The artist stalked along the catwalks. She would not be stopped now. She would kill the sniper. And then she would be free to pursue her art without fear. Without being hunted. She could go back to her normal life.
It tasted so sweet. Or it would once she had it. She smiled at the thought and continued her walk. She would kill him, yes.
Beside her walked the man who had come to talk to her. He had taken the burden on himself so that if something went wrong he would be the one to get hurt. She did not point out that if everything went right he would be the one to get the extra credits, not those who really needed them.
But she didn’t say anything. It was not to her to judge and, who knows, maybe he would give the credits to those who did need them.
The crowd began to thin out as they continued forwards. As they did so she began to hear a noise.
It hovered on the edge of her hearing, a deep thrumming noise. As they got closer and closer to the power changer it got louder and louder until it was just a whirring droning wall of sound. It would hurt her ears to stay long in this noise, dull her senses.
“This is it” the man shouted in her ear. Even then she could barely hear him over the noise.
“Yes. Wait ten minutes for me to get into position. Then go” she was not sure that he had heard and so repeated it until he nodded. It could not go wrong now.
The sniper lay beneath the power coils. The noise here would have deafened him after moments if not for the sound cancelling earpieces he was wearing. They were excellent, tuning out the sound of the machinery but letting everything else pass through.
This place with its hum, its whir, its high pitched whining and low thrumming, would negate one of the artist’s senses. She would be at a disadvantage here. But he, he would be able to hear everything. And that could be the edge that allowed him to defeat her.
He looked out at the floor of the building. She would be coming soon. And she would try and trap him, trick him. But she would be the one to die.
The artist crept along the catwalk at the top of the building. She had examined the shadows here long and hard to make sure that he was not waiting in them to kill her. But the shadows had been clear. He really had messed up in this.
Her leg twinged again as she walked out making her stumble. She fell to her knees and had to grab the handrail for support, but she managed to stay on the platform this time. Another fall now could have been her undoing. But thankfully she didn’t.
She pulled herself to her feet when the twinge subsided and walked out further to the middle. From here she could see the entire chamber. And it was a sight to see.
Row upon row of coils, the power changers themselves, ran along the walls. They were majestic, great spirals, rings of metal with other pieces of metal inside them. Somehow they made the energy able to be used. Somehow.
Row upon row of them stacked upon each other. She looked down. The ceiling above her was really the floor of the next level up. There were gaps at the sides where the rows continued up, stacked coils.
She had leaned out and looked up and down through those gaps when she had first arrived. The sight had been unnerving.
More walkways ran along beside each coil allowing for maintenance. These connected to the main floor by bridges that could be retracted and extended by controls at the far end. Some of the bridges led to larger control boxes set among the coils, or to access tunnels.
Below the gaps continued, going down down, all the way to the true edge, the true Outer, the outside shell of the Arc. The coils also continued, as did the maintenance floors, the catwalks, the access tunnels, the bridges, everything.
As she had watched the bridges had retracted and extended, back and forth, forever in a sickening dance of motion, as the coils hummed, the cables whined, the machinery droned, the walls closed in and the floor fell away. It had been like looking in two mirrors across from each other; everything the same in either direction for as far as she could see, unending. She was not prone to vertigo and had no fear of heights but the sight had been too much for her. She had had to back away and sit down until her head stopped spinning and her leg stopped aching. It was not an experience she wanted to repeat.
As it was the droning was still wearing on her. She couldn’t hear, she couldn’t think, she couldn’t focus. It was getting the better of her. Best to be done here quickly.
She looked down and saw the man entering. Excellent. It was time.
The sniper looked at the man with immense satisfaction. It was working.
The man stood and looked around, searching for the sniper. But, by the way his eyes kept flicking up to the roof, to the catwalks, the sniper knew that he was looking for the artist too. Well, maybe it was time to show him one of them.
He pressed the button on the remote then brought his hand straight back to the gun. He would not mess this up. Through the sight he saw the man turn to look at the source of the new noise.
The artist heard the new noise. It was a different pitch from the other noises. She fixed on it after a moment trained her pistols.
The door to one of the access tunnels was opening with a squeal. At the same time the bridge was extending out towards it, ready to let the person exiting cross it to the main area. A shadow moved in the gap.
The artist knew from the man that the access tunnels did not lead anywhere. They were just divets, dents in the wall that allowed one to get to the back of the coils. The furthest they went was back to another one.
If she caught the sniper in one, injured him in there, he could not flee.
She pumped the triggers as fast as she could, firing again and again into the gap, towards the movement. She did not want to kill, only to injure, to wound. The ricochets would see that she did just that even if all the bullets missed.
The sniper tracked the fire back to its source. There. On one of the catwalks.
But he could not risk that she escape death by the catwalk slowing the bullets. Nor could he risk the man interfering. He slowly sighted back to the man and lined up the crosshairs.
The artist fired again and again and again until her pistols were out of ammunition. Then she reloaded them. She was about to start firing again when something touched the edge of her hearing. It was almost like another piece of machinery, but it was…different somehow.
She finished reloading, and one pistols still trained on the access tunnel, did a quick sweep of the area.
The man lay dead, blood pooling around him, spreading from his head. She had not meant for him to die. He had been an innocent. He should not have died. But how had the sniper killed him? The angle of the body was all wrong for a shot from the…
She swung her pistols along the path that the bullet would have traveled and saw a tiny black thing poking out from under a coil. She had been tricked!
At least I can divest him of his weapon she thought as she lined up her sights on the barrel.
The sniper watched the body fall and immediately reached for the remote at his side. His hand was almost to the button when his rifle jumped and the floor around the barrel started to accrue bullet holes.
She had found him, but it was too late.
He pressed the little round button on the remote, the detonator, and squeezed his eyes shut.
The artist felt the guns kick in her hands, and then felt a larger kick as a blinding light filled the room. For a moment she was confused and then the sound of an explosion reached her at the same as the wave of heat and flame washed over her.
She was torn, thrown, beaten, twisted, and she knew that she was falling. She reached for the edge of the catwalk to catch herself, but found it right where it had been moments ago. Clutching it did nothing to stop the falling sensation.
The sniper pushed and sent his bodycart sliding backwards, further under the coil as the catwalk system came crashing down. As soon as he felt the impact he launched himself forwards again, opening his eyes and swinging his rifle across the wreckage as he flipped the switch for full-auto and held the trigger down.
The bullets had somehow damaged his rifle enough to make it stop working. No matter.
He dropped it and reached for the pistols at his sides. It was only when he felt empty air that he remembered that he had given them to the artist.
Damn his stupidity!
The artist cast around, blinded by the light and deafened by the machinery twinned with the blast. She knew that she had nanoseconds before-
She did not get to finish the overly optimistic thought as the catwalk crashed to the ground. She was thrown through the air losing track of her guns in the progress. She hit something, rebounded, landed and rolled, fetching up against a rail. She could feel the ground vibrating beneath her; she must have been near one of the coils. She started to get up, then thought better of giving her position away. She began blinking her eyes trying to get rid of the blindness.
The sniper leapt to his feet, not bothering to remove the bodycart. It might get in the way but he didn’t have the time.
He ran forwards, scaling the rubble, looking for the artist. He reached the top and glanced around. He knew that he was exposing himself like this but he was gambling that she would still be blinded by the explosion.
It took him a moment before he spotted her lying against the rail by one of the coils. The blast pr the fall had thrown her a good distance. It was a shame she had not fallen just a bit closer and ended up down the crack falling towards the very outer shell.
He took a moment to plot a path across the rubble before dashing towards her.
The artist blinked once more and began to see light and shadows. She could see enough to make out the fact that there was something rushing at her.
She rolled to the side as the sniper’s feet planted firmly where her head had been. It would have stunned, or maybe killed her had she not moved.
She sprang to her feet, then fell again with a cry at the pain in her leg. The compression warp had come loose in the blast and she could feel the blood oozing down her leg.
She lashed out with the other leg in the direction of the sniper and felt satisfying connection before scrambling backwards in a crabwalk.
The sniper couldn’t take time to rub his jaw like he wanted to; every moment he delayed was a moment when her eyesight got better. He launched forwards, arcing over her and twisting in midair to land by her head.
He brought his hands down in a hammer blow but she managed to dodge it. He did not give her time to retaliate, his hands flashing back and forth, punctuated by kicks and even a body slam.
Some she avoided, but most hit her. She managed to roll with the worst of the blows, and just took the lesser ones. By the end of his flurry he was tired and she was not much the worse for wear. Evidently he could not end it quickly.
He flipped backwards as she swung at his groin. A hit like that would not take him out of the fight like it would other men but it would still hurt. The moment that it took him to get back into the fight allowed her to gain her feet.
She blinked at him one last time, then smiled. She began to move with more grace and he knew that she had her sight back.
That made this difficult fight on the narrow catwalk all the more difficult. One slip to the left and the rail that had been damaged in the blast would let him fall to his death. Too far to the right and he would be killed as a trillion volts flowed through him at once. But the same held true for her. Too far in either direction and the artist would die.
In the time it took him to think this she launched a flurry of attacks and landed three solid blows despite his blocking, and he retaliated with a snap kick that bypassed her defenses and caught her on the jaw, snapping her head back.As they continued to fight back and forth, neither giving nor taking any ground, he noticed that she was favouring her left leg. He could use that to his advantage.