Eric nodded his head vigorously. “That is very true.”
“I am the one who fucked up! I’m the one who didn’t let that psycho take that damn Hummer and leave. And she shot my friend because of it!”
“So it comes out. You feel guilty,” Nerit said, lifting an eyebrow.
“Gawdammit, Travis! Blanche is unhinged. That girl hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a damn long time. You can’t blame yourself!” Peggy looked ready to smack him and Katie couldn’t blame her.
“I can’t help but feel it is my fault.”
“So you’re going to go out into the deadlands and risk not coming back to soothe your guilt? You should feel guilty for putting yourself at risk. We all need you. I need you. The baby needs you.” Katie tried to keep her voice even and not let her own anger and desperation leak into it.
Travis looked down at the volunteer sheet. His fingers were trembling and his jaw was clenched. Finally, mutely, he nodded and gave in.
Setting the paper aside, he leaned forward, setting his hands on his knees and exhaling, long and slow.
“It’s the right thing to do, Travis,” Nerit assured him.
“Charlotte is drawing a map of the hospital interior and marking where they need to go. She has Belinda photocopying pictures of the equipment the team needs to bring back.” Eric motioned toward Bill. “Bill is organizing the teams and debriefing them. It’s a dangerous run, but it’s being handled. You’re needed here. People are still freaking out over all of this. And you may not like it, Travis, but you are a calming force.”
Travis straightened and pulled Katie into his arms, resting his cheek against hers.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she whispered in his ear.
“It never does.” She slowly ran her hands over his hair and tucked them behind his neck. Pressing a soft kiss to his lips, she felt his body slowly relax.
“Oh, you two make me sick,” Peggy declared.
Resting his forehead against Katie’s, Travis said softly, “Get the volunteers together. We need to get them out there and fast. We’re burning sunlight.”
“I’ll get them to the dining room.”
“I’ll get the map and photocopies from Charlotte,” Peggy said, heading toward the door.
Katie kissed Travis’ forehead, feeling his body slowly melding against hers.
“I will go check on the search for Calhoun and Ray,” Nerit said, standing up to leave.
She patted his shoulder then followed Eric out the door.
Katie kissed him firmly on the lips. “Nothing to forgive. You’re a loyal friend, a good leader, and a man with a huge heart. There is nothing to forgive.”
Travis laid his head on her shoulder. “Katie, I’m so lucky to have you.”
“Yes, you are. So don’t go running off doing something stupid.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I’m going to go check on Jenni.”
Travis straightened, rubbing his neck. “Ok. I need to go to the briefing anyway.”
Running her hand lightly over his arm, she reluctantly drew away from her husband. “I’ll see you later.”
As she slipped out the door, she stole one more look at her weary husband. Travis sat on the edge of his desk staring into space. She could see that he was resigned to not going out, but it was hard on him. With a soft sigh, she shut the door behind her.
* * * * * It was nearly one-thirty when the volunteer teams were briefed on the medical supply run in the dining room. The volunteers studied the layout of the hospital Charlotte had drawn and listened to her explain exactly where they needed to go. They looked over the photocopies of the equipment and surgical instruments as well as a list of medications that would be useful.
Travis stood in the back of the room trying not to feel frustrated and guilty for not going along. He had put up a good argument only to be shot down. Even Roger had told him the Captain needed to stay on the ship and not go out with the away team when he had expressed his regrets in not going with them.
Finally, Charlotte finished her briefing and said, “Anyone have anything to say? Ask? Suggest?”
“Yeah,” a voice came from behind them. “When are we leaving?”
Everyone in the room turned to look at the pale, determined face of Jenni.
Jenni frowned and pointed at him. “You can’t tell me what to do.ﾁ”
“C’mon, Jenni. Shouldn’t you be with Juan?” Travis walked toward her, wondering if the sick feeling he had in the pit of his stomach is what others had felt when he announced he wanted to go with the team.
“And do what? Watch him die?” Jenni shook her head. “Fuck that. I’m going. I am good at this sort of thing. How many rescue teams have I been on?”
“You’re still new at scavenging and it’s a little different,” Roger answered.
“Death rates on the scavenging teams are higher than the rescue.”
Everyone in the room looked at him obviously wishing he hadn’t spoken that particular bit of truth.
“Sorry, but seriously, there are a lot more redshirts on the scavenging teams,” Roger said a tad defensively.
Travis took hold of Jenni’s arm lightly and gazed down into her face. “You are a good fighter. We all know that. But wouldn’t you rather be with Juan right now?”
“Doing what? Crying? Praying? Staring at him, hoping he moves?” Jenni again shook her head, almost violently. “I can feel myself going crazy in there waiting. At least this way, I’m trying to do something to save his life other than waiting for him to die.”
“Travis, don’t keep me from going out there. I’m begging you.”
Katie slipped into the dining room behind Jenni. She looked pale and frustrated. “She won’t listen to me.”
“She does have a point,” Bill interjected. “Watching the one you love die slowly and not be able to help is a hell unto itself.” His eyes held incredible sadness. “I would have done anything to save my wife from cancer. I would have climbed Mount Everest to save her.”
Travis could feel all the eyes in the room on him. “Jenni, if you go and something happens…”
Jenni whirled on him, her tear-filled eyes flashing with anger. “I can’t just sit there and wait! I can’t! I fucking can’t be helpless this time! Okay?”
“She’s made her choice.” Dale spoke up for the first time. “Everyone has got a right to make a choice.”
“We could use her,” Linda finally ventured. “Juan is my cousin and I love him. Yeah, I’m scared knowing the risks, but he has always treated me like his little sister. I gotta do what I can to save him. Let her go, Travis.”
Lenore and Ken were seated side by side and by their lowered heads and averted gazes, it was obvious they did not want to get involved. Felix just sighed deeply and looked away. Charlotte fussed with the printouts she had used for her debriefing, obviously refusing to say a word about the situation.
Travis reached out slowly to Jenni, and she flung herself into his arms. He held her close, feeling her trembling. “Jenni, can you keep it together out there?”
She nodded vigorously. “I can out there better than I can here.”
Katie slid her hand over Jenni’s long hair slowly. She looked agonized, but said in a quivering voice, “She’ll do fine out there.”
Travis held Jenni tightly, laying his head on the top of her head. He could feel her anguish pouring out of her, filling the room. What would he do if Katie lay dying? The answer was obvious. Even he wanted to go to help his friend, but was held back by his position. But Jenni should have the choice, despite his personal misgivings.
“Okay, go, Jenni. I don’t think we could stop you if we tried,” Travis finally said.
Katie wiped away tears and Jenni turned and wrapped her arms around her. Holding each other tightly, the two women wept.
Travis reached out and touched her cheek lovingly. “Be careful out there, Jenni.”
“Then it’s settled. Jenni, get over here so I can catch you up, then we gotta go,” Bill said firmly.
Jenni pulled away from Travis, wiping away her tears. Walking toward Bill and Charlotte, she threw a smile back his way that was both grateful and terribly sad.
Travis slightly smiled back. Turning, he saw his wife staring after Jenni.
She had huge tears rolling down her cheeks, and it broke his heart to see her in pain.