Fire

From the Story Arc: Three Days In December

Previous Story in the Arc: Ice by Belladonna Aura (Wednesday, December 13, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Stone by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, December 14, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, December 13, 2006)

And every journey must reach an end
Is there a message you’d like to send
Are there a million stars where you are - near or far



CCCP HQ was unnaturally silent. People almost stumbled about, as if in a daze. KC himself—part of him was still reeling with shock. Part was in a state of denial. It didn’t seem real, no matter how many times that last ten minutes was replayed on the screen in the assembly room. It was impossible. Zach Marlowe couldn’t be gone.


Part of him seemed to be moving a little out of synch with everything else, like one of those scifi shows where someone gets caught in a reality just a little sideways to the one everyone else was in.


It was surreal, being there in the CCCP HQ, in the next cube over from Bella’s office, the proverbial fly on the wall. He watched Thanh Ha go in, heard some talking, then heard her murmur quietly, “Get some rest when you can, Bella ban.” as she left. Just as John Murdock arrived, fresh from Pocket D and the wake, responding to a call she had put out over CCCP freq. And he saw the look Thanh Ha gave Johnny…almost pitying. As if she knew something was going to happen that would hit him, too, burden on top of worst. Something he would not anticipate.

John’s shirt was bloody. KC watched Bella’s eyes flick to the stains then back to John’s face.

“I’m here, Commissar,” Johnny said, somberly. “Whatever you need. Ask, I’ll do it.”

The door stayed open, as Bella continued to look at Murdock—no one would ever recognize in that hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed visage the Face of GammaBars at the moment. Her parents had showed up a half hour ago with a gym bag; she had gone into the bunkrooms and showered and changed. Now her hair was put up in a severe bun, and she wore….it looked like a uniform, but stark black, with only a touch of red at the color, the CCCP star on the breast pocket, and a stark black cape. She shoved a little jewelry box across the desk to John Murdock. “This is what I need,” she said, quietly.

KC watched; he couldn’t look away. He felt as if he was being a witness to something.

John picked it up, and almost dropped it. Somehow, KC knew what was in it. A Commissar’s star.

John’s next words confirmed it. “Aw, shit, Bella. I...I can’t fill Zach’s shoes. An’ I’m sure as hell not movin’ out to Washington on permanent retainer,” he protested, in a choked voice.

“No one can take his place. And I wouldn’t ask you this if I didn’t need you. “She shook her head. “I’ll deal with DC, from here. They’ll—they’ll come to me for a while, for a good long while, I think. Maybe from now on. But I want you here. CCCP needs you. Cover for me when I can’t be here, or when I need to be two places at once. Be the voice of reason. Smooth the ruffled feathers. Stop the infighting. And be the guardian at the gate. Can you do that?”

He didn’t speak for a very long time. “Any way I can just do that without the fancy title? Y’know how I hate this sorta thing. Y’damn near had to tear my arm off to promote me up this high. Hell, y’snuck it in on me while I was sleepin’, too.” He looked, and sounded, distressed. Profoundly distressed. Well, given how he felt about authority figures…

…given that it was a bloodstained promotion…

“Kiddo, this ain’t me. I don’ want it. You know I don’t. Ain’t there any way at all I can do without the star?”

Again, she shook her head. “In a word, no. The pigheaded ex-Stalinists won’t accept anything coming from an American, hell, a non-Soviet, without the Commissar’s authority attached to it.” She sighed. “Not to mention…I’m not blind to the fact that I’m a woman and we need a male authority figure in this dysfunctional family. I’m a woman, and soft. A man would be hard. It is the way it is. Zach shared that position with Unter, and now they’re both gone. Who’s going to take that place? Communard?” She looked down at the top of her desk. “We all voted, Johnny. Even Unter; I asked him as soon as he called in. It was unanimous. Please?” she said, in a voice that sounded desperate.

“I gave up this sort of shit a long time ago. You know that.” His brow furrowed. “Jeez, y’ don’t ask a lot, do ya?”

“If you really can’t….I understand.”

Then KC watched his normally stoic face fall. And when he spoke, he sounded…helpless. “Damnit, kiddo. There ain’t anyone else for the job, is there?”

The pencil she was holding snapped in her hand. She was going through a lot of pencils. KC had taken out an entire wastebasket full of pencils snapped in half or thirds. “I can try to do it alone. I can try to remake myself in Saviour’s image....”

John sighed. “Shut up. I mean it. Y’ain’t good at it, so don’t even bother tryin’. Ain’t in yer character.” He sighed. “An’ that’s a good thing.”

“I’m not so sure of that right now,” she whispered.

“I am”

She let out a sad sigh. “If you really can’t see your way clear to this…give me back the box.”

He shook his head and picked up the jewelry box. “Shaddup. I’m thinkin’. Not exactly sure my behavior tonight was Commissar material.”

“You weren’t a Commissar tonight,” she replied. “The office…changes you. And when I cloned Bear…I wasn’t exactly acting like a Commissar either. Johnny, I hate to press you, but I need an answer. There are people …less qualified than you, less diplomatic, less flexible than you, who will be agitating for this position soon. I don’t want this to turn into fighting over Zach’s….shoes….and it will. Soon.”

“I’m not gonna leave you high and dry, Bella. You were one of the first folks I knew in the CCCP, both times I came to it. Fine. I’ll do it. But lemme warn ya; I’m a helluva handful, and this might be the last decision you’ll ever regret.”

She looked up at him with thanks. “I may regret a lot of things, Johnny, but never that. Never that.”

He reached across the desk and laid a hand on hers. “We'll beat this, kiddo. You'll need to speak with Sera, an' very soon. She'll likely have somethin' to show you. An' I won't have to act as the jukebox anymore.”

“I....I'm glad for both of you, Johnny. I felt it,” she said, softly, leaving KC wondering what on earth they were both talking about. “Very glad.”

He nodded. “Not just that, kiddo. She'll be takin' you somewhere, I reckon. Some things y'need to see. It...it's somethin' we all need to be reminded of, at times like these.”

Her tremulous smile faltered. “I....I don't know about that, Johnny. I'm not sure that's something...he would want.”

He looked puzzled, at least as puzzled as KC was. “Whaddya mean? Whaddya think I'm sayin'?”

Her eyes looked over his shoulder, staring into nothingness. There was a flash of naked longing in them that was a like a knife-stab. “I....don't think I should go....yearning after someone who's already gone on elsewhere. I don't think he wants that. He was always racing off after the next adventure....never looking back.”

Murdock nodded. “What's important is that y'know that he's...he ain't gone. He'll always be with us.”

“In memory,” she replied quietly. “I mean, I know he's.......somewhere else. He's just gone somewhere I can't go….” her voice died for a moment, and then she added, in a whisper, “…and I don't think I should try.”

Once before, from Sera, KC had sensed comfort from another. He felt it now from John, a faint empathic wave.

Bella met her friend’s eyes, KC could almost tell the moment that she reached for his comfort and accepted it.

But then, a hundred times stronger, came her own wave of selfless comfort, strong and sure.

It seemed to help him. He sighed. “Go home an' get some rest, kiddo. I'm assumin' y'already have all of the relevant paperwork I need to read through on my desk, or Waitron is gettin' it there now? If so, I'll take over for the night. I think I can handle things till y'get some sleep.”

“It's on your desk by now. And.....there's a lot to do, Johnny,” she replied.

“Tell me about it.”

But she was shaking her head. “There are things you can't do. Calls from DC, from Moscow... Things I have to do myself. KC is handling the RPC for me, except for people I know well. I have to take those myself too. Besides....I don't think sleep is an option right now.”

He nodded. “Well, in that case, we better get some coffee goin'. An' use some of the vodka in the medbay to keep the coffee Irish. It's gonna be a long night, kiddo.” He looked at the box in his hand. “Plenty Irish.”

“That’s probably a good prescription. And....thank you.”

He squeezed her hand, then let it go. “Forget it, Bella. This....well, I ain't got the words. Not for any of it. Y'know?”

She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, to see KC still watching her steadily, John Murdock was already gone.