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Part of USS Challenger: Mortal Temples

Mortal Temples – 3

USS Cernan NCC-92421/1
July 2401
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They looked so happy. They were happy—newlyweds on their honeymoon, imagining a long life together. They had no idea of what was to come, no idea that one of them would have his life cruelly snuffed out on an away mission, leaving the other behind to grieve and try and build a life different from the one they’d imagined.

“I miss you,” Young whispered at the image of his late husband.

Henry Young lowered the photograph to his chest, holding it against his heart as tears rolled down the side of his face. It had been ten months since Dujan Young’s death, but the wound still felt as open and fresh as when he’d first heard the news.

Commander Taro had stopped by on her way to the mess hall, as she did every morning, but Young had sent her on without him. He wasn’t hungry and couldn’t face all the piteous looks he would draw. At least once he reported for duty, he could hide away in his tiny office for most of his shift.

Senior officers report to your duty stations.”

With a heavy sigh, Young rolled to one side and pushed himself off the bed. He dressed hastily before charging out the door to make the quick journey to sickbay. The handover was well underway when Doctor Young arrived. Their only patient this morning was Ensign Granger, a young man with an unfortunate tendency to consult the medical database to diagnose every minor symptom, turning them into some unfortunate malady.

“Good morning.” 

Doctor Philipson’s normally cheery tone was more cautious this morning as if she was afraid of setting him off. He could see the look of pity in her eyes. It was a look he’d become very familiar with these past few months and one he was very tired of. Henry wondered how long it would be before people stopped seeing him as the poor grieving widower.

“Good morning,” Young returned her greeting with a forced, tight-lipped smile. “Any idea what’s going on?”

“None,” Philipson told him with an air of frustration. “You know how it works; we’re the last to know anything.”

Young rubbed his face. “Okay,” he said, “let’s get the handover done, then wait for whatever comes next.”

The handover was brief this morning. Other than Ensign Granger, there were no other current patients, and there had only been one visitor to sickbay overnight, a Petty Officer who stubbed his toe. With the handover complete, Doctor Young retreated to the solace of his office and started working his way through the paperwork that awaited him.

Taro to Young,” The voice of the mission’s XO broke the silence in his office. “We’re beaming a patient directly to sickbay.

Henry tapped his commbadge as he shot out of his seat. “What can you tell me?”

Not much.” Came the rather unhelpful reply. “Just that CO2 levels on his ship are reaching dangerous levels.

It was better than nothing Henry supposed. “Understood. Young out.” He appeared at the door of his office and announced, “Let’s get prepped for incoming.”

Henry wasn’t sure how long his team worked on the patient that was beamed in. Once the stranger’s condition was stabilised, Henry was handed a PADD with the results of some medical scans on it. He studied it closely, his first look at the biology of a race he’d never encountered before.

“How is he?”

Henry’s head snapped up to find Commander Carerra standing several feet away. He checked the details on the PADD a final time before handing it off and approaching the Captain. “Stable,” Henry replied. “He was suffering from cerebral hypoxia when he arrived and had first-degree plasma burns on his hand. We’ve managed to bring his oxygen levels back to normal and have treated his burns with a dermaline gel.”

“Has he suffered any lasting damage?”

As he led Carerra to the patient’s bedside, Henry explained, “All my scans indicate no long-term brain injuries from his exposure to dangerously high levels of CO2. We’re lucky we got to him when we did.”

“Can I speak to him?”

Henry had been expecting this question. Naturally, he was curious about his patient and wanted to learn more. But he also had a duty to his patient, a duty he took incredibly seriously. He wasn’t about to wake the patient if he thought it risked making his condition worse. A glance at the stranger’s vital signs indicated it would be safe to allow the Captain a short conversation, “I’ll give you five minutes.” 

Henry returned to his patient with Carerra at his side. Once he was satisfied that he wouldn’t be in pain when he woke, Henry pressed a hypospray against the stranger’s neck and activated it. He roused slowly, to begin with, but woke with a start and immediately tried to push himself up.

“Easy,” Henry placed a firm hand on the patient’s shoulder and pushed him back onto the biobed. “You’re safe.”

The patient looked around, his eyes wide with fear. I’d probably feel the same in his shoes, Henry mused. If I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar room. He glanced at the biobed’s readout. An elevated heart rate was to be expected.

“Where am I?”

Carerra leaned forward. “You’re aboard the Federation Starship Cernan.

“My ship,” The patient tried to get up again, only to be pushed gently, but firmly, back by Henry once more.

“Your ship is safe,” Carerra assured him. “We’ve taken it under tow. Once you’ve fully recovered, my engineers can help you make repairs.” Henry continued to monitor his patient’s vital signs as Carerra asked, “What’s your name?”

The stranger eyed them warily, before finally answering, “Evin.”

“Can you tell us what happened, Evin?” Carerra asked.

“I was attacked,” He told them. “By pirates.”

In the few months they’d spent in the Gamma Quadrant, the crew of the Challenger had learned that the Dominion’s withdrawal from the Riada Sector allowed pirates, mercenaries and assorted other criminal elements to take control of small pockets of the region, and were using that foothold to expand their operations.

“By the ship that crashed on the third planet.” It was less a question than a statement but Evin nodded to confirm. “Why did they attack you?”

Evin frowned. “I’m a courier. They wanted my cargo. I told them my cargo bay was empty, but they didn’t believe me. They ordered me to prepare to be boarded, so I ran.” His frown deepened. “I just wasn’t fast enough.” He pushed himself slowly into a sitting position despite Henry’s objections. “I’d like to start making repairs on my ship right away.”

“Doctor Young is in charge here,” Carerra told him with a friendly smile. “You get to leave when he says so.”

Henry smiled at the way Evin turned expectantly to him, his eyes not unlike those of a puppy begging for a treat. He surprised himself by thinking how adorable he looked. Henry quickly gave himself a mental shake and banished the thought. 

“I want to keep you here for a little longer for observation, and the dermaline gel we’ve applied to your burns needs time to work its magic.”

Evin huffed. “Very well.”

“If you can provide us with the coordinates of your homeworld, we can lay in a course and return you and your ship.”

Evin’s expressive features darkened. “My ship is my home,” He replied, in what sounded like a well-rehearsed answer. “There’s a spaceport two days’ travel from here. If it’s not too much trouble, you can drop me off there, though hopefully, we can make sufficient repairs to my ship so that I won’t drag you too far out of your way.”

“If you provide us with the coordinates, we’ll set a course,” Carerra told him. 

Evin gave Carerra the spaceport’s coordinates and thanked her again. The brief darkness that passed over him was gone now, replaced by gratitude for his rescue. Henry forced yet another smile before he moved away from the biobed to allow Evin to rest. 

Carerra tapped her commbadge. “Carerra to bridge,” She began. “Take us to yellow alert and begin scanning for other vessels in the area.” 

Aye, Captain,” Taro replied immediately.

“You think the pirates who attacked him have friends in the area?” Henry asked.

Carerra considered the question, “Possibly. Their beacon was sending a distress signal to someone. I think we should be prepared in case someone else answers it.”

Henry nodded gravely before he stuck his hands in the pockets of his coat and returned to his office. He had only just sat down when he became aware of Carerra standing in the doorway. “Can I help you with something else, Captain?”

“Did you get dressed in the dark, Henry?” She asked with a lopsided smile.

Henry glanced at his reflection in the glass that separated his office from the rest of sickbay. His commbadge was askew, his hair stuck up at odd angles and his collar was missing it’s black pip. He looked like hell.

“Are you okay?” Carerra asked.

A good question. One he was asked at least once a day, usually more. The honest answer was that he felt…empty. Like part of him had died with Dujan. Henry wasn’t’ living anymore. He was just existing and even that was incredibly tiring. Not that he would admit any of that to Carerra, or anyone for that matter. That would guarantee him a one-way trip to regular counselling sessions, and he’d had more than enough of that.

“I’m okay,” He told her. Strictly speaking, it was the truth. He was ‘okay’, but that was about as good as it got these days.  

Carerra’s brown eyes watched him closely. “I know what it’s like to lose someone,” She told him. “My father was killed in the Battle of Sector zero-zero-one when I was eleven. If you ever need someone to talk to, you know where I am.”

“Thanks,” Henry replied, averting his gaze and picking up a random PADD from the stack in front of him. He held it up but he wasn’t reading, just looking at it and hoping Carerra got the hint.

Carerra tilted her head and smiled tenderly at Henry before saying goodbye and leaving him alone. That was how he really felt. That was how he’d felt ever since receiving the news of Dujan’s death; he felt alone.