You know, I like most of the titles Adam picked out for the chapters. They tend to fit pretty well.
But I could have titled this one “Cris Kicks Ass”. Or “Chief Stone Kicks Ass”.
Or maybe “Cass Comes Back”.
But I suppose what he did does well enough.
And it’s a helluva song. You ever hear the classic Tina Turner version? It’s hard to find, but if you can, it’s totally worth it!
Anyways, enough babbling. Enjoy the chapter!
Chapter 4: The Bitch Is Back
“What the fuck is that?”
Alarms shrieked through the complex. Panicked workers dashed out of their offices, then back in. Questions were shouted across the hallways – “Is this a drill?” “I can’t leave my experiment, what do I do?” “Can someone shut off that damned noise?”
“I don’t know!” shouted Avalon Malone back to her partner. Despite the treatments they’d been getting for the past day-and-a-half, it felt like her brain was wrapped in wool. She was finding it hard to remember what she was supposed to be doing right now.
“It’s fucking annoying!” Amy Lyons shouted in response.
“No shit! Shut up and let me think!”
A canned announcement temporarily silenced the alarms. “EVACUATE THE BUILDING. This is not a drill. Execute Fire Plan A. Fire Security Doors closing in thirty seconds. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight…”
“Oh, fuck,” was Avalon’s pungent comment. “We’re gonna be cut off!”
“We can’t leave! Kaine would have our heads!”
“Yeah, and if we stay, we might get burnt to a crisp! FUCK!”
Around the arguing guards the fleeing workers streamed.
“…Four. Three. Two. One. Fire Security Doors are now closed. Use alternate exits.”
“Now what?” asked Amy.
“I’m trying to find out!” snarled Avalon, keying her comm. “The ever-loving system’s offline; I can’t get through!”
“I’m not gonna stay here and burn!” snapped Amy. “Kaine can go blow himself! I’m gone!”
Avalon grabbed her partner’s wrist. “Hold on, hold on! Do you see any smoke? Smell anything?”
Amy’s fury at being held back was mollified as she sniffed the air. “No,” she admitted.
“We’re probably fine here,” continued Avalon. “And we’re not leaving until we hear from Kaine, in any case.”
“I’d rethink that,” said a voice. Avalon whirled to face the speaker.
She wasn’t tall – shorter than Avalon, at least – and had short black hair. She led a group of four other women, three dressed in obvious battle gear. Avalon wasn’t fazed.
“Where the fuck – never mind that,” she growled back. “Get lost.”
“That’s not an option,” answered the woman. “I suggest you stand down.”
Amy had come to stand at Avalon’s side. “And who’s going to make us?”
“Listen, sheila, if you don’t want the arse-whipping of your young life, you’ll step out of the way. That’s your last warning.”
Getting to this point had been relatively easy; as they’d expected, the fire alarms had played hash with the security. Getting through the panicked throngs and into the psych wing of HLC had been uneventful.
Celsey and Joyce to her right, Sanzari to her left, Stone unflinchingly faced the two guards. Montana stood behind them, hand on a holster, Lisa by her side. Jesse and Alivia were stationed at far end of the hall, watching their back and covering the exit.
“Lisa? Can you get through the locks? I’d much rather shoot them than negotiate,” asked Montana.
“No,” said Lisa. “My codes won’t work, and I just don’t have the skills to get through the electronics.”
“And Mac’s with the other team,” mused Montana.
“No issue,” said Stone over her shoulder. “A bit of Octol and we’re in. You want them dead or just disabled?”
“FUCK YOU!” screamed Avalon, enraged by their casual attitude, and rushed at them, Amy close on her heels.
Stone shifted her feet to prepare. Beside her, Celsey and Sanzari also fell into fighting stances, while Montana unholstered her weapon and Lisa ducked back.
Avalon launched a wild roundhouse that had no chance of hitting Stone’s dodging head that threw her off balance. Stone helped her to the floor with a kick to the ass as she passed, then swiveled to check on Amy. She’d clocked Sanzari, knocking out the slight blonde, and was now engaged with Celsey. It seemed that the battle was fairly even so far. Amy had Celsey’s head locked under one arm, but Celsey was landing some wicked blows to Amy’s kidneys despite the lack of air.
Stone turned back to Avalon, slowly rising from the floor. “Had enough yet lass?”
In response, Avalon snap-kicked at Stone’s midriff. Stone caught her by the ankle and, with a quick motion, flipped her backwards.
“I suppose not,” sighed Stone. “Why can’t one of you types make it easy? Just for once?”
Joyce had grabbed hold of Amy’s arm, pried it away from Celsey’s neck, and was now engaged full-on. Any dojo master would have cringed to see the chaotic mix of styles the women employed, but the shots were coming hard and fast.
“Off yer knees, Celsey!” shouted Stone, glancing back. “Give Joyce a hand with that slitch!”
“On it!” she gasped in reply, standing and advancing on the fight. She reached in and grabbed Amy’s shoulder, spun her around, and said, “I’m back!” before landing a solid right to the jaw. Amy reeled, but managed to latch onto Joyce’s shoulders on her way down, transferring her momentum into a throw that tumbled Joyce off to the side.
Lisa and Montana carefully made their way around the fray, edging past the forming and re-forming clusters of combat towards the door to Cass’s cell. “Octol?” asked Montana.
“Yes,” answered Lisa nervously, patting a small pouch.
“Don’t worry, it’s stable. Mostly,” answered Montana, reassuring her not at all.
Joyce was back in the action now too, attempting to immobilize Amy from behind with little effect. Amy kicked at Celsey, driving her back out of range, then reached over her shoulders, grabbed Joyce’s head, flipped the older woman up and with a tremendous heave slammed her into the floor. The explosive crack as Joyce’s neck shattered stilled everyone for a moment.
“Dammit, Celsey, finish her off!” shouted Stone, still battling the annoyingly persistent Avalon.
“My job,” said Montana coldly from the doorframe, leveling her weapon. “Back away, Cels!”
Hearing the new voice, Amy turned to face the threat. “What, that?” she scoffed, seeing the antique Colt M1911A.
Montana replied, “Bite me, bitch,” before pulling the trigger. The primitive, chemical-powered firearm thundered, and the .45 caliber bullet tore through Amy’s torso. She was dead before she realized that the gun had fired, body falling to the floor in a boneless heap beside Joyce’s.
The shot roused Sanzari who stood, groggy. “Wha -?”
“I’ve had about enough of this shit,” ground out Montana, turning to the suddenly-frozen Avalon and leveling the gun at her. “You have one chance to get out of here alive.”
Avalon was clearly unsure, glancing between Amy’s body and the gun. After maybe three tense seconds, her shoulders slumped and she said, “What do you want?”
“Open the door then get out of the way,” said Montana, gesturing with the muzzle. Wordlessly, Avalon complied.
The door opened and Lisa rushed into the darkness. “Cass? Cass!” Her voice seemed to sink into the black space.
“About time,” answered Cass, stepping forward. Her hair was tangled, her skin paler than usual, and she was thinner, but the sparkle was still in her eyes. “Where’s Kendra?” she asked as Lisa wrapped her in a hug.
“No time,” answered Montana, taking her arm to move her along. “We’re on minus minutes before the rest of the goon squad gets here.”
Cass, unmoving, looked down at the bodies on the floor with distaste. “Who were they?”
“One of ours and one of theirs,” answered Montana. “Sanzari, can you move?” She got a slow nod. “Celsey, Stone, grab Joyce’s body. We don’t leave our own behind.”
“What about me?” said Avalon.
“What about you?” replied Montana, still trying to pull Cass along. “I’d put you down like the rabid bitch you are, but I don’t want to waste the ammo.”
“Wait.” Cass’s tone stopped Montana. “Who is this?”
“She’s one of the security bints who was standing guard over your cell,” answered Stone, lifting the body from the floor.
“Bring her,” ordered Cass, finally striding away from her erstwhile prison. “She’ll know things.”
“Now wait a minute Cass!” protested Montana. “We don’t have the -”
“Bring her,” repeated Cass, already halfway along the corridor. “Discuss it later.”
Mac’s team did their job flawlessly. The HLC systems, hacked by Mac and Alycia, never knew they were being spoofed, much to Cera’s disgust. She had an elaborate ruse set up involving Octol, smoke grenades, and an apparently desperately-wounded Elle. It didn’t seem that it would be necessary today, though Cera made Elle remain made-up with the fake blood and seemingly-gaping wounds until they were on their way back to the rendezvous.
Stone’s team beat them there, but only just.
“Out!” barked Montana, torn between relief at recovering Cass at such a relatively low cost and fury at being so easily usurped in the leadership role. Avalon, unaware of any of this, stumbled out of the transport, hands firmly cuffed behind her back.
“Easy, Cris,” admonished Cass. “You got me back; you don’t need to take it out on her.” She exited her side and stood basking in the sunshine for a moment. “I missed this.”
“How did you stay sane in there, I mean it was a totally dark room with no noise or color or anything except the inside of your head, I don’t know about you but I couldn’t have done it so how did you do it?” added Mac.
Cass laughed, “Nice to see you too, Mac!” She tapped her head. “Implant. Next generation stuff. All I had to do was close my eyes and I was with Kendra, or you guys, or in my lab – anywhere but in that hole.”
Mac exclaimed, “That is wicked!” but Montana looked puzzled. “They didn’t block the signal?”
“They didn’t know about it.” Cass shrugged. “This is more like bleeding-edge tech, and HLC isn’t involved in any case. The transmission’s on an odd bandwidth, not used by anything else right now; that’s one of the bugs they’re working out. I only have one because I went to college with one of the engineers who designed it. They’re barely in the alpha testing stage.” She stopped walking. “Tell me again where we’re going?”
Both teams had reassembled. The atmosphere was both subdued and tense at the loss of Joyce and the presence of Avalon – securely tied, gagged and blindfolded though she was. Cass strode to the front of the group.
“I’m not much for public speaking, and I don’t know you,” she began. “So I’ll keep this brief. Thank you for your effort; thank you for your time; thank you for your sacrifice for someone you didn’t know. You have all shown nobility of character today, and I will never, ever, forget you.” She then stepped towards the group and started greeting each of her rescuers individually.
“Master Chief Mikki Stone, US Navy SEALs, Retired,” said Montana, making the introductions. Speaking to the entire team took about a half-hour, but by the end the tension had palpably abated in the room.
Cass pulled Montana aside after talking to Alivia, the final member she hadn’t met.
“Where’s Kendra?” she asked point-blank.
Montana paled. “I don’t know. We didn’t have any way to get hold of her; we couldn’t go through OutLook and her mobile didn’t connect.”
Cass frowned. “Shouldn’t she be back by now? This was just supposed to be a quick courier job, right? In and out?”
“Should be, yeah,” agreed Montana. “But these things – they’re unpredictable, you know? That’s why Talbott probably picked Kendra. She’s just about the best there is.”
“Fuck that!” The unexpected vulgarity snapped Montana to complete attention. “Kendra told me that it was going to be a milk run, just a final job she had to do – I thought it was just Talbott’s way of screwing her over for quitting, but maybe it’s more.”
“What do you mean?”
“Isn’t it odd?” asked Cass. “Look at all the coincidences. First we get jumped by Agents, then they have a trap laid out for us here, and now you tell me that Ken’s overdue and out of contact? Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times? That’s enemy action.” She shook her head. “And that snake Kaine said something interesting, just before he locked me away. He said that Talbott had taken a contract with HLC, though he didn’t say what. He implied that it had to do with you and Mac, and Lisa, and my capture.”
“We didn’t -!” protested Montana.
“I know,” forestalled Cass. “You didn’t, and neither did Mac. He was probably trying to get inside my skull. But, Cris, something stinks. I already knew someone wanted me dead, or out of the way – now it looks like Kendra’s on the shit list too. Whether she was on it before, or got dragged onto it because she had the misfortune to fall in love with me is irrelevant.”
Montana considered this.
“Let’s assume you’re right. What do we do next?”
Mac added, “I have something to tell you, I wasn’t sure about it but with what you just said it all makes sense but I don’t think that everyone needs to hear about it right now so maybe we should go off somewhere private?”
Cass’s smile was feral, reminding Montana of Kendra. “We kick some ass. You’ve pulled together a pretty capable team here; let’s use it.”