Fae, Vera, and Kita moved through the hallway towards the open lift doors. The pop and whine of Vera’s gun urged them forward; Fae’s body shuddered with every sickening thud.
“Vera, we’re going to have to jump and grab the cable. You grab Kita and go first. I’ll make sure the door closes behind us.”
Vera nodded and backed up to the lip and kneeled. She fired twice more, Fae watching in horror as two more teenage kids fell to the ground. Then Vera slung her weapon on her back and patted her knee. Kita clambered up Vera’s knee and laid over her shoulder.
Vera leaned over the lip to look down, patted Fae on the shoulder and said, “see you on the other side!”
She jumped, one arm holding Kita on her shoulder and the other reaching out for the cable. Fae watched them slide down with ease then she turned to look down the hall. A frail, young girl was slumped against the wall with two other bodies resting at her feet. One was facedown, dead. The other rested on his back, his hands shook as they kept pressure on a chest wound. In the silence, Fae heard the raspy rattle of phlegm and blood caught in his throat. Below, metal squealed and boots touched down. More footsteps pounded down the hallway, echoing the pulse pounding in her temples.
Another door in the hallway opened up two heads peeking out. Fae fired two shots in their direction. They darted back into the room, slamming the door shut. More were coming still, but she turned, unblocked the lift doors and leapt for the lift cable, catching it easily.
Vera called up as Fae slid down, “It’s clear down here, but be careful, I had to swing the cable over and latch onto the wall and jump down. It’s not a big jump, just bend your knees.”
As Fae slid down, the cable pitched to one side until it met the wall, then she leapt onto the lift car nearly a floor below next to Vera. The car dipped down, metal groaned, and then there was silence.
Fae and Vera stood stock-still and looked at each other wide eyed. Vera started to smile, then slowly laughed to herself until it grew. Fae joined, and felt the tension lifting. Kita ran between their legs, tongue and tail wagging.
The lift car jolted, slipped, then plummeted. The cable snapped taut away from the wall and slapped Vera into the wall of the shaft. With a stomach-turning pop, the cable slackened and the car dropped out from under them.
Fae sputtered, trying to clear the thick, rust-rained air from her lungs. The taste of blood filled. Her mouth and each cough—each breath—racked her chest with lancing pains. She tested her toes, then her legs. Everything hurt, but she could move.
As she stood, Fae heard Kita whine a few feet away. The dust was settling still, but, with the dim light of her Slate, Fae could see Kita’s bushy tail. Fae scanned around, trying to get her bearings. Mangled steel and hunks of shattered concrete covered the top of the lift car. Fae was near an opening in the bottom of the wall, most likely the basement lift door, although she couldn’t quite tell in the darkness. She traced the limp cable from the center of the lift to over by Kita.
Fae pulled off the concrete and steel rubble, but she already knew Vera was gone. In the chaos of the fall, Vera must have still been conscious and laid atop Kita to shield her from the falling debris. Kita’s muffled whimpers got louder as Fae rolled off the last few pieces of concrete and lifted the spooled cable off Vera’s body.
Kita shimmied out, but laid next to Vera’s body, letting out a low whine and tugging at her bloody sleeves. Fae sat down next to Kita and stroked her behind the ears. She held Vera’s already cold hand, feeling the knuckles, rubbing the fingers, flexing the joints. She hoped for the warmth to return, for Vera’s fingers to move again. She cried tears she hadn’t cried for ten years, tears that fell on Scottie Tully’s dead hands like they fell on Vera’s now. She cried with Kita.
Fae had struggled to pull Kita away from Vera’s body, but finally, after taking Vera’s bag and using one of Kita’s toys, Fae lured Kita into The Deco’s basement. Kita knew she was leaving Vera behind—she still did—but she followed Fae through the dim basement anyway. Kita followed her all the way home,both crashing onto Fae’s bed. Fae hollowly pet Kita just to keep her hands busy; Kita whined, nearly flinching with every scratch.
Hours passed, the apartment’s lights shifting from a shade of blue to a light purple. Fae stood in the bathroom, staring at her bruised and cut face in the mirror, tracing every blemish that hadn’t been there less than 12 hours earlier. The smears of sweaty dirt streaked across her cheeks took a few minutes of rough scrubbing to remove. A shower cleaned most of the dirt and dust. But the bruises, cuts, and burns all remained. Her body was riddled with tender blue-purple bruises, the smaller ones turning yellow already. As the water flowed down her body, it singed cuts that hadn’t bled enough to be seen. Sixteen blistered squares arranged in a four-by-four grid formed on her left shoulder where the gun’s heatsink had touched her. Its burn was constant, the water only intensified it.
She paced a lot, thinking about Vera, about the heat of the guns, about pulling the trigger. She thought about murder. Then she thought about Kita. The blood in her white fur came out easy enough with a quick shower, but afterward she sulked back to the bed. Fae spoon-fed her the can of food Vera had packed in her bag. Kita ate slowly.
Keeping her mind busy, Fae went through Vera’s bag. She stacked five hard drives, four of which were connected, next to a few wrinkled notebooks. She folded Vera’s grungy change of clothes and put her scratched tablet-sized Slate on top of the pile. She kept the railgun in the bag, scared to look at it again and hoping her PI hadn’t recognized it. The rest of the things, mostly small trinkets like old IDs, weird cables, folded up nostalgic pictures, and some pens were put into a small pile.
Fae unfolded the photos, one by one. The first few pictures were of a younger Vera standing with a taller, much more proper looking gentleman in a tiny, messy studio apartment. The back side of the photos were dated twelve years earlier, labeled “Harry Robin & Vera Lark. The Early Days.” More pictures of Harry and Vera, this time in a newer space coupled wit the same handwriting on the back: “First office.”
New people began to drift into the photos as they started to look more official. Vera dressed more business-like, her hair was pulled back tight. The offices appeared cleaner, a new logo hanging in the window. Fae started to notice prominent WELL CEOs drifting into the pictures, each picture label mentioning a new merger or a new deal.
The last picture was a candid photo behind a blond woman and Harry Robin looking at a computer screen. Harry’s lanky arm was around the woman’s shoulder, his face hovering uncomfortably close to her ear. A sliver of the computer screen could be seen, the points of sharp black diamonds peaking out. Vera could be seen in the background working at another computer, a look of disgust on her face. The back of the photo read “Juno Vikars & Harry. The end.” The date was ten years ago. Below the label was a number that wasn’t on any other photo: 2-34.
“Good morning, Fairweather.” Fae jumped. “I seem to have startled you. I’m sorry. This is your scheduled 6:00AM wakeup alarm. I noticed you have acquired a dog, so I have put in an order for the relevant dog food. It will arrive later today. I’ve also put in an order to replace your tattered clothing—they will also arrive today. If you would like, I can have more medical supplies sent as well.”
“That won’t be necessary. Do I have any pressing work messages this morning?”
“There are seven noncritical and zero critical messages. Five pertain to a Hydro project that is still open on your work Slate and the remaining two messages are from Timur asking about your whereabouts. Shall I let him know you are injured?”
“No, no. Don’t do that. Let him know I’m-” Fae trailed off trying to think of how she actually felt. She wasn’t fine—far from it. The thought of work, of continuing on in life after what had happened at The Deco was... crippling. How could she go back and sit at her desk? She didn’t know it at the time, but she realized it now: reaching out to Vera had started something.
The more she dug, the more mysteries that started to appear. And now there was a new one: what did Juno Vikars, one of the founders of Sigma Dynamics, have to do with the diamonds?
“Tell him I’m fine, but I’ll be in a bit late today.”
Fae scooped all of Vera’s belongings back into the bag, wrapping the spare change of clothes around the railgun, covering the blue glowing icon. She got dressed quickly, throwing on a pair of fitted pants and tall boots. She put on a simple long sleeve shirt, a small scarf and grabbed a light military-style jacket, snapping her Slate into the sleeve and selecting a randomized casual color setting. Her pants turned a light tan, her shirt a deep blue. The jacket stayed it’s usual olive shade, the color only shifting minutely darker. The scarf turned gray.
Fae turned around to look at her stark white apartment bathed in the yellow and white glow of day. The vidscreen showed a sunny day outside, but all Fae could think of were the pink, broken bodies lying around toppled trash cans and dying in Lip. She shook the image from her head, picked up Vera’s bag, and whistled to Kita like Vera had. Kita knew it wasn’t the same—it never would be—but she came slowly. They both needed to clear their heads. They needed to get out.