Her Name Is V.I.A.
By Ellie Chang
Posted on October 30, 2022
Cover image title: A Girl Named VIA
Cover Image by: Meiliyl
Specifications: 3720 x 2480 pixels, 1.99M
Finishing date: October 16, 2022
Two fingers up, spread apart like bunny ears. That’s a V.
One pinky up as if offering a pink promise. That’s an I.
A fist, with the thumb to the side, like those raised in revolution. That’s an A.
V.I.A. Her name is Via.
The smoke is so thick it muffles every sense. Taste becomes liquid. Smell becomes ash. Sight becomes fog. Touch frosts over. Via creeps alongside the building, her hand trailing the peeling paint lightly. Her gas mask shudders with her every breath, clenching tight around her face.
There’s a beep to announce a message. Via pauses and quickly scans the little white text scrolling across her visor. Two heat signatures in sector two. Marsh thinks they’re civilians. Via swears under her breath and whispers a quick reply, the comms picking up her voice and transmitting it across the building to her lieutenant poised by the bomb triggers. It takes only a few seconds for her lieutenant to reply.
Copy that. You’ve got five minutes.
Via darts forward as soon as the text appears. Her gloved hands find easy purchase under the window as she hauls it upwards and slips through. The impact of her boots on the floor kicks up a puff of dust. Via tries to calm her pulse in the lightless room. The darkness likes to steal things from people, and it has always stolen Via’s most precious resource - her sight.
She resists the urge to crack a glow stick but still her hands stray to the pocket where she knows the sticks are waiting for her. Instead, she toggles with her visor settings until the structure of the room becomes framed in thin green lines, like the drawings of an architect. She shuffles forward, feet gliding and never once lifting from the floor. Lift a foot for one second and she will be off-balance and vulnerable.
Cries for help twenty meters to your left. Voice recognition says their names are Isa and Yelena Junon. Ages 7 and 18.
Via immediately twists to the left and sees a door cracked slightly ajar. Where the wall meets the floor, cobwebs are strung like puppet strings. But the door is devoid of no signs of rot and abandonment. It was used recently. Via places a hand against the door and pushes gently.
Wait. They’re telling you to confirm your identity-
She only just manages to see the outline of two forms, embracing each other, when something punctures her suit and her entire body goes numb with shock.
Via looks down at her chest and sees a small hole, the size of a bullet, blown into her chestplate. She feels her heartbeat falter and her flesh suddenly realizes there is a foreign material within it. She falls and the bullet in her chest lodges itself into bone.
There was a gunshot. Close to your location. Were you hit?
Via smiles grimly and breathes out her answer. Her head is against the floor, staring up at the ceiling. She tastes blood and her tongue is throbbing. Two girls rush over to her, their hair brushing against her visor as they crouch over her. One of them is crying, tears dripping off her face and onto Via’s suit. The other is pale with horror and Via sees the smoking gun in her hands.
One of them presses two fingers against Via’s neck to feel her pulse - still there but fading with every second. The touch is light and sweaty. The suit around Via is suddenly too flat and hard as the metal digs into every part of her skin. Via starts to strip off her chestplate with one hand, the other going to the pocket on her pants that holds the gauze and surgical tools. The older girl, eighteen-year-old Yelena, the one with the gun, stumbles back and her lips move in rapid prayer. The younger one, seven-year-old Isa sinks to her knees beside Via and mumbles in the dark.
Via’s chestplate comes off and she starts groping around for the right surgical tool. Isa suddenly grabs Via’s hand and her mouth moves to form words that Via is suddenly too tired to comprehend. Yelena appears in view and picks out a tool, the right one, placing it into Via’s hand. There’s more to her action but Via is already trying to get herself into a sitting position so she can better find the bullet. Yelena’s hands are soft as she tries to take the tool back, gesturing at herself as if she could dig the bullet out. Via is annoyed and she is so tired so she pushes back with a little force and Yelena stumbles back. As Via presses the tool into her wound, she’s screaming and the world slips in and out of her grasp.
Stay awake, Via screams at herself. You will not die here.
This time, when Yelena reaches for the tool again, Via is too weak to push her back. Yelena’s hands are nimble and her perfume is so strong it overwhelms the suffocating smell of smoke. Via fades in and out of consciousness, slipping along the uncertain line of life and death. When she is finally able to recognize Yelena’s face once more, she realizes the bullet is no longer in her body and is sitting in a pool of blood beside her. Yelena’s hands wrap around Via’s helmet and Via tries in vain to swat her away.
When the visor comes off, the structure of green that gave Via sight fades away and the darkness presses in. Via’s throat closes and she claws for her helmet but Yelena is pressing her back, the pads of her fingers warm and sticky with blood. Via’s hand hits Yelena’s chest and she can sense the rumble of soothing words but Via is panicking too much. The world is too slippery and unstable. The floorboards are quaking and Via knows that the five minutes have ended. A sudden plume of fire lights up through the window. Yelena and Isa’s faces are cast in red-gold and Via can finally see what they are mouthing.
Yelena’s strong perfume fades away, conquered by the slam of black smoke and with it goes Via’s consciousness.
When Via’s eyes open again, her first breath is one of relief. She works her jaw and tries to get rid of the stale taste in her mouth. There is light and she is no longer a victim to the thief that is darkness. Her second breath is one of stability and calm. She is in a hospital bed, the monitors beside her showing a steady heartbeat and even blood pressure. The bandages wrapped around Via’s chest are tight and soft as a child’s hug. The fresh lemon scent of sterilization hangs in the air. A man appears in the doorway, smiling. Her lieutenant.
“Look who’s awake,” he says, lips full and rosy.
Via responds with a smile that quickly falls when she sees two girls appear behind her lieutenant. Isa and Yelena. Their eyebrows are scrunched in worry, hands clasped in hope. Via is glad they are alright but they should not have to see her in such a state.
They start to say things but it all spills out too quickly and their hands are covering their faces in shame and apology. Via’s lieutenant gestures for them to drop their hands and his hands form bunny ears, a pinky promise, then a fist. His index finger taps his ear then his mouth. Isa and Yelena’s jaws drop. They stare at Via and she smiles, confirming what they have only now realized.
Yelena hesitates and then rubs a fist in a circle over her heart.
Via smiles. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” She only knows she has said it right when Isa and Yelena smile in relief. Yelena turns to the lieutenant and he translates to Via what she cannot understand from Yelena’s fast-moving lips.
“She says she’s a medical student. She was trying to explain that to you but you kept refusing her help. Now she understands why,” he signs.
Via presses a hand to her chest where the wound once was but is now stitched back up. Instead of speaking vocally, she allows her hands to talk and the words flow much easier than through voice.
Her lieutenant translates for her. “Even when you did not know, even when we could not understand each other, you still saved me. It is the heart that counts, not the method of communication.”
Yelena nods slowly. Then she flushes and signs slowly, “Sorry, what was your name again?”
Via holds up two fingers spread apart. Then a pinky promise. And finally a fist, the thumb crossed over. “V.I.A. My name is Via.”
* The End *
[Writing Editor: Daniela Sardo]