Dirges in the Dark
Rating: PG-13 (for questionable futuristic language, and ERish scenes, without the accuracy.)
Disclaimer: Soooo not mine. Just read the story--this is why I can't have nice things!
Timeline: This takes place over a year into Eden Advance's journey. Devon's out of cold sleep (Don't ask me how, that's another story) and they're well on their way to the coast line. Post-Cannon.
Summary: An unexpected accident threatens to claim the life of one of Eden Advance's most beloved members. Sometimes it takes a detour to set us on the right path.
Author's notes: First off, a gal's nothing without her FCB!
If we learned nothing from Earth 2, it's that the journey is so much more important than the destination. In much the same way, I tend to view my fics as a chance to see who our characters are and what makes them behave the way they do. The plot is sometimes just a handy way to get 'em all together. This is definitely a study in characterization, and a glimpse into the people we grew to love on G889.
And in my mind, on that planet, is a little girl named Maddie, who will always be vibrant and alive in my heart. For J.M.W.M.
"A long, long time ago…I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had my chance…That I could make those people dance…"
Devon couldn't help but chuckle as she made her way in the darkness to the Med Tent. Apparently, after two long painful days of round-the-clock trial and error, Julia had finally found a combination of drugs to help ease John Danziger's pain. Easing? Hell, the burly mechanic was actually singing.
The sound of her brief laugh was brittle, even to her ears, but the relief she felt upon hearing his softly slurred aria was palpable. No one in Eden Advance, least of all Devon had slept very well in the past 36 hours, but Julia had sent her forcibly away from Danziger's side earlier that evening, demanding that she at least try.
At first, there's been no time to register exhaustion, there'd only been shock and disbelief. The following interminable hours were filled with tears and an overwhelming fear that after crash landings and seemingly incurable diseases, ZED's and penal colonists, a simple case of lost footing would bring about the loss of one of their most treasured companions.
She'd been torn in the immediate aftermath. There was an overwhelming need to be with True, to help comfort the poor girl and her own son, who looked up to John like the father he never knew. But Julia had needed her in the Med Tent. Julia had, in fact, screamed for her in an uncharacteristic state of panic that had frightened Devon enough to leave the children to the soothing hands and quiet voice of Bess Martin. Thinking back, her ears still fairly ringing, Devon thought it was a miracle she'd heard the doctor at all, over the agonizing wails of Danziger himself.
As long as she would live, Devon would never forget the shrill keening, the unrelenting, terrified cries that had wracked Danziger's brutalized body that day, the hoarse terror that that he simply could not quell. He'd always been their rock, their safe harbor in stormy waters. She still couldn't even imagine the pain he must have been in, still cruelly alert despite his injuries. The sheer horror that must have been coursing though his blood, pulsing with an unstoppable fervor onto the arid stretch of desert they were currently trekking across.
Occasionally, over the next several hours, in the fleeting moments when Danziger was mercifully unconscious from the pain, or from one of Julia's half-successful attempts at controlling it, Devon would swear she'd heard the frightening sound of Magus screaming, "Vehicle halt! Vehicle HALT!" clear as day in the oppressive silence of the Med Tent. But when she'd jump, suddenly alert, there'd be nothing but the wind rustling the tarp of the tent, the muted whistle-purr of Danziger's struggle to breathe, the persistent beeping of Julia's equipment.
But now he was singing. Lord knows what, she wondered as she heard Julia's soft indistinct murmuring from within the tent. John's impromptu concert stopped long enough so he could respond, slurred words only half vocalized due to his poor abused throat. It was a wonder he had any voice at all. It was a wonder he was still alive.
Devon paused outside the tent, hoping to gather her wits and find the strength for an honest smile. Backlit by the warm glow of a solitary Luma Light, she could clearly see Danziger's profile, bundled high with blankets, lying completely flat against the narrow cot. Julia's slim silhouette flitted about, her delicate hands often coming to rest for a time on John's chest, his forehead, but never his legs. Even from outside Devon could tell she was anxious to pull back the swathes of solar flannel and check the bandages, disinfect the primitive, old fashioned sutures she'd been forced to make. Julia was a fine doctor, this was something that Devon had learned mere days after arriving planet-side, but her supplies and technology on G889 was severely compromised, and the injuries Danziger had suffered were devastating. Devon hadn't yet asked the burning question, but she could already read the answer blazing every time she met the doctors eyes. You only had to look at John's long, muscled legs to know it was unlikely that he would ever walk again. She had refused to look any deeper, where the answer to greater questions lay, she refused to acknowledge the possibility that they might still lose him.
"Well I…know you're in love with him…'Cause I saw…you dance…ing…in the gym…"
Danziger's broken song had started up again, punctuated by small gasps of discomfort that corresponded with Julia's feather-light touches. Devon watched as his hand weakly crept up to swat at the doctor's DiaGloved hand, clutching on instead as if she was his lifeline.
"I'm right here. I won't let go, just try to relax, John…"
Julia's unadorned hand came to rest on the slick, matted curls at the crown of Danziger's head, and for a brief time the two silhouettes became one rippling organism. Devon took a deep breath, turning away for a moment, fighting back the ever-present tightness at the back of her throat. She should be in there with him, she knew, but she refused to let him see the fear flitting across her face.
To her left, in the darkness, she heard a rustle of fabric, and with a sad sigh she realized that Walman and Magus were still keeping their silent vigil outside the Med Tent. The two were sleeping at the moment, but both members of Danziger's Ops crew had refused to leave the premises, opting instead to make camp where they could be reached with a word. Devon hadn't had a chance to speak with Magus, but she knew from her brief meeting with several other members of the Ops crew that the poor woman held herself solely responsible. In the hectic aftermath, after the hours of helping Julia through dozens of antiquated surgical procedures and the even longer time it took to finally settle True into slumber, she'd stolen away from the Med Tent just long enough to find out what had gone wrong. John was a glutton for punishment, but he was also incredibly strong, capable and cautious, when he wanted to be.
Sitting in a broken circle on the ground, a Luma Light tossed in the center en lieu of a fire no one had the energy to build, several of the members of Eden Advance had detailed what they could about John's accident.
The caravan had been progressing pedantically along as usual, and since the long days had become increasingly scorching, they would often travel for kilometers at a time in companionable silence. Except, of course, for the kids, who chattered and bickered endlessly or played a crazy word game that Danziger had created for them. The day of John's fall they had been blessedly riding together nearly a half of a click ahead on the Dune rail with Denner and Morgan, grilling the bureaucrat on his extensive collection of VR games back on the Stations.
Magus had been at the helm of the Transrover, with Walman riding beside her, taking a break from the blistering heat. Devon had been on foot, a few meters behind the rambling vehicle, occasionally picking up the pace in order to share a few words with a very distracted Danziger. He'd been eyeing the Transrover's rotating navigational beacon with the distrusting eyes of a mechanic for the last few days, unable to find a reason for it's recent malfunctions in the countless moonlit hours he spent perched beside it. That morning it was acting particularly finicky, despite another round of modifications made the previous night. John had plodded along wordlessly as she discussed plans to modify the ATV to a greater towing capacity in the hopes of traveling in the heat with a larger water supply. Nodding wordlessly, he would glance up every few seconds out of sheer habit.
Most of what happened in the brief seconds before the accident were a blur to Devon, though she'd wracked her brain countless times for any scrap of information that could help Julia with her treatments 'How far did he fall? Did he hit his head? Devon! How long did it take the vehicle to reverse? How long was he pinned?' Like in a dream, Devon has unwittingly observed the events preceding the incident, and had found herself paralyzed with the knowledge that something horrible was about to occur and she would be unable to stop it from happening.
She'd recounted her version of events to Julia, and later to an exhausted True who refused to be calmed until she knew everything the adults knew about her father's condition. She'd been frank with the girl, in a positive way, fully realizing for perhaps the first time since they'd arrived on G889 that True hadn't been shielded from the harsh realities of life in the same way Uly had been, despite his illness. It was important that Devon be honest with her, and one glimpse into the little girls soulful eyes, brimming with tears, was enough to make Devon realize that John's daughter had seen and heard too much to be placated with the usual niceties afforded to children about to lose their parents. Luckily for both of their sakes, so much of what had happened remained a mystery, lost to the to annals of Devon's shock-ridden brain; fodder for nightmares and fleeting memories to come.
She and John had been walking beside the Transrover, Danziger explaining in his usual short tone that the modifications she wanted made to the ATV were 'not as easy as all that, if you expect her transmission to make it to New Pacifica.' He'd taken one of his perfunctory glances at the beacon and muttered a soft 'shit' before instantly leaving her side.
The beacon hadn't stopped its spinning, but was rather warbling precariously in a gyroscopic frenzy, irregular, thin bursts of gray smoke emitting from the gear box. With each rotation the circumference of the orbit grew wider, and with a knot in her stomach the severity of the situation-- one John had been spending sleepless nights contemplating-- finally occurred to Devon.
If the delicate instrument should tumble off the top of the vehicle, it would be nearly impossible for John to fix with the equipment and supplies he had at his disposal; their primary source of mapping and directional data would be destroyed. Devon closed her eyes with a grimace, her usual optimistic nature taking a temporary back seat to the what-ifs flooding her brain.. Without the recon figures from that equipment, they would literally be lost, and the trip to New Pacifica would take not months but quite possibly years.
"Nah, keep drivin'! I want to want to see what the shankin' problem is while she's spinnin'!" Opening her eyes, Devon was surprised to see John climbing the side of the moving cab, pausing in the open window long enough to relay those fateful instructions to Magus and Walman on the bench inside. She'd seen him maneuver the skeleton of the Transrover with the skill of a gymnast many times, but never when the vehicle was moving quite so fast on such pitted and rutted ground. And never had she seen him climb all the way up to the slick roof.
Still keeping pace, she took a few steps back to observe his actions. Seeing him balanced on his knees outside the cage next to the antenna like a Hoverboard rider, a cold feeling of panic rushed over her like a summer frost.
No one was certain at which point things went so wrong. Danziger, kneeling precariously at the perimeter of the cab roof and attempting with each pass to dodge the beacon's whirling dish, suddenly let out a yelp as a burst of sparks flew from the circuitry at the arm's base. Magus, clearly distracted from surveying the uneventful desert landscape by Danziger's activities on the roof, failed to spot a narrow arroyo snaking it's way across the heavy vehicle's path. Suddenly the vehicle pitched forward, the phantom edges of the small fissure of earth crumbling away. For a vehicle such as the Transrover, the arid moat was nothing more than a pothole, but the bump was significant to cause the already frazzled mechanic to loose his center of gravity. What happened next was a blur.
Suddenly frozen in her spot, Devon watched the macabre events unfolding past her like a pageantry of nightmares. She can remember watching Magus' face snap back to the road, only to find her view obstructed by Danziger's swinging torso. She could see John scrambling for purchase, concentrating all his efforts on not grabbing onto the beacon to stop his fall. In her mind she hears a definite "Oh my God, Danziger!" Though she has no visual to correspond with it, nor can she recall if it was herself speaking or someone else. The next image, the moment that stains Devon's memory like a watermark, is John's hands slowly creeping towards the edge of the roof, and his wide, surprised eyes meeting hers over the blazing horizon of the cabs cherry paint. Then he is gone, the back wheels of the Transrover whirring raucously past her; the tarped body of the vehicle seemingly stretching a mile from front to back. And that's when Magus started shouting; and Danziger started screaming.
"We all got up to…dance…my God…Julia! Oh my God, ohmygod…"
"Hang on, let me adjust the flow…deep breaths…"
It was the return of Danziger's pain, not imagined this time but eerily fitting, that snapped Devon out of her reverie. At the sound of his foggy suffering, the rasp of panic teasing the edges of his pleas, she rushed forward, determined to be there with him and to help prolong his fleeting comfort as best as she could.
"How's that? John? Is that helping?"
"Yeah…yeah, that's better…man…"
Another turn, another reprieve, another shuddering exhaled breath fled Devon Adair's lungs. She didn't know how long she could go on like this, how long the group could float in its interminable stasis, constantly waiting for the inevitability of fate to show itself. Most importantly, she didn't know how long John would be able to hang on with such injuries, and she didn't know the first place to begin to convince him that he should.
Devon jumped at the voice behind her, whipping away from the somber shadowbox of the Med Tent to find Morgan Martin standing before her, hands burrowed securely in the pockets of his cargo pants.
"Morgan, are you trying to give me a heart attack?" She whispered exasperatedly, steering him well away from where John was trying to rest.
"I'm sorry Devon, that last thing I want is to bother you, I just, well," His hands left their sanctuary, shaping nervous windmills in the air, a trait of Martin's that Danziger had once privately referred to as "the old bait and switch." John had claimed, with his own endearing blunt conviction, that it was the bureaucrat's way of distracting people from noticing what a 'big fat liar' he was. She had laughed at the time but now, in the feeble light of the twin moons, he just looked like a drowning man desperately trying to keep himself afloat. "Bess and I, since we're all stuck here until, um, things improve, I-"
"Morgan, what are you trying to say? Julia needs me back in the Med Tent." She asked as gently as she could, her ears scanning the periphery of their range, hoping for some indication that John's pain was still receding.
"I want you to let me help with Danziger." The heart of matter burst forth so suddenly from Morgan's traditionally mealy mouth that it took Devon a second to comprehend his request. When she did, she couldn't help soften her approach to their conversation. Morgan Martin never failed to amaze her with his strange methods of self-flagellation.
"I know I'm not a doctor, believe me, I know my Florence Nightingale impression is nothing compared to yours, but I know the systems well enough to help Julia run her tests. Or I, um, if you need another pair of hands I can sterilize bandages, I can empty bedpans, just something…other than…" He paused, looking around like he was desperate for escape. "Sitting there, doing nothing, with Bess and the kids acting like he's already dead."
The thinly masked desperation and concern in the lawyer's timbre defused the harshness of the words it voiced. Devon wondered if their roles were reversed and it was she in the bed, not Danziger, how he would react to Morgan's sudden, panicked bravado. Would John tell him to go back to his tent, that they didn't need anymore help and that Devon wouldn't want to see him anyway? Or would he look beyond the awkwardness and tension to take pity on this circumstantial pariah and give Morgan the opportunity to absolve some of his guilt?
"Morgan, I appreciate your offer, but right now, we just…" She trailed off, glancing longingly back at the Med Tent, not sure of what she should say. She wondered if his hesitancy was catching. "There's not much anyone can do at this point. Julia's just trying to keep him as comfortable as possible, quiet him down. His fever and the blood loss--"
"Oh, hey, do you need more blood? I have plenty of blood, I'm fit as fiddle, take some more!" Morgan offered excitedly, rolling up his sleeve right there on the outskirts of camp. Devon fought back a chuckle at his eagerness, catching his arm gently.
"Morgan, that's very nice of you, but Julia's got enough for now." To his credit, Morgan seemed genuinely disappointed. "I promise if she needs another donation you'll be the first person we approach, okay?"
"I've got good blood." He assured her seriously, "Julia said earlier that Danziger and I both have the same blood type, which, if you think about it is kind of funny, but also lucky as well, so if he needs more of mine--"
"We'll come get you right away, I promise." Devon assured him, feeling for all the world like she was placating Uly at bed time, not convincing a grown man to keep his bodily fluids at bay.
"How about Grendler saliva?" He asked, catching Devon off guard yet again. "Hey, it worked before, right? Who knows what healing properties it might have. Bess just fixed up my winter coat real nice, I bet I can get a couple gallons for it!" This time, Devon's laugh wasn't so well-hidden.
"Well, sadly, I don't think Grendler saliva will do much good. Danziger's injuries aren't really unique to this planet, but why don't I run it by Julia a bit later, when she's not so busy and I'll see what she says, okay?" She proposed stoically.
"Okay, sure. I guess it is pretty far fetched, but hey, it worked before, right?" He asked sheepishly, the absurdity of his suggestion finally sinking in. Devon nodded sympathetically.
"Yes it did, Morgan."
They stood there for a moment, Morgan effectively silenced. Instead of pleading nurse duty and taking this chance to escape, however, Devon found herself wracking her brain for something, anything she could use Morgan's help with.
"So, um…things over there in our tent are a bit, well, funereal. And Bess keeps insisting that 'no news is good news' but the real reason I'm here, besides, of course, contributing my services--which is a standing offer by the way--is to find out, uh, how he's doing. I mean, how he's really doing."
"Well, that's the question of the hour, Morgan." What Devon couldn't admit was that she didn't really know either; that she was too plain scared to ask. A memory flashed by, from another Med Tent, another patient: "Is he better?" "No, but his rate of deterioration has slowed." "Well, that's an improvement, right?" "I suppose--" "Then he's better." When had she lost that optimism Danziger was always chiding her about?
"He's stable, for the moment. Julia's managed to stop the bleeding, and she's done her best to clean up the tissue and realign the bones in his pelvis and legs. Right now, his fever and the shock are just too rampant to attempt anything more in the way of surgery. It looks like she may have finally synthesized something to help block the pain, the injections we have on hand weren't even touching it--"
"Yeah, we could hear." He informed her guiltily, as though he'd gotten so used to affronting people that he was somehow responsible for this, too. At Devon's expression of concern he shook his head quickly. "Don't worry, we gave the kids the sleep aid Bess got from Julia, and when they woke up today I convinced them I needed their help with one of my VR games, so they've been pretty distracted. True's not falling for it, but I think she's smart enough to know she that playing in VR beats listening to her dad…um…Devon, is he singing?" So enrapt in her worries about the children, Devon hadn't noticed at first that Danziger's song had renewed. Struggling to hear, she let the melodic strains wash over her again…
"The marching band refused to yield…"
"Yes, he is. I guess Julia found the magic formula, didn't she?" Morgan smiled, catching the tune.
"Hey I know this one! Wow, he's going back…wouldn't have pegged Danziger as a fan of the classics."
"Well, when he's feeling a little better, you two will have something to talk about, I guess." Devon teased, a makeshift peace offering.
"Oh, sure John and I will be jamming in VR in no time." He joked back. His use of the mechanics first name not lost on either party. The misplaced but acute despair in Morgan's gaze suddenly threatened to overwhelm her. At the rate she was going, she'd be a complete mess by the time she ever made it into the Med Tent.
"We were singing: bye bye…"
"Miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry…" To Devon's surprise, Morgan Martin had begun softly singing along. Before she could tease him further, however, he fell silent, his features growing panicked and suddenly ashen. He stared confusedly at the Med Tent, silently distraught.
"Morgan, what is it?" She asked, reaching out to touch his arm again.
"This'll be the day that I die…" He whisper-sang along, the echo of his soft revelation ringing in her ears, temporarily drowning out Danziger's wafting tune.
"What? What are you talking about?" She demanded, but his silence only served to accentuate the haunting melody coming from the Med Tent.
"This'll be the day that I die…"