For a moment, her world was a series of still images. There was a flash from somewhere outside the ice-cream parlour, the impression of being grabbed, the somewhat harder impression of hitting the floor with a narc on top of her, shielding her from the rain of falling glass.
Stef shook her head. ‘-uh?’
Ryan pushed on her shoulder. ‘Blackout bomb, stay down.’ He stood, and fired out to into the night.
‘Miss, miss, miss! Behind here!’ the clerk called from behind the counter, before getting a bullet to the throat.
Nonetheless, she rolled onto her stomach, and crawled behind the counter, trying to ignore the urge to stand and run. Standing, running, screaming…any of the things she truly wanted to do would surely be bad. Ending up dead bad. The shooty problems were no longer problems of other people…they were her shooty problems.
She made it behind the counter, and carefully ignored the body of the clerk.
Ryan continued to shoot – and she panicked, knowing that the girly gun didn’t hold an unlimited supply of bullets. She looked around – trying to see anything that could help. There was a tiny office at the end of the counter – which she crawled into. A set of keys gleamed in the fluorescent lights, and she snatched them up.
Sneaking past the counter, and hopefully staying out of the shooter’s line of sight, she crept along the wall and slipped the key into the lock for the security gate, and twisted it – the metal grate grinding as it slid down.
She breathed a sigh of relief, but it was cut short as she heard a bullet impacting flesh. Ryan took a few stumbling steps as the security gate fully closed. He pressed a hand to his chest, then turned to her, his body shaking in pain. ‘Heart, or lung?’ she choked as she watched blood pour out through his fingers.
‘The latter,’ he whispered as he slipped to the ground.
She ran to him as he hit the hard black-and-white tiles. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘do the teleport thingy.’
‘I can’t,’ he said through clenched teeth. ‘We’re in a blackout zone.’
Require: gun.
Nothing happened.
‘You mean we’re neutered in here?’ He gave a wobbly nod before collapsing. Oh…really bad swear words… There was a crash against the security gate – the shooter obviously wasn’t done. She looked down at the agent – wanting to berate him for lying to her. There was another crash against the door, this time, the gate gave a little.
She crouched and grabbed him by the arm. ‘Come on,’ she urged, ‘you can’t stay out here. Cover, you have to at least get behind cover.’ He groaned and tried to push himself up, but failed to stand, so she grabbed his arms and dragged him behind the counter. ‘This is not good for you, I know, but I don’t want you shot in the head!’ She helped him sit up against the counter, and felt her heart skip a beat as she saw how pale his face was.
‘You sure you can’t angel-magic us away?’ she asked. The look on his face was all the answer she needed. ‘Ok then-‘ there was another crash against the metal gate, and she heard it slip a little.
He grabbed her arm. ‘Back door. Go.’ He coughed up blood, and for a moment, an expression of disgust masked his pain.
‘There is no back door,’ she said. She looked to the office, then back at him. She grabbed his tie and wiped the blood from around his mouth. ‘Just do me a favour and shut up, okies?’
‘Ryan…’ she said, saying his name aloud for only the second time, ‘please, stay quiet.’
She stood and ran into the little office – she’d seen the tools of her hasty plan when she’d grabbed the keys.
With trembling fingers, she pulled the spare apron from the back of the small office’s only chair. Tying it with the precision of someone forced to take home ec for three years, and fastened the strings, then perched the small white hat on her head.
Aside from the blood on her hands, she looked just like a scared ice-cream purveyor. Oh gods let this work. Forget the gods, worry about the angel. There were footsteps on the broken glass and she shifted nervously, letting one shoulder poke out of the office door – to make an obvious target, rather than taking the chance that the shooter would notice the struggling, bleeding narc.
‘Come out!’ the shooter demanded.
‘All right mate,’ she called, letting far more of her mother’s accent slip into her voice than normal. The English accent that she suppressed. The accent that she felt no connection to. The accent she only felt contempt for. ‘All right, I’m coming out. Nobody has to do nothing crazy, all right?’
She stepped out, and there was a sudden pain. Looking down, she saw a knife protruding from her shoulder. She looked up and saw the Solstice that had thrown it: Kane.
‘What the bloody hell did you do that for?’ she screamed, imitating her cousins and their nasal whines. Lurching forward, she distanced herself from the small measure of safety that the counter and the office provided, and slumped over one of the small tables. ‘Why did you do that?’ she cried at him.
He looked down at her, apparently trying to discern if she was a recruit or not. ‘What did I do to you?’ she asked, forcing tears from her eyes. Panic raced through her as she stared up at the Solstice – logic demanded that he recognise her, unless of course, his memory resembled that of a goldfish…or if he genuinely believed that he’d killed all of the code monkeys at the mansion. She doubted Solstice chased ghosts.
‘I thought-‘
‘That I was that MI6 reject?’ she said, choking on false cries. ‘I was in the office, then I heard all that noise, and then Bruce was dead, then that…that…secret agent man ran out the back door. Why did he kill Bruce?’
Shifting the blame from him seemed to relax him a little. ‘He’s evil,’ the Solstice began, ‘I’m trying to stop him.’
‘By stabbing a fucking innocent person? This is why my family avoids the bloody colonies.’
‘Where did he go?’ Kane asked, raising himself to his full height and taking a step toward the counter.
‘Useless going that way,’ she said, focusing on the pain so that she didn’t panic more than was believable for her “character”. ‘That’s the end of the alley. Out the front door, two blocks down, then left, then you’ll meet up with where the back door leads. He was hurt, but he was moving fast, must have had a bullet-proof vest on.’
‘I can’t leave you like this.’
‘Bruce tripped the silent alarm,’ she said, forcing out another few tears, ‘help is on its way. Go, stop him from hurting anyone else.’
Kane nodded, then ran out the front door.
She stayed still for a few minutes, making sure that he was truly gone, watching the drops of blood pool onto the white table, then made her way behind the counter again. She crouched next to her injured boss and hesitatingly placed a hand on his shoulder – the small force that it exerted made him slip to the floor.
His eyes were barely open, his breath was rapid and he’d given up all hope of trying to hold the blood in – both hands lay at his sides.
‘Stay here,’ she whispered to the barely conscious narc, ‘I’ll be right back.’
She stepped over him, and over the body of the clerk, to a chest freezer. One-handed, she pulled it open, then she reached for a bag of ice, but it fell closed on her arm. Again, she lifted it open, then pushed her head forward to keep it open, lest it fall closed again. She lifted the bag from the freezer, its weight jerking her injured shoulder as it slipped free of the freezer. Awkwardly, she half-dragged and half-carried it the few feet back to the agent, and pressed it against his chest.
Two more bags joined it, freezing the area around the shot – hopefully it would slow the blood flow until help got there. If help got there.
She resisted the urge to lie down and numb her own wound against the ice, knowing that if she was weak and tended to her own injuries, that they would drag her…that they would drag Ryan out in a body bag.
Removing herself from the temptation of ice, she stepped quickly back into the office – here, it held the last item needed for her haphazard plan: a computer.
In comparison to the ones she was used to using, it may as well have been a doorstop – it wasn’t that old, but it was far from top-of-the range, even for it’s age. The blessed internet took almost a full minute to load, from there she quickly logged into her email account, and began to compose an email with bloody fingers.
As far as narcs went, they were friendly, they were nice, and they seemed to serve an actual purpose in the world…all that being said, she had no doubt that every piece of external communication she was making was being monitored.
Abusing caps lock and the ability to copy and paste, she filled the screen with very, very libel matter.
Then she hit send, and waited a tiny eternity for the email to disappear off into the net.
She slumped over the keyboard, the butt of the knife scraping against the desk while she waited for a response. It had to work. It had to work. Even if all outgoing communications were only monitored once, at the end of the day, one filled with so many keywords would certainly set off some sort of alarm.
She sat up, and gripped the handle of the knife, wondering if this was one of the situations where it was supposed to be pulled out, or left it, lest she bleed to death before getting a response.
A new email appeared in her inbox.
From: <withheld>
…Recruit? Did you need something?
She hurriedly clicked reply, pushing aside the urge to collapse, to join Ryan and the ice, to numb the pain and hide in her mind until rescue came. She swooned, the screen in front of her becoming fuzzy, so she steeled herself, then reached up and moved the knife, the jolt of new pain rousing her from the edge of unconsciousness.
To: Jones
Sorry for keyword email. Blackout bomb. Ryan hurt. Send cavalry.
The reply was almost instantaneous.
From: Jones
What’s the situation? I ran a trace – the blackout covering the area will last another five minutes. Can you last that long, or can you move back into a safe area? The closest edge of the blackout is 100m away.
She looked back to Ryan, slow struggled breaths assured her that he was still alive…if only barely.
To: Jones
We cant move. Bullet in his lung. Not like couldnt carry him anyeway. Well be hre. Hurry please.
She bit her lip until she tasted blood, then clicked on the next reply.
From: Jones
Four minutes now. We’ll shift you out as soon as it drops.
She slid out of the chair, and made her way back over to Ryan. The blood had puddled out around him, and he looked much worse for the wear. He opened his eyes to look at her as she sat beside him. ‘You’re hurt,’ he said.
‘I’ve survived a lot worse,’ she said. ‘And help’s coming. We’re gonna be ok. You’re gonna be ok, right?’
He looked away for a moment. ‘I-‘
‘We’ll be out of here in four minutes.’
He forced a smile onto his face. ‘Then yes,’ he struggled, ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘Then if it’s ok,’ she said as she slowly rocked back and forth, ‘I’m gonna pass out.’