027 – Shuffling Dark

Zee opened her eyes to darkness and a jagged lightning bolt of pain in her head. A cold fire grew in her arm. A cry of pain leaked out between her lips, but she managed to sit up. Tab screen still intact, she shined it around, the small light smearing. She wiped her tears roughly and felt around for the gun. Couldn’t find it.

The dark smelled of wet garbage, moldy wood, and cold. The pain narrowed her awareness, made her alone and vulnerable. Zee heard something shift nearby and froze. Her eyes widened against the darkness, nostrils flaring in fear. Not alone. She listened for another sound.

“Zee!” Ben’s frantic voice screamed down into the darkness. She looked up and saw a shimmering source of light far above her. Droplets of water sparkled.

She coughed. “Here,” she shouted up at him, but her voice sounded weak in her own ears. “Here,” she attempted at a louder volume. “Think I broke my arm.”

“I’m coming down,” Ben said. He moved as he spoke so that she wasn’t sure she heard right. The light shivered a moment later. Sodden wood particles, moss, and water fell on her as something large plummeted towards her from above. The light grew, then paused in mid-fall a few meters over her head. She shifted her tab and could see he hovered, crouched on a thin metal platform.

He descended at an angle and touched down on the filthy floor next to her. The metal collapsed in on itself, flashing with energy that left patterns of light hovering in her vision. She stared at him. “You flew,” she heard herself mumble.

“No,” he said, breathless from exertion. “Fell. Slowly.”

“My arm is broken,” said Zee.

“Which one?” Ben asked.

“Left.”

Ben touched her arm gently, and Zee sucked in a breath through her teeth at the pain. “Sorry,” Ben said quietly. “Stay still,” he said and closed his eyes. The metal flashed again and swirled around her skin, seeped beneath the sleeve of her gray jumpsuit, and felt its way up her arm. “Carbon buffers and vents will let your skin breath,” he said under his breath. He opened his eyes as he finished shaping an immovable cast that covered her arm from her fingertips to the top of her shoulder. “That should prevent movement and pain until the millites can do their work.”

“Okay,” said Zee. She whimpered and closed her eyes. “I hit my head.” Ben reached forward with the lit tab and examined her head. He sucked in a breath. “How bad is it?” Zee asked.

“Pretty big cut,” he said. “You’re going to have a bump, but there’s not much I can do for it now. Stay still for a moment.”

“I lost my gun,” said Zee.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“No.” Zee half stood, but the pain in her head tilted everything and she sat back down. “There’s something else down here,” she said.

Ben tensed. “What?”

“I heard something—”

“Falling debris?” he supplied.

“Maybe…no. It sounded stealthy.”

“Shit,” Ben said. His nostrils flared in the light of her tab, and his eyes settled immediately on a section of the floor. He bent to pick up the gun and pointed it into the darkness.

“See anything?” Zee asked.

Without answering, Ben handed her his tab and stepped forward, his entire body tense. Slowly, slowly. He disappeared outside the circle of light emanating from the tab screens. Zee heard only his footsteps. Then nothing.

She tensed and bit her lip against the fear that wanted to climb up out of her throat. Seconds dragged themselves torturously by. The silence stretched and seemed to pull on her. Zee held her breath, listening hard for any sound.

Finally, she heard a small noise. Then the sound of his returning footsteps. Zee didn’t release her held breath until he appeared again in the light of the tab. He crouched down in front of her.

In a low voice, he said, “We need to leave. Can you stand?”

“I-I think,” said Zee, keeping her voice low as well. She struggled to her feet. Ben grabbed her good arm to help her up. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We are surrounded by townies,” he said. Though he kept a casual tone, she could feel him trembling.

Surrounded didn’t sound good, but “What are townies?” Zee asked.

“Monsters,” Ben said.

 

Read the next chapter.

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