Sitting up in bed, Jamadigni Renuka chews on the tip of her stylus and tries not to cough. Coughing hurts, as does taking a deep breath, sneezing, or even laughing. Getting out of bed hurts too, not to mention such deceptively simple tasks as rolling over on her side to answer the vidphone. So right now she's content to sit in her hospital bed, propped up by a hill of pillows, and try and put in writing what she saw in the Omega Sector.
The problem is putting in words things one can't explain. Her English isn't good enough to find the words that would describe Omega—in fact, Jama is fairly sure no language has the right terminology. You can't tell people about Omega, they have to see it for themselves. Still, Director Cadbury has asked, so she'll do her best.
Tapping the stylus on the screen, Jama adds legs to the wolfspider diagram she's building. The graphics program had given her the proper templates, so she'd merged the wolf to the spider and then added arms and more legs. And then more legs. She honestly has no idea how many the things have, but it's more than eight, that's for sure. If asked, she'd say a dozen, and then probably follow that up with 'at least.'
The thought of the wolfspiders, which apparently range in side from your average person all the way up to a city bus, makes Jama shiver slightly. Growing up in Indonesia she's seen plenty of bugs—beetles, centipedes, spiders, walking sticks—and some can get quite large, but even the largest aren't much bigger than her hand. The wolfspiders are a different matter all together. They spin webs large enough to trap spinners, and since spinners aren't all that common in Omega, she has to wonder what the webs normally catch. She's mentioned as much in her report, insinuating that Omega has its own very strange and very hostile ecology, and if there's any kind of logic in play, the wolfspiders are prey for something else. The thought does not comfort her.
Trying to push the image of spiders from her mind (and resisting the urge to check under the bed—'just in case'), Jama pulls the keyboard tray over and goes back to typing. She's trying to write up a description of the 'spiders and wishes Burton was here to assist. He'd recorded quite a bit of data, both video and audio. But Burton isn't here. Jama's shoulders slump as she remembers how Ysarille twisted Burton's body (like a man wringing out a towel), and then tossed him away like a small child tired of an unwanted toy. Carpenter said he couldn't find Burton's body and she's heard Cadbury adamantly refused Hemelshot's request to go and bring it back out.
While she feels for the loss of her team mate, Jama is somewhat relieved to hear of Cadbury's decision. XSWAT's track record with Omega isn't very good. The first 9th Squad was lost with all hands. The second 9th Squad lost one member (Burton), a power armor (Tyger's Blue Steel Special), saw the squad's leader lose his left arm (Hemelshot), saw Tyger himself end up hospitalized (again), and herself due for a complete reconstruction of her rib cage. Only Carpenter and Yiska came out okay, and she's pretty sure both of them were more than a little bruised and battered by the experience. And she knows Yiska's not feeling good—something managed to possess his mind for a while in Omega, and there's no way that sort of touch won't leave a taint—however faint it may be.
Breathing out, Jama winces and then dabs at her mouth with a tissue, checking the wad of paper for blood, before tossing it into the waste bin. She'd been doing better, but the doctors have asked her to be careful. Any sign of blood and its more tests and examinations. She's getting a little sick of it, but there's nothing for her to do. She's already been in surgery twice, and with least two more trips to come. Not exactly how she wanted to spend her summer.
Turning back to the report, Jama realizes she's having trouble putting everything in some sort of order. Her memories of Omega are confused, especially since she spent considerable time unconscious due to physical trauma and exhaustion. What she does recall comes in bits. Scenes from a memory, disorganized and jumbled, snatches of images that tend to drift in and out of view while she drowses on the edge of sleep. An arm flopping out of a burning truck. Lines of naked mannequins standing and staring out of shop windows. A man announcing an endless series of numbers from the screen of a dead tri-vid set. A writhing sygil that looks something like a five-pointed star, something like a burning eye, and something like a twisted claw. Bodies hung from webs. Wrecked cars, dead trees, and clean-picked bones. Things that crawl in the shadows, flop bonelessly through the air, or creep about amid the debris.
She pauses and looks at the monitor screen. Stares for a minute and then glances at the door and the window and then the clock. She's lost an hour somewhere. And hour where she's apparently typed THE KING IN YELLOW COMES TO CLAIM THE CHILD OF HECATE AS HIS BRIDE over and over, filling page after virtual page of her report. She takes a deep breath, winces again, and then saves the file as is. She reopens it, copies everything but the last section into a new document, and gets back to work. Let's see what Cadbury makes of that.
A knock is heard at the door.
Jama starts at the sound, looking almost fearful (then sheepish) for a moment. She pushes the computer tray away, combs her hair out of her face, and then settles herself.
The door opens and a hospital cart overflowing with potted plants wheels in, pushed in by Carpenter wearing his duty uniform and a wry grin.
"Sorry to bother you, Jama, but Elaine insisted on making sure you had the best environment for healing."
Without waiting for an answer, Nathan begins to arrange the plants about the room, making sure they don't block any passages or equipment. By the time he's done, the room looks like it had been set up in a small garden. The scent from the flowers begin to chase off the sterile hospital air.
"Uhm..." Jama feels a bit overwhelmed by all the greenery. "Wow. It's... it's a lot like home."
Nathan smiles. "Elaine will be happy to hear that. She made a point of researching what plants are common to Indonesia. She even ran down the layout of your room from the hospital web site and made me memorize which ones to put where." Lifting one of the pots, he shows her the small numbered sticker on its bottom.
Settling the plant down on its chosen spot, Nathan sits down on the easy chair, leaning back to relax against the soft cushions.
"So," he says, after positioning his sword in its scabbard across his lap. "How are you feeling?"
Jama tries to shrug and gives up. "I was in surgery the other day. And I'm due in again tomorrow. So don't try to cheer me up and make me laugh. It really hurts." She smiles weakly, "Right now this is the best I can do. You?"
"Elizabeth is physically fine. Mentally and spiritually..." Nathan sighs, exhibiting a weariness Jama had not seen before in the holy warrior.
"There's not much we can do but be there for her and pray."
"I'll... I'll do what I can," Jama manages, staring at her hands, which are folded in her lap.
"You've done so much already, I'm embarrassed to ask. But..." Nathan pauses as if to collect his thoughts.
"I'm worried that the Entity's possession may have affected Elizabeth at a level I cannot see. That any taint left behind may be too subtle for me to pick out."
"Of all the people that I know, you are the one that knows the most about what we face, who has the understanding of the spirit, and who I can trust with her life. We'll need your help to get her through this."
Nathan looks to Jama with open eyes, in pure and honest appeal.
"Me?" Jama is surprised at the intensity of Carpenter's request, which seems almost like a plea. It seems strange, to have the normally self-assured paladin ask her for help with anything, much less the fate of his daughter.
Jama stares at the far wall for a moment, weighing the man's request in her mind. She thinks about some of the spells she's been working with recently and how they might help. Nathan Carpenter has done so much for her, how can she do any less for him?
Carpenter... Nathan..." she looks at her squad mate for a moment, her face composed and far more solem than usual. "I... I think I have a spell that can help. It... it is not cast lightly and, well... I've not really wanted to use it before." She takes a breath, coughs, sips at her water and continues, as Carpenter waits patiently, letting the petitie sorceress express her thoughts at her own rate. "It opens my eyes and mind to the true nature of the world and those within..." She looks at Carpenter again. "Do you understand what I mean by that? When I say the 'true' nature of something?"
"I think so, but I believe we may both need you to say it."
"I see things as they really are, with all masks and illusions set aside. I see things I will never, ever forget, no matter how I may wish it so. I may see things so horrid as to drive me mad, or so beautiful as to bring me endless despair of ever looking upon such grace again. But... but there is no other spell I know that will allow me to detect even the slightest trace of taint. And so... I will do so, for your and Elizabeth's sake."
His words are succinct yet filled with emotion. "Thank you."
Jama sighs, sips at her water, and tries to calm her mind. She's made an promise she cannot back out on, not now, not ever, not if she wishes to live with herself as sorceress of House Renuka. Her mind made, she feels at peace, at least for the moment, and gives thought to the rest of the Squad. "How about everyone else?" She glances at the windows and the line of plants there, feeling some comfort in the green. "I mean... how's the Sergeant doing? How's he handling it?"
"The sergeant seems to be doing well. He's certainly not letting his injury slow him down. The way he's acting, I'd enjoy the bed rest as long as I could. I have a feeling we'll be doing heavy training once we're all back on our feet."
"As for the team, they all look fine, but..."
Nathan shakes his head. "What we went through... it's not going to go away, not for a long while."
"No... no it won't." Jama glances at the monitor and the report she'd been trying to write. The thought of her lost hour typing "the King in Yellow" over and over makes her shudder slightly. So much for feeling at peace. Looking up, she gives Carpenter a wan smile. "I've been trying to work up an AAR for Cadbury, but..." She raises her hands up into the air, in a near universal gesture of surrender. "I don't have the words." She pauses and then looks down again. "Or the will, I fear."
"Jama," Nathan says with a smile. "You've shown that you have the will to persevere through any trial. I know that you will overcome this." He isn't speaking of the report.
"Will I?" she asks, almost to the room at large. "I failed you once before, Nathan, how can we be sure it won't happen again? Especially with so much at stake?"
Nathan frowns. "Fail me? What are you talking about?"
Jama glances at Carpenter and then looks to the ceiling, her hands twisting the bed sheets. "In Omega. When Hope van Goren asked us what we would give up in order to, well, save Angelus, I..." She stops and wipes at her eyes. "You were willing to give up everything, even your own daughter, while I... I couldn't. All I have to give is my talent for sorcery, and if I gave that, what use would I have been? The book would have been unusable, and Elizabeth would have been doomed to become one of those monsters... just like the rest." She turns to look at Carpenter, her eyes wide and pleading. "At the moment when everyone needed me most, I... I wasn't able to do what as needed."
Carpenter's face softens and takes Jama's hands in his. "Oh, Jama."
"You didn't fail. You said it yourself. The magic within you is what makes you who you are. To give that up would have been giving up your soul, and I would never have wanted you to do that."
"I mean, look at what I did. I could have offered my faith, yet instead I was willing to give up my own child. What does that say of me as a parent? What does that say of my love for my own that I would be willing to barter them away?" The pain in his words is evident.
"The fact is that I gambled with my daughter's soul, and won by luck."
Nathan's expression firms as he focuses back on Jama.
"Jama, of all of us, you were the one who showed the most strength and will in that dark place. Injured, beaten, you stood up and faced..." Carpenter catches himself before uttering the Entity's name, "that demon without hesitation. That strength inspired us... inspired me in our battle."
"Hemelshot likes to think of me as the conscience of the squad. True or not, if I am the soul of this team, you are the heart of it."
Carpenter tenderly brushes back a strand of hair from Jama's face. "You have, and always will have my friendship and trust. This I swear in the Lord's name."
There is a moment where Jama feels awash with warmth, with the love that Carpetner talks about. The love of God and Christ, the love that allows the paladin to stand before things such as Ysarille, to stand strong and fear no evil, no matter how dark it might be. She also feels love for the man himself, a strong love, that goes beyond one of comradeship and into need. It is a feeling that thrills her for a moment, before she forces it down and away. Carpenter is, and hopefully always will be, her friend, but nothing more—not matter how much she may desire it now, he will not, cannot, be her lover. Then, the moment passes, and she finds herself on his shoulder, weeping with emotions finally given release.
Carpenter wraps his arms around the young woman and holds her, comforting her as a father would his child, seemingly oblivious of Jama's true feelings about him.