Chapter 20: The Offer
The first missile hit the stage, causing PR, Facineroso and the table with the fake Atom to disappear in a pillar of dust. The concussive wave hit me in the face like a bitch-slap from an invisible giant.
When I opened my eyes again all I could see was a column of dust beyond Rembrandt’s arm.
Fist-sized chunks of debris rained down around me. I was a step away from seeing if I could dig my hole any deeper when the chunks started bouncing off Rembrandt’s body.
Then another missile hit somewhere behind me. The blast grabbed what little debris had managed to settle and kicked it up again. Before I even turned around I knew it had landed amongst the crowd. The second blast drowned out the screams for a moment, only to have them rush back in the reverberation’s wake. By the time I’d got a look at the second column of dust amongst the fleeing Jamestowners I felt two more shockwaves crash into me from the upper floors of the school.
Missile after missile hit Jamestown, enough ordnance to take out a company of MBT’s smashed into brick, glass and flesh.
I stayed beneath the protection Rembrandt’s body offered me and waited. Trying to ignore the wetness in my pants.
After a brief eternity, I finally counted a full 30 Mississippi’s since the last strike. It almost felt safe to come out.
Then I heard gunfire from somewhere in the courtyard. While that meant it was decidedly not safe to come out it also told me staying where everyone knew where to find me was not the best idea.
I steadied my back under Rembrandt’s considerable weight and pushed up with my legs. Rembrandt slipped off my back and off the crater entirely. Gasping for breath, I took in my surroundings.
Which was easy, because slow-falling dust and debris obscured almost everything. Beyond the veil of airborne dirt I could see the shadows of the school buildings. Some shadows had large, open gaps where they shouldn’t have. Distant screams rang out all around me, making the locations of their owners difficult to work out.
With some effort I got my torso on the ground around my hole and used that to take my weight so I could roll over and pull my legs out of the pit. From there I used my bound shoulder as a third post and manoeuvred around to my knees. I was now covered in so much dirt my all black fatigues could pass as desert camo at a glance.
It was while transitioning from my knees to my feet that a speck flew right into my eye.
“Ahh, fucking, fuck-fuck, fuckoo.” I growled. They say when you can’t scratch, that’s when you’ve really got to. I really needed both my eyes right now and with my bound arm that wasn’t happening.
So without any further prompting I took off for the swim centre, hoping to God or Chaos theory, whoever was listening, that nothing flew into my other eye. That would have been fun.
Fortunately the swim centre was further out from where the crowd had been, so it looked like Atom hadn’t targeted a missile at it. The usual confusion of a missile strike, plus the endless clouds of dust matching the crap I’d been covered in all worked in my favour. Anyone who saw me sprinting retardedly towards the autoshop was either too busy hiding from the next bombardment or had a loved one to cry over.
I ran around to the vehicle entrance and saw that I’d been wrong. One of the missiles had struck a support beam in the roof and the shockwave had devastated the glass half of the ceiling. Now shards and crystals were everywhere, it looked like the inside of a dance club when the lights come on at 3 a.m. and you can see where all the glitter’s landed.
I got in and skipped over strewn automotive equipment and debris to head straight towards the angle-grinders. Then I saw it, between the salvaged junker Humvee and the yellow franken hummer someone had replaced one of the old cutting disks and left it on a bench. It may have been too worn to cut steel smoothly, but it would be plenty sharp to get through my belt.
I grabbed the disc and crouched down between the trucks to get to work. I considered going through the chain for a second, then decided against it. Even with a diamond-edged blade I’d be fiddling around just trying the get the right angle on the chain. So I pulled my hand as far away from my body as it would go and reached back with the disc.
Then I heard voices somewhere behind me. I hesitated, then quietly went back to work, craning my neck to see who was there.
Squinting painfully out of one eye I couldn’t make them out exactly, but I could see two figures moving cautiously on the other side of the yellow Humvee.
They whispered something to each other. Just as my disc cut through the last bit of belt and nicked my wrist on the way back. I hissed and dropped the disc, which gave me away when it hit the floor.
“W-who’s there?” called a quiet, familiar voice. It was Dr Timothy Clarkson. I’d bet good money the person with him was his wife, Dr Sexypants Clarkson.
I did not answer. But when I brought my left arm around to finally get that speck of crap out of my eye, the chain on the cuffs rattled.
“Alright I know you’re there.” Dr Tim said, adding a little more ‘omph’ to his tone. “Come out.”
Fantastic. I thought to myself. Trapped out in the autoshop accosted by possibly the only two people here I didn’t want to hurt.
They may not have felt the same way. So I stayed quiet and reached for the disc again. My eye itched something shocking and I stopped to rub it a little more before grabbing the disc.
“It’s you, isn’t it Dust?” Dr Sexypants asked.
I swept away some crystals on the floor and crouched down to peek underneath the wreck. She had a pistol aimed in my general direction. She and her husband looked dishevelled but didn’t have much dirt on their clothes, so they probably hadn’t been anywhere near the courtyard.
“We saw you sneak in here after the explosions.” Her husband said. “We can’t let you get away with what you’ve done.”
In the immortal words of Kurt Russell: You have got to be fucking kidding me.
“I’m not allowed to win, am I?” I said.
“WIN!” Dr T. Clarkson screamed. “You call this winning?”
“Honey.” His wife said, not taking her eyes off the wreck I hid behind. “Don’t let him get to you.”
I snorted and rested my back against the wreck. “You didn’t listen to those notes I gave you, did you Doctor?”
“Of course not.” He said. “A man with nothing to lose would say anything, how could I trust you?”
I let go of the cutting disc so I could put my face in my hand. That was it right there, why should he trust anything I say? Why should he listen? I slumped against the wreck. I sighed.
Only it came out as a sob.
I took a deep breath and it too was a sob.
My eye stung again, only this time it was both of them.
Oh god damn it.
I felt saltwater bead at the corner of my eye and spill out. The sobs just kept coming.
I hunched up my knees and hugged them close.
“What’s going on?” She asked suspiciously.
“Just piss off.” I hissed. “Just get over here, finish me off and go back to picking up the pieces.”
Unbidden I thought of Tachi. Trapped in a biopod, likely swinging around in a carry bag at his sister’s knee level. Doomed to be a slave for his father’s expectations.
And here I was, trapped at gun point by two people whose first lesson is ‘to do no harm’.
The sound of scraping drew all of our attention towards the cybertech shop. Kitty was crawling across the glass-strewn floor on her belly, a trail of blood marking her progress. She reached out to the Doctors and wheezed. “Help me.”
I heard them both gasp.
“She doesn’t have much time.” The MD told her Cytech husband.
“But what about him?”
I sighed, scraped the tears out of my eyes and stood up.
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