The captain checked in on him midway through his first day as a Palindor medical officer. “How are you settling in there, Doc?”
Julian looked around the infirmary. Despite the damage the ship had suffered, the equipment was in good repair, and was of fairly good quality. “Some of the equipment is different than I used previously, however I should be able to adapt.” He frowned, then indicated a particular machine. “I am concerned about your anti-viral unit.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty much a relic.” Captain Mateo sighed. “We’re mostly operating on prayer when it comes to that.”
“Actually, it is a decent unit, it has simply been misaligned.” Julian gestured to the display. It hadn’t taken long to figure out the problem. School lab equipment often had similar issues, as things were broken and jury-rigged until they could be replaced. Some such repairs, however, were better than others. “The control unit was meant for a different model, and cannot calibrate the current unit correctly without modification.” He looked up at the Captain. “Does this ship have an agricultural scanner?”
“Yeah, I think.” He frowned. “You’d have to check with Dougal to be sure. Why?”
“I can use the sensory unit from that to communicate the feedback correctly to the control unit. That should take care of the issue until the opportunity to get the correct model presents itself.” He shrugged, and pointed at where a woman was organizing items for him. “One of your crew, Jenna, performed admirably as an assistant during the previous crisis. With your permission, I would like to provide her with additional training to facilitate her ability to function as an emergency medic.
“Doc…” Captain Mateo chuckled, then clapped his shoulder again. Since he’d seen the movement coming, he managed to cringe away from the touch. “Tell your husband to give you a big kiss from me, alright?”
Kyle had tried to contain his smile as he looked over the duty roster that morning. Grunt work, guarding the brig that contained only two crewmen who’d gotten into a fight, but it was soldier grunt work. He was wearing a uniform again.
The routine felt good. The crew was already friendly to him, though he had to acknowledge a lot of that was because of Jakob. The CSO had introduced him around as ‘the doctor’s husband’. It had bothered him just a little at first, but he was growing accustomed to it.
Captain Mateo ran an orderly but friendly ship. There was no slacking or goofing off while on duty, but off duty the crew was friendly with each other and the recreational areas were gathering places. He and Jakob had been dragged into a card game within seconds of their first visit to the mess hall. Much lower stakes than he was used to, but the game managed to be simultaneously friendly and utterly cutthroat. Jakob had been a bit uncomfortable at first, but he’d loosened up after a while.
It felt like home. He looked up when the CSO entered and immediately stood at attention. “Sir.”
“At ease.” The man smiled. “Sorry your first day of duty is so boring.”
“Well…” Kyle nodded to the man in the first cell. “He did offer to tell knock knock jokes, but I decided to take mercy on the other prisoner.”
“For which I’m grateful,” the man in the second cell called out.
CSO Anson chuckled. “How are you and your husband settling in?”
“Good.” Kyle smiled. “Well, he was worried when I kitted out this morning, but I explained to him that even on a warship medics don’t have to carry weapons.”
“He’s not weapons trained?” CSO Anson raised an eyebrow.
“I offered to teach him.” Kyle shrugged. “Going to take me a bit longer to convince him though. At least it would make me worry about him just a little less.” He shifted. “If um, duty permits, would it be possible for me to guard the infirmary?”
“I take it you two are newlyweds?” He laughed.
“A bit, yeah…” Kyle found himself blushing just a little.
“I’ll consider that when making the roster. Carry on.” Anson nodded before leaving again.
Julian had finished putting the diagnostic tools away when the CSO entered. “Hey, Doc, got a minute?”
“Of course. Is this regarding a medical difficulty?” Julian raised an eyebrow.
“No, more that it just occurred to me that you present an opportunity.” CSO Anson took a deep breath. “Look, Doc, if there is any information you could —”
“No.” Julian surprised himself by cutting the man off.
“No?” Anson looked slightly taken aback.
“Regardless of where circumstances have taken me, there are acts I am unwilling to perform.” He met Anson’s eyes. “Betraying my family is one of them.”
To his surprise, Anson smiled. “Yeah. Get that.” He shrugged. “Figured it was worth a shot.”
“No.” Julian folded his arms. “You wished to test me. After all, if I would easily betray them…”
“The possibility exists that you would betray us.” Anson nodded. “Your husband is a patriot. But as near as I can tell, you’re only here because he is. I admit that makes me a bit nervous about you.”
“I am here because there are wounded that require aid, and among them are civilians. That alone would have compelled my assistance. I am a doctor. The moment the crew fell under my care they became my responsibility, and I will carry out that duty to the best of my ability.” He took a deep breath. “And that goes for any under my care. Alliance or Palindor, soldier or civilian.”
“You’re saying if I ever asked you to help me interrogate a prisoner…” Anson’s eyes narrowed.
“I would refuse. And any attempt to remove a patient from my care for the purpose of interrogation would be over my strenuous objection.” He shook his head.
“Would that mean you’d refuse to treat me?” Anson lifted an eyebrow.
“No. It would mean that I would be efficient and effective regarding your care. I know you would want to get back on duty as quickly as possible and would likely be undeterred by the occasional unpleasant side effect.”
“Doc…” Anson laughed. “That might be the most polite threat I’ve ever received, and frankly, that just makes it a little more scary.” He shook his head. “Alright. You’re no soldier. I can’t in good conscious ask you to go against the very ethics that saved the lives of my shipmates.”
“Thank you.” Julian nodded. “Will that be all?”
“You know, Doc…” Anson shrugged. “Never really cared much for the posh Alliance types, but you…” He gave a small salute as he headed for the door. “I think I like.”
He waited until the door had closed behind the man before exhaling. Julian caught himself on the edge of the desk as his knees went slightly weak. It took him a few moments to regain his calm. Then he took a deep breath, and went back to work.
Mateo tried not to show how nervous he was as he looked through the window at where the doctor was operating on a member of the crew. The unfortunate truth was the doctor was still something of an unknown quantity, but it was either let him work or let his crew die. Engineer Merue lay on the table, sedated but conscious. He couldn’t hear what was being said, but the engineer was occasionally responding to questions the doctor asked.
It was nearly an hour before the doctor finished. He had Merue sit up, and then finally stand, running the scanner over him repeatedly. Then he smiled, and Merue smiled back. Mateo took that as his cue to request entrance. The doctor had Merue sit back down before indicating he could enter. “How are you feeling?”
“Bit weird.” Merue shrugged. “Doc says that’s normal, my body just getting used to things, and within a few days my nerves will adapt.”
“You will need to return several times over those next few days for calibration.” The doctor scanned him again. “Also, please do not stick magnets to your arm until the internal system has finished settling.”
“How’d you know I was gonna…” Merue narrowed his eyes at the doctor.
“Everyone who gets a cybernetic implant tries sticking magnets to it.” The doctor rolled his eyes. “It is literally the first thing they told me when I walked into the class on cybernetic implants.”
He laughed. “When can he be cleared for duty?”
“Not until the internal system has finished and I’ve run at least the first round of calibrations.” Doctor Jakob shook his head. “After that, he may return with light duty restrictions. How long that lasts depends upon how well he follows medical instruction.”
“So, the rest of his life, got it.” Mateo nodded. “And the others?”
“I have prepped for the next two operations. Yasir is a considerably more complicated situation, thus I have chosen to devote the entirety of tomorrow to his operation. Jenna has agreed to assist me, abet somewhat nervously.”
“How many of these have you done before, Doc?” Merue asked.
“You would be my third such operation.”
“Wait…” Mateo blinked. “You’ve only done this twice before?”
“On living humans, yes. If we count animal companions, this would be my nineteenth operation.”
“Oh.” He gave the doctor another appraising look. “Don’t mind me asking, how old are you, Doc?”
“I…” The young man blinked as though surprised at the question. Then he tilted his head. “What is today’s date, Captain?”
It was Mateo’s turn to blink. “Uh…” He provided the date.
“I am still twenty-two.” Doctor Jakob smiled, his face oddly pleased.
Mateo laughed. “You seem surprised by that.”
“I had just turned twenty-two when I…” He shrugged. “Met Kyle. It has been an eventful year, Captain.”
“True words, Doc.” Mateo nodded. “True words. I’ll get out of your way.”
Jakob barely made it two steps into the quarters before Kyle grabbed him and pressed him against the wall. He kissed the other man hungrily. “I missed you today.”
Slowly, Jakob’s body relaxed against his own as his lover smiled at him. “We both had duties to attend.
“True…” Kyle brushed his hair back before nibbling on his neck. “Did it go well?”
“The operations were successful. I —”
“Good.” Kyle kissed him again, cutting him off. “Means we can stay on, part of the crew.” Kyle drew back, smiling widely. “Thank you.” He leaned in to kiss Jakob again, his tongue dancing in Jakob’s mouth. “You’re amazing, you know that right?” He leaned his forehead against Jakob’s before moving his hand beneath the top of Jakob’s uniform. With a smooth motion, he peeled the tunic from the smaller man, then set about kissing him again.
The next time he came up for air, he led Jakob toward the bed. He barely had to put pressure on Jakob’s shoulder before the smaller man sent to his knees. Kyle bit back a groan as he felt Jakob’s lips around his cock. He tangled his fingers in Jakob’s hair to guide the motions.
Then he stepped back and pulled Jakob upright before shoving him down on the bed. His lover moaned when Kyle entered him, then began moving to match his rhythm. He kissed Jakob’s shoulder. They had their shifts now, true, but off duty Jakob belonged to no one but him. That thought alone was enough to take him over the edge, and he only barely managed to avoid collapsing atop his lover.
Gently, he pulled Jakob into his arms, holding the smaller man’s wrist as they lay together on the bed. He kissed Jakob’s fingers. “I haven’t forgotten about taking you to the beach. As soon as we’ve rejoined the fleet, we can take some shore leave. Live it up for a few days.”
“I would enjoy the opportunity.” Jakob smiled up at him.
“Just you and me and the warm sun, love. It’ll be great.” He drifted off to sleep, smiling at the thought.
“I talked to Yasir.” Julian turned to see the CSO. Anson nodded to him. “He said you told him he could go back on duty but something told me I should verify that.”
This time, his smile was genuine. Yasir had spent the entirety of the operation worrying about leaving his squad shorthanded and not being able to watch their backs. Specifically, the back of a security officer named Rhonda. He’d even babbled about it under anesthetic, and based on Jenna’s occasionally snickering he was pretty sure by now Rhonda knew all about it. “Two of coming by for tests, then if the tests check out he can return to light duty, with specific restrictions.”
“You should —”
“I will ensure you have a copy of said restrictions.” Julian inclined his head. “The most pertinent is that until the unit can be properly shielded he is to avoid exposure to any kind of photonic radiation.”
“You mean he can’t wear armor with a field generator.” Anson winced. “Oh, he is not going to be happy about that.”
“The unit is interfaced with his central nervous system. Disrupting the signal could create electrical impulses, creating a catastrophic system failure throughout most of his —”
“He’d get fried.” Anson rubbed his forehead.
“Yes.” Julian nodded. “Fortunately, shielding the unit is a simple procedure, I simply do not have the materials necessary on hand to complete the operation.”
“I think I owe you an apology, Doc.”
Julian blinked. “I am uncertain as to what lead you to that conclusion.”
“The other day when I…” Anson exhaled. “When I played that little game of ‘lets test the new guy’.” He looked around the infirmary. “Considering we pretty much kidnapped and press-ganged you into service, you’ve been…” He smiled. “So, I’m apologizing. And I’m thanking you for taking care of my guys. They uh…” He shook his head. “They got beat up pretty bad. Glad you were willing to patch them up.”
“May I inquire as to what occurred?” Julian raised an eyebrow. “I saw the injury list, I simply —”
“Border shifted. Suddenly our refueling station was in Alliance space.” Anson sighed. “With the blockade in place, the Alliance couldn’t afford to leave us an asset, so they hit the station. We were closest, tried to get our people out.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Alliance had boots on deck before we even got there. We were having ourselves an unpleasant little slugging match through the station when a cruiser came out of nowhere and…” He trailed off
“You had to leave people behind.” Julian’s voice was quiet.
“Don’t think less of the captain for it, Doc.” Anson twitched a shoulder. “He had to save the ones he could. Civilians first. My soldiers knew what they signed up for.” He straightened. “I shouldn’t take up any more of you…” Anson looked around. “Actually, are you finished up here?”
“Yes, actually. I was just about to —”
“You were just about to come with me to the rec room and have some downtime.”
He tried to control the rising sensation of panic at the idea of being taken to a rec room. “That’s —”
“Come on, Doc.” Anson smiled. “I owe you a drink or ten.”
“I appreciate the offer, but…” He slowly shook his head and tried to keep his breathing under control. “What I need right now is a good nap.”
“Next time then.” Anson smacked him on the shoulder before leaving the infirmary.
As soon as he was gone Julian leaned against the wall and tried to get his breathing back under control. He was Doctor Jakob Narel. This wasn’t the Silverfish. It took him a few moments of repeating that in his head before the fear began to fade. He took a couple more breaths, then put the last datapad away.