In Every Life There is a Crossroads
Harry Sullivan wandered idly around sickbay, fiddling with his medical equipment while waiting for his wholly uneventful day to come to a welcome end. He fondly imagined stirring a drop of milk into his tea before settling into his armchair with his latest spy thriller.
While he enjoyed the quiet pleasures of life he couldn't help but chuckle sympathetically when he'd read a Sherlock Holmes story and the detective had told Watson "I abhor the dull routine of existence". It wasn't that Harry hated his routines, he just wished they felt more fulfilling.
As the young surgeon began to daydream about adventures he was suddenly brought back to full attention by sounds of distress and footfalls in the hallway. Before he had a chance to investigate the disturbance, the cause practically burst through his door.
A tallish man in an unfamiliar sand-coloured uniform entered the room, supporting a similarly attired man who was bleeding profusely.
"Are you a doctor?" he asked with a mixture of apology and desperation in his voice.
"That's right." Harry replied, helping to guide the injured one onto an examination bed. His questions were forestalled when he noticed that the two strangers were not alone. About a dozen others with varying levels of injury had followed them in and were helping each other onto examination beds.
Given this turn of events, Harry decided that all questions not directly pertaining to the care of his patients (such as who they were and how they got here) could be postponed until they were stabilized. He put the uninjured man, a chap called Benton, to work brining him simple medical supplies and tending some of his comrades' smaller injuries.
It was a trying experience. Every time one of the more seriously wounded was stabilized and he was able to work on the others another crisis would arise for him to deal with. It was tense and tiring work but rewarding come the end of it. After many hours he had managed to treat the worst of the damage and was confident that all of the men would recover, in time.
He slumped exhaustedly into his chair. But, exhaustion or not, he was determined to finally discover who his patients were and what had happened to them. But when he looked at Benton, practically asleep on his feet, his soft heart caved.
"Get some rest, eh, old chap? It seems your day's been a bit longer than mine."
"Thank you sir." Benton said as he all but collapsed onto one of the remaining beds. He had drifted off to sleep before Harry could even regret his decision.
As Harry surveyed the room full of sleeping and unconscious soldiers he knew he wouldn't be getting any sleep any time soon. He exhaled and ran a hand through his hair. He didn't know any of these men; he couldn't even recognise their uniforms. He'd wanted adventures, though he hadn't quite expected one to come straight into his sickbay. He hauled himself out of his chair and started wandering around the room aimlessly. He was sure he'd never stay awake if he'd kept sitting down and someone needed to watch his patients.
He jolted awake, startled. At first he didn't know where he was. As his head cleared itself of sleep he realized that he must've fallen asleep while leaning against the wall. Then he registered odd blaster-type sounds answered by the occasional burst of gunfire and he pulled himself to his feet. The sounds of battle were growing closer so he grabbed a weapon from one of his sleeping patients. Then he went and shook Benton's shoulder.
"Rise and shine, old boy. It seems there's a bit of a dust up going on outside."
Benton practically jumped off the bed and headed towards the door. Harry put a hand on his elbow.
"Steady on! We've got to set up a defence of some sort. From the sound of it, two more guns won't exactly bring us the victory."
"What do you suggest, Doctor?"
"Well, we've got some canisters of nitrous oxide, oxygen, and of course we've got the fire extinguishers. If we provide ourselves and the less stable patients with oxygen masks we could open the nitrous oxide canisters and rig the fire extinguishers to spray anyone who opens the door. That should unbalance any intruders enough for the two of us to take care of them."
He started rigging the fire extinguishers but sighed internally. He knew it wasn't the best of plans but it was the best he could think of given their situation so he was rather disheartened when Benton spoke up.
"The only thing is, I'm not sure how they'll react to nitrous oxide."
Harry cheered up a bit since that was one problem he could remedy. "Well, the concentration won't be high enough to knock anyone out but they should get a bit dizzy."
Benton gave him a long strange look. "That's all very well for humans, but what about the intruders? Will it work on them?"
It was Harry's turn to stare in bafflement. He was definitely going to have to give Benton a thorough exam once the crisis was over. He must have suffered some head trauma that went unnoticed in the day's excitement. Speaking gently, he answered, hoping that Benton could hold himself together, "Look, old chap, I'm sure they're tough opponents but they are still human."
Benton didn't waste any time staring now. He just asked incredulously, more as a rhetorical question than actual curiosity, "Nobody told you?"
Harry was only able to get out "Told me wh…" when the door flew open, setting off the fire extinguishers in the faces of three purple tinted creatures with scales. Harry didn't know what they were but it was painfully obvious that they weren't human.
After the initial moment of shock it simply stopped registering as things became too hectic to worry about anything other than defending his patients and himself. The fire extinguishers had confused them but they did little else and bullets seemed to be equally useless. One of the creatures swiped at Harry, the force of the blow sending him reeling into his supply cart and drawing forth bright red blood from his shoulder.
Benton was faring little better. One of the creatures grabbed his gun and, using it, struck Benton with enough force to knock him into an examination bed. He grabbed a pole supporting a saline drip to steady himself but in his disoriented state he only succeeded in knocking it over. As it fell, it struck the creature and the saline bag burst on its sharp scales. The creature made a wailing noise and began dissolving. Seeing this, Harry grabbed a saline bag and smashed it into the face of his opponent while Benton dispatched the third intruder.
With the danger over, Harry just stared at the dissolving being before him. His entire focus was shrunk to the little curls of vapour rising from the bubbles. He realised that he was in shock when he felt Benton's hand on his shoulder, leading him to his chair, and heard his voice, as if from far away, asking "Are you alright Doctor? You're shaking."
Benton's presence grounded Harry as he struggled to master himself.
"I could do with an explanation." He finally managed.
While Benton explained, Harry steadied himself and then proceeded to give all of his patients a brief examination to ensure they were still stable. This finished, he sat gingerly on his chair so as not to jar his shoulder. He fixed his gaze firmly on Benton.
"So you're saying that not only were those aliens, but they're not the first ones to come to Earth?"
Harry thought about all he'd heard. Aliens existed, they wind up on Earth with some frequency, and an organization called U.N.I.T. existed to deal with those facts. On any other day he'd call the madhouse if someone brought him a story like that. But today, with the purple liquidy remains of three aliens still oozing across his floor, he thought discounting it would make him the crazy one.
Still, life-changing realizations were once again being pushed aside by more practical and immediate concerns. His shoulder was still bleeding sluggishly and it throbbed like the Devil.
"Right, then. I don't suppose you could take a look at my shoulder?" he asked without too much hope. Soldiers tended to be a little better at inflicting wounds than bandaging them.
Benton summoned up his first aid training and cleaned and dressed Harry's shoulder to the best of his ability but Harry still presented quite the comical appearance when he was done.
A few days later Harry surveyed his empty sickbay once more in its customary order. His patients had been removed as suddenly as they had arrived. If it weren't for the bandage on his shoulder he could have easily believed that the entire experience had been a dream. He was on his way out of the building when a dark-haired man dressed in a U.N.I.T. uniform stopped him and asked "Pardon me, do you know a Dr. Sullivan?"
"Well yes; I'm Dr. Sullivan." He replied, taking a more comfortable stance and putting his hand in his pockets.
"Capital! Is there someplace we can talk more comfortably?"
"I suppose so. Sickbay's this way…uh…sir."
"Oh, my apologies. Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart." He said, extending a hand.
Harry shook it and led the way back to the sickbay.
"So, Brigadier, what did you want to speak with me about?"
"First, I want to express my appreciation regarding your services to my men."
"Just doing my job really." Harry replied with a smile.
"Would you like it to be?"
Harry's expression shifted to one of puzzlement. "I beg your pardon?"
"We need a permanent medical officer at U.N.I.T. and you seem to be the ideal chap for the job. You handled yourself well under stress, you're a good doctor, and, frankly, it helps that you already know what to expect."
Harry stared for a moment, taken aback. Goodness knew he'd fancied a little more excitement in his life but he had obligations to think about. His concerns must have shown on his face, for the next thing the Brigadier said was "I've already cleared it with your CO. The decision is entirely yours."
And there it was. Now that he could choose freely he suddenly realized he wasn't sure what he should choose. On the one hand he had his stable familiar career where he was sure he could always fulfil his obligations. On the other hand was this new mysterious offer where he would never know what to expect beyond the knowledge that it could affect the fate of all mankind. The responsibility was daunting but, even as he thought about it, he knew that he would never be able to sleep quite as soundly knowing that he had been asked to help and had refused. He looked up with new confidence and asked, simply, "When do I start?"