28. Such Wow. Many Normal. Very Oops.

prompt: #28 accident

"It's gotta be here. It was listed in the transporter log."

"Yeah, well, it's missing from the cargo index now." Raffi grimaced. "Are you absolutely sure it ever made it on board?"

Expression stormy, Rios' head appeared behind a large, octagonal cargo container.

"Yes. I am. I personally supervised the transport. I take these things seriously, you know."

Folding both arms across her digital clipboard, Raffi pulled an uneasy face.

"The GHF will not like this."

Rios raked a hand through his hair.

"No, they won't."

"Even though it's technically just a molten piece of junk."

Cris threw her a reprimanding look. "Raffi…"

The "piece of junk" she was referring to was, in reality, a revered item of an extinct species on a recently discovered planet in the Galvarion sector. For several months, archeologists had dug for and pored over the traces the species had left behind, testament to a rich culture that included a complex religious belief system. The Galaxy Heritage Foundation had hired Cris to transport an assortment of religious items to Earth for further studies and a future exhibition. Some of them were small - pendants, figurines and shimmering objects made of a metallic compound that had yet to be named - while others were statues or chunks of the same mysterious material wielded together in shapes that meant nothing to the human eye but the world to a life form that had apparently been wiped out by some sort of natural disaster.

Raffi shrugged again and tapped her clipboard.

"Are you sure this one's linked properly to your scanner?"

She gestured at the device Rios was now pointing at the label on the next container. The force field holding their precious and heavy cargo in place hummed in protest as Cris reached through it to double-check the label, but, programmed to let organic entities pass, it gave no real resistance.

"Should be," he replied as the scanner chirped and - once more - glowed red to confirm that this wasn't the pod they were looking for. "Ean synced them, and he doesn't make mistakes. Not of that sort, anyway."

"But he said it's been missing from the cargo index since, what, last night?"

"Yeah." Cris' upper half popped up behind a massive rectangular container, and he placed his arms on top of it, frowning at the scanner read-out. "And it cannot have simply disappeared. Or can it?" His eyebrows rose. "I mean, we barely know anything about this new metal and its capabilities. What if it's-"

"...vanished into thin air?" Raffi finished his thought. "But… with the container? And why would it? After all, the species that-"

All of a sudden, the force field crackled and flickered. Then, with a deep rumble, the large container Rios had been inspecting shot forward. It slammed into him, pinning him to the crates behind him. He cried out in pain and shock as he felt tissue being crushed and bones break. His entire lower body half erupted into agony.

"Fuck! Cris!"

He could hear Raffi shout, but his vision was flecked with black spots, and her voice seemed to come from a distance.

"Cris! Oh, fuck - hang on!"

She was close to him now; he could hear her furious grunts as she tried to wedge herself between the containers that were crushing him.

His pelvis. His legs. His feet. Oh God.

Rios tried to breathe through the sharp pain of multiple fractures and failed. His chest, although unrestricted, felt too tight, as if the force of his injuries was pushing upwards, through his stomach and against his diaphragm.

"Shit! Cris!"

He blinked at his friend through a greying vail of semi-consciousness. She was pushing against the container with both hands, her face a desperate grimace, but it wouldn't budge.

"HELP!" Raffi shouted through the cargo deck. "HELP US!"

Foggily, Cris wondered who was supposed to come. Agnes was on Coppelius with Soji, Picard was taking care of business on his vineyard on Earth, and Elnor had accompanied him. There was no one on board except for Raffi and-

"What is the nat- … Captain!"

The EMH dropped his poncy attitude as soon as he had fully materialized and spotted Rios.

"Trauma med kit!" He barked at Sirena's computer, and the requested case shivered into existence.

"He's stuck!" Raffi yelled. "The force field failed, and the fucking container-"

"Thank you, Miss Musiker, I can see that" the EMH responded, cutting her off and pulling up bioscans on a holo projector.

Cris moaned.

He wondered why he was still conscious. Pain was ricocheting through his shattered legs, and wetness was streaking down the inside of his pants. Blood or - dios mío - something else? The pressure on his bladder and hip bones was insane, and when he moved his torso, he felt a sickening instability below his belly button. His pelvis was probably in pieces.

"Emil…," he croaked helplessly.

"Stay calm, Captain. Breathe."

Deftly, the EMH shoved a vial from the med kit into a hypospray injector and pressed it against Rios' neck.

"This should help with the pain."

It did. Thank God it did. Rios tipped his head back and closed his eyes as blessed numbness flooded his body. To his surprise, Raffi was kneeling behind him. She must have climbed on top of the crate.

"I'm here, babe," she said reassuringly, her hair tingling his face as she supported his head and shoulders.

Another hypospray released its charge into his system.

"I'm stabilizing your blood pressure," Emil explained. He dropped the injector back into the case, grabbed a new item and extended his arm to clip something under Rios' nose. Oxygen hissed into his nostrils.

"O2 replicator," the hologram said calmly. "Take deep breaths."

Rios complied. He felt lightheaded, and his heart was beating much too fast in his chest, but he could breathe easier, and whatever the hologram had given him was blissfully dropping a shield between him and the panic and pain.

"We need to get him out of there, Miss Musiker, and quickly! I don't know how long I can keep him stable."

The urgency in the EMH's voice slid off Rios' pharmaceutical veneer.

"I know. But how?" Raffi sounded distraught.

"Activate EEH and ETH!"

At Emil's snappy command, two more holos shimmered into the cargo bay. Their eyes flickered silver as they synchronized their databases with that of the EMH, updating them on the situation at hand in a second.

The EEH stepped forward, grim-faced under his woolen hat.

"Transporter," the Engineer barked at the ship's computer. "Reroute signal to cargo bay! Lock on container number ten-six-thirty-two! Lift on my command!"

Through his opiate haze, Rios heard the transporter trill, followed by a harsh double beep.

"No funciona," the ETH grumbled. Expression dark as night, he strode to a nearby computer console to hit a sequence of keys. Rios had never seen the tactical hologram in a worse mood.

"The container is blocking the transporter signal," Emmet explained in his heavily accented English - for Raffi's benefit, Rios realized after a moment of confusion. "Or whatever is inside the container."

"How odd," the EMH wondered. He took his eyes from Rios for a second to frown at the tricorder in his hand. "It's giving off readings. Organic readings."

"You… you mean it's- what? Alive?" Raffi's tone was incredulous.

Rios gave a small chuckle. Something told him that nothing about this situation was funny, but he couldn't help it. He also couldn't keep his head from lolling and felt Raffi's hand sliding under his chin.

"Cris! Stay with me, babe! Emil!"

Something warbled, and he felt Emil's hands on him.

"He's losing too much blood."

The EMH was probably right. Cris had heard a steady drip - drip - drip underneath him and imagined his own blood dripping through the grated metal paneling of the cargo bay into the deck below.

The EHH would throw a hissy fit when he saw the stains.

Rios huffed and dispassionately looked at his lower arm. The medical hologram was clasping something around his wrist, and then a small screen on the device flashed 'AB+' and he felt a prickling sensation in his veins.

"This will buy us some time, but we need to hurry," Emil said in his clipped tone.

"If this thing is… alive," Raffi desperately picked up where they'd left off, "maybe we can… I don't know, ask it to move?"

Emil shook his head in doubt. "I said it's organic, not that it's sentient." He looked at the tricorder again. "There's no indication that it can think. No indication of a brain."

"Oye, it was smart enough to break through the force field and attack our capitán!"

Emmet glowered at the container and Rios, feeling increasingly tired, only now realized that his tactical officer was holding a phaser in one hand.

As if on cue, the container began to shudder and emitted a sequence of deep-pitched sounds.

Rios gasped as the vibrations aggravated his injuries. He felt broken bones shift, and something snapped in his left knee. He couldn't suppress a yelp of pain.

"What's happening?!" Raffi cried out. She was bracing him from behind, and her hands seemed to be the one thing anchoring him to sanity.

"For fuck's sake!" She screamed. "Make it stop!"

None of them could. While the EMH injected Cris with more drugs, the other holograms were stemming their non-existent weight against the container. Emmet even kicked against it, spitting curses in Spanish. Faintly, Rios hoped the thing would either move back or end what it had started, but, after an endless stretch of agony, the vibrations and the noise stopped abruptly, and he was still pinned and alive.

"Rios, you still with me?"

Raffi was holding him; he could feel her breath against his cheek and hear the fear in her voice. Cris breathed a broken sob. He was unable to do more. Emil's meds were taking the edge off, but pain was still rocketing through him, and he could feel his body shutting down. Unconsciousness licked at him like an incoming tide, and he fought it with waning strength.

The EMH was all over him, adjusting settings and ordering him to keep his eyes open. Rios thought he discovered a hint of uncertainty in the hologram's behaviour.

He wasn't dying, was he?

"Aléjate!" Losing patience, the Tactical Hologram waved his tattoed hands and lifted the phaser. He pointed it at the container. "Step away! I'm gonna get this thing to move!"

It was Ean who raised his hands and protectively stepped in front of the now-quiet cargo pod.

"No! Don't! We dinnae ken if- … It could kill the capt'n if you attack it!"

Sluggishly, Rios thought that he'd die anyway if they didn't hurry, but he kept that thought to himself and focused on staying awake.

"Ean's right," Raffi said behind him. "Look, it's obviously trying to communicate. We should find out what it wants! We need somebody to-" She stopped, and Rios could literally hear her having an epiphany.

"Activate EHH!"

Rios was too exhausted to groan.

When the Emergency Hospitality Hologram materialised, his smarmy expression froze on his perfectly groomed face as soon as he caught sight of Rios.

Lucidity fading, Rios listened as the others explained to the newly arrived look-alike what was going on and what they needed from him. Cris caught only fragments. Somewhere deep in his foggy brain, their idea made sense: The EHH's programming designated him to - theoretically - make guests on La Sirena feel welcome and comfortable; the hologram was also designed to analyze and learn foreign languages or non-verbal means of communication in an instant. If anyone could negotiate a peaceful surrender of their aggressive "passenger", it was - to Rios' semi-conscious amazement - the Hospitality Hologram.

Aware that he must have lost several seconds, he saw the EHH's manicured hands splayed on the container's top, the hologram's eyes (was he wearing eyeliner?) glistening silver as his linguistic software cycled through communication protocols. The container was humming almost imperceptibly.

"Anything?" Raffi asked, out of patience. She had one arm around Rios now, her other hand holding his forehead. Cris felt ridiculously boneless in her careful grip. He blinked darkness away.

The EHH's eyes returned to their normal brown.

"Our guest is using a semi-telepathic form of communication," Steward reported formally. "It's not easy to understand, but as far as I can tell, this life form lives in symbiosis with the metallic element many of these artefacts are made from. It's embedded in the material. They are unhappy about having been removed from their home against their will. According to this specimen, their initial and peaceful attempts at telegraphing their wish to remain on their planet were ignored."

"So they chose to become violent in our cargo bay. Great." Raffi sounded caustic. "What do they want?"

"The promise to be reinstalled to their home planet and to be left in peace."

"And then they'll let Rios go?"

Cris didn't register the reply to Raffi's question. The room had begun to spin around him, and he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. From very far away, he heard voices, and he was almost certain the EMH pinched him. A burst of oxygen hissed into his nose and down his throat. Then, that deep rumble from the beginning returned. Voices got louder. And, suddenly, the pressure against his lower body disappeared and gave way to the dizzying sensation of a downward drop.

Cris collapsed with the frightening last thought that he - that everything - was falling apart.

Raffi had never seen the Medical Hologram wear scrubs before, and she swallowed at the flecks of dried blood trailing across the grey fabric.

Cris' blood.

In this day and age, open surgery was rare. That Emil had resorted to such drastic measures spoke to the severity of Cris' injuries.

"How is he?"

Raffi stood up from the table they all sat crowded around in the mess hall - Steward, Emmet, Ean and Enoch who'd joined the vigil, summoned by the EMH to cheer up the distraught group with his sunny disposition. Well, to cheer her up, Raffi corrected herself. Although the holograms looked concerned, she knew they weren't cycling through the same storm of human emotions that she was.

"I've managed to stop the bleeding in his pelvis and stabilized his fractures," the EMH said matter-of-factly. "But Captain Rios will need extensive reconstructive surgery, and although I have the theoretical knowledge as well as the practical skills, we're not properly equipped for the necessary procedures."

Raffi's heart sank.

"However," Emil continued, "I've made contact with Star Base Twelve on Copernicus. We will be reaching them in eighteen hours, and they have the required facilities and have been updated on the Captain's case. He'll need a knee replacement, and most of his toes will be made of titanium hereafter, I'm afraid, but it'll only be noticeable on a body scanner."

"So he will be okay?" Raffi's heart beat in her throat.

"There's a 98.7 chance he'll make a full recovery."

Raffi couldn't help herself. With a tearful grin, she threw her arms around the EMH and squeezed hard. Weirdly, he smelled like a freshly showered version of Cris.

"Thank God! Thank you, Emil!"

The Medical Hologram remained motionless for a moment, but then, upon Enoch's cheerful gesturing, returned the hug somewhat stiffly. The ENH gave him a thumbs up.

"I'm only fulfilling my duties, Miss Musiker."

Raffi let him go and wiped at her eyes.

"Can I… can I see him?"

She threw a glance across Emil's shoulder and at the occupied biobed she could recognize through sickbay's closed sliding doors.

Lacking his usual coat pockets, the hologram folded his hands and weighed his head.

"He's barely awake and on strong medication. However, a short visit from a friend may be beneficial to his recovery."

When all of the holos started towards sickbay and even Emmet heaved himself out of his chair, Emil shot out a flat hand. "I meant Miss Musiker," he clarified.

Disappointed murmuring and a Spanish expletive filled the mess hall. Raffi had to smile.

While the holograms dispersed, Emil accompanied her to sickbay, but he motioned her through to the patient cubicle and discreetly stayed behind in the lab.

When Raffi approached the bed, Rios looked surprisingly whole. The damage was mostly invisible under the medical blanket, except for the bulky shape of splints around his legs and hips. He was still getting oxygen, and his messy curls looked darker against his usually tan skin, pale now from blood loss.

The biobed was whirring softly underneath him, busily keeping Rios stable with hypo-infusions and holographic micro-repairs. Cris' heartbeat pulsed softly on the monitor on the cubicle wall, and Raffi was infinitely glad to see its steady rhythm. When the alien life form had moved the container out of the way and they'd pulled Cris out, his pulse had been erratic, and he'd stopped breathing altogether by the time they got him to sickbay. His legs- ... Raffi pushed the memory of bones sticking through blood-smeared skin and feet pointing in the wrong direction out of her mind. He would be okay.

Cris' eyes fluttered open when she laid her hand on his arm.

"Hey," she said softly.

Glazed brown eyes blinked at her; she saw his pupils constrict and dilate as he tried to focus.

"H-... hey." His voice sounded like sandpaper.

"How are you feeling, honey?"

Cris licked dry lips and looked around in confusion.

"I'm not… feeling anything," he whispered. And then, fear passing in slow-motion across his face, he said, "My- … are my legs still there?"

"Yes," Raffi said quickly, and her hand drifted to his cheek. "Yes, and you get to keep them. You'll need more surgery on Star Base Twelve, but Emil said you'll be fine."

In response, Rios merely closed his eyes and seemed to have difficulty opening them again. Raffi already thought he'd gone back to sleep when she heard him ask, "What about the… the…"

"Our unfriendly guest?"

Eyes tired slits, Rios nodded.

"Steward negotiated that we drop you off on Copernicus for treatment before we take the artefacts back. They agreed. I think they feel sorry about what they did. Steward said they didn't think that humans were so… breakable."

Rios huffed weakly.

Raffi grimaced. She knew it would take several bottles of liquor to drown that feeling of vulnerability that came with a near-loss. But she was willing to wait until Rios was well enough to drink with her.

"Miss Musiker?"

Emil had silently re-entered the cubicle, clad in his usual crisp white shirt and dark coat. The sight was a relief.

"My apologies, but the Captain needs his rest. If you don't mind…"

Politely but unmistakingly, the EMH gestured at the exit.

"Yeah, alright," Raffi sighed. She bent over Rios who had rallied a little and was looking at the EMH with annoyance. Giving him a peck on his forehead, Raffi met his dark eyes. "Give Emil a break, will you? You may not remember it, but he really saved your life this time."

Rios frowned and seemed to ruminate on that revelation.

"I'll see you tomorrow."

Raffi waved and left the cubicle, trading places with the tricorder-wielding Medical Hologram. Before the sliding doors closed behind her, she heard a faint "Thank you, Emil," and when she turned to look, she saw the EMH's lips curl into an astonished smile.