20 Our Beautiful Redemptions
“Doctor Salvatore.” Tom managed an amiable nod. Or at least tried to, while the doctor greeted him with a sweep of a medical tricorder wand.
“Mm hm. Evening, sir. Come on in. You can call me CT, by the way. Corbin Tibalt. Please, make yourself comfortable.” The doctor gestured for Tom to enter. “How's the shoulder? Would you care for something to drink?”
“No thanks. Shoulder's – tell you the truth I guess I got used to it. Must be on the mend. You said something about a matter of the crew, CT?”
The quarters stood nearly empty but for the furniture. An open suitcase rested on the main dining room table. It contained a half-built model ship nestled in foam; Tom recognized it as an ancient sailing vessel, a four-masted wooden Cutter. Of all the things one might bring on a starship test flight - a fragile, complicated project hardly seemed like a sound idea. What did that say about this doctor? Tom really had no idea. Which is why he was a pilot and not a ship's counselor. Or a diplomat.
“Two scotch glasses,” the doctor told the replicator. “With ice.” He took the rock glasses and produced a bottle of barrel-aged scotch from a rucksack. “Sir, how well do you know the crew?”
Tom declined the offer of a drink, and seated himself at the sofa, resting his posture more informally. “It's your quarters. Call me Tom. The crew? It depends. With regards to what, exactly?”
The doctor sat in the chair opposite. A fiftyish man of Greek ancestry, he spoke with the open flatness of his New England upbringing. A native Bostonian, he was well-traveled across the Federation as an itinerant Starfleet physician. Raised in a mission academy for orphans, Salvatore had joined Fleet Medical to spend most of his time in transit practicing exomedicine and participating in various Starfleet medical exchanges. While not nearly as far, or as fast as Tom had gone, Salvatore had been around the worlds, and then some. The doctor had even served in the Dominion War. Doctor Salvatore's service record had struck Tom as someone he would have liked to work under as a medic. When it came to dealing with humanoid crews, someone slightly less...digital. “Did you have something to report, CT?”
“In terms of physical
health, there aren't any problems to report.”
“I see. But in terms of mental health?”
“I have some concerns.” The doctor leaned back into his chair, sipped his scotch and watched Tom.
“Is this a psychological evaluation, Doctor?”
“Not at all. This is what we in the medical profession call having a drink. Go ahead. Computer, Miles Davis. Fifty decibels.”
The computer sounded and muted trumpet jazz began to filter softly through the room.
“Thanks, no. Was there anything else?”
“The crew's mental health. I thought you should know. They're ready. They are chomping at the bit to rescue Voyager. Not that you need to hear it from me, but - you made the right call. We're all behind you – in command, and in spirit.”
Tom sighed. “Actually – that's what I would call a pretty good diagnosis. To be honest, it's exactly what I needed to hear. I just didn't know it yet.”
“Well this physician didn't just fall off the turnip wagon,” CT smiled, and raised a toast.
Tom looked around the quarters. “Not exactly Starfleet medical, is it.”
“The cost of being a ship's officer. I don't mind. I pack light. A life on the move, that's for me.”
“Speaking of which – what do you call that?” Tom indicated the ship model in the suitcase.
“A hobby of mine. Model sailing ships. Starships in bottles. Classic aeronautical vessels. That kind of thing.”
“I did the same thing. When I was a kid.”
“A good ship is an idea. Same idea, big or small. But no two are quite alike.”
“Kind of a funny kit for a ship's officer, isn't it?”
“Takes my mind off my work,” the doctor shrugged. “You should see some of the looks I've gotten at customs checks.”
“Well for a traveling fleet doctor who builds ships in his spare time, you sure don't seem to accumulate much.”
The doctor smiled and sipped. Tom decided not to pry.
“Served on a planet in every sector in the Federation, ten planets in Beta quadrant, seven starships, thirty-seven hospitals and an interstellar generational biosphere. I don't plan on slowing down anytime soon.”
“Looks like pretty soon you'll be adding a new quadrant to that list.”
,” he smiled. “I'll be the only doctor in Starfleet with a thousand light-year house call.”
Tom thought of B'Elanna, and Miral. Lying there in coma, while he shared small talk with a crewmate.
The doctor must have registered his mood. “Sometimes – there's just nothing you can do, Tom. Nothing except feel for them. You can do that just as easily from here. They know
He considered this doctor. According to his service record, Salvatore had been married once. “If you don't mind my saying, Doctor, you seem pretty comfortable with fleet duty.”
“Yeah. But it wasn't always the case.” The doctor looked out the window at the streaming vortex, worlds fleeting past like so much warp trail dust. “Mala – that was my wife – she had a whole plan for us to settle down. On Earth.” He reminisced in momentary silence. “Even talked me into it.”
Tom sat silently while the doctor recalled his past. “She was a nurse, you know. We met in the aftermath of Wolf 359. On an emergency medical shuttle in high warp out of Regulus. Best damned nurse I'd ever seen in action. Taught me a thing or two about surviving days and nights of triage, with a smile for her patients that never left her face no matter how much blood she endured.” He refilled his glass. “Love, and duty – I just don't know if I have that in me again.”
The doctor watched Tom, lost in thoughts of his own.
“Life is transient,” the doctor continued. “A million things can go wrong. Most of it you can't control. But what you can control? You fight tooth and nail for.”
Tom roused from his sad reverie. “You lost her, didn't you.”
The doctor looked away and Tom had the impression he was only scratching the surface. “Shuttle accident on her way to a relief mission in the DMZ. I was already there, planet hopping and giving aid anywhere and everywhere I could – and making no friends on any side. She wanted to catch up with me there, though I insisted she stay at DS9. For all the good it did me.”
The doctor swigged his drink. “A Jem'Hadar attack wing just blew her shuttle out of the sky. No reason, no warning. No retribution. A humanitarian
mission.” He darkened. After a silent moment, he said, “Killing a Jem'Hadar is like turning off a machine. There's no revenge in it. No gratification. No greater good. There's nothing
, but emptiness.” He looked at Tom. “I've made my peace with that emptiness.”
“I'm...sorry,” said Tom.
– she had empathy. She cared
. Other nurses would just desensitize, but she never did. She empathized with each and every person under her care. It was a Herculean effort that made me feel like an amateur next to her. She was the best part of me. You probably know what I mean.”
Tom replied, ”In my case “empathy” isn't quite the word I'd use. More like, “outrage”. So tell me CT, do you ever think about, you know, doing it again? Starting a family?”
Salvatore swirled his ice lost in thought. “I didn't think so, but.... I'll face a Jem'Hadar shock troop with nothing but a well-charged phaser rifle. But kids? Scare the hell out of me.” The doctor reached for the bottle. “Mala's ova are still in cryo-storage though. Back in Boston. If I ever wanted a kid...that'd be...who I want. But I couldn't ask someone to carry it; and I sure don't want to hire someone. So I guess that's that.”
The doctor offered the bottle, but Tom declined again. Salvatore poured two glasses anyway. “A toast,” he said, putting the glass before Tom. “To our beautiful redemptions.”
Tom drank, and took a deep breath. He rose.
Doctor Salvatore followed suit. “As of now you are officially off duty. Regulations, Tom. Have a good night's sleep.” The doctor saw him to the door. “Captain.”
Tom hesitated, then nodded and left.