Captain Conrad Tyler’s stomach somersaulted as the tendrils of sweetened smoke stroked his nose. He stared at the ebony liquid in the tall crimson mug wrapped by his calloused fingers. The coffee’s hue matched the hairs on the back of his hands, sprouting between goose bumps.
I guess this does change something’s, he mused.
Tyler set the cup down an arm’s length away and across the square table. He kept faintly smelling the now nauseating aroma even as the passing medical attendants walked by, the gusts of their movements wavering the strident coils. They swept past, focused on their treatment routines, leaving him alone in the small suite reserved for recovering patients, free of the confinement of their reclining beds, at least for a time.
Tyler reached down below the end of the glistening ivory table and laid a hand on the bulge right beneath his belly button. The quiver under his medical jersey and skin settled with the touch and, he assumed, the distance to the drink. Shaking his head he raked his hand through his shoulder length waves, trying to shove aside the morning’s lingering weariness and other symptoms.
His gaze turned to the wide oval windows lining the perimeter of the room.
A shower of stars hung outside, stretched slightly by the near silent movement of the ship as she passed through space. Tyler felt the soft hum of the engines, decks below, through the fuzzy slippers now wrapped around his feet. His pulse began to match the rhythm in a soporific tempo.
The slide of the automatic door at the medical bay’s far end, and the deep throated laugh shot pure adrenaline into his veins. The jolt pushed aside any thought of sleep and the comforting presence of his ship.
This, Tyler thought with a grimace, is going to be awkward.
Ensign Verat stopped at the entrance to the suite, her dark blue uniform trim and crisp, her oval face expressionless beneath her coil of rave hair.
“Good morning, Captain,” she said with the same sharp angles in her tone.
Behind her, Lieutenant Ryner laughed again and patted Eray, a willowy attendant, on the shoulder. The medic winced under the husky man’s blow but smiled jovially before hurrying back to deal with the tray of bottled, multicolored fluids he held in his nimble hands.
“Have a seat, Ensign,” said Tyler, motioning toward the cushioned chair to his right.
Verat gave a swift nod and extracted the chair the precise amount needed to perch herself on the edge. She placed her hands in her lap and looked up from the table only as Ryner occupied the suite’s open door.
“Capt’,” said Ryner. His square face broke into a slightly wider grin as his gaze swept over Verat. Ryner leaned one shoulder against the door frame and hooked his thumbs into his belt loops as if to highlight the phasers holstered at his hips.
Tyler watched Verat’s cheeks pink a few degrees and pale again as she locked her gaze back onto the pristine table.
“Ryner,” said Tyler, gesturing to the other chair. “Hit the seal while you’re at it.”
The order caused Ryner to frown, his languid mass tensing slightly. He gave the appropriate button on the flat panel set into the interior of the doorway a tap with his fist as he stepped inside.
The sliding door to the suite slid closed, although the transparent film left the medical bay clearly visible. The movement of the attendants and the buzz of their equipment as they dealt with the rest of the casualties however had been muted.
The hum of the ship, the rub of Ryner’s slacks as he walked and the grind of Verat’s teeth dominated the quiet.
Taking his seat, Ryner gave the cup a sniff.
“Have it,” said Tyler.
He swallowed down a nauseous gulp as Ryner took the mug and raised the cup in a brief toast.
“Thanks.” Ryner swallowed half of the luke-warm brew before putting the cup back down and wiping his mouth clear with the back of his hand. “Need that in the morning.”
You and me both, thought Tyler.
He blew out a breath in the hanging silence dropping over the room like dead weight. Both his subordinates stared at him with open expectation.
So very awkward, Tyler though again. It’s not going to get any less so if you keep drawing it out, he scolded himself.
The bulge beneath his stomach gave a concurring twitch.
“There’s been a complication, a rather unique complication.”
“Sir?” asked Verat. Ryner simply frowned.
Tyler held up his hand and the young Ensign snapped her plush mouth closed.
“When we were pulled off the Arwell, the teleporter had a…mishap.” He forced his hand not to rub at the back of his neck or his tongue to try wiping away the words against his dry lips. “When the three of us came back on board, a few key pieces were of out of sequence.”
Verat’s shoulders tensed and her eyes, with their thick lashes widened and blinked feverously.
Ryner glanced down at his wide chest, then leaned back to peer beneath the table. He tapped his feet as if to make sure they were attached. His ever present smile creased his face as he looked up.
“Haven’t noticed anything missing, Capt’.”
“Nor I,” added Verat.
“No, the Doc says you’re both fine.” He blew out a breath as the concern in both pairs of eyes rose. “Duplication occurred of certain parts of both of you…in me.”
Tyler closed his mouth and looked each in the eye. A thin crinkle slit Verat’s forehead above her nose.
“Duplication? Sir, I don’t understand. The teleporters reassemble, not replicate.”
“I know. I have Marty working on a more precise explanation but she theorizes the energy field surrounding the Arwell helped to give the teleporter a bit of a nudge.”
Tyler held up his hand as the Ensign’s mouth opened. Verat stifled her question although the effort seemed to make her already tense form even more brittle.
“The clearest way I can put it is this,” Tyler continued. “The teleporter breaks us down into pieces, then reassembles us on the platforms right?” Verat nodded. Ryner frowned slightly, processing the question with his usual careful manner when something other than blasting accuracy was involved, and then shook his head in agreement. “When we left the Arwell, the explosion added enough energy to take my pieces and some of your pieces and when I reconstituted, it shoved all those pieces together.”
“I’m not following you Capt’. You said Doc said we’re fine.”
Tyler sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
“I got put back together…wrong.” He set his hands down on the table, pressing down with his finger tips in a frozen claw at the surface. The quiver beneath his stomach shook as if in sudden fright. Tyler laid one hand on the bulge and forced himself to calm down.
“Have you ever done one of those jig saw puzzles?”
“Yeah, ‘course.” Ryner grinned. “Though I was never very good at them. Always had missing pieces.”
Tyler pressed on as Verat’s stare intensified.
“Think of it this way. I was a whole mess of jig saw pieces but a few extra ones were added in, replicated by the teleporter. The teleporter then took all of them and smashed them together to form a new…me.”
Verat twitched in her seat, her teeth grinding again with forced closure. Tyler nodded and her words bubbled out like a shooting comet.
“That’s not possible Captain. The filters would have backfired and returned you to the-.”
“To the empty space the Arwell had occupied?” Tyler shook his head. “They pulled us all back within an inch of our lives. With all the chaos the changes weren’t even readily apparent until I started having physical symptoms.”
Ryner paused with the mug halfway to his mouth. “Symptoms?” he asked, his tone now flat and serious.
Tyler gulped down a rise in bile again as the movement of the cup stirred up steam.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” he began again, lacing his fingers together. “For what it’s worth, I’m…pregnant.”
Tyler focused on the hum of the ship as the Ensign and Lieutenant both stared in stunned silence.
“Sir?” Their simultaneous question sent their gazes to one another for a fraction of a second and then they both returned. Tyler felt their weighted stares boring into his face.
“The Doc can give you the biological details. He’s got diagrams and has taken any kind of image you can think of, but the fact of the matter is I’ve got a blend of our genetic materials gestating inside of me.”
“But you’re a guy…a man…” muttered Ryner, his scowl deepening to trench proportions.
Verat’s gaze turned to the table to which she began conversing.
“If the right components were added, male and female, and the proper incubation organs supplied, then such a feat might be possible. Your body would then be a crucible for the development of the…child?”
“Child, right.” Tyler blew out another long breath. “That’s about right.” He glanced at Ryner whose blue eyes still wavered between them as if trying to catch up. “I’m like a test tube, growing a kid.”
“That’s remarkable,” murmured Verat in a breathless whisper.
“That’s fu– weird,” countered Ryner. “No offense, Capt.”
“None taken.” He felt his shoulders relax slightly with the delivery of the news.
Ryner tapped on the cup after draining the last of the coffee.
“So, what are you going to do about this?”
“That’s why I wanted to speak with you two, before this got any further than Doc and Marty. I’ve given this decision long hours of thought and I’m going to carry the child to term. Doc says at the end, a caesarean can enable the birth, since those…ah pieces weren’t changed.”
“Fortunate for that,” said Ryner.
“Right.” Tyler shook his head but couldn’t avoid the smirk at the Lieutenant’s remark. “But in an unbelievably odd way, the two of you will have an offspring, biologically speaking of course.”
Verat paled again and Ryner rubbed at the stubble already sprouting on his chin.
“I’d be a parent,” whispered Verat.
“I feel like I ought to be paying child support or something,” muttered Ryner.
Tyler raised both hands in a swift barricade.
“I’m not asking for anything like that. I thought it only fair to make sure you were aware of everything from the beginning. I’m not ordering or demanding either of you to be involved in anyway.”
Tyler exhaled and focused on the hum of the ship to steady himself again.
“I realize this is quite a shock and rather…weird. Please, take your time dealing with it. Do whatever you need to do. Come talk with me anytime. I plan on making whatever the next few months have in store work. I’ll keep you as informed and involved as you wish.”
“Of course,” said Verat. Ryner seemed to chew over his answer with more thought.
Tyler straightened his shoulders. The medical jersey rustled and strained against his tawny muscles. He focused again on the rumble of the distant engines and tried to reclaim the old authority in his tone.
Whatever changes had happened, I’m still Captain, he reasoned.
“So, unless either of you wish to discuss this further, you’re both dismissed.”