She heard the whirring of the scanner before she opened her eyes. White lights, voices blending into meaningless chatter, and somewhere close to her face the bitter smell of dried blood and antiseptics. A thousand Hynerian war-drums were beating a marching cadence somewhere near the back of her skull, and she could not focus.
Several microts passed before she realized she was sitting on a table in the medical bay, her back against the cool metal bulkhead. Last thing she remembered, she was in the Captain's quarters barely a quarter arn after their runner was retrieved from a decaying orbit . . . she must have passed out after finishing her report. A med tech pushed her back as she tried to stand. "Please be still, ma'am."
The ward was quiet. Few patients were here right now, and most of those were sleeping. Three techs moved purposefully from one bed to the next, checking monitors and speaking softly in scientific terms that meant nothing to her. At one end of the room, a gray curtain divided this ward from the next. Somewhere behind that curtain, a young Prowler pilot still lay unconscious with hypothermia and a concussion, and possibly pneumonia. But he would recover.
They'd told her he was highly skilled, and would be a valuable asset to an elite unit one day.
It did not comfort her much.
Sticky blood oozed from the slashes down her left side, pooling slowly on the table. Her sodden trousers still clung to her legs, but someone had removed her boots. Her shirt lay on the floor, nearly shredded and soaked with unidentifiable muck. Not all the blood on her clothes was hers.
A hand pushed muddy blonde hair away from her face, slathering some kind of stinging ointment across her right cheek. Stars and bright-colored nebulae danced in the darkness behind her eyelids as she squeezed her eyes shut. She could not make herself stop shivering.
The burning started under her left arm, heat and ferocious pain spreading to her hip as the tech massaged salve into the deep wounds. She bit down hard on the inside of her cheek, tasting blood. Her left hand wouldn't close enough to make a fist.
When she could breathe again, she said, "You do know I'm to be executed before the solar day is over?"
The tech looked her in the eyes for the first time, brown eyes glancing off hers briefly. "I wouldn't know anything about that, ma'am."
Of course not. She swallowed hard, trying not to wince as the tech wrapped the bandages.
The gray curtain was drawn aside, and an officer approached from the other end of the ward. The black uniform, the senior officer's bars on his sleeve set him apart from the green-clad med techs, but this was not what put her immediately on guard.
"Senior Officer Crais." The tech snapped to attention. Pain tore through her side as she pushed herself off the table, and for a dizzy moment she felt like her head was about to float away from the rest of her body. But she could still stand, and stand to a soldier's attention. He didn't need to know she was seeing two of him, perfunctorily returning her salute in perfect unison.
She'd never met him before, but she knew his reputation. He'd been promoted to command a Marauder only two monens ago, an appointment unusual enough to be remarked on throughout the regiment. No conscript had risen so high in Special Ops in over eighty cycles. A commando all her life, she recognized another born predator. The way he moved, the set of his shoulders and the sharp focus in his dark eyes were all the warning signs she needed. But beneath the hunter's arrogance and the ruthless intensity of his gaze, she saw faint lines of strain in his face, and dark smudges under his eyes.
Her heart thudded painfully against her bruised ribs as the tech hurriedly draped a blanket around her bare shoulders. She could not begin to imagine what he wanted with her.
"Sir, I request . . ." She surprised him by speaking first. "I request that you grant me honorable retirement."
Exhaustion made her knees tremble, but her voice did not break. "Officer Renava Teeg, sir. I have served with the Special Commandos, Velka Company, Noviye Regiment, for five cycles." The words spilled out in a rush, a thread of desperation penetrating the numb resignation shrouding her mind. She would not beg for her life. She was a Peacekeeper, and she would accept the consequences of failure. But surely, after her long cycles of service, she deserved an honorable death? He could grant her this, at least. He was her superior, though far outside her chain of command. "I have . . ."
"Request denied," he cut her off, waving to the med tech to withdraw. "You were second in command of a unit of six. Your mission was the retrieval of top secret data chips from the planet below, and the rescue of one of our Prowler pilots." Her shoulders stiffened and she stared straight ahead. "You returned without the data chips, and without any of your team. I assume you have some explanation for this?"
An armored transport had been ambushed just above the planet, ostensibly while carrying three newly graduated pilots to a new assignment. Their true mission had been the delivery of sensitive documents to a Gammak base at the edge of the Uncharted Territories. The ship and crew were lost, but one of the pilots had escaped to the planet with the documents and sent a coded message to High Command before crashing an escape pod somewhere in the dense wilderness.
By some strange twist of fortune, hers had been the closest unit in the area, six commandos in a long-range runner on their way back from another mission. There'd been no time to dispatch a fresh team, though her unit was already exhausted and ill equipped for search and rescue. The nearest carrier, they'd been told, couldn't reach the system for three solar days.
Against her will, her eyes were drawn to the data chip in his hand. She didn't need to ask what it was. The orders from High Command had been very clear, with no room for individual interpretation. The data was to be retrieved at all costs, before anyone else found it. It was understood that the pilot's life, if he had even survived the crash, was insignificant in comparison. "I have given my report to the Captain, sir."
His voice was silk, but she could feel the knife edge underneath. "Tell it to me."
Whatever strength or pride remained in her voice, it was a reflex only, drilled into her since birth. Somewhere in between firing the thrusters to get off that planet and waking up here, she had lost all ability to feel. Memories flashed before her eyes, but they were someone else's life, a training vid someone else would watch. "We came in on a stealth trajectory, and landed ten arns' march from the crash site. It was raining, and we had flown over some bad storms on our approach, but Lieutenant Eiran was sure we'd be gone before they would be a problem."
That had been their first mistake. The survey data on the planet was pitifully inadequate, assuring them only that they would encounter no intelligent life forms or large and dangerous animals. The map Intelligence had given them showed the best landing sites and the estimated location of the pod, on the other side of a long, twisting river, nestled under the shadows of a low range of mountains.
"We landed just before sunset, but the rain was getting harder, so Eiran kept us going through the night."
They'd had no proper heavy-weather gear. The water did strange things to her night-vision scope, and the glowing white figures of her comrades had flickered fuzzily in and out of focus among the fainter gray shadows of the conifers crowding around them. The hiss of rain on the branches overhead almost drowned out their footsteps, and she'd strained to catch sounds of possible pursuit.
"The storm hit five arns after we landed." The thunder overhead was like rending metal, and the first flash of lightning had left her blind for several microts. The branches rattled under the first assault of hail, chunks of ice hitting her helmet with a dull thunk-thunk-thunk and striking her back and shoulders with bruising force. "It was two more arns before we got to the river, and by that time it was too high to ford."
She swallowed, but her voice was steady. "Lieutenant Eiran tried to cross." She could see him if she let herself, a ghostly white silhouette raising one hand, warning her and the rest to wait. Wading out slowly, cautiously, holding his pulse rifle above his head to keep it dry. Seven microts, maybe eight before he turned, as if to come back. He must have slipped, or the current was too strong. "He didn't make it."
Crais' eyes were hard and dark as volcanic rock. "You did not attempt to go after him."
None of them were important, save to finish their mission. In the dark, in the storm, there was no way they could have found Eiran without losing far more time than they could afford. In barely three microts he had been pulled under and far downstream. Three of the commandos had tried to follow their leader, running down the bank, but she'd called them back. She would not dishonor him by letting her emotions interfere with the mission's success.
"The survey map showed we were at the shallowest depth within twelve arns' march, so I ordered one of the trees knocked over to make a bridge."
There had been no shortage of explosives among their supplies, but it took time to determine where to place the grenades so that the tall, wide conifer would fall in the right direction. She was a soldier, not an engineer, and she had arrived on this planet woefully unprepared for such a situation. They'd crawled across on their hands and knees, clinging to the slippery bark as freezing water slammed into them, trying to tear them off.
"I ordered a halt half an arn later, at the base of the mountains." Her voice quivered on the last words, and she told herself it was because she was still so cold. "We were under a low cliff, where there was some shelter from the storm." It had been too late to stay dry, but at least their temporary hideout offered some protection from the hail. "I climbed partway up the slope for a better view, to look for the escape pod."
He had heard all this before, she realized, catching a glimmer of impatience as he nodded again. He had already spoken to the Captain, and may have read the transcript of her earlier report. What did he want? Did he seek to humiliate her further?
He watched her intently, as if he was actually listening. The Captain had not watched her so, offering her a chance to explain herself out of form only. They both knew she had failed her mission, and she would pay for it with her life, whatever the reasons. Meeting Crais' eyes for the first time, she had the unnerving sense he was not only listening to her words, but trying to read her thoughts as well.
"The ground was steep, and not . . . entirely stable." She resisted the urge to pull the blanket tighter around her shoulders. "By the time I got to solid rock, I was high enough to see the target." In the ultimate irony, she'd seen that the map from Intelligence was wrong, and the craft they sought was on the other side of the river they had just crossed.
She stared down at her hands, mud and dried blood mixing red and black where half the skin had been torn away, ripped nails still oozing. She could no longer feel the metal floor beneath her feet or the blanket around her shoulders. Crais was speaking, but the words meant nothing. Dimly at first, then growing to overwhelm the quiet beeping of the medbay monitors, she heard it: a sudden roar like a Prowler's engines coming to life. "I was about to descend, and . . . the slope below me collapsed. The mudslide buried the camp."
She had no memory of descending the slope, or screaming for her comrades, or trying to dig them out. Somehow she'd climbed down, how she will never know, for the ground had been treacherous enough on the way up. She remembered lying face down at the foot of the slope, her hands torn and bleeding, her throat raw, half-sobbing with exhaustion on top of the mud and debris covering what remained of her unit.
"They were all gone." Her voice sounded far away. She could no longer see his face through the gray blotches suddenly dancing before her eyes, and for that she was grateful. "I knew what direction to take to get to the pod, so I kept going. It wasn't far."
The storm had been as short-lived as it was fierce. By the time she reached the river, the hail had stopped and the rain was slackening. Somehow she'd dragged herself back across the makeshift bridge. He'd crashed not far from the riverbank and the water level had risen so far that the craft was half submerged. The pod had lodged precariously against a large rock jutting out of the water, or else it would have been carried away arns ago, along with the pilot and the precious data chips.
"The pilot was unconscious." The sun had begun to rise by then, invisible behind thick clouds, gray light illuminating the wreckage enough for her to see him. He was young, she remembered, several years younger than her, pale beneath his deep tan, blood covering one side of his face. He'd made no sound as she leaned into the cockpit to undo his safety harness, hadn't even twitched when the whole pod rocked back and forth under her weight. But she had felt a pulse, beating sluggish and weak where her shaking fingers pressed against his throat.
His battered features blurred in front of her, and now she was seeing Crais, as if through a fog, his face suddenly inches from hers. His lips moved, but she heard only the roar of rushing water growing louder and louder, a microt before her legs gave out entirely. Her shoulder struck the edge of the table, hard, and then his arm went around her back, bringing her unexpected warmth as he lifted her with no more effort than if she were a child.
The world was still slowly spinning when she could see again, she wasn't sure how much later. She was sitting on the table, Crais leaning toward her, his hands on her shoulders holding her down when she tried to stand. His grip was not gentle, but the warmth of his hands through the thin blanket was inexplicably comforting.
"You got him out of the pod." The med tech was back, waving a scanner and making worried noises, but Crais ignored him. She nodded slowly, pushing wet hair out of her face. How she'd done it she would never know. She remembered wading into frigid water, a moment of terror as one foot slipped, bracing herself against the rock. Wrapping her arms around his chest with no time to wonder if she might be aggravating his injuries, she'd pulled with all the strength of desperation. Pain, blazing through her left side as the current had swept her feet from under her and she'd fallen, landing on her left side on top of jagged, broken metal.
"I dragged him onto the shore, checked to make sure he was still breathing." His fingers tightened around her shoulders, digging into fresh bruises, and she swallowed against the pain. "The escape pod . . . was jarred loose from the rock, swept downriver. There was . . ." She does not tell him, but it was not until several hundred microts later, opening her pack to look for medical supplies, that she remembered the data chips that were in that wrecked escape pod, the reason for the mission, now lost to the Council forever. "There was no way to reach it."
He released her, standing up straight. She could guess what he was thinking. All her instructors, all her old commanders had warned her against foolish sentimentality. She could only conclude she was not as strong as she thought, and the recent deaths of her entire unit had weakened her, overcome her training.
Peacekeepers did not tolerate weakness, even for a microt.
She forced herself to meet his eyes as he held out a single chip. The order for her execution. Shame burned through her, seeing how her hand trembled as she reached for it, but at least she did not hesitate.
Standing beside the runner in the carrier's docking bay, watching as the med techs rushed the pilot away on a stretcher, she'd known her life would be forfeit for saving his. She remembered wishing she could be angry. But she'd watched him disappear and felt nothing, even her despair smothered in numb resignation.
The med tech handed her a datapad, and Crais turned away. Sliding the chip into place, she had to blink for a few microts before she could read the words scrolling across the screen.
"Sir!" He stopped, and she stared at him for a microt before her mind could form a coherent thought. "This . . . has to be a mistake."
"I beg your pardon?" The words were soft, dangerous. She closed her eyes, suddenly dizzy again, her thoughts whirling in confusion. When she looked again, the text on the screen was the same.
Teeg, Renava. Velka Company Noviye Regiment. Reassigned to Pleisar Regiment Special Operations, Marauder #59327, Senior Officer Bialar Crais commanding. Effective immediately.
"Why?" It was only a whisper, but right now it was a triumph that she could speak at all.
He hesitated, just long enough to remind her he didn't have to explain himself to her, and she realized her mouth was hanging open. "We find ourselves, Officer Teeg, in similar situations. I returned to this carrier two solar days ago, from an assignment that cost me three of my crew. My ship leaves on another mission three days from now. In light of this situation, I spoke to the Captain, and he agreed to dismiss all charges against you and reassign you to my command." One eyebrow lifted. "I have reviewed your service record, and your recent report to the Captain, and they suggest you are a highly skilled officer who will be an asset to my unit. Unless you have a problem with this arrangement?"
Several microts passed before she realized he expected an answer. "No. No, sir. Not at all . . ."
"Good." He nodded once. "Unlike some officers on this carrier, I understand the difference between bad luck and incompetence." Turning, he addressed the silent med tech. "Officer Teeg is to receive the best of care. I expect her ready for combat duty within three solar days."
"Yes, sir." The tech adjusted his scanner, holding it in front of her face, but she barely saw it. Crais did not move to leave.
"Officer Teeg." This time he didn't look at her. Standing still, gloved hands clasped behind his back, he seemed to be contemplating the metal floor. "You did not attempt to retrieve the data chips before saving the pilot." There is no accusation in his tone, but no warmth either. "Why?"
Many times, she had asked herself the same question. Every stumbling stride between the river and her ship, sometimes carrying him, dragging him when the last of her strength had gone and she could no longer stand under his weight, she'd asked herself why. There had never been a conscious moment of decision; it had been instinct alone, and some desperate need to save this man whose name she still did not know.
When Crais finally looked at her, his expression was unreadable. But to her great relief, he did not press her for an answer she did not have. "Carry on."
She could only stare after him, as the curtain fluttered closed behind him and the med tech lifted the blanket off her shoulders. It would be nearly two cycles before she discovered the identity of the young pilot she'd rescued.
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Title: First Loyalty
Author: Flora [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | gen | 18k | 03/24/04
Characters: Crais, Teeg
Summary: Two Peacekeeper officers meet for the first time. Set before the Premiere.
Notes: Spoilers for season one.
Disclaimer/Other: I've been wanting to write about this character for a long time. We don't get to see much of her in canon, but I've always wondered about her motivations. I hope this seems like a plausible scenario. Any comments, suggestions, or criticism are very much appreciated! Huge thanks to SciFiChick66 for the beta! I don't own any of these characters. I'm not making any money off of this, I'm just a poor broke college student, please don't sue.
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