139. Survival

Vox had suffered the exact wound she had caused her mirror image. A precise stab into her primary heart. She had survived it but only suspended animation had kept her alive this long, especially because the wound had not stopped bleeding.
Titus was in the room while the human apothecaries argued and slowly started to panic.
When Dankwart and Gerneya finally arrived from the surface, they extracted as much information from the headless people as possible and then threw them out of the room.
“Titus?”, Dankwart demanded as soon as they were alone and Titus recounted as detailed as he could what had happened. Again he omitted the information why the mirror collapsed in the first place. At this point it was not important.
“And you are sure that the image didn’t wound her but she suffered what she did to it?”, Gerneya asked to get the details right.
“It’s not as bad as last time”, Dankwart estimated as he stood bowed low over Vox’s belly.
The two of them sank into a discussion Titus was unable to follow. Then they started to work. He was pushed aside but would not budge further than a few steps. Full fourteen hours passed until the two apothecaries found nothing more to do. What they had done at all remained a mystery to Titus.
Vox was alive was the main part he tried to cling to. His efforts were greatly hindered by the comprehension that the healing rate of an Astartes in sus-an was greatly reduced. Considering the severity of the wound it might not be enough to close this wound.
His two friends refrained from bringing up the topic of him leaving the room. Instead they peeled him out of his armour, tended to his hands and the wounds on his head and gave him a slab to sleep on. His left hand had lost the ring- and little finger entirely and the other two digits were missing the upper most phalanges. The right hand was less badly afflicted and Titus failed to care in any case. For all intents and purposes, the hand remained functional enough and he refused to talk about bionic implants. This was simply too insignificant in comparison to what he might still lose that he was prepared to waste a single thought on it.
After a few hours of less than restful sleep for Titus, the apothecaries allowed visitors.
Celeste and Saphane were the first to enter. Considering the task they were undertaking, they looked adequately exhausted but they also radiated the certainty of a job well done. They brought him up to speed on the proceedings outside. After it had been destroyed, the moon had rained down on Oertha and continued to cause warp phenomena to an extent that they had decided to exterminate the whole planet after they had extracted as much valuable technology and people as possible. Titus knew that they were handling what he should have handled. They showed resilience where he lay broken alongside his lover but he was unable to rise to the challenge.
They discussed their upcoming endeavour and decided to continue their way to Erioch. The chapter had to complete their negotiations, even if the path of their saint ended here.
“I admire your strength”, he said, when the two women were about to leave. They turned back to him, subjecting him to a scrutinising look.
“The world doesn’t stop turning”, Celeste finally said. “Not even for Vox.”
Titus looked down. “I promise I won’t make trouble if she dies. I won’t lay claim to… anything.”
Celeste punched him on the shoulder and when he looked up in surprise he met her steely gaze.
“I wouldn’t let you”, she declared coldly but then gruffly stroked his head. Her hand came to rest on his shoulder.
“Aegis, do you know why we are still standing and you are not?”, Saphane asked quietly and laid her hand on his other shoulder. “It’s Because we don’t hurt ourselves on top of our pain. You can turn into yourself and blame yourself. You can hurt yourself over and over but this will not bring her back. Things happened. Things have gone terribly wrong and we can’t change them because they have gone by. All there is left to do is to keep breathing and come back to life again as much as you can. Wait, endure and pray. Build something Vox can come back to. Don’t drown before she wakes up.”
Titus met their sad, stern gazes with sinking hearts. In a small, petty way he envied their ignorance. Together with Vox their world was about to end. The god they trusted in was non-existent until Vox reached him and Titus was the only one left who bore the burden of knowledge. At this point it threatened to crush him.
Under the greatest strain he lifted his devastated hands to pat their arms and with a short answering squeeze, the two of them were gone.
Afterwards, the world drifted by. Humans and Astartes alike, anyone who could come up with a halfway sensible excuse, made the pilgrimage to the fallen angel. Some stayed in silent prayer for a while. Some touched the outermost feathers of her wing. Some just stared mutely.
Titus just stayed and watched them drifting by. Most payed their respects to him but only few spoke. Apart from the members of Aegis and Gladius who addressed him directly, Captain Elysse of 2nd company came to introduce herself. That she had not been briefed about a male Space Marine awaiting her made their exchange awkward but thankfully short.
Among the most coherent encounters was Nostromo. He came by to discuss the possibility of finding a psyker who could heal Vox. Since none of them knew of any in reach, the navigator grimly promised to contact anyone he knew and went away.
During waking hours, Dankwart or Gerneya were in the room with them. They moved unobtrusively to monitor the machines around Vox and Gerneya managed to get Titus talking after a while. He promised that he would take up training as soon as he could make use of his injured hands again and inquired about Corven.
“He’s conscious and blames himself”, Gerneya said. “Also, he disturbs his roommates.”
“Move him here”, Titus suggested. “I would like the company.”
“I will”, she promised. “But you should ponder whether someone who can’t control himself should be seen with the lady.”
“I would like to give him the chance to surprise us”, Titus decided after a moment of thought.
Shortly afterwards, Dankwart joined them and locked the door to the visitors. Twelve hours had gone by and it was time to see how Vox was doing.
The sanguinary priests turned to their work, intoning their rites while Titus sat and clenched his aching fists. After a while he remembered what Saphane had told him and he forced himself to relax instead. Only his deep breaths were meant to help him endure the pain inside him.
His measures began to fail when the apothecaries started to argue. The topic was whether to wake Vox or not. Apparently, the wound was still bleeding. It needed the accelerated healing rate of an awake Astartes to close at all but pushing Vox’s circulation could kill her immediately. Both options held immense risks for her life and the decision had to be made soon. In the end they did what Titus had dreaded most and asked him.
When the question was put to him, he allowed himself a while longer to sit and stare at the pale face of his beloved angel.
There was a chance that Nostromo might find a psyker for her but how good was it really? Psykers were one in a million and healing psykers were about one in ten. With the destroyed planet behind them, their chances to find one before Vox breathed her last were pretty slim. Among dark thought after dark thought he realised that he despised this thought most of all.: That Vox could die in her sleep after the life she had led.
“She’s a warrior”, he heard himself say. “Let her die fighting.”
The decision settling between them brought on a new round of discussion. The apothecaries planned the procedure and tried to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.
Titus understood little but he knew what his part in this would be. When his friends were done planning, they turned to him.
“Titus, you should leave for this”, Dankwart said.
“I can’t”, Titus replied steadily.
“We need to ensure as little exposure to external influences as possible”, Gerneya explained. “Her system is under stress in any case. Anything she doesn’t have to cope with can tip the scale.”
“Please don’t do that to yourself!”, Dankwart insisted.
“My friends, you don’t understand”, Titus said leadenly. “It’s not about what I want. Vox needs my silence if she wakes up. The warp has always been her greatest stressor. If I can spare her that, her chances are much better.”
“Aegis, with all due respect”, Gerneya said. “She will not wake during the surgery. We will, of course, keep her asleep!”
“Do you know that she dreams?”, Titus asked cautiously and by her face could tell that she had not known.
“No”, she confirmed this.
“But she can sleep in an induced coma”, Dankwart pointed out.
“So, you will be able to wake her and keep her asleep at the same time?”, Titus inquired. He was less than happy with swinging logic like a weapon but at least his words hit home. The two of them exchanged an uncertain glance.
“Alright”, Gerneya finally said when Dankwart gave a little nod to her unspoken question. “We’ll have to include you in the rites”, she informed Titus.
“I don’t mind”, he said. “I just need to make sure, she has skin contact while you wake her.” Reflexively, they all looked down on his bandaged hands. They were no problem, of course. Titus had several square metres more skin to spare. His hands just would have been the easiest option.
“I’ll talk to Mistress Celeste”, Gerneya said. “She gave orders to be kept in the loop.”
When they were alone, Dankwart sat down beside Titus and treated him to a few minutes of restful silence. The commander remained in the same posture while the preparations started. It took a while to get utensils and helpers ready and up to speed.
It was 1600 ship time when they began.
The apothecaries worked their rites with excessive care. Several nurses were solely occupied with swinging incense burners and praying to the Emperor the whole time. Since they were human, they had to work in shifts to keep up the endless march around the slap in the middle of the room.
The apothecaries started with opening Vox’s ribcage. Thankfully it was not necessary for Titus to be close during this procedure. The noises alone made him want to vomit. He was eternally grateful that someone had hung up cloths to block his sight when he had to take his place. Since the apothecaries needed space to manoeuvre around her, it had been decreed that Titus could touch her feet to be out of the way. Sinking onto a stool, he gently leaned his chest against her cool toes and laid his bandaged hands over it protectively. After this he could only wait.
Probably for her to die.
‘This can’t be happening’, he thought. ‘This can’t be how it ends.’ Their world would die with her. Whatever came afterwards, if she died, the Emperor would die and the Imperium with Him. If her path ended here… He was unable to finish this thought. Maybe it was good that nobody else knew how much was dependent on her survival.
Strange machines hissed around them. One of them in the rhythm of an Astarte’s breath. It soothed him to listen to it but there was another insistent noise: A slow throbbing that gnawed its way into his awareness. It could only be her secondary heart. The other had been taken out by her far too accurate stab. The thought that this second heart had lain dormant not too long ago pushed to the front of his mind without mercy and the pain it brought was so crippling that it froze him into the moment, stretching it into infinite hell. A kind of catatonia took hold of him and he had to watch in silent helplessness when the terrible excitement broke out among the apothecaries.
Gerneya hissed a curse between her teeth and suddenly, his own muscles twitched under electric shocks. Confused and irritated, he made sure to reestablish contact with her and lost count how often he had to do it, until the next argument broke out.
Apparently, things had gone so drastically wrong that every apothecary in the room had an opinion on how to proceed. Finally, it was Dankwart who overruled everyone with a few, slow but loudly spoken words. They would stitch up Vox’s primary heart and get it beating immediately.
After a while, the atmosphere continued to be busy but ceased to be panicky. Hours later things subsided further and later still the apothecaries cleaned their equipment away. The cloths were removed to cover Vox with them and Titus failed to find the strength to look at her for more than a second. The sight of her pale face with tubes leading into her mouth and nose was too distressing to bear.
When they were finally done, more than a day had gone by. It was 1800 ship time.
Gerneya came to his side to lay a well-cleaned hand to his shoulder. She talked softly at him to inform him of the results. Vox was alive for now and all they could do was wait to see if she recovered. Since she would remain in an induced coma his task was finished. He found that so was he. He offered no resistance when Gerneya guided him over to his own slab to lie down. The very moment he had sunken onto it, his consciousness simply switched off.

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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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