WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
Noah made sure to keep his body facing towards the elevator doors, gun 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 sedative darts are meant to help guards transport the more defiant subjects. They only last long enough to strap us in or put us where they need us and then they wear off so that the scientists aren't kept waiting," Sloan said softly.
Noah looked up at the numbers above the elevator door. They lit up slowly---either the lift was practically crawling along or there was a lot of space in-between floors. However, there had only been one button to select on the navigation panel: the top floor. Noah pulled back his sleeve to reveal the tattoos on his forearm and selected the number 8. The phone headset grafted into his skin lit up instantly, startling Sloan.
"You have phone grafts?"
Noah motioned for her to wait a moment as Z picked up on the other side of the line.
"Z, could use some eyes here. What's waiting for us up on the top floor?" He asked.
"Could to hear you made it out of the bottom layers alive. Lost you somewhere along the way. According to your signal, you're heading straight towards a large office space. If I had to guess, it's either a conference room or the Warden's quarters. The map's got it unmarked, so your guess is as good as mine."
"Well, we've run into a bit of trouble. The commander got hit with a sedative. Sloan says he should come around soon, but we're not sure. How far are we going to have to lug dead weight before we get to the pickup zone?" He asked.
"Just a few hallways---" Z said before the line began to defuse into a mess of crackles and static.
"---something's blocking the signal. Did you hear---crackle---odd signal ahead. Be care---"
"Awesome, it just keeps getting better," Noah said as he brought his fingers away from his ear.
"What's wrong?" Sloan asked.
"I don't know yet. Press yourself up against the corner by the control panel where anyone outside can't see you. Don't move. Don't make a sound," Noah said as he quickly moved Valentine's body into the parallel, covered corner of the elevator. Once done, he moved back into the center, kneeled and kept his gun raised. Above the elevator doors, the lighted numbers were almost to five.
He gave Sloan a reassuring look, or as close to reassuring he could get given his own nerves, then focused his attention back on the doors as the elevator binged and they began to slide open.
The room on the other side of the elevator was dark. The shades had been drawn and the lights were manually set quite dim. The only significant source of light came from the glowing wall screen parallel to the elevator. Although there was a desk in the way, Noah could make out the back of a woman's head standing in front of the screen.
"I assure you, sir, we are doing absolutely everything in our power to capture the agents and retrieve subject Eddleson. They were spotted in the lower facility. Most of my men have been ordered to go down there immediately."
Noah recognized the voice as that of the warden's from the message about their escape. She was talking to a live video feed, though the screen only showed a dark room with an equally shadowed person. There was enough light to see said person's hands---clasped before him with strained patience---and the expensive cuff links attached to the suit he wore, but nothing more. His left hand ring finger bore the weight of simple, golden wedding ring. It glimmered in the minimal light innocently.
"While I know you are doing everything you are capable of, I still fear that it is not enough. Valentine knows getting caught here would be an end to his organization's operations and I know he hasn't forgotten the torture he suffered within these very walls. He has a plan; a fool proof one, if he risked returning," the man said, "Which makes me wonder why I hired you in the first place."
Noah noticed the way the warden's shoulders stiffened at that, but all she said was, "Are you suggesting that I call off the search?"
"No, no, warden. I'm suggesting that you do more than you are capable of to ensure that those agents do not escape. Even if that means losing them as live assets. We can't risk losing Eddleson or the possibility that they found out about our other project," the man said, "Kill the agents on sight. Spare the girl, if possible."
"I'll send out the order now," the warden said, fingers posed over the exposed side of her left forearm, ready to type out a message into the glowing keyboard hovering over her skin.
"And warden," the man said. She stopped to look at him. "Keep in mind that if you fail, your letter of recommendation will be a little more permanent than you'd like."
The feed cut out then, the screen returning to the likeness of a wall. Noah watched as the warden clicked a few things on the keypad on her wrist, then deactivated the keypad and pulled her sleeve back down.
All the while, the agent watched, focused like a hawk. It was another one of those times when Noah wished he had the ability to force people to do what he wanted with his mind, but for all the please leave this room without looking at the elevator vibes he sent her way, she evidently didn't get them.
When the warden turned to go back to her desk, she was met with a gun barrel aiming at her head. She opened her mouth to yell for the guards, but thought better of it when her eyes met Noah's icy glare. He gestured with his gun at her arms.
"Put both hands flat on your desk where I can see them," he said.
With a glower, she did so.
"Where is Ms. Eddleson?" she asked, looking past him and into the elevator. With Sloan and Valentine still tucked safely away into their corners, she couldn't see them.
"Safely escaping with my superior," he said, "They've probably gotten out by now."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"You're bluffing. You'd be with them."
"Think what you want," he said, "Now, who was that on the live feed?"
All the warden did was purse her lips at him, sealing them tight. The agent sighed.
"I'm just as capable of hacking into your computer as I am at asking you questions. It's up to you if I leave this office with you conscious or not."
"You think you could do worse than he could?" she asked. "I very much doubt it. Shoot me if you're going to shoot me, boy."
And so Noah did. The sound the little dart gun made was so soft down in the hall, with all of the action and yelling, but here in the quiet office, it felt like an explosion in his hands. The sound scared her more than the actual dart. She must assumed the gun was loaded with something much more fatal than tiny doses of sedatives. It was the only explanation Noah could think of to make sense of why the warden had thrown herself to the ground as theatrically as she did once the dart hit her. The force of the fall jostled her violently, and if he didn't know for himself that the gun only shot bullets, he would have thought she had been shot with something far worse, like a magnum or a shotgun. He watched, stunned by her reaction, as she reached tentative fingers to where the dart was lodged in her shoulder.
And there, on the floor, the quivering woman began to laugh hysterically, the force of her laughter rocking her body aggressively.
Noah chanced a look back to see Sloan peeking up at him, bewildered and unsettled to the point of fear, he could see it in her eyes. In the way her skin had paled. He checked the other side of the elevator to see Valentine's piercing eyes looking back at him from the floor. Silent, but aware.
"You better get moving, boy," she said animatedly, spit flecking from her lips. "The communicator grafts in my skin are programmed to trigger an alarm in the event that my body makes any sort of violent contact with anything."
The grin she turned his way was cheek splitting. The expression made his stomach flop uncomfortably, even despite the fact that her body was slackening and her eyelids were drooping. The sedatives were kicking in.
"She's right, Noah," Valentine said. He turned around to see the commander leaning heavily against the wall of the elevator, but he took relief in the fact that Valentine was on his own two feet again. "All wardens these days are getting that programmed into their grafts. Guards will be heading this way any moment now."
"Ah, if it isn't Valentine," the warden said, her voice scratchy with exhaustion. The commander stiffened, his posture akin to that of a startled animal, ears perked and ready to bolt. "The very first of the immune. I suppose we should thank you," she said, eyes closing. "Without you, we never would have started Project Synthesis."
The pleased purr in her tone made a bubble of raw fury burn in Noah's chest. He had to tighten his grip on his gun, to feel the bite of the metal in his palm to keep from walking over to her prone form and stomping on it. Men and women were suffering just a few floors below them, and she was smiling.
"Was that the conditioning shit we saw down in the labs?" He asked.
"Oh no," she whispered. "It's so much better than that."
Then her body finally grew still, her breathing even and soft. Noah walked over to her body and checked her wrist.
"There's no deactivation switch visible," he said. He stood and looked over at Valentine. "What do you want me to do with her?"
The commander didn't answer right away. The far off look he was giving the warden unsettled Noah, and even when he stepped into Valentine's line of sight, that didn't erase the exhaustion in his eyes.
"I'm fine, Noah. Don't worry, we've got a bit of time before the guards will make it up from the labs. I would say we should take her with us, but we'll have enough trouble as it is getting out of her without lugging an unconscious women around," he said. The commander walked out of the elevator, hand outstretched to grab onto the desk to support his weight. Although he was stable enough to move, Noah could see the way he quivered. The drugs weren't fully out of his system yet.
Leaning against the desk, the commander then took one slender, tattooed finger and began to pick at his gums.
Valentine held up his free hand, motioning for Noah to wait a moment as he then began to peel a fleshy strip from his gums. Noah paled as he watched the chunk easily pull free, but when there was no blood, all he could do was watch the commander with wide, bewildered eyes.
The commander snatched a pair of scissors from the desk and very delicately used one of the blades to pull the bit of fake flesh apart, revealing a small memory chip inside.
"Mr. Zdunowski suggested I take a hacking chip with me, and using a fake gum insert was the only way of comfortably smuggling it in," the commander said. He then took a seat behind the computer and inserted the chip into the SD port. The effect was immediate; a little black box appeared, followed by another, and code began to slide quickly down it as the chip began to hack the computer. "Alright, Mr. Zdunowski, we're in. How long until your chip has copied the system?"
"For a full copy of the entire system, it would take longer than you've got, but in a few minutes it could finish the copy for that sole computer. Maybe a few more, if you're lucky," Z said over the communications line.
"We'll get as much as we can, then," the commander said, "Noah, contact the ground group and get their ETA."
Noah pressed the number three tattooed into his forearm, changing the signal from the communication line with Z to one with Vienna.
"Vi, we need extraction. What's you ETA?"
"It's not looking good," Vienna said, "The whole prison is shut down, they won't let our unit back into the base. You're not getting a ground extraction, but we've got something else planned. Can you get to the roof?"
“Well, whatever you do, you guys better get moving. Security cameras show that the guards are taking the floors by stairs. They’re heading your way. Only half, the others are still scanning the labs, but still, more than enough with guns,” Z said, patching into Noah and Vienna's comm. line.
“I need another minute, Noah,” the commander said, “Start ahead with Sloan and get to the roof. I’ll meet you there.”
“Commander, don’t take this personally, but that plan is a whole bunch of shit and you know it.”
Valentine turned to look at him, then, brows raised.
“Even if I wasn’t against leaving someone behind, leaving you to deal with the guards when you can barely walk is not exactly the sanest idea you’ve ever had. If anyone stays behind, it should be me. Z can talk you two through to the roof and I’ll meet you there. I can cut the guards off and more importantly, I can run.”
"So it's fine to leave a man behind when it's you?"
Noah walked over to the computer to see that the progress was barely three quarters done.
"This information could tip the scales for us, and leaving me behind is different. I'm not wounded and I'm not drugged. I'm more than capable of doing this."
Valentine stood and gestured to the chair for Noah to sit.
"Z, how close are they now?" Noah asked.
"It's going to be a close one, but if the commander and Ms. Eddleson leave now, they should be alright."
Noah held his gun out to Valentine handle first. The commander shook his head, but Noah just held it out to him further.
"Take it. You've got to protect Sloan."
With a slight downward turn of the lips, the commander took the gun, then clapped the younger agent on the back.
"I'll see you at the roof," he said, then turned to Sloan. "Alright, stay close, Ms. Eddleson."
Noah watched the two go and once the door closed, he patched back through to Z.
"Make sure they get out of here in one piece, Z."
"I'm going to make sure everyone gets out, dumbass. The guards are a floor down, there's not much more time. How far along is the download?"
"It's close. Maybe just another minute or so. I'm not going to be far behind."
"Well, that's all you've really got at the moment. They're going to be on you soon. Get ready."
"Thanks, Z. No pressure or anything," he said, scowling.
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"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011