34: Beneath the Surface
Memories of Emily’s voice came back to him, recollections of her guidance as she tried teasing his soul from his body. Picture the world around you, it said, see it as you would in memory. Collecting his thoughts, Dante tried to imagine the platform, empty save for him and his adversary, cast in a cold blue light. It was almost like painting, he thought, like reconstructing an image with dabs and washes of colour. With each stroke came new details, new insights. He could pick out the individual coins left scattered across the platform, the scuffs of footprints, the abandoned sandbag Trev and Dave had used to hold up the shuttles. And, speaking of shuttles, there was one about to emerge from the tunnel and hurtle past the platform, too close for anyone to stop it. That Dante knew it was even there — perhaps from some subconscious instinct, a minute recognition of a shift in the air — seemed almost impossible…
The moment he thought that, his knees buckled under him and the image he painted began to crumble, time slipping through the cracks to resume its inevitable march. Limbs limp from their momentary slumber, Dante collapsed and the beast, slave to its own momentum, passed over his head and straight into the path of the speeding shuttle.
Dante lay sprawled across the platform, the last of his energy spent, his breaths ragged and painful. At a time like this, Byron would have improvised a witty retort, a clever putdown to cement his victory, but all he could do was scream. Blood was pouring from his cheek and into his mouth. With a trembling hand, he traced his cloak’s deactivation glyph over his chest.
“Dante!” Emily’s panic filled the subway, her footsteps echoing through the empty tunnels as she raced to his side. Her shirt was tattered and torn from her encounter, but the leather armour she wore beneath it had kept her from harm. “Are you okay?” she asked, reaching out with gentle fingers to brush his wound.
“Maybe,” he replied.
Emily’s fingers came away bloody. “We need to get you inside. They have medical supplies.”
Dante wasn’t so beaten that he needed help getting up, even though Emily offered. He had to prove to her that he was capable of standing on his own. “It’s only a scratch,” he said, doing his best not to stagger as they made for the storeroom.
“A scratch that could have ripped your cheek open if it were much deeper,” Emily replied, her criticism stinging more than any wound.
As they entered the storeroom, Sohrabarak al-Hakim looked up from the vendor display in his hand and smiled. “Ah, there you are. It seems I missed out on all the excitement.” His brow furrowed as he caught sight of Dante’s wound. “We’d best sort that out before it gets infected,” he said.
Slipping his hand into his jacket, he pulled out a silver vial. Elixium. As Alchemium could reshape itself to emulate any matter, Ambrosia to replicate the taste and texture of food, and Aethex to produce illusions of light and sound, the molecular machines of Elixium could heal any wound or illness. At least, any within reason. Dante grit his teeth as Mr al-Hakim smeared a glob of the gel-like substance over his cheek. It stung as any disinfectant would, but the machines soon began to neuter the pain and repair the damage.
“It should be healed up within the hour,” said Mr al-Hakim, using his cellular to fine-tune the machines’ performance. “And what about you, Ms Fomalhaut?”
Emily shrugged aside his offer of help. “I’m fine,” she said. Dante noticed the remains of the other synthetic crumpled against one of the crates, eyes dead and jaw slack. “A couple of bruises maybe, but nothing that won’t be gone in ten minutes.”
Mr al-Hakim slipped the vial of Elixium back into his jacket. “Then let us hope it stays that way.”
Ah! The miracles of modern medicine!