Her knees hurt.
They hurt, and they were soaked in blood.
She was marked with blood. Her own, running again and warm across her cheekbone. Some of Govinda’s, along one sleeve. She couldn’t see it, but she felt dampness across her wrist. Some of Lem’s, a pattern of blood down her front, from when she’d dragged Ruthie out of the line of fire. That, too, was unseen against the black cloth.
The knees of her smart trousers, those bothered her the most. The thickening stain around Iris Anders’ head had spread to where Lynda knelt. Blood congeals, she thought abstractedly. Will it glue me to the floor?
Nobody bothered her. Instead, her team moved around her. (The world was muffled, distant. She was sitting in its waiting room, lingering until she was let back in. She still heard the howling, the beast let loose, escaped from the halls of her sleep, racing and raging, still heard her answer, still felt the mark, surely she was marked for all to see.) Hsieh and Rog, Alex and Jack, worked through the pile of nerveless bodies Iris had once commanded. The security people hobbled their hands and feet, manhandled them into some semblance of seated order against one wall, like poorly positioned dolls. She didn’t know when they would wake up.
One body lay flat just outside the door, a man with a jacket thrown over his head. Hsieh had straightened his limbs, although his last muscle spasms had made that difficult.
She heard Jack order Alex to reconnoiter the floor with a scouting party. She thought she heard Rog take another group and head for the Ground Force studios to secure them against any returnees.
The cafeteria forces had succeeded in neutralizing 35 Ground Force combatants, 37 if Anders and Lynda’s victim were included. The others had escaped; perhaps into the duct system, perhaps simply to any floor to which they didn’t think they’d be followed.
Anders’ death appeared to have blown the fight out of them. They hadn’t thought helpless ex-contestants, aided only by equally unarmed security guards, could or would fight back. Fierce, organized opposition with firepower wasn’t part of their plan; once it hit them, they retreated in confused disarray. Rounding them up might be arduous, but they’d all eventually be caught, now that Jack and the others could use some of the crowd tracking and control tools from the cache room in tandem with the station’s life sign programs.
Lynda was grateful that Jack and Hsieh could think about that sort of thing. I’ll be able to do it, too, she told herself. Shortly. I just need to rest. It’s a shame that I won’t be able to get this blood off me. I hope I haven’t ruined the pants.
Slowly, painfully, she kicked her legs out of the kneeling position. The blood moved with them, painting ugly streaks on the cafeteria floor, dull red bridges between her body and Iris Anders graceless corpse.
(Will you recover?)
(I can’t leave you.)
(“Don’t touch me.”)
Amazing how much venom could inform a nanosecond. Lynda didn’t think she could translate the poisonous hate she felt into spoken words. She wasn’t ready to think about who she hated. Instead, she deliberately closed the door in her head and just as deliberately ignored the sorrow that flowed like a river under the door and into her consciousness.
“I’m all right,” she said mechanically; it wouldn’t do to get Jack any more upset than she knew he was. Should she shut him out of her head, too?
“You’re not even looking at me,” he said, dropping to his knees beside her.
That galvanized her momentarily. “Don’t do that! You’ll get blood on your pants!”
He didn’t move. Instead, he put out his hand and touched her cheek, where the blood mixed with her salt tears.
“I’m not worried about my pants,” he said softly. “Lynda, sweetheart, I heard you, Not out loud. I’m still hearing you.”
“I’m fine,” she repeated, her voice much lower.
(“Don’t lie to me. Talk to me.”)
She knew she couldn’t speak, and she saw the reflection of what she was broadcasting to him, along with her silent words; the man crumpling and convulsing under her fire. It was so large in her head; his body dancing and jerking, his grinning rictus, hands twitching and gripping at nothing, twisting down and down to the floor. Jack shook his head, as if to dispel the vision.
(“Lynda, listen to me, it was an attack...you had no choice— “)
She couldn’t stand it. She shut him out, hating herself for doing so, but refusing to acknowledge his reflexive unhappiness and hurt. All she could bring herself to do was whisper aloud, “I’ll talk, in a bit. Promise.”
Then she stood up. He stood, too, nodding unwillingly. When he opened his arms she accepted a hug, but only for a moment. It was so quiet in the waiting room. He wasn’t really there; she’d pushed him out. “There’s so much to do.”
“That’s a bit of an understatement,” Davitch said as he joined them. For the first time since they’d begun working together, there was nothing gentle about his face. He’d hustled Govinda over to one side of the cafeteria, over her objections, and told her — ordered her — to stay put until he’d found her some shoes. Something in his voice must have gotten to her. She’d subsided meekly and allowed him to rebandage her hand, let him clean her foot and bandage it.
He hadn’t asked about Meg, but his eyes were wary, and not all of his grim demeanor was attributable to Govinda’s injuries.
“I checked with Hsieh.” Davitch continued. “He says they have enough cell space to put this lot in, so I’m deputizing some more of our people to move them. We’re going to use some of the pallet movers in the kitchen.” He clucked in irritation. “Rog and Alex got first dibs on the really big lads for mop-up. I guess we’ll just have to hope small and wiry will do.”
Then he looked down at Anders’ body. “We also need to deal with this.” He sounded as if he were talking about spoiled food.
“There are general disposal outlets on every floor, but you’ll want a body dispose-all,” Lem said from behind them. “Most of the studios have one.”
Lynda turned to look at the other woman. She’d walked out of the kitchen, and Lynda saw that she’d shucked her damaged jacket, doffing it for something from the kitchen uniform closet. The white tee was one or two sizes too large for her. It made her look even younger and tinier than her original clothing.
“Dispose-alls.” Jack echoed softly. It sounded like mild distaste, until Lynda looked closer and saw his eyes, and felt what he felt, despite the block. She shivered, her own thoughts mirroring his unvoiced horror.
Gentle Davitch, spirited Govinda, brave Ruthie. Friends she would die for, she realized with a surprised lurch of her heart. Each one deliberately, casually complicit in the murder of thousands.
(We were just following orders Govinda had said. He’d told her that she had just forfeited her right to talk to him. His look had promised justice, or perhaps barely contained mayhem. Her look bespoke only confusion.)
Oh well, Lynda thought, we all deserve one another. To her horror, she felt a pale amusement. It washed over her, and the world grew nearer, the waiting room more transparent.
“That was a good clean shot,” Ruthie said, looking at Anders’ head. “The gentleman does have experience.” She didn’t quite sound approving. Then she looked around the cafeteria. “Where is he, anyhow?”
“Mayhew?” Jack asked.
“I sent him to the kitchen to get hosed down. He may still be there. I told him to go upstairs after he cleaned up, to help look after the group up there, guard Maisie and the baby,” Jack said. “He didn’t seem to mind the orders. He hated the stink as much as we did. And he’s probably happy putting some space between me and him.”
Lynda was grateful Roderick was headed elsewhere. Clean or not, she didn’t know if she could keep her stomach in check around him. She was certain she hadn’t thanked him for saving her life. She didn’t intend to, she thought. Well, not yet.
Davitch resumed speaking. “Ruthie, do you know how the dispose-alls work?”
“No, but I imagine it’s fairly simple,” Lem replied.
“Fine; both Anders and that one over there,” he nodded over at the man Lynda had killed. “should be taken care of.”
Davitch looked at Lynda with surprise.
“Not without words,” she said. “To remember. Especially the...the one I killed.”
“Oh. Well.” Davitch said cautiously. “What would you like to say?”
“That he was a human being,” she said slowly. “That he has a name, and he may have had friends and family. That they should know he’s gone.”
“We can check him for ID,” Lem suggested. “Contacting his family, though...”
Lynda sighed. “That’s impossible, right. I just thought, you know, that it should be said.”
As she spoke, the twitching, dancing man reappeared in her inner sight. She silently offered his faceted shade -- the faceless opponent, the dancing victim, the peaceful corpse — her sketchy non-eulogy as blood-gelt. Soldiers kill, she thought. You were a soldier. I’m a soldier.
She took a deep breath, stepped out of the waiting room in her head. The world felt...not comfortable, definitely not that. But it felt real again. More honest.
“What about her?” Lem continued, gesturing toward Anders.
Although she had met Iris, had spoken to her and eaten with her, Lynda could think of almost nothing to say now. No one she knew seem to have liked or cared for the woman even before the Daleks came. After they did, after everything started, the SITM tech had never explained herself, never hinted at why she’d made her miserable, ineffectual, hateful decisions. The only thing they knew about her was the damage she had done.
“I suppose,” she said after a moment, “that we could say we were sorry she went mad. Someone must have loved her, and we could say we’re sorry that whoever loved her will never see her again. Best I can do, I’m afraid.”
“Right,” Davitch said. “We’ll check the man for ID.” He turned and called toward the back of the cafeteria. “Orrin? Somebody get Orrin. We’ve got a detail for him.” He was white about the lips; Lynda thought he looked like Jack had during that miserable dinner at the apartment.
(She is in the archives.)
Lynda winced as a familiar pain stabbed her eyes. The voice overrode her block -- not that she’d really known how to put one together, she thought. She’d just grabbed instinctively at the image of a closed door, which apparently wasn’t the best strategy. She looked over in time to see Jack close his eyes, listening.
“The voice is saying there’s information about Anders in the archives,” he said presently.
“Why on earth should we care?” Davitch snapped, the rage showing through increasingly tattered decorum. “We’re probably all in the archives. Really, Jack, if this voice just tells us the obvious, why should we pay attention to it?”
“Her,” Jack said, frowning. “Her.” He looked at Davitch, apparently gauging the other man’s humour.
“Right.” Davitch acquiesced. “My point still stands.”
“Without her, we wouldn’t have been able to save you,” Lynda said fiercely. She might not want to talk to the voice right now, but she was irritated by the tall programmer’s unthinking dismissal of the entity. “She got us out of the old shaft and guided us to the cache. Without those weapons you could have died. If she wants us to know something, it’s probably important. At least I think so. I don’t know what she is, but she’s not an enemy, and—”
Davitch put up his hands. “I’m sorry, alright?” Then he looked at the ceiling, putting both hands on his head as he did. His next words were softer. “No, really. I’m sorry...dunno...I’m not doing very well right now.”
Lynda didn’t respond. She supposed she should be abashed at her outburst, and part of her wanted to pat Davitch’s arm, to comfort him in some fashion, but that hard core inside her wouldn’t let her. She was more ashamed of her reaction to the voice earlier. She turned her attention inward, and hesitantly opened the door in her mind.
(“I’m sorry I was angry.”)
(I accept your apology.)
(“Is Iris important?”)
(Possibly. You must decide for yourselves.)
(“Will finding out help us get off Game Station?”) Lynda was starting to feel as if she were playing a child’s guessing game, but she couldn’t restrain her curiousity.
(I can’t tell you. I do not know.)
(“But you think she’s important enough to mention.”) Jack’s contact was pointed and dry, if that could be said about silent words.
(I think so, but I say again that I don’t know.) This time, the voice’s confusion and discomfort were unmistakable; she didn’t like not knowing things, it was clear.
Jack tapped one index finger against his lips as he considered that message, then said aloud for the others’ benefit, “Alright. Here’s what I think. The battle isn’t over until we’ve got all these jokers in custody, or otherwise taken care of, we all know that. But we’re on the way to having it under some kind of control — at least as well in hand as anything around here can be. Having laced that with the necessary caveats...I think it’s time we got back to our original agenda, my friends.”
Before she or any of the others could react, someone tapped her on the shoulder; she squeaked in surprise, and felt an embarrassed flush spread across her face.
The hand attached to the finger belonged to a middle-aged man on the older end of middle-aged. He wore a sport shirt just a little too tight across his middle, brown pants and a very uncomfortable expression.
“Excuse me,” he managed, then fell silent, as if he were astonished at his temerity in approaching her.
“Uhm...yes, excuse me...my name’s Albertson. George Albertson, from Mary’s Harbor.” He stopped again, and stood with hands clasped behind his back, perhaps waiting for Lynda or her companions to acknowledge his credentials.
“What can we do for you, Mr. Albertson?” Jack took the conversational initiative.
“A group of us...some of us...would like to thank you, thank you very kindly, for...for handling this all, taking care of us,” Albertson said, rocking slightly back and forward on the balls of his feet. He looked like a schoolchild reciting his daily download. “And we’re very, very grateful that you saved us, uh, from the...hooligans and ruffians that woman set on us.”
He stopped to take a breath. Lynda shot Jack a look.
(“Oh, don’t worry, he’ll get to the point,”) he sent her, more than a hint of laughter in the thought.
George Albertson inhaled noisily and launched the second half of his speech: “The problem is, that — and we’re very grateful for the food, and for the cots here in the cafeteria — but...Mr. Hark-uhm, Captain Harkness, we’re all exhausted. This...you see, this has been a terrible, terrible time. It was rather, uh, rather unsettling being here for most of us just to begin with. The attack by those monsters, the, the loss—”
He stopped again. The look on his face was unmistakable. In the middle of his carefully composed delivery, the real nightmare had hit him. He closed his eyes, and swallowed convulsively. “The loss. Of Earth. You must understand...there’s some that don’t believe it, but I do. And my friends, my group. We believe it.” He swallowed again. “What I’m trying to say is that we need to rest. In real beds, if there’s anything like that on this place. Not the studios. Everyone agrees — I mean, everyone in my group, and we think others would agree — not the studios.”
“Mr. Albertson,” Jack interrupted gently. “I think I understand. Can you give me a moment?” The older man nodded.
Davitch stared at Jack, looked at Lem, then had to cover his mouth quickly, apparently to hide the smile her look prompted. Ruthie didn’t like being dragged into this conversation, certainly not after being saddled with that sobriquet.
“Yes? Captain?” If she could have gotten away with a shorter sentence, she obviously would have done it.
“If I’m not mistaken, there are staff dormitories on Station.” Jack pretended not to notice.
“You’re correct, Captain.”
“Are they currently accessible?”
“They’re not in the vacuum, if that’s what you mean. Sir.”
“And how large are they?” Jack was dead serious. Davitch turned his back, ostensibly to look for something behind him. His shoulders were shaking.
“I think we can take most of these people. Our top capacity is for about 210, if management and security dorms are included. Sir.” Despite her initial irritation, Lem began to grin at the absurdity of the conversation. She dialed it back, and matched Jack for polite gravity.
“Very good. Mr. Albertson -— can I call you George?” Jack said, turning his searchlight smile back on the astounded ex-contestant.
“Certainly,” Albertson said, with a shyly pleased smile of his own. “Certainly, Captain.”
“Do you believe your people would be willing to double up so that all of them can fit? Dorms aren’t apt to be much more comfortable than the cafeteria,” Jack said, very earnestly.
George nodded his head violently. “Oh, yes, we’d certainly understand that, sir. It’s the getting out of here, and the staying out of the studios, really...that’s the important thing.”
“Well then, here’s what I’d suggest we do, if you agree,” Jack said, gently, carefully, heartily. “I believe your group looks to you for direction...am I wrong?”
George smiled even more broadly, “Well...” he said, spreading his hands in a gesture of self-conscious self-effacement.
“Oh, I can understand. You don’t want to call too much attention to yourself,” Jack said. “But I think that, with a little help from officer Lem here, you could organize a temporary move to sleeping quarters. And I think people will feel better for it, you’re absolutely correct about that. I think a good eight hours of sleep will do us all wonders, in fact. We’ll face our challenges a lot better after that.”
George Albertson could barely contain himself. “Captain, I’d be delighted to work with your man...with Officer Lem.”
Jack nodded, grabbed George’s right hand to shake it vigorously, then clapped his slightly dazed, but happy, audience on the shoulder. “Good man. Officer Lem?”
“Are you up to this? How’s the—”
Ruthie rolled her eyes, something George Albertson didn’t catch, so blinded was he by Jack’s attentions. “It’s fine, Captain. I’m happy to do this.”
“I’ll leave you two together to finish the planning. I’ll make the announcement. And I think, Officer Lem, that, after everyone’s settled, we can leave Mr. Albertson as the liaison. We can find him a radio?”
“I think we can handle that, Captain.” Lem said. “I assume that the people upstairs should be included?”
“Oh, yes,” George interrupted. “Especially that poor girl and her child.”
Davitch snorted, and Lynda felt something untoward start to froth up herself. “Excuse me, Jack, may I take Davitch? I think we need to...”
“Of course, Lynda. I’ll see you two in a minute,” Jack said, without missing a beat.
Lynda grabbed for Davitch’s shoulder, realized she couldn’t reach it, settled for his waist, and swung him away from the circle and back toward the table where Govinda was resting. They were both holding their breath, trying desperately not to blow Jack’s act, or embarrass Mr. Albertson.
“Shall we retire a pace?” Lynda whispered, snickering. That only made Davitch snort louder. They both grimaced and looked behind them, but Albertson didn’t seem to have heard, and Jack didn’t choose to.
“Let’s do,” Davitch managed, before the capacity for speech left him. They retreated to Govinda’s position. She looked up at them and raised both eyebrows. “Something funny?”
That did it.
Lynda collapsed in helpless giggles, and Davitch followed, planting himself on the bench beside the woman he loved and laughing out loud.
“You realize the two of you look like perfect asses,” Govinda said, after watching for a speechless moment.
Davitch tried to control himself. “Oh, yes...yes, we are, in fact, both perfect asses....”
“‘Vinda, I’m sorry...it isn’t you,” Lynda managed before the laughter took her again, “it’s...him.” She pointed at Jack, which set Davitch off again. One or two heads poked out from behind the kitchen wall, eyes round and curious. From his vantage point across the room, Jack shot them a glare over George Albertson’s head. Lynda waved. She saw Jack mouth something that looked suspiciously like I will personally kill you and she just shot him a thumbs-up signal, then punched Davitch in the arm. She took a very deep breath, blew it out, and managed to wrestle her laughter back to a grin. It felt very good.
“Davitch, we need to talk. Right, ‘Vinda?”
Govinda nodded, the darkness of her eyes brightened at least a little by the show they’d just inadvertently put on for her.
“I think Jack’s arranging for some much needed down time,” Davitch took up the conversation. “That...gentleman— “ and he ruthlessly maintained his expression “— is going to work with Lem. They’re going to get everyone into the long-term staff and security dorms for more than a few hours of sleep.”
“Oh, god, I think I want sleep more than I want a fag,” Govinda exclaimed. “I hadn’t even thought about that!”
“Your wish is my command, my lady,” Davitch said. He was still smiling, but it was only for Govinda now.
“You are such a crock, Pavel,” Govinda said, and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
“That’s me. Complete crock,” he said happily.
Lynda smiled, too. “Davitch, thanks for putting up with us.”
“Not that I had any choice about it,” he replied, “but it’s been my pleasure. Really. Look, I’m going to find Orrin, so that we can do...do the decent thing with those two. Why don’t you go back and find out what the Captain’s been up to in our considered absence?”
She nodded, quieted one last remaining snicker, then bent over to hug the two of them. Davitch blinked in surprise, but Govinda hugged her back. “See you in a minute.”
(Are you recovered?)
(“Not really, not yet. I’m getting there.”) she told the voice as she walked back to Jack, Ruthie and George.
“...then, if you could let Commander Hsieh know what we’ve decided, I’d like you to swing back and hook up with the Commander, and accompany him and Davitch back to our headquarters,” Jack was telling Ruthie, apparently wrapping up the impromptu mission briefing.
When Lem looked blank, Lynda whispered. “Big Brother studio. Davitch knows.”
“Ah.” Ruthie packed a remarkable amount of response into that one syllable.
“So,” Lynda said brightly. “Mr. Albertson, thank you so much for helping us. For helping all of us. Jack, are we ready to go?”
Jack inclined his head to George Albertson, and said, “You’ll excuse me? Officer, I’ll see you and Commander Hsieh in...let’s make it 45 minutes?”
“Aye, sir,” Lem said, almost camouflaging the dry note in her voice.
Jack put his arm around Lynda’s waist, and bent very close to her ear. She thought he was going to whisper, and jumped when he kissed it while addressing her silently.
(“You are a perfect ass.”)
(“Govinda said that, too.”)
(“I know. I heard her.”)
(“Sorry. Didn’t know we were that loud.”)
(“Oh, yeah. Good thing the nice gentleman didn’t notice.”)
(“This is getting easier, isn’t it?”)
“Yeah. Gotta admit, it’s fast.” His voice sounded slow and gluey for a split second as her mind had to slow down to comprehend spoken speed.
“It’s a little like cheating,” she said.
(It is not cheating.) The voice sounded indignant. Jack laughed, clear and happy.
(“No, it’s not. Not for you. And you, my unknown friend, will be talking a lot. You have a lot of explaining to do.”)
Lynda held her breath.
(Good. I have been waiting. Go to your resting place. Bring your people and I will talk.)
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