I crouched low and moved fast. After thirty steps I fired a random shot into the unknown. A guess that was all. My goal wasn’t really to hit anyone.
With the daylight failing, the air around me flashed a white glow as the muzzle exploded. The sound was muffled. I heard a crack as it impacted something solid and the bullet sang as it ricocheted.
Someone returned fire, on the door presumably. I couldn’t hear bullet’s passing, or any impacts near me. Just the crack of gunfire. I tried to reason that I didn’t need to worry about Mike just yet. The walls of the building were thick. He wasn’t an idiot to go running out into gunfire, not yet.
I didn’t bother trying to go towards the gunfire, or the corresponding glow of light. I was trying to get to the other side. Flank. Rear, sides, I didn’t care.
I didn’t make it to the other side of the street before coming across someone. It was a surprise to me as much as it was to him. I was sprinting in a hunched over crouch, trying to keep my eye simultaneously on my placing my feet and for targets in the mist.
Then, he was there. No warning. No time to stop. We collided, or I threw myself into him. I couldn’t tell if it was a decision or an inevitability. Whatever, things turned out best for me as my knife jammed into his leg.
We fell together. I twisted the blade, feeling it scrape tendons at the back of the knee before breaking free. He screamed a rasping shout of pain and anger. This time I wanted a bit of noise.
I was already moving, rolling away and jumping to my feet, running in a curve.
More shots. Close this time, on top of me almost. But they were erratic, panicked. The kind of shots after you’ve just had a knife stuck in you.
I hit wall, bouncing off it with my palms. No idea which. I’d lost all sense of direction since the encounter. The guy was holding a pistol, only a handful of shots. Soon enough, they stopped.
Couldn’t let things calm down.
I lined up a pane of glass, the second story window high above my head. I figured the sound would travel and from this angle I was unlikely to hit anyone on the other side. A shower of glittering glass fell around me.
Another two, again, randomly into the smoke.
Soon it wasn’t just me. Someone with an automatic opened fire. It’s instinct. Someone shoots at you, you shoot back. Something hard to overcome even if you can’t really see who’s shooting. Self preservation: It’s hard to suppress that desire to defend yourself. The rattle of each shot reached my ears distorted. I’d never heard anything like it before. A stray bullet kicked up a scatter of the road surface above me, and the mangled slug thudded into the wall barely a hand-span from my outstretched arm. There was a short reply, pistol this time, and a shout.
The smoke had started to disperse. I could pick out grey figures, but it was shades of grey on grey. Shadows on the smoke that looked like people dispersed into nothing. Some were just smudges of darkness and movement in the mist.
I fired at one. It dissolved. Dead, or nothing to kill? I was hesitant to pick any more targets. I had no idea when I’d lose the advantage of not having to care about who I was shooting at. Would Mike have notice our cover was dissolving into the night air and made a run for it, or still waiting for me to take out more? I couldn’t stand around waiting in either case.
The rough brick I was pressed against was wet with condensation under my fingertips as I traced the wall along the road. I was either going deeper into the smoke, towards an enemy I had some knowledge on, or further out to where the wind pushed away the smoke and our enemy’s number was unknown. I ran all the same, feeling for the void under my hands as I passed the opening of doorways.
Couldn’t make out who. Tricky even taking a guess at the size though the muck. Mike, or an unfriendly gunman?
Shouting. Sounded like Mike.
I arrived just in time to see him getting slammed into the wall by someone twice his size. I tried to stop, skidding as the soles of my boots failed to find traction, gun up.
I sighted on the man’s centre of mass as he loomed over Mike’s crumpled body, but a high-pitched scream tugged for my attention. Behind my target the chemist clutched his daughter. Too close. I couldn’t risk it.
Mike got a face full of boot in the time it took me to close. I jumped, little thought into what I was going to do when I landed on the guy. The smooth metal of the pistol gave me little to grip with.
The knife gave me lots. It dug into the flesh of his shoulder as I wrapped my arms around his neck.
I felt myself slipping all the same, tearing sinew as the knife twisted free. Instinctively I gripped him. There was a deafening bang, a splatter of warm. My stomach flipped as I fell, ending in a heap on top of his crumpled body. Mere inches from my face a bullet from my almost-forgotten-about gun had taken a chunk out of the front of his head. The shallow angle of entry tore a trough through his forehead.
I coughed back the taste of vomit from the back of my throat.
I was fine. This wasn’t even new. I’d seen it before. I was fine.
Mike. Mr Lab man and his kid. Got to keep them moving.
I scanned the surroundings for any more men before kneeling beside Mike. He was blinking erratically, eyes looking through me not at me. Blow to the head. Hope he lives.
I grabbed the scruff of his shirt and lifted him to his feet, but they didn’t organise them under him. Walking was out.
“Carry!” I shouted at him. “She can walk.”
I had no idea where the door we were aiming for had gone. I turned my attention to one of the windows we were near. Barred, of course. But we needed to get off this street. I shoved the knife in my belt, not bothering sheath. Baton out. I jammed one end between the bars and the crumbling brickwork, pulling the other. It shifted, dust pouring from the mortar. I should just start carry around a god damn crow-bar.
Bracing myself against the wall, I pulled until the muscles in my arms seared with pain. With a thud the rusted tack-weld on the bars itself broke – bringing half the metal from the wall. A few twisting yanks and it had twisted out enough for someone to squeeze through.
I put the glass out with the baton, running it along the edges to clear the most of the shattered window and tossed it through.
I turned and found the little girl being shoved into my arms. She felt like she was made of air, her weight nothing to me. I pushed her though, feet first. Her cheek touched mine, cold wet tears pushed into the side of my face. A fleeting glance as her face disappeared into the darkness was smudged with red. We’d traded tears for blood.
Mike next. Handed to me just like the girl. He was going to curse me afterwards.
Heavier, but not unreasonably so. What was frustrating was the unintelligent flapping of his annoyingly long limbs. Tense and scared was better than mostly-unconscious it seemed.
But I got him through without too many bruises, I think. I didn’t care.
I fired the last four bullets as the father climbed through. They’d organised now. Less confusion. Less noise. Less helpful random gunfire. The smoke was clearing. I saw two figures go down, but the others had clued in on our general location, and were making themselves useful by focusing their fire on us, even if they couldn’t pick out our silhouettes against the wall.
As soon as I saw the feet pass through the opening I hooked my arm around the twisted bars and threw myself through the opening headfirst. I just hoped it was the right building.