Commander Jett Reno set down the plasma torch she’d been using and removed her protective glasses. She was almost finished repairing the damage to the engineering conduit. It was her last task, after a long nine-hour shift, up to her elbows in basic repairs, which weren’t very stimulating. She still had time for dinner before game night with Ensign Tilly and some of the Bridge crew. Tilly would be back from her away mission within the hour.
“Reno, report to the Medbay immediately,” Dr. Culber’s voice came through the comm.
“What can I do for you, Doc?” she asked after poking the comm button with the tool.
“Medbay, immediately. Bring a kit of cutting tools. All of them. Hurry.”
Reno opened her mouth again to ask why, but Culber closed the comm. She shrugged and immediately headed to the storage area, finding two different kits of micro-drills, saws, and rotary cutters of various strength for cutting into various alloys. At the last moment, Reno grabbed a micro plasma torch. Better to be prepared for whatever this was. She had no idea why he wanted those, but she hurried to the medbay.
Once the doors opened to the medbay, the first thing Reno saw was Tilly, pale and with blood on one side of her face. She clutched her right arm to her chest. Tears ran down her cheeks. Reno gave a quick glance around the medbay, not seeing Culber or any of the other medical staff. Another door slid open, admitting Dr. Pollard from an unfamiliar room which Reno had never been in. She was dressed in full surgical gear, along with a mask covering her face and gloves. Dark red blood stained the gloves she wore. Tracy stripped them off and tossed them into a biohazard receptacle.
“Thank you for coming so quickly. Do you have the tools?” Tracy asked, quickly taking the two kits. “I need to sterilize them.”
“Where’s the Doc?”
“He’s in the OR.”
A nurse with blond hair came from around the corner and motioned for her to remove her uniform jacket. Reno frowned, but obliged.
Doctor Pollard seemed to be pleased with the quantity of tools in both kits and closed the lid. “Nurse Hanna will help you scrub. You’re not squeamish, right?”
“Not particularly. I did quite a bit of medical work on the Hiawatha for ten months.”
Reno wanted to ask more questions, but she was stopped by Tilly sobbing as another nurse stepped over to her and spoke softly. Nurse Hanna guided Reno to another unfamiliar section of the medbay, which must have been the scrub room. She instructed Reno to begin washing her hands. Alright. Placing her wedding ring on the ledge, she scrubbed every part of her hands with the hot water and soap until they felt raw and sterilized. Nurse Hanna turned off the water and dried them for her. She helped Reno into a white surgical gown and tied it tightly around her waist. Next were the surgical gloves, which covered the end of the gown sleeves and snapped around her wrist. Reno winced. She made a face as Hanna grabbed a cover for her head.
“You’re ready.” Hanna kept her eyes down and her voice soft. “I feel I should warn you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
When they stepped back into the main part of the medbay, Pollard had already disappeared with the tool kits into the operating room. Reno followed Hanna to the OR doors. The first set of doors opened, and they stood between them and a second set, which had obscured windows so she couldn’t see what was beyond.
“Negative pressure and a quick biofilter, it filters out any potential contaminants we could bring in. It only takes a moment.”
Reno nodded, not sure what to say. She braced herself for what possibly was inside the OR. It couldn’t be good if they needed her assistance in cutting something with engineering tools.
“Just keep breathing,” Dr. Culber said as the doors opened to the operating room.
As much as Reno wasn’t squeamish, her stomach dropped at the sight before her. Lieutenant Stamets sat on the bio-bed, shoeless and shirtless, leaning his arms forward on a surgical cart to brace himself with the jaws of some type of large animal trap, clamped tight around his body, from his right lower chest to hip. He was surprisingly calm. Little rivulets of blood slowly streamed down from where each metal tooth was embedded in his body. A white sheet covered the lower half of his body and was pinned behind him.
“Holy shit,” Reno hissed.
Paul turned his head slightly at the sound of her voice. “Hey Grease Monkey.” An IV protruded from one of his arms, no doubt giving him enough pain medication that he didn’t really care about what was happening to him.
The gowned figure, that had to be Doctor Culber, steadied Paul as he tried to shift his position a little.
Reno stepped forward a little with a gentle nudge from the nurse. “Hey kid. What the hell happened to you?”
“Did you bring the duct-tape?” Paul smiled, but it quickly fell into a grimace.
“Lieutenant Stamets strayed from the path and fell into some type of animal trap.” The raw anger in Hugh’s voice was barely contained with a small amount of medical professionalism.
“I did push Tilly out of the way,” Paul protested. His blue eyes were glassy but focused on his partner as Hugh gently squeezed his left arm before fiddling with the IV line.
Reno glanced up at the screen, displaying Paul’s stats. She wasn’t sure what most of it meant, but the colors where the trap had clamped down, were red and yellow.
“How can I help?” she asked, wiping her gloved hands on the front of her gown.
Hugh nodded, barely glancing at her. “Internal scans show that the teeth are approximately 4.5 centimeters in length. Two of his ribs are broken, along with internal damage to his lung, kidney, intestines, and there’s a lot of vascular damage. I have several vascular clamps, containing some of the blood loss.” He paused. “My fear is that if we remove the trap all at once, the damage will be too much… he won’t survive. If we can remove each tooth individually; I can start working on each section.” Hugh paused and she could hear how tense his voice was. “Hopefully that will be enough.”
Paul made a soft sound and reached out one shaking hand toward Hugh. Hugh quickly wrapped his fingers around Paul’s. He gave a gentle squeeze. Reno glanced away, feeling like she was intruding for glimpsing such a small moment of intimacy and vulnerability between the two of them.
“Oxygen levels are dropping slightly,” Dr. Pollard reported.
At the same time, Paul took a very shaky breath and expelled it.
Reno grabbed one of the tools from her kit and started to analyze the components of the metal in order to determine which saw blade would work best. It took a few moments for the scan to process.
“We’re gonna give you a thoracic epidural to numb you,” Hugh said.
Paul closed his eyes tightly. “I hate needles.”
Reno set the scanner down on the cart and leaned in closer, examining the springs of the trap. She reached out to touch the mechanism, but hesitated.
“It won’t bite you. It already has me,” Paul said, watching her movements.
He shook his head. “’s my fault.” His words slurred slightly.
“Inserting the needle, stay as still as you can,” Hugh instructed. He kept one hand on Paul’s back as he guided the needle into his spine, injecting the numbing agent.
Paul shifted as he let out a soft whimper. “Sorry.” Blood ran down his side from the change in position.
Tracy gently dabbed at the blood. Hugh prepared a clear tubing that Reno recognized as a nasal cannula. He gently put it around Paul’s face. Paul made a face when the tubing pinched his nose as it was inserted. Once it was secured, Hugh and Tracy carefully guided Paul to lie down on his left side. Tracy adjusted the lower drape as it slipped a little, trying to maintain the modesty of her patient. As soon as the oxygen started flowing, Paul’s shoulders dropped a little and he seemed to be breathing easier.
The scanner beeped, alerting Reno that her results were ready. She picked it up and studied it. “Multiple unfamiliar elements, and the alloy structure is quite strong. I think the chromium-titanium blades might work best. There’s iridium in the alloy that will make it resistant to heat. Looks like that will be our best option.”
“Well, this should be fun,” Paul grumbled.
“Hey, I’m not exactly happy with you right now.” Hugh glanced up at Paul’s stats, which continued to decline.
“Hugh.” Paul motioned with his head for him to come closer.
They spoke in soft voices for a moment as Reno prepped her saw, putting on the first blade. She only had a limited number. Hopefully they’d be enough. Hugh pressed a masked kiss to Paul’s forehead and stood up. If Reno noticed the glint in the doctor’s eyes, she pretended not to see it. She knew enough about Dr. Culber to know that he was most vulnerable when the people he cared about were in danger, and Stamets was his biggest vulnerability. This wasn’t exactly an easy situation for either of them.
Reno moved in closer, carefully lining her blade up with the metal springs. Reducing the tension of the trap would make it easier for them to work and would hopefully help alleviate some of the pain that Paul was experiencing. Not that he was at the moment. Hugh confirmed that the epidural had fully taken affect and Paul couldn’t feel anything.
“I can’t feel my butt… it’s weird.” Paul whispered.
Reno smiled. “That’s a good thing, kid.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, let’s get this damn thing off of you.”
She started with the closest spring pin. The blade whirled and dug into the metal alloy with a fervent charge, the sound of the two metals together gave off a high-pitched sound and small sparks were released. It took several long minutes to completely go through the spring. Reno quickly reversed the blade and pulled back through the cut, releasing the metal pin on that side. Inspecting the blade, she saw that several of the teeth had been severely worn down from the small amount of progress. “Damn it. That metal is a bitch.”
“This is gonna take a while.” Hugh checked one of the teeth, embedded in Paul’s chest and adjusted the little blinking device, which was attempting to slow the bleeding.
“BP is dropping,” Tracy said as she watched the vitals screen.
Paul’s pallor was greying. Hugh dabbed at the drops of perspiration on Paul’s forehead. “Tracy, get a unit of B negative running and open up the lines. We need to keep moving.”
Reno adjusted her position and started in on the other side of the trap. The second metal pin took even more time as the blade continued to dull from the tough metal. As soon as it was pushed through the metal and pulled back out again, Reno examined the blade. It was useless now. Hugh reached in and removed the pieces of the metal pins. The rest of the tension in the trap released.
Paul gasped softly.
“Are you okay?” Hugh asked.
“Yeah, sorry. I felt… pressure.”
Hugh grabbed the IV line and adjusted the pain medication slightly. “You might feel some pressure, but you shouldn’t feel any pain.”
“Do you want me to start with the teeth?” Reno asked.
“In a minute. I need to run another scan since the trap moved; to make sure it didn’t cause any more damage that could stop our efforts.”
Reno took the short break to change the already dull blade. She counted how many blades she had, suddenly feeling a bit anxious. There might not be enough. Reno stepped away from a moment and comm’d one of the other engineers to see if they could find any more of those blades. Engineer Olson promised to check and deliver them to the medbay.
“The spikes moved, but not by much. The vascular clamps are still holding for now, but if one of them slips… it’ll be hard to control the bleeding.” Hugh watched as Paul took another shaky breath.
“Is it ethical to keep him awake?” Reno asked, lowering her voice.
The doctor nodded. “It helps to judge his mental facilities. Until we need to sedate him, it’s better if Paul’s… Lieutenant Stamets is awake. Also, since the integration of the tardigrade DNA into his, his body has less of a tolerance for sedation. It puts a significant strain on his heart that we can’t risk complicating the situation more. For now, as long as he’s calm, we need to keep him awake.”
Reno agreed and stepped back up to the table. “Which side do we want to start with, front or back?”
“Let’s do the back first.” Hugh went around to the opposite side of the table, switching places with Tracy.
Reno picked up the handheld saw and moved to stand next to the doctor.
“You guys are… leaving me?” Paul whined.
“Yep kid. I’ve been waiting to stare at your ass,” Reno teased.
He gave a soft laugh and then gasped at the movement. “I’m never leaving the ship again.”
“Good. I’m tired of patching you up,” came Hugh’s quick response.
Hugh’s eyes wrinkled, but he didn’t say anything else. Reno held up the saw and indicated that she was ready to begin again. Starting at the top spike, which according to the scans, had gone between Paul’s two lower ribs, she pressed the blade into the spike and started slowly moving forward. It was several centimeters at the base of the trap, but a little closer to the skin, it narrowed. Reno picked that location, hoping it would take less time and dull the blade slower. She went through the first one and moved to the second one. The blade did a little better than with the spring pins, but she still needed to change it after the third one. There were nearly a dozen teeth on the back side and the front had twin sets at each point. Damn.
“How squeamish are you?” Hugh asked as she prepared to start on the fourth tooth.
“I spent ten months, up to my arms in Tellarite brains and piggy-backing hearts to other hearts to save the lives of quite a few people. I’m not squeamish.”
He nodded. “Okay, but I warn you… it’s a little different when it’s a friend.”
Reno opened her mouth to protest that the hippie-mushroom doctor wasn’t exactly a friend but closed it. That would be a lie. The kid had become a friend over the past few weeks.
“I need to start removing the spikes, now that I have some room to work and you’re far enough down.”
Reno winced slightly at the mental image of the spike being pulled from Stamets’ back but didn’t change her stance as she moved the saw close to the fourth tooth.
“I can set up a drape if I need to.”
“No problem Doc. You do what you need to do. I’ll manage.”
Nurse Hanna brought over a stool and a cart of medical tools. Hugh sat down and glanced over at Reno. “Let me know before you pass out, if you can’t handle it.”
Nodding, Reno angled herself so she couldn’t see all of what Hugh was doing. The saw revved up and she started to cut through the fourth tooth. As she finished, Reno accidently looked over to see a 4.5-centimeter tooth, stained with blood, Paul’s blood, being dropped into a metal tray. Hugh’s adept hands worked quickly with a handle device, to staunch the blood loss.
A warmth settled into her stomach and a cold sweat broke out on her forehead. Before Reno could comprehend what was happening, the saw was removed from her hand and she was roughly pushed into a stool.
“Breathe, in and out,” Hugh instructed. “Hanna, your new job is to watch Reno. What’s her pressure?”
The nurse responded, but Reno couldn’t hear it.
“What’s wrong?” Paul asked, his voice tight.
“It’s okay,” Hugh answered in a soothing voice. “You’re doing okay. Reno just needed to sit down for a moment.” He continued working on the open wound, rotating his body slightly so his work wasn’t as visible. “Are you alright to continue?”
Reno swallowed; her throat dry. “Peachy.”
Nurse Hanna pressed the saw back into her hands and she returned to her work. Reno intensely focused on her job, ignoring what Hugh was doing. With each spike removed, more blood stained his gloves as he worked to repair the internal damage. Doctor Pollard interrupted once to rattle off some stats about a rising temperature and an increase in Paul’s stats fluctuating. Hugh instructed her to change something with the IV lines. Paul tried to talk to Hugh once, but quickly gave up. She listened to the sound of his breathing, which had changed to shorter and rattling breaths, as she changed to the next blade. Only one more spike on Paul’s back. Nurse Hanna dabbed at the sweat on Reno’s forehead. Her back had begun to ache from the position she was in and her nose itched, but she couldn’t stop. Paul was depending on her.
Once the last spike was cut, Reno held the backside of the trap in her hands and carefully moved it, setting it down on the cart with a loud clank. Her ears rang. She shook out her hand, squeezing her fingers and releasing them. A line of four spikes remained in Paul’s back. It didn’t look as terrifying with the rest of the structure gone.
“How’s she doing, Hanna?” Hugh asked, not looking away from the spike he was slowly removing.
“She looks like she could use a break,” the nurse answered.
“Can you take her out, get her a drink and to eat something?”
“I’m good. I can finish this,” Reno said, rubbing the small of her back as she straightened.
Hugh paused for only a moment and looked over at her. “I know. But it’s been a few hours and you need a break. I need all of your focus and strength when we tackle the front side of Paul’s chest. It’s gonna be a lot worse.”
The words that Hugh didn’t speak spoke volumes; he needed her to help save Paul’s life. The man that he loved. She followed Hanna out through the biofiltered doors and into the main section of the medbay. Reno pulled off her mask, breathing in deeply. She rested her hands against the nearest bio-bed and focused on not thinking about what was happening.
“Commander – err, Reno?”
Reno looked up, surprised to see Tilly still sitting on a biobed. The blood had been cleaned from her skin and she no longer clutched her arm to her chest in pain. One of the nurses had tended to her while they were in the OR.
“Hey,” Reno mumbled.
“How – how’s he? How’s Commander – Paul. How’s Stamets doing?” Her hands were shaking as she twisted one of her curls around her finger.
“Doc is working on it. We’re doing our best.” Reno didn’t feel like describing the situation to the kid. It wasn’t going to make her feel any better. Especially since Paul babbled something about pushing her out of harm’s way. Tilly didn’t need anything added to her guilt.
Hanna returned to her side and started to help her. She peeled off Reno’s mask and gown, tossing them in the recycler. She returned with a can of cool, crisp soda and a straw poking out of the top.
“Thanks.” Reno took a sip of the caffeinated liquid and sighed. That hit the spot. “Is the Doc gonna take a break?”
“Dr. Pollard is there to assist him if he needs a moment, but I don’t think he’ll take a break until it’s over.”
Translation: there was no way in hell that Hugh would stop for a moment when Paul’s life was on the line. His biggest vulnerability, his partner, who he’d already almost lost so many times; Hugh couldn’t give up. Maybe Reno could make some type of bubble wrap jacket for Paul to wear when he was better.
“You’re doing very well, Reno.” Hanna took the empty can and put it the trash chute. “Would you like to make a trip to the head before we scrub you back in?”
Reno followed her to the private bathroom. Once she was finished, Hanna took her back to the scrub room and forced her into a clean gown, gloves, and mask. Tilly gave her a weak smile as they headed back toward the OR. Hopefully one of the nurses could convince her to take a break and go rest. Reno suspected it was going to be long hours before Paul was stable enough.
Upon reentering the OR, Reno saw that Hugh and Tracy were attempting to reposition Paul on his back so they could address the front entry points. Paul’s breathing changed and his expression was tight. Sweat ran down his face and he cried out at the movement, though Reno doubted he was in pain. Doctor Pollard connected a syringe to the IV port and slowly pushed through a white milky colored liquid. Hugh positioned himself at Paul’s head, gently stroking his hair. Paul melted beneath his touch, closing his eyes and sighing softly.
“You’re doing great,” Hugh murmured.
“I don’t… feel so good.” Paul let out a shaky breath that sounded very close to a sob.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’ll be over soon and then you can rest.”
Reno looked away as Hugh pressed another masked kiss to Paul’s forehead. He straightened up and turned his attention to Reno. “Are you ready? The damage on his front side is significantly worse.”
“Yep. Let’s do this.”
Hanna pushed the stool in Reno’s direction. She sat down and picked up her saw, checking that her blade was ready. She looked at the teeth, noting that it would be more difficult with the vascular stabilizers placed as close as possible to the wounds, controlling the bleeding. Reno had to contort her body to access the various angles without disturbing any of the things keeping him from bleeding out. Two teeth. Four teeth. It was taking longer to do each section of twin teeth. Reno changed the blade again and glanced up at the vitals chart, seeing the flashing reds. Dr. Pollard adjusted one of the lines and hung another bag of a clear fluid.
“Hugh… I’m… tired,” came Paul’s soft voice.
“I know you’re tired, honey. But I need you to stay awake.” Hugh brushed Paul’s sweaty hair from his forehead. “You can… you can go to sleep soon.” Reno pretended she didn’t hear the sob in his voice.
Paul nodded once. He took a shallow breath and cleared his throat. He shook his head, clearing his throat again. A wet sounding gag came out of his throat.
“Reno, stop!” Hugh ordered. “Pollard, he’ll aspirate – turn him!”
Reno pushed back away from the table as Dr. Pollard and Nurse Hanna helped Hugh turn Paul onto his side. Hanna shoved a small basin under Paul’s chin as he coughed and threw up a small amount. There was a low gurgle and he threw up again. Hugh spoke softly, holding his partner in place. A tear ran down Paul’s cheek. He was trembling and his face was the palest she’d ever seen. Reno braced herself on the chair as she watched the scene unfold. Another awful sound and this time, Hugh shouted instructions. One of the nurses prepped a syringe and inserted it into the IV port.
“Tracy.” Hugh tilted the small basin in the other doctor’s direction. Reno didn’t turn away fast enough. She saw the blood.
Paul was throwing up blood, from the internal damage.
They carefully repositioned Paul on his back and Tracy added another bag of blood, along with more approved medication from Hugh. Paul’s breathing was shallow and uneven. Hanna removed the nasal cannula and tipped his chin up a little. A shimmer surrounded his mouth, an oxygen field. His pallor had continued to grey, despite the blood infusion. Paul’s eyes closed. Reno thanked whoever was listening that the kid finally passed out.
“We need to move faster,” Tracy reported.
Reno resumed her position and revved up the saw. She started on the next set of teeth, trying to work faster. The atmosphere in the room shifted. Reno tried to move faster, but the blades continued to dull too quickly. She reached for the table, seeing the problem. One blade. Only half of the spikes had been cut.
“Uh, Doctor Culber?”
Hugh looked away from the spot he’d been healing. “What’s wrong?”
“I only have one blade left.”
“Damn it.” He hung his head for a moment. “Okay, new plan. How many more can you remove?”
“Three, possibly four more. That’s it.”
“Do it.” He finished closing the open wound and moved over to have a conversation with Dr. Pollard.
Reno managed to cut three more teeth, and almost all the way through the fourth. She pushed the blade, trying to pull back and cut it. Applying force would cause further damage to Paul. His chest barely rose and fell beneath where she was working. She had to stop. “That’s it. I can’t get any more.”
The two doctors watched as she moved back from the bed. Neither of them seemed to be incredibly pleased about their prospects. They had no choice. Hugh and Tracy removed the drapes around Paul’s upper body, only leaving the sheet right above his pelvis. Hanna left the operating room and came back with two bags of blood, and one of a milky substance. Plasma. There was a flurry of motion as they prepped various medical tools on carts beside the bed, along with cloth sponges and metal clamps. Hanna gave Paul something in his IV. Another nurse approached the bed, ready to assist with whatever was going to happen next. Reno wondered if she needed to leave. Hugh positioned himself on the right side, and Pollard on the opposite side.
“Reno, this is going to be messy, but I need you to pull out the frame when I tell you to.”
They were seriously going to do it how she thought they were? Shit.
“Oh shit,” she hissed.
“Nurse Hanna will get you out of here as soon as you finish. Blade four,” Hugh said, accepting the offered laser scalpel from Tracy.
“Alright.” Reno swallowed.
Hugh placed the blade at the bottom of Paul’s sternum and drew it all the way down to the top of his pelvis. Reno felt her stomach churn as blood started to come from the wound. As the scalpel reached the lower part of his abdomen, a putrid smell filled her mask and Reno fought to keep from being sick.
“Damn it. It pierced his bowel.”
A surgical nurse was ready with suction as soon as the cavity was exposed. Excess blood and fluids were sucked into the tubing as Dr. Pollard used several silver clamps to open up the incision. Reno couldn’t help but stare at the internal organs, Paul’s organs, displayed in front of her. Cold sweat formed on her brow and she was certain she looked paler than Stamets on a good day. She tried to focus on breathing, but the OR felt suddenly warm.
“Sir,” Hanna said firmly.
“Reno, I need you to stay focused. Just a few more minutes and then you can go.” Hugh looked over at his nurse. “Are you with me?”
Reno stared at Paul’s face, noting how young and fragile he looked in this state; so in need of protection.
“Reno! Can you still do this?” Hugh’s words were sharp enough to bring her focus back.
“Yeah Doc. I can do it.”
Hugh grabbed one of his medical tools off the cart. “Hanna, as soon as we have it out, get her out of here.”
Reno moved closer to the table, her hands were shaking, and a nurse dabbed at the sweat on her brow before it rolled into her eyes. She’d lost track of how many medical professionals were fluttering around Paul, trying to keep him alive.
Hugh spoke to her, getting her to focus. “Okay, Reno, I need you to grab a hold of the trap and slowly start to pull it straight up. We’ll have to go slow and stop occasionally. If we yank it out, he’ll hemorrhage, and we won’t be able to save him.”
Reno got a firm grip on the trap, keeping her eyes away from the scene beneath it.
“Millimeter by millimeter,” Hugh instructed, diving his hands into the open body cavity.
As carefully as she could, Reno started to pull up on the trap. Tracy and Hugh fervently worked, shoving tools and packing into Paul’s abdominal cavity, instructing her to stop for a moment. She couldn’t tell if the trembling in her arms was from the weight of the trap or the adrenaline pumping into her bloodstream.
“Damn it, Paul,” Hugh hissed as blood squirted onto his already stained gown.
Reno took a deep breath and focused on not being sick. Tracy quickly added more packing, trying to stop the bleeding. Various alarms started to go off on the vitals monitor, along with flashing red lights. Shit.
“A little more,” Dr. Pollard said.
Readjusting her grip, Reno lifted the trap a few more millimeters.
“Fuck. This isn’t working. I can’t see anything with the damn teeth still in his abdomen. Let’s pack it.” Hugh tossed his tools onto the cart and grabbed a stack of cloth sponges.
“More.” Tracy stared at Reno as she helped shove more packing into his gut.
“BP is tanking; he’s going tachy,” came one of the nurse’s voices over the sounds of the vitals alarm.
“I see it,” Hugh hissed. “Push three ccs of intrope, open the ringers all the way.”
“We need to hurry, Hugh.” Tracy tried to stop another bleeder as it squirted her.
Blood dripped onto the floor. Reno watched as several drops fell onto her shoes, and she finally saw the small puddle they were all standing in. Shit. Her stomach rolled. Removing the trap slowly, wasn’t fast enough. If they didn’t stop it now, Paul would bleed to death.
“Pull out the last bit,” Hugh ordered.
Reno froze and looked into the doctor’s intense brown eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, we’re ready.” His words didn’t seem as sure, but they had no other choice at this point.
“We have to have it out now,” Tracy affirmed.
Reno nodded and removed the trap from Paul’s flesh. All hell broke loose. Bright red blood bubbled from the wounds that were no longer being blocked. Both doctors shouted instructions as another incision was made. Hugh yelled for the damn alarms to be turned down. She stood there, frozen as the trap piece was removed from her hands. A firm hand grasped under her arm and yanked her away from the table. One of the nurses relayed that his oxygen levels were falling too quickly and they needed to intubate him. Hanna removed her gloves, mask, gown, and cap before Reno could process that she was no longer in the operating room but sitting on a bio-bed in the main part of the medbay.
“Commander Reno, are you alright?” Hanna asked, snapping her ungloved fingers in front of Reno’s face.
“What the hell just happened?” she spat, leaning forward and supporting herself with her hands on the edge of the bio-bed.
Hanna immediately pushed her back up. “Deep breaths. You’re hyperventilating. Come on, breathe in and out with me.” She made an exaggerated breathing motion.
It took a moment to realize that the rough gasping sound she heard was actually her own breathing. Reno focused on breathing in and out, trying to get the image of the blood bubbling from Paul’s stomach, out of her mind.
“I’m fine. Stop hovering,” she protested, batting at the tricorder wand near her face.
“Your blood pressure is low and I’m sorry, but you look like you’re about to faint. I can’t have you fainting out here and hitting your heard. I need the doctors in there with Stamets, not checking you for a concussion.”
“Just give me a second.”
“You’ll do a better job of convincing me if you open your eyes,” Hanna said gently.
Oh. Reno blinked, not realizing that her eyes were closed. The images of blood leaking from Paul’s stomach and him gasping for air, filled her mind. She refocused, seeing that Nurse Hanna held a small cup of orange juice. Reno opened her mouth to say something but turned her head as she threw up the little in her stomach. An orderly named O’Brian steadied her and handed her a basin.
“Damn, I owe Tracy an inventory shift of the storage closet,” he said under his breath.
“I told you,” Hanna whispered. “You feel better now?” She directed her attention back to Reno as she spit into the basin.
“Yep. Fuck. I didn’t expect that. I saw worse on the Hiawatha.”
Hanna handed her a wipe for her mouth. “Understandable. But it’s different when you see your friend’s blood vessel burst, compared to someone you don’t know as well or seeing a coolant leak. It’s a bit raw.”
“It’s damn embarrassing,” Reno muttered.
“I’ll be back in little while. Just stay put.”
The cup of juice was returned to Reno with strict instructions to sip slowly. Seeing that she wasn’t about to take a nosedive off of the bio-bed, O’Brian went to find a bio-clean kit for the floor. Hanna was right. Seeing a blood vessel was different from seeing Paul’s internal organs splayed out in front of her as his blood dripped on her shoes. The thought reminded her. Reno glanced down at her blood-stained shoes. Nope. She slipped them off and let them fall to the floor with two thuds.
Hanna returned about twenty minutes later. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’m fine. How’s the kid?”
She hesitated. “Not well. It’s gonna be a few hours before he’s stabilized. Doctor Culber said, that as long as you aren’t feeling faint, you need to stay another half hour and then you are discharged to your quarters to rest. He’s also relieved you of duty for twenty-four hours to recover.”
“I won’t argue with the Doc.” Reno knew better than trying to protest Culber’s wishes right now. He had enough on his mind.
“I have to go back in and assist. Your tools will be cleaned and returned to you later.” Hanna touched her shoulder. “Thank you, Commander.”
“I’d say ‘anytime’, but I don’t think I want to do that again.”
“I believe Doctor Culber and Commander Stamets would thank you, profusely. You may have helped save his life.”
“May isn’t good enough, so I hope I did better.”
Hanna gave her a soft acknowledgement and disappeared back into the operating room.
When the thirty minutes was up, Reno exited the medbay, barefoot and exhausted. She headed straight to the mess hall to get something gentle in her stomach. She’d missed dinner and the game time. Heading to the food synthesizer, Reno ordered a cup of tea and a sandwich. Across the nearly empty mess hall sat a familiar red-haired young woman.
“Mind if I sit with you?” Reno asked, standing in front of Tilly.
“Commander, I mean –”
She held up one hand to stop the looming chatter. “He’s still in surgery. I don’t know anything else.”
“Oh.” Tilly cupped her nearly empty mug and took a sip. “I’ve never heard someone scream like that.” Her voice was soft, barely audible. “There was nothing I could do. I was the one who almost fell in the hole with the trap, but at the last second, Stamets – he – he pushed me to the side and he fell. It’s my fault that he was crushed by that trap.”
“Accidents are no one’s fault. You didn’t put the trap there and you didn’t want him to get hurt. In this case, there’s no one to blame but the person who put the damn trap there in the first place. Neither of you.”
They both sat in silence for several long minutes before Tilly spoke again.
“Do you think he’s gonna be okay?”
The image of the blood, bubbling to the surface from Paul’s stomach made her appetite retreat. “I don’t know.” She pursed her lips. “I don’t know.”
Sleep came in short bursts, filled with blood and screaming and saw blades being too dull. Reno saw from the shift turnover report that the medbay had requested blood donations over night and a few of the crew were put on light duties after donating. She wondered how much more blood that Paul needed, but she didn’t want to imagine the blood on her boots again. After replicating new boots, Reno headed toward the mess hall. She looked around the room and stood in front of the food synthesizer for several minutes before realizing she wasn’t hungry. Reno checked. No messages from Doctor Culber or Nurse Hanna with an updated status of their patient. Damn. She considered going and bothering them but didn’t want to if Hugh was finally resting. It could wait for a little. Reno found herself walking toward Paul’s lab.
Tilly sat at a console, staring off at nothing. Her fingers tapped anxiously on a PADD. She didn’t bother to look over at the door when Reno entered.
“Hey kid. You doing alright?”
“Oh. Hey Reno. I’m just working on the spore drive reconfigurations that Commander Stamets asked me to do.” Tilly paused. When she looked up at Reno, unshed tears hid in her eyelashes. “I can’t concentrate. Dr. Culber promised me that he’d give me a status update when he knew… but I haven’t heard from him.”
“I haven’t heard anything either.” Reno wiped her hand on the console, removing a few specks of dust. “Did you sleep?”
Tilly shrugged. “Not really. Well, a little bit because the painkiller that the nurse gave me had something in it that made me sleepy, but… I didn’t sleep well.”
She nodded, wiping off her face with her sleeve.
“I get it. We all have nightmares about the worst moments of our lives. But they do fade with time.” Reno stood up, not wanting to sit there and wait anymore.
Reno headed to Engineering and headed to her desk. Work would distract her. Two cases sat on her desk. Without thinking, Reno opened the top one up. Inside lay the handheld saw that she’d clutched to for several hours as blood stained her hands. His blood. The high-pitched whirring assaulted her ears, along with the bio-alarms blaring. Nope. She closed the case and carried it to the trash chute. Reno shoved it inside without a second thought. She could request a new one. No need to see that specific one again.
She walked around aimlessly and unengaged in her department for a while. Her feet took her all over the ship and subconsciously led her to the medbay doors.
“You can go in. None of us bite.” Nurse Hanna stood behind her, holding several take-out containers from the mess hall.
Reno opened her mouth to make a snarky retort, but Hanna had already walked through the doors. Steeling herself, she walked into the medbay. The medbay was quiet and had no patients. Since he wasn’t in the main part of the bay, she hoped that Paul had been put somewhere private. Her unasked question was answered when she saw Saru come from a small door to the left.
“Commander,” Saru greeted. “Doctor Pollard informed me that you were not on duty today.”
“I’m not. Just…” The unfinished words hung in the air.
There was a small, but perceptible nod. “Doctor Culber informed me of your efforts and has requested a commendation be put into your file.”
Reno was stunned. “Not needed. I was just doing my job.”
“The circumstances were less than desirable, and Mr. Stamets’ survival is a large result of your efforts.”
“Oh, so he’s…”
“As you know the damage was severe. Commander Stamets is sedated and Doctor Culber is asleep. If you’d like, I’m sure the nurses would allow you to ascertain for yourself.”
“Probably a good idea,” Reno commented, ignoring the flush of nausea at the prospect of seeing Paul in worse circumstances.
Saru excused himself after thanking her again for her assistance. Reno spotted Nurse Hanna sitting at the nurse’s station and walked over to her.
“You can have two minutes and don’t wake up Doctor Culber, please,” Hanna said, guiding her toward the private rooms.
“How’s the kid doing?”
“Better than he has any right to be.” Nurse Hanna said, motioning for Reno to sanitize her hands. “The damage control continued for a quite a few hours after you left. Doctor Culber finally closed him up about ten hours after the procedure began.”
“You still had to work today?”
Hanna nodded. “We only have two nurses who are trained on critical care. We’re alternating, taking turns sleeping. Tracy is asleep in the CMO’s office in case anyone needs to be seen.”
The schedule of the medbay after an event like this was something Reno had never witnessed. It didn’t surprise her that none of the medical staff were really off duty. She’d experienced that on the Hiawatha when she was keeping that crew alive. It was almost impossible to get any rest until she built her assistants to help out.
“Thank you, Hanna. I’ll be quick.”
Only one of the doors in the small corridor were closed. The placard ICU was about the door. The door swished open without any sound when she pressed the small button to the side. Dim lights showed all of the medical equipment and monitors crammed into the small room. Several IV lines and pumps were connected at the head of the bed. The commander, Paul, was nearly translucent from lack of color. He looked incredibly young and softer, without his ever-present scowl or furrowed eyebrows. Various tubes and lines protruded from beneath the layer of multiple blankets tucked around him, no doubt attempting to preserve what little body heat he could maintain in his state. Beneath the soft chirping of the vitals monitors, Paul’s slightly labored breathing reached her ears. It was no doubt assisted by one of the various pieces of equipment. Reno shifted her gaze to Culber. The doctor lay in the reclining chair, covered with his own blanket and asleep, holding onto Paul’s wrist loosely with one hand. It surprised her to see a bio-monitor on Culber’s other wrist, along with an IV of clear fluid. No doubt trying to rehydrate and assist the doctor with his own health while he rested. She couldn’t imagine having to operate on her own wife. No idea how Culber managed to do it and with such professionalism.
Hanna, snapping on a pair of gloves, jarred her attention. “Sorry. I’m just checking drains and dermal regenerators. Stay. You won’t be in the way.”
Reno watched as the nurse gently manipulated the drains emerging from under Paul’s blankets. She delicately placed a hand on his as she moved around. Not ignoring the unconscious man, but quietly taking care of him. Staying back against the wall, Reno observed as Hanna lowered the blankets in a practiced and efficient movement, revealing Paul’s abdomen, which was riddled with discoloration and tubes. Hanna checked a clear pouch adhered to his skin and changed it. She checked the status of each dermal regenerator, focusing on the large incision Culber had carved down Paul’s chest.
“I’m all done.” Hanna righted the blankets, making sure that nothing was pinched and then tossed her gloves in the bio-hazard chute.
“How long will he have to be here?” Reno asked. No way the kid was going to be discharged any time soon.
“We can’t tell at this point. Doctor Culber and Doctor Pollard will reassess him tomorrow. Hopefully they will know more by then. For now, we just need to get him through this critical phase.”
Damn. Reno nodded and followed the nurse back into the main part of the medbay. Hopefully seeing Paul in this state would replace the image of the two doctors shoving packing into his abdomen as he tried to bleed out.
“Do you need anything to help you sleep, Commander?” Hanna asked, sitting back at the desk.
“Nope. I should be good. That helped. Thank you.” Reno tapped the counter once for good measure and gave her a smile.
“I’ll let Dr. Culber know you stopped by when he wakes up.”
Reno mumbled another ‘thank you’ and headed back to her quarters. She sent a quick status update to Tilly, letting her know that she saw Paul and it wasn’t that bad. Kid didn’t need to know what she actually saw. Lying down, exhaustion pulled her to sleep.
Reno laid on her back in the Jefferies tube, trying to fix the stubborn piece of the water filter conduit. Water sprayed out of the pipe, soaking the top of her uniform. She swore loudly. Twisting the release, Reno turned the water off again. Her PADD beeped from beside her. After drying her hands, Reno picked it up and read the message on the screen.
Dr. Culber: Paul is asking for you.
It had been several days since she’d visited Paul in the ICU. Nurse Hanna kept in frequent contact with her, along with Hugh, sending updates about Paul’s condition. After two days of ‘touch and go’, Paul finally woke up for the first time. He’d been quite out of it and wasn’t himself. Reno waited for Hugh to invite her, not wanting to get in their personal space with Paul feeling so vulnerable. She hit an auto reply and finished up the work on the conduit.
“Hello Commander,” Hanna greeted from the nurse’s desk. “It’s nice to see you.”
“You too.” She paused, glancing back toward the ICU. “How’s he doing?”
“His pain levels have been high, but he claims the medication makes him nauseated. But he’s much better than the last time you saw him.”
Reno headed down the hall and knocked on the door before pressing the button. Hugh stood beside the bed, brushing Paul’s hair back as he scowled at him. Paul gave a weak smile to Reno. He was alert and glass-eyed from the medication, reclined back in the bio-bed. Dressed in a light blue gown, his eyes popped more. Reno noted that his complexion had improved, though he was still pale, it was much closer to his normal color.
“Hey Grease Monkey.” Paul’s voice was soft, with a hint of loop-iness.
“Hey kid. How’re you feeling?”
Paul shrugged one shoulder. “Okay.” He tried to shift his position slightly, but grimaced, putting one hand on his stomach.
Hugh grabbed his hand, stopping him from touching his stomach. “You have to lie still. I’m sorry. I know it isn’t that comfortable.” He squeezed Paul’s hand.
“I hate your job,” Paul said with his teeth gritted.
“No, you don’t.” Hugh kissed his forehead. “You wouldn’t be here without me. You don’t like what I do, but you love it. I’ll be back in a little bit to give you your nighttime medications.” He glanced over at Reno and smiled at her. “Don’t let him wear himself out.”
“You got it!”
She rolled her eyes at herself as Hugh exited, leaving them alone.
“You can sit down,” Paul said, using his head to gesture to the chair beside the bed.
“Of course. Sorry.” Reno sat next to him, looking at the smaller number of drains beneath his bed. He still had the IV and the nasal cannula, but at least less fluids were leaking out of his body. That was a plus. “How’re you feeling?”
“Well, all things considered…” Paul waved an IV laden hand.
“Hurts like a bitch, I bet.”
“I feel like shit. Even though I’m on the good medication, if I move, it feels like something is… pulling. It fucking hurts.” He coughed once and winced. Paul’s eyes strayed over to the pink cup on the bedside table.
Reno didn’t say anything but picked up the cup and tilted the bendy straw so Paul would be able to drink it without moving from his prone position. His cheeks flushed as he took a sip of tepid water. She waited until he nodded that he was finished and set the cup back on the table. His cheeks remained red as he focused on the tape holding the IV port in place on his hand. “Hey, don’t be embarrassed. I’ve seen your insides… and your naked ass. It’s okay that you can’t hold a cup right now. You went through hell.”
“Thanks.” Paul glanced over at her. “Hugh explained to me what happened after I passed out. What you did, it sucked and I’m sorry you had to see it, but I’m grateful for what you did to help me.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m just glad I didn’t have to watch you bleed out on the table. You’re not allowed to die. Hugh… Doctor Culber doesn’t need that. You two just got each other back. You’re supposed to be eating dinner in the mess hall together, getting caught making-out in a Jefferies tube, and grinning at each other like the idiots in love that you are.” Reno smiled. “Do you think the Doc is gonna forgive you?”
Paul shrugged again. “It might take a day or so, but yeah, he usually does. I scared him. Pretty good this time.” He glanced at the medical equipment at his bedside, looking at the fluctuating vitals and the IV drip. “I might have scared myself a bit too.”
Reaching over, Reno gently squeezed his free hand. “You’re in good hands. Doc won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Thank you, Reno.” Giving her a soft smile, he teased, “I still don’t like you.”
“Feeling’s mutual. You bled on my boots and I had to throw them out. Also, I almost ralphed on one of the nurses.” She shuddered at the memory. “I never want to see your insides again. Keep it in your skin, please.”
They could’ve kept going longer, but Hugh returned to administer Paul’s nighttime medications and check his incision. Reno gave them some privacy but stayed in the room. Once Hugh finished, he gently tucked the blanket around him and kissed Paul. His partner responded in turn. Paul’s eyes were heavy from the medication taking affect.
“Do you need anything before you rest?” Hugh caressed Paul’s cheek with his thumb.
“I’m okay, Dear Doctor.”
“Good night, honey,” Hugh whispered, kissing his forehead. “I’ll be back in a little while. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Paul’s eyes fluttered closed as he fell asleep.
Hugh dimmed the lights and headed toward the main part of the medbay. Reno followed him out. He gestured for her to head into the CMO’s office. The CMO’s office was actually fairly spacious, with a desk and a sofa for napping. Hugh picked up a tea pot, nestled in the corner of the desk. Reno opened her mouth to make a comment about the teapot but closed her mouth. Nope. They deserved a teapot. Even if it wasn’t quite regulation. She sat down in the chair across from Hugh.
“Would you like some?” Hugh asked, holding up a grey mug.
“Not my favorite drink, but I’ll have some.”
He poured some of the hot water into the mug and added the tea bag, instructing her to let it seep. Hugh sat down in the chair. A low moan came from his lips as he shifted into a more comfortable position. There were bags beneath his eyes and his complexion was a little lighter. The wrinkles around his mouth and on his forehead were tight. She wondered when the last time was that he had more than an hour or two of sleep.
Reno took a sip of her tea. She made a face and then waited a moment. “It’s not actually that bad.”
“I’ll take that as a good thing.” Hugh smiled and silently nursed his mug. “This isn’t a purely social chat. I wanted to see how you’re doing. I also wanted to let you know that I’m sorry I had to ask you to do that.”
“You needed my help. I did. It’s not your fault that the damn kid is so clumsy and accident prone.” She set the mug on the desk, not wanting to drink any more of it. “How’re you doing?”
A long pause. Hugh set his mug on the desk and ran a hand through his hair. “I almost couldn’t save him this time.” He swallowed. “I don’t know what I would have done if… I’m glad we don’t have to have that conversation.”
“I couldn’t do your job every day. Well, I did. For ten months. But that was plenty of time for me. It’s your job to patch up the crew when they fall into traps, eat alien cuisine that doesn’t agree with them, accidentally get shot, and so many other things. Friends, you have to cut them open and heal them.” Reno rang a hand over her eyes. “You impress me. I would never have been able to be that calm if it was my… wife on the operating table and I had to save her life. Paul’s very lucky to have you.”
“Damn right he is,” Hugh said, trying to conceal the sob in his throat. “I got him through the worst of it. Now we have time to process what happened and to heal. It’s gonna take time. Healing from abdominal surgery isn’t easy. His stomach muscles were cut open. Sitting will even be hard for him for a while. He’ll have to regain his strength there and I’m sure he won’t enjoy the process.” Hugh stood up and turned off the teapot. “You’re welcome to come visit Paul whenever you’d like. He’ll need some company and distraction. The next few days aren’t going to be easy for him.”
“I’ll be there. I think I can annoy him for a few hours of entertainment.” Reno stood up, watching as Hugh tidied up the desk, which was already clean. “Maybe you should get some rest. I’m sure Doctor Pollard can keep an eye on Paul for you. You look like shit.”
“Please, don’t sugar-coat it.” Hugh laughed once. “But you’re right. I should get some sleep. Paul won’t wake up for at least eight hours.”
“You earned it, Doc.”
Reno headed to the door, but Hugh’s voice stopped her, and she glanced back at him.
“Thank you… for Paul.” The moisture in his eyes was evident, but she didn’t say anything about it.
“No problem, Doc. Let’s just not make it a weekly thing.”
“You’re killing me,” Paul whined, resting his elbows on his knees. “It hurts my stomach too much.”
“I know it doesn’t feel the best, but you’re doing great. Two more. It won’t kill you,” Hugh laughed. “I’ve invested way too much time and emotion trying to keep you alive lately.”
Reno walked up to the holo-treadmill, glancing over at the two of them. It had been two weeks since his surgery and Paul had finally been released four days ago. Reno visited him a few times to keep his spirits up, but by the end of the first week, he became very irritable. He’d been allowed to go back on light duty the day before. This didn’t look like light duty. Hugh, dressed in athletic shorts and a white DISCO t-shirt, supported Paul’s knees as he lay flopped back on the floor. Paul was dressed in similar attire, sweaty and panting slightly. They were the only three people in the Fitness Studio at this time. Most of them were still on their shift or in the mess hall for dinner. Reno preferred this quieter time.
“Two more,” Hugh repeated. “We have to work on rebuilding your core muscles.”
“If you hadn’t cut them, I wouldn’t have to,” Paul retorted.
Hugh made a face. “If you hadn’t fallen into that trap and needed Reno to use a saw to cut it off, and then I had to have her yank the rest of it out of your abdomen, you wouldn’t have to.”
With a loud grunt, Paul yanked his body off the mat in a sloppy sit-up. “You win.”
Hugh kissed the end of his nose. “Yes, I do. Now, one more. Once your core muscles are doing better, you don’t have to worry about falling out of your chair again at breakfast.”
Paul rolled his eyes; his cheeks turning pink. Reno watched as Paul fell back against the mat and didn’t move again. Hugh gave a gentle squeeze to Paul’s leg, but he shook his head and continued to breathe heavier than normal. Kid was exhausted. She decided to help him and give him a minute to recover.
“Always knew you were the drill sergeant type when it came to physical activity,” Reno commented off-handedly, searching for her favorite running program, which took place on a beach at sunset and then turned to light rain. She liked the extra challenge and the holo-water cooled her off.
“How do you think I stay like this?” Hugh teased.
Paul put up one hand. “I appreciate it.”
“Of course, you do.” He gently swatted at Paul’s raised hand to get him to lower it.
“I assumed it was some type of extreme physical activity, possibly a tie me up game, but this makes sense now. I have a clearer picture.”
With one look at Paul’s flushed cheeks, not from the exercise, she knew she was right. Reno shook her head to clear the mental image.
“My second guess was some type of kick-boxing.” The program started and Reno looked away from the pair as the atmosphere changed around her. She felt the simulated breeze and heard the sound of seagulls in the distance.
“If you keep asking, you might find out.”
Reno put up one hand in their direction. “Sorry I asked. I’ll let you get back to it.”
She was glad to see the two of them, teasing each other and Paul up and around again. It helped clear some of the images of his blood on her hands and Hugh pulling the metal teeth from Paul’s body. Some. It would take more time for those to fade. Paul working really helped Tilly. She’d perked up today when Reno went to ask Paul a question in his lab. Good. Kid didn’t need to carry any guilt for an accident she couldn’t control.
“You cheated. You used your elbows on that last one,” Hugh said.
There was a pause and a soft sound that Reno recognized as a kiss. “I’ll let you have that one. You worked hard. It’ll get easier. I promise.”
The two went quiet as she continued her run and she assumed that they had already left after a few minutes or moved to another activity. It surprised her when Paul spoke again. Reno turned her head, seeing them standing by the door. Hugh put out his hand and Paul quickly put his hand in Hugh’s. He gently bumped Hugh’s shoulder and grinned like a love-sick puppy. Reno bit back a comment about them getting a room so she didn’t have to see them kiss but managed to keep it to herself. It was really nice to see things back to normal.