Back | Next



There wasn't a thing he could put his finger on, but from the beginning Calhoun didn't feel comfortable about the public health situation on Lanke. There wasn't anything really wrong about it, not anything. Calhoun felt that it was just a little bit too good to be true. He and Murgatroyd the tormal had arrived in the little Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty. They'd been greeted with effusive cordiality. Health Department officials opened everything to Calhoun's examination, with a smoothness and speed that almost looked like the planetary authorities were anxious for him to finish his job and get away from there. The Health Minister practically jumped through hoops to provide all the information he could ask for. The communicable diseases appeared to be well in hand. The average age-at-death rate for the planet was the fraction of a decimal-point low, but it was accounted for by a microscopic rise in the accidental-death reports. Calhoun couldn't find a thing to justify the feeling that a cover-up job was being done. If it was, it was being done perfectly. He was a little bit irritated by his own suspicions.

Still, he went through the routine for three sunny days and evenings. He had some new developments in the art of medicine that Med Service Headquarters wanted to have spread about. He explained them to attentive listeners. In turn, he listened interestedly to what he was told, and the night before he was to lift off for his return to headquarters he attended a top-drawer medical society meeting in a high ceilinged lecture hall in the Health Department building.

The Health Minister introduced him in a typical speech in which he expressed the value of modern medical science in strictly businessman terms. He mentioned that absenteeism due to sickness was at the lowest figure ever known in the industries of Lanke. The extension of hormone-balance checkups, with other preventive practices, had reduced the overall incidence of sickness requiring hospitalization to the point where in the past ten years or so many thousands of hospital beds had ceased to be required. Which added so many millions of credits every year to the prosperity of Lanke.

There was another item which nobody thought about, but was perhaps the most valuable of all the achievements of medical science. He referred to the fact that epidemics were now substantially impossible. It was not necessary to calculate what an actual epidemic might cost. One could think simply of what the danger might be to see what medical science added to the planetary wealth. In interstellar trade alone, the simple threat of a dangerous plague on Lanke would mean the quarantining of the planet, and that would mean a financial panic, the closing of factories whose products could not be sold, widespread unemployment, appalling drops in the values of securities, and it could mean runs on banks, the abandonment of construction projects and even curtailment of agricultural production. The wealth that modern medical science contributed to the economy was the true great achievement of the medical profession! Much of this achievement was due to Lanke physicians alone, but the Interstellar Medical Service had made its contributions too, and he was happy to present to them Doctor Calhoun of that Service, whom many of them had met and talked to in the past few days.

Calhoun's speech, of course, was anticlimactic. He said the normal thing for such occasions. It amounted to polite congratulations to the doctors of Lanke for doing what doctors were supposed to do. He did feel, definitely, that something was being hidden from him, but he hadn't the evidence to justify him in saying so. So he made a speech in no wise remarkable and sat down to wait for the end of the meeting.

He'd much rather have been aboard the Med Ship. Murgatroyd was much better company than the Health Minister beside him. Murgatroyd didn't think of every possible human activity in terms of the money it made or saved. Murgatroyd had enjoyed his stay on Lanke. Calhoun hadn't.

Murgatroyd didn't have to pretend interest while people made dull speeches. Murgatroyd was a small, furry, cordial animal who liked humans and was liked by them. Aground, in human society, he made friends and charmed people and managed to get much petting and quantities of the sweet cakes and coffee he adored. Murgatroyd had fun. There'd been no call for use of the special talent that only tormals in all the galaxy possess, and he'd had a happy time. Calhoun looked forward to the restfulness of being back in the Med Ship with him, unbothered by the conviction that something was being put over that he couldn't put a finger on.

Then, suddenly, there were shoutings in another part of the building. A blaster rasped savagely. More shouts, more blasters went off in a storm of fire. Then there was dead silence.

In the lecture hall there was absolute stillness, as startled men listened for more of those decidedly unusual sounds.

They didn't come, but a man in police uniform did enter the back of the hall. He wore a look of most unofficial terror on his face. He spoke to the first doctor he came to inside that door. The doctor's face went gray. He went unsteadily out. Someone asked a question of the policeman. He answered and went out also, as if reluctantly. Others at the meeting moved to ask what had happened and what the policeman said.

The news—whatever it was—went about the hall with extraordinary dispatch. As each man heard, he paled. Some seemed near to fainting. There began, immediately, a universal attempt to leave the lecture hall without attracting attention.

"Dear me!" said the Health Minister, sitting on the speakers' platform beside Calhoun. "What can be the matter? Wait here and I'll find out."

He moved away. He stopped someone and asked a question. He was startled. He asked more questions. He came back to Calhoun in something like panic.

"What was it?" asked Calhoun.

"A—a burglar," said the Health Minister. His teeth seemed to be trying to chatter. "Just a burglar. There've been—robberies. We try to keep crime down, you know. It's an economic waste—terrible! But this man was trying to commit a burglary in—this building. He was discovered and he—jumped or fell from a window." The Health Minister wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. "He's dead. A—a shocking thing, of course. But not important. Not important at all. Not worth mentioning . . ."

Calhoun didn't believe him. The Health Minister was scared. There was no danger here! He was afraid of something a politician might be afraid of. It was that sort of terror. It wasn't too likely, but it might be linked to whatever had been covered up so Calhoun wouldn't discover it. The policeman who'd come in had been frightened too. Why? Then Calhoun looked at the medical society members in the lecture hall. The meeting had been ended by whatever word passed from man to man. The members of the society were leaving. They tried to be dignified, but also they tried to hurry. There was something puzzlingly wrong, and the Health Minister had lied about it. Obviously, more questions would only produce more lies. So Calhoun shrugged.

"Anyhow," he observed, "the meeting's over. It's breaking up. I'll get back to the spaceport."

His actual intentions were somewhat different.

"Yes. Yes. Of course," said the Health Minister, shivering. He didn't seem to think of escorting Calhoun out.

Calhoun joined those leaving the hall and the building. They crowded down the stairs, not waiting for a slower lift. Very many of them looked white and sick. Calhoun reached the outer air. Only yards from the exit there was a half-circle of burning flares, stuck in the ground. They bathed the ground and the side of the Health Department building with a pitiless glare.

There was a dead man on the ground. He'd obviously fallen from a height. None of the eminent physicians streaming out of the building so much as glanced at him. They hastened away in the darkness. Only Calhoun approached the flares. A policeman on watch—badly frightened—warned him back. Calhoun considered coldly. Then he stepped into the light past the protesting officer.

The dead man's mouth was open in a gruesome fashion. While the policeman continued to protest, Calhoun made a brisk, superficial examination. The dead man had lost teeth by dental caries, which was remarkable. He had other cavities filled with metal, a process abandoned for centuries. His garments were not made of normal materials, but of some fiber Calhoun did not recognize. There was a scar on his cheek. Calhoun, bending over, saw that tissues on either side of his nose were swollen and pigmented. The appearance was abnormal.

He picked up a bit of cloth, torn in the dead man's fall down the side of the building. As he examined it, a voice gasped, "Calhoun! What are you doing?" It was the Health Minister, leaving the building of his cabinet department. He trembled uncontrollably. "Stop it! Drop it!"

"I was looking at this man," said Calhoun. "It's queer . . ."

"Come away!" cried the Health Minister hysterically. "You don't know what you're—do . . ." He stopped. He mopped his face, shaking. Then he said, desperately attempting a normal tone, "I'm sorry. It would be a good idea for you to get back to your ship. This man was a criminal. There may be others of his confederates about. The police are going to make a thorough search. We—we civilians should get out of the way."

"But I'd like to look him over!" protested Calhoun. "There's scar tissue on his face! See it? Since when have doctors allowed scar tissue to form in healing wounds? He's lost some teeth and there's a cavity in one of his incisors! How often have you seen dental caries? They simply don't happen anymore!"

The Health Minister swallowed audibly.

"Yes. Yes . . . now that you point it out, I see what you mean. We'll have to do an autopsy. Yes. We'll do an autopsy in the morning. But right now, to cooperate with the police—"

Calhoun looked again at the limp, crumpled figure on the ground. Then he turned away. The last of the medical society members came out of the building. They melted away into the night. Calhoun could almost smell panic in the air.

The Health Minister vanished. Calhoun hailed a skimmer-cab and got into it. On the way to the spaceport he considered darkly. He'd evidently seen something he wasn't supposed to see. It might well be connected with what he hadn't been able to put a finger on. He'd told the Health Minister that he was going back to the spaceport, but that hadn't been his intention then. He'd meant to find a tavern and buy drinks for its habitues until somebody's tongue got loosened. News of a man killed by the police would set tongues wagging in certain kinds of society on any planet.

However, he'd changed his intention. He had a scrap of cloth in his pocket from the dead man's clothing. There was a bit of blood on it. It was extraordinary. The dead man was extraordinary. He'd frightened everybody who seemed to know something Calhoun was not supposed to discover. Considering all he did know, he planned to find out a few things more from that cloth sample.

The skimmer-cab reached the spaceport gate. The guards waved it on. It reached the Med Ship and settled to a stop. Calhoun paid the driver and went into the Med Ship, to be greeted with extravagant enthusiasm by Murgatroyd, who explained with many shrill "Chee-chees" that he did not like to be left alone when Calhoun went elsewhere. Calhoun said, "Hold it, Murgatroyd! Don't touch me!"

He put the sample of cloth with its few specks of blood into a sterile bottle. He snapped the elastic cover in place. Murgatroyd said, "Chee?" 

"I've just seen a pack of thoroughly scared men," said Calhoun dryly, "and I've got to see if they were right to be scared."

He washed his hands with some care, and then extended his precautions—he felt absurd about it—to an entire change of clothing. The terror of the dead man puzzled and bothered him.

"Chee-chee-chee!" said Murgatroyd reproachfully.

"I know!" said Calhoun. "You want coffee. I'll make it. But I'm worried!"

Murgatroyd frisked. It was Calhoun's habit to talk to him as if he were a human being. He'd mentioned coffee, and Murgatroyd could recognize that word. He waited for the drink to be made and served. Frowning, Calhoun made it, thinking hard the while. Presently, he passed over the little cup that fitted Murgatroyd's tiny paws.

"There you are. Now listen!" Calhoun spoke vexedly. "I've felt all along that there was something wrong here, and tonight something happened. It could be told in a dozen words. It was, but not to me. A man died and it terrified two policemen, an entire medical society and the Health Minister of the planet. It wasn't the death of a man which did all this. It was something his death or his presence meant. But I wasn't told. I was lied to. Lied to! What did they want me to keep on not knowing?"

Murgatroyd sipped at his cup. He said profoundly, "Chee?" 

"I suspect the same thing," said Calhoun, again with vexation. "Generally speaking, facts are hidden only from people whose job it would be to act on them. Facts have been hidden from me. What sort of facts is it my job to act on, Murgatroyd?"

Murgatroyd seemed to consider. He sipped again, reflectively. Then he said with decision, "Chee-chee!" 

"I'm very much afraid you're right," Calhoun told him. "The local medical profession has repressed it . . .  The Health Minister has a very vivid picture in his mind of what could happen to the economy and the prosperity of Lanke if even the suspicion of an epidemic went about. In short, Murgatroyd, it looks like a thing has been covered up so carefully that it shows. When as much terror as I saw just tonight is felt by everybody—I'd better get to work!"

He put part of the cloth sample—including the small bloodstains—in a culture medium. A fiber or two, though, he examined under a microscope. He shook his head.

"Odd! It's a natural fiber, Murgatroyd. It wasn't made. It grew. They certainly don't grow fibers on Lanke! This man isn't a native son of this planet. Quaint, eh?"

It was quaint. Synthetic fibers were better than natural ones. Nobody used natural fibers anymore. Nobody!

He waited impatiently on the culture from the cloth. While it was still too early to expect any specific results, his impatience got the best of him. He filled a vivo-slide for the culture microscope which would let him watch the behavior of living microorganisms as they grew. He was startled, when he looked at the microscope-screen. There were perfectly commonplace microbes in the culture broth even so early. However, there was one variety that was astonishing. A curious, dancing, spherical, pigmented organism leaped and darted madly. It visibly multiplied at a prodigious rate. When Calhoun added the Daflos reagent to the contents of the slide, certain highly specific color effects appeared. The Daflos pathogenicity test was not infallible, but it wasn't meaningless, either. It said that the dancing, spherical microbes should be highly toxic. They produced a toxin the reagent reacted to. The rate of reproduction was astounding. It should, then, be highly infectious and probably lethal.

Calhoun frowned over the facts. The implications were matters a businessman on Lanke would want hidden, suppressed. A businessman would lie about them, desperately, until the last possible instant. A businessman's government might very well demand of the medical profession that it take precautions without causing undue alarm, and . . .  Calhoun knew why the medical men at the meeting looked scared and sick. From the clothing and the blood of a dead man Calhoun had extracted a microbe which was probably that of a deadly plague—so said the Daflor reagents—of enormous infectivity which the clothing, teeth, and scar tissue suggested had come from some other world. This was enough to worry anybody. On Lanke, any physician who caused the danger to be realized, the facts to be known, and a planetary quarantine slapped on Lanke, such a physician would instantly be discredited and subjected to merciless hostility by his government. He'd be ruined professionally, financially and socially, and his family would share in his disgrace and ruin. The terror of the doctors had reason. Until the dead man was found, they'd had no reason for unease. When he was found, they knew instantly what the culture microscope had just told Calhoun. The doctors of Lanke were in a very bad fix. The government would not—would definitely not—permit a planetary quarantine if they could help it. It would not be anything but the automatic assumption that a financial panic and an industrial collapse must be avoided, whatever else had to be allowed. It would be very bad!

Calhoun began to see this with a bitter clarity. A curious flicker of light behind him made him turn. The outside-field detector-light was glowing on the control-board. Normally it lighted only to report that the force fields of a landing grid touched the Med Ship when the ship was to be brought to ground, or else when it was to be lifted off to a distance at which a Lawlor drive could be used. There was no reason for it to come on now.

Then the G.C.—general communication—speaker said:

"Calling Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty! Calling Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty! Spaceport control office calling Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty!"

Calhoun threw the answer switch.

"Aesclipus Twenty here," he said shortly. "What's the matter?"

"Checking, sir," said the voice detachedly. "Are you sealed up?" 

Calhoun glanced at the air-lock. Aground, of course, it could be opened like the two sets of doors of a vestibule, with direct communication between the inside of the ship and the outside air. However, without thinking particularly about it, Calhoun had left the Med Ship with its own air-renewal system operating.

"Yes," said Calhoun. "I'm sealed up. Why?"

"Message for you, sir," said the voice.

There was immediately the voice of the Health Minister, racked and upset, coming out of the speaker.

"You are requested to leave Lanke at once," it said agitatedly. "Complaint will be made to the Med Service that you attempted to interfere with police measures against crime. Your ship will be lifted off as of now, and you are forbidden to return." 

Calhoun said angrily, "The devil you say! I declare a quarantine—"

The communicator clicked. The Health Minister had cut off. The detached control-office voice said woodenly, "I'm lifting you off, sir, as ordered. Lift-off coming . . ." 

Calhoun's mouth opened, to swear. Instantly he saw very many more things it had not been the intention of the Health Minister to tell him. He clenched his hands. This wasn't good!

Then the Med Ship stirred, and instantly thereafter seemed to fall toward the sky. Calhoun angrily flipped on the outside vision-plates and his sensations and the statements of the control-office voice agreed. The Med Ship was being lifted off. Below it, the lights of the spaceport receded. Then the street lights of Lanke's capital city were coming into view from behind tall buildings. They winked into sight from farther toward the dark horizon. The small spaceship went up and up.

The smaller, fainter lights of another city appeared. A little while later, the lights of still another. The capital city's pattern of streets grew ever smaller. More other city-glows appeared and seemed at once to dwindle and to drift toward and under the rising Med Ship. There was nothing to be seen anywhere except those minute, diminishing speckles of light.

Presently, the ship went into cloud cover and for seconds the vision screens were blank. Then it reached clear air again and then there was nothing but the starlit cloud cover below, and ten thousand million stars above.

The Med Ship was being lifted by the spaceport's landing grid. Eventually, the stars crept downward, and seemed to draw together, and the world of Lanke became only a diminishing circular patch of darkness against the galaxy's all-surrounding suns. Then the communicator speaker spoke woodenly again.

"Calling Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty! Calling Aesclip . . ."

"Aesclipus here," said Calhoun coldly.

"You are now five diameters out," said the unemotional voice, "And I am about to release you. Check?" 

"Check," said Calhoun sardonically.

He flipped off the G.C. transmitter. He felt the new freedom of the Med Ship. He spoke in an even more sardonic tone to Murgatroyd. "This is a first, Murgatroyd! It's the first time a Med Ship man has ever been thrown off a planet because he found out too much!" Then he added with a definite grimness, "It happens that throwing us off the planet verifies what I was only partly guessing and requires what I was hesitating to do."

His tone disturbed Murgatroyd, who of course could not understand what had happened. But he was upset because Calhoun was. Murgatroyd said shrilly, "Chee-chee!" 

"We're going back to headquarters," said Calhoun sourly. "We can take our news there quicker than we can send it. Anyhow they'll need more than you and me on Lanke to handle a plague—especially if it's a bad one. But I don't like it!"

He was angry. But it wasn't unprecedented for planetary governments to try to cover up things that would be bad for business. There'd been attempts before now to conceal outbreaks of disease. Some had probably succeeded. Those that failed turned out very badly indeed. Minor epidemics had become major plagues when a prompt call for Med Service help would have kept them minor and wiped them out. The Med Service had big ships, half a mile long and longer, with laboratories and equipment and personnel that could handle emergencies of planetary size. But very, very many lives had been lost because of governments subordinating everything but business to business. They'd tried to prevent business crises and financial panics and industrial collapse. They'd only delayed them—at incalculable costs in lives.

There was another factor, too. If a planetary government once concealed an emergency of this sort, it would never dare admit it later. A certain world in Cygnus had concealed a serious epidemic in order to protect its interstellar trade. Later the fact was learned by Med Service. It made a check of the public health status of that reckless world, in view of its just-learned medical history. It discovered and announced an imminent second epidemic—a perfectly accurate statement of fact. The first epidemic had not been cleaned up properly by the local physicians. The epidemic was cyclic—with a normal period of high incidence after every so many years. So the Med Service quarantined that world—justly—and took stringent measures—wisely—and there was consequently no second plague. But there were many hard-boiled businessmen who fumed that the Med Service had no reason for its action; that it had been punishing the Cygnus world for violating a primary rule for galactic public health. The planet had concealed a disease that might but hadn't been passed on to its customers. Businessmen believed the quarantine a penalty.

So Calhoun knew grimly that if there'd been a hidden plague on Lanke in the past, it would never be admitted now. Never! And any doctor who revealed the historical fact . . .  The reason for the silence of Lanke's doctors was abundantly clear.

But this situation wasn't as simple as the Cygnus affair. The dead man Calhoun had partly examined wasn't a native of Lanke. Yet the doctors of Lanke knew all about him and the plague of which he was dying when blaster bolts drove him to a quicker death. He didn't belong on Lanke. Worse, he didn't belong anywhere else. His state of civilization wasn't appropriate anywhere in the galaxy. But he was positively a man. Calhoun had seen drama tapes about lost colonies and villages of castaways, and even elaborate hiding places for refugees from the laws of planets. But he didn't believe them.

"Still," he said irritably, "where did he come from?"

He felt that there were too many questions already. But there was something definite to do. Several things. For the first of them he swung the Med Ship about and aimed it at the small, remote star cluster where Sector Headquarters was established. He punched the computer keys. He said, "Overdrive coming, Murgatroyd! Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . ."

There was a sudden intolerable giddiness and an instant's insupportable nausea, and the sensation of a spiral fall to nowhere. Then, abruptly, everything was quite all right. The Med Ship was in overdrive, surrounded by a cocoon of stressed space which changed its own position many times faster than the speed of light, and carried the little Med Ship with it.

Calhoun paced up and down the control-room, scowling. "That man," he said abruptly, "wasn't a normal inhabitant of Lanke, Murgatroyd! He didn't grow up on it. He carried microscopic flora and fauna with him—as don't we all?—but they were very probably as alien to Lanke as the man himself. The doctors knew about it, and they were afraid. Afraid! But where did he come from?"

Murgatroyd had retreated to his little cubbyhole in the control-room. He was curled up there with his furry tail draped across his nose. He blinked at Calhoun. When Calhoun talked conversationally, Murgatroyd adored pretending that he discussed abstruse subjects with him. But now Calhoun really talked to himself. Murgatroyd realized it. He said, "Chee!" and prepared to take a nap.

Presently, Calhoun began an angry, systematic search through the Med Ship's library. It was a remarkable storage system for facts. The Aesclipus Twenty was able to carry more reference material for a Med Service man's needs than most national libraries contained. The data-retrieval system was one of the great technical achievements of the previous century. Calhoun had at his fingertips more information on medical subjects than earlier times could have imagined.

The library had nothing to say about a plague which produced—doubtless among other symptoms—enlarged and stiffened, pigmented tissues on either side of a man's nose. Nor did it have any record of a microorganism exactly matching the one he'd gotten from the cloth of the dead man's garments—or the specks of blood included—and suspected of the water he'd washed in.

The really basic question remained, too. Where had the inexplicable man come from?

Calhoun checked the progress of his cultures. All thrived.

Calhoun set up an imaginary globe in space, with Lanke as its center. He set the data-retrieval unit to find a habitable world, not known to be colonized, in that volume of emptiness. An abortive attempt at colonization might have left some castaways behind. That would raise almost as many questions as it answered, but it seemed the most likely approach to the problem.

There was no habitable world in the Stellar Directory portion of the ship's records. He tried a larger volume of space. Then a still larger one. Nothing.

He tried for less than a habitability-one world. Individual survival might be possible where a colony could not live. He set the search-unit to work again. It found a world which was airless, a gas-giant world with intolerable gravity, another which had an equatorial temperature of minus sixty degrees at noon. Another . . . 

Ultimately, one turned up which looked plausible. It was the third-orbit planet of a Type G sun. It was not unduly remote from Lanke. It was listed under the name Delhi. Shallow, marshy seas. A single continent. Temperature, not unbearable. Life-types not unduly dangerous. Atmosphere typical of third-orbit planets but with .04% of a complex methane-derivative gas, apparently harmless. This data had been sent up from an exploring spaceboat, later lost. There were what was believed to be the ruins of a human settlement, photographed from space. Classed as habitability zero because no ship had ever returned to its home spaceport after landing on it. The inimical factor was assumed to exist in the atmosphere, but was not known.

Here was material for guesses, but nothing more. It threw no light on where the dead man with bad teeth had come from. Calhoun went over all the other reports. No other was even as promising as this.

He had been seven hours in overdrive when the projected letters separated into twins. Every letter doubled. The reading-matter became unreadable. With one eye covered, reading was just barely possible, but he could see nothing with real clarity.

He took his temperature. He felt perfectly well, but he had a high fever and his eyes grew progressively worse. He said grimly to Murgatroyd, "I begin to see some excuse for the doctors on Lanke. Whatever they were afraid of getting, I've got. It's highly infectious, all right!"

Ten hours out from Lanke, his vision cleared again. He could fuse the images from both eyes. He continued to feel perfectly well, but his temperature was half a degree higher than three hours earlier.

"This," he told Murgatroyd, "is not according to the rules! I may have to call on you as a member of the medical profession!"

He gave himself as thorough a physical examination as one can give himself. He used the amplifier-microscope on his saliva, his blood, on every body fluid. Each of them showed a minute, perfectly spherical pigmented microorganism in appalling numbers. As he regarded them on the screen of the amplifier-microscope they broke into halves, became small spheres, grew swiftly and prepared to divide again. Meanwhile, they danced and darted and whirled frantically. The reaction to the Daflos reagents indicated the presence of a deadly toxin.

"And I took precautions!" Calhoun said rather dizzily. "I washed and showered. I could almost have operated with no more attempt at a sterile environment!" He shook his head. "I think I can go a little longer. That dead man was farther along than this. I've time enough to call on you, Murgatroyd."

He looked at himself in the mirror. The curious enlargement of the flesh beside his nose had appeared. He began to get out his equipment. Something occurred to him.

"The Health Minister," he said sardonically, "didn't quarantine me. He sent me off. He had no fear of my reporting anything to headquarters! I should be dead before breakout, and you couldn't run the ship to headquarters and it would never be found." Then he said, "Let's prevent such an unpleasant fate, Murgatroyd!"

He drew a small sample of blood from his arm. He injected it into Murgatroyd where a small patch of skin on the tormal's flank had been desensitized almost as soon as he was born. Murgatroyd made no objection.

Now Murgatroyd went back to his cubbyhole, yawning. He crawled in to doze. Calhoun made a mental note to check his pulse and breathing in half an hour. He himself, felt feverish. His head seemed to rock a little. His eyes went bad again. He saw double. Murgatroyd dozed peacefully. Calhoun doggedly waited for him to react to the microscopic spheres. His heartbeat should go up four or five counts a minute. He might run a degree of fever. He would be sleepy for two hours, or three, or even four. Then he'd wake up and his blood would contain antibodies against the material with which he'd been inoculated. He'd be back in robust health, and able to share it with Calhoun.

It didn't work out that way. When Calhoun went to check his pulse-rate in half an hour, Murgatroyd came wide awake. He said, "Chee!" in an inquiring tone. He scrambled out of his nest, filled with vim and zest for whatever the hour might bright forth. His pulse was normal. His temperature was equally correct.

Calhoun stared at him. Murgatroyd couldn't have looked healthier. He showed no sign of having needed to produce antibodies.

He hadn't. There are some diseases, contagious among animals, to which human beings are immune. There are some from which humans suffer, to which animals are not subject. More than once medical research has been halted while a hunt was made for an experimental animal in which a particular strain of microbes or viruses could live.

The plague of which Lanke was terrified and Calhoun a victim happened to be a plague to which Murgatroyd did not need to form antibodies. He was immune to it by the simple normal chemistry of his body, and there was nothing that Calhoun could do about it. He considered that he would unquestionably die within a certain short number of days or hours. The Med Ship would drive on, to breakout somewhere within a light-year more or less of its destination. From there, it should make a shorter overdrive-hop to a matter or no more than a million miles or two, and then it should use Lawlor Drive within the solar system, on whose planet the Interstellar Medical Service had its headquarters.

But if Calhoun was dead nothing of the sort would happen. The Med Ship would breakout. Murgatroyd might still be alive, but he could do nothing. Eventually he would die, bewildered. The Med Ship would never, never be found so long as time ran on, and Lanke . . . 

"Murgatroyd," said Calhoun, "this is a bad business! And you're right in it! I know what I'm up against, but what am I going to do for you?"

Murgatroyd said confidently, "Chee-chee-chee!" 

"I'm seeing better," said Calhoun suddenly. "It seems to come in waves of better and worse. Intermittent."

He put his hand to his face to feel the now-marked unresilient stiffened flesh beside his nose. Murgatroyd looked hopefully at the coffee pot. He said, "Chee?" There was nothing to indicate the possibility of anything, not anticipated. There was no reason for anything to happen.

Then, abruptly, everything changed. The Aesclipus Twenty was in overdrive and there was only one thing which even in theory could affect her from outside. It was said that if a ship were in overdrive and all the cosmos exploded, and everything in all the galaxies ceased to be, including the galaxies themselves, that people in a ship in overdrive would not know of the disaster and would not hear the last trumpet until breakout-time came.

But now, here at this moment, Calhoun felt a familiar and monstrous dizziness, and an equally familiar and intolerable nausea, and then all the sensations of a whirling, spinning fall toward nothingness. Simultaneously the little ship's vision screens lighted, the Aesclipus Twenty broke out of overdrive and lay floating in space surrounded by a myriad of stars, and a small but bright red light flashed luridly on the control-board.


Back | Next