This etext was first published in Amazing Stories, July 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
COMPLETE BOOK-LENGTH NOVEL
By MURRAY LEINSTER
Illustrated by FINLAY
When the blue plague appeared on the planet of Dara, fear struck nearby worlds.
The fear led to a hate that threatened the lives of millions and endangered the Galactic peace.
The little Med Ship came out of overdrive and the stars were strange and the Milky Way seemed unfamiliar. Which, of course, was because the Milky Way and the local Cepheid marker-stars were seen from an unaccustomed angle and a not-yet-commonplace pattern of varying magnitudes. But Calhoun grunted in satisfaction. There was a banded sun off to port, which was good. A breakout at no more than sixty light-hours from one's destination wasn't bad, in a strange sector of the Galaxy and after three light-years of journeying blind.
"Arise and shine, Murgatroyd," said Calhoun. "Comb your whiskers. Get set to astonish the natives!"
A sleepy, small, shrill voice said;
Murgatroyd the tormal came crawling out of his small cubbyhole. He blinked at Calhoun.
"We're due to land shortly," Calhoun observed. "You'll impress the local inhabitants. I'll be unpopular. According to the records, there's been no Med Ship inspection here for twelve standard years. And that was practically no inspection, to judge by the report."
He began to make his toilet, first licking his right-hand whiskers and then his left. Then he stood up and shook himself and looked interestedly at Calhoun. Tormals are companionable small animals. They are charmed when somebody speaks to them. They find great, deep satisfaction in imitating the actions of humans, as parrots and mynahs and parrokets imitate human speech. But tormals have certain useful, genetically transmitted talents which make them much more valuable than mere companions or pets.
Calhoun got a light-reading for the banded sun. It could hardly be an accurate measure of distance, but it was a guide. He said;
"Hold on to something, Murgatroyd!"
Calhoun threw the overdrive switch and the Med Ship flicked back into that questionable state of being in which velocities of some hundreds of times that of light are possible. The sensation of going into overdrive was unpleasant. A moment later, the sensation of coming out was no less so. Calhoun had experienced it often enough, and still didn't like it.
The sun Weald burned huge and terrible in space. It was close, now. Its disk covered half a degree of arc.
"Very neat," observed Calhoun. "Weald Three is our port, Murgatroyd. The plane of the ecliptic would be—Hm...."
He swung the outside electron telescope, picked up a nearby bright object, enlarged its image to show details, and checked it against the local star-pilot. He calculated a moment. The distance was too short for even the briefest of overdrive hops, but it would take time to get there on solar-system drive.
He thumbed down the communicator-button and spoke into a microphone.
"Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty reporting arrival and asking coördinates for landing. Purpose of landing, planetary health inspection. Our mass is fifty tons standard. We should arrive at a landing position in something under four hours. Repeat. Med Ship Aesclipus Twenty ..."
He finished the regular second transmission and made coffee for himself while he waited for an answer. Murgatroyd wanted a cup of coffee too. Murgatroyd adored coffee. He held a tiny cup in a furry small paw and sipped gingerly at the hot liquid.
A voice came out of the communicator;
"Aesclipus Twenty, repeat your identification!"
Calhoun went to the control-board.
"Aesclipus Twenty," he said patiently, "is a Med Ship, sent by the Interstellar Medical Service to make a planetary health inspection on Weald. Check with your public health authorities. This is the first Med Ship visit in twelve standard years, I believe, which is inexcusable. But your health authorities will know all about it. Check with them."
The voice said truculently;
"What was your last port?"
Calhoun named it. This was not his home sector, but Sector Twelve had gotten into a very bad situation. Some of its planets had gone unvisited for as long as twenty years, and twelve between inspections was almost common-place. Other sectors had been called on to help it catch up. Calhoun was one of the loaned Med Ship men, and because of the emergency he'd been given a list of half a dozen planets to be inspected one after another, instead of reporting back to sector headquarters after each visit. He'd had minor troubles before with landing-grid operators in Sector Twelve.
So he was very patient. He named the planet last inspected, the one from which he'd set out for Weald Three. The voice from the communicator said sharply;
"What port before that?"
Calhoun named the one before the last.
"Don't drive any closer," said the voice harshly, "or you'll be destroyed!"
Calhoun said coldly;
"Now you listen to me, friend! I'm from the Interstellar Medical Service! You get in touch with planetary health services immediately! Remind them of the Interstellar Medical Inspection Agreement, signed on Tralee two hundred and forty standard years ago. Remind them that if they do not cooperate in medical inspection that I can put your planet under quarantine and your space commerce will be cut off like that! No ship will be cleared for Weald from any other planet in the galaxy until there has been a health inspection! Things have pretty well gone to pot so far as the Med Service in this sector is concerned, but we're trying to straighten it out. You have twenty minutes to clear this and then, I'm coming in. If I'm not landed, a quarantine goes on! Tell your health authorities that!"
Silence. Calhoun clicked off and poured himself another cup of coffee. Murgatroyd held out his cup for a refill. Calhoun gave it to him.
"I hate to put on an official hat, Murgatroyd," he said annoyedly, "but there are some people who won't have any other way."
Murgatroyd said "Chee!" and sipped at his cup.
Calhoun checked the course of the Med Ship. It bored on through space. There were tiny noises from the communicator. There were whisperings and rustlings and the occasional strange and sometimes beautiful musical notes whose origin is yet obscure, but which, since they are carried by electromagnetic radiation of wildly varying wave-lengths, are not likely to be the fabled music of the spheres. He waited.
In fifteen minutes