The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 109

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"Fifty-five!" The doctor leafed through the medical record on his desk. "But this is incredible. You haven't had a checkup in almost ten years!"

"I guess I haven't," said Wheatley, apologetically. "I'd been feeling pretty well until--"

"Feeling well!" The doctor stared in horror. "But my dear fellow, no checkup since January 1963! We aren't in the Middle Ages, you know. This is 1972."

"Well, of course--"

"Of course you may be feeling well enough, but that doesn't mean everything is just the way it should be. And now, you see, you're having pains in your toes!"



"One toe," said Wheatley. "The little one on the right. It seemed to me--"

"One toe today, perhaps," said the doctor heavily. "But tomorrow--" He heaved a sigh. "How about your breathing lately? Been growing short of breath when you hurry upstairs?"

"Well--I have been bothered a little."

"I thought so! Heart pound when you run for the subway? Feel tired all day? Pains in your calves when you walk fast?"

"Uh--yes, occasionally, I--" Wheatley looked worried and rubbed his toe on the chair leg.

"You know that fifty-five is a dangerous age," said the doctor gravely. "Do you have a cough? Heartburn after dinner? Prop up on pillows at night? Just as I thought! And no checkup for ten years!" He sighed again.

"I suppose I should have seen to it," Wheatley admitted. "But you see, it's just that my toe--"

"My dear fellow! Your toe is part of you. It doesn't just exist down there all by itself. If your toe hurts, there must be a reason."

Wheatley looked more worried than ever. "There must? I thought--perhaps you could just give me a little something--"

"To stop the pain?" The doctor looked shocked. "Well, of course I could do that, but that's not getting at the root of the trouble, is it? That's just treating symptoms. Medieval quackery. Medicine has advanced a long way since your last checkup, my friend. And even treatment has its dangers. Did you know that more people died last year of aspirin poisoning than of cyanide poisoning?"

Wheatley wiped his forehead. "I--dear me! I never realized--"

"We have to think about those things," said the doctor. "Now, the problem here is to find out why you have the pain in your toe. It could be inflammatory. Maybe a tumor. Perhaps it could be, uh, functional ... or maybe vascular!"

"Perhaps you could take my blood pressure, or something," Wheatley offered.

"Well, of course I could. But that isn't really my field, you know. It wouldn't really mean anything, if I did it. But there's nothing to worry about. We have a fine Hypertensive man at the Diagnostic Clinic." The doctor checked the appointment book on his desk. "Now, if we could see you there next Monday morning at nine--"

"Very interesting X rays," said the young doctor with the red hair. "Very interesting. See this shadow in the duodenal cap? See the prolonged emptying time? And I've never seen such beautiful pylorospasm!"

"This is my toe?" asked Wheatley, edging toward the doctors. It seemed he had been waiting for a very long time.

"Toe! Oh, no," said the red-headed doctor. "No, that's the Orthopedic Radiologist's job. I'm a Gastro-Intestinal man, myself. Upper. Dr. Schultz here is Lower." The red-headed doctor turned back to his consultation with Dr. Schultz. Mr. Wheatley rubbed his toe and waited.

Presently another doctor came by. He looked very grave as he sat down beside Wheatley. "Tell me, Mr. Wheatley, have you had an orthodiagram recently?"

"No."

"An EKG?"

"No."

"Fluoroaortogram?"

"I--don't think so."

The doctor looked even graver, and walked away, muttering to himself. In a few moments he came back with two more doctors. "--no question in my mind that it's cardiomegaly," he was saying, "but Haddonfield should know. He's the best Left Ventricle man in the city. Excellent paper in the AMA Journal last July: 'The Inadequacies of Modern Orthodiagramatic Techniques in Demonstrating Minimal Left Ventricular Hypertrophy.' A brilliant study, simply brilliant! Now this patient--" He glanced toward Wheatley, and his voice dropped to a mumble.

Presently two of the men nodded, and one walked over to Wheatley, cautiously, as though afraid he might suddenly vanish. "Now, there's nothing to be worried about, Mr. Wheatley," he said. "We're going to have you fixed up in just no time at all. Just a few more studies. Now, if you could see me in Valve Clinic tomorrow afternoon at three--"

Wheatley nodded. "Nothing serious, I hope?"

"Serious? Oh, no! Dear me, you mustn't worry. Everything is going to be all right," the doctor said.

"Well--I--that is, my toe is still bothering me some. It's not nearly as bad, but I wondered if maybe you--"

Dawn broke on the doctor's face. "Give you something for it? Well now, we aren't Therapeutic men, you understand. Always best to let the expert handle the problem in his own field." He paused, stroking his chin for a moment. "Tell you what we'll do. Dr. Epstein is one of the finest Therapeutic men in the city. He could take care of you in a jiffy. We'll see if we can't arrange an appointment with him after you've seen me tomorrow."

Mr. Wheatley was late to Mitral Valve Clinic the next day because he had gone to Aortic Valve Clinic by mistake, but finally he found the right waiting room. A few hours later he was being thumped, photographed, and listened to. Substances were popped into his right arm, and withdrawn from his left arm as he marveled at the brilliance of modern medical techniques. Before they were finished he had been seen by both the Mitral men and the Aortic men, as well as the Great Arteries man and the Peripheral Capillary Bed man.

The Therapeutic man happened to be in Atlantic City at a convention and the Rheumatologist was on vacation, so Wheatley was sent to Functional Clinic instead. "Always have to rule out these things," the doctors agreed. "Wouldn't do much good to give you medicine if your trouble isn't organic, now, would it?" The Psychoneuroticist studied his s.e.x life, while the Psychosociologist examined his social milieu. Then they conferred for a long time.

Three days later he was waiting in the hallway downstairs again. Heads met in a huddle; words and phrases slipped out from time to time as the discussion grew heated.

"--no doubt in my mind that it's a--"

"But we can't ignore the endocrine implications, doctor--"

"You're perfectly right there, of course. Bittenbender at the University might be able to answer the question. No better Pituitary Osmoreceptorologist in the city--"

"--a Tubular Function man should look at those kidneys first. He's fifty-five, you know."

"--has anyone studied his filtration fraction?"

"--might be a peripheral vascular spasticity factor--"

After a while James Wheatley rose from the bench and slipped out the door, limping slightly as he went.

The room was small and dusky, with heavy Turkish drapes obscuring the dark hallway beyond. A suggestion of incense hung in the air.

In due course a gaunt, swarthy man in mustache and turban appeared through the curtains and bowed solemnly. "You come with a problem?" he asked, in a slight accent.

"As a matter of fact, yes," James Wheatley said hesitantly. "You see, I've been having a pain in my right little toe...."

Contents

IMAGE OF THE G.o.dS.

By Alan E. Nourse

It was nearly winter when the s.h.i.+p arrived. Pete Farnam never knew if the timing had been planned that way or not. It might have been coincidence that it came just when the colony was predicting its first real b.u.mper crop of all time. When it was all over, Pete and Mario and the rest tried to figure it out, but none of them ever knew for sure just what had happened back on Earth, or when it had actually happened. There was too little information to go on, and practically none that they could trust. All Pete Farnam really knew, that day, was that this was the wrong year for a s.h.i.+p from Earth to land on Baron IV.

Pete was out on the plantation when it landed. As usual, his sprayer had gotten clogged; tarring should have been started earlier, before it got so cold that the stuff clung to the nozzle and hardened before the spray could settle into the dusty soil. The summer past had been the colony's finest in the fourteen years he'd been there, a warm, still summer with plenty of rain to keep the dirt down and let the taaro get well rooted and grow up tall and gray against the purple sky. But now the taaro was harvested. It was waiting, compressed and crated, ready for s.h.i.+pment, and the heavy black clouds were scudding nervously across the sky, faster with every pa.s.sing day. Two days ago Pete had asked Mario to see about firing up the little furnaces the Dusties had built to help them fight the winter. All that remained now was tarring the fields, and then buckling down beneath the wind s.h.i.+elds before the first winter storms struck.

Pete was trying to get the nozzle of the tar sprayer cleaned out when Mario's jeep came roaring down the rutted road from the village in a cloud of dust. In the back seat a couple of Dusties were bouncing up and down like happy five-year-olds. The brakes squealed and Mario bellowed at him from the road. "Pete! The s.h.i.+p's in! Better get hopping!"

Pete nodded and started to close up the sprayer. One of the Dusties tumbled out of the jeep and scampered across the field to give him a hand. It was an inexpert hand to say the least, but the Dusties seemed so proud of the little they were able to learn about mechanized farming that n.o.body had the heart to shoo them away. Pete watched the fuzzy brown creature get its paws thoroughly gummed up with tar before he pulled him loose and sent him back to the jeep with a whack on the backside. He finished the job himself, grabbed his coat from the back of the sprayer, and pulled himself into the front seat of the jeep.

Mario started the little car back down the road. The young colonist's face was coated with dust, emphasizing the lines of worry around his eyes. "I don't like it, Pete. There isn't any s.h.i.+p due this year."

"When did it land?"

"About twenty minutes ago. Won't be cool for a while yet."

Pete laughed. "Maybe Old Schooner is just getting lonesome to swap tall stories with us. Maybe he's even bringing us a locker of T-bones. Who knows?"

"Maybe," said Mario without conviction.

Pete looked at him, and shrugged. "Why complain if they're early? Maybe they've found some new way to keep our fields from blowing away on us every winter." He stared across at the heavy windbreaks between the fields--long, ragged structures built in hope of outwitting the vicious winds that howled across the land during the long winter. Pete picked bits of tar from his beard, and wiped the dirt from his forehead with the back of his hand. "This tarring is mean," he said wearily. "Glad to take a break."

"Maybe Cap Schooner will know something about the rumors we've been hearing," Mario said gloomily.

Pete looked at him sharply. "About Earth?"

Mario nodded. "Schooner's a pretty good guy, I guess. I mean, he'd tell us if anything was really wrong back home, wouldn't he?"

Pete nodded, and snapped his fingers. One of the Dusties hopped over into his lap and began gawking happily at the broad fields as the jeep jogged along. Pete stroked the creature's soft brown fur with his tar-caked fingers. "Maybe someday these little guys will show us where they go for the winter," he said. "They must have it down to a science."

Somehow the idea was funny, and both men roared. If the Dusties had anything down to a science, n.o.body knew what. Mario grinned and tweaked the creature's tail. "They sure do beat the winter, though," he said.

"So do we. Only we have to do it the human way. These fellas grew up in the climate." Pete lapsed into silence as the village came into view. The s.h.i.+p had landed quite a way out, resting on its skids on the long shallow groove the colonists had bulldozed out for it years before, the first year they had arrived on Baron IV. Slowly Pete turned Mario's words over in his mind, allowing himself to worry a little. There had been rumors of trouble back on Earth, persistent rumors he had taken care to soft-pedal, as mayor of the colony. There were other things, too, like the old newspapers and magazines that had been brought in by the lad from Baron II, and the rare radio message they could pick up through their atmospheric disturbance. Maybe something was going wrong back home. But somehow political upheavals on Earth seemed remote to these hardened colonists. Captain Schooner's visits were always welcome, but they were few and far between. The colony was small; one s.h.i.+p every three years could supply it, and even then the taaro crates wouldn't half fill up the storage holds. There were other colonies far closer to home that sent back more taaro in one year than Baron IV could grow in ten.

But when a s.h.i.+p did come down, it was a time of high excitement. It meant fresh food from Earth, meat from the frozen lockers, maybe even a little candy and salt. And always for Pete a landing meant a long evening of palaver with the captain about things back home and things on Baron IV.

Pete smiled to himself as he thought of it. He could remember Earth, of course, with a kind of vague nostalgia, but Baron IV was home to him now and he knew he would never leave it. He had too many hopes invested there, too many years of heartache and desperate hard work, too much deep satisfaction in having cut a niche for himself on this dusty, hostile world, ever to think much about Earth any more.

Mario stopped in front of the offices, and one of the Dusties hopped out ahead of Pete. The creature strode across the rough gravel to the door, pulling tar off his fingers just as he had seen Pete do. Pete followed him to the door, and then stopped, frowning. There should have been a babble of voices inside, with Captain Schooner's loud laugh roaring above the excitement. But Pete could hear nothing. A chill of uneasiness ran through him; he pushed open the door and walked inside. A dozen of his friends looked up silently, avoiding the eyes of the uniformed stranger in the center of the room. When he saw the man, Pete Farnam knew something was wrong indeed.

It wasn't Captain Schooner. It was a man he'd never seen before.

The Dustie ran across the room in front of Pete and hopped up on the desk as though he owned it, throwing his hands on his hips and staring at the stranger curiously. Pete took off his cap and parka and dropped them on a chair. "Well," he said. "This is a surprise. We weren't expecting a s.h.i.+p so soon."

The man inclined his head stiffly and glanced down at the paper he held in his hand. "You're Peter Farnam, I suppose? Mayor of this colony?"

"That's right. And you?"

"Varga is the name," the captain said shortly. "Earth Security and Supply." He nodded toward the small, frail-looking man in civilian clothes, sitting beside him. "This is Rupert Nathan, of the Colonial Service. You'll be seeing a great deal of him." He held out a small wallet of papers. "Our credentials, Farnam. Be so good as to examine them."

Pete glanced around the room. John Tegan and Hank Mario were watching him uneasily. Mary Turner was following the proceedings with her sharp little eyes, missing nothing, and Mel Dorfman stood like a rock, his heavy face curiously expressionless as he watched the visitors. Pete reached out for the papers, flipped through them, and handed them back with a long look at Captain Varga.

He was younger than Captain Schooner, with sandy hair and pale eyes that looked up at Pete from a soft baby face. Clean-shaven, his whole person seemed immaculate as he leaned back calmly in the chair. His civilian companion, however, had indecision written in every line of his pink face. His hands fluttered nervously, and he avoided the colonist's eyes.

Pete turned to the captain. "The papers say you're our official supply s.h.i.+p," he said. "You're early, but an Earth s.h.i.+p is always good news." He clucked at the Dustie, who was about to go after one of the s.h.i.+ny b.u.t.tons on the captain's blouse. The little brown creature hopped over and settled on Pete's knee. "We've been used to seeing Captain Schooner."

The captain and Nathan exchanged glances. "Captain Schooner has retired from Security Service," the captain said shortly. "You won't be seeing him again. But we have a cargo for your colony. You may send these people over to the s.h.i.+p to start unloading now, if you wish--" his eye swept the circle of windburned faces--"while Nathan and I discuss certain matters with you here."

n.o.body moved for a moment. Then Pete nodded to Mario. "Take the boys out to unload, Jack. We'll see you back here in an hour or so."

"Pete, are you sure--"

"Don't worry. Take Mel and Hank along to lend a hand." Pete turned back to Captain Varga. "Suppose we go inside to more comfortable quarters," he said. "We're always glad to have word from Earth."

They pa.s.sed through a dark, smelly corridor into Pete's personal quarters. For a colony house, if wasn't bad--good plastic chairs, a hand-made rug on the floor, even one of Mary Turner's paintings on the wall, and several of the weird, stylized carvings the Dusties had done for Pete. But the place smelled of tar and sweat, and Captain Varga's nose wrinkled in distaste. Nathan drew out a large silk handkerchief and wiped his pink hands, touching his nose daintily.

The Dustie hopped into the room ahead of them and settled into the biggest, most comfortable chair. Pete snapped his fingers sharply, and the brown creature jumped down again like a naughty child and climbed up on Pete's knee. The captain glanced at the chair with disgust and sat down in another. "Do you actually let those horrid creatures have the run of your house?" he asked.

"Why not?" Pete said. "We have the run of their planet. They're quite harmless, really. And quite clean."

The captain sniffed. "Nasty things. Might find a use for the furs, though. They look quite soft."

"We don't kill Dusties," said Pete coolly. "They're friendly, and intelligent too, in a childish sort of way." He looked at the captain and Nathan, and decided not to put on the coffee pot. "Now what's the trouble?"

"No trouble at all," the captain said, "except the trouble you choose to make. You have your year's taaro ready for s.h.i.+pping?"

"Of course."

The captain took out a small pencil on a chain and began to twirl it. "How much, to be exact?"

"Twenty thousand, Earth weight."

"Tons?"

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Ii Part 109

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