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Old September 29 2013, 07:46 PM   #11
TheLoneRedshirt
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Location: The void between my ears
Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Bry and CeJay - thanks for reading and your comments! On with the story . . .

Chapter 5

Balaam doesn’t have a state-of-the-art sickbay as do Starfleet and Border Service vessels. Heck, even the Merchant Service ships have better facilities than we do. In short, we have a spare storage area that has been outfitted with a surgical table and lights, a few medical supplies suitable mostly for hang-nails and hang-overs . . . and of course, Marie Langier. Hey, I’ve been meaning to upgrade things. High-tech costs high-credits. And don’t forget, I’m saving up for a dart board. Gotta have your priorities straight, ya know.

Marie was doing her best to counter the effects of the Brain Blast that gripped Sing Yu while Rand Noble and I did our best to keep Sing from hurting himself or us. Rand, even with his Centauran muscles, was sweating mightily as he struggled to hold the Laotian’s legs still. I had managed to pin Sing’s arms down by sitting on his chest and planting my knees on his shoulders.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound medically sound or particularly merciful but it’s the best I could do at the moment.

Marie dialed up a sedative on her hypo-spray, her lips pursed and her eyes somewhat wild. She glanced at me with a look of fierce determination.

“Daniel, if I give him too much . . .” It wasn’t fear I heard; she was just telling me the straight truth.

“He’s gonna die anyway if you don’t. Give him the damn shot.” Hey, I never took the Hypocratic Oath. Sue me.

Biting her lower lip, Marie gamely stepped in and placed the hypo-spray against Sing’s neck. The device hissed and Sing howled as another adrenaline induced spasm racked his body. I nearly went ass over teakettle as the Laotian bucked and writhed beneath me in obvious agony. Marie grabbed the back of my shirt, saving me from face-planting on the deck.

“That went well,” quipped Rand, just before being smacked in the face by Sing’s left boot. That’s gonna leave a mark.

“Call for reinforcements,” I gasped. Hey, you try giving CPR for fifteen minutes and see how you feel.

Fortunately help showed up at that moment. Unfortunately, it was the hapless Faji Rahman whose eyes were as big as Bussard collectors. He stood in the hatchway and gaped.

Marie broke his reverie. “Faji! Get over here and help hold him down.”

Faji gaped. “How?”

“Just grab something that’s moving!” I shouted. This was no time to be picky.

Gamely, Faji stepped in. Unfortunately he stepped right into one of Sing’s flailing fists. Hey, at this point I was just hanging on for dear life. The crunch when Sing’s fist connected with Faji’s face made me wince.

“Ow!” The Bangladeshi stumbled back, clutching his nose.

And then, Sing collapsed once more, like a balloon suddenly deflating. Marie reached in and felt at his neck again. “No pulse,” she announced grimly. “Commence CPR,” she ordered.

I slid off Sing’s chest and Rand took over, seeing as how I was pretty much out of fuel. I figured the stocky Centauran could pump away for about a week without wearing out. Of course, if he got too enthusiastic with CPR he would break every rib in Sing’s body.

Marie crouched down and pulled a case from under one of the cabinets. I’d never seen it before. To my surprise, it was marked with the emblem of Starfleet’s Medical Corps. Marie caught my look of surprise and simply said, “Later.”

Opening the case revealed a set of high-tech medical equipment. She opened a compartment and pulled out a small device which she placed across Sing’s forehead, then withdrew what looked suspiciously like a Starfleet-issue medical tri-corder.

“Stop compressions,” she ordered. Rand obediently stepped back.

“Is that a . . . ?” I began. This wasn’t equipment that you could pick up second-hand at a space station flea market.

“Cortical stimulator. Yes, it is. Stand back, please.”

She tapped the tri-corder and Sing’s back arched in a spasm. She pursed her lips as she deciphered the readings on her device.

“Normal sinus rhythm,” she announced and her face relaxed. “Let’s hope it stays that way for a while. His brain waves have also stabilized, at least for the moment.”

“Ish he gon’ to be oshay?” asked Faji in a thick voice. His nose was swollen to twice its normal size and blood trickled down from each nostril. I would have felt sorry for the kid but I was too tired.

“I don’t know,” admitted Marie as she rummaged in the case and brought out another medical device. She approached Faji, who took a step back in alarm.

“Hold still. You have a broken nose.” She gently took his chin in her hand and peered expertly at his nose, then activated the device which emitted a slight hum.

“It tickles,” remarked Faji. Marie moved the device over his face for more than a minute, then stepped back and examined her handiwork.

“How does it feel?” she asked.

Faji tentatively pressed at his nose, suspicious that it might decide to fall off his face. He drew a deep breath up his nostrils and grinned.

“Hey, it doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Marie!”

I watched all this, mystified. When I hired her, she had mentioned she had some medical knowledge.

Oh yes, we were most definitely going to have a talk.

Marie then walked over to one of the wall-mounted cabinets and pulled out several rolls of bandages. She tossed one to me and another to Rand as she took a third toward the table holding the now still form of Sing Yu. I held mine up with an apparently stupid expression on my face.

“We’re going to strap him down,” she explained. “The sedative won’t last that long and I don’t think either of you are ready for another wrestling match.”

“Not hardly,” I muttered.

Following Marie’s lead, we soon had Sing Yu securely ensconced on the surgical table. I almost felt sorry for the S.O.B. His skin was a waxy gray color and his half-opened eyes revealed only sclera tinged with yellow. He looked like week-old death on the half-shell.

Rand and Faji excused themselves now that the immediate crisis had passed. I lingered, hoping for an explanation from Marie.

I reflected on how I tended to bring on crew members without digging into their past too much. Part of that came from my own experience. I spent 10 years as an idealistic young man in Starfleet, 10 weeks as a cynical man in the Maquis, and 10 months as a thoroughly morose and uncooperative guest of the New Zealand Penal Colony.

10 apparently is not my lucky number.

But my point is that I can understand why people may be reluctant to share details about their past. And who am I, of all people, to judge? Almost no one would give me a second chance, so I had to make the best of opportunities I created for myself. If that put me in a position to help someone else out of the mire, then that was just gravy.

Reyla often reminds me that I’m the master of the ship and it’s my job to judge. Maybe she’s right (and more cynical than I’ve ever been on my worst day), but I tend to pull for the underdog, so forgive me if I let that responsibility slide a bit.

Fortunately, Marie made it easy for me. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”

“Owe me? No, you don’t ‘owe’ me anything. But I have to admit, I’m curious as to where you got all those medical toys and how you know to use them so well.”

She sighed. “It’s kind of a long story.”

“Tell you what, if you have an aspirin in that box of tricks, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me whatever you want.”

Marie let out a relieved laugh. “I think I can do that.”

* * *

We had the galley to ourselves, so I didn’t have to pull rank or throw chairs to gain us some privacy. Over one coffee (black) and one raktajino (toxic-level) I listened as Marie spilled out her story. Pretty interesting stuff, actually.

“So, Marie, you were in Starfleet too?” I had pretty much guessed that part, but I was polite enough to feign surprise.

“Too?” Marie caught that.

I nodded. “Ten years driving starships. My last billet was the Schwarzkopf.” I left out the part about resigning my commission to join the Maquis. Not the brightest career move of my life.

“I was a medical officer on the Akagi. Actually, I suppose I was CMO after Dr. Athwaite was killed in battle.” Her voice had taken on a distant quality, like a poor connection over subspace.

My coffee cup froze before it reached my mouth. “You served during the Dominion War.” It wasn’t a question, it was as obvious as the grease under my fingernails. Hey, at least I don’t chew on them like some Centauran Second Mates I know.

“Yeah.” She lowered her gaze and I felt the gravity shift in the room, like when I asked her about Juan Salierno.

I made a strategic retreat. “Look Marie, you don’t have to talk about it.”

She forced herself to raise her eyes and that fierce look of determination I saw in the infirmary returned. “I know. But I want to . . . I suppose I need to.”

Reyla stepped into the galley and caught my eye, a questioning look on her face. I shook my head a degree of a degree, most likely imperceptible to Marie. Reyla, though, knew me well. She returned a slight nod, gave a thumb’s up, and slipped back out into the corridor.

I have one hell of a fine First Mate.

Marie remained quiet for a moment, twisting her raktajino mug in circles on the table. The hum of the warp engines and the hiss of the environmental unit were the only sounds between us for several minutes.

Finally, she broke the silence. “Did you ever see combat?” She asked softly.

“Once. We were patrolling near Cardassian space about fifteen years ago, just when things were getting heated between the Federation and the Cardies. Some of the Federation settlements that were supposed to relocate decided they didn’t want to move, so the Cardies sent a couple of ships to intimidate the colonists. We were sent to intervene. It wasn’t an epic space battle, but it scared the hell out of me when they opened up on us with their weapons. Thank God for good shields and photon torpedoes. The whole thing lasted maybe fifteen minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.”

She nodded. “It’s amazing how your sense of time changes when you face the possibility of death.”

“I take it you saw a good bit of combat during the war?”

Her face wore an ironic expression. “The funny thing is, when you’re working in sickbay you really don’t know what’s going on. I never knew if we were facing five ships or fifty. Our gauge was the number of mutilated, burned and bleeding bodies that streamed in from all over the ship. We had to wear special overshoes to keep from slipping in all the blood that covered the deck . . .”

Marie’s voice trailed off and her eyes grew distant. I could tell she was seeing a place she never wanted to see again. It made me feel like a heartless bastard to make her relive it, but maybe she needed to.

She forced a smile. “Sorry. I, um, kind of zone out when I think about it.”

“Take your time. You don’t have to say more than you’re comfortable with.” Sorry, I sometimes dangle my participles when I’m nervous. Or when I feel like a heartless bastard. Like now.

“Thanks, I’m okay.” I was pretty sure that was a lie. “It was bad, though. Worse than anything I could ever imagine.” I’m positive that was an understatement.

“How many battles?” I asked. Maybe that was easier to answer.

“We were in three major battles and a couple of ‘minor’ skirmishes. Oddly enough, it was a minor skirmish that pretty much did me in. I had already taken over as CMO when we were ambushed by a few Breen ships. Usually it was a challenge just to keep your footing when the ship was getting hammered but it was oddly serene. In sickbay, you can’t hear weapon’s fire, only just the vibrations when we got hit and these were pretty mild. I thought we might make it without casualties for once. We almost did.”

She took a sip of coffee and I noticed her hands were shaking. I debated ending the conversation then and there, but something told me to let her keep talking. As an expert on hangovers and general bodily abuse I learned that sometimes it’s better to sick things up rather than hold them down. And I hate to puke.

“We were still under red alert, but the ship was moving smoothly. I actually felt giddy, like we had dodged a torpedo, when two gurneys came into sickbay. Chief Ronar was cussing up a storm, so I knew he wasn’t too bad off. Turns out he had broken an ankle sliding down a ladder. But the other one . . .”

Her mouth worked silently for a moment. It was like part of her refused to reveal the images that were in her head.

“The other one,” the words finally rolled out, “was a young ensign, one of the two-year wonders Starfleet Academy was cranking out to keep up with casualties. He might have been 20 but he looked like he was 12. His eyes were still open but a shard of ceramic alloy was lodged in his neck. And a single tear had traced down his face.”

She stared at me with such intensity that I almost fell off my chair. For a moment, I thought she was going to leap across the table and strangle me; the anger in her eyes was downright terrifying.

“He was a child, Daniel! Probably never went on a date and now he never would. The poor kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time when an EPS conduit blew and he bled out on the deck.”

She took a shuddering breath. “It was that tear, though. That damned tear. I must have lost it because the next thing I know, I’m waking up in an isolation cubicle under a restraining field and the ship’s counselor has this pitying look on her face. I wanted to punch her lights out.”

My mouth was dry but I feared if I swallowed I’d break something in my throat. “What did you do?” I rasped.

Marie seemed to physically deflate. “Do? I remained under observation . . . suicide watch, I suppose . . . endured three different counselors and I finally just quit and left.”

I frowned. “What do you mean, ‘you left?’”

“I mean I simply walked out of Starbase 43’s medical ward. I’m an M.D., remember? I know how to get around a hospital security system. I said, ‘to hell with Starfleet, to hell with the stop-loss orders, and to hell with the war,’ and I simply walked away. I believe the technical term is desertion.”

I fidgeted in my chair and blew out a long, slow breath. “Wow,” I said. I'm just full of wise sayings.

“That was 18 months ago. And I’m not going back.” She added the last like an exclamation point as she folded her arms and glared daggers at me.

“What, do you think I would turn you in?”

“Will you?”

That got my dander up. “Hell, no!” I fired back. “I may be an insensitive, cold-hearted bastard, but I don’t turn my back on a friend.”

She lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry. You took me on without so much as a question and I’m grateful. But it’s hard to trust people when you’re on the run.”

I thought about my misspent time with the Maquis. “You’ve got that right. Look, just one last question and then we’ll give it a rest.”

“What’s that?”

“Where the hell did you get the medical equipment? You didn’t just walk out with it, did you?”

She actually laughed at that. “No, of course not. You’d be surprised what you can pick up on the black market. And no, it’s not stolen. As impressive as it may seem most of that equipment is considered obsolete by Starfleet Medical. They basically give it away to outlying colonies when they update equipment. Most of it is beyond what a local paramedic can use, so it ends up for sale. Technically, that’s against the law, but no one cares to enforce it.”

And what about the law regarding desertion?, I wondered to myself. No point bringing that matter up. I’m sure she thinks about it most every waking hour.

My wrist com beeped for my attention. “Carbo, go ahead.”

“Daniel, we’re coming up on the outer system markers. We’ll arrive at Fordson’s planet within twenty minutes on standard approach.”

“Thanks, Talia. Drop us out of warp and proceed at one-quarter. Ask Gham to scan the system for other traffic. I’d like to know who else is around.”

“Will do. Looking for anyone special?”

Yeah, a ship load of angry Syndicate goons. “No, just always trying to make new friends. Keep me posted, Carbo out.”

To be continued
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