((Co-Authored with Ciarente))
"Commander Invelen. Commander Invelen, sitrep, please."
The voice faded in and out, or maybe that was her.
Amieta tried to wipe the blood from her eyes but the servos in her arm just keened and squealed uselessly. Shit. She blinked, blinked again, and her vision cleared enough to show a shattered flight console, tilted at a strange angle. All the angles she could see looked wrong. Twisted. Jarred.
I'm in a shuttle. The shuttle's broken. I'm hurt.
I guess we crashed.
She could still hear the voice that had woken her through her earpiece. Male. Ishukone accent. "Commander Invelen. Commander Invelen, sitrep, please."
Invelen. That's me, right? Commander - guess I'm in charge.
She turned her head painfully to look around the rest of the cockpit. Most of the pilot was slumped over the controls. Another body against the wall, eyes open and blank.
Guess I fucked up, too.
Or somebody did.
A wave of dizziness, then, black dots dancing before her eyes. The voice was still talking. "Commander Invelen. Commander Invelen. Amieta."
Then it went dark.
"Amieta," Val said.
She glanced over. Like her Val was... eight? Nine? It didn't matter, he was always so serious. "Tell Supervisor we all had the idea. It wasn't just Jan."
The stocky boy was standing just past Val, with that stubborn expression he got sometimes. Of course it had been his idea. Jan had found them a place, a new place to explore.... somewhere. Somewhere they weren't supposed to go, and the three of them had been caught.
Amieta opened her mouth to explain, of course they had all thought of it, it hadn't been Jan's idea. Val interrupted her though, "Amieta."
She winced and blinked, something in her eyes.
"Amieta, please respond," Val said. No, not Val. Val was the past. She groped for the name that went with the voice she could hear and found it. Captain Night. The shuttle. The crash.
"Captain." A dry whisper. She put more effort into it, "Captain Night. I'm here."
"Do you remember what happened?"
I think... the shuttle crashed?"
"Can you tell me what year it is?"
It took Amieta a moment to remember, "106. It's 106."
"I'm ..." Amieta tilted her head, fighting a wave of nausea, trying to see what was keeping her from sitting up, "Left arm and left leg are pinned. Some kind of structural support. The pilot and copilot are dead. My leg - I'm bleeding. A lot. I think I hit my head too. Feel sick."
Captain Night's voice was calm. "Can you reach the first aid kit?"
She tried, couldn't suppress a groan at the movement, her right arm moving in jerks and starts as it recovered function.
She tried again, felt the prosthetic respond, and got a fingertip on the strap. "Yes. Hold on."
The mini-AIMED that came with the kit was no substitute for the real deal, but the info it could give was bad enough.
"Gonna need evac pretty soon, sir," she said, fumbling one-handed with the kit. "Trying to get a tourniquet on ... I'm not in real good shape, here."
"The storm that brought your shuttle down is peaking," Captain Night said. "We'll have a medivac team down there as soon as they can get through the front."
Amieta grunted acknowledgement, tightening the bandage as hard as she could. The blood seeping from her thigh slowed.
"The storm, I remember. I came up to the cockpit to ask... to ask about the storm. Our flight status." Came up to the cockpit from the passenger compartment where the rest of the team ...
Amieta held still, held her breath, listened. Silence. "Sir, the others, Sarakai ... "
She tried to turn enough to see through the cockpit door and lost his next words to a stab of pain. Spirits fuck my ancestors.
"Fine," she gasped. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
Are you sure?
She stood in front of his desk, shoulders square, hands clasped behind her back and eyes fixed on the wall above his head, absolutely regulation. "Yes, sir, I'm sure."
"Ms Voutelen's employment history is a little ... irregular," Captain Night said, browsing through the red-flag-riddled file in front of him before looking back up at her.
"So is mine, sir," Amieta pointed out.
"Not for the same reasons."
"No sir. But Sara is loyal, she's experienced, and she's damn good at what she does. Those are all things you need in a CTO, especially when your XO is still learning her job."
He studied her for a moment, as hard to read as always, and then held out the file. "Very well. I'll trust your judgment on this, Amieta."
"Yes sir, thank you sir," she said, not following his lead into informality. Hecould risk forming bad habits. For Amieta, there was more at stake. There's already scuttlebutt that I got this job for being the 'Captain's woman.' One careless word in public from her and the rumor-mill would explode.
She took the file. "Permission to call Ms Voutelen, sir?"
Captain Night nodded. "Of course. You're dismissed, Commander."
Amieta saluted, turned precisely on her heel, and left. In the privacy of her own office she made the call, getting Sarakai's recorded message. "Good news, Sara. Sara? Sara, you there?"
It hurt to raise her voice. "Sara? Sara, you there?" There was rain coming through the rent in the fuselage, cold droplets splashing off the open eyes of the co-pilot. "Sara!"
"Sir, Sara, she's not answering. Sir?"
Silence over the comm line, too.
"Sir? Captain? Captain?"
Nothing. She was the only one left alive, the only one of all her people and there was no-one -
No. That wasn't here. That wasn't now. That was -
She slammed the door on the past and tried again. "Captain?"
This time Captain Night answered and Amieta closed her eyes against a wave of relief. "Captain, Sara, Colonel Voutelen - "
"Is uninjured," Captain Night said quickly. "The cockpit and the crew compartment separated on impact. Most of the fuselage is a few dozen meters above you."
"Is everyone - ?"
"Some serious injuries, but nothing immediately life threatening. The cockpit took most of the impact, broke off and ended up in a ravine."
"Thank the ancestors," Amieta whispered. "I thought - "
"The rest of the team are in no danger," Captain Night said, almost as if he knew what she'd been about to say.
Of course he knows.
She'd told him. She'd been drunk, spirits, he'd been drunk that first night, the one and only time she'd seen it.
The day of her brother's funeral, not that she could tell anyone at the service that it was her brother, standing there in long sleeves and silk gloves, behind the thin protection of forged papers. An old girlfriend, she told anyone who asked. Salt on the wound, not even being able to claim him, the brother she'd waited just too long to visit, and her now a stranger on the Ishukone Station she'd grown up on.
Maybe that was why she'd looked twice and then a third time at the tall man with pilot implants on his neck marking him out as just as much a stranger on the station as she. Up close, he had the bland, interchangeable good looks of a tubey, and he met her gaze with only a hint of surprise.
"I'm Amieta," she said, holding out her hand.
He shook it, and if he felt the steel beneath the silk there was no sign of it in his expression. "Pleased to meet you," he said courteously. "I'm Captain Silver Night."
I'm right, I'm wrong, Amieta thought, and then: He's still holding my hand.
"Do you want to get out of here?" she said. "Maybe get a drink?"
Captain Night released her hand, gaze still steady on her face. "I would like that, yes," he said.
And that'd been that.
Funny the things your life turns on.
That decision to go to a funeral ...
She looked down at the blood still seeping from her leg. Might just lead to mine.
If the Ancestors have a sense of humor, they must be having a good laugh at this one.
Not that she had any ancestors, in the way most people meant them.Tube-bred, guess maybe there's a petrie dish somewhere that might count.
And Jan, of course.
She could feel herself greying out again and fought against it. Focus. Don't let go. "Captain?"
"I'm here." There was a subtle difference on the comm line, a low hum behind his voice. Engines. Spirits, he's on the rescue shuttle.
Probably flying it. Damn unprofessional. What happens if the Captain crashes trying to retrieve the XO?
The thought turned her cold, or maybe it was the rain chilling her. At least it's water. So thirsty. Somewhere at the back of her mind was the vague awareness that she shouldn't be so thirsty. Bad sign. Of something.
She licked raindrops from her lips and fought another surge of dizziness. Fight. Focus. Here and now, Ami.
"Do you remember ... my brother? Jan?" she said, the first words to come to mind. Talk. Keep talking. Stay awake. She couldn't remember what she'd told Captain Night, or what was there in the public files for anyone to read, or which bits of the complicated truth were common knowledge and which not. She played it safe. "Did I tell you? About him? About Jan?"
"You did, yes," Captain Night said. "We are on approach. Help will be there very soon."
"I think ... it better be," Amieta said.
"A little longer, Amieta. That's all."
"Has the storm stopped?" She couldn't hear anything over the roaring in her ears, even Captain Night's voice was soft and faint.
She couldn't be sure, given how far away he sounded, if the tiny hesitation was real or just her imagination. "Enough for a competent pilot to land."
"'kay. 'cause I ... I might be seeing my ancestors soon, otherwise. Or Jan. He's not really an ancestor, I guess. A brother."
"I am sure he watches over you, nonetheless."
"You really believe all that stuff, don't you?" Amieta asked.
"I am quite certain," Captain Night said, "your brother sees and protects you."
Amieta blinked hard until she could focus her eyes enough to check the bandage on her leg. Still bleeding. She didn't need the AIMED in the shuttle's first aid kit to tell her she was losing too much blood. Hang on a little longer. It was so cold, though. A little longer. Val had promised the rescue team would be there soon. No, not Val. Captain Night. Val was a name from her past, not from the here and now. She couldn't afford to loose track of the here and now. Shock. It's shock. Stay focused, come on. Fight the shock. Stay here.
"Stay here, stay with me, Invelen, fight the shock, come on now ..."
What the - how did - why - ?
There'd been light and noise and then nothing, nothing until the medic's low, urgent voice. Amieta tried to ask What happened? but suddenly her mouth was full of blood and the medic was swearing and she was -
Floating in a comfortable haze of bright light, surrounded by machines that whirred quietly. Nothing hurt. That would have been worrying, if she'd been able to worry, but the fuzzy blur that enveloped her didn't let anxiety through.
I got hurt? When the shuttle crashed I - no - there was an explosion - but the shuttle ...?
"Hey, Ami, don't know if you can hear me in there." A familiar voice. A familiar face: Jan. Jan, I thought I'd never see you again. "The doctors say you'll be out of here in no time."
Jan. You shouldn't be here. This isn't -
"Out of here in no time, Commander." The lights were blindingly bright, the figures behind them a blur of darkness.
"I didn't know I'd be seeing you so soon," Jan said.
The light was so bright Amieta could hardly make out his face. They were lifting her up, now, up into the light, to where her brother waited and she had a moment's piercing regret to be going, until that faded out into the light as well and she was -
"She's coming around."
It hurt, again, a lot. Amieta opened her eyes and looked up at the medics bending over her.
"Welcome back, Commander," one of them said. "Gave us a scare, there."
Beyond them she could see the roof of a shuttle. She turned her head a little. Jan was ... right there?Beyond the medics she could see a couple of marines, equipped for rescue rather than combat, and beyond them, standing in the cockpit doorway, Captain Night, with his habitual, hard-to-read expression of polite, if slightly distant, interest. Amieta thought his gaze was a little sharper than usual, though, and when their eyes met she was almost certain the corner of his mouth twitched up in what might, in anyone else, have been a smile.
"You'll feel a sharp pinch, Commander" the medic said, and Amieta did, and was out.
When she woke again, the medics were carrying her from the rescue shuttle. Jan was gone. So was Captain Night - no, there he was, at the bottom of the ramp. As she was carried past him, Amieta reached out and grabbed his hand, "I saw Jan. He was there, with me. Down there. I saw him."
Smooth, uncalloused clone fingers closed around her battered metal ones. "I believe you."
"Captain, we need to be moving," one of the medics said.
His hand tightened briefly on hers, before he released it with a nod to the medics, and stepped back.
Amieta saw the looks that passed between the medics. Gossip incoming.
Fuck it, she thought.
Some days you're entitled not to give a damn what people think.