Dr. Mann looked out the reinforced window at the acutely curving horizon. He saw a vista of lifeless craters under a harsh gray sky. Robotic equipment excavated along the sides of the craters for rare minerals. For about the thousandth time he asked himself what he was doing on this god-forsaken asteroid. He looked down at his scheduling terminal. Three patients were listed on his roster for the day: two burns and a fracture. They were all basic humanoids—what a bore.
When Hugh Mann was hired as a locum, he was excited. He had trained in humanoid medicine as well as xeno-geno-biology. He was in the top half of his class at the University of Ganymede—no easy accomplishment in a galaxy of overachieving life forms. His minority status as a native Terran had helped him get into school, but his sheer determination and long hours had made him successful.
He had served during the Great Rigellian War, followed by 10 solar standard years of private practice on Ios-3. Now he was getting fed up with the assortment of life forms he was treating. Dealing with the usual high platinum levels, impacted crillobars, and tentacular torsion had grown old. Even the few human patients who were grateful for a physician of their own species wasn’t enough to keep him satisfied.
When the invitation to work for Pro Lo—interstellar Locums—arrived on his screen, he was ready for adventure. An asteroid mine in the outer ring of Nebulon sounded exotic. He knew the choice locations went to those doctors who had worked with the company for years, but it was worth the risk. Or so he had thought. The mine colony was dull. There was no nightlife, not even any vaguely humanoid females for recreation. Two more weeks and his three-month tour of duty would be over. It had been at best unexciting, but he had made some serious dinars. Maybe the next assignment would be more interesting.
His self-pity was interrupted by his greatest source of annoyance. It was the pathetic excuse for a robot assistant with which he had been saddled. Some perverse designer had come up with the Old Chap 7. Perhaps the basic model had been a fairly functional assistant—175 years ago. This one had been modified to resemble an old Earth-style English butler, down to the bowler, umbrella (like it ever rained on this rock) and “Cheerio!” vernacular. He shook his head in dismay. The robot looked at him and printed out “Stiff upper lip old bean.” Dr. Mann just groaned. Worse than its pseudo-British façade, the robotic unit was severely out of date. The data banks were loaded with the Annals of Interstellar Medicine for the past 500 years, but nothing for the past three decades. That might be interesting for an archivist, but he had never seen any value in studying history. He’d taken to calling the robot Jeeves.
Dr. Mann looked out the window again at the star-filled sky. Suddenly there was a great flash of light at the horizon line. Alarms started to blare. A message came across the screen. A small asteroid had hit an Imperial transport vehicle. An emergency docking at mine base Nebulon was requested.
The mine’s director, an obstreperous Vegan named Weezul, barged into Dr. Mann’s clinic space, nervously rubbing his furry tentacles.