"Would ya just stop fussing over me woman? I'm fine!" Dex's words, though slightly slurred as a result of the stroke, rang clear through the medical ward. Jordan was unmoved as Dex tried to push past her in an attempt to rise from the bed. Standing in the door frame, Freya covered her mouth quickly to hide the chuckle.
With a kind but firm touch, Jordan pushed him back down and crossed her arms across her crest. "You will not get out of that bed until the doctors say you can!" He glared at the two of them and harrumphed before crossing his own arms.
Freya stepped forward, "glad to see you're awake Dex." She scooped his chart up and started skimming through it, avoiding his intense gaze.
"What's with the uniform change?" Dex asked, glancing over her traveling ensemble. "You going some where?"
"The surface. We arrived in orbit of Ne'Vha a few hours ago," Freya said, still skimming the chart. "I'll be escorting Lieutenant Ice and Commander Bonwick down to the hospital in the colony."
Jordan frowned, "has there been any change for Julian?"
Freya shook her head silently. "Well, looks like you'll be spared a trip after all Dex. But," she said quickly interrupting his renewed attempts to rise. "You'll need a lot of physical therapy to recover completely. The muscle stimulators we gave you will only last so long. Then the hard work begins."
"Can I take him home?" Jordan asked, gripping her husband's hand tightly.
"Not quite," Freya said, setting the chart back into the wall slot. "But soon I imagine, if he doesn't do anything too foolish to derail recovery," she added with a grin. "It'll take time Dex but in a few weeks, this will all be a distant memory. In the meantime, you are off-duty. Understood?" Though he grumbled and groused about it, Freya could see the tiredness in his eyes. "Okay, I better go. I just wanted to check in before I left."
"Be careful Freya," Jordan said as Freya turned to go. "I'm sure those doctors down there are great but we don't know anything about them really. So be careful down there."
"And you be careful up here," Freya said, thinking of all the strange engineering personnel that would be swarming the ship soon for the overhaul.
Captain Hunt stared out the window toward the sprawling space dock, wondering how much he could trust the people who would be fixing up his ship soon. It was more than his engineering team could manage alone, even if they had the resources, but it was hard to open those doors to people they barely knew.
"Robert?" Her voice was soft, edged with concern. She laid her cheek against his shoulder and waited, patiently, for him to turn toward her.
"You're not real," he said, not daring to pull his eyes from the space dock. Not daring to look at her long gone face.
"I'm here aren't I?" she whispered, running her fingers into his hair. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to feel her touch as it parted the thinning strands on his neck.
The clank of boot heals on the metal deck broke the spell, sending her away in a wisp. "No, you're not," Hunt said under his breath. He took a long breath and shook the memory of her away.
"Captain Robert Hunt I presume?" Hunt turned on his ankle to greet the newcomer. "My name is Chief Garr't – I oversee all our major repairs here." Unlike the others they'd seen so far, Garr't was neither human nor Quuvarii. His green tinted skin had a scaly, reptilian quality to it and his coal black eyes were tiny and sunken, giving him a snake like face.
"Pleasure to meet you," Captain Hunt said, extending his hand. The alien looked at it curiously for a moment before recognition dawned and he returned the gesture.
"Such an odd gesture, the shaking of hands. I've seen only a few of the humans continue it over the years," Garr't said. He mused briefly before holding up the pad in his hand. "I have the results of our initial scans of your ship to go over. We've highlighted what we consider the most important repairs...." he paused and looked down the hall anxiously.
"Is there a problem Chief?"
"No, only I usually do this with the ship's engineer present. We find it saves time and general bickering in the long run."
"Sorry Captain! Sorry!" Jordan jogged toward them. "I was in the medical ward – Dex woke up finally, and then he tried to force his way out of bed when I told him about this. You know how he is," she stopped, finally seeing the unfamiliar alien. "Oh, sorry. Hello," she said, thrusting her hand out to Garr't.
"Chief Garr't, this is Lieutenant Jordan Dexter – my acting Chief Engineer. Lieutenant, Chief Garr't will be overseeing our repairs," Captain Hunt said as they shook hands. "Shall we Chief?"
"Of course," Garr't said. "Naturally there are several main systems that need maintenance and repair – I admit we were fascinated by your vessel. Not many generational ships come through here. It's clear you've encountered many species over the course of your travels – we only directly recognized about fifty percent of the technology." With that opening, the pair of engineers were engrossed with each other, leaving Captain Hunt to trail behind with only half a mind on them.
"That was you once," she said, slipping her hand into his and matching his pace. "The eager young engineer who could talk for hours about engines and testric fields." Hunt faltered a step at her materialization but the pair took little notice of him. "Do you remember him? The boy I fell for? I do – back before...well, just before." Robert glanced over at her, hoping for a glimpse of light in her crystal blue eyes but she had turned away from him. For a moment he was sure he saw a tear slide down her cheek but that seemed impossible. Could ghosts cry?
He was still musing on that possibility when Jordan drew his attention back into the present, "right Captain?" she asked, smiling at him. Clearly she hadn't noticed his inattention yet.
"I trust your judgment in these matters Lieutenant," he said, flexing his fingers where her hand had just been. "If you'll both excuse me, I need to speak with Doctor Ryan before she leaves. I assume the two of you can assess the ship."
"Of course Captain," Chief Garr't said, feigning confidence. In fact, this was all highly unusual to him but he'd never dealt with humans outside of the colony. Beside him the lieutenant was nodding awkwardly as well, giving her commander reassurances despite her general uncertainty.
Hunt either didn't notice the falsities or didn't care because he nodded and spun around to march away in the other direction.
Freya double checked Bonwick's dressings one more time before nodding to the waiting nurse. "Tell Lieutenant Franklin I'll be ready in ten minutes please." She'd already watched as they guided Julian's bed toward the hangar bay and now only had to grab her gear and follow her patients.
His anxious fidgeting drew her attention. She'd seen the young man hovering over the commander's bed before but hadn't taken the time to speak to him yet. "Will she be okay?" he asked, just as Freya grabbed her bag from the lockers. "Will my mother be okay?" When she caught his eye, she saw unshed tears at the brim, threatening to spill at any moment.
"I don't know," Freya replied honestly. "Her injuries were..."
"Extensive. I know," he said, cutting her off. "I... I've come before but never know what to say to her. We haven't really spoken much in the last year."
"You're only seventeen, do you not still live with her?" Freya asked, unable to squelch her curiosity.
He shook his head, "I left after the rebellion started. Let's just say we didn't see eye to eye on most things. She wanted me to hate you," he grimaced as the words left his mouth. "Not you specifically but..."
"I understand," Freya said. "Has anyone explained her condition to you?" He shook his head quickly. "She was burned, quite badly, as I'm sure you know. We've had her sedated so she could heal. However, her body is now fighting an infection where we used new skin grafts."
"She's rejecting the grafts then?" he asked.
Freya nodded appreciatively. "In a manner of speaking, yes. It's possible that we can get the infection under control but if we can't...."
"She could die," he concluded, nodding slowly as he absorbed this knowledge. "Thank you doctor – for doing everything you can to save her even though..."
"Everyone who comes through here belongs to someone – and deserves our best effort," Freya said, reaching out to lay a comforting hand on his arm. "Personnel transports should begin in a day or two – you should be able to come see her then. If you're interested, I'll make sure you have priority? Your name is Jake right?"
"Yes, thank you Doctor, I'll let you know," he turned and practically ran from the medical ward.
Freya followed him out, glancing the way he'd gone briefly before turning toward the lifts. She barely made it three steps before Captain Hunt fell into step beside her. "It's getting worse," he said, his voice low.
"I told you it would," Freya didn't need to ask to what he was referring. "You should have come in for a full scan as soon as the symptoms began."
"I don't need a lecture Doctor," Hunt protested, glancing around him as they walked.
"Robert, listen to me. You have a tumor in your brain – I don't know how big it is or if it can be treated. I only know it's there now and it wasn't there six months ago. It's going to get worse if you don't let us do a proper exam and begin some sort of treatment."
"That sounds an awful lot like a lecture," Hunt said as they approached the lifts. "When will you be back from the surface?"
"Will you let me examine your brain? If so, I'm back already..." Freya said with a small smile.
"When you get back from settling your patients in," Hunt said. "I'll submit to the doctor's orders then."
Freya narrowed her eyes suspiciously for a moment but nodded. "Keep taking the medicine – hopefully it will keep the symptoms at bay for a few days longer." A team of space dock engineers glanced their way, accompanied by one of their own. After exchanging nods, Freya looked anxiously toward the Captain. "Are we sure about this?"
Hunt watched them silently for several seconds before nodding. "It's what needs to be done. We can't keep limping through space indefinitely. Safe travels doctor."
As soon as she stepped out of the lift, another set of footsteps joined hers. "You disappeared this morning again," Meng said, struggling to appear casual.
"I had to pack," Freya said tapping the duffel bag that hung off her shoulder. "I'm going to the surface – as I'm sure you know." Meng nodded but said nothing more as they closed in on the hangar bay. "I'll be back in a few days." She hesitated just outside the double doors and turned toward him suddenly. "Keep an eye on the Captain for me..." she said, her voice low. Before he could reply, she triggered the door sensor and took long strides toward the shuttles.
Meng, not to be deterred so easily, jogged after her. "The captain? Why?"
Freya plastered a fake smile on her face and shrugged. "Just because of the refit – it's going to make him crazy having all these aliens poking at his ship." She waved to Lieutenant Franklin and then climbed into the shuttle, stowing her medical gear and duffel in the forward compartment. As she turned to check on her patients, Meng followed her in. "What are you doing?"
"Oh I'm coming with you," he said, a mischievous smile playing across his lips as he dropped into the pilot's chair.
"No, you're not," Freya said. "See the cramped quarters? Room for two patients, a doctor and a pilot. So unless you're critically injured..."
"I'm your pilot," he said as Lieutenant Franklin poked her head through the hatch. "We're just about set Lieutenant."
"Very good, safe travels. Watch the landing Commander," she warned. Meng's hands were already moving across the control panel as he powered up the shuttle and prepared for their flight.
Freya looked between the pair of them, confusion etched across her face. "You don't know how to fly though..."
"Oh he can fly this bucket just fine Doctor. Don't worry, you're in good hands," Lieutenant Franklin said with a reassuring smile.
"Fly? Yes. Land? Ehh...." Meng glanced over his shoulder at them and shrugged casually.
The Lieutenant chuckled. "He was an ace student – don't let him fool you," she said before grabbing the hatch and closing it for them with a loud hiss.
"Oh he rarely does..." Freya muttered to the sealed door. "So, flying lessons then?" she asked as she checked over Bonwick's vitals and tugged carefully at the straps.
"You weren't the only one who couldn't sleep," Meng said. "You about done back there?" Freya gave Julian's straps a final tug and then nodded before climbing into the seat beside him. "Control, this is Pod One – permission to disembark?"
After a brief pause, the final red light on the panel switched to green. "Granted Pod One. Fair winds Commander," Captain Hunt's voice replied. "See you in a couple days." In front of them, the metal barrier that separated the bay from space began to creak open, revealing the curve of the planet below and the massive metal cages of the space dock.
As the pod slid out of the bay, Freya noticed dozens of smaller vessels darting between the grid arms at the port, no doubt shuttling engineers to and from the vessels in need of repairs. "Wow," Meng said, watching the scene unfold as he guided the pod away from the safety of Unity. A half dozen ships, all of them a small fraction of Unity's size, were docked or waiting for instruction. They skimmed past in silence, both absorbed in the massive operation and their own thoughts.
Finally, as the space dock slipped beyond their view ports, Freya slid her medical kit out from under the chair and loaded an injector. "Here, you'll need this," she said, holding it up for him to see.
"What is it?" Meng asked.
"The gravity on the surface is heavier than that on the ship and the atmosphere has a slightly varied chemical make up then ours. This," she said, jiggling the injector, "is to counteract the body's reaction to environmental changes."
Meng nodded and twisted his head to expose a small section of his neck for her to administer the drug. "Will everyone have to take this?"
"Yes, unless they want to feel nauseous, light-headed and stumble for the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. If we went planet-side more often, it probably wouldn't be necessary," Freya said. She returned the empty injector to her medical kit and then moved back to the rear of the shuttle.
Meng swiveled around in his chair and watched her check over her patients again. "So, it occurs to me that maybe I should be offended – or at least taking a hint – from your morning disappearing acts."
"I told you, I had to pack," she said, glancing his way briefly.
"Mmhmm, yeah I know that for this morning. But you've done this every morning," he pointed out. "Is there something..."
"I couldn't sleep," Freya said quickly, cutting him off. "I can't sleep. And I'm not going to waste my time staring at the ceiling."
"So that's it? You just can't sleep? Nothing more?" Meng asked, the picture of calm.
Freya nodded weakly, her hand straying to her stomach as a twinge of nausea took root. "What else would it be?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know Freya. I never know with you." Meng said with a shrug. "Truth be told, I'm not sure I know you at all some times."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Freya asked, her face twisting in anger. Meng held up his hands defensively and shook his head, trying to drop the subject. Though part of her wanted to push the issue, wanted to trigger the inevitable fight, she closed her eyes and slid down the wall. "Do you remember what we were doing before the first time we...." she trailed off, a tiny smile on her face as the memory came back to her.
Meng, though startled by the topic shift, merely shrugged. "Not really."
"We were arguing – about the massacre in bay twelve. All those civilians, and children," Freya swiped at her cheek as a few tears started to fall. "I was angry, so angry and I blamed you."
"Well I was to blame so it was justified," Meng said as he sat down on the deck across from her.
"No, you weren't really but that's not the point. The next time it happened – do you remember?"
"What we were doing before hand? No I don't really," Meng said, confused.
"We were arguing. Again. And the next time, and the next time until it became habit," Freya chuckled sadly. "Don't you see Meng?"
"See what Freya? That we argue?"
Freya shook her head, "we used each other as an outlet for our emotions. It was easy, it was convenient. It wasn't supposed to be anything more."
"But it is!" Meng said, sliding closer to her and grabbing her hands. "Maybe it started off how you said but that was then. And now..."
"And now – I'm not ready," Freya whispered. She looked over his shoulder toward Julian's prone form.
Meng recoiled from her after following her gaze. "Because of him?" he asked, jumping to his feet. "How can you still feel anything for him Freya?"
"I don't!" Freya shouted, getting to her feet. "I don't FEEL anything for him but h-he..." she trailed off, unsure of the right words.
"He destroyed you Freya. And he killed your best friend and you're letting him..."
Freya's eyes grew wide as she looked from Julian to Meng, "what did you just say?"
Meng's face, usually the picture of calm and serenity, fell as he realized what he'd said. What he'd done. Freya slid back to the floor in a heap, an anguished sob escaping her lips. "Freya, I - I'm sorry. I didn't want..."
"It's not possible. He - he wouldn't..." Even as she protested she knew she was wrong. She looked past Meng toward Julian's broken body and shuddered. The Julian she knew - her Julian - wasn't there anymore.
She felt his hand on her shoulder but didn't turn to face him, her gaze was transfixed as thoughts tumbled through her head in a dizzying blur. "I'm sorry Freya. I am so sorry." Meng leaned closer, ready to envelope her in his arms but she recoiled, twisting toward the tiny bathroom as the nausea finally overwhelmed her. Meng jumped aside at the last moment, hovering awkwardly as she threw up her meager breakfast. "You okay?"
Freya shook her head slowly, letting the wave of nausea pass before slumping back. "No, no I'm not," she said, refusing to meet his eyes. Despite his silence, she could feel his steady gaze watching her. Silently she wished he were back on Unity, far from here where she could continue to avoid these awkward moments. "I'm pregnant Meng," she said, training her eyes on a divot in the bulkhead.
The silence that followed her revelation was deafening and unnerving. When she finally looked up, Meng was grinning broadly, unable to hold back the sudden swell of emotion he felt. His smile faltered when their eyes locked and then faded completely. "You're not happy about this," he concluded.
Freya shook her head, "as I said, I'm not ready." She carefully pulled herself up, resting briefly against the wall to recover her balance. Meng's usual emotional shroud had returned and his face was a mask once more. If she looked hard enough she could probably discern the emotions simmering just beneath the surface but he didn't give her the chance. Without another word, he returned to the pilot's seat and focused his energy on the flight.
"We'll be landing in fifteen minutes," he announced a moment later without looking back.
Though he couldn't see her, Freya nodded in response before turning her attention to her patients. Fifteen minutes. She could handle fifteen more minutes. As if sensing her desperation for distraction, the monitor attached to Bonwick began wailing. The incessant beeps echoed off the walls of the tiny pod until Freya bullied it into silence. "Meng! Hand me my medical bag," Freya said, staggering
toward Bonwick's side.
"What's the matter?" he asked, making no move toward the bag stowed near his feet.
"The bag Meng!" Freya shouted, pressing her fingers against Bonwick's neck. No pulse. She looked back at Meng expectantly but his eyes were fixed on Bonwick's failing body. His expression, so capable of warmth and love, was icy as he stared at her. "Meng," Freya spoke softly, as if approaching a wild animal, "she's a horrible person. She is, there's no denying that. But there is a seventeen year old boy on Unity who just wants to see his mother again. And I want to be able to tell him I did everything I could to make that happen."
Meng, though ravaged by memories of his crumbled, broken father, nodded silently and reached for the bag. "What can I do?" he asked as he held it out to her.
"Call the hospital, tell them one of the patients has coded and to have personnel standing by when we land. And get us there faster," Freya said, rummaging around in the bag. "Much faster," she muttered under her breath.
"Patient is forty-one year old human, female," the nurse said, shouting over the chaos of transporting her from the roof landing pad to the unit. "Suffering secondary infection following skin grafts to treat severe plasma burns. Cardiac activity ceased...." she trailed off, looking toward Freya expectantly.
Freya glanced at her chron, "twelve minutes ago," she said meekly. Across the bed, Doctor Azael's eyebrows shot up. "She has a son, Jake," Freya said, pleadingly. "It'll take at least an hour to get him here..." She couldn't finish her thought but they all knew.
Meng, who had been standing in the corner uselessly while they attempted to revive Aribeth Bonwick, caught her eyes and nodded. Without a word, he ran back toward the roof where the pod, and Julian, had been left behind just minutes before. "Pod One to Unity, come in."
"Go ahead One," replied a static filled voice.
"You need to get Jake Bonwick on a shuttle immediately," Meng said, slumping back into the seat. He was still there, staring out across the colony, when the two medics came for Julian Ice. They may have said something to him, he may have even grunted some reply, but Meng made no attempt to move until Freya slid into the seat beside him. "He should be on his way," he said, glancing over at her questioningly. "Will she make it?" he asked, when she offered no immediate reply.
Freya shook her head. "She's hooked up to machines to keep her breathing. But after he comes..." she trailed off.
"After he says goodbye," Meng said, filling the silence. She said nothing, but she didn't have to. Without a word, she left the shuttle, walking slowly back toward the hospital interior. Every step she took seemed to require sheer force of will to keep moving forward and occasionally she'd stop, as if to catch her breath before pushing on. He wanted to summon her back. Or better yet, run towards her and
scoop her up to relieve her burden but she wouldn't welcome him. Not now. With a heavy sigh, he turned his attention to the controls. The door sealed closed with a mournful hiss. "Goodbye," he muttered, as the pod lifts off from the roof.