Sword and Scalpel
By J. Davidson Hero
Based on art by
William R. Warren, Jr. as well as characters and
situations created by Bill Wolfe, Casey Callaghan, and N.J. Kailhofer
Some of the
individual versions of the
stories in this series were written
for forum flash challenge contests to help create this "world." As
such, stories may not match the characters or settings of the
continuous version of the story, which blended all the entries together.
Aphelion One, Day 100
“Curtis isn’t making this any easier... on any of us. Frankly, he’s
been a real bear,” Dr. Harry Smith said. A narrow beam of light from
his ophthalmoscope pierced the blackness of Mission Specialist Penny
Jones’ pupil. Doc watched her iris contract.
“No facial edema,” he said as if dictating. He was uncomfortably
close and Penny could feel his warm breath on her lips.
“He’s under a lot of stress. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to make it any
worse,” Penny said after a moment’s reflection.
“You don’t like to hold anything against anyone,” he stated.
“Lightheadedness, fatigue, could be signs of orthostatic intolerance.
The Earth-side docs are watching your vitals for it. We might have to
start you on Neomidodrine. Still managing the vertigo?”
She smiled, “Sure.” She lifted up a foot and poked a jury-rigged
boot at him. “Magnets and Velcro… no medicating required.”
She paused again. “I like Captain Curtis. I think he feels
responsible, even though it happened on the other ship,” she said.
Doc inhaled sharply filling his lungs full as he tried to reckon
with that familiar conundrum, the double-edges of rank: power and
responsibility. Feelings have nothing to do with it; as CO, Curtis
Doc ripped open a dose of sleeping pills for Penny, scanned the
barcode on the back with his PDA, handed them to Penny and then
searched the screen for the button he had to click to confirm they were
dispensed to her. It was a long moment of searching. She was sitting on
a table before him and she shifted. The sound of Velcro drew his
attention back to her.
“Is it really necessary? The medicine?” she asked.
“Ah. Did you know that fifty percent of the astronauts on the early
shuttle missions had to take sleeping pills?”
Doc looked at her. She had dark circles under her eyes; she was
really shaken by Barnes’ death, and hadn’t probably slept soundly since
they all found out. She always seemed so lighthearted and carefree, but
he guessed she was probably prone to more lows than she let on. You
fly higher than most, you fall further when you’re forced to land.
Then again, she was a civilian, didn’t have the perspective on death he
had being a doctor and a marine. Death is a pallid bedmate he was all
too used to having around. Two wars gave him that.
Ophelia Dunsirn’s near-death experience and then Barnes’ death had
shaken everyone, not just Penny and Curtis. Both accidents occurred on
Aphelion 2 and it seemed like Aphelion 1 was due for some drama. But
Doc didn’t put any stock in fate or karma, or whatever you wanted to
call it. He was a marine: you make your own destiny. He was a doctor
too: you prevent death when you can and deal with the aftermath when
you can’t. It’s what they called bedside manner. And Harry had plenty
of it. The health and sanity of the crew were his jurisdiction and his
“Well, take two of these and call me in the morning,” he said with a
wink. “I’m taking you off duty until you get some rest. I’ll notify
Curtis.” She was a sweet kid, and the only bit of inviting femininity
on this boat, the kind that was nice to be around. Of course there was
Ivanova too, but when Doc thought about her he could only envision the
female spider who’s not above a little cannibalism.
“As the only two Americans on this boat, we’ve got to stick
together,” he said with a smile. The thought hadn’t occurred to him
until just that instant. The other Americans on this mission,
Dunsirn and Barnes, were both subject to “accidents.” The thought
“But I’m on mess duty tonight.” she said.
“I’ll cover you,” he said. “I’m sure the others won’t mind. I’ve got
a hankering for split pea soup again.”
Penny took the pills and swallowed. Then she leaned forward and
pecked Doc on the cheek.
“What’s that for? You know I’ll be billing your insurance later,” he
“I heard it was your birthday today,” she said.
“How’d you find that out?” he asked chuckling. “It was a closely
guarded military secret.”
“Would it be a cliché to say a little bird told me?” she asked
ripping herself free from the Velcro on the table.
“My money’s on Chang,” he said after a moment of rubbing his chin in
“He does seem to know everything,” she conceded moving out through
the hatch, her magnetized boots clacking as she went.
* * *
Doc stared at Penny’s medical file. He had finished typing his notes
in and was preparing to batch it for sending Earth-side. Suddenly he
realized he was just staring blankly at the screen; his mind had
wandered. Forty-six. Not getting any younger.
He searched through the folders on his computer until he found one
with some personal pictures. He brought one up on the screen and
stared, a woman, thirty-ish, with light brown hair sitting before a
photographer’s backdrop of some wooded meadow, a small blond boy
nestled in her lap, smiling, his hair cut in sharp bangs.
He knew it was too much to ask. He didn’t expect a transmission, but
maybe an email today, just a simple message, on his birthday. She could
have managed that much. Memories raced through his mind, and anger
nearly surfaced. But then he got it under control. The man of mission,
the good-humored doctor, the efficient soldier took control again. He
had to keep his mind on the mission, keep this crew healthy in body and
mind. That required him to leave some things behind.
“Hello Doc,” Gode Zwelitini skirted the corner, his huge frame
startling as he moved silently. He had something in his hand. The smell
of freshly popped popcorn filled the compartment.
“A little bird told me it was your birthday.”
©2009 J. Davidsonhero
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