Darquin woke lying on his chest, his mind hazy. He was exhausted even though he knew he’d been unconscious for hours, possibly days.
He resisted the urge to shake the molasses out of his head and instead concentrated on the space beyond the confines of his bed. Rows of other sickbeds and Minbari sleeping platforms were all lined up in a familiar pattern. As antiseptics taunted his murky senses, the faint hum of power generators permeated his awareness. He looked up at the wall-mounted IVs behind him, and nearly jumped when he saw the feeding tubes invading his arm. Sculpted metal arches flanked his bed, projecting an invisible energy field: Healing accelerators.
He set his head back on the pillow, groaning with poorly enunciated resignation as his consciousness slackened again. He was on the Phoenix all right, in Medlab. If they hadn’t had the room or power, he’d have probably still been unconscious.
Even so, he was in officially bad shape.
Sometime later, quiet footsteps brought Darquin back to his senses. Over his shoulder, he could see Morgan was stepping into Post-Op. He set himself down again, bracing himself with a long breath, as a flicker of Morgan’s dark hair washed through the edge of his sight.
His voice scraped wearily out of his mouth. “Heya.”
Morgan lowered herself enough to speak face to face, speaking gently. “Hello. How are you feeling?”
“Not bad.” Darquin tried to put his usual daredevil spin on it, he could hear his words drag with exhaustion. “Considering,” he added, sighing. “Achy, I guess. Tired.”
“You ought to.”
He threw a glance at her despite himself. She was frowning or squinting as if in the glare of a floodlight. After years of habitual insubordination, he assumed it was a new addition to the veritable library of harsh words from superior officers.
“Sure.” It sounded bitter, lacking the energy to sound as sharp as he intended.
Morgan sighed faintly. She looked around and pulled a chair up to sit beside him. “I did come to see how you were doing,” she said with a mollifying air — she had come to talk, not argue.
Darquin tapped the back of his front teeth with his tongue. “Well, I figured it was coming. You’re my CO, after all.”
She nodded. “I also haven’t had a chance to talk to you for a while. This seemed like a good time.” Her mouth quirked.
He answered with an amused glance. “Yeah, kinda quiet right now. And it could get busy any minute.”
“‘Could?'” Morgan eased back into her chair. “This is off the record, for what it is worth.”
Darquin nodded, wincing as he let his head fall back to his pillow.
“Don’t do that again,” she said with a faint grin.
“That’ll take some getting used to.”
She didn’t know Darquin as well as Kim, but he’d been part of the command crew for almost as long. And she’d seen him wounded before, sometimes even out of sorts. But looking at him now, the first chance she’d gotten to do so with a discerning eye in far too long, she could sense a tangible and soulful ache about him, an almost visible tinge in his face.
“It’s gotten pretty busy, I know. I haven’t been able to keep up with everyone,” she said. “I’m here to listen, at least to start with.”
“Okay. Um, whatcha wanna know.”
She held her breath as if about to pull a trigger, then shrugged to herself. “What has been going on with you? You haven’t been acting like yourself recently.”
He blinked as if he’d been struck. “Well, I asked.”
“I can’t say I know you well, but in all the time we’ve been crewmates, I’ve never known you to go off…half-cocked.”
“The business with Helle?”
“For a start.”
“I was there, I wanted to do something. Turns out I was trying to fix something that tweren’t broke,” he said, jeering himself. “I tried to set it right.”
“But what about planetside just now?” She waved to the bulkhead, indicating what was beyond it.
Darquin wavered, trying not to repeat himself. “I didn’t like the way some of the locals were being treated. I…had to do something. Should’ve gotten everything on data crystal too.”
“Well, I guess I can be thankful you aren’t a rookie.”
“I sure felt like one for a bit. As long as we’re off the record,” he added quickly.
“We still are. I can’t be bothered to find another Security Chief.” She sharpened her tone just a moment, hoping to make her point. “Or pilot.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I make just a better pilot.” He took a deep breath to soothe the demons writhing in his chest. “At least I can see it when I’m affecting things.”
Morgan nodded. “I understand that. I feel the same way sometimes.”
He sat himself up on his arms to better face her. “You’re a pilot, so maybe you can answer a question that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while now. What feels more….” He frowned as he failed to find a less incriminating word. “Lonely. Being in a fighter, like on deep space patrol…or walking the deckplates here?”
Morgan stiffened, picturing stars and nothing else around, comparing it to the undeniable presence of others anywhere else she went. And a thought struck her: Maybe a fighter cockpit and, if it was a Starfury, an EVA suit protected the pilot from the prospect of loneliness as well as the physical void. Was that what Darquin was getting at?
She decided to change the subject quickly. “How did all this come up?”
“I thought I was doing okay for a while, then…something happened. It made me question all of it, everyone–” He held that half-formed word between his teeth, hoping no one else made the connection. Not sure whether Morgan heard it, he moved quickly to fill the gap with a revision. “Everything I ever touched.”
She grunted. “Stop. You’ve done a lot of good. I just want to make sure you still can.”
“Okay, okay.” Darquin lifted his hand, which was twitching with fatigue, to rub his face. “Sure glad that Day of the Dead thing is only every few centuries….”
It took Morgan a moment to realize what he’d muttered under his breath, then looked him in the eye. “You too, eh?”
He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his injuries allowed. “It did happen, didn’t it. Half the time I was wondering if I dreamed the whole thing while I was out.”
“Unless I’m dreaming this hangover,” she said with a wry grin.
“What happened to–no, never mind. It’s gotta be too personal to ask.”
“Well…it’s not as personal it could have been.” She was too distracted by her memory of the night before to catch the suspicious look he aimed at her. “But I needed a good swift kick in the arse. I’d never let myself get over.. something that happened a long time ago.”
Without intending to, Darquin was reflecting the pained look in Morgan’s eyes. “I guess I didn’t either.” He smirked it aside. “I’d offer to split a bottle of sangria with ya, but Doctor….” He dropped back to his pillow. “Hell. My pack is still dirtside.”
“I’ll look for it. It may have been brought up, and just hadn’t made it back to you yet.”
“I forgot all about it when I went in,” he grumbled to himself.
“You were a little busy.” She gave him one more bemused smile before getting back to business. “I don’t disagree with what you did. Just call for backup next time, hm?”
“Yeah, okay.” Sighing, he pursed his lips. “I guess I figured I’d…I dunno, prove something by knocking the whole thing down right then and there.”
Morgan nodded. “The temptation can be strong sometimes, I know. You accomplished a lot more than any rookie would have.” She sat up slowly. “Sorry for what I said. It’s not that I can’t be bothered to find another sec chief. I just don’t want to.
“Just be careful, eh? Or at least call me? Could be fun,” she added with a grin.
From the look he gave her, she could have wagered that he’d have made a double-take if it wouldn’t have hurt him so much. “Right. I’ll remember that.”
She stood up carefully, guiding herself around the chair with her hands, trying to keep her head level and not as tormented by morning-after agony. “I will be back to see you.” She smiled. “Get better.”
Darquin answered in kind and reached out to touch her hand. “You got it. My regards to the oxy-pills.”
Not too long before, she would have shied at the simple human contact. She patted the fingers he’d placed on the back of her hand. “Oh, no, not this time. I earned this one, I’m going to get through.”
“Yup, you were in EarthForce all right.”
“Is it that obvious?” she said with a chuckle.
“Sounds like an EF-class hangover to me.”
“I don’t know–I’ve rarely gotten that drunk. It may be worth a story later, though.” Morgan tossed a bit of salute to him.
Copyright (c) 2001 Leslie McBride and Joe Medina. All rights reserved.