The flashbang should shatter my eardrums and demolish my retinas, at least temporarily.
Nova. The air roars with light and sound but it doesn’t get further than a foot and a half away from the device. Which means the first pair of boots to come down the stairs is expecting us to be disabled.
He is most certainly not expecting Doc to empty a solid slug shell into his chest. The man hits the wall and blood sprays out from a shredded bulletproof vest. Then he makes his way down the stairs in a less than graceful motion of flailing limbs and a very heavy sounding thud.
A misnomer. It helps make you feel better but it’s only bullet resistant. That’s why Doc and I are so fond of slugs.
This really isn’t the time.
There’s some shouting and another flashbang tumbles down, followed by yet another contained blast. And another pair of boots. This time I take the shot, putting a round into a kneecap. Then the other.
The poor guy shrieks as he hits every step on the way down, landing in a heap on his buddy. He can’t get his footing before I put a final round through his forehead. At least the pain was short-lived. Small mercies.
“Christ, Avery. Necessary?”
I don’t get a chance to say anything smart before another small, metal device comes flying into the basement. This one isn’t oriented to the flash and or the bang, more so just the bang. It’s a standard grenade.
There’s the span of a breath to panic but the grenade stops bouncing in midair. There is just long enough to get a glimpse of it just before it rockets back up the steps and there is a lot more shouting and an explosion that shakes the building. Not many teams are prepared for that kind of response to a grenade, especially one coming back up from a basement.
“My neighbors.” Doc moans. Fair point. Bad enough that bloody strangers often show up on his doorstep. Now a grenade just went off. Bloody as in blood covered, of course. Doc isn’t a high-falutin’ Brit.
“Maybe, you know, go deal with all of that?” The girl has an attitude now that she’s saved our asses.
I mimic Nova’s voice, not in a flattering way, and an empty casing hits the back of my head.
“Smart ass.” I mutter, rubbing the back of my head with a free hand and taking careful and deliberate steps up. All the while conscious of a tightness I feel in my chest. Those pills are not as helpful as I was led to believe. Or I didn’t take enough.
A problem to be remedied as soon as is convenient, I think.
At the top of the stairs I step over the unfortunate point man, or what’s left of him. The grenade was midair when it went off. Makes things a lot worse. There’s at least three more bodies down from it. One of the bodies rolls over and shoots, blindly, into a wall. It’s not his fault, there’s nothing left of his eyes. I feel a little bad about shooting him.
Not too bad, but a little bad. I like a fair fight but I’m not against breaking a few rules of polite assassinery.
That can’t be a word. It should be.
“Avery!” I duck, feeling the wind move as a knife passes right where my delicate and much beloved throat was a second before. I move to counter the knife-man, but he’s quick and the boot to my chest is painful. So, so painful.
I sprawl on the floor and wonder if I can get a refund on those pills or not. I lift my head to see where my attacker is when the boot comes again, this time for my face. I lean back. The ugly boot tread just grazes the tip of my nose. It smells like rubber and blood and wishes pain on my precious nose. He recovers his balance and behind him I catch a glimpse of Doc. He is struggling with what looks like a monster but is, in fact, a blood covered mercenary. My own monster is no better, his face shredded by shrapnel and contorted with rage. Or contorted by shrapnel and shredded by rage.
It could go either way.
“You’re a real beauty now.” I say. It is not the right thing to say for his ego and sense of calm, but it is the right thing for him to make a mistake. He comes down on me and we begin a messy grapple. His hand wraps around my throat and the other pulls back for a helluva punch, right for the side of my head.
It never makes it to my temple. It hits the floor, as if all that impressive force was redirected by someone who can do strange things with air. I hear the bones in his hand breaking while his tactical vest is wonderfully close to me. He’s one of those guys that thinks he’s ‘tacticool’, carries a knife strapped there with the hilt upside down. For quick access in close combat, it’s not half bad.
What it’s perfect for when some poor sucker underneath who just happens to have a moment brought on by, say, a fistful of shattered bone. I grab it, yank it down and out of the sheath and then jam it right back upwards. Just not back into the sheath. Instead into his jaw, up through the soft tissue. It pins his jaw shut. Not that he feels it, since the blade also pinned his brain to the inside of his skull.
He falls on me, hard, just a pile of dead weight. I shove him off of me and get to my feet to help Doc. I am too late. Doc wins his struggle against his gruesome monster and jams his shotgun into the man’s blood-soaked belly, squeezing the trigger and ending the fight. Fights tend to end when vertebrae are blown backwards out through your back, it’s just a law of nature. I believe it is also the sixteenth commandment. The Redneck’s Bible, of course.
Nova stands at the top of the stairs, grinning at us. She’s all sorts of proud about redirecting Mister Punchy.
I stand, clutching the bloody bandages where seepage is leaving its mark. I grin back. She should be proud, that was pretty cool and very painful for Punchy.
And that, that is when the bullet hits her. Right in the abdomen, just a bit off to the side. She doesn’t fall back, it’s not like that. It’s just a jerking motion and then a hand comes up to the hole that isn’t supposed to be there. Doc and I react.
The shooter is half dead and leaning against a wall while blood pumps out around the pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body and face. That doesn’t change anything. He still got the shot off. A lucky shot is as good as an aimed one.
Doc and I empty everything we have into him. The poor bastard dies. The prognosis is sudden and extreme lead poisoning. It doesn’t undo the damage of his lucky shot. I slide across the floor and grab Nova before she hits the floor, picking her up in the same motion.
Right. Not safe here, not anymore. If I hadn’t tried to kill Doc they’d have probably found us sooner. I make a mental note to mention that to him at the soonest convenient moment. He’ll appreciate that.
I carry her fragile body and Doc leads the way, shotgun at the ready, watching for any movement. He goes first and sweeps the garage. There will certainly be more men coming for us. One thing the Agency has in nearly endless supply are bullet sponges. Also known as mercenaries, men who left the military because they just weren’t getting their jollies anymore. Most of them are no more than rabid, if trained, dogs.
He slides open the vehicle’s side door and motions for me to put her in. There are empty fast food cups on the floor and stains on the seats.
“Doc… it’s a minivan. It’s a gross minivan.”
“Fine, fine. Not the time.”
He hits that handy little button on the sun visor of the van and the garage door starts to rise. Where four pairs of combat boots wait, attached to the trunks of more men with their weapons up.
I’m outside the van, not a safe spot to be. Not to mention still shirtless and feeling more than a little exposed. In all senses of the word.
Doc is in the van with his hands on the wheel. Our little mystic is busy trying not to die on us. That means there’s only one person that can do anything.
Me. It’s me.
Shit. I hate when it’s me.
Not good. Not a good day. This whole thing has gone so far sideways I think we’re back around the right way. I do the only thing I can, while their fingers start to tense on the triggers, I move.
And everything seems to slow down. I see the beads of sweat rolling down their faces, the slight twitching as they ready to fire. The smallest movements in their stance for a more stable firing platform. The widening of pupils as adrenaline pumps. Doc breathing out and his knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. Nova gasping for air and holding her hand on her wound.
I feel the pistol grip in my hand. Four men. I’m fast, that’s always been my thing. My gift is that I am fast as hell. It’s what got me into the business, it’s what kept me in the business, it’s how I make my living.
I see the world slow down when things get tight. The magic is that I don’t slow down. I hear my own heartbeat pounding in my ears and feel the blood rushing to my fingers against the synthetic butt of the gun.
It’s what I do. I move. So I move.
I fire four rounds, snapshots. The gun doesn’t even come up past my hip, like some gunslinger.
Four bodies drop. Guns clatter to the garage floor and the bodies crumple. Marionettes with the strings cut, mechanical failure of the body. Problem is, I don’t even realize that I’ve torn open the stitches with that move until I see the blood pooling by my foot. It’s a lot of blood.
Oh that’s a lot of blood.
“Doc, I did it!” I say, grinning ear to ear.
And then, for the third time in what feels like no more than a day, the world goes sideways on me again. This time I feel my head hit the concrete floor.
If I wake up again, it’s not going to feel good. If I don’t…well that won’t feel as bad.
I think, just maybe, it’s time for a vacation.