I blinked as I came to, lying in the corner of the reactor room. The concrete was cold against my head, my left arm was dead from having lain on it, evidently for a while and blood from a gash on my forehead had dried across my face. Klaxons hammered and bright orange lights were spinning around overhead so it was obvious the base defences had been triggered. In my daze I couldn’t remember if that had been before or after the explosion.
I pulled myself to a sitting position, wincing as a foot-long shard of metal through my right calf pulled painfully against my suit and I tried to shut out the din. Evidently I wasn’t going outside with a tear of this size in my suit and I felt blessed that the room still had atmosphere at all. The ****** canister against the back wall which had exploded was placed next to an oxygen line so when it went up it had ripped the entire wall open. I guessed that the regular supply had run out because it was not on fire and the terminals showed forty four percent emergency oxygen remaining.
Scattered around me were all manner of fragments but what caught my eye was the young woman sharing the floor with me. It was pretty clear that she was gone, her unseeing eyes were fixed on one spot of the roof and her pistol lay an inch away from her hand.
I checked my own ammunition, but all of my magazines were gone. Somebody, perhaps thinking me dead had taken them. I shuffled over to the woman, trying to ignore the roaring pain in my leg but her pistol was also empty, and the terminal suddenly blinked a warning. Oxygen reserves at thirty seven percent apparently, and that could only mean one thing – the emergency system had a leak. I smiled and nodded – of course it did. I looked around for my helmet and saw it across the floor by the other wall. I slid along in a manner I was sure would have been comical at any other time, grabbed the helmet and turned it to see the entire visor smashed in. I looked around in the room for a replacement but all of the bodies were researchers and hadn’t been using one. This particular reactor was in an adjunct building so both doors led to hard vacuum, and the next nearest building was at least five hundred yards away. With my leg in this condition and the distance required, not to mention the possible need for an arc cutter which I did not have, I’d never make it. If I had been in literally any other building in the entire facility I could’ve opened a utility locker; indeed there were probably about twenty spare helmets stashed throughout the base and every single one was out of reach. That’s when I lost my cool and flung the broken helmet across the chamber with a shout of anguish, and it hit the other wall with a loud smack, bounced off the roof and came right back at me, adding insult my ridiculous predicament.
In my sitting position I put my arms up and deflected the projectile with all the grace of a child trying to stop something hitting its face. I was sure if I had been standing it would’ve knocked me on my butt, so I was also gratified there were no witnesses to my folly. However, when the helmet came down again, it clipped the woman on the floor, causing her head to roll to the side, locking eyes with me in a way that chilled my bones. I would’ve moved but something froze me to the spot. She was about the same age as me, with blue eyes like me, red hair and a face which had evidently done more smiling than frowning. She didn’t look dangerous, and for a moment I forgot that not so long ago I had been trying to end her life, preferably without her actually seeing my face. Indeed, it was only the incredibly foolish choice some green had made to throw a frag grenade into a room where friendlies were entering from another door that led to the air-line rupture. It was a complete foul up and no mistake. I could see the green slumped over outside the air shield through the open door, obviously having eaten a bullet shortly afterwards.
“You stupid son of a…” I heard myself say. Some youngsters panicked when they met real combat for the first time, no matter how much they trained beforehand but this war was going badly for everybody. Many of the new recruits that were being sent as backup on these elimination missions had no combat experience outside of the simulators and were sometimes difficult to predict. The slumped figure lay abandoned, forgotten, undignified.
Not so the young woman whose eyes stared into mine; she barely had a mark on her. The uniform was crisp and clean, as though freshly laundered and her skin didn’t even have dirt or perspiration upon it. In fact it wasn’t at all clear what had killed her in the first place until closer inspection revealed a small bullet hole above her heart, directly through the ‘O’ in a logo on her suit. She wasn’t twisted or crumpled, she had both her gloves and boots on, there was no rubble crossing her space and she looked as much like anything to be asleep. All except for those eyes, which hadn’t begun to fragment or pale in death, pupils still perfectly outlined and conveying not an ode to the dreadfully departed but a look perhaps more like recognition, or happiness at her would-be murderess, suffocating against the wall before her. Considering the mess that surrounded us, including myself all blackened and battered I couldn’t begin to imagine where in the room this woman had been when it exploded or how she had come to be laid there almost purposefully, to taunt me in my final moments.
I glanced over at the oxygen again. Twelve percent.
I actually began to feel jealous of her, lying there so peacefully, so perfectly, so angelic waiting for me to join her. Eight percent.
I dropped my empty pistol, realising I had been holding it the entire time and breathed in deeply. Three percent.
I looked into her eyes again and felt myself say:
“Well honey, it looks like you got the easy way”.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.