Beside homely Jack Leonidas, pathologist and mortuary scientist for the Icarus Project, Monroe stood under under bright all-seeing light in a room of white walls and chrome looking down at a human body. Blackened flesh under a crisp white sheet. Burnt red, staled to brown, hints of weathered gray: what was once raw now dead. The remains of a young woman's face. Her eyes were closed. Monroe was grateful for that.
"The year has not been kind to Lieutenant Cassidy," Leonidas said, his gruff voice soft. Monroe glanced at him, the lines in the man's gargoyle face working in quiet sadness, then let his eyes drift to the monitor showing Cassidy's personal information, her picture. One of the loveliest girls he'd ever seen. Open, delicate face, dark eyes and hair. Monroe looked away from the screen.
"Cause of death, Jack?"
Monroe turned to him with a perplexed frown. Leonidas took it as a cue to lead Monroe out of the mortuary and back to his office; Monroe was only too willing to follow him. Not that Cassidy was the most horrific of the mission's casualties: Searle and Harvey had been the most terribly burned, and had likely died instantly. Mace had suffered the most grotesque fate: after more than ten months suspended in the coolant housing the ship's mainframe, his body had begun to dissolve, ice crystals forming around skin and flesh tearing away in hoarfrost shreds. On their way to Leonidas's office, they passed the secondary path lab, where techs were performing confirmational DNA testing on samples taken from the body unofficially identified as Trey's. By count and logic, the corpse they had was his, but it was missing most of its head.
"Blast panel caught him when the fire broke out, we're guessing," Leonidas had said, apologetically, watching as Monroe, looking at the body, fought to keep his breakfast in his stomach. "We found skull fragments and what we think is brain tissue on the deck near the galley freezer. Poor bastard. Three more feet, and he could have gotten inside. Might've saved himself."
Now, however, they were in Leonidas's office, and Leonidas was handing Monroe a mug of coffee. Monoe sipped, a shudder running between his shoulder blades, while Leonidas called up the pathology report on Cassidy.
"Fabric fibers stuck to the skin of her face, inside her nostrils," he said. He pointed with a coarse finger at a microscopic strand magnified to the size and gnarled roughness of a twig. "Matches the fabric used for the ship's bedding. My guess is Dr. Capa suffocated her with her pillow."
"They were out of painkiller, probably had been for days." Leonidas's voice was unaccusing. "We found one bottle's worth in Corazon; the survey team found the rest on the floor in Medical." He looked at Monroe. "In my opinion, he did her a favor."
Monroe said nothing. He finished his coffee, his eyes on the screen. His hands were shaking.
"So he murdered her," said Jeff Lasky.
En route to the last stop in the parade of horrors that constituted the mission's followup, Monroe looked with open, sick disgust at the director of Project Icarus. They were walking down a corridor of slate-gray walls, nocturnal lighting.
"Suffocated her," Monroe countered, tightly. "There's a difference."
Lasky's watery blue eyes caught the light in cruel mischief. "I don't see how."
They came to a double set of doors, a keypad glowing in pale green on the wall to the right. Monroe punched in an access code, and the doors swung slowly open, toward them.
"Their last messages home imply that Capa and Cassidy were lovers," he said. "You make the connection."
Lasky passed him, went through the doors. A moment later, at the observation window, he said: "Well, he certainly doesn't look like a murderer. Nor, for that matter, like much of a savior, either."
Joining him, Monroe thought I could kill you, you son of a bitch. He looked at the window.
What he saw beyond, he saw only through the grace of the latest in light-sensing technology. The room in which Robert Capa lay was pitch dark. They had him in restraints on a hospital bed; they'd cleaned him, under sedation, and tended to the terrible fracture in his left leg as best they could. They'd dressed him in a hospital gown and run IVs to his bony arms. At his healthiest, he'd been slender; now he was skeleton-thin. He lay unmoving, watching the darkness.
"Why is he in the dark?" Lasky asked.
"Light phobia," Monroe replied. "The woman heading up the rescue team had the sense to recognize it. She said he screamed until they switched off their torches."
"Is he under sedation now?"
"Minimal," said a woman's voice.
Monroe started. Julie Macmahrlahan, the project's primary physician, was standing beside him. She was tall and dark-haired, and she moved with the silent grace of a praying mantis.
"Doctor," Monroe said.
"Doctor," she said in reply. Her green eyes, clear even in this light, strayed coldly to Lasky. "We can't give him much of anything. He's suffered damage to his heart, liver, and kidneys. From self-medicating, we think. For the pain from his leg. The best we can do is to keep him quiet."
"And fed." Lasky nodded with satisfaction. "At least we're not looking at a total loss in terms of public relations. How soon until he's on his feet?"
Macmahrlahan exchanged looks with Monroe, and, but for the professional sorrow in her expression, he might have wondered whether they were blocking one another from attacking Lasky bodily and outright.
"We're not certain at this time that that's an option, Dr. Lasky."
Lasky looked at her incredulously. "You're not saying that he's going to die--"
"I'm not saying that he's going to live." Macmahrlahan spoke quietly and carefully. "Dr. Capa is a very sick man."
"Well, just keep him fed and medicated, and we'll--"
"That may not be an option either, sir," Monroe said. "You've seen his personal directives."
"I've seen them."
"No artificial means of sustenance--"
"I said I've seen Dr. Capa's directives, Dr. Monroe." The water in Lasky's pale eyes was now as hard as ice. "And I know his parents died six months ago. Car crash, wasn't it--?"
"Which makes his older sister his power-of-attorney," Monroe said. "I've already contacted her."
Lasky looked at him with surprise and unconcealed anger. He had, at least, grace enough to internalize his sputter.
"Forgive me, sir," Monroe added dryly. "I assumed you would approve."
He met with her on a jagged spring day. Ice crisp and brittle over puddles, over mud. Leaf buds like tiny artichokes huddled on wet black branches. At first glimpse, Rosa Fischer looked nothing like her brother. Mostly, it was the eyes: Robert Capa's were wide and strikingly blue; his sister's eyes were a thoughtful shade of hazel in a pale, thin, clean-featured face. She wore a light gray tweeded coat against the lingering chill, dark slacks, boots. No gloves, no hat over her long dark hair. He thought, first seeing her, that she might start crying, a worn sort of grief that would flow from her on a wash of tears. He found the idea unthreatening.
"Mrs. Fischer? How do you do? I'm Dan Monroe."
He offered her his hand.
Rosa took it. She studied his face calmly.
You can wear grief like armor. Some people don't realize that. Doctor Monroe, she could see, was one of those people.
"Call me Rosa," she said. She smiled slightly, reassuringly, saying it. She hoped she didn't sound too much like what she was-- that is to say, a recently divorced woman. The world saved, armageddon averted, salvation at hand, and here she was: one of the many who'd suppressed personal irritations and desires for so long that they'd been nearly overwhelmed by frustration and anger once the world's crisis passed. Selflessness becoming selfishness overnight, her husband had called it. She hadn't argued. It's easy to be a martyr when being a martyr seems the only choice, when death is the only path available. When you realize your arm's not off, though, you're free to feel the sting of the paper cuts. She and Alex reached their crisis five months ago, after she'd returned from Michigan and her parents' funerals-- an amiable split: equal property rights, shared custody. She had yet to return to her maiden name. Right now, it would seem too much like cashing in on her brother's glory.
She stood at the observation window, Drs. Monroe and Macmahrlahan flanking her, and looked at said brother's breathing remains. His cheeks were sunken, his skin sallow even in the artificial light. She could see the bones in his wrists and hands, restrained at his sides by straps a hundred times too strong for the task. His eyes were closed.
He'd killed Cassidy.
"Cassie and I--"
She saw him now as he'd been then, revealing his intimate transgressions to her in a message from forty million miles away. She could read the happiness in his eyes; she'd smiled, silently projecting suggestions--
Screwed? Made love? Fucked like bunnies?
-- as he paused, hovered over his next words--
Like a choose-your-own-adventure even his most coherent messages were. Or one of those puzzles where you added a noun here, a verb there, an adjective. She wondered how many tries it had taken him to come even this close to confessing. She studied him for clues. No missing teeth, as revealed in white even flashes beyond his full lips. No scratches or bruises, above the neck, at any rate. Ostensibly, Cassidy had acquiesced to the encounter, likely even enjoyed it outright. Rosa in her message back would have to ask-- and then chuckle, imagining his blush.
When he was ten years old, he'd come within inches of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. Too quiet, too shy, too inwardly focused. Their mother, a field medical technician for the Michigan State Police, would have none of it.
"He just needs to find himself, that's all," she said.
Rosa tramped along with him when he went out looking. Hours out in all weather, walking through the woods that surrounded their house on the Upper Peninsula. Rain, mud, or snow. The occasional clear day, the fragments of sky through the branches the color of his eyes. Decked out in blaze orange during hunting season-- and as delicately as a deer he'd pause, his nostrils flaring slightly, as he frowned in the direction of every echoing pop of a rifle-shot. Rosa thought at the time, watching him-- she spent their hikes not only absorbing cold, gray, sodden nature but composing in her head stories (some of which, even now, had boosted her onto the lower rungs of bestseller lists in Australia and North America)-- that he seemed to resent not the interruption of his thoughts but the interruption of life itself. Not romantically, not poetically: pragmatically. He could see patterns where the rest of them saw chaos; Rosa knew that.
Their mother knew it, too. When they returned from a ramble, she'd ask, without a hint of sarcasm: "Are all the leaves present and accounted for, Robert?"
And Robert would smile his shy, tooth-hiding smile.
He added, suddenly-- his message-self added, confessing his tender tryst with Cassidy: "Don't tell Mom."
And Rosa had laughed.
She asked, glancing at the pages sitting before her on the visitor's side of Dr. Macmahrlahan's desk: "Are these treatment papers?"
"Commitment papers, Rosa."
She didn't look up. "He's not coming back, is he?"
"Not anytime soon, no."
She didn't hate Monroe, even after he explained it. The armor of grief, you see: you feel as though you'll never feel anything again. And he was a good, kind man, Monroe was. He couldn't help it. Dr. Lasky was a cold bastard, little more than a sturgeon with legs, primeval, narrow-minded, and vicious, but Monroe was every bit the burly bear of a fellow Robert had described him as. She sat back, away from herself, as he told her what her brother had gone through, and tried to imagine his brown eyes twinkling, tried to picture him smiling, his broad cheeks dimpling as he did. Distancing herself.
"Three of them died instantly when the fire broke out. Searle, Harvey, Trey. We think that Captain Kaneda assisted Dr. Corazon in killing herself before he-- The tests indicate he asphyxiated, likely in the main airlock."
He paused; he reached for his mug of coffee. Those ever-present, ever-comforting mugs. Rosa reached for hers, too, sipped, then cradled the heavy warm ceramic against her chest. Monroe continued:
"Mace-- their chief mechanic-- he wound up in the mainframe coolant. Delirious, probably. Shock and pain. He drowned there, and Dr. Capa was unable to extricate him. His efforts to do so damaged the mainframe; said damage was compounded as-- as--" He cleared his throat, took another swallow of his coffee. "The coolant is corrosive to human flesh, you see. Mace was immersed in it for a year or better."
"A contaminant," Rosa said softly.
"Yes. It damaged the circuits for, among other things, the ship's lighting. Estimating from ship's stores, Dr. Capa had field lighting to last for two months. As for oxygen, Dr. Corazon's final reports estimate enough air for one-quarter of their return trip. That is to say, air enough for eight people. So when the lights failed and the ferns began to die, there was still oxygen enough for--"
Rosa asked: "How long were the lights out?"
"Eleven months. Approximately."
"After he killed Cassie." After he saw the rest of his crewmates burned alive, suffocated, crushed, and drowned. After he suffered a compound fracture just below the knee of his left leg. After he began to medicate himself against the pain of what he'd seen and what he felt, eventually taking pills blindly-- literally-- from the cabinet in Medical.
She asked Monroe: "Did he ever tell you why he became a physicist?"
"He might have." Monroe's expressive heavy brows bowed in a mild frown. "I'm sorry; I don't remember."
"It's alright." Rosa looked calmly at the coffee remaining in her mug. "He told me once that he wanted to work with light because he was afraid of the dark."
He never came back.
She allowed them to feed him, against his written and recorded wishes, for two months.
Two months and a day later, she was at his side where he lay in the darkness of his room. It was well after-hours; they were alone. In her right hand she held a hypodermic.
He talked, sometime, to Cassidy and Trey. Rambling discussions about the ship, the mission, encouragement regarding the long voyage home. Not long now. Tender whisperings to his injured love, healing and helping him to heal in turn. He wasn't talking now. Rosa stood beside his bed and by the depth and slowness of his ragged breathing knew him to be asleep.
He was dying. She'd known it in the tallying of his ribs, the rattle like dry leaves in his chest. She noted it now out of simple observation and sadness, not guilt, as she injected the contents of the syringe into his right bicep. She set the empty syringe on the table near his bed-- she had the room mapped in her mind, to the inch-- and stretched out beside him.
"Pinch to wake the dreamer, Cass?"
"Hmm...?" she asked softly.
Capa tipped his head closer to hers, the scent of roses in her soft dark hair.
"Fell asleep on the shuttle, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did."
"Sun'll be up soon, won't it?"
"Do you mind if I-- I'm still feeling tired."
"It's okay. Go back to sleep, darling. I'll wake you when it's time."
Capa smiled. "It'll be beautiful, won't it?" he whispered.
"Yes, it will."
She held him until he slept, and after that she held him until he stopped breathing. She held him until the last bit of life shuddered out of his sunken chest. She held him until his body was still with the absolute stillness of death, until his skin was cool beneath her touch. She held Capa until he was safely on his way, until the sun was rising and he was watching it rise with Cassidy at his side.
Rosa held her brother Robert until he died. Then she went home.