BLUE HORIZON 1261
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Durant studied the personal manifest he had created on every piece of clothing taken from the cargo. With the exception of one garment, everything had been properly cleaned, folded, repackaged and replaced into the original containers from which they had been taken.
Now that the heaters were working again with Pockets' makeshift replacement core, the crew had no further need to wear extra layers. Although Connie hadn't borrowed anything from the cargo, even she was back in the thin hospital scrubs she was usually seen wearing.
The captain had forbidden anyone from retaining anything from the cargo, but it appeared that one article of clothing hadn't yet made its way back. The cinnamon grizzly frowned when he noted the name written upon the line beside it. Perhaps it had merely been overlooked, but now that the Blue Horizon was only a few days away from Kantus, he wanted everything in its proper place. His initial reaction was to bring it to the attention of the captain, but then he decided to handle this personally and quietly.
He pocketed his notebook and then got up quietly from the desk. He left his office and then made his way around the perimeter of the Hold toward the lift. Several moments later, he stepped out onto the second level and walked purposefully to one specific cabin. He knocked on the door and waited, but there was no response.
He raised his hand to knock again, but then heard a faint voice through the door granting him permission to enter.
The grizzly thumbed the control and then stepped inside when the panel slid aside for him. The room inside was dark, save for a solitary scented candle burning on the compartment's desk. The computer terminal was dark, as was the vidscreen monitor on the wall. He allowed the door to shut behind him as he let his eyes adjust to the dim illumination.
"Sparky?" he asked quietly.
"In here, Durant,"
The bear tilted his head and looked into the lavatory. The short lynx was seated up on the counter, quietly grooming her fur with a wide bristled brush, wearing only a small towel about her middle. The feline met his eyes with a pleasant smile, but continued to work on her fur.
"Is there something I may help you with?" she asked in a soft voice.
The cargo master leaned against the door frame and suddenly realized he didn't know what to do with his hands. He crossed his arms lightly, but not in a manner to display arrogance.
"Actually, there is," he replied quietly. "It seems that you still have one of the garments from the cargo that we need to get cleaned and returned to its crate." Sparky hesitated for a moment, but then continued brushing without a word. She merely studied him with green feline eyes, her expression neutral. "According to the manifest, you should have a Japanese yukata, pale yellow with lavender highlights and a white sash adorned with blue and white flowers."
"Yes, it occupies a special place in my closet," the lynx replied nonchalantly.
"I am glad you've taken care of it," said the grizzly, "but it's time it was returned."
"I want to keep it, Durant. It has become my favorite garment."
The cargo master frowned and stood up straight, completely filling the doorway. "You know that's not permissible," he told her.
Ivy shook her head. "With so many boxes of clothing, no one will miss it," she said with a subtle shrug of her shoulders.
Durant tightened the stance of crossed arms. "With a detailed manifest, it will be missed, and I'm not just talking about my own list. The customer's list has every crate itemized with descriptions of everything inside, including size, material and even the eventual destination of the garment through its distributor."
The lynx stopped grooming and dropped the brush to her lap. "Can you fix the books for me?" she asked imploringly. "You can make it look like this one was never loaded."
Durant's eyes widened at the boldness of her request. "Sparky…. Ivy…" he said with narrowed eyes. "This is our first delivery. I don't intend to jeopardize our chances for further business with a single missing garment. Just give me the yukata and I'll forget we even had this conversation."
"No, I want to keep it."
The grizzly looked at her in disbelief. "This is exactly why Merlin initially refused to let anyone borrow clothing from the cargo. He only allowed it so that we might survive the cold."
"Yes, I know," Sparky replied, hopping down off the counter. She almost lost the towel and had to clasp it to her chest to keep from baring herself. "However, I've grown fond of it. The style really suits me."
"Ivy, I don't want to be at odds with you, but if you don't return the garment, I will have no recourse but to report this to the captain. How do you think he's going to react?"
The feline chef looked up at the bear's great height and tried to look cute, but she knew from the expression on his face that he wasn't going to budge on his decision. Finally, she lowered her head and crossed her arms to match his.
"He would probably dock my pay," she replied.
"He would probably fire you," Durant corrected bluntly. Then he added in a gentler tone, "but if you just return the garment as you are supposed to, nothing will come of it. Listen, Ivy. The yukata was not yours to begin with. We don't have the freedom of acquisition — that's nothing more than theft. Is this how you operate when you can't get what you want by legal means?"
The feline cook looked up at him and suddenly recalled her reaction to hearing of Jerad's methods of acquisition to get the parts he needed. She swallowed and realized just how close she had been to doing something she didn't approve of in others.
"No," she answered quietly, looking down at her feet. "I… I will return the yukata."
Durant dropped to one knee so that he could look into her eyes at her level. "Ivy, this is the right thing to do. Don't hate me for this, please."
The lynx looked up at him with moist eyes. "I don't hate you," she replied in a whisper. "You're right – it needs to be returned." Then without warning, she lunged forward and wrapped her arms around the bear's neck, weeping into his fur.
* * *
Samantha reached out and put a hand upon Jiro's brow, frowning at the heat radiating from the sick navigator. Per the captain's orders, Connie was in the Infirmary researching the cougar's condition, but with Jiro in such a state, the nurse hadn't wanted to leave him alone. Samantha had volunteered to keep watch over him.
The Border collie looked down at the raspy voice. "I'm still here," she replied quietly.
"M'throat's dry. Water, please?"
"Of course," she answered. She picked up a plastic water bottle from the floor at her feet and adjusted its flexi straw before placing it to the cougar's lips. She helped hold his head up, and then Jiro sipped and swallowed several times before nodding that he was finished. She put the bottle back on the floor as he settled back against his pillow.
Samantha put her hands into her lap and studied her claw tips, wishing she could do more for her friend. After a moment, Jiro opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling above him.
"You should try to sleep," she said in a quiet tone.
"I can lie here and rest," the cougar replied wearily, "but I can't seem to sleep."
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yeah," Jiro answered after swallowing hard. "Talk to me. Keep me company."
The canine gave him a gentle smile. "What would you like to know?" she asked.
Jiro thought about it for a moment, and then looked at her. "Merle's not said anything to me, but have you two gotten back together?" he asked in a raspy voice.
The smile disappeared from Samantha's face. She looked back down at her hands and then shook her head. "No," she said after hesitating. "I don't think he wants me back."
"I thought… I thought he did the first night we all slept out in the corridor together. He did put his arm around me, but…"
"That may have been for warmth when the ship was still cold; he didn't initiate anything else."
"That just means he's a gentleman," Jiro countered. "Why would you think differently?"
"I went to the bridge to send a message to Master Tristan just a while ago, but when I stepped through the door, I caught Merlin with his arms around Taro, kissing her."
Jiro was quiet for a long moment. "She doesn't seem to be his type," he said at last. "She's more my type. Are you sure it was her?"
Samantha gave him a look of disbelief. "Unless we've picked up a passenger, she's the only red fox we have on board," she scoffed. Jiro closed his eyes at her rebuff, but the canine continued in a softer voice. "I have no claim on Merlin, other than having known him longer than anyone else on board. It's true he and I once had an intimate relationship, but that was years ago."
"Do you want to get back together with him?" Jiro asked, staring up at the ceiling again.
"I would like that," she admitted quietly, "but not if he doesn't want me."
"Was your original breakup amicable?" His voice was getting raspy again, and Samantha handed him the water bottle automatically.
"Yes, we'd graduated and were headed in different directions. The breakup wasn't due to any friction."
"Then give him a chance," Jiro said after a hard swallow. "I don't know what's up with Taro, but if you want him, you might have to compete for him."
Samantha looked over at him for a long moment, musing over his words. Finally, she shook her head and sighed aloud. "No," she said. "If he wants me, he'll have to come after me himself. I refuse to give in to jealousy."
"For the sake of harmony in the crew?" Jiro asked.
The Border collie chuckled and let a small smile cross her features. "For the sake of my harmony," she countered. She leaned toward him and put her hand upon his brow once more, more for something to do than checking his fever. "Listen," she whispered to him, "when you get back up on your feet and are feeling better, perhaps you and I can spend some time together."
Jiro frowned. "If you can't have him, then you'll settle for me?"
Samantha shook her head. "Not at all," she replied. "If he wants me, then he will have to compete for me." With a sly smile, she brushed her fingers through his bare chest fur. "It looks like he'll have competition at any rate."
Jiro closed his eyes. "Sam, I think you're very pretty," he told her, "but I don't want to get between two friends. If you want to get together with me, that's fine. I enjoy playing, but don't come after me just to get even with him for giving Taro a hug and a kiss."
Samantha sighed again. "You're right, of course. However, don't sell yourself short, Jiro. We may have started out on rocky ground, but I feel we've become good friends in a short time. What if I want to spend time with you?"
Jiro opened his eyes and looked over at her. He was no stranger to playing around with willing females, but he wasn't feeling well and this wasn't a topic he really wanted to pursue at the moment. He reached out and took her by the hand.
"We'll see what happens when I'm feeling better, Sam, but…"
The door to the cougar's quarters slide aside and Connie walked in unannounced.
"I think I've got it!" the human woman said cheerily, holding up a bottle of blue liquid and a small glass.
* * *
Merlin stood before Connie Davies, his arms crossed, feet apart, tail up and his ears back. He was a head taller than the human woman was and he stood over her to aid impressing his authority over her.
"I gave you a direct order that you were not to administer any medication to him without clearing it through me first!" the wolf growled through clenched teeth. "Now you come to me to admit giving him a tonic mentioned in an online article you found about domestic cats and it has worsened his condition!"
Connie backed up to the wall of the captain's office, but Merlin stepped forward to maintain his proximity within her personal space. The woman clenched her hands up to her chest and she tried to shrink into herself from his presence. She was unable to meet his piercing gaze, but she couldn't seem to tear her focus away from his bared fangs.
"You are a physician!" Merlin exclaimed, pressing his nose in closer to her face. "Aren't you supposed to heal people? I didn't hire you to kill my crew!" Connie's eyes were wide and moist, her pupils large in genuine fear.
"I-I-I-I-I…. d-d-didn't m-m-mean…."
Merlin snorted, puffing the woman's red bangs across her forehead. He stood up straight, gave her a long, momentary glare, and then stormed out of the office. Connie closed her eyes, slid down the wall to the floor, and cried.
When the lupine captain entered Jiro's quarters, his senses were assaulted by a foul stench. The cougar was sprawled on the floor of his quarters, heaving what was left in his stomach onto the carpet. Samantha rushed out of the lavatory with an armload of towels, one soaking wet and the others dry for cleanup. She dropped to the floor beside the cougar and only then saw the wolf.
"Merlin…" she said weakly. "He didn't make it to the toilet…"
"I can see that," the captain said in resignation, dropping to the floor to lend a hand. With nothing left in his stomach, Jiro dry-heaved, making near-futile attempts to gasp for breath in between. Merlin pulled him up into his arms while Samantha used the wet towel to clean off the navigator's face and chest. The cougar made kittenish mewing noises and he didn't seem to acknowledge the presence of his companions.
Once Jiro was moderately cleaned off, Merlin hefted him up in his arms with a grunt and then headed for the door with him. "I'm taking him to the Infirmary," he told the Border collie, wrinkling up his nose. "I've got to get him away from this environment!"
Samantha watched him disappear out into the corridor and then looked back at the mess on the floor with a queasy stomach from the smell. Without waiting for a command from the captain, she returned to the lavatory in preparation to clean up the mess on the floor.
* * *
When Merlin eased his burden into the Infirmary, Connie looked up from the roller stool she sat on in front of the medical computer terminal. Her face was tear-stained, but there was a firmness set to her jaw line that instantly told the captain that she was now determined to find the correct treatment for the navigator.
The wolf scooted past the emergency gurney and made his way in the back room to one of the two hospital beds. He set Jiro down gently upon one of the beds and then moved to the closest intercom panel. He thumbed the ship-wide control and announced, "Taro, please report to the Infirmary, immediately."
While he awaited the fox to arrive, Merlin moved to the medication cabinets and began searching. Despite her presence, he ignored the human nurse as he moved about the room. He found a plastic bag of electrolytes and then searched through a drawer for the proper tubing and needle. With the cougar dehydrated from constant vomiting, he needed intravenous fluids.
The door opened and Taro walked in, dressed only in a long white shirt that hung to her knees and a towel wrapped around her head. "Sorry," she apologized for her appearance. "I just got out of the shower. What's up?" Connie was about to reply, but Merlin stepped out of the back and motioned her toward him.
"Taro, thanks for coming," he said in a rush. "You helped me with medical attention before because you were familiar with the equipment from your old ship. Do you know how to properly set up for intravenous hydration?"
The vixen looked confused, and then noticed Jiro lying limp on the hospital bed. "Ohmigosh!" she exclaimed. "Is he still sick?"
"Worse," Merlin said, pointedly not looking back toward the nurse. "Do you know how to do it?"
"Yes, but what about Con—"
"Please do it," Merlin cut her off. "He's dehydrated badly." He led her to the items he'd pulled out onto a counter. "Are these correct?"
Taro looked over the intravenous setup and shook her head. "Wrong size needle," she said. "We'll need one larger."
Merlin put a hand on her shoulder and sighed. "Thank you. Do what you can for him. I'll be back shortly."
"Yeah, sure," the fox replied. The captain dashed out the door, having passed the human without a glance. When the door was shut again, Taro looked over at Connie. "What's going on here?" she asked.
The nurse couldn't meet the vixen's eyes. "My stupidity made things worse," she mumbled. "He doesn't trust me anymore. I'm not sure I blame him, either."
"Here, I trust you. Give me a hand with this."
"No… I'll only wind up killing him, if I haven't already."
Before Taro could counter her statement, Connie ran from the room, leaving the damp vixen alone with a cougar who was taking in rasping breaths.
Swallowing in trepidation, Taro went to work. She had no formal medical training, but she had served long enough on other vessels that she had picked up a good knowledge on what to do in some cases. Fortunately for her and Jiro, she knew how to set up for intravenous fluids.
* * *
Ivy looked up from a cooking magazine when Merlin entered the bridge. "Hello, Captain," she said pleasantly.
"Sparky," the wolf replied automatically. He moved to the Com station and tapped the intercom. The lynx watched him curiously as he waited, and then the console chirped at him.
"Engine room, Jasper speaking."
"Patch, is it possible to increase our speed so we can get to Kantus quicker?"
"Yessir. We're at standard cruising speed, but I can give you more if you need it."
"Please give me all you can spare without putting the engines in danger. We have a medical crisis and need to get there as quickly as possible."
"Aye, sir, can do, but even at maximum velocity, we'll still be a day and a half away from Kantus. What's going on?"
"Jiro's gone from bad to worse with whatever sickness has a hold on him. None of us knows what's wrong with him, and so far our treatments have only made him sicker."
"I'll give you all we've got, sir."
"That's all I ask. Thanks, Patch."
"We'll make a few adjustments and then let you know when we're ready."
"Appreciated. Merlin, out."
When the wolf straightened up from the Com station, he looked over at the lynx on watch duty. Her eyes were moist and she swallowed in apprehension.
"Is… is he going to make it, Captain?"
Merlin bit his bottom lip and then scratched the back of his neck. "Honestly, I don't know," he admitted. "It seems all our efforts have pushed him from just being sick to life endangerment."
"Can't Connie do anything for him?" Ivy asked with a squeaky voice.
A dark look crossed his face, but instead of saying what was on his mind, he merely replied, "She's done plenty. Now we have to rely on hope that we can get him to a proper medical facility in time."
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.