“Where the hell have you been?”
Dylan was nonplussed. “I had a few errands.”
She seemed groggy, but coherent — still lying in the course gray sand, but propped up on an elbow. Dylan knelt before her and cradled her face between filthy, gritty hands, assessing her condition. He pushed her eyelids up roughly with his thumbs, her head back and to the side, first one way, then the other — pupils reacting to the brilliant sky.
“I didn’t know you loved me,” she sassed.
I will always love you, snapped his dialogical inner voice. He had told her that once, but she didn’t understand what he meant by the words — could only guess what they might have meant in a different life. They didn’t bear repeating now.
Probably a concussion, he thought, though the pupils seemed normal enough. He released her and turned his analytical assessment elsewhere.
“Name?” He asked without matching her gaze.
“Katerina Duncan.” She rolled the “r” in proper Russian form. “But those who want to live call me—”
“Civilian you dumb-ass. What’s wrong with you?”
“You may not remember this, but you just fell off a mountain. Head trauma is a common complication.”
“I feel fine. Well, no. I feel like shit. What do you mean ‘fell off a mountain’?”
“Well, technically I dropped you. Are you going to throw up?”
“Not if you don’t tell jokes. Are you— What do you mean you dropped me?”
“You fell and hit your head. The sniper was about to shoot you. I dropped you so you’d be safe. What’s pi?”
“You dropped me so I’d… What?”
“What – is – pi?”
She looked at him for a moment.
“3.14159…265. The mean gravitation on this planet is 9.67 meters per second per second. I measured it on my way down. Avogadro’s number is 6.022 times ten to the — ”
“That will do. Is anything broken?”
“I don’t think so. But I feel like a veal cutlet.”
“Good. I mean, roll over.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “My shoulder hurts like hell and I could have a fracture here.”
She winced as she lifted her left arm for inspection. He took her hand in his bear-like palm.
“Squeeze my hand.”
She grinned — the sheepish look of a girl being talked into something improper.
“Squeeze my hand. I need to know if you can hold on.”
“Harder. Does that hurt? Do you think you can hold on to me?”
She waved the arm around experimentally. “I think so. It hurts when I lift it. I think I can hold on though. Where are we going? There’s no way you can carry me up these rocks with this equipment.”
He walked over to the water and washed his hands as best he could. “I could — if I had to. But we don’t have that kind of time.”
He retrieved the canteen from his discarded harness and brought it over to her, squirting water into her open mouth.
”We’ve been on this island for three months and had no contact. Then you and Murph have your run-in— Roll over.”
She swallowed pensively, and gingerly did as he asked.
“—and today three guys are out for a stroll and try to kill us.”
“Yeah. Coughlin was one of them. Something has changed. We’ve been all over this rock and found no sign of them. Now they’ve landed a force and are done playing.”
The hip has bloody. He worked the torn fabric loose from the clotted blood, ripping the seat enough to access the wound.
God she has a nice ass.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Looks like shrapnel, maybe a bit of stone or a bullet fragment.”
“Well it hurts like hell.”
”It looks like the impact tore your skin.”
“Yeah. You might even have a little scar.”
“Great. Just what I need.”
“Scars give you character. Perfection is not attractive.”
“Oh thanks,” she said sarcastically and then, deconstructing the remark, blushed a bit and softened her tone.