To all my readers-I'm so sorry for the delay. I had most of my chapter written when I lost my internet browser. Yep, unbelievable I lost IE. I assume some malware got on my PC though I have got security. For 2 weeks I played around with the computer trying to reinstall IE, going to previous versions-nada. So finally got a friend to get me a copy of Firefox and installed that. Unfortunately then my muse deserted me until today. Anyway I hope the wait was worth it.
"Cup of tea…?"
Startled out of her thoughts Rachel turned towards the familiar voice, her nose taking in the fragrant Earl Grey first before she localized Captain Chandler in the dark shadows. He stepped into the moonlight holding out a white regulation Navy mug with steam snaking from it.
Though surprised by the Captain's appearance her arm shot out to take the mug from him as she peered past his looming figure to check if Miller had returned. 'Damn' Rachel thought. 'He is nowhere to be seen.' She wondered if the Captain had noticed that her guard wasn't glued to her side knowing immediately with a sinking feeling that nothing escaped this man. She watched as he leaned against the railing, his eyes fixed on the horizon, tension radiating off him in waves.
"How did you know where to find me?" She enquired letting her voice go husky and smiling in what she hoped was her best femme fatale smile. The Captain remained with his back turned to her unaware of the display.
"Well, I ran into PO Cowley on the p-way and though he tried to spin me a story that the Master Chief had developed a taste for Earl Grey, it was obvious this mug belongs only to one person on this ship."
On saying 'one' Tom Chandler swung around and held the doctor's gaze for few seconds before continuing. "Of course, I then realised your cabin was in the other direction, so…" There was a heavy pause and obviously a fairly terse conversation between Captain and subordinate had ensued after the Captain's apprehension of the situation.
Rachel sighed, knowing that Bacon and Miller would be punished for disregarding the captain's orders. The game was up and all that was left was damage control.
"Captain please, do not blame Bacon…" she began to plead before Tom Chandler lifted his hand to stop her. His dark face did not bode well.
"Dr. Scott, my orders to the crew were clear. I'm used to having you flaunt them but to have my crew disobey…"
"Oh for god sake, Tom..." Rachel interrupted him, placing her mug on the deck as she jumped up to face him square on. She had enough of him hiding behind his rule-thumping, rigid attitude.
"When are you going to pull that stick out of your arse?"
Tom's mouth clamped shut at her outburst and his facial expression at her unexpected use of profanity in her toffy English accent would have made Rachel laugh if the situation wasn't so serious.
"You ordered the crew to protect me, the mission by any means including putting themselves in harms way for me over the last months and now you lock me up, keeping me like a prisoner, away from any personal contact and you are upset because they care about bringing me a cup of tea, letting me out on the deck to get some fresh air…I can understand why you put me under arrest but your crew doesn't…" Rachel breathed heavily as she sought out Tom's eyes to see if he understood but found only a coldness that pained her to the core. 'Oh how much I miss your unwavering support' she thought with profound regret as he stared at her. It was okay if he didn't agree with what she had done, she just wanted him to tell her he understood.
"They all hated Niels, what he did to them, their families and the world. I did what many had wished they could have and yes from the moral high ground it was wrong, but I can live with it…your crew can live with it... Tom, why can't you?" Her voice broke on her question. She reached out, placing her palm against his chest to underline the plea with her touch.
Tom stepped back, shaking off her hand.
"I do not need my crew to understand every order I give them, but they will obey or there will be disciplinary consequences." He stated firmly.
She knew then that she had lost him, likely forever. It had begun after Baltimore, small rifts appearing but usually quickly forgotten in the day to day fight for survival but in the end her sacrifice of Niels for the cure had opened up a chiasm she was unable to close and Tom was unwilling to bridge.
She pushed away the hot grief she felt as tears threatened to fill her eyes. Fortunately in that moment Miller cleared his voice forcing the doctor to turn around to face him as he addressed her.
"Ma'am', the ensign has finished cleaning your cabin. If you could follow me back down." He moved off to the side indicating towards the hatch a few metres away as he let Rachel pass. Before he followed her, he turned to his Captain, standing at attention.
"Sorry Sir, but Admiral Halsey threw up all over her bed, so I thought it better the Doc waited up here until her cabin was ready." He turned on his heels and vanished through the hatch before CMDR Chandler could respond.
Tom watched as Rachel's body relaxed after the shock. Dr Milowsky raised Rachel's arm above her shoulder and began to clean the skin with alcohol in preparation for the chest tube insertion while Rios scanned the display after toggling the switch to reading mode.
"Checking rhythm…" Rios voice hitched as the monotone beep echoed through the room.
"She's flat lined…" sorrow was evident in Rios voice.
Tom paled at the declaration, his eyes flitting to the monitor and back to Rachel's lifeless face.
"No, no, no…" he uttered under his breath in disbelief. "Do something…" he shouted at Milowsky.
"Confirm asystole…get Adrenaline push ready" Dr Milowsky ordered as he swiftly cut though skin and muscle above the 5th rib, punching the scalpel through into the lung cavity. He withdrew the knife, placing his index finger in the hole as a guide and pushed the tube through. A gush of dark blood exited through the tube into the waiting container.
Rios busied himself checking for loose leads and running a diagnostic on the machine when suddenly a hesitant beep followed by another, the beeps gathering speed indicating that not all was lost.
"She's back…and in Ventricular Tachycardia…giving adrenaline now" called out Rios as he emptied the contents of the syringe into the IV.
"Sir…" Rios nodded at the Captain who began with CPR while Dr Milowsky ran in another bag of fluid. After the longest two minutes in Tom's life, Rios stopped to check the rhythm.
"Still VT…stand by: charging 360J…stand clear shocking!"
Rachel stood at the edge of the crowd watching as the President worked the room. The speeches were over and the guests were enjoying the Champagne and hors d'oeuvres. Bacon had outdone himself showing off his culinary skills and reminding their new President and guests of a world most had thought lost. It took all of Rachel's will power not to return to the platters of crab toast, grilled oysters and smoked trout blinis with crème fraiche.
'Food orgasm doesn't even come close to describing it!' she sighed as her tongue quickly ran over her lips remembering the blissful taste of the Gran Marnier dark chocolate cup that had completed her foray into French haute cuisine.
Slowly she ambled through the crowd while taking in the faces, cheeks tinged with the blush of alcohol, listening to the hum of conversation and smiling when a crew member acknowledged her or shaking hands with a grateful citizen when they recognised her. She would exchange a few polite words then quickly excuse herself embarrassed by the outpouring of gratitude. For the first time since leaving for the Arctic she experienced a sense of peace and contentment. She suspended any thoughts about the future. Today had been too special to let Tom's voice haunt her as it did in the quiet moments of the day 'If we ever find a safe place to make port, I will turn you over to the civil authorities and you will answer for your crime' Like a festering wound she would pick at the scab but not tonight, not now she promised herself.
The crystals of the chandeliers clinked gently as the breeze from a few open windows cooled the warm air in the ballroom. She tilted her head up to admire the Victorian lights and the ornate ceiling panels.
There was a promise of hope in the air. The notes from the string quartet in the far corner of the ballroom drifted across and Rachel closed her eyes as she tried to identify the composer. The music was familiar. 'Beethoven sonata…mh, or maybe Bach' she thought with a contemplative smile.
She opened her eyes to see the President standing in front of her. His two personal guards remained a few steps either side of him, keeping a vigilant eye on the surroundings.
"Good evening, Mr President. You do throw lovely party." Rachel lifted her head to meet Jeff Michener's warm green eyes gazing down on her.
"Please call me Jeff, Rachel. As my top scientist and senior advisor on all things red flu we will need to work closely together and I have never been good with too much ceremony."
Rachel's smile froze as the words sunk in. "Ah, senior advisor…mh, I don't know, Sir…I mean Jeff..."
"Sorry, Rachel, but I need you…and don't worry. I'm not going to tie you down to a desk. I want you to go out and continue your work, spreading the cure. It's the only way we can hope to defeat the Immunes. I have organised transport, several Marines and a medical support crew to leave with you tomorrow morning to Lincoln, Nebraska where there has been an outbreak, likely immune related. There is a briefing folder waiting in your room with the details and itinerary. I estimate that you'll be gone for several months maybe more. I regret to spring it on you here at the Ball, but the details were only finalised an hour ago"
Rachel couldn't believe her ears that decisions had been made without discussing it with her first, a pawn to be moved about as seen fit and expecting her to fall in line. Admittingly, he was the President of the United States and decision making his prerogative and yes, the idea to continue to kick Immune butt was attractive, but he could have asked.
"Well, aren't you forgetting something…the small matter of me being turned over to the authorities to answer for my crime…" The bitterness in her voice did not escape the President who interrupted Rachel by taking her hands in his before he spoke.
"Really Rachel, did you not think that the amnesty I proclaimed wouldn't cover your…"he hesitated a moment trying to find the right words"…what shall I call it: momentary lapse of good judgement under severe circumstances by one of the most courageous women I have ever meet?" He shook his head in disbelief " I made some poor choices too in difficult circumstances before coming to the Nathan James… and I have been forgiven... why should you not receive the same?"
Rachel's chin dropped to her chest as she fought the emotions bubbling up and threatening to overwhelm her. The pain was acute as it burst free leaving her spent. She swayed slightly and the President gently pulled her towards him, wrapping an arm around her, as he steadied her.
"I think we both need a drink" and with those words he led her to the bar.
The jolt had been strong, lifting Rachel's torso briefly off the ground. Tom's eyes were fixed on the heart monitor holding his breath as he waited. Few seconds passed before the tracing appeared on the monitor. A regular beep echoed through the room before Rios exclaimed with relief:
"We did it. She's in sinus rhythm" the relief was audible in Rios' voice.
"Okay, we can transport her now. The sooner I get her to a fully equipped emergency room the better"
Milowsky placed a clamp on the chest tube looking up at the Captain. Fatigued was etched on his face.
"She needs to get to a hospital and a cardiothoracic surgeon asap, Sir. I can't do much more here."
The XO who had entered the room few moments ago, cleared his voice.
"The president has ordered his helicopter to land on the roof to take Dr. Scott to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. A trauma team is gathering as we speak." XO Slattery turned and leaned through the open door waving through 2 medics with a stretcher.
Tom grabbed Rachel's hand and brought it up to his lips, giving it quick kiss.
"You did good, Rachel. Just keep fighting."
He sat back watching the paramedics quickly lift the doctor onto the stretcher, strapping her down after securing her IV and chest tube and leaving with their precious cargo.
Exhaustion washed over Tom and his lids dropped shut as his head fell forward to rest on his knees.
He had nearly lost her and still might. He didn't have to be a doctor to understand that her injuries were serious.
"Tom…?" His XO's familiar voice made him look up at the figure towering over him. Mike's hand shot out, offering his friend and CO assistance to stand up.
"Come on, I'll take you to the hospital."
Grateful Tom let himself be pulled up noticing the unspoken concern reflected in his friend's eyes.
"Thanks Mike, I'll be okay. Just need to get to the hospital…I need her to be all right"
Mike led Tom out to the corridor where the crew of the Nathan James had gathered, lining the corridor quietly waiting for their Captain.
"We all do, Tom."