by Jay Lygon
Zeke knows there's no night or day in space, but third watch seems pretty much like the night shift, leaving him alone and fighting sleep. When an alien Colonel arrives at the medical bay to examine the corpse of his dead feeder, Zeke is fascinated and turned on. The Colonel not only has a conspiracy theory that stuns Zeke, he also needs to feed. Badly. Will Zeke be able to give the Colonel what he needs, and get what Zeke wants in return?
There was no night or day in space. There was only the watch or off-duty. During his training, that fact had been drummed into Private First Class Ezekiel Tahmin’s mind, yet his body insisted it was night. He yawned long and hard, his eyes squeezing shut as he did so. He swore he smelled summer – verdant grass and sun-warmed honey. A dream tried to pull him into sleep. There was nothing specific about the half-glimpsed visions in his brain, just a feeling of comfort and pleasant promises if he’d only sink deeper under the spell. He fought to open his eyes. The dream pulled harder. His arm slipped from his lap and touched the cold metal arm of his chair. That jolted him back to wakefulness. The scent of honey and grass was gone.
Slow night, Zeke thought before correcting his down-planet thinking. Not night. Third watch. It was third watch. He couldn’t sleep on duty. The punishment for that was flogging, and he’d seen enough flogged soldiers to want to avoid it. He reached for his cup of stim. It was cold and bitter, but he gulped it down anyway.
Except Zeke, the medical bay was empty. There were other medical personnel on duty, but they were in the quarters across the gangway playing cards and watching vids. Third watch officers were more lax about discipline, but they wouldn’t forgive him if their superiors pulled a surprise inspection and caught him asleep at his desk.
Zeke rubbed the goose flesh on his arms through his jacket. When he was not doing data entry, he held his hands near the bulb of his desk lamp or blew on them. He didn’t need to turn around to know that ice crystals formed on metal bulkhead behind his small desk. That wall was all that separated the medical bay from the chilly morgue, and the cold seeped through.
The skin on Zeke’s back tightened at the thought of the morgue. While the beds in the medical bay were empty, the morgue wasn’t. One drawer held a body. Gossip had been strangely muted about the alien who died during first watch. The only thing Zeke knew was that the deceased had been the aide of a military observer on board. He’d never seen the observer or his aide, dead or alive.
Zeke leaned closer to the computer as he scanned the forms on his screen. The duty logs were incomplete. Even though it was against regulations for him to fill out the forms for his superiors, if he didn’t, they would make his life hell.
Although what’s more hellish than babysitting the morgue in the middle of the night? Zeke thought.
Motion sensors made the lights in the bay flicker on when Zeke scratched his scalp through the stubble of his hair. The buzzed haircut made his gray eyes look too big for his thin face, but his thick, ginger hair was growing back. As he returned to the logs, the lights slowly dimmed until he was left with the glow of his screen and his small desk lamp for light.
The medical bay was near engineering. While the steady thrum of the ship’s engines could be felt anywhere on board, they could only be heard below decks. Even there, it was almost sub-audible. Other than the clack of his keyboard, the bass rumble of the ship’s engines was the only sound in the medical bay.