Snow tried to open her eyes, but the bright light forced them shut again. She caught the smell of smoke in the air and began to panic.
“Slowly. It’s all right. You’re safe.”
She tried to open her eyes again and finally emerged fully into consciousness. A bearded face leaned over her. A pair of kind eyes, streaks of grey at the temples and a thin cigar, which filled the room with acrid smoke. It was the face she had seen first at her birth, and in all her darkest hours since.
The face broke into a smile.
“Doesn’t look like there’s been any brain damage, then.”
Snow found herself lying on a makeshift bed in a small storage room. The walls were wooden and propped up shelves full of low-tech farming tools. The light from the window showed it was almost midday, and fell across a cloth-covered mirror.
“Don’t worry, we’re with friends,” the Doc reassured her, “we made it to the Periphery.”
The Periphery. She remembered. The explosion, then pain, then endless labour. He arms aching, her muscles screaming, her lungs burning…
“Snow!” Lorenzo’s voice snapped her out of it.
“The others? Did they make it?”
“Well now, let’s see, Hastings hasn’t woken up yet, but he doesn’t seem to be injured. Eaerhart’s happy to be alive and will not shut up about it. And the only thing wrong with Greyditch is a terminal case of cantankerous bastard.”
Snow found herself laughing for a moment, before pain flashed through her face and stopped her. For the first time she became aware of the bandages covering her head.
“That’s the good news,” Doctor Lorenzo continued. “I’m afraid Dunwich and Brookes were working in the thick of the fumes. Dunwich’s lungs are in pretty bad shape, but he should fine if he quits smoking. Brookes suffered severe throat damage, though. I doubt he’ll ever speak again.”
“And Colonel Tuco?”
“The idiot doped herself to the eyeballs and kept pumping. By the time I had a chance to treat her, she was almost gone. I’ve managed to keep her alive, but we’ll need to keep her medicated, possibly for the rest of her life. That’s everyone, there were only seven of us left after the blast. And you, of course.”
“How badly was I hurt? Take this bandage off and bring over the mirror, I want to have a look.”
Doctor Lorenzo ignored her request and carried on.
“It looks like the bomb was in some of the supplies we took on from the HMSS Huntsman. It was meant to blow us completely out of the stars. I checked the cortex, Scheherazade’s spinning it as a fusion drive malfunction, we’re all officially dead.”
A bit of bile rose in Snow’s throat at the thought of King Cole’s propaganda minister. She’d be having a great time with the story.
“Why didn’t it work?” She finally brought herself to say.
“Looks like Captain White, the commander of the Huntsman, had a change of heart. She sealed off the aft chambers a few moments before the detonation, with herself inside.”
The Doctor held up a pair of scorched dog tags. Snow could just about read the name Cordelia White embossed on them.
“So what do we do, Snow?”
There was a heavy moment of silence.
“First, we survey the damage properly. So bring that mirror over here, I want to see for myself.”
“You’ve got to understand, your injuries were very severe, we didn’t even have time to finish dealing with the ones from the wedding before-”
“I said bring me the mirror.”
There was something in her voice Lorenzo had never heard before. A harshness he dared not ignore. He knew Snow had always taken great pride in her beauty. He mutely wheeled over the mirror, pulled away the cover and waited for a reaction.
“Give me your sidearm, Doc.”
The hardness in her voice had turned into steel. Almost against his own will, Doctor Lorenzo found himself silently handing her his pistol.
Snow raised the gun, pointed it at her head and pulled the trigger.
The mirror shattered into a thousand shards.
“You want to know what we do, Doc? We fight back. We bomb his bases, we scuttle his ships, we burn his cities and we chase the withered piece of shit back to his hole. Then we watch the life choke out of him.”
“No. You said it yourself: Snow is dead,” she grabbed the dogtags from the doctor’s unresisting hand, “Cordelia White. She’s the one who condemned us to live, so it’s only fitting we honour her in kind. From of this moment, I am to be General White, and anyone referring to me by any other name will be committing treason against the resistance. Tell the others.”
General White picked the cigar from between the doctor’s shock-slackened lips and took a puff. She choked down a cough and seemed pleased, as though the fire in her lungs matched the fire in her gut. As he turned to go, she called after him.
“One more thing, Doc.”
“No more mirrors.”