Alpha shift was still minutes away from starting, but arriving early for work had meant that Luca Sheppard already had his first patient of the day. The ship’s Chief Operations Officer had been beamed in directly from a morning game of football on the holodeck to one of the main sickbay’s private exam rooms, and moments later, Sheppard was tending to him, tricorder in hand.
“I’m almost impressed, Commander. You managed to break both your lateral and your medial calf bones but not your shin bone,” Sheppard noted as he finished his scan of the Ardanan. It was a memorable first impression. “Were you playing football with the safeties off?”
The vital sign monitor pulsed softly in the background, showing a lowered blood pressure and an elevated pulse, typical for a traumatic injury. Apart from a few organs in atypical places, brain chemistry differences, and two more bones, Ardanans were nearly identical to Humans, one of many species seeded across the galaxy by the ancient progenitor race. Otherwise, Sheppard might have thought he was a Human from the Middle East or North Africa with his bronze skin and warm, amber-colored eyes.
Commander Larus Alesser started to smirk, but that evaporated into a grimace when Sheppard touched his leg. “No, but the safety protocols weren’t able to prevent the Chief Science Officer’s cleat from connecting with the back of my leg.”
“I would not want to play against you, then, Commander,” Sheppard said, glancing over at Commander Benjamin Walker, the aforementioned Chief Science Officer. Both of them looked out of place against the gleaming white bulkheads of sickbay in sweat and grass-stained athletic gear.
“Actually, we were on the same team, Dr. Sheppard,” Walker replied sheepishly. Like Alesser, he was young, athletic, and classically handsome, but Walker had an English accent, pale, nearly-white skin, and blue eyes. Walker was also a good twenty-five to thirty centimeters taller than Alesser, so Sheppard couldn’t help but imagine that the shorter man simply escaped notice until he was trampled underfoot.
“That’s… unfortunate,” Sheppard replied, clearing his throat to avoid laughing. He glanced from Commander Walker to the door. “I can take it from here, Commander.”
Walker chuckled nervously. “Right. I should get ready for my shift, anyway… Again, very sorry, Larus. I’ll try to get some practice in before our next match,” he said, seeming to flatten himself up against the perimeter of the room as he edged away.
“‘You’d better, Benjamin,” Alesser said with a laugh. He hissed with pain when he moved his leg slightly. “That’s something you can fix with one of those magic wands, right?” he asked, nodding over to a tray holding several medical implements.
“Lucky for you, it should be a relatively quick procedure, yes. I need to determine if there’s any other internal trauma like nerve damage or internal bleeding before we proceed, but this is a pretty common injury,” Sheppard confirmed. He turned to load a hypospray with a mild analgesic. “This will help with the pain.”
Alesser nodded. “Thanks, doc. Lucky me to be in your capable hands,” he said, brown eyes scanning him without a lot of subtlety as Sheppard reached over to administer the hypo directly to the other man’s neck.
The young doctor was pretty used to getting that sort of look from many species and most genders. Still, as Alesser started to smirk, Sheppard found himself doubting that it was really about an appreciation of his physical appearance and instead merely confirmation of the gossip that the Chief Operations Officer had a propensity for flirting with anything that moved.
The doors to the exam room opened again to admit Sheppard’s fellow lieutenant commander, the ship’s head nurse. Melandis Vircar was Risian, another one of the multitudes of Humanoid species that were nearly identical outwardly to Humans. Still, the gold disk she wore in the center of her forehead set her apart culturally. When Melandis drew Alesser’s eyes away, Sheppard became even more confident that his hypothesis had been confirmed.
“I was just about to call you. Double compound fracture,” Sheppard explained. He folded the tricorder back up and used the console above the bed’s head to turn on the overhead scanning cluster to get a full radiographic scan of Alesser’s body.
Melandis nodded. “Ouch,” she empathized. “Should I prep surgery, doctor?”
“Surgery?!” Alesser asked, his eyes going wide.
Sheppard shook his head, putting his hand on Alesser’s shoulder to keep him from moving. “No, there doesn’t look to be any serious nerve or blood vessel damage. I do want to do a femoral nerve block before osteoregeneration, though,” he said, looking between the results of the scan being holographically projected next to the bad and Melandis.
Melandis nodded and went over to the supply cabinet to retrieve a neuroinhibitor, a flat silver disk used to block the electrical signals passing through a particular nerve to perform a nerve block without drugs.
Sheppard pushed the fabric of Alesser’s shorts up slightly so that he could attach the neuroinhibitor directly to the Ardanan’s skin, right above the knee on his inner thigh. This location would allow it to interact with the femoral nerve, which ran very near the large bone in his thigh. The device adhered gently to the skin, and the computer automatically added a display above the bed showing his neurotransmitter levels.
“This will feel unusual, at first,” Sheppard warned before turning it on. It hummed slightly for a moment as it acquired the correct nerve, and then the noise lessened.
“What do you—Oh, I see,” Alesser said, looking rather squirmy after a few seconds. It could be very disorienting to suddenly lose contact with one of your limbs as he had just done. “Definitely better than the broken bone feeling, though.”
“You need to stay as still as you can unless you’d like to be shorter on one side,” Sheppard noted as he reviewed the scans. Melandis handed him the osteorenegerator. It worked with the same principles as a dermal regenerator, but the radiation stream was more directed and designed to target the cells that grew bone material.
“I guess I better behave myself then,” Alesser drawled, prompting the doctor and nurse to share a bemused look.
“I can handle this. I’m sure you’ve got to take report from the night shift. Stay on the comm, though,” Sheppard said to Melandis.
The nurse nodded. “Sure. The world would come to a standstill if I didn’t appropriately log and acknowledge the delta charge nurse’s notes for the zero patients that he had overnight,” she said, with a wink, before leaving the exam room.
“Is she single?” Alesser asked, about seven nanoseconds after the doors closed again.
“You would have to ask her that. Risians are very upfront about such things,” Sheppard said, flicking the osteoregenerator on and off momentarily. “Let’s get started.”
Still in his workout attire, the Ardanan smelled like fresh sweat and chlorophyll, the latter being a detail of the holodeck that Sheppard had never understood and the former being slightly distracting against the otherwise sterile backdrop of sickbay. Every species’ unique biochemistry smelled different, which in this case was some amalgam of sea salt, oranges, and something else unidentifiable but not unpleasant. As a scientist, Sheppard felt that he shouldn’t find such things either pleasant or unpleasant, so he was annoyed that his physical form interjected opinions like that.
Alesser didn’t grimace this time when his leg was pushed flat and managed not to move as Sheppard carefully and methodically ran the medical tool along first the radial side of his leg and then the lateral side. Sheppard’s eyes moved between the scanner readings being projected next to the bed and the man’s leg to make sure it was healing correctly. The effect of the radiation knitting the bone back together usually caused a tingling, uncomfortable situation in the affected area. Still, the commander gave few clues about how it made him feel other than his fingertips flushing white as he gripped the biobed mattress.
“Do you play, Doctor?” Alesser asked. “Surely, you must.”
Sheppard gave him a blank look; when he failed to make the connection between the commander’s injury and the question’ it struck him as something odd, possibly even inappropriate when combined with Alesser’s flirtatious tone of voice. He’d been in lots of situations both in his ten-year career as a nurse and during his recent physician’s residency where otherwise-routine medical interactions became unnecessarily sexually charged, just because of the nature of one-on-one interaction.
“You are very athletic, and your accent sounds European. Surely you’ve played football?”
“Oh, of course. Yes. I am from Italy. Everyone there plays football,” the doctor replied, chuckling as he returned to his task. “I have five younger brothers, which meant that we were already half of a team.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” Sheppard replied, not wanting to go into the story about how his parents were devout, conservative Catholics who didn’t believe in contraception. They were absolute anachronisms in the twenty-fourth century, and so Sheppard running off to join Starfleet had created almost as much of a shock as his eventual marriage to a man.
“Well, I’m obviously in need of some pointers. With all of that experience, maybe you can help me sharpen my game,” Alesser suggested.
Sheppard chuckled. “I can’t guarantee I’ll actually be able to show you anything you don’t already know. I don’t play very often anymore,” Sheppard replied with an absent smile. His husband didn’t particularly like team sports, so it was usually something like tennis or handball that just the two of them could do alone when they did engage in them. It didn’t seem worth mentioning to the lascivious commander. He paused in his work, turning his scanner back on to check Alesser’s progress.
“Ah, well, all the more reason to make a new friend then, Doctor,” Alesser replied, with a Cheshire grin. It was hard to argue with that; he and Lancaster had tended to be pretty insular other than a small group of friends during their time on Earth. Still, he wasn’t naïve enough to think that there wasn’t some ulterior motive to the invitation, whether romantic or political.
“Fair point. So, why football in the first place?” Sheppard asked as he started a second pass.
“You mean because I’m Ardanan? You’re right that it’s unusual. We don’t actually have ‘sports’ in our culture. We emphasize individual fitness but eschew competition,” Alesser replied. Sheppard didn’t know that about Ardanans; he merely meant that with so many options to choose from, why pick that sport specifically?
“‘We’ excluding you, it seems.”
“I find competition very stimulating. But really, it’s just because the chief science officer invited me to join him with some of his people this morning, and it had the additional benefit of promoting collegiality. Being injured by him should earn me even more political capital,” the commander added.
“Sounds more like a show of dominance than of collegiality,” Sheppard remarked. He shouldn’t have said it, but he’d found himself deploying a sharp wit that mirrored his husband’s the longer they were together, and sometimes it just happened without him being able to stop himself.
Alesser smirked, his eyes surveying Sheppard again. “Maybe.”
Sheppard cleared his throat. “Anyway… It’s good to hear that Commander Walker is a good sport. Try moving your leg now,” he added, shutting off the medical tool.
“A good sport and an attractive one. That seems to have been a prerequisite for assignment to this ship, I’ve noticed,” Alesser said. He moved his leg around and then stretched his arms above his head in an almost leonine way. “I suppose the first officer had a type in mind when he put this crew together.”
“That seems unlikely,” Sheppard said, shaking his head. He nearly rolled his eyes, too, as Alesser clearly included himself in that category. The observation wasn’t totally unwarranted; everyone on the Arcturus was in top physical form, but Alesser’s reasoning was wrong: they were all assigned to an elite unit, so of course they kept themselves in shape.
The Ardanan’s brown eyes scanned him again, with a total lack of subtlety. “I can see what he sees in you, at least, besides the bedside manner, of course.”
Sheppard frowned and turned to place the osteoregenerator back into the supply cabinet. Alesser knew more about him than he’d let one, as he’d not mentioned his relationship to the first officer, but that was hardly surprising given his position as Chief Operations Officer. It was his job to know everything about the Arcturus and her crew.
“That’s not a particularly collegial thing to say, Commander.”
“No offense meant. I sometimes forget how Humans are squeamish about frank observations of physical beauty,” Alesser replied with a shrug.
Sheppard blushed slightly at the implied comment on his lack of evolution, with a seed planted that made him wonder if it were true. After all, he and his husband had met a decade ago in an infirmary on Deep Space 12. Who was he to shame Alesser for being flirtatious in what was admittedly an intimate moment? Still, the fact that Alesser knew full and well that he wasn’t available struck Sheppard as disrespectful, if not to him but to the man he loved.
“Yes, we tend to be a little more conservative than some other cultures in that regard,” he said, brushing off the comment and eager to move on. “How do you feel?”
“Good as new, Doctor. Your hands were as capable as you advertised,” the operations officer said, with a chuckle, as he swung his legs over to the side of the bed before trying to stand up. The Ardanan winced, stumbling a little as he put weight on his foot.
Sheppard caught him, and Alesser braced himself with a hand on the doctor’s arm. They were far too close, and Sheppard regretted sending Melandis away.
“I was about to say that you should rest for another five minutes while the swelling around your nerves goes down,” he said, pointedly.
Obviously, as a doctor, he wasn’t pleased to see his patient nearly re-injure himself, but it was personally satisfying to see him taken down a peg. Before Alesser could react, the room’s lighting dimmed, and the alert lights started flashing red.
“All hands, this is the XO. Red Alert. Stand to battle stations,” came his husband’s voice over the intercom, which made Sheppard’s heart jump.
“I’ve got to get to the bridge, Doctor,” Alesser said, trying to stand again and getting the same result, which meant he was once again braced on Sheppard. The klaxon was sounding, and Alesser’s eyes went wide at not being able to make it to his duty station. Sheppard had seen that look before many times from Lancaster: fear at not being in control of the situation.
“Melandis, can you get back in here, please?” Sheppard asked, inclining his head a little to catch the attention of the intercom. A moment later, the ship’s head nurse entered the room. “Thanks. I need 15 CCs of asinolyathin, but I’m a little stuck,” Sheppard said, chuckling, as the Risian moved over to the dispensary console and produced the requested ampoule before slotting it into a hypospray.
“This isn’t funny. I have to get to my station,” Alesser insisted. Sheppard felt the ship drop out of warp, which wasn’t a great sign about what the next few minutes would be like.
“They can wait another thirty seconds. This will help speed up the recovery process. Lower right leg, please,” Sheppard ordered.
“Yes, Doctor,” the nurse replied, crouching down to inject the drug directly into Alesser’s formerly injured but still healing leg. She then stood up to help Sheppard get Alesser back up onto the biobed, making the commander produce something between a frown and a pout, but he didn’t challenge Sheppard’s decision further.
Sheppard stepped over to the dispensary console to replicate an operations gold uniform, complete with three silver pips and a commbadge, which he set on the biobed next to Alesser.
“By the time you change, you should be feeling well enough to get to the bridge, Commander. No running, though.”
“Got it. Thank you, Doctor,” Alesser replied, eyeing the uniform and then giving Sheppard a sheepish grin before the doctor and nurse left him alone in the exam room.
“He’s something else,” Sheppard muttered once the door had closed. He looked over at the head nurse. They were walking towards Anjar’s office, which became the medical command center during alert situations. “He asked if you were single, you know. Right before he mentioned how attractive Commander Walker was, hit on me, and then said that my husband selected this crew based on physical attraction,” he listed, ticking off those items on his fingers.
Melandis laughed. “That stacks up for the profile of an over-ambitious, over-sexed, over-confident bridge officer.”
“He’s definitely not doing anything to counter the gossip pool,” Sheppard agreed.
“Any hints on what this alert is about?” she asked.
“Not a clue,” Sheppard said, not bothering to try to claim that Lancaster never told him anything above his paygrade, even though it was true.
Through the transparent bulkheads of the chief medical officer’s office, he could see the medical status displays being projected. Many decks were flipping from yellow to green when they entered, signifying that the deck’s aid station had been crewed. Nearly every deck had at least one aid station, usually near the damage control locker, where the crew could go for help in the event of an emergency.
A few moments later, Dr. Alenis Anjar entered the office. Sheppard had served under the Bajoran neurosurgeon before, so it was nice to have a familiar face to ease a few of the teething problems that often came with figuring out a new ship, not to mention Sheppard’s first posting in space in almost four years.
“Nothing like starting the day off with a red alert. How are we doing?”
“We’ll be fully crewed in about… 30 seconds,” Sheppard replied, glancing at the monitor. “Main medical facilities are ready, and we’re just waiting on the aid stations.”
“Good. Shouldn’t give anything for the bridge to complain about,” Anjar replied. He leaned against his desk, arms crossed as he watched the display.
“Your tone is making me think we’re not about to have a mass casualty event,” Sheppard noted as he studied the Bajoran.
“Nope. Probably Not. Want to watch and see if the bridge crew are up to whatever your husband has cooked up for them, though?” Anjar replied. “Computer, bridge display.”