Well, well, well… We certainly had fun reviewing the entries to our first annual Sci-Fi contest. We read some fascinating tales — some of the more notable entries are reprinted below.
These stories gave us glimpses of life in a distant future, where the only resemblance to our own world was the presence of overworked health care professionals and equipment of dubious reliability, where it takes extra-terrestrials to point out the folly of our budget priorities…
Many of the stories we received involved transferrance of one kind or another: neuron transplants that reversed dementia but caused subtle, creepy personality changes… A mother who gives her all to help a daughter in kidney failure…
But the best story, in our judgment, featured a transferrance of a more primative, fundamental sort. In the not-too-distant future, with fears of bird flu gripping the planet, scientists race to disseminate a vaccine. We loved everything about this tale — its exposition and pacing, its dramatic climax, and how it turns the strengths and vulnerabilities of our global community on its head. Just brilliant!
So, we’re pleased to announce the grand prize goes to Steve Carper!
For winning our contest, Steve will receive the fancy new ds32a digital stethoscope from ThinkLabs! Hear murmurs better, and store and share them with colleagues!
Thanks to all our participants, and to our celebrity blogger panel of judges: GruntDoc, Joshua from Kidney Notes, and Enoch from Tech Medicine.
And if you don’t have the time to read all the stories online, print them up, and take them on the train ride home.
By Steve Carper
On its slowest day, Hong Kong International Airport fed tens of thousands of bodies into the plush or plain holds of the jets bearing the insignia of sixty different airlines. Today, tens of thousands jostled one another each minute in lines that never ended, lines that boiled and roiled and dissolved and reformed as loved ones gave each other parting kisses. Then kissed friends, children, strangers, staff, crew, baggage handlers, passing taxi and bus drivers, and the police who kept threatening them with their clubs. The Flu had arrived and they were the first wave out of the infected area.
Flu. In Chinese and English the word jumped at them in the boldest of letters, from newspaper headlines to the closed captioning of CNN International and SkyNet to the streaming announcement tickers above every bank of arrival/departure screens. They were heading across the world: Johannesburg, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Doha, Colombo, Sydney; direct flights to every continent except poor South and Central America. They would arrive there soon enough, transferring from one flight to the next, disembarking in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima, Caracas, and all the saints, Sao Paulo, Santiago, San Jose, San Salvador, Santo Domingo. Thousands would greet them at every airport, braving the clubs of their country’s police and armed forces for the wonderful, life-granting prize of all prizes, the other word blazoned across every means of communication in the airport. Cure.
The first signs of the avian flu strain to be labeled H5LB7 appeared in villages along the Vietnam/China border in early February. Authorities quickly set up roadblocks and sent in teams to destroy the infected chickens, but rumors of an extraordinarily high percentage of deaths filtered out through activists using Psiphon software to bypass official censorship. Alarmed, high-ranking authorities from China’s Ministry of Agriculture sent in teams. It was later revealed that both dead birds and dead humans were spirited across the border to the National Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology in Harbin.
While the flu spread across Vietnam into Laos and Guangxi and Guangdong provinces, the virologists adapted a technique that earlier proved useful against the H5N1 strain. Unlocking the virus’ genome, they cloned segments of its DNA and proceeded to mutate genes and reintroduce them into the genome to test their new function, a technique called reverse genetics. Mutagenesis worked. By July they had a stable strain of the virus that functioned as a viable vaccine.
It was almost too late. Shenzhen Airlines was no longer flying out of Nanning in the affected provinces. Xiamen Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Sichauan Airlines, and both China Eastern and China Southern Airlines had been forced to shut down all but a bare few emergency flights to and from surrounding countries.
“The vaccine works,” reported Dr. Cao Xiping. “The new virus displays both the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase antigens. We added to those genes a half-dozen others known for their ability to grow inside eggs as a base medium, which we can then refine to recapture the vaccine.”
“Eggs?” asked the Agriculture Minister. “How long to grow a billion doses inside eggs?”
Dr. Cao gave the number. Too long. Too expensive. Too difficult. Everything was against it. The Minister tried to wipe the look of scared horror off his face sufficiently to look angry and threatening, with minimal success.
“We do have an alternate idea,” said Dr. Zhu Yi. “Naturally, it has never been tested. But it does have the advantage of the quickest and cheapest wide-scale dissemination of the vaccine practicable.”
“Let’s hear it,” the Minister said.
He didn’t like it. He was against it. He went into a tirade that would have intimidated anyone not as bone-tired and single-minded as the virologists had become after weeks of unending death. The meeting went on for hours. At midnight the Minister capitulated. He did not look happy. His expression did not change even after Dr. Zhu gave him a long and somewhat sloppy kiss. He wiped his mouth with a napkin left over from the dinner and hurried home to kiss his wife and children.
None of them contracted the flu.
The technicians at the National Key Laboratory started incubating eggs, while the virologists mutated more genes on the already mutated virus. Doses of the vaccine were refined at almost the same rate and number as the list of airports, seaports, and border checkpoints being sealed off because of the spreading infection grew.
Meetings at the Ministry of Agriculture grew in similar hypertrophic fashion, as representatives of the Ministries of Health, Science and Technology, Communications, Foreign Affairs, State Security, and National Defense joined around ever-larger tables. Their decision went out through all state-run media. Volunteers would gather at the Hong Kong International Airport in one week’s time. All travel expenses would be paid. So would their burial expenses if anything went wrong, although that part was whispered to them as they gathered.
The news exploded onto the world to be greeted with an array of emotions as vast as all humanity. The Chinese had perfected a cure for the deadliest strain of flu humanity had ever encountered. There was no time to inoculate the entire world. A faster mode of transmission was necessary. And the fastest mode of transmission known to mankind was… mankind.
Dr. Zhu and Dr. Cao had modified the virus/vaccine to be transmittable by human-to-human contact. It lived – thrived! – in saliva. Kissing was an exemplary use of the human vector. People met people faster than any other form of contact, short of spraying from airplanes. There were technical reasons why that wasn’t feasible, but they were lost under the sounds of the explosion as the world learned that to save itself it had to, as the British tabloids headlined over and over, snog.
The first wave funneled through the newly reopened Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok, kissing everyone within reach. They fanned out through the cities of dozens of nations, an exponential force, dis-infecting dozens in each. Men kissed men, women kissed women, all kissed children and babies, and those who fought the contact were, it is accurate to say, sometimes kissed against their will. Few of those who successfully resisted died, but that was because by then so few successful carriers surrounded them.
The H5LB7 flu killed several millions of people in South Asia and smaller numbers elsewhere. About a billion people who might otherwise have died did not.
Some of them actually looked forward to the next year’s flu season.
By William Read
June cleared away the breakfast dishes, then set out a clean towel by the sink and got the cord out of its case. “Lily – it’s time!” she called into the next room. Lily trotted in carrying a book, and clambered into the big chair. June turned back to the cord. Originally it had been white, but a month ago they had decorated it with tape. Now it looked like a pink candy cane. She slipped a new membrane into the center and attached a fresh needle to each end. Then she brought the cord over to the big chair and settled in. There was plenty of room for both of them – Lily was small for four years old, although she had been growing faster since they had started with the cord.
Mother and daughter placed their arms side by side – June’s left arm on the right and Lily’s right arm on the left. June wrapped them together at wrist and elbow – Lily was very good, and almost never wiggled, but you shouldn’t take chances. It was a mess if you came unhooked accidentally. There was a woman in her group whose son seemed to come unhooked at least every other week. Those two did their sessions in an empty bathtub now. June took out the iodine swabs and prepped the access in her own arm. “My turn,” said Lily, reaching for her own swabs. June watched to make sure she did a good job, and she did – smaller circles to bigger circles, just like her
“Zap zap!” said June, and took out the Zap – a big piece for her and a smaller one for Lily. Hers was grape, but for some reason Lily liked dill – a flavor meant for adults but fortunately available in kid size. Each popped one under the tongue and June felt her heart pound as it kicked in. Lily looked up, her pupils huge. “Zap zap, mommy!” The increased blood pressure from the Zap powered the cord, and had the added benefit of keeping the kids settled down – but the amphetamine rush always made June feel like she was about to get caught shoplifting. She smacked her lips at the familiar fake grape taste.
Then June uncapped the needle on her side of the cord. “Make a face!” said Lily. June screwed up her face into a comical grimace, then popped the needle through the skin overlying the access site in her arm. “Now you make a face,” she told Lily. Lily puckered extravagantly and in popped the needle. June watched the clear windows turn red on each side of the buddy, and it began to throb – big ones from her own heart, and smaller, faster ones from Lily. A few seconds later she could taste the dill coming across. She knew Lily was getting the grape at the same time. All the flavors were chosen to be membrane permeable – a cheap way to know that the cord was working. The flavors also concealed the strange taste of thevelectrolytes and nitrogenous wastes equilibrating from Lily’s bodyvinto hers – although Lily was so small that really was not much of avproblem.
She caught a glimpse of the long scar across Lily’s little belly and felt a sympathetic pang from the scar on her own back . That kidney had lasted all of three weeks. Lily might be eligible for another transplant someday, but the list was long. Most people who were willing to give a kidney had already given it to one of the millions of babies born without kidneys since the Dusanto contamination. Those babies who could not get a transplant stayed on dialysis –and since the prion scare, machine dialysis at the crowded city clinic was just not an option. June took a deep breath, thinking herself calm through the Zap. She had one kidney left, and it was good enough to take care of them. Lily opened up the book she had brought. “Tyrannosaurus Dance, again?” asked June. Lily nodded and grinned. June rolled her eyes in fake exasperation and began to read.
Across the room she saw the baby stir on his pillow. He would probably still be asleep when Lily finished and it was his turn. June smiled – she would not even need to unhook herself from the cord.
By TonyCarol Trimble
Being a Space Corps medic sucks on even a good day. While in galactic transit from one system to the next, you spend the entire work day in perpetual boredom by either performing physical exams on healthy soldiers or checking to verify that all of the medical equipment is functioning correctly. When in orbit around the target planet, you spend your time humping the functional medical equipment into a hospital landing pod under the unsmiling eyes of a Medical Officer. As any good Space Corp medic will attest, the entire job description should read 90% boredom and 10% abject terror. Why 10% abject terror? That tidbit of time, my dear reader, begins the instant that the
landing operation commences.
As a Space medic, you do not get to ride down safely in the hospital landing pod with the rest of the military support group. No sir, you have a first class ticket for the landing inside a pod filled with knuckle-dragging infantrymen who constitute the first wave of soldiers securing the landing zone for the hospital pod’s arrival. For the uninitiated, the interior of the pod stinks of sweat and fear simply because even the longest-serving Corps veteran hates the landing process. The pod is blown out of the ship with all the grace, dignity, and force shown a tourist with gut-cramping case of Montezuma’s revenge on a Mexican vacation. If going from zero to terminal velocity in a single heartbeat isn’t bad enough; you enter the planet’s atmosphere with the sure knowledge that the natives below are neither friendly nor unprepared for your impending arrival. The Space Corps statistics demonstrate that a full 30% of the landing pods are vaporized while in transit between ship and soil.
Arrival on the planet surface merely serves to escalate the fear which has already increased the tone of your rectal sphincter. The uninitiated would be led to believe that the worst part is past; not even close. When the doors open and the knuckle-draggers begin pouring out with their rifles blazing, you get to leave the protected armor shell of the pod to render medical aid as needed. Infantry soldiers are not the brightest souls who ever drew breath and, despite training, still have the nasty habit of shooting at anything moving within their field of view. You would think that a soldier might be able to tell the difference between a two legged medic and an eight legged furry hopper, they can’t. If it moves, it dies; a simple, yet effective thought process from an infantryman’s perspective.
My job is to evaluate, treat, and transport the soldiers that are wounded in the battle. As circumstance would have it, I get to crawl in front of the gunfire to reach the wounded soldiers. Technology, bless it’s little black heart, has made a medic’s chance of surviving the battle a hair higher by utilizing tele-triage. Tele-triage means that I can hook a monitor into a plug built into the arms, legs, and chest of a prone wounded soldier to discover the obvious damage without raising my head to the point that a bullet can be aimed at my head. The gizmo works by recording where the soldier’s uniform got punctured and evaluated the temperature of the spilled blood to determine if the flow is arterial or venous. Once I know where the bulletholes are, I can ease forward to poke a tube of Flow-stop into the wound itself without making myself into a target.
Flow-stop is a nifty little trick for bullet wounds. You slip the tip of the tube inside the wound and press the trigger. It’s kind of like the foam insulation that people use to seal gaps around leaky windows in their Earthside homes. Air or blood, the concept is the same idea of plugging another leak. Our Flow-stop foam is a biodegradable composite material which will cap the entire wound until a surgeon unplugs it in a sterile operating suite. Personally, I don’t give a damn. I just know that it can be used without letting me get shot at by either friend or foe. Which, in my book, is a very good idea.
After treating the wounded soldier, I get to drag his shot-up body to the rear of our hastily formed perimeter while ducking bullets and shrapnel. This action, at one point of the Corps Medic’s career, consisted of either dragging the body across rocky soil or lifting the soldier onto your shoulder and running like hell. Neither option carries any appeal or could be called ‘life extending’ for the medic. It was a great day for medics in the Corps when some bright soul designed the SkitterSled. This little puppy slides up under the soldier and produces a small airlift throughout it’s entire length to raise the body a total of two inches above the ground. The medic can clip the sled to a tether on his belt and crawl back without any undue effort or exertion at whatever speed the volume of incoming fire dictates as being prudent.
Once you arrive at the infantry landing pod with a wounded soldier, the Space Corps medic has the option to connect him to the MedSet for monitoring of vital signs or connect him to the Hibernation unit to await arrival of the surgeons. Using the Medset is nice if you have time to hook up all the little doodads and thingamabobs needed to perform a high-end physical exam. However, most medics just tap the soldier into IV flow hibernation unit before shagging tail back to the front lines for another injured infantryman. Hibernation doesn’t provide the warm/fuzzy feeling of fixing the poor bastard; however, it is a lot more time effective for the medic. Start the IV, tap a button, and beat feet to go get the next guy.
Are there limitations on the Med systems that we use? Oh, yeah. For starters, if the Space Corps medic catches a bullet; all bets for proper medical care will stop right then and there. Why? Because the average infantry soldier is intimidated by anything that doesn’t go ‘bang’ when you pull it’s trigger. The other limitation is the number of bodies which the system can handle at any one given time. Med systems are designed to handle only 50% of the infantry platoon at any on time. The conventional wisdom being that if you have greater than 50% casualties on a battlefield, you’ve got bigger problems than worrying about available space on the medical equipment.
Like I said, being a Space Corps medic sucks.
“A Different Person.”
–Post-Op Day 1–
The operation went well. There were no complications and I anticipate that his recovery shall be uneventful.
I still wonder if it was prudent of me to personally operate on him… but then again, I wouldn’t trust anyone else to perform the procedure.
He wasn’t living anymore; he was merely existing. If he had died on the operating table, that would not have been a bad outcome. Witnessing a man wither away from dementia is painful and, honestly, I didn’t want to support a man who looked like my father, but was actually a useless biped whom I did not otherwise recognize.
It’s like he became a different person: an infantile creature who could no longer do anything for himself. It was embarrassing to see him transform into a child.
Sometimes I can’t believe that only a hundred years ago, people actually tried to prolong the lives of these demented people with those pitiful medications that did nothing but make people nauseated and help them draw an accurate clock for a few more months. My father–or anyone else, for that matter–is better off dead than simply existing with little, if any, quality of life.
Dad was (how I want to use the word “is”) a brilliant man. When he was basically forced out of the symphony because of his memory problems, he was devastated. At that time, he had some insight into what was happening. Reminders were everywhere about his declining memory–and how heartbreaking it was for him to witness the deterioration of his talents.
And why couldn’t he be one of those pleasantly demented people? The ones who aren’t as bothered with their deficits, the ones who don’t wander around, talking all night long and reorganizing useless items all day in an effort to “make things right”?
It is completely unfair that this happened to my father. He brought life and joy to so many people with his music–why was he struck with this illness? He had so much to give. His life was robbed from him–except he wasn’t the only one who experienced this loss.
So did the rest of the music world.
–Post-Op Day 3–
My brother called today, asking how Dad is doing. He just started a new job as a curator for the art museum. It’s hard to talk about the procedure without using medical jargon, but I think I explained it well enough. I had to leave some details out so he wouldn’t get angry.
The procedure was initially tested on cats, then ultimately on monkeys. In the past, people thought that the brain was a permanent structure: once mature, it never changed, grew, or had any plasticity. Medical science demonstrated otherwise with Parkinson’s disease. Scientists were able to grow neurons from the substantia nigra in a dish and implant them, along with a solution of neurotrophic factors, into the appropriate nucleus of the basal ganglia. It’s not unlike planting flower seeds with rich fertilizer in suboptimal soil. To everyone’s surprise–remember, everyone thought that the brain would not tolerate such invasive trauma, despite the advances in brain imaging and surgical instrumentation–the neurons easily integrated into the existing neural network and the body did not reject the donor neurons. In animals, at least, the manifestations of Parkinson’s disease eventually melted away within a few months and function returned to normal.
The success has been less consistent with cortical neurons, for reasons that I don’t completely understand. There hasn’t been anything in the literature for neuron implantation to treat dementia (this could feasibly be a cure!). Although most memory seems to be consolidated in the temporal lobes around the hippocampus, Brodman himself delineated disparate and scattered areas of the brain that seemed to contribute to memory. The remarkable thing about implanting these various neurons with neurotrophic factors is that the brain somehow figures out where the neurons should go and seamlessly incorporates them into the appropriate areas. Both original memory and function should gradually return during this process.
So that’s what I told my brother. I grew some brain cells that were associated with the areas of volume loss in Dad’s brain, bored open his skull, and injected the brain-cells-plus-neurotrophic-factor soup into the specific areas.
He bought it.
What I didn’t tell him, though, is where I got the brain cells from. I didn’t know if Dad had even a few months to live, given his condition, and I wanted to hasten his recovery and get him back to his former self. It would have taken too long to grow all the different cell lines for the various areas of the brain.
I got the tissue from the buskers downtown. Though some of them have aptitude in music, it’s marginal. They’re useless. They spend their days playing mediocre music on a corner and people don’t pay attention to them. No one will notice that they’re gone. It’s a fair sacrifice, I think; their unknown, yet plentiful, brain tissue as a donation to promote longevity in my father, a man who has composed numerous pieces and has been called the reincarnated John Williams.
I find it oddly satisfying that my hands that took life away are the same hands that will hopefully allow my father to live fully again.
Maybe I’ll tell my brother about this small detail in the future.
–Post-Op Day 4–
We took Dad off of the ventilator last night and he’s now awake. He looks well. He recognized my face and, with that post-ventilator scratchiness in his voice, said my name and smiled.
I almost cried. Just a month ago, he had no idea that I was his child.
He’s still understandably tired, so I’ll save the testing for later.
I wish the time would pass faster. Given that the neurons he received were mature, I’m guessing that he should regain all of his prior function in about two weeks. He’ll have no problems fastening his own buttons, shaving his face, or walking around the city.
And then he’ll effortlessly write glorious music.
I want him back now, not in two weeks.
–Post-Op Day 12–
I took Dad home today. He looks great. He’s walking, talking, and eating. His head wound is healing nicely, there is still no evidence that his body is rejecting the neurons, and his head scans show that the cells have migrated to the appropriate locations and integrated themselves fairly well into his brain tissue. This is fantastic and I couldn’t wish for a better result.
I think we’ll go through neuropsychological testing soon. Give Dad a chance to reorient himself to my house–though, so far, it doesn’t look like he’s having any problems. He even recognized the music box in the study. He gave that to me when I was ten years old. There was a time when I was the only one who remembered and recognized the gift.
Dad sat through the five-hour battery of tests today and–would you believe it?–his cognitive function has significantly improved! His visuospatial skills are essentially normal and his semantic and categorical memory functions are the best I have ever seen them. His language skills are still lagging a bit, but are improved compared to a month ago. He no longer has any problems with attention.
It’s been several years since he’s looked this healthy. I think we all first noticed the onset of his dementia about seven years ago. His function rapidly declined about three years back. It was amazing to watch him talk and take these tests with ease; it’s like he’s received the priceless gifts of time and youth.
He really is a different person now–he is becoming who he once was: a great man.
–Post-Op Day 15–
Dad has taken a strange liking to steak. He was a vegetarian for many years. It’s not that he abhorred cattle cloning and farming practices; he just never liked beef. I can’t remember him ever eating a steak in the past.
That being said, it was nice to grill up a couple of steaks tonight for dinner. It’s wonderful to have him back in my life again. He’s not a demented old man anymore; he’s my dad.
–Post-Op Day 19–
Dad sat in front of the piano today and tapped on the keys. The last time he touched the piano was about five years ago. As the dementia consumed his brain, he lost both interest and skill in music.
“I vaguely remember playing this thing,” he said, “but I can’t for the life of me remember what I used to do with this. Did I really write music?”
I asked him to relax; I don’t want him to feel too much pressure right now. But, he had difficulties creating melodies and when he reviewed his past music, he couldn’t even read bass clef–which is appalling. He was known for writing moving bass lines that would carry the spirit to places only imagined.
I don’t get it. We’re nearly three weeks out from the procedure. Maybe I’m just impatient. Maybe the synapses have yet to coalesce but, with a little time, his skills will return.
I’ve already got this much of him back. I should be grateful. But I want all of him back. And soon.
–Post-Op Day 21–
Dad told me today about memories of his childhood in Utah and wondered where his two sisters now live. He then asked me where I had put his guitar and harmonica.
He ran his fingers over the photograph of Mom.
“She looks familiar,” he said, “have I ever met her?”
After taking a shower, he curiously asked me if I had also removed the tattoo from his shoulder during the operation.
He was born and raised in Vermont. He doesn’t have any siblings. He’s a pianist. He was married for over thirty years. And he never had any tattoos.
Who is this man?
One of the buskers was a guitar player who was wearing a Utah Jazz cap when I took him.
I don’t even want to think about what this means.
My dad is not demented anymore, but he’s not my dad.
He really is a different person now.
The Reason Why
By TonyCarol Trimble
The galactic visitors arrived at the front doors of the World Health Organization with a burst of emerald green light. Whereas employees of WHO were fairly well acquainted with unusual guests in a vast variety of garb, the absence of any readily visible clothing did serve to jar the vestibule receptionist out her usual lethargy. After taking a moment to compose herself while pouring a puddle of urine out of the seat of her chair, she greeted the tall humanoid-shaped creatures with, “And how might I assist you?” One of the creatures stepped forward toward her desk to inquire in flawless English, “Where might we find the complaint department for this facility?”
The receptionist was baffled. WHO held offices for immunology, genetics, statistics, research, laboratory science, and administration; however, she had never known the building to handle complaints. “Perhaps if you could brief me on the nature of the complaint, I might be able to direct you to the appropriate administrative office.”
The alien chattered at his peers for a moment before stating, “We wish to lodge an official protest pertaining to the published articles about ‘Alien abductions’ and our research methods. Our actions and intentions have been unreasonably distorted.”
It was at this moment that a telephone on the receptionist’s desk began to ring. The alien waved a small rod-like device at the telephone. The ringing noise stopped as the telephone melted into a puddle atop the desk. The receptionist pasted a plastic smile across her face as the hot liquid goo began dripping down into her stylish shoes. “I think the President of the World Heath Organization is just the person that you need to speak with about your complaint.” She looked down at the melted telephone and said, “I’ll personally take you to his office.”
A brief journey found the woman guiding the galactic visitors through the entry into the Director’s office. The introductions might have been more formal had the Director’s personal assistant chosen to step aside from barring the doorway into the Director’s private office. One of the aliens stepped forward, lifted the woman off the floor, and tossed her through a large window. The personal assistant landed several floors below with a wet thump. The alien peered through the opening down to the ground far below. He called back to his companions. “Zeepoc, please note in your report that Earthlings have very limited ability to fly. It would appear that their actions are limited to flapping the upper extremities while screaming.”
One of the aliens nodded. “Duly noted.”
The foyer receptionist, having decided that she did not wish to display a similar lack of skill at personal flight, began to beat on the wooden doors leading into the Director’s office. Dr. Erskine T. Quaddlebaum opened the door to his office. He poked his balding head out and inquired. “What is causing all this racket?” The receptionist giggled in barely controlled hysterics. “You’ll find out in a second, Skippy. See ya.” With that said, she ran for the hallway.
The aliens brushed past the befuddled scientist as they entered the room. Dr. Quaddlebaum was intrigued by the appearance of the visitors and by the stiff breeze blowing through his personal assistant’s office. He decided that the building’s maintenance staff must have repaired the air conditioning. Other people would have found the presence of seven foot tall and willow-thin blue skinned visitors to be somewhat unusual; Dr. Quaddlebaum merely shrugged as the observation made a passing tug at his preoccupied academic mind.
The leader of the Galatic visitors looked down at Dr. Quaddlebaum. “We have a series of complaints pertaining to slanderous statements issued about our medical experiments and use of technology on the residents is planet.”
Dr. Quaddlebaum was perplexed. “What country do you represent? I don’t recall being introduced to you at the last United Nations briefing.”
The alien gave a sigh. “We are from the fifth planet circling the dwarf star in the Centarus sector.” “And you want?” The scientist asked.
The leader chattered again with his peers before answering. “We wish to have a retraction issued by the global news services of your planet. As an advanced species, we find it offensive to have Earthlings believe that we resort to implanted devices and anal probes to investigate your particular species. Implanted devices are a tad too obvious for our tastes and an anal probe would be only be useful if we chose to examine an Earthling politician’s brain. Furthermore, it is irritating to have these allegations repeatedly published on websites and repeated by your planet’s investigative television reports.”
Dr. Quaddlebaum blinked. “Do you deny performing medical experiments?”
The leader tisked at the man. “Far from it. We find Earthlings to be an amusing species to study. The anatomy and physiologic responses are actually quite simple when viewed at a quantum level. As a visitor, we prefer to observe the crude surgical and medical interventions used to correct deficits within your supposed medical community. Where else in the galaxy could you find a species that willingly allows itself to be hacked apart by it’s medical practitioners in hopes of fixing a problem. How quaint a thought process; creating three problems to attempt solving a single issue. And you find us to be unusual? In our opinion, it is an intervention which is one level removed from hitting the ailing Earthling with a large rock to cure an underlying headache.”
The scientist found himself torn between offense and curiosity. “But, you said that you do medical experiments…”
The leader smiled. “We do. In fact, we have healed a number ofindividuals. However, we time the individual technique to coincide with the ‘laying on of hands’ performed by your television evangelists. It amuses us to see humans gasp in amazement and awe. Earthlings are so gullible.”
Dr. Quaddlebaum sputtered. “Why have you chosen the World Health Organization to be your venue to forward a complaint? Do you plan to help us resolve a problem on a planetary scale?”
The alien placed a hand on the scientist’s shoulder and spoke in the soothing tone that an adult uses to communicate with a retarded child. “The problem with Earth is Earthlings. Why should we intervene on a planet where more money is spent on weapons development than on medical care? Your planet allows our people to develop useful technologies for our people without sacrificing members of our own species. It is similar to having an endless supply of particularly vicious lab rats. As for choosing your organization, your motto says it all… “WHO cares”.”
The aliens vanished from the office in another display of emerald light.