Catherine Halsey squeezed her eyes shut.
So this was the inside of an alien terrorist cell. Cozy. The Covenant wouldn't even have given her a table to lay on unless she demanded it. Jul 'Mdama hovered uselessly around her, unused to warriors returning to him wounded as much as he was unused to humans creating a makeshift operating table on his ship. No antibiotics, no cortizone. Halsey felt like she should be crying but her eyes were dry, and that was a relief. She would have to take care of this herself. Palmer's bullet had severed nerves and veins and dumped a bucketfull of blood on Halsey's labcoat, and thinking about Palmer just made her heart pump faster with anger. She couldn't feel her fingers. She tried to keep shunting the pain away but with it came disgust too, the strange sensation of waking up with the feeling of someone else's arm across her body only to find out it was her own, asleep.
She was sure she wasn't in shock. She was thinking too clearly for that.
"Bring me cloth, anything to tie this off," she shouted. Elites were not used to taking orders and had left most of their Grunt support staff behind in their rush to leave Requiem. For a moment no one moved. Halsey ripped at her sleeve with the fingers of her right hand.
"This isn't as easy as it looks."
Jul stepped forward. Halsey flinched back, but when the Elite stopped and held up his thick, clawed hands it was a few feet from her makeshift bed.
"Fine," Halsey said.
She struggled out of the lab coat and handed it to Jul, who ripped the sleeve off in one pull and let it fall to the floor. Halsey craned her neck to examine her wound, tisking and wincing with the pain. Her stomach turned, and burning sensation joined the rest of the pain.
She didn't need to probe the wound to feel that the bullet had smashed the front of her scapula and was probably still in there. It felt like it had done something to the sternoclavicular joint as well.
"I need painkillers, alcohol, anything."
Jul shook his head. "Bah. You are fortunate that you are so important that we have allowed the spilling of human blood on this ship."
"Pricelessly important." Jul harrumphed again and walked out.
Halsey lay back on the hard surface, feeling sleep threaten to cover her, but as soon as she tilted her head she felt dizzy and sat back up. She couldn't go to sleep now.
Getting the bullet out was not her first priority. She reached across her body with difficulty and picked up the sleeve in her right hand, and pressed it to the wound. The feeling of a ragged hole in her shoulder almost but did not quite loosen her tears. She was keeping the pain somewhere else, holding it up so it didn't fool her with the chemical belief that it was important. It wasn't as bad as she had expected. A fierce ache, an occasional stab as her nerves realized what had happened to them and were deadened again. Probably the same thing Spartans and troopers went through almost daily.
The Elites would rather see one of their own die than be dishonored by poking around in his own blood to cure a wound. However had the species survived this long?
She would do this because she had to. No one else would.
Her arm could become infected almost immediately. Palmer's bullet, Requiem's air, whatever alien bacteria the Covenant travelled with...she could hardly have chosen a less sanitary location.
She wondered what had happened back on Infinity. They still had one half of the Key, and while she thought that it was a good thing that the Covenant didn't have all of the Librarian's secrets, the military brass were playing with Promethean technology that they did not in the slightest understand. Giving Palmer, or even Lasky and Roland, the other key was like handing an animal the plans for a nuclear bomb and expecting them to be able to build it. It was hardly even dangerous. Glassman, despite his unwittingly opening the gate to the Covenant stronghold in the first place, would not be able to comprehend it.
What could she do now? Paragonsky was trying to kill her and now the UNSC proper had joined them. They had been nothing but ungrateful on Infinity, as if they did not want her help, as if it all hadn't been built on the backs of Spartans.
How Palmer and Lasky were her stolen children, her responsibility, as much as any dead clones were, and they treated her like a relic.
Her mind was wondering. Not a good sign.
Or it could be normal, regular nervousness. Jul was returning, carrying a small, hand-sized machine the same shiny color as his armor. When he brandished it closer to her she saw that it was a sword.
"You won't kill me now," she said. "Not when we're so close to the Keys."
Jul shook his head. "For the sickness."
"For the..." Then she figured it out. "For the infection." She sighed, looked down at her bloodstained lab coat. She pushed aside the collar of her shirt. Blood that had begun to clot the fabric and her skin together tore painfully.
She saw pale blue-purple veins in among the blood, circuit-board maps of her circulatory system extending across her neck and down her arm. The skin at the top of her arm was puffy and tender. The fingers of her left hand still tingled and felt almost numb. She thought she could be imagining it, making the feeling worse by focusing on it, but the more rational, more familiar part of her knew she wasn't inventing a symptom. Her arm was infected, whether from natural immunodeficiency or from some alien bug she had picked up when Jul had touched her, or simply by being on the ship.
The skin near her neck was healthily pink. The infection hadn't extended toward her heart, but it could still spread, and piled on top of that was the numbness. She lifted her left arm, winced and set it down again as she felt the bullet shift. More blood pooled out across her lab coat and she knew that if she wasn't feeling light-headed now than the false health was probably a sign of blood loss itself. Finally she screamed, clenching her teeth: Jul turned away.
Doctor Catherine Halsey sighed, looked up at the ceiling, winced.
She thought, I hate you, Sarah Palmer. Blunt, but it did the job.
She knew it was an irrational, not a useful, thought. Palmer had been following her orders, had found her ultimate freedom in the shackles of military hierarchy. Palmer should not be lumped together with Halsey's other most-hated individual in the world, Margaret Paragonsky: Palmer had not created her own orders, just followed them with all the enthusiasm of a starved guard dog who just saw a thief drop in over the fence.
But still, Halsey hated, and for the first time in a long time, since the beginning of her mature life, hate felt useful. She wouldn't use it; she still wanted humanity to survive, and starting a hate-filled crusade against the UNSC wouldn't help that. The army would just create something new, not as brilliant as her Spartans but possibly just as effective.
And she didn't hate all of them, not really. She hated what ONI had forced the UNSC to become, but even that could have been ignorable if it hadn't pushed its nose so insistently into her work.
(Halsey had a war wound now. She knew more of what it was like to be a soldier. Even as she thought about him less and less, Halsey was becoming more like Keyes.)
What will you do after? She wanted to ask Jul.
She didn't. She might not understand him anyway - not because she wasn't fluent in the Sangheili language, but because Jul himself did not know medical terms. He knew field surgery, though. He had probably done this before. (She was probably thinking that because it reassured her.) He did not want her to die.
She said, "Go ahead."
Jul raised the sword and tipped it gingerly toward her like a man about to spear a fish.
The sword parted her arm from her shoulder without barely a sensation of weight dropping off.
She didn't see what he did after, but when she came too the stump was bandaged and she wasn't bleeding. She wasn't in shock either - perhaps not any more.
She knew because she was scared now.
So this was the inside of an alien terrorist cell. Creepy.
Halsey blinked, swayed. Her balance was ruined, she knew, and would continue to be until she forced herself to walk and figure it out.
But that Librarian had offered her something, and that was all that Halsey needed - a partner and a problem to solve. The partner wasn't even essential. 'Mdama served that temporary purpose now, she supposed, and it was easy to think that she would have to convince him that she was on her side in order for him to keep him alive.
That wouldn't be difficult. Her want for revenge wouldn't be a complete lie.
How much of it was a truth, though, she would plan out gradually. She would know long before she had Palmer or Paragonsky in front of her.