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“Hello, Lieutenant Braithwaite! Is Major O'Mara free at the moment? If not, I want to make an appointment to see him, please.”

“One moment, please. I'll find out for you.”

The Monitor Corps officer at the reception desk pressed a button on the communicator.

“Pathologist Murchison is with me, requesting to see you, sir. Are you available, or would you prefer her to make an appointment?”

“I'm actually free right now, for a wonder! Send her in.”

When Murchison entered O'Mara's office, he was seated at his desk. He leant back in his chair and regarded her for a moment. “So, what can I do for you, Pathologist Murchison?”

Murchison took a seat without being invited, causing O'Mara to raise an eyebrow.

“Actually, it's what I can do for you, Major. I've heard on the grapevine that with the increasing number of new species that have been discovered lately and are sending patients to us, Sector General is having problems at the moment finding sufficient doctors to take all the Educator tapes that are necessary. Obviously it will take a while to recruit qualified staff from outside, but at least in the short term there are many current members of staff whose abilities are under-utilised...”

O'Mara raised a hand. “Stop right there, Murchison. If this is another attempt to get me to let females take tapes, let me remind you once again that taking a tape leads to the feeling that an alien being is trying to take over the recipient's brain, and females have a sex-based revulsion of that to a degree that results in the occurrence of severe mental damage if the tape is not immediately erased.”

“That's all very well, Major O'Mara, but I've been looking into the subject lately, and there are a few things that haven't really been made clear. Perhaps you could answer a few questions for me?”

“I'll certainly do my best. Fire away!”

“So let me get this clear to start with: the hypothesis is that no females of any species can tolerate tapes?”

“Yes it is.”

“And males never have a problem with them?”

“They can indeed have problems, as you well know from working at Sector General for so many years, but in the case of males it happens very rarely, and the side effects are not as drastic and long-lasting as they are for females.”

“Very well; may I ask what sample size was used to determine that all females are unable to take tapes? How many species were represented in the study?”

“It was the experience of multiple species that their females reacted disastrously to taking tapes...”

“Ah, so no actual formal study was done and we're working from anecdata only, then.”

“Well yes, but given many species reported the same thing it seemed wise to restrict tape usage to males only.”

“As a matter of interest, did anyone try using tapes donated by female physicians?”

“There are.... very few available.”

“I suppose it didn't occur to anyone to ask female doctors to contribute tapes, because of course everyone knows males are the best doctors.” Murchison's voice was dripping with sarcasm as she said this.

“That is quite untrue, Murchison!“

“Then why are only a 'very few' of the prominent female physicians from many different species who have made groundbreaking discoveries being asked to donate tapes?”

“I believe that males are preferred for tape donation in order to avoid a male doctor having to deal with the extra stress of a female mindset being imposed on him.”

Murchison just looked at him.

“Yes, I realise that that makes no sense whatsoever in view of the major side effects of an alien mindset being imposed that already occur, but I don't make the decisions about tape donation policy. Be that as it may, to get back to the subject under discussion, the theory is that the revulsion of females to the apparent takeover of their mind is due to the fact that they gestate and rear offspring - a protective maternal instinct, if you like.”

“Leaving aside the fact that the maternal instinct is by no means universal among females, even within a species, the child-rearing aspects are largely irrelevant here. There are many species who co-parent, or where the males provide the majority of the child-rearing. Even in species where it has been traditional for the females to raise children that is becoming less and less the case.” Her voice became grim. “If Conway and I ever had children, I would expect him to take his fair share of nappy-changing and night-time feeding.

“And as to the gestation question, there are a not-insignificant number of egg-laying species in the Galactic Federation. How does that affect their females' ability to take tapes? And of course there are species in which the male gestates the offspring. By your reasoning, the males of those species would be expected to react to tapes in a similar way to gestating females of other species. Is that in fact the case?”

“I haven't actually heard of that happening...”

“And we haven't even begun to discuss doctors from species who are agender, have more than two genders or change gender. How do tapes affect them? Do AACPs, who are basically intelligent vegetables, react to tapes in any significantly different way to other species? Do chorine breathers react differently to methane breathers or to oxygen breathers, or to species who don't breathe?”

O'Mara had nothing to say.

“It's absolutely unbelievable how little serious research has been done into any of these questions. It's a disgrace to the scientific method, and something needs to be done to remedy it! Obviously I may be biased in thinking that the question of females not being able to take tapes, which as far as I can see is mostly due to assumptions made based on outdated traditions, is the most important one. But the other questions I have raised should also be investigated. Not only would it lead to the availability of a wider pool of well-qualified potential employees for Sector General, but also, more importantly, it would further inter-species understanding immeasurably, which would benefit the Galactic Federation as a whole.”

“I have to admit that you've raised some good points, Pathologist Murchison. I imagine I'm right in my assumption that you've already come up with suggestions as to what needs to be done. Presumably you want me to use my influence in getting the research under way.”

“You're absolutely correct, Major.

“Studies will need to be set up to investigate each of the questions I raised individually. This will need to be done co-operatively by universities and hospitals galaxy-wide, using a multi-disciplinary approach, since it is likely that there will be physiological as well as psychological components involved. A lot of people here at Sector General have taken an interest in, and contributed to the points I raised with you, particularly Thornnastor, the Diagnostician-In-Charge of my department. I know they will want to contribute to the research, and in addition they all have an excellent reputation on their homeworlds, as you'd expect with anyone on staff here, and they will know who to talk to with regard to the medical side of the research. I'm hoping you will be willing to help with the psychological side of things, and also with the Monitor Corps. There needs to be a central clearing point to co-ordinate the process and the results of the research, and the Monitor Corps would be the ideal organisation for the job, and you would be the ideal liaison between the Corps and the researchers.”

“You don't want much, do you? I have to admit, though, that I'm beginning to think that the benefits of this may well outweigh the problems of setting it up - and there will be a lot of them! This is going to be a huge undertaking, you know, and I warn you, if it happens you're going to be working on it full-time, and I'm sure Thornnastor is going to be very unhappy about it.”

“Oh, Thorny is fine about it! We've discussed it at length, and it entirely approves of the idea - particularly since it will be able to get progress reports before anyone else and start all the gossip! And I would be furious if I wasn't in on this from the beginning! I assume you'll have no objections to my ensuring that there will be plenty of female researchers involved?”

“No objection at all.”

“I'm delighted to hear it. I'm looking forward to working with you on this. Call it women's intuition if you like, but I venture to predict that the results will surprise you.” Murchison smiled sweetly and got up to leave. “Thank you for your time, and have a nice day.”