“He wants us to wear what?” Martin asked. “No, no, no. Carolyn, I’m not doing it, it’s beneath my dignity as a pilot to wear a costume during flights. I’m sure it must be against regulations as well.”
“I don’t know, Martin,” Douglas drawled. “I must say that with your luck, you’ve always seemed a bit of a redshirt.”
“I am not! Anyway, as senior pilot and captain, I would naturally get command gold,” Martin snapped.
Carolyn rolled her eyes. “Quit making a fuss, Martin. The regulations for each airline -”
“Or airdot,” Douglas chimed.
“Hush, lowly one. The uniform regs are set by the company, and as I am the CEO, owner and Alpha of our enterprising crew, I set the rules. And as Lord Leverhulme is a valued -”
“Dotty,” Martin muttered.
“Jolly old chap,” Douglas shot back.
“And repeat customer , he is the chief this trip. If he wants us to wear Star Trek uniforms to set the tone for his trip to Vulcan, Alberta, then Trekkies we shall be.”
“Aren’t they called Trekkers?” Arthur piped.
Douglas laid a hand on Arthur’s arm. “No, don’t go there, Arthur. Dangerous to bring up that word with nerds about.”
“Who’s a nerd?” Arthur wanted to know.
“Our good captain.”
“I am not a nerd! I am a sensible, serious person, who happens not to want to wear a ridiculous polyester costume when flying an aeroplane!”
“The very definition of a Trekker. I rest my case,” Douglas said in triumph. “Besides, you wear a ridiculous hat regardless. Why not go boldly go all the way?”
“I like my hat. And I only started watching it on my days off because I was bored.”
“Ah ha!” Douglas crowed. “You confess!”
“Oh, shut up. It gets lonely in the house by myself. During daylight hours, anyway.” Martin sulked. “Why are we going to Vulcan again?”
“It seems there’s a festival called Spock Days, with actors and Trekkers… Trekkies… Trek fans and something called LARPing. The laird seemed quite keen when he made the booking.”
“Whatever happened to surfing?” Martin asked.
“Lord Leverhulme is a man of varied and short-lived interests. Be grateful you joined us after the yodelling and the Lady Gaga phases.”
“I loved those!” Arthur said.
“You would, dear heart. Anyway, following the festival, the laird is going to a ceilidh in Canmore. We pick him up in three days, and happily I’ve booked a customer to fill in the gap. Gentlemen, we are going to Canada aboard the USS GERTI. If you imagine I am looking forward to wearing a miniskirt at my age, think again. Any further complaints will be placed into a beacon, put on a transporter pad and beamed into a black hole.” Carolyn closed the folder.
“You can’t beam things into black holes,” Martin objected. “Going near one would put enormous strain on a starship. No sensible captain would try it.”
“You always go that extra parsec, my captain.” Douglas coughed something that sounded like ‘ Trekke r’ behind his hand. Martin glared.
“I think it’s brilliant!” Arthur said. “Do I get to serve those weird smoky drinks?”
“Ah, that reminds me,” Carolyn said. “I’ve a bottle of Lord Leverhulme’s usual tipple. But just for this trip, you can serve him green stuff.”
“Brilliant!” Arthur beamed and began working open the box from the costume rental company.
“But Carolyn,” Martin whispered. “Won’t Arthur be crushed that there’s no such as Alderbaran whiskey?” Douglas sniggered at Martin’s easy use of Trek drink names.
“No,” she whispered back. “Because I’ll add a few drops of food dye to his glass. Ta da - green whiskey, sans smoke. I don’t trust any of you with dry ice after that escapade with the toilet.”
“Here’s yours, Skip,” Arthur said, passing Martin a yellow tunic. Martin grimaced but stroked the command stripes with satisfaction. “This one must be yours, Douglas, it’s the biggest.” Douglas dared anyone to comment with a lifted brow as he took the red and black jumpsuit.
“But that one’s Next Generation, and mine’s Original Series!” Martin said.
“Martin, really, shut up,” Carolyn said.
“Mum, I think there’s a mistake,” Arthur said as he pulled out the last two costumes. “These are both dresses.”
“Ah, no, you’re wrong, Arthur,” Martin said with the pedantry he used when quoting the flight manual. “These are skirt pants, or skants -”
‘Skants?’ Douglas mouthed at Carolyn who rolled her eyes.
“- and they appeared in the Original and Next Generation shows. Both men and women as an example of the total equality of the sexes. So one of them’s yours, Arthur.”
“I get to wear a skirt? Like a Scotsman in the future?” Arthur held up his uniform against him. “Brilliant! Lord Leverhulme is going to love this flight! Can I wear these Spock ears?”
“You may as well. What do you want to be? Science officer? Catering?” Martin asked.
“Oh, I want to be an engineer! Like Scotty! Because Lord Leverhulme is Scottish!” Arthur said. “Ah’m sorrrry, captin, ah cannae make ‘er go enny fasterrrr, she jus’ woan tek it!” The rolled R’s sounded like a 50cc moped fuelled by spittle. Martin winced.
“Good gods, Arthur,” Douglas said. “That was a stunning imitation.”
“You think so?”
“Definitely. Miles better than even your Australian accent. The laird will be impressed with our skant-ulous drink-serving engineer from planet Vulcan by way of Glasgow.”
“Not up to your usual standard, Douglas,” Carolyn said as Martin choked over the visual provided by Douglas’ description. “But only because you know the laird will love it.”
“What’s Mum’s rank, then?” Arthur wanted to know.
“Your mother, famed for her customer service skills? Ship’s counsellor, obviously,” Douglas replied.
“Douglas.” Carolyn’s voice held promissory retribution. “You know we need more promotional photos for our website.”
“I am duly rebuked, Admiral Knapp-Shappey.”
“That’s more like it!” Carolyn looked down her nose at her smirking first officer.
“If she’s an Admiral,” Martin objected, “then she properly needs three stripes. Oh, and a collar bar with two pips.”
“Martin. Really. Shut up.”
“Good morning! This is First Officer Douglas Richardson, of the Federation Airship GERTI. On behalf of MJN, or as we are known in our home quadrant, Microquasar Jupiter… Neutron , we’d like to welcome our distinguished ambassador of Scottish culture, Lord Leverhulme. I am joined by my captain, Martin Crieff who will be in command as we navigate our nine-hour voyage to that final frontier, the mysterious and pine-tree bedecked planet of Canada. We wish Lord Leverhulme well on his away-mission to Vulcan, and hope that his action role-playing lives long and prospers. All crew to their duty stations, please, and prepare for the jump to warp. Engage.”
“Douglas! The captain says ‘engage!’”
Martin swirled the ice in his soft drink. “Thank gods Carolyn isn't requiring us to wear Fleet uniforms on this leg. Carl’s witticisms when we left were bad enough.” He covered a small burp with his mouth. His lunch of fettuccine alfredo wasn’t sitting very well with him. His stomach had been aching on and off for several days. Martin hoped he wasn’t coming down with something.
Douglas smiled and shook his head. “I find the best way to deal with the odd customers MJN picks up is to relax and play along.”
Martin snorted. “Easy for you.” The First Officer’s Starfleet jumpsuit had been less than flattering to Douglas’ heavy body, yet he carried it off with his usual insouciance. It was unfair, the way the man could pull off anything. Martin’s own captain’s gold had been swimming on him.
They were lingering in a restaurant in Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson Airport, waiting for their next customers, a family of three. The girl was an aspiring figure skater and her fond mother had arranged for lessons at the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet School to improve her grace. MJN was chartered to take them to Vancouver for a figure skating competition.
“I wonder why there’s a Royal Ballet in Winnipeg, of all places? I suppose with miles of prairie around, it could be quite meditative if one wants to focus on one’s studies. What do you think?” Martin looked up to find Douglas was paying him scant heed, instead watching a young man. The stranger slumped at a nearby table staring blankly at a phone in his hand. Good-looking, Martin thought, though the man’s features were strained.
The man pressed a few buttons in a reply to a text. Turning the phone face-down on the table, he scrubbed hands over his face, the corners of his mouth drawn in pain. Oh . Martin winced. He knew that look. He’d worn that look. How rotten. People that broke up with boyfriends via text should be drowned in the Acheron.
“Sorry, just a moment, Martin,” Douglas said. He stood and straightened his uniform, brushed a finger over his brow and placed his hat on his head at a jaunty angle. “No, I tell a lie. I may be a while.”
“Douglas, tell me you’re not going to -” Martin began but Douglas was already striding towards the man’s table. “We don’t have time for this,” Martin said in a louder voice. Fuming, he watched as Douglas seated himself next to the young man. I can’t believe this! The poor chap had been dumped, was emotionally vulnerable. But there went Douglas, all handsome confidence and ready to pull. He’ll do it, too, the smooth bastard . Martin ignored the twinge of envy in his chest.
This was low. Martin ought to do something, interrupt whatever line Douglas was pouring into the stunned man’s ear. He could state some emergency and drag him off. But what if Douglas refused to come? What to do, what to do. Martin dithered. Right. He’d get the bill first, then rescue Douglas’ intended conquest.
Martin tried to hail a passing server. “Miss. Miss!” The woman breezed by. Martin scowled. Douglas never had problems getting wait staff's attention. Or taxis. Douglas was unfairly blessed.
Well, Douglas isn’t married to a god , Martin thought vindictively. Then again, maybe Douglas had never wanted to be. That would be just like him, spurning all offers to keep himself free for the sake of humanity’s love lives. Martin drummed his fingers.
Douglas now had his elbows on the table, posture relaxed and open as he leaned in and spoke in low tones to the man. The man, Martin noted with disgust, was transfixed. Douglas gestured and the man dropped his eyes, shaking his head. Good. Douglas spoke again. The young man lifted his face, expression bewildered.
Ye gods, I can’t watch this! Martin waved again for the server, but Douglas lifted a languid hand to summon her. She passed Martin’s table and stood by Douglas, pen poised. Douglas gestured introductions and stood. He bent, spoke something in the server’s ear with a hand laid on her elbow, clapped the man on the shoulder and turned away.
“The bill will be here in about, oh, I’d say five minutes,” Douglas said, seating himself. “They need a little time, I think. Ah, yes, there they go.”
Martin’s eyes swivelled back and forth between his first officer and the pair. The man and woman were talking, both smiling. There was an indefinable something hanging in the air between, a promise. And yes, out came the man’s phone as he took the woman’s number.
“What was that?” Martin said.
“What was what? I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific, Martin.” Douglas was pulling out his wallet.
“That, all that! You were… and then you just come back here and pretend nothing’s happened?”
“Oh, did you think I was going to prey on that bereft young man? Really, Martin. I am saddened by your low opinion of me.”
“What did you do?” Martin pressed.
Douglas sat back and looked at him. “Well, if you must have it laid out, I saw he was looking miserable. Alex there explained his girlfriend had just broken up with him - not a surprise to Alex, but painful nonetheless. Now, Sharon…”
“Sharon?” Martin said.
“Our server, Sharon. It’s on her name tag. Perhaps you hadn’t noticed but she had bare hands. Not just bare, but with a pale ring on her right hand indicating where a ring had been worn for some time but was recently removed. Broken engagement, bound to upset anyone and make them less then focussed on their tasks. You did complain about how our water glasses went un-refilled. So?”
Martin was gaping. “You saw all that? What are you, Sherlock bloody Holmes? And so you just set them up?”
“I may have facilitated a little, yes. But both were primed and ready to move on to greener pastures. I saw the opportunity, and old romantic that I am, I took it.” Douglas shrugged as if the matter were of little import.
“My gods.” Martin looked up as Sharon came to their table, beaming as she swept up the money Douglas had laid down. “You soppy old sod. Is there anything you can’t do?”
Douglas tapped his lip. “Wait a minute. I’ve almost got it. No, sorry, lost it again.” He smiled his easy smile. “Ah, there’s Arthur. Ready, my captain?”
Martin cast one last glance at Alex, who was already composing what was most likely his first text to Sharon, all unhappiness wiped away. Unbelievable. “You and Arthur are both weirdly good at setting people up. How is that?”
Douglas shrugged. “I’m old and I like to think that I’ve been a jouster in the lists of love enough enough times to know a thing or two. Arthur, now, I’m not sure. But as you know, he does love to help.”
“Help what?” Arthur said, joining them.
“Matchmaking,” Martin said.
“I love that!” Arthur said. “There’s nothing better than getting people together. It’s a bit like being a god of love! I introduced Roddy to Nigel, and Iris to Alfred - they’re getting married next summer. And Kate to Ioannus. Oh, and the Bynder twins sent me a card, they’re having fun with Galen, isn’t that great? And…”
Martin listened in faint disbelief Arthur continued his list of matchmaking triumphs all the way to G-ERTI. Douglas rolled his eyes but only grinned when Martin nudged him with his elbow.
“Everything all right, my captain?” Douglas asked. “You do seem to be using the toilet a lot for such a short flight.” They were coming up on the Rockies with their exciting chances of flying into a mountain. Well, not actually. Douglas was in control, though to give the boy his due, Martin’s flying ability and confidence had improved enormously.
Martin flopped into his seat and buckled in. He was pale and sweating slightly. “I think I’m starting to get lactose sensitivity. I was fine until I had that Alfredo.”
“Oh dear. Do you happen to carry extra loo roll in your flight bag? It’d be terrible if the rest of us went without. Oh, I see by your face you do! For what emergencies -”
“Douglas! Please change the subject!”
“Fine, but your milky condition has given me an idea. Film titles with one word replaced by a kind of cheese,” Douglas said.
Martin looked over, blinking. “Uh… what?”
“East of Edam,” Douglas began.
“Oh! Errr….” Martin’s brows drew together.
“Lawrence of Asiago.” Ah, but it was such a pleasure to watch Martin’s cogitations. Douglas’ mouth quirked. Martin never disappointed, making the best faces when frustrated, annoyed, angry, snippy, confused, happy...
Douglas wasn’t quite sure which of Martin’s expression was the most humourous. Though the way Martin’s head tilted up as if hoping to read inspiration from the flight deck ceiling was Douglas’ current favourite. He waited a beat. “A Tale of Two Chevres.”
“Uh... Great Emmental?”
Douglas pursed his lips. “Well, I see how that led in from mine, but… well, fine, you can have that one. Quesoblanca.”
Martin looked confused before his expression cleared. “Queso- oh ha! Yes, that's a good one!” His brow creased. “Uh… “
Really, Douglas could do this all day. Well, he did tease Martin most days. Sometimes all day. Martin made it so easy. “Goudafellows.”
Predictably, Martin began to get annoyed. “Douglas! Just - give me a minute...! Wait... oh, uh... Pride and Pepperjack!”
“Oh, nice one! Sense and Saanenkaese.”
“Saanen-what? Is that really a cheese, or are you making that up?”
As was the typical Martin pattern in these word games, Martin grew suspicious. Next would come the accusations of cheating. What fun! Douglas rolled his eyes at Martin and delivered the answer in a deft witticism. “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Saanenkaese.”
“Oh, ha ha.” Martin dropped his head back against his seat.
“Hera save us from all Tiger Mothers,” Carolyn said, bursting into the flight deck. “If I have to listen to one more piece of Mrs. Lee’s advice ‘from one parent to another’, I’ll skin her vicious pelt and let her daughter parachute to freedom.”
“This is extraordinary. A passenger, sharpening her privileged claws on our crew? How unprecedented,” Douglas jibed. “And interesting. I would have thought the teen daughter would be the demanding prima donna type.”
“She’s certainly a princess in her mother’s eyes. Mrs Lee happens to have a medieval sensibility about these things.”
“Grooming, training, perchance arranged marriages? Charming.”
“Poor kid. What about Mr Lee?” Martin asked. He covered a burp with the back of his hand.
“May as well be non-existent. Reminds me of my sister Ruth’s ghost of a spouse. Nervous flier,” Carolyn said. “Meanwhile, escape was not the only reason I came to grace you with my presence. Martin, what is the matter with you? You’ve been wearing a path in my just-replaced carpet going to the toilet and back. It doesn’t inspire Mrs Lee with confidence, as I’ve also been told.”
“Oooh, can I tell her?” Douglas said.
“Douglas,” Martin said, but his tone was weak annoyance. Douglas inspected him. Martin’s normally pale complexion was white, his head lolling against the back of his seat. “I think I may have food poisoning. Or lactose sensitivty.”
“You do look positively whey-faced. Almost green. Quite curdled,” Douglas said.
“Douglas, please stop talking about cheese, I don’t want to play now!”
“Hm.” Carolyn laid a hand against Martin’s head. “Warm. You may be coming down with an epic cold or the ‘flu. Martin, I forbid you to vomit on our passengers or the new carpet.”
“No.” Martin’s protest sounded like a cranky child’s. “We’ve got to fly Lord Leverhulme back. I’m sure it’s just something I ate. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“I hope so, but in the meantime, Douglas will pull his weight for once and do the flying. Douglas?”
“Your wish is my command.” Douglas noted that Martin didn’t even protest beyond a grimace. Oh, dear. Well, situations like this were why there was an informal rule about each pilot having different meals.
“Mum?” It was Arthur on the intercom from the aft of the cabin. “Mrs Lee… “
“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” Carolyn snapped.
Martin had a hand over his mouth and was breathing hard through his nose. “Oh. Oh gods, my stomach really hurts. I think… I…” He swallowed repeatedly, flung off his harness and bolted.
Douglas shared a look with Carolyn. “Well.”
Carolyn sighed. “I suppose you have control. Do what you do best and take care of things at the pointy end.”
The intercom spoke again. “Mum, Mrs Lee wants to know about air circulation, ‘cause if Skip is really ill, she doesn’t want her daughter catching it before her skating competition.”
Carolyn’s eyes closed a moment as she pondered vengeful thoughts. “I’ll handle her, Arthur. Code blue .”
“Hiding in the back right away, Mum!”
“Once more into the breach,” Douglas joked.
“Really, you lazy pilots have it easy. Clients ,” Carolyn hissed in the same tone some might say, ‘tax investigations.’ She straightened her shoulders and sailed out.
Douglas adjusted their course with a minute adjustment. It was boring being by himself. He began to amuse himself by coming up with more cheesy films. The Boursin Identity. The Maltese Fontina. The Gruyere of Wrath. Life of Brie. To Kill a Marscapo -
His mental maunderings were interrupted by the intercom. “Douglas? Douglas! Are you there?”
Douglas flipped the switch. “I suppose I must be in the flight deck, as Martin is in back and no one else is available to fly the plane, Arthur.”
The sarcasm was lost on Arthur. “But can you come back here? Like, right away?”
“Can I leave the flight deck… and let G-ERTI fly herself? Over the Rockies?” Douglas resisted the urge to rub his forehead. “ No , Arthur, I can’t.”
“But Mum’s busy with Mrs Lee! And there’s no one else! And I don’t know what to do!”
“That is so frequently the case, Arthur, but if you will explain what the problem is, perhaps I can tell you!” Douglas throttled back the surge of impatience.
“It’s Skip, Douglas. He’s sick.”
“I know that. Tummy ache, the poor ickle thing.”
“No, I mean, he’s really sick! He came out of the toilet all wobbly and then he just sort of folded up on the floor. He’s hugging himself hard and… and I don’t think he knows it but he’s crying, Douglas.”
“What?” Douglas was stunned.
“I mean, he’s not making much noise but his eyes are all wet and red, and he’s biting his lip and won’t talk to me and I don’t know what to do!”
This sounded well beyond any stomach bug. Douglas throttled back the flicker of fear and took command of the situation. “Arthur. Listen to me. I need you to follow my instructions carefully. Can you do that?”
“I think so.” Arthur sounded nervous.
“No, not think -” Douglas stopped himself. “Arthur, you are the best person at helping that I know. And you are going to be a great help now, right?”
“Good. This is what’s going to happen - I need to talk to Kamloops Tower and let them know there’s a medical emergency. I’ll be put in contact with a medical professional who will do a consultation. But because the radio can’t connect with the intercom, he will ask me questions, and I will relay them to you. Do you understand?”
“Um… They will talk to the radio, and… “
Douglas knew Arthur was getting confused already. “Just pretend I’m a doctor. I’ll ask the questions. Okay? Say it. ‘Douglas is a doctor,’”
“Douglas is a doctor,” Arthur parroted. “You get to be a doctor? Brilliant. Because Skip really doesn’t look very good, and I think we need one right now.” His voice quavered.
“We do,” Douglas said grimly. “Hang on. Stay with Martin until I call.”
Douglas had a good guess as to the probable cause of Martin’s collapse, and his reasoning was confirmed by the doctor as they progressed through the questions.
“Yes, he has a slight fever. Yes, diarrhea and vomiting. Arthur, if Martin won’t or can’t speak get him to nod or shake his head. Did his stomach bother him within the last week? Yes. Did he feel bloated or gassy? Yes. Is the pain localised in his lower right abdomen? No, abdomen, abdo - tummy. Yes. On a scale of one to ten, how bad is the pain?”
“Douglas, I don’t think he can answer any more questions,” came Arthur’s strained voice. “His eyes are closed now. He’s biting his fist and rocking. And making noises. Like a small sad cat. Oh, Skip. Don’t worry. Douglas will make everything better.”
Douglas only wished he could, with a savage desire previously unknown to him in all his life. “Arthur, stay with him.” Douglas flicked on the cabin address system. “Attention, ladies and gentlemen. This is First Officer Richardson speaking. I regret to inform you that our flight today must be terminated before we reach our final destination. There is a medical emergency onboard requiring immediate attention, and we will shortly be landing in Kamloops. Thank you.”
Douglas fancied he could hear Carolyn’s squawked “What?!” through the flight deck door.
Mrs Lee snagged Carolyn’s arm as she hurried to the aft of the plane. “Excuse me, but why are we landing?”
“The captain has probable appendicitis. It’s life-threatening if not treated immediately.” Carolyn tried to draw her arm away and pasted on a cheery smile. “We at MJN apologise for the delay in your travel plans. Alternative transportation will be arranged.”
The wraith-like Mr Lee came to life. “What? The captain’s ill?”
Mrs Lee sniffed. “Will we get priority landing and de-planing? Christina’s competition is very important. The reason we chose your little airline was with the understanding that there be no delays.”
“Gods, Mom,” came from the fifteen-year old girl curled up in her seat with a phone game. The teen popped in her earbuds and turned up her music with a commiserating look at Carolyn.
“My pilot is dyi … delighted to tell you that we indeed have priority landing, due to the medical emergency.” Carolyn’s heavy emphasis on the latter was missed by Mrs Lee but not by her husband.
“My gods, this is terrible! Can the other pilot fly by himself? He’s not a captain!”
Carolyn so wished her pilots could hear this. Douglas would smoulder and Martin certainly needed perking up just now. “First Officer Richardson was a senior pilot with Air England for twenty years before joining MJN. I can assure you, sir -”
“Senior, and he’s still a first officer? Oh my gods. He’s old, I saw him. Is he going senile? Maybe he’ll have a heart attack.” Mr Lee shook a pill from a bottle and downed it. “We’re all going to die!”
Carolyn would have laughed at this description of Douglas were she not resisting the urge to strangle both Lee parents with their pillows. “Die? No, not at all.” Carolyn trilled a laugh and gave Mr Lee a meaningful stare. “But my pilot, on the other hand, might.” Mr Lee shrank back in his seat.
“You should have taken the Xanax an hour before the flight, dear,” Mrs Lee said in the acid sweet tones of those who always know best. Christina hunched further down in her seat and turned up the volume. Pop music trickled in tinny beats. “And you, Christina, should be going over the music for your routine!” Mrs Lee threw up her hands. “Do you see what I have to put up with?”
“You terrible … your terrible situation would arouse sympathy in all but the most hardened of hearts,” Carolyn said. “Excuse me, please.”
Arthur patted Martin’s hand while Carolyn looked her pilot over and covered him with a blanket. “Martin, if you think playing the ‘I’ve a ruptured appendix’ card will induce me to give you a pay raise, I must say, not on your life.”
Martin snorted a laugh and squeezed his eyes shut as his stomach muscles protested. “Black humour,” he said in a dry voice. “Perfect.” The agony was playing tricks with his vision, filling the inside of his eyelids with purple dots.
“We’ll be landing in about twenty five minutes. Will you be all right?”
“I - I don’t know.” Martin thought of Eros. After all the times his husband had expressed his worries over Martin’s safety, how would he take it if Martin died? Should he leave a message? What would he say? ‘I’m sorry, but your husband is so unlucky that even my body seems to hate me? Oh, and I’m not sorry we got married anymore. At all. The opposite, now. Okay, so maybe that’s a deathbed epiphany. Sorry. Sorry. And please don’t smite MJN’s crew, they did all they could. They’re my friends.’
A wave of pain gripped, twisted his guts and crested, blinding in its intensity. Martin found his fist was in his mouth again as he tried not to scream. Oh gods. Eros. Iris . Anyone. Help me, help me, where are you? Martin had never wanted anyone to be with him as much as he wished for his husband, his soft hands and rich voice murmuring sweet nonsense. His throat ached with dry sobs. Eros .
“Skip! Skip, please don’t, it’ll be okay!” Arthur sounded heartbroken.
Martin heard Carolyn talking in a low voice into the intercom. “No, he’s very bad. I should bloody hope they have an ambulance ready. Oh, Hera’s love, that obnoxious woman is ringing the service bell. Adestria, save me from murder. Arthur, just - just stay with Martin. Try to distract him.”
“Um. Um. Okay. I know. I’ll sing you a song like it’s your bedtime. You’ll like that, won’t you?” Arthur settled himself and started singing in a shaky voice, “Do you still like me, can you still see me? Noah Nifty Free!”
Martin didn’t hear him, locked in a world of his own.
Douglas swore under his breath as he switched off the intercom. Martin was worse. Knowing Martin’s luck, the appendix was well and truly burst and spreading its poison. It was supposed to cause unbelievable agony. This? This was beyond Martin’s usual bad fortune and leapfrogging into unfair enroute to cursed. People died from appendicitis and its complications. Martin shouldn’t be suffering like this.
Well, Douglas could do something about that. Though in doing it, it would be the first time in his life he had performed this particular action. Douglas bared his teeth. Skies, he hated asking for help.
He began twisting the knobs of the high frequency radio, lips moving. I pray… I entreat… A little help here… Need a favour… can repay. Probably. I humbly… no I plainly ask… are any of you sods listening or not!
The radio crackled with a blue white spark and the display went dead. “Grand,” Douglas muttered. “Et tu, G-ERTI.”
“And you, as well,” an unearthly voice said, distorted by the speakers. “Hermes speaking. And who could this be? Goodness gracious me, is it - can it be? This is Douglas Richardson? The Douglas Richardson? Actually condescending to pray? Just - wow . Can I have a minute to catch my breath?”
“Stow it, fly-boy,” Douglas said. “I don’t have time for what passes as your wit. I’ve done the pretty, I’ve made my prayer sincere. Just get me through to the five sisters. Now.”
“Rude!” The offended tone warbled weirdly through the broken radio.
“My deepest and humblest apologies,” Douglas said. “Right now. If you please.”
“Oh, fine . But remember - you’ll owe me, Douglas Richardson.”
The radio chattered, and a sleepy female asked, “Yes? Who is it?”
“Douglas Richardson. Have I reached the goddesses of healing? I -”
“Douglas Richardson ? Oh, blessed herbs . Iaso! Panacea! Wake up, you’ll never guess who’s calling!”
“Douglas! Richardson! Him! Flies planes?”
“Aeglaea, I swear if you don’t stop shrieking… “
“Hera’s teats, you maggot-brain. You know. Martin Crieff. Little red-head? Married to our own sweet god of lurve ?”
“Ooooh. Him! But why in Hades is his coworker calling us at this forsaken hour?”
“Ladies, if I could just interject,” Douglas said. “I have a problem. Or, rather, Martin does. The lad has raging appendicitis.”
“Sounds like it’s a job for Panacea or Aceso’s skill sets,” Aeglaea said. “But where are you? You know we’ll have to get Zeph to waft us to you.”
“Ah,” Douglas said. “This is the tricky part. We’re currently in the air over the Rocky Mountains. In Canada.”
There was a pause. “Oh, you’re not asking… are you?”
“Martin’s not in any condition to do the asking. I’m doing it on his behalf. He needs help. If he cocks up his toes, his husband will be distraught. I can’t let that happen.”
There was a crackle as five goddesses giggled. “No, sorry, of course you can’t,” Aeglaea said, composing herself. “What a good coworker you are.”
My coworker? This is Martin! Douglas bit back a snarl and smoothed his voice. “You must also consider - if you assist Martin, his spouse will be most grateful.”
“How grateful? Ow! Don’t pinch me!”
“Forget that, how grateful would Douglas Richardson be?” Hygeia said with heavy innuendo.
“You’re wicked, sis.”
“Forgive me, but not that grateful, though I am pleased my reputation still stands,” Douglas said. “Will you help?”
“Yeah, sure.” There is brief pause and the connection crackles. “Whoa, someone besides you is pulling for Martin in a big way. Okay, let’s get to work! Got a god-vessel? How about ointment? Any old goo will work. Wow, that’s quite an entreaty tickling me, Martin must be in a bad way. Make that a tub of ointment, we’ll need to cover a big area. Panacea! You’re up, girl!”
The intercom buzzed. Arthur let go of Martin’s hand and stood, wiping his eyes. “Douglas? Are we landing? Skip won’t open his eyes and it’s scaring me.”
“Just about there. Arthur, this is going to be a little odd. Here’s how you can make Martin better. You are going to be the biggest help in the world.”
Arthur listened. He got the jar from his bag of purchases in Winnipeg and sat next to Martin again. “Skip, I’m going to undo your shirt, okay?” Arthur set to work when a tingle ran through his arms. The sensation grew until his arms felt all shivery-wobbly, but in a good way. He held up his hands. They glowed faintly green, sparks drifting from his fingertips. “ Oh, brilliant! ”
Martin woke to medics shining lights in his eyes and prodding him. “Sir? Can you tell me your name?”
Martin licked swollen lips. “Martin Crieff. I’m… I’m captain of this plane.” He sniffed. There was a familiar but overpowering aroma. He lifted his head to look down at his uncovered torso, then up at a madly grinning Arthur Shappey.
“Why am I covered in peanut butter?”