BY ABNER SENIRES

ABOUT | ARCHIVES | NEWS | SUBSCRIBE | SUPPORT | MERCHANDISE
THE WALL OF FAME
SPONSOR OF THE MONTH: gold star Pete and Karen Smyth


The serial returns July 3rd. Catch up on previous episodes at the archives or get the "boxed sets." Subscribe to the episodes and get them delivered to your email inbox or RSS feed. Support us by becoming a patron.

"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...)

No comments: