Fine Tuning

by Juli

December 2001

“Hmmmm....” I murmured as I settled into my chair, balancing both padd and beverage carefully as I sat. “Now, let’s see where I went wrong. I was so certain that my human vocabulary was at the level of fluency...”

My mentor, Delak, had tried very hard to wean me from my habit of speaking aloud to myself while on the job in the infirmary. She felt that such unnecessary vocalizations were the sign of an unfocused mind, but then, Delak was Vulcan and had little use for what the humans call “bedside manner.” It was my experience, however, that many of my patients found the patter comforting and so I didn’t try to curb my natural inclination, even when my patent was like Lieutenant Reed and not conscious enough to reap any benefit from it.

Thinking Reed’s name brought my attention back to my patient and I lifted my head to briefly check his vital signs. Captain Archer’s recent criticisms aside, I did not have a cavalier attitude towards my patients. Seeing that Mr. Reed’s fever had yet to abate, I sighed. Perhaps the captain’s diatribe wasn’t entirely unwarranted after all.

When I had assured Archer that his officer would be fine if left behind with the Novans for a few hours, I had been speaking of the projectile wound in Reed’s leg. Given that the planet had already been determined to be supportive of a human colony and therefore safe for human inhabitation, I hadn’t taken into account that Mr. Reed might be sensitive to some of the native fungi. The Novans live underground, surrounded by various eukaryotic organisms and actually used them for sustenance. The wounded officer had been bombarded by the very microscopic life forms he was allergic to, particularly the airborne spores that he not only breathed in but had also covered the bullet imbedded in his leg. By the time that Archer had borne the erstwhile hostage back to the Enterprise, Malcolm Reed had been quite ill.

And, if Archer were to be believed, it was entirely my fault.

I sighed again. Being a physician was only a small part of my life, I much preferred my role as a student. Humanity was my latest subject of study and, unless I’ve missed the mark completely, I suspect that Jonathan Archer truly cast the blame for his crewman’s injury fully on himself. As for me, I did take the recent lesson to heart. Although I was recruited to be the ship’s physician mainly because of my exposure to other species and medical treatments, I am not human. It would behoove me to remember that at all times and take nothing for granted as it applies to the well-being of the Starfleet personnel in my care.

With that in mind, I turned back towards my padd. If Captain Archer took exception to my use of the word “fine” as it had related to Mr. Reed’s medical condition, then it was my responsibility to brush up on my understanding of the term.

“‘Fine: (1) Very small in size, weight, or thickness,’” I read aloud. “Hmmm...” I lifted my head again to peer over at where the lieutenant lay sleeping on the medical bed. Based on comparisons to the other males of his species that I had observed, Mr. Reed was slightly shorter in stature, but only by a handful of centimeters. Surely that wasn’t enough to qualify as “very small...”

“No, I don’t think that’s the definition I’m looking for,” I murmured, reading the next one on the list. “‘Fine: (2) Thin, slender.’” I didn’t need to look at Mr. Reed to realize that this use of the term could easily apply to him. The tactical officer and I had already had a discussion about his caloric intake, which, compared to the work load he undertook, wasn’t sufficient and it showed in the spareness of his frame. He’d tried to sidestep the issue, but I’d pointed out that Reed’s fellow crew members needed him at peak physical condition and that meant more meat on his bones. Commander Tucker, overhearing the conversation, had made light of it, claiming I was merely trying to fatten the lieutenant up for some nefarious alien purpose, but I’d been pleased to note that Mr. Reed was more frequently seen in the mess hall after our little chat.

Still, that wasn’t quite the meaning of “fine” I was looking for and I continued with my terminology review.

“‘Fine: (3) Very sharp; keen,’ and ‘(4) Trained to the highest degree of physical efficiency.’” I chuckled at the aptness of both interpretations of the term. In the short time that I’d known him, Malcolm Reed reminded me of nothing less than a Pagdonic stiletto. The preferred weapon of an infamous clan of assassins, the stiletto was plain and unassuming to the uneducated eye, but nonetheless was a sharp and deadly blade. As the tactical officer for humanity’s first deep space vessel, Mr. Reed and his talents had been honed to a fine edge by Starfleet. Healer and philosopher I might be, but I knew a weapon when I saw one.

I moved on to the next definition listed. “‘Fine: (5) Aiming at show or effect, loaded with ornament; overdressed or overdecorated; showy.’” I laughed, careful to keep the sound soft so as not to disturb my patient’s rest. Shy and at times even more inept at human relations than I was, this definition had as much application to the lieutenant as it did Sub-Commander T’Pol. In short, no application at all.

Just when I was about to despair that I’d ever had the slightest comprehension of the word to begin with, I came across the definition I’d been looking for. “‘Fine,’” I read aloud almost reverently, “‘(6) Being in a state of satisfactory health.’ There, Mr. Reed, I knew I wasn’t imagining things.”

Still held in the clutches of a fever, the lieutenant didn’t answer, not that I had really expected him to, but almost on cue, the door to the infirmary opened with its customary whoosh. Jonathan Archer stepped into the darkened room, nodding briefly to me in acknowledgment as he made his way towards Lieutenant Reed’s bed.

I rose to join Archer, both of us looking down at the patient, one on each side of the bed.

“How’s he doing?” The captain asked, looking the sleeping man instead of me and being careful to keep his voice quiet.

“As I reported earlier,” I reassured him, “the lieutenant came through the surgery well. It was a minor wound, really, with a minimal amount of blood loss and easily repairable muscle damage. The fever is an unexpected complication but Mr. Reed’s responding well to the medication. I expect he’ll be up and around in no time, eager to blow things up with his usual abandon.”

A few of the worry lines on Archer’s face eased and his shoulders sagged for a moment. Looking up at me, a most unusual expression came over the captain’s face. One hand rubbing at the back of his neck, he moved away from the bed a few paces, motioning me to follow.

“Dr. Phlox,” he began, “about earlier, when I implied that you hadn’t been careful enough in assessing Mr. Reed’s medical condition...”

“You didn’t imply,” I corrected him gently. “You accused... with some justification. In review of the situation, I hadn’t factored in how Mr. Reed’s personal medical history might interact with the local environment. A most unfortunate oversight... and one that won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Archer said, “I realize that this is unexplored territory, for us as well as yourself, and it’s imperative that my crew is in good hands.” He reached out to slap my shoulder. “It’s good to know that they are.”

I was pleased to hear the captain’s confidence in me. In order to confirm that his trust wasn’t misplaced, I felt it best to prove to the human before me how seriously I took my responsibility. “I’ve just been reviewing the meaning of the word ‘fine.’ You may be pleased to know that I now have any number of alternate terms at my disposal.” With pride, I started to list them, “Unscathed, uninjured, unmarred, safe and sound, in health, hale, sound of wind and limb....”

The captain laughed, eyes characteristically crinkling up at the corners. “I get the picture, doc. You’ve got it down pat.” He gestured towards the bed. “Mind if I stay awhile?”

“Not at all, captain, not at all. Be my guest. I’ll be right over here if you need me.”

I moved back towards my chair, making a show of returning to the study of my padd. Instead, however, I was subtly observing the Enterprise’s senior officer. The captain perched on the edge of a bedside chair, watching Malcolm Reed’s sleeping face intently. Then, hesitantly, Archer reached out and brushed the tactical officer’s fever dampened hair from his forehead before snatching his hand away. I barely managed to return my attention back to my padd in time before the captain shot a glance in my direction and, by the time I looked back, Archer was softly stroking up and down Reed’s arm, his fingers eventually lingering next to where Reed’s lay on the bed, close but not quite touching.

Suddenly, I realized what an opportunity was before me. When Jonathan Archer had come back to the Enterprise after losing his officer, I’d assumed that his focused and intense concern had been over the fate of his crewman. Maybe it had... but maybe it was care over the fate of *this* crewman in particular. Humans were, after all, one of the species that mated for recreation as well as procreation and had no obvious taboos against same sex pairings. The captain’s passionate determination to regain custody of Reed from the Novans... the way Archer had chastised me for Reed’s poor condition when the lieutenant was recovered... this tender display while the younger man was ill. Was I actually witnessing the mating ritual of a potential male/male coupling? How exciting! I was tingling with exhilaration at the possibilities for study. If I were correct, I would be able to observe the process from its very beginning and make note of its progress...

And, more importantly, if they *did* eventually mate, perhaps Archer and Reed would grant my fondest wish and allow me to watch.

~the end~


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