I'd written this story a few weeks ago, and was ready to post it yesterday. Then terrorists struck London.
This story comes, in part, from the experiences of my friends and myself during 9/11. The subject matter, especially after yesterday, may be disturbing to some people.
I asked several people if they thought I should post this, and all agreed that I should, but with appropriate warnings.
Warning: Some swearing. Potentially disturbing subject matter.
Summary: Trip is unable to leave the planet after a terrorist strike. Survival, the aftermath, and the detritus of destruction.
Sequel to: Grey Sky, Broken Sword
Thanks to SueC, a wicked pissah beta, and to all those who asked me to post this despite my hesitancy after yesterday's events in London.
Disclaimer: I don't own it, I make no money from it. Not written for profit.
Trip made his way down the deserted street, his path illuminated by the warmth of the artificial lights above. When he'd first arrived on Caputia, this street, even at midnight, had been busy with people strolling; crowds pouring out of the doorways of clubs and restaurants; the night loud with the sounds of laughter and voices. But tonight the street was dead, deserted but for him.
He saw something move out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked, it was simply paper blowing in the cool breeze. Probably from the bombsite downtown, he thought, from the buildings, the offices, the homes that had been destroyed in the attack.
He rested his back against the wall of a nearby shop, staring straight ahead. He felt like he'd been walking for hours, his search covering streets, hospitals, checkpoints.
His nose was running and he sniffed, then coughed. He breathed in the smells of smoke and chemicals on the air, acrid, the taste bitter on his tongue. He couldn't wait to go back to his room and shower, try to get rid of some of this now-ever-present soot.
He heard a sound from his left and watched as a long convoy of military vehicles rolled silently down the street. He gazed at them until they passed, then continued to stare after them once they'd gone.
After a moment, he pushed away from the wall with a small grunt. His feet hurt, his back hurt, but it didn't matter; he had to keep going. And the pain was, in its own way, good, because, other than those minor physical discomforts, he was numb. The pain reminded him that he was alive.
Alive, and that he couldn't give up. Not yet.
"Hand me that spanner, will you?" Trip asked from underneath the shuttle, holding his hand out in expectation. Feeling the tool being placed in his palm, he said, "Thanks," as he slid his arm back under and began working again.
He moved in a rush, trying to get this repair done before the landing party had to go down to Caputia, another first contact. At least the Caputians looked like they might have some interesting technology. Maybe he'd get to go down...Sparks flew, and Trip dropped the spanner with a muffled swear.
Malcolm's voice came from above him. "Are you all right, Commander?"
Trip sighed, opening and closing his hand to restore feeling. "Some help might be nice," he replied sarcastically. Malcolm kicked his foot gently, sharing the joke, and Trip felt him slide into the space beside him.
As they began working together, he cast the occasional glance at Malcolm. It had been over a month since Malcolm had gotten clean, but there was still something a bit haunted about his friend. Not that he expected things to go back to normal right away, not after all that had happened. And they talked, sure they did, but it felt...different. Not the same. Not as comfortable. Kind of like how things had been right after Lizzie had died, and Trip had closed himself off.
He knew that Malcolm was holding him at a distance, and he wasn't sure how to bring it up, or even if he should. But he thought he understood why Malcolm needed that detachment. After all, Malcolm was probably mourning the loss of himself, of who he thought he'd been.
Grief was something that Trip was certainly familiar with, so if Malcolm needed some time -- if a bit of distance helped his friend, he'd let that distance stay. For now.
Trip walked the empty streets towards the building where he was staying, his eyes on the pavement as he passed one closed shop after another, their owners unable or unwilling to get into the city to open them. Hearing a sudden rush of traffic in the still night, he looked up to see a vehicle towing another with a crushed back. It was followed by several transports filled with Caputians returning, vacant eyes staring out of dirty faces, from their work at the disaster site downtown.
As he continued walking, he passed an aide station, flowers and wreaths on the ground in front, flyers with the faces of the lost posted across the closed doors, dark eyes staring out from broad Caputian faces in a variety of shades of green. Around these posters were pieces of paper, fluttering gently in the breeze: children's drawings interspersed with messages scrawled and stuck up by passers-by. Holding up his translation device, Trip read, "...gave their lives protecting us..." before he turned away, lowering his eyes to the pavement again.
A gentle wind passed, and brought with it the acrid smoke, a smouldering stench that he'd become used to. It lifted the powder coating the sidewalk, sending it up in a swirl, and Trip couldn't help but watch as the air filled with the remnants of buildings destroyed, the ashes of ones who'd lost their lives. As he raised his eyes over the tops of the low buildings lining the street, he saw the plume of smoke from downtown rolling against the night sky.
It started to drizzle. He ducked under an awning, arms wrapped around himself, less for warmth than for comfort.