She stops counting at about three hundred turns of the cell. Keeps walking though, left leg dragging twisted and mangled behind. Every step sends pain juddering up to her hips, sharp as hell. Hissing breath turns to low, aching chuckle - turns back again, repeats. Keegan keeps walking. Paces until her body starts to scream. Keeps walking.
It's only when her legs buckle that she goes crumpling, and the floor rushes up to meet her. She lands on her bad shoulder. Every thought gets shredded and cast out in the resulting howl. Blank walls. Fluorescent lights. Shapes shift and dance behind her eyes.
Square. Heavyset. Rough-skinned.
“Chin up, kid.”
“Can't. It's your brain.”
“Fuck. Off. Why is it always you?”
“You know why. Same reason you're in here. You run straight for what hurts you.”
Solid now, polishing a gun with a dirty rag, the way he used to back in the early days, when they mostly ignored her. He'd sit up long after supper, long after the others had gone to bed. The light thrown under the door would keep her up.
Keegan stares. The silence hangs heavy and sluggish between them. She feels split. Young and old, scared and scarred, they dance in and out of each other until she feels like a fucking optical illusion.
“Shoulder looks bad.”
“I've had worse.”
“Not that I've seen. You were pitiful back there.”
“Yes, you were. Fuckin' useless. Forgotten everything I taught you.”
“Shut up. You're dead. I killed you.”
For an instant she's back there, gun-barrel resting cold against her neck, knowledge of what's happening forming slow and fatal in her gut. Only at the time, he’d said “Nothing personal, kid,” and she doesn't hear that, that isn't what she hears; this time she hears: “You were always disposable.” Keegan knows what comes next: the gun jams, she spins fast as she can, the world spins with her, her vision blurs, and she lies on a cell floor staring at a blank wall.
“Look on the bright side - the amount of people you'll go up against just got bigger. But let's be real, if this experience has taught you anything, it's that you'd be better off preying on the weak.”
“I'm not you. Piss off.”
“You'd be happier for it. Just look where all that self-righteousness has gotten you. That arm ain't getting better any time soon. Don't pretend otherwise. You're a sitting duck.”
Her cheek is damp where it meets the ground. She'd respond, but that would mean letting the water in. It's rising. She tries to struggle upright. Hands drag her back down, not even ripping or tearing - just holding her there where everything's shadowy-still. She clings to her breath until she can't any longer. One sharp inhale leaves her prone and huffing on a bone-dry floor.
“Sure, you might learn to compensate. Drugs, cybernetics, weapons, whatever else you can make work. But it'll never be like it was.”
“'Cause now you're always gonna have to take it into account, think about how to keep 'em from exploiting it.”
“Shut the fuck up or I'll tear you to shreds like I'm gonna do to him!”
“Otherwise you'll end up on the ground in seconds, like you were back there. It can't just be instinct anymore, and let's be honest, that's the kicker. We both know you won't be able to stand it. You can't go two goddamn weeks in your own head, let alone a lifetime. There's only one way this ends, Christina. You had a good run while it lasted.”
Words are pouring out Keegan's mouth now, but she's damned if she knows what any of them are.
“He won't be the one who broke you. You'll have done it to yourself. And that's what I find most pathetic about this.”
She doesn't know what she's saying, but it's one sound, over and over and high and keening. It keeps going until her throat's raw, until it's just her and four blank walls and the fluorescent lights. She's saying 'please.'
There's a banging on the door. A hatch opens. A tray of food slides in.