This is the third on the Sickness series, following directly on the heels of ďLeeís Fate.Ē

The Loophole

Sharon H




"Lunchtime gentlemen!" Frankís too cheerful voice announced as he entered Seaviewís Sickbay. Frank had the misfortune to draw the short straw today, meaning it was now his duty to attempt a feat bound to strike fear in the hearts of lesser men. It was Frank's mission to get Seaviewís two worst patients to eat lunch.


From their respective bunks said patients, also Seaviewís two highest ranking officers barring the admiral, observed Frankís entrance into Sickbay with the dayís lunch trays.


Lee Crane gazed up at the young man with thinly veiled disgust. Lunch was not on his high priority list at the moment. Figuring out how to get out of Sickbay was. He was a trained ONI field agent, with dozens of successful missions to his name. He had faced aliens, assassins and kidnappers. Sneaking past one lone corpsman should be a snap. Right? "Any chance lunch is something other than of the liquid persuasion?" Crane asked. Frank just smiled and set the laden trays down in the desk. Separating two trays, he busied himself setting up his skipperís lunch and carried it over to Lee in his bunk. Lee glared at the tray, then at Frank, then back at the tray. The tray held a full soup mug, a glass of orange juice and small bowl of cherry Jell-O. Lee raised one dark eyebrow.


"Sorry Skipper. By order of the Doc. You do remember the control room, donít you?"


Two days earlier Lee had made a spectacular scene in the control room, much to the disgust of those on duty at the time. Since then he had been confined to Sickbay until Doc was sure he was no longer contagious and he could get a handle on the skipperís symptoms.


"Donít remind me," Lee snarled and picked up the mug. It looked like cream of chicken soup. He took a sip and set the mug back down. He glanced back up at Frank. Frank did not move. He was an old hand at this game. "You gotta eat at least half of it. Doc says if you eat half of your lunch, maybe you can have something solid for dinner. But only if you eat your lunch."


"I donít suppose I could have some crackers?" Lee asked, trying to not sound like a sulky five year old. He gazed up at Frank with wide amber eyes. He batted his eyelashes innocently.


"You know, no one said you couldnít. Hang on." Frank disappeared into Docís office and came back out with a half a pack of saltine crackers. He laid them on Leeís tray. "Doc keeps them to munch on between meals. Just donít overdo it, Skipper."


"Good luck with Mister Morton," Lee replied, shoving a cracker into his mouth and crunching noisily.


"Iím not hungry," came a raspy retort from the bunk facing Leeís. Chip was lying on his side with his eyes closed and arms wrapped around his chest. Of the two men, Chip was definitely the sicker of the two. This strain of the flu had hit him hard. He had developed an ear infection and it kept throwing his equilibrium off. He got dizzy just lying in his bunk. Chip also had a double lung infection and it hurt just to breathe. With his sinuses infected he couldnít smell anything so he wasnít able to taste anything.


"Now Mister Morton, donít let Doc hear you say that. You need to eat something."


"I canít taste anything. I canít swallow. I canít keep anything down. I am not hungry," Morton insisted, refusing to roll over. He pulled the blankets up to his ears and lay still, doing his best to play possum.


"You should try to eat something. This soupís not bad," Lee said. He knew Chip was feeling lousy but he also knew he had to keep his strength. Chip never reacted predictably when he got sick. He was going to have to be sneaky if he was going to get Chip to eat something.


"Shove it, Lee. I feel like crap," came the XOís sour reply. Lee grinned and shoved another cracker in his mouth, washing it down with orange juice. This was not going to be easy. Then again neither were most of his ONI assignments.


"Youíd think I could get a little more respect. If I remember, Mister Morton, I walked in on you just as you were about to hit the deck. If I hadnít caught you, you could have whacked your head on the desk. They way I see it, I saved you from a concussion."


"Thank you, Captain Courageous. I will forever be in your debt. Iím still not hungry," the grumpy OX replied, not moving from under his blankets.


Frank listened with amusement at the banter between the two officers. It never ceased to amaze him how these two acted away from the control room. Mister Morton would never have dared to talk back to the Skipper when on duty, but off duty these two could be worse than children, two competitive children, one trying to out do the other. Frank smirked at the analogy as he realized what the Skipper was doing.


"Youíre going to have eat something, Chip. Youíre never going to get out of Sickbay if you donít. You know how Jamie is. Iíll get to go back to work and youíll still be stuck here," said Lee as he sipped again at the thick soup. Chip could out stubborn a brick wall. This was going to take clever skills.


"I canít even sit up without getting dizzy. Everything I eat comes right back up. Iím not hungry," Chip muttered and pulled the blanket completely up over his head.


"If you donít eat, Jamie will stick you back on the IV. Youíre going to have to eat something."


"No, Iím not."


"Yes, you are."


"No, Iím not."


"Yes, you are."


"No way, Josť. You canít make me, so there," Chip rose up just enough to peer around the divider separating the two bunks and blew Lee a spectacular raspberry.


"Frank, heís spreading germs . . . " sang Lee with a lopsided grin.


Frank tried to cover his own grin as he watched his two senior officers. "Anybody would think the two of you were twelve years old, not senior officers. The admiralís gonna love to hear about this when he gets back. Mister Morton, the skipperís almost eaten all his lunch. Youíre not gonna let him out do you, are ya?"


"Iíll bet I can finish all my lunch," Lee said. He winked at Frank who continued to grin.


All right Lee, if I try to eat something, will you leave me the hell alone?" came Chipís exacerbated retort.


Past experiences had proven that a sick Chip Morton is a cranky Chip Morton. Lee let the sarcastic remark slide. "Of course I will. You know me. Frank, get the exec some lunch."


With a flourish, Frank presented Morton with his lunch tray. Chip rolled over and pushed the blankets back. He grabbed up the cup of soup and peered suspiciously into it. "I canít eat this. It looks too much like what I keep coughing up," the blond complained and set the cup back down. He picked up the glass of orange juice and sipped carefully, grimacing as he swallowed. His throat was still raw from coughing. Chip played with the straw for a second and out of sheer goofiness, started blowing bubbles into his juice. He rolled his blue eyes up at Frank.


"Youíre supposed to drink that, Mister Morton, not play with it. Docís not going to be happy unless you at least try, sir." Frank tried for serious and was failing miserably.


Chip bit back his comment about what Doc could do with his orange juice. He picked up the soup cup again and stared doubtfully into it. He looked up at Frank. He looked over at Lee. Both were staring at him, waiting for him to move. Closing his eyes, Chip tilted the cup back and sipped at the creamy soup. There were even tiny chunks of chicken in it. It was warm and felt good on his sore throat. "Happy?" he choked out. His stomach protested the introduction of the thick soup. He could feel his gut starting to rebel and felt the soup trying to crawl back up. Chip closed his eyes and willed his organs to kindly shut up. If Lee could stomach this stuff then, so could he. No way was he going to let Lee out do him. No way was he going be stuck in Sickbay if Lee got released, even to light duty. Chip looked up to see Crane watching him.


"Very," said Lee smugly. "Now finish that up. Thatís an order."


"Whatís it worth to you?" Chip queried. He eyed what was left of the soup.


Lee raised an eyebrow. "Whatís what worth?" he echoed


"For me to finish this lunch. I gotta have some motivation you know."


Lee pretended to consider the comment. He already had something in mind but he just hadnít thought Morton would be so quick to take the bait. "You eat this lunch and the next three, without giving Doc any problems, and Iíll wash and wax your Jeep."


Chip continued to stare into the cup, as if by simply wishing it to disappear it would. The soup stayed where it was, deifying the XOís Death Glare. Morton was considering Leeís offer. It might be nice to make Crane give his Jeep a nice shine, as much as Lee made fun of his choice of a vehicle. He needed something more though. If he was going to be stuck in Sickbay, it was going to have to be worth it.


"While I drive the Cobra." Chip added, transferring his glare from the soup to his friend.


"My Cobra?"


"Who elseís? The Jeep gets a full detail job, wash and wax, and I drive your Cobra until itís done."


Lee hadnít counted that. Still, if it got Chip to eat, heíd get better faster and heíd get over this grouchy funk he was in.


"Youíre on. If you lose, youíve got to detail, wax and wash the Cobra, and install my new stereo system."


Chip smiled a toothy, shark-like smile. "Deal," then he tipped back the cup and attacked the rest of the soup. He choked down the last of it and grimly set to put a dent on the small bowl of applesauce. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Chip pushed the empty tray way and curled back up on his side. He was dizzy again, but he was determined to keep his lunch from making a reappearance. His lungs burbled as he moved. With a full stomach and a warm bed, Chip was soon asleep.


Frank removed the XO's tray and picked up the skipperís. "Very smooth Skipper. Docís gonna be tickled. Hope we donít have any trouble out him at dinner."


"I doubt if heíll give you any trouble. He hates to lose a bet."




Later that day . . .


" Skipper, you and Mister Morton ready for dinner?" Frank had returned to Sickbay, relieving John who had been keeping a close watch on the two should someone try and defect.


"That depends. You promised I could have something solid," Lee said, watching the covered tray Frank was carrying.


Frank set the tray down on the table, fiddled with the tray and approached Leeís bunk. "Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and a roll, with apple juice. Think you can handle this?"


"Beats the devil out of soup again," Lee leaned over and called over to his best friend. "Come on Chip, time for dinner. You promised."


Chip was lying on his side with his back to Frank, the blanket pulled up over his head again.


"You must be sicker than I thought," came a muffled reply.


"What are you talking about? You promised you would try to eat the next three meals. Donít tell me youíre giving up?"


Chip raised up and glared at his CO and best friend. "I promised to try and eat the next three LUNCHES. Nobody said anything about dinner."


Lee could only sit there, his jaw hanging open, not quite ready to believe that he had been outfoxed.


Chip pulled the blanket back over his head and Lee heard him muttering, "Itís all about the loopholes, Lee. Itís all about the loopholes."