From the author: She is a doctor as committed as any other. Only her background, and her mission, are alien...
David Perlmutter about 3200 words
Slim Slow Slider
By David Perlmutter
I was a bit of a late adapter when it came to the newfangled technologies the humans brought into our universe. I was, after all, born and bred in the twentieth century, when you couldn’t possibly carry a phone in your pants pocket, ‘cause it was too heavy. But then it got to the point that conducting my one-person medical practice meant I couldn’t duck-and-cover anymore.
It wasn’t all that long ago the idea of a female doctor would have caused suspicion, but times have changed. I have a website and a blog now, but I’ll be damned if I’ll have one of those stupid “smartphones” on me. I’m not that kind of doctor. You can call me at the office, or at home, but nowhere in between--at least as long as they let me keep my landlines.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, or an inconvenience, when I got that phone call; it was just a bit of a shock to hear what I was addressed as.
“You out there, Slim Slow Slider?” said a familiar voice, calling me to a duty I hadn’t expected to be called to. Not for a while, anyway.
Members of the Cartoon Republican Army--in which I hold the rank of Major--have to resort to addressing themselves in phone conversations by code names, since the American government is notoriously over-observant when it comes to suspected “bad guys” like us. So when I had to come up with a code name; it ended up being a name I was tagged with as a young scrub, owing to my affection for that mysterious and spiritually aware Irishman, Van Morrison, and his album Astral Weeks, of which “Slim Slow Slider” is the last, shortest and arguably most intimate track. It seemed like that’s what people should call me if I couldn’t be addressed by my right name.
I was at the office when I got the call, so I knew it was business. The calls I get there are that kind, unlike at home.
“You got her,” I said.
“Good. This is Big F.”
A.k.a. Field Commander, the number two person in the whole CRA, and the one who directly runs most of our operations. I knew this wasn’t a social call, so I responded accordingly.
“What’s the score, F?” I asked. “Why call this humble little physician, and not one of your bigger guns?”
“Because this problem is in your territory. And I can’t get in touch with anyone else in town.”
“Blame the humans. Nobody can get a cell signal outside the city anymore.”
“Then how come I’m talking to you?”
“I don’t have a cell--just landlines. There’s still the potential they’ll tap the lines, but they do that a lot less often than they used to.”
“Well, you better get prepared to make a house call, Doctor. The humans are planning to go on the warpath again.”
“When are they not doing that?”
“I’m serious. When the deal goes down, there will assuredly be casualties. Colonel Doe is doing an indoctrination session for some new recruits at the O-Town Hilton, and the humans are going to try to snuff them out with some sort of incendiary or explosive device.”
Fire is the one true weakness that we animated cartoon characters all have. Get any flame near our bodies and they burn up quick, like meat on a spit. We’ve taken to wearing flame retardant clothes on duty as a precaution, but not all of us can afford that stuff, and those who can’t are the ones who usually bite it when trouble happens.
“How much time have I got?” I said. “I’m at the office right now, and the Hilton’s on the other side of town.”
“You should make it in time, if you get going,” she said.
“That I will,” I responded, narrowing my eyes as I spoke.
Hanging up, I retrieved my old reliable Gladstone bag and prepared for battle, by loading it with the tools and supplies I might possibly need.
It had been a long journey to that point in my life, and I’d had to deal with some rough stuff--things which had tested me more than anything that might happen at the hotel.
My mother, for one thing. She hadn’t wanted me to take the Hippocratic Oath to start with. She would’ve preferred that her Paula be like all the rest of the compliant, submissive lady cats the Hutchinson clan had produced before I came along--but I inherited my dad’s stubbornness and will power, and fought back. I made it through medical school with flying colors, and then was able to set myself up in private practice as a GP, right after I finished training as an intern. I knew I didn’t have any place in our city’s one badly run hospital; I had my ethics to consider.
Then there’s the hook. Everyone wants to know about it when they meet me for the first time; there aren’t many MDs with an artificial limb, even among us ‘toons. Since I’m right-handed, the hook on my left isn’t much of an impediment to doing my job.
I didn’t lose it intentionally, of course; when I was still just a scrub, I was working with a lady crocodile who didn’t like the natural perkiness I tend to exude--even when I don’t mean to--and bit it clean off. The blood loss made me pass out immediately, so it wasn’t until I woke up that I found I had a hook for a left hand. Apparently, they had no actual artificial hands in storage in the supply room--or so they said.
Not that it stopped me, of course.
All it meant was that particular hospital would have one less doctor; I was sure about that particular fact.
Well, it also meant that I ended up being called “Captain Hook” or “Dr. Hook” a lot, which naturally increased when I joined the CRA. Usually among the members who are my age or older. The younger ones are a bit more deferential, now that I’ve come into the more matronly phase of my life. They typically just call me “Dr. Hutchinson”, or just plain “Doc”. Only my good friends, contemporaries and patients of long standing address me as “Paula”, and there aren’t as many of those as there used to be, since things got weird.
By that, of course, I mean what’s happened between us so-called “cartoon characters” and the humans in America.
It started when they figured out we weren’t just figures they had “created” for “television programs”, and actually posed a security threat. They decided to relocate us all in a ridiculous mass abduction, to a small, sub-orbital rock in space known as Orthicon. We might have gone by our own free will, at least some of us, if they’d asked us, but we all know the humans--or their military, anyhow--have no manners; they just shipped us there at gunpoint.
You don’t forget being intimidated like that--even if it turns out their weapons can’t actually kill you.
That’s how the CRA started--a desire for revenge, and for some it was a chance to do illegal and sadistic things, without fear of injury, death or persecution. The humans found out what we could do when we got pushed too far. California is going to take a long time to recover.
They have the nerve to call us monsters ‘cause of what we did to them, or what they thought we had been doing to their kids in the old days on the TV. That’s all we are to them; they refuse to acknowledge that we have the same minds and personalities they do.
They’re the real monsters here.
On Orthicon, I was one of the few ‘toon doctors, and certainly the only GP, so I was able to get a lot of work--and a lot of money. Even when I insisted I didn’t want to be paid, they shoved dollars and scrip and IOUs in my face like crazy. When it was all over--after we rebelled and demanded to go back to our old homes, and they finally obliged--I was better off financially than some of the other folks who had gone from living protected Hollywood lives, to searing desperation overnight. There’d been cases like that before Orthicon and the CRA, sure, but back then we had to grin and bear it. Not like now.
The trouble was, Americans didn’t trust us to run our own affairs anymore--as if they ever had. Those cities of ours that hadn’t been snuffed out of existence in the aftermath of Orthicon--thankfully, O-Town was one of these--still have American soldiers up their rear ends, “running” things “for” us.
Imagine being on the losing end of a fight, and having the victors rub it in your face by occupying your territory. That’s how it is for us now. We can live and work as we please, provided we don’t do or say anything the Americans don’t like. Which is to say, everything.
A lot of my acquaintances who resettled on Earth after they lost their homes, want me to come to Earth and be involved in the CRA full-time, but I keep refusing them. I have my practice to maintain, and I still believe in the old place, even though it’s as much of an urban death trap as any American city when the sun goes down.
Besides, somebody has to provide affordable health care in this city, and I do the best I can to do just that.
When I finished loading the Gladstone, I dropped it on the seat next to me, and drove downtown towards the hotel. I heard the sound of the explosion the same as everyone else did, even with the windows rolled up. Most of the crowd around me on the parkway stopped dead in their tracks. Given how much weird crap happens around here, you’d think they’d be used to it, but they still behave like anyone whose normal routine was disrupted. All it meant for me, though, was that the need for my services had probably arisen, as the Field Commander had warned. I found a free lane, shifted to first gear, and motored my way to the Hilton.
The humans arrived before I did, and cordoned off the area. From what I could see from my car, the explosion hadn’t occurred on one of the numerous upper floors, but on the main floor where, among other things, the conference center and ballrooms were.
I’d been here plenty of times on business, so I knew it would have been in one of those rooms where it happened; it was there I would have to go.
I parked, got out of the car, and walked towards the hotel. A soldier, dressed in one of those metal suits they wear for “protection” from us--although it’s never done them any good--got in my path and demanded I state my business.
“I should think that that would be obvious,” I said, gesturing to the Gladstone with my good hand. It became just as obvious, he wasn’t familiar with medicine practiced on a freelance basis, when he asked me to explain further.
“I’m a doctor,” I said. “I came here to do my job. ‘K? This city’s not as big as you might think, and I easily could have some of my regular patients in there. So, if you don’t mind. . .”
“I don’t believe you,” he answered.
“You could easily be one of those animated quacks.”
I bristled at his umbrage. No legitimate doctor wants to be called the “q” word. Especially not one who was legitimately trained and licensed to practice, and had fought a tooth-and-nail battle to be respected as a professional female healer. The fact that the vast majority of animated physicians aren’t exactly . . . competent . . . had probably colored his thinking. He had the nerve to consider me one of them.
I could have gotten mad and started yelling at him, but I knew the humans thought all of us ‘toon girls were loudmouthed harridans, even if it we really weren’t, and I’d just be confirming a particularly odious stereotype if I acted that way.
I whipped off the glove from my hook. The soldier was shocked, like he’d never seen one before.
“Here’s how it’ll be,” I said, gritting my teeth. “You are going to let me inside to practice my profession on the fellow members of my race who need my help, and I won’t have to use this thing to cut you open like a can! Trust me. I’ve done it to bigger fellows than you, wearing that pathetic get-up. It would really be worth your while to not let me do the opposite of what I was trained to do, on you, right now! Got it?!”
He did, and he let me pass. I don’t know what I would have done to him, or vice versa, if he hadn’t, but he didn’t force me to consider that option.
Fortunately, I had no more trouble. The other soldiers seemed to know a doctor when they saw one, and none tried to stop me. One even kindly let me know exactly where the incident had happened, so I wouldn’t go to the wrong place by accident.
When I saw what had happened, I wished--though only for a second--that I had.
The room smelled positively acrid, with the odor of gunpowder lingering in the air. The back of the room--windows, wallpaper, walls, masonry and all--had been completely torn apart, but the damage seemed to have been limited to that area. Any fire that might have occurred had been prevented by the floors being lacquered and without carpeting, as they were in the whole place. That was likely how everybody got hurt, diving down abruptly on orders to “hit the deck” when the explosion happened. There were ‘toons splayed out across the floor, nursing various kinds of wounds to their bodies.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of people I knew. Since they all wore the red arm bands typically worn by CRA members on duty, they were likely new recruits to the cause.
Fortunately, there was one face I did recognize, for she was one of my regular, long-standing patients. I went to her immediately; that she seemed to be choking on something, hastened my pace.
I grabbed Jane Doe by her hair with my good hand and elbowed her sharply in the stomach with my hooked one. The offending item--a brick, probably loosened from the wall by the explosion’s force--flew out, and plunked itself on the floor somewhere out of my sight, but not, judging by the shout coming from the corner afterwards, before it hit someone on the head.
Jane got up, picked up her blue beret, dusted it off on her matching blue coat, put it on her head, and stared at me.
“Thank you, Paula,” she said. “I nearly bought it there, huh?”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself burned, Colonel,” I answered.
“It wasn’t like that. It was a smoke bomb. It filled the whole room after it blew up. We upset the tables and chairs, and ended up flinging around in the darkness until we smacked into each other and fell down. I was over there at the podium, conducting the meeting, when it hit; I got out of the way of the blast, but the force of the explosion launched that damned brick into my throat.”
“But you’re all right, otherwise?”
“Physically, but my pride is damaged. I was just giving these new inductees a sense of what the CRA is supposed to be about--how it’s not nearly as dangerous and life-threatening as some of our exploits have suggested. They’re going to think I LIED now!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. This has nothing to do with you. They’ll blame whoever threw the bomb through the window--whoever it might be.”
“I blame me!” Hysteria was getting the better of her now, like it does sometimes when she’s stressed. “I never should have accepted this commission. Never!”
I slapped her across the face with my good hand.
“SNAP OUT OF IT!” I ordered.
“For God’s sake, Jane,” I remonstrated. “There’s no point assigning blame to yourself in these situations, when someone else was at fault. You think it was my fault I lost my hand? It damn well wasn’t, but I didn’t let it hold me back. If I had, I wouldn’t be a doctor now!”
“But how am I supposed to explain . . . ?”
“The usual excuse.”
“Right. What’s one more bad thing they might have done, added on to all they have done to us already, and what we did to them back?”
“But I failed in my job--for once in my life, I failed. Don’t you understand? I never lost any Scout under my care to illness, injury or carelessness, in all the years I’ve been in the service. I thought I could care for adults the same way, but . . .”
I held up my hook in a silencing gesture.
“I told you that this is not your fault. You understand?”
“You’ve acted like this before,” I continued in a normal tone, “and it’s come to nothing. Remember when you thought you had cancer, and you mistook one of your nipples for a growth? Do you remember what I told you, then?”
“Yes, of course. ‘We can’t control everything in our lives, and we can’t allow worrying over every little thing to rule them’.”
“Exactly. Now, I’d better see to the rest of the group.”
“Wait. Let me get my. . .”
“Chequebook?” I said, finishing the sentence with a raised eyebrow.
“But don’t you want to be. . .”
“This is a CRA related matter, Colonel, and for those, I work pro bono--always. We’ve been hurt by what the humans did to us. They won’t help us heal. We have to do that ourselves. I used to be a Squirrel Scout myself, remember? I never forgot the fact that the number one job of that organization is service to our fellow beings and community, without minute’s thought of recompense. The same goes for the CRA!”
To make my point, I gave her the Scout salute, and she returned it.
“Carry on, Major,” she said, proudly.
That was exactly what I proceeded to do.
For Joe Murray
This story originally appeared in Askew Horizons (2018).