Fire With Fire – Snippet 29

Chapter Thirteen


The knob turned; the door swung inward. Caine was surprised by the casual confidence of the intruder: no low dodge to either side of the door. He came straight in, the muzzle of his assault rifle poking ahead. Caine waited a split second — until the intruder’s black-sleeved arms cleared the door jamb — before grabbing the muzzle with his left hand and yanking, hard.

As he had hoped, this good soldier reflexively hung on to his gun — which brought him spinning around the corner, blind. Caine planted his left leg across the intruder’s path, still pulling the barrel of the assault rifle while holding its muzzle wide of his own body. The soldier, struggling to keep balance, tried a skittering sidestep and tripped over Caine’s left leg. Caine followed him down, and — shocked at how calm he was — cocked back his knife hand to finish the job with a single overhand attack —

That he never completed. Strong fingers locked around Caine’s right wrist, one of them digging expertly into the nerve cluster just south of the base of his thumb. A sudden numbing spasm and his thumb popped away from the handle of the knife, which was immediately knocked out of his hand. Caine tried to spin out of the grip, found his arm already twisted behind him, then a knee in his back, pushing him forward and down. Caine belly-flopped on the floor of the kitchenette, the second assailant’s knee like a pile driver in his back: the air went out of Caine with a noise like a full bellows suddenly squashed flat. He was dimly aware of the first intruder scrambling back to his feet: “Son of a bitch! Who –?”

“It’s him,” said a voice behind Caine. “Livelier than we were told. Mr. Riordan, don’t give us any more trouble: we’re here to help you.”

Caine’s first response was flat disbelief — it’s just a ploy — but then he reconsidered: if they had wanted him dead, they wouldn’t be talking with him now. And it would also explain their casual entry. “Okay — but it’s customary for guests to knock before they come in. Particularly when they’re uninvited, the door is locked, and they arrive in the middle of the night. With big guns.”

“Fair enough,” said the voice as the knee came out of the small of Caine’s back and the hand came away from his wrist. Rolling over, Caine found the same hand now extended to help him up: at the other end of that arm was a surprisingly small, wiry man in black-and-gray urban camos. “Sorry about all this. We thought you’d be asleep; never expected you’d be up and” — he looked at the knife on the floor — “ready.”

“Yeah, well, I was. Now what the hell is –?”

“No time for questions. We’re here to get you out. Put on these goggles: they’ll help you see in the dark. Stay between us and follow our orders exactly. Meyerson, check the hall.”

Caine adjusted the goggles — light amplification augmented by thermal imaging — and let the larger one lead him out into the corridor after he had given it a quick duck-around check. “How’d you guys get here so quickly?”

“We were already here.”

“You’re site security?”


“Then –?”

“This is special duty for us. We were assigned to stay here round the clock as security. For you. In case something like this happened.”

Downing had remarked that someone might still want Caine dead. Obviously, he had been correct. “Okay, so what do we –?”

“‘We’ don’t do anything,” muttered the small man as they moved into a slow trot. “Meyerson and I have one job: to get you to the roof.”

“The roof?”

“For VTOL extraction. Contingency orders in the event the facility is compromised. And, sir?”


“Unnecessary talking will get us killed.”

Caine closed his mouth tightly, nodded, and followed.


“So who is our Calypso?”

Nolan tapped his compupad. “Opal Marie Patrone, born May 14, 2035, Knoxville, Tennessee. Grew up all over the place: an army brat. Father was stationed in Cleveland, San Antonio, Buffalo, Fort Bragg. Five-foot-five, a hundred twenty-five pounds, all fitness indices in the ninetieth percentiles. Got a full ride for her first two years at Vanderbilt, then had to go ROTC to finish her degree: biology, specializing in zoology, magna cum laude. Exemplary soldier, well-liked by those who served under her. Qualified as a medic and sharpshooter. She was severely wounded during a counterterrorist joint op with the Royal Marines, September 16, 2066, British Guyana. Hers was the third successful field application of cryogenic reduction.”

“Sounds like she was going career military.”

“Doesn’t say. We don’t have a lot of time to get her ready, though.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The virus that compromised her is a garden-variety terrorist construct that we can now eliminate with several different therapies. But her liver is a mess.”


“No way. She was surgically stabilized before they put her in cryogenic suspension; she can function for a day or so, but then she’s going to need regrowth therapy and a two-stage –“

The commplex buzzed. Nolan tapped his collarcom: “Corcoran.”

Downing had just raised the snifter when he heard Nolan’s tone change. “They what? When? How many — no, forget it. Response code X-Ray Alpha. Yes — all of them. I’ll be on the roof for pick-up in three minutes. Sitreps every two.”

Downing was already on his feet, coat on. “Sidearm?”

“If you’ve got it.”

“What –?”

Nolan shrugged into his overcoat. “The safehouse in Alexandria. It’s being hit. Right now.”

“Bloody hell,” breathed Downing.


They moved using a modified version of a leapfrog advance: after the rear man moved forward, Caine swerved out of cover to follow him at a distance of about five meters, staying close and low against the same wall. They were nearing a bank of elevators when Little Guy, who was in the lead, dropped to one knee, fist raised.

Caine heard it too. Gunshots. Full automatic — breathy and extremely rapid. Almost like someone tearing a paperback in half: the individual reports were so quick that they bled into one smooth patter of sound. Meyerson had come off the tail position, kneeled next to Caine.


Little Guy looked back, harpooned Meyerson with his eyes. “Until it’s your turn to advance, you watch our six.”

Meyerson looked to the rear — but his head spun back forward as the sounds resumed, closer this time, apparently rising up through the stairwell that was co-located with the elevators. Caine listened, heard a buzz of sharp, thin snaps mixed seamlessly into the reports.

“Machine pistols. Silenced,” Meyerson commented.

Before Caine could think the better of it, he was voicing his own assessment. “Maybe not. Each of those little snaps is a round going supersonic. But that high rate of fire and smooth suppression — I think they’re using liquid propellant assault rifles. No ejection ports, so only the muzzle blast to suppress. And only full-bore rifle rounds have that crisp supersonic snap.”

Meyerson looked incredulously at Caine, then smirked. “Anything else?”

Caine shrugged, looked forward. “Probably bullpup weapons; they’ll want something short and handy for close-quarters combat.”

Meyerson grinned forward toward the back of Little Guy. “You believe this? He’s a real –“

“He’s right. And this is the last time I’m going to tell you to watch our six, Meyerson. We’re heading for the roof, now. Let’s go.”

They rose, Little Guy’s weapon up and ready. Caine edged closer to him. “Those guns — doesn’t seem like amateur hour.”

“No, sir. I think you’re right about that.”

Six meters from the elevator gallery.

“Probably had to come in on the ground.”

“That’s certain: we’ve got the airspace locked up tight. Sensors all over. Verticals on two-minute standby.”

Two meters.

“Which they’d probably anticipate.”

One meter. Little Guy paused. “What are you saying?”

“Even if they don’t dare go to the roof themselves, wouldn’t they try to prevent us from getting there? Send someone ahead?”

Little Guy turned to look at Caine. “A blocking force.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

Little Guy nodded, moved forward at the double-quick, waving for Meyerson to catch up. Meyerson did, went for the stairs: Little Guy waved him off.

Meyerson’s eyes were surprised, his voice quizzical: “We’re taking the elevator? It’s a death trap.”

Little Guy shook his head. “Cover me.” When Meyerson had set himself up, Little Guy took out a palmtop. Looking over his shoulder, Caine saw a building schematic on the small screen. Little Guy scrolled through it, selected, enlarged, selected again — too fast for Caine to follow. Then he was turning off the palmtop, slipping it back into his shoulder pocket, and pulling a master key/wrench combination from a pouch on his web-gear.

“Can I give you a hand?”

Little Guy nodded at Caine, who followed him over to a panel between the staircase and the leftmost of the elevators. Jerking his head at the wall panel, he told Caine, “Keep it from falling. No noise.” He already had the first of the restraining bolts out of the panel.

About twenty seconds later, the last bolt came out and the panel sagged forward toward Caine — who lugged it away from the wall and lowered it to the floor. A half-size access door was embedded in the wall.

“Meyerson.” Little Guy had the key in the lock; the access door swung open with a stiff squeal.


“Give us ten seconds, then follow us up. Close the door after you and keep watching below as we climb.”

Little Guy stuck his head in the maintenance shaft, did a quick up-down check. Popped back out, looked at Caine. “Here’s the drill. I go in first. Give me five seconds, then you start up. It’s not a self-contained chute; it’s a recessed ladder in an access channel that runs the length of the elevator shaft. Keep your rump and your shoulders within that channel and you’ll be invisible. Stay about five feet lower than I am and don’t come out on to the roof until I give you an all-clear. We’re on the second floor; the roof is only three above us, so you shouldn’t need to pace yourself on the climb. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Okay. And good thinking about that blocking force.”

Little Guy ducked under the top edge of the doorway and was gone. Caine counted to five and swung himself in.

Little Guy was already far above him. Down below was nothing but blackness, except for what sounded like a distant rush of falling water, the sound one hears when nearing a waterfall. Caine looked down. Far below — was that a hint of movement? He listened for a second he couldn’t spare: only liquid susurrations. No time to check again. He aimed his eyes at the disappearing soles of Little Guy’s boots and started to climb.


Just ahead, through the torrents of water, Opal could see two elevators at a T intersection, flanking a large letter “B.” So she was in the basement. Great.

And she wasn’t alone. Approaching the elevators from the opposite direction were three figures. Running. In white coats. Workers.

She was about to wave, then ducked back as far as she could into the doorway, which was her cover: one of the workers kept looking back over his shoulder, panicked. The first of the three — a woman — reached the elevators, evidently found them inoperable, jumped over to the stairway fire door, hand upon the knob —

The center of her white lab coat exploded outward into a red smear, followed quickly by another bloody eruption from where her appendix would be, and a third misty blast that shattered her right knee, almost severing the lower leg. The growling hiss of suppressed weapons-fire grew: the other two bodies tumbled, one losing an arm. Stray rounds streaked past Opal’s shallow shelter, emitting vicious cracks as they did: projectiles sharply breaking the sound barrier. What the hell kind of guns were these?

Then, silence, except for the dull thunder of the water spraying down. She waited. Through the water, she barely heard footsteps approach, then stop about fifteen, maybe twenty feet away: right about where the kill zone had been. Muttered reports, a pause, a response, then footsteps again — receding, but the sound took longer to die away. They were not returning the way they had come: they were going down the corridor that branched off from the intersection, down the leg of the T.

So she had to wait. If she went to the elevators now, and they turned around, they’d have her. So move as close to the elevators as possible, listen, maybe steal a quick peek.

Which she did, keeping her bare feet in gliding contact with the wet floor: anything else and she would sound like a kid playing in a puddle. She reached the corner of the T intersection, went low, did a quick out-and-back check: three distant figures disappearing into the artificial downpour, then pausing, preparing to make an assault entry to another room. Timing was everything now: she took the risk of looking again, saw one of the strikers fire a round into the lock, just before another shouldered the door open. Now.