Ch VI, p. 5

. . .

“Aura works,” he said, sepia casting aside the shadows. The rocky walls of the compact space glistened with moisture from an unseen source and dwarfish stalactites reached down towards his head. All around, he could feel a light draft, seeming to come from nowhere in particular. “It’s pretty well closed off in here. Shouldn’t be hard for one of us to keep an eye out front.”

“That’s not really necessary. I set up a perimeter; it should alert us if anything tries to cross through... But, you know, knock on wood, and all that.”

“That’s inspiring… I’ll keep watch. I feel pretty awake after being asleep for what was it…”

“Six years.”

“Jesus. And you’ve been awake, coherent, whatever for…”

“Three.”

He shook his head heavily. “Man… I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this.”

“You will,” she said simply. “One day, you will wake up and wonder if things were ever any other way.” She sat and crossed her legs, eyeing him curiously. There was a remnant of herself in that man, wild eyed and wary. She didn’t miss the naivety, for the most part.

“We should take stock of our possessions,” she said, unstrapping a few things and laying the objects between them. “I have enough supplies for about two weeks; a week between the two of us.”

He eyed her up and down. Sleek, fitted armor covered her from the chest down, marked in intervals by straps and packets, interrupted by unnaturally curved sections. She didn’t appear fit for long term survival. Then again, neither did he.

“Well,” he said, laying out his cloak and digging through its folds, “Aura, SAT tool, SMD… Oxyphiles. I don’t have much else.”

“It’s okay, we’ll have to share my endess and nutrients… that’s really all we need.”

“What’s an endess?”

“Oh, sorry. That’s kind of a new word. Since the split, nutrient distribution systems have become a lot more common, so I guess we get slang for it now.”

“Oh, I have one of those,” he said, surprised at his own efficacy. Reaching behind himself he pressed a hand against his side and felt a small lump. “Yeah, it’s here. I got one at the vendor and… Oh I forgot to get food.”

“Well, I’m sure there’s some good foraging around here if we need it. In any case, that city can’t be more than a day or two away.”

“I’ll induct these oxyphiles tonight. We can cover more ground that way.”

“You haven’t used them yet?” she said in surprise.

“Nah, I haven’t had the chance.”

“I was wondering why you were so out of breath. I thought it was just from a half decade of inactivity.”

“That too, I’m sure…” He looked outside contemplatively. “So, what are we doing? Just waiting for daybreak?”

“Basically. It’ll be nice to get some sleep. I’ve been cycling my serotonin for a week now,” she said, eyes heavy with exhaustion. “I miss dreaming.” She threw back her head and sighed contentedly.

He had been so tense, but seeing her relax had a calming effect on him… She had always had that kind of steadying presence about her. He smiled blithely, “Remember when we did that working on Eden? I don’t think either of us slept for a month.”

She warmed and brightened at his words. “Now there’s something I wouldn’t care to go through again. I was like a zombie by the end of it, ‘Yes sir, No sir’… But it was worth it, eh?” she said, leaning forward and hitting him on the shoulder, “Ended up saving your life.”

“It did, didn’t it… I just… I don’t remember…”

“Why you were there?”

He nodded.

“I wish I could tell you… But I only ever saw the symptoms. Someone else made all the decisions”

“Symptoms? Of what?”

“Well…” She paused, unsure of how much to tell him. You almost died... she was careful to maintain eye contact, smile, and breathe steadily. If not for Calix and me… “I can’t really say… I wasn’t involved too heavily. I just saw some reports and gave the occasional piece of advice.”

“So you don’t know anything?”

“Only that Genesys ordered toxicological reports on you almost immediately.”

“They thought I’d been poisoned?”

“Oh, they were sure of it.” Damn it… she shouldn’t have let that slip. He didn’t need that hanging over him. “But they never found anything,” she added hurriedly.

I can’t remember… Except… In memory, glass shattered on a concrete floor, scattering. He felt his heart stop, knees crashing to the ground. Ghosts of the event wrenched at his chest and he caught his breath.

“You okay? You look pale.”

“I’m fine, just a little light headed…” Then he merely nodded, saying, “That makes sense, actually…”

I wonder what he means, ‘That makes sense’… What does he know?

“Get some rest, okay?” he went on. “I’ll go watch the front.”

“Looks like the field is holding…” she said. “Should wake me up if anything passes through, but… well, thanks.” She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him tightly for a moment. In all their gear, she had the distinct impression that they were two mannequins locked in plastic embrace.

“Sure. See you in the morning, then.”

Maria reclined on the floor of the cave and ran a series of protection routines. Her armor hardened, her mask reseated itself, and slowly vibrating fibers warmed her skin. She felt her lungs relax and closed her eyes. Then a series of drugs flowed into her system, freeing her of the day’s terrifying memories, and she was loosed upon dream.


. . .


Dom startled awake. He didn’t realize that he had nodded off. He shouldn’t have been so careless.

“Sherrad!” he shouted, sitting up. The darkness swarmed confusingly all around him, dark shapes dancing in front of his eyes. And in the distance, he saw a bright column of light.

“She’s gone, isn’t she…” A voice said, not too far away.

Dom’s mind pieced the black together, everything falling into place. He got up and walked over to the shadowy figure, dark against the waning moon. “Yeah,” he said, placing a hand on the other man’s shoulder and sitting next to him.

“Ah well… I guess it had to happen sometime,” Sherrad moaned airily, “Perfect love cannot be forever.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Alright. It’s a little weird, you know? Every day of your life, you wake up and you have two of everything, two legs, two arms, two eyes. And then one of those stops working and… it’s just the strangest feeling, you know? Not really good or bad, just… strange.”

“Yeah? It doesn’t hurt or anything? You don’t feel nauseous?”

“I’m fine,” he lied. Thinking about it made his stomach churn.

“Sorry I couldn’t do more for you.”

“It’s okay. Edwards can handle it. We just have to head that way,” he said, lifting his severed arm and using it to point into the distance.

“Gross.”

“Hah, isn’t it? Sorry, I know you know which way to go. I just wanted an excuse to do that.”

“We’ll get you home.”

“We should find out what that light is,” he said, nodding towards the white column up ahead.

“Yeah? Okay.” Dom stood and offered his hand. He pulled the boy up and together they continued down the hill, silently breathing in the night.

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