I tucked the sheets around myself tighter and released my breaths in the long slow exhale that Michen had taught me.
Seconds later I cursed and threw the blankets from the ground emerging from my bed with a long-legged swing that drew me upward in sinuous grace brought about by a lifetime of training in Muay Thai.
“Frack.” I wasn’t getting any sleep. Angrily I took it out on the nightstand slamming the drawer open to consider the pharmaceuticals available.
Just as angrily I slammed the drawer shut and instead paced into the hallway and out into the living room. I couldn’t explain the ragged agitation. I should be sleeping like a baby after the CZ job.
“Why didn’t I just stay at the clocktower?” I muttered as I slammed and closed cabinets and drawers in the kitchen. Nothing appealed to me. It wasn’t sleep or food that I wanted.
Moving to the floor to ceiling window of my apartment, I caught myself again staring out over a landscape. This middle class neighborhood didn’t look anything like the grounds near the Clocktower and certainly weren’t a reminder of the twisted dark streets of the CZ. Leaning my forehead against the cold glass I let my breath fog the window as I thought back to the even more gnarly tunnels beneath the Crab Shack.
We weren’t going to make it. Wesley had taken a vicious hit and was even now slung over one of my shoulders. I could barely see in the dark and behind me the skittering of insectoid legs echoed and warned of my impending doom. I didn’t dare stop, I just chased the form of Mavryck in front of me. Up ahead I heard Donegar yell, “UP!” but I couldn’t see Stallion making the frantic climb up the sewage ladder rungs.
All around me the clicking noise of mandibles echoed off the metallic tubular walls and for a moment of insanity I thought to myself—I’m already dead. I’ve been swallowed whole inside an insect’s stomach I now run. Futile.
I crashed into Mavryck, interrupting my morbid and psychotic fantasy. Donegar was ascending the ladder and raining bullets that thudded into chitinous shells in strange cracking pops while trying to maneuver the cargo box up with him. “GO GO GO!” Mavryck shoved Donegar upward as he too grabbed hold of the rungs and pushed the box upward from below. From up above I could hear Shane’s panicked voice, “HURRY!!!”
I turned. Painfully slow due to the weight of the dwarf. I couldn’t quite aim my assault rifle but instead swung it wildly back in the direction we came adding my own melody to the sound of blasted bug flesh.
Mavryck reached down a hand and I stopped shooting long enough to push Wesley up into his outstretched arms and grab a rung. Again I laid down suppressant fire but I could feel them closer. I knew any second I would feel the ripping bites and shredding claws as I was torn apart and eaten.
Would I go then? The same way my son and husband had. Had they died this way? I didn’t even know. For all I knew they had died in the riots to escape. Or perished in the hellfire of the bomb. I could hope that my precious son had not felt pain, I could only plea with the heavens that I might not ever know differently.
I was crying. My mouth was open and I was screaming but I didn’t know what was coming out. I just kept squeezing the trigger and spraying back and forth.
I would die here. In this insectoid hell. I would join them.
The rough grip of a man’s hands on my shoulders jerked my finger from my trigger only momentarily. I could feel another set of hands on my vest, and I was being lifted. My calf banged painfully against the metal rung and with the clarity of the pain I scrambled, my feet finding purchase and kicking myself upward as I returned to blowing chunks of bug all over the surrounding walls. The empty click of the cartridge revealed that I might have continued shooting, possibly hurting or killing my saviors had not I ran out of ammo.
I half flung myself, half was thrown to the floor as Donegar dropped several grenades through the chute and Mavryck swung the cover down over the bug-infested hole.
BOOM! The ground beneath me reverberated and only then did the clicking sound of my empty gun cease.
I had not died. In fact, as my crew gathered the cargo and the unconscious form of Wesley, Mavryck flashed a manic grin at me, “That was pretty kick ass! Now let’s get the frack out of here!”
I was going to live. I was going to make it.
My tears had soaked the window pane and I slid slowly down it, folding onto myself, my forehead never leaving its slicked surface. The sobs were violent. Wracking my body as I let go. I had entered the domain of death. I had tread upon the ground that my loved ones had died on. I had gone where no Runner dared. We had succeeded. We had carried out the cargo. We’d gotten paid.
Mixed in with my grieving tears were tears of pride. While I would never forget Axel and AJ, somehow, I knew that I could firmly close that chapter now. I could embrace this new way of life without guilt or survivor’s shame any longer.