Carrying Mama was not that bad. He carried much heavier things all the time. It was just the strange weight distribution that got him. Trying to keep her level and steady while he climbed up a snowy, icy mountain was increasingly difficult as he grew more and more exhausted. He lived in a constant state of pressure, feeling like he needed to be faster, that people were suffering and he wasn’t trying hard enough. With Mama he felt it even more intensely and he did not know why. He had to get her to Lockne as soon as possible. But when he slipped and they started sliding down the mountain, Sam barely catching himself on a rock outcropping, Mama insisted that they take a break.
So, he climbed up sideways in a strange sort of shuffle until they reached a rock jutting out over them. He set Mama down and then rested beside her. His feet hurt, his calves hurt. Everything always hurt. He leaned his head back against the cold rock. “Are you okay, Sam?” Mama asked in that gentle voice of hers.
Sam forgot to answer for a moment, very unused to people actually talking to him. Mama gave him time though. “Yeah.” He said. “I’m f-” Sam froze as he heard a familiar sound of a scanner ping, echoing across the mountain. He painfully remembered the cargo attached to his arm that he had meant to deliver right before Mama had asked him to take her to Lockne. MULE’s.
“Fuck.” He said, forcing himself up. They had their location now and with Mama it would be impossible to get away from them. He would have to take them out. Mama looked up from her spot against the wall, looking like a sad caterpillar. She knew what it was, what that sound meant. And it was his fault for forgetting about the cargo he was carrying. He had been so stretched thin lately. Everyone needed things and everyone wanted him to deliver it. He could hardly say no when it was life saving medicine or seeds, stuff that people really did need.
But it was his own fault for forgetting to store it in a private locker before they reached MULE territory.
“Be careful,” Mama said and he was struck by the tone of her voice. It actually sounded like she cared. Most people knew he was a repatriate and he did not care what happened to him as long as he got the delivery done in good time and in good condition. He never blamed people like that. It was just how life was. But he had to admit it was nice to have someone care about his well being. He nodded to her and left the area, withdrawing his non-lethal assault rifle from his tool rack. He would seek them out before they got too close to Mama. She didn’t have cargo so he knew they would leave her alone but he still didn’t want them coming close to her.
He found them coming from the top of the mountain. He immediately began firing, wanting this done as soon as possible. There weren’t a lot of them fortunately, probably because they were already so high. MULE’s were not too difficult to handle but they were very annoying. They went down easily until they got too close and he had to punch the lights out of them, knocking them down and kicking them to sleep.
He panted over the last one, his breath creating small puffs of steam in the air. He scanned the area, searching for any more. It wasn’t rare that more followed after the first ones. At first he thought he had gotten them all, seeing nothing but white snow and gray stone, but then he saw one at the top of the mountain, raising one of those electric lancees. He cursed, whipping up the gun and firing at the MULE until they went down. By then though they already let the lance fly and it flew true, slamming into the ground next to Sam’s feet and sending electricity coursing through him. He stumbled backward, tripping and falling backward as his body contorted with electricity. He rolled and flipped down, unable to stop himself and he was worried he would fall all the way to the bottom and he would have to walk all the way back up to Mama.
He needn’t have worried though, his fall was halted by a rock slamming into his back. All the air was forced out of him as the last vestiges of the electricity left him. He tried to catch his breath, irritated that at some time during the fall he had lost his cargo. He craned his head to look behind him, seeing it still tumbling the rest of the way down. He was too exhausted. Hopefully another porter would find it and deliver it for him. With a shuddering sigh he moved to sit but froze when he felt a horrible ripping through his gut. Slowly he looked down, his teeth gritting as he saw the rock that had caught him had been quite pointy and that point was sticking out of his abdomen.
Sam cursed again, looking up at the sky. He was glad there was no timesnow at the moment. The sky was very grey though and he estimated it would not be long before it started. He needed to move and get back to Mama. She was vulnerable alone.
With a sharp tug he slid forward, landing on his hands and knees, coughing, choking on his own blood. Must have gotten his lungs too. Great.
His body was burning, his blood was dripping, scarlet onto the bright white of the snow. He forced himself up into a standing position, grunting, his hand over his abdomen, trying to keep what belonged inside, inside. He then took a ginger step forward, feeling the reverberations of that step through his entire body. He hissed through his teeth, looking up at the area he had to traverse, again. It really wasn’t that long, but in his state it felt like miles. He had to get back to Mama and tell her she was safe, he had taken care of all of the MULE’s. So, he put his head down and pushed himself up, one step after the other, leaving a trail of blood.
He did not know how long it took, could have been ten minutes, could have been an hour, but eventually he was stepping into the small cave that Mama was in. She gasped at the sight he made. He set himself back down next to her. “I fell.” He said flatly.
“Sam!” She exclaimed.
He swallowed, tasting iron. Such a waste of good blood. “All the MULE’s are taken care of.” She had unzipped her bag to her waist and leaned forward, hovering over him, trying not to touch him but obviously wanting to.
“It’s okay,” he reassured her, looking at the lines of her face through a haze. “I am going to die, you might be alone for a bit.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. “Damn it, Sam.”
“It’s okay, I always find my way back.” He repeated.
She sighed, opening her eyes and meeting his. “Can you move at all. I think I saw a porter made safe house a bit west. We can at least get you comfortable.” Sam hesitated but eventually nodded.
Mama zipped herself up and he positioned her on his back. It was snowing now and she had to be covered with that bag so he had to carry her. He used the side of the wall to haul himself up, the force of it causing him to cough up a lungful of blood.
“You can do it, Sam.” She encouraged gently.
With a grunt he stepped out of the shelter of the rock and with Mama telling him which way to go he did what he did best. He walked.
It was farther than Mama thought it was, depth of field worked strangely up here, but they made it. He fell to his butt on the elevator as it took them to a private room. He crawled off of the elevator so that it could go back up and then laid on his side, unable to move any more. Mama quickly unzipped herself and walked around to face him. He flinched but didn’t protest as she touched him, moving him into a sitting position, leaning against the bed. He struggled to breathe, his heart pounding in his ears. Mama was speaking but he couldn’t hear her anymore, he was so tired. His heartbeat was slowing down until all he could hear was the sound of waves in his head. Soon after everything went black.
Mama watched as the life left him. He exhaled but did not inhale again. Sam sagged to the side and she had to resist the urge to grab his hand. He wouldn’t be happy if he woke up with hives. His cuff blinked red, signaling no pulse. She had never seen a repatriate die and come back before and she had no idea what to expect or what to do to help Sam. She looked over him, his eyes half lidded but sightless. He was completely unmoving, his chest still. Over his chest BB was cooing softly in its tank, somehow managing to look concerned. Before, when he was carrying her here, his breath had rattled through him like wind through a tunnel. It was wet and he was constantly spitting out blood. His abdomen was no longer bleeding though. Mama wondered how it worked, did his body heal itself? How long did it take for him to come back? Was he aware of it? What was it like?
After a minute passed she began to really worry, scratching at her practically useless armband. Death seemed so painful. She was afraid.
At about two and a half minutes she watched as Sam’s eyes shot all the way open, his whole body jerking once, spasmodically. He choked, leaning to the side and throwing up a puddle of black tar and black cryptobiotes. He gasped, wiping at his mouth, shuddering.
Sam returned to his body with a start, as if falling into it. After throwing up he leans back into the bed, utterly exhausted as he always was after returning from death. “Are you okay?” Mama asked, crouched in front of him.
He nodded, needing a minute. Mama couldn’t seem to help herself though. “What’s dying like?” She asked and Sam was surprised. When people asked they usually asked what death was like. No one ever asked what dying was like.
He cleared his throat, spitting to the side once more. “It’s awful. Lonely. Empty.” He said, his words clipped as always.
She frowned, leaning back, features pinched. Sam realized he may have misspoke. “Um. It’s not that bad.” He followed up weakly. “Coming back is worse. Harder. Sometimes I can't find myself, or it’s very hard. A lot of debris in the way. And the sensation of falling back into my body. It’s absolutely awful.” He shuddered.
“Oh,” Mama swallowed, looking to the side. Sam felt guilty, like he had said something wrong. He rubbed the back of his neck.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
Mama lifted her head, eyes wet. “No, it’s fine. Don’t worry. You should rest before we leave.”
Sam hesitated, wanting to get going, but at a look from Mama he nodded and climbed up into the bed, leaving Mama at the end of it, deep in thought, one hand playing with her cuff.