Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Baxter could still feel the heat from the vials in his hands as they vapourized into the atmosphere of the room, still smell the fuel, even through his respirator in the moment the weapon discharged full into his back.

The pain was blinding, the impact propelling him forward across the worktop, scattering containers and lab equipment before him, to land face down in a pool of merging chemicals and broken glass.

“Secondary Recovery Unit terminated. Package destroyed. Requesting evac at marker. Over.”

Baxter heard her words, heard her speak them, but couldn’t rationalize the betrayal.

“Sucks to be you Bax,” her voice retreating from the room, “they want this project really gone. No hard feelings?”

The door clicked shut and he was alone.

Data streamed through his heads up display, damage reports moving too fast for him to see. ‘Organ failure imminent’ hung suspended before being chased away by a barrage of lesser destruction. ‘Evac request denied’. Then ‘Network connection terminated’.

He was on his own, and he was going to die.

They’d worked for decades together, partners, a team. Never had it occurred to him that she could sell him out and burn him to the ground.

Death suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad outcome. How long had this been coming? How far back did the lies extend? The Portian excursion? Earlier? The Marigam Run?

“You don’t want to die here Bax, not like this.” The voice in his head was an old one, a version of himself he’d left behind in exchange for a promise so many years ago. “Get your lazy ass up Bax.”

He couldn’t feel his legs, but with effort was able to reach around to paw at the edges of the hole in his back. Nanoflesh had already sealed over the crater, though the depth of the depression told him a lot of meat had been burned away. The spine could be regrown, but not if he lay here feeling sorry for himself. With a great deal of effort he pulled himself arm over arm through the debris, chemical ooze and broken glass lubricating his suit while it impaired his traction. He could feel the glass fighting with the armormesh coverall in an effort to draw more of his blood.

He dragged himself across the room to a window, pushed the snub nose of his hand cannon against the glass and exploded it out into the night air.

Wrapping one hand around the rip cord on his chute, he used his other arm to lever himself out the window and into free-fall. He drifted away from the building before pulling the cord, releasing most of what remained of his chute into a tangled mass of fabric that splayed out behind him. The sudden take-up of slack almost tore his arms off, then sent him spiraling out of control towards the ground. The impact was swift and brutal, for the moment Baxter was thankful he couldn’t feel his legs as he heard the bones shatter beneath him. Too much adrenaline for shock to put him out.

He lay on the ground, staring up at the sky as a familiar sound broke the silence. Above him, sliding out of the night was the low frequency whip, whip of an evac copter. She was about to catch her ride.

He lay motionless, hearing rather than feeling the nanotech scab over the bleeding wounds where his bones had fractured through the skin. He could only wait.

There was a sudden streak of blinding white light across the night sky, and a flaming ball arced away from the rooftop just as his radio crackled to life.

“Primary Recovery Unit terminated. Cleanup complete. Over.”

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