Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show Once A Thief. Characters are property
of Alliance. This story was written for fun, not profit.|
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I set off the explosive charge. There's a popping sound, and a painfully bright purple-white flash. And I mean painful. Man, it's like a thousand cameras flashing in my eyes all at once. I blink and rub my eyes, but I can't see anything but the afterimage.
"I did it - I think," I murmur, knowing the microphone taped to my neck will pick my words up loud and clear.
"Yes," Li Ann confirms, her voice coming through my earpiece. "Their power source is spiking wildly, and it looks like their systems are dying. You guys had better get out of there now."
"Right," I say, and I hear Vic's voice saying "Copy."
The first system to die must've been the lights. The bright spots floating in front of my eyes are starting to shrink and fade away, and beyond them I see nothing but darkness. It's the sort of inky, total darkness you get when you're sixteen stories underground in a bizarre enemy paramilitary complex and the lights go out. I pull my flashlight out of my pocket and flick it on.
It doesn't work.
"Shit, shit," I whisper, shaking it and flicking the on switch a few more times.
"What?" "What's wrong?" I hear both Li Ann's and Vic's voices over the radio.
"The lights are out here and my flashlight's busted."
"OK, hang on, I'll come get you," Vic says. He's just three rooms away, guarding the entrance to the core while I do the job of making everything stop working.
I hear quick footsteps, and then Vic's voice coming at me through the air instead of the radio. "Mac? Quit messing around, let's get out of here."
"Uh, love to, if you'd just get us some light. I know the dark is more romantic and all, but-"
He interrupts me, with an odd tone in his voice. "The lights are on, Mac."
"You're not funny, Vic. Gimme your flashlight." I grab for where his voice came from last, but he's not there anymore.
This time his voice comes from close to me, but about ninety degrees away from where I'm looking. "You can't see me, can you?"
I turn towards his voice. There's no change in the darkness. I feel a stirring in the air right in front of my face. Instinctively I grab at the movement, and end up with Vic's wrist caught in my hand.
"You see my hand," he says, his voice full of relief.
"Uh, no." I'm starting to get a really nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. "I felt the air moving."
Li Ann speaks again. "What's going on down there, guys?"
"Problem," Vic says. "Mac can't see anything."
"What, you mean he's gone blind?"
"It was the flash." I feel hollow. "When I sabotaged the core."
"You guys have to move out now," Li Ann urges us. Her voice is tight, practically vibrating, the way it gets when she's trying really hard not to panic. "Their alarms are going crazy. You're going to have enemies on your position in no time."
Vic grabs my left hand. "OK, let's go. Hope your sight comes back on the way."
I let him pull me through the darkness. I'm totally disoriented; the direction we're running is not the direction I'd thought the door was in.
Suddenly "Agh! Fuck!" I slam into a wall. Now I see something - stars. I hold onto the wall because I'm not sure which way is up. It's the door frame I've hit, actually. I guess I missed the doorway Vic was trying to pull me through.
"Shit, shit, I'm sorry," Vic says. He sounds furious, possibly at himself. I feel his hands on my shoulders, steadying me. Actually I seem to be leaning pretty hard against his grip. Maybe he's holding me up. I'm still stunned from the impact, and it's hard to tell if I'm standing up straight or not. The first intense pain washes away, and I feel nauseous.
I touch my nose - man, it hurts, but I don't think it's broken. I'm definitely going to have a black eye, though. Ran into a doorway. Fuck. How am I going to get out of here? I'm not. There's no way. It's sixteen stories to the surface, and there's no stairwell that goes straight up - the route out zigzags through half the compound. There are at least a hundred well-armed guards between us and the exit. And I can't see.
I feel Vic's hands on either side of my face - he tilts my face up. To look at him? I seem to be sitting on the floor now, though I don't remember getting here. Damn I hit that wall hard.
"Mac?" he says. "Can you hear me?" He sounds pretty desperate.
Oh yeah, I remember. The bad guys are about to get here.
There's no way in hell I can make it out. And if he stays with me, he'll be killed too. It all comes down to this. I don't like it, but it's simple - not even a decision, just the way things are. I grab his hands and push him away from me. "You have to go without me."
A memory, an echo, flashes in my mind - the Tang warehouse is about to blow sky high, and Li Ann and I are on opposite sides of the laser beams. I tell her to go.
"Like hell," Vic says. He grabs my arm, and then there's a moment of twisting disorientation and I feel upside down, and then I'm being jolted up and down.
Vic's got me in a fireman's carry, and he's running.
I'm shocked and a bit confused. Still a little dopey from hitting the wall. Vic won't leave me behind. He's seriously risking his life to get me out.
But this is humiliating. I'm being carried like a sack of rice. I have no idea what's going on. I hear Vic's quick footsteps, and alarms going off. I smell Vic's leather jacket. I feel the jolt of each step Vic takes, but I have no idea what direction we're going.
After a bit, I think we're going up stairs. Vic starts panting hard. The man is amazingly strong, but he can't carry me up sixteen flights of stairs at a run. Plus, if we run into an enemy - which we will - he needs his hands free to fight.
"Let me down," I tell him. "I'm OK to run now."
"Just wait 'till the top of the stairs," he gasps. The base is designed to be nearly impossible to penetrate - all the stairwells are just two flights high, and to find the stairs to the next level, you have to pass through most of the current level.
We get to the top - I guess - and after another dizzying switch of orientation, I seem to be standing on my feet. He keeps an arm around me.
My head is clear enough now, though my nose and the right side of my face are throbbing and I can feel and taste that my nose is bleeding.
"Hold onto my shoulder," he says. He grabs my right hand and puts it on his shoulder, and then I feel him move. I follow. I'm behind him, with my right hand on his right shoulder. Hopefully this method will get me through doorways.
"Take the door on the right!" Li Ann radios to us. In her location in the ops van not far from the entrance to the compound, she has some information from the base; she has floor maps, and live feeds from some of their internal security cameras. She keeps her tone even and professional, but I know her well enough that I can hear the panic she's feeling. She thinks Vic and I are both going to die.
It's hard to run blind. I keep stumbling forward against Vic, and stepping on his heels.
My heart is pounding like a hummingbird's. I am completely terrified.
I can't see.
My hand on Vic's shoulder is my lifeline. I feel the warmth of his shoulder through the smooth, soft leather of his jacket. I feel his muscles moving as he runs. He's the only thing left in my reality, and as long as I can touch him, I know I'm alive.
My toe catches on something and I trip, losing my grip on Vic's shoulder. My training kicks in and I manage to tuck in and roll with the fall, so at least I don't hurt myself again. When I come to my feet, I don't know what direction Vic is in. I can't hear anything but the clashing howls of at least four different alarms. I smell acrid smoke - plastic is burning somewhere nearby.
This is a bad time to rediscover that I'm afraid of the dark. Some pretty bad things have happened to me in the dark. Now everything is dark.
I'm seriously losing to the panic. I'm frozen to the spot - I don't know what direction to move in. My throat closes up and suddenly it gets really hard to breathe. I start to cough.
Something tugs at my sleeve. I jerk my arm away and stumble a few steps backwards, still coughing.
"Mac!" It's Vic's voice, coming to me like a beacon in the night. How long has it been since I lost him - ten seconds? It felt like forever. I grope blindly in the direction of his voice, and then I feel him grab my arms. I shudder with relief. He pulls me downwards. I can't stop coughing, and I hear him coughing too.
"This room's on fire," he explains. "It's filling with smoke. We've gotta keep low to the floor, and get outta here, fast!"
Running blind was hard. Crawling blind is even harder. I need one hand to hold on to Vic, and I need two hands to crawl. The stinking smoke is burning my throat. I hear the crackling of fire now, even over the klaxons of the alarms. My unseeing eyes are stinging and watering from the smoke. I wonder if even Vic can see anything now.
"Wait here, I need to open this door!" he says, and he's gone. I'm crouching on the floor in the dark and the smoke, listening to the crackling fire and the wailing alarms. The floor is rough concrete.
I think my left side feels hotter than my right. I wonder how close the fire is.
I hear Vic coughing. I hope he's OK, not breathing too much smoke, but I'm glad to know where he is. He's not far away.
"Through the door, now!" he yells, and I feel his hands on my ass, pushing me. I'm startled at that touch but I crawl fast in the direction he pushed me. I feel him grabbing my shirt and redirecting me slightly. Then I bang into an obstacle, and I realize I don't feel Vic anymore. I hear a heavy metal "clunk."
"The door's closed," Vic says.
I can't stop coughing, even though I can tell the air is better here. I hear Vic coughing too. That smoke was nasty. I can't catch my breath. The darkness is closing in on me and I can't breathe.
I feel Vic gripping my arms near my shoulders. "Mac? Shit, breathe, Mac, try to slow down and breathe." I realize he's stopped coughing, and I'm hyperventilating. I'm dizzy. I know I have to slow down, breath deeper, but I can't. I'm cold, I'm shaking, I'm lost in the dark. I'm in an alley in Hong Kong, wrapped up in cardboard, shivering in the cold spring night and hoping no one finds me before morning comes. I'm in the flour warehouse in Hong Kong, waiting for it to explode.
"Mac!" Vic's voice yanks me back to the present. "Snap out of it, come on!" I feel his hands on either side of my face. He pulls me in towards himself. He puts his arms around me, holding me tight and stopping the shaking. "Come on, pull together." His voice is rough with fear. My forehead is resting against his breastbone; I'm gasping in the air warmed by our bodies in the hollow between his chest and my body. Something lets go inside me and I can breathe. I take a few deep, shuddering breaths, coughing just a little with the residual smoke.
I hear Li Ann's voice in my ear. "What's going on? You two aren't moving."
"Mac had some trouble with the smoke," Vic says. My forehead's still pressed against him; I can feel his chest vibrating as he speaks. He's still holding on to me and I don't want him to let go. I can't see, but with his arms around me I know where I am. Is this how Li Ann felt when she was with him?
We're now fourteen floors underground, and the enemies are still above us. This is not a safe place. We've got to move.
I stand up. "Let's go."
He takes my shoulders and turns me about ninety degrees to my right. "We're in a stairwell," he says. "Here's the railing." He puts my right hand on a smooth, tilted bar.
I shuffle my feet a bit and find the first step. That's what I banged into when I was crawling. I start up the stairs. Holding on to the railing, I can leap up the stairs as fast as if I could see. We run up the two flights.
At the top, he puts my hand on his shoulder again. "OK, let's go."
Clinging to my guide, I stumble through some more rooms. I don't know how many, because when we pass though open doorways I don't know it - but I remember from the way down that the route leads mostly from room to room, with very few hallways in the compound except near the top.
"Hey, good news and bad news," Li Ann chimes in our ears. We keep running, listening. "The majority of the enemy are evacuating the compound. I don't think there can be more than twenty left in there with you, and most of them are heading for the exit too."
Vic stops, and I stumble into him. We keep doing this. I don't know why he stops - maybe to look around. "What's the bad news?" Vic says.
"I think they're evacuating because they expect it to explode."
"How long?" Vic asks. We start running again.
"I'll get back to you," Li Ann says. We keep running. The building-might-blow-up threat doesn't make much impact on me, because this situation was already as bad as it could get.
There are more stairs. I like the stairs - I can hold on to the railing and they're easy. Only I don't like letting go of Vic. The alarms are too loud, I can barely hear his footfalls, I'm terrified of losing him. When we get to the top of this next set of stairs he grabs my hand and puts it on his shoulder again, and I feel more secure.
Li Ann comes in again. "You've got somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes until the explosion. But when it goes, it's going to go big. I'm getting an estimated safe distance at 1.5 km."
Holy shit. "Where are you?" Vic demands.
"We're at 300 meters. We're going to have to pull out soon. Hurry, you guys."
"Hear that, Vic?" I gasp out. I'm really out of breath; somehow, it's harder to run when I can't see. Or maybe I'm still having trouble from the smoke a few floors down. "We'd better not stop for coffee on the way out, after all."
"Guys! I've got visuals!" Li Ann announces. "I've got a patch into their cameras on your floor.... there are three enemy coming towards you. Two rooms away and closing."
Vic stops and I stumble into him. I feel his body twisting right and left - I guess he's looking around at where we are. "Nowhere to hide," he says. "No time to go back."
He grabs my hand from his shoulder. "You wait here. I'll take care of them." He pulls me forward by the hand, and makes me touch a wall. He slides my hand to the left along the wall a bit, and I feel an interruption - a vertical ridge. "This is the door," he says quickly. "You stay to the side. I'll be back for you."
I tuck myself against the wall, and I hear a door open and close.
I'm alone in the dark again, and my heart is hammering so hard it hurts.
I count gunshots. Seven, eight. "Can you see it?" I whisper to Li Ann.
"Wait.... yes. One guy's on the floor. Two standing, only one has a gun. I can't see Vic, he's out of the camera's field of view."
More gunshots. Eleven, twelve. I wonder how solid the wall I'm leaning against is. It would be funny if I got shot through the wall.
"Uh oh," I hear Li Ann breathe. At the same time, I hear a man's voice muffled through the door, shouting.
"Who are you?" the man screams. "Tell me what you've done, now!"
"There's one enemy left and he's got Vic at gunpoint," Li Ann explains quickly. "You've got to go in. Get your gun out."
No time for explanations, but I know what she's thinking. I draw my gun. My hand's shaking so much I don't dare put my finger on the trigger yet. With my other hand I pat frantically at the door, searching for a knob or handle. There's a doorknob - it feels big and cold, probably steel. "Where are they standing?" I whisper. Inside, I hear the desperate man's voice rising near a shriek as he pummels Vic with accusations and questions. I'm sure he's going to give up soon and shoot him. That thought makes me cold and focused.
"They're both straight in front of your door, side-on to it," is Li Ann's hurried response. "Aim at ten degrees when you go through."
There's no question of me actually shooting the guy; it would be too easy to hit Vic by mistake, or - most likely - just miss completely and get shot the next second. This is going to have to be a big-time bluff. Should be easy, right? Just think what my father would do.
"FREEZE!" I shout, throwing open the door and pointing my gun in the blackness.
"Shift your aim 5 degrees clockwise," Li Ann instructs me immediately. I shift slightly to my right, hoping my hand isn't shaking so much the guy can see it. It's hard to guess at 5 degrees without visual cues.
"He's frozen, he's looking sideways at you but he's still got his gun trained on Vic, Vic can't move yet," Li Ann narrates the scene in a breathless patter. She is my eyes. I don't even know what angle she's seeing all this from.
"Put your gun down," I say, trying to sound ominous. At least my voice didn't tremble. The guy has no reason to suspect I can't see him. This should be easy.
"He's not moving," Li Ann says.
"Down," I insist. "Now." I take a step forward. Shit, I shouldn't have done that - Li Ann never said how far away from them I am.
"Who are you?" a hoarse, frightened voice asks. Now that he's spoken I'm more confident of my aim, and I think he's maybe two or three meters away from me.
"Put it down," I say. Keeping it simple.
"He's starting to crouch down," Li Ann tells me. My heart beats even faster, if that's possible. We've almost got him. "Lower your aim 10 degrees, slowly. Vic can't move yet, the gun's still on him," she says, and I let my arm drop just a bit. I remember a moment later to try to follow my aim with my eyes.
Suddenly there's a scuffing sound in front of me, and a gasp. "Get down!" Li Ann yells at me, and a gun fires in front of me. I do as she says - I drop to the floor, covering my gun with my body so no one else can get it. I am completely helpless. I hear a crashing sound - glass breaking. Another shot.
"We're clear," comes Vic's breathless voice. "Oh man. That was good, Mac."
I sit up, turning my head towards the sound of his voice. A moment later I feel a hard grip on both my shoulders. I smell Vic's sweat and his leather jacket and his aftershave. Without thinking about it, I reach out and wrap my arms around Vic and hug him, hard.
"Piece of cake," I say. "I could've done it with my eyes closed." I feel his rib cage shake with laughter, and he hugs me back for a moment. Then he pulls me to my feet.
"My gun," I protest, being pulled along. I left it on the floor.
"I've got it." He presses it into my hand. I tuck it into my belt holster, and we run.
My hand is on his shoulder again. I'm getting good at this. I time my steps to the up-and-down movements of his body - this gets us in sync, so I don't keep stepping on his heels. Holding his right shoulder with my right hand, I'm right behind him, so I don't run into anything. If there's anything on the floor to step over, he tells me.
This is the ultimate trust game, and it's perfect, because I trust Vic completely.
Then my hand slips off his shoulder. As soon as our contact is broken, I'm lost in this smothering, infinite blackness again. "Wait!" I yell, my voice cracking with panic. Fuck.
A hand grabs my arm. "I'm here," Vic says. "Come on." He guides my hand onto his shoulder again, but something's wrong. It's slippery, wet. I let go and smell my hand. It's blood. Oh God. Is Vic hurt badly?
I try to reach out and touch him again, but my hand waves in empty air. He's moved again. "Is this your blood?"
"Yeah, I guess so. It's OK. We've got to get out of here fast, remember?" he says. I turn towards his voice and reach out - and my fingers meet soft, prickly skin. "Hey, don't poke my face." Vic grabs my hand and puts it on his shoulder again. "Ready to run again?"
His shoulder is too slippery with blood; I'll lose my grip again. I feel around with my left hand and find his other shoulder. It's dry. I'll hold on with this hand instead. "Let's go."
We run. There are stairs. Then more running, and more stairs. Li Ann radios in occasionally when she has visuals on where we're going. The building seems to be almost deserted - all the rats have fled their exploding ship.
It seems like I've been doing this forever, running blind, clinging to Vic. It's almost getting easy.
Vic stops suddenly. I stumble into him and he pushes me to the side. I hit a wall, and I hear gunshots. I hit the floor, 'cause there's nothing else I can do. More gunshots. One bullet whizzes so close to me I can hear it - I wonder if it's a stray or if someone's actually bothering to shoot at the guy lying uselessly on the floor. Hard to say but I think there's only two guns involved - Vic and someone else.
Then I hear Vic, far away from me, yelling "FUCK!" and then there's an explosion.
It's a sound as loud as the flash that blinded me was bright, and a shock wave that picks me up from the floor and throws me like a rag doll against something hard.
I feel fuzzy and uncertain. I think maybe I've been unconscious and I'm coming to. It's hard to say. Usually coming to involves opening my eyes and seeing something. Anyway, if the building has exploded, then I must be dead - Li Ann said the safe radius was 1.5 fucking kilometers. But if this is the afterlife, it's pretty crappy, and way too much like where I just was. Anyway, I'm sure there was some line somewhere about the blind being able to see in the afterlife. And there should be nubile women anointing me with oil. I'm sure I heard that somewhere.
I think I hear my name being called. It's tinny and far away and hard to hear over the ringing in my ears. Oh good, maybe now I'm blind and deaf. I'll barely even notice when I die.
"Mac! Are you alive? Mac!" I hear the voice better now. The ringing in my ears is fading away. I know that voice from somewhere. It sounds pretty desperate. Maybe I should do something.
I sit up, I think. I'm dizzy. I smell sulphur and acrid smoke. I cough.
"Oh God, you're alive," I hear the voice say. It's Vic's voice of course - it's all coming back to me now, the whole running-out-of-the-building thing - and he sounds frantic. And far away. I put a hand against the wall I'm leaning against, and stand up. Nothing seems to be broken. I take a step towards Vic's voice.
"Stop!" he yells. I obey. "The guy had a grenade," he explains. "He blew up the fucking hallway. There's a five meter hole between you and me. The staircase is at the end of the corridor on your side. You've got to try to get out alone. I'm going to go back and see if I can break into the elevator shaft, climb out that way."
I stay put. "No! I'm not leaving you here. There must be rope around, or a power cord, or something - anything you can throw me and I can pull you over." And how would I catch it? Hell. I could just hold out my hand - Vic's got good enough aim. Anyway, there's no way I can make it out on my own. No way at all.
"No good," he tells me, speaking quickly. "I don't see anything like that and we've got to get out of here. The floor below's on fire and this hallway is starting to fill up with smoke. And in case you've forgotten, the whole building is about to explode. We've got to get out of here fast."
OK. I'm coughing. I hear him coughing. He's right. Of course. I am so dead.
"The next staircase goes up to the ground floor," he adds. "We're almost out. Just get up there, get out of here. I'll see you up there."
His voice is fading away in his last sentence - he's already running away from me. "See you later!" I yell back, confidently, not meaning the irony because I don't notice it until I say it.
I'm on my own. I'm blind, in a corridor that's filling up with smoke, in an underground base that's about to explode. Vic is gone. It's hard to imagine how this could get worse.
"Li Ann?" I say, crouching low to find better air. "I could use some help now. Li Ann??"
Things just got worse.
I reach out and find the wall. Keeping my left hand on the wall, I start to run away from the direction where Vic's voice disappeared. I run hunched over, coughing in the bitter smoke. I wonder how thick it is. I wonder if I'd be able to see anything, if I could see. I wonder if Vic can see. I hope he makes it out. He definitely would have made it out if he hadn't been slowed down by me all the way up. Not that I'd admit something like that out loud. Jeez. I have my pride, and pretty much nothing else.
My hand stumbles into empty air. Is it a doorway, or the corridor turning? I find the wall again, pat it up and down and around, discovering its shape. Doorway. I find the continuation of the wall on the other side, and keep going.
It's getting harder to run. My chest hurts, and my limbs feel heavy. This would be the smoke.
Thud Shit. Ow. Again I see stars. Since I was running with my head down, I've just run headfirst into a wall. Fuck. That was a bad idea. Should've kept my other hand out in front of me.
My head doesn't even bother to hurt more than it did before. But now I have a problem. I feel my way around and figure out that I'm in an elbow of the corridor, but I can't remember which direction I was going in.
Fuck. OK, heads, I die. Tails, I probably die anyway. I pick a direction and run, trying my new hand-in-front trick.
I stumble and fall. I can't breathe, and my legs won't support me anymore. OK, crawling it is.
I hope Vic makes it out. It'd just totally suck if we both die in here and we don't even get to die in each others' arms.
I hit another wall - not so hard this time. If I've gone in the right direction, this should be the door to the stairs. I reach up, begging the universe to give me a doorknob.
There it is.
The door seems very heavy. I can barely open it. I scramble through and let it slam shut behind me.
I sit on the floor, gasping in lungfulls of clean air.
I remember the whole building's-about-to-blow-up problem, but all I can think about right now is breathing.
OK. I think I can stand now. Party's over, it's time to go. I stand up and grope around for the handrail. There it is. Grab it, Mac - that'll get you up the stairs.
These stairs seem steeper than the ones before. Also, they go on forever. I distract myself from the impossibility of climbing by remembering how Vic smelled when I hugged him.
I step up to the next stair and there isn't one. Wow, I'm at the top. OK, now what?
I sort of remember the floor plan of the ground floor. Not enough to find my way out or anything, but at least enough to know that I have to make some distance from the stairs.
I exit the stairs, and I'm in some room. Not a corridor. This escape route was seriously designed for maximum inconvenience. At least there's no smoke up here, and nobody shot at me when I opened the door. I walk in a straight line. My leg bangs against something. I reach down and feel a table top. I feel my way around the table and keep walking. I find a wall. I feel my way along it. There are obstructions - boxy metal things. Filing cabinets, I guess. I keep going past them. Here's a door. I open it, walk through - and my chin bangs into something. Ouch. All right, I've walked into a closet. I back out, try again. I walk through the next door more carefully, but the way is clear. So I'm in the corridor now. I think.
If I remember the floor plan correctly - hah! fat chance! I was paying more attention to Vic's ass than to the map at the time - I should turn left here.
I orient myself with the wall, and then let go and jog down the corridor. Li Ann warned us the building was going to explode in ten to fifteen minutes a long, long time ago. I run faster. When my arms brush the wall on one side or the other, I adjust my direction.
"Hey!" someone yells in front of me.
I stop running, my body slipping automatically into a defensive stance. Fuck. Now what?
A hard blow to my stomach is the answer. I gasp and double over. Then I feel a blow to the back of my neck but it's not hard enough to knock me out or even over, and my hand shoots up to grab my attacker before he pulls away. I've got his wrist. I twist it and bend it back, standing up at the same time. There's a satisfying snap and an eardrum-piercing scream.
And just then something hard connects with the left side of my jaw.
I stagger away, raising my fists again. Fuck. There's more than one of them. No fair, ganging up on the blind guy. I wish they'd talk, let me know how many they are, where they are.
"Hey, the building's about to blow up you know," I say, keeping my guard up and dancing around a bit, hoping my new attacker will think I can see him (or her!) and will be just a little bit hesitant to attack. The good news is they can't have guns or they'd have shot me already. "So how 'bout we take this outside?"
"You're dead meat," a deep male voice threatens me, just off to my left. Hah. Got ya. Lightning fast, I pull my gun and fire at the voice. Rapid-fire, ten or twenty bullets, sweeping a little bit just to be sure.
"Anyone else want a piece of me?" I demand, spinning in a circle, pointing the gun. I don't even know if there's anyone else here.
Something tugs hard at my ankle and I lose my balance. Fuck, in all the excitement I forgot about the broken-wrist guy. I tuck myself in and aim my gun for near where my feet were and pull the trigger and nothing happens. Nice time to run out of ammo. Shit. Oh well, at least now no one can shoot me with my own gun. I kick, and my foot connects with something solid but yielding. There's my guy. I kick out with my other foot, and I don't make a solid connection but the man screams. I must've hit his wrist. Good.
I leap to my feet, just in time to run into someone else's fist. Jesus, they just keep coming and coming. This one catches me in the nose. Bet it's broken this time. Oh man, that hurts like fuck. To gain time, I fling the gun at where I think the new attacker is. I hear it clattering to the floor too far away - I guess I missed. Another punch connects with the side of my head. This time I move in close, still staggering with the punch but moving toward my opponent, my hands up and circling in front of me, not attacking but looking for contact.
Back with the Tangs, I used practice fighting blindfolded. Michael, Li Ann and I would take turns with the blindfold. Li Ann tended to go easy on a blindfolded opponent, but Michael, the bastard, hit harder when he knew I couldn't see him, couldn't possibly stop them all.
Against an opponent of equal ability, the blind guy loses. Of course. Every time. Being able to see your opponent is a pretty huge advantage.
Lucky for me, these guys here suck. I'm probably fighting the front desk clerk or something. He's flailing at me now and I'm softly deflecting all his punches by feel, until I manage to grab one and twist his arm around and knee him in the groin. He goes down and so do I, because someone just punched me from behind, in the kidneys.
OK, I'm doubled up on the floor, retching with pain. I bet that was the broken-wrist guy again. And now he's about to kill me. I start to laugh. So close, and yet so far.
It's Vic! He's alive and he's here and he's running towards me!
I manage to roll. I don't know if I'm rolling towards or away from anyone, but staying still is generally a bad idea in a fight.
"Need a little help?" Vic asks. I hear shuffling, and punching, and I think someone slams into a wall. Not Vic, I hope.
"No, I was doing fine," I say, forcing myself to my feet again and getting my back to the wall.
"Well, yeah, I could see that, but since we're in a rush and all I thought I'd clean up for you," Vic says cheerfully. By the end of the sentence his voice is coming from right in front of my face, so when someone grabs my arm I know it's him. "Let's blow this joint."
It's the old hand-on-the-shoulder routine again, and I am so happy to hold on to Vic and run.
"I lost Li Ann," I yell. "How about you?"
"Yeah, me too. The grenade blast must've fucked up our radios."
"No," says a new and familiar voice in my ear. Dobrinsky. "That was technical difficulties at this end."
"Where the hell is Li Ann??" Vic demands. Li Ann was supposed to be our contact - Dobrinsky was just supposed to drive the truck, and guard it.
"She couldn't be convinced of the necessity of getting the truck out of the blast radius. She wanted to wait for you."
We stop running. "What did you do to her?" Vic barks.
"If you hurt her, I swear I'll kill you," I add. All right, it's kind of an idle threat right now, considering my situation.
"Don't worry, she'll wake up soon. I saved her life, doofus. That base is going to blow up any second now."
Vic moves away from me. I swallow my panic, and a moment later he's got my hand in his and he's pulling me.... outside. I smell fresh air. I feel sunlight on my face.
We made it.
We made it up sixteen floors from the depths of hell, and we're out in the sun, and we're going to die anyway.
"We're outside," Vic says. He sounds defeated, too.
"Really?" Dobrinsky sounds pretty surprised. Fuck him. "All right." He starts talking really fast. "You have one chance. About a hundred meters directly behind the building from where you are, there's a cliff. It's a sheer drop of about fifteen meters into a lake. If you make it, that should protect you from the blast.
We're already running.
Vic's pulling me along with my hand in his. Here in the open, I guess this is the fastest way to go.
I know the hundred meters to the cliff are mostly thick woods. I can tell when we enter them because I don't feel the sun on my face anymore, and because immediately I trip and fall face flat in the underbrush. Vic pulls me up and keeps dragging me along by the hand. "Come on, come on," he mutters like a mantra.
There's no point in even trying not to hit trees and branches. I just bounce from one tree to the next. I keep falling, and Vic keeps pulling me up. My arm feels like it's being torn out of its socket, but I'm not complaining about that.
This is like running in a nightmare - vines and roots keep grabbing my ankles, bony tree branches rip at my face, and I can't see where I'm going but I know I'm running from something terrible. But it's different from a nightmare because of Vic's strong grip on my hand. He's just not letting go. It's incredible. Everyone in my life has left me or tried to kill me eventually, but Vic has dragged me right out of hell and now we're almost at salvation, and he'd get there a whole lot faster without me but he's not letting go.
"We're almost at the edge!" he warns me suddenly. And then, "JUMP!"
Vic's hand still grasping mine, I push myself forward into empty space.
There is nothing below me. I am falling, and at this moment I hear the start of a dull and monstrous roar. I have a sense of something huge passing over my head. And we're still falling.
We've been falling so long. I bet Dobrinsky lied about the height of the cliff. I bet it's fifteen hundred meters, and when we get to the bottom it won't matter if it's water or concrete, it's all the same to hit.
There is nothing in the universe but Vic's hand in mine.
"I LOVE YOU!!" I yell.
I have this tendency to make confessions like that when I'm about to die.
We hit the water.
I go in like a bullet, feet first. The impact knocks my breath away, which is too bad because now I'm underwater. I've lost contact with Vic. The water is glacial, and I'm still hurtling down. My feet hit bottom, but not hard - it's soft and squishy. I bend my knees and push up, as hard as I can, and start kicking and clawing at the water. There's an iron band around my chest, and the darkness I see starts to sparkle with pricks of fake light as my brain freaks out at the lack of oxygen. It's getting harder and harder to kick, and I'm still underwater. Still moving up. I hope. Reflexively, I try to breathe. Ooops. That was water, not air. Shit, this is bad. I cough, and there's more water, and this is really fucking bad....
I'm coughing. Who am I? Where am I? Something's not right here. I'm coughing. It feels really good for some reason.
I feel hands on my face. I like that. Coughing is good, too. I like it. There's all this air.
I'm not lying down or standing up. I'm just sort of floating. That's funny. And everything is dark.
"Oh, Mac," Vic practically sobs. "You're alive. We're OK." And I feel myself grabbed in a strange sort of hug. Strange because there's this movement incorporated into it, a swirling, kicking sort of motion.... treading water.
All right, I remember it all now. The explosion, the fall, the lake, the drowning....
And Vic has saved my ass again. I guess he pulled me to the surface, and then gave me mouth-to-mouth right here in the water. I'm seriously impressed. That's a pretty advanced technique.
I think I can still feel the echo of his lips on mine.
"We've got to get out of the water," he says. "I think this lake is fed by glaciers. Holy shit it's cold."
I feel some sort of movement - I think he's starting to swim us toward shore.
I kick along obediently, loving being alive and the feel of his arm around me. "I'm not cold."
"Oh yeah? Your lips are blue."
"Tell me more about my lips," I say. I pull him around - it's easy, in the water - and I kiss him. I miss his lips at first, my lips brushing his cold, stubbly chin instead, but I correct this problem and meet his lips with mine. I am deliriously happy. Or maybe just delirious. "I love you," I murmur around the kiss. "I love you."
He doesn't say anything, and then I notice that his teeth are chattering.
"OK," I agree, "Let's get out of the water." Vic's cold - we'd better get to shore. Then maybe we can have more fun. I feel perfectly warm and comfortable, myself. A bit sleepy, which is only natural after everything we've been through.
"Mac!" Vic says sharply. He's grabbed my collar and pulled my face out of the water. Wait, what was my face doing in the water? "Keep kicking your feet, Mac. Come on. It's only a little farther. Kick! Please?"
I want to do what he says. I think I am, but everything seems to move warm and slow like wading through molasses.
My knees hit bottom. I'm happy to just kneel here in the water - it seems like a nice enough place to me - but I feel hands under my armpits, yanking me forwards onto the shore. So, that's fine, here's nice too. The ground's soft, and prickly under my face, and smells like pine needles.
I hear Vic collapsing onto the ground next to me. He's gasping and coughing and his teeth are chattering. I hope he's OK. I feel great, myself. I'd like to do something for him, but I feel strangely heavy. I'm sure that as soon as I've had a little nap I'll be fine.
Hey. Vic's undressing me. That's nice. I didn't expect him to be so forward, but I'm happy that he is.
"But we can't have sex here," I point out. It's hard to talk - my tongue feels big and rubbery. "The Director will be along any minute. Anyway, what if the giant ducks see?"
"W-we've gotta g-g-get these wet clothes off and w-warm up," Vic explains. "We're b-both h-hypothermic and I th-think y-you're in sh-shock."
I think about that while he pulls my shirt off. No, I feel wonderful. Beautiful, fantabulous, sleepy....
I feel a sharp slap across my cheek. "Open your eyes, Mac!"
"Why?" I mumble. "I can't see anyway." I love him, but why won't he just leave me alone and let me sleep? And what's he doing in my bedroom, anyway?
I feel my world tilting. Vic has lifted me into a sitting position and he's vigorously rubbing my upper body with his hands. I like him touching me, but this hurts.
And now suddenly I feel cold. So cold. Cold like I've been dead for ten years. I start to shake and I can't stop, and I think my body might actually shake apart. Where's Vic? I can't find him. No wait, his arms are around me. He's holding on tight but I'm slipping away and I can't see him to grab and hold on.
"I hear the chopper," he says, close to my ear but mysteriously far away at the same time, like he's speaking to me through a long pipe.
I think I'm falling. Did we jump off the cliff again? I'm falling.
And coming at me faintly through a long, long tunnel I think I hear the words "I love you."