He turned, flinched, brought his hands up barely in time to catch the box sailing towards him. It might have held a large pizza, judging by size and shape; maybe three of them, stacked. Scasers, adhesives, bladders of synthetic blood nestled in molded depressions under the lid. Some kind of bare-bones first-aid kit.
Somehow Valerie had already stripped down to her coverall, geckoed her abandoned spacesuit to the wall like a crumpled wad of aluminum foil. Her left arm was extended, wrist up, sleeve rolled back. A Victorian junkie awaiting an injection. Her forearm bent just slightly, halfway down its length. Not even vampires had joints there.
“What— how did—”
“The ship breaks. Shit happens.” Her lips drew back. Her teeth looked almost translucent in the glassy light. “Fix it.”
“But— my ankle—”
Suddenly they were eye-to-eye. Brüks reflexively dropped his gaze: a lamb in a lion’s presence, no recourse beyond obeisance, no hope beyond prayer.
“Two injured elements,” Valerie whispered. “One mission-critical, one ballast. Which gets priority?”
“But I don’t—”
“You’re a biologist.”
“An expert. On life.”
“So fix it.”
He tried to meet her eyes, and couldn’t, and cursed himself. “I’m not a medical—”
“Bone are bones.” From the edge of vision he saw her head tilt, as if weighing alternatives. “You can’t do this, what good are you?”
“There must be some kind of sick bay on board,” he stammered. “A, an infirmary.”
The vampire’s eyes flickered to the hatch overhead, to the label it framed: Maintenance & Repair. “A biologist,” she said, something like mirth in her voice, “And you think there’s a difference.”
This is insane, he thought. Is this is some kind of test?
If so, he was failing it.
He held his breath and his tongue, kept his eyes on the injury: closed fracture, thank Christ. No skin breaks, no visible contusions. At least the break hadn’t torn any major blood vessels.
Or had it? Didn’t vampires— that’s right, they vasoconstricted most of the time, kept most of their blood sequestered in the core. Valerie’s radial artery could be ripped wide open and she might never even feel it until she went into hunting mode…
Maybe give her prey a fighting chance, at least…
He tamped down on the thought, irrationally terrified that she might be able to see it flickering there in his skull. He focused on the bend instead: leave it, or try to reseat the bone? (Leave it, he remembered from somewhere. Keep movement to a minimum, reduce the risk of shredding nerves and blood vessels…)
He pulled a roll of splinting tape from the kit, snapped off a few 30-cm lengths (long enough to extend past the wrist— it was starting to come back). He laid them down equidistantly around Valerie’s arm (God she’s cold), pressed gently into the flesh (don’t hurt her, don’t fucking hurt her) until the adhesive took and hardened the splints into place. He backed away as the vampire flexed and turned and examined his handiwork.
“Not set straight,” she remarked.
He swallowed. “No, I thought — this is just tempor—”
She reached across with her right hand and broke her own forearm like a sapling. Two of the splints snapped with a sound of tiny gunshots; the third simply ripped free of the flesh, tearing a divot in the skin.
The fascia beneath was bloodless as paraffin.
She extended the re-fractured arm. “Do it again.”
Holy shit, Brüks thought.
Fuck fuck fuck.
Not a test, he realized. Never a test, not with this thing. A game. A sick sadistic game, a cat playing with a mouse…
Valerie waited, patient and empty, less than two meters from his jugular.
Keep going. Don’t give her an excuse.
He took her arm in his hands again. He clenched tight to keep them from shaking; she didn’t seem to notice. The break was worse now, the bend sharper; bone pushed up from beneath the muscles, raised a kotty little hillock under the skin. A purple bruise was leaking into existence at its summit.
He still couldn’t meet her eyes.
He grabbed her wrist with one hand, braced against the cup of her elbow with the other, pulled. It was like trying to stretch steel: the cables in her arm seemed too tough, too tightly sprung for mere flesh. He tried again, yanked as hard as he could; he was the one who whimpered aloud.
But the limb stretched a little, and the broken pieces within ground audibly one against another, and when he let go that lumpy protuberance had disappeared.
Please let this be enough, he prayed.
He left the broken splints in place, laid down new lengths of tape adjacent. Pressed and waited as they grew rigid.
“Better,” Valerie said. Brüks allowed himself a breath.
“Again,” Valerie said.
“What’s wrong with you?” The words were out before he could catch them. Brüks froze in their wake, terrified at the prospect of her reaction.
She bled. The bone was visible now beneath stretched skin, like a jagged deadhead in murky water. The contusion around it expanded as he watched, a bloody stain spreading through wax. But no, not wax, not any more; the pallor was fading from Valerie’s flesh. Blood was seeping from the core, perfusing the peripheral tissues. The vampire— warmed—
She’s vasodilating, he realized. She’s switching into hunting mode. Not a game after all, not even an excuse.