In which: Kate prepares to bug out.
“Sixty seconds to detonation. Please evacuate the area.”
Kate ran toward the Phoenix’s infirmary, grumbling with frustration. When she’d told Captain Kelso they could evacuate quickly she had expected more than five minutes’ notice, and now there was no way they’d transfer everything in time. They had moved their patients and started shifting the most essential drugs, but she had fewer than half her everyday remedies, and almost no tools at all. At this rate, she would be practicing frontier medicine on the nine-week trip back to Earth. If anyone had a heart attack or a compound fracture in that time, Andy Kelso was going to be dealing with some injuries of his own.
She passed one of her clinicians running in the other direction, his arms full of vacuum-sealed pouches. “Last of the antigen packs,” he told her.
“I’ll get the scope,” she called over her shoulder. “Stay in the res wing.”
“Aye aye, Chief!” She heard his pace pick up.
“Fifty seconds to detonation. Please evacuate the area.”
She turned and entered the infirmary, frowning at the number of people still rummaging through the shelves. “Didn’t I tell you people to get the hell out of here?”
Amy was shoveling topical healers into a bag. “Big bang,” she said tersely. “People will be bleeding.”
“Not if it goes as planned,” Kate reminded her, opening a cabinet and pulling out a portable medical scanner. Her scalpel kit followed, and she took a moment to strap it around her arm.
“What part of this mission has gone as planned?
Kate was not the only one who laughed at that. Tension release, she knew; they’d all be less manic once this was over, and they had the long ride home to reflect. She would have time to digest what had happened, and figure out how to tell Tom the story without scaring the hell out of him. She didn’t want to end up using all her precious shore leave dealing with his feelings of protectiveness, but she supposed it served her right for marrying a man who hated the Corps.
“Forty seconds to detonation. Please evacuate the area.”
“Okay, that’s it,” she declared, clapping her hands. “Everybody out. Now. That’s an order. Move your ass or I write you up.”
The others tightened their arms around their loads of supplies, and turned to leave. Amy glanced back at Kate. “You coming?”
“You think I’m planning on dying here while you assholes run off?”
Amy waited while Kate grabbed the microscope. The two women ran up the hallway together, heading for the bulkhead separating the residential wing from the ship’s main engine room and weapons locker.
“Thirty seconds to detonation. Please–“
“‘–evacuate the area,’” Kate and Amy finished simultaneously. They exchanged a smile and passed through the open bulkhead, following the long hallway through the residential area and into the main cafeteria. There they found the medical staff seated around one long table, strapped into the sturdy chairs. Raban, Kate’s head nurse, had saved her a seat.
She would tell Greg all of it, Kate decided, no matter what she censored for Tom. Her son loved all of this just as she did, danger be damned, and he pestered her for every detail whenever she was home. She had felt from the day he was born that the Corps was his destiny, but now–twelve years later, watching him tread the line between stringy little boy and thoughtful young man–she knew she was right, in ways she had never imagined. He would be part of all this soon, and he would be the one bringing home fantastic stories for her.
She stowed her rescued equipment under the table and sat next to Raban, flashing him a grateful smile. He often reminded her of her son, although he was twice the boy’s age: effortlessly handsome, with dark, thick hair and serious gray eyes. When Greg had been a baby his eyes had been blue, but time had drained them of color, and left behind a stormy shade streaked through with black. Exotic eyes. Tom’s eyes. Greg had her fine features–and her mercurial temper–but he had his father’s eyes.
“You okay?” Raban asked.
He was perceptive like Greg, too. She gave him a tight smile. “I feel like I’ve just abandoned my childhood home.”
“You could have said no,” he reminded her. “It had to be unanimous, remember?”
“It’s worth it,” she said. He kept looking at her, and she made herself smile more easily. “Besides, it never hurts having a man like Andy Kelso owe you a favor, does it?”
“He already owes you,” Raban pointed out, but he smiled back, letting her off the hook.
“Twenty seconds to detonation. Please evacuate the area.”
Raban clutched the edge of the table, frowning as he looked around the room at people spinning in their chairs, running around and changing places in the last seconds available. “We work with idiots, did you know that?”
Kate watched the people she served with, the people who knew her better than her own family. “We work with people who know when to have fun,” she corrected. On impulse, she put her hand over his, and gripped it hard.
“Ten seconds to detonation.”
In the distance, she heard the heavy bulkhead creaking as it lurched closed. She wondered if it would hold; as far as she knew they had never used it before.
There was a comforting thunk as the bulkhead locked into place, and she took a breath.
She realized, belatedly, that along with her infirmary, the gymnasium was on the wrong side of the bulkhead as well. It was going to be a very long trip back.
So many missions she had been part of, in her years with the Corps. So many causes, so many battles.
So many missed opportunities. So many mistakes.
But not this time. This time…they had been soon enough.
This time, they were right.
She thought of Meg, her daughter, her beautiful young woman, and what she looked like with the sun silvering her wild, dark curls. She thought of Greg, still mostly a boy, and the twinkle in his eyes when he was trying not to laugh.
She thought of Tom, her husband, her soul mate, who watched her leave time after time and still waited for her, patient and constant and full of love. Sometimes she missed him more than life.
This time, when she got home, maybe she’d stay a little longer.
Copyright ©2016 by Elizabeth Bonesteel. All right reserved.