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When the Investigation & Adjustment scout cruiser landed on Marak it carried a man the doctors had no hope of saving. He was alive only because he was in a womblike creche pod that had taken over most of his vital functions.
The man's name was Lewis Orne. He had been a blocky, heavy-muscled redhead with slightly off-center features and the hard flesh of a heavy planet native. Even in the placid repose of near death there was something clownish about his appearance. His burned, ungent-covered face looked made up for some bizarre show.
Marak is the League capital, and the I-A medical center there is probably the best in the galaxy, but it accepted the creche pod and Orne more as a curiosity than anything else. The man had lost one eye, three fingers of his left hand and part of his hair, suffered a broken jaw and various internal injuries. He had been in terminal shock for more than ninety hours.
Umbo Stetson, Orne's section chief, went back into his cruiser's "office" after a hospital flitter took pod and patient. There was an added droop to Stetson's shoulders that accentuated his usual slouching stance. His overlarge features were drawn into ridges of sorrow. A general straggling, trampish look about him was not helped by patched blue fatigues.
The doctor's words still rang in Stetson's ears: "This patient's vital tone is too low to permit operative replacement of damaged organs. He'll live for a while because of the pod, but--" And the doctor had shrugged.
Stetson slumped into his desk chair, looked out the open port beside him. Some four hundred meters below, the scurrying beetlelike activity of the I-A's main fieldsent up discordant roaring and clattering. Two rows of other scout cruisers were parked in line with Stetson's port--gleaming red and black needles. He stared at them without really seeing them.
It always happens on some "routine" assignment, he thought. Nothing but a slight suspicion about Heleb: the fact that only women held high office. One simple, unexplained fact ... and I lose my best agent!