Scene 46 – Cruor

CRUOR

ADAM

Derek shook me awake quickly. I had never expected to go to sleep at reasonable hours at college, but when zombies can attack at any moment, you don’t really have the luxury of staying up to late. You get whatever rest you can.

I glanced at the clock. 1 AM. Dammit, it was a Thursday too. I had classes in the morning. Well, I guess I’d have to skip them.

I jumped out of bed quickly, dressing in a small set of tactical armor (basically just black cloth with plastic plates woven in) and grabbing my gun case. I belted everything in their now-familiar positions: Pistol on my right hip, SMG on my left, shotgun over my right shoulder and the rifle over my left.

The others were ready before me, of course. Akane was wearing the new black gi Ling had given her, but she wasn’t wearing Flynn’s earrings. I guess that wasn’t all that surprising, but she had seemed so excited when she first got them. Whatever. I had more important things to worry about.

We collected Laura in the lobby, and met the retinue out front. It seemed as though Necessarius was using Laura’s changeling as an early warning system. Not to mention that they were always outside our dorm in the van.

Kat was conspicuous by her absence, and no one talked much. Usually I ended up striking up a conversation with George, but he was too subdued. He hadn’t been very close with Kat, I knew, but its still hard when someone is just ripped out of your life like that.

I didn’t say anything stupid like ‘She’ll be fine,’ or ‘We’ll find a cure.’ She might be and we might find one, but right now they were just empty platitudes.

Our destination was under a mile away, so at least the silence didn’t stretch for more than a couple minutes. Before it had any real chance to get awkward, we were already there, at the Necessarian redoubt, piling out of the van.

“Where is everyone?” Kelly asked, glancing around. Alex followed, fumbling for her night vision goggles.

Jarasax frowned. “I don’t know. MC said they were here. Something’s not right.”

I agreed. Even disregarding MC, there was obviously a redoubt here, built within the last five minutes or so. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a bunch of upended tables arranged outward, in the hopes it would keep the screamers out, but that isn’t something that people just leave in the middle of the street.

But there was no one around. No ‘sarians, no civilians, and no screamers. I couldn’t even hear them.

I nudged Derek. “Where are they? Can you tell?”

“Up ahead,” he muttered, and listening closely I could hear a dull drone coming from that direction. “I have a bad feeling. It’s a big group.” He gestured Akane and Ling forward, and they headed off at a fast pace, with only the slightest hesitation on Ling’s part. In the darkness, they fell out of sight very quickly.

“Let’s get up in the buildings,” Kelly advised. “Travel by rooftop.” Domina’s structures were so close together that it was actually a viable option to jump from roof to roof. Hell, half the time there were ziplines already set up for the bigger gaps.

We went for the structure to the left, a vertical mall of stores, leaving Derek on the ground with Akane and Ling. We actually had to pick the lock—oddly, none of the windows were broken, and Kelly didn’t want to risk any screamers hearing us. It only took a moment; Alex’s skills were supreme.

The ground floor was just clothing, mostly winter stuff, and the second floor was their storeroom. We could have used the customer elevator, but no one felt comfortable with that, so we used the stairs in the back, peeking at each floor in case there was anything useful.

There wasn’t. There were a few electronics stores, but most were more clothing. Every other floor was another storeroom, and we did see some useful things in those, but nothing really worth mentioning.

It was a twenty-story building, but we finally managed to come out on the roof. My legs were sore, but not aching. Weeks of running and fighting for your life toughens you up pretty fast.

We made good progress over the rooftops. As expected, there were various planks, ziplines, and ladders that made the whole thing easier. Laura had a bit of trouble on some of the more difficult jumps, but the power package improved agility enough so that we didn’t have to worry about her too much.

Eventually we reached the last building, overlooking the square where the screamers were. It was about thirty stories, so with the darkness it was hard to tell what was going on below, but I could see a massive crowd writhing below. Their screams wafted up slowly, that same emotionless sound we had all come to dread.

Laura glanced down, then stepped back from the edge and pulled out her phone. The rooftop was relatively uncluttered, just a couple air conditioning units and a short wall to keep maintenance men from falling. She leaned against one of the boxy metal units, more tired than the rest of us.

“Derek, what’s it look like down there?”

The rest of us could hear heavy breathing; she had her phone on speaker. After a moment, Derek spoke.

“Not good. There are maybe a thousand screamers here. I haven’t seen them use their powers, but I think they already infected everyone in the area. I can’t see any survivors.”

“What about the ‘sarians?” I asked. I noted out of the corner of my eye that Kelly was looking down on the crowd with a pair of binoculars; with her nighteyes, she’d be able to see more.

“I see a few,” he replied quickly. “All infected. They’re kinda just…milling around. They aren’t as destructive as most of the other screamers. I don’t know why.”

“Probably because there’s no one for them to fight,” Laura mused. “Do you see any singers? If the Composer was smart, that might be why they all got infected so fast.”

“No, no, I don’t see any.”

“One second, Derek.” I turned to Kelly. “How about you?”

She lowered the binoculars and scratched the device on her left arm, shaking her head. “No, me neither.” She frowned. “I don’t like this. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“We need to know their power,” Jarasax pointed out. “But the second those three strike, the zombies are gonna be on them like maggots on a corpse. They can’t hold them all off.”

“If their power is geared completely towards infection, we should be fine,” Ling pointed out from over the phone.

Alex shook her head. “Not something we want to test. That’s still a lot of zombies.”

George shifted the weight of his minigun, frowning. “Hey…if they’re not attacking at all…” he trailed off.

“Yes?” I prompted. He might not be the smartest in the retinue, but he knew it, and kept his mouth shut unless he actually had a good idea.

He shook his head. “I’m just wondering—if they’re all infected, and they’re not attacking, that means that there are no civilians left to get hurt, and no one to shoot down a chopper.”

Laura brightened. “Of course. Have Necessarius airdrop some knockout gas. That’ll do the trick.”

I threw up my hands. “Why didn’t we do that before? Not all of them had ranged attacks.”

She shrugged. “Most did, but more importantly, screamers have a higher resistance to that sort of thing than civilians. It takes longer for it to take effect, and it won’t last as long. The civvies would get torn to shreds in the meantime.”

I snorted. “Seems like an acceptable price to pay, considering the losses we’ve been taking.”

“There is a difference between failing to protect civilians and signing their death warrant yourself,” Derek insisted from the phone. “This was never an option until now.”

“Besides,” Laura put in. “The biters were the only ones without a ranged attack. They sent a helicopter near the burners, and it got shot down.” She scratched her chin. “Of course, we’ll need backup. The gas will only work for about an hour. MC? You listening?”

The woman’s cheerful voice chimed in. “Yes, I am. You said there were about a thousand, all confined to the one square?”

I blinked. We hadn’t said that. But it was true regardless, so Laura confirmed it. “Yes.”

“Good. I’ll have a chopper and a company of peacekeepers down there shortly. You might want to figure out the screamers’ power first, though. Don’t want them walking into it completely blind.”

“Agreed,” Laura replied tersely. “But we’ll still need to wait for reinforcements. Derek, you on board?”

“Yeah, of course. Just give us a minute to get in position.”

It was a small thing, but those are always the ones that give you pause. Kelly had started looking down on the horde again, and she spoke. She didn’t say ‘crap,’ or ‘uh-oh’ or any of a thousand other things that would have immediately clued us in on the danger.

She just said “Huh,” in a curious tone of voice. Like she had seen something unexpected and unimportant.

That got my attention pretty quickly, though I’m still not sure why, and I walked to her side with a frown.

“What’s up?”

She shook her head, not putting down the binoculars. “I’m not sure. It’s…interesting, but I don’t quite know what to make of it.”

I frowned. “Out with it.”

She shrugged sheepishly. “Well…the screamers are bleeding.”

I blinked.

“It took me a while to notice. At first I thought they were just covered in blood from their victims. But every single one I’ve seen has been bleeding, usually from the hand. It’s curious.”

I flipped out my phone and speed-dialed Derek. He picked up quickly.

“Their power has something to do with blood,” I told him. “Hell if I know what, but Kelly noticed that they’re all bleeding. Be careful down there.”

“We will,” he promised, and hung up.

Somehow, I wasn’t reassured.

I walked back to the others, specifically Laura. “We think their ability is blood-based. What’s your research say about that?” Laura and Doctor Clarke—mostly Clarke—had been studying the powers as much as possible. She had explained that progress was frustratingly slow, since the screamers wouldn’t cooperate (obviously), and the sane people with powers were too busy to help.

She shook her head. “It’s hard to say. We’ve identified a few interesting things, but nothing that will really help here.”

I leaned against the air conditioner. It’s not like I had anything else to do. “What kind of interesting things?”

She warmed to the subject. This was probably a perfect time to ask. Keep her mind of Kat’s absence, and more specifically her inability to fix it.

“Well, it seems powers are both more and less specific than you’d think. Take Ling’s power, for instance. What would you call it?”

I shrugged. “The power to control earth?”

She grinned. “Yes, but its more than that. You see, she’s actually telekinetic.”

“Meaning…she can move objects with her mind.”

“Yes, exactly. That’s her power. But it seems like everyone—or the kineticists, anyway, since they’re our largest sample group—have a talent as well.”

“Ling’s is to move earth,” I said slowly.

“And the burners’ is to move fire,” she finished excitedly. “We don’t have any conclusive list of powers yet, of course, but it seems like the first one we encountered was actually a pyrogenic, rather than a kineticist. She could create it, but not control it.”

Jarasax put his phone away. I hadn’t even noticed him pull it out. “Alpha Company is here, and is advancing on the southern flank.”

“Good,” Laura said with a nod, jumping back on track. “Tell them to lay down some suppressive fire, get the screamers’ attention, while Derek’s team does recon.” Jarasax nodded and pulled out his phone again to relay the orders.

Something didn’t feel right.

“This is Alpha leader,” his phone chirped. He apparently had thought to put it on speaker. “All platoons are moving forward now.”

I was missing something important.

“We are in visual range of the enemy. Advancing. They don’t seem to have spotted us.”

Something about what Laura had said…

“Engaging now.” There was a brief pause. “They seem to be returning fire…”

That was finally enough for my subconscious to decide it had enough information, and explain the situation to my conscious mind.

I grabbed Jarasax’s phone frantically. “Alpha leader, fall back now! I repeat, fall back now!”

Sax tried to grab his phone back. “What the hell, Adam?” The rest of the retinue were staring at me too, though George was moving towards the edge with his minigun. He was confused, but he had learned to trust his instincts.

“Negative, sir,” Alpha leader responded. “Enemy fire is minimal. We can handle it.”

“It’s not fire! It’s blood! That’s how they infected everyone! They’re shooting infected blood!”

The only response from his end was screaming. A tuneless, emotionless scream of pure noise. Then the line went dead, probably as a zombie stepped on the radio.

I cursed and tossed the phone back to Jarasax. “They’re lost,” I said tiredly, brushing my hair back from my sweat-stained forehead. “Derek, you hear all that?”

“Yes, and we can still save them—”

There were sounds of a scuffle from his end of the line.

Laura immediately jumped up, her hand on her necklace. “Derek, respond. What’s wrong?”

Ling’s voice replied instead. “He’s trying to run into a horde of zombies. Akane’s trying to stop him. One sec.”

I cursed. “Derek, Alpha Company is gone. We’ll collect them when we gas the rest of the screamers.”

There was muffled cursing from the line, then I heard his voice in the background. “No…I…get off me—”

“Derek is out cold,” Ling reported after a moment. “We have to run. There’s no way we can fight while protecting him.”

Laura muttered something unprintable. “Fine. We’ll take it from here.” She hung up the phone and looked at the rest of us, a determined expression on her face. “We’re going to have to be careful. One drop and you’ll turn. But we should be safe up here.”

“Wait,” George said. “I’m still confused. What’s their power?”

“Something to do with blood,” I replied. “Either controlling it or creating it and shooting it like a squirt gun, it doesn’t matter.”

“Probably the former,” Laura mused. “If it was the latter, it might not be infectious.”

I waved my hand. “Whatever. When’s that chopper getting here?”

She wiggled her hand from side-to-side. “Eh, twenty minutes. We can just wait. It’s dark, and the helicopter is remote-piloted. They won’t sense any blood on it, and probably wouldn’t be able to reach it if they did.”

I frowned. “Wait, back up. What do you mean ‘sense any blood?’”

“Oh, didn’t I mention that?” She shrugged. “Yeah, from some of the things Loga and Ling said, its become clear that kineticists can sense things they can control. That’s why using a helicopter against the burners was right out; they could sense the heat of the engine, and make it explode. Well, they did do it.”

I stared at her. “So these bleeders can sense us?”

Her mouth gaped in surprise for a moment, but then she blinked, and smiled again. “Yes, of course, but they would have already attacked if they were going to.”

George readied his minigun. “Didn’t you say something about the screamers having both ‘aggressive’ and ‘defensive’ types?”

Laura nodded. “Correct. And these are clearly defensive.”

“But they can switch, right?”

“Yes. Only from defensive to aggressive, but yes.”

“Would an entire company of peacekeepers be enough to make that switch?”

Kelly, still looking down the side of the building, was the one who answered. “Apparently so. Or maybe they just want to say hi.” She stepped back from the edge and readied her pistol, a Necessarian model I couldn’t identify. “Either way, they’re coming.”

I looked around the roof and found a few tall air conditioning units arranged in a square, with only one space open so mechanics could get in for maintenance. I pointed to it. “That should help us hold them off. Force them to bottleneck themselves.”

“Unless they climb,” Alex noted.

I grinned, trying to look more confident than I felt. “Aggressive ones are stupider, remember? C’mon.”

It was a tight fit for all six of us, but we managed to get George’s minigun pointed at the opening, which was pretty much all we needed. We waited anxiously for a few minutes, not even sure if they were coming.

Then I heard the screaming.

Quiet at first, but it built swiftly, that emotionless cry coming from every direction at once, as the zombies got closer and closer.

“Remember,” Laura said. “Try not to kill them if possible.”

I shook my head as I pulled out my Sica. Anything bigger than a pistol would just cause problems in this enclosed space. “No way. We’re going to have enough problems if we’re willing to kill.”

“Plus, they can control their blood,” Kelly pointed out.

Alex nodded. “Exactly. If they’re wounded but alive, they might be more of a danger than if they were uninjured. Killing is the only option.”

Laura swore under her breath. “Fine. But when the helicopter drops the sleeping gas, we’re capturing as many as possible.”

“Hopefully they send another company, too,” I muttered. MC hadn’t said anything, but Necessarius wasn’t stupid enough to think nine people—eight, with Derek unconscious—could tie up a thousand people in an hour. They probably had troops on the way.

Probably.

The first screamer poked his head into our makeshift fort, and Sax blew his head off before anyone could move. George had his minigun ready, but he was saving it for large groups, like always.

Two more came; I got the girl on the left in the head, and someone else got the man on the right with a double-tap to the chest. A half-dozen more tried to get through at once, tripping over each other in the process, and George tore them apart with the minigun. The roar nearly deafened me, but it was temporary.

We were doing well, but we couldn’t keep this up for long. And without Derek’s shields, if they got a chance to use their abilities, we were pretty much dead.

Another one jumped over the corpses of his comrades. I shot him in the leg, and as he stumbled, Kelly got him in the head. More came, more died. It got tedious very quickly. Luckily, the screamers didn’t seem to know what to do with their ability in an enclosed space, so we didn’t have any real trouble.

To my surprise, though, the flow of zombies stopped after only about a dozen more tried to force their way through the gap. We stood there for a few minutes waiting for more, but none came, and the screaming had faded again.

“That can’t be all of them,” I muttered.

Laura took out her phone. “Ling? You guys all right? The screamers stopped attacking us up here.”

The little blonde delinquent sounded exasperated. “Yeah, probably because we’ve got the entire horde behind us. Can’t talk. Bye.” She hung up before we could say anything else.

I cursed. “We need the screamers in one place. How big an area can the gas hit?”

Laura held up her hands, signaling that she had no idea, but luckily someone did.

“The bombs can be spread as far as a full square mile,” Alex explained. “Though with screamers, I’m not sure the gas would be dense enough at that point to affect them.” She chewed her lip and adjusted the night vision goggles on her face. “As long as they stay on one street or intersection, it should be fine.”

“Okay, I’ll tell Akane,” Laura promised, typing out a text. That was a good idea; with her speed, Akane could read it even in the middle of combat if she really had to. “We should also keep them out of the buildings, so that they can’t avoid the gas.”

I paused before answering, thinking of the full implications of that statement. “So that means it would be best if we were down on ground level.”

“Yes.”

“Among the screamers.”

“Uh…”

“Who can infect us very, very easily.”

Laura touched her necklace. “Well…yes, unfortunately. We don’t have much of a choice.”

“There’s a sloped ‘scraper nearby,” Kelly said, pointing out into the darkness. The moon was still a little more than half full, so I could indeed see a large skyscraper with one of the faces (the one in our direction) sloping upwards at a steep incline, forming a very large and dangerous slide.

I scratched my chin. “I see your point. If we’re up there, the bleeders will come up the slope at an angle we can shoot them.”

“They’ll die from the fall,” Laura argued, apparently already assuming that we wouldn’t be going for kill shots.

“Probably,” I admitted. “But maybe not. They’re hardy, you said so yourself.”

She frowned. “Not that hardy.”

Alex sighed. “Look Laura, this plan gives not just us a better chance to survive, but the screamers as well. I know…I know we all want a cure,” it was the first time anyone had actually come close to speaking about Kat. “And we might even find one. But right now we have to worry about ourselves.”

Laura looked at the rest of us, and nodded once.

“Good,” Kelly said decisively, putting away her binoculars. “Let’s go. We need to find a way to cross that intersection full of screamers.”

I peered across. “The building right across from us is lower. We might be able to rig up a zipline or something.”

Laura buried her face in her hands. “Not again.” She looked up. “Derek and I did that with the burners. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t quick.”

I cocked my head. “A zipline wasn’t quick?”

She waved her hand. “He made a rope, and we headed across hand over hand. If we can find an actual zipline, then I’m all for it, but I don’t think we’ll have much luck.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Alex interjected with a grin. “There’s a hiking store just three floors down. I’m sure they have something we could use.”

Turns out she was right, and I managed to come back within ten minutes with a zipline and a spike to attach it to. The spike then went in my shotgun, to be shot across the urban gorge. The box said the spike was designed to work with the Saint George specifically, but I was still a bit leery. One of the first things I learned about guns was that sticking things down the barrel and expecting them to work right was asking for trouble.

Turns out I was overreacting. I shot it across without any trouble, and it buried itself in the roof of the target building. We tied it off on our side, tested the weight, and got out the zipline handles we had with us. Again, these things are pretty common in Domina, so carrying the handles is just the result of being even slightly prepared.

“I’ll go first,” George said, lumbering up. As a giant, he probably outweighed the rest of us by a hundred pounds, so if the line could hold him, it could hold anyone.

Before he went, he locked his minigun’s safety and clipped it to the line, then let go. It zipped across quickly and smoothly, before we heard it thump into place on the other roof. The first time I had seen him do that, I had been worried, but apparently the GE XM134 was a sturdy model.

“Seems good,” he grunted. He prepared the handle, took a deep breath, and leaped into the void.

The air conditioner we had attached our end of the line to groaned dangerously, but it held for the thirty seconds or so the ogre was weighing it down. He reached the other side, rolled once, then stood and gave us a thumbs-up.

The rest of us followed without any difficulty. Kelly went last, mostly because despite the clear moonlight, she still had the best nightvision, and would be able to spot anything sneaking up on her. In the end it didn’t matter of course, and she made it across safely.

Laura’s phone rang shortly before Kelly started across, five simple beeps—MC’s ring tone. She picked it up swiftly. “What’s wrong?” She paused, listening. I guess she had taken it off speaker at some point. “Okay, we’ll let you know when we have them in position. Drop some gas masks for us, too.” She hung up.

“That was MC,” she said somewhat unnecessarily. “The helicopter will be here in a couple minutes, but Akane says the screamers are too far out of position. So we need to lure them back. And…” there was a thump from the center of the roof, and I saw that a duffel bag had apparently fallen from the sky. “I guess they’re here. Well, those are gas masks, so we don’t get knocked out with the screamers.”

“Did she say anything about more troops?” I asked as I grabbed one of the masks. I didn’t put it on yet, though, just clipped it to my belt.

“Yeah, they’re with the prison trucks, about a mile out. They’ll come in once the place is gassed.”

Well, that was a better plan than last time. “We still need to get to that other building,” I pointed out, indicating the sloped structure next door. It was only about twenty feet away, but it was also a sheer wall with no windows or balconies. I couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be for.

“That won’t be a problem at all,” Kelly cut in. “Just get inside and take the elevator to the top.”

I stared at her. “Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.”

She shrugged.

Well, we didn’t have a better option, or any real reason not to take this one, so we quickly rappelled down to the street below. A few screamers spotted us, but I killed them quickly with my Caedes.

“That will draw there attention,” I cursed. “Alex, how are you coming on the door?”

When I looked over, the wide metal service doors were already open, my companions piling through, and the angel was grinning at me.

“No need to show off,” I muttered under my breath. She just laughed and followed me inside.

We barred the doors behind us, of course, and made sure to block the stairs leading up as well. The last thing we needed was screamers attacking our backs.

We had to take the freight elevator up due to our combined weight, but otherwise the sixty floor ride was uneventful. We took the time to call Akane and Ling again, to get a status update and make sure they didn’t think something was wrong. They had managed to throw off pursuit, which was perfect. The screamers were still scattered, but they’d come running soon enough.

The roof was completely bare, except for a trapdoor to the stairs. It was really disconcerting; with the slope, we only had about ten feet of roof in that direction, and I didn’t have any illusions that I’d somehow be able to catch myself if I fell.

I shrugged. Nothing else to do but play out the plan.

“You ready, Alex?”

She nodded and put her gloves on, the ones with the magnifying glasses in the palms. A moment later she took off her night vision goggles. She was completely nightblind without them, but that wouldn’t be an issue long. “Ready.”

We all lined up on the edge, weapons out. I had chosen my Athena; I hadn’t really had much chance to use it outside the shooting range, so this was going to be a good opportunity for me. Jarasax and George would handle the bulk of the horde, while Kelly and Laura shot anything that got past them.

“All right,” Laura said slowly. “Everyone else ready?”

We all chimed off, one by one.

She nodded. “Good. Alex, light the beacon.”

The angel stepped forward, held out her hands, and activated the patches of dayskin on her palms. Twin beams of light, too bright to look at, shone out like spotlights. After a moment, she managed to center them on our van, where a large number of the bleeders had clustered, and then slowly began to walk the beams towards us.

It worked perfectly, the zombies following the unexpected patch of daylight like a cat following a laser pointer.

“They’re almost in position,” she said calmly. “We might not even need to fight; just drop the gas on them straight.”

Of course, she spoke too soon.

While the bulk of the horde was still clustered around the end of the beam, others were already scaling the slope of our redoubt like rats, trying to get to the source of the light.

They climbed fast, despite the steep incline, and they were about half way up before I even knew what was going on. But, I was ready, so I sighted through my scope and targeted one of the screamers. Laura wanted us to shoot them in the legs, in the hopes that they’d survive to be cured later. But…

But they were too dangerous.

I adjusted my aim slightly and shot the first one dead center, in the chest. Her scream changed briefly to a screech of pain, and she fell backwards, tumbling like a rag doll back down the slope and to the street below, still covered in a writhing carpet of zombies.

Laura noticed immediately. “Adam, what the hell—”

“Talk later,” I barked out. I got another screamer in the chest, which managed to trip up another behind it as it fell. Behind me, Laura cursed, but started shooting as well.

“Get your masks ready,” Alex said, as I shot another screamer. “They’re dropping the gas shortly.”

I put my mask on quickly, as did everyone but the angel (she couldn’t spare a hand). But I had a thought. Luckily, the masks had a simple speaker so I could still talk. “Wait, if they’re dropping it down there, why do we even need masks?”

“The gas they’re using is heavier than air,” Laura explained, her voice tinny and mechanical. “They’ll spray it from high up, and it will float down to cover everything.” She shrugged. “We’re probably still safe, but best to be sure.”

I still couldn’t see the chopper anywhere. There weren’t very many clouds, but I was a little bit busy to be looking around the sky for anything. I just kept shooting, felling screamer after screamer. It was only when I stopped to reload that I noticed a fine mist, dappled with moonlight, falling from the sky.

The gas really looked quite beautiful, like a silver blanket slowly covering the streets below us. Alex’s beams looked even more like searchlights than before, shining into the fog and highlighting it, rather than cutting through it.

Then the lights flickered and died, and I remembered that she wasn’t wearing a gas mask.

Before anyone could do anything, the angel tumbled forward unconscious, rolling down the steep slope to a horrible death sixty floors below.

I cursed and holstered my Athena. I didn’t have any choice.

I jumped after her.

Of course, I went feet first, sliding on my rear, so I had a great deal more control over my descent than my freefalling comrade. I managed to increase my speed enough so that I caught up with Alex, and I grabbed her arm, pulling her close, using my body like one of those emergency sleds they have at ski resorts.

Except without seat belts.

Or brakes.

And, you know, we were both going to die.

While I clutched the unconscious angel to my chest with my left hand, I used my right to get the large combat knife off my hip, and stabbed it into the slope of the building.

The walls of the structure—including the crazy ramp we were on now—were made of relatively weak materials like plaster, rather than concrete or even sheetrock. This unquestionably saved our lives, at least for a moment. If it was anything else, I probably wouldn’t have even been able to stab the knife in.

But luck was with me, and I did manage to create a crude brake. My arm was quickly wrenched behind me at an angle it was not supposed to go, and I felt a long, sharp pain, which probably came from a dislocated shoulder. I screamed in agony, and the knife began to cut a long line through the slope. The same weak materials that allowed me to stab the blade in in the first place also kept me from creating a functional anchor.

Eventually, perhaps a dozen feet from the end of the slope, the knife caught on something unyielding, and we stopped with another jolt. I felt like my arm was going to pop off, and I cried out again. I was having trouble breathing with the mask on, but I didn’t dare remove it; the sleeping gas was so thick at this level that I could barely see in front of my face.

I could see over the edge where the slope ended. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet up with the street. There was a long, sheer drop of five or ten floors between me and the ground. The screamers could scale it easily, and I might have even been able to manage it in better circumstances, but I couldn’t do it with a dislocated shoulder and an unconscious angel.

But now that I had a chance to pay attention, I listened closely (mostly in an attempt to keep my mind off the sharp, agonizing grinding sensation at my shoulder) and realized that I couldn’t hear any screamers any more.

“Adam! Respond! You all right?”

It was Kelly’s voice, coming from inside my mask. I guess MC had suborned the radio or something. A lot of Domina tech was designed to let her take over in an emergency.

“Uh—ow—yeah, mostly.” Talking hurt. Well, everything hurt. “I’m stuck about a hundred feet from the ground. Alex is still with me.” Mostly because my arm had tightened like a vise as I fell. I think I may have broken some of her ribs. “I’m not sure how long I can stay here. Can MC send the chopper?”

“No can do,” she cut in. “It’s a ‘bot. Full auto, no place for passengers. But there are kemos in the ‘sarian group that’s cleaning up the bleeders. Hang tight, a couple will climb up to you in a minute.”

“Okay, I can hang on for a little while longer. But make it quick.” I had a thought. “And tell the cleaners to be careful. The screamers should be bleeding, and I don’t think they have to be conscious to be infectious.”

“Don’t worry,” she chided me. “They know, and they’ve got full body gloves on. Just save up your strength. You’re done for today.”

Behind the Scene (scene 46)

For the record, Adam now knows that Alex is asexual. The others explained the whole thing to him. But when he looks at Alex, he sees a woman, so he continues to think of ‘her’ using feminine pronouns. It doesn’t really matter, just pointing it out.

Oh, and about the bleeders: They are, as Laura assumed, kineticists—aimakineticists, to be exact. What she didn’t know is that aimagenists are so incredibly rare to be nonexistent (though aimakineticists aren’t exactly common either). Since human beings have a natural ability to generate blood, if someone is receiving their powers in the normal way, it is literally impossible for them to manifest that talent. However, if a genist were to spend a few days meditating in an attempt to gain that talent on purpose, they could manifest it. But most people don’t do that. Who the hell wants to be able to make blood? It wouldn’t be able to infect anyone, and it wouldn’t be useful for blood transfusions either.

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