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THE WALL OF FAME
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"Pop Quiz" - Part Seven

"Wonder how Sakura got them down here," said Mouse.

"Chance to kill us," I said. "At least for Dreadlocks. Other guys probably his cronies. Came along for the ride."

"We greased two of them. How many do you think he brought?"

"The more the merrier," I said.

"Damn straight," said Mouse and gave a cruel chuckle.

* * *

We rounded the corner and saw it.

The elevator bank.

At the end of another long corridor.

And just before it, another T-intersection.

"Shit," said Mouse.

"I know," I said.

"We're not gonna catch a break, are we."

"Do we ever?"

She barked a laugh and gave me a lopsided grin. "Good point. How are we on time?"

I checked my optic clock.

15:26:17.

"A little over half an hour," I said and started forward, the Twins tracking.

"That intersection's gonna be a bitch," Mouse said. "How do we get across?"

"Still thinking."

"Think fast."

"I know."

"You know he's gonna be at the other end of it."

"I know."

Crossing the intersection would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

And we'd be the fish.

* * *

Two meters before the intersection, I stopped and put my back to the wall on our right.

"Well?" said Mouse, doing the same.

A thought struck.

I holstered the Twins then groped inside the duffle bag and pulled out one grenade. Dug into my jacket pocket and pulled out another.

Mouse's eyes widened.

And she grinned.

Flashbang in my left hand. Frag grenade in my right.

"Blind 'im then bury 'im," she said. "I like it."

I grinned in reply and held them out to her. "Pull," I said.

She yanked both pins, her grin growing wider, and gave a small, guttural chuckle.

I held up the flashbang. "When this goes, run for the elevator. I'll be right behind."

"Wiz."

I edged toward the corner, back still to the wall.

Counted three in my head.

Lobbed the flashbang around the corner.

A burst of automatic fire replied from the far end.

Then the grenade went off. A sun white blast lit up the corridor. Then a bone-rattling thunderclap that reverberated off the walls.

Mouse took off, sprinting across the intersection toward the elevator bank.

A second later, I leaped into the middle of the intersection, hurled the frag grenade down the hallway, then turned and bolted after Mouse.

We ducked into the alcove housing the two elevators and kissed the wall furthest from the entry. Dropped to a crouch and threw my arms over my head.

Simultaneous flash and thunderclap. The floor heaved and bucked and a wave of heat crashed into the alcove raining dust and bits of debris against the walls and floor.

After a few moments, everything was quiet except for my pulse thudding through my skull.

I looked up.

The alcove sat in haze and I could smell something burning down the corridor.

"Fuckin'-A," said Mouse, her voice cracking. She coughed up dust.

I did the same. "Leaves us one more frag."

"In the duffle," said Mouse.

I nodded and drew the Twins. "Elevator."

"Yup."

Mouse padded to the call button.

I watched the entry into the alcove, the Twins up, tracking.

"Shit," said Mouse.

I looked over my shoulder.

Mouse was scowling.

"What?" I said.

She tapped the call button.

It didn't light up.

"Broken?" I said.

Mouse put her hands on her hips, glared at me, then beckoned me over with a finger.

I glanced at the entry, then walked over to her. "What?"

"Press the button," she said.

I holstered the Twins and pressed the call button.

Then did it again.

Then put both hands on the wall.

Nicely done, Sakura.

The entire wall was a photorealistic depiction of an elevator bank. Either a painting or an enlarged image, enhanced by the dim lighting scheme from the fixtures overhead.

"I get to kill her first," Mouse said.

"First we get out," I said. "Then I'll hold her down for you."

"Deal."

"Let's find the real elevator," I said and drew the Twins.

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz" - Part Six

At the intersection we sliced our corners, then stood back to back, Mouse looking down the left side, me looking down the right side.

"Clear," said Mouse.

My end of the corridor led to an elevator bank.

"Elevators," I said.

We headed toward them.

The bank had two cars. One had warning tape criss-crossing the doors. The other door was unmarked.

I tapped the call button by the unmarked door.

It lit up.

We stood at angles on either side of the door.

As distant machinery thrummed, I checked my optic clock.

15:18:20.

Forty-two minutes left.

* * *

The elevator doors opened onto Level Two, a T-intersection, and automatic fire coming from straight ahead of us, gouging out chunks from the door frame and the back wall of the elevator car.

I dropped to a crouch and unloaded with the Twins, the pistols bucking and roaring in my hands.

Heard Mouse sheathe her sword and pull the MP5 from the duffle.

"Go!" said Mouse.

I fired off four more rounds each from the Twins then hooked around the door into the corridor on the left.

Mouse swept fire down the corridor with the MP5 and ducked right.

I'd gotten a quick look down the passageway just before hitting cover.

Just one figure.

So far.

I dropped to one knee next to the wall, holstered Clyde, then drew a smoke grenade from my cargo pocket, pulled the pin, and rolled it down the corridor. Heard it clatter and bounce off a wall.

"Grenade!" a voice called out.

A faint hiss. Then white smoke began to flood the corridor.

Mouse crouched and sidestepped toward me, loosing several quick three-round bursts toward the spreading smoke cloud. She got to my side of the corridor and hugged wall.

We both reloaded.

Pan and scan, our hallway.

Empty. Same lighting scheme as the ones below. Five doors on the left, two on the right. At the far end, it went right.

Tapped Mouse on the shoulder and pointed. "That way," I said.

She nodded. "I got our six."

Twins up, tracking.

We moved.

* * *

After fifteen meters we reached another T-intersection and the figure leaped out from around the corner, screaming, a submachinegun held in two hands at waist level.

He managed a short burst of fire before the Twins roared and blew four holes in his upper chest and face.

His feet flew out and he thudded onto his back, the subgun arcing fire up into the ceiling.

Then another mook charged around the same corner, hot on the heels of the first, his subgun also blazing.

Mouse clipped him low. Two short three-round bursts from the MP5 into his pelvic girdle. The mook's legs crumpled and he dropped face first on the floor with a crunch of cartilege.

A bullet in the head finished him.

I looked down at the two dead mooks.

One bald wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with a frayed collar, tribal tattoo design along the length of his left arm. The other with blond spiked hair wearing animal teeth necklace and a faded black leather vest. Both well-muscled. Both armed with MAC-10 machine pistols.

Both Wyld Boyz.

"Crap and a half" said Mouse. "That means--"

"I know you're there, girlie," he said, his sandpaper voice echoing along the corridor.

Dreadlocks.

Dammit.

"I'm going to carve my initials on your insides," Dreadlocks said, his voice echoing along the corridor.

"Careful," I called back. "I bite."

He laughed, hollow and humorless.

Cocky piece of shit.

"Bastard's in our way," said Mouse.

"And he'll be exactly where we need to go," I said.

"Waiting near the next elevator."

"Yeah."

"What's the plan?"

"Got the other smoker?"

Mouse nodded.

"Pop it down here," I said, inclining my head at the intersection. Then I nodded toward the corridor in front of us. "And we go there."

Mouse pulled out the smoke grenade from the duffle and lobbed it down the hallway.

I jabbed the muzzles of the Twins around the corner's edge and began firing.

Mouse did the same with the MP5, loosing several three-round bursts.

Bursts of automatic fire replied, punching holes in the wall across from us.

When the smoke cover in the hallway thickened enough, Mouse bolted across the opening.

I waited until she got to the other side, then fired off four more rounds, and bolted across, sliding to safety just as rounds tore chunks from the corner near us, raining dust and plaster.

Caught my breath, reloaded the Twins, and pointed toward the end of the hall.

Mouse reloaded the MP5 and nodded.

We headed forward.

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz" - Part Five

We were in a corner where two corridors met. One straight ahead, the other to our left.

Dim yellow light spilled from rectangular fluorescent lamp fixtures evenly spaced along the ceilings. Plain floor and walls.

The corridor in front of us had unmarked doors, spaced out on either side. Two on the left. One on the right. At the far end, it went left.

The corridor to our left had two unmarked doors. One a few meters from us, on the right. The other on the left, halfway down. The corridor dead-ended on a wall.

Checked my optic clock.

15:05:35

Five minutes down.

Fifty-five to go.

I pointed to the corridor in front of us. "That way," I said.

Metal sang out as Mouse drew one of her wakizashis--Japanese short swords. "I'll watch our six," she said.

"Let's go."

Drew a deep breath. Exhaled. Raised the Twins.

And started forward.

The overhead lights gave off a low stuttering hum as we passed beneath.

We tried the doors on either side.

Locked. Every single one.

A crawling sensation crept up the middle of my back.

"Shit," said Mouse.

"I know," I said.

* * *

Ten meters from the bend in the corridor I heard a click.

Then the section of the floor under me dropped away into darkness.

Mouse caught the back of my jacket collar and yanked me back onto solid floor.

I blinked, let out a loud exhale, felt my heart triphammering in my chest. "That's new," I said.

"Shit," said Mouse. "Wonder where it goes?"

"I don't want to know. You?"

"Nope."

I looked at the gaping hole in the middle of the hallway. Two meters long. Nearly the width of the corridor.

Took a few steps back.

"You're gonna jump it, aren't you," Mouse said.

"Yeah," I said. "You, too. We gotta get across somehow."

She scowled at the hole and grumbled.

I took a deep breath, exhaled, sprinted for the gap, then threw myself outward and forward. I sailed across the hole, landing just at the edge on the other side, my momentum carrying me forward. I tucked and rolled, came up to a crouch. Spun on my heels and gestured to Mouse.

She sheathed her blade, stepped back, got a running start, and jumped.

And slammed into the edge of the hole. She went saucer-eyed, hands scrabbling for a handhold.

I dove for her, caught a wrist, then reached down and hooked an elbow under her armpit.

She flung her other arm over my shoulder.

"Got it?" I said.

"Go," she said.

I yanked her out of the hole and onto the floor, away from the edge.

We lay there, panting for breath, staring up into dimly lit ceiling lamps.

"Sonofabitch," said Mouse.

I turned to look at her.

She was touching her chest with her fingertips and wincing at the contact. "That's gonna bruise."

I gave her an empathetic wince. "Ouch."

"I hate that woman," she said.

"I know," I said, then rolled to my feet, stood, drew the Twins and motioned ahead. "C'mon. Clock's ticking."

Mouse got to her feet and drew one of her wakizashis. "I hate clocks, too."

A minute later, we reached the bend in the corridor.

Sliced the corner, starting near the wall, then arcing around, Twins tracking, scanning floor to ceiling as I went until I saw the entire corridor.

Clear.

Empty. No doors. Ending at another T-intersection.

I motioned forward.

* * *

We were halfway down the corridor when six jets of flame shot out from the walls and sprayed the path just ahead of us.

I danced back, out of the way, and put up both arms to ward off the sudden wash of heat.

The flame jets sputtered and went out.

Mouse said: "What. The fuck?"

I took an experimental step forward.

The flames sprayed again.

Stepped back.

They went out.

"Goddammit," said Mouse.

I turned to her. "This is like one of your adventure vids," I said. "The guy with the whip. I'm waiting for a boulder to come rolling down from the ceiling."

"Don't give whatshername any ideas."

I turned back to the flame jets, then stepped foward.

Another spray of fire.

Raised my foot a few centimeters, then put it down on another spot on the floor, still in front of me. The flames went out when I lifted my foot and sprayed again when I set it down.

"Thought so," I said, stepping back. I pointed to the floor. "Pressure sensors from here forward. Step and get torched."

Mouse grumbled.

I holstered the Twins, squatted, and pressed on the floor with one hand.

Again the flames shot out.

Then I looked again.

Each fan-shaped flame spray came from six recessed nozzles. Three on each side, spaced a meter apart. The trio on the right-side wall were set at knee height. The left-side wall, at head height.

"Check it out," I said to Mouse and waved her forward.

She crouched next to me and looked. "Okay. So?"

"That gives me an idea."

Mouse said: "Oh no. No way."

"You don't even know what it is."

"You're going to crawl under the flames," she said. "That's insane."

"Good guess."

"No way, Kat."

"Just stay flat on the floor and move fast. It'll work."

"Yeah, if you want barbecued ronin."

"I'll take the chance," I said, dropped to my stomach, and belly-crawled forward.

"Insane!" Mouse called out.

I heard the woosh of the flame jets above me, felt the heat licking at my back. Gritted my teeth, dug my toes into the floor for better traction, and kept moving forward.

Ten seconds later I emerged on the other end of the flame sprays and got to my feet, then took an experimental step forward.

After half a meter, the jets sputtered and died out.

I turned back toward Mouse and pointed to the area of the floor between me and the nearest wall nozzle. "Sensors stop right about here." I motioned her forward.

She made a face, then unslung the duffle and set it on the floor by her feet. Then she sheathed her blade, dropped to her stomach, and started to belly-crawl toward me, pushing the duffle along.

As soon as she hit the floor sensor in front of her, the flame jets wooshed to life.

Another ten seconds and she made it across.

I helped her up and we stepped away from the flames.

"That was bullshit," said Mouse. She re-slung the duffle across her back and drew her wakizashi.

I gestured down the hallway. "Come on."

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz" - Part Four

I awoke staring at a bare ceiling with fuzzy edges, feeling like I'd just climbed the side of a 50-story building.

The last time I'd woken up like this was when some joyboys had clocked me in the head and stole a package I was delivering.

Not a joyboy this time.

A woman.

At Ascot Arms elevator.

With a tranquilizer gun.

I sat bolt upright and immediately regretted it.

The floor tilted left and I slapped a hand on the floor, trying to steady myself.

"I know," Mouse said from somewhere nearby, her voice sounding tinny and distant. "I did the same thing."

I closed my eyes tight, willing the floor to stop moving.

Several seconds later, it stopped tilting and leveled off.

I opened my eyes.

Clear. No more fuzzy edges.

"Better?" said Mouse.

"Yeah," I said and got up. Slowly. Testing my balance.

The floor didn't move.

I straightened fully and looked around.

We were in a gray-walled room slightly bigger than the Red Dog's back office. A door on our right. Large video screen embedded in the wall in front of us.

Behind me, set against the wall, stood a folding metal table with a large black duffle bag on top.

Mouse stood next to the table and finished pulling on her black leather trenchcoat.

I looked down at myself.

Still wearing the suit.

Still had the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--in a double-holster shoulder rig under the suit jacket.

"Here," said Mouse.

Looked up.

She lobbed a bundle at me.

Caught it. Recognized the clothes. Gray t-shirt. Black leather biker jacket. Black BDU pants. Boots.

"Our clothes," I said.

"Yep," said mouse and patted the duffle bag. "All our gear, too."

I carried the bundle to the table. Spotted Mouse's wakizashis and harness. Looked inside the duffle.

Gear belt and mag pouches.

There was also a loaded H&K MP5 submachinegun with ten extra mags and six grenades: two smoke, two fragmentation, and two flash-bangs.

Mouse said, "From our friend with the tranq gun?"

"That'd be my guess. Ever seen her before?"

"Nope. You?"

I shook my head and started to change into work clothes.

Mouse pulled on her harness then sheathed both blades in the back scabbards and said, "Hey, Kat?"

"Yeah?" I said.

"I don't like this."

"Neither do I."

* * *

Two minutes later, I slipped on the black leather biker jacket, adjusted the Twins in their double-holster shoulder rig, and felt more like myself.

Never did like the corporate look.

I buckled on the gear belt and checked the mag pouches. All loaded with AP rounds.

Then the wall-embedded screen flickered to life and a thirtyish Asian woman with long raven-black hair and delicate features standing in front of a non-descript off-white wall smiled at us.

"Hello, ladies," she said. "I did promise we'd chat again soon."

The hairs at the back of my neck saluted.

Well done, ladies. I'm very impressed with you both. And I don't impress easily.

The voice.

"The phone call," I said.

"Holy shit," said Mouse.

"That's correct," she said. "Well done. And in case you couldn't tell, we met in the elevator at the hotel."

Mouse took a step toward the screen and jabbed at finger at it. "So you're the one who shot us. Sneaky bitch."

"What do you want?" I said.

She held up a hand. "Introductions first. My name is Sakura. You are Kat and Mouse. I've been following your exploits for quite some time."

Mouse snorted. "We've got our very own stalker."

Sakura chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm nothing like how Mr. Sam Olson was to your friend Valkyrie."

"How do you know about that?" I said.

"That's my business," said Sakura.

I folded my arms across my chest. "Obviously you're not planning to kill us or we'd already be dead."

"Very good. He was right about you two."

"Who? You've said that before."

"The reports I've received," said Sakura, "give you both high praise. But they're just that. Reports. Secondhand information. I'm here to see for myself."

"This is a test," I said.

Sakura smiled. "Again, very good."

"You mean we're gonna be lab rats?" said Mouse, a scowl on her face. "Fuck that."

"I don't think we have a choice," I said.

"No, you don't," said Sakura. "Now listen carefully."

Her image shrank to the left half of the screen. The right half showed a schematic diagram in red of a three-level underground complex.

"You are here," said Sakura. "Formerly an R and D center, now refitted to my purpose."

A section of the diagram glowed. Bottom level, all the way to the right of the schematic.

"This is your current location. You will need to get here to exit the complex."

Another glowing section. Top level, on the far left side.

Then the schematic vanished and Sakura once again filled the screen. "One more thing."

Numbers appeared on the lower third of the screen.

1:00:00

"Oh fuck," said Mouse.

"One hour," I said. "For what?"

"For you to get to the exit."

"There's an 'or'," I said. "What's the 'or'?"

"Or the charges I've set throughout the complex detonate and the whole place collapses on top of you."

"You're a fucking psycho, lady," said Mouse.

Sakura gave us a toothy smile. "Good luck."

Her image vanished, leaving only the time display.

Then the display blinked and changed to 00:59:59.

And then 00:59:58 as I stared at it.

Shit.

I reached into the duffel bag and pulled out one of each grenade, put two in cargo pockets and one in my jacket pocket. Then shoved the duffle bag at Mouse. She slung the bag across her back, adjusting it between her harness, and nodded at me.

I checked my optic clock.

15:01:17.

Time to go.

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5