2238-02-25 - Darkest Before Dawn

After the mine rescue, Cate is cheered by her old friend Deb.

Date: 2238-02-25

Location: Picon Ranch

Related Scenes: None

Plot: None

Scene Number: 1679

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Cate returned to their makeshift infirmary, a shell-shocked look on her face. She leaned her back against the wall and sank slowly down to the floor. Dimly she was aware of Deb talking to the last patient in the queue, telling him to come back to see her tomorrow for his dressing to be changed. With that fellow sent on his way, Deb came to sit by her friend.

“Is Aldrich okay?” Deb asked, her face lined with worry.

Cate just shook her head. “Not really.” It was a plaintive admission, and she covered her face with a hand as if that could help hold in the emotions. It didn’t help, of course, and soon the hand fell listlessly to her lap. She fell back to medicine, her stalwart anchor. “I think it’s more than a concussion. Blinding headaches, visual impairment. Could be intracranial swelling, or a brain bleed.”

Deb sucked in a sharp breath. Cate went on, “I gave him some tea. Piss-poor excuse for a diuretic, but what am I supposed to do? Grab a drill from the garden shed and try an emergency craniotomy on a hunch?” Her tone became disgusted at the ludicrous suggestion. “Son of a bitch!” She pounded her fist and foot against the floor, punctuating the words in helpless anger.

Deb laid a hand on Cate’s arm. “You’ve done all you can, Cate. It’s in the gods’ hands now.”

The rage dissipated, leaving only an empty feeling. Cate sniffled, chuckling humorlessly. “That’s what Al said too.”

“You two are pretty close, huh?” When Cate nodded, Deb prompted further, “Are you…”

It took Cate a second to realize what Deb was driving at with those upraised eyebrows, then a soft heh escaped her lips. “Involved? No.” She smirked weakly at the mistake. “No, he’s engaged to Arda - that girl who was with us in the tunnels. But he’s like family to me.”

Emotions welled up again. “Y’know, when he told me about his plan to get captured to warn you guys, I tried to talk him out of it. Practically begged him not to.” Cate rubbed her forehead, wincing. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. Losing another friend.” She scoffed. “He didn’t listen, obviously.”

Deb smiled gently. “I can see why you get along so well.” Then she pointed out, “You haven’t lost him. Or me. Sometimes fate surprises us.”

Cate studied Deb’s face in the dim light - a face she thought she’d never see again. She fingered the ferryman’s coin hanging with her dogtags, remembering the day that Evander told her about the arena, and something broke inside her. “I’m sorry, Deb.” The tortured words were accompanied by free-flowing tears. She shook her head. “I tried to get them to go back to the arena. To try to rescue everyone, but they wouldn’t. And I couldn’t…” The words trailed off into incoherent, ugly cries.

Gathering Cate up in her arms, Deb shushed her. “Catey, it’s all right. I know you. I know you did everything you could. It’s not your fault.”

Cate shook her head, crying against Deb’s shoulder. “No, it was my idea to go to the pyramid game. If I’d listened to you…”

Deb cut her off. “Cate, stop. I heard what it was like in the rest of the city. They brought others to the arena, and we heard their stories.” She shuddered. “It wouldn’t have mattered where we went.” There was an imperceptible pause, Deb’s lips curling into a frown. “Do you blame me for bringing you to Picon?”

Sniffling, Cate shook her head again, “No, of course not.”

“Then I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense about anything being your fault.” Deb’s voice was firm but not unkind. “Let’s just be glad that we’re both alive. I thought you were dead too, you know.” She brushed some hair back from Cate’s face, smoothing it as a mother might a child even though only a few years separated them. Cate quieted, finding the gesture - as much as the words - a comfort.

“Now, let me look at that shoulder of yours. I saw you get shot in the tunnels. You’ve taken care of everyone but yourself, as usual,” there was a fond, chiding note to Deb’s words.

Cate sighed but didn’t protest. She knew Deb wasn’t going to let it go. Wincing, she unbuttoned her jacket and shirt and shrugged out of them to expose the troubled shoulder, leaving only her sports bra. Deb brought one of the lanterns closer and gasped at what she saw. “Gods… Cate…” Her fingers hovered over countless old scars, tracing the legacy left by two years of brutal combat. Mouth agape, brow creased in a pained expression, Deb just shook her head.

Cate tried to make light of it, to break the awkward silence. “Yeah, I know. Everybody teases me about having bullet magnets in my flak vest.” Seeing that Deb was neither fooled by her forced levity nor amused, she said more seriously, “I’m okay. The old ones don’t hurt much.”

“Much,” Deb echoed pointedly. Gentle fingers began probing around the fresh bruises by Cate’s sternum, eliciting a wince. “Least it didn’t get through the vest. What about these other ones? They look recent.”

“We tried to get to the hospital a couple days ago to get meds for one of the pilots. Ran into some Toasters.” Cate’s lips drew in a thin line, remembering the failed journey. “It’s not too bad.” When Deb’s probing caused a sharp wince, she admitted, “Couple cracked ribs I think.”

Deb made a scoffing noise. “You should be in bed, Catherine Rhodes, not charging around getting into firefights.” She lifted her eyes to her friend. “Some things never change, I suppose.”

“No,” Cate agreed, managing a weak smile. “I suppose not. The firefights were new, though. At first anyway.”

Deb settled back down with a sigh and slipped an arm around her friend’s shoulders. “How did that happen? You’re about the last person I expected to see in uniform.”

Cate sniffled some more, her emotions still uneven. “When we got to the airbase at Hyperion, they were in pretty dire straits. Surrounded. Cut off. We were all basically fighting for our lives, so I started going out with the marines as a medic.” She shrugged. “Then the base fell. We were on the run for a while. Kinda like this.” Her eyes drifted around the house for a moment before continuing. “When we made it back to friendly lines… I dunno… I just couldn’t go back home and go to work like nothing had happened. I had to keep fighting. So I enlisted.”

Deb listened quietly then finally said, “I know it’s been rough for you - but I’m glad you’re here. What you and your friends did… it was nothing short of amazing. We owe you so much.”

Cate shrugged, a little uncomfortable at the praise. “We had to try.”

“No, you didn’t. But you did anyway, and that means a lot.” Deb squeezed Cate briefly, and they sat in companionable silence for a little while. Cate eventually leaned her head sideways against Deb’s shoulder.

“Do you think your pilot friend made it through?” Deb asked eventually.

Cate shook her head. “I don’t know. But whatever happens, I swear I’ll do everything I can to get you home.” That appeased Deb, but Cate chewed her lip. She had no idea how any of them were going to get out of here if the pilots didn’t come through, and said a quiet prayer for their safekeeping.


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