Chapter Four

Exodus

6:54 P.M.

Los Alamos, New Mexico

BANG!

Lara blinked, her hands at the wheel of a pickup, navigating down the dry riverbed. Zip and Alister were screaming into her ear to respond, and the loud, unbarred roar of an SUV behind surrounded her. She glanced at her rearview mirror, and watched as a mercenary, having destroyed the back window of Lara's truck, aimed for her next. Lara weaved out of a barrage of the mercenary's shotgun pellets. She had no memory of her sprinting down the barren passage to the broken stairwell as the green ball imploded upon itself, sending debris and heat into every corner of the mountain. Lara could not remember releasing the hidden rope ladder and climbing down, and no remembrance of hotwiring the truck and skating away, down into the riverbed beneath the broken bridge.

There was another tremendous bang as the mercenary shot off her left mirror. "Shut up!" she ordered Zip and Alister. She made a sudden left turn down a fork in the riverbed, but to no avail. Quickly returning to her instincts, she pulled out her pistol and fired blindly behind her. There was a terrible scream as the mercenary, pierced by a stray bullet, tumbled from the SUV and into the coarse rock.

As the two trucks pulled out of the fork, a second pickup truck appeared into view, pulling out directly in front of Lara. A gun-for-hire sat in the flatbed, holding an assault rifle in his hands. Lara ducked as he peppered her windshield with lead, crystallizing it and creating millions of tiny men with rifles. She fired her pistol, destroying the windshield and inadvertently injuring herself as the tiny shards blew past her. The man returned fire, but the bullets missed Lara by inches. Quickly she reloaded and, with one well-placed shot, killed the man in a moment. Then, she turned and shot a second mercenary that had appeared from the inside of the SUV. She trained her eye on the driver and fired. For a moment she thought she missed, until the black truck began to weave dangerously and tipped over onto its side.

A terrible pain shot through Lara's right shoulder, forcing her to drop her pistol to the floor. A second gun-for-hire had taken over for his fallen comrade in the pickup truck, and he had fired a bullet into Lara. She jerked the wheel, nearly tipping over in the process. She drove into a small tunnel-like cave, scratching the top of truck. She slowed to a stop and pressed her hand to her shoulder, trying to stop the bleeding. Thankfully it was a flesh-wound, and did not appear serious. "If you follow this path and don't make anymore turns, you can make it to a utility road that leads to the highway," said Zip.

"Thanks," Lara groaned. Suddenly the cave echoed a monstrous roar as the second pickup truck followed her inside. She slammed on the accelerator and screamed forward, the smell of burning rubber filling her nostrils. In seconds she escaped through the other end of the tunnel and burst into daylight. She leaned against her door as she rapidly spun the wheel. The second car followed her close behind. She weaved in and out of its way, trying to stop it from getting next to her. A barrage of gunfire forced her to the left as the second car approached her so closely there was only a few feet difference.

The shooter leapt from his flatbed and onto Lara's. Lara slammed her pickup into the other, trying to shake off the unwanted passenger. His rifle flew out of his hand, but he still remained. She switched hands on the steering wheel, her right arm barely grasping it, and tried to grab her second pistol. The hard leather sole of the gunman rammed her hard in the back of the head, knocking her forehead into the steering wheel and activating the loud blare of the horn. He slid into the passenger side and jerked the wheel from Lara's hand. She slammed her elbow deep into the joint of his arm, knocking the wheel from his hand. With her injured arm she slammed an almighty fist into the intruder's face, knocking him into the side door and shattering the window. He spat out a large collection of blood and kicked Lara in her injured shoulder, eliciting a sharp howl of pain. Her mind grew blank again, all other senses completely dulled in reaction to the feeling of white-hot blades digging deep into her shoulder. She barely noticed him grab the wheel from her, yet her instinct took over once more. She reached down and pulled out her pistol and took a potshot at the intruder, further covering Lara with gore. She dropped her pistol to the floor and pushed him away with her right arm.

His arm slumped to the floor, and Lara saw her other pistol near his hand, along with a silver suitcase. She reached down, but the suitcase's handle and her pistol were too far out of reach. She looked back up and saw the other pickup truck slam into her and drive alongside. The driver glared at her, the steering wheel in his left hand, and his right hand fumbling for something beside him. He once more slammed into her, nearly knocking Lara into a ravine wall. The suitcase's handle drew closer to her, and so she reached down and pulled it up beside her. She unlatched the suitcase and saw grenades, stolen by the guns-for-hire from the mercenaries. Lara took one in her hand and looked up. The driver now had a small black pistol in his hand. Lara tore the pin from the grenade and threw it into the other pickup, then slammed on the brakes. The second pickup continued forward as the driver fumbled for the grenade. Lara threw the gear into reverse and quickly backed up, looking behind her for any sign of shelter. There was a tremendous blast of heat and fire that lifted her pickup briefly onto its back two wheels, then rotated it slightly to the right.

The engine died. Lara leaned against her seat and breathed a deep sight of relief and fatigue. The second pickup's remains burned brightly against the setting sun, its flames licking upward, spitting out hazy heat that dissipated into the air. "You alright, Lara?" asked Zip.

"Just… make sure I have medical supplies in the jet," she said.

"You got it. I've got it booked to take you home immediately."

"Thank you. Now please, just give me a bit of quiet time," said Lara.

"Sure."

Lara placed her hand to her forehead, but quickly tore it away when she felt the unpleasant mixture of dry and quickly congealing blood. Her eyes drifted to the dead passenger beside her. He laid awkwardly positioned, his right arm drifting to the floor, while the rest of his body was slouched by the gearshift. Lara stumbled from the car and walked to the other side. She opened the door and grabbed the body with her left hand. What was left of his head leaned down towards her wrist. She pulled him out of the car slowly, letting him fall unceremoniously to the ground.

She returned to the driver side. The pain in her shoulder was beginning to ebb away, allowing Lara to restart the motor. The engine whined to life after a few attempts. She turned the car back to the direction of the highway, and drove down the riverbed, careful to avoid the rapidly burning remains of the other car.