Mack looked around him as Reno burned and smoldered in the aftermath of the battle. Plasma burns scarred every building. Dead Ringheads lay scattered up and down the street. Low, guttering plasma fires burned a dim purple on most of the bodies. A good portion of them were nearly intact, holed neatly through their chests when the iceboxes had gone crazy and killed almost all the rest of them.
On all the Ringheads, their ice armor slowly evaporated. The natural desert heat leeched back into the city as the icebox effect faded. As the armor disappeared it left a sharp, acidic odor in its wake. Bright scars crisscrossed Mack’s chestplate, courtesy of Hunter claws. His temple throbbed under a crust of dried dirt and blood. His chest ached, equal parts broken ribs and sorrow.
The Repeater 55 weighed about a thousand pounds in his arms and dragged him to one side. The only thing keeping him standing was the cybernetic leg. Pretty much everything else hurt like hell. Somewhere along the way he’d ditched his Dub1, his charge packs spent. He’d found the 55 by a burnt out auto-cab, next to Simmons’ body. The 55 was empty now as well, but he couldn’t seem to relax his hands. Mack swayed, exhaustion threatening to pull him down. But he couldn’t rest now–his eyes wouldn’t let him. If he blinked he was afraid Jonesy and Cam would vanish.
At least, he thought it was Jonesy and Cam.
Jonesy lay motionless on the street. Only the subtle movement of his chest indicated he lived. What the hell is he doing in a SinoSov uni? His arm had been cut off. Someone said Cam had done it. Whatever had done it, his arm wasn’t even bleeding. But it was smoking. Freaky. Cam did that?
Cam stood guard over Keenan’s prone body, covered head to toe in some kind of armor the same dark hue of the alien cylinders. The armor covered her hands and ended in wicked looking claws on her fingers. Both hands ran with alien blood and gore. In her right hand she clutched the hilt of a freaking sword, the blade an eerie milky white. Cam radiated menace and pain.
No one dared step close to her, this alarming Valkyrie.
No one except Sasha. The smaller soldier strode over to Keenan, “I need to check him, Alvarez.”
To Mack’s surprise, Cam gave a nod, took a small step back from Keenan’s body and looked away. Cam looked down at her hand, as if surprised to find the sword there. She dropped it. When the ice blade hit the ground, it began hissing and evaporating into acrid mist.
Holding his breath, Mack waited as Sasha knelt and gently rolled Keenan over. When she closed her eyes and bowed her head, Mack’s shoulders slumped in disappointment.
Someone walked up beside him. Mack turned his head away from Keenan, saw Box offering a canteen. Mack accepted it and sucked down the water. While he drank, the big man pointed around the street.
“What happened here?”
Mack swallowed, pointed at the once familiar woman. “Cam happened.”
The big man’s eyes widened.
Mack nodded. “Scariest shit I’ve ever seen.”
Sasha stood, slinging her rifle off her back. “Whiskey, Victory, get me a two block perimeter around this mess. Nothing and no one in or out.”
She spoke into her gauntlet. “CentCom, this is Kennedy. Requesting ground support and a decon team to my current location.”
Mack moved to obey Sasha’s command. Then Cam lifted her head and her eyes met with Mack’s. Only her eyes showed through her visor. Even at this distance he made out the brilliant blue ring around her irises. Those previously warm eyes glinted with an alien coldness. It was the shape of Cam, but something essential inside her was changed. He took an involuntary half-step back from her gaze.
A pained look flashed across her eyes. Cam ducked her head, turned and knelt at Jonesy’s side. As she placed her hand on his neck, Jonesy’s eyes fluttered.
Sasha waved to Mack and Box. “Box, I need you to babysit Snow White over there. Last I checked she was still breathing. If she wakes up, sit on her until the cavalry arrives.”
Box nodded and trotted off towards the unconscious woman, her white hair out stark against the melting muck of the street.
Sasha turned to Mack, her eyes grim.“We’re going to watch these two, until the decon team gets here to quarantine them all. ”
“What? C’mon, LT. This is Alvarez we’re talking about here.” Mack couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice.
Sasha’s lips tightened in displeasure. “You got a problem with what I said?”
Before Sasha could reply, Cam spoke up from where she was kneeling next to Jonesy. She kept her gaze on Jonesy as she spoke. “It won’t be a problem.”
Cam looked up at Sasha and their eyes met. Some unspoken understanding seemed to pass between them. Mack blew out a breath, frustrated by this latest turn of events.
On the ground, Jonesy stirred, moaning as he regained consciousness. Sasha took a half step backwards, even as Cam turned back to him, gently rousing him.
Jonesy’s eyes opened slowly and he looked around, his gaze passing over all of them, his expression becoming more confused. Jonesy rolled, tried to sit up.
Cam put a hand on his chest. “Sshh. Easy there, soldier.”
Jonesy put his arms up, and seemed to now notice the amputation. He sagged back down to the ground, looking deflated, his eyes fixed on the smoking stump of his right arm. “Not again.”
Tears rolled down Cam’s cheeks and her breath hitched. “I’m sorry.”
Jonesy clasped her hand, gripping it until his knuckles whitened. “Me too.”
Mack to a step forward, only to be stopped by Ripper, outstretched before him. Sasha said, “No, Mack. They’re going to quarantine.”
A hole opened inside Mack’s chest, threatening to suck his breath away. His friends had finally returned, but they were changed. They were hurting, and he was unable to help them. He slumped against Sasha’s arm.
He looked up, met Jonesy’s eyes. He had the same blue ring around his irises as Cam. The blue glinted like shards of chipped ice.
Jonesy said, “It’s ok, Mack. We– I need to be locked up.”
Jonesy’s eyes tracked downwards. Mack followed his gaze, saw where the gleaming titanium of his leg showed through his shredded trousers. When he looked back up, Jonesy’s hard eyes were locked back on his.
Jonesy looked back and forth between Mack and Sasha. “When they come back, they’ll be hunting for you. For both of you.”