FATTY MILLSTONE was surprised when Sara Pickford showed up for their date at the Cracked Bell pub on Picklock Lane with a satchel full of her scrubs, comfortable shoes, swim wear and medical paraphernalia.
‘I thought since I was going to meet your family, Fatty, I would bring along comfortable as well as useful clothing and a few medical props so I could change to conduct an impromptu session in alien medicine while I am with you. Since I will be talking about our program at the centre, I might as well do some show-and-tell exemplification.’
‘Sara, you are most thoughtful. I had not intended for you to work while you visited. But my clones have had no formal medical attention whatsoever though they do practice good hygiene and eat a balanced diet.’
She wore her winning smile as she took his arm to walk up the Lane to his apartment complex.
‘I dwell in an old warehouse transformed into an abode for forty occupants. It has thirty-six rooms for clones, a master suite for me and three guest suites. In the basement are an enormous hot tub in a gymnasium and a large auditorium.’
As he gave Sara his version of a ‘Cook’s tour’ through his establishment, he introduced his clones, who were at work or play, or both.
Sara seemed enchanted to have a view of the sheriff’s private life few beings were privileged to know. ‘I must say, I feel privileged to see how you live when you aren’t in the pub.’
When they had completed their tour of the first six floors, they took the elevator to the basement where Dr. Prbzt was lounging in the spacious hot tub in the centre of the gymnasium. Fatty introduced the philological doctor to the medical one and explained, ‘We shall be dining together after the evening assembly for all clones in the auditorium. So we will have time to talk then—and after perhaps here in the hot tub as well.’
Sara turned to her host and said, ‘Fatty, I require a changing room where I can take off my evening cloths and slip into my scrubs. I don’t want our relationship to be seen as formal in your home. I may have been the wife of a wealthy Marquis, but I am a medical person in my heart and soul.’
Up they went in the elevator to the tenth-floor master suite.
‘You may change here without being interrupted. When you are ready, please take the elevator to the basement and find the auditorium. I shall be there waiting for you.’
Sara transformed while Fatty descended again into the basement to prepare the large auditorium for their meeting with the clones. He had just completed fiddling with the room’s audio system when Sara entered the space in her scrubs, looking ready to do major surgery in a hospital. He gestured for her to take a seat on the dais while he stood at the podium tapping at the mic.
As if on cue, the clones began to file in and take their seats. Dr. Prbzt was with them. He sat in his usual front-row seat. When all were present, Fatty began the evening program.
‘I am most pleased to say Dr. Sara Pickford will speak about her centre for alien medicine, which will be a pivotal part of the renovation of our national healthcare system. Dr. Pickford is a practicing physician who believes in medical education, and she likes interacting with her audience. So don’t be bashful about asking her questions during the presentation. She has brought props, but I would not put it past her to use one or more of you as examples. So without further fanfare, I present Dr. Pickford.’
Fatty sat down as Sara rose and moved to the lectern.
‘I am a believer in openness, so I have a personal demonstration to serve as my personal introduction.’ She removed the top of her outfit to reveal five tentacles, which she waved in different directions to the amazement of all present, Fatty included. ‘Now that I have made my position clear to you, I request that you return the favour.’
Without hesitation, everyone removed the layers of clothing covering the one or more tentacles each possessed. The clones did not laugh. They were earnest and thoughtful as they waved their tentacles. Dr. Prbzt and Fatty pitched right in.
‘Clearly,’ Sara said, ‘we are kindred. Thank you for indulging my fancy, but no other path to our solidarity seemed appropriate. If you wish to remain as you are, fine. If you want to cover up, go right ahead. As I often distract others with my endowments bared, I will pull my scrubs on again.’
With one voice, the clones said, ‘No! Please leave your tentacles where we can admire them.’
So Sara shrugged and commenced her presentation without covering herself. ‘A lot of confusion surrounds the new innovation centre for alien medicine. I want to dispel some of the rumours by clarifying a few matters.
‘First, the centre is not a gimmick meant to palliate voters ahead of the next election. It satisfies a crying need for a growing number of citizens: specifically, aliens. Second, the centre will not just be a think tank without practical applications. In fact, it will be a clinic where aliens can get treatment and prescription drugs without prejudice—from aliens like me. Third, all services of the clinic will be free of charge to the individual though record-keeping will be sufficiently rigorous to satisfy naysayers and detractors among the populous.
‘Tonight, we are going to participate in a dialog to give you a sense of how the centre will operate. I am going to ask you questions for which I expect honest answers.’ Her eyes scanned the assembly one by one so that she made eye contact with everyone, including Fatty.
‘My first question is, “Do you have the feeling that you don’t know the full capabilities of your tentacle or tentacles?”‘
The universal answer was ‘Yes!’
Sara got a concerned look on her face. ‘The tentacle is a physical appendage with almost mystical capabilities, particularly as a communicator of empathy through contact with other tentacles. It is also a tool by which an entity can reach out for a wide number of purposes. Finally, it allows access to all of the body of the possessor. So comes the second question: “Do you know if you are taking proper care of your tentacle or tentacles?”‘
This time the universal answer was ‘No!’
Again, Sara looked concerned. ‘That’s right. Though we live with our appendages from birth right up to the present moment, we aren’t receiving proper, that is thorough, training about how to care for our defining feature. You are doubtless aware that tentacles have lives of their own. They can exist independent of their connection to a separate entity. When they do connect, they use the lymph systems of the host rather than the blood systems. Each tentacle has a mind of its own. Free-range tentacles are becoming common in our cities and villages. Those beings have a right to health care just as you do. The centre will provide that care.’
A young clone sitting next to Dr. Prbzt stood to ask his question, ‘My name is Charles. Dr. Pickford, how much will the innovation centre be concerned with the integration of actions of the host body and the tentacle or tentacles?’
Sara smiled. ‘Charles, you have an excellent question. One of the innovations at the centre will be to treat the whole patient with all of his or her orchestrations. Put another way, a tentacle could be treated in isolation if it were a free-range variety; however, it must be treated as part of an integral whole if it is attached to a host. We know very little about the symbiotic relationship implied by this, but we will use the centre to discover how the symbiosis works.’
Another clone stood and asked a question. ‘My name is Agnes. How much will the centre deal with prenatal care? And will it be concerned chiefly with human-style birthing or include cloning?’
Sara looked at Fatty before she began. ‘Excellent questions, Agnes. As you may know, females are the chief consumers of healthcare worldwide. What we call hybrid birthing will be a concern of the centre since an increasing number of women are giving birth to hybrids of humans and aliens. Parenthetically, my husband, the late Marquis, died while trying to give birth to a clone of his own conception. And all of you here were miraculously birthed by cloning endured by Mr. Millstone. How cloning happens is a mystery, but I am committed to discover how tragedies like the death of my husband can be prevented and miracles like your own genesis can be abetted.’
A lanky, spectral clone near the back of the auditorium stood and said, ‘My name is Hunter. Will the new centre become a medical school to award its own M.D.?’
‘Hunter, that may evolve, but at the start the focus will be on alien medicine in all its manifestations. We will need a cadre of alien providers working together for many years to decide whether a separate designation is appropriate. I think there is a place for space medicine, but not as it is currently focusing on effects on human anatomy and physiology of space exploration.’
Dr. Prbzt rose and said, ‘I am Dr. Prbzt. I am about to embark on an off-world mission critical to the survival of our mission on Earth. What can I do to prepare for the high-G speeds required by space travel?’
‘Dr. Prbzt, we will discuss this further during our dinner, but you have two separate problem sets to solve. Your tentacle does not pose a problem as octopus’s family parts can survive the most wrenching shifts in acclimation, which is calculated as the third derivative of distance with respect to time, called jerk, and, to make things more confusing, we have the fourth derivative, called snap. I cannot discuss classified matters as I have not been cleared to do so here, but in space we have alien medicine that is far beyond Earth’s limited view. Dr. Prbzt, you will be given the finest off-world medicine to make your transitions. Fear not!’
Fatty stood and said, ‘We have time for one last question. If you clones don’t have one, I do.’
Sara said, ‘Surely, we can make time for more questions and answers as necessary. So go ahead and ask, Fatty. I won’t give you short shrift.’
‘Well, Sara, my question may be a little off the subject, but I simply have to ask it: how much is the barrier between Earth’s knowledge and aliens’ knowledge going to be a factor in our centre’s progress, given that classification issues exist blocking essential knowledge from our ken?’
‘Dr. Pickford, I would like to answer this critical question, if I may,’ said Dr. Prbzt.
Sara nodded and stepped back from the podium as the philologist came onto the dais.
‘I want to begin by saying there are more hidden things in the universe than we are permitted to know—and many of the prohibitions are for our own good. For example, if I told you that our alien kin have calculated the precise moment that the universe will cease to exist, would your knowing the end-date make any difference in the way you lived your lives? I have always believed that you can proceed along lines suggested by facts and reason without paying the least attention to classification issues. Not having the privilege of knowing gives you a modicum of protection against retribution for having trespassed into realms forbidden to you.
‘An advantage of the centre is its freedom from constraints. Private funding means the government cannot justly affect where the research goes. Leaks of alien classified information to Earth might happen, but they don’t necessarily have to happen for progress to be made. And our government can protect medical research through the so-called black world, another safe haven for forbidden knowledge.’
Charles was waving his hand for attention, so Dr. Prbzt called on him to speak his mind.
‘I am familiar with the black world of medicine from my summer internships with the national health service. As long as the lines of development are unadulterated by leakage of information from one domain (black) to the other (white), there is no violation. I am unsettled that progress can be impeded by the artificial boundary, but it is a mixed paradox, both good and bad. I am hungry now. Is the assembly over?’
Fatty nodded and said, ‘Yes, it is over, and I want to thank all of you for your attention and especially those who contributed questions.’
Sara stood and applauded her audience. Everyone started applauding. Then the clones filed out of the auditorium and headed for the refectory, the dining hall at the other end of the basement. That left Fatty, Sara and Dr. Prbzt alone in the auditorium. They made their way to the elevator and ascended to the Tenth Floor where their feast had been laid out at a dining table in Fatty’s suite.
There in the sanctum sanctorum, the three discussed the plans for the alien medicine centre in practical terms. At one point their talks hit the brick wall of classification, but Fatty excused himself to take a walk on the roof so Sara and Dr. Prbzt could have a private, classified discussion since they were both privy to the same caveat. After they had shared their classified information, Sara came to the roof to reclaim Fatty.
‘Fatty, I have never had a better time on a date.’
‘Sara, it wasn’t very romantic, but look to the heavens. See how the full moon and Venus and Jupiter are all in alignment?’
‘I’d say that is pretty romantic.’
‘It suggests that sometimes we have alignments, if only we stopped to look for them. Otherwise, we’ll miss the opportunity, but what would the difference be?’
‘Fatty,’ she said, kissing him on the cheek, ‘Mildred told me you were the almost perfect alien. Until this moment I had no idea what she meant.’