Short story time!
Exact timing on this isn’t overly important – post Importance of Imagination, but that’s about it.
Stef went out for a Tech-related recon. Shit went sideways.
It would be okay.
It had to be okay.
The taste of blood was strange. So familiar, but so different every time.
They hadn’t followed her. She was safe. For whatever measure of safe was, when you were bleeding to death.
The wall was cool beneath her cheek, a nice contrast to the heat in her chest, the blood was the was flowing down to pool in her lap. So warm. Just like when she’d been in the accident. She’d thought it was a blanket, until she had moved, and the pooled blood had poured away.
And in her HUD, a countdown sat, ticking down her seconds in a carefree way. The emergency blue, in the packet that reminded her so much of icing that came with packet-mix cakes – had slowed the bleeding, had done enough work to keep death from being immediate but-
But the seconds were ticking away anyway.
The drone had seen her. Help would be on its way. Its operator – whoever it was this time of day – would have alerted the Combat go team to get their butts into gear.
Everything was silent.
She was dying. Objectively, she was dying. But somehow, it wasn’t scary this time. Maybe it was because her life had been fuller this time. It was more to msis if she closed her eyes and never opened them again, but there were thoughts to keep her happy.
And she wasn’t going to die, no matter what the countdown in her HUD said.
If worse the worst came, and her mind started to fuzz before help came, she could find something sharp, and dig for her heart. But-
But her mind was clear. And she had time.
She concentrated on her breathing. On not moving. On not tearing the precious seals that the blue had made.
She closed her eyes, and concentrated on not moving. On not-
There was the sound of footsteps. Sharp, clear footsteps that were out of step with the concrete floor that she was lying on. Lying on. She’d been sitting up. She’d been-
Slipped. Slipped and hadn’t noticed. Blood was pooling. Brain was-
Cold and warm and cold and fuzzy and not-
Sharp footsteps. The distinct sound of Agency shoes on Agency floor. The rhythm of the footsteps made her think of Ryan. Made her-
Even her HUD was fuzzy. Fuzzy and wrong and- Blood warm. Blood in her mouth. Blood on her hands. Blood everywhere-
Timer red. Timer in the negative. On borrowed time. Every second being gambled and won.
Should have been dead. They hadn’t found her. Too good at hiding.
Wish. Mirror wish. She had to-
Hand on her face. Burning. Or her face was made of ice.
She couldn’t make out the word. Couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. Wanted to cry. Couldn’t cry. Couldn’t move.
The hand settled on her cheek, cupping her face. ‘Rest, sweetheart. Just rest.’
Ryan. But- Something- Something not quite right about the voice.
‘I’m here. Close your eyes, I promise it doesn’t hurt.’
Shadow of a man. Grey coat. The familiar outline of a face. Solid. Ghost. Something. Nothing. Grey and fog and real and stone and-
She forced her mouth open, lips sticking with tacky blood. ‘S-sc-ared.’ The word was barely more than shaped air, and if she hadn’t known that she had said it, it wouldn’t have reached her own ears.
‘Try not to be.’
Words spoken in the voice of someone used to pain. Used to-
She coughed, and this forced something like a scream out of her body.
Red numbers indicate the seconds she had stolen from the world.
Hands couldn’t move. Couldn’t do-
The room was bright. She knew it was bright. But it didn’t seem to be. Light didn’t seem to be reaching through her eyes. Everything was dark. Everything would be black soon.
Warm hand on cold cheek. Hair being smoothed back from her face.
I don’t want-
I don’t want to go away. I’m not done.
Everything was quiet. Cold. Hands no longer had feeling.
One more second. She could last one more second. She-
Another second ticked up in her HUD. Another. Ano-
Something smacked into her. A wave of pressure.
Light came back.
Pain came back.
She tried to focus. To blink. Fuzzy shapes moved. She felt wet – but it wasn’t blood. Blue. Someone had- Blue. She was covered in blue. And it was doing its best to bring her- Not back. She hadn’t gone anywhere. Best to hold her. To keep her.
Thoughts became easier, even as the pain intensified.
She coughed, and felt herself spitting blood.
A light in her eyes. A bright, too-bright, light in her eyes. Hands on her, pulling her upright.
‘No space for a stretcher, ma’am,’ a voice said, as someone lifted her, one arm under her arm, another under her legs, ready to carry her across a threshold.
She tried to focus. Hewitt. Combat recruit. The rescue team. A little late, but not- Still in time.
Her body jostled as Hewitt carried her from the room, and everything went sideways as she was shifted.