Ballad Builders - *Finished*
View Single Post
10th Apr 2010 at 10:03 AM
Her ears were ringing. That meant the explosion hadn't killed her. She almost wished it had, though, especially when the glare faded away to reveal the boot of a T'Mekeian soldier next to her face. Death by inferno was far more merciful than whatever they would have planned for her, especially after she freed the prisoner they'd work so hard to apprehend. She could only hope that her sacrifice had not been in vain, and that he'd used the time she bought with her life to get away.
She coughed, and tasted warm, wet blood in her mouth. She forced her thoughts away from the pain and the doom that awaited her, and focused on an envelope in her locker back aboard the Antares. They'd find it when they cleaned it out to make room for the poor fool who'd have to take her place. It contained a letter, with two sentences detailing her last wish. She wondered if he'd even believe it when they read it to him. If they could even get him back.
If you find this, please tell Darin Halcyon that I love him.
She wondered what her life would be like if the words of all those people who said she was the bravest person they knew had proved true, and she'd worked up the guts to tell him in person instead of posthumously. She'd had so many chances, and thrown away every one, including what she very well knew could have been the last only minutes before. As she lay dying in the rubble of the power generator, she reflected on their last moments together, and the other hastily-written sentence she'd scrawled onto that piece of paper when she realized that this was one mission from which she likely wouldn't return.
My name is Kathryn Smith, and all I wanted was to be the woman he deserved.
Thirty Minutes Earlier
“We're being watched.” Darin Halcyon, brilliant scientist and perpetual target of abduction by enemy forces, lowered his binoculars and frowned at his would-be rescuer with an unspoken I-told-you-so in his both his tone and expression. “By satellite.”
Kathryn Smith, elite assassin and expert at getting men like him out of situations like this, was not buying it. “By satellite?” she repeated. “That's impossible. The resolution of the image would be-”
“Completely irrelevant, because the algorithm calculates possible route outcomes based on data from the motion-sensors,” Halcyon interrupted. “It becomes smarter with every iteration. If we move, it predicts our course more accurately with every step, and if we stay put, well, obviously that's not ideal, either.”
She sighed and spent a moment reevaluating the situation. Going up against a machine that could practically think was not something she had planned for. She could see only one solution, and while it wasn't the most ideal, it would be his best chance of surviving. “What if we split up?”
“That would... slow it down, for sure, but ultimately it wouldn't matter. We would have to regroup before your squad picks us up.”
“Not if I create a diversion while you get out.” Before he had a chance to protest, she explained her reasoning. “I can't get into the control room – it'll be too heavily guarded. My plan is to blow the power station on the southeast quadrant. The backup generator will kick on within a minute, but the computer will need to reboot. By the algorithm picks up from your last known position, you'll have a head start and you can beat it to the extraction point.”
Halcyon almost smiled. “And here I was, thinking you weren't paying attention in your computer science classes back at the Academy. Can you make it back to the extraction point, or should your boys and I pick you up somewhere else?”
“We're a long way from the moon, Professor,” Kathryn replied. “Listen closely: this little maneuver is going to throw the T'Mekeian trackers for a loop, but not off the trail. You can't risk exposure by moving the shuttle down here, or they'll follow it back to the
and the entire ship will be lost. I may not have time to make it back. If I don't, you
to leave without me. Do you understand?”
The pained look in his eyes told her that he did, but he didn't like it. “Smith... you can't...”
“I can, I will, and I am, Halcyon,” she said. “This is what it comes to: I'm expendable, you're not. You can turn the tide of this war, and I'm not going to value my own skin above that.” She unstrapped her knife from around her leg and tossed it to him. “Here. In case you run into trouble on your way. We're ahead of the T'Mekeians now, but we can't rule out the possibility that they've sent troops ahead to intercept the more likely routes the algorithm calculated.”
“I... I don't know how to use a knife!” he protested, but halfheartedly, as if there was something else he wanted to say but changed his mind as the words came out.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Here's a full tutorial: sharp end first.” She clasped a firm, reassuring hand to his shoulder, then pushed herself up. “Good hunting, Halcyon.”
Now, as she lay dying, Kathryn could only hope that Halcyon listened to her last edict better than she'd listened to his computational mathematics courses during his time as a guest lecturer at the ESC Academy on Earth's moon. How far they'd come since those days, in lives that were a series of dances toward and around each other. She remembered the panic that gripped her when she'd learned of his capture by the T'Mekeians, and while she'd managed to convince her superiors when she volunteered for the mission that it was only out of Halcyon's value to the war effort, she hadn't been able to convince herself. The truth, the real truth, was that she'd never forgive herself if she didn't do everything she could to assure Darin Halcyon's survival: not as a scientist, not as a tactical advantage, but as the man who melted her frozen heart. If she couldn't be with him, it was enough to know that this would be a universe where he was alive.
“Well, well,” the T'Mekeian above her growled. “You must be the famous Kathryn Smith. My lucky day, indeed.”
She spat blood onto his boot in response. The effort caused her broken body to seize up and she coughed violently in a desperate attempt for another life-giving breath.
The T'Mekeain snickered, dropped to one knee, and gripped her face. “Forgive my excitement. You have to understand I didn’t think it’d come to this,” he said. “You've made so many enemies, we always thought you'd be dead by the time we got to you. The bounty is double if you're alive when I hand you over.”
“Make sure you buy yourself something nice, then,” Kathryn hissed. “You won't have much time to enjoy it before Halcyon gets back to the ESC and gives them what they need to turn your entire pathetic race into dust.”
He flipped her onto her back, let go of her face, and planted a foot on either side of her torso. A menacing grin twisted across his reptilian face. “I may be forfeiting the pleasure of killing you myself, but there are other things that are almost as good,” he said. “I've been looking forward to this for a long time.”
“And all that time, you should have been looking up.”
Kathryn heard the other voice and looked up just in time to see a familiar figure leap through the flames. The T'Mekeian solider wasn't so fast, and didn't look up until the moment Darin Halcyon's boot met the soft skin at his throat.
Even above the ambient noise of the blaze, Kathryn could hear the cracking bones of the T'Mekeian's neck, and she knew before his limp body hit the ground that he wouldn't be giving them any more trouble. She could now focus all her shock, joy, surprise, and exasperation at her rescuer. “I thought I gave you an order, Halcyon,” she grumbled as he picked himself up and scrambled over to her.
“Is that what it was?” he asked. “It sounded more like a friendly suggestion to me.” She felt a sharp pain and something slipping around inside that probably shouldn't be as Halcyon picked her up, but the shock wasn't enough to render her unconscious, which she took as a sign that she may yet get out of this alive... if they could get out at all. “You'll be all right, Smith, I promise.”
“We don't... enough time... make it... extraction point...” she muttered as he began the trek back into the alien jungle.
“I think you underestimate both my knowledge of Indarian topography and the amount of time I spend working out,” Halcyon said. “I'd figured out the most efficient route from here to the extraction point after you sprung me, and with the time you bought us with your little stunt, the satellite's algorithm won't catch up to us until it's too late. You just hang on.”
If she was going to die, in his arms was the place she wanted it to happen. “Nice kick,” she said.
She felt the chuckle rumble through his chest. “I told you I didn't know how to use a knife.”
“Halcyon... I...” She couldn't get the words out.
“No more talking,” he ordered. “Save your strength.”
He carried her through the twisted trees and giant fungi, over hill and through glade, until they came to a clearing Kathryn's fading vision recognized from her mission brief. She didn't see a shuttle – were they too late? The fact that he came back for her, while heroic, could very well have been the undoing of the entire war. “The shuttle?” she asked as he set her down among the spongy leaves.
Halcyon took a moment to catch his breath, then responded, “Still two minutes out, by my figuring.” He lowered himself down next to her and took her head in his hands. “You're hurt bad, but I think you'll make a full recovery.”
“I don't care what you think, because you're an idiot,” she said. “You could have been killed.”
“Details,” he scoffed. “I knew the last direction they'd expect me to run was back to the base, and I wasn't about to let you go in there without someone watching your back. Not this time.”
Kathryn coughed and turned her face away from him to spit out some excess blood.
, she thought. “You're the only one with inside knowledge of their defense grid,” she said. “What you know could save the galaxy.”
“I don't know about that,” he said. “At this point, the ESC knows almost everything I do. What I
know, though, is a galaxy without you isn't worth saving.” He offered a weak smile in defense of his reckless actions. “Not for me, anyway.”
As she looked into his eyes, she thought again of the envelope in her locker, and of its secret contents. “Darin Halcyon,” she growled, “when I give you an order, I expect it to be followed. If I can't trust you, you're no good to me or to this war.”
He broke off eye contact, and in a distant, hollow voice, said, “Yes, ma'am.”
“That's better,” she said. “Your next order is to get some of this blood off me so I can kiss you.”
His gaze snapped back to hers, and he laughed. “Yes, ma'am.”
We’re being watched by satellite.
You have to understand I didn’t think it’d come to this.
Clouds don't smell bad. They taste of butter! And tears.