Chapter 3 – Requiem



The dust from the shuttle's jet wash swirled thick in the air, obscuring critical visibility from the windows.  Jessica hit the release on her belts and pulled them away.  She was on her feet before the shuttle settled to the earth.  She made long strides to the back of the shuttle, steadying herself by grasping the handlebars along ceiling.  She reached the rear hatch and smacked the control button with the palm of her hand, repeating the action in rapid succession, as if it would make the hatch descend faster.


She couldn't move fast enough.  Wildstar's voice was faint behind her.  The words he spoke didn't register with her.  She ran up the ramp and jumped over the edge before it could descend completely.


She was the first to reach the wreckage of the ejection seat.  The parachute billowed eerily in the dusty clouds stirred by the shuttle.  Jessica knelt briefly before the ejection seat.  She quickly took in important details of the scene:  the undamaged belt release, the faint impressions of boots and hands in the sand, the small pool of dried, blackened blood in the dust.   


She heard Wildstar’s voice behind her as she stood and surveyed their surroundings.  “We should split up and go in different directions.”


Jessica didn’t answer.  Her eyes fixed on a row of faint impressions in the dust.  They were quickly disappearing with the constant movement of the sand in the wind, but to Jessica, they held promise.  She began to walk, following tentative signs of life, silently oblivious to the other members of her team.    



It was some distance from the site of the ejection seat before she found him.  He was an impressive, but ragged, silhouette in the rays of the descending sun.  He stood with a supportive hand against a rocky outcrop.  His back was to her.  He faced the sun.  The wind and the dust swept over him, illuminating the rays of the sun until, from a distance, he appeared almost apparitional. 


Jessica caught her breath.  She wanted to call out to him.  She wanted to run to him and throw her arms around him, but she didn’t.  There was an obvious unsteadiness about him, but his confidant presence was a stark contrast to his battered condition.  ‘He's on his feet,’ Jessica thought.  ‘He's standing!’  She caught herself smiling.


She approached him with a quiet reserve, stepping carefully up the rise.  The warmth of the sun embraced her.  She tried to steadied herself, as if she could do anything about her own trembling.  With gentle regard she placed her hand on his back and stood next to him. 


“Jessica,” he said to her and she was suddenly aware she had not heard him speak her name in almost a year.  “I knew you’d find me.”  His voice was weak and raspy, and he was struggling to catch his breath.  “Just… just like when we were kids.”


“I knew all of your hiding places back then,” she said softly, managing a brief smile for him.  A tangle of joy and anxiousness rose within her, but she forced it down, fighting it back before it overwhelmed her.  ‘Calmly,’ she thought. ‘Stay sharp.  You have work to do.’


“I’m sorry I’m late…” Peter shifted uncomfortably with pain, “There was a little accident.”


“You’re not late, Peter.  You’re just in time.”  Jessica swallowed hard, then with a hesitant hand she reached for his face.  She took her brother’s chin in her hand and gently urged him to look at her.  He self-consciously turned his head away from her, attempting to hide his wounds.  Jessica knew this was not how he wanted his little sister to see him.


Jessica persisted, touching his chin again and turning his burns toward her.  She studied them with a composed objectivity, trying to seem undisturbed by the extent of the damage.  Beneath the shattered remains of his faceplate, his face was burned and swollen.  Spatters of dried blood obscured the left half of his face.  She could see charred and blackened skin.  His left eye was bloody and swollen shut. 


Peter leaned into the rocky outcrop beside him for support.  With careful, steady hands, she lifted the faceplate.  She put her other hand against her brother’s right cheek.  Even in the heat of the sun, Peter’s skin was cold and strikingly pale.  There was a slight blue tint to his lips.  She knew he was lacking oxygenated blood.


‘It could have been much worse,’ she thought.  ‘The collision could have broken his neck.’  She silently gave thanks for the condition he was in and for the hard head, which came standard with every Conroy male.


Jessica moved her hands from his face to his neck.  She searched for his pulse.  It was rapid, weak, and thready.  She gently moved her hands about his shoulders and arms, feeling for bruising and fractures.  Leaning in close to him, she moved her arms under his so her hands could feel his back.  She suddenly felt his arm around her.  He gently pulled her into a strong embrace.


She was quiet and still, allowing herself to be held in the silence.  Joy rose within her, but so did fear.  He was cold.  She could feel his rapid, shallow breaths, his trembling, his body’s struggle to overcome its rapidly failing systems.  She caught her breath and fought back her tears, pulling away from him before she was overwhelmed.


Jessica looked down at her hand.  There was fresh blood on her glove.  Her eyes widened when she found the source; a serrated piece of shrapnel lodged firmly in the left side of her brother’s abdominal cavity.   


Peter followed Jessica’s eyes to his abdomen.  “Oh,” he said quite calmly, “That doesn’t belong there.”  He brought up his right hand and wrapped his fingers firmly around the jagged protruding piece of steel.  She knew he had every intention of giving it a good yank. 


“No, no, no!”  Jessica exclaimed, grabbing Peter’s wrist.  “We should let the surgeon take care of that.”  Jessica said softly, desperately trying to control the anxiousness in her voice. 


“But it needs to go back into the fighter.”  Peter’s words faded into his shallow breaths.  “He’s not gonna’ know where it goes.”


Jessica grabbed Peter’s arm.  She didn’t speak until his eyes met hers.  “Don’t touch it, Peter!  Do you understand?  Don’t try to pull it out!”  The tone of her voice was enough to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.  Peter nodded gravely. 


It was the first rule of triage; pieces of shrapnel protruding from the human body must remain where they imbedded themselves.  Pulling them out often caused more damage than the brutal act of going in.  The last thing Peter needed was additional internal bleeding.  Jessica knew his head wound was impairing his ability to make sound decisions.


Jessica inspected his chest above the entry wound.  The seal of the flight suit was shredded.  There were small rips in the material on his chest and left arm.  There was fresh blood on his skin, evidence of shrapnel entry. 


“You’re trying to catch your breath, Peter!  Are you having chest pains?  Does it hurt when you breathe?”  Peter responded with a nod. 


Jessica knelt in front of him, carefully assessing his legs for broken bones.  “Can you tell me about the accident, Peter?  Do you remember what happened?  Did you black out?”  Jessica paused, realizing he could not keep up with her rapid-fire questioning.  She looked up at him.  He was watching the sun ease gently upon the horizon.  “Peter?”  Jessica said softly as she stood again. 


“It’s been more than a year since I’ve seen the sun set,” Peter said softly.  “I miss the sun.”


Jessica touched his arm gently.  Her voice was soft.  Her words trembled.  “Me too,” she paused for a moment.  “That’s why you left the ejection seat?”


He nodded, “I think so.  It was warmer.”


Jessica’s fingers tightened around his arm.  “I need to know if you blacked out, Peter.  Please tell me.”


He shifted again, “I remember the ejection, but that’s all.  I…”


Jessica felt him sway.  She stepped in close to him, attempting to steady him, but his knees suddenly buckled beneath him.  He grabbed the outcrop for support, but the stones broke loose in his hand.  Jessica threw her arms around him, but the weight of him prevailed and they hit the ground on their knees.


“Medevac team, this is Jessica Conroy.  I found the pilot!”  Jessica’s voice sounded small and frail in the static of the radio.  “I need a stretcher up here!”


“Where are you?”  Wildstar replied.


“No stretcher,” Peter said, “I’m walking to the shuttle.”


Jessica opened her mouth to speak, but Peter interrupted her, “I’m walking.” 


Wildstar’s voice came again, followed by Jason’s.  They were both calling her name.  Jessica imagined them frantically darting about, searching the horizon for them.


“Peter, I think you’re hemorrhaging internally!  You’re very shocky right now!”  Jessica paused, hoping to provoke a response from him.  “The mission is over!  You’ve done your job!  Let me do mine!”


“My legs aren’t broken.  I don’t want to be carried,” he said calmly.  There was a sudden clarity and determination in his eye and it said, 'the decision is final'.  “I want to walk back to the shuttle.  Please help me.”


Jessica shook her head, looking down at the ground.  She was torn and frustrated.  Most of all, she hated it when he asked nicely.  He knew it was much harder for her to tell him no.


“Jessica, we’re coming to you!  Where are you?”  Wildstar’s voice was stronger than before.


“Negative,” Jessica finally replied on the open mike, then she and her brother looked at each other, “we’re coming to you.”


Peter tried to smile at her, but she didn’t smile back.  Jessica knew she was wasting her time trying to argue with her brother.  Once Peter was set on something, it was impossible to change his mind.  Her most immediate concern was to get him away from the hostile environment of Earth’s surface. 


“Thank you.”


“Don’t be nice to me.  I’m angry at you right now.”  She positioned herself under his right arm.  She felt his soft, familiar laugh.  She was suddenly struck by how much she missed it.


“Aren’t you always angry at me for something?”


“I’m your sister!”  She carefully positioned her left arm around his body for support.  “It’s my right to always be angry with you.  Are you ready?”  He nodded. 


They both stood carefully.  She heard him strain with the movement.  She knew he was gritting his teeth against the pain.  It was almost more than she could take.   


“Are you all right?”  Jessica asked and Peter nodded quickly.


“Let’s go!”  He replied sharply and she knew he wanted to move before he changed his mind.


“Joe!”  Jessica called the medic on the open mike.  She tried to sound calm and steady when she spoke, but her voice trembled.  She struggled with the weight of her brother against her shoulders.  “We have definite head trauma here.  Peripheral cyanosis, with chest pains and labored breathing!  Prep the saline and the body scanner, please.”


It took some time for the two of them to reach the proximity of the shuttle.  They tried to move carefully through the uneven terrain.  Wildstar spotted them first as they topped a nearby rise.  He rushed to them.  He took Conroy’s other arm and pulled it over his shoulders. 


“Watch that shrapnel in his side!”  Jessica shouted.


“I see it!  What happened?  Why didn’t you let us bring a stretcher?”


“Peter wanted to walk.”  Jessica breathed hard from her exertion. 


“Walk?”  Wildstar glanced at both of them, hoping for an additional explanation.


“It’s… it’s a nice day for a walk,” Peter said softly between hard fought breaths.      


Wildstar smiled and shook his head.  It was just like Conroy to stay on his feet as long as he could, even if it meant fending off the medics.  “You certainly have a flare for the dramatic, don’t you?”


“Hey,” Conroy rasped, “any landing you can walk away from…”


Wildstar laughed.  “No, I think this is going to be a bad landing any way you look at it!”


By the time they reached the ramp of the shuttle the equipment was prepped.  Peter continued to be difficult.  He insisted on sitting up in a chair, rather than reclining in the gurney, arguing it would be harder to catch his breath in a prone position.   


Wildstar knew Jessica was losing her patience with her brother.  She finally raised her voice to him.  “You’re going to lay down, shut up, and let me do my job!  If you don’t, I will knock you out and intubate!  Got it?”


For a brief moment, Wildstar wanted to smile.  The scene reminded him of a feisty young mother arguing with her teenage son.  He didn’t know what intubate meant, but it didn’t sound pleasant.   


Peter must have been thinking the same thing.  He couldn’t help a sarcastic reply, “Yes, Mother!”   


Wildstar didn’t realize he was smiling out loud until Jessica glared at him and snapped.  “What are you grinning at?”


Wildstar forced the smile from his face.  He shook his head, innocently dismissing the question as they carefully eased Peter onto the gurney.  Wildstar watched Jessica remove Peter’s helmet and inspect the wounds to his face and head.  She placed an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.


The familiar whine and hiss of pressurization echoed in the background.  The thick clouds of dust slowly retreated into the filtration system.


Jessica handed Wildstar a pair of surgical scissors.  “Cut away his flight suit!  Be careful around the open wound!”  She stood and lowered the vital statistics scanner from the wall and started flipping switches. 


The medic hung the saline bag and started to prepare the intravenous needle.  “Clear an arm for me.”  He said to Wildstar.


Wildstar pulled off Peter’s flight gloves and started cutting open the sleeve of his flight suit.  Then he pulled at Peter’s shirt and began cutting from the bottom.   He met Peter’s one good eye and gave him a reassuring smile.


“You know, Wildstar.” Peter said, as he pulled the oxygen mask from his face, “I don’t want to alarm you, but I’m getting a little aroused here.”


Wildstar’s reassuring smile pursed into a painful smirk.  He tried hard not to laugh out loud.  The absurdity of the situation was apparent to both of them.  He took the scissors and pointed them at Peter’s face.  “You are a sick man!  I am going to assume that’s the bump on your head talking.”  Wildstar tried to maintain a serious demeanor and went back to cutting away Peter’s flight suit.


The medic just shook his head.  “Be still!” He said to Peter. “I am trying to find a vein!”


Peter laughed, his crooked smile still bearing his familiar mischievous flare.  “Derek,” he said between quick, shallow breaths,  “I never noticed what lovely eyes you have!”


They both started to laugh out loud.  “Shhhhhh!  Quit it!”  Wildstar said, “You’re going to get me in trouble!”  Jessica suddenly smacked him on the back of the helmet from her standing position.  The helmet slipped forward on Wildstar’s face.  “See?”  Wildstar said to Peter, the crooked angle of the helmet covering one eye. 


Peter’s body shook with weakened laughter.  “She’s got ears like a bat!” 


“Start on his legs!” Jessica said to Wildstar.  Jessica ripped Peter's shirt the rest of the way, exposing his neck and chest.  She took the oxygen mask from Peter’s hand and positioned the mask back over his mouth.  “Shut up and breathe!” 


“Let me know if this hurts, Peter!”  Jessica put her hands over Peter’s abdomen and applied pressure.  Peter jerked slightly when she came too close to the shrapnel wound.  “Okay, Peter, that’s good!” 


“Blood pressure is steady!  Heart rate is at one-twenty and rising!”  Joe listened intently to Peter’s chest through his stethoscope and shook his head.  I can’t hear breath sounds on the left.  The left side isn’t rising with the right!  I think it’s a tension pneumothorax!”    


Jessica looked up at Joe from Peter’s chest and gave him a quick nod.  Must be!  He has a distended jugular and I count two entry wounds here!


“We need to relieve the pressure!”  Joe said. 


“Jessica?”  Wildstar drew her attention to Peter’s left leg.  He cut away the flight suit and revealed a surprising amount of blood.


“Okay!  Do you see any puncture wounds?  Look carefully.”  Wildstar shook his head.  “That blood is drying, I think most of it is from the shrapnel wound.  That bleeding has stopped for now.  There’s alcohol and gauze over there.  Clean the blood from the area and try to watch for swelling or discoloration.  Got it?”  Wildstar nodded his response and reached for the supplies.  “Peter, I need to look at your back for exit wounds!”  She positioned her hands underneath him.  “I need to roll you on your right side for just a second!”


It was a coordinated effort between the three of them:  Joe at Peter’s head, Jessica at his chest, and Wildstar at his legs.  “Alright, roll on three.”  Jessica started the count and they lifted Peter on three.


Peter’s muscles tightened and his body stiffened with the pain.  He gritted his teeth under the oxygen mask.


The shredded flight suit fell away from his back, revealing undamaged skin.  Jessica sighed with some relief.  The shrapnel had not passed completely through his chest.  Although it was still trapped inside him, at least Jessica could focus on the holes on the front of his chest.


“Alright,” she said and they carefully laid him flat again.  Jessica rummaged in the supply chest and her hands emerged with what appeared to be flexible plastic disks sealed neatly in plastic packaging.  “Do you have triage experience?”  She glanced at Wildstar.


Wildstar nodded.  “Yes.”


“Any experience with sucking chest wounds?”  She asked as she pressed one of the large plastic disks over one of the shrapnel wounds in Peter’s chest.  It clung readily to the cleaned skin. 


“No,” he replied.


“That’s alright!  I just need a little help from you.” She took the second plastic disk and placed it over the other hole in her brother’s chest.  “Peter, there’s a pocket of air building up in your chest.  It’s crushing your lung.  That’s why you can’t breathe!”  She took Wildstar’s hands and placed them firmly on the plastic disks.  “I need you to watch these chest seals.”  She said to Wildstar.  “Not too much pressure, but make sure they stay sealed, okay?”


Wildstar nodded nervously, then he caught Peter’s good eye on him and tried to smile reassuringly.  “I got your back.”


“Thought you had my front,” Peter’s voice was just a whisper as he tried to smile back at him.


The medic handed her an object wrapped in plastic packaging and she began to rip it open.  “Peter, you know I love you.”


Peter looked at her suspiciously.  “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”  


“After that piece of shrapnel you took in the gut?  It’s just a tickle, Sweetheart.”  She finished unwrapping the 14-gauge needle out of Peter’s eyesite, but Wildstar’s eyes widened slightly when he saw the size of it.  “I don’t have time to anesthetize the area, Peter.  You’re going to feel a good-sized pinch, okay?  I need you to try and be very still.” 


Peter suddenly released a groan.  “I haven’t started yet, Honey,” Jessica said to him.


“No, pressure… Hurts…” He moved his hand toward Wildstar’s hands on his chest.


“Hey, easy does it!”  Jessica touched Wildstar’s arm.  Wildstar suddenly broke his stare from the needle and looked at Jessica.


“Oh, I’m sorry!”  He said to her.  “I’m sorry!”  He repeated to Peter.  He suddenly realized he was preoccupied with the syringe in Jessica’s hand.  He was pressing too hard against Peter’s chest to secure the chest seals.


“It’s okay!  It’s okay!”  Jessica said quickly in a reassuring tone.  She briefly touched his arm.  “You’re doing fine.”


The medic moved to Peter’s right side and put his weight on Peter’s right hand.  Wildstar maintained his vigilance over the wounds, but moved slightly so the medic could get a good hold. 


“Not so tight,” Jessica told the medic, “he’s my brother and he’s never hit me before.  He’s not going to start now.”


“Are you sure?”  Joe glanced at the syringe then looked at her. 


“It’s alright.”  She persisted with a nod. 


Joe gently eased his grip, but kept a vigilant hold on Peter’s limbs.  “Do you want me to do this?”  He asked Jessica, but Peter replied to him.


“No,” Peter shook his head,  “she can do it.  I trust her.”


Jessica smiled at Peter.  “Check out the scenery in the window for me, Peter.  What’s his blood pressure?”


Joe checked the readings on the scanner.  Hypotensive, eighty over forty!  His pulse is one-fifty and rising!”


Peter complied with his sister’s request and turned his head away from her.  Wildstar watched as Jessica  closed her eyes and carefully probed the left side of her brother’s chest.  Her fingers painstakingly followed the protrusion of his clavicle then stepped down the faint lines of his rib cage. 


Without opening her eyes, she carefully brought the needle to his chest and positioned it over the space between the first and second rib.  Then with a surprising tenderness that Wildstar would have never associated with such an act, she pressed the needle into her brother’s chest.


They could all feel Peter’s muscles tighten.  He squeezed his good eye closed and tears flowed.  His clenched fists trembled under the strain, but he remained obediently still.


She quickly pulled the plunger from the syringe and bloody fluid bubbled into it.  She carefully eased the syringe from his chest and a catheter remained.  Wildstar could hear the soft hiss of air and fluid bubble through the catheter.


Peter’s muscles suddenly released.  They felt his body as it went limp in their hands.  Silently, he slipped into unconsciousness.



“What happened?”  Wildstar shouted.  “He... he was talking to me!”


“Peter?”  Joe touched Peter’s face, trying to revive him.  “Peter, can you here me?”  He pulled back Peter’s eyelid to check his pupils.  The soft, rhythmic beep of the EKG registered sporadically.  “Doc?” 


Jessica followed Joe’s eyes to the EKG.  “I see it!  Multiple PVC’s!”


“He’s non-responsive, Doc!”  Joe leaned close to Peter's face.  “He’s not breathing!” 


“He’s not breathing?”  Wildstar shouted.  “What does that mean?”


Jessica looked at Wildstar, obviously perplexed by the question.  “It means he’s not breathing!”  She said calmly.  “Bag him!”  Jessica said to Joe, but Joe already grabbed the ventilator bag from the supply chest.  He removed the oxygen mask from Peter’s face and positioned the mask of the ventilator bag in its place. 


“What can I do?”  Wildstar asked, clearly frustrated.


Jessica pointed to the chair behind him.  “Sit!”  Wildstar obediently flopped back into the chair.  She pointed at him.  “Stay!” 


Jessica reached for a syringe gun and loaded it with a fluid-filled capsule.  She pressed the gun firmly to Peter’s neck, over the bloated jugular, and pulled the trigger.  There was a brief hiss as the epinephrine was administered, then she tossed the gun aside.    


“V-fib!”  Joe shouted, responding to the reading on the EKG. 


Jessica turned to the wall behind her and snatched the resuscitation electrodes for the defibrillator.  She placed an electrode on the upper right side of his chest.  She carefully positioned the second on his left, above the shrapnel wound, but below Peter’s heart. 


“Ready?”  She looked at Joe and he nodded.  He pulled the ventilator bag away.


The female voice of the computerized defibrillator anounced its intention and a three point count-down.  After one, Peter’s body jerked and arched as his muscles contracted with the electrical impulse.  His body released.  There was an intermitant beep from the scanner.  Another sharp blip sounded through the hollow drone of the alarms. 


Joe brought up the ventilator bag to Peter’s face.  Jessica began chest compressions until the defibrillator recycled.


Another anounced intention from the defibrillator broke the coordinated rythm between Jessica and Joe.  A three point count-down followed.  Jessica and the medic pulled away from Peter’s body.  Peter jerked again, every muscle locked and strained with the violent assalt on his system. 


A tense moment passed, then the scanner alarms ceased, one by one.  They waited for changes in Peter’s vitals. 


Peter moved.  He suddenly gasped, drawing in a deep breath as if he broke the angry surface of the sea.  He brought up his hand and roughly slapped the ventilator bag from his face and out of Joe's hands. 


Jessica grabbed his left arm and put a hand under his back.  She began to push him up on his side.  “Turn him!  Quick!”


Wildstar moved quickly and steadied Peter’s body on the opposite side from Jessica.  “Move back!”  Jessica said to Wildstar.




“Back!”  Jessica shouted and she pushed Wildstar back in time to avoid Peter’s undigested breakfast as it hit the floor. 


“Normal sinus rhythm,”  Joe's eyes were still on the EKG monitor. 


“Normal breath sounds too!”  Jessica smiled at Joe after watching her brother breathe.


Peter was still on his side.  Joe pressed the stethescope against Peter’s back and he nodded and returned Jessica's smile.  “I’ll administer a little Promethazine through the IV.  It’ll help with the nausea.”


Jessica sat on the gurny and pressed her body against Peter’s back, supporting him so he could remain on his side.  She threaded her arm under his so she could reach the catheter in his chest.  She gently closed the valve.  With maticulous detail, she checked the seals over his wounds.  She took Peter’s hand in hers.  “Are you going to listen to me the next time I tell you we need a stretcher?”  Jessica whispered to Peter.


“No.”  Peter whispered and Jessica laughed softly.  “I’m going to feel this in the morning, aren’t I?”


Peter shivered violently.  Jessica looked up at Wildstar.  “There are blankets in the incubator over there.  Would you get two of them, please.”  Wildstar nodded and quickly returned, handing one of the heated blankets to Jessica and spreading the other over Peter’s legs.  “Thank you,” she said and drapped it over Peter’s shoulder, carefully avoiding the shrapnal wound in his side.



Wildstar sat in a chair close to Peter’s head.  He gently placed his hand over Peter’s short cropped hair.  “You're a mess!”


Peter was weary and weak, but he looked up at Wildstar and gave him a brief smile.  “Sorry… about your boots.”


Wildstar smiled and glanced down at his boots.  “Don’t worry.  They’re in much better shape than your fighter.”


The interior of the shuttle went dark as the medevac escaped the light of the setting sun and entered the underground landing zone.  Wildstar leaned back into his chair, releasing a long, relieved sigh.  His eyes adjusted to the dim interior illumination of the shuttle, and his eyes fell on Jessica.


The light from the launch tube scattered through the interior of the shuttle as they moved further underground.  Even in the intermittent flashes of light, Wildstar could see how much she loved him.  It was etched in her eyes, written in the way she looked at him in that very moment.  Without hesitation, without doubt, without question, she loved him.     


She softly whispered words to him.  It was something that Wildstar could not hear at first.  Then, he realized, she was softly singing. 


Her voice was timid and small.  The words trembled as they escaped her.  It made the melody tremendously haunting in the hollow confines of the shuttle.  He could only catch bits of the words, but the melody was eerily familiar and strangely comforting. 


“…All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep…”

Peter was breathing easier now.  Joe gently placed the oxygen mask over Peter's face. 


“…Saying, ‘Where will we shelter or where will we sleep?’
For the Oak and the Ash, they are all cutten down…”


“Mom sang that, didn't she?”  Peter whispered to her.  His voice was muffled.  “You sound like her.”


Jessica was silent as the melody caught in her throat.  Wildstar felt his throat tighten.  She bowed her head and a tear rolled down her cheek.  The emotionless façade which Jessica had so carefully crafted around her shattered in that moment.  Wildstar watched the pieces fall.   


There was something intrinsically valuable in what was between them, something irreplaceable and wholly immeasurable.  Seeing it was enough to help Wildstar understand  there was no better place for his good friend than in the capable and vigilant hands of this young woman. 


“Tell me,” Peter said softly.  He drew in a deep breath.  “How long have you wanted to stab your big brother in the chest?”


She smiled at him, “Truthfully?”  Her voice cracked as she blinked back tears.  “Ever since you put my marshmallow peeps in the microwave.”


Peter smiled weakly, “You remember that?”


She leaned towards his ear and whispered, “I still have nightmares.”


He squeezed her hand.  “You’ll make sure they put everything back where they found it.” 


“Of course.  I did mention that you might be much happier as a woman.”


Peter smiled.  He wanted to laugh, but a sharp pain shot through him.  He cringed and groaned.


“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry, Peter!  I won't make you laugh anymore!”


Peter blinked, trying to clear his head.  Wildstar could see he was swimming through waves of exhaustion.  Jessica carefully stood up from the gurney and helped Peter lay back.  Somewhere in the random memories surfacing in his mind, Peter recalled a familiar saying between them, “I missed your smile,” he said to her.


Jessica laughed out loud.  Her eyes glistened as tears escaped, but she responded to him quickly with great sincerity, “I missed your laugh.”  She leaned over Peter, her face close to his.  Strands of her hair escaped the braid and brushed against his face.  She kissed his forehead.  “I’ll be here when you wake up, Peter.”  She moved the oxygen mask over his mouth. 


The shuttle landed and she heard the ramp descending behind her.  Joe touched her shoulder.  “Doc?” 


“Wait,” she refused to divert her attention from her brother.  Peter tried to say something else, but it was lost in the muffled hiss of the oxygen.  His hand relaxed within hers. 


Wildstar knew she wanted to be the last person he saw, the last person he heard, and the last person he felt before he faded into unconsciousness.  She waited for his eyes to close and she didn't move until she was certain he would not utter another word. 


Not even the footfall of the ground support staff as they ran up the ramp of the shuttle distracted her.  Joe briefed them on Peter’s condition.  By now, Jason had downloaded her brother’s vitals from the on-board scanner.


“Alright,” she said to Joe.  She unhooked the saline bag and placed it gently on the gurney, then she stepped back. 


They unlocked the gurney from its fittings, extended the wheel bearings.  They carefully moved it toward the ramp.  Jessica’s hand lingered with Peter’s for a moment longer, until he was moved away.  Her fingers brushed his arm, his shoulder, then and the short-cropped hair on his head.  Wildstar knew those last engaging moments were for her. 


Joe stayed behind with Jessica, giving her a moment before he spoke.  “Doc Randall said you could observe.  Are you coming?”


Jessica shook her head.  She didn’t meet his eyes.  She continued to look after her brother.  “Not this time…”


The young medic nodded to her then followed the others.  They rushed the gurney down the dimly lit stone corridor.  She watched her brother disappear into the shadows.  The wheels of the gurney echoed against the walls of the underground chamber.  It faded into the voices of the lingering crowd.  Some watched with questioning trepidation as the medical staff passed.



To Be Continued…


Chapter 4 – The Healer

Peter Conroy's young sister is a healer, but in the shadow of tragedy, where can the healer find solace?  Can Jessica move beyond her inner turmoil and find trust and hope in a new friendship?