Avalanche – Snippet 36

“Roger that, Vickie.” He withdrew his arm from the hole in the wall, shaking the muddy water off before extinguishing the sword again and re-shouldering his rifle. “Eye in the sky, kid. Our Overwatch; kind of like mission control. She’s gonna help us get out of this joint.”

Suddenly his HUD showed an overlay; the directions led back through the way Zach and the others had apparently come.  There was a dead-end back that way, that according to Vickie was not a dead end at all.  Somehow they were supposed to gain access to a vertical shaft that lay past that wall.

“Get to the dead-end and cut your way past it.  If you can get through a Thulian dragon’s hide this should be cake.”

“Copy, we’re on it.” John and Sera broke into a trot; Zach and the others followed a short distance behind until the assembled group reached the wall that Vickie had specified.

“What now? This is back the way we came!” Zach threw up his hands in exasperation; some of the others were muttering, growing uneasy.

“Ramp up that fire to melt the edges, otherwise you’ll be swimming to the surface.  Kay?”

“Stand back, kid. Time for a magic trick.” John manifested his claymore in his off-hand, keeping his rifle shouldered in the other. Sera thrust her spear forward into the wall that Vickie had marked. She kept her spear just hot enough to burn through the wall into the void beyond. John, however, ramped up his sword as high as he dared; it was brilliantly white-hot when he started cutting into the wall. First, he made a man-sized square around Sera’s spear; he worked quickly, but not so fast that the heat didn’t have time to fuse the edges. Once that was done, he cut an ‘X’ right through the center of the box, from corner to corner. “Open sesame.” Sera pulled her spear from the wall in one quick motion; the four chunks from the ‘X’ came with the spear, spilling dust and concrete to the floor.

“The escape for the masters, denied to the slaves,” Sera said briefly.  “Follow me, my dears.  John, guard our rear.”  Without hesitation, she plunged into the dark hole, becoming a literal light in the darkness.  “There is a ladder,” she added, even as her fires showed it to the rest.

While Zach hesitated, three of the youngest metas did not.  One of them, a girl who looked to be no more than nine or ten, practically flung herself after Sera, as if she was afraid to let the former angel out of her sight.  That seemed to decide it for the rest, if not Zachary; they crowded up to the hole John had cut in the wall, jumping for the ladder as fast as there was room.

Perhaps the water on the floor in the hallway, at first only a slick, but now deep enough to make their shoes soggy, persuaded them. One way or another, this Facility was done for.

John felt what was coming before he saw it; three men rounding the corner at the opposite end of the hallway, maybe a hundred feet away. Two of them were wearing suits, while the other wore a tactical outfit like the security guards, but with the addition of a red armband on the left arm. He knew what they were; heavy hitters, Program metas like he had been meant to become. They started running towards John and Zachary, the one in white leading.

“We gotta cover the others while they get out, kid. You up for this?”

Zachary didn’t take his eyes off of the approaching enemies. “The better question is, are they? I’ve wanted to kill these guys for years.” He squared his shoulders, crouching low with his hands balled into his fists at his sides. John brought his rifle up, aiming for the center; best to take out the leader first, if he could. Fighting metas was unpredictable; no telling what bag of tricks this trio had. Just as John depressed the trigger, one of the suited goons dodged in front of the meta in white. The bullets found the center of his chest…and then he vanished in a whirl of something that looked like black smoke. Two identical goons were in his place, running side by side. John fired two more fast bursts at each, to the same effect; when hit, the goons vanished and were replaced by two more. Now there were five goons in suits, and all of them were grinning nastily.

“Well, shit. This just got more complicated.” John dropped his rifle, using the quick detach on the sling to let it completely go; it’d only hang him up if they got into serious hand to hand unpleasantness.

“Hurry up, hotshot, the shaft is starting to fill.  Unless you’re really good at breathing water, you’re running out of time.”

“Nag, nag, nag.” John focused for a moment; fire sprung to life in the palms of his hands, travelling up his arms. Zach was startled enough to flinch away from him. He was reminded again of his time with the Program…and how it ended. He shot his arms out in front of himself, sending waves of flame into the narrow hallway. Again, the duplicate goons shoved to the front, meeting the attack head on. John ramped up the fires, sending a pulse through the waves that crashed over duplicates until the hallway was filled with a truly impressive conflagration. John killed his fires once the automatic fire-suppression systems for the Facility kicked in; thankfully, it was sprinklers instead of Halon gas, though he supposed that it would only speed up the flooding. A mass of oily black smoke was all that was left where the goons had been.

“Not bad. For an old guy,” Zach said nonchalantly, relaxing from his fighting stance and scratching his nose.

“Y’know what they say, kid. ‘Older the bull—‘” John’s head snapped around to the hallway again. Something didn’t feel right…Zach picked up on it from John’s expression, but didn’t have time to prepare for what came next.

Charging through the smoke like creatures from some sort of nightmare were too many duplicates to count; if they had been grinning before, they now had near-rictus wide smiles, all teeth and hate. At the back of the clamoring mob was the one in the white security uniform, watching. That standout tilted its head the side. Then the screaming began.

The escaping children—Zach included—were all screaming as if they were being tortured. John whirled around for a split second, taking in the scene. Some of them were on the ground, clawing at their ears or the sides of their heads, balled up in the fetal position. Two fell from the ladder but somehow Sera slid down to them and caught them, holding them between her chest and the steel with her wings cupped around them. John turned back towards the most immediate threat; he could tell that Zach had managed to get a grip on whatever was happening to him, and was still on his feet.

“—p-pain! One. White—Mr. Cutter! N-nails and knives!” Zach rasped out through gritted teeth before screaming again, this time in both pain and rage, before he uncoiled like a spring, bolting towards the goons. Must be a telepath of some sort; induces pain…Sera and I are protected, but I can feel the bastard scratching at the edges of my mind, trying to wedge himself inside like a roach in a crack in the wall.

He didn’t have any more time to think; the goons were almost to the hole in the wall, and Zach had rushed forward alone. John manifested his sword; with his enhancements already keyed up, he was nearly a blur as he ran. He knew that it didn’t matter how many of the goons he cut through; more would pop up. He had to get to that bastard in white, Mr. Cutter; shut him off, and the kids would have an easier time of it.

Zach had already waded into the mass of the duplicates, his hands flashing and sweeping and breaking and tearing at a whirlwind pace. The duplicates were definitely physical, not just illusions. And they had knives. Zach was giving them a run for their money, but it was coming at a cost; his coverall was slashed open in several places, and he was bleeding freely from several of his wounds. John saw that he was about to go down in a dogpile of the duplicates, Roman stabbing style. Can’t have that. The duplicates were all so focused on Zach that not a single one of them saw him coming. With three overhead cuts, he took out four duplicates that had worked their way behind Zach. He brought his sword downward from a high guard viciously, using the back edge, amputating the hands of a duplicate that had just missed a thrust for John’s sternum. He noticed that this duplicate didn’t immediately disperse and double; it seemed to freak out, twitching and shaking as it fell to the floor. But it didn’t “die”.