Although Allied forces were victorious at what later became known as the First Battle of Chin’toka, they paid a heavy price: more than thirty starships were lost and casualties swelled into the thousands. While admirals and captains of ships that had survived the melee began to hammer out details of the next offensive, several Olympic-class Federation hospital ships flew in to tend the wounded…
|Olympic-class starship by The Red Admiral. David Boreanaz by An-gel Sakura.|
Sophia Myles, text, and full cover by Christina Moore.
Fire—he was on fire. Or at least it sure as hell felt like he was, as he felt nothing but searing agony from the top of his head all the way down to his—
Wait, where were his legs? What had happened to his legs?!
He screamed as long and loud as his voice would carry. And when his air ran out, he took as deep a breath as his aching ribs would let him and screamed again. As his second wail died down, he made himself look to where his legs should be. Though the air around him was quickly being choked off with thick, acrid smoke from a number of fires in the room, although he now noticed that blood had run down his face and was falling into both eyes, he looked down and saw that he was pinned: one of the free-standing consoles had somehow been uprooted from the floor and had knocked him over, landing right across his pelvis.
He was no doctor, but he knew right away he had a spinal injury.
“HELP ME!” he screamed. “SOMEBODY HELP ME!”
Even while he screamed, he tested his arms—they worked, thank God—and tried to lift the console. Finding he could get no purchase, he braced his hands against the flat surface facing him and pushed with all the strength he could muster. It wasn’t much, and he quickly gave up when the pain went from searing to excruciating. He was a big guy for a squint—what his captain liked to call the science officers—and he could certainly take his licks. But when the pain level ratcheted up from merely agonizing to feeling like someone had taken a branding iron out of an inferno and thrust it into his back, the pain radiating up and down his torso and arms, he knew when to give up and wait for rescue.
God, he hoped they came soon. Someone, anyone… there had to be someone. If they didn’t hear him screaming, certainly they’d come by to check, to make sure the room was clear. There’d be an SAR-Ops unit along anytime now.
He tried comforting himself with the fact that the upper half of his body still seemed in working order. Reaching up with his hands, he wiped the blood from his eyes, smearing it and soot and who knew what else me might have collected across his face. He took full stock and flexed each finger, blinked each eyelid, worked his jaw. The top half of him definitely still worked, so he only had the bottom half to worry about.
And no, he wasn’t thinking about that. While certainly no man wanted to lose any kind of functionality with that part of his anatomy, all he could think of right then, the mantra that kept running through his head, was a prayer that he hadn’t lost the use of his legs. He fervently hoped that some kind of miracle surgery would fix him up and he’d be able to walk again. His career would be all but over if he couldn’t stand up on his own two feet.
He coughed for what felt like the dozenth time, and even through the din of the blaring Red Alert klaxon, the squishy, wet pop he heard all too clearly did not sound like a good thing. His suspicion was confirmed a moment later when blood rushed up and into his mouth. He spit it out and coughed again, trying to clear the thick, tangy fluid from his throat. Checking along both sides with his hands—carefully, of course—he soon realized that his injuries were far more extensive than a simple pinched nerve. He had broken ribs on both sides and one of his lungs (the left, he determined) had been punctured.
Great. Now he couldn’t even scream.
No matter how big and strong he was, he knew with sudden, absolute clarity that this was a fight he wasn’t going to win. And really, that seemed so unfair.
She was trained for this—they’d covered many such scenarios on the holodeck at Starfleet Academy—but no simulation could have ever prepared her for the stark reality. The immediate aftermath of a long and bloody battle was the last place any of them wanted to be, yet here they were walking the corridors of a ship destined to be space junk after today, looking for survivors.
If there were any.
Three teams had been sent over from the Apgar to the burned-out hulk of what remained of an Excelsior-class starship, and so few reports had come across the open comm channel of survivors being found. The saucer section was all but gone and so were both nacelles, but there had been pockets of atmosphere detected on several decks of the remnant, and so here she was. Her team leader called out that they had one more deck to sweep and then they were beaming out, because the warp core was dangerously unstable and they weren’t risking anymore lives.
Her acknowledgment was barely audible even to her own ears. Words, she had found, were pointless. No one spoke, they just checked each body they came across for signs of life, and upon finding none silently moved on to the next one. Devastation was everywhere, and had there been anyone left alive the place would have been in total chaos. Truth was, she would have welcomed the insanity over the eerie silence—the still-sounding alert klaxon notwithstanding. People running back and forth, not knowing where they were going but knowing they had to be somewhere would have been far preferable to finding one dead officer after another.
It was depressing, and a void began to open up in her chest.
The used another Jeffries tube junction to climb down to the next deck, where her brain suddenly told her several of the ship’s science labs would be located. A teammate reached out a hand to help her out of the hatch when she’d come down, and she saw reflected in his eyes the same emptiness she knew must have been filling hers. He was a friend, and had there been time for it, she would have reached out and hugged him just to feel his chest rise and fall against her own, a sure sign that someone other than herself was alive on this ghost ship.
With a silent nod, she pulled out her tricorder once more and began a sweep. She was so used to finding nothing that when the scanner blipped differently, she almost ignored it. But training kicked in even as she was turning the other direction, and she turned back, her tricorder trilling loudly.
Her antennae twitched and writhed with excitement. “We’ve got a live one!” she called out, instinctively jogging down the corridor. “One lifesign, a Human-Klingon male, and he’s fading—let’s go people!”
The other doctor and two nurses in her search group followed her immediately, no one questioning her even though she wasn’t the one in charge. They just ran with her toward the first sign of hope they’d had in hours.
She might not have noticed the sign on the door that said “Sensor Analysis Lab” had she not stopped short of smashing her nose into it. In her excitement she’d forgotten that most of the ship’s power systems were down and that the doors had to be opened manually.
“Let’s get this door open, fellas,” the team leader said as he joined her, and he and the nurses set to work opening the wall panel leading to magnetic hand grips that would enable them to open the door. Silently she urged them to hurry, her tricorder telling her that the man behind the door had suffered extensive injuries and that he didn’t have much time left.
Please don’t let us be too late, she prayed silently.
Her fellow doctor and one of the nurses had gotten the door open a few inches, and the second nurse thrust his hands into the opening, wrapping them around one half of the double doors and groaning as he pushed with all his might. She moved forward and joined him, grabbing the other door and pushing as hard as she could. The door gave, but slowly, and she heaved again. The other doctor and nurse joined them in trying to pry the doors open and with the four of them working on it, they soon had them parted wide enough for a person to slip through sideways.
She was the first one through, following her tricorder over to a pair of legs sticking out from under a free-standing console that wasn’t standing any longer. Moving around it she knelt quickly down to scan her patient, noting that for a man who registered as half-Klingon, he sure didn't look it—there were no crainial ridges or dark skin pigmentation present. Truthfully, he looked fully Human.
Putting that aside, she called out her scan results. “Pelvic fracture, compression of the spinal cord, bilateral rib fractures and a punctured lung,” she said, opening up her medical kit. “We have to get him out of here or he’s going to drown in his own blood.”
Her colleague nodded and directed the two nurses to help him lift the console off of the man—the patient was hers. She paid little attention to the three, concentrating on injecting the man, a full commander, with a combined pain killer and fever reducer. She then checked the gash on his forehead and noted that the bleeding had stopped there, but his left lung, according to her scanner, was full of blood.
Suddenly the man screamed, gurgling and coughing on the blood in his lung, and she turned briefly to see that the console had been lifted. She gasped as a hand suddenly and tightly grabbed her arm, and looking down she found him looking up at her, tears streaming out of the corners of his eyes even as blood trickled down the side of his mouth.
“Th… th…” he started to say, but she leaned close, gently touching a finger to his lips.
“Please don’t try to talk, Commander,” she said, putting her instruments into her kit. “We’re from the hospital ship Virginia Apgar, and we’re going to help you.”
She could see he relaxed upon hearing her voice, and she offered a tentative smile as she slapped her commbadge. “Nir’ahn to Apgar, two to beam directly to Trauma 1.”
She grabbed her medical kit in one hand and held her patient’s hand in the other, waiting just a few seconds before the familiar tingle of the transport began, though in the last second before she lost consciousness through dematerialization, she could have sworn she heard the man speak.
It sounded like he’d said, “Blue angel.”
U.S.S. Virginia Apgar, en route to Starbase 133
Medical Officer’s Log, Calista Nir’ahn recording. Supplemental…
I’ve just finished five hours of surgery on patient DeLuca, Commander Dominic, formerly Senior Science Officer of the U.S.S. Sherwood. Patient suffered numerous internal and superficial external injuries—see attached medical file—but is currently resting comfortably in ICU. I estimate six to eight weeks recovery time, during which the patient will undergo physical and mental therapy.
Calista Nir’ahn sat back with a sigh as she ended her log recording. The search of the Sherwood had been trying, and the five hours she’d spent in surgery saving the life of the man she had found had plain wore her out. But she’d done it—she’d repaired all his broken bones, drained and re-inflated his lung, repaired the hole one of his broken ribs had punched in it, relieved the compression on his spinal cord (when he woke, he’d certainly be pleased to know he hadn’t lost the ability to walk), and healed all his cuts and bruises. The commander would be weak for a while, and his pain would be managed with medication.
A light on her desktop monitor began to blink, and she switched it on again. The medical files their CMO had requested on the few survivors they’d located had been transmitted from HQ, so she searched through the list for that of her patient. She needed to see it to confirm what her scans had told her about him.
Opening the file, she found that he was indeed a Human-Klingon hybrid, born on stardate 12371.8 to Dominica DeLuca, a Human female, and H’Gaar, a Klingon male. Looking at the grainy picture on file for the commander’s father, she was reminded yet again of how very un-Klingon her patient looked, for H’Gaar had all the physical characteristics normally associated with Klingons—pronounced, bony exocrainial ridges being the most prominent among them. Commander DeLuca had his father’s strong, square jaw and heavy brow, and she suspected they would have the same eyes, but that was as far as the resemblance went. It was a little odd to her, as she knew that Klingon characteristics such as the forehead ridges were dominant in all cross-species children for several generations.
Just under his personal information, however, she finally saw the notation as to precisely why DeLuca looked nothing like a Klingon: He was a carrier of the Augment Virus. Of course, considering his father was obviously a carrier and still looked the way… well, the way Klingons were supposed to, the Andorian knew that just being a carrier didn’t mean that a Klingon would be affected by it. In the two hundred years since it had been introduced to the Klingon genome—something they generally refused to discuss with outsiders—the virus had evolved from a dominant trait to a recessive one, and in the last three generations evidence of its continued existence was almost never seen.
Dominic DeLuca, apparently, was one of those rare cases where the Augment genes had decided to be dominant.
Calista could not help being curious as to why his parents had elected not to have cosmetic surgery performed on him, or why he himself had not done it. On the one hand, she supposed she could understand why it hadn’t been done when he was a child, because multiple surgeries would be required as he grew, so it would be best to simply wait until he’d reached physical maturity. But why hadn’t the commander had the surgery on his own? She could certainly be wrong, she mused, but she knew that Klingons were very proud, and she just figured a Klingon would want to look like a Klingon.
Reading through the rest of his medical file, she made note of any injuries he had suffered and treatments he had undergone, making sure there was nothing she would have to watch out for. Other than the Augment Virus there was nothing to be concerned about, and even that wasn’t a real concern except that he wasn’t a candidate to donate blood, organ, or tissues, though he could still receive from a compatible donor if needed. Because there were no other Klingons aboard the Apgar, Dr. Tir’Shaan had requested several pints of blood be donated from one of the Klingon ships that had fought at Chin’toka before they had left the system, so they had plenty of in case he needed a transfusion (and they had used two pints to replace what he had lost).
With another heavy sigh, she switched off the monitor once more and stood, stretching to work out the kinks in her back, then walked out of the office she shared with three other doctors (only the CMO had a private office) and headed for the ICU to check on her patient.
In the sterilization booth she waited for the scanner to declare her clean enough to enter the ward, and as had become a habit ever since she’d first set foot on this ship, she reached into the pocket of her lab coat for the tricorder she always carried. One of the nurses making rounds smiled wearily as she walked through. “Hello, Dr. Nir’ahn,” the woman said, her voice also weary.
Calista returned her greeting with her own tired smile. “How are the patients doing, Ensign?”
The medical technician, seated at a monitoring station, looked out across the room. “Everyone’s asleep, I believe. No problems since you left a little while ago.”
The Andorian nodded. “Good to hear,” she said, “but you know us doctors can’t help taking a look.”
A grin was the reply she got, along with a chuckle, and so after offering a nod, she continued into the ward. Intensive Care Unit 1 was full, and she was not the only doctor who had come in to check on patients. She and her colleagues merely nodded at one another, and at last, at the far end of the room, she stepped up to Dominic DeLuca’s bedside.
The monitor over his head said his vitals were stable. His skin was still rather pale from blood loss, but his color was slowly coming back—he already looked better than the last time she had seen him about thirty minutes ago. His intravenous drip of pain medication and sedative were flowing steadily, as was the saline solution keeping him hydrated. Opening up her tricorder, she pulled the scanning wand out of the top and ran it over him from head to foot, absently noting once again that he had a few redundant organs (typical even of Klingon hybrids), including a third lung—a third lung that wouldn’t have done him a bit of good with one of the primary lungs full of blood, as he’d have eventually aspirated the blood from that lung into the other primary and the redundant one had he not been found and received treatment as soon as he had.
She tried not to shudder when she recalled that they’d almost been too late.
The young doctor jumped and gasped at the sound of her name, turning with an embarrassed smile to find the Apgar’s first officer, Commander Alora Danon, standing behind her. The Deltan was, as usual, smiling serenely, even though she herself was a physician who had also performed a long operation.
Clearing her throat as she returned the scanner to the top of the tricorder and closed it, Calista nodded. “Commander.”
“Why don’t to go back to your quarters and get some sleep?” Danon suggested. “You’ve had a very long and trying day, and you’re exhausted.”
Smiling wryly, she raised one of her gray and silver eyebrows. “I could say the same for you, ma’am.”
“I was actually about to do just that, but I wanted to make sure all the search and rescue teams were off duty first. Your patient is resting comfortably, Doctor, and I’m certain a nurse will alert you if there is any change. Your life-saving services are, at this time, no longer required.”
She reached out to pat Calista on the arm. “Go home. Get some sleep. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”
With a shake of her head and a small sigh, Calista dropped her tricorder into her pocket. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, and the two women walked together out of the ICU.
The next morning, Calista awoke feeling refreshed, but in a way still tired. The war was still going on, and from what few tactical reports hospital ships like the Apgar got, Starfleet Command expected it to continue well into next year. After a quick breakfast she donned her uniform and lab coat, thrust her trusty tricorder into the pocket, and headed for the ICU, where she was scheduled to work this morning.
The sterilization booth had just about finished its scan when she heard a muted commotion from inside the ward. Urging the scanner to hurry (not that it would), she all but ran out of the booth and into ICU 1, where a doctor and three nurses were attempting to restrain an excited patient.
Her patient—Dominic DeLuca.
“Let me go!” she heard him screaming as she ran down the middle aisle.
“What happened?” she asked as she reached them, edging between two of nurses.
“He just woke up!” said the Gamma-shift physician of the watch, who looked down with shock then, as DeLuca had suddenly stilled. Calista looked from the doctor across from her to the man on the biobed, whose deep, dark brown eyes were transfixed on her face.
“My blue angel,” he said softly, a faint smile forming on his lips.
“Commander DeLuca,” she said sternly, ignoring the feeling of eyes on her she was getting from the medical staff near her. “Are you going to remain calm? Or do we need to activate restraints to keep you in this bed? I’m glad to see you’re awake, but I will sedate you if necessary.”
“’Blue angel’?” Dr. Goran asked.
Calista’s antennae twitched as she shot him a sharp look. “The man was delirious when we found him,” she said before turning her attention back to the patient.
He nodded and relaxed visibly. After a moment of studying his face, she turned and nodded to the three men and the woman who’d been holding him down. The three nurses walked slowly away and Goran made to follow, but she reached out and snagged his sleeve. “What happened?”
“I told you, he just woke up,” Goran replied. “He woke up and just started wigging out. I tried to shoot him up with a sedative but he knocked the hypospray out of my hand, and it was really all we could do to keep him in the bed. Good thing you arrived when you did.”
She regarded Goran for a moment in silence, then nodded. “Anything else happen with Commander DeLuca that I should know about? Any of the other patients I should keep a particular eye on?”
Goran scratched his head as he stifled a yawn. “With this one, no. But we’ve a couple joined Trills you need to keep up on, ‘cause if their isoboromine levels drop below forty percent—”
Calista stopped him by raising her hand. “I know, we’ll have to remove the symbionts. And naturally there are no other Trills onboard who can take a symbiont if we end up having to do that—Lt. Bilarin is already joined.”
Her colleague nodded. “Exactamundo,” he said, then glanced briefly at the man on the biobed before flashing his eyes back to the Andorian doctor. “Well, now that our friend here is calm and you’re here to take over, I’m off to get some much-needed sleep.”
“Thank you, Dr. Goran. Sleep well,” Calista replied, watching him walk away for a moment before she turned to her patient.
Pulling the tricorder out of her pocket, she took out the scanning wand and opened it up. She could feel DeLuca’s eyes following her as she performed the routine scan. “Tell me something,” she said as she moved down toward his legs. “Why did you flip out on Dr. Goran?”
“I was disoriented when I woke up. Where am I?”
She stopped and glanced up. “Do you remember what happened to you yesterday, Commander?”
DeLuca closed his eyes, and a frown marred his forehead. “I remember,” he said quietly. “I remember all too well. Everything up until this great big flash-and-bang in the sensor lab, then I remember waking up feeling the most God-awful pain and praying to the same God that the lack of feeling below my waist didn’t mean I was never gonna walk again.”
His eyes opened and he looked down at her. “I must’ve blacked out again, because the next thing I remember is you.”
Calista finished the scan, then moved to stand at his shoulder. She pressed a few keys on the tricorder so it would link up with the monitor over his head, downloading the data she had just collected, as she said, “I’m Dr. Calista Nir’ahn, Commander. You’re on the hospital ship Virginia Apgar. Right now we’re on our way to Starbase One-Three-Three and it will take us three weeks to get there. That’s where we’ll offload you and everyone else we picked up.”
“How many?” he asked.
She closed her eyes briefly. “Not enough,” she replied.
A moment of silence fell between them, then he asked, “Anyone else from my ship? The U.S.S. Sherwood?”
Calista looked down. “I honestly don’t know, as I was rather busy with you. But I’ll find out for you.”
“I’d appreciate it—Captain Sykes was a good man,” the hybrid said. “We had a lot of good men and woman on that ship. I had friends on that ship, good friends.”
“I’m very sorry, Commander.”
His eyes had closed again, and he was frowning once more. Having completed her scan and entered the data into his record, she turned to go, to allow him to grieve in peace and to tend the other patients—especially to have a look at the two Trill.
“How bad was I?”
She turned back slowly. “Six broken ribs, a punctured lung, broken pelvis, spinal cord compression, and numerous lacerations and abrasions,” she said, giving it to him straight as she didn’t believe in sugar-coating when it came to adult patients. “It took me five hours to repair it all.”
“Am I gonna walk again?” DeLuca asked.
“Yes,” she said with a hint of smile.
He returned her smile briefly. “You must be a brilliant surgeon, Blue Angel,” he told her, closing his eyes again.
Dominic knew he’d fallen asleep by the groggy feeling he got when he opened his eyes, though he could have sworn he’d only closed them for a second.
That’s usually a pretty sure sign, buddy, he thought to himself derisively.
Lifting his head slightly, he looked around. Given the injuries the doctor had described to him, he was probably in an intensive care unit—there were about twenty beds in the room, with three people wearing medical blue visiting with patients and a fourth at the end of the room, to his right, sitting at a desk doing data entry.
He didn’t see his doctor, the Andorian female with the most beautiful blue eyes—
Don’t go there, he told himself. It’s never gonna happen.
Forcing himself to push thoughts of pretty blue eyes as far into the back of his mind as he could, Dominic slid his arms back and tried to raise up on his elbows. A nurse (a doctor?) came over when he grunted, cursing silently at his weakness.
“Commander, you shouldn’t try to get up,” said the strange-looking alien with large black eyes and a forked head (forked was the only word he could think of to describe it). The voice of the medical officer also had a quality to it that seemed both mechanical and musical at the same time, however impossible as that was.
“I don’t like lying flat on my back,” Dominic retorted as the hands on his shoulders tried to push him down gently. “Blue An—Dr. Nir’ahn said she fixed my spinal injury. I’d like to sit up now that I’m awake if you don’t mind.”
Keeping a hand on his shoulder, the alien reached up and pressed a few buttons on the monitor over his head, then looked down at him. “Your injuries are repaired, that is correct, Mr. DeLuca,” his companion said. “But your body still needs time to heal. You should rest.”
“Look,” Dom said with a light growl, “I won’t get off the bed, you have my word. I’m not talking about going for a jog here, but I cannot just lay here flat on my back—I hate doing that when I’m wide awake. Can’t I at least sit up or something?”
The man (he assumed it was a man, but as he’d never met a member of the species before, he had no idea) continued to look at him, then gave a single nod and reached for the control that would raise the head of the bed. “May as well, since I suspect you’ll just try to do it anyway,” he said.
Dominic flashed a grin at his victory, though he had the good grace to say, “Thank you, er…?” as his head and shoulders were lifted about 45 degrees.
The small mouth of the alien lifted into a smile. “Dr. Tir’Shaan, Commander. Chief Medical Officer of the Apgar.”
“I got the top doc in the house now?” he chided. “What did I do to deserve that honor?”
Tir’Shaan’s expression, what Dom could read of it, grew serious. “You and the eighteen other men and women in this ward shed blood in defense of the Federation, Commander DeLuca. That’s what you did.”
Dominic looked into the large black eyes, feeling his facial muscles turn to stone for a very long moment. Then he blinked and looked around again as if the moment had never happened.
“So where is she? My blue an—I mean, Dr. Nir’ahn? I haven’t slept the day away, have I?” he asked.
“If only you would,” Tir’Shaan said with a chuckle. “It would do wonders for your recovery, but I suspect your Klingon genetics are counteracting the sedative. I think we’ll have to increase the dosage.”
“I think you’ll do nothing of the sort—I feel fine,” Dominic growled.
Tir’Shaan laughed again. “You have no authority here, Commander, so don’t try to pull rank on me,” he said lightly. “Not that it would work, as per medical regulations I am the one in charge. If I say the sedative goes up, it goes up. Understood?
“Now, to answer your question,” he went on, not even allowing Dominic to reply, “Dr. Nir’ahn is assisting with a surgery.”
You and the eighteen other men and women… the CMO had said. Dominic glanced up. “One of the Trill officers?”
Tir’Shaan nodded. “I’m afraid we have no choice but to remove her symbiont. Her injuries were just too extensive and her body couldn’t maintain the connection. Terrible tragedy. There’s no other Trill onboard who could take the symbiont, so it’ll have to go into stasis for three weeks—and the chances of it surviving that long without being joined are questionable. We’ve notified the Trill Symbiosis Commission, and they’ve arranged to have a host candidate waiting at One-Three-Three."
“There’s nowhere closer the Apgar can go to?”
“Unfortunately, no… I’d prefer to take the both of them to Trill, but we’d cross too many battlezones. One-Three-Three is the closest starbase in a direct line from Chin’toka,” Tir’Shaan said, then reached into a pocket of his lab coat.
“Speaking of tragedies,” the doctor said slowly, handing him a small PADD. “Dr. Nir’ahn told me to give you this if you awoke before she returned.”
Dominic felt his chest tighten and his stomach twist as he slowly extended a hand for the PADD. This was, he knew, the information he had asked her to find out for him—it would tell him who, other than himself—had survived the Sherwood.
He took the handheld device silently, and with only a nod Tir’Shaan turned and walked away. The hybrid willed his hand not to shake as he brought the PADD closer and thumbed it on. He knew that the list would not be long. The Sherwood had taken one hell of a beating, and based on the data he’d studied before an exploding console had flung him across the sensor lab, he knew that the Allies’ victory at Chin’toka would cost them dearly. He had to deal with it—death was a fact of war.
There were only seventy-five names on the list of survivors…out of a crew of seven hundred ninety.
After reading and memorizing each one and making a mental note to speak to each officer and crewman personally in the next three weeks, Dominic gave in to the urge to throw the PADD and flung it forcefully into the wall next to his bed. It shattered on impact.
Everyone who was awake turned their heads, and more than one person gasped in surprise. Tir’Shaan and one of the nurses—another man—turned and started toward him, but Dominic pinned them both with a hard stare.
“I don’t need a sedative. Just… leave me alone.”
Tir’Shaan studied him for a moment, then wordlessly gestured for the medic to follow him, and they both turned around and walked back in the opposite direction.
No doubt one or both of them were cursing his Klingon half for giving him a temper, but Dominic didn’t care. Hell, he often did that himself, one of the only acknowledgements he ever gave to being half-Klingon. But he suspected that even had his father been Human, he would have reacted the same way—who could just sit in silence after learning that less than one tenth of his entire crew had survived? Were he not sitting in an intensive care ward, he’d have indulged in the other acknowledgement he gave to being part Klingon…
…the urge to scream.
As it was, he wished he hadn’t promised he wouldn’t get out of bed, because right now he wanted to do more of what he’d just done—break something. Or maybe punch someone (preferably several someones). He needed to do something with this sudden influx of adrenaline-fueled fury—sitting still was not his forte, and since he couldn’t go back out and avenge the deaths of the 715 Sherwood crew who’d perished in glorious battle…
Blinking, Dominic gave himself a hard mental shake as he shoved a lid on that train of thought. It was getting a little too Klingon for his taste. And while he had no problem admitting the fact that he was half-Klingon, he steadfastly refused to act like one.
Dominic DeLuca knew two things for certain when the Naerecan walked into the ICU: One, he was a shrink. Tir’Shaan had likely been the one to call him down here to deal with the “problem patient with a temper.” Two, the nurses were afraid he’d throw something else the moment he knew the guy was here to see him.
He chuckled as he shook his head, lacing his fingers together behind it. People always assumed the worst whenever they saw the smallest flash of his temper.
“Good afternoon, Commander,” said the man calmly as he approached him. “I’m Daaid Ki, Virginia Apgar’s—”
“Shrink,” Dominic finished for him. “And given you’re wearing three full gold pins, probably senior shrink—man, they must be really worried I’m going to hurt somebody. Do you do this for all the patients you guys see on this ship, or just the ones who have Klingon blood?”
Ki chuckled lightly. “I am still so very amused that idiom from Earth’s past has endured,” he said as he clasped his hands behind his back. “And just what is it you think I’m doing?”
“Oh, I don’t think you’re doing it, I know you are. I could smell the anxiety level rising the moment you walked in the door,” Dominic countered.
Ki raised his puffy white eyebrows. “Really now? Commander DeLuca, anxiety is an emotion. You cannot smell it.”
Dominic laughed. “Al contrario, il mio amico,” he countered lightly. “Anxiety, like every other emotional response, triggers the release of hormones, most commonly adrenaline. There are other endorphins released, depending on the messages the brain sends to the body telling you what emotion you are feeling at any given moment.
“Now, due to my unfortunate parentage, I have a heightened sense of smell. Predators can smell the fear of prey, and every member of the medical staff in this room except for Dr. Tir’Shaan as well as some of the patients who are awake and coherent became suddenly very anxious when you walked in. I could smell it. I think they’re afraid I’m gonna get tweaked because someone—again, I suspect the alien doctor—called you down here to have a word with me about my temper.”
Ki smiled benignly. “That’s a very fascinating observation. Tell me, how is it you know so much about hormones?”
“You mean you didn’t read my psych profile first? I guess you’re one of those who likes to get a feel for the patient before you read all their horror stories,” said Dominic. “I know so much about hormones because I’m a biochemist, one of my many talents. I am—or was—the head squint on the Sherwood.”
The Naerecan raised his eyebrows again. “Squint?”
“Captain Sykes likes to call us science geeks squints. Or he did.” Dominic stopped and took a deep breath, pausing when he suddenly recalled that panicked feeling that had overcome him when he realized he’d punctured his lung. And then he was back in the Sherwood’s sensor analysis lab, surrounded by smoke and haze, choking on fumes and blood.
In reality he started to hyperventilate, choking on blood that wasn’t really there, and the monitors keeping track of his vital signs began to sound alarms. Dr. Tir’Shaan and a nurse came running immediately, a hypospray in the physician’s hand. He slipped past Ki and pressed it against Dominic’s neck. Seconds after the medicine entered his bloodstream, the hybrid began to settle, and he laid back against the bed with his eyes falling closed.
“What happened?” Tir’Shaan asked as he pressed the bed control to lower the backrest.
“He was very amiable at first,” Ki began. “Said he knew I was a counselor—though that wasn’t the word he used—because he could smell the rise of anxiety in the air. Made a remark about having a heightened sense of smell because of unfortunate parentage—I assume he was referring to his Klingon father. He called himself a squint, and I asked what it meant. He started to talk about Captain Sykes and the Sherwood, and then… this.”
The counselor sighed as he regarded the now-sleeping patient. “This incident, coupled with what you told me about his reaction earlier to the survivor list, are clear early indicators of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I think Commander DeLuca has a very long, hard road ahead of him.”
Tir’Shaan glanced around. “They all do,” he said quietly.
After stepping out of the sterilizer and into the ICU, Calista found her eyes immediately going to the last bed on the left, where Dominic Deluca appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
She smiled weakly at Dr. Tir’Shaan when the Lyafri physician walked up to her. “How are you, my dear?” he asked kindly.
“Worn out. Again,” the Andorian replied. “I hate losing patients. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”
Tir’Shaan nodded. “None of us like to lose patients, Calista—it is the worst aspect of being a physician, and sadly I’m sure we’ll lose many more before this war is over.”
Calista nodded and sighed. “The symbiont fared rather well, all things considered, and is comfortably tucked away in a stasis chamber,” she said. “But you know how tenuous that is—we can’t leave Helo in there for long, they can’t handle stasis the way bipeds like us can. If we could have just put the symbiont and the host in there together…”
Her voice trailed off and she found her eyes straying toward DeLuca again. Chastising herself mentally for allowing herself to be distracted, she blinked rapidly and returned her attention to Dr. Tir’Shaan, who was saying,
“I’ve been thinking about something. I don’t know if it will work, but it’s a possibility we may have to try.”
“What’s that?” she asked, curious in spite of the fact that her attention kept wandering to the end of the room, where she’d expected DeLuca would have been awake again.
“Well, the symbionts’ natural habitat are the brine pools in the caves of Mak’ala,” Tir’Shaan began. “Even after being joined, if they’re returned to those pools, they’ll survive. I’ve been considering the possibility of building a tank for both symbionts in case they had to be removed.”
“But we don’t have a sample of the fluid on board, sir,” Calista countered. “It sounds like a great idea, but what would we do for the brine they swim in?”
“I’ve studied the chemical make-up of the brine from a record in the database, and I’m going to attempt synthesizing it. I understand that it might not work, and it’s certainly not the ideal environment for them, but it will be better for the symbiont than stasis is.”
Calista nodded her agreement, and even offered her boss a smile. “Well then, Doctor, sounds like you have yourself a plan. Thank you for sharing it with me. I’m definitely intrigued and I hope it works.”
“As do I,” the Lyafri said. “And of course I would share it with you, considering you are one of the people who have looked after the two officers, and especially after you had to let one of them go today.”
She sniffled and drew a ragged breath in, then let it out slowly. “Thank you, sir, for covering for me so I could help with the surgery. I know there are many other wards and patients on this ship who could use you.”
Tir’Shaan nodded. “A few more of which I am going to visit before the day is through,” he told her, stepping past her and then turning back. “By the way, you should know that Commander DeLuca, while recovering remarkably well physically, is having more trouble than I think we anticipated mentally.”
Calista felt her eyes widen as she looked at Apgar’s CMO, and her antennae began to twitch on the back of her head. “What happened? Is he alright?”
“As you know, he fell asleep shortly after you saw him this morning. He woke again not long after you went into the operation on Genara Helo,” Tir’Shaan began. “I gave him the list of Sherwood survivors that you said he had asked for, and after reading it he threw it against the wall and broke the PADD.”
Her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped lightly. “Oh my,” she breathed. “I didn’t think he’d take it well—less than ten percent of the Sherwood’s crew survived Chin’toka.”
Tir’Shaan nodded again. “Truthfully, his reaction was understandable given the circumstances. But I still called Counselor Ki to come down and speak with him. Ki didn’t get very far, I’m afraid. He told me the commander was fine at first until he started talking about the Sherwood, then suddenly he had a panic attack. Counselor Ki believes it was an early sign of PTSD.”
Calista closed her eyes against the constriction in her chest and felt her antennae droop with sadness. How terrible for him to have had to endure the horror he’d suffered even once, but to relive it? She wondered if the flashbacks would become a problem or if this was a one-time occurrence.
Drawing a deep breath to steady herself, she opened her eyes to find Tir’Shaan studying her. “You’re good with him,” the other doctor began, “which is not to say you’re not good with everyone, of course. But he responds to you. You have a calming influence on him.”
“Oh, well…” she stammered, feeling a flush crawl up her neck. “I just happened to be the first face he saw in the midst of a nightmare. I said we were going to help him, is all. Besides, it could be a fluke. He might decide he can’t stand me.”
“My dear, he calls you his ‘blue angel’ from what I’ve been told,” Tir’Shaan said kindly, and she knew her cheeks were ablaze. “I daresay that means he likes you.”
Now the Andorian found herself sputtering, trying to think of something to say and failing miserably. Her boss chuckled lightly and smiled, and after a friendly pat on the arm, he turned and left ICU 1.
When he awoke for the third time that day, Dominic saw that the lights were down in the ward. Must mean it’s nighttime hours, he mused as he lifted his head and looked around. There was a medic walking quietly through the beds checking vitals on the other side of the room, and down toward the door he saw…
…her. His blue angel was back.
I really should stop calling her that, he told himself as he stared, watching her scratch one of the antennae on the back of her head as she regarded whatever data she was reading on the screen in front of her. But he liked thinking of her that way, as a creature that was beautiful not only on the outside but inside as well, that was pure of heart and soul. Something about her eyes… the honesty and integrity he saw in them, the look of determination she had first cast on him in that place of hell…
Stop, he told himself firmly as he felt his chest begin to tighten again. He had to stay calm, to not think of the Sherwood or anyone that had died at Chin’toka—at least not until he could get a grip on himself and not have a panic attack like he’d had before. Gods it was embarrassing, even though he knew he didn’t really have anything to be embarrassed about. After all, he’d been through one hellacious battle in the middle of a war that had been raging for over a year. Anybody would freak out a little when they thought about how they’d nearly died, right?
Yeah, that’s really stopping, pal, he thought, annoyed with himself as he felt the constriction grip his lungs again. Dominic forced himself to breath slowly in and out through his nose, concentrating on nothing for the next minute or two except stopping the rising panic attack. The one he’d had earlier with Dr. Ki wasn’t the first—he’d lied to Calista about being disoriented when he woke up the first time.
Well, sorta lied to her. He had been disoriented, but not for the reason she’d likely assumed. It wasn’t just that he was in an unfamiliar environment, it was because he hadn’t been on the Sherwood—he’d been dreaming about those last minutes before he saw her face for the first time, and had woken in the midst of a panic attack. That made two he’d had, and he’d have another if he didn’t settle his nerves.
As he lay there, his breathing slowly returning to normal, he wondered whether or not this was going to be an ongoing problem. If it was, it was one he couldn’t afford. He wanted to get back out there, to get back in the fight and honor the memories of the 715 officers and crew who hadn’t walked, been carried, or transported off the Sherwood. He wanted to stand up for every man and woman who had thus far died in this war, and if the attacks continued the counselors he was more than likely going to be required to see would label him a head case and they wouldn’t let him back on active duty.
Being busted to inactive was not an option. It was bad enough he’d be off for however long the doctors were recommending he be off for his injuries—he’d make sure it was the minimum if he had anything to say about it.
Looking around again, he saw the nurse had approached Dr. Nir’ahn. She spoke in a low voice and when the Andorian had nodded, turned and walked out through the exit. He watched Calista sigh, rub a hand down her face (she did look tired), and then with a yawn she folded her arms on the desktop and lay her head down on top of them.
What was she doing here this late, anyway? he wondered. She’d been on duty first thing this morning, so what was she doing working second—or third—shift as well? These doctors had to have enough to do without having to work double shifts, unless they, too, were short-staffed. He knew a lot of the ships in the fleet had been undermanned due to losses already suffered, and after Chin’toka it was going to be much worse.
When she didn’t raise her head right away, Dominic decided to be brave. Checking to make sure he was fully clothed (thankfully he had the usual pajama-like medical scrubs given to patients on), he carefully lifted the blanket covering him from the chest down and, pushing himself into a half-sitting position by bracing his other arm on the bed (which had been lowered again), he carefully tested his ability to move his lower half on command by sliding his legs down over the side of the bed. His head buzzed a bit from the change in position but he got used to it quickly, and sat for a moment flexing his toes, his ankles, and kicking his legs lightly.
Smiling like a fool, he once again mused that the blue angel really was a brilliant surgeon. He was going to walk again, and now was as good a time as any to find out how well.
Bracing a hand on each side, he slowly lowered himself to the floor, easing his weight onto his feet a little bit at a time. He had to hold onto the bed for several minutes, as his legs did feel a little weak, but he knew that as soon as he started walking again, he’d get his strength back. And the sooner he got his strength back, the sooner he could get back on duty.
With another glance toward Nir’ahn, he took the first step toward the main aisle, then another. And then there was no more biobed to hold onto, and he was on his own. He took small steps at first to get a feel for his legs again, making sure they could hold his weight, and when he didn’t fall over, he stood a little straighter, feeling more and more confident the longer he stayed upright. He made his way slowly down the middle aisle separating the ten beds on the left and ten beds on the right, heading toward the woman whose antennae had begun to droop—boy she must be really tired.
Dominic was about three quarters of the way down the aisle when the nurse returned, both of them frozen for a moment as neither had been prepared to see the other.
“Commander DeLuca, what are you—how did you—?” the nurse sputtered.
Calista Nir’ahn raised her head at the surprised yelp, blinked, and then widened her eyes at the sight of him standing there.
“Hi, Blue Angel,” he said with a crooked smile and a jaunty wave.
She stood and quickly came around the desk. “Commander, how in the world did you get out of bed?! You shouldn’t be on your feet, you just had major surgery!”
“I told you you were a brilliant surgeon,” he said, gesturing toward his legs. “See, I’m walking already.”
“Ensign Crawley, let’s help the commander back to his bed,” she said to the nurse, and each of them took an arm and helped him turn around.
“Aw, come on, ladies,” Dominic protested. “I’m walking already—that’s a good thing!”
“Yes, Commander, that’s very nice,” the doctor said, the tone of her voice telling him she was both angry and worried. What was there to be mad or worried about? he wondered. The fact that he could walk so soon after such a major operation meant that he could get back to work that much sooner.
“Commander DeLuca,” Calista said as they guided him back to his bed, helped him get back up on it, and swung his legs up. She grabbed the blanket from his hand and covered him herself as the nurse walked away. “You’re not to get out of this bed again without the assistance of one of the medical staff.”
Dominic cocked his head to the side. “You’re mad at me.”
“Of course I am!” she said sternly. “You could have exacerbated your previous injury or caused a new one.”
He chuckled. “Are you doubting your mad skills?”
She frowned. “No, I’m not. But you’re not ready to walk no matter how much you think you are.”
“Blue Angel, I feel fine.”
“Maybe you do. But you suffered life-threatening injuries hardly more than twenty-four hours ago, Commander,” Calista said with a sigh. “Just because you are feeling good doesn’t mean your body is fully healed. You need time to recuperate, to get your strength back.”
“Six weeks, minimum.”
He felt his eyes bug out. “Six weeks, are you serious?!”
A few groans of protest greeted his outburst, and she looked around for a moment before turning back to him. “Please keep your voice down,” she said. “And yes, I am serious. I told you that your body needs time to heal.”
“Oh, come on. I can’t be out of commission that long,” Dominic protested. “I’ve gotta get back on duty. Starfleet needs me, Blue Angel.”
“Starfleet needs you whole, Commander,” she retorted, “and that you are not. By the way, I really don’t think it’s appropriate for you to call me Blue Angel, sir.”
He cocked his head to the side again, this time with another lopsided grin. “Why not? You’ve got the loveliest blue skin I’ve ever seen, and you’re the angel who saved my life.”
Although the lighting was dim, he could tell she was blushing as she turned her head away to hide a smile. He lifted his eyebrows and favored her with a knowing look when she turned back to him.
“Commander, it’s just not… appropriate,” she said. “I appreciate the compliment, sir, but any doctor would have done the same thing in my place. I just happened to be the one to find you, is all.”
“Forget that ‘sir’ business,” Dominic told her. “You don’t work for me. You can call me Dominic.”
Nir’ahn shook her head. “I don’t think so, Commander. It’s against protocol, in more ways than one. Not to mention the fact that doctors are not allowed to become personally involved with their patients.”
He blinked. Had she read him so easily? Not that it would matter if she had, he mused. It could never go farther than a little harmless flirting anyway.
Clearing his throat, Dominic countered her statement, saying, “So we can’t even be friends? Friends give each other nicknames, and anyone who saves my life is my friend. I’m afraid you’re stuck with ‘Blue Angel’ for the duration.”
Even though she shook her head, Dominic could see she was fighting another smile. After a moment her expression did sober, and she looked down at him, saying, “Why are you so eager to get back on duty? You barely survived your ship being destroyed, Commander. It’s not that Klingon honor business, is it?”
Killjoy, he thought bitterly. “I don’t have anything to do with being Klingon, Doctor,” he said, his voice taking on an edge. “I acknowledge having Klingon DNA, nothing more.”
Blinking, no doubt surprised by his sudden change in attitude, the Andorian frowned. “Why not?”
His smile this time was one of mild derision. “If we were going to be real friends, Dr. Nir’ahn, I might be inclined to tell you. As it is, you’ve declined that privilege, so I’m afraid I have to say it’s none of your business.
“As for why I want to get back into this war, it’s like I said before: Starfleet needs me. The Federation needs me. They need every able-bodied man and woman who can fight, and I aim to do my part in this war, to make sure the seven hundred fifteen men and women who died on the Sherwood didn’t give up their lives for nothing.”
His chest had tightened again and he could feel his diaphragm beginning to heave with the urge to hyperventilate, but he controlled it as he had before, by breathing deeply in and out through his nose.
“Don’t worry, I won’t get out of bed again,” he said sourly, rolling over onto his side and facing the wall. “I’ve got no reason to.”
After covering two shifts the day before, Dr. Tir’Shaan had given Calista the next day off. She hadn’t wanted to take the time, what with all the patients they had to care for, but she relented because she really did need the time to recharge her internal batteries. Two long surgeries in the space of 24 hours, losing one of the Trill hosts… plus the entire damned war…
Like so many of her colleagues, she was simply worn out.
After a light meal (though she didn’t usually eat right before going to sleep), Calista had gone to bed and did not wake up for a full twelve hours. Though she dragged her feet a little when she rose later that night, she had to admit she did feel better, and dashed off a quick text message to Dr. Tir’Shaan, thanking him for “ordering” her to rest.
Then she sat on the corner of her sofa, a blanket tucked around her, and tried to read. Tried, because almost from the moment she awoke, she’d thought about Dominic DeLuca. She’d even dreamed about him, about those horrible moments when she and her fellow searchers had entered the sensor lab on the Sherwood and found him lying there on the floor, broken and bloody. She’d dreamed of the surgeries she had performed on him, of the seemingly boundless charm he kept throwing her way…
She thought of his determination to return to active duty—it had no doubt been the reason he’d gotten out of his bed the night before. And so she had dreamed of him returning to the war on some other ship, of being injured once again, and the Apgar swooping in to pick up the injured.
Only this time, she was too late to save him.
Then there was the cold shoulder he had turned on her last night after she had asked if his desire to return to the war was fueled by a Klingon sense of honor. One simple question and he had completely shut down. Though she didn’t understand why, she’d felt bad about it, even though she wasn’t really sure what she had done wrong. Was it because she had turned down his offer of friendship, or was it because she’d asked about his Klingon honor—or was it a combination of both? She wondered then if Dominic even cared about being half-Klingon. Perhaps he was one of those people of mixed-species parentage who despised one side or the other. But then she was curious as to why—what had happened to him in his life that he would hate being Klingon so much?
Well, sitting on her duff wasn’t going to get her any answers to her questions. She rose and donned a simple blouse and trousers, since she was still off duty for another ten or so hours, and headed down to ICU 1. She intended to speak to Dominic, to apologize for whatever wrong she had done him, and to ask him if he would tell her exactly what that was.
When she arrived at the ICU ward, she was surprised to see a patient walking down the hall toward her.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” she asked. “I’m a doctor on the Virginia Apgar—Dr. Nir’ahn.”
The Tellarite nodded. “Lt. Arkhet djan Zabrak, Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Sherwood. I was looking for one of my shipmates that I heard was in ICU—most of the rest of us are in the non-critical wards.”
“You’re looking for Commander DeLuca, then?” she asked, her eyebrows rising in further surprise.
Zabrak nodded. “Yeah, Dom DeLuca. He’s—or he was—our head squint. That’s what Captain Sykes liked to call the science officers.”
Calista watched with sadness as Zabrak looked away from her, furiously blinking his long-lashed eyelids so that he wouldn’t shed the tears that had pooled in his eyes. She pretended not to see, knowing how proud Tellarites were.
“I’m so very sorry for your loss, Lieutenant,” she said softly. “I can’t begin to imagine what you and your shipmates must be going through.”
“No...you can’t can you?” he said, though not harshly, like he could have. Instead, Zabrak just seemed really sad—an unusual thing for one of his species.
She couldn’t say she blamed him, though.
“I mean, you’re a doctor on a hospital ship,” he went on. “You guys never see battle, what it does to people.”
She shook her head. “On the contrary, Mr. Zabrak. Hospital ships may so rarely see battle as to never have seen it at all, but we do see what war does to people here. We see the suffering—both physical and psychological. We see the carnage, the broken bones and the blood, we see the toll it takes on the body and on the mind…”
Calista stopped when she noticed Zabrak had begun to shake, and took a tentative step closer. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
He shook his head, drawing a breath to settle himself. “No, no you’re right,” he told her. “I should apologize to you, Doctor, for forgetting that you guys do see, oftentimes more than we do.”
Zabrak raised his arms and placed his hands on his hips, shaking his head as he laughed mirthlessly. “We’ve been at this for over a year. I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever see the end.”
“I believe it was one of Earth’s great philosophers who said, ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war,’ Lieutenant,” the Andorian said sadly.
He smiled at her then. It was a small, sad smile, but it was genuine, and she returned it. “It was one of theirs,” Zabrak said. “Plato said that a very long time ago.”
“And still his words hold meaning,” Calista said, then with a sigh, gestured toward the door labeled ICU 1. “Commander DeLuca is in here, Lieutenant. I’ll take you in to him—you are out of your bed with permission from your ward supervisor, I hope?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “And I’m sorry if that’s against the rules, but I couldn’t sit cooped up in that place anymore. I had to do something.”
She raised her eyebrow again. “So you left one hospital room to come to another, huh?” she asked with a chuckle. “Come on.”
Gesturing again toward the door, she then moved to precede him through it. The Gamma Shift doctor was sitting at the desk when she stepped through the sterilizer booth and into the ward.
“Dr. Nir’ahn,” said the portly Bolian. “What brings you here at this late hour? Dr. Tir’Shaan said you were off for the day.”
She turned as Lt. Zabrak was coming through the sterilizer booth. “I went for a walk, and I ran into this fellow, a patient from one of our non-critical units. Will you look up what unit Lt. Arkhet djan Zabrak is assigned to and let them know he hasn’t just wandered off? I’ll escort him back in a bit, after he’s seen his shipmate.”
The other doctor nodded. “Certainly,” she replied, turning to key the information into the computer.
Calista looked at Zabrak, then pointed to DeLuca’s bed. “He’s down there, on the end.”
Zabrak nodded silently, having already located Dominic with his eyes. He walked down the middle aisle and was about six feet away when the commander rolled over in his bed, his eyes open—apparently he wasn’t asleep like she’d thought. His eyes fell on Zabrak and, without a word, he got up from the bed and walked toward him as if he’d never been at risk of losing the ability. Zabrak met him at half the distance and the two men threw their arms around one another. Calista knew that even had they not known each other well before, they were brothers now, in a way true brothers often never knew.
Arkhet djan Zabrak stayed for an hour, telling him all about the conditions of the crewmates he shared a ward with and promising to see to the others the next day, before his continuous yawning prompted Dominic to tell him to go back to his bed and get some sleep. The two men embraced again, then Zabrak headed toward the two doctors and the ward nurse.
“I’ll escort him back to his unit, Doctors,” the nurse said when he reached them, and Nir’ahn nodded. Dominic saw her glance toward him as the Tellarite was being led out, some emotion or other flitting through her eyes, before she, too, turned to go.
“Dr. Nir’ahn, could I talk to you for a moment?” he called out.
She stopped, turning around slowly and walking toward him at the same pace. She stopped at the foot of his bed. “Yes, Commander?”
“Well, first I want to thank you… for that. For bringing Arkhet in here. I’ve been wanting to go see my shipmates since I read the list, but I’m not allowed to go anywhere for another day or two, according to Dr. Goran,” he said.
She nodded. “That sounds about right. If you continue to improve physically, we’ll likely move you to one of the non-critical wards by the end of the week,” she said. “And there’s no need to thank me for Lt. Zabrak. He was sneaking down here to see you already.”
Dominic grinned. “I’m glad he did, I don’t mind saying,” he told her, then gave a small sigh. “I also wanted to apologize for yesterday. Hardly decent of me to offer you friendship then behave like an ass.”
He watched her swallow and take a breath. “I’m sure you had your reasons, sir,” she said carefully.
Chancing a smile, he said, “Hey, what did I tell you about that ‘sir’ stuff? We’re not crewmates, it’s okay to call me Dominic. I’ll still call you Blue Angel—that is if you’re not still mad at me.”
At last he got a smile out of her, albeit a small one. “I thought you were upset with me, actually,” she confessed. “I actually came down here wanting to ask you what I had done wrong, so that we could make peace, but I wasn’t sure you would be of a mind to speak to me after seeing the lieutenant.”
“Nah, I can’t sleep anyway,” he said neutrally, though his mind added More like I don’t want to. “And you didn’t do anything wrong. Like I said, I was being a jerk. I don’t… Well let’s just say I don’t care for all things Klingon.”
“May I ask why… Dominic?”
His eyes widened with surprise, and his mouth split into a grin. She’d used his name for the first time, and since she had given him that much, he supposed he owed it to her to concede something in return.
Sighing, he said, “The thing is, Blue Angel, my biological father abandoned me before I was an hour old, even though he’d sworn to my dying mother he would love me as she would have loved me. I wasn’t born with the sagittal crest, forehead ridges, whatever you want to call it. So he had me tested—probably to make sure I was even his, even though he should have known damn well my mother never would have cheated on him. That’s when he found out that not only was I a carrier of the dreaded Augment Virus, but the virus was the reason I didn’t look like a Klingon.”
Disgusted, he snorted derisively. “Instead of doing as he’d promised, he handed me to my mother’s brother, and I never saw him again. Hell, I don’t remember seeing him even then. I only know what the man looks like because I have a few old pictures my mother had given to Marcello.”
He watched as she absorbed what he’d told her, her emotions flickering through her eyes faster than he could follow. Finally she settled on a neutral expression, and said, “Marcello is your uncle?”
Dominic nodded. “Uncle, best friend, and more a father to me than my own has ever been. I call him Dad.”
“As well you should,” she agreed with a nod. “So… your father’s abandonment of you is the reason you despise being part Klingon?”
He scoffed. “Oh, that’s a large part of it—probably even most of it. But that’s not the whole of it,” he said. “Not only did my old man abandon me, but his entire family disavowed any knowledge of me. Not one of them came to see me or tried to claim me. I’d always known I was half-Klingon, Angel, but when Marcello confessed the whole truth to me when I was about 10 years old, that’s when I decided I wanted nothing to do with being Klingon. If the entire race won’t even acknowledge me because I’m an embarrassing reminder of the failures of their own past, then why the hell should I give a damn about being one of them?”
For a long moment, she was silent. “What happened to your mother?” she asked finally.
He looked down at his hands, folded together in his lap. “She died shortly after my birth. Some complication or other caused hemorrhaging the doctors couldn’t stop.”
“I’m sorry, Dominic.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “My mother, at least, I would have liked to know.”
Dominic cleared his throat. “So anyway, now you know why I’m so touchy about Klingons. I freely acknowledge being one, and probably more often than is really necessary blame my father for my temper—heck, I’ve even got Klingon friends. Few, mind you, but still… Other than that, I just don’t care.”
I'm not ashamed of being Klingon, he added silently. I'm just ashamed of the Klingons.
Calista nodded. “I guess I can understand why. I won’t bring it up again.”
“Good,” he said with sudden joviality. “I’d much rather talk about us.”
Her eyebrows winged up. “There’s an ‘us’?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“We’re friends now, aren’t we?”
She stared at him for a moment longer, then broke into a smile. “Do I have any choice in the matter?”
Dominic grinned. “Not really, Blue Angel…
U.S.S. Virginia Apgar, en route to SB 133
1 hour until arrival…
“Good afternoon, Commander.”
Dominic nodded as the door to Daaid Ki’s office closed behind him. He stepped inside the small, comfortable room and sat in on of the comfortable chairs across from the counselor’s desk.
But he wasn’t comfortable. Oh, physically he was fine—three weeks had passed since Chin’toka, the battle in which he had nearly died. He’d been operated on and fixed up, and for the last 18 days had been undergoing rigorous physical therapy sessions to make sure his body had fully recovered. Even Dr. Nir’ahn, his Blue Angel, had declared him physically fit, stating her surprise that he had recovered so remarkably fast. It was one of the things he could be grateful to his Klingon genetics for, as his sire’s people were designed by evolution to heal quickly.
Psychologically, on the other hand, he was not quite up to par. He still had nightmares about his last moments on the Sherwood that woke him up with cold sweats and hyperventilation. He had a hard time talking to anyone other than his fellow Sherwood survivors about the ship or the 715 officers who had died without triggering flashbacks and a panic attack—and even talking to his shipmates didn’t always prevent the reactions to that horrific last day on their ship. Counselor Ki had told him that his reactions were perfectly within the norm for such an experience as he had lived through, but quite frankly he was beginning to get seriously tweaked about it. If he couldn’t get this ridiculous “condition” under control, it would take even longer for him to get another assignment. Dominic could hardly wait for reassignment. He needed another assignment, not just to honor his fallen brothers and sisters, but because sitting idle when he was physically capable of doing something had never been a situation he handled well. He hated the way not being involved made him feel useless.
“How are you feeling today, Commander?” Ki asked.
Dominic looked at him. “I feel fine. I feel great, actually. Dr. Nir’ahn says I’m recovering remarkably well. I think I’m good to go—no need to wait another three weeks if you ask me.”
“Are you still having the nightmares?”
The hybrid frowned. “So I have a few bad dreams, so what? Who isn’t going to have a few nightmares after all this crap?” he said dismissively.
The Naerecan psychologist braced his elbows on the arms of his chair and steepled his fingers in thought. “And what about the panic attacks?” he queried after a moment.
Dominic scoffed. “So I get a little worked up sometimes,” he said. “I say again, who wouldn’t after what I’ve been through?”
“Indeed, Commander,” Ki conceded with a nod. “As I’ve said to you before, your reactions are perfectly normal. However, certainly you are aware that an officer who has such an episode just talking about an event could very well panic in the middle of another, if he or she is put into a situation where the events are very similar.”
“What are you saying, you’re afraid I’m gonna freeze up if I’m on another ship getting ripped apart in a battle?”
“That is one possibility, yes. You could also ‘freeze up,’ as you put it, simply by the vessel engaging in battle, even if your ship emerges relatively unscathed.”
“You don’t know that’s going to happen,” Dominic retorted.
“You don’t know that it won’t,” Ki returned smoothly.
Dominic groaned. “Come on, Counselor. You and I both know that the only time I have those ‘episodes,’ as you call them, is when I start talking about the Sherwood. All I have to do to escape the possibility of having an attack is simply not talk about it.”
“Are you suggesting that you should forget about the Sherwood, Commander? That you should forget about the seven hundred fifteen men and women who perished aboard her?”
“Of course not!” Dominic fired back angrily. “I’m just saying that until this damn war is over, I keep memories to myself so that I can do my job.”
Ki studied him for another long moment. “Dominic, do you honestly believe that not talking about your shipmates or the event that took them from you is going to stop the anxiety attacks from happening? Even now, when barely we have spoken of them, I can see that you are breathing heavily.”
He was, Dominic noted sourly, and frowned at the man across the desk. “If I’m getting worked up it’s because I’m getting sick of going over the same damn thing every time I come here,” he said angrily. “Not because we’re talking about the Sherwood.”
“Are you sure about that?” Ki pressed.
“As a matter of fact I am. If anything is driving me nuts, Counselor, it’s that you keep harping on the subject. We never talk about anything else.”
The Naerecan raised an eyebrow. “What else would you like to talk about?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” Dominic cried, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Anything other than the Sherwood and those seven hundred fifteen officers and crew, because yammering about them constantly isn’t going to bring them back. They’re dead.”
“And you are alive, Commander.”
“Yes, I am. I’m alive and they’re not. I made it off the ship because a blue angel came and saved me, and they didn’t get saved.”
Ki lowered his hands and once again scrutinized him closely. “Commander,” he began after a moment. “Have you ever thought about precisely why you’re having the anxiety attacks? What the trigger is?”
Groaning loudly, the hybrid pushed out of his chair and stepped behind it where there was room to pace. “God, I say I want to talk about something else, and we’re right back where we started,” he muttered, walking back and forth with his hands on his hips. Stopping behind the chair he had occupied, he turned to face Ki.
“Look, it’s obvious what the trigger is: I survived a battle that nearly killed me,” he said.
“But you lived, Commander,” Ki reminded him.
“Uh, yeah, or I wouldn’t be standing here arguing with you about whether or not I’m mentally fit to return to duty.”
Looking up at him, Ki spoke serenely. “Dominic, has it ever occurred to you that your survival is the reason you have developed an anxiety disorder?”
Dominic frowned and sputtered as he said, “Wh-what are you saying? Th-that I have these panic attacks because of some misguided sense of guilt? That I—that I’m suffering from fracking survivor’s guilt?”
“It is a possibility, Commander, that you feel a sense of guilt because you managed to survive when they did not. You lived to fight another day, while your comrades just died.”
“Listen, buster, they didn’t just die!” Dominic shouted, stepping up to the desk and leaning across it, pointing a finger angrily at the counselor. “They died fighting to save the Federation. They gave their lives trying to save billions—trillions—of complete strangers’ lives. They died with honor, and integrity—they did not die for nothing!”
“Commander, if you really believed that, you might well not be having the problems you are,” Ki said quietly. “It seems to me that the root cause of your anxiety is twofold: you are feeling guilty for not dying along with your shipmates, and you feel like their deaths were meaningless.”
Dominic straightened. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “If I thought their deaths were meaningless, I wouldn’t have just said they died with honor and integrity.”
“Not necessarily, Mr. DeLuca,” Ki said with a shake of his cone-shaped head. “A lot of our strongest hopes and fears are hidden deep within our subconscious minds. It is entirely possible that you have nightmares of the event that took the lives of your crewmates and your captain, from which you wake sweating, shaking, and hyperventilating; that you experience anxiety attacks in your waking moments nearly every time you discuss the event because you feel guilty that your life was spared and theirs were not. You may even be feeling like you didn’t deserve to live anymore than they did, and so your conscious mind struggles with your subconscious mind because the conscious mind either cannot or is unwilling to accept that you feel that way. The nightmares are your subconscious mind’s way of trying to get you to accept your feelings, and the attacks during your waking hours are your subconscious mind’s way of trying to break through during conscious hours.”
Dominic shook his head as he turned and began pacing again. What Ki was saying was… No. It just wasn’t possible. After all, why should he feel guilty? Yeah, it certainly sucked that more people hadn’t survived, but it was only by the slimmest of margins that he had. Had his blue angel not come along when she had, Dominic knew very well that he’d have died right along with them.
He couldn’t think about this. It was too much for his mind to process when all he could think about, all he cared about, was getting back out there.
With a heavy sigh, he turned to face Ki again. “You’re not going to sign off on me going back on duty, are you?”
Ki shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Commander. You may be physically healthy, but you still have a way to go in regaining your mental balance. Until you can accept what your subconscious mind is trying to tell you as truth, you won’t be able to truly heal.”
“And I’m afraid I don’t agree with you,” Dominic shot back. “Which means we have nothing more to talk about.”
Ki’s mouth pressed into a line, but he didn’t argue. “Very well. You may go.”
Without acknowledging the dismissal, Dominic turned around and walked out the door. He walked quickly toward the nearest turbolift and ordered it to take him down to deck 13. There was a lounge there that the patients who were recovered were welcome to use, and he needed a drink.
The lift had been descending for only a minute, during which he guessed that it had passed two decks, when it stopped. Despite how disturbed he was after his session with Counselor Ki, he could only smile when he saw his Blue Angel on the other side of the now open door.
“Commander DeLuca!” she greeted him brightly as she stepped into the lift. “It’s so good to see you out and about. Where are you headed to?”
“The lounge on deck thirteen,” he replied with a grin. “Care to join me for a drink? Only about half an hour or so before we get to One-Three-Three and you finally get rid of me, so I have to make the most of it.”
She quirked one of her gray and white eyebrows. “You really shouldn’t be drinking, Commander, even if the alcohol is synthetic.”
“Come on,” he pleaded with a cheeky grin. “Half an hour from now I’m walking off this ship—thanks to you—and I’m probably never going to see you again. I don’t want a lecture on the merits of drinking. I just want to share a drink with my Blue Angel, to spend my last thirty minutes in her company just enjoying myself. And your smile—I love your smile.”
He watched her try to hide a blush as she looked away for a moment, and trying to suppress her smile when she looked back at him. Clearing her throat she said, “Alright. But just one drink, okay?”
“I’ll agree to one drink if you agree not to call me ‘commander’ or ‘sir’ one more time. It’s just Dominic now.”
At last she let her smile show as she said, “And I’m Calista.”
He winged his eyebrows up in mock surprise. “Wow, really? I had no idea.”
She punched him lightly in the arm and he laughed.
Dominic stood with the strap of a small duffel case over his shoulder. In it were all the possessions he owned now, save for the brand-new uniform he had chosen to wear for this moment. Cleared for duty or not, he had come aboard this ship in uniform and he was determined to leave in one. The duffel that had been replicated for him held a pair of off-duty shoes, four pairs of socks, four pairs of boxer shorts, four tank-style undershirts, four civilian shirts and four pair of civilian trousers.
That was it. Four days’ worth of clothing (not including his new uniform) was all he had to his name.
The muscles in his jaw flexed as he watched one after another of the Sherwood survivors file past him. As the highest-ranking officer to survive from his vessel (he and Zabrak, their Chief Engineer, were the only senior officers left), he had decided he would see them all safely off this ship before he left it. Dominic nodded at each man and woman as they walked past, saying a word here or there to those that spoke to him, even though most of them would be on SB 133 with him for the next few weeks waiting to be cleared for duty and reassigned.
He was also waiting—hoping—to see a certain Andorian doctor again. After they had spent a good twenty minutes together in the lounge, having a drink and just talking about nothing, she’d had to go to prepare the Helo symbiont for implantation into its new host. Dr. Tir’Shaan had built a tank for it (thankfully the other Trill officer had recovered and was able to continue hosting his symbiont) and synthesized the milky liquid from their natural habitat in caves deep beneath the planet’s surface on the Trill homeworld. Despite the brine not being the naturally occurring liquid, the symbiont had fared well, though its continued survival depended on either being hosted again or being taken home to the caves in which it had been born. Because the Symbiosis Commission had feared Helo wouldn’t survive another three weeks to make the trip, hosting was the option that had been chosen.
He looked around, searching for any sign of her gray and white hair or blue antennae peeking up over the tops of the heads of patients walking on their own merit off the hospital ship. The Sherwood survivors were the last group to go, and now the line was almost ended.
Suddenly Dominic found himself standing alone at the airlock. He sighed, not wanting to leave without saying goodbye to the woman who had saved his life—the woman for whom he had developed feelings that had zero chance of going anywhere, and not just because there was little chance of seeing her again. He had other reasons for which he would not pursue a relationship, with her or any other woman, so in truth it was best they were parting ways.
Didn’t mean he didn’t want to see her one more time before he left.
After waiting another fifteen minutes, Dominic sighed heavily, sadly, and turned to walk through the airlock. He was halfway through the causeway when he heard her calling his name, and turned to find her jogging toward him.
Dominic smiled. “I thought I was going to have to leave without saying goodbye,” he said when she reached him.
“I thought you would leave before I got the chance to say goodbye, too,” she replied breathlessly. “I’m glad I made it.”
“So am I.”
They stood looking at one another for a long moment, and then Dominic leaned down and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her into a light embrace. “I can’t thank you enough for saving my life,” he whispered.
Calista wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a gentle squeeze. “No need to thank me, Dominic. It’s what I do.”
After another moment in which he allowed himself to enjoy the feel of her in his arms, he committed the bittersweet feeling to memory and then reluctantly released her. Dominic stood back and offered her a small smile. “I know your name is Calista, but I think to me you’ll always be my Blue Angel.”
She smiled as well. “I can accept that,” she said softly.
Sighing once more, he looked into her eyes and said, “Goodbye, Angel.”
Calista nodded. “Goodbye, Dominic.”
Dominic nodded, then he turned around and walked away.