Avalanche – Snippet 37

John changed tactics. He started to wound and incapacitate the duplicates instead of going directly for the kill. Holding his claymore in front of himself, he swung the blade in a windshield wiper motion, advancing forward with each cut. Hands, arms, parts of legs, and knives all fell to the floor. A few of the duplicates were killed anyways—they were all so close together, it was impossible to be one hundred percent discretionary with his attacks—but for the most part John only injured them enough to take them out of the fight. Swinging his sword out in a long arc in a low sweep with one hand, he easily hobbled a half dozen of the duplicates, sending them toppling over to the floor, legless. Whoever was controlling the duplicates got smart to the game, though; the still functional duplicates started to kill their wounded “comrades”, brutally and without hesitation.

Still bought us a little bit of time, an’ Zach some breathin’ room.

Zach was still tearing through the duplicates mindlessly, too caught up in pain to have any sort of technique to his attacks; what little he had in the first place, anyways.

“Enough of this shit!” John delivered a devastating front kick to the chest of one of the duplicate goons; the force of it was enough to leave a sickeningly deep boot-shaped indent in the duplicate’s chest before it crashed into the goons behind it, sending a cluster of them down in a pile. John grabbed the tie from one of the duplicates that was rushing past him to get at Zach, pulling it around until it was in front of him. Still holding on to the tie with his off hand, he stabbed his sword through the duplicate’s midsection; he ramped up the power of the fires for the sword for a moment, cauterizing the wound…but not “killing” the duplicate. The duplicate looked at John, then the sword sticking out of its gut, and then back to John.

John ignited the fires at his feet; the rocket-motor report was deafening in enclosed space. He held the duplicate–still impaled on his claymore–in front of him like a shield as his feet left the ground and he began to fly. The impacts as his makeshift shield struck its brothers were enough to make John’s arms creak, but he mustered all of his strength to keep pushing through, a human battering ram attached to a jet engine. He had seen what he had to do through the battle-sense, and knew when to release the now very dead duplicate right before it dissipated. He had punched through the mob of duplicates. He cut off his fires, extinguishing both his sword and his flight; in the same instant, he threw his arms wide, like a linebacker in full extension. His shoulder speared into the midsection of Mr. Cutter, tackling him to the floor. There was a loud crack as his helmet hit the floor. John had a second to see the man’s eyes; they were slammed wide open with fear. Before the meta could start to focus his attention or powers on John—or, even worse, Sera—he placed his right palm against the helmet at temple-level, then ignited a garden-hose thick stream of plasma that cut straight through the helmet and the head beneath, splashing against the wall. Mr. Cutter was dead instantly, wisps of acrid smoke drifting from the two new holes in the dead man’s helmet.

Instantly, the screaming from the children behind him stopped, replaced by uncertain whimpering.  I am getting them up the ladder again, beloved! he heard in his mind.  You must end this and join us, we are running out of time!

John sensed that the action behind him had changed. While still on the ground and hunched over the dead meta’s body, he glanced over his shoulder to see all of the duplicates stop in sync, then turn and run straight for him. He was on his feet instantly, reigniting his claymore and sheathing his arms in flame, ready to meet the charge…when just as suddenly, the entirety of the mob of duplicates disappeared completely. There was a single goon in a suit in the middle of the hallway; he looked around frantically, pulling a knife from his jacket and squaring his shoulders towards John. Before he could do anything else, Zach walked calmly up to the man and snapped his neck from behind, as easily as if he was cracking a glowstick.

It was John’s turn to be confused. “What happened?”

Zach stared at the body of Mr. Cutter, still fuming. “When you killed him, the pain went away. I could fight back after that, use my powers, concentrate on them.” He kicked the goon in the suit, hard, in the ribs. “I do probability manipulation, or that’s what they called it anyway. If I focus on it, I can…make it work harder for me. Do bigger things. I guess I shut down this asshole’s power for a second.”

John glanced at the hole in the wall.  The last of the children were just disappearing into the shaft.  Hurry! he heard Sera send to him through their connection.  The water is nearly at your level, and the Thulians are at the second basement!

“Time to get goin’, kid. We’re way past check out—” John saw it coming before it happened, and rushed forward to reach Zach. The young meta swayed on his feet for a moment before his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and he swooned. John caught him before he hit the floor, then slapped him in the face a couple of times. The teen’s eyes fluttered open, though clearly it took some effort. “You’re played out, but we gotta get you outta here. Up an’ at ’em.” Zach nodded weakly as John helped him back to his feet. He half-carried, half-shoved Zach along as they ran for the hole in the wall that led to the emergency escape hatch.

It was a simple metal tube with a ladder opposite the hole in the wall.  And Sera had not exaggerated; water was lapping at the rungs visibly as he shoved Zach inside–they both had wet feet before they climbed higher.

“You’ll feel an opening in front of you and the ladder will keep going up, slantwise,” Vickie said in his ear.  “That’s where you need to go.  Don’t reach up for the next part of the ladder, that’ll only take you where there’s a lotta Nazis.”

Sure enough, in roughly two stories, his hand encountered empty air.  He ignited the fire on his hand and looked down at Zach below him.

“See the hole?” he said, sticking his hand in the place where a slantwise tube joined the vertical one.  Zach nodded.  “That’s where we’re goin’!”

Then he clambered up and in.  The going was easier on the slant.  “How much of this have we got, Vix?” he asked aloud.

“A lot.  It leads out beyond the fence.  Five hundred yards, roughly.”

He caught up with the last of the kids, ignited a fire again, and looked back.  Zach’s eyes reflected the flame; now that he wasn’t fighting like a demon, the meta teen looked very young, exhausted, and vulnerable.  The kid in front of him squeaked, stopped, and looked back in a panic as she realized there was someone behind her.  John tried to smile reassuringly.  It must have worked; she kept going.

Finally, a hint of daylight ahead, with dark, moving shapes obscuring it.  And he sensed Sera near.  The light encouraged the other kids to move faster; as he reached it, he saw Sera’s arms reaching into the hole and helping to pull the little girl ahead of him out.  He could not get out of that tunnel fast enough; too many memories. Ghosts of the past tended to suck up all the oxygen in a room if you let them.

He emerged on a thickly forested island and it was immediately apparent that most of the forest was artificial.  A metal hatch had been flipped back onto what looked like long grass and was, in fact, plastic.  The only real things were the drifts of dead leaves caught here and there.

“There’s a slightly submerged path; marked it on your HUDs,” Vickie said.  “Holy shi–hit the dirt!”