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A Soothing Effect

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Vulcan healers did most of their work via house calls; inpatient procedures were rare when most of the sick could sink into a trance and heal themselves.

All the better, as far as M’Benga was concerned. Since the ward was not often needed, moving it to a more modern building had never been a priority. He could have been spending four years in a post-reform fortress all built out of right angles, and instead he had this sinuous building that lay along the canyon like a snake asleep in the sun. Just the sight of it soothed him. He suspected it did the same for their handful of patients, though he’d be surprised if any of them ever admitted it.

Surprised—but not shocked. This was the second year of his internship, and he was beginning to understand the testy little wars Vulcans waged among themselves about their interpretations of Surak. Was it illogical to be affected by something as trivial as the design of a building? Or was it only illogical to refuse to admit it?

They all kept their emotions bridled, but the tightness of their holds varied—sometimes quite strikingly.

Today, he, at least, had no intention of denying the quiet loveliness of the place. Especially since going inside took him out of this latest heat wave and into the company of Simek, his fellow apprentice healer. Seeing his immaculate cap of dark hair and the dusty spray of freckles across his face was a small, harmless pleasure at the start of the day.

“Good morning,” he said to Simek, offering him the ta’al. “Do we have any newcomers?”

This was one of many things he liked about working on Vulcan—any Earth hospital would have been staffed to the gills and rigid with hierarchy. Here, specializations were cultivated, but there were few firm lines between a doctor’s duties and a nurse’s or between a nurse’s and an orderly’s and even a clerk’s. He’d never had so much time with his patients in Uganda.

He probably got more attached to them now now, since he did so much mundane caretaking for them, holding basins and helping them sit up. They must have known it, too, but they never complained about his judgment being impaired by human affection.

He realized Simek hadn’t answered him. “Simek?”

“No,” Simek said. He was dark-complected, but M’Benga still thought he could detect a faint greening effect along his cheekbones. “We have had no new admissions.”

Another thing he liked about this internship was that, as their attending healers only rarely intervened, the ward was often governed solely by him and Simek. And M’Benga was fonder of him by the day.

“You seemed to choose the words carefully,” M’Benga said.

“I speak with precision.”

“And filigree is carved with precision, but it can still get in the way of something being plain.”

Simek looked like he was threatening to get into a staring contest, but he yielded in the end. “I believe,” he said stiffly, “that I can trust you to judge what information needs to be shared with our superiors—and what does not.”

“Of course.”

Simek actually glanced around the antechamber, as if someone could have possibly snuck up on them, and then led M’Benga down the hall to one of the exam rooms they usually reserved for the rare occasions they needed to treat non-humanoid aliens, whose physiologies sometimes made the typical Vulcan rooms uncomfortable for them.

On a honeycomb-shaped bio-bed in the center of the room lay a sehlat.

M’Benga had seen them in passing—usually being walked by Vulcan children who seemed heedless of the danger of being bitten in two by their own pets—but it was one thing to spy one in the street, on a leash, and another to see it sprawled out on an examination table.

“You could have warned me,” he said.

Simek looked honestly confused—like most Vulcans, he took the goodness of sehlats for granted. (M’Benga had yet to see any persuasive evidence that this goodness was as widespread as their adherents claimed.) “Warned you about what?”

“The sehlat,” M’Benga said, not exactly patiently. “The enormous bear-dog with razor-sharp teeth. Is it yours?”

“No.” Simek walked to the examination table and stroked the sehlat’s trembling side. “She is a stray. She’s quite malnourished, but there are sores in her mouth that made it impossible for me to feed her normally, especially given the amount I need her to ingest.”

M’Benga could see the clear tubing now. “So you gave her an IV drip.” He frowned. “How many tries did it take before you got a hypo through that hide of hers?”

Simek toyed with the scruff at the back of the sehlat’s neck. “Three. But she was very patient.” He looked up at M’Benga. There was a lightness in his expression now, something as quiet and soothing as the ward itself. “I take it you are unfamiliar with our animals. Would you like to pet her?”

He had come to Vulcan to experience what he couldn’t on Earth, hadn’t he? The intimacy of a healing process that was always at least a quarter meditation, the physiologies of a people whose privacy had always left doctors unprepared for them, the generalist streak of playing doctor, nurse, orderly—and now, apparently, veterinarian.

He had gotten himself into this mess, he thought wryly, as he nodded and inched forward.

He slowly lowered his hand down to the sehlat’s shaggy fur. He could feel her enormous breaths rising and falling beneath his touch.

“So this is our patient,” he said. He petted her gently, combing through the thinner patches of her fur to check for broken skin or other irritations.

Maybe she was more like a bear-cat than a bear-dog. He had always been partial to cats.

He smiled at Simek, who nodded back at him.

“And you will not tell?” Simek said.

M’Benga shook his head. “We generally only pass on what’s especially worthy of comment—and I don’t see how taking care of yet another patient qualifies. Even if it’s one outside our usual clientele. Are you going to name her?”

Simek resumed his petting, but this time, in what could not possibly have been an accident, his hand grazed M’Benga’s. He said, “I have been considering it,” and M’Benga knew he was answering two questions at once—one asked and one unasked. “I thought it would be best to broach the subject with you first. It can be hard to know what agrees with someone else’s tastes.”

He let his smile linger. “Then it’s been broached—and agreed with.” He repeated Simek’s gesture, petting the sehlat so that he brushed against Simek in the process.

“Good,” Simek said, sounding distinctly pleased. He moved closer, allowing their shoulders to touch. “Then we can make arrangements to meet off the ward. Now, here are the names I was considering.”