To her shame, Stef heard herself screaming as they fell over the railing and toward the dark pit below.
The impact was painful, and it forced all of the air from her lungs – she lay still for a moment, the constellation Orion dancing in her vision. She fought to get breath back in her lungs and sit up, but her head spun, and she decided to stay where she was for the moment.
She heard Curt wheeze painfully, then heard nothing further from him.
There were other sounds down in the dark pit, however, a third person breathing for one. Large, deep breaths, probably consistent with his size. Astrin, it had to be Astrin.
She heard something sliding over the metal floor, something that could have been… A large clawed hand grabbed her and dragged her off the mattress.
‘I’m sorry,’ she heard the monster whisper as his claws dug deeper into her skin – the wet sensation telling her that he’d drawn blood. She found herself once again aloft, and could do nothing to stop herself from being slammed into the wall. ‘I’m very sorry,’ she heard as her head hit the floor with a sick thunk.
Thoughts swam, and the blinding pain in her head made it nearly impossibly for her to open her eyes.
She felt claws scrape across her throat.
‘He may be a man beneath that visage, but is also a man who was killing to eat.’
‘Astrin!’ she screamed, and threw up a little. ‘Stop!’ The claws didn’t sink into her throat, but neither were they removed. She forced herself to open her eyes and look at the monster. ‘Astrin,’ she whispered, tasting puke. ‘It’s me.’
Yeah, and who are you to him? You look different, and you were hunting him!
‘From Jon’s house, I was one of Dorian’s hackers.’
Not enough Spyder, give him more.
‘I broke your code, I decrypted it, I can tell you what you need to know, just don’t kill me.’
The claws left her throat, but as a compromise, he pressed one heavy – and also clawed foot – onto her stomach. It was a message, it was a warning – he would listen to her, but wanted her to know that she wasn’t in control.
And that’s different how? You’re never in control, Spyder.
Please don’t yell at me, just help me, please. Please.
Ok, ok, shh. For starters, stop reaching for your gun, he’ll gut you with his big foot before you can even get it out of your holster.
She stopped moving the hand she hadn’t even noticed was creeping toward her girly-gun.
And now tell him what he wants to know.
‘The mirror is falling tomorrow night,’ she said slowly.
‘You are angel-kind now, I can’t believe anything you say.’ He shifted his weight, and his clawed foot dug deeper into her skin. ‘And that is something I already knew.’
You already knew?! You already knew?! Then- ‘-why the fuck did everyone die then?’ she screamed, unable to help herself, ‘every other hacker, working on your stupid fucking broken piece of shit code died!’
Then he said it. ‘It wasn’t my code, just my memories.’
He opened his mouth, all the way for once, and she shuddered when she realised that it was wide enough to take her head off with one bite – there would probably be some gnashing and chewing involved, but-
‘Do you know where it’s falling?’ she asked, fighting the urge to the just scream and scream and beg for a rescue.
‘You’re not the only one after it, you know.’
The claws on her stomach drew blood. ‘I’m killing anyone who gets in my way.’
‘I’m not in your way,’ she whispered.
‘No, but I’m hungry, and the child I carry is hungry. And I need strength enough to fight angels.’
She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to beg. Screw this, I want the blue pill, I want the blue pill!
Are you still listening to me?
Flashbang, one second fuse.
She required the grenade.
Pull the fscking pin, Spyder.
She pulled the pin, dropped the grenade, and for what it was worth, closed her eyes. A small supanova went off to her left, and she threw up again. She heard Astrin scream, and felt him fall backward.
The world spun, and she felt relief flood in. The smell of recycled air met her nose, and she slowly sat up, not even bothering to open her abused eyes yet. She fought to steady herself – her spinning head wanting her to stay horizontal.
‘What the fark, newbie?’ Curt called from somewhere to her right. ‘Flashbang? Where the hell did you learn to use a flashbang?’
‘I’m a gamer,’ she whispered.
Strong hands pulled her to her feet, and helped her onto one of the beds. She opened her eyes and looked around at the still-fuzzy world. ‘Oh crap,’ she muttered as she looked at the doctor, ‘I’m seeing double.’
The doctor brought up a hand. ‘How many fingers.’
‘Three,’ she mumbled, ‘and a thumb. But there’s two of you.’ She waved at him, and made a vague gesture at his echo across the room. That was treating Curt. And making completely different movements. ‘I’m not seeing double am I?’
‘I thought you got stabbed, newbie,’ Curt said.
‘She was unconscious,’ the twin in front of her explained, ‘and we weren’t here when she left. We’re the Parkers.’
‘You’re both named Parker?’ she asked as a wave of nausea hit, and she stifled the urge to puke. ‘How do we tell you apart?’
He injected something into her neck, and pushed her down onto the bed. ‘You’ll figure it out, if you live long enough.’ He closed the curtain between the beds, required away her shirt and began to treat the scratches on her stomach. ‘You’re not shaping up to live that long. I know you’re new, but it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since you were in here last. Try to be more careful, we really don’t need another Magnolia.’
‘What’s a Magnolia?’
‘Shit newbie,’ Curt said from the next bed, ‘you’ve been more than twenty-four hours and you don’t know about Magnolia yet? You’ll know her when you see her.’
‘Same could be said for the invisible man,’ she muttered. She looked up to the doctor. ‘I’m pretty sure I have a concussion, confusion is not good right now.’
‘She’s one of Agent Taylor’s recruits. Her injuries are rather…frequent, and not all of them occur in the field.’
Curt’s doctor poked his head around the curtain for a moment. ‘Girl’s a masochist, so much so we keep a running tally on the injuries that happen during missions, during training and during foreplay.’
She fought the urge to retch again. ‘I guess you don’t adhere to the Hippocratic Oath,’ she muttered, ‘thanks, my poor brain did not need that.’
‘We couldn’t do our job if we had to listen to that archaic piece of mortal bullshit,’ Curt’s doctor said. ‘And when it comes down to it, medical knowledge makes us all the more dangerous, the blokes downstairs can shoot a gun, sure, but I can make someone shit out their intestines, and if someone threatened what is mine, don’t think I wouldn’t, so “do no harm” can kiss my ass.’
Her doctor smiled, then applied a few cold gel patches before wrapping her stomach. ‘Give these a couple of hours, then take a shower.’
‘Ok,’ she said.
‘You decent newbie?’ Curt called.
Her doctor required her into a nice, clean uniform. ‘Well, I’m dressed,’ she said, ‘decency’s kind of-‘
‘Dressed will do,’ he said as he pulled the curtain open. He had a bandage wrapped around his head, and another around his wrist. ‘Come on, let’s go downstairs and check in on the techs.’
With the assistance of her doctor, she slid off the edge of the bed, and walked the few feet to meet Curt.
It was then that she noticed the three doors. They were all the same size, lined up next to each other. ‘Do I really need to ask the obvious?’
‘See if you can work it out yourself,’ Curt said as he leaned back against the wall.
She experimentally walked out the left door. It wasn’t a floor that she recognised. It was basically a clone of the other floors – just in the same way that the field floor and the tech department had the same basic layout. ‘Choice three?’ she asked.
‘Combat floor,’ Curt replied, ‘protip: stay the hell away from there unless you’ve got good reason or a death wish.’
She walked through the middle floor, and the familiar field floor greeted her. The door on the right, to no surprise, was the tech department. ‘But why,’ she asked, ‘are there three doors that are kinda bending the laws of space-time?’
‘So that when you’ve got something less than a missing limb, you can drag your own ass in here,’ Curt’s doctor said. ‘And it’s always amusing to point drunk combat recruits at the tech department, just to have them attacked by the lolcat squad.’
‘Again,’ she muttered, ‘the Hippo-‘
‘Hippocrates,’ Curt’s doctor said, ‘can suck-‘
She quickly stepped out into the tech department, the whoosh of the automatic doors chopping off the end of the slightly taller Parker’s sentence.
There was the sound of a volcano rumbling behind her.