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Spend all your time waiting for that second chance,
for a break that would make it okay.
There's always some reason to feel not good enough,
and it's hard at the end of the day.
"I blew it, Goose."
Goose tore his eyes away from watching the street below to look at her. The whites of his eyes gleamed faintly in the faint light from the streets outside.
They huddled by a wall in the dark, and around them the condemned hotel shifted its weight and seemed to sigh wearily.
It's so cold, she thought, even through a survival blanket.
Trying vainly to find a more comfortable position, Niko shifted her weight and drew the blanket a little closer around herself. Even that slight movement brought dizzying pain. She closed her eyes against the nausea that rocked her and lay still on the floor, and so she heard rather than saw Goose step to her side.
I can hardly see him anyway.
A chill draft stole in through a gap in the window frame. The old building creaked faintly in the dark.
The thought repeated in her mind like a twisted mantra: I blew it. The mission is a disaster. I blew it. The mission...
Niko could not remember having been so depressed in yonks.
The mission had started off so well.
Two months ago she and Goose had settled into a cheap apartment in the slums of Texarkota and started establishing themselves as small-time arms smugglers. It hadn't taken long to get the attention of the man they were looking for. Brent Carmody did not like competition.
"Cute bit of tail," Carmody's voice whispered in her mind. "You want to keep her that way?"
Her skin crawled afresh at the memory of his eyes on her body. Disgusting man.
Niko herself had had to do some very fast talking to keep Goose from correcting Carmody's manners... but in the end, she and her teammate had jobs as couriers for Carmody's gunrunning network, a nicer apartment in a better part of town, and all the fearful respect from people on the street that a Galaxy Ranger could grit her teeth at.
"Prove you're trustworthy," Carmody told them, "and you could go places."
Niko smiled humorlessly. *Sure. Go places. Like condemned hotel buildings. In the dark. This isn't the kind of place I had in mind...*
"You didn't blow it, Niko," Goose whispered out of the darkness above her.
"Who knows when we'll get a second chance, Goose? Carmody's almost certainly pulled up stakes already. Even if we serve out a warrant based on what we've seen so far, he's smart enough to have gotten rid of the evidence by now. At the most some of his lieutenants will do a few years." She shifted again and gritted her teeth against crying out.
"You couldn't have done anything else," he said. "You're not the kind of person to let people die needlessly. He was shooting at everything in sight."
Niko, riding a fresh wave of pain from her wounded leg, barely heard him.
I need some distraction oh beautiful release.
Memory seep from my veins.
Let me be empty oh and weightless and maybe I'll find some peace tonight
His hands on her shoulders. "Niko. Come on, stay with me."
She caught at him. "Goose... there's... nerve block... in my medkit. If they come... I can't be... doped up."
He had to turn her to unfasten her uniform and place the block patch, low on her back to leave her breathing unfettered. She bit down hard on her lip to keep silent and felt blood trickling down her chin.
She lay on her back, panting, and stared into the darkness, waiting for the patch to take effect.
"Hey, come on, lady, talk to me." He leaned a little closer and she heard his indrawn breath. "You're bleeding. I can smell it. Did the wound break open?"
"It's just... my lip," she whispered, and felt the creeping weightlessness of nerve blockers as her lower body went slowly away.
Release from pain. Her whole body let go the tension she had hardly been able to register, and her mind began waking up.
"How much longer do you think we'll have to wait?"
"It's been two hours since we missed check-in," he said. "Zach won't waste much time trying to raise us, so they're probably already on their way. Too bad we don't have our wrist comms. These little radios don't have much range."
She laughed breathily. "We were lucky to even be able to make it to the stash in the tube station, Goose." She didn't finish the thought aloud: *Because without this survival blanket I probably wouldn't survive the night.*
Firmly Niko turned her mind to a less unsettling subject.
"Goose... what happened out there?"
You're so tired of the straight line,
and ev'rywhere you turn there are vultures and thieves at your back.
Storm keeps on twisting. Keep on building the lies
that you make up for all that you lack.
Shame washed over him, and for a moment he couldn't answer.
"I got careless," he said.
They had just come back from a delivery. More than anything else about this mission, Shane hated handing over deadly weapons to people he knew would not hesitate to use them on innocents.
He knew they had no choice, for while Brent Carmody was coarse, crude and generally inspired Shane to visions of stuffing the man's teeth down his throat, he was no idiot. He rarely handled his own merchandise, leaving his lieutenants and stooges to take the fall should anyone ever dare to sting him. And so he and Niko waited for that one chance: the moment when Carmody might get careless.
Shane knew that Niko also loathed the things they were doing in the name of shutting Carmody down. He knew, too, that if Carmody ever got her alone, she might have to break her cover to avoid a fate Shane tried not to envision -- so he stuck by her, even escorting her to the bathroom, though he knew that at times his protectiveness irritated her.
He and Niko had returned to the street corner where Carmody's lieutenant Raz waited with orders for their next errand. From half a block away Shane had seen that Raz had a customer, a tall man who had his back to the two Rangers.
Why didn't I suggest waiting? Stupid mistake. Rookie maneuver, Gooseman.
He sighed. "The customer was a Supertrooper," he said.
In memory it took on a sort of surreal tinge: he and Niko walking up behind the customer; Raz and the big man shaking hands; Raz calling out to them over the man's shoulder; the man turning...
Shane and Troy had recognized each other at the same moment.
"You!" Troy screamed--and brought up his brand-spanking-new laser assault rifle.
The shot blew Shane off his feet and into the car parked behind him.
He heard Niko's little gasp. "That's why he went berserk," she said, voice tinged with surprise, understanding--sympathy? "He recognized you."
"Yeah. I guess he figured we were there for him. I should have suggested waiting till he took off considering we couldn't see his face, and odds weren't bad we'd eventually run into a lowlife one of us knew. And Troy Marx always was a paranoid f-- guy."
Through his haze of pain and fury Shane, crumpled on the pavement against the skirt of the hovercar, heard Troy screaming about Rangers. The sound of high powered laser fire echoed off the buildings nearby, and he smelled ozone as bolts whizzed everywhere. Shane was worming his hand under his clothes to touch his badge when Niko's voice rang out.
"Hey, chuckles! You're under arrest. Put your hands on your head."
Oh shit, he groaned to himself.
Raz bellowed incoherently. About the only word Shane caught was "dead."
Shane hit his badge, felt his biodefenses activate, and stood just as Raz lunged forward at Niko and time seemed to slow as Raz swiped viciously at Niko with the knife the long wicked serrated knife and she, dodging laser fire from Troy, screamed fell among bright drops of blood hit the pavement as Troy fired at Raz --and time started again as Raz fell to the sidewalk, wheezing, clutching at the charred mess of his belly, and Shane's pistol fire dropped the rifle from Troy's hand.
"Get out of here, Flyboy," he snarled. "Go!"
I'm gonna have to bring him in. Not today, but soon.
He glanced down at Niko's face, pale in the dimness.
"It must be hard," she said softly, "having to arrest--" She broke off, but in his mind he finished for her.
*Having to arrest your own kind.*
"Not really," he said deliberately. "They're renegades, aren't they?"
Lying through my teeth. If there is a God... let him damn Wheiner to hell for stealing our lives from us.
The old anger twisted at his guts.
It don't make no difference escaping one last time.
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness,
oh this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees
"I'm sorry, Goose."
"It wasn't your fault, Niko," he said.
The flight from the street corner had been hellish.
He'd seen the second he dropped to his knees beside his teammate that the wound wouldn't kill her. He pressed one hand, hard, to the wide slash on her thigh and reached into his pocket for the scarf he usually wore around his neck.
As he tried to maneuver the scarf into a knot one-handed, she roused with a jerk and a cry of pain.
"They're coming," she said faintly, and gripped one end of the scarf to help him. "We have to go, Goose. The spotter called it in... and Raz is still alive to talk." The breath hissed through her teeth as he pulled the scarf tight.
Shane nodded curtly and heaved her up from the sidewalk. As he ran awkwardly down the street, half-carrying Niko, he heard the screech of old fashioned tires on the road behind them.
By the time they lost their pursuers, Niko was faint from pain and blood loss, and night was falling. Goose wended his way deeper into the slums, feeling eyes on them at every turn--but no one ventured forward to help them. He bared his teeth in an unconscious snarl and looked around again.
The sign on the dilapidated building before them read T xarkot Hot l, but he saw no sign of life to indicate that the place was occupied. He set Niko gently on the steps and prowled the long front porch. The boarded-up windows yielded no hint as to the interior, and finally he shrugged and kicked in the front door. All that emerged was a couple of rats.
"Looks like we found our squat for the night, Niko," he said drily.
In the light filtering in the window he could see that Niko had begun to shiver violently.
"Cold?" he asked quietly.
She hesitated. "Yes," she admitted.
He lay a gentle hand on her forehead. Her soft skin was too cool to the touch. Shane reached for the medkit and rummaged through it for meds against shock.
In the arms of the angel.
Fly away from here,
from this dark, cold hotel room and the endlessness that you fear.
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie.
You're in the arms of the angel.
May you find some comfort here.
As the drugs took effect Niko drifted, floating in her own small, cold world, depression weighing her down. From a distance she felt Goose take gentle hold of her wrist to check her pulse, and she turned vaguely toward the warmth of his body.
"Niko?" he whispered. "You feeling any warmer?"
Gently, then, he gripped her shoulders and sat her slowly, carefully against him. She sighed and turned her face to his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her back. Gradually her shivering lessened as she grew warmer, and a thought drifted through her mind.
This is nice. I wish... Stop it, Niko. He's your teammate. Don't be childish.
Shane looked down at his teammate's bowed head, wondering at his own feelings. It feels good to have her near me. I always noticed she was pretty, but... What would she want with me, anyway?
Niko slipped her arms around him. He stiffened in surprise.
"Goose? Are you all right?"
He groped for words.
"You'll get cold too," she murmured. "Texarkota gets very cold at night."
Shane chuckled, suddenly finding immense humor in the absurdity of it-- and with that, he found his black mood dissipating for, as far as he could tell, no real reason at all.
"Yeah, Niko, it does," he said with a grin. "It sure does."
You're in the arms of the angel.
May you find some comfort here.