Not wanting to let his feelings for Tadik destroy his sense of priority, D'vork took command with practised calm; time to break down later. "Right Chief, I want a net pushed in through the G deck hatch, to catch him if he falls before we can get to him."Then D'vork ordered everyone to put on the masks housed beside the hatch, and ordered the hatch to be opened. Once he had a mask over his face, he was the first to stick his head inside. He looked up and saw a strut about two feet above the hatch with a safety harness ready to be lowered. Pulling his head out, he turned to the Chief. "Give me a spare mask; I'm going in."Turning a deaf ear to the Chief's protests, D'vork pulled the harness through the hatch and secured it round his hips. Grabbing the spare mask from the Chief, he hooked it onto the harness and swung his legs through the hatch. Using the wall for purchase, he rappelled down the tower till he was level with Tadik. To break his fall, the boy had managed to grab hold of a strut, and the only thing holding him was his bound wrists over the strut; and the bindings were almost eaten through. His eyes were closed and he didn't seem to be breathing. Securing the harness cables, D'vork prayed they were in time to save him. Unhooking the spare mask he placed it over Tadik's face and activated it. "Come on, baby, breathe."
Tadik wasn't afraid of falling; his love of skydiving had seen to that. Instinct made him straighten till he could see where he was going. A strut rushed up at him and he landed across it. Winded, he felt a pain in his chest. That wasn't good; and he was on the end of the strut. His only hope was to link his arms round the strut. As he did so, a wave of pain hit him and he blanked out for a second. He came to and felt himself sliding off the end of the strut. He looked down and saw another strut, right below this one but a long way down; landing on it was going to hurt. Well, here goes nothing. As he fell, he straightened out as much as the pain in his chest would allow, and watched the strut rushing up to him. He twisted at the last minute and landed lengthways on it with a bone-crunching jolt. The struts were made of twelve by twelve inch strengthened steel. Thankfully he lay facing the end and if he reached out he could touch it.
He lay still for some minutes, catching his breath and thinking he would have two mighty bruises after this escapade. Nothing new; he had the scars to prove it. You didn't go skydiving or snowboarding without picking up a few souvenirs. But being hurt wasn't the problem that crossed his mind. He knew where he was and the danger he was in. Not from falling but from the toxic and poisonous environment. He wondered how long it would be before the acids in the air ate at his skin and burned the insides of his lungs. His captors had stripped him of his thermal jumpsuit before tossing him, naked into the tower, and even now he could feel something like tendrils crawling over this scalp. Inch by inch, he manoeuvred his body towards the end of the strut till he could loop his bound wrists over it. At least, if he slipped off the strut he wouldn't fall any further, but he would hang there, waiting, till someone found him. He looked over the edge of the strut and saw the massive engine cowl and the fan turning within it. His hands began to tingle and he looked at them. Horrified, he saw the backs of them turning red. As he manoeuvred to take a better look, something dropped down his face. There, on the strut lay a clump of blonde hair. Then the tingling reached his face. Oh My God! I'm being eaten alive!
Shock made him lose concentration for a second, and that was enough for him to slide off the strut. Thankfully his arms stayed looped over the end, and he hung from it with his wrists in agony as they strained the wrapping the men had used to tie his wrists. Pulling himself up he swung his legs back and forth till he could hook his feet on either side of the strut. He hung there, gasping, as more waves of pain hit him, but it gave him the opportunity to shift his arms till he had his right forearm across the strut. That eased the strain on his wrists but he felt his feet slipping of the strut. He relaxed his body and let his legs fall; and he hung there, his right arm hugging the strut while he examined the wrist bindings. He thought he felt them loosening. He shouted for help but his throat burned with the effort, and all that came out was a whisper. He closed his eyes and wondered what to do. If he stayed here much longer there would be nothing left of him. If the bindings broke he would drop into the fan and be chopped to pieces anyway. Hanging there, he noticed pain building along his right forearm where it lay across the strut. Weeks, possibly months, of poisonous dust must have built up on the upper surface of the strut, and his arm was in contact with it. D'vork!
He sent out a desperate thought. Please come. Please, God, help me. It was hard to breathe now, each breath a searing pain in his throat; each breath bringing a dreadful pain from his broken ribs. Waves of welcoming blackness came down on him; at least he wouldn't feel the blades of the fan. Goodbye D'vork. A voice spoke close to his ear, telling him to breathe. What was the point, he couldn't breathe anyway; it hurt too much. Let me go, let me die.
"No way, baby, you're going to live. Sorry I have to hurt you, I have to hold you while we're winched up; just hang on, lover."
AAAGH! Burning fire consumed his body, and he started to cough. There was something over his nose and mouth filling with red spots. Was that blood he was coughing up? All of a sudden there were hands reaching through a hatchway and something stung his neck. Everything around him faded into a distant tunnel, even voices talking to him seemed far away. He just wanted to sleep.
As soon as he knew Commander U'lac had the bridge under control, and the four human crewmen were being interrogated, D'vork left the bridge and used his teleporter to deliver him to Medical. He hurried into the small burns unit where Inmahn and his medical team had transported Tadik. The boy lay on a special air-bed within a transparent canopy, and reminded D'vork of a corpse on a mortuary table. Medics wearing white coveralls and masks had their hands inside the inspection gloves, adding minute slivers of skin to the many reddened areas of his skin as fast as the cultures, being grown from the boy's DNA and stem cells, could be delivered. Inside the canopy, a mixture of filtered air and medicinal bio-cultures bathed Tadik's body, and filled his lungs with lifesaving antibiotics, through a breathing tube.
D'vork gazed down into the capsule, and saw how red raw the boy's lips were, and how laboured his breathing. He looked so different now, without his hair. He felt a touch on his arm and turned to find Inmahn standing beside him. "How is he?"he asked the android.
Inmahn didn't answer. For the first time since his mother had presented the android to him as a life gift, D'vork found Inmahn genuinely lost for the right words to say. Were those tears he saw in the android's eyes? No! D'vork turned away from the capsule. No! Tadik, you mustn't die. Please don't die; but if he lived, how much pain would he be in, and how long till the ingestion of toxins to the brain begin to kill him anyway? "What are the latest readings?"
Inmahn studied the console controlling the capsule. "Not good, but he's young and fit. He may pull through."
Or he may not. D'vork leaned over the capsule, planted his hand firmly on it and thought deeply about what Inmahn had said. "Tadik? How are you feeling?" When there was no reply, he felt so lost. He just wanted Tadik to know he was there for him, to give him moral support even if he couldn't physically touch him, which he so wanted to do. He wanted to hold him close and let him know everything would be all right, but how could he tell him that? Even Inmahn, with all his many years of knowledge, didn't know if he would survive.
Again D'vork felt a hand on his arm. Inmahn said, "You have a ship to run, Captain. You can do nothing here. I'll call you the minute there is any change."Twelve hours later he was back in Medical; he drew up a stool and sat down beside Tadik's bed. Beside it, a console monitored the boy's condition, showing erratic readings; the only stable one being the quiet bleep of his heart monitor; the only sign he was still alive.
D'vork roused a few hours before the day shift came on duty, to find the medics at the bed again, applying more new skin. Again they said there was no change. He went to get something to eat, and sat in the crew dining room with his food untouched in front of him. Several of his crew came to ask him how he boy was; he growled at them and sent them away muttering to themselves. He went back on duty, his hair unkempt; his temper no better. He prowled the bridge and found fault with the slightest thing. U'lac and L'gia jointly ordered him to go and rest, that they had things under control. He returned to his quarters, had a shower put on a clean uniform, and tried to rest. He lost his temper with Percy and turned the computer off at the main switch. He went back to Medical and sat on the stool once more; gazing for ages at his lover till the medics turned him out. He prowled the corridors, poked his nose into engineering and got shown the door, accused of being under peoples' feet. Then there came a signal from Medical. Tadik had woken up.
"He woke only for a few seconds,"Inmahn explained as they both gazed down into the canopy. "But it's a sign he's responding to treatment. He was in a lot of pain so I sedated him again."
"Did he say anything?"
Inmahn gave him a look of disgust. "Would you if you had a breathing tube down your throat?"
D'vork looked down into Tadik's not so red face and thought deeply, "Tadik, can you hear me?"
"How do you feel?"
"Hurt - all - over."
"Rest now; you'll be better soon."
"Let me die."
This came as a shock to D'vork. "No, Tadik, you must fight this, you need to live."
"No. Let me die."
When Inmahn went looking for the captain, he found D'vork sitting in the dark in the lounge of his quarters. "Captain, are you all right?"
D'vork shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose. Has he woken up again?"
Inmahn looked disconcerted. "Yes, I'm afraid so."
D'vork frowned up at him. "Is there a problem?"
"Yes, you could say that. It's not his condition that bothers me. He seems to be over the worst, although the lasting effects of the toxins will be with him for a long time yet."
D'vork rose to his feet. "Can I go and see him?"
"That's just it, Captain. He doesn't want you to."
Inmahn gazed at D'vork, with sympathetic eyes. "He said he doesn't want to see you. He also said he wants to go back to the brig."
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