Once his head was patched up, Raphe Faryndon really threw himself into the bridge construction project.
By the time the new load of supplies arrived it was almost sunset and he’d helped build several cross-braces and truss pieces.
The supplies included several wagons of building materials and one of tents, food, and medical kits.
However, there was no word about what the Armforge Guild leadership wanted done with the prisoners.
“I guess you guys can stay the night,” said Sewell.
Rambo’s men appropriate a couple of tents and set up their own camp a little further into the woods
Wynefrede and Raphe got beds in one of the tents, which they would share with two of the guards. The back wall of the tent was anchored to a tree. Raphe and Wynefrede were tied to it and got a few minutes alone together after dinner.
“Did you see all the tents and food they brought?” she asked him. “I think they’re planning to have a whole army here soon.”
“Not an army.” He looked around at the tent. “This tent is big enough for six people. They got, what, maybe twenty new tents?”
“So a small army,” she said. “But also, they sent the wagons back, so they could be getting another load of supplies in tomorrow. These woods are going to full of soldiers.”
“Maybe they’ll help us escape.”
“Or they’ll help keep us prisoner. They seem to be pretty chummy with our kidnappers. We need to get out while we can.”
“How?” He pulled on the chain around his ankle. The other end was locked around the tree.
Wynefrede pulled up her pants leg. It had been tucked into the shackle and then into the top of her boot. Sticking out of the boot was a chisel.
“What? How did you…”
“Shhh,” she whispered. “I stole it when nobody was looking. I tried getting a knife or a saw, but Rambo was watching too close. This was the only thing I could get.” She prodded at the chain with it. “I think I can pry one of the links open.”
“And then what? We run through the woods? They have horses. They’ll catch us instantly.”
“No, into the ravine,” Wynefrede said.
“We can’t climb down that. Did you see the walls? We’d have to go upriver first, and they’ll see us.”
“We don’t have to climb. We can jump.”
“We’d hit the rocks and die,” he said.
Raphe rubbed the side of his head where Rambo had punched him earlier. “I don’t think I can do that,” he finally said. “I’ve suddenly developed an enormous fear of pain. We could be lying there on those rocks for hours before we die.”
“Still better than being here.”
“They’ll let us go when we finish the bridge,” said Raphe. “They promised.” He sat down on the cot. “And there’s another thing I’ve been thinking about.”
“What happens if we die?”
“We go back to the Krim welcome area.”
“But do we? Sure, if we died on another world, on your typical gaming grid, yes. That would be almost guaranteed. But here on Krim, the deaths are pretty realistic. What if we die for real?”
“That never happens,” said Wynefrede. “It’s just a myth.”
“It was in the terms of service.”
Wynefrede waved that off. “It’s just for marketing. Make people think the grid is scarier than it is.”
“I heard someone died here last year,” said Raphe.
“And they brought him back,” said Wynefrede. “I read about it. Lifeworks had to do a whole new retrieval process but they did it.”
“Barely,” said Raphe. “For a while, it looked like he was dead permanently. Permanently permanently. Like all the people who died in the Civinos explosion. I don’t want to take the risk.”
“What risk? It’s a one in a billion chance.”
“Well, I’ve got plans,” said Raphe. “I want to help build that new dinosaur hab. And I want to see Proxima B. Also, have a family and children.” He glanced back at the tent entrance. “And I want to help finish the bridge and see if holds. I’ve never built anything like that before. This is the most fun I’ve had in years.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” She slapped the chisel against her palm. “I guess you don’t want me to stab you through the eye socket with this, either.”
“I could probably push it in, wriggle it around a bit to make sure you’re dead.”
Raphe jumped up off his cot and backed up. “Are you crazy?”
She put the chisel back in her boot and covered it up again with the pants leg. “Maybe later, then.”
“No,” he said. “And don’t ask me to kill you, either.” He shivered. “I’ve killed people in other games before. But there’s something about doing it on Krim… Once we get out of here, I’m never coming back again.” He sat back down on the cot. “Did you know, I was actually thinking of getting a body?”
“No.” She sat down on her own cot, then lay back to look at the tent’s ceiling.
“I’ve got the money,” he said. “And the technology is good enough these days. They can print a complete genetic clone in a month now, install your chip right inside the brain and connect up all the synapses. The physical therapy still take a few weeks until all the connections are in place, but then you’ve got a body that’s as good as the one you were born with.”
“I heard. I decided against it, because you can’t spend as much time online then. Most of my work is remote, so having a physical body would just get in the way.”
“Well, I wanted to go out to the habs,” he said. “For real, not as a projection.”
“And I just changed my mind. Being out in space with a physical body? That’s insane. The smallest accident, and you could die. Sure, they brought me back last time. But what if something goes wrong? I don’t want to risk it.”
“It sounds like bring here on Krim really brought you face to face with your own mortality,” she said.
“I realized how previous life is,” he said. “I don’t want to waste it. The back-to-nature crowd can go stuff it.”
“Well, I don’t want to waste my life, either,” she said. “In particular, I don’t want to waste it being a prisoner. When everyone’s asleep, I’m breaking the chain and sneaking out.”
“They’ll catch you,” he said.
“They’ve caught me anyway,” she said. “This way, at least I’ve got a real chance. And what’s the worst that can happen? Kill me.”
“You heard what they said. They can make you a vegetable, like those other people they were keeping. That’s worse than death.”
“Not out here in the middle of the woods, they can’t. And if they do, maybe the Armforge Guild will step in. They might be buddies, but there’s got to be a line that they won’t cross.”
“It’s not worth the risk,” he said.
“I’ll do it without you. I’ll send back help when I’m out.”
“Don’t. It’s not worth it.”
“You’re a coward, Raphe.”
He didn’t say anything.
That night, Wynefrede kept herself awake by replaying all the most embarrassing moments of her adolescence. The time she wore that green shirt that she thought looked so good on her, and people called her a frog. Then that time that she wrote a letters to a boy she had a crush on and he never even responded. That was so embarrassing. She’d gotten up to her second year of college when she decided that everyone else had been asleep long enough.
She could hear guards talking softly outside the tent, down by the fire. There were also probably sentries out in the woods. She slipped off the back of the cot, by the tent wall, pulled out her chisel, and wrapped it and the chain inside a blanket to muffle the noise. Then she began prying the chain apart. She was slow and careful, and the two guards sleeping in the tent with them didn’t wake up.
When she was loose, she felt around until she found two bags of medical supplies and put them on her cot, covered by the blanket. If the guards suddenly woke up, that trick might give her a couple of extra minutes of time.
The wall of the tent was pegged down to the ground with stakes. She reached under the fabric and pulled one of the stakes up. It was a wooden spike that could do double duty as a makeshift weapon. She pried up two more stakes, and that gave her enough space to lift up the tent wall and peer out. The back of the tent faced away from the fire, into the woods. If she was careful, she might be able to circle around and get to the gorge without being spotted.
“Don’t do it Bennie.” Raphe’s voice was a whisper. “The risk isn’t worth it.”
“Sorry, Raphe,” she whispered back. “But I have to go.”
She heard him sit up and take a deep breath. She pulled up the tent wall higher before his arguing woke up the guards.
“You don’t leave me a choice,” he whispered.
She wriggled under the tent wall. She was half-through though when she heard him yell behind her.
“Stop! She’s getting away!”
She was surrounded before she’d even stood up. “Raphe, you idiot.”