First Night

Red flashes were the first things she perceived. That, and pain. All across her body. Especially in her belly, red, hot, searing, constant pain. Cold, too. On the skin of her upper body, but also inside her. She lay in an awkward position, with all kinds of things poking in her back and her legs up against some kind of wall.

The red flashes persisted. Flash-flash. Flash-flash. Flash-flash.

They were lights penetrating her eyelids.

She opened her eyes despite the headache and saw a red-lit, small chamber around her, but something was wrong with it. Wait, no, not a chamber, the interior of a vehicle. Bags, packets, tubing, all sorts of medical equipment lay strewn about. Blue lights flashed outside, reflecting on metal. Flash-flash. Flash-flash. Flash-flash.

This was an ambulance. But it was all wrong. Skewed. And then she realized. She lay with her back against the side of the cabin, her legs up on what should have been the floor, but was now a wall. A stretcher still hung onto it, clamped into position. Bloody.

What the fuck was she doing in an ambulance? She looked down at herself and inhaled sharply in surprise and horror. Between her naked breasts lay a red rope of intestine that was hers. Her belly had been sliced open horizontally, her insides bulging out. She let out a few terrified gasps, hoarsely vocalized. Oh shit, shit, the damn thing hurt! Panic overtaking her, she frantically packed the guts back in, not even thinking about how dirty her hands might be or what a horrible risk for infection it was. The guts more or less shoved back in, she clawed around for bandages, compresses, suture equipment, anything that could close the horrible gap in her abdomen.

Her hand touched something soft, wet and warm. She yelped and drew it back when she realized she'd actually set her hand on the dead chest of a paramedic, his eyes wide open and his head at an awkward angle, the neck snapped when the ambulance had overturned.

She had to keep looking. In too much pain to move more than just her arms, she felt on, and finally her hand settled on a roll of medical tape. Clumsily, she held the gash closed with one fist and tore off strips of medical tape with her other hand and teeth, sticking them on her belly over, across, and next to each other, until they could hold on their own.

How was she still alive?

Groaning, she tried to turn over and found that, despite the pain, it turned out to be actually manageable. Fiery, searing lances shot up from her abdomen, but her body obeyed her instructions, albeit slowly and with enormous effort. She clawed for purchase and began dragging herself out of the ambulance, its back doors wide open, but bent and dented.

What the drek had happened here? The strips of tape on her gut pulled and stretched, but she made it out, sliding out of the ambulance's back, her body slapping down on the moist asphalt.

"My God, miss, are you alright?"

Oh, thank the stars, help was coming. A young native man of around twenty-five came running, his bowl-cut hair flapping as he approached. "Miss? Try not to move."

She didn't realize she was naked from the waist up, and didn't care, and neither did the man, kneeling next to her and taking her arms to support her. "Perhaps you… shouldn't get up."

"Wh… what happened?" she managed to croak. "Where is this?"

"You're in Kwun Tong, you…" the guy explained, wide-eyed. "The ambulance you were in, well…"

She looked behind her, in the direction he pointed. The vehicle lay on its side, surrounded by broken glass and twisted metal, its emergency lights still flashing soundlessly. Another car stood perpendicular to it, its hood a flattened mess of crushed metal, with the massive dent in the side of the ambulance showing where what had hit what.

The driver's upper body lay on the windshield, motionless, with its face turned away from them, his short black hair wet with blood. He'd worn a suit, and it was as bloody as his hair, and the crumpled hood beneath him. There was no way he'd survived.

"He looks dead, but… I have to check. Is there anyone else alive?"

"Para… paramedic in c… cabin is… dead. Br… broken neck."

"Can you stay here?" the young man, dressed in rather lowlife clothing, asked her, his voice shaking. "I'm going to see if anyone else survived."

Kneeling, she flapped her hand. "G… go."

Before he went to check, though, he shrugged off his leather jacket and draped it over her shoulders. "Here, so you're less n… uh, less cold."

"Th… thanks."

She sat on the asphalt, kneeled and shivering, waiting to hear from the guy no longer wearing the leather jacket. She couldn't go and check, just sitting up straight was already extremely difficult. They were at a T-intersection under a bridge, in what looked to be a dirt poor area of the city. Trash bags were heaped up near one of the bridge supports, and graffiti was everywhere. The few residences she could see were large blocks in terrible repair. The few street lights that were still lit, were faint bathing the area in a sickly yellow light.

"This guy is… oh God."

That told her enough.

"Hello?" she heard the kid call out. "Anyone there! If you can hear me, say someth – " He interrupted himself. "Oh. Oh God. Oh God, she's…"

She heard unstable footsteps coming back to her.

"They're all dead. The other driver, he… through the windshield, and the st… steering rod… and the ambulance driver… she… her chest…"

She said nothing. What was there to say?

"I sh… should call another ambulance for you. And tell them what… what happened," the guy said, coming to kneel by her again. "You're hurt, you need – " But he abruptly stopped, looking past her, to the building blocks looming down on the underpass.

"Wh… what's wrong?"

"People coming. Looters probably. We… shouldn't stay here, we can't help these dead people anymore." She felt hands slide under her arms, and he lifted her to her feet. "Who knows what they'll do to a… half-naked, injured woman in the middle of the night." A short pause, and then, "especially one wearing high-grade body armour on her lower half."

He was right. The top of her armoured suit had been stripped off for easy access to her injuries, but the pants she was wearing were expensive-looking tactical armoured trousers in vectran so dark grey it was almost black, with composite-reinforced boots underneath, splattered with blood. They felt and looked familiar, she'd been wearing these often. Where was her memory? Was it simply rattled from the accident or was it actually gone? Was it even possible to lose one's memory in such a specific manner?

"Come on, we have to go."

She pulled the leather jacket tighter around herself and let the man guide and support her, away from the crash site. These people had died fighting for her life, and now she just left them there. It was heart-breaking, but the guy was right. On top of all the unconscionable things the disgruntled masses could do to a semi-naked white female who obviously looked like she was part of the hated enforcers of the rich, they would definitely be smart enough to realize she could be held for ransom.

She staggered along, supported by her benefactor, hoping the small group of oncoming gawkers-slash-scavengers would not pursue.

"Come on, just a little further, keep going."

He led her into an alleyway, from there into another alleyway, then across a broad street in terrible repair. It was a gauntlet of pain, and with every step, she feared the tape would let go and her guts would slide out of her, onto the damp, dirty street. They slipped into the space between two houses, where he rapped hard on a door.

"It's me, Huojin. Open up." Nothing happened, and he struck the door hard with his knuckles again. "Come on, hurry, I've got an injured person here, dammit."

There was a series of clicks and clacks, and with her head drooping, she saw the door open slightly.

"Are you insane?" a female voice hissed. "You brought someone here?"

"Look, it's – "

"And a grunt? A… a fucking grunt? Have you lost your mind?"

"Just let us in, Ning," she heard her rescuer half-shout nervously. "She needs help, no matter who she is."

The female voice whispered, in suppressed lividness, "No fucking names."

"Let us in, or the boss is going to hear about this."

There was a short silence, then the door slammed closed, there was another series of clicks and clacks, and then it opened again. She couldn't keep her eyes open, just wanted to sleep. As the man, apparently called Huojin, dragged her inside, the woman, of whom she could only see worn combat boots, cursed in Mandarin and barked at Huojin, "This bitch is gutted. She's fucking done for."

"Look, just help me get her on the bed, then get Ali… uh, Tweezer."

"Why? She's half past dead anyway."

"Don't be ridiculous, she can still walk. Kinda. Please, Ning, just go get Tweezer."

Another curse in Mandarin, and the boots stomped off. She was supported to the far end of the room, then there was a sense of displacement as Huojin helped her lie down on a grungy, smelly cot. "You go on and rest, alright. Don't worry about Ning, she…" she could almost hear him look around to make sure she was out of earshot, "… she's a bit… difficult."

None of it mattered anymore. All she wanted was to sleep.

"Tweezer might seem a bit weird, but she's the best street doc I've ever known. Well, not that… not that I know many, but still. She'll help. Just lie still, alright? We'll see about the rest tomorrow."

Yes, tomorrow. Good idea. She just… wanted… to… sleep…