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Healing in His Wings
by Ariel Tachna

Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: When the Starfire is struck by a mysterious and deadly plague, the captain and crew have no choice but to throw themselves on the mercy of the healers of a nearby, uncharted planet. First Officer Ryan Nelson accompanies the sickest patients to the planet's surface, where he is put under the supervision of Juo-ta-ri, an apprentice to one of the healers who is helping the crew. The two have barely begun to explore the chemistry between them when Ryan's body betrays him and he falls ill as well. Now it's a race against time to see if Juo can bring the fever down before Ryan's hallucinations kill him.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010

eBookeBook

37 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [142 KB]
Words: 31125
Reading time: 88-124 min.


Prologue

Personal Log, First Officer Ryan Nelson, on board the Starfire, sector 10, beta quadrant, January 25, 3510, standard Earth time

Herdy died today. I'll miss her laughter and her sharp wit. She's the tenth in as many days to this damnable plague that Dr. Shelton has yet to identify. Ten dead and only two on the mend, and no explanation for why they survived when the others did not. We're a pretty heterogeneous crew. Humans, Altarians, Sirians, Regulosians, and more, but that doesn't seem to make any difference or play any role in who lives and who dies. Captain Rusk has ordered all but essential personnel to their quarters in the hope that a strict quarantine will stop the spread of the disease. I didn't question her--I would never question an order once she's given it, no matter how much I might argue against it while she's making up her mind--but I don't see how it will help. We're all breathing the same recycled air.

I guess we all knew the risks when we signed on for a five-year tour exploring aboard the Starfire. I mean, you never know what you'll discover in the outer reaches of space, but this certainly wasn't on our agenda. Dr. Shelton is supposed to be an expert at dealing with rare and unknown diseases, and Dr. Pauly, his assistant, is the expert on space-induced conditions, like gravity sickness. Neither of them can get a handle on this one, though, at least not yet, even with the help of the most advanced technology available to Amalgamated Exploration. We all took for granted that it would be enough since spaceflot has it that not even the military has better equipment than A.E.

We plotted a planet yesterday, and Captain Rusk hopes we'll find someone or something there to help us. I want to believe she's right, but my optimism seems to have died along with Herdy. I'm worried we'll pass this damn plague to the inhabitants of that planet, if there are any, and then we'll have genocide on our hands. Even though A.E. is a commercial concern, I think they'd frown on wiping out an entire population. It might be bad for business, given how they vaunt their environmental record.

She's calling officers to the bridge. I'll finish this later.

* * * *

Chapter 1

Captain Portia Rusk sat alone on the bridge, the lights dimmed at all but her station, her usually smooth, pale skin wrinkled with worry as she pondered the various options open to her. They had gone from few to almost none in the ten days since this plague of unknown origin had begun killing her crew. Dr. Shelton continued to insist that he could find a cure given more time, and she believed him, but she had no more time to give him. Her crew was dying. When their sensors had detected the planet yesterday, she had grabbed onto it as a new option, a new hope for her people. They had only been able to tell for sure that it was capable of supporting oxygen-breathing life, not whether it actually did, or if so, of what level of technological advancement, but she had not been able to shake the gut feeling that this was their salvation. She did not say anything aloud, not wanting to raise hopes prematurely, but she had immediately ordered the quarantine in hope of slowing the disease's progress through the crew and giving them a little longer to see what the planet had to offer. They had sent out the standard introductory message on every frequency available to them, hoping for a positive response that could perhaps lead to some assistance, either academic or practical.

A beeping on the screen in front of her drew her attention. It seemed that someone was, in fact, listening. Quickly, she called her first officer, the communications officer, pilot, and chief xenologist to the bridge. It was not the full complement of bridge crew, but she did not want to break quarantine more than necessary until she knew if her instincts were right.

Rising with careful poise, she brushed her hands over her uniform, making sure she was the picture of command, not a hair out of place in the blond chignon she wore, her green eyes serene. Her officers would know it was a mask, for they had seen her sick with worry, as distraught over each death as if she had lost her own children, but her mask was not for their benefit anyway. She would not allow her fear and grief to show when dealing with an alien race for the first time.

"We've been hailed," the captain informed her officers when they had all filed in and taken their places. "Pontil, bring up a link."

"Yes, ma'am," the Altarian replied, identifying the signal coming from the nearby planet and keying their communications equipment to match it. "Link completed, ma'am," the blue-haired man informed the captain.

Captain Rusk punched the button next to the screen and brought up the video link, allowing her to see as well as hear the person on the other end, assuming the other person's technology was compatible with theirs. She had been pleasantly surprised at how many times it had worked. The image was fuzzy at first, then cleared to reveal a silver-haired male with dark skin and a serious face.

"I am Teo-ta-dar-ri, Chair of the Governing Council of Petarus," he informed her. "We received your message."

"Thank you for replying, sir," the captain replied, hiding her relief that the ship's translator could make out the language. "I am Captain Portia Rusk of the Starfire. We are explorers under the aegis of Amalgamated Exploration, tasked with plotting areas of space previously unexplored by our home world."

"We are not in need of exploration, Captain," the Petari said abruptly.

"Wait," Captain Rusk pleaded. "We contacted you in the hope that you might be able to assist us. We have been struck by a plague of unknown origin and my crew is dying. We hoped your doctors might be able to help us."

Teo-da-tar-ri frowned. "This is a most unusual request, and not one I can grant without consultation with the Council and our healers."

"If there is information we can provide that will help them make up their minds, we will do so gladly," the captain promised. "Just tell us what you need to know."

The sound stopped on the transmission as Teo-da-tar-ri spoke to someone not visible to those on the ship. When his voice began transmitting again, he said, "Send records of your travels over the past month as well as all medical records pertaining to this so-called plague. Our healers will look at them while the Council discusses your request. I will contact you again when we have reached a decision." He signed off before the captain could reply.

At her side, Ryan murmured, "Let's hope they talk fast or it won't matter what they decide."

"At least they're willing to discuss it, Ry," Pontil chimed in. "You know as well as I do that a lot of the species we've met wouldn't have even considered it."

"I know, Narshan," Ryan retorted, "but a discussion like the one he mentioned could take weeks. You know what governments are like. The Altari government is as bad as the Earth government. And while they're flapping their gums, we're up here dying."

"Gentlemen," the captain interrupted calmly, "we can't do anything to speed up their council meeting except give them the data they requested that will hopefully show the urgency of our problem. Mr. Pontil, get the ship's travel log ready to send while I ask Dr. Shelton for the medical records. Let's not make them wait for us."

"Yes, ma'am," Pontil replied, though he shot Ryan a cheeky grin as he carried out his orders.

Captain Rusk barely refrained from shaking her head. If her crew were not so damn good, she would have them all up on insubordination charges. Reminding herself that they had no time to lose, she used the ship's intercom system to contact Dr. Shelton who promised to send her the records immediately.

"I have the medical records, Captain," Pontil informed her.

"Then send them on to the planet," she directed before turning to Dr. Stanovitch, the Chief Xenologist for the ship.

"Thoughts, Doctor?" she asked the tall albino. Like most of her race, the Regulosian had no pigment in her skin, an evolutionary trait developed from their subterranean existence.

"I only have a little to go on, of course," the xenologist replied, "but they are technologically advanced enough to communicate with us through space and organized enough politically to have a governing council. That suggests we're dealing with an advanced civilization that we would do well to approach as equals." She knew the captain did not need to hear that caution, being one of the most open-minded explorers she had ever had the chance to work with, but it bore stating for the less open-minded crew. Not that any of them were currently on the bridge. Captain Rusk chose her officers for a variety of reasons, not purely for their skills. "As for the rest, only time and more contact will tell."

Captain Rusk nodded. They were much the same conclusions she had reached herself, but it never hurt to have her thoughts confirmed by their resident expert. "Anyone else have any comments?"

They all shook their heads. Ryan might have added something had it been one of the other xenologists speaking, but he found it difficult even after all these months to look at Dr. Stanovitch, much less interact with her. Everything about her reminded him of Nikolai.

"Very well. Dismissed. Return to your quarters. I will call you when we hear back from the Petari."

They all obeyed the order except Ryan, who lingered on the bridge after the others were gone.

"Mr. Nelson?"

"It's just us now, Portia," Ryan admonished. "Talk to me."

"About what?" she asked. "How desperate the situation is? You're as aware of that as I am. How scared I am that the Petari won't be able to help us even if they agree? We've worked together too long for me to need to tell you that."

"Hey," he cajoled, "where's my ever-optimistic captain?"

"In stasis with the ones we couldn't save," she replied sadly, the tears she refused to shed glittering on her lashes despite her determination not to show any weakness.

"Foolish woman," Ryan scolded, setting aside all shipboard protocol and embracing her firmly. "Go ahead and cry so you'll be done with it and can deal with whatever the Petari say. I did."

Captain Rusk looked up at the strong face of the man who held her in disbelief. Ryan Nelson was the epitome of stoicism. The thought of him giving in to his emotions that way was almost beyond her. His clipped mustache twitched as he smiled down at her, making her laugh. "You're having me on."

"No, I'm not," he promised, "but a laugh will do just as well, and I'm much better at dealing with those than with feminine tears."

"Than feminine anything," she retorted, knowing Ryan's preferences ran to his own gender. In some ways, that made their jobs easier, with no sexual tension between them to muck up the works. She could admit, privately, that he was an attractive man, with his sculpted features, closely-trimmed dark hair, and surprisingly blue eyes, but she did not have to worry about his looks, or her own, interfering with their working relationship.

"Touche," Ryan quipped. "Are you all right now?"

Captain Rusk nodded. "As well as I can be with people in the infirmary, probably dying as we speak, and only the barest possibility of hope from a planet whose people I know nothing about."

"We'll find a way through this, Portia," Ryan insisted with a hope he was not sure he truly felt. "The Petari would have to be heartless to refuse us aid if it's in their power to give it, and if it's not, we'll keep looking. This isn't the only planet in the sector. We can't give up hope."

"I know," she sighed.

"Get some rest," Ryan suggested. "I don't think you've slept since Corm got sick, and that's been ten days ago. I don't know why you don't look like hell, but you won't do us any good if you're too tired to negotiate with the Petari when they call back."

"If I lie down now, I won't wake up for a week," she protested.

"All the more reason for you to rest," Ryan insisted. "I can handle them if you want me to."

"I know you can," she agreed, "but this is my responsibility. I will go rest, though, until they hail us again. I'll be in my quarters." She pulled from his loose embrace and headed toward the hatch that led to her cabin, turning back when she reached the door. "Do not fail to notify me, Mr. Nelson."

"As you say, ma'am," he replied, the very image of a responsible first officer again.

She gave him a curt nod and disappeared, leaving Ryan alone on the bridge. He settled in to wait, knowing it could be a long vigil.


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