Everything slows when we start to descend.
Someone is still screaming but this time it’s excitement.
It’s still me.
I take a deep breath and feel time slow even further. I take all the fear, shove it to an unhealthy place, and channel it to think about Nova. I promised I’d protect her. I took her borrowed dollar. I owed her this. Focus, Avery, goddamn it.
Someone is struggling to their feet on the railing as we come in through the new opening, opening and closing his mouth and looking shell-shocked. I would probably look the same way if the building had just exploded.
He scrabbles for his weapon and I shoot him. His head snaps back and he falls through the railing, falling more than a few floors. I spin on the rope, not by choice, and put down two more killers with well-aimed shots.
The Karelian is sure that they’ll be on the eighteenth floor, it’s the main conference room and the most secure area in the building aside from the Chairman’s office on the top floor. Built like a bunker. It’s also, according to his memory, the most likely place to keep Nova since there’s a holding cell for the special contracts when The Chairman wants to play with his food.
That’s where the highest concentration of assassins will be, compared to the mercenaries. That’s where the fight will be.
It’s good thing they didn’t expect anyone to try something so outrageous as what we just went for. I call it “Avery’s Door Crasher”. The unlucky part for The Chairman is the construction of the floor. He had it built so that the elevators opened to a long, wide hallway that led to the atrium viewing area. There was a walkway around the edge where other VIPs could talk or look down to the main floor with all those marble statues and the greenery. I heard he once chucked an unfortunate Board Member over the railing to make a statement.
The boardroom is one of four large rooms built on that floor. One being the security office, two being offices for carrying out the “legitimate” businesses that The Agency has its fingers in. Then the boardroom.
We rappel down the eighteenth floor where we find no less than twenty big names in killing in that long hallway. There’s maybe eight more spread out around the walkway. There’s no hesitation for us, we know what to do.
I can see them struggling to their feet, some doing better than others. The closer to the edge the worse off they are. Someone’s batting at the sleeve of their suit where fire eats the very expensive fibers.
“Stand down!” The Karelian shouts, giving them just one chance.
Someone shoots at him, the shot going wide and hitting nothing valuable. The Karelian disapproves. As do I, since it split the difference between us and I am rather fond of myself.
He holds the light machine gun against his hip, tucking it in tight and letting out a solid stream of death. It shreds into the packed hallway, tearing through cloth and vests and flesh. It makes a mess of a few very nice paintings. I’m sure The Chairman would be ecstatic about that.
I take the others.
Out of courtesy, I drop the guy with the flaming arm first. It’s almost unfair because he wasn’t really trying to shoot at us, but he would have, given some time. More bullets come at us as the assassins find their feet, as trained killers do, and start shooting at us. They start scattering to cover and that makes our lives more difficult, given that we have no over being in the middle of the air and all.
The Karelian grabs me by my vest and gives me a heave towards the railing, using his knife to cut me free just as I hit the bottom of the arc. I land on my tail bone and that hurts. The bullets that are being sent my way would hurt worse, so I roll to the side. The Karelian lands with a huge thump of his boots, walking calmly down the hall while hip firing.
I spare a glance to the dangling rappel and wonder just how the fuck he did that so quickly. A bullet hits the wall half an inch from my head so instead of focusing on that, I focus on that pressing gunfight that’s going on. I drop my magazine, load a fresh one, a do a really cool slide and come up shooting.
Two headshots later I am feeling pretty good about myself, right up until the boot hits me in the side of the head.
That hurts like a motherfucker, my head bouncing off the floor. I find myself on my back as a knife comes towards my eye, the point glinting as it seeks out my favorite eye. One of my favorites eyes. I like them both equally and I am fond of them without a knife in either one.
I grab the forearm of whoever is trying to kebab my brain.
“You stupid fuck!” The face behind the forearm shouts, dripping blood from a C4 related wound onto my face. Gross. The forearm owner straddles me, putting all his weight into said forearm. I knee him in the crotch and he cries out in pain, loosening his stance just a bit. Enough.
I wrap my left leg on his right, buck my hips up and roll over onto him, the knife still pointing at my face. Declan looks furious. Probably because I just put a knee where he would have preferred there was no knee.
He responds to the knee with a headbutt to the bridge of my nose. I feel it break and fireworks explode in my eyes, the warmth of blood pouring from each nostril and down my chin. Goddamn it. When the fireworks stop I see the knife coming dangerously close to my face again.
I hit Declan in the side of the head with a closed fist and we come apart, me rolling to my feet and him pushing himself up to his. He flips the knife around, so the blade is sticking out from the bottom of his fist, like a real cool guy.
“You came big, I’ll give you that, never figured you’d have the stones to blow up a building.”
“That was all just for you, you prick. I’m saving the real show for the ‘Chairman’.”
“Not if I cut you open from balls to chin!” He snarls it are takes a step towards me. That’s disgusting. I go for my handgun to empty a magazine into his chest, which will save my balls and chin from a gruesome fate. I don’t have time to draw before the wall explodes out in a shower of plaster and wood. And one or two bodies. Declan stops the charge to cover from the blast of building materials. Standing in the dust, sucking in each breath, is Nova.
She looks pissed.
Who’s rescuing who? That’s the real question.
She shoves out one hand, palm out, at Declan. If a bull had charged him at full speed and hit him in the chest, I think it would have been less painful. He grunts out and I see his ribs collapse in under the force, hear them snap. He is pushed back towards the railing while he chokes out pained sounds.
He hits the railing and goes over, eyes wide with what I assume is pain and fear. It’s almost cruel except for the whole ‘balls to chin thing’. It’s almost anti-climactic as he hits the open air without more than a choking sound and goes into the abyss of eighteen floors.
“Hey, kid. You doin’ alright?” I say.
She throws up her hand again and I feel the wind rush past me on both the left and right. I don’t even realize there are knives in the airstream, knives that I don’t know where they came from. I just know they end up with the hilts protruding from two eye sockets. Not on the same person either. Two separate sockets.
“Fuck no.” Nova says, breathing like that bull that might have hit Declan. I don’t say anything because I am afraid what she’ll do if I do.
“You’re bleeding.” She says, pointing down.
“Yep. Just like when we met.” I say, looking down to the knife cut that somehow appeared along my side. At least it’s not deep.
It’s not good, but not bad either.
“The little one is alive!” The Karelian rejoins us, grinning ear to ear. “This is good.” I try to look around the mountain of a man to
see how he finished up with the hallway so quickly. I only see boots and bodies and pools of blood.
“Is the Agency even good at what it does?” I ask, looking at the mess of bodies that were supposed to be high end assassins. We charge people hundreds of thousands of dollars for the bodies on the floor and they weren’t worth a fraction of that. It’s when you start to doubt professionalism that professionalism will take a shit on your plans. Because that is the moment I got shot.
The Karelian grabbed me by the collar of my vest and dragged me out of the line of fire, Nova following behind us. At least ten men had taken positions across the atrium and started shooting at us.
I spotted three faces I knew well as we took cover.
Constantin, Anjing, and a Board Member. Dao. If there’s one Board Member, there’s got to be the others. Even the Chairman is bound to be on this floor. It also means that three highly capable assassins are attempting to put bullets through us.
“Goddamn it,” Nova says, snatching a grenade off my vest before I can blink. She pulls the pin, using her fingers like an intelligent person, and tosses it out from our cover. Then she waves her hand and the grenade shoots off at a right angle and someone yelps as the grenade does the impossible. Then it does the possible and explodes.
I come out from cover before the dust settles and put a round through Constantin’s hand. His hand being held up to his face makes that a lot more fatal than it sounds. Bullets travel. Constantin’s head snaps back under the impact and falls to the floor, where Anjing is already sprawled with fragments stuck in his face and chest.
Dao and I lock eyes over the sights of our weapons. He snarls, his slightly large face shiny with sweat and red with rage. Like a tomato. His finger starts in on his trigger and I have this feeling that he’s the one that shot me already. My finger does the same, tamping down on the trigger and lining up the sights on the whites of his right eye.
I hit the sweet spot before Dao does. My bullet hits his eye, traveling down the length of his rifle and spinning him to the floor where all sorts of disgusting brain matter and blood pour out. Being a Board Member has become a hazardous occupation in these days. I don’t even know what the hell’s going on in these days. A hostile takeover. That’s it. Figured it out.
No, we’re not taking anything over. I thought I had it, clearly, I did not.
I stand and look down to where the bullet tore through my vest. The Karelian is behind me, lifting up the whole mess.
“Excuse me, shouldn’t you buy me dinner first.”
He grunts a laugh, slaps a wad of gauze against the holes and then steps back to let Nova pull duct tape over the wound and gauze, attaching the sticky mess to my skin.
“Doc would be proud.” I say. She doesn’t laugh. It might have something to do with the fact that I am bleeding out, yet again.
“Enough!” The voice shakes the building almost as much as the C4 did. Damien Crow. The Chairman. Of course, the arrogant asshole would have a PA system built into his building. Probably loves hearing his own voice. I can’t imagine what that would be like.
“Avery, you’ve made your point. Let’s discuss this, work something out that’s civilized. You’ve already destroyed my building.”
I wonder what we’d talk about, or what he would offer. Maybe a nice briefcase of cash or just the ability to walk away. If I had
learned anything, and I bet I haven’t, it’s that negotiating when you’re losing is never a good idea.
“Hey Nova, what do you think?”
“Fuck that.” She’s developed quite the mouth since we were separated. They grow up so quickly. Baby birds gotta leave the nest someday, spread their dangerous little wings and fly.
Fly little vulture, fly.
Through the building are the domes for security cameras, we find one and collectively flip it off. There’s silence from the PA system. I can imagine the vein popping out of The Chairman’s forehead, he might even be screaming at someone.
I find out that I’m wrong when another voice fills the building.
“Come to the conference room. We have him here for you.”
This is interesting. Self-preservation wins out? Or a trap.
“It’s a trap, you know this?” The Karelian says. I mock him with a high-pitched voice and he slaps me on the back of my head. I growl at him and he growls back. His is better. He isn’t wrong though. Chase and Ana are still above us, keeping the rooftop clear in case we manage to get out of this situation. That’s some fanciful dream we have.
There’s the slight problem that we still have to deal with the Chairman and the remaining Board Members. Along with their remaining assassins. Though that hasn’t been a major issue so far.
Wait. I’ve been shot. That’s a bit of an issue for normal people. And I fall into that category.
“So, do you have an idea?” I ask.
The Karelian tosses a brick of C4 he must have swiped from my duffel up and catches it, all while looking at me with a wide grin. Like he’s excited to blow up all sorts of things. He probably is excited to blow up all sorts of things. Like a wall to a conference room…
“Alright. That’s one idea.”