Mark Venture listened to the voices for several minutes before he opened his eyes. At first he thought he must be dreaming – a strange kind of dream, with only sound and no picture. The voices were familiar, although he couldn’t follow what they were saying. Eventually he realized the voices belonged to Mom, Dad and Jordy. And Mom sounded so sad. He tried to reach out to her, but he couldn’t summon the strength, somehow. Later there was another, unfamiliar woman’s voice, as well. It wasn’t Nova’s, and it wasn’t Trelaina’s. Trelaina. The last thing he remembered was hearing her voice as she nursed him. He couldn’t remember what she said, but he knew he had been happy with her, and that he was not happy now. He also couldn’t remember how he had ended up with Trelaina. He thought there had been a battle on the Argo, but that was all.
The voice that sounded like his mother’s now sounded like she was crying. He could never stand to hear her cry. He tried again to reach out to her. He thought he might be able to do it if he tried a little harder. Then, suddenly, the voice was calling to him. “Mark! Mark, can you hear me? Wake up!” He felt a tug on his hand, as well. Maybe it wasn’t a dream, he decided. He struggled to open his eyes, blinked heavily a few times and worked to focus on the space around him. He was right – Mom, Dad and Jordy were standing around the bed he was lying in, along with a tired looking redheaded nurse. The nurse said something about Doctor Sane and rushed out of the room, but the family’s eyes were glued to him. Mom had tears running down her face, and Dad was standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders and tears in his eyes. Jordy stood on the other side of the bed, his mouth wide open.
Mark cleared his throat and tried to speak. “Mom. Dad.” His voice was hoarse from disuse, his throat dry, and it seemed to take him a long time to form the words. He felt as though he was moving under water. “What…?”
“Mark! You’re awake!” His mother was crying in earnest now, bent over his hand, and Jordy was jumping up and down saying his name. His head hurt and he was confused, and the lights and noise were overwhelming. But his father’s voice, although trembling with emotion, was quiet and even, and calmed him a bit.
“Son. We’re so glad you’re awake. You were… hurt… in the war, but you’re going to be fine.”
Hurt? He had another flash of that battle on the deck of the Argo. And he suddenly felt worried about Nova. Had she been hurt, too? He tried to form the question. “Nova?”
“Nova and Wildstar are both fine, Venture.” He moved his head at the sound of Doctor Sane’s voice and saw him entering the room, the red-haired nurse following him. The doctor turned to the family and spoke more gently than Mark had ever heard him. “Excuse me, folks, but I’ll have to ask you to step out of the room while I examine Mark. It may take some time, but you’ll be able to see him again as soon as I’m done. Carina, please bring the Ventures to the cafeteria and get them something to eat, and then find IQ-9 and tell him to get in touch with Nova and Wildstar right away. Then come back here and give me a hand, OK?”
“Yes sir. Please, come with me,” the nurse said.
Jordy protested. “I don’t want to eat. I want to talk to Mark.”
The nurse put her hand on the boy’s shoulder and spoke patiently. “I promise I’ll bring you back as soon as the doctor says it’s OK, all right? You’re in luck -- we have good chocolate cake in the cafeteria today.”
She led the family out of the room, and Mark focused on the doctor. He asked about the one thing that really mattered to him. “Trelaina?”
Doctor Sane was looking in his ear, and was silent for a minute. When he spoke, he sounded as though he was weighing his words carefully. “She saved your life, Mark. And she destroyed Prince Zordar. Without her, Earth wouldn’t have survived.”
The doctor’s tone, and the fact that he had called him by his first name, told Mark what he needed to know, what he supposed he already knew. “She’s gone.” He felt his stomach churn and hot tears well up in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mark.”
He tried to nod as it sank in, when another thought occurred to him. Trelaina had refused to take sides the last time he’d spoken to her, but the doctor had said she destroyed Zordar. That must mean Earth had been in very dire straits. “Who else?” He whispered. “From the Star Force?”
The tiny man stared at the floor for a moment. “It was a hard-won victory; I won’t lie to you. Wildstar and Nova should be here in a little while, and they’ll tell you all about it. But right now we have to concentrate on getting you better. Do you think you can focus on what I’m doing for a few minutes?”
He struggled to take a deep breath and nodded. Thankfully, the questions didn’t require much concentration. Did this hurt, did that hurt, what did this feel like, how many fingers did he see. It was hard to pay attention, and while the doctor looked in his eyes and at his throat and listened to his heart, he allowed himself to think about Trelaina. He had lost her once, when she destroyed Telezart, and now he had lost her again. She had saved his life somehow, but then she had left him. Alone. And what about his friends on the Star Force? The doctor’s silence told him there was bad news there, too. He ran down the list of crew members in his head, wondering which he’d never see again, until the doctor’s voice pulled him out of his reverie.
“Venture!” Mark turned his head and looked at Doctor Sane, who was now standing at his feet along with the nurse who had been there when he woke up. She had been nice to Jordy. He hadn’t noticed her come back in. It really was hard to focus. “Please, try to stay with me. Now, can you feel this?” The doctor dragged something across his foot. He could see him do it, but he didn’t feel anything.
For the first time, Mark felt a stab of fear for himself. He tried unsuccessfully to wiggle his toes and felt a wave of panic crash over him. The fear helped to focus his mind and gave him a sudden burst of energy. “No. Doc, I can’t move my legs!” He struggled to sit up, but he didn’t have much strength, and the nurse moved quickly to put her hands on his shoulders and hold him down.
“Commander Venture,” she said in a soothing voice that made him feel vaguely angry, “Dr. Sane needs you to lie still so he can do his job. We expect you to regain feeling and mobility within a few days. There’s nothing to worry about.”
He pushed her hands away irritably, but Doctor Sane nodded. “She’s right. There’s nothing in any of the tests we’ve run to indicate any permanent damage. Your body has been through a lot, and we don’t even know half of it yet. You need to give it time.” The doctor stepped forward and looked him in the eye. “Now, I’ve got to go and check on some of the patients who really need me. You let Lt. Clark take care of you like a good patient, hmmm? I’ll be back later.” The doctor waved and left Mark alone with the nurse.
She picked up his wrist to check his pulse rate, then recorded his blood pressure and his temperature. The feeling of her hand, cool and gentle on his forehead, irritated him and he frowned at her. She chatted as she straightened the items on his bedside table, apparently impervious to his scowl. “You’re lucky to have such a wonderful family here that loves you so much. We see a lot of soldiers who have no one to visit them. But, as I told your parents and your brother, we’re going to take good care of you. You’ll be fine.”
She smiled at him indulgently, and suddenly he was furious. Trelaina was gone, along with who knew how many of his friends, he was paralyzed from the waist down, and this nurse was treating him as though he was five years old. “How do you know that? How do you know I’ll be fine?” He saw her flinch as he snapped at her, but he didn’t care. “And lucky? Lieutenant, how many of your friends did you lose last week? Did you lose the person you loved? I don’t even know how many of my friends were lost, and now…”
An electronic sound interrupted him, and IQ-9, the Star Force’s self-proclaimed “genius robot,” entered the room. “Mark Venture, I am glad you are awake,” he said in his tinny voice. “Derek Wildstar and Nova are here to talk to you. Doctor Sane has advised them to keep their visit short so you may rest.” Nova and Wildstar followed him, carrying a vase of freshly cut flowers. When they saw the expressions on his and the nurse’s faces, they paused uncertainly, but Lt. Clark smiled at them and made her way out of the room. “Enjoy your visit,” she said, clearing her throat as she passed them. “Cdr. Venture, I’ll bring your family back in half an hour or so. I’ll see you later this evening.” She sidestepped deftly around IQ-9, swatting at his yellow hand as he extended it to flip up her skirt.
“Mark, is everything all right?” Nova’s voice was gentle as she stepped forward and took his hands. “You sounded upset.”
There had been a time when Nova had meant the world to him, when he had thought that maybe she and he… But that had ended during the trip to Iscandar, when it became clear that Derek was the one she wanted to be with. Still, although he no longer had romantic feelings for her, he loved her more than any other woman he knew. She always seemed to know how to make him feel better, and now just hearing her voice and feeling her hands on his calmed his mood. He was a bit embarrassed about the way he had snapped at the nurse, and turned away for a moment.
“It’s OK. It was nothing. Thank you for coming to see me, Nova, Derek.”
At that, Wildstar deposited the flowers on the bedside table and took one of his hands from Nova. “Venture. Boy, you sure scared us. Don’t ever do that to us again, OK? The Star Force needs you too much, space jockey.” He smiled at his friend, but Mark couldn’t find the energy to smile back. Instead, he nodded and got directly to the reason they were there.
“The doc said you would tell me what happened. I know about Trelaina, but who else? It sounds like it was bad.” He saw the concerned look they gave each other, and pressed on. Mark had kept Derek up-to-date when Derek had been wounded, even against Doctor Sane’s wishes, and he knew that Derek would do the same for him. “Look, I need to know. Please don’t treat me like a child.”
Wildstar nodded and pulled up a chair while Nova stepped back and leaned against the desk on the other side of the room. “It was a hard battle. We lost a lot of good men. Including the three of us, there were only twenty-two survivors.” Mark winced at that and Derek paused, uncertain, but then continued. “Homer and Sandor are here in the hospital with you, and Dash and Eager are home and well, but Mark, Orion didn’t make it.” The Chief. It hadn’t occurred to Mark that Orion would have been among the casualties, that they’d never again bicker over whose fault it was that the ship wasn’t running as it should, never again chat over a cup of coffee. He swallowed the lump in his throat and asked Wildstar to go on.
“All of the Space Marines were lost, including Sgt. Knox, and the Black Tigers. Hardy… and Conroy.” Another difficult name to hear. Mark closed his eyes, trying to take it all in. “Most of Sandor’s team was lost too, including Royster. There were a few survivors from the engine room and the kitchen – Yamazaki is here on this floor with you, too – but other than that…” He trailed off hopelessly. “But you survived. It’s a miracle. When Trelaina appeared on the bridge…”
At the mention of her name, Mark’s head snapped back toward Derek. “Trelaina… Tell me what happened.”
Derek looked back to Nova, who came forward and sat on the edge of the bed. “Mark, do you remember being hit? The battle on the deck of the Argo, when you tried to save me from being shot?” When he nodded, she continued. “As far as we knew, you were… gone. Your body floated away into space. Three days later, when it was almost all over and Derek and I were the only ones left on the Argo, she appeared with you in her arms. She told us she had brought you back to life, and that it was important for her to save Earth because of her love for you. Then she destroyed Prince Zordar, and… herself.” Tears ran silently down Nova’s cheeks, but Mark’s eyes were dry and blank as he digested this in silence.
“She chose to destroy herself. We were together, and she chose to die.”
“No, Mark. No, it wasn’t like that. She sacrificed herself because her love for you made her determined to save you, and all of Earth. Mark,” Nova took his hands again gently as he bowed his head. “The last thing Trelaina said to us was to ask us to tell you how much she loved you.” Her gentle tone would normally have calmed him, but he didn’t want to listen to her now. She had Wildstar… Wildstar would never leave her the way Trelaina had left Mark.
“She’s right, Mark. Trelaina loved you very much. It was that love that drove her to do what she did.” Wildstar was only trying to help, but he didn’t understand. Neither of them did. Mark nodded, determined not to let them see how he felt. “Thanks, you two. I’m starting to feel tired, if you don’t mind...”
“Mark, there is one more thing.” Nova looked a bit sheepish, but happy. “Maybe it’s not the best time to tell you… We’ve been waiting to tell anyone because wanted you to be the first to know. Derek and I have decided to get married.”
The news made him feel as though he’d been punched in the stomach. Not because it was a surprise – he’d been expecting it for some time. But Nova was right – now wasn’t the best time to tell him. He arranged his face into what he hoped was a neutral, if not happy, expression. “That’s wonderful, guys. Really. I want to hear all about it when I’m feeling a little better.”
“Sure,” Wildstar said. “Listen, I’ll come and see you tomorrow, and if you’re feeling better, I’ll fill you in on what happened while you were… away. It was an interesting few days.”
“Sounds good,” Mark replied, although he wasn’t really listening. He just wanted them to leave him alone.
“Venture…” Wildstar began, but Mark was relieved when he was interrupted by a tentative knock at the door. It was the nurse again.
She cleared her throat. “Sorry to interrupt you, folks,” she spoke lightly, but her voice had a nervous tremor, and Mark again felt a twinge of guilt for snapping at her earlier. “Visiting hours will be over soon, and Cdr. Venture, your family is waiting to say good night to you.” He noticed that she avoided his eyes.
“Right.” Wildstar and Nova stood up to leave. “I’ll come to see you again tomorrow, Venture.”
“Take care, Mark.” Nova leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. As they left, his family entered the room. He managed a half-smile for them, found some comforting words for Mom, a handshake for Dad and a hair-tousle for Jordy, but he was glad when they went home – he really was tired, and miserably unhappy. His mind swam with thoughts of his fallen comrades, and most of all, of Trelaina. Images of her flashed in his mind. They would never have what Wildstar and Nova had. But if Trelaina hadn’t loved him, he wouldn’t cry over her. He swallowed his tears and tried to shut down his brain.
As miserable as he felt, he needed rest, and he soon started to doze off. The nurse woke him when she came in one more time, bringing pills and a glass of water. “Commander, you’re running a fever,” she said, “and Doctor Sane also wants you to take a mild sedative to help you sleep tonight. You’ve had a pretty rough day.” He nodded and made an effort to sit up, but instead she supported his head while she gave him the pills and helped him to take a few sips of water. The water felt good going down, cooling his overheated throat, and this time when she put her hand on his forehead, it soothed him rather than irritating him. He felt himself slipping off to sleep, and when he tried to thank her, he suspected what came out was more of a mumble. He felt as if he were watching through a glass when he saw her smile and heard her tell him goodnight as his eyes closed.