Janice stepped onto the beach and looked around. She and Theo were carrying canvas bags and shovels. The botanist had mentioned seeing cinnamon trees on the island and the captain thought they ought to collect a few smaller plants and to harvest some bark for the Bay Otter Clan. Their weather was milder than Cierra’s village since it was on the ocean. Maybe the plants would take root and grow there.
Several armed Cadets escorted them while they hunted for suitable plants. They already had quite a collection of seedlings and such for Queen Cierra, to thank her for allowing them to do the research. Janice knew a little good will and thoughtfulness might pave the way for future expeditions.
They had collected lemon grass, dried ginger, cumin, batoko plum, and horseradish. Then there was all the aloe that Kyle collected but he was insisting most of it would be for research.
Other plants had been harvested for the ship’s crew such as sugar cane, bananas, breadfruit, yams, and coconuts. The botanist had warned the crew that once they were east of Asia the available plant life would decrease. They had to collect what they wanted now or possibly find nothing further on. He had explained that most of the ‘native’ wildlife and plants had gotten to the Pacific Islands by humans.
Janice looked at the surrounding lush vegetation and began hunting for the cinnamon trees. She wanted them to be less than a yard high for transplanting. They would need mature trees to collect the bark for cinnamon sticks.
“Over there, Captain,” Erica told the officer, pointing to an area to the east of them.
“Ah, you have a good eye, Cadet.” Janice walked to the clump of small trees and put her sack aside. She looked over the selection of plants then began digging around the roots with the slim garden shovel. Theo did the same with another. They wrapped the roots in damp canvas and used twine to secure the sack into place. They then began their search for older trees. It didn’t take long to find a decent sized tree. They used their service knives to remove strips of inner bark from the trunk and placed the bark inside a spare bag. The bark would curl as it dried into the well-known sticks consumers were familiar with.
The captain handed the sack to Erica to carry and noticed a far away look on her face.
“Is something the matter, Cadet?”
Erica snapped back to reality and stiffened. “No ma’am. I was just…it isn’t important. I’m sorry, Captain Harrison.” Erica was embarrassed that she had been caught daydreaming.
“I’m not angry, Ms. Hull. I was just curious why you had such a sad look on your face.”
Erica saw the look of compassion shining from her CO’s eyes and sighed. “I was thinking about my brother. He always wanted to see the world and here I am doing all the traveling.”
The Captain smiled softly. “Oh? Did he want to join the Navy?”
Erica chuckled. “No, he wanted to be a big-time athlete. You know, get paid huge amounts of money and go on vacations with pretty women and be waited on like a king at resorts.”
Janice laughed, easily imagining a young college-age boy having such fantasies.
“Unfortunately, he was in an accident. He’ll have to get into college by brain rather than brawn now. It’ll be good for character building that way.”
“But not nearly as fun as the earlier version.”
“That’s very true, but I’m not sure what he’ll do in the future. He never thought past college. He wanted to be a pro football player. If he thought about the future at all, he probably figured he’d retire rich.”
Janice shifted the weight of the sapling to her other arm and continued chatting with the Cadet. “Was he resentful about you joining the expedition?”
“Not at all. A little envious but he was happy for me. I’m keeping a journal for him to read later.”
“You are a nice sister. I hope he appreciates you.”
Erica blushed but didn’t know how to respond to the compliment. However, they reached the shore and everyone’s attention went to loading everything onto the dinghy.
One of the Yeomen spotted Erica a few hours later. “Hey, could you do me a favor? One of the scientists reported a water leak from the pipes aft side of the lab. Could you check it out?”
“No problem, I’ll get my toolbox,” she grinned. Her duties as a repair tech had been light so far since the ship was fairly new. She had been covering other areas when there was nothing to maintain during her shifts.
It didn’t take long before she was on her hands and knees examining the pipes. She flashed her pocket light over each pipe, trying to find the leak. She was mentally crossing her fingers, hoping the leak would be accessible without removing wall panels. So far she hadn’t tracked it down. Erica sighed, thinking she would have to start at the piping to the autoclave since the pipes leading to the machine used the heaviest pressure at this level. The machine used by the scientists for sterilizing equipment, using steam and heat to kill organisms.
She picked up her toolbox and lugged it to the empty cabin behind the room used to hold the large autoclave. Safety reasons had the machine in a reinforced room in case of explosion. Erica used the large hex wrench to remove the panel from the junction wall. She could feel a lot of heat coming from the pipes and the air felt moist. The leak had to be here or close by. She was reaching to turn off the feed to the pipes when she heard a metallic rattle. Erica began withdrawing her hand instinctively but it was too late.
The sound of the rupturing pipe alerted nearby crew to a possible explosion. An alarm was set off and emergency crews scrambled to the scene. The first ones arriving saw steam coming from the area and they quickly ordered the feed to the entire deck to be shut off. The ranking officer pointed to several crewmembers, assigning them to different areas to look for damage and possible casualties.
Once the water pressure had been cut off the emergency crew approached the room as the steam dissipated, wearing safety gear to protect them against burns.
“Chief, someone is in there!”
Medics arrived minutes later to examine the injured woman. She was badly scalded and unconscious. They carefully placed her on a gurney to transport her to the sick bay.
Word of the accident quickly made the rounds. Rachel fought the urge to rush to her lover’s side. She knew they wouldn’t allow her in there while they treated Erica nor could she insist on seeing her. After all, they were merely ‘cabin mates’. Sometimes being gay in the military sucked. Rachel would try and find out more about Erica in a few hours, hoping the injuries were minor and that they would release her soon.
Unfortunately, Erica had suffered from first and second-degree burns to her upper body, face, and arm. The young technician had been lucky not to be blinded but she had instinctively shut her eyes. By the appearance of the burns she would blister and perhaps scar. The medics treated her burns and gave her a mild painkiller but at the moment were watching her for signs of shock.
Erica gritted her teeth from the painful burns. What she really wanted to so was to sit in a cold tub to ease the fiery sensations. Instead she was stuck in a tiny bed with goo all over her to prevent infections. It had been especially painful when the doctors had applied it to her neck. Once finished they had left the room, leaving her alone with her misery, checking on her from time to time. The technician cried silently, feeling sorry for her self.
When a soft knock was heard at the door she quickly wiped away the salty evidence of her misery. Rachel peeked into the room and saw her awake and alone.
“Oh God, sweetheart!” Rachel whimpered when she saw the injuries. She shut the door behind her and looked for a part of Erica she could touch without hurting her. She settled for caressing her lover’s silky hair, placing a kiss on her crown.
Erica saw the caring in Rachel’s eyes and that was all it took to let go of a pitiful sob that had been trying to get out since she woke up after the accident.
“It’s okay sweetheart, let it out. I have you,” Rachel murmured, stroking her back until the crying bout ended.
Erica sniffled and fell back against her pillow. “I’m sorry for the melt down, baby.”
Her roomie shook her head. “I think it was due. Besides, I’d be mighty unhappy being locked up in this dreary little room. Look at the color on the walls,” Rachel said, pointing at the drab color and shuddering comically. She was always making jokes about her fem side to make Erica laugh.
The injured woman giggled in spite of her pain and asked for a kiss.
Rachel bit her lip nervously, afraid of hurting her, and very gently placed a soft kiss on her mouth. “Better?”
“Well…it would be if you kissed all the sore spots, but…”
“Brat! You’re gonna have to wait for that type of therapy. I don’t think the Coast Guard docs are gonna write that down on your prescription chart.” She smiled when Erica pouted.
Kyle sighed with frustration while arguing with the doctor. “Look, at least try this stuff out on her first degree burns, will ya?”
The doctor held up his hands in defeat. “Fine, I’ll try it on the minor burns and see how it works. I just dislike the idea of using something that isn’t factory sterilized and packaged.” He took the plastic tub of the aloe gel from the scientist and went into the patient’s room.
He explained about what Kyle Waterford had brought and asked her if she wanted to give it a try. Erica nodded, more than willing. She had been one of the guinea pigs he had tested the gel on earlier that month. It had healed up a nasty knife cut faster than she could believe and it had eased the pain too.
“Okay, where do you want it applied?”
“Face first, then my hands.”
“The hands were burned worse. I’d like to use traditional medications on the second degree burns.”
“To hell with them. My hands feel the skin is pulled tight over the bones and I can barely move my fingers. Load it on,” she instructed.
The doctor sighed, wondering why he got stuck with all these stubborn people today.
Erica woke the next day, slowly shifting until the annoying sunlight from the portal was out of her eyes. She began yawning without thinking then stopped herself, expecting pain. It took a short time before she realized that the familiar sting of the burns was no longer bothering her. The cadet began moving her mouth and flexing her facial muscles, amazed at the improvement. The skin didn’t feel as tight and hot as it did yesterday.
She lifted her hands and inspected them. The worst of the two was kept in a cotton glove along with the gel. She made a fist and was pleased to feel much less pain. Erica grinned and looked closely at the other one. Although the redness was still visible, the pain was more tolerable. The top skin was already peeling but it wasn’t blistered. On closer inspection, Erica noticed that the pink wasn’t from the burning but from newly growing skin beneath the flaky layer.
She smiled widely and shouted for the doctor. One of the female medics rushed in, alarmed at the patient yelling. It took a while before she understood the rapid words the cadet was firing at her. The medic examined the burns in question and blinked. There was no possible way they could have healed that quickly.
“Go find Kyle Waterford and ask for more of the gel. I know he has a cargo bay full of the things and can spare it.”
An hour or so later the medic returned with a large container of the aloe salve.
“I convinced the doctor to let me apply the gel. I figured you’d rather have a woman put it on rather than one of the guys.”
“Thanks. I bet by this time tomorrow morning the doctors will let me return to my cabin. My cabin mate can apply it if needed. I can’t believe this stuff works so well,” she commented as the medic spread the cold gel on her neck and face with a cotton ball.
“Me either. By all accounts the minor burns should have bothered you for three or four days. If this stuff works as well on the second degree burns then the voyage was worth every minute we spent out here. Kyle has a gold mine in that cargo bay as far as I’m concerned. I’m hoping this stuff has other applications as well. Kyle showed me his research notes. This goo helps a lot of different types of dermal injuries.”
“Yeah, I know. I was one of his guinea pigs. I used it on a cut. I thought it was just an antiseptic gel.”
The medic, Patty, straightened up. “How does that feel?”
“Good. Now put it on the rest of me. You can’t believe how painful it is to have your boobs burned.”
Patty laughed not unkindly and began dabbing.
Continued in Part 10
Return to the Academy