But I didn’t say a word. Almost everything I’d done since discovering the woman in the alcove was as much luck and timing as skill.
I drove us deep into a forest with a single road through it. It was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass at the same time. But I was more concerned about what might follow us then what might lie ahead. We traveled for hours before I felt we were far enough away to be safe. Not completely safe, but enough so that I could stop and look at Margaret’s injuries. Thankfully, I still had my backpack, but Margaret’s gear was long gone.
I went over a hill and spotted a turnoff halfway down, turned into it, drove deep into a jungle of brush and thicket taller than the truck finally parking and shutting down the engine.
Climbing out and dropping to the ground felt different than back home. I quickly decided that was an emotional reaction after discovering I was on a ring world as impossible as that seemed.
Margaret had her door opened before I reached it. I helped her out and she collapsed in my arms.
We two survivors, I thought, reminded of something I once read. That was when I discovered I had blood on my hands. Margaret was seriously injured, perhaps about to bleed to death.
“Shit,” I said, and watched her wane smile. “I’ll get the first aid kit.” I did and watched her attempt to remove the shift they had on her. I assisted and saw the blood oozing through the body armor just below her ribs on the right side. I hoped it was not a liver wound, which I knew would likely be fatal especially here in the middle of a forest.
So that’s why they let us escape.
Mostly it was me who removed her body armor. Her flesh was very pale. I dug through my kit and found a coagulant, squeezed it into the wound and miraculously the blood flow weakened and finally stopped completely. Next I gave her a strong painkiller. It was liquid so started helping with her pain within seconds. I followed the painkiller with a dose of antibiotics.
As I dragged the body armor off her legs, I saw they had cut tiny slices into her thighs right above both knees. The sudden driving need for revenge flared dangerously. I bit my inner cheek to fight it and when Margaret reached out and touched the back of my hand, I calmed.
“You can’t fight them, Stanton. They number in the thousands. We are only two.”
I nodded numbly, and sat alongside her, wrapping her in my arms hoping the intimate contact would help us both. I hadn’t thought much about our captive, and decided I’d release her before we drove again.
Right then I climbed into the truck and removed the gag Margaret put on her. She wet her lips with her tongue, and then said, “Release me now and I can walk back before dark.”
I nodded agreement and united her, guided her out of the truck and watched as she walked with as much dignity as a person in her situation might manage.