- Chapter 15 -
WARNING: This series contains violence and graphic language. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 16.
Noah came to slowly, nauseated, aching, and lying on the interior roof of the hover vehicle. At some point, Sloan must have let him go because she was still tied to her seat, her safety belts holding her slack body upside down in their grip. Valentine had managed to put on his belts too, Noah noted with relief as he turned very slowly to see his commander hanging there through a plume of smoke.
Smoke which was belching out of the dash in the front, obscuring Kurt and the other passenger from view.
"Commander," he said, but the moment he opened his mouth the smoke stole the sound straight from his throat with sharp fingers. Noah coughed, then tried again. "Commander Valentine."
The commander stirred in his seat, his face red from being held upside down. Noah frowned and turned to Sloan instead. He shook her shoulder as best he could from his position, trying to wake her.
"Would you shut up for a minute?" Kurt snarled weakly, then hacked on the smoke no doubt suffocating him in the driver's seat.
"You okay?" Noah asked as he tried to pull himself up onto his elbows. Glass bit into his shirt sleeves painfully.
"What do you think?"
"Well, you sound like your normal, asshole self; so that's something."
He could hear the other man grousing and couldn't help but feel a little relieved. If he had the energy to snipe and grouse, surely he couldn't be too bad off.
"Banged up, but better than I thought I'd be. You?"
"Considering my seat belt was a couple of arms and not a belt at all, I can't complain."
"And the commander?" Kurt asked. Noah could hear the slight hitch of fear. The expectation of the worst.
"He's unconscious, but alright as far as I can tell. What about the other guy up there?"
He heard Kurt sigh softly.
"One of the IT guys came with me to try and cloak the hover craft for as long as possible with some special tech Z gave us. His name was Fred, I think… didn't really have time to do introductions."
"Messy but quick, let's leave it at that. Can you move?"
"My shitty safety belts got damaged. The emergency pack is back behind the seats. Probably on the roof with you now if it hasn't slid out during the crash. Should have a belt cutter in it."
"I'll see what I can do," Noah said. Then he started the grueling process of trying to turn around in the confined, crushed space of the hover vehicle. Some of the windows were completely shattered, allowing him to stick his feet out for more leverage and space when needed, but the going was still slow. By the time he had turned himself around enough to reach the pack‒‒which was thankfully still there‒‒he felt the commander stir in his seat.
Noah grabbed the pack and started rooting around for the belt cutter.
"Everyone alive?" Valentine asked, words tumbling thickly from his mouth.
"Nearly," Kurt said before Noah could answer. "We lost the IT agent Z sent."
"I see." Noah could hear the grimace in his commander's words.
The moment Noah's fingers curled around the belt cutter, a static-riddled automated voice crackled to life.
"Agent Kurtis, heat from the destroyed engine is starting to reach the fuel tank and spilled oils from the crash," the computer system warned, wavering in and out. "Immediate evacuation is suggested."
"Son of a bitch!" Kurt snarled. Noah could hear him thrashing, trying to get free by sheer force.
Noah started to turn around, ignoring the wet feel of his shirt sleeves as the glass tore up his forearms. The doctor was going to have a field day when he got back‒‒the thought sent shivers down his spine.
Just as he got himself to face the front again, Valentine managed to free himself from his safety belts. Noah winced in sympathy as the commander fell onto the unforgiving ground, grateful for the fact that he had managed to maneuver so that his shoulder took the brunt of the fall and not his neck.
When the commander managed to get his forearms underneath him, he turned to look at Noah.
"I'll help Kurt down. You try and wake up Sloan. Get her down."
"Right." He handed over the belt cutter, then turned towards Sloan. She was waking now, he noted with some relief. All the commotion inside the compact space had left her with her lashes fluttering, trying to open them but not quite managing to yet.
"Sloan," Noah said, jostling her shoulder again. "Wake up."
Her eyes eased open, dull and confused, before they finally blossomed into a wide and startled gaze. She looked at him, then their surroundings.
"What the hell happened?"
With one hand on her shoulder to brace her, he started to reach for the buckles of the belts holding her in place.
"We crashed. I'm going to get you down now, okay?"
All she could do was nod as Noah managed to reach the buckles.
"Alright, I'm going to unbuckle you now. Lift your arms and try to reach the roof, that way you can ease yourself down," Noah said, watching as she obeyed and braced her hands on the roof. "Good, now on the count of three. One, two, three‒‒"
He unlatched the belts. Bracing herself the way she did, her legs came down before her torso did. They snagged on the seat ahead of her for a moment before she managed to untangle them and settle down into an awkward crouch. Once she felt stable, she looked back at Noah.
"Now try and crawl out through the window."
As she crawled out, gingerly as to avoid as much glass as she could, he looked over to check on Valentine and Kurt. Kurt was down now, he realized with relief as he watched the man's shoes disappear through the window on the other side of the car.
"You get her down?" The commander asked.
"Yeah, she's crawling out now."
"Good, now get moving," he said, then followed Kurt out through the window.
"Tank exposure to rising heat levels imminent. Please evacuate the vehicle immediately," the automated voice said again, her words more garbled and hard to understand than before.
Noah scrambled forward the moment he saw Sloan's shoes slip out of the window. The glass was worse around the outside of the vehicle and he could see spots where the pavement was dyed red from Sloan's struggles to escape. Glass bit into his palms, shins, and knees, but finally he slipped free from the car. He stood, but the moment he put pressure down on his ankle, it caved. If not for Sloan slipping beneath his arm and helping him the last leg of the way away from the ruined hover craft, he wouldn't have gotten out in time.
There was the soft sound of a snick before the vehicle burst into flames in a howl. The fire lifted high into the sky, waving it's bright, hot fingers into the burnt evening. He put most of his weight onto his good leg, trying not to overbear the woman with his injury as they watched the fire climb higher. With the burning wreckage spanning the entirety of the alley Kurt had landed in‒‒even managing to burrow the front into one of the buildings a little bit‒‒Noah knew there was no way to get around the wreckage and immediately regroup with the commander.
"Noah, can you hear me?" Valentine said. Due to the roaring flames and the crackling of burning metal, he knew it was not Valentine's physical voice he was hearing, but his digital one talking to him their comm. system. He put a few fingers to his ear to help block out the sound of the fire. Noah squinted through the flames, trying to see if he could spot Kurt or the commander through them, but all it did was burn his eyes. When he looked away, large, hazy purple dots followed.
"We're fine over here, commander. How about you and Kurt?"
"We made it out. Listen, Noah, we have a little bit of time on our side. The fire will distract them for a bit once they get here. In the mean time, we're going to have to split up. Head to HQ if you can, otherwise hole up and contact us as soon as possible."
"Sloan's information is immensely valuable. Make sure she gets to HQ in one piece."
He took his fingers away from his ear and lightly squeezed the shoulder that was supporting him.
"Let's get moving," he said.
With a hesitant look, Sloan readjusted the arm she had slung over her shoulder and together they started to hobble out of the alley, even though it physically pained Noah to do it knowing he was leaving a man behind.
Getting to safety was easier said than done, Noah realized just a few blocks later. They hadn't gotten much more than a few streets down before a group of APD vehicles went wailing by in the direction they were heading from. In the distance he could see a search copter roaming the sky, it's bright light hungrily seeking in the approaching darkness. He knew they had some time on their side. The APD would head straight for the crash site the moment they saw the smoke. When they realized that the wreckage only contained one body ‒‒ not three ‒‒ they would start searching the city. That would be about the time Noah hoped that he and Sloan would be nice and cozy somewhere safe, riding out the search.
Sloan was being far more cooperative than he would've thought she'd be. Even though he had risked his life trying to break her out of jail, it didn't mean she knew he and the Agency had good intentions. He took a look at her from the corner of his eye, seeing the mask of calm and indifference she wore. But it was nothing more than that‒‒a mask. He could see it in the wide set of her eyes, she was afraid.
He didn't blame her; he knew what it felt like to be rescued by a stranger. To wonder if you were following the lesser evil by listening to and trusting someone who wanted you to trust them on their say-so. He knew the feeling very well. Pick your poison.
Yet she stayed with him, supported and followed him into the night.
"Thank you," Noah said, breaking the silence.
She stiffened, but kept walking.
"For not ditching the cripple," he said.
"Figured it wouldn't be in my best interests. I think sticking with you is safer than trying to figure this out on my own," she said, then grunted as she readjusted his arm again. "Though the going wouldn't be so heavy or slow if I ditched you."
"Heavy? Ah, you wound me."
"Uh-huh. So where are we going?"
"Some place safe, once I can figure out how to get there from here."
She pulled away a little to get a better look at him. If laughing wouldn't probably result in her leaving him to limp alone into the night, he would have laughed at the disgruntled look on her face.
"You mean you don't know where you're going?" She asked.
"I know where I'm going, just not quite sure how to get there from here," he said, trying to sound as convincing as possible. He couldn't help the little half smile that eased onto his face, seeing her incredulous expression.
"So the man who just broke into a max security prison to extract me…is lost," she said. Noah chuckled.
"I'm so used to cars driving for me that I can't say I know these streets as well as I could. But it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the entire city. We'll hit something familiar eventually‒‒ah! See? That park right there! I know where we are," he said.
He didn't need to look at her to know she rolled her eyes at that.
"Alright, so where are we?"
"Not close to the base, but close to somewhere safe. We'll go there."
"And if they catch us between here and wherever this safe place is?"
Noah bumped her shoulder with a chuckle like he would do when Vienna was upset, then let out an airy hiss as he jostled his ankle. They stopped for a second and let him recollect his balance before they started walking again. Noah cleared his throat, trying to dismiss his unsuccessful attempt to assure her.
"It's all about confidence," he said, ignoring her when she left out a dry, short laugh. "No, just hear me out. Look like you belong where you are and most people will usually believe it. No one wants to accuse someone of doing something lest they be wrong, and thus embarrassed. And the authorities are going to be looking for shady people. People who look like they're ready to bolt. Don't be those things and the battle's already half won."
"Somehow I think the bloody knees and forearms give us away. Not to mention your rather graceful limp."
"I said half way won."
"And the other half?" She asked.
"Getting there before they ask about the blood and the limp." Although it pained him to try, together they picked up their pace. "And if anybody does ask, I'm going to tell them you beat me up."
"I wouldn't sound so proud about that plan if I was you."
"I should have left you in prison."
Author's Note: I'm so sorry for the delay this week, guys! Between getting a new job, minor relocation and familiarizing myself with said location (aka, getting lost all the time), I totally had trouble getting this done. I'm going to try my hardest to make sure that this doesn't happen again! Thank you again for your patience and see you guys at the next update!
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
"ARC" © Kaitlyn Whitehead, 2011
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