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The World Where Yesternight You Died

Chapter Text

We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever ;
That dead men rise up never ;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

The Garden of Proserpine - by Algernon Charles Swinburne

 

 

"We got another one! Jensen, Zahid, move, F-bay, move, move, move!" Doc was shouting, an arcology medico was, too, and Jensen moved. He ran, dodging around milling and crouched and catatonic ArchANGELS and troopship crew; running, running across the broad expanse of the medical bay to the area designated 'F' and the Angel - an angular woman whose shaved head was covered in pale, silvery stubble - who was dying. Who was killing herself, and using her platoon to do it.

Jensen dove into the knot of troops around her, yanking on clothing and random limbs, propelling bodies out and away with brutal shoves, kicks, sometimes punches. The woman was lying half-on, half-off her gurney. Her throat was already bruising purple-blue-black; her mouth open, tongue protruding. Her eyes were open, glassy - lifeless - and Jensen lost his breath and his sight for a moment in a surge of white-hot fury.

"Get the fuck off her! Get away from her, fuck!" Jensen hauled a last Angel away, spinning him into the arms of a Diaboli, before being shoved aside in his turn by Doc.

"Need a damn resuscitator here! Move it, let's go!" Doc said, her voice clipped and calm, her frame vibrating with tension. She took the woman's head in her hands, holding the neck carefully still as two other medicos and a Diaboli carefully lifted the woman and got her flat on the gurney. One of the medicos took a cutter, the razor blade invisible, and sliced the front of the woman's shirt open, hem to throat. Jensen winced at the blooming bruises on her chest and ribs, where more of her platoon had been crushing her, throttling her. They were on the floor, now, spread around the gurney like so many corpses, trying to follow her into limbo, into darkness, elsewhere.

"Need to stabilize her spine. Fuck, get the damn cervical brace," Doc said.

"Got it, got it. Clear the gurney," a medico said as he swung the resuscitator out of its charging station, the long, articulated arm unfolding to support the weight of the machine. It was like a glassine and alloy ribcage, studded with sensors, mounted with a drug-pack. Tubes and lines snaked up the arm, able to carry oxygen, drugs, even blood, if needed.

"Here, get her neck." Doc moved her hands, a finger at a time, as the cervical brace - a beaded line of some kind of nano-polymers - looped itself around the Angel's swelling throat and expanded, a delicate lattice that could withstand over one hundred kilos of pressure. As it carefully nudged the woman's chin up, Doc slipped a gloved finger into her mouth to push her tongue back, away from her teeth, making it possible for the machine to insert a breathing tube without obstruction.

The resuscitator settled over the woman's head, neck, and upper chest. Long 'ribs' moved to close snugly around her, aligning the sensors for maximum contact. The status panel lifted, icons blinking, numbers shivering up and down the scale. Doc reached up and twisted it on its stem so she could read it more easily. Jensen, who had come to encased in a resuscitator more than once, back on Reveille (after trying exactly what this woman had tried), shuddered, his fists clenched and his gut churning. Fuck, how he hated this. From somewhere, a swarm of fireflies darted in, pulsing in reds and greens and amber-blues to white, swirling and diving. Jensen flinched from them, and several dashed away, the rest hovering, creating a miniscule hum that tickled in Jensen's brain.

Jared, far off in the new asteroid the Quo had captured, was strapped into a construction mecha, helping to assemble mammoth gro-tanks. He was focused, absorbed, enjoying the labor, and Jensen deliberately and carefully shut himself down until Jared would, if he pushed, get nothing but Jensen's presence.

"No respiration detected. No heartbeat detected," the piping voice of the resuscitator said, crystal clear and emotionless. "Prepping for cardiac shock. Intubating. Administering arrest solution. Charging cardiac shock. Please stand clear. Please stand clear."

"Clear, get clear," Doc said, lifting her hands, taking a half-step away from the gurney itself, the others following suit. The resuscitator hummed for a moment, a rising whine Jensen was sure no one else could hear, which abruptly cut off. The woman's body jolted in the articulated clench of the machine, and around them, so did her Angels, a ripple of shuddering jerks.

"Cardiac shock administered. Scanning. No heartbeat detected. Prepping for cardiac shock. Administering beta-adrenal solution. Artificial respiration engaged. Please stand clear. Please stand clear."

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Jensen muttered, and twitched aside from an Angel who was trying to pull him away. The Diaboli were mostly keeping them back, but all of F-bay, and probably E and G as well, were milling closer. They conversed in agitated whispers, the choppy, half-formed sentences of people who didn't need to speak aloud, mostly just to communicate with the Angels not in their 'net. They were getting too fucking close, pressing in, crowding the bodies on the floor and medicos, and this was going to be a problem, damn quick.

The shock passed through the Angels again, and a few of the ones on the floor made sounds: little groans, breathy hisses. Coming back, but fighting it.

There was a stir on the edge of the crowd, and Jensen saw that a Quo was coming in; two, no, three more following behind. A swarm of fireflies darted and dived all around them, probably the ones that had been in F-bay a minute ago. Almost certainly they had gone to get the Quo, who were steadily approaching in that rolling waddle that was comical to see, but was nearly unstoppable, clearing a path through the Angels.

As they drew closer, Jensen could feel his skin go tight, the hair on the back of his neck rising in response to the ultra- and infra-sonic waves, as loud as the Quo could make them. The milling crowd of Angels began to break up and move away, shoulders hunched, some lifting their hands up to cover their ears, which Jensen knew wouldn't help a damn bit. Jensen wanted to get the hell out, himself; just turn and go, get away from the noise that wasn't even really a noise. Pressure and sensation and a swirling, staticky cloud of aversion and fight-flight, it made his heart pound.

The resuscitator made a weird noise, and Doc looked up, the lenses of her scan-glasses flashing for a moment, sheer white.

"Cut that, it's hurting her," Doc said, and the noise, the hum from the Quo, cut off abruptly.

"Su, su, su," one Quo said, and a firefly came to hover between them and the Angel. The resuscitator shocked the woman again, and Doc's mouth was a hard, straight line, nostrils flaring as she breathed.

"Apologies, Doctor," the firefly said, translating as the Quo whispered, its voice a little sibilant but perfectly clear. "Will the Angel recover?"

"I'm not sure, she- There, there, we got her, okay," Doc said, as the resuscitator flashed a series of green tell-tales, and a little graph, an irregular spiky line, came up on the screen.

"Heartbeat detected. Sinus rhythm established. Administering analgesics. Administering post-arrest solution. Monitoring recommended. IV fluids recommended. Severe swelling of the throat detected. Bruising and trauma to the trachea and larynx detected. Breathing assistance recommended. Auto-Resuscitation GX-919 disengaging. Thank you for-"

"Yes, fuck, enough," Doc said, tapping the audio off and watching, brows drawn down in a heavy scowl, as the machine uncoupled from the Angel, leaving the breathing tube in place. The medico who had originally gotten it out swung it back into its station, while another one pulled an oxygen tube from the rack over the gurney and attached it to the end of the one between the woman's teeth. A couple of latecomers and the Diaboli were getting the rest of the Angels up off the floor and loading them onto gurneys, strapping them in, tying them down, and drugging them insensible.

It was becoming a fucking pattern. It was becoming too damn much.

Jensen watched as the resuscitated Angel's chest rose and fell, slow and easy. The whole damn rescue had taken minutes, three or four at most, but Jensen felt utterly exhausted. He wanted to go to his and Jared's quarters, crawl under the bunk and hide. He wished he'd at least worn a hooded jacket, his scarf, something. The air seemed to burn his skin, the lights were too damn bright, the noise....

Hey, hey, hey, you okay? What's going on? Jensen, hey-

Sorry, sorry, fuck, Jensen thought, closing his eyes for a moment as he tried to get himself under control. But Jared saw - Jared knew - and Jensen felt the surge of alarm and anger and worry from him.

Damn, damnit, I'm on my way, on my way

Jared, Jensen thought, and tired, fucking tired, it's okay

But Jared was already docking the mecha, stripping out of the safety webbing and the waldos, and climbing down. He was coming to Jensen, his determination like steel, impenetrable, and Jensen let it go, let him do...what he was going to do. He focused on Doc again, and the Quo that had surrounded her in a semi-circle, towering shapes glittering with fireflies and the swirling, beaded designs on their coats. Doc looked damn upset; looked like she was on the verge of shouting, maybe, or smacking somebody, though she'd never be that unprofessional. Her shoulders were like a rigid bar, and her voice had a tremor, emotions held tightly in check, for the moment.

"It isn't working. Every time I try to grow the new 'net cells, they kill the carrier. They treat anything that's not them like an invader and I can't grow enough to stabilize it, much less synthesize it."

"What was your carrier, before?" the Quo asked, long nose twitching a little, this way and that, as fireflies danced a slow dance around their head.

"Stem cells from Jensen's bone marrow. But I don't have enough of that to use, not for the volume I need, and I can't replicate it anymore, because the replicated stem cells don't live past me inserting the 'net DNA and I don't know why." Doc's voice went up for a moment, sheer frustration, and then she seemed to remember where, exactly, she was. Angels who had drifted closer once the Quo stopped driving them off were staring at Doc. The medicos that had been settling the woman on the gurney, making sure she was stable and comfortable, were looking at each other nervously, drawing together. In the eyes of the Angels, some of whom were actually aware enough - smart enough - to get the gist of what Doc was saying, they were acting like prey.

"We must speak of this," the firefly translated, as the Quo turned a little, side to side, looking at the crowd of Angels. They were a shifting mass of ghosties, of zombie-dead; pale or sallow or ashen, gaunt and trembling, some with pressure sores from being in bed too long, some with other wounds, from fights, from hurting themselves. A horde of lethal junkies with no fix in sight, being fed on stale water and protein muck, when they were used to...stardust.

They were accustomed to radioactive methylenes; C17H19NO3 and C9H13N, the chemistry of opioid-amphetamine flight; nerves bathed in (5α,6α)-7,8-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-diol acetate, like the liquid core of incandescent suns. And now they were asked to swallow mud, to breathe choking gas, to lift steel-heavy bones and the insensate meat of grounded limbs. It would not, could not, continue.

Coming, nearly there, Jensen, Jensen

"We have been...reluctant to participate in this-" The firefly said a Quo word, a collection of hisses and bone-shaking harmonics, like the word was being caught and ground in immense gears. Jensen shuddered. "In this thing that you do, mutating the being of people," the Quo continued, and the others shifted and bobbed, looking uneasy, to Jensen; unsettled. "It is against our beliefs, this kind of...meddling," the firefly translated, as the Quo's long nose wrinkled up, little ears flattening. Aversion, easy to see. It made Jensen...angry. No. Furious. He could feel a rush of heat to his face; blood pounding in his veins, making his heart jump and leap like a go-pack hitting his bloodstream, that same rush of giddy recklessness.

"Hey," Jensen said, skirting around the nearest Quo to push in next to Doc, standing there and staring up at the Quo, scowling. The 'sonics hummed in his bones, dizzying. His hands were knotted in the over-long sleeves of his sweater, and he felt like he might puke, but… "It doesn't matter if you- if you believe. This is us, this is who we are, and we're dying. These people are- We're- My Angels are dying." Jensen's throat hurt, and he couldn't seem to draw a full breath. The Quo were humming, hissing, and it was prickling through him in ragged-edged, hot-cold waves.

"The Company did this to us, we didn't- we didn't ask for this. We said we'd serve, we'd defend the whole damn Federation from the Stick and pirates and anything else and- and maybe we're not good people, maybe we did- did things..." Jensen dragged in a rasping breath, shaking now, the dry-must smell of the Quo in his nostrils, the heat of them, the dizzying glitter of the fireflies and the beadwork and the fancy, shiny stitching on their coats whirling in his sight. "But we- we fought, and we hurt, and we died, and we were supposed to- They said we could go home, when we were done. They said we could rest. They promised." Jensen stared up at the towering Quo, nothing but glitter-edged shadows in his tunnelling vision, his heart pounding, pounding, hurting his breastbone and making his lungs hitch. His anger skewed sideways into despair. "They promised. But all they want- all they want is for us to- us to d-die. It's not fair, that we h-have to die. Not now." Jensen gasped in a ragged breath. "Not when we could be free."

Jared Jared Jared Jared’s presence was like a cool, soft wave; like being wrapped up in fluff and sweet, clean air. Jensen closed his eyes on prickling-hot tears, angry, and ashamed, and so, so fucking glad.

"Jensen, Jen, fuck, what are they doing, we're leaving, right now, let's go, I'm here, I've got you, c'mon, honey, let's go," Jared said, his arm coming around Jensen's shoulders, his hand on Jensen's chest, steadying him. Jared turned him away from the Quo, and Doc, and all the others; the Angels and Devils and medicos, the living and the dead.

"C'mon, I got you, c'mon."

Jensen turned back to look, once, but all he could see was the glitter and shine of the Quo coats and the fireflies; the silvery lines of tears on the faces of fallen Angels.

 

In the dim quiet of their bunk, it was only them. JensenJaredJensen us, we, usus. Only the faintly spicy, faintly citrus scent of the cleaning solution that was used on their sheets and blankets; the deeper, salt-musk smells of Jared's skin, his hair; the both of them, together.

Jared took his time, deliberate and maddening and slow. He touched every inch of Jensen, with fingers and lips, teeth and tongue, bringing him back from that place he'd been in. Back from the hollow cold, the aching void, the cut-off desolation of knowing he could do nothing.

Jared kissed, and stroked. He used the edges of nails and teeth; used his long arms and longer legs to cage Jensen beneath him, to wind around him and hold him still and close and there. He used everything he had to weigh Jensen down, keep him anchored - keep him us us we JensenJared us.

"Jensen, Jensen…." Jared said, his voice low and rough and a little breathless, the silken strands of his long hair like a curtain, hiding them. Jensen could feel the individual muscles of Jared's back tense and move and release under his fingers, could feel the shift of his spine. He flattened his palms on Jared's ribs and slid them, slowly, slowly, in and down. Hands on the dense muscle of Jared's ass, fingertips sinking in, a little, and pulling, he dragged Jared closer as Jared shifted up and pressed in, twisted his hips a little, this way and that, so he was rubbing against Jensen everywhere, inside and out.

"Jared, ohh." This this this us more we us this you Jared Jared Jared. Wordless, breathless, his eyes mostly shut, Jensen dug his heels into the backs of Jared's thighs. He turned his head, so he could put his mouth on Jared's bicep and taste the salt of him. He couldn't think, it was all images, sensations. His body was a wire held taut and tight and quivering.

Us this we "Qemuel," Jared breathed, and that time on the ship was in Jared's mind, with all of Jensen's Angels around them, safe in the belly of their own fantastic beast, riding the line, eternity in a moment.

Jensen cried out, hoarse and desperate, his back arching, heels drumming as he came, hard. Jared moved faster and harder, his long back bowing over Jensen, his mouth coming down on Jensen's throat, painting it with hot puffs of air, with the wet of his tongue and lips. Jared shuddered through his own orgasm, pinwheels of lights and the long, shivery-hot sensations rolling through him, to Jensen, and back again, amplified and rebounding and seemingly never ending, until they both simply wound down to shivery heaps, breathing hard.

Jared kept up his slow, gentle kissing, here and there, just little nibbles of his lips, little touch of his tongue-tip to Jensen's throat and shoulder and jaw. Jensen wanted to do it back, but he was just so damn tired. Pleasantly sore, here and there, but under it all, just...exhausted.

"Chilly," Jared said, for both of them, out loud and in the 'net. He moved, up and back, a slow slide out and away, and Jensen groaned softly, pressing his thighs together as he rolled onto his side. Curling up, he tucked his arms into his ribs while Jared found the edge of the sheet and blankets and pulled them up. Settled against Jensen, knees and hips aligned, Jared draped one arm loosely over Jensen's bicep, the other curled under the pillow. Jensen shifted backward an inch or two, and sighed, settled and warm in the bubble of their shared heat, shared 'net. He listened as Jared hummed an unfamiliar melody, wispy images coming to him, of a hawk-nosed, dark-skinned woman slicing vegetables, of a pale woman with a cowl of grey-streaked hair, bent over a tangle of yarn.

"...you set your course for the furthest shores, And you never once looked back, And the flag you flew was a pirate cross, On a field of velvet black,," Jared sang, thought, remembered, the pale woman looking up and smiling, the dark-haired one shaking her head, her deep eyes filled with light, and life. Mama, Jared thought, love and loss and sorrow and a wistful longing, all like a deep tide, moving through him, smoothing him over. And Jensen felt it too, as he hummed along with Jared, the words teasing on the tip of his tongue, his eyes blinking slow, and slower, heavy and warm, until they were too heavy to open again, and he slept.

 

"You are correct that it is not fair," Hakase's firefly said, a tiny pulsing speck of green-white. Hakase themself stood hunched and very still behind it, their arms curled up, knuckles tucked against their throat. "We do not condone, but also we cannot see you suffer." Jensen blinked up at them, aware of how alone he was, here in the dim little viewing bubble that hung over the med bay. Jared was still curled asleep in their quarters, but Jensen hadn't been able to sleep anymore; had needed to come watch over the slow drift of Angels, stumbling, half-sedated, and the ones lying still as corpses in air beds, shrouded in generation webs and tubes, just shapes, barely human.

Hakase had come shuffling out of the shadowed hall, and Jensen felt pinned, half suffocated, the 'sonic shivering through him. But Hakase was trying, best they could, to put Jensen at ease. The Quo's halo of fireflies seemed subdued, clinging to the long hairs of their shoulders and throat, drifting in a slow spiral about their head. Hakase uncurled one arm, and kept uncurling it, the knuckles flattening as the tucked-under fingers spread out, and the long, gleaming claws, oil-sheened black, opened wide. Jensen steeled himself, and didn't flinch, though there was a high, grating 'sonic coming from the Quo, evidence of their distress.

"Never in my centuries have I hurt a living being, though I am equipped to do so. That this Company does so, without conscience or care...can not continue. We see...your hurt."

Hakase drew their fingers together and down, the claws curling under, their arm curling back again, tucking up, a resting pose of unease and sadness, according to Alinx. Their long nose curled under, as well, for a moment, and then Hakase straightened, shoulders wide and arms at their side, head up. Jensen shifted a little, as well, bracing himself for...who knew what, the 'sonic constantly rasping at his nerves.

"Doc says you are to come to Doc's lab. Once Doc has the specimens needed and prepared, we will give our help."

"I...thank you. Thank you," Jensen said, and Hakase leaned forward, those long, thick arms coming out and briefly caging Jensen in, the 'sonic dropping from the nearly inaudible shriek, down, and down, and down, so low it became sensation, pressure, a vibration in the marrow of Jensen's bones. He clenched his jaw and patted, once, at Hakase's shaggy sides, and then the Quo was backing away, their arms tucking up again.

"Fffor-giff," Hakase said, his own voice, though the firefly duly translated. Forgive.

And maybe they could; maybe Jensen could, someday. Forgive the Quo for not helping sooner, for hiding instead of fighting, for being so damn stubbornly not involved, even after they knew what was going on. But never the Company. Whatever fate the Diaboli had planned for it, it wasn't enough. Jensen had decided that early on, in the first handful of days when the ships had come in, and they'd found out just what the Company had been up to for the last six, seven years.

 

"They kept changing up the drugs," Dee had said, clean and marginally healthier looking, with about twenty hours of sleep under her belt, and a couple of good meals, besides. "Every damn time, after every mission, practically every jump, they'd send some new protocol, have the on-board pharma reprogram and start dispensing something else. It hit a bunch hard, we lost...a couple thousand, that way. And the replacements…."

They'd all seen some of the newer, just-mustered-in Angels. Damn kids, barely old enough to be charged with whatever had gotten them in prison; not old enough at all to be handed an option like the ArchANGEL system. "They're not even all...some of the new ones, they're just damn unlucky. No murders, no treason, no fucking dishonorable discharges. Theft, mayhem, nothing bad. I dunno who the Company's got under their thumb in Defense, but they're not even pretending to follow USF fucking rules about recruiting."

Dee paused a moment while that sank in, a little ripple around the table, dragging her finger down the condensation on her glass, her gaze far-off; bleak.

"They started throwing us into these ops. They weren't researched, they weren't ready. Our intel was bad, we were losing troops and even dropships left and right, and they kept handing us greenies to muster in, fill the holes and...fuck." Here, Dee had paused, taking several mouthfuls of the fruit juice and vodka drink she had asked for, her hand shaking, ice chattering in the glass. "One of our Angels told me they were like animals in the 'net, or like...not even all there, not right. The psych blocks they're using are wicked, they're wiping half their brains when they're mustering them in, they can't function. We lost a good thirty platoons or more to damn friendly fire in the first year."

So kids, green and terrified, thrown into the utter overload of the ArchANGEL system, inserted into ships that had recently seen their own die of overdose, of toxic saturation, of anaphylaxis so sudden and severe that nothing could stop it. And the ones that weathered the drug changes, they had changed. Whatever was in the new packs, it had reprogrammed the 'nets to a degree, too, making being off the drugs intolerable, making being on them into something almost like psychosis. Endocrine, chemical, systemic changes so profound, over a hundred ops had failed in some spectacular way, ANGEL troops that went berserk, that turned on Gunnies and LTs and their own dropship crews. The Kanchinjínga, the Æthere, and the Clíodhna had all died that way, ripped apart internally by their own troops, fire and bodies spilling into vacuum, all hands lost. Three more were missing in action, presumed dead, but no one knew for sure, and the remaining fifteen had yet to slip the tether. Or maybe they were still loyal to the Company; at the very least, too desperate, too dependent, too fucking high to know the difference.

Their little group - Jensen, Jared, Raleigh, Doc, Alinx and Taichou-san - were shocked silent; horrified. Jared had flinched in the 'net from the emotions Jensen hadn't been able to lock down fast enough, and he'd simply shaken his head and pushed in closer to Jensen. All of them sat in a silent bubble of dismay for a long moment, while around them, Diaboli, and what few troops were up for it, sat and drank and talked and played cards in the little rec room the medicos and crew had carved out near the med bays. Urbin was there, with his partner Ensign Zarahtos, the man who'd been in the evac suit. Zarahtos had been trying to get into one of the Angel quarters. Three of them had died, and the air was fouled, Angels living with the decomposing corpses and refusing to let anyone in; refusing to give up the bodies. It had been a last-ditch effort, and Zarahtos and five other crewman had barely made it out alive - without the bodies.

Other crew was there; the dropship crews and pilots, the coms and arms and switchers of the ships. Not ARCHAngels, but still with the Angel system in them, partial set-ups to make piloting and shooting faster and more accurate. They hadn't been messed with as much; they were still able to deal with the minimal drugs they needed; hadn't been tipped over into any kind of junk sickness, even when they'd had to rely on their own ingenuity to cook up doses in ship-born labs. The LTs and Gunnies that had mutinied were, as a whole, worse off, but still not down in it. Not dangerous enough, Jensen had supposed, for the Company to fuck them over quite so bad, but still in the danger zone.

"The Company has got some damn big wigs on their side, USF Generals and half the Council, maybe more. And they're expanding, or trying to; buying up companies and rights to shit. They're trying to make themselves untouchable; trying to be the only supplier for troops, and arms, armor - all of it. They're building a fucking shipyard at Salome. They're...they're their own damn government, their own security, their own bank. They're swallowing whole systems, and nobody is stopping them." Dee had got up, then, glass empty, to get another drink, to join her shipmates, leaving the rest of them to sit in a scared and furious silence.

 

"Just...just help us, Hakase," Jensen said finally, shivering, wanting to go back to Jared, who was warmth and a sort of furry buzz, in the 'net. A firefly drifted to him and pulsed slowly, and Jensen gently blew on it, sending it drifting away. "Just help us, and we'll stop them from doing this. We won't...they won't hurt us anymore."

Hakase hummed at Jensen and bobbed a sort of bow at him, and then waddled away, their fireflies drifting for a moment, as a little cloud, before zooming after, vanishing into the Quo section. And Jensen went back to bed.

 

"Did it work?" Jared asked, and Jensen shrugged, shuffling on his feet a little. They watched as Doc bent over the optics of some kind of scanner, the curve of her back and neck tense, a taut, intense arch under the white of her coat.

The lab was eerily quiet, the normal chatter and soft computer noises completely silent as Doc bent over the scanner, looking for evidence that what the Quo had done - what they had given her - had worked. Jensen still had a sore spot on his hip, healing fast, from where they'd taken another sample of his bone-marrow that morning.

And then the Quo had done something, in their labs that were nothing like human labs: rooms of softly glowing webs and strands of light that hung and swung in bundles and delicate traceries, pulsing with white and pale green and sheer pink. Each strand was alive, somehow, lifting and touching, dipping and curling, drinking down whatever material they were given, and transmuting it in veined pods that swelled and then split, letting down softly luminescent bubbles of...something else.

They'd fed it his blood and marrow and spinal fluid, and the Quo had handed Doc something new. And now here she was, and they were all waiting: a dozen Axis Diaboli, Alinx and Taichou-san, some of the medicos from the Arcology - even the Jo boys, lurking on the fringes with those Tiamat and troopship crews that weren't unconscious in the bays.

Jared's hand, curled around Jensen's, was squeezing tight, and Jensen squeezed back, his eyes stinging from not blinking, his stomach tight and a little queasy. Fuck, how he hated this. But it had to work, it had to, it had to.

"It's alive," Doc said, and a little ripple went around the room. Jensen blinked. "It's...reproducing. Fuck, it's working. It worked, holy shit, it's going crazy, it's-" Doc leaned back from the scanner, the curling green lines of her tattoos matching the strange green luminescence that was coming from the vial held in the scanner. A green glow that seemed to intensify, moment by moment.

"Ah, shit, I gotta get this into- I gotta work, people. Jaylin, I need the- the thing, for the-"

"Doc?" Jared said, tentative. She ignored him.

"Yeah, okay, got it," Jaylin said, a bulky man who moved with surprising delicacy, handing Doc something with gloved hands as Doc started pulling out rattling trays of vials and tubes, long pipettes, stainless flasks and glassine bottles. "Here, let me-"

"Right, yeah, okay, Den, Denny, get the-"

"Doc," Jensen interrupted, louder than he'd intended, but fuck it. "Did it work?"

"What?" Doc blinked at him, the scanner spectacles going from sheer white to mostly clear, twin lines of data sleeting down the middles, too fast for Jensen to begin to make out. "Yes, of course, what the fuck do you think I'm-? Yes, it worked."

Worked, worked it worked "How long, then? Until you can-?" Jensen stopped, and tried to breathe - failed - and plowed on, breathless and shaking and everything in him feeling unmoored, light and soaring and giddy. "How long until there's enough, until-"

"Hell, the rate it's going? Sixteen hours. Sixteen hours, Jensen, and we can start inoculating."