McQueen clawed his way toward consciousness. Hazily, through a fierce headache and a throbbing pain in his left leg, he tried to figure out where he was. . .what was happening. The Saratoga was under attack. . .no. The Saratoga was dying.
He opened his eyes, mildly surprised that his vision wasn’t doubled. Sitting next to him was Commander Ross, barely visible through the smoky haze filling the bridge. The man looked down at him almost sadly. "I was almost hoping you wouldn’t wake up."
"What? And let you have all the fun?" His voice was barely audible. He licked dry lips and tried again. "What the hell are you still doing here? Get out of here, dammit!"
"Never hear of the captain going down with his ship, Ty?" Ross smiled then shook his head. "Most of the life boats are already gone and those that aren’t are unusable or unreachable."
"Damn." McQueen raised his head and looked around, ignoring the throb of pain the movement caused. There were perhaps a half-dozen people left on the bridge, beside the commander and himself. Slowly, moving carefully in an attempt to keep his head from falling off, he raised himself on his elbows to look at what had fallen on him, ignoring the sudden pain in his ribs. A part of the ceiling, from the look of it, pinning his legs. He lowered himself back down to the ground.
"What’s going on?" He asked.
Ross shook his head. "We lost communication ten minutes ago. And power. Working off emergency power now." Ahhhh, that explained the haziness. "We have no idea what’s going on out there." He glanced down at the trapped man. "By the way, thanks."
For a moment, McQueen’s mind was totally blank then he remembered the explosion that tore the bridge so badly and his instinctive response at the sight of debris falling toward his commanding officer. . .no, his friend. Pushing Ross aside had saved his life but trapped McQueen.
"Fat lot of it did." He said, looking at the fires burning throughout the bridge, undoubtedly depleting the oxygen at an alarming rate.
"Where there’s life, there’s hope."
McQueen groaned. "Great. I get to spend the last moments of my life listening to clichés."
Ross chuckled then froze as another series of explosions rocked the ship. One of the crew began to pray. The two men looked at each other, knowing that their life expectancy could now be measured in minutes. Both of them knew that the Chigs seemed to enjoy playing with their prey. Even now the alien ships were most likely circling the crippled Saratoga, picking off her fighters before slipping in for the kill. McQueen closed his eyes, all too clear images of exploding Hammerheads running through his mind...like stars in the night Vansen, Hawkes, West, Damphousse, Wang. The closest thing to children he’d ever have. Dead, all dead. . .
"Ty." Ross’s voice was low but urgent, his hand tightening where it rested on McQueen’s shoulder. McQueen opened his eyes, blinking in a sudden blaze of light. Hovering above him, apparently with no visible means of support was a bright globe of light. What the hell. . ?
Slowly, carefully, McQueen tilted his head back. There was someone towering above both he and Ross. At first, McQueen thought that another survivor had found them but then he realized that this figure was far too tall to be someone from the Saratoga. . .far too tall to even be human.
For a moment, McQueen’s brain seemed to freeze then memories of his days as a POW flooded his mind. Not again. . .he wouldn’t be a prisoner again. He reacted instinctively. Ignoring the pain that literally tore at his ribs, his arms shot out, hands closing on a slender, furred ankle and yanked hard. There was a deep whoop from ceiling-high and a crash as the alien hit the floor hard. McQueen tried to sit up, hands tearing at debris trapping him.
Hands grabbed his shoulders, another pair grabbed his hands. Ross was saying something in his ear but McQueen could hear only that other, unfamiliar voice chanting "Don’tdon’tdon’t! We’re friends! We’re here to help!""
His eyes cleared and he found himself staring into the concerned hazel eyes of a young man...a young *human*. . .who was clenching both his hands tightly. He could feel Ross behind him, hands still holding his shoulders as he used his body to support McQueen’s. He tried to say something but his voice refused to cooperate. The stranger glanced over his head as he released the colonel’s hands.
"I thought I told you to wait for me, Hern."
"I didn’t think anyone was in here." A deep, oddly-accented voice spoke up from floor-level. "Ohhhhhh, look at the pretty stars."
"Coming." Scraping noises came from behind Ross and the alien crawled into view. Now that McQueen’s eyes had finally adjusted to the new infusion of light, he could see that this alien was definitely not a Chig. Rather then looking like an insect, this one looked more like a. . .like a wolf. A humanoid wolf. He paused to grin at McQueen, showing an array of sharp, white teeth. "Strong. Don’t do that again." He patted the InVitro's chest almost absently before inching his way to the debris covering the man’s legs.
"Who are you?" Ross asked.
A piece of the ceiling fell and the young man flinched. "How about we leave explanations until we’re someplace less likely to fall on top of us. Rathorn comes to mind." The last sentence was muttered.
"I can’t believe you said that, Quinn." A deep, oddly-accented voice boomed from above the trio. The alien was once again standing. Now that McQueen’s eyes had finally adjusted to the new infusion of light, he could see that it was not a Chig. This alien was humanoid, yes, but covered with fine tawny fur. It squatted down next to the debris covering his legs. "I thought you said you’d rather face the Shekitu then another rathorn."
"Rathorns I can deal with. So they eat humans. I can live with that."
"Or not." The alien worked its fingers. . .five of them, long, slender and tipped with ivory claws. . .under a large piece of metal.
"Or not." The man agreed. "Can you lift that?"
The alien grunted. "Maybe. Enough to slide him out at least." The ship heaved again and the young man paled and grabbed a piece of debris to steady himself.
"Don’t. . .bother." McQueen managed. "There’s no time. Get the others out of here."
"Oh, shut up, you stupid tank." Ross snarled, lowering McQueen to the floor. "You. Quinn. Pull him out. Henkins, Jacobs, Makepeace! Come on! The rest of you, get ready to move."
Quinn obeyed, sliding his hands under McQueen’s arms in readiness. The three men Ross named choose a piece of debris to lift.
"We tried this before. . ." Henkins started.
Ross glanced at the smoothly muscled alien. "We’ve help this time."
A sudden burst of sound came from an odd device mounted on the alien’s shoulder and then a series of alien words.
"Trekven’s forgotten her English again." Quinn adjusted his grip on McQueen. "What’s she say, Hern?"
"The ship is getting dangerously unstable. The other shuttles are away. She’s waiting for us."
The look the alien threw him was unreadable.
"Oh, hell. Lift, dammit!"
The fivesome obeyed. For a long moment, the debris didn’t budge then the alien seemed to gather himself, straining with those impossibly long legs. Inch by inch, the rubble began to move. McQueen ignored the pain in his legs and ribs as Quinn pulled at him.
"Come on, come on." Quinn muttered then began to swear softly under his breath as another spurt of frantic words came over the communication device on his shoulder. "Lift. . .ahhhhh!" The young man fell back as the debris’s hold on McQueen loosened.
The ship heaved again, more violently then before and two of the men lost their grip. With a rather wild whoop, Quinn flung himself backward, ignoring McQueen’s cry of pain as his legs were wrenched free. The rubble hit the floor with an explosive thump, just barely missing the now-freed McQueen’s feet.
One of which was covered in blood. Ross took one look at the mess the debris had made of his friend’s left leg and grimaced.
"No time for anything fancy." The alien said, tearing a handful of wires from a nearby console and fashioning them into a tourniquet. "Trekven’s getting ready to leave. Lead the way, Quinn." Hern slipped his arms under McQueen and picked him up with ease.
"Come on!" Quinn grabbed at the communicator and shouted something into it before grabbing the floating light globe and running from the bridge. Ross directed the others to following him, noting with a sort of detached amusement that Finnigan still carried the ship’s cat, wrapped securely in a blanket and tucked under her arm.
Ignoring the deck buckling under his feet and debris raining down onto them, Quinn ran through the darkened corridors, taking a turn here and there until they reached the outer hull of the ship. There, ahead of them, was a gaping hole cut jaggedly in the wall. Quinn stopped short of it and waved the survivors forward.
"Get in! Hurry!"
Finnegan didn’t pause, just flung herself through the hole. The others followed. As Ross dove through the hole, he heard a shout behind him and whirled just in time to catch McQueen as Hern half-threw him into the shuttle and leapt over them both toward what Ross assumed was the cockpit. Quinn was the last one in, tossing the light globe to float above them before turning to close the hatch. The next moment, the shuttle was falling away from the dying ship, tumbling Quinn to the floor. The young man hurriedly grabbed for a couple holds set in the wall.
"Everyone, hang on!" Ross yelled. He was already on the ground, one arm wrapped securely around McQueen, the other grabbing a hold of his own.
Despite the initial rough departure, the ride quickly became smoother, allowing Ross a chance to look around. To his surprise, the light globe was still in one piece and still floating above them, giving him enough light to see. There were perhaps fifty of his people crammed into the alien shuttle, all with faces tight with fear. But they were alive and that’s what mattered.
Nearby, Quinn loosened his grip on the hold and straightened, reaching for a cabinet bolted onto the wall. Jerking it open, he grabbed out a jar and held it up. "Listen up! I know there’s probably a lot of injuries here but we really can’t do anything until we reach the Godstalk. Spread this stuff onto any wounds, burns, bruises." He handed the jar to a nearby crewmember. "It’ll numb the pain but be sure and use the dauber. It’ll numb your fingers just as fast." He pulled a second jar from the cabinet and tossed it to another crewmember. The third item he pulled from the cabinet was a flat case. Holding it, he dropped back onto the floor next to McQueen.
"Commander." A woman climbed over a couple people to collapsed next to him. She was, he realized, Jessica Sward, the Aerotech representative. He would have figured her long gone, probably on the first lifeboat. "Commander, what’s going on?"
"Rescue, from the look of it." McQueen said in a rather dazed voice. "Why’s that light still working?"
Quinn looked at him intently. "I think he’s going into shock. Big surprise. You! The one with the cat. There’s blankets in that locker behind you. Pass them out and steer one this way." He dropped the case in his lap and pulled a white knife from the sheath strapped to his leg. He deftly sliced away the pantleg from McQueen’s injured leg and cut away the ruined boot to expose the wound, a gash that ran almost the full length of his calf. "Oh, joy. Fracture. At least one." He reached for an offered blanket and spread it over the injured man.
Ross lowered McQueen gently to the floor. "I’ll be right back, Ty." Gingerly, he stood, grabbing handholds to make his way around the shuttle.
Quinn grunted lightly in reply, all his attention on the case he now had open and resting in his lap. With sure fingers, he plucked out two red patches, peeling the covering off of them and pressing one on each side of his leg, just below the knee. That done, he pulled out what appeared to be a a pre-prepared syringe, stripping the wrapping from it.
"What are you doing?" Sward demanded sharply.
"Taking care of his leg." Quinn injected the syringe’s ingredients directly into McQueen’s leg and reached back into the cabinet to grab a rolled package.
"You said you couldn’t take care of wounds." There was suspicion in Sward’s voice.
"Can’t. . .unless you happen to have a navel on your neck."
"What do you mean by that?" McQueen levered himself onto his elbows, swallowing hard at the sight of his injured leg.
"You’re supposed to be going into shock." Quinn sliced open the package and unrolled the contents, a thick bandage.
"I still might. What did you mean by that?"
Quinn threw him an amused look. "Timnor medicine doesn’t work well on natural-borns but they work wonderfully with InVitros. Don’t ask me why. Feel any pain in your leg?"
McQueen frowned. "Not anymore." He admitted.
Quinn touched one of the patches he’d placed on the leg. "Nerve deadeners. And that injection? A little Timnor serum we called QuickHeal. Speeds up the healing process with a few very nice benefits thrown in." He pressed the bandage into place gently. "Any other wounds?"
"I think. . .my ribs." McQueen touched his side gently.
Quinn nodded. "The QuickHeal should take care of that too. Either that or we can put in some BoneBond later. Here." He pulled a blue patch from the case. "This is a painkiller. Just stick it on where the pain is."
"BoneBond?" Sward asked.
"Bonds broken bones together and heals them faster. But that involves injecting it right into the bone and I can’t do that here." The young man looked up as Ross and Hern approached, making their way gingerly through the packed people. "What’s the word, Hern?"
"We’re in holding pattern. Godstalk is taking all of the rescue shuttles and the ones with severely wounded are docking first." The tall alien crouched down next to Quinn, looking over McQueen’s leg with a critical eye before flipping the blanket over it. "Dark of the Moon’s pounding the last Shekitu ship to pieces and the fighter ships are pretty much destroyed. Seeker’s Mask is picking up the Saratoga’s lifeboats and fighter ships."
"How’s it feel, Ty?" Ross sank down next to his friend.
"All in all, pretty good. Except for the ribs." McQueen had unzipped his jumpsuit enough to press the patch gently onto his left side. "Hopefully, this’ll take care of that."
"It should. The Yondri tend to respond well to our medicine." He straightened. "I better go help Trevken. She’s probably forgetting her English again."
"Yondri?" Ross asked, watching as the Timnor picked his way across the crowded shuttle.
"The Timnor’s word for the InVitros." Quinn had shut the case and was now shoving it back into the cabinet before closing it firmly. "It means roughly. . ." Quinn frowned and rubbed his cheek with his knuckles. "Well, Dr. Meier says samurai would be the closest translation. Or maybe ronin, depending on the usage."
"Oh?" McQueen said thoughtfully, his eyes distinct.
"Listen. . .whatever your name is. . ." Sward started.
"Quinn. Michael Quinn. And you?
"Jessica Sward. I was on the Saratoga representing Aerotech. How soon can we contact Earth?"
"You’ll have to talk to the Timnor about that. I doubt it’ll be soon. The Timnor have their own plans and Earth doesn’t quite figure into them yet."
"And we do?"
"In a way, yes. Look, it’s a very long story and I think we might be docking soon. Ah, yes, there’s Hern waving confirmation now. Excuse me." Quinn stood, grasping a handhold to steady himself. "Listen up, everyone! We’re going to be docking in just a minute. There are still shuttles coming in so we have to unload and move quickly. When we dock, get out fast. Someone will be taking names. Give it to them and go to where they direct you, which will either be a large, empty cargo hold or a gym or something similar. Those are the only places big enough to hold everyone."
The shuttle lurched and thumped then rose smoothly. Quinn quickly squatted, taking McQueen’s arm and drawing it across his shoulder. Ross took McQueen’s other arm. Together they helped the man to his foot. "Ribs holding up?" Ross asked him and the colonel nodded absently, eyes still thoughtful.
The hatch swung and the three men made their way through it. They were now in a large shuttle bay. A Timnor stood next to the hatch, what appeared to be a mini-computer in his hands. His voice was lighter then Hern’s as he spoke. "Names?"
"Glen Ross. T.C. McQueen." The Timnor’s fingers flew over the keyboard.
Quinn held out his hand. "Give me a spare compt." The Timnor looked startled and Quinn gestured toward Ross. "Commander."
"Ahhh. . ." The Timnor unattached a second compt from his belt and handed it to Quinn before turning to briskly asked Sward her name.
"Come on." Quinn guided them through the shuttle bay, across a corridor and into a large room already half-filled with people. The floor was covered with padding and along the walls were neat piles of blankets and mats. Quinn let go of McQueen long enough to unroll a mat and turned to help Ross lower him onto it.
"Here." The young man handed the compt to Ross, who was surprised to note its keys were marked with English letters. "The Timnor are adding every survivors name to it. Last name alphabetical. This number. . ." He pointed at a number in the right-hand corner. Even as they watched, it jumped up several digits. ". . .is the number of survivors. Besides the name, it’ll have the name of the ship they’re on. A red star means they’re in the MedCenter. As soon as things settled down, I’ll be back with a more detailed explanation of what’s going on." With that, Quinn jumped to his feet and hurried out the door, passing a bemused Finnegan, still carrying the ship’s cat.
"They insisted on Jester’s name, too, sir." She said to the commander as she made her way to a nearby nest of blankets.
"Why not?" McQueen reached for the compt. Ross relinquished it without protest. "He’s a member of the crew." The man began to type in names, eyes sharpening with concentration. "Damn. Damndamndamn." There was a touch of anguish in his voice and Ross guessed at the reason.
"Easy, Ty." He rested a calming hand on his friend’s shoulder.
"Is something wrong?" Hern hunkered down next to them.
Ross glanced at the intent InVitro. "Colonel McQueen’s squad was out in their Hammerheads."
"Ahhhhh." Hern reached out to pluck the compt from McQueen’s hands. The man looked startled but before he could protest or even to try and snatch it back, the Timnor continued in a thoughtful tone. "There is a way to set up search parameters and. . .here." His fingers flew over the keys, tapping the ones he wanted with a flick of an ivory claw. "That’ll do it." He handed the compt back to McQueen. "Type in each of your children’s last name and hit return after each. You’ll get everyone with that last name but it’s easier to quick-program. When you’ve got all of them in, just hit this button." He pointed a claw at a triangle-shaped button. "That’s the end button. And if you will excuse me. . ."
McQueen held onto the compt with both hands, staring after the Timnor with surprised eyes. His. . .children? Why would the Timnor assume that? But hadn’t he been thinking of them that way not twenty minutes ago?
end beginning two