“Wake up, Tay.”
The words came with a series of pains, each one dragging Tay closer to the surface. She slowly became aware of angry shouting and a repeated sound like the crack of a rifle that sent a jolt of electricity down her spine every time it went off. She rolled onto her side and broke into a coughing fit as the acrid smell of burning plastics seared the back of her throat. She was awake but had no interest in being so.
“Thank fuck. I thought you were dead.”
Tay forced an eye open and looked up at the shadow looming over her. She recognised it from the thousand times Osiris had shaken her awake and uttered the same words.
“Am I?” Tay sat up quickly, a mistake as there didn’t seem to be enough blood to fill her body. A wave of nausea washed over her, and she slumped forward. She probed the back of her head, discovering that someone had slipped an egg under her scalp. Pain lanced across her brain, swiftly growing in intensity until her skull contained a lightning storm. She groaned and hunched forward as it took her right back to the moment when the door twisted through the air and struck Mara, pushing her into Tay's arms. She had held her for the longest second of her life, pressed together, staring into each other’s eyes, a rekindling of something, but then it had ended.
A loud crack brought her back again, her head swivelling around searching for the source of the gunshot. In her dreams they had been under fire, people dying all around her and Tay holding Mara in her now empty arms. The screams of the injured still reverberated in her ears.
They were in a long room, lined with lockers. Men and women, hands bound behind their backs, knelt with their bloody faces pressed to the wall.
“Any of you fucks move and I’ll shoot you. I don’t give a shit if you live or not,” a brutish woman snarled as she stalked down the centre of the room brandishing a pipe gun. She kicked one of the prisoners in the back to illustrate her point, laughing as they dented a door with their head.
“Ava!” a tattooed thug by the exit shouted. He rubbed at his bald scalp with the butt of his gun and eyed the lines of prisoners nervously. “Don’t take any shit. They look at you wrong, you shoot them.”
“You hear that?” the woman shouted, spittle flying from her mouth. “You fuck with me, and you get a slug in the back. So, keep your mouths shut and your noses pressed to the wall.”
“Mara?” Tay said as she pushed up onto her knees and searched the faces nearest her. “Where’s Mara?”
“Tay, you’ve got to keep quiet,” Osiris said as she reached over and pulled at Tay’s arm. “Sit back down and shut up.”
“Oz, I have to find her before they shoot her. She’s hurt. I know she is. I have to find her.”
“Tay,” Osiris hissed. “Just keep still, this will be over soon.”
A gunshot rang out and Tay leapt to her feet, but she only managed one step before toppling over and falling onto the prisoner next to her. They both slammed into the locker and crumpled into a heap, the man’s face pressed into the ground. With his hands bound he was unable to push back as Tay wriggled on top of him, digging an elbow into the back of his head.
“Get off me,” the man hissed, and Tay rolled off and onto her back. “Do you want us all to get shot?”
Every noise felt like an attack on her senses, and she was certain that her skull was going to rupture at any moment. Wherever she looked she saw faces twisted in anger and fear but no Mara. It was her fault that she wasn’t there, Tay just knew it. She had abandoned her and left her to suffer alone while she acted the fool and sprawled on the floor. Tay crawled towards the door on her stomach, dragging herself through the dust.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Ava shouted down at Tay. She switched her shotgun to her left hand and clamped a meaty claw around the back of Tay's neck, lifting her onto her feet and throwing her back into the line. Osiris caught hold of Tay, but Ava planted a boot on Tay’s chest, pressing down on her and crushing Osiris underneath. “You’d best keep your shit together or I’ll shoot you myself, orders or not.”
“I’ve got her. You don’t have to hurt us,” Osiris said as she wrapped her arms around Tay. “She’s concussed. She doesn’t know what’s happening.”
“Keep her under control, or I’ll make sure you suffer for it,” Ava snarled and jabbed her shotgun at Tay. “You’re not fucking special, neither of you are.”
Osiris hugged Tay close and eyed Ava warily as the brawny woman stalked away to terrorise another prisoner.
“You’re going to get us shot,” Osiris whispered in Tay’s ear.
“Where’s Mara?” Tay shouted. Osiris clamped a hand over her mouth.
“She’s itching for a reason to shoot you, Tay,” Osiris hissed in Tay's ear. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Tay bit down on a finger and Osiris let go of her with a yelp.
“We have to find her, Oz, she’s hurt,” Tay said as she once again started to crawl away.
“Tay, stop being nuts,” Osiris said, glancing at their captors fearful they would come back, but they were both busy by the exit. “You got your head rattled. You need to shut the fuck up and let me deal with this.”
Tay crouched on the floor, her head resting on her knees. She wanted to trust Osiris, to believe her when she said that everything was going to be all right, but she couldn’t shake the image of Mara with a gun pressed to her head. Another gunshot rang out and Tay knew that she needed to do something before they were all killed.
“They’re killing them. We have to find Mara. We have to escape.”
“I’m going to knock you out myself if you don’t shut up. That noise, it’s the engine going off. No one’s getting killed.”
“I saw them, Oz, I saw them killing everyone. It was horrible. I can hear them screaming.”
“You’ve been unconscious,” Osiris said. She tried to get a look at the back of Tay’s head, but Tay wouldn’t stay still. “You’re really bleeding.”
“Will you shut her up, she’s going to get us all killed,” the man to their right said. He put his face back to the wall, closed his eyes and mouthed a silent prayer.
There was another bang and Tay broke free from Osiris’ grasp.
“I can’t! I can’t let them do it!” Tay shouted leaping to her feet. “You won’t kill her!”
“Get the fuck back!” the tattooed thug shouted from the other end of the room. Ava snapped her head around and spat on the ground before raising her shotgun.
“You’d best get back in line or you’re going to lose a kneecap,” Ava said striding towards Tay.
Tay dropped to her knees. She could barely see through the black fog that was engulfing her vision. A wave of nausea washed over her, and she emptied what was left of her stomach onto the floor.
“For fucks sake,” the tattooed man said. “Ava, I’ve had enough of their crap. Give one to the boss, might quiet the other down.”
“I have to get to her,” Tay muttered as she struggled to her feet. A shadow loomed in front of her. “Have you seen her?”
Ava punched Tay in the chest. It was slow and obvious, but the blow took Tay by surprise, and she rocked back on her feet before toppling over. Osiris darted forward and managed to catch her head before it struck the concrete slab.
“Get up!” Ava shouted at Osiris. “Move or I’ll kick your teeth in.”
“Not me,” Osiris protested. “I have to stay with her.”
Ava grabbed Osiris by the hair and dragged her out of the line.
“No, you can’t do this,” Osiris shouted, but Ava just laughed and hauled her across the room.
“Ava,” the growl came from a side door where an older and gruffer-looking man stood watching. He tapped a long-barrelled pistol against a large red eye spray-painted on his bulletproof vest. “What the fuck is going on?”
“This one and her friend are pissing me off,” Ava said, dumping Osiris at the man’s feet. “Stick them in the next room.”
“You need to stay cool, Ava,” the big man said before grabbing Osiris by the scruff of her neck and taking her away.
“I’m trying to!” Ava shouted after him. “If you’d let me kill them all I’d be a lot fucking calmer.”
“Mara?” Tay shouted as she sat up. The people on either side of her shuffled back, not wanting to be associated with her.
“I warned you,” Ava said as she stalked back across the room. A woman stood up in the line and opened her mouth to protest but Ava kicked her in the stomach and slammed her into the wall. She didn’t watch as the woman fell onto the others.
Tay swayed as she got to her feet. She tried to focus on the door they had just taken Osiris out of, but the black fog was clouding her vision. She had to stop them before they executed her; she couldn’t lose anyone else. She staggered forwards, hands crossed over her stomach and eyes focused on the closed door. Ava cursed and snatched a handful of Tay's shirt, pulling her backwards, but Tay spun around and grabbed hold of the shotgun barrel. Ava pushed Tay backwards, and the pipe slid out of its housing.
“Ava!” the tattooed man shouted in warning, but it was too late. Tay slammed the barrel back into Ava’s hands and the shell at the heart of the weapon exploded in a flash of heat that seared Tay’s fingers. She let go with a shout and jumped backwards. Ava pushed her out of the way as she sprinted across the room, the shotgun and Tay forgotten.
It was the signal the prisoners had been waiting for and, as a group, they all leapt to their feet and started working at each other’s bonds. Tay staggered towards the door, stepping around Ava as she crouched over the tattooed man’s ragged chest trying to staunch the flow of blood.
The next bang was over Tay’s head, and she fell to her hands and knees, cowering at the sound. A valve popped and a gout of steam erupted from the machine. Pipes rattled, and the engine shuddered along. The workers sprawled on the gantries, lifeless eyes staring down through the grating at Tay while their blood fell like rain onto the lower floors. A glob struck Tay’s forehead as she got back to her feet, and ran down her cheek.
“Mara?” Tay whispered.
An orange emergency light flashed brightly, and Tay raised her hands to shield her smoke-stung eyes. She staggered backwards and fell onto the twisted remains of the door, rolling onto her hands, to end up staring down at the body of a woman crushed under the twisted metal. Mara could have been asleep with her hands resting on her chest if it weren’t for the pool of dark blood that had spread to mix with the pulverised chunks of concrete.
“Mara?” Tay gasped and scuttled forward to kneel in the blood at her side. “Wake up, we have to get out of here.”
Even as she spoke Tay knew that Mara wouldn’t move again. She reached out and brushed a finger against Mara’s cold cheek. An eyelash fluttered and one green eye opened.
“You came back,” Mara said. Her voice was a horrible gurgle as if her words were being dragged up from the bottom of the sea.
“I need to get you out of here,” Tay said.
“My students?” Mara’s face twisted in pain, and she scrunched her good eye up. Tay pressed her hand onto the wound, desperate to stop the blood that seeped from the round hole in her chest.
“I’ll get you out of here,” Tay said, her tears falling to mix with Mara’s blood.
“Help them, Tay, help them,” Mara said before making a strangling sound and falling still, her arms sliding to her side.
“No, you can’t do this.” Tay moaned and shook Mara gently, but the life had left her body. “Don’t do this.”
A man grabbed Tay’s shirt and tried to pull her up, but the fabric ripped, and she fell across Mara’s body.
“We have to get out of here!” the man shouted before tripping over the door. He pushed himself up and looked around just as a bullet took him in the neck.
Tay whipped her head around to see the big man stalking across the room. The eye on his chest glowing in the strange light and staring at Tay.
“You’re screwing this up,” the man said as he raised his gun and aimed at her. “This is more important than the two of you.”
Tay scrambled over the rubble for the exit, expecting him to shoot her in the back. She almost wished it, but the bullet never came. A hand grabbed at her foot, bloody fingers clawing at her, but Tay leapt out of the dying man’s reach and dashed through the shattered doorway.
The next room was all fires and clouds of black smoke, but Tay kept on running, leaping over the dead bodies in her path and ignoring the laughing figures as they lined their prisoners up against another wall.
Someone shouted and Tay snapped her head around in time to see a group of men looking in her direction. They shouted again but Tay kept her head down. Bullets struck the wall behind her, driving Tay into a panic that propelled her from the hall and into the maze of corridors beyond.
She ran blindly, tears streaming down her face, her only thought to escape. She took corners at random, bumping into people attracted by the commotion, but pushed them away, screaming at them to run. She kept going until her lungs were ready to burst and then she tripped on a broken slab and rolled into a fast-flowing stream, where she lay stunned. The cold water washed over her head, the weight of the current pulling at her in vain. Tay raised herself up, gasping for air. She tried to scream, but a coughing fit racked her body.
Tay crawled through the water and rolled onto her back. Unfocused eyes staring up at a red light ensconced in a metal cage. She felt the weight bearing down on her. A thousand people looming over, more crowding in on either side. The scent of death and destruction clinging to her skin.
Tay shouted, screamed, cast her voice into the emptiness, praying that something would shout back, give her an answer, some answer that would take away the pain that engulfed her heart.
But none came.