Reviewed date: 2018 Apr 3
Dal Timgar wants to be a doctor. He has trained at the finest schools Earth has to offer, has met the qualifications. He's ready to ship out, to represent Hospital Earth and serve the galaxy as a star surgeon. There's only one problem.
Dal is not human. He's Garvian. Humans are newcomers on the galactic stage, and Earth is only a probationary member of the Galactic Confederation. For permanent membership, Earth must prove that it brings something uniquely useful to the confederation. Earth's medical service is its contribution, and some people fear that if an alien Garvian can be as good a doctor as a human, the Confederation will reject Earth's membership petition. Four-star Black Doctor Hugo Tanner is stridently opposed to Dal Timgar's bid to become a star surgeon.
Not everyone is against Dal. Black Doctor Thorvold Arnquist is firmly on his side, and his support is enough to override Black Doctor Tanner's opposition and get Dal assigned to a ship as a probationary surgeon. His crewmates are Green Doctor of Medicine Tiger Martin and Blue Doctor of Diagnosis Jack Alvarez.
Black Doctor Hugo Tanner is looking for any opportunity to drum Dal out of the service. On one of his first ports of call, Dal gets flustered when asked to step in and fix a botched surgery job. He calls for backup from Earth, and when a Four-star surgeon arrives and looks at the patient, the problem turns out to be "a simple great-vessel graft, which an untrained idiot could have done blindfolded." Tanner attempts to throw Dal out of the service on the spot, but Tiger and Jack force Tanner to back down.
Dal, Tiger, and Jack respond to an emergency call from a planet that does not have a contract with Hospital Earth. If the team can solve the medical crisis, they might score a contract--which will guarantee them their stars.
They're stumped at first, but eventually identify a virus. They manufacture an antibody and administer it, but it doesn't work. The disease stops progressing, but every treated individual ends up an unintelligent, gibbering animal. Oops.
In the nick of time, Dal realizes the problem: they treated the wrong patient. The virus is the intelligence, and humanoid bipeds are merely an unintelligent animal host. They help the virus find a way to co-exist with the host, and they are rewarded with a signed contract.
Black Doctor Hugo Tanner takes that contract and rips it up. Literally. He accuses Dal of gross incompetence, killing his patients, and illegally approaching a plague planet. Dal knows it isn't true. Tanner knows it isn't true. But he thinks he can ram it through and get Dal thrown out of the service, and cover it all up later.
Fortuitously, Tanner's heart gives out. Dal saves his life by performing emergency heart surgery, and Tanner is so grateful and impressed with Dal's competence as a surgeon that he completely changes his attitude. He becomes Dal's biggest supporter.
Dal gets his star. He is a Star Surgeon, a Red Doctor of Hospital Earth.
And with that, Earth has completed the requirements for full permanent membership in the Galactic Confederation: they have demonstrated an ability to transcend xenophobia and treat those of other races without prejudice or bias. Medicine wasn't a skill for Earth to monopolize; it was the sharing of medical knowledge that qualified Earth for membership.