TITLE: Spoils of War
AUTHOR: Anthony J Fuchs
SUMMARY: When Pinocchio refuses to execute his own mother, he is imprisoned as a traitor. But after a flawlessly executed escape, he's going to need a ride. In response to Hunter's challenge.
RATING: PG13

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

The lone wooden chair was swung around backwards, its occupant perched atop it like a calculating predator with his arms leaned against the horizontal bar, dangling lightly between the vertical ones with a nonchalant aire that contradicted the dank military prison.
Cell 16, Section C. Difficult, but not impossible.
The prisoner smirked intrinsically at the very absurdity of the word.
Impossible.
"Nothing's impossible," he muttered as he watched the guard check the last cell at the end of the row and start back to finish his hourly rounds.
The guard glanced at the prisoner as he passed the cell, an amused grin just itching to break through his professional demeanor. Without looking, the guard swung the butt of his M16 at the prisoner's dangling arms, only barely missing the quickly withdrawn limbs as their owner quickly snatched them back to safety.
"Off the bars," he snapped, vainly attempting to mask his emmense delight in his newfound brashness in the face of the man who had once been his superior, and so long been the Republican Guard's second in command only to Santiago himself. "You know prison policy, Pinocchio."
Pinocchio raised an eyebrow at the mention of prison policy. "I created it," he snorted, only barely irritated by this gnat of a man trying to taunt and provoke him with mild threats and weak attacks.
But that had always been this man's way. Pincchio could sense it in him from the first day he was transferred into his unit. The thinly vailed contempt that surfaced in the envious eyes of a man consumed by more parts jealousy than respect. A man driven by a traitor's heart, whom Pinocchio had never trusted.
The guard leaned slow to the bars, "What's the matter, Pinocchio, am I bothering you?"
Pinocchio stared into his hateful eyes through the bars, taking away the prison cell and all the guard's authority in one glance. The sheer intensity of his stare was enough to hit the guard like a backhand to the face, sending a glimmer of fear flickering across his face before he remembered the security of the bars.
"Not even a little. I was an interogator, remember, Waters? I'm used to dealing with cocky scumbags."
A twinge of rage shot through Sergeant Melvin Waters, before his mouth began to twist. It was forming a grin, one of irony and revenge, of a man who had waited all too long to see the great Mike Pinocchio slip up and fall out of General Santiago's favor. It was, in Pinocchio's opinion, the grin of a complete moron.
"You're just like them, now," Waters started, gesturing to the other sleeping inmates, "like the stupid, blindly devoted bastards we kill every day."
Pinocchio thought about the words for a moment, then couldn't help but laugh. Waters tried his best to hide the confusion in his words, to sound nonchalant about his inquery; "What?"
Pinocchio's laugh subsided as he managed words, "Maybe I am," he said, settling down. "Maybe I am like them. But they're no different than the rest of you. They're just blindly devoted to a different leader." He thought another moment, "With less guns."
"You think you made some point today? You think you took a stand against tyranny? You didn't. You're one man, trying to take on an army. You've got no chance, Pinocchio. It's you against the world."
Now he was taunting, insulting him merely for the reaction. Using force, the last resort of the inexperienced mind. Pinocchio glanced up, biting his fingernail and spitting out the chewed off cuticle.
"Then I attack at dawn."
It became clear to Waters at that moment that the man on the other side of the bars just might not be in the insurmountable predicament he once thought. There was an audacity in this prisoner, a brazen confidence that seemed to transcend mere cynicism or disinterest. It was almost as if he had a plan, and everything was going according to it.
"Why fight this one, Mike? Whatayou gain by disobeying a direct order? Extending the life of a virtual character who only exists in some computer file?"
"Some things are bigger than the game, Waters. More important."
The words that came from Waters' mouth next actually surprised Pinocchio. They weren't sarcastic, or vengeful, or spiteful. They were sincere.
"Important enough to die for?"
Pinocchio looked to the guard with an amused expression of victory. It was time to return the insult, though for a different reason; not provocation, but rather meaning.
"At least I get to die on my feet, instead of living on my knees."

*************************************

A white flash.
A bullet.
Blood.
A blue flash.

- - - - - - -

Pinocchio opened his eyes and looked through the bars of his cage into the empty corridor beyond them, trying desperately to erase the memories of his father's death. A death he caused.
Memories. What good were they. Ghosts that haunt the rest of your life, making sure you never forget the things you did wrong.
He didn't want to remember anymore, but he closed his eyes again anyway. Forcing himself to remember, in what he considered his attonement.

- - - - - - -

He was back inside the execution room, looking into the face of the only woman who could ever tell him what to do and expect him to listen.
Her face had been withered by age and anquish, but when he looked into her eyes ~ when he could bring himself to look into them ~ he saw a blazing inferno engulfing her soul. The eyes of a woman half her age and twice her strength, torn to piece by the things her son had done.
"I'm sorry, but this is the way things have to be."
The woman looked at him, not as a mother, but as a victim. As the prey looks upon the predator. The love of the past had been replaced for contempt, and somewhere buried even deeper, a need to forgive.
"Why, Michael?" She said almost to softly to hear. "Why would you do this?"
He didn't want to look at her again. Didn't think he could do what he had to do if he did. But something made him, forced him to look at her face again, into those eyes with all their burning passion.
"Mom..." he cast his eyes away. He didn't deserve to look at her. "I'm sorry."
The woman expelled a defeated sigh, the sound of forfeiture. "So am I," she said, lowering her head in acceptance of the inevitable.
The other man in the execution room held the gun. With little hesitation at all, Waters raised the weapon to the side of Mrs. Pinocchio's head, pressing the barrel to her temple.
"Evelyn Pinocchio, for crimes against the nation-state of Santiago City including treason and consortion with the enemy, you have been hereby sentenced to immediate execution."
Mrs. Pinocchio nodded once, as if giving her permission to continue.
Waters cocked the gun.
"Do you have any final words?"
Pinocchio looked at his brother-in-arms, a sudden flash of anger boiling through him like a flash-fire. Perhaps it was the snap of the hammer locking in position, or perhaps it was the overall image of a friend holding a sidearm to the head of his mother, but in that instant, something inside of him snapped.
"Only this," Mrs. Pinocchio said, raising her head to look at her son. "We all make choices in life's short course. Some are good, some are bad; and some, we shall carry with us until the end of time."
Waters stood silent a moment, affected by the words only enough to hesitate for a split-second. It was all that Pinocchio needed to lunge across the floor at his comrade, body-slamming the man about to kill his mother. The force of the blow dislodged the weapon from Waters' hand and sent him reeling into the far wall.
"What...what in hell is wrong with you!?" Waters managed to cough out, the wind knocked out of him.
"Enlightenment," Pinocchio seethed through gritted teeth.
At that instant, the door to the execution room burst open and three armed guards charged Pinocchio. The force of what should have pummelled him to the ground in a heap was only enough to restrain him from attacking Waters, who was quickly regaining his composure. He took a few steps away from Pinocchio, leaning down quickly to retrieve his weapon.
"You've just made a most grievous error."
"The only error is killing an innocent woman!"
Waters scoffed, a look of amusement on his face, "Since when did you object to killing the innocent?"
Pinocchio settled down a bit, hit with Waters' point and unable to argue it, "They were different."
"They were different because you didn't know them. You'd never said their names. Seen their faces."
Pinocchio struggled again, trying to break for Waters but withheld by the strength of three men who were barely able to hold him back, "She didn't do anything wrong!"
"She broke Santiago Law. For which the punishment is death."
"All she did was disagree with his idealogy!" Pinocchio spit out. His words were frantic now, and all control was lost. If not for the guards restraining him, he surely would have reached for Waters and killed him in an instant in any of a hundred ways, "You're telling me you've never questioned him?"
Waters curtly adjusted his fatigue jacket. "Sergeants, escort this man to a holding cell where he will await execution for treason."
The guards began pulling Pinocchio toward the door, but it was a battle they would not easily win. As Pinocchio was slowly bullied toward the exit, he looked one last time to Waters as the executioner spoke.
"You have your orders," the words came out as fluidly as his gunhand eased the firearm back against Mrs. Pinocchio's head. "And I have mine."

- - - - - - -

Pinocchio opened his eyes before Waters would have the chance to pull the trigger again, but the gunshot still rang in his ears, a permanent reminder of an horrifyingly irreperable error. He dropped his eyes to the floor, looking about as close to crying as he'll ever come.
"Not even real," he mumbled, as much to convince and console himself as to alleviate some of the responsibility that gnawed at the back of his mind.

*************************************

Waters and his partner had been relieved at midnight by a pair of young recruits Pinocchio was unfamiliar with, leaving the prisoner to the consolation of his own thoughts careening through his skull, ricocheting like a pinball around the inside of his head. But it was precisely this that made him the top-caliber soldier he was; the echo of a reverberating thought, left to collide with itself and multiply, forming the beginning of a plan.
A plan of escape.
But the sun had gone down four, perhaps five hours ago, and now he had precious little time left. He was to be executed at sunrise, for the greatest patriotic crime of treason. It was already nearing one in the morning, giving him less than five hours to device and conquer.
Just another game, he thought. Like the whole Godforsaken program, this was just one more situational war strategy that had to be thought out and defeated.
His face was pointed at the wall, his eyes gazing in its general direction, but he wasn't looking at the sterile stainless steel ediface. He was, instead, staring through it, past it, around it, in some nth direction dimension in which his thoughts played out like an expert chess match, with each piece finding its fate in the hands of its opponent until only one player remained.
His thoughts fought themselves out, the weak ones dying first while the stronger battled for supremecy. An infinite number of variables rotated and collated into an even more infinite number of permutations, each a possible sollution to the problem at hand.
His options were few. The room had no windows, no ventilation, three walls of foot-thick steel, and one final barrier of inch-thick titanium bars spaced seven inches apart. His own design.
Yes, his options were few. But his options were present.

- - - - - - -

Sergeant Samuel Green lounged back in the adjustable swivel chair, each moment bringing him another sliver closer to sleep. His head tilted to the right and his eyes creeping closed, he was jolted out of his seat by a swift shot to the shins with a notepad. He sat bolt upright in the seat to face Sergeant Chris Parker, his partner on prison watch for the morning.
"Damnit, Green, wake your ass up. I'm not watching these dirtballs by myself again."
Green's eyes fluttered quickly as he struggled to break from sleep's comforting grasp. He placed his hands on the desk his legs had formerly occupied, as if acquainting himself once more with his environment before standing quickly and picking up the rifle leaned back against the wall.
"Sorry...I'll do a round," he mumbled, staggering away with growing coordination toward Section A to start another hourly check-up cycle.

- - - - - - -

The prison was mostly empty. Section A had been quiet, most prisoners sleeping with a few delivering hostile glares with no accompanying threats or commotion. Section B had been a bit more obnoxious, with one inmate lunging at the bars of his cell to make such a racket that Green had been forced to crack his nose open with the butt of his rifle.
Now entering Section C, Green glanced right and left as he meandered down the quiet cell block. Not until he reached Cell 13 did he hear the nearly inaudible gasps and chokes that now became quite clear. His pace quickened as the sounds grew louder, combining in an irregular sequence to indicate a choking victim.
A few more steps, and he found the problem. The inmate incarcerated in Cell 16 was collapsed on the floor on his right side, facing the back of the cell, his body twitching and emitting the awful gurggles and chokes he'd heard.
He quickly removed the small remote from its security on his belt and pressed it to the lock. A soft beep signaled the deactivation of the lock and the door slid silently open. Green rushed in to the cell to attend to the victim, pulling the radio on his collar down to press the send button.
"Sergeant Parker, I have a situation here. One of the prisoners is choking, call a medi..."
Green was cut off as he reached for the man's shoulder, rolling the body over to find his eyes open and his mouth spread into a maniacal grin. His body was no longer convulsing, nor was he making the sounds he previously had been. Green quickly fell silent, a confused look taking his face. The moment that he let his guard down was short, but for a trained soldier, it was sufficient.
With a deft and practiced skill, Pinocchio whipped his right leg up over Green's head, bending at the knee to catch the guard's neck in the crook. His left leg followed quickly after, pressing the knee into the other side of Green's neck. With a vicious twist of his hips, Pinocchio jammed his legs together around their prey, snapping his neck with a curdling crunch. The radio, rifle and remote clattered to the floor, the body crumpling next to it, unanimated for the moment before it digitized in a blue flash.

- - - - - - -

"Sergeant Green, come back, I didn't get that," the radio squawked. Pinocchio pitched a glance at the handheld unit before grabbing the rifle on his way to his feet. He swiftly and silently slid to the open cell door, glancing out into the corridor and finding it empty.
Two guards; one stands by at the maindoor while the other does rounds. Like clockwork.
He smiled to himself. The advantage of being an insider.
He eased quietly out of the cell and crossed the corridor, slipping down the hallway toward the maindoor where he would soon encounter Sergeant Parker.

- - - - - - -

At the desk, Sergeant Parker held the radio to his mouth again, "Sam, what's going on? What's the problem?" He released the button to hear silence.
With a concerned look, he slowly headed away from the desk toward the last place he had seen Sergeant Green go; Section C. With his rifle in hand and his senses on alert, he slowly approached the hallway marked by a large panel with the letter "C" stencilled on it.
Parker glanced up at the letter, reaffirming his location as he started to round the corner. Unfortunately for him, the person on the other side of the corner had a less than welcome greeting ready for him.
Pinocchio swung the late Sergeant Green's rifle at his enemy like a baseball bat, clubbing Sergeant Parker in the gut with the butt of the weapon. Parker instantly doubled-over, the wind forced out of his body, as Pinocchio brought his left knee up with ferocious speed to shatter Parker's nose.
In a flash, Pinocchio had Parker by the back of the head, and with all the force he could muster, pulled the man's cranium back up, slamming it into the wall behind him with a sickeningly hollow crack. Parker's instantly deceased form slid to the floor lifelessly, flashing blue as it digitized before it even came to rest on the linoleum.
Quick and calculated, Pinocchio eased to the maindoor. There, he pressed Green's remote to the small pad next to the door. A light bar scanned the unit, paused a moment, then buzzed as the door slid open.
"Hey!" came a hushed shout from somewhere deep in Section A. Pinocchio's eyes shot down the corridor, rifle instantly poised to digitize anyone daring to try to stop him from leaving, trying to find the source of the voice.
"Hey, get me outta here!" came the same whispered voice, drenched to the core with an urgency that made Pinocchio stop and consider.
"Who the hell are you?" Pinocchio called, surprised at himself that he'd even care.
"Me," an arm jutted out of one of the far cells, probably 19 or 20, waving frantically for the escapee's attention, "it's me!" An instant later, a face pressed against the bars, struggling for a sight of the man who could lead him to freedom.
"Bring me with you. I can help you."
Pioncchio stood by the door, glancing into the hallway and the liberty that lay only a sprint away. All he had to do was run, just take off like a bat out of Dante's fifth level of hell and keep going until daylight. He knew the way out, every step he needed to take, but for some reason, something was holding him back, some unfounded obligation to help one person for not having been able to help another, not letting him take the first one.
Not even believing his own actions, he let out a tiny sigh as he turned back toward Section A, hurrying down the corridor until he reached Cell 19. Inside, he found a shorter man topped with a two-inch puff of dark curly hair with a look of desperation spilled across his face.
Pinocchio sized the kid up. He couldn't have been older than 20, probably a reclusive computer nerd who hit the wrong key and ended up in Santiago's mainframe, "Who are you?"
The kid looked desperate, not wanting to play the small-talk game for fear of losing his chance of escape, "Freddie."
"How'd you end up here, Freddie?" Pinocchio asked as he produced the small remote once more, reaching for the door lock.
"Black-market counterfeiting," he said as his eyes fixed on the remote unit in Pinocchio's hand, "mostly worthless crap. Until a guy asked to me to fake an ID chip."
"You forged a Republican Guard ID chip?" Pinocchio stopped moving, his eyebrow arched, suddenly not so sure he wanted this kid around. He may just be more trouble than he's worth.
The kid suddenly exposed a mischievious grin that all but confirmed Pinocchio's fear, "dozens of `em. Enough to get me convicted of subversity against his Excellency. And I'd be proud to die by Santiago's hand, but I can't do as much damage from the grave."
Pinocchio looked at the kid as he spoke the words of a true renegade. He searched the kid's face a moment, trying to figure out if his audacity was borne from courage or stupidity. The grin was leading to believe stupidity, but something in the way the kid looked back at him, something in his eyes, indicated otherwise. It was the looked that masked fearlessness, the look of a soldier without a uniform, of a fighter without an army.
After the moment of hesitation, Pinocchio pressed the remote to the lock, disengaging it to let the gate slide silently open. The kid quickly rushed from the cell, only a step behind Pinocchio as they dashed for the maindoor.

- - - - - - -

Outside the prison, the pair made a right into the hallway, gliding silently down the corridor with Pinocchio in the lead with his weapon and Freddie behind him unarmed.
"You know where you're going?" Freddie whispered, staying close behind his protector.
Pinocchio only nodded once, quietly, as his eyes stayed fixed on the hallway and his mind on the task at hand. The building was riddled with surveillane cameras, covering every room and hallway, but they were only monitored by an actual person once every fifteen minutes. They had about nine left before anyone would know they were wandering around the building unchecked.
Pinocchio stopped at the corner, glancing down the hallway around the left corner. About thirty yards in, halfway to the end, he caught a glimpse of the guard heading slowly away from them, toting an M16 of his own.
Pinocchio pulled back quickly, crouching back against the wall with his arm against Freddie's chest to hold him back.
The unarmed kid was startled by the quickness of Pinocchio's moves, "What?"
Pinocchio peeked around again quickly before answering, "Guard."
"Whatawe do?"
Pinocchio leaned out from the wall again, this time lingering, watching as the guard headed further down the hall, further away from them. He turned back to Freddie, grabbing his shirt, "Keep your mouth shut."
Pinocchio suddenly stood, pulling Freddie roughly with him as he silently turned the corner, stepping with the greatest care down the hall to the doorway on the left about ten yards from the corner he just emerged from.
At the door, he placed his hand on the handle. Carefully and precisely, he turned it down, unlatching the door with an inaudible click before pushing it open and forcing Freddie into the stairwell. He quickly followed after, letting the door swing shut and latching it silently again as the guard reached the end of the hall and turned around, heading back to the other end without the slightest clue of what he'd missed.

- - - - - - -

Pinocchio and Freddie flew down the stairwell, Pioncchio covering the front as he tore down flight after flight. After several floors had already whipped by, the kid behind him piped up, "Where are we going?"
"First floor," Pinocchio uttered as he continued his rapid descend.
A few more steps and the kid asked again, "What's there?"
"Service elevators." Pinocchio was quickly tiring of this kid's affinity for the 20-questions game.
Freddie suddenly slowed, watching Pinocchio, "Why?"
Pinocchio was stunned by the question, surprised by its mere existence, "To get the hell outta here."
"But Santiago's here," Freddie pointed out.
"No shit, kid," poured out of Pinocchio's mouth as he began questiong Freddie's sanity, "That's why I don't wanna be."
"We're free to roam the building," Freddie was growing excited, like he just figured out the great mystery to solving a great puzzle, "To find him. Kill him."
"What good would it do?" Pinocchio was about ready to abandon this kid, with his wild dreams of grandeur and heroism, to complete the escape he had so quickly and meticulously planned out. "The entire Republican Guard would fry us in minutes."
Freddie's brow furrowed in confusion as he forced himself to ask, "But isn't that how you win?"
Pinocchio was shocked, "Win what?" he asked suspiciously.
"The game."
Pinocchio stared at the kid like he was a bona fide psychotic, trying his best and succeeding admirably at hiding his confusion, "What game?"
Freddie looked at Pinocchio as if he'd said something he once believed to be true, but was no longer sure of, "This one..."
Those two words pushed Pinocchio further into distrust, and he was now about to shoot this kid in the head as a spy, "Whatayou know about the game?"
"I've heard things. About this world being a game, and another world that's Real. That you people get sent here to kill him, and that's how you're supposed win."
Pinocchio fell silent. How could explain to this kid that he was a figment of some pencilneck's imagination? That everything he'd ever known was nothing more than a digital matrix of encoded imagery?
"They're wrong, kid. That ain't gonna win the game."
Freddie's eyes lit up like a paranoid who just learned that they really were after him, "Then how do you win?"
Pinocchio's eyes raised to meet his questioner with a disheartening pang, "I don't know how yet."
Freddie was partially surprised and slightly amused, "You don't know?"
A defensively sly grin parted Pinocchio's mouth, "Not yet."
Pinocchio started back down the stairs, Freddie quickly following.
The soldier grasped for his sense of time, feeling it like a second pulse. About four minutes left before someone checked the security monitors and caught them like lab rats in the wrong end of the maze.

- - - - - - -

Nearing the third floor with about three minutes left, Pioncchio stopped his descent, raising an arm to signal Freddie to do the same. He perked up, listening intently as he heard the rising voices of Guardsmen. His eyes went wide as he realized that they were only about a floor and a half down. He turned around on Freddie, pushing the younger man back up the stairs, whispering, "Two guards, right below us."
On those words, Freddie ceased any lingering resistance, turning and heading up without prompting. Quickly ascending the 13 steps to the fourth floor, the pair pushed easily through the door. Pinocchio made a quick check, finding no one in the hallway on the other side, and headed out of the stairwell.
Pinocchio had learned to control his breathing long ago, but the kid behind him was nervous and beginning to wheeze. Pinocchio glanced over his shoulder to check on him, finding him close behind, but stopping him anyway, "Open your throat and breathe through your mouth, kid."
Freddie did as ordered, instantly breathing much more quietly. The pair headed further down the hallway, when Pinocchio noticed the camera at the end, pointing toward them. He stopped, thinking quickly with only a minute or so left before they were discovered. Up ahead was a door on the right, and if it didn't offer them an option, they were in desperate trouble.
Pinocchio took two steps to the door, breathing a heavy sigh of relief at what he saw; a large sign was tacked to the door with red letters that spelled out the word "RESTROOM." He quickly pushed through the door, noting the camera above his head that viewed most of the area in front of the large wall-sized mirror to the right.
He grabbed Freddie out in the hallway, quickly pulling him into the room, but holding him from moving any further in, "Don't move."

- - - - - - -

In a room lit only by a bay of monitors, an empty swivel chair sat slightly turned. After a moment, the door to the room opened, bathing the darkened space with fluorescent light before the man behind the door entered, cutting off the illumination.
He crossed the room to the chair, sitting and beginning his check. He perused the monitors absently, only interested in anything drastically out of the ordinary.
Stairwell D, clear.
Fourth floor hallway, clear.
Fourth floor bathroom, clear.
Conference Room 4, clear.
His eyes quickly scanned over the remaining screens, finding nothing in need of rectification. He pulled the retractable keyboard out from under the table, quickly typing in his name and serial number. He hit the enter key, activating a scan beam that read the ID chip implanted in his chest. After a quick moment, the computer beeped, reading, "Security Check complete. 0431 hrs, Sergeant Sean A. Wallace."
Sergeant Wallace stood from his seat and headed for the door to resume his patrol watch.

- - - - - - -

"What are you doing?" Freddie asked, struggling futily against Pinocchio's restraint.
"Knock it off. It doesn't usually take more than a minute to do a security check, so give it a coupla seconds." Pinocchio held the kid still for a few more moments until he was satisfied that whoever had formerly been looking at the security cameras no longer was.
Satisfied, Pinocchio headed into the bathroom, going decidedly for the third stall. He whipped open the door, entered the stall and climbed on top of the toiletseat. Within arms reach on the wall, a few inches below the ceiling, was a ventilation grate, about three feet wide and a foot and a half tall. Small, but large enough to slither around in.
Pinocchio quickly pried the grate free, allowing him access to the shaft behind it. He pulled himself up to the opening as he heard Freddie's footsteps behind him, following him into the porthole. It was a tight squeeze, but he managed his way into the vent shaft with barely enough elbowroom to pull himself forward. He could hear his own breath reverberating through the thin metal corridor, and he found himself hoping that it wouldn't travel far enough to give their location away.
Pinocchio turned right after left after right, slid down stretches of cold metal tubing and even dropped down seven feet of vent shaft before facing another grate, this one looking into a larger room.

- - - - - - -

The room was dark, lined with racks of unmarked, indistinct objects. The only sounds were the slight intermittent thuds eminating in through the ventilation system. The thuds grew slightly louder for a few seconds until suddenly, the grate near the ceiling on the far wall bucked. , a second later collapsing into the room and dropping to the floor.
Pinocchio's darkly clad form slid out of the vent, dangling above the floor for a moment before dropping noiselessly to the floor. Freddie followed shortly after as Pinicchio looked into the room, not entirely sure of his location despite his extensive knowledge of the building's structure. He daren't flip the light switch for fear of alerting the Guard to their presence, but even in the darkness, he could see the contents of the room.
"Oh man..." Freddie muttered as he caught sight of the items lined along the racks that filled the space. He entered quickly, finding the nearest rack and picking up the first thing his hand found; a Sig Sauer P220 semi-automatic handgun with an inch-long barrel extension and oversized clip.
"Santiago's backup artillary storeroom..." Pinocchio mumbled as he passed by several rows of large and intimidating weapons. After searching a moment, he stopped, lifting an object that he'd grown quite fond of in his time on the Delaware Frontier.
An MP5K filled his grasp, fitting perfectly into his hand, his finger wrapping around the trigger like it had been molded to fit his grip. His eyes were locked on the weapon, a glimmer of awe filling them. He only barely heard Freddie's words from across the room, "You gonna take it, or kneel down and pray to it?"
"A little of both," Pinocchio said quietly, flicking the switch next to the trigger from automatic to semi-automatic as he heard the door click open. Instinctively, he wielded the weapon toward the door, pulling the trigger back once, releasing a single round of ammunition.
The man who entered through the recently-opened door digitized in a blur of blue energy, and Pinocchio wasted no time in prompting Freddie out into the hallway, "Come on, let's get the hell outta here."
On the way out the door, Freddie spotted a sharp object in a small sheath laying on a rack lining the wall. He quickly grabbed the knife, sliding it into the band of his pants as the pair headed out the door to the right.
Pinocchio stayed behind his less experienced compatriot, keeping a constant eye and trained weapon on their backs as he prompted the kid down the hall. "Left at the end of the hall," he instructed with a forceful hand on the kids back that ensured he wouldn't stop moving, "The elevator's on the right."
Freddie rounded the corner with Pinocchio a step behind as he spotted the grey double doors with a pair of opposing-directional arrows above it. Pinocchio grabbed Freddie by the back of his shirt to stop him a step short of the doors, moving around him to hit the down arrow. A couple moments passed quickly as the small car slid to their floor and the soft ding sounded.
Pinocchio pushed Freddie forward almost before the doors slid open, immediately punching the button marked "SB." The doors remained open as the small numeric keypad below the floor buttons flashed to life. The display screen above the keypad blinked red, reading "ENTER PASSKEY."
Pinocchio looked at the display for a moment, not wanting to enter the wrong sequence and set the security alarms off like a fourth of July spectacle. His eyes locked onto the keypad, concentrating, his mind working like a supercomputer, figuring and calculating, diving and multiplying the infinite set of variables inherently built into the computation that was required to determine the correct sequence of digits.
After what felt like an eternity, though it may well have been less than a fraction of a second, his hand reached for the keypad, his finger gracing the first key. An instant's hesitation fell between his action and his decision, until he finally pressed the key in. The display screen revealed a numeral 5, which was soon followed by a 2, and then finally a 9.
Freddie looked with wide frightened eyes as the display screen paused, analyzing the entered sequence and testing it for accuracy. A breathless second passed, until the digits disappeared and were replaced with a flashing message; "PASSKEY CORRECT."
Freddie eye's flicked from the screen to Pinocchio's face, suddenly shifting from fright to surprise with a hint of suspicion, "How did you..." The remainder of the question lingered unasked, silence filling in the gap between the incomplete inquery and impending answer.
Pinocchio glanced to his younger companion, noting the growing distrust in his stare, "The security system automatically changes the passkey every 12 hours. It's purported to be random, but it can't be; it's controlled by a computer program. And I worked with the guy who designed it."

- - - - - - -

The elevator car descended quickly, dropping 42 feet, nearly five floors, to the sub-basement access tunnels that linked all of Santiago's govenment-sanctioned buildings in one massive underground network. It had all been part of the plan from the beginning.
Pinocchio had long known this day would come, the day when he would no longer be able to appease Santiago in his attempt to get close and glean information. He knew that a day would come when a decision would have to be made; stay and die, or run and live. So from the beginning, he made sure that when this day did come, it would be as painless as he could make it, with as few mistakes and unpleasentries as possible.
Now he stepped out of the elevator into the concrete corridor, glancing first to his left and then to his right. He knew the way by heart, had it memorized for months on the very likely chance that he would have to use it himself at any time.
Freddie darted out of the elevator, content to make a rabid dash in whatever direction he found himself running in. Pinocchio was quick to grab his overeager companion, holding him from a fevered, and undoubtedly ill-fated escape attempt. As close as this kid thought they were to freedom, it was the very nature of escaping that kept them only one mistep from getting caught.
"This way," Pinocchio barked as he turned to his left and pulled Freddie gruffly along with him, "with that guard missing, they'll know something's wrong soon."
Freddie redirected his sprint, following after this intense soldier for what felt like miles of running through featureless dungeon corridors lined with thick concrete walls and locked doors, "There is a way outta here, right?"
Pinocchio glanced over his shoulder in midstride, pitching a look at the kid following that told him he was one word from a backfist to the jaw. A few more steps and Pinocchio slowed to a stop, crouching down and leaning back against the wall to catch his breath. As his breathing returned to normal, he gestured for Freddie to come closer.
Freddie stepped within arm's reach of his savior, when the man reached for the band of the kid's pants. He quickly grabbed the handle of the knife that Freddie had stolen and removed it, looking at the blade with a look of scrutiny. After a moment of internal deliberation, Pinocchio looked to the kid, "You don't have a lighter, do you."
Freddie slowly shook his head negatively, wondering if this man was about to do the only thing he would logically need a knife and a lighter to do, "Why?"
Pinocchio looked back to the blade, "Because the system's tracking us right now."
Freddie's face took on a quick look of relief that he instantly covered up as he pulled down the collar of his shirt, "Not me."
Pinocchio looked up to see what the kid was showing him; a light scar across the skin above his right pectoral, where a tracking chip had once been implanted, "I heard they were coming for me and pulled the little mother out," Freddie explained.
The soldier raised his eyebrow at the reasoning behind the kids logic. There was a hint of respect in the look that he quickly killed as he handed the knife back to Freddie, "Hold this," he said as he pulled the front of his shirt up over his head, letting it rest behind his neck on his shoulders.
The kid started toward Pinocchio with the blade, half wondering if he wanted it back, half preparing for a bit of amateur surgery. His question was quickly answered, though, as the soldier saw him approaching and whipped his right arm out, snatching the knife from his grasp quickly and shooting him a look that asked "what the hell is wrong with you?"
"Only one man cuts me open," Pinocchio offered, the only attempt at explaining himself he was about to make to a kid who was just reading to slice into his skin.
Freddie looked expectantly for an answer, "Who's that?"
With a cynical scowl and a brief downward glance at the barcode, Pinocchio squeezed his eyes shut and emitted a low quiet growl as he gritted his teeth sharply and whipped his right hand to his chest, quickly dragging the razor edge across his flesh.
A slight arch of the neck and a sharp hissing intake of air was all that Pinocchio would let out to indicate that he'd experienced anything resembling pain. He dropped his head, blinking heavily a few times to clear the reactionary tears before looking down at the blood trickling from the thin slice across his right pectoral.
"Holy Christ, man..." Freddie said, eyes wide with disbelieve, "didn't that hurt?"
Pinocchio looked up at him fleetingly, then back to the wound, "Probably."
Setting back to the incision, Pinocchio inserted just the tip of the blade, searching the edges of the chip for the transmitter wire. A few seconds later, he found it, catching it in one of the blade's seraded edges. He slowly retracted the impliment, exposing just a sliver of the wire which he quicky pressed against the blade with his thumb. Then, with a quick jerk, he yanked the entire chip out of his body through the slit.
A tiny growl escaped Pinocchio's throat as the small chip tore through tissue on its way out of its home. He opened his eyes again, holding the chip up in front of his face, looking at it like an enemy that had all too long elluded his capture. With a great degree of satisfaction, he dropped the chip to the concrete floor, succinctly spearing the butt of the knife at it, shattering the tiny microtransmitter into a hundred tiny shards.
His left hand covering his newly bleeding wound, Pinocchio extended his right hand back to the kid, offering the weapon, "You'll need it more than me." After a moment of hesitation, Freddie reached for the blade, accepting it with a grateful nod and returning it to its former home.
Finally satisfied that he was now not only out of Santiago's sight, but of his security system's sight, Pinocchio stood, turning to Freddie, "This is where we part. Wipe me from memory; forget we ever met," then Pinocchio's voice dropped, a threatening growl filling in the gaps between the words, "And remember, without me, you'd be dead. You owe me."
"Absolutely, man. I owe you big time. Anything you need, any time you need it. I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding me when you do."
Pinocchio flashed an affirming grin, "No, I won't." He thought a second, before adding, "remember that, if anyone ever asks about me."
Freddie nodded feverishly, confirming that his mouth was firmly closed on the subject. Pinocchio released his grip, gesturing down the tunnel across the corridor, "Take this tunnel straight through. You'll end up on the subway platform. It'll take you to the city perimeter."
Freddie was about to take off when Pinocchio caught him, adding, "When you get to a blue door, make sure you pull the handle up instead of pushing it down. It's a security measure."
"How do you know...?"
Pinocchio pushed at Freddie, knowing there was no time to delve into the specifics of his past or structural analysis of the building, "I just do, now go!"
The kid didn't hesitate this time before taking off town the tunnel toward his own personal version of freedom. Pinocchio's would be much more painstaking, and he thought about all the struggles he had ahead and how much harder they'd all be now that he was on the wrong side of the fence. His face was taken by a scowl as the thoughts encompassed him, wrapping themselves around him like a constrictor snake, trying to choke the life out of his already battered body.
He started down the corridor, heading for the closest government building to Central Security.

*************************************

Pinocchio now stood quietly in another elevator car, watching the floor numbers slowly ascend as he headed topside. A glint of satisfaction glimmered in his eyes as his escape was nearly complete, awaiting one final step before being counted as a victory. Gradually, the elevator came to a stop and the grey doors before him slid open.
He looked upon a vast warehouse, Santiago's storage center for repatriated goods of every sort. The spoils of war. Anything and everything that could be salvaged from the battles that won more land for Santiago City every day.
Pinocchio stepped out of the elevator, hearing the soft ding as the doors shut behind him. No matter, he wouldn't be using that exit anyway. He started down one of the many aisles lined with household appliances, computer parts, electronics equipment and an array of artillary, until he reached the far end of the expansive floor where he found what he needed.
Vehicles. Of every make and model, lined up and waiting to be scrapped.
Or hotwired.
He passed the first few cars without interest. A rusted Ford. A hollowed-out Volvo. A Buick that needed a few minor components, like an engine.
But suddenly, as he walked before the next car, he stopped in his tracks, his gaze fixed upon a machine he instantly chose as his escape vehicle. Before himself he found a customized Chevelle, complete with roll-bars lining the doors and chicken-wire grated over the windows. A beautiful piece of machinery, perfect for an inevitable life of perpetual running outside the fence.
Of course he had no keys, but that was a minor inconvenience. He knew people outside the fence, people who owed him favors and debts. People who could mold a key for him in an hour without question and never be heard from again. He popped the driver's side door open, slipping into the seat and checking the gas gauge.
Two-thirds of a tank. With a tiny grin and a quick glance skyward, Pinocchio leaned under the dash and set to work hotwiring the vehicle.

*************************************

General Omar Santiago stood in the execution room along with his Advisory Council, including the enigmatic Inga Fossa. Inga had a look that most closely resembled anxiousness, but it was well subdued beneath her lofty demeanor. As the first inklings of sunlight began dripping through the skylight overhead, Inga looked to Santiago, who in turn reciprocated her glance.
A moment later, three men entered the room; Waters, followed by a pair of soldiers. Santiago looked them over quickly, pointedly asking the imminent question.
"Where is the prisoner, soldier?"
Waters' eyes dropped, "Pinocchio has escaped, sir."
Santiago's expression remained unchanged, but the air in the room suddenly thickened. Waters stood in front of his Commander-in-Chief as confidently as he could, trying desperately to cover the terrible fear that was seething within him.
Just as Waters was sure he'd never leave the execution room alive, though, Santiago's lips thinned and straightened, forming a grin so subtle it might almost be missed.
"Sir?" Waters asked, now unsure of his superiors intentions.
Santiago only cocked his head ever so slightly to the left, the corner of his mouth curling in a wicked smile.
"The best games are played against a worthy adversary."

THE END