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         New rifle fire, close by, made Chess open his eyes again in shock. He saw boots… and realized that someone was returning fire back toward the base. The intense noise, so close, stupefied him. And then the explosions stopped, and he felt strong arms lift him to a crouching position.
         “Come on!” a voice shouted in his ear, and then he was stumbling, being half-dragged toward the edge of the tree line. The weapons fire from the base seemed to have quieted, but Chess was not certain. His ears were ringing, and pain and breathlessness were disorienting him. Whoever was helping him suddenly pushed him downward, and he landed, sprawled full length, on the ground. He hid his face in his arms, gasping, and felt a cloth settle over his head as footsteps pounded by.
         After a minute of silence, he dared to pull back the covering and look up. “Gryff?”
         Gryff looked down at Chess, his face expressionless. “Where are you hit?” he asked flatly.
         “Just my leg,” Chess groaned, as the wave of adrenaline subsided and pain returned, suffusing his body. There was something else, though… “And my back,” he added.
         Immediately, he felt Gryff tearing at the back of his jacket with frenzied hands. “It’s okay,” Chess panted, raising himself on his arms. “I’m wearing a vest.” And then the world went dark.

         He returned to consciousness with a sharp chemical odor burning in his nostrils.
         “Ammonia. Smelling salts,” Gryff explained shortly. “Got your leg bandaged, for now.”
         Chess groaned in reply and felt his eyes closing. Nausea was taking over.
         “Need you to take another whiff of this,” Gryff said, but Chess turned his head away from the harsh-smelling capsule. The world seemed hazy red with pain and his brain was shutting down again.
         “Come on.” Gryff pushed the smelling salts under his nose again.
         “Shove it up your ass,” Chess muttered, letting his head loll to the side.
         “Yeah, well, I just might do that,” Gryff snarled at him, “but you’re still gonna take a whiff.”
         Surrendering, Chess inhaled, and the nausea and confusion cleared. “Ah, better,” he sighed. And then he looked at Gryff and managed a smirk. “Who’ve you been hanging around with, anyway? I think you’re developing a sense of humor.”
         “Oh, you thought that was a joke?” Gryff frowned darkly, but one corner of his mouth twitched.
         For a moment, Chess felt like he was back with his friend again, just like before. And then the pain surged, and he remembered what he was trying to accomplish. “You gotta help me,” he pleaded, trying to push himself up. “I gotta get back to them.”
         He really didn’t know what the dissidents would do if he didn’t return: follow through on their plan to contact Razor for the reward? Or decide the whole thing was just too risky and shoot their captives? He faded out for a moment and then realized that Gryff was asking where the girls were.
         “Can’t explain now.” Chess shook his head, worrying, also, if the soldiers were still nearby.
         “You can’t walk anywhere.” Gryff put a heavy hand on Chess’s shoulder. “Your vest stopped the bullets, but you might have internal bleeding.”
         Gryff’s words motivated Chess to stand. “Then I better hurry.”
         Gryff rose along with him. “I never should have left you,” Gryff said quietly in his ear.
         Chess put weight on his foot and a new wave of pain assaulted him. He bit his lip in frustration. “Come on. If you had stuck around, then right now you’d be sitting next to Ileana and Sariel and Noah, all in a damn row. And I would have no one here to help me.” He limped forward, still struggling to breathe. “Anyway, Sariel can heal me. I gotta get to them.”
         Gryff moved to support him. “Who’s Noah?” he asked.
         The journey back to the dissidents’ camp was nightmarish, but Gryff was there. Sometimes, as the evening grew darker, Chess wondered if it was a dream. But Gryff kept him talking and conscious.
         And then Gryff let go, and Chess stumbled toward the firelight of the camp.
         He found Ileana among the silhouettes. “I did it!” he exclaimed, and then all pain left him.

Continued next page...


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All Seriousness Aside

Yeah, fairies wear boots and you gotta believe me
Yeah I saw it, I saw it, I tell you no lies
Yeah, fairies wear boots and you gotta believe me
I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes, all right now
Fairies Wear Boots / Jack The Stripper by Black Sabbath

         Enough of all these serious subjects! February 28, 2013’s Daily Show episode was probably the most I have ever laughed at a television program:
John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and does something. [about the impending government sequester]”
Jon Stewart, channeling a delicate southern belle: “Now that dreadful orange man is speaking in vulgarities. Fetch me the smelling salts, so I can shove them up my ass.”
The Daily Show: Ass Effect (28 February 2013)

         This page was already in rough draft then, and the dialogue was all written, including the banter over the smelling salts, so Jon Stewart’s remark sent me into non-stop laughter. Later in the show, when I was starting to calm down, correspondent Jason Jones inexplicably made a similar remark involving maple syrup and set me off again. The person I was with had no idea what was going on: an inside joke between me and my characters.



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