The doctors continued to work for much longer than he'd expected. Calm, low voices, but Jason knew severe worry when he heard it. They were trying to crash recharge Tiny's implant, apparently. Made sense, though he hadn't known it was possible. And then there were raised voices.

"We need to intubate him."


Jason abruptly couldn't watch any more. It was Tiny on that bunk, being poked and prodded, having tubes stuck down his throat, being ventilated, and still getting worse. They should have been able to stabilise him by now. He should be upstairs being prepped for surgery. It was all going wrong, here and now, and there was nothing he could do. Tiny's blood was on his hands. Literally.

There was still some pressure in the water system. Enough for him to rinse the blood from his hands and get some composure back. Tiny was young, fit and strong, and he was in good hands. He'd be okay. He had to be.

He detransmuted, splashed cold water on his face, and headed back.

Sickbay was deserted. That had to be a good thing, he told himself. They'd stabilised him finally and they'd got him out of here.


"He's in surgery now," the doctor said in response to the question Jason hadn't asked. "Dr Allen's the top surgeon in the field. He'll be fine."

Jason didn't give him the satisfaction of any of the questions he wanted to ask. The Condor didn't ask people whether they were sure, or whether he'd done okay. It was Chris he wanted to talk to, not his minion, and Chris was with Tiny.

"Are we done here?" he asked instead.

"Unless you have anything medical you want to discuss, sure. We're done. Your debrief is in room one."


He opened the briefing room door, and the decision about whether or not to apologise for being late no longer mattered.

"Where's Mark?"

Anderson looked over his glasses at him. Princess and Keyop both looked up - they'd been studying the table in an intent way Jason had used himself, more than once. It sometimes meant nobody asked you any questions.

"With you," Keyop said. "Or in Medical."

"Nope." His blood ran cold. Not again, surely...

"Locate G-1, please," Anderson said into the tabletop communicator, face impassive.

"On the Phoenix, sir."

Anderson sighed and hit another button. "G-1, respond please."


Jason stopped half way to the table. "I'll go get him."


Mark sat in his own chair, still in birdstyle, the screens in front of him active and filled with data. "Get out," he said as the door slid fully open.

"Not a chance."

His commander did glance round at that - he'd have been expecting one of the logistics team, coming in to clean up. He glared. Jason ignored him and took Tiny's seat.

"Anderson's waiting for you in debrief."

"He can wait. Tiny...?"

"He's in surgery." He paused. "I'm sorry."

"For what? Doing your job?"

"Guilt tripping you isn't in my job description."

"I needed to know what the situation was." Mark grimaced. "I do care. It can't affect my command decisions. You know that."

"Yeah." He gestured at the screens. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for an alternative which would have been faster. Except leaving those ships unprotected."


"There wasn't one. If there had been, we wouldn't have been sent in the first place. Five thousand lives against one? That's what we signed up for, Jase. Tiny knew the risks. There's no guarantee that 'at all costs' is going to involve something impressive and heroic."

"No." Not a nice thought, that. He'd always known that one day one of them might need to make the ultimate sacrifice. He'd expected it to be a choice, though. Going out in a blaze of glory. Not dying of some everyday condition because they'd made a stupid mistake.

"They're waiting for us in debrief," he said again. "And, for what it's worth, you made the calls you had to make and I'm bloody glad it wasn't me making them."

"Thanks. I think." Mark stood up, swayed, and grabbed at the back of his chair. The look he gave Jason was rueful.

"You'd think I'd have figured out I can't stand straight up by now."

"Nah. It'll take you another month. By which time you will be able to." He considered offering a shoulder, and didn't. "Heads-up? Anderson's going to throw a complete fit when he sees the data from that jump."

"You had a red light?"

Jason snorted. "I only had red lights. I never saw a jump profile that bad. You didn't notice?"

"I was busy. Good jump, in that case. Damn good."

"Just tell Anderson that for me when the brown stuff hits the fan."

"I will do." He let go of the chair, and didn't wobble. "Good to go."


Anderson looked up from his computer as they entered the briefing room, eyebrows raised. "Ah, Commander. Thank you for joining us. I trust your report is ready?"

Mark's shoulders tensed, but he said nothing, taking his seat to Anderson's right. Jason sat alongside him. Any news? he signed to Keyop.

The kid shook his head. Of course, the hangdog expression rather suggested there hadn't been any good news, and if there had been bad news...

"Tiny is still in surgery, and will be for some time," Anderson said. "There is nothing any of you can do to help. I suggest we concentrate on the debrief now. Though if you are unable to focus, we can delay it."

Keyop looked affronted. Princess, tears in her eyes, nodded.

"We're good, Chief," Mark said. "My apologies for the delay. Do you want a report on the outgoing flight, or shall I start with our arrival in the New Riga system?"

Anderson looked over his glasses. "I see you piloted the launch, Commander. Why was that?"

"Tiny told me he'd tweaked a stomach muscle. Plus I need the practice."

"He told you he was hurt and you didn't send him to medical for assessment?"

"Yes, he did, and no, I didn't." Mark took a deep breath and looked around the room. "Chief, I'm going to say this once. If it's not acceptable, you can have my resignation here and now."

What the...? Jason stared at him. They'd just got him back and he was threatening resignation?

"Go on," said Anderson calmly.

"Tiny's our medic, but even if he wasn't, his fitness to fly is his call. I won't go back to where we used to be. People not admitting to being hurt or sick because they're afraid of being grounded. I need to know."

"You're prepared to take a team out knowing they're not fully fit?"

Mark snorted. "Chief, I'm not fully fit. Nowhere close. We've all fought hurt, sick, tired. We can make our own calls on this. You have to let us."

Anderson stared, and Jason got his own astonishment under control.

"He's right, Chief. You want me to tell him when I'm fighting a migraine, or would you rather he didn't know? Because I shoot so damn straight when I'm seeing three of everything."

"My coordination's wonderful at the wrong time of the month," said Princess. She managed a weak smile. "My temper, too." She looked at Keyop.

"I'm always perfect," their youngest member said. "Except when -"

And they all jumped as the communication console in front of Anderson pinged.

"Doctor?" said Anderson, and Jason's blood ran cold.

Please let him be okay. Please.

"He's still in surgery," said Chris Johnson's voice. "It's a nasty mess. But he is stable and he's improving. I'll let you know when I have more news."

Stable. Improving.

Jason hadn't realised his head was in his hands until he felt Mark's hand on his shoulder.

"You okay?"

"I will be." More important, he will be. Jason raised his head and looked Anderson in the eye. "So, are we going to argue about whether Mark should or shouldn't be told if Keyop has a twisted eyebrow, or shall we get on with this debrief? I have some lovely jump-stats to discuss with you."

Anderson frowned, pressed buttons on the screen in front of him...and blanched. And Jason sat forward.

"We discovered that we don't need to go into jump inert any more. Equations four and seven are solvable, even with the logarithmic terms non-constant. I -"

And Anderson held up his hands. "We will hold this meeting at another time. With the jump-specialists present. Dismissed. On the understanding that you stay away from Medical until Dr Johnson informs you that Tiny is fit for visitors."


"Thank you," said Mark as they walked back to the ready room. "I owe you one."

"For backing you up on the medical thing? You were right."

"For getting us out of that meeting. Temporarily, at least."

"It'll take the specialists at least a day to figure out my solution to those equations. Maybe longer."

"And then I'll have to sit through five hours of you and Sheridan talking nine dimensions at one another." Mark sighed. "I hope Tiny needs visitors. Really, really needs them."

"By this time tomorrow? He'll need them." For the first time, he felt sure it was true. Tiny would be sore, and unhappy, and probably full of drainage tubes. Certainly full of guilt and remorse. But he'd be here, and that was all that mattered.