Danni opened the door and darted her head out into the corridor. She motioned for us to follow. It made sense for her to lead. Other than knowing where to go, she wasn’t suspicious. No one would be alarmed seeing her.
I took notice to what she was wearing for once, now I had the liberty to consider the things that weren’t absolutely essential to my survival.
As she walked ahead of us my eyes traced her figure. Her clothes were undeniably sensible, similar to what most of the guards wore: cargo pants, t-shirt and some kind of jacket, her’s a muddy leather. Nothing you’d catch Beth wearing out of choice.
The Kolmek didn’t have any specific uniform or colours, but as she turned her face to glance back I noticed the flash of three dark parallel lines above her eye. A stark reminder of who she was. Other than the tattoo there was nothing to tell them apart from everyone else. Nothing you could notice at a distance. Easy to hide if you had to.
Mike was in-step behind her, standing out, a beacon in his all-black costume. He held the gun with a purpose though. He was no stranger to them, and likely a better shot than myself. Best I left him and Danni to the firearms.
Me and Jack trailed behind, the most likely to rouse suspicion. I was covered in blood and both of us likely assumed to be dead.
Danni led us to a narrow staircase without incident. The wallpaper fell away to bare concrete bricks crudely painted an off-white. I felt more at-home; the décor had set my teeth on edge. I listened for movement up or down the stairwell but I couldn’t tell if it was empty, or I was just too deaf. I hoped that my hearing would get better, what if it didn’t?
No one else reacted to any noise however, so I followed them up the zigzagging stairs.
“He’ll be in here unless they changed their minds,” she said, as we approached a heavy steel door on the second floor platform. “There’s usually someone in there. I’ll deal with it.”
We stood back as she typed a code into the locks. “The code is three seven five three for most of the doors. In case this doesn’t end well and you have to get out on your own.”
“Thanks,” I said as I repeated it in my head. three seven five three. Brain, store that.
The door opened and Danni went in alone. There was the sound of her greeting the guard, his confused reply, then a muffled thud.
“Come on, get the door closed.”
We slipped inside and past the slumped figure of a man half on, half off a chair. A copy of a magazine I’d rather not pay much attention to was draped across his stomach. The space around him was littered with the detritus of hours of snacking. My stomach rumbled at the array of brightly coloured packaging.
I scanned the dim room, forcing my eyes wide and willing my night-vision to adjust, but nothing stood out to me as a threat. It became clear that the guard wasn’t expecting to have to be very diligent in his guarding.
Dirty clothes, empty drinks cans and other rubbish littered the floor. This wasn’t a place where the customers were likely to visit. Grimy mattresses were strewn around the room, all empty but for one. A small dark heap of blankets wrapped around a pale child. It didn’t look like Tom.
I dreaded to think what could have been done to him to make him like that, but it soon became clear. You just had to look into his eyes.
They weren’t seeing anything on this earth. Distant. Vacant.
“What did you give him?” I felt a cold wall drop between me and Danni. I dropped to my knees by Tom and lifted his chin from where it rested. He was limp. A string of spit ran from the corner of his mouth.
An opiate? Archaic. His breathing was slow, almost non-existent. There was no pulse under my touch against his neck. Whether that was because I wasn’t doing it right or it was particularly faint I didn’t know.
“They use a mix. I don’t know what’s in it exactly. It’s a concoction of whatever can get you dependent fastest,” Danni said. She kept her distance.
I didn’t have any experience with whatever they’d given him. Other than seeing junkies in the street, I only really knew about my Mother’s drug of choice. This certainly wasn’t the same, he didn’t have the rapid eye movement. The comatose state he was in, however, wasn’t that dissimilar. Not something you see around. Junkies like this usually found a quiet corner.. One of the invisible drugs.
“Tom, wake-up,” Jack said, kneeling beside me. “We gotta get out of here.”
“He’s out of it, Jack. He’s gone.” I peeled back an eyelid, his pupils were non-existent. A pin-prick in a the disk of his muddy grey iris. They didn’t respond to the light, to the wave of my hand.
“He’s going to be fine, we just need to get him home, Alex,” Jack said. I wasn’t so sure.
“They measure out the doses carefully, he would have been weighed. It’s calculated.” Danni picked up a discarded chem sachet, its clear plastic tube trailing to the floor with a needle-tip. A tail, ready to sting. “They wouldn’t overdose him, not if they can’t help it. He should be alright.”
“Alright? Does this look fucking alright to you?” I hissed at her.
“Hey.” She wasn’t bothering with being quiet now. “Why the hell do you think I’m breaking you out of this place? I despise this shit.”
“It doesn’t matter right now. We going to have to leave him unless you intend to carry him out,” Mike said, keeping his pistol up, one eye on the door, the other on the unconscious guard. Mike, as usual, the only one acting sensibly. Rationally.
“Okay,” I said. Rational was going to keep us alive. Mike was right.
I kneeled down and grabbed Tom by the waist, hauling his mass over my shoulder. Fireman’s lift right? I didn’t have a clue, I just needed him in a position where I wouldn’t smash his head in trying to get through a doorway. I still had a hand free if I needed to… I don’t’ know, punch anyone.
“You can’t be serious?” Mike said as I pushed myself up.
“They’re going to notice things aren’t right. This is going to get real nasty, real fast,” Danni said. “You came in through the roof right, you got a way out that way?”
“A way out that involves a jump. Not easy with this,” I jerked my head to indicate the body over my shoulder.
“The back entrance then, but we’re going to meet someone on the ground floor. The rooms are rented out to the girls. Be ready.”
We set off with a jog. I was beginning to feel the strain of carrying someone that weighed more than me in my calves and we hadn’t even left the room yet.
Going down constricted staircase with all that mass wasn’t fun. My knees threatened to buckle, not out of fatigue but just unfamiliarity with having twice as much force pressing me into the floor. By the time we reached the bottom flight I was starting to acclimatise, but I was already breathing heavily.
Danni swung open a door. More corridor lined with doors along one side. Unlike upstairs the doors here were open. This place was a maze of tiny rooms all connected with a warren of these tiny passages. We were on the ground floor, I could hear movement through the fog of deafness, activity. The carpet was worn where it hadn’t been upstairs, dirty with slush brought in from the street. It couldn’t be far now.
But activity meant people, and as Danni warned, it wasn’t empty.
A woman wearing the uniform of a whore was leaning against one of the open doors. She looked up at our movement. For a moment she stared, then before we could react she’d slipped silently inside her box of a room, the door clicking closed behind her. It was clear we weren’t meant to be here.
For a moment I got a taste of dry cold air. A draft from outside that must have slipped in with a customer.
We shuffled down the passage. I caught glimpses of people inside the rooms. Smokey air, the stink of alcohol, but an almost jovial air. A handful of girls were playing cards, their conversation stopped when one saw us.
A door opened to our left, a couple of feet behind us. We turned in time to come face to face with the guy leaving. He frowned at us, confused, focused on me as I stood, frozen with Tom.
For whatever reason, maybe the carrying of unconscious bodies, he didn’t react in a sensible manner. Unlike the women, he opened his mouth and shouted. In reponse to his stupidity, my kick hit him in-between the legs. It was futile; a shrill scream followed, not from his mouth but from a lithe girl wrapped in a thin dressing gown behind him.
Jack had his knife out and pressed against the guys throat, pushing his back to the wall. I wasn’t going to start hitting a girl so I did the only thing I could think of: Slammed the door shut. The scream was muffled, but it didn’t end.