A loud sneeze echoed in the tiny confines of the General Practice Patrol ship Lancet, causing Dr. Jack Alvarez to drop the report he was working on in annoyance. "Can't you keep your germs somewhere else?" he asked his very sick colleague Dr. Tiger Martin.
"Since you've banned me from the bunk room and the lab, I'm not sure where else you think I should go," he sniffed, blowing his nose irritably. "Would you be happier if I went outside?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Jack growled. "We're in the middle of deep space: you couldn't leave even if I wanted you to."
"Thank you so much for your generosity," Tiger drawled with uncharacteristic sarcasm.
"You can thank me by getting better. You're the Green Doctor: shouldn't you have your own treatment plan by now?"
"Believe it or not Jack, 'physician heal thyself' is not practical advice."
Dal tried to shut his ears as the two kept going, focusing on the book in front of him as he downed a quick lunch. Tiger had fallen ill a week earlier. Had he contracted something truly dangerous they would have called for a hospital ship to pick him up, but Jack quickly diagnosed it as a simple cold.
Since then there'd been no calls over the radio, nothing to break up the monotony of shipboard life, and the two doctors had taken to quarreling at every opportunity. It was in some ways a break for Dal, since Jack's ire was now focused squarely on Tiger as opposed to his Garvian colleague. But Tiger was the one who usually kept the Blue Doctor in line, and Dal found he made a poor substitute.
He tried to keep out of the fray, hoping things would calm down on their own, but his crewmates' tempers sounded close to popping. That night, as Jack tossed and turned in his bunk muttering about disinfectant and Tiger's harsh coughing rent the air from the observation room, Dal made up his mind. He had to do something.
Getting up as quietly as possible, he slipped into the computer room and fired up the tape-reader. Fuzzy barely put up a protest when he left and still lay snoozing back on his bunk. Raising the temperature to a toasty level, he leaned back in the chair and began searching for information. In this scenario he'd need to serve as both diagnostician and medical physician, Blue and Green services in one. Which, considering he was a surgeon, might make his self-imposed task even harder than it should be.
Seeing a bit of data, he suddenly sat up and smiled. Maybe this wouldn't be so hard after all...
It had been many nights since Tiger could say he'd probably slept; instead, each morning he simply slipped from "half awake" to "not bothering." He blew his nose, coughed, blew his nose again, then dragged himself up and to the shower. Jack had tried to quarantine him from here too, but simple logic had finally convinced the Blue Doctor that it would be better to endure potential contamination than a crewmate who hadn't bathed regularly in an environment with recycled air.
The hot water hit his hot skin in blessed pain, fog clearing his aching sinuses and making him feel alive once more. It was over all too soon. He pulled on his sweats and wrapped himself in a blanket despite his temperature, knowing the chills would be soon to follow.
Despite Jack's obvious doubts, Tiger actually had tried to cure himself. He'd used clinical methods first, then old traditional remedies, even breaking down and trying his grandmother's favorite cure-all of cooking grease and vinegar (and feeling even sicker because of it). Nothing helped, and he didn't know what made him sicker: the cold or his failure to actually do himself any good. Or Jack's self-satisfied contempt.
"Speak of the devil," he mumbled as the doctor stepped into the corridor from the bunk room. "Unclean, unclean, just passing by."
"Stop fooling around," Jack said. "Were you just at the showers?"
"Yes, yes, I haven't touched anything else."
"Good. You didn't see Dal, did you?"
That question brought Tiger up short, and he suddenly realized Jack was holding a shivering Fuzzy in his hands. "No, not there or back in the observation room before I left," he admitted, gulping back a cough.
Jack frowned. "He wasn't in the bunk room when I got up, but Fuzzy was, and sounding awful worried. At least, I think he's worried. It's not like I pay that much attention to him."
"Right..." Tiger caught himself from arguing back out of habit. If Jack didn't want to admit he was growing steadily more fascinated by the little pink fuzzball, now was the not the time to point it out to him. "Look, it's not like Dal could be many other places. I'll check back at controls, you check the computer room."
Jack nodded. "I'd send Fuzzy with you, but there's no reason to make it sick as well."
"Him!" Tiger couldn't help but call after the other man, but his frustration quickly turned to nerves as the little Garvian didn't turn up despite a meticulous search of the other room. "Come on, Dal, where could you be?"
"Not here?" Jack asked, startling him.
"No." Tiger's head ached: he'd been sedentary too long, and moving around this much only added to his body's other pains. He shook it, trying to clear his thoughts. "Maybe he's back in the bunk room now."
"Why would he go back there after he was already up?"
"I don't know, but he can't have gone far. This isn't that big a ship." His eyes bore down on Fuzzy, who continued to shiver in Jack's hands. The Blue Doctor was actually petting him, probably unaware of the fact, and if he weren't so worried Tiger would have whistled at the sight. "Look, pal, where is he?"
As if in answer, Fuzzy suddenly chirped and grew four legs, scuttling up to Jack's shoulder in a move that made both he and Tiger jump. The little creature danced excitedly and clucked with gusto.
Jack's horror at enduring a Fuzzy sensation was hilarious. "What do you think he wants?" he asked with wide eyes, standing absolutely still.
"Beats me, Dal's the only one who can really understand him," Tiger admitted, wishing he had his full faculties to bear on the problem. A giant sneeze overtook him midthought.
"Bless you," Jack spoke distractedly, turning back to the corridor. He sniffed the air. "Tiger, do you smell something?"
"Was that supposed to be a joke?" Tiger barely managed to get out as he blew his nose, again.
"No, it's like..." Jack sniffed again, then actually grinned. "Like bacon!"
That word got through Tiger's fog. "Bacon?" He sniffed as well, trying to breathe as deeply as his clogged nasal passages would allow, and a faint scent barely made it through. A wonderful, amazing, impossible smell.
As one the two doctors headed back down the corridor to the observation room, the smell growing stronger and Fuzzy becoming positively ecstatic. When they emerged into the common area they stopped in awe.
"There you guys are!" Dal smiled as he set a plate down on an already laden table. "I was just about to go find you. Hope Fuzzy hasn't bothered you too much."
"No..." Jack trailed off, clearly not believing his eyes. "Is that ... bacon?"
"And eggs?" Tiger breathed in the heavenly smell again. "And ... orange juice?"
Dal looked from one to the other in delight. "You like it?"
"Are you kidding?!" Tiger plopped in a chair, staring at the spread before him. "But, we don't have any of this on board the ship."
"And we haven't stopped," Jack protested as well, handing Fuzzy over to Dal. The little fuzzball leapt to his friend, who warbled right back to him in a moment of joyful communion.
"Well, you're right: we didn't have bacon, eggs, and orange juice on board, and technically, we still don't." Dal gestured to the miraculous food. "But we do have a fully stocked lab with nearly every chemical compound known to the universe, and a store of food stuffs that can be broken down to the microbial level. Turns out its just simple microsurgery to turn protein into different forms, which added with the right compound can be made to taste and smell just like the real thing."
Jack shook his head. "That sounds dangerous: what if it's toxic? And where did you get the juice?" His protest would have had more heft if his mouth wasn't obviously watering.
Dal rolled his eyes. "Give me some credit Jack: I am a scientist. I fed it to one of the lab test animals first, and it liked the taste of it. As for the juice, we have concentrated vitamin C. I crushed and blended it with some other vitamins and chemicals until it came out to something that might be like what you squeezed out of an orange." He blinked, suddenly uncertain. "I think I got the ingredients right. My palette for Earth food's not that developed even after Medical School, but it smells like what I remember people eating. This is a special style of Earth breakfast, correct?"
Jack and Tiger stared at him, then at each other. Finally Tiger picked up a fork. "I don't care whether it's real or not: I can't stand not taking a bite one second longer."
Before long they'd all tucked in, and Dal's makeshift cookery turned out to be a winner. The "eggs" were a bit on the salty side, and the drink tasted more like the vitamin blend it was than orange juice, but the two Earthmen devoured the fabricated bacon like starving men. "I don't know how you did this," Jack commented between bites, "but it should be taught in senior level classes."
Tiger actually laughed, the first he'd enjoyed since falling sick. "Sure. In this week's grand rounds, Doctor Timgar will demonstrate how to turn your ship's lab into a gourmet kitchen."
"It'd be more useful than charting anomalous signals on the radio." The Blue Doctor snagged another slice of fried protein supplement. "I swear it's just like the real thing."
"It really is Dal," Tiger agreed, chomping down on his own strip.
The Garvian ducked his head at the compliments, petting a very happy Fuzzy and smiling. "Thanks." He drank the last of his "juice," then stood. "Well, Fuzzy, you can either join me with the cleanup or stick with these fellows. I'm afraid the lab isn't in tip-top shape at the moment."
Tiger nearly offered to help, but was interrupted by Jack. "What?! No, don't go, the laboratory is my responsibility. You stay right here with Tiger and finish the food: I don't want anything put back in the wrong place." He snagged another bite before heading toward the corridor. "And don't even think about getting up Tiger: you still need to rest, and you're not completely past the contagious stage yet."
The two doctors looked at each other after their colleague disappeared. "I think Jack just offered to clean up for me," Dal said in amazement.
"And actually seemed concerned for my well-being. Just what did you put in this stuff Dal?" Tiger joked, sipping his own drink. It might not be juice, but it still went down well, soothing his throat.
"Ancient Garvian magic," his friend offered in turn. He eyed Tiger as the big man leaned back in his chair, the remains of the feast digesting happily in his now full stomach. "Do you feel better?"
"Yes..." Tiger said as a matter of course, then stopped as he waited for a cough or a sneeze to belie his words. None came. In fact, he could actually breathe, and his temperature felt close to normal. "Actually, yes, I do. Really, Dal, this was amazing."
"Good." Dal grinned as Fuzzy chirped his own satisfaction, then grew serious. "I really felt like I had to do something, after all you've done for us, both of us. You've been a good friend Tiger."
The Green Doctor didn't answer for a moment, savoring his newfound state of comfort. "Just promise when I get completely better you'll still fix breakfast every now and then?"
He was still sick, and it might still be a while before their next call, but at least for now, Tiger felt like everything in the universe was better. After all, wasn't that what friends were for?