He paused on the floor, taking in the relative warmth. If he’d had lungs, he would have breathed a sigh of relief. Then, imagining the L.T. yelling at him to stop being a babimann, he forced himself to the workstation and heaved himself onto the chair since he no longer had the flexibility to stretch high enough to reach the panel. Pulsie had told him that first, he had to activate the controls, then he had to physically flip the switch. Gel grumbled under his breath about unnecessary plot complications.
His cytoplasm was thick and cold; it took several tries to tap in the sequence. At last, the computer acknowledged his access.
Globbals didn’t “see” in the same way humans did, but suffice to say things were getting blurry and hard to define. His outer layer was growing numb, too. It took several minutes to find the switch and throw it. He counted slowly to ten and flipped it again.
Another ten-count, and he called, “Gel to Doc Sorcha…”
The familiar, acerbic voice of their holodoc responded, “We need to have a conversation about access to my controls. I’ve lost almost an hour and fifteen minutes, and I’ve just had to sedate Commander Deary. Who is Caillen?”
“Never mind. We have about 45 minutes for you to figure out how to cure everyone. Upload the file DoallDoesDiseases and please don’t ask me why it’s named that. Most of the crew is locked in the mess. I’m releasing the uninfected crewmen now.” He gave the security command.
“Ensign? Your body temperature is fifteen degrees below normal. You cannot maintain that level of chill.”
Gel laughed. The rest of what the doc said faded into the background.
“Gel?” Ellie’s voice cut through his mental fog. “Gel! Wake up.”
“Ellie? Are you cured?” He forced himself to concentrate. He slouched in a malformed blob near the holodoc’s reset switch. He’d tripped it, right?
Ellie squealed with delight. “You called me, ‘Ellie!’ I’ve missed that. You’re always so formal now that I outrank you again. But you did it. Doc Sorcha is online and cranky as ever! But we’re worried about you. You have to get someplace warm. Go to the Botany lab. It’s on an independent system.”
The botany lab was back in the Saucer Section. Gel laughed weakly.
But Ellie didn’t laugh with him. “It’s not funny this time! You have to get warm. Go, quick.”
“You can’t die on me, Gel!” she said, then her voice grew hard. “Move—that’s an order!”
His body felt thick, heavy, and solid. It ached in ways he never knew existed. But the lieutenant continued to yell and cajole, and Todd added his voice. Gel gathered up his energy and moved.
Normally, Gel flowed, the fluid that made up his being drifting and surging in the direction he needed to go. Now, each movement was a game of push and pull, of shoving the iciest part of himself forward, the warmer, more flexible parts of his being swirling around, then pushing and pulling again. Every bit of progress came with the pain of impact he could not absorb. Everything seemed dark and weird and cold, and he clung to Ellie’s voice like a lifeline, turning when she told him to, pushing forward while she cried that he couldn’t die like Loreli…
Then came the moment when he tried to shove himself forward, and his body could not move.
“L.T. Ellie? I’m…stuck… Too cold…”
“No, you have to!” she begged, then he heard her muttering. “Come on, Ellie, think! This can’t happen again!” Then she fell to sobbing.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, but he didn’t know if she heard him. Todd was consoling her, trying to get her back on task, telling her to imagine him there with her, his arms around her, snuggling as they worked out the problem…
Great. The last thing he’d hear before dying was human sexy talk.
“I don’t want to know…” he muttered to himself and laughed.
Suddenly, she shouted, “That’s it!”
A moment later, over the intercom, he heard her voice. “Attention Deck Five, Section C. Ensign Gel needs hugs! Let’s snuggle our favorite Globbal!”
People in various stages of dress came running from seeming nowhere and everywhere, arms outstretched and yelling, “Hug him! Hug him!”
I hope Umat isn’t in this section, he thought as crewmen started to pile on him.
Captain’s Log, Intergalactic Date 677001.38
Despite having been offline for most of the crisis, Doc Sorcha came back in true form, literally and figuratively, and was able to determine the correct amount of imposazine to cure everyone of the space loonies. It would not have been possible, however, without the work of Lieutenant Ellie Doall and the heroic efforts of Ensign Gel O’Tin, who is in Sickbay recovering from near-fatal hypothermia.
Unfortunately, while under the influence, the bridge night watch B Team used the USF Marvin for target practice, which set off something called the Illudium Pew-36. The ship was vaporized, and the debris sucked into the gravitational pull of the collapsing star. It’s a tragic loss, and yet fitting when considering how other ships affected by the space loonies have met their demise.
On the Impulsive, we’ve got a lot of repairs to do, not only to the ship, but to relationships and, for some, our own vision of ourselves. I expect things will be awkward for a while, but if any crew can work through chaos of their own design, it’s my people.
Gel woke up feeling viscous and blissfully warm, contained in a tank in Sickbay with heat lamps shining on him and the humidity turned high. He sighed, slopping waves against the sides of the tank, reveling in his fluidity.
“‘Bout time, hero,” Lt. LaFuentes said. He stood from his chair to smile at Gel. The Boss was flushed and sweating.
Gel drew back. “Are you still infected, sir?”
“Nah, blame your treatment!” He indicated the heat lamps. “Doc Sorcha cured us all. There were some injuries, mucho embarrassment, and I dunno what happened in auxiliary control, but no one died. Thanks to you.”
Gel blushed with pride, which is to say, he turned a slight teal. “Not just me, sir. Lieutenant Doall—and Todd Ahndmore. In fact, I think if it weren’t for Todd, we might not have made it. He kept the L.T. on task, and she was really affected.”
“Yeah, I know. Before the cure got to her, she was supervising your rescue wrapped up in the captain’s Texas flag.”
He thought he remembered a glimpse of a white star surrounded in blue before the bodies piled onto him. “I’m kind of glad I was out for all of that.”
“Yeah, I heard it got a little surreal. ‘Course I wouldn’t know, because someone gassed me in my own room.”
Now, Gel blushed for a different reason. “Sorry, sir. It’s just they said some people killed themselves on the Marvin…”
“I ain’t suicidal. Ever. Got it? Still, I appreciate the sentiment, and it was a gutsy move. You done us proud, Ensign. So, you’re probably gonna get a medal, and I thought I should warn you. I mean, thrilling heroics, enduring extreme psychological and environmental stresses. Your homeworld will probably want you to come back and mate again.”
Captain Jeb Tiberius stood in the entryway of the Auxiliary control, hands on his hips and mouth open so wide his momma would have accused him of catching flies.
The room had been completely transformed. The long consoles that arched across the back of the room in a replica of the bridge had been moved to form a hexagon around a large tube that stretched from floor to ceiling. Casings bearing odd, circular script covered the top. They spun as the glow inside the casing moved up and down.
His first officer and best friend stood beside the part of the console that also contained what looked like a bronze laptop and a waffle iron. He wore a fez and carried the weird device he’d found on Rest Stop. He was doing his best to look dignified and not like he’d rather run out an airlock and join the UFS Marvin on its way to doom. In the back of the room, six junior engineers looked ashamed, baffled, yet somehow accomplished.
How had they managed to do so much in three hours?
Jeb found control of his jaw muscles and spoke, “Please tell me that’s not antimatter in that glowy chamber.”
Smythe remained silent. The engineering team shifted their feet and looked at each other or the floor.
“I…see. If we mess with that twirly thing, will it send us back in time?” He pointed at the eggbeater.
“No, Captain,” Smythe replied.
“We hadn’t connected it yet,” one of the engineers added and was elbowed by both men beside him.
Jeb looked toward the ceiling. “Captain to Engineering. Are we warp-capable?”
“Engineer’s Mate Minion Dionysus, sir. Not yet, sir, but maybe 30 minutes?” came the reply. In the background, they heard Commander Deary screaming abuses, bemoaning his “wee bairns” yelling about glitter, and vowing something about a devil woman distracting him for the last time.
“Thank you, Dionysus. Captain out.” Jeb looked at the engineering team before him. “All things considered, y’all might be better off fixing this mess. Commander, if you would…?”
Smythe started to follow. Before he got to the door, he paused, pulled off the fez, and placed it on the console. He kept the sonic screwdriver, however.
Once in the hall, he said, “Jeb, I’m mortified. I have no idea how we got so out of control.”
Jeb held up his hand to stop further explanation. “No one infected was responsible for their actions. Let’s just make things right.”
Ensign Becca passed by them in the hall. She and Jeb glanced at each other, then quickly away. Daphne’d already told him she was sincere about resigning, but it was still going to be an awkward couple of weeks until they could drop her off at a starbase.
In the meantime, he had his own amends to make to a certain captain who also had command of his heart. Even with the extenuating circumstances considered, she deserved an explanation, and it was best to be proactive. Jeb turned back to his friend. “Remind me again what goes into an apology bouquet.”
Smythe glanced at the retreating ensign, though he kept his expression impassive. “Oh, dear.”
“White tulips, purple hyacinth, daffodils…” He rattled off the list known from years of his father apologizing to his mother.
When they got to the bridge, Jeb left Commander Smythe the conn while he went to his ready room. No sense putting it off.
He stopped short to find Lieutenant Doall polishing his furniture. “Lieutenant?”
She yelped a little in surprise and snatched the cloths from the couch, wrapping them into a ball.
“Um, welcome back, Captain!” she said and dashed out of the room.
“It’s good to be back,” he told the empty room, bemused, then, with a sigh, sat at his desk to send the replicator order to Kat and to call with his apologies. He caught sight of his wall and frowned.
Was his flag crooked?
***That’s All, Folks!***