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Explorer (4/16)

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  1. “He wants to see you, ma’am.” Olivia looked up at the captain, resplendent in his uniform. She had to look at his chest for his name despite meeting him last night when Tennant had been arrested. “Dr. Tennant? Did he say why, Captain Reynolds?” “No, Nurse.” The captain tilted his head at her, blue eyes somber as he told her, “You don’t have to see him. That is up to you.” Olivia stared at her hands for a moment. She didn’t want to face Tennant; she hadn’t been sure what he was trying to do to her, but it had been close enough to rape to leave her awake and shaking for the rest of the night. She couldn’t sleep. She wasn’t sure she’d sleep again. It had helped to face her rapists once. At the court martial, she’d looked at each of them, and hearing them convicted had eased her fears. The nurse drew a deep, trembling breath. “I’ll speak to him.” They were holding him in the main building, under heavy guard. An armored carrier was coming to pick him up tomorrow to take him to the regional outpost in India. For now, he was chained to a ring in the floor. Olivia assessed him as she entered the room; he looked as tired as she felt, his narrow face pinched with exhaustion. He rose to his feet as she came in, straightening out his wrinkled white coat and looking out of place. “Thank you for coming,” he started, his voice uneven. He gestured to the chair outside of the range of his chains. “Sit, if you’d like.” “No. I just wanted to see what you wanted, and then I’ll be leaving.” Olivia remained by the door, pitching her voice just loudly enough to be heard. “Yes, of course.” He was quiet a moment before he said, “I wondered... have you tried to control it? I mean, when you hurt with a touch, naturally.” Olivia inhaled sharply. He wanted to her powers to justify his, whatever it was. “No, I haven’t, not since my first days.” “I see.” His shoulders slumped a little. “Are you planning to try?” “I don’t know. I’m not sure that’s your business.” Olivia cringed at talking to a white man this way, but he was a criminal, and she could get away with a little backtalk. “I’d hoped you could help me. Tell me what you were trying, so that I could not do that, or try it myself.” Tennant turned abruptly and seemed to stare at the wall. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, to stop the hunger.” He was silent and after a moment, Olivia prompted, “Hunger?” “Yes.” Tennent’s expression was tortured as he turned to face her. “If I didn’t feed it, it would start taking it. It’s like this monster inside of me that eats life, and I had to choose what life to give it. Do you understand? I had to choose.” “Yes, you had to choose.” Olivia’s voice was hard and cold as ice as she pieced the puzzle together. “You had to choose, so you took from the dying. They wouldn’t need it. You were ending their suffering.” “Yes!” Tennant smiled at her, pleased at her understanding. “You choose wrong.” Her words snapped through the air like a whip. “You’re a doctor. You swore an oath. You save lives. You don’t take them.” His handsome features flushed with anger. “We’re in a war zone. I decide who lives and dies every day! I say, ‘Treat that one’ and ‘Just morphine on him, he’s gone’, all the time! I’m a doctor! It’s my job to decide who stays on earth and who I send to God!” “No. It’s your job to decide who has a chance of being saved by your medicine, and who doesn’t.” Olivia’s hands shook as she knotted them into fists; the urge to hit him was strong. “You don’t decide who to kill and who not to kill. When you forgot that, you forgot to be a doctor, and became a monster. And that’s something you’ll need to live with for the rest of your life.” He had deflated in her speech; she could tell that he knew she was right. “I believe that will be a short life.” “Likely. Is that what you were doing to me?” Olivia asked, needing to know. “Where you going to eat my life?” The wince in his features answered the question but he still admitted, “Yes. I had to keep my secret.” He hadn’t been trying to rape her. Something in her stomach eased and she felt disgusted that she was relieved he’d been trying to kill her. I am stronger than that. “You choose to kill to keep your secret. You choose to prey on the dying. Your choice, and a young man isn’t going home because of it. I could have saved him.” “You don’t know that.” He all but sneered at her. “You’re only a nurse.” “I would have saved him.” Olivia stared at him. “You take life but I give it. If I’d gotten to him before you, I would have saved him.” Olivia could have kept going; she could have ranted and raved at him until her throat was raw. It wouldn’t have done anything. He knew he was in the wrong, but his mouth wouldn’t let him admit it. She had better things to do. She had letters that needed to start their long journey home.
  2. “It is nice to share.” Olivia nodded in return, blushing even as she gave him a delighted, shy smile. There had been a marked changed in her since they’d left Burma, as if the country itself had been oppressing her. James imagined it was the removal from an environment that had been so terrible and so full of bad memories. Whatever the cause, the young nurse had lost a bit of her constant wariness. ,, Olivia’s thoughts were on a different track. If this had been her life, Olivia would have been happy. It wasn’t that she was madly in love with James or anything foolish like that, but this was the kind of life that every young girl from the slums of New Orleans dreamed of. A man by your side, a life of luxury and a content feeling that warmed like a sunbeam. Even if this hadn’t been the Pacific Empress, setting out on a honeymoon voyage with the man of her dreams would have been wondrous. That it was all a sham made Olivia sad. Damn you, Tunbridge. I told you this was a bad idea. ,, With effort, Olivia continued to smile. Just the act of smiling released good hormones in her body and helped lower bad ones. She knew that her body was flooded with the bad; her near-constant levels of anxiety and stress guaranteed that she was swimming in a bath of chemicals. That ‘bath’ created a cumulative effect, upsetting her more and causing her to create more negative hormones. She tried to reverse that effect; smiling was a cheap and only moderately effective way of dealing with it. ,, Sighing, she leaned her head against James’s shoulder, enjoying the small comfort and knowing he’d think it was part of their act. Sex made her acutely uncomfortable and afraid, but this pleasant closeness was enjoyable. More people were coming onto the observation deck, and stewards were mingling with them, passing out streamers. “For our departure, ma’am,” one told Olivia when she looked at it quizzically. ,, “Sounds like we’re leaving soon,” James murmured to her and Olivia grinned, almost giddy. As if they had been waiting on his cue, a whistle blew. ,, Speakers crackled to life and a man’s voice announced, “Welcome to the Pacific Empress on her voyage from Bangkok to Britain.” Several people cheered at the mention of the home country; Olivia squeezed James’s hand as she recalled his pensiveness about returning. “I am Captain Miles Chadwick and I and the crew of the Empress is proud to serve you on this trip. We are about to depart from port and you are welcome to remain on the observation deck while we’re at safe altitudes. The stewards will tell you when to return to the inside. Once again, welcome, and we hope to make this a delightful trip you’ll never forget.” ,, Louder cheers and clapping greeted this announcement, even as the porters below cleared the area. People started to throw streamers off the ship, leaving ribbons of bright color spiraling through the air. A moment later, the deck shifted under their feet. Olivia instinctively took a tighter grip on James, then laughed at herself as Bangkok began slowly shrink below them. A couple of balloons spiraled up past them from those watching the æthership leave. Her eyes were shining as Olivia caught James’s gaze again, and she was a touched surprised to see the same sparkle of excitement. He wasn’t completely jaded, and she had the foolish urge to kiss him. Thankfully, she resisted as she turned her eyes back out to the blue sky. ,, Soon, blue sky merged with blue ocean, their exact horizons becoming indistinct over the distance. Stewards began to quietly ask people to return inside, and James offered his arm to Olivia once more. “I believe that we have unpacking left to do, and a room to thoroughly enjoy,” he murmured in her ear with a wicked grin. ,, Ignoring the unease that his suggestion caused her, Olivia smiled up at him with what she hoped was an adoring expression and said, “Yes, husband dear.”
  3. Olivia hesitated. “We could switch,” she offered, glancing at the floor. It didn’t look too awful; it was thickly carpeted. ,, “Nonsense. I’ve slept on worse,” he told her firmly as he transferred clothing from his case to the cabinet. ,, “I’m not a frail flower; I’ve bunked in some bad places, too.” Olivia carefully opened her bag and started to unpack. It was weird and scary to share a room with a man; had it been anyone other than James, she might have just locked herself in the bathroom for the length of the trip. “I grew up in a pretty bad place.” She saw his curious glance out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t say anything. ,, Since Olivia had given away most of her clothing when she’d gotten her ætherfiber, she didn’t have much to unpack. Her underthings were quickly stashed in one of the drawers and it didn’t take long to find a spot in the bathroom for her toiletries. That left her with empty bags and nothing else to do. ,, Hesitantly, she went back to the bedroom. James was leisurely unpacking his bags and Olivia slipped past him to the desk. The ætherlabe was still glowing softly and Olivia used the attached keyboard to check music news. All the information she’d been missing while in the back end of Burma was now at her fingertips. ,, She was reading about the popularity of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with American volunteers when James put his hands lightly on her shoulders. Olivia only jumped a little. Leaning down, he murmured, “What has you so captivated while your husband is in your bridal boudoir?” ,, His teasing words made her blush but she ignored them. “Just catching up.” Olivia gave the ætherlabe instructions before she stood up; as she faced James, the first soft notes of Duke Ellington’s Take the ‘A’ Train began to fill the room. “And to hear some music again! Mmm.” ,, To her shock, James grabbed her hand and put the other on her waist; without thinking, Olivia dropped her hand into the correct position on his shoulder a beat before he started to dance. Olivia grinned dazzlingly as they moved around the room together; when he spun her carefully in their limited space, she started to laugh. “You can dance?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. ,, “Of course. I was doing this while you were figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other, I’m sure.” James gave her one of those annoying smiles that made her want to prove that he wasn’t that much superior. ,, For now, she let that go; she was too happy to learn that he was a magnificent dancer. “Oh, I am keeping you busy tonight,” she vowed, only to blush when he laughed and she realized how her words could be taken. ,, “That’s what I like to hear.” His wicked grin threatened her ability to dance while chilling her at the same time. ,, She trusted James, but her phobia of sex was still strong. Thankfully, the song ended and Olivia pulled back; he let her go and she quickly shut down the player before another song started. “I have an idea,” she announced as she turned back around, “leave the packing for later. Let’s explore the ship and start scandalizing people, shall we?”
  4. “And there you are.” The Hindi porter set down Olivia’s bags and turned with a smile to watch her take in the cabin. It wasn’t a small room despite their mode of travel, done in white and reds. The space was brightly lit with soft, indirect lighting. A small dining table with two chairs was placed against the back wall. A loveseat immediately to the left of the door faced two armchairs, making a small seating area. ,, The porter opened one of the two doors to show her a compact bathroom. “Here is the water closet. You have a hot tub for your use, as well as a shower. Your berth includes full use of water.” The tub filled most of the room and was large enough to fit two comfortably. ,, “Goodness, that’s… the largest tub I’ve ever seen.” Olivia stared, stunned. She was starting to feel a little overwhelmed—more overwhelmed. ,, “And this room is the bedroom.” Most of the space in the suite had been devoted to this room. The windows were large and made with thick glass; the image was slightly distorted but the golden light in the room was rich and warm. Heavy curtains could be drawn across it for night but were open right now and showing a picturesque view of Bangkok—as picturesque as that city got, anyway. Drawers and a closet had been built into the walls to create an image of space without sacrificing storage. The centerpiece of the room was the bed; it was a queen or maybe a king. The comforter on top looked as thick as a mattress, and all Olivia could think was that it was a bed made for lounging in for hours. ,, But it was the desk under the windows and across from the bed that really caught Olivia’s attention. The wood of the piece shone with a pale hue, matched by the cushioned chair in front of it. The young nurse reached out and brushed her fingers over the edge of the ætherlabe terminal. ,, “I’m afraid that you’ll not always have access to the æthersystem,” the porter said, slipping past her to turn on the screen with a flourish, “but when you do, you’ll be able to use it within the privacy of your own room.” The young man’s dark eyes glittered with dark amusement as he murmured, “And there are no restrictions to your usage.” ,, “Thank you,” Olivia said, knowing he was trying to imply something not sure what he meant. ,, The porter all-but winked as he repeated himself, “No restrictions. You can watch things you can’t find in say… a movie theatre.” ,, Olivia was still drawing a blank. “Unedited war footage?” she gamely guessed. ,, “He means pornography, darling.” James dropped his bags at the foot of the bed and dug a tip out of his pocket. “Oh, and have them bring around some champagne, glasses and a do-not disturb sign.” ,, The porter managed to tuck the money away without looking at it but it was clear he knew exactly how generous James had been. “Of course, sir.” He bowed. “Enjoy your honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Fleming.” ,, And with that, Olivia was alone in the cabin with James. Nervously, she spun the gold band on her left ring finger and said, “We should establish some rules. For… us. This. The… cohabiting.” She knew she was babbling, but her nerves wouldn’t let her stop.
  5. The next morning, they amputated the leg. Olivia assisted in the procedure, staying out of the way and monitoring Maddox as he was under anesthesia. She felt his body react weakly to the loss of the leg and feared for her patient. He was weaker than he looked but she didn’t let herself dwell on that. ,, Once he woke up, Olivia forced him to eat and work on his letter. He didn’t want to do either, but she persisted and he finally gave into her wishes. The young private kept her busy for a few more hours, well into the night. He spoke about his family, expressing well-wishes for all his kin with a finality that bothered Olivia. Maddox himself had her add in the letter that it was just in case. He’d even asked his mother to tell a girl named Flora he’d forgiven her for not waiting for him. ,, He finished his letter with, “Well, Mum, it’s quite late and I’m getting really tired. I think the nurse’s hand is getting tired, too. I love all of you at home and should the worst happen, please remember... I was proud to serve my country. Your son... Rh-” He stopped. “I’d better sign my own name, right? I think I can manage that.” Olivia helped him and then he sank back into the bed. ,, Quietly, Olivia folded and sealed the letter. She carefully moved the contents of the room back to where they had been before, trying not to wake him. His voice made her jump and wince. “Nurse?” ,, “Sorry to wake you,” Olivia said as she moved to his side. ,, “Hurts too much to sleep.” Maddox looked up at her hopefully. “I’ve told you all about my life. Why don’t you tell me about yours?” ,, Olivia hesitated. “I’m not sure that’s appropriate.” ,, “Forget appropriate. I’m bored and can’t sleep.” Maddox grinned charmingly. “Please?” ,, “If you’ll have some broth while I tell you,” Olivia insisted, putting her hands on her hips and giving him a matronly stare. “I’ll try,” Maddox promised, so Olivia got him a bowl and told him about her life while feeding him. She talked about growing up in New Orleans, the daughter of a dockworker and a housecleaner. She spoke about her time in school, her dreams of being a history professor and becoming a nurse instead. Olivia didn’t dwell on the bad parts: her family who died or the racism that prevailed every day of her life. He finished his broth and fell asleep before she told him about her time with the Red Cross. Smiling, the nurse tucked his covers around him and went to her own cot to sleep while she could. ,, * * * * * ,, It wasn’t a nightmare that woke her for once; Olivia blinked awake from a dream of home. The room felt hot and cold; a sense of dread seized her. Fighting drowsiness, she glanced at Maddox to check on him. A hulking white form bent over the private, hiding his face and chest from her. Nightmare this is a nightmare it has to be a nightmare, her brain babbled at her as she blinked and tried to make sense of the image. ,, The white form became a doctor’s coat and Olivia heard herself gasp. The form turned to her and showed her the gaping black hole of a mouth and blazing white eyes. The rest of the features were Dr. Tennant’s but it couldn’t be him - not with that terrible emptiness in his face. ,, The monster walked toward her. Olivia tried to get up, to run, but she couldn’t move. Her terror redoubled and she fought harder to do something, anything. Blazing eyes raked over her body, studying her and analyzing her. This close, Olivia could sense the terrible hunger that rolled off the monster; it needed something from her so much she could feel it’s pangs. ,, It knelt beside her cot; an all-too-human hand stretched itself wide over her torso, the muscles so tight it appeared to be claw-like. Olivia managed to whimper when the hand descended and pressed into her sternum. “Noooooo,” she hissed as it lowered its face toward hers. Somehow, she found the strength to turn her head away from it. ,, A hand grabbed the top of her head; fingers dug sharply into her skull though her cap as her face was turned back toward the nightmare. Tears seeped from her unblinking eyes as she was forced to face it again. The hollow blackness of the mouth was rimmed with wet slime, as if mucus were leaking from the skin around it. Whining in her throat, Olivia turned her head, only to have the monster grunt and relentless pull her back toward it. ,, Suddenly, Olivia became aware that someone was touching her; not the connect through her clothing, but skin on skin. The monster’s hand had moved to the side with it’s merciless pressure on her skull. Her power lashed out without thinking about it; her ætheric power raced down nerves to the brain, where it told the body that it was in pain. At the same time, she sent another command up it’s arm, where it told the muscles along the way to spasm painfully and strain themselves. Fueled by her power, the stress on the muscles was so potent that the fibers themselves exploded. ,, The monster reeled back from her, shrieking. The noise shattered Olivia’s bondage and she scrambled to her feet. The creature cradled its arm as it turned to her; the nurse backed up until her hips hit the shelf. She grabbed at it for support and her hand closed around an object; she recognized it immediately from its shape. As the creature lurched to its feet and advanced on her, she tightened her grip on her impromptu weapon. ,, Olivia lashed out as the creature grabbed for her. The metal bedpan rang like a bell as it slammed into it’s head. That staggered the thing and it went to one knee. Shouting in a mix of fear and adrenaline, Olivia hit it again and this blow sent it to the floor. ,, The sound of shouts came from outside, and Olivia realized help was on the way. The black nurse stood over the creature, her heart racing. Her eyes darted around the room and settled on Maddox. The young private lay too still and Olivia dropped the bedpan. “Maddox? Private?” She stepped over the monster and grabbed Maddox’s wrist. It was clammy and she couldn’t raise a pulse. ,, “No, no, no,” Olivia gasped, pleading with the universe that he wasn’t dead. Her power flowed into him and she nearly sagged with relief when she felt the spark of life. It was so, so faint and she poured health into the young man. Maddox stirred and groaned as she finished and assessed again and realized it wasn’t enough. His energy was diminishing and she couldn’t pump life into him fast enough to keep him alive. “Maddox! Rhobert?” ,, His eyes peeked open. “Tennant,” he whispered. “He’s...” ,, “I know.” Olivia hadn’t known it was the doctor, but when she glanced at the ‘monster’ on the floor, she could see it was him. When he was unconscious, the terrible mouth and eyes were gone. She looked back to Maddox. “You hold on, Rhobert. He’s drained your body your nutrients and water, but you’ll be all right if you just hold on.” ,, “It hurts.” Maddox’s whisper was a plea for mercy. ,, “Just hold on,” Olivia whispered as she did something she had never done before: she reversed the pain in her touch, turning it into pleasure. “Just fight,” she whispered, watching his face relax as his nerves lied to him. ,, “Thank you.” He managed to smile for her. “My letter...” ,, Olivia started to cry; she knew that look. She’d seen it too many times in her time as a nurse. “It’ll get home, to your momma.” ,, Maddox nodded once and died.
  6. “I’m sorry that saving me from peril has inconvenienced you.” Olivia’s words were bland and without much inflection; it was hard for James to tell if she was joking or not. Her expression didn’t provide any clues either; it was a practiced expression designed to hide what she was thinking. ,, “It was my pleasure,” James said, choosing a safe reply. ,, “Yet you now have to go home to a country that will adore you. Such a burden.” There was a touch of sarcasm in her voice, but only a touch and it was gone when she added, “I appreciate your sacrifice.” ,, James was silent for a moment before tilting his head to the side with a wry smile. “I do believe you’re putting me on.” ,, “Perhaps a little. I hope you’ll understand if I can’t empathize with a rich white man who will return home to be heralded a hero.” Olivia put no rancor into her voice. It wasn’t hard; she had learned to school her voice and face in front of white folk. Her stomach roiled, and Olivia decided that the rising nausea was a sign she needed to smooth things over with James. Besides , she wasn’t angry with him, even if he was being overly dramatic. She rose to her feet and moved closer to him, exhaustion making her a little less cautious than normal. ,, “I don’t know why you don’t want to go home. I don’t know what ghosts await you there. I’ll probably never know.” Olivia’s eyes were warm and sympathetic, the first golden rays of the sun brushing her face. He saw her hesitate then take his hand in both of hers. Her gloves were soft as silk against his skin. “But don’t deny your actions. You are a hero. Forget all the fancy things that people say about heroes, all the acclaim and expectations tied to the word. Heroes do the right thing, even when it would be easier not to.” ,, Olivia gazed up into his brown eyes and felt suddenly uneasy. It wasn’t fear she realized after a second, but something much more dangerous. Her cheeks flushed as her heart picked up speed. Step back, Livy, she ordered herself but her legs wouldn’t obey. He’s rescued her, given her his coat to wear, he was an image straight out of legend. Part of her was terrified of him but another part of her wasn’t. Had she been a white woman… but that thought was pointless, she wasn’t a white woman, and this train of thought was- ,, The wolf whistle was the same as from that night and Olivia jerked her hands away from James’s, her heart pounding in her throat. “I should find my room,” she whispered. She didn’t even look to see which of the passing soldiers had commented on the sight of Captain LaHaye working his magic on an unsuspecting colored woman. “I’m tired. Good nig… morning, James.” ,, Olivia turned and fled, running from James and impossibilities that would only hurt. She needed to sleep—and perhaps throw up. But mostly she wanted to sleep and hide.
  7. Though she was loathe to do it, Olivia had to wake up the injured soldier to give him the quinine dose. Maddox couldn’t sit up himself; she had to lift his upper body so that he could sip at the water and then swallow the pills. She badgered him into drinking more water, but he wouldn’t eat. Just drinking was exhausting him. Olivia made him as comfortable as she could before she went back to make notes in his chart and scour it for signs of what was drawing him down so dramatically. “Nurse?” he called softly, pulling her away from her consideration of his condition. ,, “Yes, Private?” “Could you write a letter for me?” he asked softly. “I would like to send a message to my ma, but I don’t think I can manage a pen right now.” He smiled shyly. “I think you have a prettier hand than me, too.” Olivia smiled. “I can do that.” It was a good and bad sign; the effort of composition would keep him alert and focused, but it could be a sign that he was giving up on life. That would depend on the message’s content. She got pen and paper, and moved the little desk they’d brought for her closer to his bed. “All right, what’s the address?” He gave it to her, confirming when she repeated it back to him. “I’m ready when you are.” Maddox cleared his throat and relaxed a little, thinking. “Tell me if I go too fast, right?” “Of course.” Olivia held her pen poised, waiting patiently. “Dear Mum, it’s Rhobert. I know it doesn’t look like me, but that’s because a real pretty nurse is writing this for me.” Maddox stopped, grinning at her. “I’m sorry, do you not like to be complemented?” “Not always.” Olivia managed a smile. “And you’re supposed to be focused on what to say to your momma.” “Yes, ma’am.” Maddox was still smiling at her, and Olivia was grateful that he was so badly injured; he couldn’t get up and hurt her. Then she felt awful for being relieved that someone was so badly hurt. “I’m sorry I haven’t written before, but I’m laid up pretty bad. A wild pig got my leg and tore it up real bad. My arm, too, but the leg’s the worse. I’m probably not keepin’ it.” Olivia paused and frowned at him. “Are you sure you want to tell her that?” “Better now than when I get off the train in Cardiff, right?” Maddox shrugged. “That’s if I get off the train; it might be in a pine box.” “Hey! None of that. I’m here to make sure it’s you on that train,” Olivia scolded lightly. “So don’t think like that.” The young man stared at her for a moment; his grin had softened into a slight smile. “Very well. But yeah, tell her I’m probably losing the leg. She should know.” Olivia wrote that down, hesitantly. “But I’m going to do my best to come home. I’m sure they’ve Da that I’m hurt, too. I hope he’s not too mad at me. I know he wanted more for me than to come home a...” His words caught, but he forced out, “A cripple. Please make sure he knows that I was trying to stop the pig from getting my mate. I’d like him to think of me as a hero.” “I’m sure he does,” Olivia said into the silence that followed the last sentence. “I was cut down by a pig. My Da’s... he’s a big general. He talks to Churchill. What’s he supposed to say to him?” Maddox looked angry. “Is he supposed to tell them that his son was killed by a pig?” “You’re not dead yet-” “Crippled.” “You’re not that either.” Olivia had a temper. She’d learned to control it over the years; that was a survival trait for a black woman in the Deep South. But she’d had enough of Maddox’s pity party. “Until it’s over, it isn’t over! If you give up, you’ve decided it’s over. Then your father does have reason to be ashamed. But if you fight, even if you go down fighting, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” “Did you fight?” He asked her in anger, and seemed to realize he’d crossed a line the moment he spoke. But he didn’t retract his question. ,, Olivia gathered herself and said, “The moment I realized they weren’t going to let us go unharmed, I started to resist them. And I am still fighting them. Just as you’re still fightin’ that pig.” Maddox swallowed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve said anything.” “No, but it’ll be worth it, if it’ll make you resist.” Olivia wanted to hide in a corner and cry; she hated to speak about the incident, especially to a man. From the look on his face, she thought that it might help. “Now... your momma?” The gentle prod returned his attention to his message, and Olivia bent to her task.
  8. Olivia blinked at Tunbridge for a moment, unsure how he didn’t know why she was here. Then she remembered, through the haze of fear, worry, and exhaustion, that there was no reason he should know. “I’m afraid that Ja- Captain LaHaye had to rescue me tonight.” As the major’s eyebrows rose, Olivia began to tell the tale. In the back of her mind, though, she was looking at the from the outside, seeing how it must look to someone who didn’t know the story. What would she think if she’d seen a woman driving up in the wee hours of the night with the legendary womanizer Captain LaHaye, dressed like a Chinese prostitute? Someone who had already named six other men as rapists, leading to their deaths? And all of this by a black woman? A knot hardened in her stomach as she realized that she had even had her head down on the seat when they arrived, but to someone assuming the worst, it would easily look like she’d had her head in his lap. It was Capt. LaHaye. Such things were normal around him. And if she’d been doing that to LaHaye willingly, perhaps she had welcomed the advances of the other six. The three that had gone to trial had claimed that she’d been willing and only claimed rape to save her name. Olivia was pale and her voice shook by the time she was done with the tale. That wasn’t due to the retelling, though she hoped Tunbridge and LaHaye thought it was. Her pallor was due entirely to the fear that people would start to cast doubt on what had happened to her. It was hard enough to get by day-to-day with the support of the people around her; what would she do if their belief in her faded and she faced suspicion about the attack? Tunbridge was offering her a handkerchief. “I’m sorry to have upset you again, Nurse Jennings. My apologies that you had to recount that tale.” Olivia realized she did need the white cotton and accepted it from the major. “It’s all right.” She dabbed at her eyes and managed to give James a smile. “You should know what Captain LaHaye did. He was my savior.” “Very good.” Tunbridge nodded firmly. There was a pause, and Olivia quickly took advantage of the silence. “Would it be possible for me to return to the clinic as soon as possible? I need to get the medicine to them.” Tunbridge hesitated a beat and his expression made her stomach develop another knot from the anxiety. “If I may suggest, you might not wish to return with the medicine. You’ve made Pok very angry by your own recounting, and were you to be available at the clinic, his men might try to grab you. No matter how enraged he is, he will not attack the British army.” “So... what do you want me to do? Just hide here and care for the soldiers?” Olivia tried to keep her voice level and not show her terror at the thought of being surrounded by British soldiers all the time, but she wasn’t sure she was successful. “You’d be our guest here until reassignment.” Tunbridge gave her that slight smile again. “The Red Cross will not leave you here; Burma is a war-torn country in need of your skills, but Britain needs you more. I believe that the Red Cross understands this. I wouldn’t be surprised if orders are already in motion to remove you to England, where you could administer to our troops and our civilians. The Red Cross could save many lives with you helping us there.” “I can save many lives, no matter where I go.” Olivia wasn’t unhappy at the prospect. The idea of being back in a civilized country held definite appeal. “Do you believe that Pok would attack the clinic to get to me?” James leaned forward. “I do. I know the man; he’d sell his own mother for profit. His men would loot the clinic as well, and no doubt assault many of the staff.” Olivia hid a shudder. “Very well.” “Capital. We have a room for you, Nurse Jennings. I’m moving one of my captains into the barracks. Now, don’t look like that. He was quite willing when he heard he’d be vacating his room for you. This should only be a temporary measure.” Tunbridge looked pleased, in a sly way--perhaps Olivia was just projecting now. “Will you see that the medicine gets to the clinic, at least?” Olivia’s beseeching gaze would have cracked a harder heart that Tunbridge’s. “Of course. And we’ll have them bring your things back, as well.” The major glanced at James. “With that settled, did you have anything else to add?”
  9. Olivia pulled out the case after a brief hunt through the pockets. Her slim fingers hesitated on the catch, then passed the case to him. “Thank you, but no. I’m afraid I’ve had all I should have tonight. I can feel the damage it’s done to my lungs already.” She normally would have stopped there, but she made herself talk to him, as she would to a black woman. It wasn’t a matter of lingo or topic, but her willingness to talk at all. “I have a profound knowledge of my own body, so I know what the smoke I’ve inhaled already tonight has done to me.” ,, “How dreadful.” LaHaye smirked at her as he took out a cigarillo and lit up. “Is that an extension of your ability to assess others?” ,, “Yes. Or the reverse; my ability to assess myself means I can do the same to someone else. I’m not sure and there’s been no time for study yet.” Olivia subtly shifted her skirt to split pants, then realized she was still wearing the copy of the dress Pok had picked. “Captain LaHaye—” ,, “James.” ,, Olivia paused, uneasy with the familiarity. Remember, he is a black woman to you. “James, would you be so kind as to close your eyes a moment so I can shift my ætherfiber dress into something else?” ,, “Of course.” Though his expression was curious, James complied and Olivia quickly changed it into a long-sleeved, split-skirt dress in green. She shed the black slippers and pulled her legs up in the chair. As the skirt coiled around her feet and warmed them, she said, “Thank you, James.” ,, “Can you heal yourself?” James asked, opening his eyes. ,, “Yes. Again, I’m not sure if I can heal myself and others, or if I can heal everyone, including myself.” She smiled a little. “I’m not sure it matters. I can heal. That’s a gift.” ,, “Agreed. But what I was driving at was that you could heal your lungs, if you wanted another smoke.” James blew a smoke ring with enviable ease, clearly enjoying his cigarillo. ,, Treat him as a girlfriend. Olivia forced a teasing laugh as she said, “Why, James, I think you’re trying to get me to indulge in vices! For shame, sir.” ,, “It’s rare to find someone who appreciates good tobacco out here. Most men would appreciate the offer, but few would realize the quality of the leaf and roll.” James hesitated before telling her softly, “You don’t have to force it or try so hard.” ,, The young nurse paused. Finally, she admitted, “If I don’t try so hard, I won’t try at all. There’s a part of me that just wants to give up. I know you’ve never felt that way… there are times when you’re so overwhelmed that you want to stop. I can’t. My mother needs me, needs me to be healthy and happy.” Olivia paused and added, almost hopefully, “If I’m talking too much, please just tell me so.”
  10. Olivia was still tired, despite her nap. No, she wasn’t tired; she was worn out. Being somewhere safe was a relief; she was quietly thankful that they had been seated on a balcony instead of alone in a room. She didn’t think James would hurt her but she couldn’t make herself believe it, entirely. Logic had nothing to do with what she was feeling at the moment. ,, Silently, she took the tea sans milk, wincing at the bitter taste. The heat and taste reminded her that she hadn’t eaten in hours. A quick check of her body confirmed that she was low on various vitamins and nutritions – things that she knew that she needed that had no name in modern food science. She wasn’t hungry, though her stomach was empty and her body was cannibalizing muscle for the energy it needed. Methodically, she picked up a sandwich and started to eat. The food had no taste to her; she ate and chewed mechanically. She’d resolved to remain healthy, to take care of her body and its needs. Sometimes, that was easy. Sometimes, it was hard. Tonight, she wanted to crawl into a hole and die. ,, James was doing justice to his own food; Olivia could feel his eyes alight on her occasionally, but he didn’t say anything. He was giving her time and space, which she needed at the moment. After her sandwich was done, she considered another and decided against it. She’d need something green, high in iron and calcium. A dark green leaf salad of the local cabbage would taste terrible and be exactly what she needed. She’d procure that later, when it wouldn’t be rude to ask for something other than a sandwich. ,, “Captain LaHaye.” Olivia spoke his name quietly, drawing his brown eyes over to her. She made herself look at him without flinching away or lowering her eyes; a lifetime of subservient behavior to white people coupled with outright fear of white men made that hard. But what she was about to say was important. Balling her hands into fists and pressing them against her stomach, she murmured, “Thank you. I was in a bad place, and you got me out of there. You’ve taken very good care of me since then, too. I’ll be sure your superiors know how well you’ve treated me. You have represented your country very well. I have no idea how to personally repay you, unless you have a wound you haven’t shown me. I could assess you, like I did with that animal.” She gave him a ghost of a smile; it was still too sad and pained to be a real smile. “I promise that if I find cancer, I’ll break the news much more gently than I did to Pok.”
  11. It was dark as she found the supplies clerk. The young man on duty gave her the bandages, but when she mentioned quinine, he frowned. “We’re running low on it, ma’am. So I can only give you a single dose for now.” “Low on it?” Olivia’s voice showed her alarm. Quinine was the only reliable antimalarial available. Without it, Maddox would die, though he wouldn’t be the only one. Malaria would wreak havoc on the people in the region if they ran out of supplies. “Yes, ma’am. The Japs and Krauts control all the places it’s grown. They aren’t likely to share with us.” The clerk grimaced and scratched nervously at a mosquito bite on his neck. He handed her two small pills in a white cup. “I should have more with the next supply drop, but we’re rationing it, to be safe.” “I understand.” With an uneasy frown, the young nurse got her sterilized water and returned to her charge. A strange man in a white coat was in the room, leaning over Maddox, and Olivia paused in the doorway. When he saw her, he quickly straightened up and glared at her. He could be considered handsome man; his hair and eyes were brown and his features sharp and prominent. If he had smiled, she would have thought him quite attractive. Instead, she found herself pulling back from him. “Who are you?” he barked, peering at her through his gold-rimmed spectacles. Olivia swallowed and quickly composed herself. She had every right to be here. “You must be Dr. Tennant. I’m Nurse Jennings, American Red Cross. I was asked to come and tend to Private Maddox.” “You left him alone.” The doctor’s words were thick with accusation, and Olivia flushed despite having done nothing wrong. “I had to get clean water and bandages. I’m about to change the dressing on his leg.” Olivia lifted her chin, reminded herself that she didn’t need the doctor’s permission to do her job, and stepped briskly into the room. It felt uncomfortable in here; the walls seemed to press in close. Stop being afraid of the doctor. He’s just an unpleasant man. He’ll not hurt you. “Have a mercy and do it now, while he’s unconscious. I’ll be back to check on things when you’re done.” Dr. Tennant swept past her, taking his scowl and the sense of threat with him. The black nurse leaned against the footboard of the bed for a moment, gathering her confidence and calm again. The unpleasant atmosphere left with the doctor and Olivia slowly relaxed. Men being cruel or foul left her terrified to her core; at least Dr. Tennant had worn a lab coat over his uniform. Men in uniforms unnerved her even more. Putting him out of her mind for now, Olivia bent over Maddox’s leg. She peeled off the layers of bandages with care, wrinkling her nose at the smell that rose from them. That was a very bad sign, and the smell only worsened as she worked. The first time she saw the angry red line etched in his skin, Olivia’s heart sank further. Gangrene had a firm hold on the young man’s body. With delicate fingers, she revealed the full extent of the injury, gazing at it with horror when she had it uncovered. The flesh was purple or gray around the wound; the entire thigh was badly swollen. Olivia could see where previous attempts had been made to debride the flesh, only to have more claimed. Hesitantly, she placed her hands on his leg, above and below the purple area, and assessed him again. To her shock, he was doing worse - much worse. He’d faltered so quickly, particularly after her last treatment. Quickly, she let her healing energies flow into him, strengthening his weak body. That done, she cleaned the wound and bandaged it. He needed his quinine dose, but Olivia paused to notate his chart. “You know why they’re doing this for a lowly private, don’t you?” The nurse nearly dropped the clipboard as she spun to see Dr. Tennant leaning against the doorjamb. “Bringing you in and having you expend all your power on one man.” “I’m not sure what you’re driving at.” Olivia lifted her chin. This time, the sense of threat wasn’t there; the doctor merely seemed unpleasant. “Maddox is the son of a general. Why do you think that a private gets his own room?” The doctor smirked at her, his smile somehow worse than his scowl. “It doesn’t matter to me. He’s a very ill young man,” she said, after a quick glance to verify he was still unconscious. “When it the next debridement scheduled?” “Tomorrow morning, but is should be an amputation.” Dr. Tennant stared at her, his gaze accusing. “Or do you agree with his father making the medical decisions?” “I’m a nurse, Doctor.” Olivia managed the For-Angry-White-Men smile, meant to assure them that they were still in charge. “I’m just here to tend to the private.” His lips twisted with wry humor. “I see that. I see you have things well in hand, Nurse.” Turning, the doctor left her alone. With a shiver of unease, Olivia turned back to Maddox.
  12. “Yes, please.” The smell of the smoke was delightful, bringing back memories of her grandfather smoking his home-grown tobacco in hand-rolled cigars. He’d shared them with anyone in the family, even the girls. It had been his typical gift at Christmas, and after his death, everyone shared a cigar or pipe at family functions in his name. Tobacco smoke was the smell of many of the happiest moments of Olivia’s youth. ,, She reached for the offered cigarillo but her fingers were still shaking like leaves in the wind. “Captain LaHaye? Might I trouble you?” ,, “Of course, dear lady.” He fished one of the slim cylinders out and held it lightly in his lips; with ease, he lit it and offered it to her. She had to coil her gloved fingers over his hand to get a grip on it, but once she had it between her fingers, the act of smoking calmed her. Olivia drew in a deep breath of the smoke and released it in a heavy sigh. When she frowned, LaHaye asked, “Do you not like it?” ,, “No, I do. It’s better than anything I’ve ever had. I wish my grandfather had one.” Olivia took another drag, keeping an eye on the road, such as it was. ,, “He’s a purveyor of fine tobacco?” ,, “He was, when he was with us.” Olivia glanced at the handsome officer, to find him watching her. She looked away quickly, her instinctive response to a white man laying his eyes on her. “You are perfectly safe with me, dear lady.” Was it truth? She’d heard the stories about his skirt-chasing ways; one didn’t hear of an exploit of James LaHaye without hearing about the woman he’d seduced along the way. “It’s why I like it – he liked to share the fruits of his labor.” ,, “I’m sorry he’s gone then. Too few people properly appreciate good tobacco.” The captain fell silent, waiting for her reply, but Olivia didn’t want to spoil the mood by talking about her grandfather and the method of his passing. ,, The silence stretched for a time, as the woods fell into complete darkness. There was no sign of pursuit and slowly Olivia relaxed further. Each of LaHaye’s movements, particularly if he seemed to be reaching for her, caught her attention. But relaxation crept in slowly; by the time she’d nursed the cigarillo down to nothing, relaxation was sliding into numbness. Olivia was a kind person, despite having seen so much death in her profession, and a kind of emotional shock began to wrap around her from the day’s events. ,, She thought she was fine, right until LaHaye reached over and snatched the wheel, pulling the truck back on track. Olivia jerked from him before she remembered she was driving. Hastily, she put the truck into neutral and brought it to a stop. “I think you should drive,” she said, and her voice shook. Hearing the tremble in her words, she realized she was starting to cry. ,, “If you wish.” LaHaye made it would like her choice instead of a necessity brought on by a breakdown. For that, she could have hugged him – in spirit, anyway. He climbed out and walked around as she scooted across the bench seat, and soon they were on their way again. “Another?” LaHaye asked when he gained the driver’s seat and offered the silver case again. ,, “Yes.” This time, Olivia was able to light her own, despite the tremors that shook her. ,, “Cold?” ,, “No.” Olivia pressed herself against the door and focused on smoking – in and out, in and out. Breathing without thinking became her goal, and by the time she’d smoked this cigarillo to nothing, she was in control. And if it wasn’t control, it was something close enough to control that it didn’t matter. ,, “If you want to sleep, you can.” LaHaye was being kind; even in her shocked state, Olivia knew that. ,, She also knew that she couldn’t sleep around a man. “If I get tired enough.” She knew she wouldn’t, so she was rather surprised when she jostled awake by the truck smashing through a deep rut. ,, “You’re knackered, Olivia.” LaHaye was barely looking at the road as he peered at her with concern in the dim light. “Sleep. You’re safe.” ,, Her reply was little more than a whisper. “You don’t know the meaning of the word.” Had she not been so tired, she might have never said it. But the young dark-skinned woman was tired and sick and so far beyond her normal state of mind that she couldn’t hold her tongue. Wearily, even as she felt bad for having spoken her mind to a white man, she laid down on the bench seat, one arm curled under her head and the other crossed protectively over her chest. ,, If LaHaye had an answer for her, she was asleep or it was lost in the roar of the engine. The nightmare couldn’t even touch her for a while, her weariness was so deep. And when it did come, it couldn’t wake her. Instead, she cried as she slept, until a warm, heavy weight that smelled of tobacco and sweat and cologne settled over her. As unwontedly gentle fingers smoothed her hair away from her face and a voice spoke in quiet tones, the worry lines in her face eased, and finally, she rested. ,, The sudden silence of the truck’s engine shutting down woke her, the lack of the grumbling roar cutting through her sleep. Groggily, Olivia sat up, blinking first at LaHaye and then at his jacket, still half-draped over her body. But when she looked out the window, they weren’t at the malaria clinic; they were at the regional British headquarters. “What da’jere?” was all she managed to ask. Her second attempt managed to be a complete sentence: “What are we doing here?”
  13. Olivia’s hands were shaking as she took the two seconds granted her by his swinging into the cab to familiarize herself with the truck’s controls. Key, clutch, gas, brake, gear shift. I cannot believe I’m doing this. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find LaHaye watching her with a pleasant smile, as if they had all the time in the world. Though he’d probably intended the opposite, his scrutiny made her shoulders tighten. Swallowing, she turned over the engine, wincing at the grumbling roar it created. ,, “Steady on,” LaHaye told her as she put the truck in gear and eased it forward. ,, “Uh huh.” Olivia realized she’d just grunted at one of the most famous men in the world—well, this region of the world. He was also irritating her greatly. This wasn’t a game; people were going to get hurt. She could understand that many of them were awful people who had chosen this life of their own free will, but Olivia was gentle-hearted to a fault. She didn’t want to see anyone suffer and die. As if her thoughts had been read by one of them, a man turned and saw the truck in motion. His shout caught others’ attentions, and Olivia pressed more firmly on the gas. “This is the biggest truck I’ve ever driven.” She tried not to think about the valuable cargo in the back. ,, “And you’re doing it well.” LaHaye leaned out of the door, his massive gun leveling on the gate. A solitary man considered his options before leaping out of the path of the truck, clearing the gate. LaHaye fired the gun and the gate had a gaping flaming hole in it; the cheap fencing had never been meant to withstand LaHaye’s legendary gun. ,, Olivia could see people scattering outside the gate; they were drawn by the sound of explosions and gun fire but the proximity of them was something different. She still laid on the horn, her slim fingers holding down the button in a near-continuous stream of garish noise. They roared into an empty street, heading straight for the main thorough fare. “I’m going to have to slow down to turn the corner,” Olivia shouted to LaHaye, unable to modulate her voice thanks to adrenaline. “That’s when they’ll catch us.” ,, “Mmm-hmm,” LaHaye drawled casually. ,, Olivia glanced at him, sighed and asked, “I’m telling you stuff you already know, aren’t I?” ,, “Yes, but you’re doing it so well I didn’t wish to stop you.” LaHaye put his hand on the door and told her with a bit more somberness, “You focus on driving and let me handle the men following us.” ,, “Good, I don’t think this will work any other way.” Olivia could see the turn; a peek at the rear view mirror confirmed they were being pursued. Her throat went dry and her hands were cold as she prepared to downshift quickly. The main street wouldn’t be clear, either. She pressed the horn rapidly, worry eating at her. What if she flipped the truck? What if she hit someone, someone innocent? Like, God forbid, a child? ,, “You’re doing quite well.” LaHaye was genuine; one quick glance confirmed that. He was sincere, like he’d been in the warehouse when he’d said she had nothing to fear from him. ,, “Thanks.” Olivia drew a deep breath and started to brake.
  14. “LaHaye?!” The word popped out before Olivia could hold her tongue. She’d heard stories about the RAF captain, dashing stories that sounded like something out of a movie. The young nurse had never been sure if she should give them credence, but as she thought back to what had just happened, she realized it was like something out of a story. The thought that someone had sent him to rescue her made Olivia feel strange and wonderful. The British had already treated her with far more dignity and grace than she’d dreamed; to have the premier British agent in Asia sent to rescue her warmed her to the core and brought tears of gratitude to her eyes. “I… Thank you, Captain.” ,, “Is that your name?” he asked with that same smile, a smile which had the potential to become annoying but right now was the most beautiful thing in the world. He pulled up the rope in quick, efficient movements as Olivia pulled her thoughts together. ,, That’s when Olivia remembered him seeking out the packet, and realized that he hadn’t come for her; she’d been luckier than she deserved that he’d happened to be here on his own business. Much of that gratitude and, if she were being honest with herself, new-blooming hero-worship faded abruptly. “Olivia Jennings,” she said, blinking the tears born of stupidity and self-centeredness back into nothing. “I’m with the American Red Cross.” ,, “Yes, I saw the uniform.” He led her along the roof toward the front of the building. They crouched on the edge of the building, watching the men swarm below, obvious to their presence. “We need to find a ride out of here.” ,, “That one.” Olivia pointed at one of the trucks; the monstrous beast wouldn’t have much speed, but she could see the boxes of medicine, their markings familiar. “Or… no, that truck. That’s the one with the quinine.” ,, He looked at her and Olivia drew herself up a little straighter. Locking her brown eyes on his, she put her hand on his arm, pleading intently, “I came here for the quinine. We run out of it tomorrow, and then people will die of malaria. If I don’t return with it, then this was for nothing.” ,, “Peace, Nurse Jennings. I think we can manage to tweek Mr. Pok’s nose one more time on our way out.” LaHaye was still grinning like this was a game, and sure enough, it was starting to get annoying. No one should be that relaxed while they were in so much danger. It was as if he knew some joke that she didn’t, and he wasn’t going to tell, either. ,, Olivia was also curious about his animosity with Pok, beyond the fact that Pok was a horrible rodent of a man. She knew this wasn’t the time, so she instead asked, “How are we going to get that truck?”
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