APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 1 February, 2001


Long Shot

Scott Blow

For M.


"In case you're just joining, approximately two hours ago the Badlands Protectorate Peace River was devastated by an enormous explosion--"

The grocery sacks slipped out of my hands, tearing open and spreading their contents out onto the sidewalk. I turned to face the Swanscombe's Best Trideo window display case, straining to hear the newscaster.

"--An estimated 150,000 people are presumed dead, but this number is expected to rise much higher. Relief crews have been dispatched--"

Instinctively my hand flew to the cross around my neck. "Oh God, Sasha." I started to run, abandoning my groceries and dodging traffic. I shouldered aside a startled pedestrian, muttering an apology as I passed. I arrived at our apartment --Sasha's and mine-- feeling as if my chest had been crushed in a vice. Fighting back sobs, I threw open the door, dashing from room to room in the vain hope that she was home safe, relaxing with a glass of wine and listening to her favorite music. The silence was cruel.

I walked to the kitchen and snatched the note she had left me from off the refrigerator door. I knew exactly what it said, but I read it again anyway.


Hey, honey, I didn't want to wake you, but here's my itinerary. The meeting shouldn't take too long; the preliminary work was completed a week ago, and this is just to hash out the leftover details. I should be on the corporate hop back by noon. Love you!


Noon. Three hours ago. She could've made it. The meeting could have ended on time, and she could've made her flight, couldn't she? She could be on her way home now, and not gotten caught up in that inferno.

A quick call did nothing to assuage my fears. Her office at Elementech Consumer Products had no information for me; other than a pre-flight radio message, sent from the landing pad on top of the Paxton building her meeting had been held in, there had been no contact from her executive Hopper.

I was beyond thought at this point, collecting my things without conscious volition. I tucked my wallet and personal data assistant (a gift from her) into my carryall, along with a canteen from last-cycle's camping trip. After a moment's consideration, I retrieved a compact black pistol from a desk drawer, tucking it into my waistband. I covered it up with my Elementech jacket before stepping out of the apartment.

I needed help.

Jenkyn's Air was on the outskirts of Swanscombe, reachable only by a dusty pockmarked road. A single glance made it obvious that the airport was solely a one-man operation. A rust-streaked hangar squatted next to the runway. A safe distance away from the tarmac stood a pair of monumental fuel tanks. Even these showed signs of weathering, but despite the age of the structures everything seemed well maintained. A warm breeze stirred the wild johar of the Northern Plain, tugging gently at the lone orange windsock.

I jogged down the gravel path to the hanger, but was met by the proprietor partway. Tall and lanky, with his hands thrust into his pockets, he looked like an affable scarecrow. A large wide-brimmed hat obscured much of his face, and he appeared not to have noticed me yet.

"Jenkyns Hal?" I called out.

He looked up, squinting against the sunlight. His face broke into a toothy grin. "Mallory, girl, is that you?" His expression changed when he saw my face. "What's wrong?"

"It's Sasha. She was there--" My voice cracked. "Peace River."

His eyebrows knitted together in concern. He stood there frowning as he listened to my story. His worry was genuine; he had known Sasha just as long as I had. Five cycles back he had worked at Elementech as a transport pilot, delivering the Work Gears it was my job to test. Sasha, then as now, was the rising star of Elementech's Swanscombe branch.

Jenkyns and I both met Sasha for the first time during a labor conflict. Recession-inspired lay-offs had created a deep rift between management and the blue-collar serfs like he and I. Despite her somewhat tenuous position as a newly minted vice-president, the youngest in Elementech history, Sasha had thrown her support squarely behind the working class from the very beginning.

Jenkyns Hal's job didn't survive the cutbacks --as an unsophisticated "good ol' boy" from Fort Williams, management had always leaned especially hard on him-- but I'd gotten the impression that he had always been deeply touched by how hard Sasha had fought for all of us. He'd seemed especially pleased when she and I had started dating. Jenkyns and I had gradually lost touch with each other in the cycles after he'd received his pink slip, but he'd mentioned buying this place the last time we'd talked. Since a commercial flight to Peace River was obviously out of the question, Jenkyns and his Hopper were my only option. I only hoped the Hopper was in better shape than the rest of the equipment around here.

"I'm sorry, Mal," he drawled sadly after I'd plead my case. "I cain't help you. The air space 'round Peace River is completely off-limits; that's all they been talkin' about on the squawk box for the past few hours."

"She's still alive, Hal, I know it. Her flight could've made it out of the city!"

He shook his head. "The EMP woulda brought their Hopper down."

"Ee-emm-pee?" I spelled out.

"'Lectromagnetic Pulse. Fries everything electronic. The reporters are sayin' it was some sort of nuclear bomb, maybe even antimatter. Probably lit off by them BRF idiots."

"No, I have to go to her. You're the only one--"

He cut me off with a wave of his hand. "I cain't help you. They'd shoot us down klicks outside the city. I'm sorry." He shook his head once again, and then turned back to the hangar.

My dismay was quickly giving way to anger. Why wouldn't he help me? I needed this, and he knew it. I reached inside my jacket, my hand tightening around the automatic. He paused, without turning to face me. "Ya'll ain't plannin' to draw on yer best friend," he said. It was a statement, not a question.

He was right. I relaxed my grip on the pistol, my hand dropping back to my side, impotently. He looked over his shoulder, studying me. He sighed heavily, his scarecrow shoulders sagging.

"Get in the Hopper. I'll take you as far as I can, but you're hikin' the rest of the way in."

The Hopper flight was the first opportunity I'd had to pause and catch my breath. With the controls under the able hand of Jenkyns, there was absolutely nothing for me to do. Naturally, I had spent much of the trip fidgeting and worrying. Every muscle in my body ached from the strain; I tried vainly to rub away some of the stiffness in my shoulders, but soon gave up, more tense than I had been before I started.

I reached for my carryall, groping for some pain relievers, when out slipped a photograph of Sasha and I standing in front of St. Justine's Cathedral, just after Mass. We'd planned to get married there, but we just hadn't gotten around to it yet.

I held it up for a better look. What an unlikely pair we were. There were trideo sitcoms based on more realistic pairings! She stood there, looking so willowy and elegant in her tailored four thousand-mark suit. She was all smiles, and her long-limbed beauty was completely effortless. She and I were a study in contrast, and standing next to her made the height difference readily apparent. I was shorter and stockier, not fat but solid, with my arms crossed self-consciously over my heavy, blocky breasts. Sasha was rapier-thin, but my body was a blunt instrument.

During my (admittedly frequent) bouts of self-doubt at the initial stages of our relationship, I used to ask Sasha what she saw in me. After all, we weren't just from different economic classes, it was like we were different species. "Shut up, Mal!" she'd answer with a grin, before pulling me in for one of her insecurity-destroying kisses.

In the Hopper, my body shook with a single wracking sob. Jenkyns started at the sound, but he was kind enough not to gawk at me. I think he was as uncomfortable being around someone emotional as I was reluctant to display my feelings in front of him.

A sudden gust of wind buffeted the Hopper, jolting me out of my reverie. The whole flight had been plagued by what seemed like an unusual amount of turbulence. I wondered if it might be due to the Peace River explosion, probably something involving large volumes of superheated air, but I decided not to bother Jenkyns with my likely ill-informed conjecture. I pushed construction Gears around for a living, I wasn't a meteorologist. Anyway, I didn't like thinking about it myself, so I kept my mouth shut, gripping the arm rests a little tighter while he wrestled with the yoke.

In the distance I could see the Alpha Maglev halted on the tracks. Several vans, the size of Army Skags when viewed from this height, were scattered around it, doubtless evacuating the passengers. As of noon today, the Maglev had no destination at which to arrive.

"Sweet Prophet!" Jenkyns rumbled, his index finger stabbing out a point on the horizon. Shrouded in a dense cloud of ash and dust I could just make out the skeletal remains of the colossal Paxton Executive Tower.

Jenkyns swooped low, probably twenty meters above the ground. "Ground-based radar," he said by way of explanation. "We're now in restricted airspace, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Peace River Defense Force has orders to splash any unauthorized craft on sight."

"What's left of the PRDF, anyway," he added quietly as we drew nearer, the devastation becoming ever more apparent. I could now make out the shape of tents and vehicles set up by various relief organizations and surviving Paxton agencies.

"This is as far as I can take you." Jenkyns pulled the Hopper into a hover, setting it down on the sun-baked broken ground as light as a feather. "Good luck." I think he believed I was on a fool's errand, but he understood my motives.

The hot air of the Karaq Wastes took my breath away at once. Despite being no slouch when it came to exercise, I was breathing hard after a single kilometer. I was grateful for my canteen. It felt like I was in an oven, and the atmosphere had a peculiar burnt quality to it.

The remains of Peace River lay directly ahead. Many of the retractable storm shutters surrounding the base of the city-state were missing, and many of the panels that remained were bent outward in massive sheets. The central tower thrust out of the disc-like remains of the metropolis like a horror film zombie clawing its way out of a grave. Hoppers circled the city like vultures, dipping down every so often. Even the red rock mesa Peace River was nestled against had a huge gouge blasted into its side. I shuddered despite the heat, imagining the force required to bring about such a holocaust.

A few hundred meters from the base of the shattered city-state clustered the tent city I had seen from the air. It was a hive of activity, with ambulances and five-ton trucks ferrying rescue crews back and forth from the relief camp and the city. Military Police variants of Paxton's Warrior Gear stomped around the perimeter. I'd have to approach carefully. There was enough activity for me to blend into, but the remaining PRDF troops would be understandably wary of strangers.

I picked my way along carefully, jogging from hillock to hillock. I finally ended up with my back against a Gear-sized boulder just outside the camp. Peering around the boulder I could see a long white tent marked with a caduceus logo and the words "Medecins Sans Politique." I was about to dash for the tent, a temporary hospital I presumed, when suddenly one of the patrolling Gears rounded the corner. I scrabbled back to my hiding place, praying that I hadn't been spotted. Hiding from a Gear wasn't easy; even the Ground Hogs I pushed around back in Swanscombe were covered in dozens of visual and spatial sensors.

I held my breath and hoped the pilot had been inattentive.

The sound of the Warrior MP's approach grew louder, then halted. I shut my eyes tightly, attempting to will myself invisible. Finally I heard the Gear's plodding footsteps recede into the distance. I exhaled forcefully, the sound of my heartbeat still pounding in my ears. After a moment to settle my nerves, I ducked back around the boulder and bolted into the tent.

I found myself surrounded by the dead and the dying. Row upon row of military-style cots lined the tent, each supporting a body. Most were burned beyond any hope of recognition. They looked like cinders, each wrapped in immaculate white hospital sheets. Some clutched feebly at oxygen masks, their scorched chests rising and falling pathetically, haltingly. Others had surrendered to their fates, empty eyes gazing up at the ceiling, the teeth in their gaping mouths shockingly white in their blackened faces.

Someone behind me cleared their throat, startling me. I whirled around, finding myself faced with a tiny wizened old man dressed in a white lab coat. His head was bald, and he had a gentle look in his gray eyes.

"You're not supposed to be here," he said, not unkindly. I couldn't place his accent. "You are looking for someone, no?"

I glanced around the room once more, and then shook my head. "She's not here," I said, confidently. The little man cocked his head to the side, regarding me for a moment before nodding.

He made no move to sound the alarm or impede my process in any other way, so I turned on my heel and headed for the opposite exit. On my way out I spotted a blue polymer radiation suit piled on the tent's only empty cot. Behind me the doctor was tending to one of his patients, seemingly oblivious of my continued presence.

The sight of those hideously charred bodies had made radiation a very real concern for me. And anyway, I thought, eyeing the suit's thick faceplate, I needed a disguise if I hoped to move around freely. Without making a sound, I gingerly wrapped my hands around the suit.

Once again the diminutive man's voice halted me in mid-action. "I hope you find who you're looking for," he said without looking up from the chart he was updating. Now that the pretense of stealth had been broken, I collected the suit and ducked behind a curtain to change.

The suit fit poorly --the legs were too long, the boots were too big, and the rubbery fabric was stretched uncomfortably taut across the shoulders-- but it seemed like it was up to the task of concealing my identity and protecting me from the hazards ahead. I had to abandon my own boots and Elementech jacket at the hospital tent, but I managed to empty my carryall into an official-looking aluminum case.

I stepped out of the tent and directly into a patrolling PRDF soldier.

"Hey!" he growled, looking me over. He wore black chitin-like armor and a sour expression, and he carried a nasty-looking rifle. His eyes caught the Medecins Sans Politique logo on my breast and his face softened. "You be careful out there, ma'am."

I nodded, then hiked deeper into the encampment. What I needed now was transportation. I supposed I could catch a ride with one of the ambulances or five-ton trucks that were heading back into the city, but I didn't want to depend on another driver, especially one who might not be headed in the same direction as me. No, I needed a more individual form of transport.

Something like...that. Standing just scant meters away, the most beautiful sight I'd laid eyes on all day. A Paxton Valence Work Gear, perfectly unattended.

I approached with trepidation. Could it be this easy? It was perfect for my needs. While not as fast as a wheeled vehicle, it would travel better over broken ground. The left forearm even sported a long chainsaw, a tool that could quite conceivably come in handy on my trek.

"I'm coming, baby, wherever you are." I threw my case into the open-air crew compartment, hoisting myself up. Finally, a lucky break. The controls were not all that different from the Ground Hogs I was accustomed to, and getting the Gear walking was a trivial task.

As I guided the Valence towards Peace River, I kept expecting the Gear's rightful owner to burst out of a nearby tent, waving his arms and screaming in protest. Despite a tense first few steps, I seemed to be in the clear. Until, that is, a Warrior MP stepped into my path. The way it hefted its fragcannon exuded an air of casual menace, but I hoped it was just my imagination. "My" Valence's radio cracked to life: "Shelby, you going out for another run?"

I raised my right manipulator arm in a snappy salute, hoping that this would be sufficient acknowledgement. I didn't know if this Shelby was a man or a woman, so I couldn't risk answering by radio.

"Roger that, you be careful out there."

I trekked to Peace River in the company of a motley collection of relief vehicles. Once inside the confines of the city, I slowed my walking pace, letting a pair of ambulances pass me. I ducked into the first available alley, attempting to orient myself. I retrieved my personal data assistant from the aluminum case, bringing up a map of the city. Already I could tell that my map wasn't going to be much help. Several buildings appeared to have migrated across the street, and certain avenues had ceased to exist. At least I had a vague notion of where she should have departed from, so it was in this direction that I headed.

An hour later, my Valence stumbling along powered by gasoline fumes alone, I had to revise my status. I had no idea where I was or where I was headed, and apparently my Gear had been awaiting refueling when I appropriated it. I knew I needed to be on the Third Terrace, but I seemed trapped in the outer Prospects circle. Each of the tunnels and thoroughfares leading core-ward that I had encountered thus far were choked with rubble. I pressed on, searching for a path that I could negotiate, but that had left me traveling parallel to my desired path. I was vaguely closer to my destination, but I was trapped in the wrong circle of hell.

And it truly was hell. While my singe-minded drive to get from point A to point B had allowed me to shut out much of the devastation --instead of hospitals and apartment buildings I had been able to treat them as differently-sized piles of rubble; obstacles for me to surmount-- but now, with my Gear's tank almost empty, I was forced to pay more attention to my surroundings.

Other than the slowing cough of the Valence's engine, the city was eerily quiet. I could not see any bodies from the street. I hoped that it was because relief crews had evacuated all the remaining survivors in this area, but it seemed more likely that they had been entombed in the scorched, semi-collapsed structured around me. Before long my head was filled with images of shriveled cinder people piled on each other like cordwood, reaching out towards the exits with vacant burned-out eyes and soundlessly screaming mouths. Despite the stifling heat in my radiation suit, my sweat ran cold.

There was some improvement as I reached the eastern rim of the city-state. This area appeared to have been more sheltered from the blast; the devastation was still appalling, but the buildings and their original functions were more recognizable than the ones I had passed before.

With a final clunk my Gear shuddered to a halt. Empty. I had to find fuel. As slow as my commandeered Work Gear was, it had allowed me to cover several times as many kilometers than I could have managed on foot.

I dismounted, taking the aluminum case with me on the off chance I needed my personal data assistant and its maps, or the pistol to shoot a lock off. Most of these buildings looked as if they'd crumble at a touch, however, so perhaps locks need not have been a concern.

I traveled carefully, avoiding broken glass and exposed re-bar, hoping to protect my suit. I spotted gas stations every few blocks, but using one was out of the question. Even if I could find a station where the pumps were still functioning, which was unlikely given what Jenkyns had told me about electromagnetic pulses, I didn't want to risk blowing myself up attempting to draw gasoline from a damaged tank.

After a half-dozen blocks I spotted what I needed: a bar. The strongest alcohol couldn't distract me from my task, but it could power my Gear. This particular watering hole, the Lazy Dawg according to the soot-streaked sign, was set a meter or so underground. Descending the steps, I hoped its semi-subterranean location had sheltered its stock from the detonation.

The interior was dark and windowless, with the only light filtering in from the double doors behind me. The saloon was deserted, with tables still covered with drinks and beer-soaked napkins. Just beyond the scarred fernwood bar stood racks supporting bottles and bottles of alcohol, fortunately still intact.

I slipped around the bar, searching for those liquors with the highest alcohol content. Suddenly a black shape rose up from the floor, looming over me. It was man-shaped but inhumanly tall. Its skin was coal black and charred to a crisp. The creature's movements were accompanied by the rustling sound of dead autumn leaves.

I stumbled back from its outstretched arms, but the bar prevented me from retreating any further. It was painfully thin for a creature so tall; it towered over me by nearly a full meter, but it looked frail enough to snap in a strong gust of wind.

"Water..." it rasped. It was then that I noticed the empty bottles scattered at the floor behind the bar. The GREL swayed drunkenly. It looked like one of the big frontline shock-troopers, judging from its height, but the nuclear fire had consumed much of its flesh, rendering it completely unrecognizable and nearly skeletal. It --he? I couldn't say for sure-- repeated its slurred request for water.

I fumbled at the catches of the aluminum case. The damage to the GREL's body was horrifying. I prayed that the alcohol had anaesthetized it against the pain. No human could have survived that kind of immolation. Wordlessly I pulled out my canteen, unscrewing the cap as I handed it over, lest the skin on its hands flake off with the effort. The GREL accepted it greedily, its ravaged body folding into a sitting position as it gulped the water down in great draughts.

I stepped over its spindly burnt match-shaped legs, once again focusing at the task at hand. I selected bottles of the strongest liquor I could find. Vodkas, bourbons, and Fort James whisky. Jenkyn's favorite. I selected a couple dozen bottles, then searched about for something to carry them in. I found a hand truck and a pair of empty crates in the back room. I loaded bottles into the crates, piling them high on the hand truck, then fit two bottles of tequila in my case, replacing the handgun. This I placed at the feet of the GREL, who was currently unconscious, but still breathing steadily. No creature should have to live with injuries that horrendous. When it woke up, it could make the decision whether or not to go on.

I had some difficult lugging the liquor back up to street level, but dragging it back to my waiting Gear was considerably easier. I poured liter after liter of high-grade booze into the Valence's tank, grateful that its V-engine was capable of operating on virtually any flammable liquid. Expensive scotch was followed by cheap rotgut, and I flung the emptied over my shoulder carelessly. I hadn't the strength or the time to bring enough liquor to actually fill the Gear's tank, and the sub-standard quality of the fuel I was feeding the Gear would likely result in inferior engine performance, but I figured it would be enough to reach my destination.

Sasha was still alive, I could feel it.

Finally, after traversing nearly a quarter way around the Peace River Prospects district, I managed to find an unblocked passage to the Third Terrace. Checking my map, I noticed that I was only a few kilometers from Sasha's last known location. I was weary and exhausted from the day's trials, and like my Gear had been just a short while ago, I was running on empty.

I suddenly felt very dizzy, and my attempt to brace myself inside the Gear's crew compartment nearly sent the Valence tumbling forward. The air had tasted stale for some time now, but I had tried to ignore it. Finally it dawned on me that my suit's oxygen supply had been almost completely depleted. Despite my earlier fear of radiation, I clawed at the zipper that sealed my suit from left shoulder to right hip. It gave at last, leaving me gasping for air. It was hot and dusty outside, but the air was fresh, and helped clear my mind of its sudden vertigo. The breeze was likewise warm, but the air circulating against my sweat-soaked tank top was a refreshing change from the oven-like intensity of the suit. With no way to replenish the suit's oxygen supply, I stripped it off completely, keeping only the floppy boots. I hoped I was far enough from the center of the explosion that high doses of radiation were less of a danger, but I couldn't know for sure.

The Third Terrace looked much the same as the outer Prospects ring. The eastern portion of the Terrace, where I now stood, was relatively undamaged. However, judging from my experience below, the further west I traveled, the more scarred my surroundings would become. I leaned my Valence into a jog. Whether or not Sasha was still alive could be merely a question of geography. East, she lived still; west, she was gone. Not for the first time that day, I cursed my Gear's sluggishness.

Three blocks out from the building her meeting had been held at, I spotted her Hopper. The nose was crumpled inward like an accordion, and it rested upside down in the middle of the street, but I recognized the Elementech logo on the fuselage. One of the big turbine engines had been torn from its wing, and I was inundated with the harsh chemical reek of aircraft fuel. As I drew nearer I could make out an iridescent pool of it surrounding the Hopper, but there were no scorch marks on the aircraft or any other evidence of fire.

I leapt from my Gear, jogging to the wreck. Peering through the shattered cockpit windscreen I was confronted with a grisly discovery. Both the pilot and the co-pilot hung suspended upside-down, their heads and faces reduced to a glistening red mess. The nose-first descent had left them pinned to their seats by their instrument panels. I choked back bile.

I craned my neck to see past the dead crewmen, but the interior was too dark. "Sasha?" I called out. I thought I heard an answering groan, but I wasn't sure if it was real or imagined.

I circled around to the nearest hatch. I strained at the handle, but the frame was too severely crumpled, effectively pinning the door in place. I repeated my effort with the hatch on the opposite side, but again to no avail.

I glanced back at the Valence, and at the meter-long chainsaw fixed to the Gear's left arm. Then my eyes dropped to the pool of jet fuel I was standing in. It was no good.

I wandered halfway around the Hopper, spotting a fire hydrant. Using a broken copper pipe, I managed to bash off the hydrant cap. The water pressure was very weak, leading me to conclude that the bombing had destroyed the underground pumping mechanism, but the flow, working in conjunction with the avenue's shallow slope, helped to wash away much of the spilled fuel.

I didn't feel comfortable opening up the Hopper yet, so I stepped into an adjacent bistro. I found a pair of fire extinguishers in the kitchen, using them to put down a thick layer of fire retardant foam over much of the fuselage. Hopefully this would reduce the possibility of a spark igniting any remaining fuel.

Finally I was ready to attempt a rescue. I had been working as quickly as possible, but I was unwilling to risk making the circumstances worse, perhaps even fatally so, by acting with undue haste. I mounted my Gear and powered up the chainsaw.

I approached the Hopper with no small amount of trepidation. Taking a deep breath, I guided the saw into the fuselage just behind the cockpit. The sparks fell harmlessly to the pool of water on the ground, and the odor of the fumes had been replaced by the clean-smelling foam. I cut as shallowly as possible, working until I had completed separated from the rest of the cabin. I hauled the cockpit away from the rest of the aircraft, creating a large opening.

Once the cockpit was clear, I shut down the Valence and vaulted from the pilot's seat. I saw a crumpled body just inside the cabin, resting on what used to be the Hopper's ceiling. The body was twisted unnaturally, as if its back had been broken. Glancing up at the seat hanging above the body, I saw the frayed remains of the passenger's seatbelt. The figure didn't appear to be breathing. Turning it over, I saw that it wasn't Sasha, just a slender man. It sickens me to admit it, but I was tremendously relieved. As I crawled over his body, I hoped his death had been a quick one.

I gasped. There she was, in the back, still hanging by he seatbelt. Her forehead was crimson. "Oh, Sasha," I cried, my eyes stinging with tears. Her hand twitched. I rushed to her, supporting her body with one arm while struggling with her seatbelt with the other. I guided her down as gently as I could. She groaned weakly. "It's okay, baby, it's okay," I muttered, attempting to carry her out of the cockpit without jostling her too badly.

I managed to get her out of the Hopper and onto a dry, bare patch of concrete. She had a nasty-looking gash across her forehead, but it didn't appear very deep. Still, her face was ashen and her silk blouse was spotted with blood.

I rushed back to the Valence, retrieving the standard-issue flare gun from behind the pilot's seat. I sent the brilliant magnesium flare arcing into the sky, then requested help over the radio before rushing back to my lady's side.

I felt her neck. Her pulse was strong, but her breathing had a wheezing quality about it. I hoped it wasn't a collapsed lung. I brushed her pale blonde hair back from her sticky, bloodstained forehead. Her eyes fluttered at the touch. "Mal?" Her voice was barely audible.

"Shh, baby, I'm here. You're going to be fine. Hold still." I couldn't hold back any longer; the full weight of the strain I'd been operating under came crashing down on me. My tears fell freely, dropping onto her cheek one at a time as I held her. "Everything's going to be fine."

I heard aircraft in the distance, approaching.

Her injuries were painful, no doubt, but they didn't appear life threatening. Still, there was a substantial chance that radiation poisoning had drastically shortened both our lives. I took comfort in the fact that we would at least spend our remaining time together.

Back to APAGear II Archives

APAGear II Archives Volume 3, Number 1 February, 2001