Rowan did not know for sure how she got back to the defense committee building. Everything past Johann’s shakedown did not seem to sink in with her. Maybe it was the chief who brought her along with him. Maybe it was Eloise. Maybe it was the soldiers of the defense committee.
She did know that she woke up seeing sparks raining from the sky.
She sat up from the infirmary bed she was on and watched the sparks past the window. She looked around and found Eloise in a chair beside her.
Everything she wanted to ask suddenly got stuck in her throat. What was she supposed to feel now about her? What was she supposed to do? What was going to happen between them now? And what about Ren? And Johann?
“Your Miss Beika and your chief are not here yet,” Eloise calmly and quietly said. “The healers are giving up on the assistant.”
Rowan still found her voice stuck inside her. Her mouth opened to ask so many questions, but none came out.
It was Eloise who spoke. “What Johann said is true.”
Rowan’s jaw fell and left her mouth slack and open. Still no words came out, even as they heard furious voices from the next room.
“Why did you force him to make it, green hag!”
“How was I supposed to know he was weak?”
“You know how he is, you should know better!”
“YOU should have thought of that before running off with that icebox!”
“I did NOT run off! His people needed help!”
“YOU did not tell HIM that!”
“There was no time!”
“YOU know how he is! That moper, that useless angst-ridden flea!”
“You will NOT call my friend that, green hag!”
“One mopey firespark is one too many calling me a green hag, crazy healer.”
“You’re like this because of Soji! Because I was with him!”
“What if I am?”
“I did NOT steal your boyfriend! I’m helping my friend! Do you understand!”
“I am not asking, and I don’t care. Both of you did not get help from the Pendi central government. Instead you took things into your own hands. … Will you stop arguing with me and do what you have to do! Or do you want another firestorm?”
Rowan shrugged. She only hoped that the heal programmer arrived in time. She would know later. More to the point…she turned toward Eloise, waiting for an answer.
Eloise lowered her head again. “You gave me such a hard time. And…for once, you were so vulnerable. You don’t know how attractive you are. I took my one and only chance.”
Rowan stared at her, blinked, and blinked again. Her mouth remained open. She closed it.
“I am sorry,” Eloise said.
Rowan gulped down the lump in her throat. “Was Johann right? That he means nothing to you?”
“He was wrong. I did like him,” she answered, facing toward the shower of sparks. “He’s cute. I did like kissing him. I loved his music. My first thought was to make him famous for the music…and get more spending money for it. That he was a trance programmer just worked to my advantage.”
“Good.” She sighed. “Because if you said yes, I swear I would have killed you for him right now.” Rowan frowned. “Did you love him? At all?”
“I wanted you more.”
“But you led him along.”
Eloise lowered her head again. “You hate me.”
“Whoever said anything about hating you?” Rowan said. “I just made sure you didn’t hurt anyone. Better me, than anyone else. You hurt Johann, much more than you hurt me. You WILL apologize to him, or I will get back to you.”
The door opened. The green hag and the healer appeared. “Ah, good,” Marceau said. “Rowan, Beika needs your help with the firespark.”
Rowan stood and followed them. She wanted to stay away from Eloise for a little while.
Plain-black did not move. At all. He seemed already on Deep Sleep. His breaths, when they came, were too far apart and too slight. The assistant was a mopey fellow, very quiet and very sullen, that was true. But in class he was kind and patient. He explained well how to activate the basic and fire programs. Rowan wanted him to live to be mopey for quite a long time. Seeing him like this was scary.
Beika took a long deep breath beside her. “Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Melancho? Seriously! I’m not the One who controls all life and all programs, you know! I thought you’d be fine without me. I thought you’d understand…”
“Save it for later, Peach-cake,” Rowan interrupted. “What do you need me to do?”
Beika suddenly steeled, as only heal programmers could. “Give him some of the power from your fire programs,” the healer said. “He’s completely drained.”
“But…but…he said, the element programs…”
“You won’t need the ground programs, you just need to give yours,” she explained. “Just place your hand over his heart and transfer it.”
Program controllers were one thing. A person, one no less than the Crimson Master, was different. “But what if I give too much?” Rowan asked.
“I’ll control how it’s distributed, and I’ll tell you when to stop,” Beika assured her. “Encode: Program Transfer. Activate.”
Rowan placed her right hand over the assistant’s chest, as Beika placed a hand over his forehead. Rowan felt lifecodes grow warm and active under her hand, as heal programs passed through the heart.
“Start, Rowan,” Beika said.
It was odd that the healer did not expect Rowan to encode, but she figured this was because Beika was used to Assistant Lan.
Rowan concentrated her thoughts. Move fire program to hand. Align hand with heart. Align the fire program lines. Pass fire programs from hand to heart. Make it so.
She felt the warmth of the fire programs coursing through her body and flowing into her right arm toward her hand. Her fire program lines connected with his. She felt the surge as power moved from her body to his. She felt the warmth as the renewed power coursed from the heart to his head, arms, and legs. She felt it as heal programs coated these fire programs, aligning them with the lifecodes.
She felt the heart begin to beat evenly and regularly, the chest begin to rise as he breathed well. She watched as some color returned to his lips, cheeks, and hair. She felt it as more of her power passed to him, his body so thirsty for basic strength as it was. She did not mind giving it to him; he knew better how to handle the fire programs than she did, anyway.
“Complete Program Transfer. Close the open lifecodes. Activate.” Beika closed the active programs and finished the procedure. “You can let go now, Rowan.”
Rowan lifted her hand slowly, making sure than no additional fire programs suddenly passed. She felt the loss of the programs then. She sat on the nearest chair.
“Basic Heal, activate. Advanced Heal, activate,” Beika ordered, keeping her hands over his head. She kept it there for another ten minutes, as heal programs closed and corrected weak lifecodes.
“System Scan, activate.” Beika did a final evaluation of the lifecodes, heal programs, and fire programs. Only then did she lift her hands from his head. She sighed with relief.
But he did not stir. His breathing returned to being shallow, his hair and face grew pale again.
Beika repeated the System Scan, once, twice. She repeated Basic Heal. Still he did not move.
“Do I need to do it again, Miss Bei?” Rowan asked.
Beika did not reply, as she checked all major pulse points and placed a hand over his heart. “Damn this, by all He controls,” she swore. “I’m gonna punch Marceau into next week for this.” She leveled her hand on his heart well and pushed down gently.
“For making his body go into Cold Sleep from pure exhaustion.” Beika placed both hands over the assistant’s chest. “Authorization: Beika of northwest, heal programmer. Maintain: Cold Sleep Override. Re-establish Override. Activate.”
The program lines over the assistant’s cheek glowed, scarring through it. Heal programs coursed over the lifecodes, locking several codes and activating many others. He twitched and convulsed several times, and only calmed as Beika placed a hand over his head. Rowan watched as lifecodes and heal programs glowed at his arms, legs, and torso. Beika held him well.
Finally the seizures stopped, and the assistant’s body lay motionless on the bed.
Beika frowned. She wiped off the sweat forehead with her sleeves. “System Scan. Activate.”
The scan was completed, and still he did not stir. Beika paled.
Rowan patted the healer on the shoulder. “I’ll do this, Miss Beika,” she said.
Rowan held her master at the shoulders. “Hey! Assistant Lan! Are you in there! Wake up already! Open your eyes and talk to us! Hey!
The breathing deepened, but there was no other response.
“Hey, Plain-black!” Rowan shook him, tapped him gently on the uninjured cheek. “Hey, Plain-black, hey! Iced-tea-ham-sandwich needs to talk to you! Hey! Stop scaring the lady and open your eyes!”
Still nothing. Rowan let go. She slapped her forehead.
“Don’t worry about it,” Beika assured her. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”
But the breathing grew even.
Then Rowan and Beika heard a sigh.
They first heard a hesitant groan, as of one who did not want to be awakened. Then they saw some slight turns of the head. He opened his mouth to yawn. Then he opened his eyes.
He blinked for a few moments. He smiled slightly as his eyes found Beika. “You’ll never let me die, will you?”
“Of course not, Plain-black-chicken-sandwich!” Rowan said. “Who’s gonna teach me my fire programs? Who’s gonna talk sense into this crazy healer? I need to keep borrowing your shirts! They’re comfy!”
Beika frowned at him as she put her hands on her waist. “You, sir, you need therapy. I insist.”
He chuckled weakly.
Lan turned his head and looked to the window. Seeing the shower of sparks from the window, he slowly sat up in bed. He was still very pale. “Soji?”
Beika paused for a long moment. “Somewhere safe.”
“From me.” He sighed.
Beika struck. The slap cracked through the room.
“Don’t be so selfish, Melancho. Not everything is about you and your problems.”
Lan’s scarred cheek reddened.
“Now if you could please look outside yourself for once,” Beika said, “the capital will be glad to have you deactivate that broken Force Field, thank you.”
Lan held his injured cheek, keeping his gaze away from her. Then he raised a weak arm toward the window. “Encode: Unlock and deactivate the Force Field, gradual dispersal. Authorization: Melancho of northeast, Crimson Master. Make it so.”
The shower of sparks turned into a spray, then a mist, until it disappeared. Rowan watched as the fire program lines faded from view, to reveal the clear sky beyond the dome. The Force Field had been removed.
Beika turned her back to him. She began to pack her satchel, slamming notebooks and pens into it. “The next time you decide to die, do it properly, Melancho of northeast. Don’t give me a chance to pull you back. Stop trying to kill me slowly.”
Beika marched out and slammed the door.