The Stress That Shears a Rivet

From the Story Arc: Hymn Of Breaking Strain

Previous Story in the Arc: In The Mid-Illusion by Belladonna Aura (Monday, August 14, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: To Fail, And Know We Fail by Belladonna Aura (Wednesday, August 16, 2006)

(posted Monday, August 14, 2006)

Zach, Auguste, Georgi, all knew…everything. John and Sera and the boys needed to have their keys now. Bella managed to waylay John just as he was coming on patrol. “Johnny, I have to show you something,” she said, pulling him into the MedBay.

“What's that?” he asked.

“Well, first I have to play vampire.” She grabbed his right hand and jabbed the exposed skin between wrist and glove with the lancet. He looked startled as she transferred the tiny drop of blood to the portal key, then handed it to him.

He held it up, puzzled. “What's this?”

“Follow me,” she said, leading the way to the bank of Hazard Zone teleporters. “Use the blank setting on this one.” She got into it herself.

“I don't understand, kiddo. What's goin' on?” he said, just as she hit the “transport” button.

They both phased in to what looked like fundamentally the same room—except, of course, that the deck was vibrating and—if you were sensitive to such things—moving every so slightly. “Bella? Y'mind explainin' what's happenin' 'ere?” John asked.

She spread her arms wide then gestured at the porthole. “Welcome to the Good Ship Sanctuary.”

He blinked. “Holy shit. Where are we?”

“We're in international waters off the coast of Rhode Island,” she replied. “The ship is Monaco registry. We own most of it, one fifth belongs to Llewellco. It's a full size container vessel so....there's room for about 500 HQs here.”

He blinked again, and peered out the porthole as if to confirm in his own mind that they really were here. “Who else knows 'bout this?”

“Your daughter, and the other Commissars,” she replied. “This is Astra’s safe place. She knows she can come here and nothing can find her or hurt her. I told her first.” She gave him six blank keys. “I'm giving you the keys to give to the boys, Shuma and Sera. Do what I did, take a drop of blood, put it on the pad, snap the cover closed. It’ll be keyed to their DNA then and no one else can use it. “Eventually all the comrades will have keys, plus selected folks outside that we trust that might need sanctuary.”

He nodded. “This'll be the bolt-hole. In case things go south and fast.”

She nodded. Predictably his mind went to one thing. “What kind of armament do we have on this boat?”

“There’s LlewellCo scientists and techs that have access to the sealed-off labs in the middle, but we won’t see them much,” she continued, and gave him the rundown on the agreement with Rhia Llewellyn. “But…there’s something else I have to show you.”

She pushed the hidden button on the wall, which slid back, revealing Soviet Bear in athe stasis chamber and the Crey Cloning equipment. Anyone with half a brain could tell it was working.

John stared, jaw dropping. “Bella...what in the name of Stalin's damned soul is---Bella, that's Bear!”

She put one hand on the stasis chamber. “I am NOT losing another one,” she said, fiercely.

John’s eyes were wide, and his expression—

Well, it was not what she’d hoped for. “Aw hell, Bella...this is...this is gettin' a touch crazy.”

“I am NOT losing another one!' she repeated, with more emphasis this time.

“I heard ya the first time, kiddo.” He looked down at the floor, as if he was afraid to meet her gaze. “Folks are worried about you. A lot.”

She shook her head. She wasn’t the one they needed to worry about. “Bear wasn't ready to go. I'm not ready to let him. I have to protect them, Johnny. I have to do whatever it takes.” Surely he understood that! It wasn’t just her now. It was all of the CCCP. She had to protect them, he had to understand that they were counting on their Commissars to pull them through whatever happened—

“Bella...is this the way?” he asked, his voice and expression pleading. “Is this righteous? I'm tore up as all hell over everything that's been happenin'; Bejouled an' Bear just add more hurt to it. But, I'm just not sure 'bout this.”

She looked away. “Johnny....” she faltered, “I....don't know. I only know I have to try.”

He sighed, but it was not the sigh of someone who—was happy about this. “Well...shit. Do the other Commissars know? 'Bout the ship an'...an' Bear?”

At least she could answer that honestly. “Yes.”

“You've got whatever help me an' Sera can provide,” he temporized. “I mean, the ship is good an' all, but this...” he looked at Bear. “This is somethin' else.”

She felt her throat close. She had to make him understand! “I thought maybe I could keep him in stasis until I could heal him. But the cloning started automatically, and…the damage is too much. Between the neurotxin she fed him and everything else.... This is the only way. A brain transplant, if I can clear the tissue of the neurotoxin…or….there’s magic…” She didn’t say what kind. If he knew it was Circle of Thorns magic….”So you tell me. What's the difference between this and keeping him in stasis until I could heal him?”

He looked stubborn. “For one, it's cloning. You know, more than most of us, the shit caught up in that issue. And...he died, Bella. Folks die, and are killed. Are we gonna clone every comrade that falls? Heavy Brother? Te? Free Radical?”

Anger enveloped her. Why wouldn’t he understand? “Fine,” she said, turning her back on Bear—and him. “YOU turn it off then.”

“Bella...Christ almighty. Don't push that. What's done is done, here. I'm just saying...where do we stop it?”

She set her jaw. “Turn it off. Stop it now, YOU take the responsibility.”

Frustration crept into his voice. “I'm not the one that put him into that Crey abomination. It's done, and since it is, I WILL help you see it through, kiddo. Don't be like Nat on this an' only listen to yourself.” Frustration turned to pleading. “You get me, kiddo? You're slippin' outta reach, an' we're all horrified and scared for you. You're our Commissar, but first and foremost our friend.” Pain crept into his voice; she felt how conflicted, worried, and even truly frightened he was, even across her shields. “Don't push everyone away.”

She turned back; his brow was furrowed, and the pain was in his expression too. At his tentative gesture, she put her forehead against his shoulder as he put one arm around her, and she cried, silently. “I didn’t know what else to do,” she whispered hoarsely. “Zach was gone, Unter was gone. Comm was gone and the rest of you were....I didn't know what else to do. He wasn't ready. I could feel it.”

He patted her shoulder awkwardly. “Kiddo...not a one of us is ever 'gone'. Trust me on that; Sera has shown me as much, through all that we've been through. We're all here for ya, same as ever. Zach, Georgi, Auguste...all of us.” He held her tight. “Don’t ever forget that.”

“But you weren't here then ,” she said, desperately. “It was just me....I.....didn't know.....what else to do. The gear was here, the LlewellCo people found it in a shipping container and set it up thinking it was ours. It was here—and he was—“

“Kiddo...not all of us can feel like you do.” He paused. “My telempathy an' even Sera's to an extent is limited. We're still only a comm call away.”

“...but you weren't,” she said, bleakly. “You were…busy. Astra needed you.”

It was true. And he knew it. And it hit him, hard. But not even Callsign Blaze Phoenyx could be in two places at the same time.

She straightened up and wiped her eyes. Astra still needed him. And Sera. Georgi was right. She was too soft. She needed to be stronger. “Sometimes you have to go it alone and hope for the best.”

He looked at her searchingly, and said, very quietly, “I really hope you don't think you're alone in this, kiddo.”

She paused, and sighed. “I hope not.”