Stars Passing By will tell the story of Tripp and Rosie, two of the original characters from my Starship fanfic Learning to Dance. You can find parts 1-4 here.
Short and just a little bit sweet this week. Thank you for reading. <3
The smell of burning lasers and blood stained the air he breathed. He was choking on it. He coughed. His forehead creased - why was it so difficult to open his eyes? He stopped trying and listened instead. The steady hum of machinery, the vibration of the ship beneath him. A slow, shrill beeping.
Sickbay. But sickbay had been destroyed. Hadn’t it?
“Dr. Baker? I think he’s waking.”
He didn’t know the voice, but he knew the name. She’s alive. Yes, he’d known that. He’d dug a piece of warp crystal out of her leg. But then the robots had come – and what had happened?
A shadow fell across his face, darkened the already-dark of his eyelids. The fresh, clean scent of her cut through the stench of war, and he some of the tension left his face. He tried once more to open his eyes.
“Easy,” she said. “You’re coming off some heavy drugs.”
His eyelids felt like they’d been glued together, but finally he managed to blink them apart. His vision was blurred, but he could see a wave of red and the brown of her eyes, looking at him with concern. He swallowed, his throat as dry as a desert moon.
“Who drugged me?” he rasped.
She almost chuckled. “I did,” she said. “If there was a contest for most unmanageable patient, Lieutenant Tripp, you would take top prize. Nearly threw poor Sam on his back when we told you you’d have to stay in bed after surgery.” She nodded toward the young medical assistant, who was looking reasonably unharmed but grumpy when Tripp turned in his direction.
“I did?” he said, genuinely surprised.
“You did,” she said. “You were shot in the chest, Lieutenant. Less than an inch from your heart, and you were lucky it wasn’t closer. I wouldn’t have been able to repair the damage if it had been.” There was something in her eyes he couldn’t quite place. But maybe it was his drug-impaired vision.
“Where – where are we? I thought sickbay-”
“Was destroyed? Oh yes, utterly.” She sat back, looking somewhat pleased with herself. “We’re on the holodeck. A complete replica, with working machinery and medicine included. Isn’t it brilliant?”
“Brilliant,” he said weakly, a wave of nausea suddenly rolling up through his stomach.
She held out a pink, kidney-shaped dish, which he pushed away disdainfully. “Sorry. The drugs we used to knock you out do have some side effects. But they gave you time to mend. You should be able to be up and about again soon.”
“How long have I been out?” he said.
She bit her lip.
“Rosie, how long?”
“Oh, just, a few-”
“It’s been over a week, soldier.”
Tripp turned to see Up standing at the doorway to the replicated sickbay, his arms folded, a look of mixed relief and impatience on his face.
“Luckily you haven’t missed out on any action,” Up said, uncrossing his arms and coming over to the bed. Rosie glared at him. “Yet. We cleaned up those robots and haven’t run across any more transports in the meantime. But I’m in need of a second-in-command.”
Tripp’s eyes fell to Up’s uniform, no longer the camouflaged green of a Lieutenant-Commander, but the grey of a -
“Commander,” he said, suddenly remembering the bridge, the smoke, the fire, the still-warm body of Commander Edwards facedown on the deck -
Up’s eyes darkened. “Not by choice.”
The three of them were silent for a moment, and then Up continued. “We’ve found it, Tripp. The robot base. It’s close, and it’s big. We’ve still got a mission to complete, and I need Rangers I can trust leading it.”
“Ready for duty, sir,” Tripp said, pushing himself up.
“No, he’s not,” said Rosie, pushing him back down again with more force than was strictly necessary. “He needs more time-”
“I don’t have time,” Up said roughly. “You know better than any how many we lost in that battle, Dr. Baker. Rangers are tougher than you think. I need him up on the bridge, not lying here in sickbay.”
“But if his wound opens up again-”
“Then you’ll patch him up again, Doctor,” Up said. “We do things a little differently when we’re at war. If you’re going to be my Chief Medical Officer then you’re going to need to get used to that.” He looked at Tripp, who nodded in understanding, and turned on his heel to leave. Tripp waited until he was gone to speak.
“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bunk today.”
“He’s been like that since the attack,” Rosie said. “I suppose you can’t really blame him, he’s been under a lot of pressure.”
Tripp had to ask, though he was afraid to know the answer. “How many did we lose, Rosie?”
She was silent for a moment. “Over half.”
“Dead god.” Tripp let the enormity of that number wash over him. So many people, so many good Rangers – it was no wonder Up was crabby. A mass funeral was not the best way to start off your first command. He looked at Rosie, sitting with her hands folded, looking unusually uncertain. “Did he say he’s making you the Chief Medical Officer?”
She gave a halfhearted wave around the room. “Who else is there? Sam and Audrey are just medics, not full doctors. I mean, I’m so grateful to have them, but-”
“But CMO, that’s an officer position.”
She raised her eyebrows and shoulders as one. “The G.L.E.E.’s newest recruit. Ensign Rosie, at your service. But you can still call me Dr. Baker.”
“And here I thought I’d made it past all those formalities. Digging you out of the rubble, operating on you in the middle of a battlefield-”
“Getting yourself shot so I could learn how to use a zapper real quick?” she said wryly.
That shut him up. “You-”
“Never mind,” she said. “But I might come looking for lessons sometime when you aren’t busy shooting at robots or fetching the Commander’s coffee or whatever it is that second-in-commands do.” She stood, and dropped an unexpected kiss on the top of his head. “Now rest, at least for a little bit longer. I’ll get your discharge papers ready.”
He blinked after her. Apparently the formalities had been dispensed with after all.
She hadn’t told him how close he’d come to dying. How her hands had shook as she’d tried to operate, how Audrey had to take the instruments from her and finish the job as she gave instructions, leaning heavily on the table on which he lay, her wounded leg quivering underneath her. How she feared it was too late, that he’d been left too long as she lay unconscious beside him, that she wasn’t going to be able to save him the way he’d saved her. How the relief had almost knocked her over when his vitals had stabilized. How she’d been unable to hold back the tears as she sorted through the rest of them, the other victims, the other wounded, the other dead. How she couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept. How her eyes kept returning to him, where he lay unmoving and yet so very alive, no matter where she was in the replicated sickbay, no matter what she was supposed to be doing.
How it was her name he’d called in his sleep.
She returned to his bed to find him sitting up, tentatively swinging his legs over the side. She hadn’t really expected him to listen when she told him to stay put. She held out the discharge papers. “You’re a free man, Lieutenant.”
“Please,” he said, and his voice was soft. “Call me Tripp.”
There he went with those eyes again. “Tripp,” she echoed, and his smile could have lit up the room.