The Taste Of Blood



Scene Title The Taste of Blood
Synopsis Kara begins another day in Providence.
Date April 9, 2019

The Sunken Factory???

The first thing Kara notices when she wakes is the taste of blood in her mouth. She rolls her feet off the edge of her bed, grabbing the glass of water by its side. Her senses are numb, but she knows she swishes its contents well before swallowing.

The taste persists. Not even an early swig of whiskey, which she can barely note the flavor of, rids it.

Oh well.

Time to get up.

Exiting her room, she hears the murmur of life around the factory, a diversity in tongues spoken. Sees the bright morning that has sprung outside. The old glass seems particularly warped today, obscuring all but the red earthy tones—

The check-ins she performs with other Horsemen once a month are on a schedule kept only to herself. A meticulous Outlook calendar running on Kara OS. She stops in to ask them their take on the state of things, to share what she's been working on and ask them of theirs, if she hasn't seen them recently. Their paths did not actively cross as much as she would like, some months, making check-ins like these all the more valuable.

The sky has turned gray and bruised with even darker clouds that promise rain. It could already be, but she can't hear it. At the top of the flight of stairs, she turns and looks down the hall of the skyway. A body lies there, face down, the red-blonde mop of his hair unshining in the dim light. The pool of blood around him is dark and long-dried, and the room promises nothing but regret, loathing, and questions whose nature mean they can only go unanswered.

She steps forward out of the flaps of the tent, eyes on the body.

"Prince, you ready to go?" A faceless voice by her side asks, hand clapping on her shoulder in passing. He is three people at once. When she turns back to the spot on the hard-packed dirt like concrete, seeing it unstained, she is no less bothered at what she thinks she remembers seeing under the bright desert sun.

There's something she's supposed to reply to Davids-Huxley-Powell, but she doesn't this time.

Kara Prince woke up with the taste of blood in her mouth, and very little to clear it away with. The coffee tasted downright tinny and had no strong coffee scent. Breakfast had been hot, but otherwise unremarkable. The food didn't matter anyway, it was the scraps of fellowship that made the meal worthwhile.

"Son of a bitch," her driving partner swears at absolutely nothing as he clambers in shotgun and pulls the door shut. The Humvee isn't so sturdy as to be affected by the way he swaggered into it, but Kara imagines a lesser stable vehicle would sway.

There's a pause as he notes her for the first time, a beat she allows before she offers her name and rank just before a snide comment, however lightly phrased, can be passed.

The vehicle rumbles, bouncing on uneven unpaved road on their patrol. Kara resulted in making a good impression on the upstart beside her, and he's been making 'smalltalk' for the last fifteen. One-sided smalltalk. She doesn't mind the lack of actual conversation, as her eyes are on the road ahead.

At the periphery of her vision, she senses more than sees something. Hears a creak like a surreptitious step on old wood—

Kara jolts in anticipation at the memory that's not her memory, the thing that bled into her when the skies still seeped colorful aurora. She tenses, trying and failing to reject the headsplitting moment and its stubborn metallic tang.

Blinking rapidly until she sees clearly, she works her jaw, trying to clear the ringing from her ears. Kara has the taste of blood in her mouth. She can hear the sounds of shouting, and it's not just from the pounding in her head that the world appears sideways. The man beside her hangs in his seatbelt, his head lolled in the direction gravity pulls it.

Her stomach turns as her sense of gravity is swapped again in a violent spin, her gaze blurring.

Red something pools around her feet with each step she takes in the grass, rain running down her soaked form in rivers as it falls at a slanted angle from the sky. Her hair is conveniently plastered to her face, lending her an unimpeded view of the destroyed building before her. The rain begins to snowflake around her, turning to ash and crackle that peel away from the cinders and flames of other buildings around her.

She's aware of the mask strapped to her face, around her eyes and mouth, that keep her from breathing in the chemical agents that were deployed to add further injury to the bombs dropped here.

When attacks like these happen, it's said it's due to the Administration believing Resistance forces were holing up at the site. So frequently are they wrong. And Kara knows they don't care.

She mistakes for a moment a strip of rebar sticking up from the rubble as the arm of someone buried underneath for the sin of having lived where the dot was placed on the map that day. She sees the innocent everywhere, sees the failure to protect them everywhere. In the horror of the moment, it's all too easy to lose sight that there were still people who needed out — who could be saved — if they stayed one step ahead —

next time

Would there be a next time?

The sound of hellish screeching lost in the calls of birds fills her ears. It sounds like the screams of the damned. Black feathers, black energy surge forth and strip life from bone as it passes through the bodies of both enemy and ally. It washes out of nothing and rolls, ultimately, over the rubble that's left. The rush eats away all but one concrete-rooted support beam, partly covering over a cellar door on the ground.

Breath catching in her throat, Kara breaks into a run for it. Each step is sluggish, each pump of her arms like she's made of lead.

She hears the zip of bullets firing past her, but she doesn't bother checking how far — how close to their target they were. Common sense screams to take cover, do anything aside from what she does, which is press on. She pushes into the beam, boots scrabbling into the dirt. There's a good chance it could all be for nothing, but what if

There's nothing.

There is something. There will be something. Kara throws her weight against the beam, trying to make it budge. This isn't all for nothing.

Maybe if she tells herself that enough, it becomes more true.

Kara is able to best the beam, lift it up off the leg of the person it was pinning down, drag their limp form back to cover behind a concrete barrier in the middle of the road. Please be okay. In the same moment, in a fracture between bad memories, she simultaneously pushes the beam off of the cellar door, her hands bloodied from losing grip in the rain. Dust has followed her over to the concrete barrier, kicked up in a trail. It makes it hard to immediately tell how the woman in her arms is doing.

She feels a twitch go through her. This didn't happen.

"I'm here," she hears herself say, voice shaking. She holds onto the body she's pulled free, trying to rough the person into a sitting position, get them up on their own. "Come on, we — have to go." The door groans, but starts to give way as she pulls it. Her lungs and torso are burning from the exertion, but all she can focus on is the goal. She pulls hard, palms slick with rain and blood—

Her palm comes away slick, but it's not with her own blood. Kara sucks in a breath of surprise. This didn't happen.

The dust has barely settled around the humvee before the injured are brought out. Two, she notes. Kara counts them and the rest quickly as she exits the prefab, eyes darting from one body to the next. This, though… "Where's—"

"Katie? Come on, I need your help." Kara begs the limp form in her arms. She shakes the other woman, her helmet falling away and hitting the ground.

The squad leader would look straight through Kara were it possible, but he can't. So, square in jaw, and facing the first of many inquiries into the decision he must now defend, he stares her down. "We couldn't." is all he says at first, simple and informative even in its vagueness.

She can hear the gunfire around them as she holds onto the limp form in her arms, a dazed expression as she realizes the futility in it all. Sees the others falling around them as they attempt to provide covering fire for an escape attempt — the ambushing party was too well-hidden, well-dispersed, well-entrenched. She sits with a vacant expression, hands shaking and covered with blood.

"She took a shot even before the IED went off. Awning fell, pinned her. We had to retreat." He tells her, almost clinical. "I made the call. You would have made the same." Kara knows it's likely true, but in her reliving of the what-ifs, she holds onto Katie all the more tightly.

There had to be hope. This couldn't all be for nothing. It couldn't all be for—

The third time Kara yanks on the cellar door, it opens fully, her slick hands having found enough purchase this time. "I'm here," she calls down below, reaching out her hand. One smaller, more slender than her own reaches back out, covered in dust.

"I'm here," she repeats reassuringly, cradling the body to herself and pressing her mouth down against the top of that now-bared head of dark hair. Kara rocks back and forth in her seat, the sounds of the ambush collapsing into a distant, incomprehensible din. "I'm here."

Arms trembling from the already-exerted efforts, Kara is only just able to hoist the person below up. Her heart has leapt into her throat, and tears sting at the corner of her eyes. Even in all the rubble, something had survived. They hadn't waited, come back later when it might have been too late.

"I'm here," Kara tells the small, slender form she pulls up first, who wraps their dusty arms around her and holds on tightly. She holds on just as firmly, face in the woman's dark hair. "I'm here," she promises. "Everything's going to be fine now."

Sitting in the dust, she lifts her head away and brushes strands of hair away from the face tilted up at her. Dark eyes are vacantly staring back up at her, blood trailing from her ear. Kara can no longer hear herself over the ringing in her own ears, can't see anything else aside from —

Kara lifts her head away from the much shorter form now with her in the rain, looses her embrace just slightly to look down and let her go, to reach back down and help the next victims out. The woman looks up, her dark eyes, smooth, porcelain-perfect fair skin alarmingly familiar to her.

It's Yi-Min Yeh.

The sound of a swarm makes it past the ringing in her ears, the screams of birds and something eldritch surging ever louder. She's confused, but she knows what it is. It shouldn't be here, not now. It belonged to a different desert, a different haunting. Yet, out of the corner of her eye, she sees the wave of it rush toward them, colliding with Yi—

Kara's Quarters

Sunken Factory

April 9, 2019

With a start, Kara's eyes shoot open and she struggles to make sense of where she is. She is neither in the desert, nor ankle-deep in rain, mud, and blood. She lies flat on her back in her bed, staring up in the din at the wallpapered walls, the stark ceiling.

She tries in vain to make sense of her dream.

She swallows hard to clear her palate.

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