He knows it’s a mistake as soon as he jumps. There’s one bright moment of realisation - a metaphorical ‘oh fuck’ - and then the waves close over his head and his mind goes still.
The murky waters are dim around him, wrapping him in the kind of comfort usually reserved for winter nights curled up in well-worn quilts. There’s ice in his veins, on his augs and tacvest, and it’s soothing after the fires above. Eternity stretches around him in a wash of indigo and he reaches for that peace desperately. It reminds him of those precious few seconds when the LEO shuttle peaked and he was as close to the heavens as he would ever be again, the infinite night beckoning him to lose himself in its chilly embrace.
Something bumps his arm and he turns, meeting the dull, unfocused eyes of some other lucky soul who’s already taken refuge in the cradle of the sea. A second later and a name attaches itself to the face. William Taggart. His limbs don’t respond when he tries to push the man away, but it doesn’t matter because he blinks and the body is gone. More drift by on the current, some he can name and some he can’t, but every one of them invites him to let go and follow their path. There’s freedom in the deep, they promise, if he can just reach it.
A static hum starts up at the edge of his hearing, dull and discordant against the muted ripple of the ocean in his ears. He focuses on it, letting the hisses grow louder until the underlying crackle resolves itself into words.
Pritchard? No, Pritchard wasn’t there. He was back in Detroit in his office, tucked in a too-comfy chair behind a desk overflowing with redlined hard files, empty coffee cups, and the crumpled remains of his disgustingly unhealthy dinners. Safe. Besides, they’d lost contact hours ago. The infolink didn’t work this far down.
“Jensen! Shit. No. Don’t you do this to me again!”
His mind snaps forward, images whirling past too fast to process as anything other than impressions and sense memory. Dark. Indistinct voices, then pain, then the Facility. Stacks. The flight to Detroit. Pritchard, Magnet, Wilder, Stacks. Quinn and Vega. The train. The assassins, Thorne. Vande. Jarreau. Pritchard.
He twists in place, the press of blue-black waters constricting now. He needs an exit. The images keep coming. The Pent House. Stenger, Flossy, Fixer, Mejia. The riot. Guerrero. The transfer to Prague. Miller, MacReady, Niemi, Emilia, King. The Glassworks. Sebastian. Emilia. Oman. Gold Masks. The Ruzicka bombing. Golem City. Tibor, Berk, Marchenko. Rucker.
Red explodes across his vision, dozens of alarms glaring back from a HUD he’s only just rediscovered he has. He gasps, or tries to. The Sentinel has locked his airways, the rebreather wheezing, but he only has so much power left. The energy converter recharges swiftly, but it’s never fast enough.
His chin jerks up on reflex. The light from the Blade burns neon blue above him and he kicks towards its distorted brilliance. This time, his limbs respond.
The Sentinel forces him to inhale as soon as he surfaces. One crimson warning dims to orange. He gasps in another lungful of damp air. Another alert fades; the rebreather clicks off.
“Dammit, Jensen! If you’re dead again I’ll--”
“Francis,” he manages to choke out soundlessly, cutting the hacker off abruptly as the infolink transmits his subvocal speech.
A hitch of breath not his own skitters across his brain and down his spine. Adam inhales as deep as he can in tandem. He picks a point on the closest shore and wills his body to move. The lights on the bank inch closer.
Looking back, he’s not entirely sure how he manages to stagger home. There are only flashes of familiar streets, the faces of strangers as they take in his appearance and recoil in shock or fear, dark corners and unlocked doors and stairs and stairs and stairs. Underneath it all is Pritchard’s voice, a background hum of words he can no longer recall but that settle deep inside and keep him moving.
ShadowChild is waiting in his living room. Her face goes pale when she sees his waterlogged form. She reaches for him but he dismisses her outright, stumbling down the hallway and trusting that she can see herself out. It’s a testament to his bone-deep exhaustion that he only just manages to strip himself of his weapons and clothing before collapsing, still drenched, into bed. He falls asleep to Pritchard murmuring gentle reassurances in his ear.
He wakes to Francis combing tender fingers through his hair.