“Who would've imagined? THE Indigo Five Alpha is afraid of heights? Hahahaha—” Such hysterical laughter would most certainly get her hyperventilated. Rolling your eyes, you raised your arm. A brief click on the earpiece and the transmission signal was cut short.
That scene sneaks into your mind for no reason. It is true, though, that you hate coming up this high as far as you can remember.
You have been hearing some strange wheezing sound in your lungs for the last couple of minutes, knowing that your physical state has been stretched to the limit.
Perhaps you are afraid of heights, and she was actually right about it. You remember passing off errands that might involve heights to Root or Reese. “At least I can trust you guys not to go wrong with something this elementary?” Sounding as sarcastic as you wished, you knew crystal clear that neither Root nor yourself would buy it.
But now, it appears that evading is no longer an option.
As far back as memory would take you, every time you leaned against a concrete wall in some untraversed corner of this industrial city, drenched in blood and exhausted, Root had always been able to magically pop up from behind some random bricks, pat your scratched face before your eyes go shut, and whisper in your ear, “It’s okay now, let’s go home.”
But then again…
You suddenly come to a realization that this might not be the most ideal timing to think about Root. It is difficult to tell whether the scarlet bloodstream gradually pooling on the cement floor coming from you or from the guy who just died in hand-to-hand combat against you. And after all, you are hundreds of meters off the ground, and the bullet holes and lacerations don’t seem to allow you to walk down those countless stairs.
Dragging your nearly unconscious torso, you slump against the edge of this deserted factory building. A whirl of bone-chilling wind suddenly fills your lungs, reminding you that it is nearly winter in the suburbs of New York. Less than ten centimeters from your left is a fractured piece of steel, stretching out from the cliff of the cement, and further that way…You decide not to peek.
This is way too fucked up.
The thought still manages to slip into your mind somehow. You can’t help wondering if this was how Root was like back then. Would she also be pressing her wound in the abdomen but gaining no relief from the bursts of pain attacking the central nervous system? Was she also feeling her organs ceasing to function every single second, until all senses were swept away by anguish and eventually cede control of her whole body?
It hurts. Too much. You used to see pain as your most familiar friend and enemy. You had no idea it could bother you this much.
You attempt to exert greater force against the bleeding wound, though the increasing exhaustion washing over your body is making such simple movement frustratingly difficult. The agony is gradually paralyzing your nerves as another gust of freezing wind fills your nostrils. You lift your hand, give a few pats on your increasingly numb cheek, and turn to blindly flail around on the floor until you feel the nearby USP.
You’d try anything to prevent falling into a coma.
Stiffening fingers begin to disassemble the USP by muscle memory. Your eyelids seem to have fallen for one second or two, but you manage to flash open.
With a shake of your palm, the pistol grip slips off your fingertips, before violently piercing the suburban silence with the collision with a metal plate a hundred meters below. Your face twitched in shock at the noise.
It suddenly occurs to you, you haven’t always been afraid of heights.
It was summer — the cold and the dull ache of gunshots twist your time perception that “summer” seems to be millions of year ago — when you were wearing your favorite tank top and black trousers, with Finch chattering in your earpiece and Reese handing you a doughnut coming fresh out of an oven. You squinted at the summer sunbeam and thought to yourself that it seemed to be a satisfactory way to spend the days.
At least until…
“Asset Shaw, please proceed to the top floor of the Empire State Building immediately, Analogue Interface needs your help. Primary Asset, I need…”
The Machine cut itself off. You didn’t want to know what instructions Reese got anyway. All you knew is that the Machine said Root needs your help. Root, who can fucking sneak into Samaritan’s brain and out by herself, doesn’t need any-fucking-one’s help.
So when the Machine said she needed your help, that means shit is getting real.
Bullets whistled through the air. You took down the last of the agents who didn’t make it out in time. And the very next second, you forgot all the defensive tactics that kept you alive for the past few years and ran out of your cover, sprinted towards the woman who’s fallen against the wall.
The nearly imperceptible pulses at the side of her neck froze your blood in the veins, the summer heat seemed to be incapable of coming this high up. You merely suppressed a shiver.
The unduly noisy wind filled your auricles. You called out her name, and couldn’t even hear your own voice.
You stopped the bleeding with some less-than-ideal material within your reach, and then flattened her stiffening torso in final preparation for CPR.
Numbly counting when you finished 30 chest compressions. No breath. No pulse.
You suddenly became dimly aware that Root’s wound has been torn by your movement. You had to stop the CPR and redo the stanching.
A blast of hot wind blew by, sunlight reflected off the solar panel before hitting your eyes, and a sharp squeal of car siren whistled a few hundred meters below you. Dizziness was getting suffocating.
“…twenty-nine, thirty.” You leaned over for artificial respiration.
No breath. No pulses.
You breathed a shallow breath and continued.
“One... two …”
“Miss Shaw, the first aid team that the Machine had me arrange is downstairs. Let them take over from here.” Finch’s voice finally came in.
The abrupt lift of your upper body sent a brief blackout, but you managed to settle, before tilting slightly and poking your head out over the parapet of the building ——
And then you seemed to catch a glimpse of the glare of the sun reflecting off the glass of the building across the street, and the streams of hurrying pedestrians beneath, and the last thing you remember before fainting was collapse towards the concrete wall.
You and Root survived it eventually. Root spent a couple of days in the emergency room, and then you had her grounded for a few more. Her supposedly endearing pouting was not changing your mind.
“Who would've imagined? THE Indigo Five Alpha is afraid of heights? Hahahaha—”
In all fairness, the Machine should be the last person (if only she were a person) to ridicule you on this matter, let alone using Root’s voice after her death. She’s the one who made Root run headlong into dozens of terrorists, and she’s the one who had you witness Root’s brief tour to the afterlife, so it’s reasonable to say that your fear of height is technically her fault.
The reminiscence abruptly ends. The USP in your hand has been dismantled into an empty shell, and the bitter cold has taken the last bit of sensation from your palm. You crook your forearm, letting the metal frame of the pistol loose. With another bang, it strikes the ground dozens of stories below.
You twist your neck just slightly to look down, suppressing the sickening clench in your stomach when you notice a fuzzy silhouette of a brunette getting increasingly clear, standing next to the scattered gun pieces on the ground.
“Sameen…” She begins in a low voice, but somehow you have never been able to hear her this well.
“Sameen, I missed you.”
She looks you straight in the eyes. Your facial muscles too stiff to give any response.
The earpiece on the floor beside you begins making a string of sounds — must be the Machine giving yet another instruction.
The blood leaking from the wound on your abdomen soaks your tank top.
The gangster seems to be still alive, miserably twitching and moaning with blood froth in his throat.
But these don’t matter anymore. You are just a little tired, and Root is going to guard you.
You roll your eyes and look to the horizon afar.
The late autumn sky is as blue as a wash of sapphire, with a few ravens chirping as they circle around the thin cloud. Once again, you feel yourself drowned in the wild gusts of wind.