'Maddox. Fuck!' A slam judders through the earpiece, followed by a shear of silence. I don't care if he's cut me off to save his skin. I know they won't leave me here—not after what it cost GC to create me.
I scoop the cat up into the crook of my arm. She hangs, trusting and boneless in my armoured grip. She's still purring. I heard cats do that when they are just about to die, to comfort themselves.
'Hold on, Mir,' I say, soft. 'Wait till you see your new home. Cat food galore.'
I head for the stairwell. Against its concrete steps, the heavy cadence of booted feet approach the fourth floor. In between the soldier's unsteady tread, the rapid, thin clack of Blue's stilettos. The pair breach the landing of the floor below me. Between the broken railings I have a clean shot. I take it, the silencer doing what it says on the box. Blue's oppressor drops, his weight yanking her down with him. She panics, frantic, struggling to free herself from under him. Her eyes find me as I step out of the shadows holding the pistol up against my helmet in a silencing gesture. Her eyes rake over me, pausing on Miro, still hanging, quiet in my grip.
'Ryan?' she whispers, my name on her lips almost undoing me. Hope blossoms from her, brightening her eyes, radiant with sudden tears.
I don't answer. I lift the pistol over my head, and point it towards the top of the stairwell. She's trembling. Her stilettos come off and she runs barefoot and sobbing up the stairs, desperation bleeding from her. I holster my pistol, take her outstretched hand and lead her onto the roof. As I close the rusting door behind me I run a quick thermal scan of the stairwell. Nothing lights up apart from the cooling body of Blue's oppressor. We're clear.
Hovering on the other side of a scavenged ventilation shaft, the shuttle waits for us. The door to its cabin slides open. I bite back a shudder of relief, having half expected de Pommier to put the shuttle's welfare over mine. I hurry Blue through the wreckage, desperate to get her away from this hellhole before it's too late. I lift her in, her weight so slight I endure another deep, burning surge of guilt. With Miro still tucked into the crook of my arm, I haul myself in, my attention fixed on the surrounding rooftops for anyone who might have seen us.
Silence greets me, palpable, dense with lethargy and starvation. I realise in the last six months, London has turned into a graveyard, with only those in the UFF still left alive, and by the look of Blue, barely. The door slides closed in total silence. I back up, still wary, watching the door to the stairwell, tense, willing it to stay shut, willing my gamble not to fuck up.
A shimmer ripples along the walls of the shuttle and a message scrolls across the inside of my visor confirming cloaking has been enabled. The shuttle ascends, steady, silent; the city's ruins shrinking, fading, smearing until only the inky, polluted sprawl of the Thames River reflects the faint white light of Earth's long-dead companion.
The line clicks on again. 'You are in so much shit, Maddox,' Akron snaps. The line cuts out. I'm fine with the silence because I'm not sorry. I would do the same thing again. I glance at Blue, who huddles, bloodstained, bony, and shivering in her seat, eyeing me, raw, naked with hope. For her, I would do anything.
I hand Miro to her. She takes the cat, settles her on her lap and pets her, absent. I know she's waiting for me to take off my helmet, for me to tell her what's happening. She's going to have to see me sooner or later. I pull the helmet off. Disappointment floods her face. She looks away and bites her lip.
'I thought you were—' she shakes her head and a tear slips free. I can't bear it. I long to take her into my arms, to hold her, to soothe her. But I can't. I'm a stranger to her.
'Ryan Maddox?' I ask, quiet.
Her eyes meet mine, her look a strange mix of surprised and wary. She pets Miro, retreating into herself, defensive. 'You knew him?' she asks, soft.
Knew. I nod and set my helmet on the seat beside me. 'Better than most.'
She blinks and catches her lower lip again with her teeth. Her eyes well up, laden with tears. She blinks again, harder, forcing them back.
I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees. 'He told me about you.' I nod at Miro. 'And your cat.'
She says nothing. I wait, watching her, every part of me tingling, alive, aware. Blue. My only love. If only you knew what I have become. I am right here, with you. I will never leave you alone again. I swear it. I will protect you to the end.
'Thank you for not leaving Miro behind,' she whispers, her tears breaking free. I watch them fall, helpless, in agony. She turns away and looks out the window, her slight body shuddering. Exhaustion claims her. I open the compartment in the armrest beside my seat. Inside, a syringe filled with a sedative. I don't want to do it, but I have no choice. de Pommier was adamant, and after the stunt I just pulled, I dare not risk pissing her off even more.
I let Blue sleep until we reach the shadowy coast of Greenland, its fjords locked in winter's endless darkness. I watch her, contentment suffusing me as she drifts in the world of dreams, relishing the sight of her, ragged, starving, but safe and alive, Miro curled up beside her. I wish for the hundredth time I had a blanket, or some food to give them, but there is nothing.
I kneel beside her. My armour creaks, quiet. She wakes, and sits up, shuttered and defensive once more. My heart clenches.
'I have orders to sedate you,' I say.
She looks down at the slim syringe, nestled against my black-gloved palm.
'Where are you taking me?' she asks, her eyes coming to mine. A flicker of fear, suppressed.
'Alpha VII. A beautiful apartment. I've seen it. It has an artichoke lamp. Very, very rare.'
A flick of her eyebrow. 'Never heard of those. And the sedation?' she asks, low.
'Your arrival is Q Clearance. Only me and my team know you are alive.'
Her eyebrow lifts. 'Then how will you be bringing me in?'
'A tech container,' I say, nodding at a silver box, the size of a washing machine strapped to the floor behind her seat, its lid closed with metal buckles. 'It's a twelve minute transfer.'
She lets out a shaky breath and drops her gaze from mine to the cat. 'What about Miro?'
'I'll figure it out,' I say. 'A cat is easier to hide. She will be there with you when you wake up. I promise.' I mean it, too. If I do anything for her, it will be this, and to hell with the consequences.
'If Ryan were here instead of you,' she says, her eyes coming back to mine, 'would he give me this?'
Her question almost finishes me. 'He would. He wouldn't want to risk losing you again.' I long to touch her face, to press my lips against hers. I look back down at the syringe, afraid she will see the longing burning in my eyes. It's unbearable: having her so near, yet so far.
'Will there be food for Miro?' she asks.
'So much food,' I say, desperate to reassure her, 'and for you, too. Anything you want, you will have it.'
'I want Ryan,' she whispers, mournful, as she holds out her arm, exposing the blue line of her vein to me. I keep my eyes on my work as I swab the spot and ease the needle in, gentle, and give her the dose. Her words seep into my soul, tormenting me.
She sags, the drug hitting her skeletal body almost instantaneously. I collect her into my arms and move back to my seat, cradling her in my lap, her head against my shoulder.
'You have him,' I murmur as I bend to brush my lips against hers, my heart clenching so hard, I can barely breathe. 'Blue. I'm right here.' I kiss her again, despairing, silenced, her love lost to me the moment I died. I hold her tight and grieve for what we have become. Torn apart. Alone. Together.