Hey everyone, new chapter! I know it's been ages, I've been busy with my thesis paper and then sleeping extensively after finishing my thesis paper. If you think I'm joking, think again.
Also, this one took more time because it's an action-packed kind of chapter, full of combat and badassery and whatnot and that takes more time for me to write. It probably turned out a bit...well, campy, shall we say, but all in good fun, I hope. You'll probably wonder how and why Ann is better at this than you thought. Don't worry, her backstory - when it's revealed - will put this chapter into context. I've already hinted at her past, but safe to say, I'm only showing bits as I go.
Many thanks to all the lovely readers and reviewers who've brightened these past few months: MrsJohnReese (glad to know John having a sister doesn't weird people out:) ), Sam0728, lovinlife48 (thank you! happy you think so), Marzipan (sorry for the wait and thanks!), sweetpea42, WhiteOokamiKiss (yey for people appreciating my parallel and I'm glad you like Ann:) ), typhoidcandy.
So, I should probably tell you that this is equally filled with Jean-Claude-Van-Damme-levels of hamminess and serious drama.
You've been warned.
Songs I'd recommend listening to while reading: The Roots - Here I Come, Hans Zimmer - Mombasa, Van Halen - Panama and Malaguena Salerosa from the Kill Bill 2 soundtrack.
Block first. Always block first, if you can. Then you attack.
Never make the first move. Don't think that you can take him by surprise. There are no surprises.
Her brother's words echoed in her head like a well-known tune. He was right. Better to stay safe and attack later.
But for how long?
How long would that take?
She had been watching the guards for over thirty minutes now, just sitting and waiting. The watch itself was painful, too. She had to crane her neck every time to see them and every time, she wondered if they'd seen her.
She didn't have any advantage. If she came out of her hiding, they'd instantly spot her. She'd be in their range. But if she waited and did nothing, she was as good as dead.
I'm sorry, John. Here I come.
Clutching the actuator in her left hand, she pulled herself away from the wall and started walking calmly towards the guards. Harry had told her they couldn't touch you unless you wanted to get through the doors they were guarding.
"I'm sorry to bother you," she said when she was five feet away. "I think I'm lost."
The two remained silent.
Ann scanned them from head to toe. They were wearing thick bulletproof vests, but those didn't shield their entire bodies. The fourth and seventh intercostal spaces weren't protected. And the head gear they were wearing didn't cover their cheeks, chins or the sensitive spot between the nape and the occipital bone.
"Could you maybe take me back to the cubicles, please?"
They said nothing, but their hands hovered over their guns.
"Please, I'm starving and I'm really tired," she tried again. "I just want to rest."
They exchanged a quick look, as if silently asking the other what to do.
Ann felt her hand throb from the pressure with which she gripped the actuator behind her back.
One of them finally stepped up, took out his gun and, pointing the barrel at her head, said:
"Turn around and walk."
Ann shifted from one foot to the other.
"But I don't know –"
"I said walk. I'll tell you where to go," he said, cutting her off.
Ann did as she was told, making sure to walk slower than necessary so the distance between them would be smaller.
At first she thought the guard wouldn't follow her, but thankfully, after several moments, she heard a pair of boots shuffling behind her.
Good. Okay. So, one guy left at the door. One guy coming with me. If I manage to take him down...
"Turn right," the man growled.
She obeyed. Her courage was wearing thin. But something else was more important than fear.
Ann took in a deep breath and placed one foot over the other, making herself stumble. The guard's arm shot up, steadying her. The gun barrel was touching her hair.
In a split-second, Ann saw the bird's-eye view.
The actuator was in her left hand. She had to do it without turning. She would be hitting him on his left side, right above the eleventh intercostal space. With a bit of luck, she'd damage his spleen, causing, she hoped, a ruptured spleen big enough to give him internal bleeding in his abdomen.
The attack happened quickly. She hit back, the actuator pierced through the skin, she heard him moan in pain, but she didn't wait to figure out if she had touched the spleen. The back of her elbow unhinged his jaw and her right foot snaked around his ankle. He fell down on his back.
The man was still holding the gun. He was about to shoot when she kicked his arm with her foot and the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling. The gunshot was heard all around the floor.
Shit! Now they'll all know something's happened.
The guard had dropped the gun and she scrambled for it, grabbing it in time and aiming it at his head. Blood was pouring from his abdomen freely. He tried to get up, but she stuck her heel into his shin. He collapsed again.
"You little cunt, you have no idea what you just did," he spat, eyes blazing with anger.
Ann breathed in and out, feeling the corridor grow smaller with each second.
His partner was probably running towards them. Which meant the doors the two were supposed to be guarding were now defenseless. If she could reach them some other way...
She ran in the opposite direction, stuffing the bloody actuator in her back pocket, but the other guard had already thought of that. He was waiting for her around the corner.
At least now she had a gun, which complicated things for both sides.
She held it at face-point, trying to hide the tremor in her hands. She hadn't practiced on a gun in ages, but she was counting on the notion that it was like riding a bike; you never forgot. Her body was taut from the adrenaline shooting through it.
"If you know what's best for you, you'll drop it," the guard spoke.
Ann blew the strands of hair from her face.
"You'll have to do better than that."
"You won't shoot, girl, but I will," he warned her.
"Girl?" she echoed, cocking the gun. "Don't call me girl. The vest doesn't cover your balls."
For a moment, the guard looked unsettled. He even glanced down between his legs. She wouldn't... would she?
"Bullshit. You're just another "tourist". Think you can escape just cuz you're holding a biscuit?"
"I just want to get to the ground floor," she explained, her voice coming out more ragged than she'd intended.
"You will. Just not alive."
She ducked in time when the gunshot fired over her head. Ann rolled on the floor, holding her breath as another shot missed her.
She squinted and aimed the gun at his legs. The first shot was sloppy and hit the wall behind him, but the second one blew off his left kneecap.
The man fell to the floor and started crying out in pain.
"Bitch! Fuck! I'll fucking end you!"
Ann saw him holding the gun against his stomach, getting ready to shoot again, although his arm was shaking badly.
Without thinking, she took out the folding knife from her boot and threw it straight at him.
Luckily, she was doing better with throwing knifes.
She ducked and the shot missed her again. When she looked up, the man was clutching at his stomach, where her knife was planted right above his pelvis. Blood gushed out freely.
Her eyes widened and glistened with unshed tears.
"You're d-dead, bitch! D-Dead!" he wailed as he tried to pick up the gun he'd dropped.
She ran for it and kicked it away from him.
"Can't let you do that."
She picked it up and checked to see how many bullets were left.
"You don't k-know who - fucking with - whore!" he sputtered, coughing blood.
Ann was panting heavily. She held both guns at arm's length and nudged her head towards his pelvis.
"Take out that knife."
"What the fuck –"
"Take it out and slide it towards me."
She knew what she was asking. He'd die instantly when the only object keeping pressure in the wound was taken out. But he was going to die very soon anyway.
And she couldn't lose this knife, not John's knife.
"You can do it y-yourself, b-bitch!" he cried, holding his wound with both hands, wet tracks streaming down his cheeks.
Ann wondered what he'd been before this. She wondered who had brought him here and who had put a gun in his hand.
"I'd rather you did it." The man only sniffed.
"Do it, and I'll end your misery," she said softly.
The man's trembling fingers clutched the folding knife and tried pulling it out.
He howled in pain.
Ann looked away, feeling her stomach churning.
"Fast! Do it fast!" she urged.
She hated that she'd had to resort to this.
The man suddenly grinned a mad grin, exposing bloody teeth, and let his hands fall.
"I don't n-need to..."
Ann could hear them too; footsteps in the distance, running towards them.
She lunged for the guard's body and tried wrenching out the knife herself.
"Drop the weapons! All of them!" a shrill voice shouted from afar.
Ann knew there were three of them, three guns aimed at her and she had to balance both guns and blood-soaked knife without dropping any. She managed to stuff one of the guns in the back of her jeans, but there was no time for anything else.
She grabbed the fallen guard's body and used it as a human shield as gunshots started flying everywhere.
She'd promised him she'd end his misery. Well, now I have, she thought, screwing her eyes shut as she felt the bullets going into his flesh.
The sound was deafening. She was sure she'd pop an eardrum.
She opened one eye and saw that they were running towards her.
She craned her head in the hollow of the guard's neck and shot two bullets; one missed, the other one hit the guy on the right in the thigh.
She had to get out of there and fast. She had to make it to those doors.
She pushed the now dead and heavy body of the guard she was holding towards the two oncoming guards. The third was wobbling behind from the gunshot.
The warm corpse landed on them like a dead weight, blocking their way.
She ran. She ran like she'd never run before. And when she turned the corner and found she only had a couple of scratches and bruises, she almost felt a pang of painful exhilaration. She hadn't been shot yet.
The first two weren't professionals, probably just some nobodies picked off the street, she thought, but I don't know about these three.
No one was guarding the doors she'd spied before. She released a breath she didn't know she was holding and burst through them, gun pointed in front of her.
She could see the elevator up ahead, only a couple of steps left.
But the momentary joy she felt was crushed when the elevator doors opened and out stepped three more guards.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Her way was blocked on both sides. But maybe these newcomers didn't know that. They were different. They wore green bulletproof vests that had some kind of Arabic writing on them. They also looked far more dangerous and capable than the guards she'd left behind.
Instead of crouching down immediately, she held still, the gun pointed at their faces. If she made any move to draw the second gun from her jeans, it would probably be her last.
Steady, Ann, steady... When you hear the other three coming behind you, that's when you –
She jumped down, taking out the second gun in the process, and felt the small satisfaction of hearing several screams that were not hers.
The three green-vested guards had shot one of the regular guards by accident when they were aiming at her. She could see the body and the bullet that had killed him; his right cheek was hollowed out by a dark red hole.
She had hoped for more than one casualty.
She was now lying on her back, the two guns aimed at both parties – one arm extended to her left, the other to her right – and she was feeling incredibly outnumbered.
They were four, in total. The one she'd shot in the thigh earlier wasn't there. The dead one could be used as human shield.
And out of these living four, she could probably only take out one, if lucky.
As she lay there in silent dread, racking her brains for an idea, she chanced to look up at the neon lights lining the ceiling.
It was stupid and maybe even more dangerous and she was pretty sure the newcomers had night-vision goggles, but what the hell, it was a small hallway, it could work.
She shot three, four, five lights.
Glass shards fell from the ceiling.
She rolled on the floor, covering her eyes.
The elevator. The elevator. That's your only hope. Oh God. I'm gonna die.
She knew what the game was all about now; dodge bullets and throw others under the bus. No point in shooting at them, since it was near dark. The only way out was to use as many human shields as possible without feeling like you were sending cattle to slaughter.
The problem, of course, was she couldn't see very well. It wasn't fully dark; someone had turned on two flashlights and the rays were drawing luminous shapes on the ceiling. She applied pressure to her eyes with her palms to increase her night vision and she squatted, holding both guns to her chest, knowing that she had to stay lower than the source of light.
First she set upon the dead one lying on the floor and picked him up, shielding herself from the bullets. But she quickly realized she would still need a moving shield if she wanted to reach the elevator and carrying a dead body like this wasn't going to cut it.
She had to find the black-vested guard. He was the weak link.
Lucky for her, the Arabic writing on the newcomers' vests turned out to be phosphorescent. She wished she knew what it said.
She ambushed the "weak link" from an angle that gave her some leeway, but he turned out to be frustratingly strong as he grabbed her arms and threw her against the wall.
But here is where the wire she'd taken with her came in handy, because while you still needed the human shield to be moving, it would have been preferable if they were half-dead. Not alive. Not dead. Just in between.
The only way to get him to cooperate was to immobilize him from neck down.
She didn't know how she managed to untangle the wire in record time. Critical moments like these seemed to bring out the best and the worst in people.
A bullet was fired in the vicinity of her arm. Another one almost hit the back of her skull, but she ducked in time. It wasn't a rain of bullets, though, like she'd expected. The newcomers seemed to have adopted her strategy of not firing too many gunshots since you could fucking hurt yourself in the process. It seemed they didn't have night-vision goggles, after all.
She saw the black-vested guard aiming his gun in the dark towards the general area of her body. She lunged forward and grabbed his boot, throwing him off balance.
When he bent over, she wrapped the wire quickly around his neck and yanked hard, until her knuckles turned white and her breath stopped short in her throat.
She hid behind him, tugging and wrenching the wire towards her to make him move, watching as the man choked, his body stretching out grotesquely as he struggled to free himself.
The gunshots followed like clockwork and she heard each and every bullet sinking into the man's upper body.
She felt hot tears on her cheeks, but she couldn't wipe them away. She wanted to sob, but her throat was closed off. She wanted to tell them to stop, because she couldn't take it anymore, but they wouldn't listen. And she probably would have given up if there wasn't so much at stake already.
She was a Brother of the Knight. She was a Dark Knight, too. She had a duty to her kids and everyone else. Even herself.
Gritting her teeth, she stumbled more than walked forward, holding the body close to her. She could feel the breath going out of the body that was inadvertently protecting her and she felt shame and anger and joy all at once.
And when she saw the elevator doors two feet away she probably didn't even care anymore who died as long as she made it out alive.
The worst, critical moments bring out the worst in people, she would have concluded, if she'd had the time to stop and consider her actions.
At the last minute, the doors parted and she rushed inside, but she accidentally dropped the guard, leaving her open and defenseless.
She pressed on the buttons frantically. Two of the green-vested guards were already running towards the new source of light.
The bullets ricocheted off the closing doors and she collapsed on the floor, flooded with relief. She didn't care where she was going, up or down, it was all the same; it was finally quiet and she was relatively safe.
She sported several gunshot wounds where passing bullets had scratched her. Her knees were bleeding through her jeans, her arms were purple with bruises and her back was killing her.
But she hadn't been shot. At all.
Three, four, five…how many guards again?
Ann knew she'd gotten extremely lucky. These were not elite guards and not only that, but they hadn't expected her, or anyone for that matter, to start an attack. They hadn't accounted for someone like her to come out of those cubicles, where people chose to remain for weeks on end. In the past month, they'd probably had no other job than to stand and look bored.
She was better trained and equipped than your average prisoner, that was true, but it was also true that these had been rusty soldiers, maybe not soldiers at all.
Definitely not soldiers at all.
Nevertheless, she suspected they'd only get better and better as she approached the ground floor. She suspected the real army was down there.
She touched her forehead gingerly. She was burning, for some reason.
She checked her belongings; she'd lost one of the guns in the general chaos, double for the actuator which had been quite useful, but she still had the folding-knife, a gun, some string, the pin and the pieces of paper.
She'd make do. She had to.
Two bullets left in the gun. Two bullets.
Crap. Maybe she wouldn't make do.
Ann looked up at the floor numbering. She was going down, thankfully.
Fourth floor...third floor…second floor…
There was a small chink, like the sound of a china cup breaking.
The elevator stopped.
Someone on the second floor wanted to go down. Someone on the second floor was going to open those doors and kill her.
She held the gun in front of her with both hands, praying silently for a quick death. A quick death for the person on the other end of her gun.