SUMMARY: It feels like counting down to their own execution.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson, various OCs
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: This is the final chapter of the Silver Bay era, the second part of the Distress Call universe. This story will continue; future arcs are in drafting stages. Links to all chapters are here.
There's a time frame on this thing, which is precisely what Wilson had thought he wanted. Now he knows he didn't want it, doesn't know how to cope with it, at all.
Twenty days until this illusion of stability will evaporate, leaving only himself and House on that ancient cruiser, with no other home and no future.
There'd be no going back, even if he weren't bound to House. Wilson has seen the news feeds, the releases from Delphus. Within three days of their departure from Capinari, the MED ambassadors' horrible deaths were being announced -- and used for ammunition -- by the Delphan authorities.
The hybercell malfunction had kicked in about three weeks later. Delphus had known, and that meant it had been their own idea. They'd sacrificed four lives for the sake of propaganda, to start a nasty little war.
He keeps thinking of a story he read as a kid. It was an adventure, and involved a doctor, one older and wiser and braver than most. The very powerful, he said, often choose to change the facts rather than change their views. This is very unpleasant if you are one of the facts that needs changing.
Wilson has always remembered that line, and now it applies to him. James Evan Wilson is dead. If he were to show up otherwise, Delphus would simply ... adjust the facts.
"Stop pacing," House snaps at him. "We'll be fine. If we need money, I'll pimp you out at Helios Orbit. Those rich old matrons will love you."
"This isn't a joke. I don't know how I'll live. You have a death wish, so of course you're not concerned." Vaguely he wonders whether, if he's annoying enough, House might bite him early tonight just to shut him up.
He keeps talking, and five minutes later he gets what he wants.
This time, he really does want it.
Eighteen days left. House would rather not keep track, but his brain insists.
He beats Alton Jerome at chess and it never even makes him smile. It's just a game. After a couple aborted attempts at conversation, Jerome gets up and leaves.
House watches him go, and knows that things are about to get very, very ugly. It will be his own fault, and he won't be able to stop himself any more than he can stop counting down the days in his head.
He almost feels sorry for Wilson now. Unfortunately for the vulgaris, almost doesn't count.
Twelve days to go, and House has been trying to destroy the autochair for the past four days. Maybe longer; Wilson can't be sure.
Fortunately for both of them, it's damn near impossible to crash the thing and its circuitry can't be accessed without a chipkey. If it could, House would have done it by now. He's certainly been trying hard enough.
He's been practicing using crutches, even though the swinging motion makes his leg pain flare so badly that nausea sets in. The first time he went out on those things, his chaperon ended up having to call a cleanup crew.
This doesn't deter House, who keeps trying, training himself, at night while Wilson sleeps. Wilson knows because the crutches move. They're never in the same place in the morning.
Ten days down, ten days left, and De Santos offers them an excursion to the late-night holoshow. She'll escort them herself; she's off watch the next day and she thinks the two freaks are interesting.
Well, she doesn't say that. House does, and Wilson is sadly pretty certain it's the truth.
They take her up on it anyway, and then House makes such an ass of himself that there's no way in hell she will offer again.
This is what Wilson is going to have to live with. This.
Seven days, and counting.
They're about to get shoved out the metaphorical airlock, and Wilson wants to teach him a bunch of damn card games.
"We have no credentials," says Wilson. "We might have to make a living at this."
That's a preposterous idea, but House still learns to play. The distraction eases the constant pain, and he'll enjoy this victory more than he's enjoyed anything in days.
Wilson beats him soundly. Either he's cheating somehow, or he's able to read House's every move, his every card, in the unconscious expressions on his face.
An hour later, when Wilson's least expecting it, House hobbles up on his crutches and bites him hard, sinking fangs deep into the deltoid muscle. Wilson's pathetic fury doesn't stop him from getting into bed before he falls. This is one game House can't lose.
He opens the vein wider, and takes more, than he really must. If it satisfies him, if he likes it -- and if that makes him a bad person -- he can live with that. There's no one left to judge him anymore.
House sits on the edge of the bed, alternately glaring at his utterly oblivious source and the hell-damned crutches leaning against the wall. Four days to go, and Wilson's apparently been making the most of the hours that are left.
He supposedly spent the day learning about their antiquated scow's nav system, cribbing from the manual the Silver Bay team had actually printed off and collated for easier use by the novices, but it's obvious that he also took some time out to map the curvature of a much smaller space.
The animal stink of it -- some vulgaris woman's musk mixed with the reek of Wilson's exertion -- sits heavy and thick in House's mouth. House knows it wasn't De Santos, but he hasn't been close enough to any of the other women on the security detail to know which one it was. Had to have been one of them; they'd never have left Wilson alone with a passenger.
He dismisses the thought quickly, though. From what he's seen of General De Santos, she's one of those career officers, dedicated to her job and intent on instilling that same gung-ho dedication in everyone else unlucky enough to report to her.
House hates gung-ho.
The Gung-Ho Girls might, however, have taken pity on Wilson -- the ever-polite refugee with the sad-kitten eyes, the man who can't go home again -- and dropped him off for a while at the ship's own whorehouse. It wouldn't be called that, of course; it would be the Upper Lounge or the Steam Room or some other ridiculous, pretentious name. The big passenger liners all have sex shops. Wilson ... well, Wilson probably figures he needs to stock up.
He turns to Wilson, who's lying there on the bed, about to fall into the blissful sleep of the deeply satiated as the voracin kicks in.
"So," House growls. "You went to the ... spa."
"Mmmm," Wilson agrees. "Spa. Met a nice ... masseuse there." He stares at the ceiling, an expression of mindless happiness on his face. House wants to kill him.
"Doyenne," Wilson continues. "Doyenne Sam ... Samantha Bovary." His eyes fall shut, and he sighs, apparently in indication of just how good a masseuse this Sam Bovary was.
House can't decide if he wants to spit or bite Wilson again. He can't decide if he's disgusted or jealous.
Wilson's muscles go limp, and a faint snore issues from between his lips. House rolls his eyes.
The blood he needs, he can take a little later, once the smell has weakened. He grabs hold of the crutches and stops thinking.
Two more days until they reach Alexandria.
"Doctor House may already know this," Norian tells Jerome, "but their best bet is to dock where the freights are, in the Verge areas. Enough policing to keep things almost civil; not so much that every local government has agents with dogs."
"You said his planet's pretty ... isolationist. You think he knows about those?" Dogs -- not the animals, but the differentiating organic scanners that can trace damn near anything and are banned in most civilized realms. Meaning, of course, that every state that can buy or steal them uses the things, although most don't use them to find haemovores.
"You can ask him," says Nori, "but I'd bet you a hundred he knows. I'll tell you, though. The worst danger is from my race, not yours."
"We don't need scanners. Our noses are better than yours. We know our own kind, and ... we know which animal belongs to which man."
"So ... Doctor Wilson --?"
"Has a mark on him that any haemovore can smell, and if they meet House they will know Wilson's his. And most of them won't be happy about it."
"I almost wish you hadn't told me," Jerome says.
"They could try Exeter. We docked there a couple months ago and the station's medic had just bailed. The place is desperate."
"I heard the whole station's due to be scrapped."
"That rumor's older than you are. It's a thriving little dump." Norian pauses, thinking. "What are the chances I could actually talk to your guys?"
"Oh, pretty good. I'll put you through, but I won't be held responsible for anything House says."
Tomorrow is their last day under Alton Jerome's protection. They won't last long on their own, because House is going to get them both killed.
Last night, Jerome's haemovore friend had tried to talk to them -- only to have House take one look at the monitor and cut the connection.
He refused to say why, calling for a chaperon to take him out. It had been late, so late when House returned, exhausted and hurting.
He'd bitten Wilson's forearm, hard, while Wilson helped him from the chair and into bed. Asshole.
Tonight, they had a visit from Jerome, who called House seven kinds of an idiot while Wilson looked on in silent approval. Now, whether House likes it or not, they're on the subether with another of his kind.
This haemovore looks absolutely nothing like House. Reginald Norian's skin is a deep, dark, red-tinged brown. The man's eyes are as black as his thick, curling hair, and he's the size of a Heltsteen bull.
"It happens," House tells him, "that I ... know someone at Exeter Prime. He'll probably help me, if he's still there."
"That's good," says Norian.
"You might not say so if you'd met him. They still run a lot of livestock through that port?"
"A fair amount, on the way to Thurber's Ring. I'm ... guessing you two plan to break symbiosis."
"Yes," Wilson answers. "Yes. Medically, what will that involve?"
"He hasn't told you?" Norian looks only a little surprised.
"I've told him what he needs to know," House snaps. "There's no research on his species. I've got to find something that works like dophereon, but won't kill him."
"Dophereon?" Whatever that is, Wilson's never heard of it.
"Never mind about that," Norian says. "Did Doctor House tell you how long you'll live if you stay in symbiosis?"
Looking sideways at House, Wilson sees him wincing, turning away. Oh, fucking hell. "Apparently," Wilson answers, feeling his limbs go numb and his heart rate double, "he did not. What have I got? A year? Two?"
Norian's laughter, a great rich baritone sound, echoes around the room. "No, no," he says, when he's able to stop chuckling. "As a matter of fact --"
"He doesn't need to know," House insists, wheeling closer as if he could physically intimidate this man. "He'll be fine as soon as I find a way to --"
"You will live, Doctor Wilson, almost four times longer than you otherwise would. An animal that would live ten years unacclimated will live thirty-eight in symbiosis, easy."
"So I've ... found the Fountain of Youth," murmurs Wilson, "and the damn thing has fangs."
Norian's fresh peals of laughter almost drown out House's moans.
Jerome's refugees will be on their own, Norian estimates, in about thirty more hours.
It's late morning on the Minotaur, he's running non-stop to get entire herds vaccinated for delivery, and he still can't stop replaying the conversation he had last night. It invaded his dreams, and the dreams have invaded his day -- shadow-strewn images of Newland, of Dust Mire, of a hundred hazy legends, including the one passed down in his own family.
Norian's line, his mother's line through which his name was passed, is said to have come down from Leppa Post. No one can prove it, because the records were lost ages ago. No one even knows for certain what killed the Leppa herds. Some claim it was flooding; others say it was disease; still others imagine some trickery by haemovore or vulgaris.
They were so far out that even with hyperspace ships, the evacuation took longer than the blood-race could wait. This much, and only this much, is known: by the time they'd reached safety, every surviving haemovore from the Leppa Post colony had a well-acclimated vulgaris companion.
There's no way to prove the next part, either, but the story holds that none of the Leppa colonists would give up their human stock as they were supposed to do. Archaeologists have found the ruins of a ghost city where the colonists were said to have lived as outcasts, a clan unto themselves, until their vulgaris died off and the haemovores, one by one, drifted away.
Norian has heard plenty of stories in which this kind of symbiosis was established -- and never one in which it was broken again.
"That," House had insisted, "is because nobody bothers repeating the boring part."
It had been pointless to argue. If Norian's right, the two doctors will find out on their own, soon enough.
This is Alexandria Station, and they're out of time.
They've waited as long as they can. It seems strange how many people have come to C-dock to watch them go. De Santos and half her security team; Lt. Franklin of the Dawn Watch, whom Wilson met twice; Doctor Makano -- but notably, blessedly, not Royston.
And of course, Alton Jerome, shaking Wilson's hand the way the Corporate Council had all done on both Delphus and Capinari. The difference, of course, is that Jerome isn't corporate, and he actually means it.
"Take care of yourself," he says. "You'll find my subether signal in your databanks, if you should really happen to need it. Mine and Norian's."
"Thank you. That ... really doesn't cover it, I know, but ... thank you."
House merely nods, and waits a long moment before accepting the hand Jerome offers. Perhaps, Wilson thinks, it's the first time House ever shook the hand of a vulgaris.
House probably won't miss the Captain, but Wilson most certainly will.
Normal exdock, Callie whispers to the Silver Bay's flight deck. Exdock complete.
Five by five, exdock complete, the other ship acknowledges, and the machine-language continues to murmur, invisible bytes and bits, cascading waterfalls of pure information rushing in the datastream as Callie's human occupants stand silent, deaf to the ceaseless hum all around them.
Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens haemovorus. Callie's familiar with both species, of course, and she's already stored complete scans of these two. Doctor Makano had loaded a full complement of medical records, and she's been supplementing those with flash-recs every time Doctor House and Doctor Wilson have come aboard.
She has many flash-recs of Doctor Wilson. She has only a few of Doctor House.
He had always visited late in the ship's night, and would never stay for long. He'd only lay one hand on the Pilot's chair, and stare out the great viewports, even though there was nothing there to see but the walls of C-dock. He had never spoken to her, but once his face had twisted, as if in pain, and Callie had quickly run a medical scan. There had been no new problems, though, and she had decided it was an emotion that she'd seen. She had searched through her empathetic-recognition database, but whatever the emotion had been, it was something not stored in her knowledge banks.
Doctor House had not returned after that, and Callie had tucked it away, an oddity to study later.
All flight indicators green, the Silver Bay whispers.
Callie pings agreement.
The hatch seals closed with a metal clang and a hiss of pressurization, and the release of the docking mechanism barely shivers the ship. C-dock appears to slide away from them. The figures of Jerome and his crew, standing in the observation box, grow smaller and then disappear as the California drifts backward, out through the open bay.
Just like that, they're alone again, only this time with provisions to feed half a company and the ability to actually work the controls.
The ship begins to turn, showing them the gigantic curve of Alexandria Station, pale gray, bristling with docking gates. A dozen other craft hover like insects, coming and going from the nest.
"Doctor Wilson," says a smooth female voice, so unexpectedly that Wilson jumps half out of his shoes. There's no apparent source for the sound, which seems to come from everywhere. "Doctor House. What is your desired destination?"
Wilson stands gaping, looking out the viewport, then at House, and back outside again. The manual had mentioned a "verbal interface," but he wasn't prepared for the ship itself to start a conversation. Or to sound quite so human. "Ah ... Exeter Station?" he says at last. "At ... at Exeter Prime, middle spiral arm ... ah ... twenty-eight."
"Coordinates located," the ship confirms. "Calculating route." Could it really be that easy?
Wilson turns around and is momentarily startled to see the autochair empty and House on his feet, propped up by crutches and the control room doorway. What surprises Wilson even more is the look on House's face: some weird mix of anger and loathing and maybe even fear.
"So." House's voice is a venomous snarl. "What the hell do we do now?"