While Jagati’s body was dropping to the deck of the Errant, her mind took a different sort of journey, drifting back in time to a day she’d gone stomping through the Kodiak in search of her captain.
She found him in the sickbay, where not even the bitter stench of her smoke-saturated uniform—remnant of the hours spent scouring Nasa’s plasma-scarred plateau—could mask the reek of blood creeping into the passageway.
None of which seemed to bother the prov posted outside the sickbay door, who stood at parade rest, eyes forward. She was the image of readiness, slapping her fist to heart with enough vigor Jagati feared she might have broken something.
“As you were,” she said (okay, growled), pushing open the sickbay door.
And almost stepped right back into the passageway.
The whiff of sepsis she’d picked up in the corridor was, in the confines of the infirmary, strong enough to push back.
“Commander O’Bannion?” Dr. Anyasim, short and stout, the close-cropped ink of her hair going to iron, stepped out from behind one of the infirmary’s sliding shoji screens.
“Where is he?”
“Dr. Montoya is with the general, in his quarters.”
“I know where Gabriel is,” Jagati said. “I was the one who radioed for him. Where is the captain?”
In reply, Anyasim drew the screen aside to reveal the source of Jagati’s inquiry, stretched out on one of the cots.
Captain Pitte lay on his left side, so he was facing the sickbay entrance, but as his eyes remained closed, she doubted he was aware of her arrival. He was shirtless, and it struck her this was the first time she’d seen him so, and his skin sheened with sweat above the sheet that covered him from the hip down.
Every so often his body gave a shudder, and his right hand clutched at the bedding in front of him. To Jagati it looked as if he were grasping for his sword, over and over.
“How?” she asked, forcing herself to look away from the unnerving sight.
“I’m told there was an altercation on the bridge.”
“I know about the fight.” Or she knew Rand’s version of the fight. “And the wound?” She nodded to the lightly taped dressing on the right side, just above the hip. “How did it get infected?”
“You didn’t hear? Of course not,” Anyasim answered her own question. “You were in action.”
“I wasn’t notified of the captain’s injury until after the Kodiak anchored.” Anyasim stepped up to the opposite side of the cot. “By then the damage was done. Threads from his shirt embedded in the entrance wound caused an infection. Dr. Montoya and I got it cleaned out,” she said. “Now it’s up to the antibiotics and maggots to do the needful.”
“Ugh,” Jagati said, giving the dressing above Pitte’s hip her famed stinky eye. “Wait. Where are the little buggers?”
“As I said,” Anyasim dipped her gaze meaningfully down towards the man on the bed. “The infection is in the entrance wound.”
The flood of anger that statement brought on rushed through her system so quickly, so fiercely, she felt dizzy. “Are you saying he was stabbed in the back?”
She’d kill him—she would go to Rand’s quarters and finish what the renegade colonel, Quinn, started. And then she’d track down Sgt. Jihan, and—
The query pulled Jagati from her visions of retribution and she looked up to see Rory McCabe, rising like some pale ghoul from a cot on the other side of the room.
Like John, the Gunner’s Mate wore no shirt, only the drawstring version of hakama favored by infirmaries throughout the colonies, with bits of dressing tape visible over his shoulder and along his ribs.
“You should not be sitting up, son,” Anyasim said, moving in his direction
“I’m nae your son,” McCabe replied. Jagati would have taken him to task for disrespecting an officer, but Anyasim shook her head and gestured towards the locked medicine cabinet.
Jagati took the hint and looked into the youth’s large brown eyes and found them nearly all pupil. From the look of him, he’d been given enough morph to knock out a mammoth.
She wondered that he was even conscious, but then, from the way he moved—as if trying to separate himself from the seeping wounds on his back—she figured some kinds of pain were bigger than a mammoth.
“What do you need, McCabe?” she asked, forcing her voice to an unaccustomed softness.
“The captain,” he said. “He broke the rules. He cut me down. And they killed him for it.”
“Captain?” Jagati spun back to the cot, facing him, crouching to lay her hand on the bed near his.
“Should be, though,” he said.
“Lost the ‘ship.”
His eyes were open but clouded, and Jagati couldn’t be sure he even saw her.
“Lost my command,” he continued, his voice sounding strangely reasonable. “Should be dead.”
“No,” she said. “No, sir…” But his eyes were already closing.
She believed he’d fallen unconscious, until his hand released the coverlet and latched on her wrist. His skin was so hot it burned to the touch, but when his eyes flew open this time, they were clear.
“Did he kill them?”
At John’s question, her breath caught and mind’s eye provided a perfect reproduction of the charred remains down in the plateau grove, the soft equatorial air thick with smoke and ash, and a pair of boots, bereft of their owner, in the middle of the destruction.
And though she said not a word, he must have seen the answer in her face, for, as she watched, the captain’s eyes changed yet again, darkening as if storm clouds had come between the suns and their lake-blue depths.
“My fault,” he said, the hand on her wrist falling back to the mattress. “Should have seen. Should have—I should be—”
Then his eyes closed again, and Jagati felt a moment of something painfully close to panic before she saw the rise of his chest filling with air.
A shadow fell over the cot, and a pair of sable fingers came to rest over Pitte’s throat.
While Anyasim went through the motions of checking the captain’s pulse, then set her stethoscope against his heart and lungs, Jagati looked over to McCabe and found that, sometime during the captain’s ramblings, he’d succumbed to the drugs.
She wondered how long it took to heal from a flogging. She’d never heard of such punishment being doled out in the Corps, so she had no frame of reference.
Looking at the bloodied gauze layered over the youth’s back, she remembered the young corpsman they’d found on the plateau. She’d been young as well—and she’d never have the chance to be any older.
Then her eyes returned to her captain, who seemed to have aged a decade in the past few hours. “It’s not…”
“What’s that?” John, perched on the edge of the medbay cot, leaned closer to the semi-conscious Jagati.
“She says ’tis nae your fault,” Rory said from where he stood on the other side of the bed, talking Jinna through the cleaning of the knife wound in Jagati’s leg.
John considered the youth, with his broken thumb haphazardly wrapped. He looked at Jinna, her face smudged with tears.
He thought of Eitan, watching over what remained of Galileo.
Then he looked down at Jagati, dosed with morph and at least a little delirious. He thought of watching Galileo cut her jump line over and over and over. With a clutch of his heart he remembered her going limp in his arms and thinking he was losing her again and wondering if he’d gone mad and would spend an eternity watching her die.
And lastly, he thought of Galileo himself, and his hired mercenaries, and the calculator that had put John’s crew in Galileo’s sights in the first place.
“Perhaps not,” he said, brushing the rebellious curls back from her forehead, knowing, were she awake, she’d hound him fore to stern for such a sentimental gesture, “but it is my responsibility.”