Warning: strong language.
That night I played Vivaldi on my violin, No. 8 in G Major, one of the few pieces I could remember that I had never played for Dana. Over the strains of the instrument I heard the rumblings of the coming storm, the wind rattling the steel sheets that covered my compound’s windows. All sensors agreed it was going to be a bad one, maybe the worst in a decade. I worried about Hook’s safety. I had turned the forcebeams to maximum, and between those and his rock walls, he ought to be sheltered from the worst of the wind–or so I told myself.
Besides, the storm did have one major benefit. It was already impossible to move around out there. I had a reprieve for tonight.
But what about tomorrow?
I thought again about the guy she had shot.
The more I considered it, the clearer it became that giving Hildy some sort of accident was the only clean solution. I couldn’t kill her outright; I wasn’t capable of that, wouldn’t want to be capable of that. But were there other options? Might I drug her somehow, imprison her? And then what–keep her captive for the next fifty years? No, impossible. There was no way to incapacitate her without…without doing what I would never do.
But what did that leave?
Suddenly, over the screaming storm and the weeping of Vivaldi, I heard a loud banging on the door. A voice shouted my name. I froze in astonishment. “Rogan!” she shouted again, and there was no doubt it was Hildy. “Let me inside!”
I couldn’t believe she had gotten to me through the storm. She must be out of her mind.
Letting her inside right now was the last thing I wanted to do, and it occurred to me then that it would be very easy to just do…nothing. Leave her out there. I hadn’t heard her voice; I hadn’t heard anything. The problem would go away all by itself.
A neat solution to a messy problem. Except, as I’ve said before, I’m not a murderer.
I slipped a chem-pistol into my jacket pocket.
“I’m opening the door!” I called. “Get inside quick!”
I could barely get the door open because of the raging wind. Dust blew into my eyes and swirled into the compound. She slipped inside and I shut the door behind her.
She wore thick goggles and a breathing mask over her mouth. When she took these off, the skin there stood out much lighter than the rest of her face, which was caked with dust. She took her gloves off and removed her hood. Streaks of blood marred her face, places that pebbles had struck her. She was shivering.
“You might have opened a little quicker,” she muttered.
“You might have waited until tomorrow.”
“We said tonight.” Her voice was soft. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I’ve waited three years. I don’t want to wait any longer.”
I took her cloak and gloves and led her down the hall, into the main body of the compound. The first room we reached was the kitchen. She looked around curiously. “I haven’t seen this place in a long time. You never invited me over.”
“You’re here now.”
“She didn’t like me, did she?” Hildy tossed her hair. “She felt threatened by me. Well, that’s all right. She should have.”
“It’s still two hours till midnight, Hildy.”
She laughed. “Still worried her ghost is going to watch us while we do it? Come on, Rogan, you don’t believe in that stuff.”
“You believe in it.”
“I don’t care,” she said fiercely, looking at me for the first time. “Not anymore. I’ve waited, and now it’s time. We’re going to be together.”
I took a deep breath.
“No,” I said. “We’re not.”
She was shaking her head, starting to laugh. “You don’t understand. This is it. There isn’t any other option.”
“Look, I can imagine how you feel–”
She cackled wildly, spinning around. “I’m glad! I’m glad! I thought nobody else woke up and wanted to die and ate breakfast and wanted to die and repaired the thermal processor and wanted to die and went to sleep and wanted to die every day for fifteen goddamn years. I’m so happy I’m not alone in that, because I felt very, very alone.”
Gradually she went still, and the wild grin slipped away. “But you need me now, Rogan. You can’t survive on your own. Not without Dana–not out here. You need me, and you’re going to give me what I want.”
I put on my best poker face. If only I’d spent a little more time playing poker. “I’ll just have to manage the best I can without you.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I figured you’d say that.”
She reached into a hip pocket and dropped seven or eight small objects on the kitchen table. Metal cylinders, each about the size of my thumb. It took me a moment to realize what they were.
The batteries to Hook’s forcebeam generators.
“I couldn’t figure out why you needed the spanner,” she said. “You were obviously lying about your foot being hurt, but with your old bitch dead, I couldn’t imagine who else you could use it on. Actually I figured you had some other woman–just shows you how crazy I am. So I followed you back after you left my compound.” She shrugged. “Would’ve just shot the damn thing, except my last chem-pistol jammed about a year ago…”
I pulled out my own pistol and aimed it at her. She only laughed again. “I’m crazy,” she said, advancing on me slowly as I retreated, still aiming at her. “I know I’m crazy. But I’m not stupid, Rogan. I know you don’t love me. I know you don’t like me. I know this will never work, but shit, there’s nothing else and I can’t take it anymore.”
In the end, I couldn’t make myself shoot her. I decked her across the face, and she fell, unconscious. I grabbed the batteries and ran out into the storm.
The cage was only fifty meters away from my compound, but in the hellish wind, it seemed I would never get there. Freezing air tore through my cloak, and grit slashed at my cheeks. Once, a golf-ball-sized rock hit my left shoulder and sent me sprawling. I could barely see a meter in front of my face. But I pressed on. Eventually I reached the cage.
The forcebeam generators were dead. I began searching for Hook, not bothering to put the batteries back in until I found him. “Hook!” I called, over and over, though I could barely hear my own voice over the wind. There was no sign of the beetle.
A rock in front of me suddenly melted. I whirled around and saw Hildy behind me, my own chem-cannon on her shoulder, hunting me as I’d hunted Hook that first day. I dove behind a nearby boulder, drawing my own pistol, and returned fire. We both missed by meters. The wind made it almost impossible to aim. But Hildy was closing the distance fast. I did my best to keep her at bay, firing again and again. A distant part of my brain was relieved that I’d finally found a situation where my conscience would let me out of my dilemma–assuming she didn’t kill me first.
“You’re crazy to come out here!” Hildy called. “The storm’s gotten him by now! There’s nothing you can do!”
“You don’t know that!” I shouted.
Another blast from her, and a droplet from the chem-cannon impact splashed on my hand, making me lose my pistol. She was towering over me now, weapon pointed at my heart, fierce and triumphant.
“Rogan–” she began.
But I wasn’t looking at her. I was looking to my left, at something I’d just noticed. Words, scratched on the rock. At first I couldn’t make it out through the swirling dust, but as I squinted, it became clear.
The original mark the beetle had made was not just a scratch. It was a letter: the letter “I.” The whole thing read:
I AM DANA
I stared in shock.
She was starting to say something else when Hook jabbed its claw into her from behind, the tip protruding through her shoulder. Her mouth opened wide, a thin line of spittle crossing it. A strange transformation took place on her features. Her eyes and lips moved as if she was figuring out how to use them all over again.
Finally the claw pulled out, and the beetle collapsed, never to move again. Hildy smiled gently in spite of her still-bleeding wound.
“I am Dana,” she said.
Re-reading it now, I’m much less happy with it than I was originally. But c’est la vie.