BY ABNER SENIRES

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THE WALL OF FAME
SPONSOR OF THE MONTH: gold star Pete and Karen Smyth

End of a Season and a Short Break

And there you have it, Folks. The end of Season One.

We hope you've enjoyed the Duo's first group of adventures. There's more to come. For the moment, though, we're taking a short break.

Season Two will begin on Monday 24 January 2011.

If you still need to catch up, head over to the Archives.

We'll see you back here in January!

"Pop Quiz" - Part Eleven

Found it a meter away. Just past the door on the right that sat halfway down the corridor.

"Mouse," I called out.

I heard her come up behind me.

"Found it?" she said.

"Yeah." I inclined my head at the corridor in front of us.

"Down there?"

"No," I said and stuck my hand out.

My palm touched a wall.

"Sonofabitch," said Mouse. "Like that elevator bank upstairs. A fake. So where's the real elevator?"

I drew one of the Twins and nodded at the door on our right. "Through there." I opened the door.

Inside was a short corridor that led to a waiting elevator car.

"Now that's what I want to see," said Mouse.

We walked down the corridor and stepped inside the car.

I pressed the only button on the control panel. The door closed. Distant machinery hummed.

And the elevator started up.

* * *

We stepped out the door and into a wide patch of sunlight that suddenly vanished behind a wall of gray clouds.

Typical.

We were outside a single-story building half the length of a city block. Gray and windowless. Only the one door we'd just emerged from as far as I could tell.

Around us was flat, open space that stretched at least two hundred meters before ending at a tall razorwire-topped fenceline that ran the perimeter of the grounds.

We were outside the city. East. Essex, most likely. It was the only area aside from Lakeshore that had lots of open space for this kind of set up.

Felt a tap on my arm.

Turned.

Mouse pointed to the far end of the building.

Peeking just around the corner was the back end of the white loaner from Specs.

"Let's bounce," I said.

"Right behind you," said Mouse.

We jogged toward the car, rounded the corner, and skidded to a stop.

The Twins leaped into my hands.

Mouse's wakizashis sang out from her back scabbards.

Three meters in front of us stood a semicircle of a dozen figures. Half carried AK-47s. The other half, MAC-10s and UZIs.

Wyld Boyz.

In front of the group stood a tall, leanly muscled man wearing a black leather vest over bare tanned torso, arms folded across his chest, studded leather bracers on both wrists. A black bandana covered his head. At his hip, a pair of Bowie knives in leather sheaths.

"Kat and Mouse," he said.

"Maybe," I said. "Who're you?"

"Gunner vetted you two."

Mouse and I exchanged looks. Gunner was the leader of the Wolfpack.

"Okay," I said. "Still don't know who you are."

"Johnny Thunder," he said.

Aha.

"Wyld Boyz honcho," I said.

"That's right."

"Aren't you far from home?"

"Got a message one of mine is after you. And he's here."

"He was."

He quirked an eyebrow at me. "Was?"

I nodded.

He gave me a brief smile. "Guess we're late."

"Guess so."

"Works for me." He turned to leave, stopped, turned back. "We good?"

"I'm good," I said. "You?"

"Yeah," Thunder said. "Just for the record--I never greenlit this. Was all Tyson and his boys. Glad he got what was coming to him."

"Noted," I said.

He grinned. "Picked the wrong ladies to mess with."

"Damn right," said Mouse.

He inclined his head at us, then turned and signaled to the other Boyz.

They trooped back toward a trio of battered pickup trucks and climbed aboard.

Johnny Thunder got on a black Harley and started the engine. It rumbled to life. He gave us one final look, then turned the bike around and sped off.

The three trucks followed.

We watched them drive out an opened gate and disappear over the crest of a hill just beyond the complex.

I lowered the Twins and let out a long breath.

"I thought that was gonna get ugly," said Mouse, sheathing her blades.

"Guess we finally caught a break," I said then grinned. "And we scored fifty grand."

Mouse grinned back then looked past my shoulder and her grin morphed into a frown.

"What?" I said.

She gestured. "That would've been the exit, right?"

I turned.

Behind us was a solid gray wall.

I thought back to the image on the wall-screen, the schematic of the complex Sakura had shown us.

"Yeah," I said and felt my stomach drop. "It would've been."

"Damn," said Mouse.

"Let's go," I said, turned away, and headed for the loaner.

My phone chirped.

Pulled it out, checked the display.

Blocked number.

Mouse gave me a questioning look.

I put it on speaker. "Sakura" I said.

"Well done, ladies," came the reply. "Well done."

"You satisfied now?" I said. "We pass your damn test?"

"With flying colors."

"Now what?" said Mouse, eyes narrowed at my phone.

"Now," said Sakura, "I extend an invitation. I want you both to join me for a special assignment."

"Screw that, lady," said Mouse. "We've done enough for you."

"Not for me," said Sakura. "With me this time."

"What're you getting at?" I said.

"Before I tell you that, you need to do something first. I want you to get a message to Nicolai Medvedev."

"How do we do that?" I said.

* * *

Mouse and I perched on the bar stools inside the Red Dog.

Behind the bar, Revell stood with his arms folded across his barrel chest.

"It's true?" said Mouse.

"Da," said Revell. "Is true."

"You're Nicolai Medvedev," I said.

He nodded. "Once. Long ago."

I leaned forward, elbows on the bar top, fingers laced together. "What's going on, Revell?"

Revell's brow furrowed. He looked at Mouse. Then at me. Then let out a long exhale. "There is something you need to know. About this Sakura."

He paused, then added: "And there is something you need to know about Murphy."

--END--

NEXT TIME: "Secrets"

"Pop Quiz" - Part Ten

A haze of dust hung the air. Left over from the grenade blast. Down the corridor was the way we'd come through from the fake set of elevators. Spotted the intersection where I'd tossed the grenade and the door to the ceiling crusher room.

"Kat," Mouse said behind me.

I turned, Twins still up.

Five meters away, debris filled the corner of the passageway. Tangles of wire and cables jung down from the exposed ceiling like jungle vines and water dripped from busted pipes.

"Dreadlocks," I said.

"Think he's dead?" said Mouse.

"Only one way to find out," I said and started forward.

And Dreadlocks stepped around the corner, head down, staring up at us from beneath lowered brows, lips drawn back in a snarl. He held onto the wall with his right hand. In his left hand, he clutched a machete.

Blood soaked the entire left side of his white mesh shirt, coated his arm, and dripped off his fist onto the floor.

I popped optics to thermo.

Mods. Basic cyberhand clutching the machete. No implant weapons. Dermal sheath.

Explained how he was able to take the shots and not be splattered all over the wall.

"Hello, girlie," he said in his sandpaper voice.

"Where's your big gun?" I said.

"Don't need it. Just this." He held up the machete. "Time to die."

The Twins leveled themselves at Dreadlocks, felt them itching to play.

Heard metal sing out next to me, saw Mouse step forward into a fighting stance, wakizashis at the ready.

Dreadlocks glanced at Mouse. "Don't want you." He pointed the machete at me. "I want her."

"Sorry," said Mouse. "We're a matched pair."

"Drop the knife, choom," I said, "and no one gets hurt. I got no beef with you."

"I got one with you," Dreadlocks said.

And charged.

I side-stepped, the Twins still tracking.

Mouse met him halfway and parried his swing. Then her blades twirled in a flash of metal, slicing across his body, cutting huge gashes on his arms and torso.

He staggered back, machete slashing from side to side, trying to block Mouse's blades.

Mouse pressed forward, sent him crashing against a pile of debris.

He fell back on his ass, raised his machete in a block.

Mouse swung.

And machete and hand flew back toward the far corner of the hallway.

Dreadlocks screamed, blood gushing from the sliced wrist. He grabbed his forearm and tucked it against his chest.

I stepped toward him, Twins leveled at his head.

He fell over on his side, bleeding stump tucked under, sucking hissing breaths through gritted teeth.

"Are you done?" I said.

He glared up at me with slitted eyes. Saliva frothed at the corner of his mouth. "Fuck you," he said and his other hand reached behind his back.

The Twins roared and two rounds punched through his face, blood spraying a misty crimson halo around his head.

He dropped back in a heap, and the compact semi-auto fell from his right hand and clattered to the floor.

"Good riddance," said Mouse.

I holstered the Twins and gestured toward the elevator at the far end of the corridor.

We headed forward.

Halfway down the hall Mouse stopped. "Shit."

I stopped. "What?"

She looked at me, scowling. "The flamethrower wall and that goddamn hole."

"You'll do fine."

"You weren't the one who almost missed the other side of the hole."

"I could throw you across."

"Bite me."

* * *

We stood in the corner where two corridors met, just outside the room we'd started in.

I opened the door and motioned to Mouse. "Check in there for any fake walls or switches for fake walls." I gestured to the corridor on our right. "I'll check down here."

"Copy," said Mouse and stepped into the room.

I went down the corridor. Slowly. Hands feeling along the floor and walls, looking for hidden indentations or gaps or covered switches. Anything that would reveal the secondary entrance I knew was here.

Two meters down the hall, I stopped and checked my optic clock.

15:59:47.

Almost time.

I held my breath and silently counted down with the display.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

And silence.

Looked around the hallway.

Nothing.

The clock read: 16:00:08.

I let out a long exhale and grinned to myself.

I was right.

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz" - Part Nine

A minute and a half later, we pulled ourselves over the lip of the opening and onto the floor above.

I rolled to a crouch.

We were in a corner where two corridors met.

The two rottweilers standing in the middle of the corridor directly in front of us turned in our direction, ears perking. They snarled, teeth bared, eyes narrowed.

Then charged.

Crap.

Mouse and I fired. Three-round burst from her MP5. Two rounds each from the Twins.

The shots caught the dogs in the chest. They gave a startled yip and crumpled forward in mid-stride, skidding along the floor for a least a meter and a half before coming to a halt.

I turned to the right, the Twins still out, tracking, checking the other corridor.

A third rottweiler lunged, paws catching me in the chest, slamming me against the wall.

Wind wooshed out of my lungs. My head snapped back and white light flashed behind my eyes.

I dropped the Twins.

The dog shoved its snout at my face, growling, jaws snapping.

Hooked a forearm under the dog's neck, trying to keep it from tearing off my nose. Got my knee up between us, planted my foot in its belly, and shoved. Hard.

The dog yelped and fell back on its hind legs, righted itself, and lunged again.

Mouse's wakizashi caught it in mid-lunge, sliding through the side of its neck. It yelped and folded. Mouse danced back, blade at the ready.

I scrambled to one side, scooped up Bonnie, turned, and fired, blowing a hole in the dog's skull.

Then I sat down hard on my ass on the cold hallway floor, sucking in deep breaths.

"Holy fucking goddamn sonofabitch!" Mouse said. She was bent over, hands on her upper thighs, breathing heavily, her wakizashi on the floor next to her foot.

I rolled to my hands and knees, still holding Bonnie.

Something wasn't right. I got the distinct feeling we were being herded.

What was Sakura trying to do--?

And a thought struck.

I got to my feet. "Come on," I said to Mouse and headed back toward the elevator shaft.

"Where're you going?" said Mouse.

"Back downstairs."

"What?"

I stopped and looked back at her. "Trust me."

* * *

We were back in the short corridor behind the ceiling crusher room.

"Okay," said Mouse. "What are we doing back here?"

"Not getting killed," I said.

"Are you forgetting the explosives she set to bring this place down on top of us?"

I shook my head. "It's a bluff."

"You sure about that? Because I'm not too wild about getting crushed by a building."

"Playing a hunch."

"Again with the hunches."

"Worked for us before."

"We got lucky."

"We make our own luck."

Mouse gave me a lopsided grin. "We do, don't we."

I nodded.

"So what's the hunch?" said Mouse.

I said, "Remember what Murphy always said. 'Never let the enemy define the battle. Choose your own battlefield.' Now think about what Sakura's doing."

"She wants us to get past the..." She gave a start, as if she'd been slapped, and her eyes went wide. "Sonofabitch. She was herding us."

"Bingo," I said. "Our mistake. And I've got a feeling one of those traps is going to have our names on it. Time to do this our way."

"We visit mayhem and destruction on Sakura's ass?"

"Later," I said. "First, we go back to the room we started in."

I headed down the corridor to the door I'd seen earlier.

"And then what?" Mouse said, following.

"Sakura had to have bypassed all these traps to get us into that room," I said. "Which means there's a secondary entrance. Something hidden. Something we missed. And it'll be close to where we started."

I tried the lever handle on the door.

Unlocked.

Drew the Twins and stood to the right of door then nodded to Mouse.

She brought the MP5 to her shoulder, stood behind the door, and reached for the handle.

"And you're still totally sure the exploding collapsing complex is a trick?"

"Trust me," I said.

She looked at me for a long moment, then let out a loud exhale. "Might as well," she said. "And if they do turn out not to be a trick, somebody needs to save your sorry ass."

"You're all heart, Mouse," I said.

She stuck her tongue out at me.

Then yanked the door open and propped it with a foot.

I ducked through and hooked left.

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz" - Part Eight

We headed back into the hallway at a jog.

"On the other side?" said Mouse.

"Could be," I said.

Past the intersection where I'd thrown the grenade, I stopped and looked down the corridor.

Then looked again.

The corridor bent to the left at the far end, leading past the two intersections and toward the elevator that brought us up from the level below. Halfway down this section of corridor, a door stood in the right-hand wall.

I pointed. "That wasn't there before."

"The hell?" said Mouse.

I headed for the door at a quick walk, the Twins still tracking. Reached it. Stepped to the left side of the corridor, nodded to Mouse.

She went to the door. "Looks like it was hidden behind a panel." She felt around the edges and nodded. "Yeah. Flush with the rest of the wall."

"What opened it?" I said.

"Dunno," she said and reached for the door handle.

And Dreadlocks stepped around the corner ten meters away, a feral grin etched on his face, an FN MAG 7.62-caliber machinegun at his waist, leveled at us.

Shit.

A subvocalized command and the world slid into slo-mo.

Dropped to a crouch and the Twins roared and bucked, sending a hail of .45-caliber slugs down the hallway.

Heard Mouse's MP5 join the chatter with a rolling burst of 9mm lead.

Dreadlocks managed three short bursts from the huge gun before our combined fire crashed into his left shoulder and chest, jerking him back, the machinegun flipping up, arcing fire into the ceiling, sending chunks of plaster and debris raining down in front of him. He fell back around the corner.

"Door!" I said, reloading.

The machinegun's barrel poked around the corner.

I let off several rounds in rapid succession.

Heard the door slam open.

Side-stepped fast and dove through the door, went sprawling across the tile floor of a dimly lit room.

The machinegun opened up again, taking out chunks of the door frame.

Mouse lunged past me, toward the doorway, and hurled something down the corridor, then slammed the door shut and jumped back.

Thunder exploded in the hallway beyond, and the room shook.

I sat up, trying to catch my breath.

Then a huge steel plate crashed down in front of the door.

Heard the distant hum of machinery.

"Now what?" said Mouse, looking around.

I looked up.

The ceiling moved.

Downward.

"Crap and a half," I said.

Mouse looked up. "Oh, fuck!" she said and emptied a clip from her MP5 into the slowly descending ceiling. Plaster and dust rained down onto the floor.

"That's not going to help!" I said.

She whirled on me. "You got a better idea?"

I looked around. The room was empty. No furniture. Nothing.

What the hell kind of--

Saw it.

"There!" I pointed.

A door, standing on the opposite wall.

"Sonofabitch," said Mouse.

I scrambled to my feet and we ran for the door, skidded to a stop in front of it, almost crashing into one another.

Mouse grabbed the lever handle and turned.

It didn't move.

She rattled the handle and cursed under her breath.

I glanced up at the ceiling. A meter above my head.

Mouse rammed her shoulder into the door twice.

It shook but held.

"Let me try," I said. Mouse stepped back. I cracked a boot against it, just below the handle.

It shook again. And held.

Two more kicks.

Nothing.

The ceiling touched the top of my head and kept going.

Fuck it.

I ducked my head, leveled the Twins at the same spot I'd kicked, and fired four times each.

The spot on the door cratered and blew apart in a spray of wood chunks, taking out a section of the door jamb.

I pistoned my boot into the same area and the door flew open.

Mouse and I ducked through and into a short corridor.

And the ceiling inside the room dropped with a crash that shook the floor and walls and reverberated up my legs.

"A little too close," I said.

"Yeah," said Mouse.

I looked around.

The corridor boasted the same lighting scheme as the rest of the complex and ended at a wall two meters to our left.

On the right, the corridor went about three meters then turned the corner.

I went to the bend, the Twins still out, and peered around the corner.

The corridor here ended at a door. From the looks of things, it went back to the hallway on the other side of the ceiling crusher room.

"Kat," said Mouse.

I turned.

Mouse pointed at the wall directly across from the room we'd just vacated.

I stepped to one side for a better angle.

A section of the wall had slid open.

"What the hell?" I said.

"Opened up the minute you stepped to the corner."

"Elevator?"

"Sort of," said Mouse.

I went over to where she was standing and saw it.

The wall opened on an elevator shaft. Near the floor was the top third of an elevator car.

Stuck in mid-climb.

I holstered the Twins, stepped onto the roof the car, and looked up the shaft.

Ten meters above us: the opening to the upper level.

"We climb," I said to Mouse, grabbed the cable, and pulled myself up.

(to be continued...)