Things are gettin’ weird, y’all. Mostly, it’s the very air of normalcy with which my fellow Americans are going about this thing that’s making me twitchy. That and the sheer amount of Things which I am accomplishing. Writing not among them. This is actually the first time I’ve managed to sit down since last week. Doing the stuff with the littles takes up a lot of it, but I’m also getting some excellent (and excellently tasty) results from my recent sourdough baking fixation. But not words. The word mines are …
I looked at Crind’s crumpled form. The emergency lights turned the smear of blood on the wall black. Stillness that said, louder than words, he wouldn’t be getting back up. Ever. I felt … satisfaction, most of all. A difficult job done well. Dr. Corama interrupted my positive self-talk.
“You- you killed him!”
I met her wide eyes.
“I certainly hope so.” She started. “I mean, I was trying hard enough.”
She rose on shaky legs. And immediately sank down again. I started to move toward her, but realized she was just checking Ferrer.
“How’s the chief?”
A shadow of the confident medical officer crept back into her manner as she looked over the fallen corpsman. I was glad to see it. I was certain I was going to need her help in the very near future.
“Chief Ferrer is alright,” she said, checking him over. “More or less. Or he will be. A full strength blast from a control rod scrambles a lot, but he should be fine momentarily.”
My friend groaned, paying the promise of her professional assessment.
“Good. That’d be a hell of a way to go. Especially with his record.” My mind was racing. I could feel the edges of an idea. It wasn’t even close to a plan. Charitably, I’d have considered it a scheme, but it smacked of the kind of thing that would end in recapture or death. Not that I had much of a choice, at this point. I probably should have been paying closer attention to what I was saying. “I have the feeling I’m going to get him in even more trouble than when we met on Axilon. Sorry, buddy,” I addressed the twitching form in the AC fatigues. “I just don’t seem to be your good luck charm, do I?”
The doctor looked over her shoulder at me, her eyes narrowed.
“Prisoner Avendur, convicted for fraud and embezzlement and sentenced to a bare three standard years in the mines, but knows decorated Assault Corps medics and receives unusual personal attention from the warden. Who are you?”
“Void,” I muttered. “Um, I suppose it’s probably too late for ‘just some guy,’” I said, my voice glum.
“Far too late,” Corama said, the steel of her character sliding back into her voice now that the immediate threat was gone. She continued doing something with her hands, blocked from my view by her body.
“I’m nobody you want to get mixed up with, Doc.” I put as much confidence into my voice as I could muster. I was playing for time, hoping a plan would gel enough to move on to the next step. I just hope she didn’t realize it.
“Mixed up with a dead man?”
I started. I couldn’t help it. Ferrer had mentioned it, but I’d been pretty out of it at the time. Something about the flat tone of her question shook me. It shouldn’t have, given what I’d been through, but it did.
I lifted a hand to rub my jaw, and the doctor spun around. She held Ferrer’s issue sidearm in an easy, practiced grip, hands firm, finger resting along the receiver, just off the trigger. I blinked.
“A dead man who that dead man-“ she jerked her head toward the late, unlamented Crind’s mortal remains, “-swore had been eaten by a silvery monster in the mine? Who Warden Jaem ordered sedated before he could talk to more than the physician commander in charge of the medical section of the top secret prison complex? This place has been a godsdamned pressure cooker for days, and somehow you’re at the center of it all.”
Her eyes bored into mine, hot and angry.
“And that’s not all,” she continued, the words almost tripping out of her mouth. “You show up in a suit, a silver suit and display frankly superhuman capabilities, and then tell me you’re just some guy?”
“I’ve been a bit of an anomaly since I got here, haven’t I?” Stall, stall. It didn’t help that I’d apparently used up most of whatever energy my suit had drained from Crind’s weapons. I could feel my knees wanting to wobble.
“Yes,” she said, drawing out word into a speculative hiss, “you bloody well have. Nobody arrives here in stasis, let alone with a concussion and other injuries consistent with a severe beating. Who are you,” she repeated.
“Dark of space, Doc, leave Dare ‘lone,” Ferrer slurred, and followed it with another groan, and an unsuccessful attempt to sit up. To her credit, neither Doctor Corama’s focus, nor the muzzle of her gun wavered from me for an instant.
“Chief, you’re suffering from the aftereffects of a full power control rod stun,” she said, command voice in full effect, “your judgement isn’t to be trusted.”
“Actually, Doctor, if you want a reason to … well, not trust me, exactly, but to maybe consider me less of an active threat, maybe take a look through there,” I nodded toward the still open doorway.
I didn’t think her eyes could get any narrower, but I was wrong. With the muscles along her jaw bunching, she rose gracefully to her feet. Keeping the gun trained on my middle — a mistake on her part, I was sure, given Crind’s recent experience — she edged around, maintaining good separation between us.
The intermittent flashing of the emergency lights was starting to get to me. Or I had pushed more into fighting Crind than I’d thought, and really burned through what my suit had stolen.
“You okay, Dare?” I glanced down at where Chief Ferrer lay on the floor, and my vision suddenly swooped.
I staggered. I couldn’t help it. It was a good thing I’d positioned myself in front of a vacant medcouch. Well, they were all vacant, weren’t they? My backside encountered the padded couch first, and at some speed. In rapid succession, so did my back, my legs, my outflung arms, and one bare heel, painfully. None of which kept me from sliding with a clatter down into an awkward sitting position.
Doctor Corama’s head snapped around from where she’d been staring into the open torture chamber. She must have made the connections I’d been hoping she would, but now her hands were shaking, and her trigger discipline failed her. Rather spectacularly.
At the noise of my fall, her finger convulsed, squeezing the trigger flat. The gun bucked, slamming her hands back. Pain blossomed in my chest, where her round impacted my suit, and then skipped off to tear a wound in the duraplast of the far wall. The breath whooshed from my lungs. The heavy military round hurt a lot more than Crind’s had, and I gasped from breath.
Ferrer’s wordless yell mixed with the doctor’s shouted invective. I’d have contributed to the cacophony, but two things distracted me. The first was the wind her shot had knocked out of me. More than that, though, was the crawling sensation at my wrist. I looked over to see the tendrils whip out from my cuff, and stab into the medcouch’s computer. They throbbed, and I felt burning heat at the back of my neck an instant before the world vanished in a white haze.