Saturday, September 15, 2007

Two Guns - Chapter 8 - Ace of Spades

One fucking corner. That's all they got before everything went to shit.

It wasn't their fault, they were careful, it's just that having a guy looking your way right behind the first corner was a case of excessively bad luck. Mark had his gun up and fired a single, suppressed bullet, which was bad enough, but then themerc didn't have the courtesy of going peacefully and screamed as he fell, though he was mostly dead when he hit the ground.

Needless to say, this was a rather worrying development for Mark and Sharon, for now they were two against two dozen and the entire ship was waking up around them. Mark took cover behind a bulkhead, and Sharon followed his lead across the small hallway. It was still dark, and the mercs were reacting to the scream, not the shot, so nobody had thought to switch on the exterior lights. Two mercs came down a nearby exterior staircase and hurried on, passing by the pair with nary a second look at the shadows. Sharon glanced over to Mark - he pointed upwards, and she broke cover, knowing that they had to keep moving. She hurried up the staircase while Mark followed - another merc ran up to them along the side of the deck, spotted Mark but caught a bullet in the chest before he could add another shout. Instead of crumbling down like a nice little corpse, he flailed over the yacht's railing, prompting a "Man overboard!" shout from the top (fourth) deck. The floodlights stirred in response, leaving their assigned patrol routes - and spotting a small rigid-hulled inflatable boat just outside the normal search radius, which produced a shout of "Intruder alert!"

Well, actually, only the "Intruder" part, because then the shouter caught a bullet in the neck and hit the water two seconds later. That didn't result in any more shouting, though. The following noises were much more...martial.

The decks were laid out in an compressed H shape; the walkway Mark and Sharon were on had a twin on the starboard side, both terminating into the outer walls of the superstructure before reaching the yacht's bow. In the middle of the yacht, they opened into a large atrium-esque affair, with a swimming pool on the second deck and a glass roof up there in a pavilion-like construction. At the very end, they branched back into two walkways flanking the rear superstructure. The stairway they'd used on the way up was at the terminating end of the forward superstructure, but without direct (and stealthy) access to the individual cabins, so they had to use the exterior walkway to get up to Silvestro's cabin.

Sharon had the heavier armor and the semiautomatic shotgun, so she stayed back and covered the enemy approach while Mark pressed forward, easily killing the two guards with the rest of his magazine. He dropped the empty mag into the sea below and fed the gun with a spare, then kicked the door to the main cabin open. The guards were still confused and disorganized, which counted for something, but the cabin was empty, and Mark felt like he'd been had again. However, that incident was not an example of Silvestro's fiendish intellect - the silver-haired man was simply downstairs in the game room, ruining his wrists on a particularly vicious game of Tempest. Well, not anymore, at that point he'd heard the shots and prepared for battle...but that wasn't a very positive development, either, and now Mark had to account for the fact that Silvestro could be anywhere on the yacht, potentially not even on the ship at all.

He walked out of Silvestro's cabin just as Sharon fired her first shot, blasting an approaching merc with a faceful of double-ought buck. Although she gladly let Mark take the lead in killing - after all, she reasoned, she was a cop and it was bad enough to assassinate one guy, let alone kill random people -, she felt a little less inhibition towards defending herself, and armed mercenaries charging her position definitely fell into that category.

With a few shots, Mark took out the floodlights on the starboard side of the yacht, then grabbed the rail and climbed down one deck, hoping to catch the bulk of the guards in akillzone between him and Sharon's shotgun. Again, an ill-positioned guard spoiled his plan, but this one put two bullets into Mark's vest and took the rest of the Colt's magazine out of the equation. Angrily, Mark tossed the suppressed pistol and snapped his Hi-Power twins free from their spring-loaded holsters. He was through being sneaky.

Both guns readied, he hurried toward the staircase, turned into it and emptied his magazines into the masses of mercs streaming upwards. It was simple and brutal, but in the close quarters, there was no dodging his fire. Those that could do so jumped free through the exits to the lower decks, but most of the mercs didn't stand a chance. When they finally returned fire, they were standing in the blood-soaked mess of six dead and two injured, while Mark ducked out back onto Deck 3 - and behind cover - to reload. A different hitman might have balked at the 'cheap shots', but Mark had less ego and more survival instinct than that. On the third deck, there were walls and windows flanking the atrium part instead of the top deck's simple hand rails; a window shattered from the return fire before Sharon's shotgun barked again from above.

"How are you holding up?" Mark shouted, slipping fresh magazines into his twins.
"I'm fine!" Sharon shouted back.

With the staircase secure for the moment, Mark proceeded into the atrium and drew fire like a flâneur on the battlefields of Verdun. Reflex took over; he ducked and returned fire, nailing the shooter with a group of three through the chest. The man clutched the bloody mess framed by his rips and took a dive into the swimming pool below. More contenders appeared from the rear stairwell, but Mark fed 'em well. More shots from the SPAS-15; Mark counted three before it stopped firing.

After that, things got suspiciously quiet.

Mark wanted to shout and inquire how Detective Collins was doing, but felt ill at ease doing that while someone might be listening - what with implicating her in anything. He hadn't thought to agree oncodenames - or even taken the elementary precaution of ski masks -, so he did what came naturally.

"I said, I'm fine!"
"Anybody else?"

There was a lot of silence.

"We want Silvestro. The rest of you are just in the way!"

Again, nothing. Mark reached under his coat and produced a canister of tear gas.

"Don't say I didn't warn you!" he howled, then removed the safety pin and threw it into the empty space in the middle of the atrium. The result was a resounding splash as the grenade landed in the pool. Mark rolled his eyes, crept up to the rear stairwell, readied a concussion grenade and sent it into the pool, with the result of another splash.

"Third time's the charm!" a merc shouted from below.

Then the grenade's timer ran out, the explosive charge detonated and the pool erupted into a veritable geyser.

By the time the mockingbird-cum-mercenary had recovered from the titanic spray, he had two of Mark's bullet in his belly and no more air for one-liners. Mark had slipped down the stairs in the confusion and the four guards on the second deck had a pretty serious, dressed-in-all-black problem. Of course Mark took a few bullets, including a good hit on his calf where he didn't have any armor to stop it, but underneath his clothes, that kind of injury was hard to see. For all the mercs knew, they weren't hitting Mark, which meant they aimed center mass for a "safe" shot, which was exactly what Mark wanted them to do. Still, when the slides locked back and the men were dead, Mark leaned against a bulkhead and coughed the pain out of his lungs. His coat was shredded and riddled with bullet holes, his strike plates were shattered and it was a minor miracle that the bullet in his leg had missed the femoral arteries. (As a point of interest, Mark had no idea what they were called in detail, but he knew there were a few and that getting shot in them was a Bad Thing.)

He'd just recovered from that little burst of adrenaline when the hairs at the back of his neck told him to move, and he half-jumped, half-fell forward, barely avoiding the stroke of a broadsword aimed at his head. He needed the strength of his legs to be mobile on the ground, but he couldn't risk straining his right one, so he just rolled, grabbed the rail around the pool (now reddish from the diving goon's blood) and righted himself. Mark noted that his right hand was free, then noticed a trickle of blood running down the sleeve. Half of the spring-loader (the one with the gun) was on the ground, caught on a small wire. Mark trailed the wire to its origin, leading back to the sword wielder - probablySilvestro's personal bodyguard.

"Fuck you," Mark said. Then there was more gunfire from the SPAS above.

The bodyguard was distracted. Mark wasn't.

He lunged forward, his sole gun empty but good for clubbing, and closed the distance. His fighting style didn't admit standing around and taking it; the only way to win was to push forward and unbalance the opposition. The Bodyguard wasn't as good a fighter, but he had a goddamn sword and swung it at Mark. The hitman whirled, caught the sword's edge with the still present spring-loader on his other wrist and tangled it with his trenchcoat. It was enough of a move to backhand the Bodyguard with his right arm, but not enough to disarm him. The man tore his sword free, cutting away Mark's coat and most of his equipment belts in the process. The carefully arranged mess of knives and grenades dangled from one strap while Mark was beat back to the staircase, desperately avoiding the powerful strikes.

He can't keep this up, Mark thought. But I can't, either.

Mark tried to reach for a knife, but caught the sword's pommel in the face. He tumbled down the stairs to the first deck, his bandoliers finally torn loose. He slammed into the wall halfway down, shook his head to clear it and looked up to a smiling bodyguard.

Mark smiled back and held up a safety pin.

To his credit, the Bodyguard tried to get out of the way, diving into the stairwell, but all he did was shield Mark from the fragments shooting through the air. Looking vaguely like a disturbingly transhuman porcupine, the man slammed into Mark, ramming the tip of the sword into the fake wood panelling in the vain hope of catching himself. After the customary and deeply meaningful locked glances, Mark shoved the man off. He was really hurting now, combat fatigue and most of his gear blown up. Worse, his brain was rattled, and he wasn't perfectly rational on this much adrenaline.

The question was whether this would actually improve things for the remaining mercs.

When Mark appeared on the first deck, he wielded only the sword and a maniacal grin. There was only one guard watching the stairwell, the restpresumably close to Silvestro. Like a good soldier, the man brought his sidearm up and pulled the trigger. It should've been an easy kill, since Mark wasn't making the slightest effort to dodge it, but then the gun failed to fire.

Nobody knows what Mark did to deserve this much good karma.

At this point, the guard should have done a Tap-Rack-Bang! clearing routine, pulled another gun, called for help or maybe even retreated. He didn't. Instead, he got - and this is the scientifically correct terminology -fuckin' stabbed.

But he didn't die, and so he had some screaming to do when Mark set his food against the man's chest when he pulled the sword back out. In fact, he was still screaming when Mark walked on. Oh, he was lethally wounded, make no mistake, but he refused to become unconscious. That wasn't a very good way to die.


As a matter of fact, not all of the remaining mercs were with Silvestro. Sharon knew this because a smoke grenade flew up the staircase, belching thick smoke all over the place. Realising the precariousness of her new situation, Sharon decided against backing towards Silvestro's cabin - a dead end - and instead retreated to the atrium. She pumped a few more shells into the smoke where the stairwell's exit had to be, and generated one scream. Still, they had cover, and they tossed a frag in her direction.

Somehow, Sharon's reflexes made her jump the safety rail.

She hit the bloodied water of the pool below just as the grenade went off and went under at once, the heavy armor and weapons dragging her down. A little gulp of air escaped her mouth, but overall she kept it together and failed to panic. The pool was crimson, but mostly on the surface where the corpse still hovered - below, she could see that the pool had windows in its sides showing the first deck.

She pumped the shotgun...


Mark was slowly returning to rationality, at an altogether less than optimal point in time. He had his sword to the neck of a guard, who in turn had his pistol aimed at Mark's face.

"You didn't think this through, did you? The old man's behind me. You ain't gettin' past me." the merc said.
"Hey, at least I'm trying, you know?" Mark shot back for want of a better strategy. He had a problem, namely being screwed. But that had a solution: all he had to do was stall the guy. Because when he'd started thinking again, he'd started looking to the sides again, and his backup plan was just about ready...


Sharon braced her legs against the frame of the pool's window and set her SPAS-15 against the heavy glass.

This is totally nuts.


It wasn't the buckshot that killed Mister Gun-to-Mark's-head, though that helped - but it was the high-speed jet of water that pushed him over the rail and into the icy water. In a better situation, that could have been survived, but there was no chance of rescue. It might have been a bit of a depressing thought, and so it was good that Sharon didn't share his fate - she slammed against the rail but didn't go over it, then opened her eyes and coughed up water.

"Sharon?" Mark said, softly.
"...fine," she wheezed, as if trying to work in a catch phrase.
"I'm gonna need your guns."

He reached for her shoulder holsters and grabbed the twin Berettas. She opened her eyes; water trickled down from her hair all over her face, and she breathed heavily. With an unreadable softness, Mark smiled.

"It'll be over in a minute."

He stripped off the peppered tactical vest, leaving him standing with just a t-shirt. The noise of a boat's motor echoed from the rear of the yacht; he hurried off in that direction.


The two last guards stood watch over the yacht's tender while Silvestro prepared to depart, and then Mark appeared. He didn't even try to trick them - he had his guns up when he closed in, waited for them to notice him and cut them both down when they tried to snap up their weapons. He wasn't in the mood to play this fancy, to do stunts or trick them. He just wanted to get this done and over with. He walked to the rear deck and found Silvestro sitting in the tender with a resigned expression. Mark noted that he'd never seen a picture of the guy, but he knew it was him. A middle-aged man with hispanic features, he favored his left leg and wore an impeccably tailored suit - yeah, that's how a cartel leader looks, Mark thought.

"It's funny, you know," Silvestro said. "The guy who helps me with the tender? You killed him first."

Mark didn't respond, but he didn't shoot, either; the only movement came from Sharon, who slowly limped up to the scene with the SPAS-15 as a crutch.

"Is that him?" Sharon asked; Mark just nodded, never taking his eyes of the drug runner.
"Why are you trying to kill me?" she said, raising the shotgun to fire.

Silvestro just smiled.

"If I tell you, will you let me go?"
"No," Mark said - before Sharon had a chance to even consider it.
"Then I won't tell you."
"Too bad," Mark added again, then raised his gun to shoot.
"Hang on," Sharon said.

Silvestro focussed his look on her.

"Call it off," she said.
"I can't call off what's already over," Silvestro said. "You've killed everyone I sent after you, killed everyone who protected me. You've won."

He just looked at her.

"What do you think this is? Some kind of bad dream, and I'm the genie who fixes everything? What I say now doesn't mean shit."
"I need you to say that I'm safe," she snarled.
"You're not safe. Not ever. You're safe from me, maybe, but don't think you can pull this shit and walk away." He shot a poisonous glance at Mark. "You're fixing nothing. The good times are over. You don't get it, do you? There's no rules anymore. I did what I could get away with. And that old fucker never knew what hit him."

Mark's finger twitched. Silvestro grinned.

"I gave them orders not to kill the girl, you know. I always wanted a daughter..."

They both shot him.

He didn't stumble and fall into the cold water, he just slumped down into the tender and stayed there, unmoving and unblinking. Sharon lowered her gun first. Not the first guy she'd killed, by far, no - but the first one she'd murdered.

"Take care of the body and launch the tender," Mark said. His face was less unreadable than usual, but still not conclusive. He grabbed the shotgun from Sharon and walked off. "I'm gonna scuttle this piece of shit."

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