"They want me to do what?!" Dal asked hoarsely, sure he'd mistaken his colleague Dr. Jack Alvarez. The Blue Doctor had left their General Practice Patrol ship just after they landed to investigate the medical problem posed by the native citizens of Feighton V, large wolfish beings with a full coat of fur.
He returned barley twenty minutes later with sporting a wicked grin, one that now threatened to envelop his whole face. "You heard me," he replied. "Seems one of their highest ranking officials has a daughter with an ingrown tooth. They want you to extract it."
"But I'm a surgeon, not a dentist," Dal protested, turning from Jack to his friend Dr. Tiger Martin. Unfortunately, the Green Doctor was struggling to hold back his own growing smile. "Surely there's been a mistake."
Jack shook his head. "Nope, I examined the girl myself: the tooth is most definitely impacted, and it looks like it hasn't been brushed in years."
"Thanks for the diagnosis," Dal said sourly. "But I think we should let Tiger look it over before deciding on treatment."
"Don't see that there's much for me to do." Tiger shrugged, still struggling to keep a straight face. "You're the bone guy on this ship, not me."
Dal threw up his arms in disgust. "Teeth are not bones!" he exclaimed.
"I don't know," Jack's smile grew lazy. "Have you seen what big teeth they have?"
Tiger tried to glare at his fellow doctor. "Don't say it ...." he begged, but Jack's grin only grew more lopsided.
"The better to eat you with?"
They both lost it, their laughter only serving to sharpen the Red Surgeon's temper. While Jack had slowly grown friendlier to his fellow shipboard doctors, Dal wished now he was back to his formerly dour self. "Look, it's not funny," he tried to interrupt, but it was a hopeless cause. "Fine. I'll go check the tape library and see what can be done." With that he left the still gasping men and headed for the computer room.
Once inside he checked over the records for the planet. It turned out the Feightons did have exceptionally large teeth, but what they made up for in size they lacked in quantity, and females had even fewer than males. Due to this scarcity the teeth were sealed in the mouth with a much stronger gum than most mamalian species.
It was looking more and more like a surgeon really was the person for the job, Dal realized drearily, looking down at hands that were tiny by Earth standards. The thought of putting nearly his whole top half into a large mouth sent shivers down his spine. "You've just got to go out there and do it," he commanded himself, turning off the tape-reader.
Dal returned to the control room with his case of microsurgical instruments. "I hope you had a good laugh, because you're both about to be my operating partners."
Whatever mirth might have been left in the doctors evaporated quickly at the news. "But it's just a tooth—" Jack began, only to be cut off by Dal.
"Yes, and a potentially calcified molar joint, and several nerve branches I'll need to regraft to the patient's mouth." Dal spoke grimly, taking only minor satisfaction at his colleagues' alarm. "Which means it's more than a pulled tooth, it's oral surgery. Now grab an anesthesia tank and let's go."
To his credit, Jack immediately fetched the desired tank and joined both Dal and Tiger outside the ship without further comment. At their approach to the city several of the Feightons howled in relief. One particularly large shaggy man bound up to them. "She is in a great deal of pain," he barked, his voice several decibels above what any of them were used to. "Please tell me you can remove it."
"We'll do our best," Dal assured him, trying not wince at his tone. "Take us to her."
He did so, leading them inside a nearby building. The patient lay on a chair, her tail thrashing back and forth in agitation. "Papa, please, it hurts," she whined. "Make it stop!"
Her father bound to her side. "There there my pet, the physicians from Hospital Earth are here to take care of you."
She looked over at the three doctors without much enthusiasm. "But they're so small!"
Dal smiled nervously. "We're a lot heartier than we look," he offered, putting a stool down on the floor beside the patient's chair. "Now, if you'll just let me look inside."
She did so, pointed canines gleaming wickedly. It was clear which tooth was the culprit, and Dal wasted no time directing his assistants. "This is as good a place as any: Jack, you get the tank prepped, and Tiger, help me setup the surgical table."
Everyone marched to his orders while the girl continued to demand action. "It hurts, it really, really hurts," she cried, her claws digging in and out of her paws.
Dal avoided staring too hard at those claws, or thinking too much about how sharp those teeth really were. Instead, he tried his best to soothe the patient as they got prepped. "Don't worry, it'll all be over soon. Just try to relax."
He saw Tiger's frown but couldn't do much about it. It was the truth, and he couldn't help it if the girl was too frightened to listen to reason. Once everything was ready he turned back to the father. "We're going to all scrub up now," he explained. "You need to leave the room."
"But, surely I can scrub up too?"
Dal took one look at both Feightons' swishing tails and nixed the idea. "It will only take a short time." He projected calm into his voice. "Really. You can wait right outside."
"Just go Papa," the girl ordered, annoyance mixing with pain. "I want it over with."
With a last few consoling words the father left, and Dal and his team got to work. A very light amount of anesthesia later and even the girl's tail stilled, only looping back and forth in a content pattern. Gloves and mask on, Dal checked that all his instruments were in place one final time, then turned back to his patient. "Alright, let's get that tooth out."
With those words the patient's apparent calm morphed into a cry of alarm. "Take it out?" she howled, nearly sending Dal toppling back over on his stool.
"Jack, give us a little more juice there," he commanded, determined to stay on top of the situation.
But the increased dosage did nothing, and the girl twitched away when he tried to reach over. "Don't take it, don't touch it!"
Tiger was ready with his knife, and Jack looked poised to up the dosage even higher if ordered. "Just a little more," Dal said, trying to keep his growing anxiety out of his tone. "But not too much: we need her at least partly awake. Now, please, we'll make it stop hurting if you just open your mouth—"
But she clamped down hard, and Dal narrowly avoided a bite as he withdrew his hands. "No," she mumbled through clenched teeth, shaking her head and tail together.
What to do? Nothing in his Medical Training or time before Earth had prepared him for dealing with a problem like this. Any minute he expected the bigger Feighton to come barreling back through the door, and his teeth were even larger.
Just then Tiger stepped around to the other side of the patient, a clenched fist in front of him. "I'll give you three guesses as to what I've got," he said, smiling for all the world like it was the end of term and he'd scored a perfect grade.
The young Feighton girl eyed them both suspiciously, but her gaze finally turned back to Tiger. "Why should I care?" The words were muffled coming through her closed mouth, but Tiger responded without skipping a beat.
"Oh, no reason," he answered lazily, cupping one hand with the other. "But you seem clever, and I figured you'd guess quicker than these two jokers did. If you get it right, I'll give you a treat."
"What kind of treat?" The girl actually opened her lips to speak, and based on her tail's movement appeared to be calming.
"Well that depends. See, I would give you a lollipop or a licorice or something sweet, whichever you like, but I can't with your tooth all swollen like that." He sighed, still playing with his hands. "And you look like such a smart girl, I really want to play this game with you. But if you won't open your mouth, I'll have to give it to the next little girl we go to help...."
Tiger started to turn away, but the girl reached a paw out. "Wait!" She stared at Tiger's hands, thinking, then spoke clearly. "Is it a bird?"
"Nope," he said, shifting his palms again. "Two guesses more."
She considered. "Just air?"
The Green Doctor shook his head. "Good guess though. That's what Jack over there thought, but I bet you can guess better than him next."
"Thanks a lot," Jack muttered, but the Feighton girl didn't give him a chance to say more.
"I know, I know: it's your claws!"
"I knew you were clever." Tiger held up his ten fingers, wriggling them to the girl's obvious delight. "Mine aren't nearly as sharp as yours, but they're perfect for tickling. So, your choice: do you let us take out your tooth and get a treat, or get a tickle fit, of both?"
"Both!" And with that, she opened wide, fully relaxed and ready for Dal to operate. "Just do it quick, I want my treat!"
"Right," Dal remarked, watching in awe as Tiger slipped back around to hand him the first instrument. "Just, hold still. We'll be done soon." And with her impatient help, they were. The actual extraction was the toughest part: the joint turned out not to need much attention, and the nerve endings he'd been so, well, nervous about were simple to move over.
Tiger dutifully arranged a treat for the girl, who appeared less interested in that then the promised tickling, howling happily despite her stitches. "Thanks for being such a good patient!" he called as they left.
Jack charged toward the ship, obviously glad to be away from the officious thanks of the Feightons, while Dal hung back. "Tiger, how did you know what to do?" he asked. "I thought we were sunk back there when she wouldn't open her mouth."
"Oh, it's the same trick I used with my nieces whenever they didn't want to eat their peas," he answered, still waving goodbye over his shoulder. "Kids are all the same, they just want a distraction and a goal to get through the ick stuff. It's when they grow up that things get complicated." He shot a glance toward the retreating Blue Doctor meaningfully.
Dal smiled. "Maybe," he admitted. "But at least some people's bark is worse than their bite."
They were still laughing by the time they got back to the ship.