“Eve…” he says.
The breeze catches his coat and the hair over his dark eyes. They are darker than the night that fell when he turned off the sun. I keep my thoughts tight in my mind, behind the wall he built for me, but flashes of those desperate days rise at the sight of him.
He hasn’t changed, but my hair is turning grey.
“I want it to stop;” he whispers, “everything, all of it.”
I go to him and we sit on the edge of the lake in memory of long ago. The ground has mostly healed its scars, but it seems that he has not. I have not forgotten my promise; “I will be here.”
I wonder what has finally driven him to this.
His tears run against my hand. “I’m sorry,” he says, as I stop brushing his skin and brush his mind instead. “I’m so sorry.”
His soul is naked. How could I do anything but scream.
(The Fortista sector, 4212)
We moved quickly through the city’s rubble, searching for more survivors. When we reached a body, I called them as living or dead. Sometimes; the dead ones were still breathing, but a knife in the right place was quick, finishing a job already started and beyond our capacity to repair.
I was always the one who made the call. I was always the one who followed it through when necessary. I never allowed myself to wonder if I was wrong
I used to cry over it, but I hadn’t cried over anything in a long time. If I didn’t end it out here, they died slowly, sometimes over the course of several days; screaming in agony because we hadn’t the tools, or the training, to keep them alive. That mercy alone justified my actions, though Gods knew, sometimes I wished there was another way.
Sometimes, but not this time, they weren’t even human. I had no sympathy for them. Then there was no call, just a silent despatch and a leaving to bleach in the heat. In the sterile remains of my once fertile world, it was too hot even for maggots.
The crashed ship was small, in the livery of a courier company, probably carrying black market drugs and a couple of desperate passengers on the run from wherever. Why else would they have risked flying through this sector?
Aside from the two kids, we found no one on board that was even half alive. Mary had coaxed them, wide eyed and staring, from the arms of their dead parents. Secretly, I wished them well with the nightmares to come.
“Possible incoming,” said Grant, from my right, as he looked down at the make-do scanner in his hand.
“Range?” I asked.
“Twenty-five klicks,” he replied.
“We’ve got time,” I said. “Five minutes.”
Jay was less assured, edgy; his hand was on his blaster and his eyes scanned the sky. “Make it three.”
“Five,” I said, firmly. I closed my eyes and focused on the whisper that drifted into my mind from the left. “You saw the trajectories, didn’t you? It was losing compartments as it fell. There’s more round here.”
There was a shout from nearby. Mary had found the remnants of the medical supplies box. The morphine vials were broken but the antibiotics were intact, at least. Grant busied himself salvaging parts from the downed ship. These other finds vindicated me and Jay didn’t like that. There were no more survivors though, at least not from the wrecked courier, but I drifted off, in search of whatever it was that was calling to me.
He was lying in a pool of his own blood, but he’d had the wit to crawl into the shade. He’d been here a while; his lips were cracked with the heat and the blood was mostly coagulated, except where it still oozed from the cuts on his face. I knelt to check for a pulse and found it so erratic I was about to conclude he was too far gone. His eyes snapped open for just a moment; dark eyes looked into mine and I saw pain in his face and felt it knocking on my mind. I haven’t got… a lot…of time…His words, not mine, inside my head. I blinked in surprise, sitting down heavily. He had initiated contact!
Oh Gods, he might have looked human but he sure as hell wasn’t; not if he could speak to me like that, not with that freaky pulse and skin that was cool even in the extreme heat.
Not human… but still not one of them, and I was suddenly in a quandary. Cobalt wasn’t stupid. Cobalt would notice something like this and my duty was clear at that point - kill the stranger. But I’d given up hope of ever finding someone like me, especially in a hell-hole like this. A thousand possibilities flipped through my mind; all of them meaning I didn’t have to be alone in my head anymore, and most ending with being summarily executed.
And then he screamed, over and over, so loud I put my scarf over his mouth and resisted the temptation to slit his throat just to shut him up. There was no hiding it now. If he wasn’t dead by the time Jay came over; I was going to have to take him back.
“Eve,” said Jay, for a moment he was silhouetted against the sun and I couldn’t help but think that was a bloody stupid place to stand, “get a move on.”
“He’s got working lungs, at least,” I said. I looked down at the man beside me. He was about 20 centimetres taller than me, but he was slender; this was a good thing because otherwise I couldn’t have carried him. And carry him I had to, the whole three-K back to the tunnels.
“You want a hand?” Grant asked as I rejoined the search party, the stranger draped half over my shoulder as I kicked his feet to keep him moving. I gave up and hoisted him all the way.
“You saying girls can’t carry?” I retorted. I doubted Grant would ever notice the strange heartbeat but I couldn’t take that chance. I had to be the one to haul the stranger the entire way back.
“You’re no girl,” Grant laughed, “girls have pigtails. You gonna find me someone cute, next time?”
“Are you feeling left out?” I smirked, happy to have one over on him. “I thought you had a queue?”
“There’s a queue,” Grant agreed, “but not everyone in it has tickets. You want one?”
“Sure,” I said. “What’s the resale value?”
Jay grumbled the whole way back. We didn’t normally take those who couldn’t stumble unaided, but the fact that Jay could still use his arm meant he’d never argue with my medical judgement. Medical? Blundering around with a text book and a sharp blade. I’m the closest thing they’ve got and I know who he’s fucking so he’d better not fuss too much. I felt the stranger’s blood drip down my back, forcing me to call a halt to our journey. We stopped for no longer than it took to wrap a bandage around the wound in his side, and wonder if this one really was save-able at all.
The sky rumbled with thunder and a promise of impossible rain, and it masked the sound of their approach. We almost missed it; the small patrol, just the one jet, hovering as we crawled underneath rubble hoping we were invisible in our sand-stained clothes. I was suddenly awash in a sense of purpose not my own and I shouted to the others that I could hear something. Jay looked at me and I realised my ‘hearing them’ may have been one coincidence too many.
Truth be told, I was almost glad when the patrol appeared. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could have carried on in the heat and Jay certainly wasn’t going to slack off his pace because I was bringing in a dead man. Mary held the two children she’d found close and quiet, although they still cried. Jay was brooding over his blaster and I could see his mind working out how quickly he could have covered the ground to safety if he hadn’t had us with him. Grant was silently mouthing the words to a song in his head. My stranger; when did he become my stranger? I wondered, remained quiet, aside from the odd muffled moan and words that I didn’t understand. He looked at me briefly, and I pressed my fingers to his lips.
Going… the wrong…way… His words in my head, again. I wondered how his other voice would sound.
“Shhhh,” I soothed.
The sound of the jet moved away, deeper into the ruins, and a collective sigh of relief broke the tension in the rubble. Grant threw his scanner into a corner and snorted in disgust, “Heap of junk.” He looked at me then, head slightly to one side, “Your hearing scares me sometimes,” he said.
“Heh,” I replied, unnerved that he’d also noticed, “that's because I didn’t spend my college years in rock clubs.” I looked at my stranger. “You ready for another piggy back?” I asked.
To my surprise, he smiled and jabbered something unintelligible as he collapsed onto me again.
“You don’t half pick them, Evie,” said Mary, as she escorted the children past.
“Yeah,” I said, as I lifted my charge onto my shoulders and followed.