Star Surgeon



It was amazing to Dal Timgar just how good it seemed to be back on Hospital Earth again.

In the time he had been away as a crewman of the Lancet, the seasons had changed, and the port of Philadelphia lay under the steaming summer sun. As Dal stepped off the shuttle ship to join the hurrying crowds in the great space-port, it seemed almost as though he were coming home.

He thought for a moment of the night not so long before when he had waited here for the shuttle to Hospital Seattle, to attend the meeting of the medical training council. He had worn no uniform then, not even the collar and cuff of the probationary physician, and he remembered his despair that night when he had thought that his career as a physician from Hospital Earth was at an end.

Now he was returning by shuttle from Hospital Seattle to the port of Philadelphia again, completing the cycle that had been started many months before. But things were different now. The scarlet cape of the Red Service of Surgery hung from his slender shoulders now, and the light of the station room caught the polished silver emblem on his collar. It was a tiny bit of metal, but its significance was enormous. It announced to the world Dal Timgar's final and permanent acceptance as a physician; but more, it symbolized the far-reaching distances he had already traveled, and would travel again, in the service of Hospital Earth.

It was the silver star of the Star Surgeon.

The week just past had been both exciting and confusing. The hospital ship had arrived five hours after Black Doctor Hugo Tanner had recovered from his anaesthesia, moving in on the Lancet 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 large passenger boat hurtled away from the hospital ship's side, carrying a pair of 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 Lancet; 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 Philadelphia, with the Four-star Surgeons in the lead as they tramped aboard the patrol ship. They found Black Doctor Tanner 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.

"Of course I'm feeling well. Do you think I'd be sitting here if I weren't?" the Black Doctor growled. "Dr. Timgar is my surgeon and the physician in charge of this case. Talk to him. He can give you all the details of the matter."

"You mean you permitted a probationary physician to perform this kind of surgery?" The Four-star Surgeon cried incredulously.

"I did not!" the Black Doctor snapped. "He had to drag me kicking and screaming into the operating room. But fortunately for me, this particular probationary physician had the courage of his convictions, as well as wit enough to realize that I would not survive if he waited for you to gather your army together. But I think you will find the surgery was handled with excellent skill. Again, I must refer you to Dr. Timgar for the details. I was not 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 sort here? The dispatch that came to us listed the Lancet as a plague ship—"

"Plague ship!" the Black Doctor exploded. "Oh, yes. Egad! I—hum!—imagine that the dispatcher must have gotten his signals mixed somehow. Well, I suppose you want to examine me. Let's have it over with."

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 reluctantly to admit that there was nothing left for him to do but provide post-operative follow-up care for the irascible old man.

And by the time the examination was over and the Black Doctor was moved aboard the hospital ship, word had come through official channels to the Lancet announcing that the quarantine order had been a dispatcher's unfortunate error, and directing the ship to return at once to Hospital Earth with the new contract that had been signed on 31 Brucker VII. The crewmen of the Lancet had special orders to report immediately to the medical training council at Hospital Seattle 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 mark of Hugo Tanner, Physician of the Black Service of Pathology.

Now the ceremony and celebration in Hospital Seattle were over, and Dal had another appointment to keep. He lifted Fuzzy from his elbow and tucked him safely into an inner jacket pocket to protect him from the crowd in the station, and moved swiftly through to the subway tubes.

He had expected to see Black Doctor Arnquist at the investment ceremonies, but there had been neither sign nor word from him. Dal tried to reach him after the ceremonies were over; all he could learn was that the Black Doctor was unavailable. And then a message had come through to Dal under the official Hospital Earth headquarters priority, requesting him to present himself at once at the grand council building at Hospital Philadelphia for an interview of the utmost importance.

He followed the directions on the dispatch now, and reached the grand council building well ahead of the appointed time. He followed corridors and rode elevators until he reached the twenty-second story office suite where he had been directed to report. The whole building seemed alive with bustle, as though something of enormous importance was going on; high-ranking physicians of all the services were hurrying about, gathering in little groups at the elevators and talking among themselves in hushed voices. Even more strange, Dal saw delegation after delegation of alien creatures moving through the building, some in the special atmosphere-maintaining devices necessary for their survival on Earth, some characteristically alone and unaccompanied, others in the company of great retinues of underlings. Dal paused in the main concourse of the building as he saw two such delegations arrive by special car from the port of Philadelphia.

"Odd," he said quietly, reaching in to stroke Fuzzy's head. "Quite a gathering of the clans, eh? What do you think? Last time I saw a gathering like this was back at home during one of the centennial conclaves of the Galactic Confederation."

On the twenty-second floor, a secretary ushered him into an inner office. There he found Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist, in busy conference with a Blue Doctor, a Green Doctor and a surgeon. The Black Doctor looked up, and beamed. "That will be all 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 Dal in delight. "It's good to see you, boy," he said, "and above all, it's good to see that silver star at last. You and your little pink friend have done a good job, a far better job than I thought you would do, I must admit."

Dal perched Fuzzy on his shoulder. "But what is this about an interview? Why did you want to see me, and what are all these people doing here?"

Dr. Arnquist laughed. "Don't worry," he said. "You won't have to stay for the council meeting. It will be a long boring session, I fear. Doubtless every single one of these delegates at some time in the next few days will be standing up to give us a three hour oration, and it is my ill fortune as a Four-star Black Doctor to have to sit and listen and smile through it all. But in the end, it will be worth it, and I thought that you should at least know that your name will be mentioned many times during these sessions."

"My name?"

"You didn't know that you were a guinea pig, did you?" the Black Doctor said.

"I ... I'm afraid I didn't."

"An unwitting tool, so to speak," the Black Doctor chuckled. "You know, of course, that the Galactic Confederation has been delaying and stalling any action on Hospital Earth's application for full status as one of the Confederation powers and for a seat on the council. We had fulfilled two criteria for admission without difficulty—we had resolved our problems at home 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 into the Confederation's organization. But the Confederation has always had a third criterion for its membership, a criterion that Hospital Earth could not so easily prove or demonstrate."

The Black Doctor smiled. "After all, there could be no place in a true Confederation of worlds for any one race of people that considered itself superior to all the rest. No race can be admitted to the Confederation until its members have demonstrated that they are capable of tolerance, willing to accept the members of other races on an equal footing. And it has always been the nature of Earthmen 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."

Dal stared at him. "And I was the one?"

"You were the one. It was a struggle, all right, but Hospital Earth has finally satisfied the Confederation. At the end of this conclave we will be admitted to full membership and given a permanent seat and vote in the galactic council. Our probationary period will be over. But enough of that. What about you? What are your plans? What do you propose to do now that you have that star on your collar?"

They talked then about the future. Tiger Martin had been appointed to the survey crew returning to 31 Brucker VII, at his own request, while Jack was accepting a temporary teaching post in the great diagnostic clinic at Hospital Philadelphia. There were a dozen things that Dal had considered, but for the moment he wanted only to travel from medical center to medical center on Hospital Earth, observing and studying in order to decide how he would best like to use his abilities and his position as a Physician from Hospital Earth. "It will be in surgery, of course," he said. "Just where in surgery, or what kind, I don't know just yet. But there will be time enough to decide that."

"Then go along," Dr. Arnquist said, "with my congratulations and blessing. You have taught us a great deal, and perhaps you have learned some things at the same time."

Dal hesitated for a moment. Then he nodded. "I've learned some things," he said, "but there's still one thing that I want to do before I go."

He lifted his little pink friend gently down from his shoulder and rested him in the crook of his arm. Fuzzy looked up at him, blinking his shoe-button eyes happily. "You asked me once to leave Fuzzy with you, and I refused. I couldn't see then how I could possibly do without him; even the thought was frightening. But now I think I've changed my mind."

He reached out and placed Fuzzy gently in the Black Doctor's hand. "I want you to keep him," he said. "I don't think I'll need him any more. I'll miss him, but I think it would be better if I don't have him now. Be good to him, and let me visit him once in a while."

The Black Doctor looked at Dal, and then lifted Fuzzy up to his own shoulder. For a moment the little creature shivered as if afraid. Then he blinked twice at Dal, trustingly, and snuggled in comfortably against the Black Doctor's neck.

Without a word Dal turned and walked out of the office. As he stepped down the corridor, he waited fearfully for the wave of desolation and loneliness he had felt before when Fuzzy was away from him.

But there was no hint of those desolate feelings in his mind now. And after all, he thought, why should there be? He was not a Garvian any longer. He was a Star Surgeon from Hospital Earth.

He smiled as he stepped from the elevator into the main lobby and crossed through the crowd to the street doors. He pulled his scarlet cape tightly around his throat. Drawing himself up to the full height of which he was capable, he walked out of the building and strode down onto the street.

Also by Alan E. Nourse

Rocket to Limbo

Scavengers in Space

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