Legacy, Chapter 8 – Gravity
By C. Lear
The only way out is the way through...
Previous chapters published at http://visions.comet-empire.com/LadyLearIntro.htm
Words... he heard words in the blackness... two voices. He took in a deep breath. His lungs suddenly expanded with air. It felt so good. He felt a sudden sense of relief, as if he had escaped the suffocating depths of water. The relief was temporary. The pain returned, persistent and unwelcome.
He heard the sound of air moving as he breathed. 'Strange,' he thought 'the sound...' He tried to swallow, but his throat was a swollen mass. He took in another deep breath, and as his awareness returned, he realized the sound was his breath traveling through a narrow tube. He accepted it without faltering. He was too exhausted to panic.
“Breath-sounds!” Jessica's familiar voice filtered through his agonizing uncertainty. “Pack around the incision! There shouldn't be much blood.”
Hardy lifted his arm, reaching for whatever was within reach. Another hand met his. The young woman's familiar, delicate fingers knotted through his. “Welcome back!” Her voice was soft, but strained.
Hardy opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came forth. His fingers tightened and clenched the woman's hand in a desperate attempt to communicate his confusion.
She seemed to understand his gesture. “Don't try to talk,” she responded to him. “Your airway is obstructed and you stopped breathing for a bit! We couldn't get a tube down your throat in time, so we made an incision in your neck.”
Hardy was suddenly aware of the tentative pressure against his throat. He was startled by the familiar creaking of the ropes above him. He suddenly realized he was still vertical and the three of them were dangling precariously in the elevator shaft!
“Do you understand?” Jessica continued, squeezing his hand. He hesitated before responding to her, attempting to comprehend what was happening to him. She measured her words more carefully. “We've made an incision in the center of your throat and inserted a tube. You can't speak right now, but you can breath.”
He heard her softly gasp. She was reacting to pain.
“Great! You've probably dislocated your shoulder with that stunt!” The man's voice was directed at the young woman.
“You were the one who taught me to climb!”
“Yeah, CLIMB! UP! Not take a swan dive off the edge of a cliff!”
“Well, everybody else was doing it! Besides, if I hadn't, I would be pretty crispy by now!”
The man responded to her with a tense silence. Even in Hardy's exhausted stupor, he sensed the tension between the pair.
“My form... was lovely!” Jessica shifted in her harness, and Hardy heard a painful flinch in the midst of her words. “Maybe you should have taught me to fly!”
It was the man's hands that adjusted the tube in Hardy's throat. “You are fearless to the point of stupidity!”
He was rough with the gauze around the incision, probably attempting to place emphasis on his words. Hardy brought up his other hand and latched onto the man's arm. He tightened his grip with his failing strength, quickly reminding the man he was working with painfully delicate flesh and cartilage.
“Peter!” Jessica raised her voice, then she coughed. “Take it easy!”
“Oh! Didn't mean to hurt you, buddy!” Peter pressed and held the gauze loosely around the incision until Hardy heard the ripping sound of tape. He felt the sticky surface and the tentative pressure as the man pressed it in place on his neck.
“Not with that shoulder!” The man shot back at her.
“I'm fine! And unless you want to wrestle me all the way down, I'm staying with my patient!”
Jessica was true to her words. The descent was dangerous and technical. Despite her own injuries, she stayed within Hardy's grasp. They stopped more than once to connect new lines or to make adjustments to the ropes. She assisted her partner with the stretcher, lifting it over debris or moving it with her good arm. Only then did she release his hand. Occasionally, she placed her fingers against his neck, carefully monitoring his pulse. Between her tasks, her hand always found its way back into his.
They gave him more medication to manage the pain of his shattered body during the awkward movements of the extraction. Hardy was finally overtaken by the exhaustion of his ordeal. He could no longer maintain his vigilance. He realized, he didn't need to. With the lingering comfort of Jessica's fingers intertwined with his, he sank, without resistance, into the deep, silent blackness.
Hardy awoke with a sudden jerk. “Easy does it,” came a man's voice. “You're alright!” It was a different voice than before, an older voice. He felt the man's gloved fingers gently probed the skin around his eyes, but that wasn't what startled him.
There was another loud crash, like metal implements falling against a tiled floor. He realized it was the first crash which jolted him awake.
“What's going on out there?” The man asked someone near them.
“I think that civilian medic has a bone to pick with the dispatcher,” a woman's voice replied.
A massive sound of several things hitting the tiled floor at once pulled the man's attention from Hardy. “Whoa! What was that?” Hardy heard the man move away from him.
“Everything on the dispatcher's desk hitting the floor,” the woman replied, with the calm detachment of a casual observer. “Maybe we shouldn't have popped her shoulder back into place. She can really throw with that arm!”
“Wow! She's got 'em cornered!”
Jessica's voice was measured and controlled when she spoke to Hardy. Thus, it was difficult to distinguish the shouting in the distance as hers. Her voice was ragged and rough from smoke inhalation, but it didn't keep her angry shouts from cutting through the hum of the busy triage facility.
“Seriously? You didn't think I needed back-up? Who do you think you are?” Hardy heard most of the activity around him stray into silence, then the words of the heated verbal exchange could be clearly heard by all. “I don't care what you think about me, but you don't punish your own because I don't wear the uniform!”
“I don't take orders from you!” a man shouted. “You made a request, and I denied it!”
“Because you're an IDIOT!” Her last word was emphasized by the hard smack of something against the wall. “You have no idea what I was dealing with up there!” Another smack. “He's a pilot trainee! If he loses his sight, it will be a waste of a good soldier, and you know it!”
“You're not putting this on me! It was a matter of numbers...” the man shouted back at her and tried to continue, but Jessica cut him off.
“Yeah, I got that message! And it still sounds like a load of CRAP!” Another word was emphasized by a creative sound effect. This time, a resounding thud, then another crash as something shattered on the tile. “We both know what this is about, and it isn't numbers!”
“Oh!” the woman near Hardy exclaimed. “That's gonna' hurt!”
“You don't have to like me... you don't even have to respect me, but you do have to send me back-up when I ask for it! I am authorized, and I am entitled!”
“Military personnel take priority over civilian requests! You're not entitled to sh... Wait!” Something else hit the wall and this time, Hardy heard it shatter immediately.
“It's MY call! I'm in the field!” The volume of her voice changed as she moved. Hardy sensed she was pursuing the man around his office. “He's a senior cadet you moron! He IS military! You don't sit back here behind your computer, sipping on your coffee...” Another object shattered after a ferocious blow. 'Probably a coffee mug,' Hardy thought. “...making decisions like that!”
“Hey! Not the...” the man was interrupted by another smash. Hardy was wondering whether Jessica's shoulder would give out before she ran out of ammunition.
“Shouldn't somebody do something before someone get's hurt?” the man near Hardy asked.
“Are you kidding?” the woman replied. “This is the most fun I've had all day! She'll be fine!”
“It's not the girl I'm worried about!”
“Well, why don't you go break it up?”
“No way! I can't take the risk!” Hardy heard the man turn and approach his stretcher. “These hands are surgical instruments, and that little girl is scary!”
Remembering those words made Hardy smile. He would have
given anything to see Jessica's petite figure wielding common objects like
weapons against a larger adversary. Despite her feminine stature, she must have
appeared ferocious in her rage. Hardy likened the vision to a
“She saved my life,” he said to Sandor as he adjusted the bag of ice against the side of his face. “I probably would have died waiting for someone to get to me. At the very least, I would have lost my sight. She shouldn't have been up there by herself, but she came anyway.”
Sandor smiled and laughed softly. He crossed his arms and leaned against the door-frame behind him. “So, that's how the two of you met?”
Hardy paused and his smile broadened, but he winced with the pain of his swollen cheek. “Well... yes... and no...” He looked over at her as his words trailed off. Memories revealed themselves in brief sensations and fragile moments: the feel of her hand in his, the sound of her voice when she spoke his name, the movement of her body beneath his hands...
Her back was to them as she slept. The blanket rose and fell with each slow, deep inhalation. Her braided hair was loose, unkempt, and askew. Strands of it went every which way.
Wildstar, in the chair next to the couch, was more of a complement to the scene than a contrast. He looked almost as haggard and tired as the young woman. His hair was naturally unkempt. Thus, strands of it falling into his eyes were not unusual, but his uniform was pulled askew and stretched awkwardly as he attempted to find a comfortable position for snoozing upright. His fingers were knotted over his stomach. Over time, his head leaned awkwardly towards his shoulder. Hardy was thinking Wildstar would wake with a painful crick in his neck, and he was tempted to wake him, but Hardy suddenly realized Sandor was patiently waiting for him to continue.
Hardy excused himself from the table and politely bid his tipsy crew-mates good night. Conroy's eyes were on him as he pushed his chair to the table. “It's a little early, isn't it?” Hardy sensed Conroy's disappointment in his question. “The party's just started!”
“Have a drink for me.” Hardy smiled as he placed a friendly hand on Conroy's shoulder. “Early day tomorrow.”
Conroy didn't press him. Hardy knew his senior officer understood. All of them were dealing with the weight of what was to come. Conroy convinced him to take a break from mission preparation to attend the farewell banquet. However, Hardy's tolerance for crowds and social etiquette had its limits. Even with good food and entertainment, mission checklists dominated his thoughts.
He shook a few hands as he made his way to the main entrance of the great banquet hall. He politely declined requests to stay longer from other crew members, excusing himself with kind words.
A tangle of strange, uncoordinated notes rose from the orchestra as the musicians tuned their instruments. The lights began to dim. Hardy quickened his pace to the entrance, hoping to escape before the darkness obscured his path. Finally, he reached the staircase outside the Great Hall. He was relieved to be free from the crush of people behind him. The air was cooler outside.
He contemplated the long walk back to base as he moved toward the staircase leading down to the street. He took in a deep breath. The air was musty, stagnant, and damp; very common for the giant caverns housing the underground city. It made him miss the caress of a gentle breeze. Especially, when it swept through the sheltering branches of his Grandfather's pecan orchard. In the summer, it carried the scent of his Grandmother's magnolias.
He started down the steps, but something stopped him in mid-stride. He was overtaken by the gentle crescendo of a melody. The eerie sound of bagpipes drifted from the Great Hall, then echoed against the cavern walls in the distance. He listened carefully as the melody made its way over the constant hum of the crowd. It was soft, gentle, and strangely familiar.
A woman's voice followed, blending harmoniously with the music. The voice was very soft at first. It was only a shadow of the instruments, but it was pleasantly ethereal. The noise of the crowd subsided and a hushed silence swept over the audience, but the words of the song remained unclear.
Hardy moved back to the entrance, attempting to see over the crowd. His nagging curiosity finally drew him into the hall once more. He carefully skirted between members of the audience, moving his way toward the stage. It was awkward in the darkness, people were silent and still around him, but he pressed forward toward a single beam of light, cutting through the darkness.
All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep
Saying, "Where will we shelter or where will we sleep?"
For the Oak and the Ash, they are all cutten down…
The familiarity of the words heightened his curiosity and coaxed him forward with urgency. The familiarity of the voice sent a chill through him. The bitter, traumatic moments of his accident flooded his memory, and he suddenly felt a sense of desperation. That melody... the voice... they had been his lifeline, his only solace through his unyielding pain. 'Was it her...?'
And the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground.
O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you the more I think long...
He found himself at the foot of the stage, staring up at the delicate figure of a young woman. She stood in the soft illumination of a single spot-light. Her hair was a cascade of golden curls. Her long, black dress was a dramatic contrast to her porcelain skin. It complemented her small frame with a refined elegance, and gracefully draped her body as she moved. The lines of her face were fair and delicate and... somehow... familiar.
Hardy suddenly caught his breath. The young woman from the tram? It had been so long. Yet, during the months of recovery and painful rehabilitation, her beautiful smile lingered with him, inspiring him. Especially, during the most difficult times.
Alone on the stage, she seemed surprisingly frail. Not at all what he expected in someone that could drag his broken body through fire and debris. Hardy found himself mesmerized. Her voice was in perfect pitch, skillfully intertwined with the tones from the orchestra. He stared in shocked silence, unable to believe the voice and the face belonged to the same person.
Her voice rose in strength with the melody. Everyone around her was suspended in an obedient silence. She closed her eyes and suddenly hit a high note, holding it with breathtaking intensity. She extended her arms before her. Her palms were turned up toward the sky as if she summoned her strength from above. Hardy's throat tightened and he wondered how something so strong could come from someone so small.
Her arms dropped gently to her sides as her voice faded. She bowed her head with the orchestra's attenuating music. There was a brief pause, a small moment of silence, then an eruption of applause. Hardy was standing in the shadows, among a sea of admirers, but somehow, when she opened her eyes, she was looking at him. She smiled at him, and in that moment, he knew it was her.
Something moved inside him. He couldn't look away from her. He couldn't breath. Even as the lights brightened in the Great Hall, exposing the sea of admiring faces, the connection endured between them. They were suspended in a moment of splendid intimacy.
She was suddenly aware of the admiring crowd around her. Her eyes broke from his, and whatever delicate thing seemed to be between them, shattered like glass.
Her smile faded. She acknowledged the applause with hesitant nods and waves before she made a graceful exit from the stage. Hardy was left in his stunned silence, wondering if the precious moment between them was real. He remembered her. In a strange way, he knew her. He was a witness to her undeniable strength. This girl from the tram... saved his life. 'Would she remember me?' he wondered.
Admirers surrounded her, as he slowly approached. He gathered his courage with each step. From a distance, he observed her graceful attentiveness to Captain Avatar. She grasped the old man's hand with both of hers, nodding and smiling in response to his words. When Captain Avatar left her, another admirer took his place. She smiled as she exchanged words and shook hands.
Hardy halted suddenly when the young woman was embraced by Conroy. 'Of course,' he thought, and he felt the sting of disappointment. 'Of course she would have someone... but does it have to be my squad leader?' He took a deep breath and made his way through her circle of admirers.
“Hardy!” Conroy beamed. “I thought you headed out! Did you catch Jessica's performance?” He placed his hand on her head and mussed her hair.
“Hey!” She quickly jabbed Conroy in the ribs with her elbow and he withdrew his attack. “You promised! The hair is off-limits tonight!”
“Oh, don't be such a diva!” He quipped and he winked at Hardy before he was drawn into another conversation. She poked him once more before she turned to Hardy.
“Ma'am,” Hardy nodded at her, but that was the only word which came readily to him.
She extended her hand to him and smiled. They shook hands. He cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you...” he began, still grasping her hand in his.
“I'm sorry?” She tilted her head in a subtle gesture of confusion. There was no recognition in her eyes, and Hardy realized the moment they shared was... just a moment.
He suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable in the uncomfortable silence. He tried to say something more, but his mouth went dry. Another admirer approached and diverted the young woman's attention. She gave his hand a final squeeze and released it.
Hardy stepped back, fading into the crowd. He retreated behind heavy curtains to the sanctuary of an empty balcony. Here, he could find space to catch his breath and rally his strength. His stomach turned. Her striking beauty took him by surprise. Her dramatic presence left him uncertain and off-balance.
His hands were steady and strong. He could fly his fighter through a narrow chasm without fear or race along the nap of the earth with frightening speed and precision. Yet, he couldn't find the words for this young woman.
To Be Continued
Chapter 9 – Serenity
Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea...
Beta Reader: Sybil Rowan! Thanks again!
Date Written: October, 2010
Word Count: 3386