I have returned to this writing several times. It is draining, but I have worked with Emir a very long time, and I know that such toxins must be purged. Yrai is recovering. I have chosen to be his caretaker so that Emir may pair with Daira. She has no true experience with trauma recovery, and she requires his support more than either of us. I will begin triage myself for the rest of the crew. Our spirits will heal.
I was next conscious of activating the high-beams and gently reversing the throttle. The Coelacanth shuddered away from the wall of the chasm, and chunks of debris sunk lazily into the dark below. I did not see it for very long. I cannot produce a memory, only still images. Withered tentacles coiled in a perfect spiral around what looked like a torn, bloody sail, suspended, then sinking, trailing a charred helix indolently into the abyss.
Daira had made it to Yrai, but my stomach lurched when I realized that she had not laid him in recovery position but had instead placed him on his back – and it must have been at this point that the tharn took her mind. She had neither fought nor fled, but frozen, and she would need treatment for shock, but I was required to shoulder her aside to reach Yrai, whose situation was more urgent.
He still breathed unobstructed. The tic was no longer in his round cheek, though his rich, earthy color had not yet returned. I turned him on his massive side with a grunt, then felt my knees give way like water. Rainwater, streamwater, not this opaque black beast that crushed around us like an indifferent fist, a belly full of monsters under its flirting veil.
I was sitting on the floor beside Yrai, my hand rubbing soothing circles into his back, and I regret how long it took me to also find Daira’s hand, to anchor her before she too entered burnout. I did not need to radio for Dr. Emir, nor did we wait on him long. He had suspected trouble when the engines had been dormant too long, had secured himself in his safety station, and had radioed to Veena and Cantor to do the same.
I could have kissed the old gadfly, but Yrai had begun to rouse, and it was on him that Emir must first fix a gadfly’s multi-faceted eye. Seeking out the vulnerable places – and if one was fortunate, not to bite.
I coaxed Daira into giving me her hands to hold between my own, and I attempted to talk her back to herself – a focal point to prolong the fumes of huelit. As she grew calm, so too did I. I saw where I had bruised her and sought her leave to treat it. We made our amends, and I saw more color in her face, a sharpening light in her eyes. To see it lifted a weight I had not known I carried.
Veena and Cantor had appeared to monitor the helm, and in my state of mind I was struck anew by their perfect asymmetry. Florid Cantor standing nearly as tall as Yrai, yet slender as a reed and bald as a glossy beetle; honey-brown Veena, short and round, squeezing his long hand and lacing her other through a curtain of straight black hair. She smiled up at him, radiating her quiet strength, and when he smiled back his hunched shoulders straightened like a dehydrated stalk freshly-watered. I felt my first true pang of homesickness, the awareness that it would still be feasible to turn back into the arms of my own loved ones occurring to me clearly. But their oneness moved me, and the strength they drew from one another returned me to myself, to what we together are capable of.
As I took Daira below she attempted to give me her contrition as well. She offered to repay her disservice to the crew by whatever means I deemed prudent. When I asked what transgression she thought deserved such discipline, she replied with her belief that she was at fault for much of the incident. That in the irrationality of tharn she had provoked the creatures, then failed to attend to her crewmate when he needed her.
I spoke to her as I sought consent to administer a mild soporific, said that we must never define ourselves by our first attempts. That to fear failing once is to carry fear to the grave. I told her that Emir would teach her how to cope with fear and do better in the future, as he has done all his life for so many, and in time she was able to relax. To sleep. I was spent, and I took time only to radio Veena and confirm that the Coelacanth was stabilized before lying down myself.
I dreamed. Muddy, unsettled dreams, in oppressive places where the darkness contorted like smoke and I was constantly aware of something hovering behind my head, following me as I turned around and around. I jerked awake once at ninth-hour, disoriented in my bunk. I remember vaguely that Daira was not present, perhaps in the lavatory having the additional steam shower I have now allotted her, knowing they calm her during times of stress. I drifted off again, and now I saw myself in a symposium at the Municipal Forum, talking eagerly with a crowd I thought composed of colleagues and friends, but which on waking I know to have been strangers.
I appeared either passionate or frantic, fiercely invested in communicating whatever point I was trying to make, and I saw from my third-person perspective that you were there, Shae. You tried to get my attention, gently at first, then with increasing urgency, but you roused no response from me but a hideously dismissive hand ruffling the loose mop of your hair. I could see that you were distressed, that some great crisis was either imminent or afoot, but my dream-self paid no mind, and I watched in horror as, after a very long time, you gave up and walked away, and I somehow knew that it was for the last time.