And here we are, on the first part of Chapter 20
! I'd first like to thank Gul Re'jal
and Lil Black Dog
from Ad Astra for beta-reading this scene for me and helping me pinpoint some of the problems I was having with it.
For those of you who are new to The Thirteenth Order
, you can find the entire rest of the novel-in-progress at this link
. New readers are just as welcome as old ones!
If anyone has read my short story "Shared Practices," you may recognize the events here. These are indeed the same events, seen from Spirodopoulos' point of view.
The Andorian woman was positively livid
, both literally and figuratively, fueled by a combination of insult and injury. The instant she laid eyes on Spirodopoulos, she lunged forward as if to try to jump down off of the biobed. The Cardassian nurse tried—albeit from just beyond arm’s length—to warn her against it, but it was only when Spirodopoulos said, “Hold on
a minute, Petty Officer!” that she went still.
One antenna aimed at the human; the other pointed at the nurse like the business end of a rifle, both stretched taut and quivering with fury. “You need to tell that…doctor
to hold on!” zh’Thessel snapped, jabbing a thumb at Istep, making his title sound for all the world like a synonym for ‘devil.’ “Sir!” she amended after a hard look from her de facto
“Tell me exactly what happened,” Spirodopoulos ordered. And no commentary
, just the facts
, he almost added, but bit his tongue before it could get out. This harkened back to Spirodopoulos’ earliest days on Deep Space Five; he’d dealt with more than one allegation of sexual assault. And he knew very well that even if zh’Thessel had simply perceived
an attempt at violation, it was both impractical and
highly disrespectful to make it sound as though he wasn’t taking that perception seriously. One did not get to the bottom of an assault—or
a terrible misunderstanding—by coming off in any way unsympathetic to the person making the charge. Even a misunderstanding could be deeply upsetting and ought never to be brushed off as insignificant. And zh’Thessel’s body language made it most clear that something
had indeed happened, regardless of possible explanations.
had just finished doing his scans when he ordered me to take off my clothes and let him look at me that way, and even let him put his hands all over me! Then he actually had the nerve to get angry at me when I told him ‘no’! He gave me some kind of garbage about it being standard procedure…for who
?” zh’Thessel snapped. “Prisoners?
Spirodopoulos lifted an eyebrow. That definitely didn’t sound like standard Starfleet medical procedure, except for surgery and other very specific cases of emergency. Federation privacy regs didn’t allow for an unclothed exam for species who wore such coverings, without explicit medical necessity—nor even creating a full holographic representation a person…any more than a simple layout of their internal organs…without their permission.
As he got closer to her, zh’Thessel flinched. Seeing the clear evidence of her unease, Spirodopoulos stopped, pulled up a chair, and set it a little further away than he might have normally. “What did Dr. Istep do when you said ‘no’?”
“He tried to spin it around on me and say I
was the one getting all bent out of shape about ‘nothing,’ and then—”
“How did he phrase it?” Spirodopoulos asked. He kept his voice low; while he needed the information now, while it was fresh on zh’Thessel’s mind, the last thing he wanted was for his interruption to come across as an attack or a contradiction. This was not his account to relate. It was hers.
“Not quite like that
,” zh’Thessel amended. “He said, ‘You’re taking my order completely the wrong way.’”
The situation still didn’t make sense to the human officer—but it was
starting to corroborate the sense he’d gotten from Istep’s comments…that of a serious cultural misunderstanding. He forced himself to pause for a moment; they both needed to gather their thoughts, and it would be disrespectful to rush. “Did Dr. Istep touch you after you refused consent?”
“No, sir,” she grudgingly admitted.
“Did he suggest there would be any reprisals for refusing?”
Zh’Thessel grumbled. “He said he’d call you
“Okay. Anything else?”
“He sent that nurse in here to ‘keep me from leaving’ while he called you. Like I’m his prisoner!”
Spirodopoulos nodded. “Is there anything else you would like me to know about what happened?”
Zh’Thessel narrowed her eyes. “I think it’s pretty clear what happened, sir!” As much as Spirodopoulos wanted to retort that no, it was not
clear, he knew very well that was the last thing he ought to do; something might be logical
but it had to be presented gently. Respectfully. Or sometimes, at a more appropriate time, and this was not it—especially when he himself did not have full command of the facts, either.
“All right,” he decided. “I’m going to go and speak with Dr. Istep, and see what his explanation is for this. Once I’ve heard from both of you, we’ll go from there. And if you think of anything else—any
other details you want to let me know, please feel free to when I get back.” He tapped his wristcomm. What he almost said was, Istep-ra—Spirodopoulos
, but that, too, would have been unkind to the Andorian woman under these circumstances. “Spirodopoulos to Dr. Istep…I’m ready.”
“Nurse Terop will show you to my office. If you would…
” he finished, clearly addressing the riyăk
“Gorhoç edek, Dalin
,” the nurse replied, offering a shallow habitual bow despite her superior not being in the room. She pointed to a set of double doors in the back towards the left. Zh’Thessel’s troubled gaze followed the nurse’s finger. “He’s waiting in there, Commander.”
Spirodopoulos thanked the nurse and walked back to Istep’s office. The doors slid open to reveal a room with a half-eaten lunch stashed away on a shelf and a cot folded up in the corner. As the human stepped through, Dr. Istep rose and favored Spirodopoulos with a quick bow. Then Istep straightened, regarding Spirodopoulos with a set of intense, wide-ringed black eyes. “Commander—please, tell me you’ve been able to reason with her! With a shock like the one she took, I must
be permitted to conduct a thorough examination!”
“Doctor,” Spirodopoulos began, “I understand from zh’Thessel that you ordered her to take off her clothes. Is that true?”
Istep blinked, flinching back in astonishment. “I am a doctor—of course
I did. Isn’t that what would happen if you were being treated for an injury? I can’t understand why she just jumped to all these nefarious conclusions. Is every Cardassian a rapist to her?” His great, dark eyes went wide at that.
Spirodopoulos took a deep breath. “In the Federation, it is very, very rare for a doctor to ask a patient to take off his or her clothes. We consider that a violation of privacy, one that’s reserved for emergencies only.”
“She sustained a plasma shock,” Istep retorted. “In my medical judgment, that certainly
constitutes an emergency, even if she is conscious and trying
to be up and around.”
Spirodopoulos nodded. “I don’t dispute that part. But what I don’t understand is why she said you needed to ‘put your hands all over her.’ Can’t you take your readings with a medical tricorder? That is part of the reason for tricorders and scanners…to put an end to invasive examinations.”
Istep’s nostrils flared when the translation of the word ‘invasive’ reached him, and with Spirodopoulos’ growing knowledge of Cardăsda grammar, he was very sure when that was. “I never
intended any intrusion. We certainly use tricorders—but that is no reason for us to abandon our traditions.”
The doctor pointed to the ankh-shaped protrusion on his forehead. “This is a bioelectric sensory node that is tied in with the Cardassian nervous system; we call it the krilătbre-yezul
, Spirodopoulos heard from the translator even as he listened past it to the original word. “Our ancestors used it to sense prey, and stronger predators. It’s a much weaker sense now, but Hebitian and Cardassian physicians have been using it for thousands of years to help us in diagnosing our patients. In sensing if something
is off, something that medical sensors might not reveal yet. The bioelectric assessment is as much an art as it is a science; that’s why a decent physician will never rely on it exclusively. But we still find it a valuable supplement to the information we obtain with technology. It is a perfectly normal, expected part of a typical physical, on Cardassia—not
a violation. It is not
,” he reiterated, “some method of abuse.”
“If the node is in the forehead,” Spirodopoulos asked, “then what is the purpose of touching the patient?” He thought he knew, but he wanted to hear the Cardassian say it.
“Direct touch intensifies our receptivity to the bioelectric aura. It’s like using antennae to tune into radio signals.”
Spirodopoulos nodded. “I think I understand now. Now, I’m not happy to hear that zh’Thessel threatened physical harm on you, directly or indirectly. That said…I hope you’ll understand why I don’t intend to take her to task for it. I ask that you not order
Starfleet patients to disrobe again, or to accept your touch, unless you have no other option to treat them. Is it possible for you to treat a patient effectively without
a bioelectric assessment?”
“It is,” Istep replied, his tone colored by subdued displeasure.
“Then I will ask you…and I will raise this with the infirmary staffs of all of our ships…to refrain from making it a mandatory part of your examinations of Starfleet soldiers. That includes
if the patient is unconscious—they shall be considered as not
having given consent.” Istep wordlessly nodded his understanding. “But,” Spirodopoulos added, seeing the Cardassian doctor deflate before his eyes, “I have no problem with your offering it as an option
, provided you fully explain what it is you intend to do, and you couch it as an offer, not an order. We have alternative medicine on many of our worlds too, so you might find some people who will relate it to things they know from their cultures even though it’s not a Starfleet practice.”
Istep sighed. “I can also make a Starfleet witness available.”
“That would be a good idea,” Spirodopoulos said, counting himself fortunate that Istep himself had volunteered the idea first. “But Doctor…I want to thank you for taking the time to explain this to me. I know this has to be very different from anything you’ve ever experienced.”
“This is my first time to treat people from so
many species. I’ve treated the odd Xepolite or Lissepian, but those are worlds with a close relationship to the Cardassian Union.” Vassal states
, Spirodopoulos thought to himself, but there was no way a doctor like Istep bore any responsibility for Central Command’s expansionism. “They know our customs, and it simply didn’t occur to me that a standard medical examination could be taken so badly. Or that your people would place such strictures on your doctors. I would like the chance to explain to your soldier what happened. And to apologize. Then I will place the remainder her care in the hands of Nurse Terop and one of your field medics, with myself in an advisory capacity. I believe I’ve done irreversible damage, where zh’Thessel is concerned.”
“I believe that would be best for her.” Spirodopoulos did not deny the Cardassian physician’s assessment—for in spite of the misunderstanding at the root of this incident, the expression in zh’Thessel’s eyes had reflected the profound degree to which it had disturbed her. Still, he had no wish to see the doctor’s reputation dragged through the mud—either by one of his own officers, or
by Istep himself. The Thirteenth Order had no Starfleet doctors; the four Cardassian CMO’s were all they had, though the combined education of the Starfleet nurses and field medics was certainly nothing to sneeze at. “Still, I will help you with that explanation,” Spirodopoulos volunteered. “If it will help, I can roll up my sleeve and let you do a partial demonstration.” That might be a little easier said than done, given the thicker material of the typical Cardassian uniform, but it could still work.
“That is most gracious.” Dr. Istep nodded, then gave a much deeper bow than the one he’d begun with, breaking eye contact. This, Spirodopoulos understood, was a bow of contrition, not simply acknowledgment. “I simply wish to care for my patients,” he concluded.
“You will,” Spirodopoulos assured him.
The human officer’s wristcomm chirped, and he tapped it. “Spirodopoulos here.”
,” came Chief Librescu’s voice, “we have the results of our damage-pattern study
“Be ready to review them in forty-five minutes,” Spirodopoulos ordered. “I have one last matter to conclude here, and then I will see Gul Macet about giving us the Trager
In that moment, Spirodopoulos became more strongly aware of the Cardassian cuirass sitting on his chest and shoulders. This was it: Librescu’s results would either provide the last confirmation he needed—or prove that he, Makis Spirodopoulos, stood guilty of high treason and leading his people into the commission of said act.