WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
The hallway before them was long and lined with sturdy, glass doors on each side. Noah and the commander walked down the hall with stiff backs and disinterested expressions, trying to be true to the uniforms they had stolen upstairs. As they passed the first door, Noah glanced inside.
The door led to a lab---sterile and white---where a doctor was busy looking at strange test tube liquids and writing notes. It had a sink, a decontamination shower and rows of glass shelves and temperature controlled cabinets, all filled with odd containers and specimens.
The next door they passed was much like the first. A laboratory with a small cluster of scientists. They were all standing in front of an unexposed section of wall that---much like with MII at the Agency Base---acted like a giant computer screen. The doctors within bickered animatedly as they swiped different formulae and strange writings across the screen. The doctors did not look over their way, but even if they had, all they would have seen was two guards making their rounds.
Noah kept his voice low as he spoke to the commander.
"Do you find it odd that there aren't any posted guards in sight?" Noah asked.
"Yes," the commander said, "but these aren't the holding cells. They have men posted where it's important, so don't get too comfortable just yet."
The next few doors felt windows to déjà-vu for the two Agency men. Each lab held it's one scientist and its own quirk---one had all animals, another held vacant examination tables, but each had the same effect on the commander. Although the uniforms covered most of their skin, Noah could still see the pale pallor of Valentine's face. He didn't press the issue, however. Triggering a latent memory was the last thing either agent needed now that they were knee deep in HsO territory.
When they reached the end of the hall, the commander quickly turned left with Noah right on his heels. Up ahead, they could still a large, plate glass window with an older scientist standing before it, hurriedly jotting down notes. Beyond the window, the two agents could see that the room it looked into was a very large shower. The whole entire room was hooked up as such. The floor and walls were covered in differently angled showerheads, each aimed at one mostly naked man huddled on the floor. Not all of the showerheads were going at once. Some would pulse small spouts of water, then shut off to let a nozzle hit the trembling man from another angle.
Most of the time, the subject did nothing. He merely kept his body curdled in upon himself, his face burrowed deep into his knees. But as Noah and Valentine walked closer, they saw four particular jets, two on parallel walls, activate and spray the man. At first, he continued to tremble, but at seconds passed, his skin began to redden where it came in contact with the water. Below the observation window was a small console. It held a mic for the scientist to speak through and a small speaker, as well as a wafer thin digital keyboard. Through the speakers, the two agents could hear the specimen begin to whimper as the four new jets of water continued to spray down upon him from either side.
Slowly his whimpers turned into outright sobs, his breath hitching in his chest as his skin became irritated and raw. The scientist, however, paid the noises no mind. Nearly thirty seconds later, the four nozzles ceased their spraying and the other showerheads began to soak the young man anew. Although his skin was still pink, his sobbing died down to a soft whimpering, obviously soothed now that the treatment had changed.
Noah stopped a few feet shy of the scientist, eyes wide.
"Is that man immune?" He found the words slipping from his mouth before he could stop himself, catching the scientist's attention. The man---a short, plump man in his sixties---gave the two guards a scrutinizing look. At his suspicious gaze, Noah could practically feel the commander stiffen defensively beside him whereas he merely felt his stomach drop to the floor.
"You boys new or something?" The scientist finally asked. "This is hardly the first subject to go through exposure therapy."
Noah opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when he felt the commander clap a large hand onto his shoulder and squeeze. Shut up, the grip said, so he obliged.
"I'm sorry, doctor," Valentine said smoothly, "He's new here. I'm taking him around in preparation for his first day tomorrow. I hope he didn't disrupt anything."
"No, no, we were just finishing here," the doctor said. He then turned back to the console and typed a few short commands into the keyboard. Moments later, the water ceased, leaving the man within drenched and shivering. Then a door on the opposite end of the room opened and a person in a hazmat suit lifted the subject by the elbow, draped a towel around him and escorted him out. The doctor turned back to face the two men. "In answer to your question: no. That man is not immune. We are testing for the possibility of immunity building up in a subject that is exposed to natural water in very small dosages."
"And he survived?"
"Don't sound so impressed," the doctor scoffed, "We've been working with this patient for years and just now have been able to build up to one minute exposures of HsO infused with half a cup of natural water. It's progress at its minimum."
"Well then," Valentine said apologetically, "We'll just let you get back to it, then."
Before either party could walk away, the lights in the hallway changed from a humming florescent to a deep, blood red. All three looked around as various walls in the hall converted into screens, each showing the image of an old, pinched looking woman. Her hair was pulled tightly back, so tight in fact that it looked as if her hair was what was pulling back her face and not the obvious plastic surgery.
"This is Warden Stalls," the woman said. Noah winced as her clipped voice echoed loudly throughout the narrow hallway.
"It has been brought to my attention that prisoners have managed to escape the cellblock. All personnel is advised to return to their labs and offices while security sweeps the premises. The penitentiary is going through a level wide lock down. All exits have been locked. Regard the prisoners as highly dangerous."
After she said that, some of the screens changed from showing her face to showing two mug shots. Noah and Valentine's mug shots.
"These two fugitives have now been flagged as possible rebel members of the Agency. They are wanted alive," the woman said, "Upon capture notify me immediately."
The message then began to repeat itself. Noah turned his attention back to the commander and the doctor. The little scientist had deflated in light of the message and now fidgeted oddly, eager to get to safety.
"Can you boys escort me to my office," he said, voice warbling.
"I'm very sorry, sir," Valentine said, readjusting his guard hat so that the brim shadowed more of his face. "We need to get in touch with the head of security and receive our orders. I suggest you hurry to your office and lock the door."
The other man looked at them with a shocked and appalled expression.
"But your job is to protect the staff!"
Around the corner they could see a small group of guards running their way. The one leading the group stopped, but not before motioning for the others to continue.
"Dr. Kempt, you need to get to your office immediately," the guard ordered, "And you two---what the hell do you think you're doing just standing around? Start sweeping the floor for the fugitives!"
"We'll cover this end, sir," Noah said, pointing to the hall behind them and away from where the other guards had headed.
The guard gave them a quick nod before returning to his group. Noah let go of the breath he didn't know he was holding and followed Valentine down the hall. He could hear the doctor quickly waddling away in the opposite direction and was grateful that they wouldn't have to deal with him longer.
"Do you know where they'd hold her?" Noah asked.
"Yeah, I think I do."
Valentine led the way down the hall and around the corner. Deeper he led them into the winding basement, past doors and observation windows. All around them the screens blared images of their mug shots. It showed no names, but the pictures of their faces were all a particularly keen guard would need to spot them. Noah kept his hat low just in case they ran into another group of security.
They ran past an open door and Noah could see security monitors and various computers. It was the guard room.
"Here," Valentine said. He grabbed the his arm suddenly and yanked him into a room. They stumbled inside and came to a startled halt when they came face to face with a small team of guards, three in all. Two of the guards were holding a woman beneath her arms. Her long legs flailed violently as she tried to jerk free. She was light, that much was obvious since the guards were able to hold her quite high with their combined efforts. When her feet did come down from her flailing, they just barely grazed the floor. The third guard had been opening the door to a capsule built into the wall. The wall held many capsule 'rooms', each capsule very small and leading deep into the wall, containing only a bed and some sheets.
The guards all paused to look at Noah and Valentine even as the woman continued to thrash, her wet hair messy from her efforts.
"We've got this room covered," the third guard said, "Get back to sweeping the area."
"Sloan Eddleson?" Valentine asked the woman, ignoring the guards.
"What---did you hear what I said? Shove on!" the guard snarled.
The two agents paid him no mind, however. All they paid attention to was the fact that when Valentine called her name, the young woman reacted. She looked over her shoulder, surprised to have been called out be name, and that's all the confirmation they needed.
Both men headed in, walking on either side of the large examination table between them and the guards. As they passed it, Noah reached out and grabbed a baton that one of the guards must have set down after the subject had been secured. If the blood smeared around the corner of her lip was anything to go by, they had used it, too. Noah felt a white hot ember of anger unfurl in his chest as the third guard stepped in front of the other two. Sloan tried to use to the distraction the two men provided to her advantage, but the guards held tight.
The third guard pulled out a gun and took turns aiming it at the agents trying to flank him.
Noah and Valentine paused, both eyeing the armed man, waiting for an opening. As the guard switched his aim from Noah back to Valentine and opened his mouth to speak, Noah lunged forward. His footsteps were deft, nearly soundless, and the only warning the guard had was the sudden gasp of breath from the other two guards behind him as they watched.
The armed guard tried to point the gun back at Noah, but the young agent was already sweeping the baton down from above his head. The blunt weapon struck the man hard across the temple with a wooden thwack, spinning the man with the force of its blow and sending him to the ground. The gun clattered loudly to the ground.
One of the guards let go of Sloan, eager to help his friend, when the woman seized the opportunity and gave the man's crotch a lethal kick. The guard went down with a tinny, high-pitched whine. In the meantime, Valentine grabbed the gun that the unconscious guard had dropped and rushed forward as the only remaining guard gave the prisoner a heavy punch. The blow knocked Sloan into the wall of doors with a cry. She brought her hands up to her abused cheekbone, teary eyed and furious.
In response, the commander pulled the gun back and delivered a fierce hit to the guard's temple with the barrel of the weapon.
The guard went down to join the others, temple bleeding sluggishly.
"Why didn't you shoot?" Sloan asked, breathless from her struggling.
"A gunshot would draw unneeded attention," Noah supplied helpfully as he attached the baton to his belt and walked towards her. Startled by his sudden advance, Sloan slid across the wall and further away.
Noah stopped and held his hands out to show he meant no harm.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"We're friends of Sandy and Chase," Valentine said, "We're here to help."
At hearing the names of the people who had helped her and her sister, Sloan's face brightened.
"Where are they? Are they okay?"
"There's no time now, we've got to get moving if we want to get out of here," Noah said.
Neither man touched her and forced her to move. They simply looked back at her encouragingly before walking towards the door. The commander leaned out of the doorway, checking the hall before motioning for the two to follow. Just as Noah and Sloan walked out in the hallway there was a soft pop and the sound of something hitting small hitting a body. Moments later Noah was pushed out of the way of the doorframe by the commander and the door leading to the lab was slammed shut.
"Commander---?" Noah asked, but stopped when he saw a small dart sticking out of Valentine's bicep.
Valentine pulled it out without a noise and held it up to examine it.
"Sedative," Valentine said grimly. Noah walked back in front of the glass door just in time to see that the man Sloan had kicked was holding indeed holding a gun. He struggled to his feet on wobbly legs and although he couldn't hear what the guard was saying, Noah knew that the guard was calling in to the others.
"We need to move," Noah said as he wedged the baton in between the doorframe and the handle. "How long do you have, Commander?"
"My arm is starting to go numb."
"Take this," Valentine said as he held out the gun he had taken to Noah. "I'll let you know when it spreads to my legs."
Noah accepted the weapon.
"Where do we go?"
"That way," he said and pointed away from the direction of the elevator that had taken them there.
Footsteps thundered towards them from afar.
"Let's move!" Noah said as he grabbed Sloan by the elbow and started to run. Despite the dart, Valentine was still able to keep up. The dosage had originally been intended for Sloan, giving the commander a slight advantage with his larger body mass.
Even so, Noah could hear the other man beginning to slow. His normally adept footsteps were loud and his shoes squeaked with every heavy footfall.
"Down here!" A guard yelled from the hall behind them just as they rounded another corner. "They're here!"
"Keep running," Noah said to Sloan as he slowed his own run down for a moment. He quickly edged his shoulder beneath one of Valentine's arms and pulled the commanders weight as the two men jogged.
"---If you tell me to leave you I'll pistol whip you into some better sense," Noah said, snarling as he pulled the commander along.
"I was going to tell you to shoot the guy running behind us," Valentine said, chuckling softly, voice dazed.
Noah stopped their progress for a moment to turn and find that there was a guard getting rather close. He raised the tranq-gun and shot the man with merciless efficiency. Twice, to speed along the process of the sedatives. The guard took the darts to the meat just above his knee. The shock of the stinging blow blew out the joint and sent the guard to the floor with a howl. Behind him, Noah could see the rest of the guards trying to catch up.
He then pulled the commander's arm over his shoulders a little harder and started to jog again. Up ahead, they could see an elevator but other than that, the commander had led them to a dead end.
"Press the call button when you get to it," he yelled to Sloan who was further ahead. As ordered, she hurriedly jammed her thumb against the call button the second she reached it.
Behind them, the other guards had cleared the corner and were starting to gain ground. He lurched to the side suddenly as the commander's legs gave out, his feet dragging behind him uselessly as his head lolled down to his chest.
"Commander, wake up," Noah said as he struggled to pull the dead weight faster. "Don't do this to me, not now."
He looked up and to his surprise, he saw Sloan running towards them. Her expression clearly stated that she hated herself for going towards the guards instead of away, but Noah just smiled at her gratefully.
"Take him and I'll cover you," he said. She slid herself beneath Valentine's other arm, her smaller frame hunching beneath the commander's weight. Despite that, she turned back to the elevator and started to pull the man slowly towards it.
While Noah turned to face their attackers.
There were seven guards in all, four carrying batons and three brandishing dart guns. As the first guard jumped over their unconscious comrade, the Agency member took aim. With two more pulls of the trigger, the guard went from jumping to landing in a stumble that ended with his face meeting the tiles. Noah squeezed off another three shots, each dart landing in the exposed throat of the next guard. He moved his aim to another guard as that one fell and squeezed the trigger again, but was only graced with a stomach dropping click. The gun was empty.
Without missing a beat, Noah moved his grip from the handle to the barrel and quickly tossed the gun like a circus performer might toss a large machete. The gun connected with the third guard's forehead with a nauseating smack, knocking the man backwards and to the floor. The next guard weaved between the sudden pile up of bodies and lunged for Noah, baton raised, but the agent dodged the slow arcing swing. He dove beneath the strike and emerged on the other side of the guard. He grabbed the man's neck and gave his exposed side two, deep and meaty undercuts. It took the air from the man's lungs and left him wheezing as Noah slipped behind him just as a dart narrowly missed him. He quickly pinned the man, winding his arms under the guard's pits and weaving his fingers together behind his neck. He then turned and used the guard as a shield as the three guards with dart guns fired at him.
Several darts slammed into the hostage, none of them missing. The guard let out a whispery groan and became dead weight in Noah's grasp. He then pushed the unconscious man back towards the other guards, managing to shove him into one of them, making them both fall to the floor.
That left him with three more men.
Noah tucked himself into a nice dodge, rolling left as darts whistled towards him. One hit the sole of his shoe and sank in, but didn't reach his foot. Another clipped his shoulder blade, scratching him but not piercing his skin as it continued past him and into a wall.
"I'm empty," one guard called as he sank to a kneel and pulled a fresh clip out of his tactical vest. Another guard stood to cover him, but the brief lessening of attention was all Noah needed. With a quick lunge, he grabbed the oncoming swing of one of the guard's baton, pulled it out of the man's grip with a yank and delivered a crippling blow to the guard's jaw. He then ducked as the other guard swiped at him, baton howling as it passed just above his lowered head. Noah popped back up and swung the baton at the man's extended arm, breaking it with a dry snap.
The guard wailed and dropped the baton as he cradled the limb. He then attempted to swing one foot around in a roundhouse kick but the agent blocked it with one extended forearm. Without forward movement and with the limited space of the packed hallway, the blow had been weak and only served to unbalance the guard. The man fell, jostling his arm as he landed and knocking him unconscious from the shocking blow.
Which left Noah with only one remaining guard and a freshly reloaded dart gun aiming right at him. So he did the only thing he could do.
He ran at the man and hoped for the best.
The guard pulled the trigger just as Noah managed to lean left and push the gun right with one slap of his forearm. Darts pinged off the walls and fell to the floor in a tinkling clatter as the guard continued to pull the trigger on reflex. The hall was filled with the light pop, pop, pop of the tranq-gun as Noah held the gun away from him and pressed the guard back until his back hit the wall. Then the gun clicked empty.
The agent looked up into the eyes of the guard.
"Please don't," the guard whispered.
Noah raised the baton high and delivered a quick blow across the man's temple and eyes. He fell with a shriek of pain and remained motionless once he hit the ground. Noah knew that man wasn't unconscious, but if the growing stench of urine was anything to go by, he knew the man wouldn't follow.
Grabbing one of the other guns from the ground, Noah ran towards the elevator. He slipped inside thanks to Sloan, who held the doors open while she waited for him. He didn't know when the thing had arrived, but the fact that she had taken the commander all the way there and then waited for him lifted Noah's spirits considerably.
He pressed the up arrow and watched as the doors closed before them.
Noah made sure to keep his body facing towards the doors, gun drawn and at the ready as he kneeled beside his commander and checked him over.
"Hasn't woken up yet?" Noah asked.
"No, but he should soon. Those darts are meant to help guards transport the ones that struggle. They only last long enough to strap us in or put us where they need us and then wear off so that the scientists aren't kept waiting," Sloan said softly. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011