A/N A bit of carnage and bloodshed to get those dominoes tumbling. More like Ring 1 than Ring2, I guess. I hope the pacing works for you.
"I'm going to go kill Agent Walker and be right back."
"Code Red One for Tough Guy, sir."
"Leader, the room is secure."
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
Leader – Eve – advanced on the three prisoners, smiling as Sarah tried to push herself deeper into the concrete. "You don't understand, do you?"
Sarah wasn't exactly listening, but Ellie and Casey shook their heads, stricken mute at the sight of her stark terror.
Eve stopped smiling, traded the one mask for another. "Good," she said, fastening the clasps Her robes billowed briefly.
A minion raced into the room. "Leader, the base is under attack."
"With no alarms?"
"Not this base, Leader, the base, your base." Justin held out his phone, with all the details.
Except one. "Who is attacking?"
"It appears to be Daniel Shaw, and he appears to be winning."
"Our experiment? His return was predicted, they were supposed to eliminate him."
"Nothing very alive down that corridor, sir," said Two. "He got a hold of some flechette grenades. You really don't want to go down there."
Chuck really needed to find his inner Carmichael. "That's what, the sixth corridor I don't want to go down?"
"What can I say, he's pretty damn good."
Chuck loaded another cartridge of darts. "He's only one man, Lensman. It won't be all that long before he's flanked."
Two jumped on Chuck, and they went sliding across the floor as bullets chewed the walls above them. "We're his flank, sir." He kicked the table above them, tipping it over as a shield.
Chuck's voice went up an octave. "I just realized that, thank you."
"I have no answers for you, Leader."
Daniel Shaw had only one hope, one goal, and she'd used that for years to control him until his death was needed. Something had changed, but nothing in her models explained it. "They are to protect the prototype at all costs."
"He's already passed the prototype, Leader. It's unharmed."
Leader considered all the elements, and turned to look at Ellie. "Come for the good doctor again, no doubt. Has duplication been initiated?"
Justin nodded. "I gave that order already."
"You overreach yourself, Agent," said Leader harshly. "But in this case it was the correct action. Put these prisoners in the killbox, and make sure Shaw knows where they are."
As he left to carry out his instructions, Leader gave her prisoners, especially Sarah, one long last, lingering look…and then turned to go. The sound of the door closing behind her was shockingly final.
Casey grunted his dismay. Thought sure we were gonna get a monologue out of that one. Probably some rule in the Evil Overlord handbook against it. Where's Grimes when you need–? Casey almost physically chopped off that thought, shocked at himself.
"Who in the name of God was that?" gasped Ellie.
Casey went back to tugging on his cuffs, trying to see if there was a way he could get his hands free without maiming himself. There were a lot of people he needed to kill down here and it would be a shame to only be able to use one gun. "Sure looks like the head bad guy to me."
"What's a killbox?"
"Exactly what it sounds like. It's a trap, and you're the bait. Shaw comes after you and they kill us all in one hail of bullets."
Oh God! Ellie started pulling on her cuffs too. "What do we do?"
"Nothing," said Sarah in a hollow voice, eyes wide and unfocused. "There's nothing we can do. We can't beat them if they don't stay dead."
Carina entered into a slaughterhouse. "You guys are good," she said, feeling sick and not meaning a word of it.
"Yeah, we are," said Dimples, "But we didn't do this. Somebody else came through here like a saw blade."
Shaw? The Lensmen? Please let it not be Chuck. "Any idea who?"
"We're not detectives, Agent Miller," said Dimples. "What do we got, guys?"
"We got automatic weapons fire over here, sir."
"I have a bunch of tranq cases over here."
Carina turned her head and started walking. "That would be Chuck. What's over there?"
"Security substation, it looks like. Has a self-destruct, but no one disabled it, just a lot of mumbo-jumbo on the screens. And a cell phone, hard-wired in."
That's definitely Chuck. "Don't touch it!"
"Wasn't planning to."
"What's it doing?"
"Calling somewhere, transmitting something."
"Oh, that's helpful, Babyface."
"What kind of data, Mr. Depak?"
Manoosh was already beginning to regret his choice to work for the General directly. "I don't know, ma'am. The server was disconnected from the network by some kind of chemical paste. That's how I found out about it, the smoke detectors went off. I can attach some I/O devices but to do that I'd have to pull it from the rack and I really don't want to disturb the setup–"
"Don't. We've got a cell-phone hardwired to one of our redundant servers, which has been cut off from our network, and it's pumping in data. There's no danger to the system. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"Yes ma'am. This phone is running awfully hot, too. Either the connection will end or the phone will burn out, and then I can tell you what we're getting."
Daniel Shaw walked in blood, swam in it, very little of it his own.
He'd solved the riddle of his life, found the killer of his wife. When he'd woken up the day before, that was the first knowledge in his mind, before his own name, before he even knew he'd survived. Who killed my wife?
The world turned red as it told him the name, blood and pain pouring from him like a damned river, suddenly released. Sarah Walker. Like a video on infinite loop he saw her, walking on a street corner in Paris, passing his beloved Eve. Saw her eyes flash as she spotted her helpless victim, toying with her as she passed by.
Then Eve knelt and…the killer struck, one shot to end two lives. No, four. Sarah Walker would die as they had died, alone, but she would not be the only one.
Who gave the order?
Names and places flooded his mind, he drowned in dark knowledge, swept under. So many. Too many. Names swirling in blood, he floundered trying to hold them. Then one came to him and he clung to it for the meaning of his life. He would die before he would let go of his vengeance. No one would stop him, his pain sprayed like bullets and names, targets dropped like dead leaves. So many, but never enough.
She killed my wife. They gave the order.
Lack of awesomeness, on an awesome scale. "That's a Ring Base?" And that was apparently Ring trash blowing in the rising Ring wind.
"Yeah, I know," said Morgan, grinning. "Looks like a dump, doesn't it?"
"That's because it is a dump, Morgan," said Devon, coughing in the Ring dust.
"No it's not–"
"It's a carefully constructed simulacrum–" Genuine artificial Ring smoke.
"Designed to deceive all but the most astute observers–"
Morgan's hands continued to flap as he tried to remember what he was about to say. "Yeah? What, Alex?"
"That's 457 Darella Street. 459 is that one over there." She gestured with a carefully shielded finger.
Devon looked out of the corner of his eye, then turned back to Alex. "You sure? I like the first dump better."
Alex shook her head. "That's the right dump, Devon."
"How can you tell?"
"The dust," she said, coughing and waving her hands around. "I can see the lasers in the dust, they've got security coverage everywhere."
"Are you all right, Alex?" asked the two men together as she flailed around.
"Oh, I'm fine," she said between coughs. "I just don't want anyone watching to see that I've spotted the sensors. We need to get away from here now."
"Oh, uh, okay," said Morgan, looking around. "Hey, isn't that Casey's car?"
Devon turned to look. "Where?"
"Two blocks down, on the left."
"Even if it isn't, let's go." Alex started walking away, and they followed.
Casey and Ellie stopped pulling on their restraints.
"What do you mean, they won't stay dead?"
"How do you know she was dead, Sarah?"
Sarah took a deep breath. "Because I killed her, Ellie. Five years ago."
"Maybe you…" Ellie cringed, "Missed?"
Casey grunted a negative. "Walker never misses."
"Her name is Bartowski," snapped Ellie.
Sarah said nothing.
Casey frowned at her, concerned, but you'd never know it. "You must know something about her, Bartowski. Spill."
"Her name is Evelyn Shaw," whispered Sarah. "She was my first."
"First kill," said Casey. He wasn't about to mention the circumstances of it, but he knew what they had to be. "And she knew it." He shook his head. "Shaw's wife." Had to be really dead, then. Shaw wouldn't have waged his little obsessive campaign against the Ring this long for anything less. "You think they brought her back?"
"Who?" asked Ellie.
"The Ring, or maybe Fulcrum. Like they brought Bryce back after I did for him."
"You killed Bryce Larkin?"
Casey looked at her, raised a brow. "Whoops. He stole the…football, I wasn't gonna pin a medal on him." Ellie just stared at him, so he got back to business. "Well?" he said, looking at Sarah. Come on, Walker, think!
Sarah didn't pull away from the wall, but she allowed her head to loll his way. "That was five years ago, Casey. Bryce was two, and they brought him back in the ambulance."
"So?" Casey shrugged and pushed forward with a ridiculous argument, simply to keep her talking. "They had crappy technology, that's why she wears the mask."
That got a snort, which is what he wanted. "You've listened in on too many Star Wars nights."
"No, Sarah, I think he may have a point. I noticed when she put on the mask again that her robes…blew out. She may have some king of ventilator under there, something that made a puff of air."
Sarah pulled her head back around. "For what?"
"If you did kill her, and they did bring her back, it's likely she would need some kind of…assistance…to move, or…something. Nerve damage, maybe?"
Now it was Casey's turn to sag against the wall. "Just don't use the 'Z' word, please."
"I know she's alive, John," said Ellie sarcastically. "Just not…very alive."
"Aah!" shouted Two suddenly, and he fell backwards behind the makeshift shield, now looking more like a screen door, the kind that let moths in. His shoulder was red and getting redder. "Sir, fall back! I'll hold them off…" 'Sir' wasn't listening. He sat crouched behind Two, hands to his head, eyes clenched shut. Crap. His protectee had broken at last, and now they were both going to die.
Chuck raised his head, stared at Two with eyes red with broken blood vessels. "Give me that." He took Two's rifle, flipped the setting to semi-automatic, and stood, firing off four quick shots, each one putting a man on the ground. Flipping to full auto, Chuck loosed a burst that made all the others duck, and then he charged, howling.
Carina heard the yelling and pulled her squad after her with the slipstream. The corridor was full of writhing bodies, but she was only concerned with the one at this end. "Two! Where's Chuck?"
Two looked up, and pointed feebly. "Just missed him."
Dimples listened to the chaos. "He's got guts, I'll give him that."
"What will that do us if he gets himself killed?"
She ran again, not caring if they followed or not. Dimples detailed a couple of men to look after the Lensman and took the rest after her. They rounded the nearest corner…and stopped.
"Would you look at that."
They could barely see Chuck, surrounded by the enemy. He was moving too fast. Punches turned into kicks with lightning precision, and one goon who managed to get his gun up found himself Chuck's unwilling dance partner, shooting his own men before becoming a human shield himself and ultimately a projectile weapon. Only Chuck's face was still, and calm, unchanging even as the last man fell.
"Chuck!" Carina really hoped it was him.
He stopped, turned to her, and grinned. "Carina! Hey!" Pounding footsteps behind him drew his attention to the squad rounding the corner, and he shrieked like a little girl.
"Tough Guy, fall back!" ordered Dimples. "We got this."
Chuck ran to Carina, and she pulled him through the rest of the group as carnage sounded behind them. Together they raced through the nearest door that looked like it would still stop a bullet. Chuck fell across the nearest flat surface, panting for breath.
"Chuck, what were you thinking?"
She grabbed his head, moved it around. "Look at me. God, look at your eyes. Sarah's going to kill us all and then Ellie will bring us back for her turn."
That reminded her, and Carina reached into a long pocket. "Here, your father sent this for you, maybe it'll help."
Chuck took the package and tore the paper off, exposing a box with a pair of sunglasses in it. "Thanks, Dad," he said, and he put them on.
The earpieces detected to pressure of his head, and the sensors in the frames validated his retinal patterns. Upload one initiated.
Carina saw Chuck put on the glasses and then shriek in agony. She'd been played! They weren't from his father at all! Like lightning she reached out and smacked the frames from his face, hoping it wasn't already too late.
The frames were quiescent, programmed to expect sudden loss of contact as the wearer shut his eyes. Upload one was complete.
Chuck stood still as a statue, his mind rolling backward over every thought he'd ever had, every experience he'd ever known. Sarah and Casey, Bryce and Jill and Bryce again, loss and gain and loss and loss and loss and suddenly he was nine years old, sitting in his father's chair, staring at his father's machines as his eyes hurt.
He didn't hear it, he felt it, like the cliff feels the little stone that moves the bigger stones. Neural pathways that had grown up since that time became reactivated, channels for processing volumes of data that no human brain, no mind was ever meant to process. As they went they found and repaired broken sections, restored missing sections, connections that had been blocked.
Chuck remembered everything.
He came to on the floor, with his head in the lap of a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, the wrong beautiful woman. "Carina?"
"Chuckles? Are you…all right?"
Chuck smiled at her. "Better than that," he said in wonder. "My father's machine, they shut it down…"
He stood up, moving easily, and looked around. His smile faded. "Where the hell are we?"
Daniel Shaw reached the last level, the one with the access to the rear entrance. He hadn't found Walker, so he'd use the tunnel to go to the next base, and the next, until he found her. He activated the scanner, to check that the tunnel beyond was clear.
The screen lit, showing a room, not a tunnel, and three people sitting in the room. A man. Sarah Walker. And…and…
Doctor Eleanor Woodcombe and Sarah Walker, imprisoned together. "Perfect," thought Charles Carmichael, turning around. "Now I know just where she'll be, once I've taken care of Chuck."
Alex picked the locks on Casey's car, and they got inside. The doors locked.
"Identify yourselves or die," said the car, with Casey's voice.
The car spoke again. "What's the password, moron?"
"Ronald Reagan? No, Guns and ammo. Wait, I got it! God Bless America."
The doors unlocked.
Devon sagged in his seat. "Dude, you had me worried there."
"What's to worry?" asked Morgan. "It's Casey."
"It's Casey's car, Morgan. Now that we're in here, what are we supposed to do with it."
He looked in the mirror. "Hey, we're out of the wind and the smell, aren't we?"
"Fine, but how do we get inside the warehouse?" She pointed down the street.
That made him turn around. "Wait wait wait, who said anything about getting into the warehouse? We're strictly recon."
"And Casey just naturally left his car out here for us to use?"
"I can drive it," said Morgan. "You want I should ram the doors?"
"I want you to try and survive the rescue, Morgan. If the car can talk, what else can it do?"
"I don't know, it's not like there's a manual for–the manual! Check the glove box, maybe there's a gun or a bazooka in there or something."
Devon looked. "Here's a gun, no thank you very much." He held it out with two fingers.
Morgan shrank away from it. "Hey, no way. I'm a lapsed vegetarian."
Alex reached forward. "I'll take it. At least I've had lessons."
"Fine, anything else, Captain?"
Devon pulled out a book. "There's a manual."
The windshield lit, targeting lines and circles. "What'd you do, Devon?"
"I don't know, dude, I just pulled the book out." He bent over to look. "Wait, there's some buttons in the roof, I must have hit one."
"Well, un-hit it!" Morgan reached over and fumbled.
The windshield turned red, as the targeting system locked on to the lasers guarding the warehouse entrance and started beeping. "Uh-oh." Something went clunk! in the car somewhere, and Morgan's feet got hot.
"Dude, what'd you do?"
"I don't know!"
"I do," said Alex, pointing at a line of smoke as the rocket flew away.
Morgan shrank down in the seat. "Oops."
A/N2 I'll be leaving for Chicago on Friday, to stand in the middle of the street all weekend and try to sell books during the Printers Row Lit Fest. I may get some of chapter 2 done over the weekend, but no promises. This suspense/action stuff isn't my strongest suit. Let me know in the comments if you like what I've done.