Huh. Nova looks as confused as I feel.
“Is this a job offer?”
Uncle Oscar lights another cigar, procured from some deeper folds of the chair. Robert might have an aneurysm. What a shame that would be.
“Yes. Avery, it is. For both of you. In fact, mostly for her. Chase?”
The Brit steps ahead, removing a lighter from his suit pocket. It’s a plain, silver lighter. He flicks the striker and the flame leaps to life. Then it carries over his hand, around to his palm and floats in place. Nowhere near the fuel source, just perfect sphere of flame that hovers over his palm. I’ve seen something that like before, just from one other person.
“Holy fucking shit.” I stare at it and hear the words come out of my mouth.
Nova doesn’t bother chastising me. Probably because it came out of hers too.
This changes everything.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m not needed. The plane carries on, minus three living passengers, mea culpa. Chase and Nova have bonded over their powers and I am still processing what I saw.
“Strange, no?” The Karelian sits beside me. I swear I can feel the plane move under his weight as he moves around it. “Hard to believe. Fire listening to a man, cavemen would have worshiped him like you already do.”
I glare at The Karelian for a moment, though I can’t deny his observation.
Chase is molding the fire around his hand still, Nova matching him with a cyclone in hers. I can barely process that, and I’ve seen it, even been on the receiving end of it more than a few times.
“She is very strong for her age. How did you find her?”
“She saved my life after I was supposed to kill her.”
The Karelian snorts. Sounds like a bear laughing. Can a bear laugh? I don’t know. He puts a massive paw on my knee and I have a vision of it exploding under those hairy fingers. Like a soda can.
“I think you are a good killer.” He says. I look at him, at an upward angle of course, and he gives me a single nod. “Very good. You have morals though. In the Agency world that is a bad thing. I disagree. It is important thing. It makes you stronger.”
He thrusts an enormous finger at my chest. Another vision, this time of my chest caving in under it. He just grins, crooked teeth and all.
“You have heart, Avery. You will protect her. This, I know.”
He stands, and I wonder how the plane doesn’t turn over with the
shifting weight, but it doesn’t. I think The Karelian just gave me a compliment. Always nice to get a compliment before you die. And from a living legend no less.
I lean back and close my eyes, trying not to think too much. It doesn’t work.
Oscar offered us a place in what can only be defined as a revolution. The Chairman has called the Board together for the first time in almost two decades, because of me. I haven’t ever heard of assassin’s going up against each other in what could only be described as all out war. I don’t think it’s ever something I wanted to think about. I don’t have a choice because in all of twenty-four hours from now we’re going to be knee deep in blood, bullets, and bodies.
Because of me.
“Avery?” I open my eyes and look over to where Nova has taken up a seat with me.
“What’s up, kid?”
“You don’t have to do this.” She says. I’ve always been terrible at poker. Honestly, I’m scared. This is getting too big for me, it’s a lot to handle. I can’t say that to her though.
“Sure I do.” Is what I say, instead.
“No, really. You don’t have to be on the hook for this anymore.” I think about the day I was supposed to kill her. Walking alone, handling those hired thugs with zero finesse or talent. I think about her abilities, the magic.
“What do you do after this?” I ask her. She doesn’t answer. “Let’s say we make it. You might have a second chance.”
“Baby steps.” She says. I laugh. Sometimes I say things and don’t realize I did. I must have said that to her a dozen times during training.
“Do something good, when we’re done. OK?”
She nods. I lean back and close my eyes and she leans against my shoulder. Good kid. Smart ass lil’ shit, but a good kid. I hope she makes it.
I hope we all make it.
I open my eyes again when Chase pushes my shoulder, gently enough.
“We’re about to land. Time to get ready.”
It would be, wouldn’t it? I stand to a plane of assassins in suits and ties, like something out of an Ocean’s movie but with way more guns. I am very out of place in my dirty tactical shirt and vest. The Karelian hands me a stack of clothes, dress shirt and everything.
“I would have changed you while you slept but Chase said I was not to touch you.” He shoves the stack into my hands. “Thomas was your size. Lucky you. Here.”
“I love dead man clothes.”
“Good. Because he doesn’t need them anymore.”
Awesome. I duck into a side room and change. Feeling awkward as hell with a suit jacket on. I’m not a fancy guy and I don’t like fancy clothes. I remember “Mister Belvedere” – I know – who got clipped wearing a tux. He was at an opera after some big shot mafia boss, went for his gun and the jacket was too tight across the shoulders. Slowed him down and two goons ruined his deposit on the tux with a couple dozen bullets.
That’s what you get for calling yourself Mister Belvedere.
I step out to find Chase standing there. He looks me up and down, sighs, and straightens my tie for me.
“It’ll have to do. Drop that jacket if we get into a fight, it will slow you down.”
“Gee, thanks.” He cuffs my jaw and I shut up. The man could fillet me in the next half a second and not get a drop of blood on his very nice jacket. I shouldn’t piss him off. Who says I’m not smart?
The plane descends to the private airstrip, taxiing along to a stop.
“Don’t fuck this up,” Cousin Robert hisses in my ear, while The Karelian, Metze, and Silver take another half dozen killers out to secure the strip. A black armored turtle of a limo sits between four big black SUVs. Nothing screams subtle like an enormous armored convoy of black vehicles with stern faced men and women trying their very best to hide an arsenal under their suits.
And failing at the hiding part. We could take a small country, or a moderately sized France.
Luckily, because the Agency has influence that rivals some governments, we also have a police escort waiting at the gates to the airstrip. Two cruisers and four motorcycles.
“Fuck me sideways, all this for one of the Board. There’s six of them.”
Nova elbows me in the side. I elbow her back. It escalates until Chase clears his throat from behind us. He is never more than a few steps away from Robert. Though I suspect it’s more for Oscar’s benefit than Robert’s. Alfred to a decrepit Bruce. Good times.
The Karelian waves us out of the plane. Two other hitters, I think it’s Nicolas and Anastazie, take the lead. Our procession begins the descent down the ramp setup. I keep close to Chase, Robert ahead of us. Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the police cruisers moving away from the gate. That’s a little strange.
“Chase.” I whisper, looking back at him and seeing that his neck has tensed. We’re halfway down the setup with Oscar. “You see that?”
I can hear him breathing through his nose, long and slow. I’ve heard that before. Ronnie used to do it before a long-range shot. It’s how I learned to shoot. Control. My hand twitches but I keep it away from the butt of my weapon.
There’s tension in the air as we move. That kind that folks mean when they talk about knives and such. Everyone is on edge, not that we can do anything but keep moving. If you’re about to be ambushed you can’t run back to a steel tube trap. You have to just keep moving to the wheeled steel trap. Down by the limo, Metze has stopped moving most of his body. Just his eyes are moving now, snapping from left to right and sweeping the low buildings of the airstrip. Something just isn’t right.
“There.” Nova says, grabbing my sleeve. “By those cylinders.”
“Chase, movement. Fuel tanks.” I say.
“Rooftop too. Sniper, maybe.” I hate the vulnerable feeling. It could just be a maintenance worker by the fuel tanks, it could be nothing on the roof. Doesn’t feel like it’s nothing though. It feels like a setup.
We hit the bottom of the setup and start towards the vehicles when another police cruiser pulls away from the gate. Fuck. The trunk of the cruiser was pulled in tight to a small security shed, bordered by some trees. I see the front end of heavy vehicle, a Humvee. That’s some heavy grade shit that’s coming our way.
“Do it.” Chase says. It’s confusing until I realize he’s got an earpiece in. A little offensive that I was left out. There’s never any time to dwell on the offenses in my life, as always it is interrupted by the crack of a gunshot. It’s from above us, on the plane.
With the gunshot that fan kicks into high gear. The sniper on the rooftop is downed by Chase’s counter-sniper in the plane, shooting from a recessed position with a sight line out the open door. That would be the good news.
The bad news, as we start shouting and moving for cover, is that two dozen or more figures pop up along the rooftops and from hangar doors. Heavily armed, fully kitted out men that move and fire as they come towards us. The Humvee hiding behind the security gate pulls forward, revealing a mounted gunner on a fifty cal. More men in battle gear pour in and the four motorcycle cops rev their engines and charge towards us.
We move into cover behind the line of vehicles, Chase rushing Oscar ahead to the turtle limo. I shed the jacket and have a handgun out, pulling Nova by her forearm into cover behind the limo. It seems safe until that mounted gunner starts up. The fifty chugs along, punching holes through the SUVs. And through flesh.
Nicolas is a few feet away when his chest explodes, throwing him to the tarmac as blood pours out from what will be a fatal wound. It’s a goddamn war zone and we are in the worst possible position. We need that special ops battalion or the goddamned nuke.
“Nova!” I would not have ever thought I’d hear Chase yell, his jacket rumbled up and a lighter in one hand, all pretense of composure dropped. He forms a fireball that grows far larger than the one on the plane. The heat washes over my face and I stop worrying about the fifty cal. Chase stands and throws the fireball almost as if it was a grenade, lobbing it high into the air.
Nova is up before I can pull her back, arms out as she brings that fireball down like a meteor from hell onto the hood of the Humvee. They were driving towards us at speed when a fiery sledgehammer slammed into the hood, flame spreading over the crushed metal and shattered glass to sweep over the driver and passenger. They probably scream.
For a moment, they must scream.
We just get to watch the Humvee flip, the gunner helpless as the whole vehicle goes ass up and slams down on top of him. He probably screams too. Until five thousand pounds of burning Humvee comes down on his head, neck, and chest. That tends to make any sort of noise problematic, other than a wet splat.
Just like that, the tables turn.
We all come up from the cover to see four motorcycles racing towards us, faux cops resting submachine guns on the handlebars and shooting wildly. There’s also a veritable army moving across the open space, previously covered by that heavy ass machine gun.
It turns into pandemonium. We pick our targets and open fire. The cyclists go down first, shredded right out of their seats by gunfire. The Karelian uses a light machine gun, one of those hefty fuckers with two hundred rounds in it, and he just sweeps it back and forth. It’s like watching Paul Bunyan chew through trees, if trees could bleed and scream.
“Get Oscar and Robert out of here!” He roars, between booming laughter about cutting down our attackers. Silver steps to open the heavy limo door. His head snaps to the side and he goes down on the tarmac, just like that, blood seeping out and staining that white hair.
“Christ!” Chase takes up Silver’s carbine and fires off two quick bursts with perfect aim. We’ve thinned out their numbers, but they just keep coming. I go up, fire off three snapshots and go back behind the limo.
“Chase.” I say, reloading the now empty handgun. “There’s a shoulder mounted launcher out there.”
“Fuck.” We both lock eyes with Oscar in his chair. He’s smoking a cigar, as calm as can be. Chase swoops in, grabs him up, Robert takes the oxygen tank, I grab Nova. One of us, I don’t know who, shouts some sort of warning and there’s a general scattering of assassins. The rocket that hits the limo tears through the armor. We would probably have been roasted alive but for the shimmering air that lets it wash over us.
I have Nova in my arm for one brief second until the explosion carries her away. As I fall, I see her head bounce off the tarmac and I know that she’s out like a light. Maybe dead. I don’t have time to be upset because my head hits and I tumble over myself too many times to count before the world stops spinning. Then I am left staring up at the sky, wishing I was dead so the pain would stop coursing through my body.
I regret having not taken the suit jacket off as I struggle to my knees, witnessing what is left of our group recovering from the explosion.
Another humvee with another big gun rounds on us from the end of the strip.
Shit, shit, and shit.
That’s not good at all.