All by myself


I miss her.

I've been conscious again for a week, without seeing her or hearing the sound of her voice.

In the seven years since we met, that's longer than we've ever been apart. Even when we simply had to visit our families, we always used to travel together.

I'm lying here in this lousy hospital bed, pretty much immobile. There's one box with all sorts of tubes and cables attached that's wrapped around my left thigh, and left arm's in another up to the shoulder. The bedclothes are tented up on a frame to hide the fact that my left leg is twitching constantly, and to hide all the other plumbing that I'm trying my best not to think about.

I wish I could have slept this time away, but supposedly it's better for the healing process that I'm awake — but as far as I can see, what that means is that I can be made to do work-outs with my right arm and leg while the new left ones are readied for similar treatment.

I've peeked, as best I can while pinioned on my back by all the medical gear, at the new limbs. They have the pasty look of something that's been underwater too long, and when they're not being stimulated into motion, the muscles are slack. But at least I can feel them now — and at least they don't keep them working while I'm supposed to sleep.

I hold on to the last memory.

We had busted up a bunch of gunrunners who'd been bringing stuff that was nearly as good as the 3WA special issue kit we use into the UG for sale to all sorts of criminal and terrorist scum. We'd kicked their sorry asses good and proper, and everything seemed under control, when one of the more heavily borged crims had puked up a pint of silvery goo in our general direction. As the goop sizzled and started to crawl towards us, I'd gone forwards to teach the borg the error of his ways — and then he'd done it again, hitting my left boot, and splashing some on my hand.

I'd expected the smart fabric of our uniforms to be able to handle anything that these sad bunch of losers could have mustered, but the war-goo had actually managed to eat through that protection, and was trying to convert my beautiful body into more of itself, before I was even able to get close enough to the guy to clean his clock properly. I was about to hurl back at him — despite the amount of war drugs being pumped into my system — when Yuri blew him away with one of the more conventional heavy weapons we'd impounded.

I was starting to go into shock, colours swimming in front of my eyes when it seemed that making a meal of my uniform had at last started to disagree with the goop. Through the haze, I saw her face, terrified, tears starting in her eyes. Far away, I heard her calling my name, calling me to hold on, not to go. I'm not sure if the roaring and the feeling of floating were the blood rushing in my ears or something real. There was light, too bright, but a long way away down a tunnel. Her face again, distorted with weeping, and then I swirled away down the plug-hole.

I don't deserve that.

Not after the things I said about Antonio. Not after what happened while we were moonlighting on Eight Drunken Monkeys. Especially not after that custom sim I had made. Not when it's my job to to look after you. You're meant to be the delicate one, while I tough things out. Even if I do just speak what I think before I think about what effect it might have on you.

Where are you?

I surfaced into daylight some unknown time later. I guess I was supposed to be awakening calm and refreshed, but the first thing I felt was like something was missing. Not my on-board enhancements, even though most of them were in hibernation. Not any physical bits of me, at least according to the damage control system, even if most of my left hand side was far into the amber. Just something nagging, like a missing tooth, demanding to have a tongue probe the space, even though that would only make it worse.

The days dragged by while I lay there. The doctors and the nurses were patient in explaining that Trouble Consultant Yuri had been been diverted — mandatory hundred hour layover or no — to handle another case, and that Trouble Consultant Kei was to rest, relax, and not throw the sort of fit that she was so dearly wanting to, unless she wanted her new arm and leg to fall off. They were so maddeningly reasonable that they nearly provoked me into the rage that they said they didn't want.

But even when I was getting myself worked up, it felt like I was just going through the motions, living up — or down — to the reputation everyone else had of me — their professional niceness not quite getting under my skin enough to set me off for real. And it wasn't just the medications or the fact I was recovering from serious injury — the on board systems were clear about that. It was as if they just didn't matter enough. Which was kind of weird, since I'd normally take on any old excuse for a ding dong argument. There was just this crazy feeling of desolation.

It wasn't as if I was down about having failed a mission — we hadn't; or about sustaining injury in the line of duty — even if this was more severe than I'd sustained when Shasti had finally wigged out. That had been a failure too, come to think about it — and afterwards I'd been too pumped about getting my own back to even think about feeling down.

And during the days, there was enough sustained exercise — the artificial toning on the new arm and leg, maintenance routines on the original ones — between the 3WA back room boys wanting to debrief me on the case and the medics adjusting all their kit, that I slept soundly during the nights. But somehow it was all at arm's length.

And now this evening. I ought to have been elated — I had the official news that in the morning I'd be released from this bed and be able to start learning to walk again — and to check whether I would carry a scar like a garter on a formerly pristine thigh. But if anything the mood of grey gloom had intensified.

I had tried to think of positive things — like the fact that I'd been told my medical leave was going to include a vacation for final R&R, and thinking that there were still planets we could go without being immediately notorious. And ending up remembering our last vacation on a world like that, on Rocinante, and how that had ended up, including those terrifying moments when I thought Yuri had fallen, fallen to, to her…


I shouted her name out loud, would have sat bolt upright if I could have.

Maybe I was slow, like she so often accused me of being. Maybe I'd just stuck in a state of denial while my body was recovering. But now I could name the ache that I'd been nursing since I'd woken.

© Steve Gilham 2004