Player's note: Reason why I call it "first installment" is that it's not supposed to be in "parts," and since I didn't have it all finished in time and I have it in sections, I'd send what I had out. Here 'tis. Karma?s Payment by Zach Auron & Shawna Kenton & Jack Leirone 1 Under the bed. In the third drawer. With the flowers. Over the lights. And repeat. Under the bed. In the third drawer. With the flowers. Over the lights. One more time. Be sure, Auron. Under the bed. In the third drawer. With the flowers. Over the lights. Good. Now he just needed someone who didn?t hate him to actually go and do it. Actually go and do Zach Auron a favor. The list of candidates on the Horizon was a short one, but surely there would be someone he could even pay off somehow. How could he get leverage on a person if no one would speak more than three words to him other than ship business? Nurse Malloy silently brushed past him on her way to the hand-sanitizer and she smelled of odium for him. No eye-contact required. She stuck her hands under that blue light that whisked away all infection and bacteria, washing away the sick and replacing with the sterile. Exactly the thing his body was doing now, now that the?now that?it was out of his system almost completely. He had slept last night, in his office of course, but the proof of slumber was enough for him. It was one of those quick dozes, the moment when you look at the clock, blink, and it?s six hours later than it was. Not that his body felt all that refreshed. Holodeck Three had been his bathroom every morning from five a.m. to six a.m., and it was there that he had to reconfigure the damn thing into a replicator so he could have fresh clothes. The work Zach had been doing was affected over the weeks he was steering clear of his quarters. Just last week he was doing a minor operation on an engineer?s elbow and he forgot what he was doing. Forgot. Who forgets what they?re doing when the have a patient on their table? It wasn?t long before someone else took his idle scalpel away and told him to get some rest. Still, he was at the top of the Everybody?s Most Hated list. Nothing he seemed to do could improve anyone?s decision that Zachary Orpheus Auron was nothing but a worthless sociopath who took his own comfort before someone?s necessity. Hadn?t they seen that he was trying to improve it? Hadn?t they seen that every single ?thank you? that came from his lips made his teeth chatter less each time? The only thing that knew his personal evolution other than himself was The Drug. ?Nurse Malloy,? he said, trying to sound as kind as possible, which was outwardly seething. Obligation ordered her to respond, ?Yes, doctor?? ?Can I get you to do me a personal favor?? ?No, sir.? ?It would mean a lot to me,? he pleaded. ?I?ll even repay you somehow.? ?You don?t think anything means a lot to anyone except yourself, Doctor, and I don?t mind a day in the brig for saying so.? She reached into a supply closet and yanked out a crate, beginning to hurriedly sort through it, perhaps hoping that this one task would get done before Dr. Auron called Security to take an insubordinate into custody. But all she heard was a shy shuffle and a sigh, and this surprised her. ?I, uh?? he searched the ceiling for words and understandably found none. ?I know why you would say that, but I just need?? ?Get someone else to do it,? Malloy retorted sharply, now that she was confident a casual chat with the captain wouldn?t follow. ?I?m busy.? ?You don?t have to do it right now. You can do it later?? ?Get someone else to do it.? And her burning eyes hit his like a sniper?s aim. Zach sighed and rolled his eyes, a child?s signal of defeat, and he didn?t watch as Malloy walked away. A wallowing chasm was now flagged in his heart of hearts, and he knew that for the rest of his days he would be a marked man, one of blackened thoughts and ill will. Forever seemed a long time for everyone to think of him as an reprehensibly and consciously cruel goblin of a man. Was there room for reconciliation with everyone he had ever given an ounce of meanness to? If there was, was it even worth a try? The comlink system beeped and Zach was the only person in Medical to give a dejected reply. He would have, if the panicked voice on the other end didn?t start first. ?Oh God,? it said aside. ?Er, Medical, Medical, is anyone there? Oh Lord, don?t move her! Don?t? Medical? This is Ensign Fyrsta from Science. Medical!? ?Auron here, what?s the problem?? ?Incoming?oh God, oh God?er, incoming patient, Doctor. We?re beaming a pat? we?re beaming someone directly from the cargo hold?? ?Stop blubbering, damn it, and get the patient here if it?s such an emergency!? He shouted and ran to the beaming receptor. There was no response to his order beside the shimmer of the beam and the materialization of a person lying on their front with a three-foot metal rod sticking out of their back. From the look of the blood that ran from the top of the rod to the person?s shoulder blade, it looked like they impaled themselves on it. And it looked like it had dead-on stuck her heart. ?How did this happen?? he inquired, hastily preparing a biobed. A couple nurses were already dutifully preparing the young woman to be moved. Fyrsta in the cargo hold responded, still breathless and sounding like she was about to cry. ?We were unloading the tanks of salicin that came in this morning and they were all individually held in place by four of those metal rods. She was?she climbed up onto another crate to see if there was room behind it for the empty container when she slipped? We cut the rod from the rest of the holding structure but didn?t move her otherwise? Is she?is she still a?? ?That will be enough, Ms. Fyrsta,? Zach cut in. ?Yes, she?s still showing vital signs.? They moved the girl, still with her back up, to the operation table and Zach was about ready to remove the obstruction and begin to patch?the patient?up. ?What?s her name, Fyrsta?? Zach called, miraculously baffled that this Ensign was remaining so concernedly on the comlink. As if there wasn?t still an apparent shipment left to un?No, Zach, think of the girl. ?That?s Lieutenant Kenton, Doctor. Shawna.? And for the second?and last?time Zachary Orpheus Auron forgot what he was doing. Not the young one, not the one with all the issues and a boyfriend from four hundred years ago. Visible to him was only the back of her head, her auburn hair looking freshly dead with the morbid thought that he and Fyrsta might have been too late in saving her life. All whispered away to black around her, and soon only she was in this void in his vision. Dreamily he saw her push herself up and turn to look at him, pushing her lips off to the corner of her face with a look of doubt. ?Honestly, Zach, I don?t think you?re going to save my life.? ?I could. I can?I will, just please, lie back down.? ?You?ve come all this way, running from (TO) the problems of your family, and along the road you have picked up nothing, so it is not in your worth to preserve me. You?re going to let me die.? ?No I won?t.? ?Doctor Auron?? In a blink Shawna Kenton was again unconscious, face down on the operation table. One of the nurses?ashamedly he didn?t know the young man?s name?had his hand on Zach?s elbow. ?Doctor Auron, are you ready to remove the rod?? Stammering out like a dying star, Zach said, ?More than ever.? ?Okay, Doctor.? And the young man smiled at him. Obviously new to the ship and deaf to gossip, but he saw faith in this young man, faith in him. There was going to be either a miracle or a tragedy here and it was going to happen in the next fifteen minutes at a rapid pace more so than a deck of cards being sprayed all over the room for some sucker to pick up. With the confidence fed to him by this nurse, Zach looked at the rest of his crew (Malloy had joined) and began. ?Get ready to seal the wound immediately.? With the grace of God he pulled. The wound was sealed within minutes, no more blood, and Ms. Kenton would have a scar on her chest for the rest of her life, but something was still wrong. One of the vitals blinking and reaching from one end of that black screen to the other was not the way it should have been. Her circulatory. Her heart. Something didn?t go right with her heart. Surveying her heart in the midst of failure, they found that part of it was not repaired properly with the laser surgery and that they had to remove it and manually reconstruct her pulmonary valve. ?Prepare a holographic replacement for her heart while I get the tools ready to put hers back together.? He turned to the table next to him and did as he said he was going to do until the young male nurse yet again grabbed his attention. ?What is it?? ?Zach, the structure of the tissue surrounding her heart is making it impossible for the holographic projector to work.? ?What do you mean?? he asked, now panicked completely. Calmly but quickly the nurse elaborated, ?The scarring of the surrounding tissue is too fresh from the wound. Unfortunately the computer can?t comply unless the heart has been surgically removed from an unmarred body.? ?So you?re saying she needs an actual heart.? ?Yes, we need a donor.? ?What?s her blood type?? The nurse sighed, worriedly. ?O negative.? Zach nodded. That O stood for a big zero on compatibility. They needed another O negative donor, and right smart. None of them had O negative. None except? ?Take mine.? ?But?but Dr. Auron, who?ll continue the surgery?? ?Who do you think will continue the surgery?? Now, he didn?t say that in a vicious manner. Sarcasm, vehemence, none of it. Confidence. Trust. He put a hand on the young man?s shoulder and nodded. ?I?m the only willing donor on this deck, with all luck, who has O negative blood. You take mine or Ms. Kenton doesn?t have a heart. Understood?? ?Yes, Doctor.? ?Good,? Zach replied, reaching down and pulling his uniform shirt off. Sweat had built up all over him, and it was visibly gleaming. Not since his first practice surgery had he perspired to such copious amounts. ?Let?s, uh?heh, let?s get going.? After Zachary Orpheus Auron?s glorious donation, he somehow broke past the anesthetics and had a blurry view of the other operation table. A holographic heart was safely cradled in his chest. Before forced slumber took him again, he caught a glimpse of the young male nurse handing Shawna?s repaired heart to the other surgeon, and as the surgeon?s hand and the heart disappeared into Shawna?s body he smiled and fell again into sleep. 2 With all appropriate hearts back in place, the patients awoke separately, Zach first. Helped up by Nurse Malloy, he received the second smile he?d ever see. The hand that helped him off the table continued its hold and became a handshake. ?I didn?t expect that,? she said, trying still to dictate a coldness. ?Neither did I,? he said, countering with warmth. Malloy nodded in Shawna?s direction, and she was still asleep, looking peacefully so, her hands folded on her abdomen, her chest rising like a gentle tide with each dreaming breath. It was a relief to Zach to see that he had performed in a way that ended in life. Slowly he approached her biobed, and with each step closer to her he felt more assured that there wasn?t nothing but vitriolic malice inside; there was good, at last. When he got to the bed he looked down at her for a moment and sighed. For some fatherly reason he wanted to breach protocol and wake her up with a delicate shake of her shoulder, gently saying her name. Subconsciously he did feel like she was his daughter, someone bound to him at least. Some of his blood coursed through her now as a small dose, as did her blood in his veins. Maybe some strange mollification of fate slipped Shawna Kenton into Zach?s care, so he could very well be laced to her in more ways than cardiovascular crossing. Or perhaps there was an aura of Destiny around this girl that none could see except when nagged in the back of the head like an itch from a wool hat. He didn?t shake her however, letting his professionalism win over wanting to be personal with the girl. Beside the bed was a punctually prepared glass of water and a hypospray, and with the latter he pulled her from her slumber. The haze in Shawna?s eyes cleared and were crossed when her eyelids fluttered open like sheets dangling by clothespins in a tornado. They straightened themselves and rapidly searched the room. She sat up and prodded the area where the rod had been stabbed through her heart and looked as if she?d had a brief moment of memory intervention, as if she wasn?t sure if what happened had happened. ?How do you feel, Lieutenant?? Zach asked with complacency, offering her the water. ?Um?? It took her a moment to collect her thoughts. ?Ah, I?m good, uh, but I don?t really know why I?m here.? ?You were in the cargo hold and fell on a bracing rod for the salicin containers. It pierced?? Shawna cursed and looked at Zach with incredulous surprise. ?That did happen?? The old Zach tried then to resurface like a bad dinner and the new Zach had to choke down a command not to interrupt. Instead he smiled and said, ?Yes, but?? Shawna blurted another expletive that would literally equal one stating a lack of feces. ?I don?t even remember that! Well, I remember like, well, a dreamlike memory of falling onto something but I didn?t think it was real until just then.? And another abashed curse. ?Well it punctured your heart, Lieutenant.? Zach said this fast, hoping the severity of this factoid would silence her for two minutes while he regaled her. ?We were lucky to save you when we did; as you know not even the advanced technology of your far-future can repair a broken?can repair a ruptured heart, excuse me. But it had only nicked the left ventricle, while breaking three of your ribs in the process and tearing your left lung. The ribs and lung were easy to fix, and we had the computer laser your heart back together. However there was a flaw: the computer mismatched the shape of your heart, seeing as there has been the slightest bit of evolution over the past four-hundred years.? ?Like, my heart?s outdated?? ?By the smallest measure.? ?Oh. I don?t get it.? ?You don?t need to. Point is, the computer fitted your heart wrongly to the arteries attached and we started losing you; you started going into cardiac arrest. We couldn?t recalibrate the computer in time, so we took another heart from a living person and were able to stabilize it in your chest cavity while we fixed yours.? Shawna?s hand touched her chest in the subjective location and looked touched, as if the minute she found the identity of the generous donor she would bow before them and cry joyously, thanking them with unending vigor. She would do anything in her power to repay the kindness that had been shown to her, going to the extent of risking her own life to preserve that of the Heartfelt Hero. When he told her it was his heart, he thought, she?d commit suicide. ?Someone gave me their heart?? ?Yes,? he said. ?Who?? she asked immediately. ?I did.? Yet again, Shawna cursed long and amazedly, this time stating feces that was apparently ordained. ?Dude, the first time I ever met you, you were the biggest jerk I could have imagined. It was like you went out of your way to make me feel like I was something you?d stepped in, and now?? She blinked and upon reopening her eyes were moist and reddening. Zach couldn?t tell if this was a good thing, or a bad thing. ?And now you went out of your way to make me feel like the most important person on this ship.? Good thing. ?Dr. Auron, I don?t care what you do from now on to piss people off, and I don?t care what people say about you. You are a beautiful person, Doctor. What?s your first name again? I don?t think anyone on the Meridian?I mean, Horizon?knows it off the top of their head.? He was almost beginning to tear up himself, feeling a bit like that old mythical creature they taught kids about in school. They called it a ?Grinch,? and it was a story first told by this old prophet named Seuss. Apparently when this awful, depraved, morally defunct individual finally committed a good deed, its heart swelled up twice its size. And with so much talk about hearts going on in this ship?s Sickbay, Zach couldn?t stop thinking about that old myth. What might be mistaken as mild chest pains felt to him like the welcomed fate of the Grinch becoming his own. ?It?s Zach.? ?Zach Auron, I?ll say it again: you?re a beautiful person. Thank you.? ?I?you?re welcome.? His voice had shrunk, neighboring a whisper, and his head bowed bashfully, his eyes looking to his toes for strength. Suddenly another pair of feet hopped down from the biobed and met toe-to-toe with his, and when he brought his head up, Shawna Kenton hugged him. It was the first hug he?d received since the last time he?d seen his daughters, and he nearly lost all control over his lachrymal ducts when he felt the warmth?both literally and metaphorically?from Shawna?s head as it was pressed to his chest. Slowly and tentatively his hands arched around her and gently fell on her shoulder blades. He tried not to squeeze too hard; she still had to take it easy for the next couple days; she really shouldn?t have been standing up in the first place?and he just hugged her for several minutes, it seemed. Passing nurses looked like they were trying unsuccessfully to decipher the happenings of an M.C. Escher staircase, seeing Big Bad Dr. Auron hugging someone without them calling for help. Finally she broke the embrace and looked up at him smiling. ?Well I gotta get back to work, Zach.? ?Nope, no work. Just go to your quarters and take it easy for forty-eight hours. Report?s already been forwarded to Wilkinson, so he knows you won?t be available for duty until Tuesday.? ?What am I limited to?? ?Walking, standing, sitting, lying down,? Zach informed. ?Nothing that you could imagine getting your blood pumping. That means no brainwork either: no stressors. Relax the entire time, and come in once a day over your downtime, okay? We?ll speed up the healing.? ?I?d like to do something for you. Anything. Name it.? Zach put up his hands and shook his head, chuckling at the notion. ?No, Lieutenant, no need for repayment. Last thing I ever need is praise.? ?There must be something,? Shawna said, fussily. ?Come on, Zach, it doesn?t need to be a fancy dinner or a Rolex. I could stitch up a shirt you?ve torn and haven?t had time to fix, I could polish your shoes, I could?uh, I could lose at chess to you. Anything.? ?What on Earth is a Rolex?? Shawna rolled her eyes at herself and cupped her hand on her forehead. ?Right, right. Time isn?t too big here. But seriously, dude, let me do something for you. There must at least be something I can help you with.? helpyouwith?helpyouwith?helpyouwith?helpyouwith? Zach?s shy smile faded and was replaced by a minus-sign. ?Well,? he said. ?There is one thing you could do. But you need to keep an absolute secret.? --------------------------------- All-new Yahoo! Mail - Fire up a more powerful email and get things done faster.