Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 17 July 2642 AST. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently in orbit of the major colony world New Brittany, to provide medical support and protection to the newly-liberated colony. New Brittany was the site of the Reich's concentration camps and prisoner of war facilities in this sector. The need for medical assistance to the victims our forces liberated in these camps has necessitated that Doctor Gillam and most of his physicians beam down to the various hospitals to assist.
Robert was halfway through the day's paperwork when the tone sounded at his door. "Come in," he said.
As he expected, Julia stepped in. She had no digital reader for him this time. Her face was drawn and pale. Robert could sense why even before he asked, "What did you see?"
Julia nearly dropped into the seat in front of him. "More of the same. Just seeing those prisoners down there, how much they've suffered, what the Nazis did to them…" Julia clenched her fists. "We read about these things in school, but I never thought I'd see it in person like that."
"It's not pretty," Robert sighed in agreement. "And every hour, more of the weakest of them die unless we get them the attention they need. I'm hoping Leo and the others can make a dent in that." The look on his face spoke of his quiet frustration and the idea that, if things had been different, they could have gotten to this planet earlier, to the camp earlier, and ended the suffering without more deaths.
"We both know he'll try." Julia clearly had a desire to change the subject. That subject change was one Robert expected. "So… you're single again."
"I'm single again," Robert said. "And probably will be for the foreseeable future."
"I'm sorry it didn't work out in the end."
"So am I." Deciding turnabout was fair play, he gave Julia his best, innocent look. "So, have you accepted Admiral Maran's offer?"
The look on Julia's face said she didn't buy a word of that. "With all of the people asking about that, it almost feels like you want me to leave."
"No, I don't." Robert smiled at her. "What I want is for you to be happy, and to get the recognition you deserve. Taking command of the Enterprise when she's ready? You'd instantly have the most prestigious command in the fleet."
"And what about you and the others?", Julia asked.
"We would make do." Robert leaned forward in his chair. "We knew this could happen one day. We wouldn't get to serve together forever."
"Yeah." Julia nodded. "I know."
"And I think I knew that Angel and I were… not going to work out," Robert admitted. "In the end, we never do." He sighed. "I think it… I think we just don't have the long-term compatibility we always hope to get. In the end, maybe it's for the best."
"Well, you know where I am if you need to talk," Julia said. "I'd better get back to the bridge."
"I'll be along shortly," Robert promised.
Field Hospital Charlie had been established beside what had been the Retzoff KZ. It was predominantly a labor camp where the Reich imprisoned the sector's political dissidents or those who were in the sector "illegally": having violated the Reich's rigorous controls of which ethnic groups and nationalities were permitted to dwell in which sectors.
Given the number of war refugees that had fled the combat zones, this figure had grown quite high in the months leading up to Alliance forces taking New Brittany.
Although New Brittany was technically under the authority of the nominally-independent National Republic of Brittany back on Earth, they were still part of the Reich as a subordinated state, and they had been compelled to let the Reich build the camp on their soil. Indeed, near their planetary capital of New Rennes.
Naturally, once the war began, the SS had eventually moved in further and opened a prisoner-of-war camp beside the rapidly-expanding labor camp, and in many cases had relegated the prisoners therein to said camp.
Now Field Hospital Charlie tended to the former prisoners of both facilities in addition to combat casualties. It was already full to capacity and its medical staff undermanned to deal with all of the cases of malnutrition and abuse.
Leo looked over the occupants of one ward. Virtually all were down to living skeletons. It was a sight familiar to any medical officer involved in the war and, for him, it would never lose its power. These people were the living embodiment of everything that was cruel and evil about the Reich and the ideology it espoused.
The key word there is 'living', Leo thought. There are even more dead embodiments than I could ever count.
Nasri stepped up behind him. "We've secured the supplies. Doctor Singh is already up to her elbows in cases in the trauma unit."
"While here…" Leo's mouth was dry. "God, Nasri… look at this. How can people live like…" He stopped and gave her a sad look. Given what she had lived through in Darfur, he felt like he had just stuck his finger into an old wound. "Sorry."
Nasri smiled sympathetically. "It is fine, Doctor. That is your compassion showing."
The female voice was one Leo had heard before. He showed some surprise when he turned his head and faced another doctor already making rounds in the ward. Like his own uniform, her uniform was primarily black, with blue on the shoulders, but while his lab coat was white hers was the same blue as her uniform's shoulder area. She was middle-aged, but her hair was still completely red without a tinge of gray.
Leo nodded. "Doctor Crusher. I wasn't aware you were here."
Doctor Beverly Crusher, the former Chief Medical Officer of the destroyed Federation Starship Enterprise, nodded. "Yes, well, I was initially assigned by Doctor K'lei'tana to Hospital Bravo, but there was a change in the rosters." Crusher stepped up to him and offered her hand, which he shook. "It's good to see you, Doctor Gillam. We need every doctor we can get."
"I'm happy to help," Leo assured her. "How about I get one row?"
"You do that, and I think we'll be done in no time," Crusher answered, showing a small, relieved grin.
Like any local resident in similar straits, Andre Faqin had gone to the new occupiers to find work. This was a choice fraught with danger. Even if it meant extra money that could buy food beyond bland replicator rations, or which might one day get a ticket off the planet and out of the war zone, every New Breton who took even the slightest job with the occupation force would face the wrath of the Nazi Reich should the planet fall back under their control. It was, all things considered, quite the deterrent.
Faqin, however, had his own insurance against that possibility.
After a day of sweeping floors and bringing food to decrepit camp survivors, Faqin returned home from Field Hospital Charlie. His home, such as it was, was a rented basement apartment in the urban areas of the capital. He went into his own subbasement in his unit and went to the corner. The floorboards pried away easily where he had left the loosened nook. Underneath was the shielded box he desired. He opened it and reached inside.
The communication set had a portable power source. It was powerful enough to open a secured, encrypted channel through a transmitter in the city, and from there to where it was needed to go. Faqin did that just now.
He waited, patiently, until his screen showed as room, although with the chair in the picture turned away from the screen the only face Faqin could see was that on the large portrait of the First Führer behind it. "You risk much opening such a channel," the man in the chair warned in German.
"I may have seen one of those you said you were seeking." Faqin removed a data chip from the small phone unit he had with him and placed it in his transmitter.
The man accessed another device in his hand and looked over the arriving photographs. Faqin could tell his hidden elation from the tremor in his voice. "They are at New Brittany, then?"
"I don't know," Faqin admitted. "But that man is. And I know I heard his ship was still in orbit."
"Well… you have done well, agent. You will be well-rewarded when the Reich reclaims your world. Maintain a constant watch and report to me any changes."
"Then… you are confident you are returning?"
The man turned in his chair and smiled, which was not something Faqin was used to seeing on the face of a man like Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder. "Oh, yes," cooed the SS officer. "With the Aurora and her crew present, I can promise you we will be returning to New Brittany very soon indeed…"
With his bridge watch done for the day, and with it most of his paperwork, Robert went to his other daily obligation.
Which is why he was holding a wooden blade and waiting patiently for Lieutenant Lucy Lucero to strike at him with her own.
Fencing had never been his thing. But he knew enough of it to know that fencing involved reading your opponent's body language and trying to guess when and where their strikes would land.
This was even more elaborate than that. He and Lucy had what the the Gersallians called "connected swevyra". He preferred the term "life force" even if it wasn't entirely accurate to cover what the Gersallian term meant. It was one thing to say someone had life in them, but the Gersallian concept of the swevyra, of life bound to the other life of Creation and the Universe as a whole in a great "Flow of Life", went to a whole different level.
Because of this particular talent, Robert and Lucy could do… things. They could manipulate the energy they felt within themselves to move things with their will, to sense the thoughts of others, to move faster and hit harder than their muscle mass would normally permit, it even permitted instinctive understanding of things like, oh, where a bad guy was about to shoot, allowing them to evade or deflect such attacks. Robert thought of it as "the ability to go into a gunfight with a sword and win". And it took training to perfect.
And sacrificing a working romantic relationship, as it turned out.
When Lucy struck Robert was already moving into a defensive block position. He caught her blow with his wooden blade. The next swipe also resulted in the clack of a wood-on-wood collision, as did the next. After a fourth and final failed attempt to overcome Robert's defense, Lucy backed off. It was his turn.
After several seconds he started to move. First he tried to switch from a high strike to a low to catch Lucy off-balance, but she had her weapon ready for that. A second go, high, was stopped. And a third.
For the fourth blow, Robert decided to mix things up. After drawing Lucy's attention with a cut at her waist, Robert pulled at the energy within him and used it to push forward. Immediately he…
…lost his balance as Lucy, sensing the move, broke off contact and left him to push with force against nothing. Before he could recover she struck his blade with hers, rotated the weapon and wrenched his from his hand, and promptly knocked him to the floor with a burst of energy.
All in less than five seconds.
"Robert Dale, Human pin cushion, loses again," he sighed while sprawled on the floor.
"You are improving," Lucy assured him. She looked to her side. "Don't you agree?"
Commander Meridina nodded. "Yes." She gave Robert a direct look. The Gersallian woman's blue eyes glittered with quiet pride. She had given up much to continue training them; to see Robert and Lucy continuing to improve was therefore something she could take real joy in.
Robert had always been struck by how alike Gersallians were to Humans. Sure, on the inside Gersallian organs were laid out differently, but externally, they looked just like Humans. Skin, hair, even a bit of the smell, all looked like just Human equivalents. "I think you're both well ahead of me," he said. "Although I can't complain too much. I was able to beat Lincoln Osis even with my abilities being so weak compared to yours."
"That is a good attitude to take, Robert," Meridina agreed. "But you must have recognized the potential strengths of your swevyra off the battlefield?"
"You mean the freakly dreams and the future-sensing."
"Indeed. Certainly you have felt a change in them."
He had. He still had the nightmares of course, and how they might be visions of possible futures, but now they were less-frequent. He was getting better rest than he had before. And sometimes the dreams were… happier.
Dreams of his family. Dreams of a family, flowing waves of golden-colored grain on some quiet world, children with his green eyes and Angel's dark hair and brown skin running and giggling and playing in those golden waves.
Although that last one had only been a few times. And it was clear that wouldn't be coming about now.
But above all were the dreams that wound up with the shadowy figure of a woman and those two confusing, vexing words. "Bad Wolf." What did it mean?
"I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Meridina," Robert said. "I've been hearing these two words in my dreams. 'Bad Wolf'. I'm not sure what they mean. Something about a choice."
"It is best not to dwell too strongly on such a matter. Whatever your connection to Creation is telling you, you must also recall you are in the present, and the present has its own matters to attend to." Meridina stepped up and placed a sympathetic hand on his arm. "You will figure this out, Robert. In due time. For now, though, we should continue to train and refine your control and connection."
Robert nodded. "I don't have much else to do as it is. What do you have for us next."
From the faint grin on her face, Robert knew he wouldn't like the answer. Yay, more standing on my hands trying to levitate things…
Once their work in the ward was done, Leo joined Doctor Crusher in heading for the hospital mess. "I'm surprised to see you here, Doctor," Leo said to her. "Not that I'm complaining. Our medical services are overstretched by the war as it is."
"So I've heard." Crusher nodded. "And since I was waiting for a new posting, I joined Admiral McCoy's volunteer detachment."
"He's quite the character, isn't he?"
Crusher looked at Leo. "You've met him?"
"I did," Leo admitted. "And he's every bit the legend that Scotty promised he'd be."
Crusher answered that with a grin. "And what about you? I read your paper on dealing with terminal stage leukemia patients."
Leo felt a surge of pain in his heart. He remembered a smiling preteen boy who should have had the rest of his life ahead of him. "I hope it will be of use to other physicians in saving lives. The information came at a high price. Too high."
"The Joshua Marik case." Crusher took his arm. "Doctor, I'm not sure any of us could have saved his life. HIs condition was too advanced."
"You're probably right." Leo nodded. He couldn't keep the haunted look off his face. "But it doesn't change how I feel. That boy had such a future, if only we'd had more time…"
"It's not easy losing a patient like that," Crusher agreed.
The conversation quieted once they entered the mess. Federation-style replicators were set up on one wall while an older-style mess line was on the other, serving fresh non-replicated food. Leo could see a diversity of species and organizations represented in the medical suits and uniforms of the doctors, surgeons, and nurses present. He recognized the medical jumpsuits of personnel from M4P2, Minbari healer robes, Earth Alliance medical jumpsuits from E5B1, Alliance medical uniforms, and Starfleet ones as well. There was even a Klingon physician in one corner, scowling at a plate, while a group of physicians in ComStar robes were at another table discussing the day's work. "It looks like every medical organization in the known Multiverse is pitching in," Leo observed.
"I know. Sometimes it feels like I'm at a medical symposium more than a field hospital." Crusher went over to the replicator. She tapped the key to activate it and said, "Crusher 3."
The system responded and a tray materialized. The plate on it contained with a chicken sandwich sided by a bowl of salad and a glass of what looked like grape or cranberry juice.
Leo tapped the key next. "Computer, cold turkey sandwich, lettuce and onions included, and a side of french-cut fried potatoes."
The replicator quickly provided the specified meal.
"Adding some starch to your diet?" Crusher asked as they walked into the tables.
"For lunch, anyway," Leo said. "Tonight I'll probably see about a good salad before I beam back up to the Aurora."
They found one table with a few occupants. Leo was surprised to recognize one. "Doctor Franklin?"
"Doctor Gillam." Doctor Stephen Franklin extended his hand over his plate, now mostly finished. Leo accepted it. "I heard your ship was coming with new supplies." Franklin had a bowl of what looked like a beef soup in front of him. His suit was recognizable as the standard pale blue medical coats used in the Earth Alliance.
"We got here this morning." Leo gave him a questioning look. "What is the Earth Alliance Director of Xenobiological Research doing in a field hospital on the front?"
"I'm on an inspection tour," Franklin said. "There are drawbacks to being the least senior among the various medical directors back at Bethesda Dome. Instead of drawing straws it was easier to rush through the paperwork assigning the entire thing to me." A bemused smirk appeared on Franklin's face. "But it's given me a chance to study some of the new species that Multiversal contact has opened up. So I probably can't complain too much."
"I'm not sure I could stand going back to Starfleet Medical," Crusher said.
"Tell me about it. Half the reason I came out here was to get away from the office politics," said another, deeper voice. The woman now sitting across from Crusher and beside Franklin was also in a Starfleet medical uniform, with curly blond hair graying softly at the temples. She seemed a little older than Crusher, further into middle-age, with some wrinkling on her face. "Doctor…" She extended a hand across the table toward Leo. "...Gillam, was it? As in Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Aurora?"
"Doctor Katherine Pulaski, Starfleet Medical," the woman replied. "Formerly on the Repulse." She nodded to Crusher. "I even served on the Enterprise for a year, while Doctor Crusher was serving her sentence at Starfleet Medical."
Leo recognized the name. "I remember reading your paper on the health challenges on the Reymond Colony. The parasitical fungus that kept infecting the colonists. I thought your solution was brilliant."
"Thank you, Doctor Gillam. I rather enjoyed the paper you wrote on extracting those parasites in the R4A1 universe. That was a risky surgery."
"It wasn't the operating theater I had in mind, true."
"I still think some of you people are spoiled for space." Another woman, with an English accent, spoke up from beside Pulaski. Her hair, neck-length if shorter than Crusher's, was gray, and she had green eyes. She was in a Systems Alliance jumpsuit, Navy-issued. "Doctor Karin Chakwas," she said by way of introduction, extending a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Doctor Gillam."
"The same." Leo accepted Chawkas' hand for a quick handshake before he settled into his seat. "A lot of medical talent here today. And all necessary."
"Very," Franklin agreed. "Part of my job here is to reassure Earthdome that the requested medical supplies are necessary. Once they see the recordings I have…"
"I never thought I would see something like this outside of a holodeck recreation," Crusher admitted. "These cases, and the casual brutality…"
"There's a reason most of our cultures remember this movement, even after centuries." Chakwas picked at a pasta salad. "We lost two more in the Intensive Care ward this morning. I'm frankly surprised we've saved as many as we have."
Crusher's face and the brief lowering of her eyes showed how she took that news. "We've got enough of our moderate cases stabilized that we're sending them off-world today."
"Speaking of leaving…" Pulaski looked to the wall and a timer. "I'm beaming up to the Jonas Salk in a couple of hours, so I need to brief my replacement."
Crusher looked at Pulaski and asked, "Anyone we know?"
"That new Asari doctor that arrived yesterday," Pulaski replied. "T'Perro."
"Doctor Lexi T'Perro," Franklin clarified. "I interviewed her last night. Brilliant doctor and a fellow xenobiologist." He smirked. "From the other side of the equation, of course."
"An Asari doctor, huh." Leo raised his eyebrows. "Given how old the Asari can get, she could have more doctorates and experience than the rest of us put together."
"She does. Her file puts her age, in Human years, at about 273, give or take a year," Franklin answered.
"Where are you off to?" Chakwas asked Pulaski
"I'm due on New Austria and Starfleet Medical's main hospital in this universe. Admiral McCoy's asking me to relieve Doctor T'Pela so she can attend to a family affair on Vulcan."
"You'll be missed," Chakwas said. "Hopefully we can catch up to each other soon and share a drink. Have you ever tried Serrice Ice Brandy?"
"No, I have not." Pulaski grinned. "Sounds interesting."
"And worth every credit."
The others gave their goodbyes to Pulaski as she left, emptied food plate and tray in hand. "I think it's only going to get worse as we get closer to Earth in this Universe," Leo said.
"Yeah." Franklin's expression went blank as he let that thought sink in. "Hopefully the war won't last much longer."
"Half of the known Multiverse is either fighting the Reich or helping the Coalition fight them." Crusher took a quick bite and, after a couple of seconds of chewing, swallowed it. "They can't hold out against that kind of opposition, can they?"
"When you've got fanatics like that SS man Fassbinder around?" Leo shook his head. "They'll fight as long as they have means."
"It sounds like you've learned that the hard way."
"We did. Fassbinder was the SS officer on Captain Lamper's cruiser during our first contact." Leo frowned. "And he oversaw the mission at Gamma Piratus. He nearly killed some of my friends and colleagues. As much as it sounds inappropriate to say as a physician…" Leo's expression darkened. "...I'm thankful he's no longer among the living."
"Strong words," Chakwas said. "But I can see they're earned."
Leo nodded in response. It was the only reaction he could properly give.
The planet Himmlerwelt was one of the first thirty planets settled by the Reich. From the beginning the planet had been selected to be the preserve of the Schutzstaffel. Only SS members and their families were permitted to own land on the planet, and only pure Aryan-blooded Germans were permitted to live and work on the world. This had kept the planet from getting the population of other colony worlds settled in the same timeframe, as even today it had a population of only a hundred million spread out across the world.
This suited the SS, of course. This was their center of power outside of Germany itself. The planet's economy was entirely geared toward providing for the needs of the SS across the entire, beleaguered interstellar empire that Hitler's Thousand Year Reich had been building for over four centuries. The Wehrmacht had nothing like it, and if the SS had their way, the regular national forces would never accomplish such a thing.
For Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder, it was his homeworld, physically and spiritually. It was natural that he had been called back to Himmlerwelt to recover from his grievous injury suffered in the system the Alliance called Gamma Piratus. On this world he was able to recuperate.
And more importantly, he was able to plan.
With practiced and firm steps, Fassbinder stepped into the office of Oberst-Gruppenführer Hans Kranefuss and raised his arm in salute. "Heil Sauckel!", he declared.
"Heil der Führer." Kranefuss returned the salute. The senior officer's head of blond hair had begun to gray at the temples, with lines forming on his face from age and work. His uniform was, as Fassbinder thought it should, immaculate and well-kept. He had the wide and strong shoulders that Fassbinder enjoyed as well, the common fruits of the SS' gene-engineering programs to enhance their bloodlines and widen the gulf of superiority they enjoyed over others.
Kranefuss had an office fit for his high rank in the organization, with medals and commendations displayed on the walls, holos of family going down to a newborn great-grandchild, and the fine furnishings one would expect for the Head of Special Operations. Behind Kranefuss an open window showed the marble spires arrayed around the Heinrich-Himmler-Platz and the wide avenues of the Hitlerstraße.
"How is your shoulder, Standartenführer?", Kranefuss asked.
"It has healed, sir," Fassbinder insisted. "I am ready to return to the field. Indeed, I already have a proposal…"
"So I have heard." Kranefuss eyed him warily. He had clearly read Fassbinder's report made this morning. "I admit I am concerned. Eicke's obsession with that vessel led him to his downfall. Now you too seem to place great stock with the Aurora. We have already diverted material to this chase..."
"We came close to catching them in the trap. Had the Heydrich and her battlegroup arrived just minutes earlier…"
"I am aware." Kranefuss nodded. "And I am aware of the real gains to be had if we were to capture the vessel or cause its destruction. The morale loss to our enemies would be noticeable. And the gains to be had from interrogating the command crew are well worth a dedicated effort. But you must understand my concern for your motives. The Reich cannot afford for you to turn this into a personal vendetta, Fassbinder. Eicke forgot his duty, and it destroyed him."
"If I may, Oberst-Gruppenführer, I am not Eicke," Fassbinder insisted. "Though I sympathize with his anger at being denied his prize. I have no such motives. I wish for the ship and the crew to be our prisoners, nothing more or less. Even just one or two taken could be of great advantage."
Kranefuss considered that. "The Raumkriegsmarine is already gathered for a counter-attack in that sector, but they intend to bypass New Brittany entirely. Are you certain you can bring enough force to secure the world?"
"Give me ten divisions and the Schirach Battle Group, Oberst-Gruppenführer. We can be at New Brittany behind the counter-offensive."
It was clear Kranefuss was still wavering. But he had to admit the prospects seemed good. The counterattack of the naval elements would draw off ships and forces from the planet. Reclaiming New Brittany was a prize worthy of this thought even without issue of the Aurora. So it was that after nearly ten seconds of consideration Kranefuss nodded. "I will send the orders. Attack only if the RKM's offensive is succeeding."
"Jawohl." Fassbinder nodded. "You will have no cause to regret this choice."
"See that I do not," was Kranefuss' reply. "You are dismissed."
Fassbinder stepped out of the office. The grin on his face widened. Although he would lack the rank to actually command the Schirach or the force being sent, with Kranefuss' orders in hand he could direct their efforts.
Those were his thoughts in the minutes that passed from the time he stepped out of Kranefuss' office to stepping into a lift. Once inside his hand reached into his pocket. When it came out, a 25 Reichpfenning coin was in his palm. He looked over the silver-sheened disc. The face side bore the visage of Führer Joachim Seickert, the seventh Führer, who had overseen the economic plans that made the conquest of the United States possible. The tail side displayed the courtyard of Hitler's Victory Memorial, with the monuments that incorporated the broken remnants of the statues from Trafalgar Square.
He held his palm up to his eyes and focused on the coin. He reached within himself and felt a surge of spiritual strength, the strength to dominate, to control, to rule, as was his birthright.
The coin lifted from his palm. It began to rotate in mid-air while sweat appeared on the brow of the SS officer.
Content in his test, Fassbinder put the coin away just as the lift doors opened. He gave a customary "Sieg Heil" to the two junior officers that they properly returned. And he walked on.
He had an attack to plan.
It had been a rough couple of days for Leo.
In those two days, he'd seen just about every kind of case he had never wanted to see in his career. It had become clear why Field Hospital Charlie had such a concentration of medical know-how given the quantity and difficulty of cases, not to mention the sheer number of them.
The need to care for the survivors of the planet's concentration and POW camps were further complicated by the situation for New Brittany's population. The Reich had essentially taken over the planet's economy and had ruthlessly seized the majority of the planet's food production to divert to the military and to German-inhabited colony worlds. The result was sad and utterly predictable. As a result, malnutrition and starvation were sending more people to the Hospital's remaining beds while occupation authorities struggled to get food supplies to needed levels.
Today Leo was in the most grueling ward of them all.
The Child Ward.
The KZ camps had child barracks, and the Nazis had proven no better at handling children than adults. All around Leo were sick, weak little stick figures passing for living children, struck by malnutrition and reduced to skin and bones in many cases.
Some of the children could barely get out of bed. Leo was busy with the sickest cases. Diseases, medical conditions aggravated by abuse, the abuse itself…
He looked down at a little boy who looked no older than six. Tears were streaming down the sobbing boy's face, gaunt and pale as it was. "I want my mummy!" The boy's accent was distinctly English.
"Well, I can look and see if she's here," Leo proposed. "I'll need a name."
"Her name is Mummy."
Leo smiled gently. "Well, I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, I need you to tell me where it hurts."
His examination confirmed the various maladies that the boy's battered little body was suffering from, including an unhealed broken rib from getting kicked by an SS guard. Leo gave him what medications he could, made sure the child's next meal was scheduled to include the nutrients he most needed, and walked on. Nasri kept step behind him. "Where did all of these children come from?", Leo muttered. "Christ…"
"The records say that the Reich imprisoned war refugees in the camps as well," Nasri replied. "If they come from nationalities not allowed in this sector." She reached for his arm. "Doctor, are you okay?"
Leo looked at her and couldn't keep the pain from his face. These were children. Children who should have been spared the horrors of what Humanity could do to itself. Instead they had been forced to endure it.
But what was even worse was his thought on the last time he'd had a child-patient. Whenever he looked into these emaciated little faces… he kept seeing the face of another young boy, in a body wracked by terminal leukemia. The boy he could not save.
Nasri's expression softened to one of sympathy. "I should have asked them not to send you here."
"It's fine. Someone has to do it." Leo shook his head. "And I was going to have to care for children again some time." He sighed. "I guess I should have remembered the lollipops."
Nasri smiled at that. "I think the others might have disapproved. Given the nutritional problems."
"Maybe." Leo looked around the ward. "But given all of the misery here… sometimes you have to accept that happiness is a category of health on its own."
"Well, perhaps we shall have to go replicate some…"
Before any more could be said, a loud tone took their attention. They looked toward one of the beds in another line and ran toward it.
Before they could get there, a Minbari was already at the bed checking vitals. "She is going into shock," the Minbari woman announced.
"Let's get her elevated." Leo helped do this task while scan results were compiled. "Anything?"
"I don't know where to begin." Nasri looked over the girl. She looked to be around twelve, which meant she could be as old as fourteen, with a pale coloration that was just tinted enough that Leo suspected she was at least partly non-Caucasian. "Multiple organ problems, injuries…"
"Okay, we need…"
Two hours later Leo was done with the emergency case and the rounds in the Child Ward. Crusher and the Asari doctor, T'Perro, had taken over the girl's care after Leo and the Minbari, Kannel, had stabilized her condition, and the teenager or near-teen was now in Intensive Care. Efforts were being made to determine if her family was among the living.
He sat quietly in the mess hall with a mostly-uneaten plate of salad in front of him, joined by a cold half-finished bowl of sausage stew.
The maker of that stew now sat across from him. Hargert noticed Leo's failure to fully take his meal. "It is terrible here," Hargert agreed.
Leo nodded. As he got a good look at the Aurora crew lounge's cook and steward, he could see the dark circles under his eyes. The lines and wrinkles on his face were deeper than usual and betrayed the fatigue in the old man. "You should take a break," Leo said. "You look like you're running yourself ragged."
"My staff and I have been cooking for the last fifty-two hours," Hargert confessed. "Food for the medical staff and for the patients here. Especially the children."
"It's what they need," Leo agreed. He sighed. Hargert had clearly not intended it, but he was making Leo feel incredibly guilty. "And I guess I should respect your efforts by finishing what you worked so hard to make."
"I understand if this work has cost you your appetite," Hargert said. "But it's not just that, is it?"
Leo sighed and shook his head. "No," he admitted. "Seeing the children makes me think of Joshua Marik."
"Of course." Hargert nodded. "That is a wound you will always carry."
"Tell me about it." Leo put a spoonful of cool sausage stew into his mouth. The lack of warmth made the taste less-appetizing than usual, but it wasn't bad by any standard, and he savored the taste a little before swallowing. "I've seen a lot of things out here that I know will always haunt me."
"Yes." Hargert resumed eating his own meal.
Given the time that flashed on his omnitool, Leo did the same. He had another set of rounds due soon. He didn't want to be making them with a grumbling stomach.