It happens again: an explosion, then blackness, then dreams. She hears the voice, whispering that it loves her. It echoes through her heart, distorting into something ugly. When she wakes up, she's alone again.
The bite of antiseptics and beeping monitors drift into Susan's consciousness first, registering as med lab; no, on Earth: a hospital. She has a window, the square of light blurring near to focus. She blinks, then squeezes her eyes shut against the glare. Her body isn't telling her much, just that they're giving her the good stuff. The drugs make her thoughts cloudy and difficult to hold onto.
Her memories drift too, giving her only dim impressions of white heat and pain, then nothing. Nothing except the voice.
I love you, Susan.
Susan hangs onto the timber of that voice, how intimate it sounds, how familiar. She feels certain she knows it: a husky contralto with a wanderer's accent; a soft, educated voice, that says her name as though it's seen into her soul.
Again she feels the echo, the same words but twisted into something else. She knows she's heard them before, somewhere, in another voice, or another tone. Every reverberation carries old aches, and, in her still hazy mind, they feel more real than anything in the room.
As Susan drifts back into unconsciousness, she feels a weight on her heart.
Next time Susan wakes, a nurse is checking her monitors. She watches him work, the graceful efficiency in his hands as they play across his board. She feels a little dizzy and decides he must be a good dancer. When he looks down and notices her staring, his hazel eyes widen, and Susan's momentarily stunned by their beauty. There's a sort of glow about him.
She shuts her eyes again, letting the after image swirl behind the lids. When she opens them, he's just an ordinary man. The eyes are pretty, angled with Japanese heritage, and set in a soft, open face, but no longer breathtaking.
They really must have her on some serious narcotics. She opens her mouth to ask what happened, but he holds up a hand.
"Don't try to talk, General," he says in German-accented English; she doesn't know why she expected Russian. "You need to let your airway recover." She nods slowly; the pain of sharp movements cuts through the drugs. She must have hit her head. "Your doctor should be here soon; he'll be able to tell you more."
They wait, awkwardly; he has no work left, and she can't talk. She stares at the ceiling, which looks much like every other planetside hospital ceiling she's ever seen, and wonders what country she's in.
"I saw what you did," he blurts, and her head rings when she turns to look at him. "On the news. Everyone here thinks you were very brave."
She must have done something monumentally stupid, then. Susan wishes he'd tell her more, but her head's still spinning, and she passes out before the doctor arrives.
Someone else should be here. Susan realises that even before her eyes open the third time.
That someone is not Doctor Kemp, who recites her catalogue of injuries like a grudge list, before assuring her that she'll recover, if she does exactly as he tells her. He does not tell her what actually happened, but she hears, knife wound, explosion, concussion, smoke inhalation and medically-induced coma. Nothing contradicts her earlier hypothesis.
After he leaves, she things about who should be there but is not. The feeling has only grown stronger, and now she's certain that someone is missing from the room. She's still having trouble remembering names. The faces recalls all feel distant, apart from her life in either space or time. Some of them are gone altogether and for good.
Susan doesn't want to think too hard about who is where. She remembers the voice, and thinks it might be gone. Something about that feels true, the idea breaks her heart. She forces herself to think of something else, counting ceiling panels to summon sleep.
Her window faces east and is set to let in the morning light. As the sun rises like a miracle, warming her face, Susan remembers why she doesn't mind living planetside that much. Not just planetside, on Earth. The same sun her father used to rise with, the same light that made her mother's eyes look green.
She remembers cherry blossoms falling around her, settling on the shoulders of her dress uniform. An outdoor wedding on a spring morning in– she doesn't remember where. She'd been a captain though. She stays with the rain of pink and white petals, squinting into the sun at–
It's gone again.
"Damn drugs," she rasps, but the warmth of the memory lingers. There'd been so little sunshine in her dreams, just the voice. As she closes her eyes to savour the morning, it comes again.
"I love you, Susan." The words ring clear now, but Susan knows that they're not spoken aloud. "I'll be there soon," they say in her mind, and, "Hang on."
She opens her eyes and watches the light creep across her room like a sundial. A new nurse comes and goes, but Susan ignores her. She has to wait.
"You have a visitor, General," the nurse tells her, scant seconds before the door bursts open.
For a moment, Susan sees her in an ivory gown, haloed in light and cherry blossoms: the first day of the rest of Susan's life.
"Talia," Susan whispers. She knows that's exactly who should be there.
The moment fades, and it's just Talia, fair hair going to ash and lines around her eyes, but still the woman Susan's loved all those years. Hell, she doesn't look a day over forty, never mind the smudged make-up and wrinkles in her tailored cream suit.
"Hey, gorgeous." Every sound tears at Susan's throat, but it's worth it for that smile.
Talia's bare hand rests lightly on her wrist as she settles in the chair next to the bed. The warmth of skin comes with a flush of affection, and Susan basks in it. She ignores Talia when she tells her she looks like shit, but smiles beneficently up at her when she finds a spot to kiss between monitor patches and bandages. "You really are on drugs," Talia notes, and Susan nods. That either doesn't hurt as much as it used to, or she's just not noticing.
"You got the whole Eurozone airspace locked down," Talia says. "I had to wait on the Moon for two days before they'd let me in."
It's going to be a long story, Susan can tell. Her memories are coming back a little now, and Dr. Kemp expects everything except the bomb and the shuttle to return as the swelling decreases. Susan waves it all away with a flick of her hand.
"Talia." Each word hurts, but it'll be worth it. "Tell me you love me."
Talia does, and this time the voice is right beside her, and Susan knows it always will be.