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Best Served Cold

Chapter Text



Shaw could hear her own breathing as she ran down the exit shaft toward the back of the ship. The passageway was dark, lit only by the glow of the emergency lights that flashed around her, blue and red. Mostly red. Sirens were going off. She could hear people yelling and the sounds of explosions outside on the ground.

She tuned it all out as she ran. She could still make it. They could make it. Just a little more time.

Her wrist beacon emitted two short beeps and the tiny screen came to life. Shaw glanced down and stopped just in front of the docking bay doors.

"Commander Shaw?"

"You're looking at her."

"I have the President on the line."

"So put her through."

There was another blip and a new face appeared on the screen.

"Commander Shaw," the authoritative voice intoned.

"Madam President."

"We are in your deepest debt for your heroism today. But you must return to base now."

"Message received. I'll be getting back just as soon as I..."

"Commander! Get that ship off the ground and get back to headquarters immediately. That's an order."

"Look, Madam President," Shaw replied, stopping to take a breath and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "I'm a huge fan, really. Loved the talk show. And the book club too. But right now, I have an errand to run and I don't have time to chat."

"Commander you are in breach of your duty ..."

"Sorry, can't hear you. Line's gone dead," Shaw tore the beacon off and dropped it on the floor, then crushed it under her boot.

Walking to the utility locker, she pulled out a plasma suit and helmet and quickly pulled them on. Then she checked her smartgun, took a deep breath and walked out through the bay doors, which slid open, then closed behind her.

The darkness of the night was sporadically illuminated with tracers and the explosions of smart bombs in the city. Shaw scouted the sky to the west, where the outlines of the towering cyber-titan battle tanks made startling silhouettes amongst the brilliant flashes of light. To the east there was no light, only blackness.

Shaw began moving slowly forward, keeping her smartgun in front of her, watching the screen for any blips. As she moved, she reached down to her utility belt and flipped open her heat-compass. Nothing registered at first, but after about 20 meters of fog, something began to show up on the screen, just to her right. She began moving that way.

The heat signal became stronger as she moved east. Shaw tried not to move too fast. Easy does it, she told herself. Move too fast and you'll set off a motion detector, and then one of those cyber-titans will be heading this way to vaporize your ass. She checked her smartgun's screen and kept moving toward the target. Yes, there was definitely something over there. Something human. A living human. But was it the one she hoped it would be?

She moved again, slowly, stepping over the dead body of a crew member. Then another. She moved to her right, training her eyes to the place where the screen indicated heat. There, under what was left of a building's facade, was a person half-lying, half-sitting, propped against a wall. Shaw moved closer, stifling the urge to call out. Just a little closer. Yes, thank God. It was her.

"Root!"

Shaw ducked behind the wall and then made her way to where Root was. She was injured, as Shaw had feared.

"Shaw," Root responded, barely above a whisper. "I knew you'd come back for me."

Shaw unslung her gun and knelt down next to Root. It was so dark, she could barely make out Root's face in the darkness. She turned on her night-flashlight so she could get a better look at her. Damn. Root's left leg was torn up and there was no way she could stand, let alone walk. Shaw pulled off her helmet and moved closer to Root.

"Your leg is fucked."

"I know."

A huge explosion shook the ground and the sky lit up again. Shaw got up on one knee and peeked above a crumbled section of the wall, toward the outline of the city in the distance. Sewer bomb. Bastards.

She looked back at Root, who was coughing and struggling to keep her back against the wall.

"I can carry you."

"Shaw..."

"It's about 80 meters to the bay doors."

"You'll never make it."

Shaw could feel her lungs filling with ash and smoke. She gritted her teeth. "I'm not leaving you here."

"The field is full of e-mines and turbo-serpents," Root replied, gesturing to her leg. " Found out the hard way."

Shaw moved closer to Root and slipped an arm around her shoulders.

"Can you get up?"

Root grimaced and tried to lift herself but it was no use. They both fell back onto the ground as explosions rang out to the west of them again.

"They're getting closer," Root said, then began coughing again. "Damn this cough. I must be allergic to something out here. Pollen or ragweed or maybe just the pervading stench of death."

Shaw looked over to where the ship was waiting. There was a blinding flash of light, then an explosion. The ship had taken a direct hit. Shaw swore out loud.

Root sighed and closed her eyes. Shaw, feeling the smoke burning her lungs, tried not to cough but she couldn't help it. She took one last look at the burning ship, then turned to Root, gathering her slender form and pulling it towards her own body. She felt Root's arms slip around her, the fingertips of her gloves resting lightly on the back of Shaw's neck.

Brushing the hair away from Root's face, Shaw leaned in and captured her injured lover's mouth with her own. Eyes closed, limbs entwined, they both sank into the kiss, their bodies pressed together as they lay there in the scant shelter of the crumbling wall. The pounding of the machines was getting closer, but Shaw tried not to hear it, focusing instead on the scent of Root's skin, the soft touch of her lips and her tongue, the tender cradle her hands made around her head.

Another explosion took down the rest of the wall. Shaw pulled Root away from the crumbling bricks and debris, hearing the sound of a muffled whimper coming from Root's throat as their bodies tumbled to the ground again. Still, they held on to each other. Shaw turned her head so she was looking west again, where the sky was bursting into brilliant yellow, orange and red, like the canvas of a mad painter.

She looked back at Root, whose brown eyes now looked almost golden in the brightness of the spreading light.

"I'm sorry," Root whispered. "I'm so sorry you have to die here with me like this."

"Are you kidding?" Shaw replied. "Look at that sky. It doesn't get any better than this. It's fucking cinematic."

She smiled then and so did Root, and they both closed their eyes again and melted into their last lingering kiss, backlit like a Hollywood sunset. Shaw could hear Root moaning as she kissed her, or was that her own voice? Moaning? Really? Well, it was pretty intense.

A few seconds later, there was a flash of white and everything froze. Shaw heard a brief whirring sound and felt as if she were floating upwards, away from the scene. Then everything faded to black.

Shaw breathed in. She put her hands up to her face, pulled off her shades and sat up, rubbing first her eyes, then her neck. That familiar voice was soon in her earpiece.

"OK?"

"Yeah, I'm good."

The Machine lowered the chair so Shaw could slip off.

"Level 10. Not bad," it said, in Root's voice.

"Not where I want to be, though."

"It's a tough program. Do you want me to tweak something next time?"

"No, I want to crack this one on my own," Shaw replied, stretching her arms behind her back. "You could get rid of the moaning though."

"That was you, sweetie."

"Oh."

The Machine paused, then went on. "Are you sure you don't want to try another game? I've been working on some strategic scenarios you might enjoy."

"No, I like this one. It's visceral."

"It's messy."

"That too."

Shaw left the simulation room and stepped into the shower module. She had a full shift scheduled at work today and the simulations always felt like a full-on workout. She peeled off her tank top, damp with perspiration, and stepped out of her workout pants, then got in the shower.

The warm water came on automatically, then the shampoo, then the soap and finally, the warm rinsing water. Three minutes and done. This was one of those days when Shaw would have liked a five-minute shower but it was Tuesday and the showers were all programmed to save water and energy.

She dried off and dressed quickly, pulling on her black fatigues and boots, and took a minute to pin her hair back before putting on her cap. Then she clipped on her badge and headed out, tapping her phone app to hail a taxi-pod.

The pod was waiting by the time she made it down to the street in front of her apartment. Shaw climbed into the small driverless vehicle and used the 10-minute ride to check her emails and security alerts. There were a few other pods on the street, zipping along smoothly. Shaw's pod connected with the one in front of it to save fuel. A few minutes later it detached and swung into the driveway of the police training center, then pulled up to the door where Shaw got out.

She entered the foyer, her badge making a blip as she passed the security scanners and stepped onto the moving pavement that took her to her section.

"Captain Shaw," her group sergeant Jakowitz greeted her there.

They began checking the equipment and the programs for the day's training, Shaw calling each one off and Jakowitz taking notes on his electronic notebook.

"Which simulation are we going with today?" he asked.

"Let's do the skyscraper terror attack," Shaw answered, pulling on her gun belt and gloves.

"Die Hard? Are you sure they're ready for that?"

Shaw smiled tightly. "They better be. Put Montoya up front with me."

"Um, OK."

"What?"

"Nothing. Just noticing Montoya gets a lot of plums lately. Never thought you'd have a teacher's pet."

Shaw glared at him. "She's not my pet. She's an outstanding cadet. The best I've seen in a long time. Are you jealous?"

"No ma'am."

"Good. Maybe I'll get Montoya to kick your ass off the roof when we get up to the helipad. Sound like fun?"

"If you say so, chief."

Shaw grabbed her rifle from the gun rack and they headed to the training room.