June 14th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 10.50 local time
Louise’s legs felt heavier than they should. The fabric of her pants rubbed against her skin. Her nose was filled with an overwhelming, chemical odor. A persistent rumble made her skull feel like it was vibrating.
She tried to lift her head.
“Wow, wow, stay put,” a low voice echoed.
The sound seemed to float around her. Louise struggled to understand where it was coming from. Where was she? Who was talking to her?
“Is she awake?” Another voice. This one was more soothing and familiar.
Louise attempted to open her eyes, but her eyelids weren’t budging.
“Yeah, she’s coming back slowly,” a man said.
Louise groaned in frustration.
“Hey, I’m right here,” a familiar voice whispered into her ear.
Something warm slipped around Louise’s lower arm. A new scent worked its way up her nostrils. Peppermint.
Louise forced her eyes wide open. She quickly took in her surroundings, breathing rapidly. She was lying on a bed. There were tubes and monitors all around her. She could see her socks sticking out from under a blanket.
A blonde man waved at her. Louise focused on his finger moving left and right.
“Great,” he muttered, hovering over her with some sort of device.
The bright, blinking lights hurt Louise’s eyes. She murmured in protest. Soft fingertips brushed over the sensitive skin of her lower arm. Louise turned her head away from the man.
“Hey, you,” El whispered, slowly coming into focus.
She was sitting next to the bed, cramped between Louise and a wall. Her blazer looked crumpled, her hair totally out of place. Her eyes were red and glistening.
Louise grinned. She had never seen a more beautiful sight.
El smiled, her eyes filling to the brim with tears. She covered Louise’s hand with hers, then frowned.
“She’s cold,” El told the man.
Louise followed her gaze. The guy was holding a small scanner above Louise’s chest.
“She’ll be fine, ma’am. I promise you.”
He was a paramedic, Louise finally understood. “Fuck, I’m in an ambulance,” she realized.
El scooted a little closer, brushing some hair out of Louise’s eyes. Louise gave her another big grin. She couldn’t help it.
El laughed, shaking her head. “They gave you something for the pain,” she explained. “Seems like it’s working.” She wiped her nose with her sleeve.
Louise did feel a bit lightheaded. She tried to straighten her face. “What happened?” she croaked.
A shadow came over El’s face. “You saved me.” New tears glistened in her eyes. “He shot you.”
Louise peered down at her chest.
“You’re okay,” the paramedic reassured her, squinting at the bag of liquids hanging next to Louise’s head. “It was just a stun.”
Louise furrowed her brow at El. “A s-s-stun?”
“Yeah, the gun was set to stun,” El replied softly, leaning over her. “Not to kill.” She ran her thumb over Louise’s cheek.
“That’s a thing?” Louise blurted out.
Both El and the medic chuckled.
Louise gaped at them both, still confused. She remembered the bullets flying around her head when she was in the lifeboat all too well.
Had that been a different model of gun or had Hobbs switched it to the kill setting? She swallowed with difficulty. Her throat was parched.
She tried to get her focus back on the things that truly mattered. She was alive. How long had she been out, though? How much time had she lost?
She pushed herself up on her elbows, wincing when something stuck in her wrist sent a sting up her arm.
“Hey!” the medic yelled. “Careful with that IV!”
He pushed her back down onto the bed. “Stay put.”
“Careful, baby,” El said softly.
The tenderness in her voice calmed Louise enough to not swat at the medic’s hand.
Her gaze locked with El’s. “We don’t have time for this,” Louise whispered.
El tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
Louise used her eyes to point at the medic. He was putting new tape around the IV.
El tucked a lock of hair behind Louise’s ear. “You need to go to the hospital. Getting stunned is still serious. You might have…”
“I’m fine,” Louise interrupted her. “I don’t need a hospital. I need to…”
She stopped talking and nodded impatiently in the direction of the medic. She couldn’t speak freely as long as he was around. They had to get rid of this guy.
El followed her gaze. She leaned over and whispered, “They got Rick. No one else got hurt. Don’t worry.”
“No,” Louise insisted, too loudly. El sat back, startled.
“Sorry,” Louise sighed, “I mean..”
She bit down on her lip and tried to think of a way to say the global coalition might attack any moment without tipping off the medic.
“I need to let Michelle know I’m okay,” she finally said, slowly.
El’s eyes widened. “Oh,” she replied, her nostrils flaring.
Louise shook her head in frustration. “No, not like that.”
She pushed herself up, on one elbow this time. “I don’t want Michelle to come over here,” she drawled, putting emphasis on every single word.
“Careful,” the medic grumbled.
Louise glared at him. “Just take that thing out of me already,” she snapped. “I’m fine.”
He arched a skeptical eyebrow, totally unfazed by her temper.
“You think you can stop Michelle from, ehm, visiting?” El asked hesitantly.
Louise focused back on her, relieved she had finally caught on.
“Yes, I think I might know a way,” she said.
El looked down at her hands. The dark circles under her eyes accentuated her weariness. Her lips formed a thin line as she thought.
“Is she fit enough to get up?” she relented after a moment, addressing the medic.
He shifted in his seat, adjusting his seat belt. “We’re almost at the hospital, ma’am. I cannot guarantee you she is until we run some tests there.”
El frowned, glancing at Louise again. Louise widened her eyes and mouthed ‘No time.’
Another awkward silence passed. Louise could hear the tires on the road and the hum of other vehicles around them.
“We’re not going to the hospital,” El finally ordered. “Tell the head of security.” She pointed at his ear.
The medic sighed, clearly annoyed, but tapped the black device in his ear. “Hummingbird wants to change course. No hospital.”
He listened to the person on the other end. El squeezed Louise’s hand.
“Where do you need us to go?” the paramedic asked.
El met Louise’s eyes. “Where to first?”
Louise blew out a breath as she thought. “I need my gear,” she said, thinking out loud.
El nodded. She entwined her fingers with Louise’s and addressed the medic. “Tell them to find a place to switch vehicles. I need a car and I need to go dark for the rest of the day.”
His eyes went back and forth between El and Louise. “Eh,” he uttered.
“Do you want me to tell them?” El asked dryly, holding out her hand. “Gimme that thing.”
“No, ma’am,” he stuttered and blushed. “I’ll do it.”
Louise bit down on her lower lip to stop herself from smiling. She really liked Eleanor Lucas. She liked her a lot.
“This is insane,” El giggled as she directed the car away from the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Louise replied, staring at the ambulance and security vehicles in the side view mirror.
The presidential guards stood huddled together, no doubt discussing what to do next.
El had just ordered them to let her fly unprotected. There was nothing a security force hated more than a stubborn, rebellious protectee.
“Where to?” El asked, speeding up the car.
Louise blinked a few times. She was still a bit groggy from the meds.
El touched her leg. “Hey, are you sure you’re okay?”
Louise nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess I’m still processing everything that just happened.”
They were silent for a few moments. Louise rubbed the back of her neck, peering down at El’s fingers resting on her thigh.
“I have some bad news,” El interrupted her thoughts.
Louise’s head snapped to the side. “What is it ?”
El wrinkled her nose. “Rick had your gear destroyed.”
The knot in Louise’s stomach grew tighter.
The corner of El’s lips quirked up into a playful smile. “Except for…”
Louise grabbed El’s hand. “What?!”
“That thing you left on my bookcase.”
El winked at her. “I found it before anyone else did.”
Louise let out a long, relieved sigh. “We have to go get it! Can we go to the residence?”
“Nope,” El replied, shaking her head.
“Shit,” Louise stammered. “I don’t know what to do without…”
“No need,” El continued, grinning now.
“What do you mean?” Louise asked, her head spinning.
El nodded towards the back of the car. “Check my purse.”
Louise looked over her shoulder. El had thrown a bag onto the backseat. Louise had seen her grab it from the ambulance floor but hadn’t given it a second thought.
“Really?” she mumbled in amazement.
“Yup,” El smiled.
Louise turned in her seat and reached for the purse. She fumbled with the zipper, and sure enough, found the terminal. She pulled it out.
“I don’t know why I felt I had to bring it with me,” El shrugged. “Just a feeling, I guess?”
“Your spidey sense,” Louise replied with a grin.
“My what?! I need to choose a direction soon, by the way.”
“Can we go to the place by the ocean?” Louise asked, running her finger over the side of the terminal.
“Where you have the satellite signal?”
“Yeah, I might be able to get a connection. It’s our only shot at stopping those drones.”
El tightened her grip on the wheel. “If your people hit our infrastructure now, it’s going to be total chaos. The backups aren’t running properly yet.”
“They’re not my people,” Louise snapped.
El was quiet for a long moment. She pulled back her hand from Louise’s leg and took a turn to the left. Louise assumed they were now on their way to the coast.
She stared out of the window, unsure of how to reconnect with El after nearly biting her head off.
“Did Hobbs make it?” El asked carefully, after another tense minute.
“No,” Louise sighed.
”When I heard about the ferry,” El stuttered. “I thought you were dead.” Her voice cracked.
Louise shifted in the leather seat. “I almost was.”
“Twice even,” El added. Her words came out as something in between a chuckle and a sob.
“When you jumped in front of me and got hit…” El didn’t finish her sentence. She sniffed and clenched her jaw.
Louise gently rubbed the place where she had been shot. Or stunned. Whatever. The pain in her chest was coming back.
“Are you okay?” El asked, sounding worried.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Louise lied. “I don’t think I can take another shot today, though.”
She was trying to make it sound as if she was kidding, but the truth was she suddenly felt bone tired.
El huffed. “Don’t worry about Rick. He’s going away for a long time.”
“I’m sorry,” Louise said hesitantly. “I know you thought he was your friend.”
“Yeah,” El said quietly, biting her lower lip.
“What about his accomplices?” Louise wondered out loud.
“We’ll find them,” El replied, pushing a curl back behind her ear.
Louise folded her hands in her lap. She had one more question, but she dreaded asking it. She was done holding things back, though.
“Why did you send me away? Why did you let him take me?” she asked, in a voice barely above a whisper.
El slowed down the car before she cleared her throat. “I thought you would be safer back home. I thought it was best to get you out of here.” She sniffed. “Clearly, I was wrong.”
Louise peered at the road ahead. The midday light was too bright. She pulled down the sun visor.
“I thought you were convinced I had tricked you into sleeping with me.” She was barely able to say the words out loud. “I thought you believed Woodward,” she confessed.
“For a while, I did,” El said, tears running down her cheeks. She held up her hand to indicate she wasn’t done yet. “I just didn’t know what to believe. I’m so sorry.”
Louise’s arms and legs were trembling. “What changed?” she managed to say.
El wiped her cheeks with her sleeve. “You told me how you feel.”
Louise nodded slowly. She thought of the last sentence she had scribbled on the bandana. In the end, it had been the easiest one to come up with.
“The bandana was a nice touch,” El said, obviously trying to lighten the mood. “Never got a love letter like that before.”
“I promised Stucky a huge cookie,” Louise replied earnestly.
El laughed. “You better give it to him tonight then.”
Louise’s smile stretched from ear to ear. She liked El’s suggestion of seeing Stucky again tonight. She knew there were no guarantees. But who knew? Maybe she did get to go home with El?
“What are you going to do once we get to the shore?” El asked, gently placing her hand on Louise’s thigh again.
Louise took in a deep breath and covered El’s fingers with her own. “I think it’s about time I have a chat with my ex-girlfriend.”