Posted By: vector40<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 6 December 2004, 8:05 AM
Catherine had been sitting in a small collapsible chair just outside the dust-sealed door to the surgery room for almost five hours. It was the closest she could get to Angus where he lay under the laser, and every ten minutes or so she tried again to open the door--but it was hermetically locked to safeguard against infection, and she knew that even if she could get it open, it would only put him in danger. Twice, she had spoken to passing orderlies or nurses, who invariably were on other business and knew nothing about his status; once she had gotten up to find the main desk, but they could tell her nothing either, except to wait. Three times, despite her attempts at breath control and meditation to keep herself in check, the shaking had gotten too bad, and she'd run for the bathroom to vomit out whatever she had managed to eat since the last time. As she hunched over the smooth synthetic basin, the image of Angus's blood-soaked figure kept appearing before her eyes, and she heaved and heaved, trying to push it out.
On her third such trip, as the retching began to subside, she looked up into the mirror and realized that this was different. As mercenaries, both of them had made close brushes with their mortality many times. Even before the beginning of their current frequently-deadly career, Angus--as part of a society that recognized its rulers not only as political leaders but martial ones as well--had known the taste of his own death many times, and Catherine herself had spent years leveraging her influence to seek out training and experiences "unbecoming a lady." Yet in all that, there had never been fear. Combat fear, of course, and without question they feared for their lives in the same instinctive way that any living thing does, and all the more so being warriors accustomed to its guise. They met tragedy and overcame crisis and survived on their personal as well as combined strength.
But they had never really believed that they could lose each other.
She leaned her head against the smooth surface of the mirror, looking at her own reflection inches away. But we do bleed. Our scars aren't just memories; they're misses. One piece of metal in the wrong place, one bad angle or moment, and we're not Angus Reverend and Catherine Richards, brighter than life; we're meat and blood and hollow grief.
What had changed? What happened to the infamous devil-may-care dyad that had once penetrated a fully-manned pirate battlecruiser in the Outer Reaches and stolen a contentious datachip from under the captain's nose? To the pair that had not wasted breath advocating a life of dazzling vibrancy, but had instead lived it, almost daring fate to match their willing audacity?
Were they getting old?
Or merely tired?
"Not with a bang but a whimper," she whispered to her doppledanger. Wiping her eyes and washing her hands, she found her way back to her door and her chair, where the doctor was waiting.
There was a stool built into the side of the immersion station, and Catherine slipped into it, but was out in a moment and leaning forward, hovering over Angus's immobile form as she sobbed and kissed him, letting her tears mingle with his. The large, sarcophagus-like immersion station was designed for full-body care, and most of its systems were now inactive, but the immobilization elements had been pushed against Angus's nerve clusters and switched on, his major muscle groups as frozen as if he'd been paralyzed. The doctors had said that the measure had been prompted by a number of irregularities encountered during the surgery; once they had obtained another few hours of data, they would "unlock" him, barring any further deviations. The immobilizers had no effect from the neck up, at least, and when Catherine finally broke the kiss he darted his eyes around in an expressive gesture and said hoarsely, "Bit of a step up from the last time I had a bullet pulled out of me," and astonishingly, winked at her, which almost set her off again. Angus's last bullet wound had come three years ago in an intelligence job on Sabitha IV that had gone bad; their contact had snapped and put a small-caliber pistol round into Angus's left hamstring, and it had had to be removed by a nervous Marine medtech using bloody forceps and mountains of gauze during the turbulent, raging ride on a troop shuttle up to their evac ship, fleeing the planet under a blown cover.Angus coughed convulsively, throat dry from disuse while he'd been under the laser. "Listen," he muttered, and she stayed close, head to head to make sure she heard him. "What did we get?"
"Just relax, we'll deal with--"
"I did not"--cough, wheeze--" I did not get my ass shot up for the fun of it, my love. Tell me I'm here for a good reason."
Reluctant but assenting, she looked around briefly then leaned back in. "All right, lots of crap, two things we care about. They had the decrypt key for the beacon--"
He let out a relieved sigh at that.
"--so that was definitely the place, counter intel guys are swarming all over the building now, not finding much. There was also a marked map, heavily marked, not really much that I can decipher, but it's a map of the western continent, and the labels are concentrated in a pretty remote area."
Letting his eyes roll up as he concentrated, then shuting them completely, Angus paused, then asked, "Recon?"
"I talked to Baker. No low drones we can use, they don't have that kind of equipment here; there's a small bevy of recon sats in asynchronous orbit, though, not even a full spread--remember where we are, Angus; there's usually crap-all to take pictures of on this fucking planet except fields. And the opr doesn't overlap that region."
"Fine. The recon birds?"
"Yeah," she glanced down reflexively as if to check her possessions, but she was carrying nothing, "I got some shots, they're on the computer. Nothing much, though, it just shows the terrain. Either nothing's there, or I didn't spread the search wide enough, or whatever it is it's just too well hidden to show up on a high-flying low-tech satellite scan."
He nodded slightly. "We'll have to check it in person."
Frowning down at his mostly comatose figure, she gave him the glare she usually saved for her opponents on the speedball court. "No, I will have to check. You are in the hospital, in case you missed that turn of events, Mister Reverend."
[end without ceremony--continued at a future date]