Sounds were the first thing to come back. Murmuring voices and quiet footsteps in the distance, paper rustling and the occasional whir of machinery. They all seemed to echo as though coming through a tunnel. Nearby, someone was breathing with labored deliberation. After a time, she came to realize it was the sound of her own efforts.
The pain followed shortly after. It was everywhere. The dull ache in her head and back, throbbing spasms that ran up and down her legs and worst of all, a sharp, bright stab that came with every breath.
She opened her eyes and turned her head, unable to stop a small groan from escaping. The room was dimly lit and looked vaguely hospital-like. A few blinking machines stood near her bed and a blanket hung down from the ceiling to give her a semblance of privacy.
"Ah, glad to see you awake," Amina bustled into the curtained-off area. She reached for Kat's wrist and felt her pulse. "How are you feeling?"
Pulling in a meager breath, Kat tested her vocal chords. "Been better."
Amina smiled as she examined various points of injury. "You are very lucky they were able to get you back here so quickly. You were in rather dire straits."
Scowling slightly, Kat concentrated on her memories while she tried to keep the room in focus. "I don't remember what happened. I wasn't in the city though, was I?"
"No, you were out in the foothills. You really don't remember?"
Kat shook her heard stiffly. "I remember the forest, collecting mushrooms for the Vortigaunts and something about a mine." She paused for a moment as a vague, unsettling recollection filtered into her mind. "Oh…. I did…something bad."
Mistaking her statement, Amina patted her hand, "Well, foolhardy perhaps, but you saved a lot of people."
"How did I end up back here?"
"Barney and Nolan stole some CP uniforms and an APC. They packed as many of the wounded inside as they could and rushed back to the city before word of the attack got out. They just drove right in."
Kat cringed at the mention of Barney and Nolan. There were hazy memories of looks of betrayal and disappointment. Amina continued to chatter on, cataloguing her various injuries and the treatment they were receiving. Turning her eyes to the wall, Kat tried to make sense of the strange mix of guilt and relief that she felt. Amina finished her ministrations and left her to her musings, slipping silently from the little corner.
X X X
The dreams came and went in slow, rolling waves.
They always started with the hallway where she knew the monster lived. The only way to save everyone was to kill it, but every time she tried, it turned into a sad-faced man who begged her to save his soul. When she tried to reach for him to reassure his fears, the ceiling exploded with a sharp, shattering sound and the real monster looked down at her.
She turned to run through the door as the walls began to shimmer and melt and stumbled out into the middle of the dark, open yard of the farm. A faceless creature loomed above her. Like the murky nightmares of childhood, it was more of a presence than a distinct entity. It screeched and chattered with incomprehensible Combine radio static, stomping around between her and a burning building. Over the roar of the flames she could hear the shrieks of terrified humans.
Backpedaling wildly, she slapped at her clothing, searching for any sort of weapon even though she knew she wouldn't find one. Panic began to overwhelm her as the pleading voices and the monsters wailing tore through her head. There was nothing she could do. There was no way to save them. All she could do was run. And each time she ran, it saw her. Caught by its malevolent gaze, she knew all hope was lost and awoke with a gasp and pounding heart.
Sleep returned and the dreams with it. Even in sleep though, her mind searched out the small details, and this time she saw it. As she backed away from the monster, her eye was caught by a pale, fist-sized rock on the ground. Instinct screamed at her to run once again, but instead she bent down and grabbed the rock. It fit perfectly in her hand, with a satisfying heft. Surely it was a futile gesture, but something had to be done.
With every ounce of strength, she threw the rock towards the lumbering creature. Despite the darkness, she could see its arc as it soared towards the target. As it made contact, a bell-like resonance shivered through the air and the scene froze.
She fell to her knees, tear streaming down her cheeks as a soft voice whispered from a distant memory, "… they made it… just rest…everyone is ok…they made it out…"
X X X
Kat opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, trying to absorb this new feeling of weightlessness. The dream had left her feeling raw and new, like something that had just shed a brittle shell. Something important had happened.
The rustling of paper interrupted her thoughts and she turned her head to see a dark haired figure sitting near her bed reading a sheaf of reports. She stared at Barneys bowed head in trepidation, deeply aware that he had good reason to be disappointed with her.
He looked up after a moment and gave her a broad grin, "Glad to see you among the living again."
She smiled back tentatively, "I'm glad to be here." To her relief she realized that breathing was becoming easier and the worst of the pain was starting to fade. She gingerly eased herself into a slightly more upright position.
"I don't have a lot of time. I have a shift in a little bit, but I wanted to come down and check on you. Amina told me that you don't really remember anything that happened after you ran into Lennox."
She winced inwardly at the sound of the name. "Things have been coming back slowly. The last thing I remember clearly is trying to get out of the building through a small opening. Everything gets hazy after that."
Barney leaned forward and recounted the events at the mine. Kat listened in amazement, stunned that she couldn't recall the details of the encounter with the strider.
"We put a significant dent in their plans. Overwatch was in an uproar afterwards and there's already a measurable difference in the air quality. Rumors among the citizens are flying. It really called attention to some of the hidden projects the Combine is working on and we've seen a wave of new recruits."
As Barney continued to fill her in on the repercussions of the mission, she watched the sparkle in his eyes and his animated gestures. His hope for the future of the Resistance had been renewed. It made what she had to do that much harder. As he finished, she spoke up.
"I want you to know how sorry I am…about what I did."
His face became serious, "You mean Lennox?"
She nodded. "I had spent so much time building him up into a monster that I couldn't see anything else clearly, but it turned out that I was wrong. It's made me see that there's a lot more to fight for." There was a long pause as she worked the edge of the sheet into an ever-tightening roll with nervous fingers. "I know I screwed up, so if you ask me to leave, I'll understand."
He sat back in shock, "Why would I do that? We need all the help we can get here and we don't have anyone else with your background. Werner is already talking about what he wants you working on next." He grinned at her look of relief, "We're just going to have to spend a little time working on your teamwork skills."
"Yeah, I guess so," she said with a smile. "You know it's not easy for me to be around other people. I had always imagined I would be leaving here, but it doesn't seem right to run away now."
"Well, I hope you won't. Amina told me you aren't going anywhere for a while, so I think we'll have time to make sure you're convinced." He glanced at his watch and stood, collecting his pile of paperwork, "I'm sorry, but I need to get going or I'll be late for my shift."
As he turned to leave, Kat spoke, "Wait… I keep thinking about what you said after we got back from the coast, how talking about your problems had really helped you. I wasn't ready to even think about what happened on the farm then, but I feel…different now. Do you think that when you get a chance to come back, that maybe we could talk?"
He gazed at her for moment and smiled in understanding, "That would be good. I'd like that."