At this point I would pay to trade places with Donegar. Like no hesitation. All the cred I could acquire would be a worthy expense.
He sat across from me on the chopper, his face an impassive statue. Cut from stone he wasn’t apparently bothered by the buffeting winds, the nervous crackle of energy from our raw group of companions, or most importantly—our intended destination.
Somewhere beneath me, right now, unfolding like the spilling crimson of blood leaking from a gaping gash, the CZ was unfurling. I felt panic claw inside me, a rabid creature tearing through my insides, boiling up into my throat in a scream that I didn’t dare release because I might never stop screaming.
The irony was not lost on me. Over a decade ago I would have given anything to be here.
In fact, I had given everything. Every cred I owned and then some.
I had burned every bridge I had, cashed in every chip, took to the streets and threw myself into dark dirty holes to try and find an Ace who would take me into the CZ. No one would go near this place then, so soon after the Quarantine. Not the church friends who prayed for my husband and son and looked upon me as if I were their special burden to bear. Not his war buddies, soldiers both retired and still active, who all spoke of what a great man he was and wanted to play memory lane with me. As if he were already gone.
I had a vision of me screaming, pleading, begging—leaping across the desk of the sergeant and burying my nails in the face of his former CO. They had carried me out of there. Sedated me. Packaged me back home in our sweet little two bedroom house just around the corner of the church. I’d spent so many tears in that place that I always pictured it underwater now, a forgotten submerged Atlantis.
I’d packed my guitar case. Took my Fichetta and its concealable holster and went in search of runners. It was on the streets that I truly had discovered the futility of my actions. Not even the most die-hard danger seeker was willing to go near that place overrun with insects and a graveyard for anybody stupid enough to have been caught within it. There wasn’t enough cred in the world.
And then…they dropped the bomb.
I can’t tell you where I went. I can’t tell you who I became. I can’t tell you because I don’t remember. I lost a couple of years locked somewhere deep inside my mind in an illusion of happy home life.
The Colonel finally found me. Had me committed. I worked my way back to some semblance of sanity. Enough to paint the picture of civility over myself. I returned to my Church, but the current that ran inside me seethed with hate and rage.
I went through the motions. Much like any other role I had inhabited in my childhood. I acted the part of the widowed parson’s wife. But it never felt real. It was a theater scene.
I hadn’t felt alive again until that meeting with Payne in the Typhoon Lounge. When the grizzled old man had approached me about running I had scoffed. Laughed at the ludicrousness of it. Here I was, a church going waitress, struggling to pay the rent on my apartment and volunteering every waking hour so that I didn’t have to ever be alone.
What did I know about running? Those scary dark denizens of the underworld who would do anything for cred: both the money and the reputation kind.
Those trolls, samurais, mages, A-boys and Aces who had all been too afraid to take the job to enter the CZ.
“We’re here.” The Pilot announced, “Remember in and out. I won’t hold even an extra minute. If you’re not at the pick up zone I’m leaving you.”
His words left a pall over the group. A sickening fear permeated the air. A fear that had kept grizzled veterans from the streets and from the fields unwilling to enter this place years ago.
I’d gotten here. Finally. Down there my son and husband had died. And no one had been willing to help me save them. They’d all been too afraid: “There’s not enough cred in the world for that you crazy bitch!”
Without a look at any of my crew, I stood up and walked right out the door of the chopper, gripping the straps of my chute. As the wind caught me and the sensation of free-falling took over I let go of everything. Axel. AJ. Church-going Renata.
I was a runner now. I was Sateen. I was willing to take on any job.
For the right amount of cred.