Tareen left the medical bay. The nurse in charge seemed quite pleased that he was going. He considered Colonel Millwood’s words as he walked through the corridor back toward his office. The CAG’s statement didn’t paint the Captain in a good light, but it was not particularly useful either. It was all assumption and supposition. Millwood couldn’t back up anything he had said – and he hadn’t said much. Tareen didn’t need vague conspiracy theories about the Captain knowing about a secret threat, he needed evidence.
Tareen rubbed his eyes. He was certainly tired. He had barely stopped since being awoken from his stasis chamber. There was little more he could do at the moment. He lacked the concentration to figure out Bell’s motive. Perhaps it was time to catch a little rest. He turned and headed toward his quarters. The resolution of this mystery could wait until the morning.
The Surface of Xinju
The sun was starting to set, at least the closest one was. The sister star was visible quite brightly in the sky. It would certainly be the brightest star at night. Laura wondered if it would outshine the moons.
Gardner was resting quietly. They had administered some pain relief and it seemed to be working. The young soldier seemed almost asleep. Laura wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or bad.
A rustling in the grass near the forest drew Laura’s attention. She strained in the dim twilight to see the figure of Professor Toledo. He was carrying a large specimen sack. He kept it far from his body, as if it contained something offensive – or dangerous.
“Good news, I managed to locate and capture a creature much like the one Private Gardner described.”
“Fantastic Professor. You’re a legend if ever I met one.”
“I wouldn’t go that far Doctor Banks.”
“Hopefully it will help the doctors know how to treat our young friend here when we get back,” Spearwood said.
“How is the young man?” Toledo asked.
“Good to see.”
“They’re coming!” the call came from the distance, where the shuttle was parked. It was the pilot, and he was running in their direction. “I just got a call from the Endeavour. They’ll be in orbit in about ten minutes.”
“Then we should pack up and prepare to meet them,” Laura said decisively.
Spearwood crouched down next to Gardner. “Toledo, help me carry him will you?”
Laura grabbed the equipment that hadn’t already been stowed in the shuttle.
“I’ll go warm up the engines. You lot get in as quickly as you can.” The pilot ran back in the direction he had come.
“Not long now Gardner,” Laura said to the soldier.
The trip back into orbit hadn’t taken long. To Laura, it was all a bit of a blur. The only thing on her mind was Gardner’s well-being. He was on her team – on her watch. The last thing she wanted to do was have to tell Captain Bell that she had lost one of his men.
She looked at Gardner’s pale face. So this it what it felt like to be a military leader. Suddenly she felt as though she understood Anderson Bell a lot more. Perhaps she even had a little more respect for him than she had this morning. Once all of this was over she would have to apologise to him for her attitude earlier.
She looked up to peer out the porthole and caught a glimpse of the Endeavour. It was an impressive sight from this distance. The ship had clearly been built with a practical mindset, rather than an aesthetic one, but its sheer size gave it a look of majesty which Laura had not fully appreciated until now.
Apart from the necessary apparatus related to engines and other ship-board systems, it was little more than a big box in space – or more accurately a collection of big boxes. Laura took a good long look. After all, it was rare that a crewmember on a space ship got to see their vessel from the outside.
“We’ve just been cleared for landing,” the pilot said from the front. Hold on, I’m gonna take us in nice and fast.”
“Go for it,” Laura said.
Medical Bay. ESS Endeavour
When they arrived in the medical bay they were met by a doctor – an older woman with short gray hair.
“What happened here?” she asked.
“He was bitten by a slug on the planet – a very large slug.”
“I have a specimen in here that you may wish to examine,” Toledo said, opening the bag to show the alien creature to the doctor.
The doctor reacted with a little bit of alarm and then sternly said “Get that thing out of my face.” She motioned for a young man – an orderly or a nurse, Laura wasn’t sure which. “Take this specimen down to the lab and secure it please.”
“What first aid was administered?”
“Ibuprofen for the pain, and a cold pack on the site of the bite.”
“Very good. I’ll take him from here. You can go get some rest if you like. You’ve all been up and awake for a very long time.”
“Not on your life.” Laura placed a hand on the doctor’s arm. “We’re not going anywhere until we know Gardner is going to be okay.”
“Fine, I’m not your mother. Sit over there in the waiting area. I’ll call you when I know something.”
The doctor motioned for another young orderly to wheel Gardner on his bed into an observation room.
Laura took a seat in the waiting area. Spearwood followed her and Toledo walked behind more slowly.
“I think perhaps the doctor is correct.” The older man said rubbing his forehead. “We have all had a long day. There is nothing more that we can do. I think we’d all benefit from some rest.”
“You go ahead Professor. I’m going to wait.”
He nodded graciously. “As you wish. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” He began to walk away, then stopped and turned back to face them. “Despite everything that happened, we were the first people to set foot on an alien planet today, and we learned a lot from the experience. I think we should be both proud and excited.”
Laura smiled and nodded. Toledo headed off down the hallway.
Spearwood, who had still not taken a seat shifted from one foot to the other. “Look I’m not really good at waiting Laura, I think I’ll go for a little walk and come back to see how things are going in a little while.”
“Okay. Catch you later.”
He left too, leaving Laura all alone on her seat.
“Please don’t die Gardner,” she whispered to herself. “Please don’t die.”