Monday, February 19, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 8

Mark's eyes snapped open, and for a split second, he had a moment of confusion. He was in his hotel room, with everything quiet around him. The clock on the nightstand read 3 AM; not nearly enough sleep for him. There was no reason he should be awake, but he knew better than to question his body's reflexes - he held his breath and listened.

Cicadas outside, singing their mating song. Cute, but irrelevant.
Footsteps in the hallway outside. Late night visitors?
Suppressed gunshots.

Mark had barely enough time to grab his gun from under the pillow and roll off the bed before the door to the hallway flew open and spewed forth a duo of masked men with suppressed SMGs; Mark kicked up the blanket that had swirled around his feet, then returned fire with his handgun. Everything went loud as the .45 barked, plugging one of the gunmen center mass and making his trigger finger seize; he emptied his magazine into the windows, shattering them, while Mark rolled under the bed, saw the second attacker's feet and fire twice more, shattering the man's shins. With another roll, he was free of the bed and close to the hallway wall; he shot the crying man in the head, then reached for his second gun from beneath the pillow and rolled towards the door as more gunfire - this time from a shotgun - blew a hole through the wall above him. Like a maniac, he darted for the door, dove outside and caught the shotgunner by surprise with a double-tap.

The good news was that this should've woken up anyone still asleep. The bad news was that he'd have to take the flak until they could get more guns into play on his side.

Two more SMG-wielders down the hall; Mark spun on his back, delivering a two-fisted smackdown and sending the pair tumbling right back down the stairwell; it would've looked supremely badass if he had been wearing something more dignified than a wifebeater and boxers. With more gunmen from either side, he fanned out to 180 degrees, peppering both ends of the hallway with the rest of his ammo before his guns ran dry. Rolling forward to get back on his feet, he jumped back into his room, hunting for the luggage. A sniper's bullet whizzed by him, missing him by mere inches; he threw one of his guns at the door to his hotel apartment, startling another gunman out of firing. With a kick to a brown case - Mark felt the pain of doing this barefoot keenly - he snapped open a little purchase from yesterday. The case unfolded to reveal a H&K UMP in .45 caliber; Mark grabbed it and sprayed the newcomers, killing three more of them. The sniper fired again, and Mark hugged the wall in response - he now had a clear field of fire on the door and was hidden from the sniper, but a good shot would go through those walls - and God help him if somebody used a grenade. Not good.

Then, he heard the unmistakeable boom of a .50 cal rifle from the room next door. God bless you, John, Mark thought, then heard more gunfire from the hallway - apparently, the fight was beginning for real. He skipped the socks and just straight up slipped into his fatigues and boots, then took a liberal amount of firearms from his stash, stuffed it into a canvas backpack and went for the corridor.

Trinity was out there in her nightgown, laying down covering fire towards the staircase with an IMI MTAR-21; Rowena had at least thrown a bulletproof vest over her pajamas before joining the firefight with her pair of Five-seveNs. Done was still in his room and kept the .50 cal thundering - probably picking off more targets outside. A small group of attackers were now pinned down by the staircase; Mark swivelled in the opposite direction when he saw Rowena raise her guns, and together they sent a barrage down that end, killing another five guys.

"Glad you could join us!" Trinity shouted over her last burst, then ducked back into her room; with Rowena covering the other direction, Mark spun again, keeping up the cover fire with his UMP while he scrambled forward, ducking down as low as he could manage without going prone.

"Grenade!" he shouted as he saw something fly towards them from the staircase; Trinity dropped the magazine she'd intended to reload her carbine with, whipped the gun around and spun out of the cover of her door, hitting the grenade with the stock of her gun and sending it right back to sender. BOOM! it went, spraying shrapnel all over the staircase; Mark gave Trinity a thumbs up, admiring - if only for a split second - her psionic talents as much as her sweaty, almost tantalizing...

"What the fuck is going on here?" Krueger shouted, appearing from Rowena's side of the hallway; he was still dressed in his suit, but now carried a tactical vest and a - holy crap, Mark thought, what kind of a monster is that?

"OICW prototype," Krueger said, answering the unspoken question as he spotted Mark's glance. "Now, who are these assholes?"
"Gray's guys, I'll bet," Mark replied, slowly rising from his crouch. He spotted another ski mask rising from the staircase and fired once, sending the Shop trooper tumbling down to join his comrades. "What are they after?"
"Three guesses," Trinity said.
"The rollfield, now!" Krueger barked. Mark nodded, then turned to Trinity. "You and John clean up the mess here. Kid, you're with me."

Rowena ejected the magazines from her guns, then reloaded.

Holiday my ass.


Outside, the scene was hardly quiet, but most of the Shop attackers seemed to have been killed in the initial assault; there were still occasional gunshots from inside the hotel, but Mark trusted John and Trinity to get things under control. Krueger led them toward his utility vehicle, took the driver's seat and slammed on the gas, with the jerk almost throwing Rowena off the back of the truck. Mark took shotgun - and grabbed the OICW from Krueger -, peppering the occasional masked figure with slugs as Krueger raced the heavy vehicle towards the rollfield. The Antonov's engines were already rolling; Krueger smashed the car through the wire fence and jumped a small ravine, then landed the truck on the tarmac and shifted up as he brought the truck to maximum speed.

"You never told me you're a stunt driver!" Mark shouted; Krueger ignored him, because his attention was on several other utility vehicles closing in, this time staffed by his guards. His elation was short-lived; they opened fire on the truck, putting a burst through the windshield.

"Switch to grenades!" he finally cried, keeping his hands on the wheel; in response, Mark climbed up a bit so he was sitting on the back of his seat, then steadied the OICW and activated the electronic sights.

"Oh shit!" Rowena said, but Mark ignored her and took aim.


The hot 20mm shell sailed past Rowena in slow motion before hitting the darkness behind them, while the grenade itself airburst over the enemy truck, blowing it off the tarmac; with a hefty move, Mark realigned the OICW toward the next target.

"Go faster!" he said to Krueger, then stood up fully; the incoming wind was biting in his eyes, but he needed the next shot to be fully clear of the truck.


This time, the grenade went wild, splashing the second truck with splinters but not hitting it directly; in response, the truck swerved to the side dangerously, almost touching Krueger's ride if not for a last-second evasive maneuver.

"Three more!" Rowena shouted as she looked back; Mark turned around and sent a quick barrage of grenades downrange - Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! BOOOOOM! -, not hitting anything but dissuading the trucks from pursuit. There were a couple more trucks further down the tarmac, but they kept back, afraid that they'd made the wrong choice in trying to doublecross Dr. Krueger. The arms dealer put the pedal to the metal, swinging the tachometer way past the orange up into the red, but he gained enough speed to catch up to the Antonov. The hasty departure of the Shop agents played in their favor; the mammooth aircraft needed all of the rollfield to take off, and the rear cargo hatch was still in the process of closing. Mark dumped the OICW in the truck's bed and climbed forward onto the hood of the truck.

"Steady!" he shouted, one hand on the windshield and the other reaching up to grab the edge of the ramp, but it was already too high to get to. With a sigh of frustration, he cocked his head around briefly, and his gaze met with Rowena's.

You sure, kid?
Then do it.

Mark turned to face Rowena, still crouched, then lowered his head; Rowena jumped from her place in the back onto the windshield as stepping stone, her sense of balance all that remained to keep her from being turned into high-speed roadkill. With another step, she skipped onto Mark's shoulder, who let go of the windshield and sprung up, flinging her upwards. It had to be perfect, and it was; she grabbed the edge of the cargo ramp and pulled herself up, Krueger kept the truck steady, and Mark didn't fall off and kiss asphalt. As soon as Mark had stabilized his position again, his hand shot out and grabbed the backpack; then he flung it towards the Antonov, barely managing to throw it clear of the ramp and into the plane's cargo hold.

Then the ramp closed, the Antonov's engines howled with a new fever pitch, and the giant let go of the rollfield. Mark jumped back into the shotgun seat, and Krueger yanked the wheel to the side for a sliding stop. For a few seconds, they said nothing, watching the cargo plane thunder away; then Mark looked back towards the camp.

"We got spring cleaning to do," Mark said.
"What about her?" Krueger asked.
"Oh, she'll be fine."

Krueger shifted back to first gear, then brought the truck around and put it back on course to the main base. Mark picked up the OICW again and reloaded it, but it was all reflex; his thoughts were with Rowena.

Make me proud, kid.

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