Title: Wreck or Die|
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Space: Above and Beyond
Pairing/warning: m/m rape, cruelty. Please don't read further if it can upset
Sequel/series: yes; the first story of two. The sequel - Balance of Victories and Defeats
Archive: yes - just archive both stories please. They go together.
Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Space: Above and Beyond are legal
property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century
Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement
Thanks: Great thanks to Eggblue for beta, comments, support - and for being
there :-) Thanks to Quinn for kindest response. Thank you both for putting up
with me while I was writing these stories!
Summary: Hawkes and West are captured by Silicates
WRECK OR DIE
The door opened - a square of dim light that still seemed blazing in even
dimmer cell - and West was pushed inside, falling on his knees, his arms
pressed awkwardly to his belly. His face was a mask of white-smeared-red with
ink-black eyes staring at Cooper - and then the door slammed behind him,
leaving the cell in near darkness again.
West's breath was small gasping sounds - and Cooper knew all too well the
shivering oddness of it, too shallow due to broken ribs, too loud with pain. He
moved, careful not to shift his left arm that sent blinding spikes of pain
through his brain at every motion. He didn't see but he reached his hand to
what he thought West's shoulder must be and felt the warmth and hardness of the
bones through the thin material of uniform shirt. West tensed immediately,
involuntarily - and Cooper recognized these usual unreasonable attempts to make
his breath even, tranquil. He slid his good hand along West's folded arms, as
much in a comforting gesture as checking for damage.
Wet. He felt the liquid on his fingers, already cool, not dense but sticky.
The smell was unmistakable - blood. He felt a familiar wave of tired anger
They had done it to him - his little finger and the ring one on his right
hand - the pressure of the vices reminding sharply about the subtle difference
in width between his knuckles and finger-bones. Until the juicy sound of the
If West had his hands crippled, it was the end. They already had one arm
less than they needed.
"No," furious relief flooded him; West's voice was breathless -
but with a hint of humor Cooper found impenetrable and redundant in the
situation. "Just fingernails."
"Okay. So," he moved away and rather heard than saw West slump
against the wall. He must have tried to get a blanket and made a small
distressed sound, apparently bothering his raw fingertips. Cooper got back to
him, sighed, helping him to wrap in the blanket. Why did West always had to
pretend he was okay when he was not?
They were brought the meal while West was away - the stuff as uneatable as
usual - but they needed it to sustain their strength. Besides, it was not so
much worse than what Cooper remembered eating sometimes in the streets.
He shrugged. There was a bucket of water in the corner and he dipped a
skimmer there, brought it to West. True, he felt the same after those sessions
with Alexander - thirsty, as if dehydrated - even though sometimes the little
medical knowledge he had told him that he shouldn't drink, not with something
slurping and sloshing inside him.
The things were getting strangely routine. Freezy nights - dark days - and
intermittent sessions of torture after which either West took care of him or he
had to take care of West.
He handed the skimmer when Nathan suddenly dropped his head on his palms
with a short moan.
"What?" the intensity of his own reaction surprised him.
"Nothing," after a small pause West's voice was cool and sober and
Cooper saw the chalk-whiteness of his raised face in the darkness. "Just
Tired... it was a good word. How many days were they here? The watches had
been taken from them when they were captured, just like everything else except
their clothes. Perhaps Cooper would know the time at least approximately but he
was not conscious all the time since then. It might have been five days... or a
He recalled McQueen talking to them about the mission - it was not a
particularly difficult one. The planet Atreius used to be a Chigs' outpost
several months ago - but after a few attacks of humans they seemed to leave it.
There were the indications of left equipment there and the high command wanted
it to be picked up.
More a task for the archeologists than for militaries. And when they landed
among grey swamps at the empty, half-demolished facilities that had held the
aliens once - it seemed just a dull work to do, nothing else. Cooper thought
then that he didn't like the surroundings because they reminded him strangely
about the glass-less deserted buildings where he had to sleep during his life
in the streets - and was secretly glad they were not going to spend there more
than a few hours.
Then there were shots - and AI everywhere around - and a few people were
dead at once. They retreated to the carrier... and a jet of fire lashed over
Cooper's left arm. The blow was so strong that he fell on his face - and
someone pulled him up - Damphousse - and dragged him while someone else fired,
covering their retreat.
He stopped and turned and started shooting, too, having shaken Damphousse
off of him with a fierce:
He saw through the smeared plastic of the helmet how something changed in
her face abruptly - but she ran and he continued to shoot.
He heard the roar of the carrier getting off and only then he looked at the
man near to him and knew it was West. They nodded to each other - and West was
telling him something but Cooper couldn't get the words through the noise for a
moment. Then he guessed what it was:
"Transmitter! Get rid of it!"
Transmitter... their only chance to be picked up by the carrier again. Not
that they had this chance, anyway, with how the fight was going. He stopped
shooting, tearing the transmitter off of his belt, and threw it as far as he
could into the swamps. It was when the shell blew off in front of them - and
after a moment of blinding light there was only darkness - no feeling, no sound
- no anything at all.
He came round already in the cell, agonizingly sick, with blood dried around
his nose and ears - and his arm hurting so much that he was ready to howl. He
found West by touch in the near darkness - and as soon as he came round his
first words were:
"Don't get into any games with them, Coop."
He was not going to - he didn't need West to tell him about it - and with
pain driving him mad, he didn't know what he was more pissed off at - at the
situation or at West who thought for some reason that Cooper needed a special
reminder about his duties.
"You start talking your way out of them - and then they will have
you," in the dimness of the cell Nathan's eyes seemed feverishly bright
and very dark as he clasped his hand on Cooper's shoulder. "Think about
others. Think about McQueen. You owe it to them."
"You're hurting me."
And it was true. West helped him to make a bandage on his arm - with the
sleeve of his shirt - but it hardly made any difference. Especially taking into
account what waited for them.
Well, eventually it had nothing to do with how nice or how insistent West
asked him to be uncompromising. In the dark cell, alone, he listened to the
cries of pain that sounded from behind the door. First near-hysterical
name-serial number laced with lower, heavy sounds of blows - and then just
incoherent broken screams when they used other means.
He caught himself on pacing around the cell; fear and anger making a bitter
mixture in his mouth - and only when he felt something trickling wetly in his
hand he realized that clenching his fists made his wound bleed again.
When a little while later Nathan was brought back and thrown on the floor
bonelessly, he crawled towards him as soon as the door was shut, touching his
"Bad?" what did he think? But to his bewilderment his felt how
West's blood-crusted lips stretched apart as he said with a tinge of humor:
"It might be worse."
In fact, it was worse - and very quickly. A few hours later they came again
- and they were after him this time. Then, in the littered room, dim-lit with
dirty fluorescent lamps, he saw Alexander AT for the first time.
"Little In-Vitro? What I always found incomprehensible is why your
people fights against us. AI didn't do anything bad to you in the first place,
as far as I remember - or should I consult the collective memory for
He knew the Silicates didn't have emotions. But the voice sounded almost
amused. And the pupil-less eyes on the tanned face stared with a kind of ironic
"Meanwhile humans... They use you and they hate you - the same as they
hate us. Oh sorry, probably more. Maybe, because you are more difficult to
The cool slim hand bent his head forward, lay on the back of his neck
briefly - and let go as Cooper tried to shake it off angrily.
"I wouldn't think it sensible to use our usual methods on you, little
In-Vitro. I mean if my arguments convince you. But this way or that - we will
get from you what we need. Both from you and from your cellmate - mind you, I
don't call him your friend, you are not friends, right? Natural born and IV
cannot be friends. No matter... I'll try to appeal to your reason at first.
What do you think?"
Cooper grinned silently, grouped his body, clawing into the chain he hung
on, and slammed his boots in the belly of the Silicate. He heard Alexander cry
out in surprise - in cadence with his own desperate scream as the scalding pain
pierced his arm and all his body. He hurt himself more than he hurt the AI. And
it was just for the start.
"A clear answer, I suppose," there was no pliancy in Alexander's
face any more. He moved around Cooper, holding a short thick club in his hand.
"I see your arm hurts. It was us who injured it, right? Not so bad injured
- not yet."
These were probably the last Alexander's words he heard clearly before the
Silicate hit him. When he emerged from the mist of unconsciousness, he was back
in the cell and Nathan was with him, wetting his face and lips with cold water.
The things didn't get better since then. How could they be? Feeling the lick
of the flame against the umbilical circle was not better. Or seeing the
swelling and bright red spread along his arm from the wound and feeling long,
inescapable pangs shooting through it. Or having Nathan withdraw into himself
for hours after every interrogation. And listening to Alexander pour on him the
endless flux of his philosophy that didn't work all so well when Cooper had to
hang on his twisted up arms - but there was not much he could do to escape it.
"What I cannot understand is why In-Vitro still have this absurd
deference towards humans. Why do you think they are so much better than you.
You even want nothing more than to be taken for one of them. But humans fail
all the time. They created us and lost control over us and had to create you
because they were too weak to fight us themselves. Did you ever think what will
they create to demolish you?"
"An Armageddon?" his mouth was full of blood and he swallowed it
to be able to speak.
"Don't, little In-Vitro. In fact, humans failed so many times on their
way that one must regard them as a fiasco - a dead-end branch of evolution. And
your cellmate is a failure, too. He wouldn't be able to survive even a part of
what you would. He is nothing. Humans are nothing. I will prove it to you one
day - and I hope you will enjoy the process."
* * *
A few hours later Nathan seemed to loosen up a bit. The pain must have been
still bad - Cooper didn't need to be told about it. He could tell everything
about how sharp, aggressive pain that seemed to be maddening at first blunted
little by little not because it really abated but because his mind was too
tired to perceive it. He only wished West didn't make such a point for himself
of enduring everything silently, of trying to appear as if he was invulnerable
- but there was not much he could do about it; that was the way West was made.
"Cooper," in any case, hearing his voice again gladdened him in
the way he didn't expect. It was not that the darkness or closed space
especially affected him - but having West talk to him made him sometimes forget
about these things.
"I thought about that story I read once," West's voice was soft
and slow, leaving Cooper time to interrupt him - holding the pause to get a
clue if he was not interested.
"Which one?" West seemed to have read an endless amount of books
related to prisons, escapes - successful and not - camps, battles and war-life.
Mostly these tales were grim ones, even those that didn't end in death - but
Cooper liked to listen all the same.
They talked a lot here. Well, no wonder - with all this time on their hands.
But it was strange - in the 58th Cooper used to talk more with everyone else
than with West. They were okay with each other - the edges had rubbed down a
long time ago - and yet he couldn't imagine that he would ever be talking like
this with Nathan - would know so many personal things beyond those known to
"There was a man arrested for his activities during the war - whose
interrogators used a special tactics on him to break him down. They didn't
torture him, didn't deprive him of any comfort - but they locked him in
solitary confinement, without books, information, without anyone talking to
him, without anything he could do."
"It might have taken a long time to break him down like this,"
Cooper commented sensibly.
"Yeah, about four months," West agreed. "But then he was on
the verge of insanity. And by chance he got hold on a book of chess games - and
he started playing these games in his mind - in his imagination, he didn't have
a board or figures. He became a genius of chess."
"And what happened?"
"Well, eventually, he got out. He lost, however - his mind snapped. He
is on the ship going to Argentina and out-plays the champion of the world in
the end of the story - and he is about as close to madness as possible."
"I see," that was what Cooper didn't like about the stories like
this - he wanted something flashy for the denouement but he knew better than to
tell West about it. "What war was it?" the basic facts of history he
had for some reason usually blurred in his head.
"World War II. Against fascists. My great-great... eww, grandfather
participated in it," Nathan said absently.
Cooper tensed slightly - as he usually did when hearing about such long
lines of kinship someone was aware of. Well, there was enough time on Atreius
for him to get a very clear notion about Nathan's family - and relatives, and
childhood, and friends - and he didn't know if it upset or fascinated him more.
He treated his own memories and knowledge for that - as much as he had to
tell and it was certainly not much. Something about his life in the streets -
mostly funny or entertaining, not about hunger and feeling chased all the time.
About Pag - about McQueen - that West liked to hear most. But about his family
- what he had of it, the phantom sister that he found and lost - he couldn't
talk about it.
"He enlisted right after Pearl-Harbor," Nathan continued meanwhile
and Cooper settled more conveniently, lulling his arm on his lap, closing his
eyes. "Think about it - he spent two years in training camp in America
before they were moved to Europe - but he didn't see his wife since they
parted, he didn't have a leave long enough to go to her. He died right before
the war ended - in the end of April and on May 8 the treaty was signed."
"Bad luck," they both knew a lot about bad luck, didn't they?
"Someone of his own people shot him," West added easily, making
Cooper raise his head in interest.
"He was a Jew, you know. Some guys couldn't stand Jews - I don't mean
Germans - in America, too. He had problems all the way since he got to the army
- and then, in Europe, when they freed some concentration camp and found all
these things there... It was as if their attitude to Jews was thrown them in
face. I think some people's tempers just came out of control."
It was not what Cooper might have understood - but somehow he did.
"The Captain wrote he died in combat - but my great-great...
grandmother got a letter - maybe, from the one who killed him. It must be weird
to know that someone from those you fought side by side for all these months
hated you more than he hated the enemy," Nathan said thoughtfully.
"Yeah," Cooper didn't want his voice to sound harsh like this but
it happened. "It must be weird."
He listened to the pause that fell and shifted uncomfortably - and continued
already in another tone:
"So, what about that chess playing? Without the board?"
"Are you good at chess?"
"Well, since neither am I, maybe, we should try playing cards without a
deck," West suggested seriously. And added while Cooper tinkered with the
idea. "I have twenty. But you, Coop, have in excess."
"No, you little..." he started indignantly and couldn't continue,
giggling. "I'll square with you."
"Come on, get up," Nathan suggested. Well, no squaring - not with
the state of Cooper's arm - although for a while Cooper regarded the
possibility of getting up and going to sit next to Nathan. It was so cold in
the cell - getting significantly colder at night although he couldn't
understand why, Atreius' sun never shone brightly even by day - and there was
some strange, feverish warmth always coming from West's body.
He didn't get to feel it often, however - just on one of the most freezing
nights when they were driven to despair with cold and finished hugging together
under both blankets eventually. And also when they discussed their plans - no,
not plans - their hope for escape and for resistance and had to sit close and
whisper in case if the cell was bugged.
"If there is a chance, we'll do it," Nathan said about escape -
but Cooper knew he wanted him to be prepared that there would be no chance at
all - something he couldn't accept.
Last time when they sat like this the Silicates brought their meal - and
Alexander must have been told about it because on the next session he said to
"It looks like you are enjoying it too much with your cell-mate, little
In-Vitro. Didn't you understand what I told you about humans? I think I will
have to make the things clearer. Maybe, it is time to draw the line between
He had no idea what Alexander meant but he waited for Nathan to come back
from his interrogation in anxiety he didn't want to admit to himself.
Well, so far it looked like the things were neither worse nor better than
always: torn and burnt fingernails were bad enough but it was on the same lines
as everything else the AI did to them. And although somewhere deep in his heart
Cooper suspected that one day the accumulated pain and tiredness might have
made his mind snap, they still survived for now; they still were ready to
* * *
He was asleep when the door swung open. Not that there was anything unusual
- the Silicates didn't follow day or night order. Squinting his momentarily
blinded eyes, he dragged himself on his knees, the thought of another
interrogation making him sick.
There were four AI - crowding the tiny cell at once, one of them towering
right over him. Cooper felt the cold muzzle of the gun push under his chin.
"Hands," the voice was flat, unfamiliar. He knew better than to
resist, reached his hands forward blankly and bit down a cry when the cold
steel clasped on his wrists sending a long shot of pain through his arm. He was
pulled up, his hands raised above his head and fixed tightly to the ring in the
wall. It was something new, he thought dizzily and couldn't work out what.
In the light cast through the open door he saw that West was still sitting
on the floor, rubbing his temples. His dark eyes stared up at the Silicates
around him. Did they come for him, Cooper asked himself - finding every little
deviation from routine threatening, making him wonder how bad it was going to
At last they moved. Dragged West up to his feet, two Silicates holding his
forearms - and then the third one sank the butt of his gun into his belly.
Cooper suppressed a curse as he saw West go limp abruptly and hanging in the
grip of the Silicates.
There was nothing new in AI's casually rough handling; Cooper knew they
didn't do it out of cruelty, just because it was a means of control - but, al
always, he felt his nostrils flare with anger. He watched as they shook West
upright and held him again. West looked dazed, his eyes, blank with pain, wide
open and unfocusing. He made some little instinctive movements of struggle - as
if trying to get free - and the AI hit him again, catching him by the shirt to
keep him from sagging.
He must have waited for West to regain full consciousness - and then,
looking in his face, ripped his shirt apart.
Cooper thought it was the moment when he realized what was going to happen -
as he saw West's bare chest between the halves of the torn shirt. He couldn't
say what so definite was in the AI's gesture - but the thought struck him and
he felt the taste of bile bitter in his mouth. The Silicate pulled down the fly
of West's pants in the same jerking abrupt motions.
Shit... oh shit! They couldn't... But they certainly could - and there was
nothing he or West could do about it. He saw Nathan struggle wildly against the
hands that held him - he must have got it, too - until the Silicate grabbed his
hair and slammed his head in the wall, stunning him. They threw him the floor
and two Silicates pinned his arms down with their knees. The third one knelt
fumbling with his clothes.
Cooper clenched his teeth on the cloth of his shirt grimly and tasted sweat,
dirt and blood. He could shield his eyes with his arm - but he was not sure it
was the right thing to do. In the pool of light he saw West's face distorted in
pain and anger as the Silicate slammed forward.
West didn't make a sound, not even a gasp and the total silence gave the
scene the edge of unreality - but there was screaming despair in his eyes when
the futile resistance was broken. West's mouth looked thin, dark and fluid and
Cooper understood it was blood that appeared on his lips, bitten through.
He yanked on the chains angrily, not in hope to get free but unable to keep
still. The flash of pain through his arm blurred his vision, made him sick.
He heard the sounds now - wet, slippery - that made his stomach twist. He
remembered how it felt, too - to have someone's hands on you, to be helpless to
fight off the thorough, inside-out possession. It had been a long time ago. He
had never thought he would be reminded about it like this.
He didn't know if the Silicate took any pleasure in what he was doing - if
AI were supposed to get pleasure like this. The rhythm didn't change - and then
the Silicate just stopped and rose on his feet, arranging his pants back. The
smell was different now, however - more distinct than usual. Then another
Silicate, the one who cuffed Cooper, took the place.
Four of them, right? Oh he could count! Cooper felt how his fury was drained
out, leaving the huge emptiness instead that seemed to be able to explode his
chest. There was nothing that would prevent it; it just had to be gone through.
He watched how Nathan tossed his head back in pain, the teeth slicing his
lip, red with blood, as he tried not to cry out. For God's sake, scream if you
need, Cooper thought in despair, if it can make the things easier. He saw
Nathan's fingers claw agonizingly in the dirty floor of the cell until blood
leaked from where his torn-off nails were.
Eventually the other Silicate got up to give the place to one more - and at
that moment Cooper saw the trickles of blood crawling on the floor slowly
between Nathan's legs. His vision blanched to bright white as his anger clashed
with the clearest understanding of its utter uselessness. He pressed his
forehead to the moist dirty cloth of the sleeve.
"Do you want to say that you don't enjoy it, little In-Vitro?" the
voice was so clear in the silent cell that he jerked. And saw another,
flawlessly gracile figure of a Silicate leaning against the doorway, his arms
folded on his chest. "Did I do my best for you in vain?"
You scum. He wanted to scream, to curse aloud - and bit his lip. It would be
just what Alexander would like him to do. He wouldn't give this to him - at
Alexander smiled pleasantly and made a small sign with his hand. Cooper
heard Nathan's sudden cry, short but agonizing, saw his eyes roll up - and at
the next second he realized that the Silicate was pushing his hand inside him.
"Bastard!" his voice was tight with hatred, unrecognizable. The
Silicate turned briefly, his position making him look feral, the scarred eyes
cast a brief look at Cooper. He pulled his hand out, glistening with blood,
looking at it as if it fascinated him. West was conscious again, making little
gasping sounds, blood leaking around his white mouth.
Cooper made an angry wordless sigh of despair.
"I am sorry to see that your attitude is like this," Alexander's
voice was so calm, almost balmy. Shrugging, not unfolding his arms, he stepped
into the cell, looked down at West and then at Cooper. He must have made
another sign because the Silicate who was on his knees rose immediately.
"I just wanted you to see that I was right about humans. But I think
you will learn your lesson - even if you don't realize it right now, little
The lock clicked, releasing his hands from the cuffs. He thought he would
set on them as soon as he would be free - and Alexander must have guessed it.
The punch in his solar plexus was vicious; Cooper fell down on the knees
briefly, gasping when his painful arm hit the floor - and a second later the
Silicates were gone.
* * *
The door closed, cutting off the only source of light in the cell. The
darkness seemed impenetrable for now but he knew it was not - he would be able
to see soon enough. And he did.
On his knees on the floor he gathered the strength in his doubled over body
to get up. The anger in his chest was heavy like a stone and the same awkward
to handle. And this anger was partly despair. Because he didn't know what to do
now. Anything he knew didn't teach him how to behave in these situations - and
something told him that even if he didn't skip eighteen years of his life, he
wouldn't know all the same.
He unclenched his jaws slowly and found out his tongue bitten through and
bleeding. In the dim light he couldn't see West properly but he could guess his
movements: too abrupt - as if he was not hurt, not physically hurt at all - and
Cooper recognized this familiar denial expressed not in words but in motions.
He would do - had done - the same. He saw Nathan tie the torn shirt at his
waist - not a good imitation of undamaged clothes but that had to do - not worse
than the rest of their clothes were, anyway. There was not much he could see of
Nathan's face - and for all he knew, there was no expression on his face at
Pushing up with his good hand, Cooper got on his feet. He knew suddenly what
he could do. Not talking, no. He walked to the bucket of water and dipped a
skimmer. He knew West was watching him, could feel these dark, scalding intense
eyes on himself - and almost with his skin felt that he was afraid Cooper would
say something, not wanting him to.
He handed the skimmer of water to him and turned away.
Listening to the splashing of water, Cooper stuck his fingernails in the
soft skin of his palms. He will kill them. He will kill Alexander. He didn't
need these thoughts for comforting - he plainly knew it.
"It is time to draw a line between you."
He shoved his fist in the stone wall and bit his tongue not to make a sound
of pain. He felt dizzy with anger and dismay.
A perfect way. To use one of them as a thing to prove something to the
other. He was used as a thing enough in his life - all his life - to know how
it hurt. He thought West might not have known what Alexander meant - he didn't
know what they talked about on those interrogations - anyway, Cooper trusted
him enough to hope he wouldn't take it in his mind.
"Hey," as West took the bucket and looked around as if searching
for something, he felt safe to talk. "What are you doing?"
"Need some rag to clean the floor," the voice came out muffled and
Cooper wondered if it was because of West's lip bitten through.
"Oh no problem," he stood up, a bit amazed how easily - unaffected
- his voice sounded. "I'll do it. I washed enough floors in my life."
He walked up and West stepped back hastily, giving him way. Too hastily,
maybe, because Cooper saw him sway suddenly and had nothing else to do but to
reach his hand and grab him. It was just a moment - a moment later West
"Thanks," the word slurred, unclear whether for the offer to clean
the floor or for the support. He moved away immediately and Cooper let him go,
realizing upon the involuntary gesture West touched his upper arm with that he
must have grabbed him where his arms were bruised to black under the hold of
The only way to wash the floor was to splash some water around that place -
and Cooper hoped it was enough at least to wash off the blood, not to really
He didn't notice he was shivering until he finished. He thought how the
nights were usually cold there - but now it must have been the nerve tension
taking its toll on him. He felt so weak suddenly that hardly managed to get to
his place and pull the blanket over himself. There was the ringing in his ears
that frightened him because he seemed not to be able to hear anything behind
it. But there was nothing else to hear.
* * *
He felt so shitty in the morning that he found himself unable to get up to
take his bowl of food when it was brought. It was not good, he thought through
the mist that clouded his mind, he couldn't afford to be weak, it was not the
right time for it.
He had been shivering all through his sleep and shivered now, too, huddling
in the blanket desperately and hating how thin and threadbare it was. West
brought new water and took out the other bucket that served as a toilet for
them - a simple way that spared Silicates from any expenses for sewage system.
"Hey," he heard West call him and muttered something incoherent,
"I'd like to sleep a bit longer."
"And how about eating?" Cooper was always the one who advocated
any kind of food they could get. He saw West near to him, the bowl in his hand.
"It is not so bad today."
As if he tried it.
"Okay, thanks," he took it and Nathan stood up quickly, backing
away to his corner - the self-imposed quarantine. What are you doing, Cooper
thought helplessly and didn't have strength to say it. He couldn't eat -
couldn't even think about swallowing some food. He pushed the bowl away and
fell again, face up, looking with glazed eyes at the dirty ceiling above him.
"Can I..." he felt bad about it but he couldn't stand the cold any
more. "Can I have your blanket?"
West didn't use it by day, all the same.
There was a tiny pause while West processed his request.
"Yes, sure," and after another spell he got up and covered Cooper.
"You are ill," he stated.
"No, I..." he didn't finish. The door opened and he saw three AI
come in. As usual - one directed his gun at him to keep him on his place, other
two came up to West, put the cuffs on his wrists. He recognized one of the
Silicates - he was there last night - and the Silicate knew he recognized him,
smiled indifferently in the manner that some AI seemed to keep since they were
in service to people.
"You follow us. You stay."
Damn them, damn.
If he was cold before, now Cooper felt as if a huge pile of ice was thrown
on his body. The door shut behind West and he was left on the floor, so
exhausted that his anger was more like resentment now.
His feverish state didn't let him stay conscious all the time - he dived in
and out of oblivion, knowing only that West was not back yet. He heard some
sounds - as always the things were heard in the cell - and tried to cover his
ears but he still continued to hear. Maybe, it was in his head.
The door opened and the light, impossibly bright, hurt his eyes. He moaned
in pain involuntarily. He saw West just like a blurry figure, no matter how he
tried to strain his eyes.
"How..." he intended his voice to sound strong and firm but what
came out of his mouth was a mere rustle. "How are you?"
"Fine," West's voice was very soft. Liar, he thought, liar.
He didn't know what made him do it. His muddled brain sent the signals that
were erroneous and downright stupid - but he suddenly realized that he was
scrambling on his feet and getting towards West shakily. It was a long way - he
nearly fell on West, tossing his good arm around him, clinging to him. And felt
how Nathan tensed against him - away from him.
"Don't, Coop..." the voice was high-pitched, desperate.
Bastards, he thought helplessly.
He wouldn't let go.
The warmth of West's body was absorbing, wonderful - and he kept pressing to
him - until suddenly he felt as for the tiniest fraction Nathan melt into him,
Then he was racked with a shiver that was painful in its intensity and,
sliding on the floor, he felt Nathan's hands shake and pat him, Nathan's
panicky voice cursing and stuttering:
"Shit, Coop, you are burning... shit..."
The next thing he knew was the interrogation room. He was in the chair,
slumped limply over it - and Alexander put a pill in his mouth, washed it down
with a flow of water.
He coughed trying to push the pill out of his mouth and felt it meld on his
"There, there," there was something like fondness on Alexander's
face as he looked down at Cooper, tilting his head from side to side. "It
is just what you call antibiotics. It is not in our interests to have you die
The almost immediate flood of warmth going through his body was so relieving
that he moaned involuntarily. His eyes slowly focused on the Silicate. He
realized he was not cuffed - but Alexander must have known he was of no threat
to him. His body felt immobile, heavy - as if someone else's. And his arm felt
strange - swollen as a log and the same cumbersome - but the huge throbbing in
it that reverberated in his brain and spine didn't let him doubt that it was
"A good example of In-Vitro's supremacy over humans," the club in
Alexander's hand tapped the swollen wrist, making Cooper grit his teeth.
"It would already kill a human. The resistance of your organism is
spectacular, little In-Vitro. Do you want us," a small capricious smile
curved the pink lips, "give you a plastic arm when this one rots off? We
can make you a Silicate by parts."
"An AI with sense of humor... can it be any worse?" he mumbled.
He didn't know if Alexander understood him. He still felt not completely
cognizant, the room swinging around him. He saw the dry stains of blood on the
table in front of him and swallowed ropy saliva; he didn't have strength for
"Oh we can do it," Alexander's voice was almost silvery,
melodious. "And do you know what? You don't have a word to say here. I
will decide what will be."
Sure. The face of the Silicate closed to him and he looked at generically
handsome features that swam in front of his eyes. He felt a hand lay down on
the burnt flesh on his nape and stiffened to suppress a wince.
"Did you make any conclusions from what I did, little In-Vitro?"
Alexander asked suddenly. "To you and your cell-mate?"
He grabbed the edge of the table, straining to get up - and saw the gun
directed point blank at him.
"No, why? I'm a stupid tank, ain't I?"
The lively mouth of the Silicate became a thin line - and the hand left
"Perhaps you are. Perhaps I was wrong about you," was it
artificial anger? It was a good imitation then. Anyway, now there was no more
sing-song quality in Alexander's words - and somehow Cooper felt relieved to
hear it. No more 'little In-Vitro'. "I don't have any use of you. I will
need you just to do one more thing. To make others come here from that ship of
yours that keeps hanging around. And you will do it."
He didn't think he could still react at Alexander's words, there were so
many of them - threats, insults, seducing - but he did. He shivered with cold
again. No. Not others. Not McQueen.
"You'll help us to capture others," Alexander repeated with
"They plan something," back in the cell he said to West.
"I know," sitting against the wall, he stared right in front of
himself into the darkness and Cooper could see how the pale blood-smeared
fingers tapped against each others unceasingly. "They found the
transmitter. They need the callsigns."
* * *
Maybe, the Silicates decided to do without the callsigns, after all. Maybe,
they were short of time. Well, they didn't need a callsign to make a
transmission - the other thing was that McQueen would not answer a call like
this. Cooper was sure he wouldn't. Or would he?
The door opened one more time and the Silicates pushed them out - but not to
the interrogation room as usual. It was outside - a truck waiting for them.
They don't want to make the trap somewhere around the former Chigs'
facilities, Cooper thought. They will do it in the swamps... so that it looked
more credible. McQueen would not come for them. He wouldn't. Cooper repeated it
so many times that he must have already believed in it - only he didn't.
Alexander stood at the truck, the comely smile back on his face. It wouldn't
do good to pounce on him, Cooper knew - he didn't have a chance here, with all
other Silicates around.
"You will be a welcome delegation," the AI cast a quick glance
over them. "Come back sooner! Bring your friends."
Cooper jerked towards him all the same - and Alexander slid back graciously,
shaking his head reproachfully. West was pushed into the truck and cuffed to
the rings under the ceiling with his arms wide apart. Cooper was next - his
right hand, at least. Then the Silicate tried to put the ring around the wrist
of his left hand... well, there was no wrist at all. His arm was equally
swollen along all its length, skin taut and black over it. He tried not to
scream when the Silicate pressed the ring - but he did scream - and heard
Nathan's hateful voice through the mist of incredible pain.
"Do you want to kill him? Go ahead! That's what your plan will be worth
And how about not to getting into the arguments with them?
He didn't know what happened - Alexander must have ordered it - the ring was
gone and the door was locked behind them. The truck moved.
"Coop," West's voice was quiet and so low that he didn't know how
he heard it through the noise of the engine. "I have a sliver. A bit of
metal. Can you pick the lock?"
The feeling of relief, almost ecstasy, flooded him even before he considered
if he really could do it. Maybe, he couldn't. But he would do it.
"Give it to me."
He shifted his arm, the red lightnings of pain shooting behind his eyes. He
felt so faint that he didn't know how he remained on his feet. Not that he
would fall, with the cuff on his wrist - but he didn't have to lose
consciousness. It would be their death then.
"In my left hand," West whispered. Cooper sank teeth in his lip -
he needed to clear his mind... even such an elementary thought as to where
West's left hand was seemed almost insurmountable. He reached into the
At first Nathan's alarmed voice surprised him. Then he realized he was
already touching his hand - gripping it, actually - the cuff, the palm, the
fingers - without realizing it - so little sensation was in his swollen
You must do it. There were not enough spurs in his mind but he used all of
them. Even if you can't - you must. He closed his hand around Nathan's and
howled thinly with pain. It didn't matter - the Silicates that drove them
couldn't hear him all the same. He knew there was blood running from his wound
- but the sensitivity returned briefly in his fingers. He got the sliver.
One easy step. Now to the next one... It was dark in the truck and he felt
grateful for it because West couldn't see how the tears started running on his
face. Getting hold of the sliver was an agony. How could it be expected from
him to do more?
West didn't say a word - not hurried him, not asked anything. Maybe, he
thinks, Cooper thought, I've lost the sliver. It still could happen; maybe, it
He bit and bit in his lip, already not feeling this pain. He threw his hand
up and felt blindly for the lock. He was not sure whether there was a part of
his mind that worked clearly - he thought there was none. But there must have
been - because a while later - seconds or minutes, he couldn't say - he felt
the ring open - and he crumbled on the floor without the support of the cuffs.
He made it, he made it - now he was going to die.
For the first time in his life death appeared this desirable to him. The end
of pain. Maybe, light. And somewhere there was Kate, he was sure about it. He
wanted to go to Kate, not to stay in this stinky truck with West, with what
they had to do.
Had to. He hated this thought that caught him and brought him back into
consciousness. He didn't think he would be able to drag himself on his knees
but he was and it didn't kill him.
"Cooper? Cooper, are you all right?"
"Yeah," his voice sounded raspy, strange. He shook his head as if
trying to shake out dizziness. And at the next moment the thought hit him,
making his mind blaze with horror. He lost the sliver! When he slumped on the
floor, he let it go.
He heard his teeth chattering thinly. His good hand groped blindly on the
littered floor of the truck and found nothing. Then he reached for his left
hand, pulled it on his knees, the habitual pain re-filling him immediately -
and there it was, embedded in the bloated skin of his palm.
He took it firmly in the good fingers of his right hand and got up on his
feet. Now the things were as easy as eating an ice-cream.
The jerk of the truck threw Nathan against him - and Cooper felt him shiver.
Don't worry, he thought, I have you. There was this strange heat emanating from
West's body. Cooper's senses were so sharpened as he tinkered with he next lock
that it seemed he could hear West's eyelashes flopping up and down. Then the
cuffs opened and Nathan's arms were around Cooper, hugging, shaking him
slightly in the passionate gesture that made him feel almost too high.
"You did it, Coop! When you fell, I thought... but you did it!"
West's whisper was warm on his ear - and he found himself smiling
"You bet I did," he whispered back, realizing suddenly that he
unconsciously imitated lame and not always suitable irony West used on Atreius.
"Now we'll do it," it was not a question, it was a statement. And
he knew it was true.
The truck pulled to the stop - and not being able to see each other in the
darkness, not needing even a glance to exchange, they took their places at the
sides of the door. It slid open, showing the grey dusk and the Silicates' guns
shimmering through it. They hit together.
The Silicates didn't expect it - that worked in their favor. With the
peripheral sight Cooper saw West knock a Silicate down, yank the gun from his
hands, point it at others. He seemed to be doing something, too, his fist and
his boots sinking into the hard body in front of him, then there was the
heaviness of the gun in his hand. He didn't know how he shot - but he saw the
AI fall down and he knew he was the one who did away with them.
Then it was quiet. For seconds - and it was enough for West to get the
transmitter from the bag, hit the buttons expertly.
"Queen Six!" his voice was distorted with the emotions and Cooper
felt the same exhilaration and sadness reflect in him, too. "It is King of
Hearts, hear me? Queen Six - do not - I repeat - do not approach Atreius. It is
So, that was all. They did it. What they had to... now they were free to
die. He saw West put the transmitter on the ground quietly and turn to him.
Suddenly Cooper thought that after so many days it was the first time when he
could see his face normally, with enough light. White and unshaven and dark
with bruises - and with these huge dark eyes of his that could seem so mild
sometimes but could stare so hard. Calm face.
"Carry on dancing, Hawkes?"
"As long as it takes."
He weighed the gun in his hand.
The bullets hit, splitting the ground at their feet. They shot back and ran
- until, covered with a thick veil of mist, there was a river.
It might have saved them. At least for a while. AI disliked water.
The river was chest-deep and scalding cold, the fast current swirl around
them as they walked away from the shore. The Silicates must have lost them -
there were shots but not towards them - and the soft voices on the bank didn't
Keeping his right hand with the gun above the water, Cooper felt how
everything else of him was freezing dead. But they kept walking - and even
quietly enough... A good material for Maquis, he thought absently, weren't
they? A bit more nuisance for AI to have a kind of one-man war against them...
two-men war but his arm probably would kill him in no time at all, so, it would
be just Nathan...
There was not even a sound - just for a brief moment he saw West's eyes grow
huge - and suddenly he was not going forward any more - but thrown past Cooper,
his head sinking under the water and appearing again, even farther. It seemed
Cooper knew what it was - but it was already too late. He stepped into the same
underwater current and there was no more ground under his feet - but nothing -
and he was pulled and twirled in the cold, even colder than before, water -
back to where they heard the voices of AI.
He lost the gun eventually - but it didn't matter because it got wet all the
same - and he needed at least one hand to save his life, even if for a few
moments more. He was pushed and thrown against West and knew Nathan lost his
gun, too. Then the angry bees of the shots swished around them, making the
They dived; it couldn't save them - but they tried, at least. And when Cooper
submerged, the fire scalded his left shoulder again, with the pain so bad that
he knew it was just one step before dying. West was near to him - and he
suddenly thought he didn't want to see how he would die.
But he didn't have to.
A bright light flooded them - so blinding that it seemed to Cooper it was
what he believed death was like - only it was not. The carrier from the
Saratoga hovered over them in the air. The bottom hatch was open and there were
the hawsers falling to the water to them.
The Silicates shot both at them and at the transport now. The hawser,
immediately wet, whipped Cooper on the face - the rescue so close that he could
taste it. He reached his good hand - and missed it, his body going down like a
All the next must have happened within a split second - but it seemed to him
later that it took something like hours - or he wouldn't be able to feel so
much during this time. Surprise - disbelief even as the current continued to
take him away - then horrible disappointment. So, after all, he was still going
to die. He was ready to die - but not like that! Not because at the most
crucial moment he was so clumsy that he missed his chance.
He said to himself that he had to put up with it - when a steely cold hand
grabbed his swollen wrist - making him convulse in pain and at the same time
filling him with the elating sense of being held, of being safe. Then another
sharp jerk told him that Nathan caught the hawser. Cooper looked up at his
face, wet and white and painfully determined, as they were pulled out of the
water into the insides of the carrier.
They fell on the solid floor, the hatch shutting after them immediately, the
bullets drumming at the metal - and Cooper knew it was done, they were safe.
The water made pools around them - and someone already tried to wrap them in
a cloth or a towel. And there were the familiar faces of the 58th -
and among them, smiling and crying face of Damphousse.
She knelt in front of them, hugging them both at once - although Cooper was
too frozen to feel it.
"God, Coop, your arm, your arm!" she repeated and he found himself
smiling silly at her. "What's so funny? You look like shit!" Phousse
was suddenly angry. "You look like shit, too, West!"
They looked at each other and smiled again, estimating the truth of her
words - and suddenly Cooper felt something shared between him and West,
something warm and gentle - that must have come from their captivity and their
escape. He felt something melt in him under the gaze of West's dark soft eyes -
and he thought that what he saw in them - was something that he missed all the
time and didn't even know that he missed it.
And even through pain and huge tiredness that overwhelmed him, he still felt
how the strange, glowing joy fill him.
Then something clicked in these eyes - still dark and bright - but as if the
light was switched off there. No absorbing openness any more, no warmth that
made Cooper feel as if he was touched inside. There was wariness... almost
hostility... and he tensed immediately, knowing that everything went wrong, not
West leant to him briefly - so close that nobody else around them could hear
it - but Cooper heard - low, dull - resounded painfully through him:
"You can tell everything - but not about that. Do you understand - not
about that, Hawkes. If you tell someone about it, I'll kill you."
It was not a threat - it was the voice.
"I understand," he heard his own answer as if from away and was
mildly surprised that he could sound so calm and quiet while something inside
him hurt worse than the Silicates could ever hurt him.
Go to the sequel Balance of Victories and Defeats