Shaw opened her eyes, and blinked snowflakes from her eyelashes. "S'weird," she said, and passed out.
Shaw opened her eyes. She had no idea where she was, but there was a bright yellow sign nailed to a beam on the wall opposite. She squinted at the letters but they danced and shivered too fast for her to decipher. "Fuck you guys," she said, before the world went black again.
Shaw opened her eyes because there was an annoying buzzing in her ear and fuck that, she had enough to deal with right now. She swatted one hand at the sound, smacked herself on the temple and saw stars. "Fuck you!" she shouted. "Don't you fucking pass out!" Sadly, she was really bad at taking orders, even from herself. Especially from herself.
Shaw opened her eyes to soft whispers, which was unexpected, because she seemed to be half buried in the snow.
"Sameen? Come on, sweetie, I know you're out there somewhere. John says you're too mean to die all alone in the snow but he's cranky that I made him traipse all the way out here. In my defence, I can't search these woods all on my own."
Shaw knew that voice. She opened her mouth to say something scathing, about Root, about John, about this fucking snow, but all that came out was an undignified squawk.
Root was delighted nonetheless. "There you are! You've been in and out on me, I think you have a concussion. You've said some really nice things. And some bad things which were also kind of nice, though I'm pretty sure you didn't want John to hear those. Can you tell me where you are?"
Shaw's throat was dry and gravelly: all the fun of a hangover with none of the booze. She shovelled a handful of snow into her mouth and sucked the moisture from it, then spat blood onto the snow-covered floor. She was in a room, but a strange room: circular, the ceiling far away above her, and the snow thick beneath her, piled into drifts at the walls. It seemed wrong, somehow, snow inside. There was a passageway ahead of her, but it was dark, and her blurry vision could see no further than the edge of the light.
"Fuck this," she said, pleased with how clear her voice sounded.
"You make promises like that, you'd better be able to back them up."
Shaw's head was clearing, because she could hear concern behind Root's airy tone. "What happened? Is it still Tuesday?" She could remember the start of Tuesday: Bear ate a book, Harold tutted, and there was a new number. Actually, that could have been one of several days this week or indeed, any week.
Root's words were terse and her breath short: she was running. "Thursday. Samaritan. Lost you in the firefight. Keep your head down. Sweetie." A mighty clang sounded through the earpiece, as if Root had struck a gong. It echoed through Shaw's head in an unnatural way; she cringed and clenched her fists and promised bloody revenge on Root later.
There was an odd sound, a familiar sound, three short puffs. Shaw took a deep breath and tried to remember why that sound made her want to run, and then it came to her. It was the unmistakeable sound of bullets, long distant but through cold, dry air. The air, not the earpiece – the shots were close to her, not Root. Shaw thrashed upright, balancing on the thin surface crust of snow and reached for a weapon that wasn't there anymore. She pressed flat to the nearest wall for cover instead.
"Root!" she said into the earpiece. "You okay?" This was a weird room; the walls were rough hewn stone, and the only light source was a wide circle open to the sky. Snow fell gently through the opening, and Shaw brushed it from her face in annoyance.
"I'm okay. No! No, John, you need the purse! Don't argue with her!" Root still sounded out of breath, though that could be the effort of managing three conversations at once.
Shaw scraped ice off the bright yellow sign and peered at it. Her vision stabilised enough that the letters became clearer. It said, in cheery sans-serif, "Warning: if alarm sounds, leave the area and contact mine supervisor."
The alarm was a wire-encased light and siren, bolted to the wall above the open passageway. If that thing sounded while she was stuck down here with a concussion, she'd… she'd… Her hand brushed her holster again. She had dropped the damn thing when she fell. Shaw looked around her, but the gun must be buried in the snow by now.
The snow had drifted a little way into the protected tunnel, but Shaw saw twin rails embedded in the rock floor, silvery lines that led away into darkness.
"Hey, I think I'm in a mine," she said, for the benefit of the earpiece. She gingerly tilted her head upwards. There did not appear to be a ladder or any way to climb out. "Maybe I fell down a shaft," she added.
The shaft had no ladder but it was narrow. As soon as the world stopped spinning and tilting, Shaw thought she might be able to brace herself against the opposite wall and walk up.
"Clever girl!" Root was flipping though papers, big sheets, from the rippling sound. "We know Samaritan has a manufacturing operation in the area – you were scouting for a location when I lost you – a mine is a great place to do that stuff. I have surveyor's charts here, there's three shafts in the plans. One's pretty deep in the woods; can you see trees?"
Shaw squinted into the bright circle of light. She couldn't see trees, but she did see a guy. Running flat out, presumably as she had done when she fell, he was spectacularly suspended in mid-air, as if he were trying to leap the mineshaft or take off like Superman. Bullets zinged past him, and, from his scream, presumably through him. He didn't fly, of course, but plummeted down the shaft, landing flat on his back in the snow and sinking a foot deep, a snow angel gone horrible wrong.
Bullets. Shaw, mind still working sluggishly, managed to shout out a warning to the person in pursuit. "John! Watch your step!"
John tried, he tried really hard, turning around mid-air like a cat and catching the rim of the shaft with one arm. Shaw had a moment to think of how that was going to sound when his bodyweight caught up with the momentum and dislocated his shoulder. It was crunchy, but John didn't scream. He let himself fall, and landed waist-deep in the snow.
"Nice purse," said Shaw. It was nice, actually: not a knock-off, bright red patent leather that hurt her eyes.
"Thanks," said John, pleasantly. "I like to accessorise." He tried to raise himself out of the snow, too, but with one dislocated arm and buried so deeply, it was too awkward.
Shaw smirked. She knew how John hated to appear awkward. "You wallow around there," she said. "I'll check your guy." She held out her hand for his weapon but he snatched it away.
She shrugged and walked pointedly over the snow to where the man lay. He was still alive, but blood oozed from a bullet wound above his hip. Shaw crouched gently, and patted the guy down, took his weapon and checked the clip. John gave up on extricating himself and simply waded through the snow till he stood beside her, holding his injured arm steady with his other hand.
Her earpiece activated. "I've lost contact with John. Hold tight, I'm coming out to find you." Root sounded distracted, and Shaw heard the snip of wires.
"John's with me. You probably shouldn't come looking for us," Shaw said. "At the rate we're going, there's not going to be anyone to rescue you, once you join our party."
"Oh," said Root, with surprise in her voice. "Who knew a firehouse had such good security? You'd better turn your earpiece off, sweetie. This could hurt…"
Shaw's finger flew to the switch, but not fast enough to stop the peal of alarms coming through the connection. "Ugh," she said, fighting the swelling nausea.
The alarms were faintly audible even without the earpiece. The Samaritan guy opened his eyes. "Where?" He tried to sit upright, but John put a hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him back down.
"Mine shaft," Shaw said. "Don't worry, we've got a rescue on the way. Apparently."
"Did you disarm the device?" said the man. He flailed in place and the blood welled faster, spilling off his body and staining the snow. "The failsafe. They said – salt the Earth, they said." He struggled upright, but seemed uncertain about what to do next.
Shaw looked at John, and he shook his head. "I'd put it by a junction," he said. "Further in."
She scampered over the snow and he sprawled through it, until they both stood on the rocky surface inside the tunnel. What a team we make, Shaw thought, weaving a wobbling line along the tracks while John tried not to jostle his shoulder too much.
The bomb was crude but efficient, rigged together with a hodge-podge of equipment, fuel and Semtex and whatever they'd been able to salvage from an abandoned mining operation.
Shaw flicked the casing open on the digital timer and looked at the tangle of cables.
John snaked his good arm over her shoulder and teased out the wires. "I can separate this from the timer but…"
"You need to me to isolate the initiator, yeah," said Shaw. Her vision was blurring again, and the coloured wired all jumbled together into a soft rainbow hue. "Show me which one, and I'll…" she patted herself down and watched her hands tremble. Fucking head injury. "Can I borrow a knife?"
"I'm guessing I have something more useful in my purse," said John. He shucked it off his good shoulder and held it out for her. "If you don't mind."
Shaw had never really taken time to appreciate the beauty of a well-appointed manicure set. John eased the circuitry out for her, and helped her get the clippers settled around the blue-coated wire.
The earpiece clicked awake in her ear. "Whatcha doing?" Root's voice was soft and sweet, and that was usually when she was up to really bad stuff.
Shaw concentrated on keeping her hand steady. "Kinda busy right now, Root. Can you maybe not set off any alarms?"
"Oh, but I've always wanted to make the siren go. I even dressed the part. I've got my finger right on the button, I'm ready."
Shaw had never disarmed a bomb while someone whispered masturbatory innuendo in one ear. It did add a certain frisson.
John waited patiently. "When you're ready," he said. "Really, any time now. On three?"
"I'd nod, but then I'd throw up all over this bomb," said Shaw. Concussion or not, she could still do this. It was like clockwork. Like a good machine.
They limped back to the mineshaft, both of them sore and sorry. A lightweight ladder leaned against the wall. Root was visible at the top, wearing a bright yellow fireman's hat.
"I'm plucky and ready to answer the call!" she said from the lip of the shaft, and saluted. Shaw laughed, because Root was crazy but wonderful, and because Shaw knew that Root would always come for her, in brilliant and spectacular ways that only she could (and the Machine) could come up with.
John shook his head, and climbed the ladder one handed, with his injured arm tucked inside his coat.
At the top of the ladder, Shaw saw a bright red firetruck. "It matches John's purse," she said, and sat down in the snow. It was disturbing, the amount of relief she felt at seeing Root in person. That feeling, even more than everything that had happened today sapped away the last of her strength.
Root helped her upright, and slipped a warm coat over her shoulders. "Come on," she said, and they both walked to the truck.
"Wait," said Shaw, in the warm cab of the truck. "There's a guy down there, we should… Do something?" It really was a question; she was a little unclear where they stood on helping Samaritan's people.
"I already told Finch. He can handle it." Root's hand, Shaw noticed, was hovering over the switch for the siren.
"Please don't," said Shaw. Her head was thumping, and if that siren went off, she was pretty sure her eyes would bleed, even if that was a medical impossibility.
"I really, really want to," said Root. "I really do, I think it's a compulsion."
Shaw pulled her close, because she wanted to, because Root was warm and close and alive, and because today had been awful and Root made awful things better. And because if Root turned on the siren, Shaw would have to strangle her on the spot.
Root stroked Shaw's hair, gently, so gently that it didn't hurt. "I found you," she said. "I found you and I'm bringing you home."