August 18, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Nine

Skylar fought to keep Jenna’s head above the water as they were pulled very quickly downstream. He knew he needed to get them both out of the icy river soon or he would be too cold to swim and they would both drown. Precious minutes passed which felt like an eternity, but the current was too strong to fight his way to the bank.

Suddenly the river came into a wide meadow where it had over-run its banks and the speed of the water slowed considerably. Skylar got his feet under him, dragged Jenna to the nearest edge and pulled her out of the river.

He looked down at the still-unconscious girl in his arms. Her hair and clothes were plastered to her skin, her face streaked with mud and water. Her shallow breathing was the only indication she was still alive. He laid her gently on the grassy verge and began to look for injuries. The cold and wet were secondary just now and could be dealt with in a moment.

The left leg of her jeans was ripped open across her thigh, revealing a deep gash which should be cleansed and closed before she bled to death. A large bump on her head above one ear where she’d hit the tree was the only other injury he could find, and explained why she was still unconscious.

"I need my pack," Skylar muttered under his breath, "my aidkit's in it." As he tried to move Jenna gently to get better access to the leg wound, Skylar's fingers touched the worn leather pouch hanging from her belt. He felt an indentation on the front which struck a responsive chord in his fingertips.

Brushing away the mud, he saw the tooled insignia of the Fellowship. He quickly opened the leather flap. Just as he thought—it was a standard issue aidkit. He unsnapped it from her belt and peered more closely inside. It had been used quite a bit, judging from the scant amount of medication left in it, but where did she get it? From the Cavalier whose laser she'd seen five years ago?

The thoughts tumbled in his mind, even while his fingers were automatically pulling various medical devices from the kit. He didn’t know much beyond basic first aid, but at least he could use the familiar tools to save her life. He bent to the task, determined to obtain answers to each and every one of his many and questions…as soon as she woke up.

His cold fingers were clumsy, causing him to work slowly. Skylar cleaned and closed the wound, sealing the tissue together, then injected her with a combination antibiotic and stimulant, the last dose of the medication in the kit.

Jenna moaned and opened her eyes, her shaky fingertips gingerly exploring the painful-looking lump over her ear. Skylar, still kneeling beside her, shut the aidkit and handed it to her. "I'm no surgeon; you're going to have a scar, but at least you're not bleeding anymore."

Jenna sat up slowly and examined the fresh crooked red mark on her leg, running her fingers gingerly down its tender length.

"Not bad for field work," she said, “now, sit still and let me patch up your arm. You're dripping blood on me."

Skylar looked down at the arm she had motioned to and drew in his breath. Due to the coldness of the river, he hadn't felt any pain as something had sliced him open. It was a long cut, nearly the length of his forearm. While it wasn’t deep, there was a flap of skin and muscle hanging loosely. Fortunately, whatever had sliced him had missed major blood vessels and the wound wasn't bleeding as badly as Jenna's leg.

Teeth clenched together tightly, he sat motionless, offering Jenna his arm. She re-opened the aidkit, cleansed the wound and began to lay each layer of tissue down and seal it into place. She finished, leaving a long, straight line running from elbow to wrist. She looked up at him, her eyes serious.

"I know it must hurt abominably. I'd offer you a pain-killer, but I'm out. You'll scar as well," she closed her eyes momentarily. "I'm not very good at this sort of…thing.” She opened her eyes again, took a deep breath and gestured at his arm before continuing. “That's why I'm a Cavalier, not an infirmary attendant.”

"You're a Cavalier?" Skylar demanded. He shook his head slightly, if trying to re-align his thinking, then repeated, "You're a Cavalier?"

Jenna nodded, smiling a little guiltily as she shrugged her shoulders apologetically, her palms turned upward as though her actions would explain all she had left unsaid.

Skylar continued. "That explains a lot. Why don't I know you?"

Jenna smiled wider. "I've been trying to figure that one out myself. I know most of the officers in the fleet, but not you. Where are you from?"

Skylar smiled back as he answered. This was going to be fun. "Timora."

"Timora!" Her exclamation held disbelief and shock. "Timora's a legend. Why, it no more exists than Ciroth does!" Her face had paled a shade.

Skylar's smile faded as he looked at her gravely. "I was born on Timora, Jenna. I was raised there and graduated from the academy there. I've also been to Ciroth; to the planet's surface. I've seen the relics there." He hesitated a moment and his voice dropped nearly to a whisper. "Many Cavaliers died on Ciroth at Klodfon hands. The annihilation was unbelievable."

"I...I'm sorry. It's just that it's hard to believe in the fairy tales you're told as a child." She looked away from him, toward the woods, color flooding her cheeks.

Skylar nodded, remembering how he felt the first time he'd heard his father say they were going to find Terradia...a fairy tale he'd been told as a child.

Gently, Skylar said, "Sometimes you have to believe in what seems impossible. Allow me to properly introduce myself: Captain Skylar, from the Dragonstar Aubria; and you are..."

"Lieutenant..." a sudden movement from the woods caught her eye. "Skylar! The cat!" Jenna screamed, struggling to rise.

Skylar was on his feet and turning instantly, his hand reaching automatically for his laser as the cougar leaped toward them, snarling. He flicked open the restraining snap and drew, but was able to fire his pistol only once before the weight of the animal knocked him to the ground. The laser flew from his hand, bouncing on a rock before coming to rest in the grass.

Jenna dove for Skylar’s pistol and came up balanced precariously on her left hip and hand, but the laser was pointed unerringly at the pair, from which no movement came for a long, awful moment.

Slowly, Skylar shoved the dead cougar off to one side and carefully rose to his feet, dabbing at blood dripping from a new scratch on his face with the back of his hand.

Jenna stood now also and handed him the laser. He accepted it and returned it to its resting place in the holster on his thigh, re-snapping the strap.

Jenna unconsciously kneaded the muscles just below the surface of her leg along her wound to ease the discomfort her rapid movements had caused. Her voice was shaky, the color once again gone from her cheeks.

"You're a good shot," she said. "Thanks for saving my life...again." Her eyes seemed very large in her white face. Skylar helped her to limp over to a fallen log and sit down. She shivered in the quickening wind.

"Don't think about it,” he said quietly. “I was lucky. I'll get some wood so we can get a fire going and dry off. You rest here and when I get back, you can tell me what happened five years ago to bring you here. Okay?"

Skylar deliberately kept his voice light and almost unconcerned. He hoped to keep the gravity of their situation from Jenna's conscious thought for a few minutes, until she could dispel the shock of all she had been through in the last half hour or so and regain her equilibrium. Knowing she was a Cavalier raised his confidence in her abilities to rise to any occasion demanded of her. She just needed a moment or two.

Jenna nodded, then shivered once more as Skylar moved off into the undergrowth in search of combustibles.