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Grey Sky at Morning

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DEPOE BAY, OREGON, USA. 2024.

Pentecost wasn't a surprise. Al may have ratted her out, but Beth had had the decency to call and warn her.

So when she saw him there, sitting at the bar in Jen's–his crisp PPDC uniform as out of place as Donna's slacks and blouse in the sea of welders' coveralls–she took a deep breath and sauntered over towards Jen as though she didn't know who he was. As if anyone in the world didn't know who he was.

He'd encamped next to her usual spot, and she'd had to choose between sitting beside him and moving to the other end of the bar, where she couldn't see the windows. It hadn't really been a choice. December rains cascaded with such intensity that she could almost pretend that the grey outside was mist over the Pacific, not the Wall. Ten million ocean views ruined for what, from the set of Pentecost's shoulders, he too knew was a futile effort.

Jen, who had been sliding sideways glances at him from behind the bar, turned to her and raised an eyebrow. Donna shrugged and held up two fingers.

"It's on me," Pentecost said. Another raised eyebrow, another shrug. Jen poured her a neat double bourbon.

"What did Calavicci say?" she asked. From reading Beth's silences, Donna already knew, but waiting for him to make the first move wouldn't get him out of there any faster.

He grunted, a sound like a disgruntled bear. "Asked how I knew your man hadn't done something already."

Donna raised her glass, a toast more to Al's eternal faith in his best friend than to the validity of the question. "And you said?"

"That I couldn't imagine a world where it'd gone worse than this."

That was a better point, but not a fair one. Donna took a long sip, swirling the smoky booze around in her mouth; it was cheap stuff, with a sticky aftertaste when she swallowed. Finally, she said, "What he did was always personal. He could save a life, but not the world."

Pentecost grimaced. He'd already had this argument with Al, she knew, and he didn't bother repeating it. "'What he did'?" he asked. "You think he's dead then?"

No one had asked her that in twenty years. She was legally a widow, and knew what Al thought about that. Al knew what she thought too, and the argument had long since gone stale. Everyone else either didn't know or wouldn't bring it up. "I'm a physicist," she told him. "I believe what I have data to support. You can see where faith has gotten me." A slight tilt of her head indicated the bar.

"Ah." He smiled, a little ironically, but it still softened his face. "Then you'll be grateful for my offer."

She had to laugh; there was nothing else to do. "Another optimist. I can see why you liked Calavicci."

His eyes narrowed. "Are you saying, 'No'?"

"I'm saying, 'This old woman's done; make your own miracles.'"

Again the smile, but this time it was utterly unamused. "That's what I came here for."

They both watched the rain, seeing through it to the wall beyond. He thought she'd given up; a man in his position couldn't risk taking a realist at her word; he had to believe in possibilities or everyone would have died years ago. Donna tried to explain again. "If I could help you, I would, but my best and brightest have been with the PPDC from day one," – Gushie, before he'd passed away, and Verbena, Sammy Jo and Tina even now – "and I'm not the Doctor; I don't have a time turner in my back pocket. Even if I did, I couldn't save San Francisco, or seal the breach, or whatever it is that you're trying to do."

His dark eyes had turned away from the window to watch her. She couldn't read them at all, she realised, and that bothered her. He was gauging her, and she knew what he saw: wrinkles, dark hair long since greyed; loneliness; fatigue; defeat. Something he must see in a thousand faces to which he'd appealed for help over the years.

Too bad Al, now in his nineties, had worn himself so thin; he'd have given Pentecost a hell of a run back in his glory days. Too bad Sam, well, there were a lot of things that were too bad about Sam.

His assessment completed, Pentecost nodded to himself and slid to his feet. He was a tall man; she hadn't got that just seeing him on TV, and he'd been hunched forward at the bar. Donna had to tilt her head back to hold his gaze.

She took his hand when he offered it, but there was something almost mocking in his grip. He squeezed lightly, as though in deference to a lady, or in lack of regard for a non-entity.

She returned more than equal pressure, and said, as her hand slid free, "Marshal, if you could change one small thing, what would it be?"

He'd thought about it, probably ever since he'd talked to Al, and answered without hesitation, "I have one last Mark III Jeager. Dredged it out of the Gulf of Alaska and fixed it up proper, but no one's left alive qualified to jockey it, and no time to train a new team."

Donna nodded to herself, and turned back to her drink, letting him settle with Jen and head for the door, back to the war outside. He had the long-limbed stride of a Ranger – what most people called a "swagger," but what Donna had always thought of as moving like his machine. The workers parted to make way for him.

As the door closed behind Pentecost, the Ramírez sisters turned back to hustling a couple of greenhorns at nine-ball bank. Donna sipped at her drink and watched. She certainly didn't come for the bourbon, but the pool table drew her in. She hadn't played since college, but it reminded her of Al and the old days. Times when they'd had no one to lean on but each other, and they'd known they could always count on that. Times over two decades gone.

By the time she'd finished her second drink, the girls had left their customary path of broken dreams and broker men. Donna slid off her bar stool; her knee had locked as she sat, and she had to take a moment to work the muscles loose before she could cross to the door. She too was wearing thin.

Outside, she had to pull her hood down tight to keep the rain out of her face during the short walk home. It hadn't taken much to get the house above the harbour, coastal property values being what they were, and no one had noticed that it was more or less on top of the power junction leading to the Wall's construction crews.

What had Pentecost said? Mark III. Gulf of Alaska. She would have to ask Ziggy about that. Maybe something could be done after all. Donna had never been one to give people hope that could turn up false; she knew better than that by now.