June 13th, 2061. San Francisco Bay, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 21.30 local time
Louise’s legs felt heavier than they should. The fabric of her pants rubbed against her skin. Her nose was filled with the overwhelming scent of metal and oil. A persistent rumble made her skull feel like it was vibrating.
She frowned when she noticed the throbbing pain in her shoulder. How had she missed it before? Louise instinctively tried to move her fingers. A thousand needles pricked her skin all along her arm. She took in a sharp breath.
The cold air made her lungs burn. Louise blinked a few times. It was dark around her. She lifted her head a little and her stomach instantly roiled in protest. The taste of bile quickly spread in her mouth. She put her head back down and swallowed until the bitter taste lessened.
After a few moments, she tried to get a better sense of what was wrong with her. She wiggled her toes. She flexed the muscles of her legs. Then her abs. She was cold and sore, but apart from her shoulder, she didn’t seem hurt.
Her stomach was still queasy, though, and she couldn’t quite shake off the drowsy feeling. Her thoughts seemed to be surrounded by a thick fog. Louise cleared her throat. The sound echoed around her. It took her a second to realize the echo was real, not a fabrication of her sluggish mind.
“Where the hell am I?” she now wondered. She tried to focus on the different sounds she could pick up. The rumble. The clanks in the distance every few seconds. The dripping of water somewhere in the room. None of it made sense.
Louise frantically searched her memory. How had she gotten here? What was the last thing she could remember? Nothing. It was almost as if there was a black wall inside her head separating her from her memories. She realized she must have been unconscious.
“But for how long?” she thought. She squeezed her eyes, then opened them wide. She had to shake off this fog and start thinking clearly. She counted to 15 and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.
They did slowly. She still couldn’t see much though. Louise lifted her head off the floor carefully. She made sure her stomach didn’t flip again before she moved her good arm to push herself up. The floor shifted beneath her and she had to use her other arm to keep her balance.
Louise winced but managed to stay upright. She took in a deep breath before she pulled up her legs and wrapped her trembling arms around them. She rested her chin on her knees, making herself as small as possible. She needed to preserve her body heat.
A room this cold couldn’t be inside a building, she thought. Unless this was a basement. But she didn’t think it was. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, though. “Where was I before I lost consciousness?” she thought.
Finally, some of her memories returned, although still in fragments. El’s voice. El’s devastated expression. The tears brimming in El’s eyes. Then, the heartache came back as suddenly and as painfully as if someone had stabbed Louise in the chest.
She would never see El again. This she was sure of, despite her sluggish memory. Tears immediately stung in her eyes. Her chest and throat were so tight it hurt. El’s words reappeared from the fog. “I need to know if this is real.”
Louise heard their conversation in her mind as if someone was playing it over a crackling speaker. Why hadn’t she told El how she felt even when she had had the chance?
She had been too scared. She had thought being honest to El would hurt too much. Now, she knew that keeping all her feelings bottled up was a million times worse.
It would have been comforting to know she had at least said those three words out loud. Why did she always hold back? Why did she never speak her truth? Not fully? El had practically begged her to. But Louise had locked her heart away in a dungeon a long time ago.
She should have stepped into the light. She should have spoken up. For once, she should have stopped being careful. She had in a way, of course. They had kissed and made love. But that could easily be seen by El as lust and nothing more.
Or as a way to hurt El. Woodward’s accusations slowly came back to Louise. She clenched her jaw. What had he said again? She tried to pull his exact words out from the fog. “This one is the Major’s favorite pet! Did she send you here to seduce El?!”
She blinked, suddenly much more awake. How the hell had he found out about Michelle, Louise wondered. Even if Monique Biden had had informants working in the Global Army, Louise would never have thought her past with Michelle was so well-known.
She had also utterly underestimated Woodward. Maybe underestimated wasn’t the right word, though. She had been blind-sighted by him. In a way, she had started to admire the Fireblue Rebels.
Their way of living had seemed so appealing. Their beliefs had finally started to make sense to her. In the end, though, they turned out to be just as despicable as her own people. The power struggles, the hypocrisy… it was all the same.
Louise groaned and tightened the grip around her legs. She was still shivering even though she could feel herself warm up a little. Louise rubbed her cheek over the raw cotton of her pants. She took in a shaky breath.
“Focus,” she told herself. “You need to get out of here.” She still had no clue where she was, of course. She shut her eyes and tried to remember the whole scene that had played out in that bunker.
Things were coming back to her with clarity now. Woodward had grabbed her. He had told El about Louise and Michelle. El had asked Louise if it was true. And then, after Louise had admitted the truth, El had looked at her, her expression disappointed at first, then disgusted.
Louise looked up. She remembered every painful detail now. It was El who had said to lock her up with Hobbs. To take them to the border and leave them there. Two guards had come in and dragged her out of the bunker and upstairs. After that, blackness.
“They must have taken me out before they locked me up,” Louise thought. She started feeling her head for any signs of a blow. Nothing. She searched her neck. One spot was a bit sore. “They drugged me?!” she thought with a scowl.
That meant she could have been out for a long time, which meant she could be anywhere. But where was Hobbs? What had they done to him? Was he locked up in another room somewhere?
She scrambled to her hands and knees, not entirely trusting her balance yet. She made sure she didn’t feel nauseated again before she pushed herself up slowly. Once upright, she looked around.
There really was very little light in the room. She was tempted to say something out loud to get an idea of the size and type of space she was in. But she didn’t know if it was safe or if it would attract unwanted attention.
She cleared her throat again instead. The sound bounced around the room. A drop of water splashed onto the floor somewhere on her right. Louise focused her attention on her feet and the vibration she felt underneath.
“Shit, we’re moving,” she thought.
Were they already on their way to the border? She took a careful step towards what she thought was one of the walls. When she didn’t bump into anything, she took another step, hands stretched out in front of her.
A few moments later, her fingertips touched the cold metal she had dreaded to feel. She let her hands brush over chipped paint, screws and what had to be pipelines. “Fuck,” she said out loud. “We’re already on the ferry.”
A loud groan from the other corner of the room startled her. She squinted in an attempt to make out a form. Sure enough, she now saw someone lying on the floor.
“Hobbs?” she whispered.
Louise took a slow step in the direction of whoever was locked up in this room with her.
“Hobbs?” she tried again.
A soft curse followed. “Fuck.”
Louise recognized the nasal voice immediately. She took two more steps in Hobbs’ direction.
“Wake up, Hobbs,” she said a bit more loudly.
He grumbled. Louise squatted down next to him. She could see him a little better now. He was lying on his side.
“Hobbs, we need to get a move on. We’re on the ferry.”
That seemed to wake him up. His head moved. “What?” he croaked.
“I think we’re on our way to the border!”
Hobbs tried to push himself up on his elbows. He cursed again. “Fuck!”
Louise had forgotten about his rib injury for a moment. He would just have to suck it up because they needed to try to find the door of this room. It would probably be locked but they had to try anyway.
“Let me help you up,” she offered.
He groaned again but stuck out his hand nevertheless. She grabbed his arm and pulled him up into a sitting position.
“The border?” he asked between labored breaths.
“Yeah, El told Woodward to…” Louise started to say but stopped. She swallowed with difficulty. “Lucas gave the order to lock us up and transport us to the border at night.”
Hobbs was pressing his head in different places much like Louise had done.
“They drugged us,” Louise explained.
“Help me up,” he said.
Louise pushed herself up and grabbed his hand again. He took in a sharp breath as she helped him to his feet. Louise let him catch his breath for a moment.
“Where the fuck are we?” he finally asked.
Louise sighed impatiently. “I think we’re on the ferry to the border,” she repeated. “There has to be a door somewhere.”
“Is our gear here?” he asked.
Louise rubbed her upper arms. “I don’t know.”
“It better be,” he said while he carefully took a step. “No gear, no way to notify the base.”
“Oh crap,” Louise blurted out. She hadn’t thought of that yet. There was no way for them to get home without help from the base.
Louise frowned as she stared into the darkness. “We don’t stand a chance in the desert,” she uttered.
He took another tentative step “Not without our gear,” he replied.
Louise stuck out her hands again and headed in the other direction. “You search that side of the room, I’ll check this one.”
Hobbs didn’t reply until he had reached the wall. He knocked on it softly. “Check the floor too.”
Louise’s own fingers were skimming across metal, bumping into sharp edges and screws. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to find. She knew they wouldn’t last long if left behind in the desert, though. So she better find something.
A sudden noise made her jump. Something had toppled over on Hobbs’ side of the room. Metal pipes rolled across the floor.
“Got something here,” Hobbs said. She could hear him pick up something.
Then, the click of a lock was followed by the sound of a creaking door opening slowly. Louise’s hands shot to her eyes to protect them from the sudden, bright light flooding the room.
She thought she could see a silhouette in the door frame but wasn’t sure. A loud whoosh and the hair-raising crack of metal hitting human bones made Louise’s stomach turn again.