Jo awoke alone in a room that she wished she hadn’t known: a round room with two doors, at the south-eastern edge of Block 9, on Level 1. The rope that had been put in her mouth remained. Her hands and feet were bound also with rope. She could hear the winds outside, just as harsh and shrill as they had been in the atrium. She realized she had no idea how long she’d been out. It was a brief moment of freedom from reality, which flooded back in a reeling rush.
Erik was dead. Someone had killed him. He’d been stabbed with her multitool, his face beaten in. And those were the things she remembered, images nearly burned into her retinas. She suddenly wished she’d remained unconscious. Her eyes teared up. Without others around, her body finally unwound, her emotions laying themselves out in their rigidity, heaviness, and pain. She dissolved in grief, and wept wholly and deeply. Her eyes ached, her heart swelled, her gut teared, her throat knotted.
Jo let her head thump into the floor. She could feel her invisible wings, the ones she had used to wrap around the ARCH to protect it, moulting bare. Like a fall leaf, she could feel herself crinkle as the sap drained away, her colour wash out, and finally dry and crumble. The great echoes of her life’s meaning had dulled to a muted tone that huddled in the recesses of her withering soul.
She cried long and hard, unable to stop. She felt like she was six years old again, each sob spurring another in a self-repeating motion. It could have been an hour, it could have been a day, Jo let the tears flow and the sorrow embrace her like an iron maiden.
Carl walked into the room, followed immediately by Dylan and Gary, and the same two large Engineers that never seemed to put down their pointed poles. Carl sauntered over to Jo, and squatted next to her.
“Comfortable?” he smiled. Jo let loose with a string of curses that she couldn’t get past the rope in her mouth. “I thought so,” he said after she stopped. He stood and backed up a few paces. “Well, then shall we get on this with this?”
Jo suddenly realized that she hadn’t been chained there as prisoner. She started screaming through the rope while trying to stand, but her feet were strung to her hands. She tried to bite through the rope, talk around it. Every sound flowed together into a long multisyllabic vowel.
“Oh, your tribunal?” Carl asked, innocently. “We had it already. We found you guilty. And we’re sentencing you right now. No sense in delaying the horror, right?”
Jo felt her blood drain. She tried to yell again. She looked at Donner and did her best to plead with him. Donner’s expression was terrible.
“Yes, we know the wind is still strong,” Carl nodded. “But we can’t wait for it to die down again. For all we know, it might never stop. And we can’t keep such a horror like you around. What would the population say?” Jo jerked at her ropes, rolled hard against them. “I’d say I was sorry,” said Carl, looking at Jo thoughtfully, “but I’m not. Personally, I can’t wait until you’re out that door.”
Carl snapped his fingers, and the two guards pulled Jo’s arms up behind her back. It was hard enough to elicit a muffled scream as the joints twisted unnaturally in their sockets. They dragged her over to the outer door, which Gary opened. Jo glared at Gary, who returned the gaze with a smile and a wave. The guards threw Jo into the room and pressed her face down into the floor.
“Now, as I recall, everyone banished gets a knife,” said Carl as he walked into the room. The two guards pressed their points into Jo’s chest and thigh, keeping Jo in place. Carl produced the multitool in his hand, rinsed a little of Erik’s blood, but still stained. “Thanks for letting me borrow this.” He tucked it into Jo’s pants. He leaned in closer to Jo’s face. “You really did a number on him. When I found Erik in the greenhouse, he was really upset. He told me that he’d been an ass to you and how you’d punched him. Hell, the idiot damn near nearly cried on my shoulder. It’s probably why he didn’t see the knife before I slit his throat.”
Jo snapped forward with a restrained shriek, trying to hit Carl with her head, but Carl moved out of the way. The spears plunged into Jo’s shoulder and leg, drawing blood and raising a sound equal to the one outside. As she struggled, she felt something heavy hit the ground in front of her. She looked for the sack she clearly hadn’t seen thrown in … but it wasn’t a sack. It was heavy, soft, slightly bigger than herself. It smelled of dirt and death.
Jo screamed. Even through the rope, it was clear. In the small room, the sound echoed painfully. Her ears split from the ringing.
“I thought you would have liked this, Jo?” Carl yelled through the doorway. “Did you not want to buried with your lover?” He laughed. “Any final words?” he asked.
The floor dropped out from under Jo’s body, as it tilted to a forty-five degree angle downwards. She tried to cling to anything in dear life, but gravity performed its duty, and sucked Jo down. Erik’s body slid down the ramp next to her, ending nearly eight feet above the ground.
The gale swept in as Jo slid from the ARCH’s protection and immediately scoured her eyes. She slammed her eyes shut and tried vainly to free her hands. She felt her feet leave the end of the ramp. She flipped over onto her back, hoping to catch the edge of the ramp before she went over, but she was travelling too quickly for her hands to seize anything. She cracked one eye to see where she was headed. All she saw was Erik’s remains sliding off the end.
The force of the wind slammed her with an invisible sledgehammer, and pressed almost all the breath from her chest. It kicked up her legs, which flung up so quickly that it slammed her head into end of the ramp as she left it. She didn’t fall straight to the ground, instead being thrown a few body lengths down the slope of the valley floor. She lost the remainder of her breath crashing into sandblasted rocks. Sand raced into her open mouth, as the rope kept her from closing it.
The sand was only a momentary matter, as the wind picked Jo up like a tumbleweed, and threw her further down the hill. She gained speed so quickly that she became unable to determine direction or orientation. Then the ground seemed to disappear, and she felt the sensation of flying. She struggled to open her eyes, and saw glimpses of the immense rock walls that surrounded the ARCH, the beige sky, the mottled ground.
The last thing Jo saw was a large outcropping of rock, which got frighteningly larger at every glimpse as she spun erratically. She knew she was heading towards it, and at the speed she was moving, she had little doubt that she was going to die.