When the roaring stopped, I pushed myself up on one elbow, popped optics to norm, and craned my neck to look at where we'd just been.
Pale-yellow streetlamp light slanted in through the blown-out windows showing us another empty room also with empty shelving lining three walls. Along the back wall I recognized a line of wheeled metal clothes racks.
Smoke rolled in where the back door had been.
And then a quartet of leather-clad and helmeted figures strode in. Two of them had handguns held loosely at their side. One had a MAC-10. The last hefted a spike-studded baseball bat
Full black leathers.
They stopped, turned toward us, and the ones with firearms leveled them at us.
Started to subvocal, hands about to leap to the Twins.
A low thrum-whine rattled my chest and my ears popped from an air pressure shift.
Then a hail of gunfire cut the joyboys down.
The grey metal brick of an older model aerodyne hovered centimeters above the street outside, its side door open, the muzzle of an automatic rifle sticking out and belching a steady barrage into the empty store. Rounds ripped into the joyboys, their bodies jerked and geysered blood, and crumpled in a heap.
The barrage stopped and a familiar face appeared in the cabin doorway.
Heat flared in the middle of my gut.
"Get in!" Jake Steele called out.
We scrambled to our feet and leaped out the front windows. Mouse got to the aerodyne first and dove inside.
I started to vault in when the sidewalk between me and the aerodyne exploded with gunfire, concrete chunks geysering around me.
Skidded to a stop, skipped back to avoid getting hit.
Then a big rig slammed into my leg and it buckled under me.
I crumpled, and everything went into slo-mo without my dropping into boost.
Mouse's face, eyes wide, calling out as she lunged for me, fingers reaching out.
The aerodyne tilted away from me and leaped skyward.
A split second later, an RPG warhead rocketed through the space the aerodyne had been.
A second after that, I hit concrete sideways, the impact thudding into my shoulders and arm.
Felt the stickiness at my leg, saw the splash of blood on the concrete near me.
Shoved my upper body up to look.
Battered pickup truck at the intersection ten meters away. Three Death Lords in the rear bed. One held an RPG launcher at high port. The other two were reloading MAC-10s.
Went sub-vocal and the world slipped into slo-mo.
Jammed my left leg under me and pushed up to one knee. The Twins leaped into my hands and pointed themselves toward the Death Lords.
The truck was sideways, the Death Lords in full view.
I let them have it, the Twins roaring thunder and belching fire. Six rounds caught one Death Lord, starting in the middle of his chest, walking up his torso, and blowing his face off. He toppled backwards off the truck. Shifted slightly and sent six more rounds into the next Death Lord, all center mass, her body jerking and cratering with each hit. She folded.
The last managed to duck for cover.
At the same time, the truck popped into gear, backed up two meters, then turned and peeled out toward me in a squeal of rubber.
Unloaded both mags at the truck, rounds punching into the front grill, metal sparking, too low for me to get a bead on the driver--
The truck closed.
Then the thrum-whine, rattling my chest.
And the aerodyne dropped down between me and the oncoming truck, and spun in a tight counterclockwise circle. The aerodyne's back end slammed into the pickup and flung it into the nearest building with a boom-crunch of metal.
Then my vision greyed slightly and the next moment, Jake Steele was there, hoisting me to my feet and helping me into the aerodyne and the bench seat by the cabin door.
A moment later, I felt my stomach drop as the aerodyne leaped into the air.
"Goddamn trouble magnets, I tell you," a voice called out.
I turned toward the ginning lantern-jawed face of Sam Cutter. "Hiya Sam," I said.
"Hi yourself," he said, sketching a loose salute.
It had been a month since Mouse and I last saw Sam when the three of us went rampaging through woods just outside of Redding. I was about to ask what he was doing in Bay City when hands gripped my shoulders and I turned to see Jake staring into my eyes, felt myself getting lost in a pair of ocean-blue orbs, felt the heat in my gut radiating downward.
"Hey," he said and his voice snapped me back to the present.
"Gotta patch you up."
"Kiss her already," said Mouse.
The corner of Jake's mouth twitched up into a small but quick smile and his eyes seemed to twinkle.
"Where's your car?" said Jake as he popped open a medkit and pulled out a pair of shears.
"Long story," I said.
"Okay. So where to?"
"Out of here."
"Copy. Sammy. Airfield."
"Got it, Chief," said Sam.
The aerodyne banked slightly left and gave a small lurch as we soared away.
I quirked an eyebrow at Jake. "Chief?"
"Long story," he said.
"We got time," said Mouse. "Drop's not 'til midnight."
Jake's mouth twitched into a small smile and he looked directly into my eyes. "You first."
The butterflies in my stomach went nuts.
And then searing pain flashed through my leg and I sucked in a hissing breath through gritted teeth.
"Sit back," said Jake, cutting into my pants leg. "I got this."
"Bow chicka," said Mouse.
(to be continued...)