Lestrade hauled his tired brain into wakefulness, the challenge made greater by the dose of heal-sleep he'd been given. It had been a long time since he'd been so injured as to need the bio-chemical assistance and he found he liked it no better now than he had then.
He opened his eyes to the dim light of the recovery tent at pre-dawn. The silence was preternatural. Accustomed as he was to the hum of engines or the clamour of battle, the quiet niggled at his senses and made him restive.
He looked around and caught the eye of the duty nurse. What was his name again? Williams. Doc had called him Williams.
The young man came over, checking Lestrade's vitals as he asked quietly, "Do you need something, Commander?"
"Information is all." His last update had been--when? "How long have I been asleep this time?"
"Just under 11 hours. You really shouldn't be awake yet." He frowned a little and Lestrade could see the wheels turning in his mind.
"Do not up the dose on me."
"That's not my call."
"Nor mine, I know. You don't have to say it," he added when Williams looked about to protest. "Why's it so damned quiet?" It couldn't be the calm before the storm; the storm had already begun. Had it finished and no one told him?
"I imagine the lack of native wildlife has a lot to do with that."
"Don't get cheeky, son. I want a report from the field ASAP."
"I'll see what I can do." Williams moved off and Lestrade saw him speak to another nurse who nodded and disappeared out the flap of the tent.
Minutes ticked past until, to his surprise, the second nurse returned not with Doc but with Oracle.
"You want a report," Oracle said without preamble.
"Agra and Sable One accomplished their mission. The Nucleus is destroyed. The Conundrum has fallen."
Just like that. Lestrade ought to feel relief but he felt only numb. It was more than he could comprehend in that moment. So many years of war and devastation left their mark. It would take time to truly understand the ramifications of Oracle's simple declaration.
"Both are currently deployed helping the cavalry hunt down and neutralise stray Conundrum fighters."
Lestrade nodded thoughtfully against his pillow. His own squad hadn't had much trouble from the flying units, but he knew others had. He was glad to hear that Marquardson and Morstan were on the case. The fighters ran more independently than the reps, unfortunately. It would take some time to be sure every last one was reduced to so much scrap.
"Infantry are still in the field, as well," Oracle went on. "All reps appear to have deactivated with the destruction of the nucleus."
"But they're making sure. Naturally."
"Yes." Oracle continued with tactical reports, casualty reports, and clean-up reports. Lestrade took it all in. He parsed what he could as he heard it; like Oracle's first announcement, the rest would have to wait until he had time for deeper thought. He still couldn't quite believe it.
Dawn broke and the light in the tent grew to comfortable levels by the time the report was complete.
A shout from outside caught the ear of both men.
"That sounded like Doc," said Lestrade, trying to sit up. Immediately, Williams was there pushing him back down.
"Please stay put, Commander!" The nurse turned to Oracle. "Would you please see he remains here while I--"
An explosion rocked the compound, the terrible noise that much more deafening after the heavy quiet. The shockwave hit in a split second, knocking Williams, Oracle, and the second duty nurse from their feet. Lestrade was nearly tossed from his cot; others were less fortunate, hitting the floor in painful thumps and thuds. The tent's plexteel super-structure bent sharply at the base, bringing the canopied ceiling a good half-metre closer to Lestrade's face.
"Fuck!" This time Lestrade hauled himself to his feet, bind and bandages be damned. Williams was too busy righting himself and checking on other patients to stop him pulling the IV from his arm and shuffling stiffly to the tent's now ragged flap. "What in the name of Satan's ball sack--?!"
The chaos outside froze the question in his throat at the same time a wave of heat blasted through his hospital pyjamas. He observed the scene like the trained soldier he was, taking in the broad swath and the details at once.
Crater. Smoke. Fire. Bodies sprawled, whole and in parts. People running, shouting.
A fire team was already dousing the flames at the impact site. The fire hadn't spread far, thank balls. Triage had begun but it soon became clear to him that much of the medical staff were among the dead and injured. He caught sight of Anderson moving from one felled comrade to the next, pointing and issuing orders Lestrade couldn't hear.
Williams pushed past him into the fray, too intent on rescue even to order him back to his bed. As if Lestrade would have gone. And yet, what help could he be out here?
He snagged a passing corpsman with his good hand. The woman stopped, her expression so focused as to appear almost glazed. "What happened?"
"Conundrum fighter kamikazed."
"Christ." He let her go and she dashed off to answer the hail of a paramedic. He watched her go and that was when he saw it. His heart and stomach lurched.
Even from that distance he could see the blood and burned flesh.
Paramedics already had him on a grav-gurney. He saw Williams and a doctor at Doc's side, rushing the gurney to the surgical tent. His mind pulled up the woman's name from who-knew-where: Jones. He followed as quickly as his battered body would allow, dodging sprinting corpsmen, rushing paramedics, and fire fighters, all of whom were more interested in their own tasks than on one wayward patient quietly hobbling his way toward Surgery.
Inside the big tent, Doc was already off the gurney and onto the operating table. Lestrade snagged a surgical mask and pulled it on, and then tucked himself into a corner of the operating theatre where he could see and hear what was happening. As long as he kept quiet and out of the way, he doubted anyone would bother him.
"Get that mask on him!" Williams ordered the anaesthetist at the same time he pulled over a tray of medical equipment and began cutting at Doc's clothing.
Satan's cock! That wasn't an anaesthetist, Lestrade realised to his horror. That was a conscripted slinger who'd probably only ever seen one of those masks from the other side, if at all. She looked too young to have been in the war long. Still, the kid got it on Doc quick enough and right enough not to draw a sharp word from the professionals.
"Plasma burns to the left thigh, hip, and abdomen," Jones stated in that cold medical tone Lestrade both hated and understood. "Fractures of left radius and ulna. Deep shrapnel wounds to the left shoulder and chest. Damned lucky nothing's nicked the aorta. I need two units of synthblood and burn kit, NOW!" she added at a shout.
A proper corpsman caught the order, acknowledging it at the same time she dashed off for the stuff. She was back by the time they'd stripped Doc's uniform off him.
There followed a litany of medical jargon that was well beyond Lestrade's ability to follow. He focused more on the tones of their voices than the words. He heard every change of pitch and volume, noted when the tension increased and when it levelled again, held his breath when the pace of the words seem to race. Finally, Jones stood up straight over her patient and locked eyes with Williams. "Finish the weaving, will you? I've got more patients to see to."
"Yes, Doctor." Williams took over the suture loom and Jones moved off to tend another wounded soldier who'd just been brought in.
Lestrade sucked in a breath through the surgical mask he'd forgotten he wore, and let it out slowly. Oracle's voice beside him was unexpected but oddly unsurprising.
"He'll survive, Commander. We should go."
Lestrade nodded. He pushed upright away from the wall and nearly fell. Only Oracle's quick grasp around his waist saved him. The taller man held him upright until he got his equilibrium back.
"I'm all right."
"Of course. However, I suggest you lean on me, as it will make the trip back to the recovery tent swifter."
"Yeah." Lestrade nodded. He didn't object to the assistance like he normally would; he was that knackered just from standing there watching the med-staff work on his friend. He took Oracle's offered arm, leaning as heavily as he needed. Oracle made no objection.
They both pulled off their surgical masks once they were in the open air. Lestrade inhaled the acrid smells of charred earth and charred flesh along with the normal fetid smell of the dying planet. He looked forward to the recycled atmosphere of Edinburgh Base. Maybe he and Marquardson could finally have that picnic on a maglev train as it shot through the wooded transit tubes.
No one noted the odd pair crossing the compound from surgery to recovery. People still scurried about, tending the few remaining wounded, but the fire was out and clean-up had begun. The chaos had calmed to an orderly flow of personnel and equipment. Corpsmen arranged, identified, and counted the dead.
"He'll be fine," Lestrade said and only realised he'd spoken aloud when Oracle answered him.
"Yes. Doctor Jones is one of our best. When the physician cannot heal himself, she is the one I would choose to tend him."
There was something in his words, oddly formal, almost old fashioned, that caused Lestrade to look at him closely. There was tension in his jaw, fine lines at the corner of his mouth, dark circles beneath his eyes.
"How long did they have him on the table?"
"Two hours and thirty-eight minutes."
Lestrade let out a low whistle. That was a long time in a combat situation. That was more than a stabilise-and-patch-up job.
"And how much of that were you standing next to me?"
"Two hours and thirty-seven minutes."
"Doctor Jones was determined to assure that John would have full mobility in his arm and hand once he's healed. It required some delicate repair and reconstruction."
"I see." It was his use of Doc's proper name that caught Lestrade's ear. He'd never stopped to consider how close Doc and Oracle were. How close John and Sherlock, he reminded himself, were. It was only now, in this uniquely unguarded moment, that he recognised their deeper connection.
He gave Sherlock's arm that he leaned on a brief squeeze of sympathy. "He'll be fine."
Sherlock paused and looked at him. His lips were a thin line, but the relief and resolution in his face was clear.
"Yes. He will."
They were silent the rest of the way back to recovery. Lestrade looked at the bent structure and snorted derisively.
"Which is more than can be said for this tent." To his great surprise and greater delight, Sherlock burst out laughing like he'd never heard him laugh before. Lestrade grinned and chuckled. "Come on. It hasn't fallen down yet, but I might."
Still giggling--Giggling! Lestrade could hardly fathom it.--Sherlock led him inside and helped him back into his bunk. Immediately, the duty nurse bustled over and re-established his abandoned IV. Lestrade ignored him, and spoke to Sherlock.
"Thanks. Go on now. I appreciate the help, but I don't need you any more." And John will when he wakes up, he added silently.
"Hey," Lestrade called him back before he could go a step. "I won't tell him we were there if you don't."
"Were where, Commander?" asked Sherlock blankly, and Lestrade knew he understood.
"Nowhere at all."