Carolina’s mouth was devastatingly dry. She could feel the way her body sagged into her armor, muscles aching at the frozen stance they had been forced into. It was surreal, resting her chin at the bottom of her helmet for some sort of feigning comfort
The filters for hers and Washington’s armors sounded off simultaneously again, hissing as they filtered air. She was so tired, but at least she could rest her eyes in the comfort of knowing that her oldest friend was still breathing as well.
Her survival instincts had been working on overdrive for what felt like weeks, though it was difficult to assess time in her state. They were still in the room, frozen still in armor lock, and without any further ideas on how to escape from it.
“They’ll find us,” had been Washington’s mantra. “That’s what they do. They survive. They just overcome everything.”
It had been encouraging before. Carolina had felt just as certain of the outcome as Washington had. But ultimately with each moment, with each ache that Temple’s plan caused, Carolina felt the inspiration being chipped away from her. Piece by piece. Bit by bit.
Whatever time they were at, whatever reality they were facing, it had been enough to chip until there was hardly a shard of hope left in Carolina.
Her eyes closed and she allowed the throb to move through her body, ache, pain, numbness, fatigue.
She went through all the motions at once and waited for unconscious bliss to take over again when something changed. Something happened.
A sensation — a vibration — rattled the floors of the death room, sending them up her legs and spine. Her eyes snapped open only to be met by the darkness again, but there was no denying that something was happening.
“It’s them,” Wash said confidently, voice unwavering.
While her initial instincts were to join his joyous conclusion, Carolina could not help but narrow her eyes and remain skeptical. There were always other reasons things were happening at the moment. It could have been some sort of movement of the ship. It could have been Temple returning to gloat. She didn’t know if she could handle the disappointment if her hopes were too far up.
Even when the lights came on and it was clear the vibration was from the lift that had been used to get them to the lower level to begin with, Carolina felt her teeth gnash uncomfortably and she waited for the outcome.
It was a pleasant surprise when the doors to the room opened and they were met by two familiar figures in white armor.
“Miss Andrews,” Carolina breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh wow, it stinks in here,” Jax pointed out while his reporter accomplice raced to Carolina and Washington’s sides.
“Now isn’t the time,” Andrews told him, much to Carolina’s relief. She wasn’t sure she could muster the mental or emotional energy it required to explain the situation to either of them. Not yet at least.
“How long have we been down here?” Carolina demanded, mouth still dry and voice raspy.
“A while,” Andrews dodged the question directly, which certainly didn’t sit well with Carolina, but she let it drop for the time being.
“Do you have a way to unlock our armors?” Washington asked. “Temple had a device—“
Andrews produced the child’s toy and nodded to the question.
“You must have sticky fingers, Miss Andrews,” Carolina replied just before the button was pressed.
Immediately, their armors lit up, the HUDS fuzzily coming online. Carolina felt her joints loosen and, despite her best efforts, she fell to her hands and knees on the ground and took large, deep gulps of air she hadn’t realized she had needed before. It had slipped her mind over the hours just how much armor lock had restricted her ability to expand her lungs.
Washington hit the ground almost at the same time, coughing for air as his elbows rested on the ground and he rocked forward until his helmet also rested against the floor.
The stale, putrid air around them wasn’t really helping things either after they had rather morbidly gotten accustomed to the stench.
“Easy, easy,” Andrews cooed, grabbing Carolina’s arm by the elbow, Jax doing the same with Washington. “I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for the two of you. This… this is horrifying.”
“Don’t waste time with it,” Carolina said between gasps of air. She looked at the reporter seriously. “Just tell us what happened and where the hell Temple is so that I can rip him out of his armor and kick his ass.”
“Seconded,” Washington said, getting to his feet and rotating his neck. “But first, tell us where the Reds and Blues are.”
Almost immediately, both reporters froze at the question. It put Carolina on edge almost simultaneously.
“Alright, I’ll admit, I underestimated how much time it was going to take for them to get to that point” Jax said, looking exclusively toward his partner and ignoring the question looming over them.
Getting her third, if not fourth wind, Carolina moved inhumanly fast, muscles burning in defiance of the request, and slammed Jax against the nearest wall, forearm holding him up by the throat. “Where are the Reds and Blues!?” she demanded.
“Let him go, Carolina!” Andrews demanded only for Wash to cock his gun as well. “We’re here to help. You can’t attack us or none of us are going to be able to get out of this alive.”
“Then you have questions you need to answer, and you need to answer them quickly,” Wash replied simply. “I can’t speak for Carolina but I know my patience has been thoroughly destroyed as a result of staying in this living hell. I don’t think it’s worth testing us now.”
Jax struggled, or at least flailed, against Carolina’s hold before giving up and looking in desperation toward the reporter.
Dylan Andrews held up both of her hands. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”
“No,” Carolina said firmly, as if demanding she change the news before it was even said. “Don’t you dare…”
“Temple is… a madman. We weren’t expecting anything, but because the Reds and Blues had split us off from their group we were not targeted at the same time,” she continued. “They killed the Reds and Blues first. By surprise. They… they didn’t see any of it coming. So Jax and I ran. We began looking for what happened to you and found footage—“
There was a primal roar unleashed from Carolina’s throat as she tossed Jax to the side. The devastation hit her in what few places her aches and pains had not reached and she slammed her fists against the metal wall until it dented. “NO!” she screamed , sliding toward the ground as she clenched her teeth and eyes shut. “No… no.”
By the time her knees hit the floor she wasn’t even sure anything was real anymore. She wasn’t sure if there was anything left to make this world less horrible than what the reporting team had just told them. Her chest ached as her heart raced. “My… my fam… I lost Epsilon. I lost him and this fucker— This fucker can’t take away from me… not…”
By the time she could catch enough breath to pull herself out from the position she had fell into on the floor, Carolina looked only to see that Washington had dropped his rifle and walked to the opposing wall. He was held up against it, helmet and right arm rested against the metal.
He wasn’t speaking. He wasn’t moving.
“I’m sorry,” Andrews said lowly. “I cannot begin to express how sorry I am. But the four of us need to find a way out of here and save ourselves from these madmen—“
“They are not men. They are monsters,” Washington said lowly, coldly. “And they killed our only reason to get off this miserable base.”
Carolina slowly looked up, finding Wash’s gaze and matching it.
“I understand you’re devastated,” Andrews attempted to argue.
“You don’t understand anything,” Carolina said, slowly pushing to her feet. “We’ll get you a pod out of here along the way if you want, but Washington and I can’t leave. We can’t go because… There was a life where we could have stopped fighting, could have stopped killing. But these bastards, for whatever reason they use to justify themselves, stole that from us. And now… now it’s time to make them pay.”