Carina also woke with tears on her face that night. It had been months since she’d had the nightmares, Daniel wasting away in front of her, just out of her reach. In the dreams, if he’d only agreed to seek treatment a day earlier, she would have been able to save him. And tonight, Mom was in her dreams too, still alive but suffering all these years as she had before she died. It occurred to her when she woke up that maybe she had hidden the family pictures away for so long because they were a trigger.
The dreams continued most of the night, leaving her feeling tense and headachy. She finally gave up at about 0600 and got out of bed. She had plenty of chores to occupy her until it was time to go to work – she had been neglecting the housework for the past few weeks. She couldn’t stop thinking about her mother, though, and decided to call home. It would be evening there, close to supper time. She put on a tee shirt and shorts and pulled her hair back into a pony tail, and punched her father’s code into the video phone.
The screen came on to reveal the living room in her father’s apartment. Her sister Katie smiled into the screen, her dark hair bouncing. “Cricket!” Carina grinned at her use of the family’s nickname for her. “Hi! What are you doing?”
“Hi, Katie!” The girl’s enthusiasm always made her feel better. “You look good! Is Dad around?”
Kate nodded. “He’s cooking supper. I’ll go get him.” She returned a moment later with their father, who was wiping his hands on a dish towel. Carina noticed that he looked tired, as he did so often these days. He brightened when he saw her, however. “Carina! This is a nice surprise.”
“Hi, Dad. I was just thinking about you guys, and I got a little lonely. Thought I’d check in.”
“That’s great, honey, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time. We’re about to sit down to eat.”
“Chicken soup and biscuits,” Katie added. “I helped make the biscuits.”
“Oh… Good for you, Kate.” Carina felt her heart sink. She wanted to talk to them now, but Dad had never fully recovered from losing Mom, and she wouldn’t upset him by telling him that she had called because she was missing her. But then an idea occurred to her. “Dad, I have some time off this weekend. Would it be okay if I come to visit for a couple of days? Maybe celebrate Christmas a little early?”
Katie jumped up and down. “Yes yes yes yes yes, please Dad?”
The aging man put his hand on his young daughter’s shoulder. “Of course you can come home. You don’t have to ask. Just let me know when you’ll be here, and we’ll be waiting with open arms.” She heard the oven’s timer ring, and he looked over his shoulder.
“Great, thanks, Dad. I’ll make the arrangements and let you know what time I’ll get in. Go ahead and eat supper. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
“Yay!” Katie never disguised her feelings.
“See you soon, Kate. Go have supper,” she smiled.
“OK. ‘Bye!” The girl reached toward the phone and the screen went black.
Carina sighed. That hadn’t been as satisfying as she’d hoped, but at least she’d be able to spend time with them this weekend. She threw herself into cleaning the apartment, and by the time she finished, it was time to get ready for work. She enjoyed working the mid-day shift, but knew that after getting out of bed so early, she’d be worn out by the end of the night.
It was lunch time when she started her shift, and she made her rounds to deliver meds to the patients and check their vital signs. Homer Glitchman was eating soft foods now, she noted. His color was better than it had been a few days ago, as well. She changed his dressings and brought him a cup of chipped ice. When she stopped in Stephen’s room, he was writing in a notebook. She chatted with him briefly, but he was more interested in whatever it was he was working on than in her. Finally, she crossed the hall to Mark Venture’s room.
She found him staring out his window again as he had been the first night they spoke, but when she knocked on his door, he responded right away. He looked sad and had dark circles under his eyes. “How are you feeling today, Cdr. Venture? I saw that the doctor was happy this morning with the progress in your legs.”
“I’m all right, thank you, Lieutenant. It’s beginning to be frustrating, not being able to move freely.” He sighed. “I think it’s worse, now that I’ve regained some feeling. I’m getting tired of this room.”
She looked at the drab blue walls critically. “Yes it’s not very scenic, is it? But feeling antsy is a sign that you’re getting better. You know your case is… unprecedented, so we didn’t really have an idea of how long the healing process would take. You’re moving along steadily now, though.”
“Mmm. I wiggled my toes this morning.” He snorted wryly, which made the corner of her mouth turn up. “Good for me.”
“That is good for you! Well done!” She applauded him. That didn’t quite elicit a smile, but possibly a glint of humor in his eyes… Still, he seemed to have had a setback since last night. She moved to take his temperature and ran her hand across his forehead gently. “Are you really all right? You seem down today.”
He looked at her as if deciding what he wanted to tell her, then said, “It’s nothing. I had bad dreams last night, that’s all. They’ve stayed with me.”
“I can understand that.” She nodded and waited expectantly, but when he didn’t say anything else she didn’t press him for details. If he wanted to tell her about his nightmares, he would. She checked his chart. “Maybe you should try the sedative again tonight. I’ll clear it with Dr. Sane this afternoon.” When he agreed, she went on. “OK, now I just need to draw some blood, and I’ll be out of your hair. You look like you need rest.”
He looked at her sharply when she mentioned drawing blood. “Is it OK?” she asked. “Are you having trouble with the blood draws?”
He hesitated for a moment, then relaxed and extended his arm. “No, it’s fine. Go ahead.”
“Are you sure?” If he was having issues with them drawing his blood, she should tell the doctor, but he assured her that there were no problems. He winced as she inserted the needle into his arm, though, and she noticed that it was becoming quite bruised. She wondered how much longer Dr. Sane would go on testing Cdr. Venture’s blood every day, and decided to ask him this afternoon. If he wasn’t drawing any conclusions from his tests, and from what she understood he was not, then why put the patient through it?
“There,” she said when she was done. “Now, do you think you’ll be able to rest this afternoon? The painkillers should help to relax you, but I can bring you some tea or warm milk if you’re afraid you’ll be restless again.”
“Thank you, but I think I’ll be fine,” he answered. “Physical therapy seems to work better than a sleeping pill for me. I wouldn’t have thought my muscles would weaken so quickly.”
“Yes, that tends to catch people by surprise. OK, I’ll see you later.” She ran her hand over his forehead and cheek one more time. His temperature was still slightly above normal, but it had stabilized. She gave him a soft smile and left the room.
The conversation left Carina with an unsettled feeling in her stomach. Cdr. Venture had seemed so much better last night. He must have slept very badly, the poor guy. She sighed as she realized she was beginning to play favorites with him as her patient. She worked hard not to do that, but he was different from the other two on the floor. Homer might be in worse shape physically, but he was happy as long as the nurses and the nursing students flirted with him. And Stephen was wrapped up with planning the next great engineering feat for Earth Defense in his head. He was glad to be left alone.
Mark Venture, on the other hand, was obviously in need, but that wasn’t what drew her to him. She genuinely liked him. She felt as though they had already become friends, and looked forward to talking with him at the end of the day. She wondered whether he felt the same way.
Doctor Sane had been in surgery since early morning, and checked in at the Intensive Care nurses’ station before he went home for the night. “How are the men, Carina?”
“Doing fine, Doctor. They may even be ready to move to another floor soon.”
“I don’t know about that. As long as these rooms aren’t needed by anyone else, I’d like to keep them up here. It’s nice and private, and I can keep a better eye on them here, too.” It was true that the ICU was more private and protected from the press than the lower floors of the hospital. Carina didn’t blame the doctor for wanting to shield his friends from the photographers who lingered around the hospital grounds, eager to supply the magazines with exclusive shots of the surviving Star Force crew.
She remembered that she wanted to talk to him about Venture. “Doc, Cdr. Venture is having nightmares. Do you think we could give him another sleeping aid tonight? He looked pretty wrecked this afternoon.”
“Nightmares, huh? I guess I’m not surprised. I’ll write up an order for a stronger sedative that will help him sleep through the night. Was last night the first time he’s had them?”
She thought about it, and couldn’t remember him mentioning them prior to that afternoon. “It’s the first time he’s complained about them, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s probably been having them all along. They could be playing a part in keeping his mood so low.”
“Hmmm.” He had finished writing the scrip and was looking at her thoughtfully. “Carina, I’m going to ask you to do something for me.”
“Okay.” She was a little confused.
“It’s obvious that Mark Venture trusts you. You’re the only one he’s opened up to at all – he’ll barely talk to me or Nova, and even Wildstar can’t get much more than a few words from him. It hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the two of you have connected.” When she started to protest, embarrassed, he held up a hand to stop her. “Now, now, there’s nothing wrong with that. You lost someone you loved, too, and he’d rather talk about it with you than with a happily engaged couple or an old cat-lover like me.”
“Sure, Doc, I guess so. You want me to talk to him?”
He nodded. “You know about those alien cells in Venture’s blood. I want to know what happened when he was with Trelaina. Even if it doesn’t give me the answers I’m looking for, talking about it may help to move his healing along. I need you to ask him to try to remember what happened.”
She sighed. “Doc… I’ll talk to him. Of course I will. But – meaning no disrespect – if he doesn’t want to tell me, I won’t push him. And I’m going to tell him why I’m asking. If he does trust me, I won’t jeopardize that trust.”
He looked at her with respect. “I wouldn’t ask you to, Carina. But try, OK?”
“All right, Doc. I will.”
The day passed uneventfully, and after she had finished her evening rounds and updated the night nurse on the patients’ conditions, she returned to Cdr. Venture’s room. This time when she walked in, he was reading a book, a giant leap forward from staring out the window. She rapped on the door jamb. “Anything good?”
“Oh,” he started.
“It’s a copy of an old book I had when I was a kid. My father found it for me. It’s about the old explorers here on
Earth. You know,
It was good to hear him sounding more cheerful than he had earlier. “Not at all,” she grinned. “I lose myself in books all the time, and that one sounds like fun. In a sort of nerdy, future-great-space-jockey way,” she amended. “Listen, Commander, can I talk to you?”
“Of course you can.” He put the old book aside. “What’s up?”
She had been thinking all day about how to approach the subject, and had decided that being straightforward was the best option. She sat in her spot on the edge of the bed and hesitated for a moment, then spoke softly and carefully. “Commander, I want you to know up front that Dr. Sane asked me to talk to you tonight. But I also want you to know that I’m here… because I like you and I want to be here. I don’t want you to think I’ve been spending time with you only because your friends asked me to.” She was uncomfortable with what she was saying, and her words came out faster and faster. “I mean, Stephen asked me to talk to you that first night, but that’s it. I enjoy spending time with you, Commander. I feel like we’ve become friends, and I don’t want to jeopardize that by having you think that I’m… That I’m shilling for someone to try to get information. I want to be sure you trust me.” She forced herself to stop talking, knowing her cheeks must be bright red.
His expression was gentle, amused. “I trust you, Lt. Clark – you don’t have to worry about that. And I appreciate you telling me that Dr. Sane sent you to me tonight. What is it he wanted you to talk to me about?”
He sounded sincere, and he wasn’t laughing at her. She relaxed. As gently as she could, she asked him, “Cdr. Venture, do you mind telling me – and if you don’t want to tell me it’s fine – but can you tell me anything about what happened when you were with Trelaina?”
He tensed, looking away, and it took him a few moments to open his mouth. Just when she was about to tell him to forget it, he spoke, his rich baritone voice flat and unemotional. “I don’t know. I don’t know whether it was… a dream… or whether I was conscious part of the time. I know she told Wildstar and Nova that she brought me back to life, and I remember – I think I remember – her talking to me, maybe holding me,” – the rims of his dark eyes filled with tears, and he paused to pull himself together – “and something else.” He looked at her squarely. “I think she might have given me an injection or an IV of some kind. Some sort of medicine, or… the phrase ‘life force’ keeps coming to my mind. Does that help? I don’t know exactly what happened. And then I think she saw the Argo fighting Zordar, guessed what Wildstar was going to do, and brought me back there.” His face filled with despair. “I just don’t know. I feel like it’s at the edge of my memory, like a dream that I can’t quite remember. I think about it all the time. Why can’t I remember?” He was getting agitated, and she put her hand on his, wanting to comfort him.
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to say any more. Please – I’m sorry.” Her own eyes had filled with tears, and she blinked them back and turned to face the window.
“No – no, please don’t cry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” After an awkward silence, he squeezed her hand and asked quietly, “Can you tell me why Dr. Sane wanted you to talk to me?”
She shook her head. “He wants answers so he can move forward with your treatment, I think, plus I’m pretty sure he thinks talking about it will make you feel better. But if what you told me doesn’t satisfy him, he can try to drag it out of you himself. I told him I wouldn’t push you.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I appreciate that.” He looked at her for a long moment. “I also appreciate what you said earlier – about us becoming friends. I feel that way too, but I wasn’t sure about saying so. You might treat all your patients as well as you treat me.”
Blushing again, she looked down with a soft smile. “Thanks, Commander. And, uh… I don’t. Just so you know.” It felt off, somehow, calling him by his honorific at this point. She asked awkwardly, “So… Since we’re friends now, do you think we could drop the formalities, at least when I’m off duty? Call me Carina?”
An odd expression passed briefly over his face, but then he smiled gently. “Of course, Carina, if you’ll call me Mark.” She nodded. Feeling awkward, she picked up the book he had been reading and flipped through it idly. He watched her for a moment, then spoke again. “Can I ask you something now? You told me that your mother’s death made you decide to come to the academy. What would you have done with your life if you hadn’t joined up?”
The change of subject surprised her. She sat up straighter and pushed a couple of stray strands of hair from her face. “Would you believe I wanted to be a musician? A famous singer, maybe a pianist. When I was a kid, what I really wanted was to join the old USO, traveling around the world singing sentimental tunes for the soldiers. I’m not sure how old I was when I realized that the USO didn’t exist anymore, and even if it did, the soldiers wouldn’t want to hear the schlocky old songs I wanted to sing.”
“Really? That’s… I never would have guessed.” He looked amused. “Do you play now?”
“Yep, I sometimes do services here in the hospital chapel, and I play with Earth Defense’s women’s jazz band. One of the things we did right, I think, was keeping the military bands going even when everyone was living underground. The concerts helped raise morale and kept the civilians’ minds off things.”
“Sounds like I’m not the only nerd here.” Teasing – that was a good sign. “How did you manage to learn about music during the war?” Since this would be a longer conversation, she asked him to slide over a bit, swung around to sit beside him and leaned back against the raised head of the bed, her knees drawn up. She pulled the extra blanket over her legs so her nurse’s uniform wouldn’t leave her exposed.
Her father had been a historian specializing in twentieth-century culture, she told him. She had spent long hours during her childhood watching old films and listening to recordings of old music, especially the films and music of the World War II era, and had learned as many of the songs from that time as she could. The other children had mostly thought she was strange, but her school music teacher had taken her under his wing and encouraged her love of music. After the planet bombs had driven them underground, she had continued to search the archived holdings of the city’s library and cultural center to expand her knowledge.
When she had taken the requisite vocational aptitude tests in high school, she had scored off the charts in the logic and analysis sections, and Earth Defense had started recruiting her. Her parents had convinced her that it was in her best interest to apply to the academy, and that she should consider studying analysis and development. Analysis and music used the same logical part of the brain, they had reasoned, and since Earth Defense maintained its military bands, she would have the opportunity to continue with her music. She had applied to please them, but had no intention of following that path. The idea of going to war was abhorrent to her.
When Mom had become sick, though, she had rethought her position. Maybe working for Earth Defense would actually be the best way to use her talents. Helping the Earth to achieve peace and finding a way to reverse the destruction wasn’t the same thing as going to war. And when Mom had died, she had made her decision. As much as she loved to play and sing, she wanted to do what she could to prevent more innocent deaths and improve the lives of the survivors.
“So that’s my story, Mark. I guess in our own ways, we’ve each fulfilled our nerdy childhood dreams.” She rapped his leg with the book, and he grinned and took it from her.
“I’m not exactly sailing the seven seas…”
“…And I’m not exactly traveling with Bob Hope. But close enough.” It was nice to see him smile. Now that he was returning to health and his color was getting better, she could see that he was really a very handsome man. His black hair was thick and curly, his brown eyes large and expressive. He had a good heart, too. She was sure that if he was stationed on Earth after he returned from his upcoming mission, he would meet a young woman who would help him to get past his experience with Trelaina. She hoped so. She would like to see him happy.
They sat in silence until the evening nurse poked her head in to let them know that visiting hours were over, looking at them strangely when she saw Carina sitting beside Venture on the bed. As she stood, he spoke again. “Hey, Carina?”
He was looking at her intently, his head cocked. “Thank you. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” She started to demur, but he held up a hand and went on. “Please, let me say this. There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it through this week. Talking to you – it’s helped so much. I want you to know that.” He paused, suddenly shy, and looked at the sheets. “I want you to know how much your friendship means to me.”
Touched, she took his hand in both of hers and said quietly, “Thank you, Mark.” He looked up at her and their eyes locked. His gaze was warm, and as she looked into his eyes she felt a hint of something she hadn’t felt in over a year. It made her uncomfortable. She cleared her throat and took a step back, saying lightly, “I’d better get out of here before they chase me out. I’m on the same shift tomorrow. See you then.” She squeezed his hand and walked out, a little shaken, wanting to curl up with a bowl of soup, a stiff drink and a sappy old movie.
The stars were appearing from behind cloud cover when she set out for home. Carina had never realized how much she had isolated herself after Daniel died. It had been so nice this week to sit and talk with someone. She had always been something of a loner – she’d never been particularly comfortable with other women, and prided herself on her independence – but it hadn’t occurred to her until this week that Stephen had been right: she was lonely. Mark Venture was so easy to talk to. Not the way she joked with the boys at work, or even the way she talked to Stephen, but really talking. And he was attractive. There was no denying that. It was only natural that she had felt a momentary spark between them – they had spent so much time together this week, and so much of it had been very emotional. But he was safe. She knew he wouldn’t expect anything from her, and she had nothing to feel guilty about.
“Oh, Daniel,” she said to the sky, now a dark velvety blue sprinkled with twinkling pinpoints of light. “You’re okay with this, right? He’s a good man, but he’s not you. I miss you, honey, and I’ll always love you. But I think I need a friend.”