This is a stand-alone story that fits anywhere in the Voyage timeline.
Everything hurt. My back, my legs, my arms, I swear even my hair hurt. Is it possible to bruise hair follicles? The way my head was pounding, I was willing to bet yes.
I didn't have to open my eyes to know where I was. The smell, the way the air always seemed ten degrees colder, the way the bunk feels under my back—I was in Sickbay. No big shock there. Been there and done that. Got the tee shirt and ball cap somewhere to prove it.
I just lie there taking in the fact that I was alive and, maybe not exactly well, but alive. Now if I could just remember how I got here, here being Sickbay and not my current condition, I'd be ahead ten points. I listened. I knew Jamie had either appointed me a keeper or someone had appointed themselves. I heard a page turn and the scratch of a pen on paper. Reports then. Somebody was working on reports. Didn't narrow it down very much. Frank and John both did that, so did the admiral.
But it wasn't the admiral. No cigarette smoke. He didn't smoke much these days, but he would sneak one in from time to time, when things got stressful. Considering how I hurt I seemed to be, I'd probably been passed my pick up time. And if I were passed the pickup time, he'd have had a least one cigarette. So no smoke, no admiral.
I could catch the faintest whiff of Chip's aftershave. I knew it was Chip's, simply because I'd been smelling that brand of aftershave since my first year at the Academy. So my keeper was Chip. Should have known. What I really wanted to do was just pull the blanket up and go back to sleep. Maybe when I woke up next time I wouldn't feel like I rolled down a mountainside.
"You can stop playing possum. I know you've been awake for about three minutes now," Chip voice said, resonating on my right side. I pried open my right eye to see that look aimed at me. You know the look. I used to get it from Dad when he caught me reading under the covers with a flashlight when I should have been in bed.
"How long have you been there?" I croaked, sounding like the bass end of a brass band. Chip reached behind him, and handed me a glass of water, on the rocks, complete with straw. "Your favorite—shaken, not stirred—and since my shift ended two hours ago."
I jerked up and my back screamed in protest. I hissed and growled something unpleasant and quite vulgar. Chip just grinned.
"You think it feels bad, you should see it," he said, helping me to sit up.
"Tore up pretty good, huh?"
"Jamie says you've lost about a pound of skin and a half a pound of muscle. He expects you to replace said weight loss by eating a healthy lunch tomorrow."
I would have scowled but it hurt too much. Instead I let Chip help me get resettled, setting up in a more dignified position. I sucked some more on the straw, the cold water the best thing I'd tasted in days.
"Before you ask, we're on course back to Santa Barbara, every thing's tight and dry, the admiral left for Naples. He’ll rendezvous with us in a week when the conference is over. Your boat is fine, Lee. Stop worrying,"
"Is that an order?" I asked sarcastically.
"Since you're on the sick list and not fit for duty at the moment and since I am the acting captain—yes, consider that an order. Lee, when are you gonna tell ONI where to stuff their 'piece of cake' missions? Every time you come back from one of these damn things you end up in more pieces than you left in. One of these days Jamie's not going to be able to put you back together."
I leaned my head back, knowing somewhere deep down Chip was right. But there were times when I was the only one who could do what needed to be done. Like this time: ONI needed information from one of our contacts and he wouldn't pass that information on to anybody but Blackfin. You guessed it—Blackfin is me. I couldn't say no, not when my country needed me. "How late was I?"
"Twelve hours over due. You showed up at the beach, looking like something the cat dragged in. Your lucky black jeans finally ran out of luck. Jamie had to cut what was left of them off of you, and that shirt? By the time you came dragging in, all that was left of it was the collar and the cuffs. You are a mess, bro."
I handed the empty glass back to Chip and peeled back the blankets. I swung my legs out of the bunk under Chip's watchful eye.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked with that eyebrow at a ninety-degree slant.
"Calm down, I just wanna see the damage," I said and hobbled to the mirror in Jamie's office.
Chip was right. I was a mess. I was wearing a pair of black sweat pants that had been cut off to make shorts. My legs were covered in bruises in every color from black to blue to green to that sickly yellow. The calf of my left leg was covered under a fairly good-sized bandage. Stitches no doubt. More bruises and over a dozen long cuts and scrapes decorated my torso chest and shoulders, like some bizarre tattoo. My arms had long deep scraps and the left side of my head had a matching, fresh, red scrape. No wonder I felt like one giant rug burn. I tried to see the patch on my back, but huge section of gauze covered it. I had to take Chip's word about the damage to my back.
"Come on, Lee. Back in the rack, before Seaview decides to have a tantrum and you get thrown into a bulkhead and rupture something." Chip appeared and guided me back to the bunk. That's when I realized something.
"No IV? I asked, easing back into the bunk. I rolled over on my stomach, my back starting to throb. I let Chip pull the blankets over me.
"You weren't dehydrated and Jamie knew you would fight him so he conceited defeat early. He did leave this for you though. Said you were smart enough to know if you needed it."
Chip was holding out one of those little paper cups Jamie seems to own by the gross. Inside were two rather large pinkish pills. I knocked both back and washed them down with what was left from my glass. Lying back down, I let the motion of the boat relax me like nothing else could.
Chip had settled down in the chair next to me. Seemed like he was always there, picking up the pieces when it hit the fan. Always steady, always solid. A rock for me to lean on when things got too rough, a sounding board for my fears and doubts, for things I could never admit to the admiral. I was an only child, Dad died when I was fourteen. Mom was busy as the company took up a lot of her time. Chip was the brother of my soul, my voice of reason I never listened to. I don't know where I would be without him to watch my back.
Jamie's drugs were kicking in and I was getting drowsy. Normally I hate Sickbay and would make a deal with the devil himself to get out. But Seaview was safe, my crew was safe, Chip was by my side, looking after things.
"Chip?" I mumbled, fighting for just a few more minutes of consciousness.
"Thanks. I don't say it enough."
I drifted off to sleep, the throb in my back and leg dulled to a low ache. Just before I drifted away I heard Chip chuckled. "Any time little brother, any time."