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James White

The Genocidal Healer

To Jeff aka Jeffrey Mcllwain, MD, FRCS who is also great with sick refrigerators

In Appreciation

Sector General 8

CHAPTER 1

THEY had assembled in a temporarily unused compartment on the hospital’s eighty-seventh level. The room had seen service at various times as an observation ward for the birdlike Nallajims of physiological classification LSVO, as a Melfan ELNT operating theater, and, most recently, as an overflow ward for the chlorine-breathing Illensan PVSJs, whose noxious atmosphere still lingered in trace quantities. For the first and only time it was the venue of a military court and, Lioren thought hopefully, it would be used to terminate rather than extend life.

Three high-ranking Monitor Corps officers had taken their seats facing a multispecies audience that might be sympathetic, antagonistic, or simply curious. The most senior was an Earth-human DBDG, who opened the proceedings.

“I am Fleet Commander Dermod, the president of this specially convened court-martial,” it said in the direction of the recorder. Then, inclining its head to one side and then the other, it went on. “Advising me are the Earth-human Colonel Skemp-ton of this hospital, and the Nidian, Lieutenant-Colonel Dragh-Nin, of the Corps’s other-species legal department. We are here at the behest of Surgeon-Captain Lioren, a Tarlan BRLH, who is dissatisfied with the verdict of a previous Federation civil-court hearing of its case. The Surgeon-Captain is insisting on its right as a serving officer to be tried by a Monitor Corps military tribunal.

“The charge is gross professional negligence leading to the deaths of a large but unspecified number of patients while under its care.”

Without taking its attention from the body of the court, and seeming deliberately to avoid looking at the accused, the fleet commander paused briefly. The rows of chairs, cradles, and other support structures suited to the physiological requirements of the audience held many beings who were familiar to Lioren: Thornnastor, the Tralthan Diagnostician-in-Charge of Pathology; the Nidian Senior Tutor, Cresk-Sar; and the recently appointed Earth-human Diagnostician-in-Charge of Surgery, Conway. Some of them would be willing and anxious to speak in Lioren’s defense, but how many would be as willing to accuse, condemn, and punish?

“As is customary in these cases,” Fleet Commander Der-mod resumed gravely, “the counsel for the defense will open and the prosecution will have the last word, followed by the consultation and the agreed verdict and sentence of the officers of this court. Appearing for the defense is the Monitor Corps Earth-human, Major O’Mara, who has been Chief of the Department of Other-Species Psychology at this hospital since it first became operational, assisted by the Sommaradvan, Cha Thrat, a member of the same department. The accused, Surgeon- Captain Lioren, is acting for and is prosecuting itself.

“Major O’Mara, you may begin.”

While Dermod had been speaking, O’Mara, whose two eyes were recessed and partially hidden by thin flaps of skin and shadowed by the gray hair which grew in two thick crescents above them, had looked steadily at Lioren. When it rose onto its two feet, the prompt screen remained unlit. Plainly the Chief Psychologist intended speaking without notes.

In the angry and impatient manner of an entity unused to the necessity for being polite, it said, “May it please the court, Surgeon-Captain Lioren stands accused, or more accurately stands self-accused, of a crime of which it has already been exonerated by its own civil judiciary. With respect, sir, the accused should not be here, we should not be here, and this trial should not be taking place.”

“That civil court,” Lioren said harshly, “was influenced by a very able defender to show me sympathy and sentiment when what I needed was justice. Here it is my hope that—”

“I will not be as able a defender?” O’Mara asked.

“I know you will be an able defender!” Lioren said loudly, knowing that the process of translation was removing much of the emotional content from the words. “That is my greatest concern. But why are you defending me? With your reputation and experience in other-species psychology, and the high stan- dards of professional behavior you demand, I expected you to understand and side with me instead of—”

“But I am on your side, dammit—” O’Mara began. He was silenced by the distinctively Earth-human and disgusting sound of the fleet commander clearing its main breathing passage.

“Let it be clearly understood,” Dermod said in a quieter voice, “that all entities having business before this court will address their remarks to the presiding officer and not to each other. Surgeon-Captain Lioren, you will have the opportunity to argue your case without interruption when your present defender, be he able or inept, has completed his submission. Continue, Major.”

Lioren directed one eye toward the officers of the court, another he kept on the silent crowd behind him, and a third he fixed unwaveringly upon the Earth-human O’Mara, who, still without benefit of notes, was describing in detail the accused’s training, career, and major professional accomplishments during his stay at Sector Twelve General Hospital. Major O’Mara had never used such words of praise to or about Lioren in the past, but now the things it was saying would not have been out of place in a eulogy spoken over the mortal remains of the respected dead. Regrettably, Lioren was neither dead nor respected.

As the hospital’s Chief Psychologist, O’Mara’s principal concern was and always had been the smooth and efficient operation of the ten-thousand-odd members of the medical and maintenance staff. For administrative reasons, the entity O’Mara carried the rank of major in the Monitor Corps, the Federation’s executive and law- enforcement arm, which was also charged with the responsibility for the supply and maintenance of Sector General. But keeping so many different and potentially antagonistic life-forms working together in harmony was a large job whose limits, like those of O’Mara’s authority, were difficult to define.

Given even the highest qualities of tolerance and mutual respect among all levels of its personnel, and in spite of the careful psychological screening they underwent before being accepted for training in the Galactic Federation’s most renowned mul-tienvironment hospital, there were still occasions when serious interpersonal friction threatened to occur because of ignorance or misunderstanding of other-species cultural mores, social behavior, or evolutionary imperatives. Or, more dangerously, a being might develop a xenophobic neurosis which, if left untreated, would ultimately affect its professional competence, mental stability, or both.

A Tralthan medic with a subconscious fear of the abhorrent little predators which had for so long infested its home planet might find itself unable to bring to bear on one of the physiologically similar, but highly civilized, Kreglinni the proper degree of clinical detachment necessary for its treatment. Neither would it feel comfortable working with or, in the event of personal accident or illness, being treated by a Kreglinni medical colleague. It was the responsibility of Chief Psychologist O’Mara to detect and eradicate such problems before they could become life- or sanity-threatening or, if all else failed, to remove the potentially troublesome individuals from the hospital.

There had been times, Lioren remembered, when this constant watch for signs of wrong, unhealthy, or intolerant thinking which the Chief Psychologist performed with such dedication made it the most feared, distrusted, and disliked entity in Sector General.

But now O’Mara seemed to be displaying the type of uncharacteristic behavior that it had always considered as a warning symptom in others. By defending this great and terrible crime of negligence against an entire planetary population, a piece of wrong thinking without precedent in Federation history, it was ignoring and reversing the professional habits and practices of a lifetime.

Lioren stared for a moment at the entity’s head fur, which was a much lighter shade of gray than he remembered, and wondered whether the confusions of advancing age had caused it to succumb to one of the psychological ills from which it had tried so hard to protect everyone else. Its words, however, were reasoned and

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