She had had a deep dreamless sleep, but one full of pain. Her leg reknitting had not been pleasant. But it was mostly done now.
That twinge again. It could just be the final work, or it could be something wrong.
She crawled out of the cubby and tried to stand. Her left leg gave out with another twinge and she fell. She dragged herself back to the wall and tried to massage feeling into it.
She had not dreamed that night. She usually did. Usually dreamed of the art.
But no matter. It was a new day and she had plans to make, plans to fulfill. Starting with this leg.
She tried to stand again, and collapsed. It would just not support her weight. She used the wall to climb to a standing position, then limped along using it as a support. Finally she got to the entry.
“I need bandages” she declared to the room at large. After a few moments the man she had shown the token to pointed her at the small medical salon.
She limped over to it and began to look through the assorted bandages, wraps, heat pads and other junk. Finally she found a compression wrap, a bottle of disinfectant and the few other odds that she needed.
She limped over to a stool which was free of insects and sat down heavily. Her leg was really paining her now, and the whole thing felt afire. She lifted it slowly to rest atop her other leg and sat there staring at it for a moment before pulling her pant leg up.
Her leg was black along on side. Not the black of night but the black of corruption and rot. The greenish black of mold and decay. It veined her leg all the way up and down. No wonder it would not support her.
She knew that is she waited the anticipation of what she was going to do would make it worse so she pulled out her knife and sliced along the length of her leg as fast as she could while maintaining control. It was a deep cut, as it had to be deep enough to reach the veins that had the corruption in them.
Pus and blood bubbled out, gushing almost like a fountain. It was disgusting, dripping down her leg and pooling on the floor. She knew that she didn’t have much time by the colour of the pus.
Again before she had time to build fear with anticipation she uncapped the bottle and poured the disinfectant into the wound. It burned like nothing she had ever experienced before. She bit her teeth and tried not to scream against the unbearable excruciating pain. Finally it subsided for a moment as the last of the pus flowed out with the bubbling disinfectant solution.
She could see the wound now. Although it pained her she spread the two edges of flesh apart and looked into the cut where the black patch was the widest. There had to be something that could account for why it had become so infected so quickly.
There. A piece of rusted metal. Thats what it looked like anyways. She picked up her knife with her right hand, still spreading the flesh apart with her left. If she could just…yes.
She withdrew the knife, the offending shard balanced on the tip. She placed it on a piece of tissue, then turned her attention back to the wound. More pus was seeping out, but it should heal now.
She poured the rest of the disinfectant into the wound, suffered through the pain, rinsed it, and spread a salve to dull the pain and hasten healing onto it. Then she wrapped it all in clean bandages and in the compression wrap.
The job was not perfect but it would do. She tested her weight and found that with the compression wrap she could stand, if shakily. But, with the implants and salve both working to heal her she should be better by the time that she needed to do any serious running.
Now, to figure out what the metal sliver was. She picked up the offending shard and pulled a magnifying lens from the medical bin. Under the lens the shard looked like nothing more than a flattened projectile, the type found when shotgun shells explode in midair. But she hadn’t been fighting anyone with a shotgun.
Yes, that must be it. The sniper was craftier than she had given him credit for. His shells must be special, sniper rounds that could split into fragments, breaking apart to cause even greater damage.
Now that she knew she would take greater care. And this time maybe she would set a trap for the sniper; one that would actually work.
But first she had to find her art again.
She pocketed the shard and staggered out into the streets. She wanted to go find musicians.
The sniper stood looking down on the Outerring from the catwalk above the main level. The people buzzed like ants, like bees, like some kind of insect, but ones that were lost, their hive missing. He didn’t know enough about those fabled insects of Old Earth to find an appropriate metaphor.
He would be the spider today, spinning his web for one particular little butterfly. He knew enough to make that one.
His face was grim as he turned to descend the stairs down the the lower level, the main level. He had a plan to find her, to end her today, before he needed to be proven incompetent, before he needed to be sent ‘help’.
He would find her. He would kill her. And then he could move on to the next job, one that did not have the memories, the worries that this one did. Something easy like assassinating a political figure or destroying an orphanage that was raising too much public opinion. Something that didn’t make him think of then, of her.
He shrugged the thoughts off though. It was time to focus on the job at hand. To end the job at hand. Again he almost smiled at the thought, but there would be no smiles from the sniper. Not now, not ever again.
He had traps to make, webs to spin, and words to plant in ears. He would have her.
The artist nodded to herself. The day had been passed well. Very nicely. She was happy with the state of things now. Flitting from one artist to the next, taking a listen, a look, a touch. Her path had been erratic, which was good. The sniper could not have followed her.
She smiled remembering the different artists. The poets she had talked to had been inspiring, the musicians heartbreaking and the sculptors thought provoking. It had been enough to rekindle her art.
She was listening to a man sing while two others enacted a play of some kind when a child tugged at her pant leg.
“Excuse me? Are you the crazy artist lady?”
She looked down at the child in surprise. First the child had talked to a stranger. In the Outerring that was often enough to get one killed or worse.
Second he had provided a, by some definitions, accurate description of her. It was both surprising and intriguing.
She thought about how to react to this boy. She would like to react with few words, with a crazed stare, with her ferocity, her feralness that was so comfortable and familiar. But, she could also be ‘normal’ when it suited her. The boy would likely talk more if she did not act insane.
“I may be. Why?”
“The man over there wants to talk to you” he pointed.
She spun, her hands dropping to her pistols until she saw that he was not pointing out the sniper but rather an average looking man who stood confidently, but with none of the casual deadly grace of the sniper. This man could kill, but not like the sniper could.
She laughed at the taut string of this man compared to the coiled spring of the sniper. But, with her leg still bothering her even this man may be able to cause trouble.
She patted the boy on the head and fished a credit out of her pocket for him as she crouched down.
“Thank you boy” she looked him in the eyes. A good boy. Strong. Young. Not worth her art. Not yet. “Now run along before I decide that you would look more artistic when your legs were in three pieces”
The boy blanched, grabbed the credit and ran. He did not look back.
She stood and stretched, arching her back before walking towards the man. She made sure that her knives were in their places in her sleeves as she went.
“Who are you?” now that she was closer she could see that the man’s clothing was worn and his face looked haggard as if he had not slept often enough. He looked desperate, and desperate men did foolish things. She did still have the price on her head from being the butcher of Calton after all.
“I am not important. Who is important is you. I wanted to warn you”
“What about?” this made her suspicious. She had few allies and fewer friends.
“There is word going around that a man is looking for you. A man with the look of an Arcernment assassin. We don’t like the Arcernment down here. They leave us to rot, so we figure that anything you did to deserve their hatred is fine in our books, Butcher”
So they knew who she was but did not care. That was interesting. She had not known that before.
“Is that all you have to say? That he is looking? This I knew already, not helpful”
The man twitched.
“I know. We know. What you don’t know is that he has been setting a trap for you. He’s been offering people money to tell him anything about your whereabouts. he has been paying them just to say that they will let him know if they hear, with more to come. He said they should come find him at the powerchanger. People have taken his money for they need the credits, but have been ignoring the message except to tell others to warn you. So now we have warned you. You had best start running while you can before someone gets desperate for even more credits and tells him of your location. It is the smart thing to do”
The artist shook her head. She would not run from this. She said so, but the man expressed his doubt.
“No” she cut him off “I must do this. He will not stop hunting me until I am dead, or he is. And if I know where he will be then I can trick him, kill him instead of me”
He still looked doubtful but she waved him off.
“You have done what you feel is your duty. If you wish one of you can earn more money by telling him something about where I am, but only at a certain time. I will be sneaking into the powerchanger. When he comes to talk to you I will kill him then”
It was a sound plan. It would do.
The sniper looked through his sight. He could see the artist, and lined the crosshairs up on her head.
“Bang bang artist” he murmured. But he did not pull the trigger. He had no trigger with him. The crowd was too dense to risk a shot and warn her that he had found her.
He rolled onto his heels and then up from his crouch, satisfied. She was talking to the man. The bait was laid. He was quite pleased with this plan.
Tell everyone where to find him with information about her knowing full well that the locals hate the Arcernment and would take her side.
Then, follow the one who they choose until he gets to the artist. Make sure that she knows where to find him.
And then when she comes to kill him, kill her instead. It was simple yet elegant.
But he had no more time to gloat. If it was to work then he needed to get there now to be ready in time.
He loped off, gears turning in his head. He had set the lure. Now all he had to do was real it in. She was caught.