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Contamination crew, p.1
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       Contamination Crew, p.1

           Alan Edward Nourse
 
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Contamination Crew


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Illustrated by Ed Emsh]

  CONTAMINATION CREW

  BY ALAN E. NOURSE

  _Orders were orders! The creature had to be killed. But just how does one destroy the indestructible?_

  (_The following is taken from the files of the Medical DisciplinaryBoard, Hospital Earth, from the preliminary hearings in re: TheProfession vs. Samuel B. Jenkins, Physician; First Court of MedicalAffairs, final action pending._)

  COM COD S221VB73 VOROCHISLOV SECTOR; 4th GALACTIC PERIOD 22, 2341 GENERAL SURVEY SHIP MERCY TO HOSPITAL EARTH

  VIA: FASTEST POSSIBLE ROUTING, PRIORITY UNASSIGNED

  TO: Lucius Darby, Physician Grade I, Black Service Director of Galactic Periphery Services, Hospital Earth

  FROM: Samuel B. Jenkins, Physician Grade VI, Red Service General Practice Patrol Ship _Lancet_ (Attached GSS _Mercy_ pro tem)

  SIR: The following communication is directed to your attention in hopesthat it may anticipate various charges which are certain to be placedagainst me as a Physician of the Red Service upon the return of theGeneral Survey Ship _Mercy_ to Hospital Earth (expected arrival fourmonths from above date).

  These charges will undoubtedly be preferred by one Turvold Neelsen,Physician Grade II of the Black Service, and Commander of the _Mercy_ onits current survey mission into the Vorochislov Sector. Exactly what thecharges will be I cannot say, since the Black Doctor in question refuseseither audience or communication with me at the present time; however,it seems likely that treason, incompetence and mutinous insubordinationwill be among the milder complaints registered. It is possible that evenMalpractice might be added, so you can readily understand the reasonsfor this statement--

  The following will also clarify my attached request that the GSS_Mercy_, upon arrival in orbit around Hospital Earth, be met immediatelyby a decontamination ship carrying a vat of hydrochloric acid,concentration 3.7%, measuring no less than twenty by thirty by fiftyfeet, and that Quarantine officials be prepared to place the entire crewof the _Mercy_ under physical and psychiatric observation for a periodof no less than six weeks upon disembarkation.

  The facts, in brief, are as follows:

  Three months ago, as crew of the General Practice Patrol Ship _Lancet_,my colleague Green Doctor Wallace Stone and myself began investigatingcertain peculiar conditions existing on the fourth planet of Mauki,Vorochislov Sector (Class I Medical Service Contract.) The entirepopulation of that planet was found to be suffering from a masspsychotic delusion of rather spectacular proportions: namely, that theyand their entire planet were in imminent danger of being devoured, intoto, by an indestructible non-humanoid creature which they called a_hlorg_. The Maukivi were insistent that a _hlorg_ had already totallyconsumed a non-existent outer planet in their system, and was now hardat work on neighboring Mauki V. It was their morbid fear that Mauki IVwas next on its list. No amount of reassurance could convince them ofthe foolishness of these fears, although we exhausted our energy, ourpatience, and our food and medical supplies in the effort. Ultimately wereferred the matter to the Grey Service, feeling confident that it was apsychiatric problem rather than medical or surgical. We applied to theGSS _Mercy_ to take us aboard to replenish our ship's supplies, andprovide us a much-needed recovery period. The Black Doctor in commandapproved our request and brought us aboard.

  The trouble began two days later....

  * * * * *

  There were three classes of dirty words in use by the men who travelledthe spaceways back and forth from Hospital Earth.

  There were the words you seldom used in public, but which were colorfuland descriptive in private use.

  Then there were the words which you seldom used even in private, butwhich effectively relieved feelings when directed at mirrors, inanimateobjects, and people who had just left the room.

  Finally, there were the words that you just didn't use, period. You knewthey existed; you'd heard them used at one time or another, but to hearthem spoken out in plain Earth-English was enough to rock the mostspace-hardened of the Galactic Pill Peddlers back on his well-wornheels.

  Black Doctor Turvold Neelsen's Earth-English was spotty at best, but theword came through without any possibility of misinterpretation. RedDoctor Sam Jenkins stared at the little man and felt his face turning asscarlet as the lining of his uniform cape.

  "But that's ridiculous!" he finally stammered. "Quite aside from thelanguage you use to suggest it."

  "Ah! So the word still has some punch left, eh? At least you puppiesbring something away from your Medical Training, even if it's onlytaboos." The Black Doctor scowled across the desk at Jenkins' lankyfigure. "But sometimes, my good Doctor, it is better to face a fact thanto wait for the fact to face you. Sometimes we have to crawl out of ourivory towers for a minute or two--you know?"

  Jenkins reddened again. He had never had any great love for physiciansof the Black Service--who did?--but he found himself disliking thisshort, blunt-spoken man even more cordially than most. "Why implicatethe _Lancet_?" he burst out. "You've landed the _Mercy_ on plenty ofplanets before we brought the _Lancet_ aboard her--"

  "But we did not have it with us before the _Lancet_ came aboard, and wedo have it now. The implication is obvious. You have brought aboard acontaminant."

  He'd said it again.

  Red Doctor Jenkins' face darkened. "The Green Doctor and I havemaintained the _Lancet_ in perfect conformity with the Sterility Code.We've taken every precaution on both landing and disembarkingprocedures. What's more, we've spent the last three months on a planetwith _no_ mutually compatible flora or fauna. From Hospital Earthviewpoint, Mauki IV is sterile. We made only the briefest check-stop onMauki V before joining you. It was a barren rock, but we decontaminatedagain after leaving. If you have a--a _contaminant_ on board your ship,sir, it didn't come from the _Lancet_. And I won't be held responsible."

  It was strong language to use to a Black Doctor, and Sam Jenkins knewit. There were doctors of the Green and Red Services who had spent theirprofessional lives on some god-forsaken planetoid at the edge of theGalaxy for saying less. Red Doctor Sam Jenkins was too near the end ofhis Internship, too nearly ready for his first Permanent PlanetaryAppointment with the rank, honor, and responsibility it carried tolightly risk throwing it to the wind at this stage--

  But a Red Doctor does not bring a contaminant aboard a survey ship, hethought doggedly, no matter what the Black Doctor says--

  Neelsen looked at the young man slowly. Then he shrugged. "Of course,I'm merely a pathologist. I realize that we know nothing of medicine,nor of disease, nor of the manner in which disease is spread. All thisis beyond our scope. But perhaps you'll permit one simple question froma dull old man, just to humor him."

  Jenkins looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, sir."

  "Just so. You've had a very successful cruise this year with the_Lancet_, I understand."

  Jenkins nodded.

  "A most successful cruise. Four planets elevated from Class IV to ClassII contracts, they tell me. Morua II elevated from Class VI to Class I,with certain special riders. A plague-panic averted on Setman I, and avery complex virus-bacteria symbiosis unravelled on Orb III. Anillustrious record. You and your colleague from the Green Service arehoping for a year's exemption from training, I imagine--" The BlackDoctor looked up sharply. "You searched your holds after leaving theMauki planets, I presume?"

  Jenkins blinked. "Why--no, sir. That is, we decontaminated accordingto--"

  "I see. You didn't search your holds. I suppose you didn't notice yourfood supplies dwindling at an alarming rate?"

  "No--" The Red Doctor hesitated. "Not
really."

  "Ah." The Black Doctor closed his eyes wearily and flipped an activatorswitch. The scanner on the far wall buzzed into activity. It focussed onthe rear storage hold of the _Mercy_ where the little _Lancet_ wasresting on its landing rack. "Look closely, Doctor."

  At first Jenkins saw nothing. Then his eye caught a long, pinkglistening strand lying across the floor of the hold. The scanner pickedup the strand, followed it to the place where it emerged from a neatpencil-sized hole in the hull of the _Lancet_. The strand snakedcompletely across the room and disappeared through another neat hole inthe wall into the next storage hold.

  Jenkins shook his head as the scanner flipped back to the hole in the_Lancet's_ hull. Even as he watched, the hole enlarged and a pink blobbegan to emerge. The blob kept coming and coming until it rested soggilyon the edge of the hole. Then it teetered
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