Tiny Bugs Can Be Bad, Too

Teo coughs himself awake, kicks off the light cotton blanket, and pads barefoot to the floating clinic’s bathroom. Even through the disorientation of waking suddenly in the dark, he isn’t disoriented. Barefoot in the bathroom in the middle of the night in the Fall? He sure as hell isn’t in Detroit. When he flicks on the bathroom light, he cringes at his reflection in the mirror, then deliberately leans forward to take a good look.

He’s okay. The pale skin that stretches over his cheekbones is a healthy pink. Hell, he’s even gotten a few more freckles. His greenish-brown eyes are deep and clear and track well. He’s fine. He flicks off the light with an impatient snort.

He will never forget what he and DA jokingly call his Winter of Discontent. They turned him out of the sarcobox into a bitterly chilly and damp Michigan October; he had nearly died after traveling for years longer than the technicians had planned. That’s how he had met Doctor Alexander.

Rounds and rounds of IV meds, tests, and physical therapy later, he caught his first cold. Then it was bronchitis, then pneumonia, then he almost died again. Similar as the two places are, this world seemed to have three times as many little bugs: viruses and bacteria, and tiny beasties to make your life miserable.

And now he’s in a different place, and he’s catching something. Dammit. He ducks to clear the doorway of the tiny bathroom — no, not a bathroom, a head — makes his way past the tidy double row of bunks and down the steep metal stairs. DA isn’t upstairs in the clinic’s living quarters, but that’s hardly a surprise. That asshole never sleeps, and never gets sick, either.

The sound of keyboarding wafts up the stairs, so Teo knows where to look. He starts coughing again before he gets there. DA is at his research station, the glow from the screen lighting his pale, narrow face and his restless, spidery hands. Teo looks far healthier than he does.

“Catching cold?” DA asks, still tapping away at the computer. “Well, you know what to do. I’ll order some Cipro just in case, since we haven’t any at the clinic here.”

“I’m just wondering what’s next. Bubonic plague, I suppose. Haven’t had that, yet.” Teo ducks through the door to go drink a cup of tea or three.

DA never even stops typing. “Mumps.”

Stars wheel as Teo forgets to duck and cracks his forehead against the door frame that’s built more like a hatch than a proper door. Mumps? “I thought you immunized me against that.”

“I did,” DA laughs. “What sort of a moron do you take me for?” Then Teo sees his flying hands falter. He mutters softly, “Although I wonder… what sort of things could we catch from you?”

Teo grins. “Be careful, or I’ll come over there and breathe my alien germs on you.” Then he turns back toward the galley and a hot cup of tea, and DA recommences his reports.

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