Jackson was frustrated: there wasnt much he could do to help Smoke. His med kit was back at the barracks, as he wasnt expecting to be called on. And it didnt take a rocket scientist to see that Smoke needed help the dark man was pale, and drenched in sweat; blood oozed from the seams where his knee had been attached to the mechanically-enhanced lower leg.
Nanoforge had already taken off his shirt and placed it under Smokes head to protect him from the non-skid floor.
What do you think, Doc?
Their eyes met, and Jackson shook his head.
Hes fine, but theyre going to have to remove the artificial leg. Hell probably be out for a while.
What if he gets there any sooner?
I dont think its going to matter. Hell be back in the tank.
Nanoforge cursed softly, and then moved up to the cockpit where Cyber concentrated on avoiding frightened pedestrians.
Cyber gripped the wheel tighter. Any faster, Forge, and well overshoot the emergency room. Give me another minute.
Forge looked back at Jackson, who was trying to help make Smoke as comfortable as possible. And within a minute, Cyber had them at the emergency room.
A startled corpsman quickly approached the skimmer where Cyber and Nanoforge carried the unconscious Smoke between them. Jackson approached and quickly explained the situation. For the most part, that was unnecessary as the corpsman could see the cause of Smokes pain.
Lieutenant Hook had just thanked the other squads lieutenant when Kai and Chiquita approached him.
Thanks for the warm-ups, Lieutenant, Chiquita said after a swig of Gatorade. Can we go home now?
Hook sighed and stared at her.
Kai shivered once. He could stare a rock into submission.
Tonight, you have double-duty. You take over for Smoke.
Chiquita clenched her jaw but said nothing. She nodded once.
Kai, youre with me. Chiquita, get their gear and take it back to the barracks. Were going to check up on Smoke.
Chiquita glanced over at Kai, who mouthed Dont leave me with Hook. Hook jerked his chin and Kai was immediately a step behind him.
Watching them leave, Chiquita sighed before retrieving everyone elses sweat towels and water bottles.
Meanwhile, Hook walked too fast. Kai noticed that everyone scooted out of his way. He must have had that look on his face. The one that told everyone else to go to hell.
Other people had that look, she knew, but no one meant it like Hook.
When she heard the second skimmer take off, she knew that Chiquita was heading back to the barracks. That left her with Hook. So much for small-talk.
Hook stopped suddenly and she ran right into him.
Sorry, she said.
He chuckled. My fault, he replied.
She shook her head; maybe she didnt hear that correctly.
I was just thinking, he said softly.
Kai looked up at him and saw he was gazing at something; she followed his direction and her jaw dropped.
That squad she said breathlessly.
Hook watched as Razaks Roughnecks disembarked from a skimmer.
What about them?
I vaguely remember them.
Hook narrowed his eyes and looked at her. How so?
Theyre the Roughnecks, right?
Kai pointed to the two taller humans. I remember those two. They rescued me.
Hooks eyes widened, and he looked at her.
She could feel his gaze resting on her, and timidly she turned to face him. What is it?
He shook his head slightly, and then continued walking. Its nothing.
She followed him. You know, sir, we just finished the game, Chiq has my Gatorade bottle, and the humidity level is up. Can we catch the bus?
A walk clears the mind, Roland. Besides, after all those missions, you telling me youre tired of walking? He took on a cold tone, his words harsh.
No, sir, she whispered.
Why dont you trade places with Davis. Im sure he doesnt like the situation hes in.
Kai despaired; she wished that he had ordered [i]her [/i]to take their stuff back and it was Chiquita who had remained in his company.
Double-time it, trooper.
With a deep sigh, she ran behind Hook.
Nanoforge and Cyber refused to sit anywhere near each other in the nearly empty-waiting room. And they both refused to listen to the horrific news about the arachnids surprise attack all over the globe. Instead, Cyber hung out at the computer station, while Nanoforge and Doc Jackson whispered about Smoke.
Infection set in, theyre looking for skin-graft match but they dont think hell have to go back in the tank. Maybe a new joint for the artificial leg.
Anything else? Nanoforge said, fighting his morbid curiosity on the images that flashed on the monitor. Jackson ignored them.
Theyll tell me in a few minutes.
As if on cue, a nurse signaled Jackson over.
Doc crossed his arms over his chest.
How is he?
The nurse looked confused for a moment.
Hes fine. Hes been fine. He just got out of the tank this morning.
It was Docs turn to blink.
What are you talking about? We played baseball this morning.
What what was the name?
You are Andrew Jackson, of First Divisions Hendersons Hellraisers?
Doc nodded dumbly.
Calco is fine. Hes been moved to rehabilitation today.
What about .Section Eight?
What about visitors, is he allowed visitors?
The nurse nodded and left.
Doc turned to face Nanoforge, a goofy grin on his face. He was amazed at the fortunate news, and was beside himself with energy and exultation.
Both Nanoforge and Cyber paused in their actions to look at him.
Doc, whats wrong?
Jackson couldnt stop smiling. Nothing, Nano, nothing. Lets go.
Is Smoke all right?
Yes, he is.
Dont we need to wait for the lieutenant?
The lieutenants here, Hook said, as he and Kai entered the waiting room.
Cyber met her weary gaze; both her face, and that of the lieutenants, were flushed, and their skin was glazed with sweat. It was obvious he had put her through her paces.
Hows Smoke, Doc? Hook inquired.
Doc still wore that grin.
Hes fine, Lieutenant. Definitely infected, but no need for a tank excursion. Hell be out for a few days.
Cyber quietly moved close to Kai. You okay? he whispered.
She nodded. Hook didnt look at Cyber.
Shes fine, Power, nothing a brisk walk couldnt help. Get in the skimmer were heading back to the barracks
They emptied out the waiting room.
While the others went to the chow hall, Nanoforge declined their company and instead went to the base laundromats snack bar. It was nearer to the barracks than the chow hall, anyway, and after the competitions throughout the day, he wanted a shower and a nap. He hadnt taken but three steps inside when his dark eyes rested upon the figure of a girl.
An old friend.
No, more than that she was family.
Vash turned around, as did her companions.
Nanoforge wasnt aware, but he had that same goofy grin on his lips that Doc had worn back in the waiting room. The few other occupants in the laundry room watched him as he approached Vash and her friends.
She straightened to her full height, a few inches shorter than him.
Do I know you?
Those four words slowed Nanoforge to a halt, and for the first time, his brow furrowed.
Vash, weve we were in the same He faltered, his voice dropping to a whisper.
There was no recognition in her eyes as she studied him. Her companions looked uncomfortable and either looked away or changed from one foot to the other.
Nanoforge simply took her hand.
My utmost apologies. I mistook you for someone else.
He gave her a sad smile before turning on his heel and leaving. Near the door, in the shadow, he didnt see Chiquita quickly hide behind her magazine. When the door shut, she looked over at Vash, who had eased back into the conversation with her friends.
Nanoforge felt sick to his stomach. His head swam with memories of his squad. Vashs squad. That was her. Only, not her anymore. He grit his teeth, his hands balled into fists. Was she that bad off that a Section Eight saved her life? And why not him? Why not the same procedure on him? Why her? Why didnt they [i]tell[/i] him she was alive? At least he could have been prepared to run into her on-base.
He couldnt breathe, and the closer he approached the barracks, the more he felt weak. His vision swam, and yet, fury began to boil in his blood.
Nanoforge opened the door and looked around thankfully, no one else was there. With a heavy sigh, he sat on his bunk, and stared holes into the ground.
That was her.
Slowly he looked up.
Chiquita stood in the doorway. He glared at her.
She dismissed his anger and approached him. I saw the whole thing.
He didnt say anything, just felt nauseous.
I dont know what youre feeling, but ..
He stared at her sports shoes as she stood before him.
Isnt it better that shes alive?
Why? He growled. Whats better about it?
She licked her lips, struggling to find words. You didnt lose her.
I [i]did[/i] lose her. She doesnt remember me.
Chiquita looked away.
Forge, shes alive. Shes one more trooper the bugs didnt take. You cant want her dead because they mind-swiped her. Thats not fair to her.
What do you want? he snarled, finally looking up at her.
Even sitting down, the man was formidable. She took a step back.
I .I just wanted she sighed and brushed a strand of hair from her face, youre in my squad, Forge, and Im just looking out for my squad mate.
He got to his feet, his eyes locked with hers.
Why? You dont like me.
She rolled her eyes.
Back in Washington, you almost hit Cyber. I was defending him. If that had been you, I would have defended you.
He looked over her shoulder, to the open door. Vash and her companions had walked by; she was laughing and her manner was completely at ease. Maybe maybe there was a corner in her mind that wasnt successfully erased.
Chiquita turned to see what he was looking at.
It hurts like hell, Forge, she whispered, but you gotta let her go. Youve got us now. I need you on my team if Kai and Cyber and the lieutenant are going to live.
Nanoforge looked back down at her. Why are you so ready to move on, Chiq? Why are you so ready to turn your back on your family?
She closed her eyes, almost feeling the arms of her old squad around her.
Its over. Its gone. I cant change what happened to my old squad, but I realize that Im not the only one whos suffered through this. For thousands of years, infantry units the world over have lost good men. Were not the only people this has happened to. Lets just make sure it stops happening.
This isnt over, you know, he said softly.
Youre quite the optimist, arent you?
She smiled at him, and he returned the smile. He held his hand out to her.
Nanoforge. Marauder driver.
They shook hands, although he did squeeze her hand a little more tightly than she had anticipated. He winked at her.
Glad to make your acquaintance.