AMBULANCE SHIP begins with “The Secret History of Sector General” – White’s introduction discussing the series to date – then proceeds to the 3 linked short stories of this volume, introducing Sector General’s special ambulance ship Rhabwar (named for a famous figure in Tralthan medicine, being Tralthan-built). Rhabwar isn’t special just because it’s an ambulance ship; those are actually common in White’s universe already. What’s special is that somebody in the Galactic Federation government has applied some lessons learned from Sector General’s previous adventures. (Points to the author for giving an interstellar civilization credit for some common sense.) Someone has noticed that over the last 20 years, the Monitor Corps has found 3 new civilizations while Sector General has found 7 – since distress calls are much easier to find than any other communication signal. Once contact has been made, the hospital’s track record for establishing friendly relations is also much more impressive than the Corps’ – since saving lives makes a MUCH stronger impression than ordinary diplomacy. Until the opening of this story, the Federation hasn’t had a set policy for dealing with mysterious distress calls – on the face of it, why would they, until it became obvious that they needed one? Calls that DIDN’T happen to fall within Sector General’s area have usually resulted in the death of any unknown aliens involved, since regular ambulance ships are specialized for various known species. Rhabwar, therefore, has been specially built to handle all kinds of atmospheres, shapes, and sizes on its casualty deck, and is kept in reserve for distress calls that don’t correspond to any known flight plan.
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