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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Letters Home [Complete]

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Olivia woke up crying. For a moment, she was still in the jungle; it was night and she could smell the stink of bleeding bodies and feel their touch on her. For a moment, her stomach and chest hurt from the long-healed bullet wounds of that night; the wounds in her flesh faded but the agony in her heart was still there. Stifling her sobs, Olivia glanced over at the other cot in the rude hut: Sadie Lou was still sleeping, her snores barely audible over the drone of the rain.

At least she hadn’t woken her roommate this time. Olivia found this a small comfort as she dragged her pillow over her head and sobbed into its stiff white cotton cover. She wept for Sean, for her innocence and for the other two people who had died. She wept because she was still afraid—scared to be alone or in a jeep at night or just scared. She wept because she was still hurt, and she didn’t know if it would ever stop hurting.

Her post-nightmare crying fit took a while to run dry. When she was done, she felt exhausted, as if she hadn’t slept at all. Another day in Burma. Once, it hadn’t been like this. After meeting Sean, she’d been hopeful and happy. That woman had been a child: she’d seen the harshness of the world and still thought there was more good than evil. That woman was no more; her optimism had been murdered in the jungle with her beau.

Sniffling a little, Olivia got out of bed and tugged on her ætherfiber clothing. She’d heard that some women wearing the dynamic-created clothing went without their underclothing, or even made underclothing from their ætherfiber. To her, that felt like wearing her underwear where everyone could see it and so she had proper underclothes underneath the amazing, shifting clothing.

Once dressed, Olivia grabbed her satchel and umbrella. It was a rare spring rainfall in the jungles of Burma, a reminder that the summer wet was coming. Yawning a little, she picked her way through the mud, trying to keep her galoshes from splashing dirty brown water onto her white uniform. She could clean it easily, but it was unsanitary.

The mess was quiet and dry. It was the latter point that was important to Olivia as she took a seat well away from the kitchen. The three negro cooks were laboring away, getting breakfast ready for the small Red Cross camp. Olivia smiled to herself as she caught snippets of their easy banter. It drove away the sting of the nightmare and left her feeling a touch better.

Normalcy. That was what she needed right now. Making sure her fingers were dry, she opened her satchel and pulled out the stationery and pen. A partially composed letter was waiting for her, and the young nurse reread what she’d written yesterday. Picking up her pen, she focused for a moment and started to write.

I know I keep saying this, but I wish you could see Burma, Momma. I wouldn’t want you to live here; it’s hotter than New Orleans in summer sometimes, and the rain makes it so muggy. But it is so different than the way we live at home. Every aspect of life is alien to what we know in the ‘Big Easy’. Imagine going through entire cities and not seeing a church, then be told that the funny buildings all over the place are temples! But they’re not to God, they’re to some deity called Buddha or Allah. I’m told Allah is like God, and means much the same to the Muslims. But someone tried to explain what Buddha is about and I was completely lost!

The click of a tin cup on the wooden table caught Olivia’s attention. She looked sharply up to see Carl, one of the cooks, walking away. A steaming cup of coffee sat in front of her now; when she glanced again at Carl, he winked at her. They weren’t supposed to serve food outside of the regular mealtimes, but all the colored men were coddling her in small ways.

Olivia took a sip of the coffee; it wasn’t very good but most food wasn’t very good over here. It was all so strange or had to ship so long that it was no longer flavorful. The caffeine was quite welcome, and as she set the tin back down, she realized she was stalling. The young woman sighed, hoisted her pen and heavily continued writing.

Enough of strange religious practices. I knew my letter would upset you but I hadn’t known that it would cause such dark memories. You had never said anything about the circumstances around your employment with that man. It’s not the same, as you said, but it’s not that much different either.

I am doing all right. I know that you want to scoop me up under your wings, Momma, and I wish you could. But I’m not getting home soon, not for a bit, and everyone is being so kind. The other folks around me around watching out - Sadie Lou has been fiercely protective! Even the white people are being nice... the British boys that come around occasionally nod and smile at me. Many of them saw me at the trial and the execution.

I did watch. I know you didn’t want me to, Momma. I have asked God for forgiveness-

Olivia stopped, her fingers shaking and tears in her eyes. She couldn’t tell her mother that she’d felt glad when the men died. She’d have to rewrite this page. The young woman breathed deeply for a moment to compose herself before starting again.

Even the white people are being nice... the British boys that come around occasionally nod and smile at me. Many of them saw me at the trial and the execution.

I did watch. I know you didn’t want me to, Momma. I have asked God for forgiveness-
I have been told by a couple of them that the British Army has sent a dynamic to hunt down the three that went AWOL. I’m not sure that’s true but they seem awfully sure. They also seem sure that the three men will wish they’d been caught with the others. I’m not sure why; I asked but they acted as if they’d said too much and didn’t talk about it anymore.

You can tell Louisa that being a dynamic is very strange. Most days I feel very normal and plain; then something will happen to remind me that I’m just a bit more than I was. It is unlike anything that I have words

Someone was shouting her name, and Olivia focused on the cry. It wasn’t anyone she knew, but she was familiar with the tone. Hastily she capped her pen and refolded her papers, putting them back in the satchel just as the British soldier burst into the mess tent. He was young, with a baby-smooth face. It was the wide eyes and pale skin that made Olivia think him young; he had that shocked look that boys get from their first taste of war. “Nurse Jennings?”

“Yes?” she asked, grabbing her umbrella.

The boy took two steps toward her and she recoiled reflexively. He was anxious and it was making her nervous. “Ma’am, we need you at the Army hospital. One of my mates - he’s hurt real bad.”

It would be very bad if the British Army was calling on her for help. That meant it was something beyond what the surgeons could do for their man. “Then let’s go,” she said, waving for him to lead the way. If it was that dire, they didn’t have time to stand about and talk.

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The jeep ride through the jungle was like so many Olivia had endured. The narrow path through the close-growing greenery; the double-wheel dirt-track filled with ruts: it was all too familiar and Olivia gripped the edge of the jeep with white-knuckles. In the pre-dawn gloom, this ride was too much like her own personal nightmare. Her driver didn’t help; already rattled, he took no care as he drove. Olivia’s teeth were rattled too hard for her to even ask him to slow down.

The jeep burst from the jungle into a clearing. The British army had taken over an estate of some kind; it was too large and too British to be native. Olivia whimpered as the jeep barrelled over the last rough bumps and roared toward the barn. The soldier slid it to a perfect stop in front of the doors and leapt out, grabbing her bags for her before Olivia could convince her knees to stop shaking. As she staggered out of the vehicle, a doctor emerged from the small entrance inset on the barn’s big double doors. “Nurse Jennings?” he asked, his accent giving his voice a crisp, brisk tone.

“Yes.” Olivia managed to get on her feet and walk toward the doctor. She checked to be sure her white gloves were firmly in place, and when he offered her his hand to shake, she was able to take it without fear of hurting him.

“Dr. Niall Ross, thank you for coming.” The doctor was only a few inches taller than her, with a close-cut brush of black hair. He was clean-shaven save for a thick mustache, which was neatly trimmed. A pair of glasses caught the light and hid his eyes from her sight.

As he turned and walked away, beckoning for her to follow, Olivia asked, “What is the situation with the patient?”

“Welsh male, twenty-two years old, private, named Rhobert Maddox. He received an injury which took septic in this bloody awful atmosphere--erm, excuse my language, ma’am. Then he contracted malaria, of course. It’s impossible to keep the mosquitoes away from our men.” The doctor walked her through the barn, which was being used as a storehouse, to the house. Olivia caught a brief glimpse of a command center in the front of the house before she directed into the back. Every room on the second floor had been converted into a hospital room; the stink of sick humanity quickly filled Olivia’s nostrils. She was long used to it, but after the rain-scoured air outside, it was a bit thick.

Dr. Ross waved her into a room. Olivia paused in the doorway, noting that his bed was the only one in the room. Private Maddox was sleeping fitfully, his eyes tracking back and forth behind the lids. Dr. Ross handed her the chart and Olivia flipped through it quickly, getting a feel for his visible symptoms over the last few days. Handing the chart back to Dr. Ross, she moved next to Maddox’s bed and pulled off a glove. Aware of Dr. Ross watching, Olivia lightly touched the soldier’s forehead.

Maddox stirred under her touch, groaning softly. He remained asleep as she got a sense of his health. Her way was deeper and more sure than Dr. Ross’s methods and Olivia closed her eyes as she knew what was happening inside of him, what was wrong and broken in him. He was feverish but that was good; his body was fighting dual infections. There was little else that was good: he was dying, without question. Olivia stopped probing his body and used some of her power to correct the damage the infections were doing to his body. “I’ll need to do that several more times,” she whispered to Dr. Ross. “Can I remain in his room?”

“Yes, of course.” The doctor’s voice was pitched low and he moved closer to speak to her in whispers. “We’ll have a cot and a chair brought in for you. What else will you need?”

“A small table.” Olivia looked around the small room. “Where’s the bath- water closet?”

“Out back, Nurse.” The doctor gave her a smile. “I will make sure that you have time and privacy to take care of your needs.”

Olivia hid a shudder. “Are their any female nurses here?”

“No.” Dr. Ross was trying to be reassuring. “But we’ll give you an hour with the showerhouse to yourself, and we’ll clear out the latrine whenever you need, ma’am.” He took off his glasses and looked at her with intelligent gray eyes. “We appreciate what you’re doing for us; we’ll take care of you, ma’am.”

“Thank you.” Olivia managed to smile before he left the room.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It is unlike anything I have words for. I guess the closest that I can come is that I’m alive. Some of that might be from surviving the attack, but some of it is definitely from being a dynamic. Things that I didn’t know are now obvious. I have a perception of my own body that is acute and absolute. I can heal myself or others with a touch, and if I can harm, too... well, that’ll teach people to keep their hands to themselves, I suppose.

Today, I got called to tend to a young British soldier. He’s in really bad shape. My healing can help him, but I fear I’m prolonging the inevitable. He was attacked by a wild pig--very, very dangerous animals. They’re nothing like the pigs at home, fat and wallowing in the mud. We’ve been warned that wild ones are fast and vicious and strong. The one of the first things the other aid workers told me was never to corner one, and never attempt the help a piglet. After seeing this poor private’s leg, I understand their words. The pig tore his leg open to the bone; when he fell down and tried to shoot it, it attacked his arm and shoulder. That was two weeks ago. Now the leg is septic. The arm and shoulder are healing well, but that will be all for naught if the leg can’t be healed. They’re going to remove it tomorrow if I can’t bring him around today. Unfortunately, he’s also contracted malaria, and the amputation itself may put such a great strain on his system that he may die. He’s in God’s hands - not mine despite what I’ve heard people whisper. I’m not letting that go to my head, Momma, I swear.

The doctors here are very nice, so far. Dr. Ross is from Scotland, though he doesn’t sound like it anymore. Dr. Churchill - no relation to the Prime Minister - is an older gentleman who won’t smile but has impeccable manners. The medics have told me that the night shift doctor is not nearly as pleasant, and so I’m bracing myself for dealing with him. I’ve learned that when other nurses say “unpleasant” in a certain way, it means downright nasty. His name is Dr. Tennant and I’ve been told he is rather handsome, even if he never smiles. I don’t care what he looks like, so long as he is good at his job.

Momma, I love writing to you but I need to go for a bit. It’s almost dark here and I need to change my ward’s dressings. Also, I need to be vigilant - people seem to sense when the sun is going down, and it almost seems to draw them down into eternal night. So I need to watch the private through the night. I love you all!


Olivia put her paper away and rose from the chair, stretching. She was a bit tired, but it wouldn’t be hard to pull an all-nighter. Quietly, she moved to Maddox’s side as she drew off a glove, laying her hand lightly on his forehead. He groaned and she quickly pulled back from him, aware that her touch was hurting him. Thankfully, that aspect of her abilities didn’t cause physical damage; it only antagonized the nerves and made them think they were being hurt.

His eyes fluttered open, gray as storm clouds. Olivia smiled as he focused on her face, blinking. “I... who are you?” he asked, his voice raw and distorted with a thick accent. Fortunately, Olivia had spent months learning new accents.

“I’m Nurse Jennings with the American Red Cross.” Olivia got a glass of water, helping him sit up to drink. “I’ll be taking care of you.”

“Lucky me.” The young man meant it; he was smiling as Olivia made him comfortable again. “You’re that dynamic, the healer?” Some of the pleasure faded from his face. “I’m pretty bad, then? Worse than they’re telling me. Aren’t I?”

“You’re doing better than you were this morning. You are definitely on the mend.” Olivia kept her voice light and cheerful, not allowing a sliver of doubt to creep into her voice. Maddox needed assurance; he needed to believe that he was going to get better. If he thought there was no hope, he would give up. Olivia had seen it before, when men gave up subconsciously while declaring they were fighting to the end. “I’m going to change your dressings now. It might hurt, but I’ll be careful.”

“You’re from the Co- the States, right?” Maddox asked as she began to peel back the clothes covering his arm.

He was a talker - the kind of patient that talked and thought to distract themselves from the procedure causing pain. Olivia generally enjoyed them, when they weren’t distracting her. Changing a bandage was so familiar to her that he wouldn’t cause her problems. “New Orleans.”

“On the Gulf?” Maddox grinned, pleased when she confirmed he was right. “I want to see that town, I hear it’s lovely.”

“Yes, it is.” Warmth filled Olivia’s voice as she spoke of her home. “And you’ll find that Southern hospitality is unmatched in the world.” The bandages were turning russet brown and blood red; Olivia was pleased to see it was still healing well. That matched her own assessment, gained when she touched his forehead.

“Would you show me around?” Maddox was watching her; when she exposed the wound, he swallowed hard and looked away. “Around New Orleans, when I come?”

Olivia felt her smile slip a touch. “I can show you around parts, but you’ll need a white guide for other places.”

“It’s really like that? I hear stories, but... I dunno. They seemed far fetched.” Maddox winced as she gently cleaned the wound, and his voice was terse as he added, “Are Americans really so interested in skin color?”

Olivia set aside the bloody washrag and basin of dirty water. She’d need another before she started on the leg, which was the worst of the two. Hiding her nervousness about the topic, she started to re-bandage the arm. “Not all. People are different everywhere you go, and some see skin color as just a color. And some see it as a defining hallmark of a person. That’s true for all people of all colors.”

“You aren’t... I mean... you know that us white blokes aren’t all scum, right?” Maddox’s voice was filled with concern and Olivia glanced at him, startled. “I mean, I know...” He trailed off, flushing.

“You know I was attacked.” The black nurse forced all inflection out of her voice, making it a statement of fact. “You’re worried if I hate white men because white men hurt me. Private, I’m a nurse, and I see men who are hurt of all colors. The treatment for each of their conditions is the same, regardless of their race. People are people. Now, you hold on, I’m going to get more water and some quinine, and we’ll change your leg bandage when I come back.” Olivia didn’t give him time to speak before she left the room. She didn’t want him to ask the next logical question: was she afraid of all men?

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  • 2 weeks later...
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.
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  • 2 weeks later...

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-”


“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.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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.

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  • 2 weeks later...
“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.
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I told Tennant that I could save him. Could I? I like to think that if I’d really had more time then yes, I could’ve. I don’t know that, because I’m not God. I’m just a nurse. But to the right person, sometimes, that’s the same thing.

I’m trying to do the right thing. Day by day, I just pick myself up and keep trying. I just wanted you to know, Momma, I think you’re the bravest person in the world. I miss you so much, and I wish I were with you. It’s thoughts of you and your sacrifices that keep me going. I know I’m not as strong as you, but it helps to remember that you know what I’m going through, that you love me, more than I deserve, and that you’re praying for me.

Love you and miss you, so so much. Hugs and kisses--


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