The Ergates

9 Feb

How can a psychiatrist who is a sapiens and is familiar only with the treatment of his own hominid species take care of new patients of a different species and breed?

That was the problem that Dr. Pym foresaw as he traveled by space schooner to the planet Ligeia on the periphery of his home galaxy.

Wide reading had provided him descriptions of the dominant Paranthropus intelligens and the subordinate Mesanthropus ergastus. Using the native colloquial, the two kinds of hominids were called “the brights” and “the ergates”.

The small colony of sapiens who governed the planet maintained a rigid system of stratification.

Pym realized he would have to deal with a social structure he was unfamiliar with, and patients unlike his own human variety.

Thick forests of bluewood surrounded the landing station from which Pym was taken by gascar to the administrative capital to meet with Governor Abijah.

As the vehicle rolled along on the corduroy road, Pym had his first live look of ergates.

Mesomorphic sturdy bodies with strong skeletons and muscles, abnormally projecting prognathous jaws, and dolichocephalic long skulls, high cheek bones, curly brown hair, and slanting eyes: all these sign posts in his anthropological guidebooks were available to Pym. He now observed them with his own eyes.

Dressed in colorless rags, these Mesanthropi watched with blank looks as the gascar passed by.

How successful will I be in handling their mental illnesses? the psychotherapist asked himself.

A sapiens serving as a secretary led him into the central executive building, to the office of Governor Abijah, a short man with auburn hair and greenish eyes. After shaking hands, the two sapiens sat down across the official’s transparent vitrine desk.

“Up to now,” began Abijah, “we have permitted the native population of Ligeia to use their own medical tradition, mainly folklore. Sapiens, of course, have from the start brought in specialists for themselves from other planetary settlements.

“But the day has come when we shall raise their standards up to our own. That is why you have been summoned here. The newest, best treatment must now be offered to the brights and to the ergates.

“You know of the differences between those two hominid species?”

“Yes, but only from wide reading and research at a distance, sir.”

The Governor frowned darkly. “You shall have a bright to guide you through native psychiatric practice, what there is of it. I warn you that there are cloudy, mystical elements in what these folk doctors do. One of them, his name is Ulal, will be your assistant and guide in the traditions of therapy on Ligeia. You can meet this individual this afternoon. It has all been arranged.”

“Thank you, sir,” Pym managed to say, somewhat apprehensively.

Ulal had the small, short body of the typical bright. His jaw was a receding one, labeled opisthgnathous. His frame was ectomorphic and lean, his head small and brachycephalic. He had thick, bushy white hair that gave him an aura of power and authority.

“I plan to take you out to an infirmary in the countryside where my colleagues provide psychological help to the local ergates,” he said to Pym once the pair were introduced to each other by an office clerk.

The two rode in a cyclocar to a village inhabited by Mesanthropi. Ulal led the off-worlder into a ward full of patient beds. On the latter lay the motionless bodies of ergates.

Moaning and groaning sounds continued as the pair walked down the central aisle.

The medico who was the bright named Ulal stopped at the end bed and spoke to his companion in a low whisper.

“This case here is a particularly painful one,” he said, pointing to the stricken patient, a very large old man. “I have tried many methods and procedures, but nothing appears to bring relief to the poor soul.”

He motioned to Pym to follow him as he moved closer to the suffering ergate.

“He is tortured by serious, continuous depression,” muttered Ulal under his breath. “I have attempted several methods of treatment, even chemical and electrical ones, but nothing has worked. Nothing at all.”

Pym made an instant decision. “Let me examine this one when he awakens, and please bring me his medical records so that I can study them.”

“Yes, I will help you all I am able to,” said Ulal as he left the newcomer with the ailing ergate in the large, common ward.

The patient, whose name was Obt, soon awoke from sleep. Pym introduced himself and began to question the disturbed man in a friendly, disarming tone.

“Can you give me a description of how you feel, in general?”

“I don’t feel too good,” trembled the figure lying in the bed. “Why should I continue such a worthless existence? All my life, my main duty was to take orders and fulfill them. Now, I am in no condition to go on with that sort of activity. So why don’t I experience some kind of merciful end? That is now my sole goal, the only purpose that is left for me.”

Obt went on in this vein for several minutes, providing an increasing amount of insight for the psychiatrist.

Once the patient fell silent, the doctor opened the medical records folder he was carrying and started to peruse it, looking for anything that might give an idea of what was affecting Obt this way.

An idea began to dawn within the mind of the one who had recently arrived on Ligeia. He looked up and spoke to the ergate named Obt.

“There are certain tests I would like to have you take. Are you willing to cooperate with me, my friend?”

“If that is what you wish, sir. I am obliged to go along with whatever you should decide is best for me.”

Trouble over what he wanted to do arose immediately for Dr. Pym.

Ulal, behind the glass desk of his hospital office, grimaced before he answered the request made by the visitor to Ligeia.

“You do not understand, my good man. Our three species of hominids on this planet do not possess exactly the same hormonal balances or combinations. This has been known for a long time. As a result, our medical treatments on Ligeia have had to stay away from that area. It is just too complicated. We have concluded that neuro-hormonal proportions do not explain much in the field of the mind. You, too, will see that this difficult condition prevails here. We can get no results at all if we deal with ergates in terms of hormonal substances and compounds.”

Surprised at what he was hearing, Pym gropped to make an argument against it.

“But what you say cannot be applied to all possible cases of the three species that live here. This fellow called Orb seems to me to be a candidate with great potential if I could test his hormones.” He paused a moment. “If it is only a matter of cost, I myself am willing to pay for the lab work on Orb.”

Ulal pursed his mouth before replying.

“That will not be necessary, Dr. Pym. I will authorize a limited number of different measurements and tests. But I guarantee that the results will disappoint you. There can be no remedy for Orb’s depression in anything hormonal.”

Pym, realizing his victory, said no more after thanking Ulal for his green light to proceed.

Several blood samples were taken from Obt to learn the amounts of dopamine and serotonin at different locations in his ergate body. Pym waited expectantly for the results of the multiple tests.

Although dopamine and serotonin were supposedly opposite in their effects on mood and personality and varied inversely in quantities produced, they were both at extremely low levels throughout the bdy of Obt.

Pym went to Ulal to show him these unusual results. The bright seemed to gloat when he heard what they were.

“I told you what to expect. It has long been recognized on our planet that sapiens proportions do not apply to our two additional hominid species, especially to the ergates. Because of that difference, the hormones have no significance for our psychiatric therapy as applied to the brights and the ergates.”

Pym frowned. “For sapiens like me, dopamine raises the appetite for risk and novelty. It makes one an explorer, a seeker of the new, regardless of any immediate reward.

“On the other hand, serotonin has a different, opposite effect. A sapiens becomes sensitive to social rejection and tries to avoid the harm that comes from taking hazardous risks. Acception by others is primary for those with high levels of serotonin. But my testing has established that these generalizations do not at all apply to an ergate like Obt. He happens to be low on both measures, which seems to be a logical contradiction, at first glance.”

“But it is by no means a psychological antimony,” muttered Ulal. “I predicted that you were going to meet with failure. Ergates are vastly different from both sapiens and bright intelligens. We cannot apply our own equations to them. They are quite unique in this area of neurohormones. Their pituitary glands function in an odd, unpredictable manner all their own.”

Both of them turned silent, until Pym suddenly made a request the Paranthropus named Ulal.

“I have a new, different test in mind,” he boldly asserted.

Ulal gave a look of surprised indignation.

“What do you mean? What are you thinking of?”

Pym attempted to smile. “There are powerful hormones that even Obt, an ergate, has in his body that shape his thoughts and actions. I now wish to find out the balance in him between oxytocin and cortisol. They might be crucial factors in causing his depression.”

“I am not at all familiar with those two organic compounds,” said Ulal. “Could you explain for me their possible effects on emotions and behavior?”

The psychiatrist from another planet did just that.

“Oxytocin, which causes childbirth contractions in females, powers a human drive for emotional ties and bonding for sapiens. It can be a basic factor in keeping a person calm. Relations of affiliation and even love increase along with its growth.

“As a regulator of responses to life stresses, oxytocin is a foe of all forms of depression. Does that make sense to you?”

Ulal gave no direct answer. “And what about the second hormone that you mentioned?”

“Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland. A surplus flood of this substance deepens an existing state of depression. It is released into the bloodstream by a corticotropin-releasing hormone that emerges from the pituitary gland within the brain.

Evidently, cortisol is the foe of oxytocin, because it increases mental and physical stress.”

“So, you seek to measure the balance between these two factors in the mind and body of the patient named Obt?”

The two therapists gazed intently at each other.

“This will have to be the final hormonal testing,” decided Ulal. “It is an expensive thing to do.”

“I am certain this will prove valuable,” prophesized Pym with visible enthusiasm.

The test results confirmed what had been expected by the off-worlder: a high level of cordisol accompanied by very low oxytocin. But what did this mean? he asked himself. What did it mean in terms of actual treatment of the patient?

A possible answer came to Pym from an unexpected source: the patient named Obt.

The psychiatrist gave a brief review of these findings to him. As soon as that was finished, the ergate freely gave his opinion to the only medico he had ever come to trust there on Ligeia.

“I truly believe that my emotional condition stems from being a lowly ergate on a planet where only brights and sapiens can be happy in their lives,” sighed the patient. “That is what causes the pain in my mind and in other ergates as well. The life forced on us makes us ill and unable to cope with the pain we feel.”

Pym said nothing to this, but only thought about it after he left, all that evening and most of the following day and night.

After much mental wrestling on his part, the psychiatrist experienced the formation of a complicated question in his mind.

Can social oppression cause one hormone to fall and an opposite one to rise? Are neurohormonal secretions at the mercy of social and economic forces?

This idea came to obsess his thought both day and night.

What was he to do with this new picture of how depression was being generated in Obt and many other ergates?

The psychotherapist came to an unanticipated, unforeseeable decision. He would have to take direct action on his own. An initiative was necessary to prove the thesis that originated with the patient himself.

Pym sent a formal written request to his bank on his home planet. Emptying his personal accounts, he made plans to pay for the neurohormonal testing of all the hospitalized ergates with mental illnesses in the hospital where he had been assigned to serve as a consultant and advisor.

At his own expense, Dr. Pym carried out the laboratory studies of scores of psychiatric patients who were ergates. He was quickly able to confirm his hypothesis of a neurohormonal connection to the widespread existence of manic-depressive disorders among that species on Legeia.

In a few days time, Ulal learned of these actions and took an initiative of his own.

He realized that talking directly to Pym would have no effect. The die had been cast between them. The only remedy appeared to be the calling in of higher authority.

Ulal sent a secret message to Governor Abijah asking for an immediate interview. A sudden emergency was claimed as the motive for needing such a meeting as soon as possible.

The bright psychiatrist was summoned at once to the executive headquarters.

Ulal used the opportunity to describe what he saw as the potential threat posed by the meddling off-worlder.

Governor Abijah soon caught the panic that had seized hold of the mind of his visitor.

“I shall cut this knot at once,” grimly promised the bright who made the report. “Do I have your full approval for taking drastic action against this threat?”

“Of course you do,” decided the ruler of Ligeia.

The following morning, Pym was surprised by two uniformed guards of the Governor waiting for him at his hospital office.

“You have been expelled from this planet, Doctor,” said one of them, presenting the psychiatrist an official document containing the awful command from the top executive of Ligeia. “Your departure must occur at once, with no delay or postponement. Otherwise, you face long imprisonment for illegal presence in our world.”

The astounded Pym was unable to make any reply to this. His voice and mind were, all at once, unable to function, even if he wished them to.

In one day, his promising project had been ended and he had been banished from staying to help the ailing ergates.

He made rapid arrangements for flight on a space schooner the following morning. But by the time he boarded the vehicle that would fly him back home, he had a sad smile on his face.

He realized that Ligeia would never be the same as it had been before he came there.

The ergates will soon wake up to the reason for all these tests on them, and figure out what is causing their deep depressive illnesses. And that will serve as their first step toward their liberation and cure from the shadows that oppress their minds.


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