Fear and panic coursed through the whole room. Some people fell on the ground crying, clutching their throats, others ran around screaming. Cat’s trauma emanated out into the room in thick, palpable waves, each one washing over Skie like a crashing surf. It was almost too much: all the practice Cat had with her abilities over the past couple of days had made it far easier for her to use them, even if she meant not to.
Skie had never felt like she really liked Cat, but the past couple of days had given Skie a healthy dose of respect for the woman. A woman who, had it not been for a last minute save, would be dead by Skie’s hand. Despite the fact that Cat believed Skie and she had already saved each other, Skie’s guilt over almost killing Cat weighed heavily on her conscious. If there was any time to save Cat, now would be that time.
Straining to maintain her own mind, Skie forced herself to get angry. Angry at Royce, who of all people had given her a new life. Who was currently choking the life out of someone who didn’t deserve to die. Who didn’t understand why he was killing someone, but that something had snapped. Royce wasn’t himself anymore. He was broken, and someone needed to stop him.
“Stop!” She cried over the screams and strangled cries. Before she knew it, her pistol was in hand, aimed directly at Royce and his cruel grey eyes. “Stop it! Let her go, Royce. This isn’t you, you know that!”
Royce turned his cool gaze towards her. Cat’s eyes bulged as her hands lost their grip and lost the strength to keep fighting. Instants later, the waves of panic subsided, and the room became much quieter. Cat had stopped moving.
Skie stood, breathing heavily, with her gun pointed at Royce. He dropped Cat on the floor, who crumpled in an inglorious heap. “You dare point that at me. Me!” Royce spat every word like a poison. “I gave you life, which you waste on murder, on pointless murder. I gave you a voice! I have you a fighting chance in a word that would have you die and this is how I am repaid?!”
He walked over Cat’s body, moving closer towards Skie with heavy tread. Skie gripped her pistol tighter. “You have no idea what you are doing, Royce. That woman saved all these people. That boy wanted to kill them, and he could have done it! He had the same powers, he was too dangerous to keep alive.”
Royce chortled. “Maybe you are too, woman. Maybe you are too dangerous to keep alive. I see it now. I need to shut you down.” Skie panicked, and tried to pull the trigger. Before she could, Royce’s eyes glowed a deep blue green, and by the time she pulled the trigger her gun simply wouldn’t fire. She lifted her arm to hold him at bay, but just as the power field shimmered to life her whole arm, and her shoulder, suddenly felt unbelievably heavy. Skie fell hard on her side.
“What the fuck!” She tried to move but the now useless hunk of metal attached to her body on a nearly molecular level weighed her down. Royce’s burning eyes bored into her, and Skie could see the confused hatred that flamed within him.
“No more, woman. No more fighting. No more murder. My inventions will not be used by crooks!” He screamed, his voice echoing horribly in the ceiling of the building.
“I am on your side, Royce! Whatever you’re doing is-” Skie suddenly couldn’t speak. Her voice vanished, and her throat suddenly felt incredibly cold. She mouthed wordless protest and Royce came up next to her, kneeled down, and looked her in the eyes.
“I don’t even know your name. I don’t care anymore, you see. I thought you were someone else, and I gave you your life back. All I wanted to do was help this old city, but I can see that it turns even the best of us into cold criminals, capable of murdering children. Children!” He slammed the ground next to him, and the stones broke underneath his metal fist. “My hopes for you died when that child did. My hopes for the old city died when the woman tried to assault my mind with her abilities. That this area would break so much of me in so little time is truly remarkable, but now I will break it.”
The three drones glowed with bright blue-green light, and began advancing on the people inside. Screams of fear reverberated in the hall as many ran as far back as possible. With the droids all in front of the only exit now, everyone in the temple was now stuck.
One man stoked his courage and leapt at the nearest drone, which turned instantly and shot a blast of energy at him. The sound of air tearing ripped through the air, and a bolt hit the man on the right side of his chest, vaporizing the right side of his body and leaving the now horribly burnt left side to topple uselessly to the ground. The shouting got worse as people began to truly panic.
Skie’s eyes locked on Royce as he grinned. “I will burn this cesspit into ash, and completely destroy the genetic abominations down here. I will remake this world into a clean one, where I cannot be betrayed.”
Skie could see Rick grabbing his rifle and taking a shot at one of the droids, but the shot exploded before it hit the robot. The robot then turned and murdered several people near Rick, who had just managed to duck out of the way. Another droid stepped over Cat, blasting a few more people.
The guilt she felt now weighed too much. Something had to be done. I am going to punch you so hard you won’t understand what hit you, she thought. She must have mouthed it, because Royce’s look became slightly puzzled.
“I’m sorry? I can’t quite hear you. Oh, that’s right, beca-”
Skie threw her left arm as hard as possible into Royce’s jaw. The contact sent a shock through her whole arm and she felt her fingers scream in pain as one of the bones broke on his jaw. It must have been a good hit though, since Royce flew backwards and slammed his head on the stones.
Feeling came back into her throat and her arm felt normal again. The droids staggered and stopped as their cores dimmed to nothing.
“And fuck you, asshole.” Her shitty voicebox had never sounded so good, and and her anger had never really felt so keen. She stalked over to his prone body. Blood pooled around his head in a small puddle, and his look was glazed and distant. She got close to his ear, so close she could smell his sweat. “You have no idea how much I want to kill you now. How easy it would be. For all the shit you just caused; but I know it’s not you, so I won’t. I’ll even bring you upstairs, get you fixed up, because hey, you saved my life. Now we’re square.” She got up, and just before going to help everyone she whispered to him.
“Oh, and my name is Skie. Not just some woman.”
Rick could hardly believe his luck. Royce’s freakout had cost the lives of at least eight people in the span of only a couple of seconds, and it was undone because Skie got a lucky punch in. He would have been screwed if the assault had gone on any longer.
The people who were hit by the droid blasters were completely gone. Huge chunks of their bodies had vanished, the rest had been charred to a horrible crisp. The stench of burn saturated the air in a miasma that Rick could barely work through. After checking the corpses of a couple of the victims, he gave up on the rest. There was no way to survive a hit like that.
He heard a shout from the front, and remembered in a flash: Cat. He jumped over some of the toppled benches and sped to where she had fallen. He crested an overturned bench and saw Skie holding Cat in her arms.
Skie glanced his way and her eyes shot open. “Rick, what do I do?! I’m not sure she’s breathing or anything either and I need help!”
He came close to Cat, took her body from Skie, and placed her on the ground flat. Moment of truth, he thought, and whether or not these folks survive the wilderness down here. His stomach turned at the possibility of having failed all these people because of a random psychotic breakdown.
His glove came off easily enough, and he touched his two fingers to Cat’s jugular. For a brief second, he felt nothing except a deep pit in his stomach but to his surprise a faint and very light pulse beat still. He checked for breathing, his ear close to Cat’s mouth and looking at her chest. A light wheeze escaped her throat every couple of seconds, but it was so little that Rick was barely sure it existed.
“She has a pulse but it sounds like she’s having a hard time breathing. I’m going to help her out, you be ready to do as I say. Clear?” Skie nodded, and Rick got to work. If he was lucky he remembered how CPR worked, and if he was luckier still, Cat would recover.
Placing the heel of his palm on her chest, Rick pumped her lungs as best he could. The noise of people surrounding him dimmed in the background as he concentrated on helping Cat breathe. One compression after the other, his beleaguered grunting marking the passage of each one. He finally did enough, and breathed deep before doing mouth to mouth. One big breath after another, and her chest did rise and fall. It was going according to plan, except she wasn’t moving.
He placed the palm of his hand back on her chest, and pushed down hard. A sick crack came from Cat’s throat, and she gasped in air, choking on and coughing on it immediately afterwards. Cat would live.
“Holy shit.” Skie smiled with relief. “I wouldn’t have lived it down if she had… you know.”
Rick nodded. “You figure this makes the two of you even?” He remembered the church, what felt like forever ago, when she had nearly killed Cat in exactly the same way.
Cat coughed for a long time, gasping for air in between fits. Eventually she regained her breath and sat still. Once her breathing calmed down, Cat looked up at Rick and Skie.
“I would prefer if the next time I meet people from the overcity that we do not make this a habit.” She wheezed, her brighter nature and relief at having survived flooding the room with much needed positive thoughts. Rick felt happy all the same, but the added emotions Cat poured out made him almost downright giddy. She turned her attention to Royce’s prone body, and her smile disappeared.
“What happened, Rick? Who was this man?”
“Is. He’s still breathing. He was a scientist who hired me to come down here with Skie and figure out the situation down here. Guess he got spooked by something and then… well, I don’t know what the hell happened in his head but yeah, he fucked shit up.”
Cat pondered a moment. “How many are dead?”
Rick counted again in his head. “Eight in total. Completely unable to be saved. Several others were injured as the panic broke out, and I’m not sure what happened in the back with the Lamb prisoners.”
Cat’s head hung heavily. “Those were unnecessary deaths. Rick, Skie, what I am about to ask of you is horrible, but I need you to remove this man from the building. There is no way I can allow him to live under this roof after what he has done.”
Before he could think, Rick nodded. “Yeah. Makes sense. Skie, wanna help me bring him to where you brought the kid?” When Skie nodded, Rick got up and moved over to Royce.
His head had stopped bleeding, though a small puddle stuck his hair to the scalp. His eyes searched for something but never rested on any one thing for too long, dazed and confused. He mumbled incoherently, too softly for Rick to hear.
Rick didn’t care. He grabbed Royce by the arms and dragged him towards the door, with the express intent of leaving him out there.