"Here," she said, her voice weak. She tried to scream: "I'm over here."
Two men in slim olive space suits worn by the Navy scrambled out of the hatch, and she saw them approach the river. "I'm here," she said, but the men were too far away to hear her. She tried to crawl from the tree line, she wanted to run to them, but she lacked the strength to stand. She saw the two men wade into the river, hip-deep, and saw them pull the crucified woman from the air, cradle her. They wrapped the woman in heavy blankets.
"No, I'm here, I'm here," she said, but watched them carry the crucified woman, that other version of herself, on board the lander.
"I'm here," she said, "please." Her meter darkened to muddy brown, the next color would be the lethal shade of black. She closed her eyes, waiting.
The mule kick of the thrusters shocked her into consciousness, and she recognized where she was—she was in one of the Quadlander's pods, she realized, her wrists and ankles strapped to the cot, her head and neck secured in a padded block. She was numb, shivering, covered in blankets that were tied down at the edges. The g-force of their liftoff abated, and she felt weightlessness.
"Please," she said, "go back. I'm down there, please go back, don't leave me—"
"You're all right, we've got you now," said her instructor, floating through the pod to her bedside. He was a much older man, with silvery hair, though his blue eyes seemed young. His hands were leather-soft when he checked her pulse. "Your wrists and ankles will be in considerable pain," he said. "I don't know how you were bound, but you suffered burns. You suffered from the exposure, extensive frostbite. Hypothermia."
"You have the wrong body," she said, remembering that she had somehow seen herself in the orange trainee space suit crawling along the tree line. "You have to believe me, please. I'm still down there. Please don't leave me—"
"No—you're back on Theseus," said her instructor. "We found you in the woods." He wore blue athletic shorts and white socks pulled to his knees, an NCIS T-shirt, gray. "You're confused," he said. "The QTNs are confusing you. They're in your blood. You have dangerous levels of them inside you."
"I don't understand," she said, trying to remember, but her mind was sluggish. "What's inside of me? I don't know what QTNs are." Her teeth chattered, her body shook. Excruciating pain raked her limbs, bright shoots of nerve pain, but her fingers were deadened, and her toes. She remembered stepping from her space suit by the river, shedding her clothes. She remembered ice burning her shoulders, blistering her. She remembered fire at her wrists and ankles. She remembered that she had hung upside down over that rushing black water for hours, for days maybe. She had been praying to die when she'd seen herself appear through the pines. "I don't understand," she said, crying against the pain.
"Our main concern right now is your hypothermia and frostbite," said her instructor, floating nearer to her feet and peeling back the corner of the blanket to check on her. "Oh, Shannon," he said. "Oh—"
She lifted her head and saw that her feet were purple-black and swollen, the surrounding skin flaky and yellowed. "God, no. Oh, God, no," she said, and in her shock almost felt like these feet belonged to someone else, that they were anyone's but her own. Someone had placed pieces of cotton between her toes. Violet lines stretched up her left leg. Her instructor rubbed her feet with a damp washcloth, but she couldn't feel the water even as it slid from the cloth over her toes and spun away like beads of glass through the air.
"Your mind was affected, your memory may have been affected by the hypothermia," he said. "First Lieutenant Stillwell and Petty Officer Alexis rescued you, stabilized you here. You're not there anymore, you're here. You're safe now."
"I don't know who they are," she said, their names unfamiliar. First Lieutenant Ruddiker had piloted the Quad-lander, along with Petty Officer Lee—there was no Stillwell, as far as she knew. The bay window framed a view of Earth, distant now, marbled white with mists and ice. She wondered at her own body dying below in the wilderness, still in her space suit, but she could see that her space suit was locked in one of the pod closets, bright orange like a hunter's blaze camouflage. What the hell is happening to me? Although her wrists and ankles were covered with bandages that smelled of ointment, she felt her skin burning as if she had been doused with acid.