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while the ash settles

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The world moves like buckshot. Red's flight is similarly short-lived and violent; it comes to a back-breaking end when it shatters her into the mountainside.

Krakatau's eruption was supposed to be milder in this strand, thinks Red. Someone downthread is playing foul.

Then again, when isn't someone trying to pick at time's intricate knots? Ask Red to name three truths, inconvertible, and she will tell you this: There is always someone downthread playing foul, the Year Without Summer is set to fall upon Strand 2191 as it has in so many other worlds, and someone has set her up.

Pain sings throughout Red's body. Implants spark and malfunction. This is the first mission that has gone awry enough to end in failure since she burned that first letter, and chose the chase over the kill. Debriefing will be unkind.

Life and war have forged her into something beyond fear, or so she had thought (or hoped?). For some reason, however, it is not knowledge of the coming inquisition or of Commandant's cold fury that bears down like a lion on her prey-animal heart.

Smoke streaks through the sky's canvas. Already the day grows bleak. Thoughts scatter, staccato, lucidity as ephemeral as ash. 

Was it you? asks Red's fears, as darkness blots out the beautiful blue. Was it you?