ch. VIII, p.3

. . .

She had sat cradling him amongst the trees for some time before she stood, gripping at the nape of his shirt, and dragged him back into the cave, unsure that anything was happening at all.

As she entered, light emanated ominously all around her, the walls glowing dimly with energy gathered from some unseen source. She shut her eyes tight and sat with her back to the rock, holding his body against hers.

Once or twice, she checked his pulse, jamming her fingers against his throat harder than was necessary, as if it might get his heart started again.

“God damn it, Frank…” she muttered quietly, wiping her eyes, her voice cracked and weary. She had seen death overtake many people, some of whom she knew quite well, but she had never before held death in her arms.

Hours passed as she sat quietly, her mind drawing a blank. She kept watch on the field outside, searching for more of those creatures, when a dull and sickening notion presented itself to her a second time:

What if this isn’t Frank Marrus… What if this is one of Calix’ sick experiments, the real man long dead… A cold chill seized her spine and her muscles tensed. It was all too great a possibility.

She recoiled at the feeling, wishing she could somehow slide away without having to touch the body. Maybe it was the coldness of their suits, guarding them from the world and from each other, or maybe she saw her own death in him; but something broke inside of her, and, unfeeling, she lifted the dead flesh away from herself and let it roll onto its side.

Skin quivering, she slowly pushed herself backwards until she bumped up against a wall, where she sat staring at him, knees tucked against her chest. That’s not Frank… It can’t be.

Her tongue tasted coppery, and there was an acute pain in her lip. Catching her breath, she pressed a hand to her mouth, red with blood. Her mind had lost itself, but something about biting open her lip brought her back into her body. This is real. Frank is dead. And I have no idea where the hell I am…

She was no stranger to contending with the grim realities of life and death. And though this was more difficult in ways, the same speech she had given herself countless times still applied. “And if I don’t get it together NOW,” she whispered harshly, “I am going to die, too.”

She stood and shook away her debilitating fear of the world around her. She was going to need a clear and directed mind to be able to handle this. First things first… she demanded of herself, preserve the body.

Walking across the cave, she rolled the dead man’s… Frank’s… body over, and gazed into his smashed and broken face. She grimaced and put a hand to her mouth, but didn’t look away. She would have to grow accustomed to seeing it if she was going to be able to take him with her.

So now I have to face the truth, she thought, accessing his suit’s biological maintenance systems. I have to be honest with myself… I didn’t come here for the man. I came here for his body and his memories…

And it was such an ugly truth.

‘Preservation routines enacted,’ slid into existence, overlaying the dead. ‘Body will begin to decompose in twenty one days.’

Leaning over him, she pressed a small black cube to his neck. With a light ‘ka-ck,’ a set of diagnostic nanomachines entered his blood. Soon, she would know who, or what, he really was.

Okay… she thought. The hard part was done. She sat down and took a deep breath, shaking uncontrollably. For the second time in three years, she found herself completely and utterly abandoned by the world.

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