The beautiful blonde with the bedroom eyes turned around at the sound of her name. "Yes?"
"Uh, Auntie Pam, can I ask you a few things about practicing medicine?" Sixteen-year-old Joss Beckett fiddled with a loose string at the end of one sleeve, intimidated by Dr. Pamela Hudson.
She raised a well-groomed eyebrow. "Don't call me Pam. As for the rest of it, sorry, love, but I'm giving a lecture for the Andorian Medical Association in a few days, and I've got to prepare."
"Yeah, I am! Don't look so surprised. See, there's a call for plastic surgery there and they want to compare techniques."
"Andorian plastic surgery?"
"Antenna enhancement." She winked at him. "Have you tried Miva?"
"Mom's OB-GYN is too busy. Do you know any other doctors I could talk to, Aunt Pam … ela?" At least he remembered the last two syllables that time.
"My Uncle Cyril. He's retired. I bet he'd love to talk to you. Joss, I didn't know you wanted to be a doctor. Reed doesn't mention such things, and I don't talk to your mom as much as I used to – life gets busy when you're married, kiddo."
"Actually, I'm thinking of becoming a veterinarian. And, and, before you say anything, I know it's not the same." Even Joss was a bit surprised at his bold tone. "But I still think it would be helpful."
"I'll set it up."
A few days later, as promised, a meeting was set up. Again nervous, Joss knocked on Cyril Morgan's door in a small Calafan-style home just outside of Fep City. "Just a moment, just a moment!" came a quavering voice with a British accent. After a few minutes, the door was opened. "Yes?" The old fellow was stooped. The remains of his hair were curly and white. He had a thin face that was mostly nose, and he looked somewhat underfed. His eyes crinkled in a smile when he saw what Joss had brought with him – his mother, Lili O'Day Beckett's strawberry shortcake. "May I help you?" An orange tabby did figure eights between the old man's legs as he stood there.
"Uh, Pamela Hudson, um, Pamela Hudson Treve, is she calling herself that now? Uh, she set this up? I'm Doug and Lili's son, uh, Jeremiah."
"Oh, yes! Come in! I know your younger half-brother Thomas a bit better than you. He squires my granddaughter Cindy around sometimes. So, Jeremiah, let's chat."
The small house was cozy and overstuffed with mementos and knicknacks and furniture that had likely been imported from Earth. A wall display showed the time and temperature, which Joss did not catch, and the date, November 4, 2175. They weretogether in Dr. Morgan's kitchen as the old man fussed with plates and waved off any assistance. "No, Mimi, you may not have any," he said to the tabby. Looking at Joss, he said, "So, ask me what you want to ask."
"Well, sir, I, uh…"
"Don't call me sir."
"Uh, excuse me?"
"I know, I know, you were raised to be polite and all of that. But you and I are going to talk today like equals. Like, like colleagues, all right?"
"Oh." The suggestion took Joss a bit by surprise. "Uh, so, Dr. Morgan, I was wondering …"
"Don't call me that, either. Here," he set down a generous plate of strawberry shortcake in front of Joss and then sat down. "I've had decades answering to that. And it's all well and good, but it can create a barrier between people, you see. Now, my understanding is that you aren't called Jeremiah that often."
"No, si –, uh, no. I'm usually called Joss."
"Well, Joss, my given name is Cyril. But that's an old and fussy name, eh? When I was a lad of about your age, they called me Skip."
"Yes. And you can call me that, all right, Joss?"
"Sure, uh, Skip. I'm, I'm here because, see, I want to become a vet. And, and I know it's not the same. But I was wondering if you had some advice. For, um, for maybe working with difficult owners, I guess."
"Very well." The doctor thought for a moment. "I'm a retired orthopedic surgeon. Do you know what we do in that specialty?"
"You set bones."
"We do. But we also, see," Skip set down his plate and looked at Joss seriously. "There are other things that can happen. It can be, well, you should understand that just before I retired, I was called in, to work, during the Xindi conflict. And then later, when your, eh, what do you call Malcolm Reed?"
"Dad Mackum, usually. But he's, uh, we're not genetically related."
"That doesn't matter, eh? I know you call Pamela your aunt and you aren't related to her, either. Be that as it may, during the Earth-Romulan War, I was pulled out of retirement. Jonathan Archer was already in politics, so Reed became an acting captain on Archer's second ship, the USS Zefram Cochrane."
"I heard some of that. But not a lotta details."
"There were several engagements. And the Romulans, they never showed themselves to us. But they did a great deal of damage all the same. See, when you're a civilian, you might think that space battles are all or nothing. Either everyone survives, or a ship is utterly destroyed. But often there are shipboard injuries. Consoles are destroyed and fall on people. They trip as they retreat. Or they break a bone whilst they hit escape pod controls or the like."
"I see, I think." Mimi came over and rubbed up against Joss's leg. He scratched the cat a little behind her ears before she got out of reach.
"There are worse injuries as well. I didn't just treat humans. I treated Vulcans, Xyrillians, Caitians, Tellarites, Denobulans, Calafans, and Andorians." Joss couldn't help but to smile slightly, remembering Pamela's talk of antenna enhancement surgery. "But there was, there was one, once."
"The, the enemy." The doctor looked a little far away at that moment.
"You treated a Romulan, Skip?"
"Uh, no, my boy. The patient was a Xindi Reptilian. You see," he sighed, "it was only a few years after they'd tried to destroy us. They were uneasy allies during the war with the Romulans. The chap had a crushed forearm." The doctor put his head in his hands.
"Skip? Are you all right?"
"You won't have this, Joss. It won't happen to you. Animals, they aren't enemies, eh? You don't spend a year hating them and then less than half a decade later fighting alongside them. It, it can be difficult to, to shift gears like that. Do you understand?"
"I think so. But animals, well, they can bite or poison you, you know. Or gore you, or stamp on your foot, I guess. I, I figure it's not the same. But it's not, you know, always fluffy kittens."
"Like Miss Mimi, eh?" Skip sighed. "There are triage rules. Have you ever heard the term?"
"You look at a bunch of wounded people and you divvy them up, based on how bad off they are, right?"
"Precisely. There are those who can be immediately treated, others who are so far gone that there is no hope, and there are those in between, who require more extensive care. It's a bit of a cost-benefit analysis, a calculus of caring. This Xindi, he should have been placed in that third categ'ry. Instead, since they had been our mortal enemies I, I treated everyone else before him. Others' care was had at his, at his expense."
"Skip, you saved people."
"That's the easy part. At least, it's the easy thing to say. But that Reptilian, an infection set in because of delayed treatment. He lost his arm. I performed the amputation myself." The doctor looked away. "That never should have happened. And it wouldn't have, if I had, if, if I had not allowed my prejudices to dictate my practice of the medical arts."
"Skip, can I ask? Why are you telling me this? I, I don't mind hearing it, but I just wanna know why."
"You asked about dealing with difficult pet owners. And I imagine it's a bit similar to working with a sentient patient's family. You break the news of deaths. You announce births. You tell someone they'll never walk again, or that they have a terminal illness. Joss, telling that Reptilian's family that their breadwinner had lost his arm was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have put legs back together when the bones were naught but pulverized calcium-laden jigsaw puzzles. I have had to tell a young mother that her infant daughter died on the table." Skip bit his lower lip, and Joss could see the man's eyes were a crimson red. "But," Skip whispered, jaw trembling a bit, "telling those Reptilians that. And I, I told them that it was, it was my hesitation that directly caused that, that result."
"What did they say to you?"
Dr. Morgan rubbed his eyes. "They said they knew wartime. The Reptilian was a veteran of the Xindi conflict. He was known for killing humans. So they understood, in a way." The doctor swallowed. "But Joss, the point of it is not that there was some, some justification for my inaction. Because there wasn't. It did not matter one whit that this person had killed humans. All that mattered – and still matters – is that he lost his arm because I could not see beyond the scales on his face."
"I can see that would be hard."
"Promise me something, Joss." Morgan looked at the young boy, peering intently. "Promise me that, that you won't treat or save the darling fluffy kittens first, or the linfep owned by a beautiful girl, or the turtle owned by a wealthy client. Instead, swear, if you will, that you will treat them as they should be treated. That, that you won't ignore the ferret owned by the boy whose parents can't afford to pay you, or the Chihuahua that snaps at you and has drawn blood, or the, the iguana," he whispered, "which is brought in by a mortal enemy."
"Of course, Skip. Of, of course."
Morgan dried his eyes and smiled a bit at the young man. "That's as it should be. Treat them all, and treat them as well as you can, as skillfully as you are able. I had a spotless record before that Reptilian. But years later, I don't think of the triumphs or the emotional moments with any other patient. None of them loom as large as that one person. And, and how I behaved."
"It doesn't cancel out all the other things you did."
"If only that were true." There was a door chime. "That'll be your mother, come to collect you, I imagine."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Come back any time you wish, Joss."
"Oh, and tell Thomas – I refuse to call that child Tommy – that I should like to know his intentions when it comes to Cindy."
"I will. Does he call you Skip?"
"Not a chance. But you can, always. After all, Joss, we are colleagues."