There was a lot of pain in Nova’s legs.
It felt familiar, except this time there was no screaming. A groggy, dull pain was a reminder that he was supposed to focus, or a lot of people would die - it was the truth that had been drilled into him since the day he had joined the base of the Eurasia Zone.
He brushed some wet locks of dark hair away from his face. Despite the sweat, his skin was cold to touch. There’s so much pain.
A creaking, whirring, beeping construction of artificial intelligence, metal and top-notch programming shielded him from the outside world. Vaguely human-shaped. Robot, exoskeleton. A mecha. Tiger had been Nova’s choice for piloting ever since the model came out, and it had never let him down.
“Come on,” he grunted and punched the lever that was supposed to move Tiger’s arm. “Move. Do it. Move.” He knew there should have been a voice next to him, on the piloting platform at his left-hand side, because nobody piloted alone. The system should have connected him to his pilot partner, he should have been able to feel the presence of someone else’s mind intertwining with his own. Two minds moving one machine.
Maybe he did feel it. Maybe it was buried somewhere under all the pain.
Or maybe the partner was dead and he didn’t realize it.
Nova grunted and punched the lever forward once more.
Zoya thought she had performed the correct moving sequence, but Interceptor wasn’t moving. She was alone like she had never been in her life, and she knew there wasn’t too much time before her connection to Interceptor would be severed.
The lights, she realized as she glanced across the dashboard. They were supposed to be green, not red.
And then the blast hit her. She was tossed against the monitors, some of the lights went out and there was a loud sound, many loud sounds of metal and ice and soil and stone and rock and screaming, not her own, but someone was screaming.
Then the sound disappeared, and with it, most of the other sounds as well. The cockpit fell dark as the lights went out. She was laying down on the floor of the cockpit, a mess of wires tangled with her arms and legs. Only one light flickered in the darkness, blue and pale and eerie.
Backup energy, she remembered, for the connection.
So that her connection to her piloting partner would not be terminated, even when the systems would fail. But Ildar was no longer here, the connection would terminate either way. She closed her eyes and drew deep breaths, counting down the sixty seconds it would take for the connection to terminate. After they would run out, she would be truly, irreversibly alone.
Sixty seconds passed, but the connection didn’t terminate. The backup light kept flickering its soft blue light.
Now that it was finally silent, she could feel the curious presence at the edge of her consciousness. A part of her dared to hope it was Ildar, and she reached out to it - even when at the back of her mind she knew that it couldn’t possibly be him.
It was that part of her that knew that wanted to know.
After all, there was nothing more to do, and she had been tasked to hold them back for as long as she could. Until everyone would get away.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the silence.
Caspian watched the red spots waning from the digital map, one by one. The largest of them, a pulsing area of the rift, expanded and collapsed on itself as soon as Kieran had given the order to detonate the bombs.
As soon as the rift went down, two things started to compete for Caspian’s attention. First of them was the enormous blow that sent Tiger crashing down a landslide. He wouldn’t have thought much of it - Nova was the best pilot in the base, after all - but for some reason, Tiger wasn’t pushing itself up.
The second was Kieran’s sudden, alarmed voice two monitors away from him.
“Zoya, situation report. Why is Ildar outside the Interceptor? Zoya, answer. Zoya!” Kieran’s voice grew more anxious with each word, and at the last one he punched the table in visible, anxious frustration.
Caspian bit his lip and pressed his headphones tighter against his ears.
“Nova,” he called out. “Situation report. I can’t see your data on the screen anymore.”