“Why did you leave it until now?” Dr. Sen had asked, in a tone appropriate to a retarded child.
“The usual reason,” Morgan answered, as he ran his good thumb along the seal of his shirt. “I was too busy – and whenever I felt short of breath I blamed it on the height.”
“Altitude was partly to blame, of course. You'd better check all your people on the mountain. How could you have overlooked anything so obvious?”
How indeed? thought Morgan, with some embarrassment.
“All those monks – some of them were over eighty! They seemed so healthy that it never occurred to me…”
“The monks have lived up there for years – they're completely adapted. But you've been hopping up and down several times a day -”
“– twice, at the most -”
“– going from sea level to half an atmosphere in a few minutes. Well, there's no great harm done – if you follow instructions from now on. Mine, and CORA's.”
“Oh – one of those things.”
“Yes – one of those things. They save about ten million lives a year. Mostly top civil servants, senior administrators, distinguished scientists, leading engineers and similar nit-wits. I often wonder if it's worth the trouble. Nature may be trying to tell us something, and we're not listening.”
“Remember your Hippocratic Oath, Bill,” retorted Morgan with a grin. “And you must admit that I've always done just what you told me. Why, my weight hasn't changed a kilo in the last ten years.”
“Urn… Well, you're not the worst of my patients,” said the slightly mollified doctor. He fumbled round in his desk and produced a large holopad. “Take your choice-here are the standard models. Any colour you like as long as it's Medic Red.”
Morgan triggered the images, and regarded them with distaste.
“Where do I have to carry the thing?” he asked. “Or do you want to implant it?”
“That isn't necessary, at least for the present. In five years' time, maybe, but perhaps not even then. I suggest you start with this model – it's worn just under the breastbone, so doesn't need remote sensors. After a while you won't notice it's there. And it won't bother you, unless it's needed.”
The doctor threw one of the numerous switches on his desk console, and a sweet mezzo-soprano voice remarked in a conversational tone: “I think you should sit down and rest for about ten minutes.” After a brief pause it continued: “It would be a good idea to lie down for half an hour.” Another pause: “As soon as convenient, make an appointment with Dr. Sen.” Then:
“Please take one of the red pills immediately.”
“I have called the ambulance; just lie down and relax. Everything will be all right.”
Morgan almost clapped his hands over his ears to cut out the piercing whistle.
“THIS IS A CORA ALERT. WILL ANYONE WITHIN RANGE OF MY VOICE PLEASE COME IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS A CORA ALERT. WILL -”
“I think you get the general idea,” said the doctor, restoring silence to his office. “Of course, the programmes and responses are individually tailored to the subject. And there's a wide range of voices, including some famous ones.”
“That will do very nicely. When will my unit be ready?”
“I'll call you in about three days. Oh yes – there's an advantage to the chest-worn units I should mention.”
“One of my patients is a keen tennis player. He tells me that when he opens his shirt the sight of that little red box has an absolutely devastating effect on his opponent's game…”