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The metal of the railing was pitted and rough beneath her hands. Some sections of it were missing altogether. This trip would be hazardous under well-lit conditions, but in the dark she was risking a broken neck. With a conscious effort, Linna forced her pupils to dilate wider. Her night vision enhanced eyes now were able to distinguish between the subtle shadings of black that determined the stairs and the open space beside them.
How long had she been climbing? Forever. She laughed aloud and the sound echoed grotesquely. A monster's laugh. The noise, though she knew she'd made it, frightened her. She hung for a moment on the railing while her body quaked and shuddered. Were there monsters in here?
Her mind called up images of sharp teeth and claws, maniacal eyes and flashing blades. She shook her head again. Focus, Linna. Keep going. There's nobody in here but you.
She tried to breathe and coughed instead. Her fingers grew numb and even the sharp edge of metal on the railing didn't hurt on her skin, though she smelled her own blood and felt its warmth on her fingers. She was eating herself from the inside out. Her blood and tissue was being desiccated to provide energy to her heart and lungs. She'd gone too far, overworked herself. The medtechs at the surghosp had warned her about this, but since she had never expected to utilize her enhanced functions more than briefly, she hadn't imagined it happening to her.
She hadn't imagined how much it would hurt.
Light, blinding, shone in her dilated eyes. She screamed, or tried to, but only a hiss of air escaped her cracked and parched lips. She felt the bite of concrete on her knees and understood she hadfallen forward on the steps. Her hand groped for the railing and missed, swiping on open air. She teetered, her balance function failing. She felt the clean sweep of an updraft on her face and looked down, down through blackness, so far down, so black she couldn't even glimpse the bottom. She was going to fall.
Then strong arms swept her up. The light moved off her face and illuminated the stairwell. She caught a glimpse of dripping walls overgrown with slime and streaks of rust. Then she was lifted and carried up the stairs, through a door, into a hall as dank and nasty as the stairs, but lit by a series of dim emergency bulbs along the ceiling.
"You're all right now," said a voice so deep it thudded in her chest and belly. "I've got you."