scraped a bit of the film from the filter with a spatula. "I think we've got it," she said. "We're clearly looking at the virus that's causing the plague on this planet!"ns 22.214.171.124da2