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There are few persons better qualified to put the "science" in science fiction than William Morrison, possessor of a doctor's degree in chemistry, translator of scores of obscure and enormously technical scientific papers—and an author of such astonishing versatility as to have written a successful television show for children, a book (with his wife, and under his real name Joseph Samachson) on the art of the ballet, and several score popular science-fiction stories. With his background, Morrison never needs to fudge on the authenticity of his scientific lore—and that he never allows the accurate science to interfere with sheer story-telling pleasure is adequately attested by...

Country Doctor

By WILLIAM MORRISON

He had long resigned himself to thinking that opportunity had passed him by for life. Now, when it struck so unexpectedly and so belatedly, he wasn't sure that it was welcome.

He had gone to sleep early, after an unusually hectic day. As if the need for immunizing against the threat of an epidemic hadn't been enough, he had also had to treat the usual aches and pains, and to deliver one baby, plus two premature Marsopolis calves. Even as he pulled the covers over himself, the phone was ringing, but he let Maida answer it. Nothing short of a genuine first-class emergency was going to drag him out of the house again before morning if he could help it. Evidently the call wasn't that important, for Maida hadn't come in to bother him about it, and his last feeling, before dropping off to sleep, was one of gratitude for her common sense.

He wasn't feeling grateful when the phone rang again. He awoke with a start. The dark of night still lay around the house, and from alongside him came the sound of his wife's slow breathing. In the next room, one of the kids, he couldn't tell which, said drowsily, "Turn off the alarm." Evidently the sound of the ringing hadn't produced complete wakefulness.

While he lay there, feeling too heavy to move, Maida moaned slightly in her sleep, and he said to himself, "If that's old Bender, calling about his constipation again, I'll feed him dynamite pills." Then he reached over to the night table and forced himself to pick up the phone. "Who is it?"

"Doctor Meltzer?" He recognized the hoarse and excited tones of Tom Linton, the city peace officer. "You better get over here right away!"

"What is it, Tom? And where am I supposed to get?"

"Over at the space port. Ship out of control—almost ran into Phobos coming down—and it landed with a crash. They need you fast."

"I'm coming."

The sleep was out of his eyes now. He grabbed his emergency equipment, taking along a plentiful supply of antibiotics and adjustable bandages. There was no way of knowing how many men had been hurt, and he had better be ready to treat an entire crew.

Outside the house, his bicar was waiting for him. He tossed in his equipment and hopped in after it. A throw of the switch brought in full broadcast power, and a fraction of a second later he had begun to skim over the smooth path that led over the farmland reclaimed from the desert.

The space port was less than twenty miles away, and it took him no more than ten minutes to get there. As he approached, the light blinked green at an intersection. Ah, he thought, one advantage of being a country doctor with a privileged road is that you always have the right of way. Are there any other advantages? None that you can think of offhand. You go through college with a brilliant record, you dream of helping humanity, of doing research in medicine, of making discoveries that will lengthen human life and lend it a little added happiness. And then, somehow, you find yourself trapped. The frontier outpost that's supposed to be the steppingstone to bigger things turns out to be a lifetime job. You find that your most important patients are not people, but food-animals. On Mars there are plenty of men and women, but few cows and sheep. Learn to treat them, and you really amount to something. Save a cow, and the news gets around faster than if you saved a man. And so, gradually, the animals begin to take more and more of your time, and you become known and liked in the community. You marry, you have children, you slip into a routine that dulls the meaning of the fast-hurrying days. You reach fifty—and you realize suddenly that life has passed you by. Half your allotted hundred years are gone, you can't tell where. The opportunities that once beckoned so brightly have faded in the distance.

What do you have to show for what the years have taken? One wife, one boy, one girl—

A surge of braking-power caught him from the direction of the space port. The sudden deceleration brought him out of his musings to realize that the entire area was brightly lit up. A huge ship lay across the middle of the field. Its length was at least a thousand feet, and he knew that there must be more than two dozen men in its crew. He hoped that none had been killed.

"Doc!"

Tom was rushing over to him. "How many hurt, Tom?"

"Our injuries are all minor, Doctor," said a sharp voice. "Nothing that I can't handle well enough myself."

As he stared at the man in the gold-trimmed uniform who was standing alongside Tom, he had a feeling of disappointment. If there were no serious injuries, what was the rush all about? Wliy hadn't they telephoned him while he was riding over, told him there was no need of him, let him get back to bed?

"I thought there was a serious crash."

"The crash was nothing, Doctor. Linton, here, was excited by our near-miss of Phobos. But we've no time to waste discussing that. I understand, Doctor Meltzer, that you're a first-class vet."

He flushed. "I hope you didn't drag me out of bed to treat a sick dog. I'm not sentimental about ship's pets—"

"This is no pet. Come along, and I'll show you."

He followed silently as the Captain led the way up the ramp and into the ship. Inside the vessel, there were no indications of any disorder caused by the crash. One or two of the men were bandaged around the head, but they seemed perfectly capable of getting around and doing their work.

He and the Captain were on a moving walkway now, and for three hundred feet they rode swiftly along it together, toward the back of the ship. Then the Captain stepped off, and Dr. Meltzer followed suit. When he caught sight of the thing that was waiting for him, his jaw dropped.

Almost the entire stern of the ship, about one third its length, was occupied by a great reddish creature that lay there quietly like an overgrown lump of flesh taken from some giant's butcher shop. A transparent panel walled it off from the rest of the ship. Through the panel Dr. Meltzer could see the thirty...

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