The sniper ran down the stairs. As he reached the bottom he heard a creek from his right and spun just in time to see one of the wall panels slide closed.
He ran over and tugged at it, pushed at it, palmed the wall for hidden buttons, everything. This was taking too long. The longer he delayed here the more likely something upstairs would explode.
He took out a sonic grenade and placed it at the base of the wall. He turned and hid himself around the doorway, placing his hands over his ears before pressing the button on his watch with his nose.
The sound wave still hit him, dazing him. He turned out to see a hole at the bottom of the wall. It was small, not big enough for him to crawl through. But maybe the impact had been enough to get the door to move.
He moved over to it and gave it a cautious push. When that didn’t budge it he took it in turns to pull and slide it in all directions using the hole as a handgrip. Finally it slid to the left.
The artist walked down the tunnel, Lian just ahead of her. Her leg ached and her head still felt fuzzy from the drugs Lian had given her. Despite what she had pretended she could barely see, barely think, and needed Lian to guide her. She had reacted with such alarm when the explosions had come because her vision failed her, covered up attacking Lian with anger because she hadn’t been able to tell that it was her. Right now she was weak. And if the sniper caught them then she would likely die.
There was an explosion behind them.
“Down!” Lian cried, kicking the artist’s legs out from under her and drawing a gun all in one smooth motion as she spun.
“What is it? What is it?” the artist took a moment to regain her footing, now behind Lian.
“I’d assume its your friend the agent. Now keep going down this tunnel. It’ll branch at some point. I want you to go left. That’ll take you to a catwalk network beneath the railcar tracks. It’ll be loud, but you can hide there. When I come for you I’ll show you the way into the sewers. If I don’t come for you then I’m dead or captured. You’ll need to find you own way from there”
The artist nodded and walked off down the tunnel, one arm against the wall to keep track of herself. Before she had walked too far though she turned back.
“You are welcome Sho”
“Sho. Now get going. I don’t want to have you dying on me”
The artist turned and ran off down the tunnel as fast as she felt she safely could.
The sniper slid the door aside and rolled with it, keeping it as a barrier between himself and the tunnel. He knew what would happen if he exposed himself. Bullets punched into the door anyways, and some flew through the gap.
“Stand down!” he shouted as he heaved the door open the rest of the way :I mean you no harm”
“Which is why you followed me?” It was the woman’s voice.
“I only want the artist! If I don’t catch her by the end of the day then I will be tied down with as team of other agents who only want to kill me!” Why was he telling her this?
The firing paused for a moment.
“I have said too much already. Stand aside. I do not want to hurt you. As I said, I only want the artist. And based on what you said you can lead me to her. I will pull the information from you with questioning if need be”
“I told you already agent; I will not bend, will not talk”
“I know those who can and will make you talk no matter what”
“You seem to be not believing me” she sounded amused “But delude yourself all you like; I shall not give up Sho”
“What is the relation between you and Sho anyways” The sniper pulled a small mirror from his pocket and extended it into the doorway. He could see the woman standing partway down a pistol in each hand. Moments later it exploded, sending shards flying, cutting him.
“I’ll tell you that if you tell me something in exchange”
“What do you want to know?”
“Why the other agents want to kill you”
“I’ll answer, but you first”
“Fine. I grew up with her. I knew her when she was just a little girl”
“You knew the butcher when she was a child? I thought she had killed everyone from her past!”
“No, that was Arcernment agents. Now I’ve answered your question. You answer mine”
The sniper holstered his pistols and pulled a small white piece of paper out of his satchel. He waved it in the doorway. A curl of smoke drifted down the stairway.
“The man in charge of Arcernment Special Affairs told them I’d turned traitor. His name is Callion”
“The man on the radio?”
“So when you’re done here you are going off to war?”
“You can come out. I won’t shoot you. But keep your hands on your head, or I will”
The sniper stepped out around the corner, hands on his head.
“There is smoke coming down the stairway. Do you mind if I move further away before the fires get to a gas line?”
“Fine. But stay back from me”
“Of course” He advanced into the tunnel, picking his way through the shattered door fragments from his grenade. Otherwise it was very clean, very well kept “Was this your home?”
“Yes. I guess its too late now for me to ever come back here. And I made sure to leave nothing behind. So yes, this was my home”
“It seemed a nice home. I am sorry that you have to leave your cafe” The sniper continued to walk down the tunnel as the woman backed up.
“You could come with us you know” he looked up at her in surprise. Had she just offered that?
“Yes, I did just say what you thought I said. Come with us agent. Obviously your boss doesn’t want you around anymore, and you don’t owe the Arc anything. Come with us. Maybe with your help I can make Sho normal again, take the anger, the hurt out of her. Its a choice. Don’t choose war”
The sniper cocked his head at her. This was a chance.
“I would love to, believe me. I hate the Arc maybe as much as you do. But I can’t”
He took another step closer.
“I have this implant in my head. If I don’t follow their orders they can activate it; kill me. So, as much as I would like to come with you I can’t. Which also shows that The Director doesn’t really want me gone after all; if he did he’d just press the button and my head would explode”
He took another step forwards.
“We could take it out. I know good doctors, surgeons. They could remove it”
Another tiny step.
“Without triggering any of the built in failsafes that prevent that? Good luck”
Smoke started to curl into the tunnel. Smoke that reeked of burning fat and electrical fires.
“The fire is closing in woman. Can we advance farther? And faster?’
The woman nodded. As she turned to look behind her the sniper acted.
As soon as her attention wavered he was dashing forwards, arms snapping forwards. The knives flew out of his sleeves, into his hands, and he flicked them forwards, maintaining the momentum. Even as they flew towards her he leapt into the air behind them, drawing another two knives from his belt.
She spun, maybe alerted by the sound of movement, maybe by a flash in the corner of her eye. But it was too late.
The knives smashed hilt first into the fingers holding the pistols. She dropped them, fingers momentarily useless. To her credit she didn’t panic, but instead began to move backwards as quickly as she could.
It did her no good as he landed and sprang again. He kicked her in the stomach, and then slammed a hilt into her temple as she folded. She went down. He stood over her, staring down at this woman who knew so much about his past, whose name he didn’t even know.
Finally he tucked his knives away, and gathered her pistols and his weapons, stuffing them in his backpack. By now the smoke was so thick in the tunnel that it was stinging his eyes as he took off the facemask. His body was working even harder to purge the toxins, and tears ran down his cheeks in a near constant stream.
He cut strips from the base of the woman’s shirt to tie her hands and legs with, as well as gag her. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do for now. His binding done he carefully fitted the facemask on and purged it of the old air in rushing blast. Her breathing improved. Then he slung her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry; the irony of those words struck him as he made sure that she was stable.He ran to the end of the hallway where it split. Left or right? He followed his gut and ran to the right.