The wall explodes under the C4, blasting a hole through the reinforced wall and showering an empty room with fragments of concrete and steel. An empty room is not what we expected on this floor, there should have been someone in the conference room.
All we did was ruin a nice cherry desk and leather chairs.
Being a petty and vindictive person, that makes me a little happy.
Not as happy as if I was looking at the ruined, bloody face of the Chairman but I take the small victories where I can get them.
“Avery!” Chester’s voice blasts through my earpiece. “We’re taking fire up here, I need to clear out or get some help!”
“Did you find her?” Chase interrupts, the British voice a calm counter to Chester’s panic.
“Yes.” I answer.
“Good, have her by the atrium, please. I believe you are about to be surprised from below. And above.”
I prod Nova over the railing, both The Karelian and I following her and leaning over to look up. We see our helicopter hovering there, precious above all that open space.
And then we see a shape leap from the helicopter with little regard for well-being or the laws of gravity, as Chase takes a nose dive. It’s the most amazingly badass thing I have ever seen in my life.
He’s suspended there, absolute calm written on his face as he begins to fall over twenty stories. He doesn’t have a goddamned doubt that this will work. As he falls, his suit jacket opens in the wind. He starts in a nosedive and then does a beautifully gymnastic move that moves him to a kneeling stance as he falls. Nova creates a cushion of air with her hands for him to fall into when she spots the mercenaries on the lower level.
They raise their weapons up to fill us full of lead and Chase gives her a quick, curt nod.
She angles that air cushion and I get to watch the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
His jacket flaps in the wind and he reaches up behind his coattails, face changing from unconcerned to grim determination. When he draws his hands out from under those flaps he has two matte black knives in his hands. He slides along the air as if it were a polished floor and hits two mercenaries in the chest, driving a knife into their eyes as his knees break their sternums. Maybe some ribs.
In a flawless roll, he is back on his wingtip shoes, moving under the rifle barrel and driving a knife up into the man’s chin, pinning his mouth shut without so much as a scream. He pulls that knife out and is a spin, ducking under a burst of gunfire that shreds a mercenary behind where Chase had been. He’s not there anymore, instead he’s slashing both knives in angled attacks that tear through vests and flesh.
It’s a macabre dance that he does, and he does it perfectly. Each slice is a fresh geyser of blood, a dead mercenary.
Until one has the drop on him from behind. The Karelian and I go for our guns, but Ana is faster. She hits just like Chase did, rolling up on one knee and firing the sniper rifle nearly point blank into the last man standing. His head explodes like a Pollock painting. Ana slings the rifle and unsnaps the holster for a compact machine pistol. She’s quick to her feet, covering all the angles.
I’m still sort of in awe when Chester comes plummeting down, using that same air cushion to tumble onto the tiles beside Chase and Ana. It’s infinitely less graceful than the others, more like a sack of potatoes hitting the floor. He’s got a short-barreled pump shotgun and is wearing his standard red and white flannel shirt. It’s a good look on him. He’s like a thin, scraggly Santa. Without the beard.
So…nothing like Santa.
“Avery, you OK?” Nova asks. I nod and try not to think about the blood seeping out from behind the duct tape that has been slapped on my fresh gunshot wound. Not exactly medical grade treatment.
Better than a few treatments I’ve been on the receiving end of. There was one time, in Guatemala. I still have the scars from that…doctor. Sure, we can pretend that’s what he was.
It occurs to me that there is a major question that has to be asked. Chester was flying the helicopter. Chester is a floor below us. So, who’s flying it now?
I don’t get a chance to ask the question before I find the answer. When it crashes through the crisscrossing beams that once housed glass for the atrium rooftop, blades snapping off as they shear through metal. Pieces of them fly into walls, railings, and one shoots straight down to the main floor like a missile.
I hope it hit Declan.
The helicopter crashes through the frame and slams into the floor where The Chairman’s office should be, plowing through walls and along the floor before coming to a rest in a tangled heap of metal and fuel and debris. It doesn’t explode.
Not until Chester, looking up at me with an enormous grin, hits a detonator.
At this point I’m mostly amazed my duffel bags exploded, since apparently everyone had their grubby fingers in them. Explode it does, igniting the fuel and blowing a gaping hole in the top levels. I hear screaming above us.
“We’ll meet you up there!” Ana yells at us, taking off towards a stairwell with Chase and Chester close behind at a well-paced jog. Six of us, the odds have drastically improved.
“Is he up there?” Nova looks up towards the wrecked upper floor where the Chairman’s office would be. If it survived the impact.
“Until we bring this whole damn building down, he’s probably up there.”
“Then let’s go.” And she’s off! I look at The Karelian, who gives me a semi-concerned look, and I ignore him. It’s just a little blood, I’ve lost more in the past two months than this little scratch. We join her in climbing up the stairs to the higher level.
She waits for us, given that I am slow and out of breath and The Karelian is enormous and slow, at the doorway to the floor where we might end all of this. She pushes it open and I take the lead, entering with a handgun drawn.
It doesn’t make much of a difference when the enormous, hairy set of knuckles slams into my jaw. I feel a tooth break when it hits, a tooth or my jawbone. I can’t be sure. All I know is that I find myself back in the stairwell with my back against a railing, tasting blood and seeing stars.
“I’ll take this.” The Karelian steps up, grabbing the next punch from one of the enormous goons that the Chairman kept around.
“Only fair.” I manage, spitting out a gob of blood with one too many chunks of tooth for my taste. I will allow him to take this one for the team. I step through the door after, listening to the fist fight that rages on between the two mountains of muscle. That’s when yet another enormous, hairy knuckle hits me in the jaw.
This time I wind up on the floor, staring at the ceiling and all those exploding lights. The huge brute towers above me, wielding a twelve gauge that I am staring down. He tries to pull the trigger, but it doesn’t click back, doesn’t fire and blow my head to tiny bits. Nova.
I kick him in the crotch with the heel of my boot as hard as I can and roll to the side, just barely missing the puke. That’s a common thing when a boot heel hits you there. He snarls, coming up from the puke, and going for the shotgun.
The pair of feet that hit him in the chest are tiny but bolstered by her powers. His chest caves in and he falls back, grunting in pain. She goes down with him, driving her knee down into his already broken ribs and shoving her handgun against his chest and squeezing the trigger until the slide locks back.
The Karelian bests his gargantuan and snaps his neck with a sickening crack. Heavy number two, which I have dubbed him, drools a bit and his eyes roll back into his head. Then he dies.
Nasty way to go.
“Great job team!” I say. They don’t seem amused.
Chase, Chester and Ana join us from the other side of the building. We find ourselves standing by the elevator bank and staring down to the heavy doors that lead to his office. Down below us a SWAT team breaches the atrium, beginning their long climb up towards us with all that heavy gear. Still problematic, I won’t be killing any of them once they get up here. It’s an unwritten rule. Butcher all the mercenaries you want but local authorities are off-limits. It brings unwanted attention down on the Agency.
We tread carefully, expecting more mercenaries or assassins, anyone really. There is nothing. We reach the wide desk of his assistant. He is hiding under the desk.
“Hey. Is he in?” I say. I think I’m funny. His assistant thinks it’s terrifying.
When we push the doors open we find the Chairman and the remaining three Board Members. The Chairman sits behind his desk, hands resting on the surface, away from any weapons. The others sit in chairs, trying to remain casual. It’s almost concerning how calm they are.
“Avery. Destroyer of worlds, hmm? Bringer of death?” The Chairman picks at one manicured nail. “Are you proud of what you’ve done?”
He gives me that look from when he offered me the contract, the look of utter disgust at my backtalk. Even now, when he’s lost, he still manages that look. He opens a drawer and we all have handguns aimed at his face before he gets too far.
“You’ll want to see this.”
He removes a small black box from the drawer and sets it on his desk. A detonator. I’ve seen enough of those tonight.
“When we had the building done, I had an insurance policy included. You don’t build a conglomerate of assassins without assuming one of them will turn on you. Perhaps more than one. If I push this, then the whole building comes down on your heads. We all die together.”
“You’re a fucking idiot.” Nova says, stepping forward.
“Language!” She glares at me, flicks her wrist, and catches the detonator as it flies off the desk.
I have never seen the blood drain from someone’s face so quickly, all four of them go pale in their seats. They also go for their weapons and I see it all slow down. The beads of sweat on the overweight Albert’s upper lip while he reaches under his sail sized suit jacket. Gabriela’s split ends waving as she moves down for the knife on her ankle. Ajay’s neck pulsing with each heartbeat while he tries to get to his hip.
The Chairman reaching under his desk for whatever gun he has hidden under there. Both my hands hit one of the grips of my pistols and I feel the wind build beneath them. They slide up and out and the first shot hits Ajay in the neck, exiting out the other side in a spray of red while the bullet stops in the bulletproof glass of the office. The next wipes the sweat off Albert’s upper lip, too far left. I adjust and hit him again, under the eye.
Gabriela takes three to the chest, seizing in her chair with each hit and slumping over.
I see a flash from under the Chairman’s desk and feel something sear through my vest. I grunt and empty everything I have into The Chairman. His eyes roll back, and he opens his mouth, blood pouring out before his head hits the desk.
“Avery!” Nova shouts. I realize that I’m on my knees and struggling to catch my breath. I don’t know how I got here. Until I see the hole punched through my vest.
I’m adding to my hole count and I’m not a fan of that. It’s getting harder to catch my breath.
“Kid.” I say, as The Karelian and Chase each grab one of my arms and lift me up. “We have just got to stop meeting like this.”
They pull me, and I find my feet moving along with them, as best I can, back towards the elevator bank. Past the assistant’s desk, through the heavy doors, all looking very battered under our assault. Looks nothing like the office that I remember from the day I took the contract. Feels like a lifetime ago. It is certainly several pints of blood ago.
“They’re on their way up. Any ideas?”
Every SWAT officer in the city, probably backed up by as many patrol officers that were willing, maybe even some National Guardsmen are all on their way up to us. Protocol will be to move floor by floor which buys us a little time. Not much, but a little. They’ll be cautious. As they should be.
They’ll be backed up by whatever mercenaries or agent assets that were left on the ground floor. Or just slightly beneath the absolute mayhem that has been unleashed. We’ll have been labeled ‘armed and extremely dangerous’ at this point, which is an honest assessment. There are more bodies here than some of the oldest cemeteries in the world. The Karelian undoes my vest and slaps another gauze and duct tape medical kit over the newest wound in my growing collection.
“I can’t fly the chopper anymore,” Chester offers.
“Helpful. I was going to suggest that, it’s only a few scratches.” I say. Chester shrugs. Everyone’s a
comedian. “We need to separate. Make our way out of here.”
“Avery can’t go on his own.” I want to be offended but the adrenaline is wearing off and everything has started to hurt. My whole body feels like one giant bruise with bullet holes sprinkling it for decoration. Nova is supporting almost all my weight, freeing Chase and The Karelian from the struggle of my dead weight.
“Maybe we should just turn ourselves in?”
“Or…” I say, and they all look at me. “We have that detonator.”