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Locum Terrans


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.

The captain’s rigid mouth worked to form Lingua words Dr. Mann could understand: “Don’t worry about me, you fool. See to the ambassador.” Good advice, coming from a creature that looked like a giant Lima Bean.

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.

“Get ready for action,” he bellowed. “We have a VILF coming.”

A very important life form? This was what Dr. Mann had been waiting for. Then the bad news: The vessel had been transporting the Rigellian ambassador. This was bad news on multiple fronts. Dr. Mann had never treated a Rigellian, though he’d seen a lot of them incinerated during the war. They were allies—at least for now.

Dr. Mann called Jeeves over, and they reviewed what information there was about these enormous creatures. The Rigellian races evolved in a low gravity environment and were huge—often 24 meters or longer. They were aquatic and had two lower limbs and four upper. They had a circulatory system with a carbon monoxide-based metabolism and some strange religious beliefs about modern medicine.

The damaged ship’s lifeboat landed with two passengers—the captain and the Rigellian ambassador himself—as well as an entourage of support, translator, and protocol robots. Talk about extreme VILFs!

The captain’s injury seemed minor. An Iogan, his thick outer cortex had been lacerated. Iogans tend to have an unpleasant personality, and the captain was no exception. His rigid mouth worked to form Lingua words Dr. Mann could understand: “Don’t worry about me you fool, see to the ambassador.” Good advice, coming from a creature that looked like a giant lima bean.

The ambassador lay floating in a large, rapidly improvised tub of clear oil, supporting its large body in the higher artificial gravity of the asteroid. It would take hours to decrease the radial spin of the mine to diminish the gravitational pull to more tolerable levels. The left lower appendage was out of alignment. Donning a somewhat snug space suit, Dr. Mann climbed into the tub. With great difficulty he manipulated the injured limb. To his credit, the ambassador never winced. Dr. Mann had no way to image the limb with its tough cartilage. It would not fit into the mine’s limited scanner facility, and the portable unit would not function in liquid. Using an elastic waterproof wrap he managed to put the limb back into alignment. He hoped it would be sufficient.

Dr. Mann wanted to give the ambassador something for pain. The protocol robot came forward. “Rigellians will accept no medicine that is not derived from their home world.” Dr. Mann never liked to have a patient of any life form in pain, but if the ambassador could stand it, so could he.

Dr. Mann climbed out of the tank and checked on the captain. Jeeves had finished the dressing and had administered Iogian pain medication from stock. “I hope you are not allergic,” Dr. Mann quipped to the captain, who glared in response.

It looked like the emergency was over. Dr. Mann was pleased with himself.

Suddenly, though, things got ugly. It started with the captain. His normally green skin became spotted with blue wheals. It looked like an allergic reaction to the pain medication. Dr. Mann had Jeeves administer Moruvian pineal extract. It usually did the trick on these sentient legumes.

Dr. Mann thought he’d better check the ambassador. When he walked over to the tank something seemed wrong. The injured limb had grown to twice its normal size, and the ambassador seemed to be struggling to respire. A grim realization hit Dr. Mann: A clot had formed in the limb and embolized to the ambassador’s breathing apparatus.

Dr. Mann ran to Jeeves and accessed the medical data banks. There was nothing about the Rigellian coagulation cascade. Jeeves’ bank had only a few vague references to Rigellian physiology. The species refusal to use medication only made things worse. If he did not act quickly his patient might die. And Dr. Mann did not want to be responsible for a resumption of interstellar conflict.

He stared at Jeeves. He had never seen a robot look nervous before, but the Old Chap 7 was showing some odd behavior, taking off his hat and spinning his umbrella. Dr. Mann tried to concentrate. He had Jeeves pull up everything he had on the treatment of embolism. The modern treatment was to inject clot-eating bacteria, modified to the specie. This was out of the question; the nearest xeno-genome lab was two days from the asteroid.

He looked further back in the medical journals. Before bacteria lysis it was Q-beam radiation, and before that mini-robots with lasers. He had no Q-beam facility and rigging up mini-robots with lasers would take at least two days.

Jeeves poked him with his umbrella. What was wrong with the crazy robot? Dr. Mann had gone all the way back to the 20th century looking for an option. Then it hit him. He had read about something called an IVC filter. Perhaps he could fashion something to block the ambassador’s oversize vessel—but what? Jeeves poked him again.

Dr. Mann grabbed the umbrella from the robot and was about to snap it in two when an idea hit him. He pulled the fabric from the metal skeleton, ran to the radiation sterilizer, and sanitized the remains of the umbrella. One hour later it was inserted in the ambassador’s main vessel, ready to catch any further errant clot. Hopefully he’d live until a cruiser with a well-stocked sickbay arrived

Dr. Mann stared at Jeeves. Perhaps he had been wrong about his robot assistant. It had helped save the ambassador. Then Dr. Mann checked the captain, noticing for the first time how ancient the being looked. The captain had worsened acutely, its breathing labored, a sick wheezing sound coming past the rigid fiber that made up the upper part of its mouth.

Dr. Mann grabbed an intubation tube. The captain needed to be on a ventilator. Luckily Dr. Mann had had experience with this type of geriatric vegetable-like creature. He tried three times unsuccessfully, but managed on the fourth to slide the tube pass the rigid maxilla.

Dr. Mann sat on the floor. He was exhausted by the efforts of the day, especially the stressful intubation. Jeeves rolled over to him, and placed his bowler on Dr. Mann’s head. With a sly robotic wink his print out read, “Stiff upper lip, old bean” TH

Jamie Newman, MD, FACP, is the physician editor of The Hospitalist, consultant, Hospital Internal Medicine, and assistant professor of internal medicine and medical history, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn.

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