WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
Minutes ticked by with the sluggish pace of hours as Noah drummed his fingers, muscles thrumming with the need to run, and yet he remained. The load bar for Z's hack chip crawled along to completion, but the pace was murder---both for the young agent's patience and his chances at survival. The longer he was stuck in this office, the less chance he had at making it to the rendezvous point alive. Or at all.
Agitated, he rubbed at his jaw line, trying to sooth the increasing warm building up around his still active phone implants.
"Z, have they made it to the roof yet?"
After a moment, he heard the line make a distinctive click as Zdunowski changed communication links.
"Yeah, but you shouldn't be worried about them right now. If I was you, I'd grab a stapler or something, because they're about to me on you like zombies on brains."
"You certainly know how to kill a mood, Z. That didn't inspire any sort of pressure what-so-ever," Noah said with a snort. "Not to mention---staplers? Seriously?"
"Hey, some people still dig paper, but you're focusing on the wrong---shit, kid! Focus! They're on your floor and their sweep is heading your freaking way. So man up, find something to freaking arm yourself with and get your ass moving!"
"Damn, Z," he said. He stood from the office chair and looked around the desk. There wasn't much to use to his advantage, he noted with a clenched stomach of dismay; a keyboard, some pens, a notepad---and he couldn't help from wrinkling his nose. Who honestly used notepads anymore? If the woman wasn't crazy and across enemy lines, he'd almost think about introducing her to L'ouppole---a desk clock, and an old school nameplate that read "Warden Cathrinn Stalls".
He grabbed the nameplate and gave the computer another glance.
"The hack chip isn't done copying the data yet. I can't leave."
"You can't---seriously? The data isn't worth it. Just leave the chip in and I'll try to wirelessly transfer as much copied data as I can before they catch on. Now get moving!"
"What if that computer has important information, Z? Game changing information. I can't just walk away from that."
"And what if it doesn't? You need to go. Now."
Noah walked over to the office door and pressed his back up against the wall beside it. With a quick over the shoulder glance, he caught sight of a couple of men walking into another door a few rooms down, flash lights roaming in the dull red alarm lights. Noah quickly switched to the other side of the door frame, so that when it opened, it would conceal him briefly behind it.
He only hoped that the squad didn't decide to kick it in. A doorknob to the gut would wind him and put him from a disadvantage from the get go.
"Be right back, Z," he whispered, then gently pressed a slender button on his jaw line, cutting the connection.
Waiting for the guards to enter the Warden's office was worse than waiting for the data to load. There was no more hope of the guards not making it to the floor in time. They were there, just around the corner. Noah braced himself as he listened as hard as he could for their progress.
"Nothing here, sir," a guard said, his voice scruffy with static as he spoke through his helmet's communicator.
"Copy that. Move to the next room," another voice said. Presumably the man in charge of the group.
Footsteps---heavy, even despite the cushioning effect of the carpets here on the third floor---thudded closer. Slow, wizened movements that meant these guards were more wary than the ones he had encountered down below. One of them must have woken up and alerted the others to what, exactly, they were dealing with. Noah clenched his jaw as he practically felt his chances of getting out waning before him.
They knew what to expect, he was outnumbered---the sheer number of footsteps confirmed that, tightening a knot of dread in his stomach even further---and to make matters worse, they wanted him alive.
Flashes of that poor soul, tied up in the labs below and sprayed with powerful jets, made his skin crawl. He remembered the man's hoarse screams, Sandy's pale, deteriorated fingers, and the wasted sight of his former partner clawing his way towards him.
And then he squeezed his eyes tight and pushed it all down. Shoved all those thoughts into a tight little box called "humanity" and place that box within another, stronger box. A box filled to the brim with one, animalistic care in the world---survival.
He could feel another person lean their weight against the other side of the wall he himself was leaning on. He heard the scrap of the other person's sleeve scrap lightly against the wall with two, quick jerks. A motion, no doubt, for another man to enter.
Eyes open now, he watched as the doorknob twisted, slowly as to avoid clicking, and the door was gently pushed open. A guard raised his gun as the room became exposed to him and he entered. Noah saw the man's gun appear beyond the door first, the guard's aim sweeping from left to right as he scanned the room. A few, hesitant steps later, the guard was in and the second was beginning to follow.
But didn't get the chance.
Noah took one booted foot and shoved the door closed with one powerful thrust from his thighs. The door blurred shut and slammed into the second guard's face with a meaty snap. A garbled scream just a moment later confirmed that he had probably smashed the man's nose to bits. A good distraction for what came next.
The first guard, the one still inside of the room with him, did a skittish jump as he twirled around. It took a second for the man to register what had happened and that he wasn't alone---that the man he was looking for was currently lifting a golden nameplate high above his shoulder, but by the time the guard had enough sense to raise his gun, that nameplate was already whistling towards his face.
The sharp edges of the golden and crystal plate would deliver some damage, Noah knew, but he didn't expect the guard's jaw to give out beneath the force of the blow like it did. The man fell to the ground in a mass of unconscious limbs and didn't move. Across his cheek and purpling jaw, Noah could see letters beginning to form on the man's puffy face: "inn Stalls".
With a pop and screech of breaking glass, a dart whizzed by the young agent's unsuspecting face, but did not hit. He threw himself down as another dart whistled through the air. The force of the shots surprised him. If it had enough power to break the glass, then these guys weren't playing anymore. They brought out the high-powered big guns.
Noah did a quick roll over to the desk and lunged behind it as a guard kicked open the door with a mighty crash. Plaster crumbled away from the wall as the knob from the door became lodged into the wall. Noah winced in sympathy; in a more unfortunate world, that could've been his abdomen.
"Come out, Agency rat!" One guard snarled.
He thought about the elevator behind him, tempted to roll back and take it down, but that would take him floors away from the rendezvous site and even further away from the reason he had stayed in the first place---the chip.
The chip which was almost done, he noted with a quick glance to the computer screen. Almost there.
One guard entered the room, gun raised. Then another and another, and then there were five. Noah took a deep breath, clutched his nameplate closer and rolled out of the cover of the desk. Crouched low like he was, the first few shots fired missed him by miles since the guards had their guns raised, expecting him to stand. He threw the nameplate with a hearty thrust and could hear the fatal whistling of its travel until it finally burrowed a deep gouge out of the snarling guard's cheek. The guard let out a warbling howl of pain and outrage as he dropped his gun to cover the wound with trembling fingers.
The four remaining guns dropped down to point at him, and he rolled forward as tightly as he could as four gun reports barked through the room. At the end of his roll, he used his momentum to send his two boots directly into the nearest guard's knee caps. They let out a dry snap and the man fell with a howl to match the man still covering his face.
But Noah didn't stop. With one hand outstretched, he grabbed the two abandoned guns as he rolled forward one more time. He came to a halt right between two of the remaining guards and fired the guns multiple times in either direction. He could hear that some of the darts missed their marks as they tunneled into plaster and bit up the ornately carved bookshelves. But some did meet their targets, pinching deep into the meat of the two guard's calves and thighs. They went down with yells, followed by wispy sighs of sudden exhaustion.
And then Noah turned on crouched heels, chest heaving, to point his two, smoking dart guns at the only remaining guard in the room. Amidst the fallen comrades, the groans and screaming, he noted that the guard left standing was staring at him with the wide eyes of a terrified animal. Eyes that were glazed with fear, more whites than iris and more blind to their surroundings than a trained man's eyes should be.
Panic riddled eyes.
Noah had only that much time to realize this before he was using his thighs to spring to the side, rolling over his own shoulder over and over as the space he had been in was suddenly riddled with shots. When the room finally rang out with a sudden, solid and empty click, he rolled to a stop. One glance over showed that a forest of tiny darts were sticking out of the carpet, staining it a wet color as the sedative seeped from their pointed tips.
With a ragged inhale, he looked up to see the guard trembling, but to his credit, his gun was raised, ready to use and to bludgeon with.
"Don't come any closer," the man said. Noah barely heard him, the demand was so breathless.
And then Noah raised one gun and shot him, thrice, putting the man down gently.
When the last guard hit the floor, he sighed out a lungful of relief he didn't know he had. It was a palpable wave of happiness that rolled through his body, making his muscles dance and jitter as he realized he had survived. Relief made the air he breathed taste that much sweeter and it stole away the strength he had to grip the guns he was holding.
The clattered to the ground hollowly as he dropped them in favor of re-establishing his communication with Z.
"Z, you there?"
"Noah? Shit, kid, don't you ever drop a line with me again. I'm going to freaking murder you when you get your scrawny ass back to base!"
"Missed you too, sunshine. Are there anymore guards I need to know about?"
"Other than the ones you just ninja-ed to death, no. But there is another wave heading your way one floor below. You need to listen this time and go, regardless of the if the chip is done or not," Z said.
"Well, lucky for us, it is done. Let me just go grab it and---" Noah dropped the sentence as his attempt to stand punched the breath from his lungs. With the adrenaline and the instinctive need to survive, to see this mission threw, Noah hadn't noticed the pain throughout the fight. But the relief had brought with it the steady stock check of his own body and with it, the realization that he wasn't supposed to be doing front flips and dodge rolls on his bad ankle. "Shit."
"Noah?" Z asked quickly, "Noah, you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm still here. Might be here for a while, actually. My ankle is down for the count, man," he said as he fell back from his crouch and landed on his butt with a heavy thud.
"Your ankle---shit! Forget me murdering you, Doc is going to skin you alive when she finds out you took a mission against her orders," Z said.
"One thing at a time. I've got to get out of here before she can have her shot at me. What's the ETA on those troops below me?"
"Seven minutes, maybe? Ten tops."
Noah took a deep breath, then exhaled it with an exhausted rattle.
"Alright, I can do this," he said, then tried to stand again. Favoring his ankle greatly, he managed to get to his feet without putting pressure on the faulty limb. "Alright, now for step two. Get the chip."
With another deep breath, he prepared himself as he began to hop on one foot around the desk and retrieved the hack chip from the computer. He quickly pocketed the tiny chip and turned around to head for the door, but the movement knocked him off balance. Out of habit and instinct, he used his bad leg to compensate for sudden imbalance, momentarily putting pressure onto his ankle.
A pain that felt akin to slamming his funny bone into a speeding truck, then being lit on fire and snapped in half coursed through his ankle in a violent fury, sending him crashing to the ground in a pale faced grimace of shock. It resulted in an immediate cold sweat cropping up on his skin, chilling him to the bone.
The words he muttered hoarsely beneath his breath, even Z couldn't quite catch, but he knew they were too colorful to be worth hearing anyhow.
"Noah," Z said. The wounded agent wondered how many times Z might have said his name, as the world began to seep into vision again. Hopefully not too many. "Noah, can you hear me? Valentine and Sloan made it to the rendezvous point. I'm going to tell him to leave Eddleson with our people and double back for you. Noah? Noah!"
After a shaky inhale, Noah shook his head.
"No… No, I'm fine. Tell Valentine to keep Sloan safe."
"How come no man left behind is different when it's you, huh? I'm calling the commander and---Noah, what are you doing?" Z said. Noah knew Z would be watching through the security cameras. Knew that if Z had even an inkling of what he was about to do, he'd call the commander immediately. Which meant he had to do it before Z could say anything against it.
"I'll make a deal with you, Z" he said as he dragged himself to one of the guns on the floor. He popped the loading mechanism open and pulled a single dart out with trembling fingers. "If I pass out before I make it to the roof, you can call the commander. But let me try, first."
He brushed the cuff of his stolen uniform aside and peeled back his sock. His ankle was already swollen and angry looking. Doing what he was about to do would cause a great deal of damage. Z was right, Noah thought with a dry smile. Doc was going to skin him for this.
Then he delicately used the needle to carve a thin line in his ankle and squeezed a small portion of the sedative into the cut, though not all. The effect was nearly immediate as foggy relief numbed his ankle enough for him to stand.
"You're a freaking dumbass," Z snarled in a mixture of outrage and pride, if there ever was one. "The craftiest freaking dumbass I've ever met. Now get moving before you make me go gray."
With a wild grin, Noah checked his pocket to ensure the chip was there before jogging out the door in a slightly unbalanced lope.
Pain numbed or not, running on a anesthetized ankle was still one of the hardest things Noah had ever done. And damn if it didn't make him feel alive.
He pressed another button on his forearm as he ran.
"Commander, I've got the data and I'm on my way."
"Good. The shuttle is here and we're waiting on you. Not much more time before the engines draw unwanted attention, Noah. Get here as quickly as possible."
"Understood," he said, then pushed himself to move faster through the winding corridors and to the roof. "I'll be there shortly."
"I'll hold you to that."
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"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011