Chapter 4.18

We both froze, Beth’s hands held mid-air. The towel in her fingers dripped disinfectant, half way to a graze on forearm.

“Mike?” she whispered, but her voice hesitant, questioning. I had my own doubts. Mike wasn’t one to tread lightly when he was here. He let doors slam, jumped stairs. He wasn’t quiet. Could be Danni, she wasn’t with the rest. It would make sense for her to have looped around, hidden somewhere and come back here for lack of anywhere else to find us.

We waited, listening intently. I didn’t dare breathe, not for fear of someone hearing but so I the sound of my own breath didn’t mask that from our surroundings.

Silence. Or rather, the dull buzz of the city, pipes draining under our feet, the buzzing of the lights above our heads, even the subtle white-noise of air in my ears you never notice until you really listen.

I was hesitant to just open the door and check. The showers weren’t quiet, if someone had followed me back there could be a couple of guys waiting on the other side of that door.

Or Mike. Or nothing. Could just be a board shifting under a temperature change. If only we could check the CCTV. I should have been paying attention. I wasn’t so injured that I had to let my guard slip. Idiot.

I could think of only one way to try find out. I rose to my feet with painstaking care, ignoring the burning of tired muscles in my thighs.

My phone was tucked into a pocket of my pants, now in a pile idly kicked against the wall. I just hoped I hadn’t slipped it into a pouch on my belt without thinking – now lying uselessly on the floor with a submachine-gun I would have killed for right now. I crept to it on the balls of my feet, bare soles silent on the tiled floor. We’d been planning on keeping in touch, but it had completely slipped my mind as a way to check on the others until now.

The pocket was Velcro. Nice, simple, easy to open in a hurry. Just what I wanted. Except right now it felt like the noisiest thing in the known universe as I tore it open millimetre by millimetre.

Beth was on her feet and at the back of the room where the cavernous shower room was broken into a pair rooms with basic, brushed steel toilets.

I knew there wasn’t any other escape. I’d already checked for other exits, and entrances, before I’d even thought about using one of the showers.

Could be a good place to hide. I had to remember I had Beth with me. I couldn’t be reckless.

I wiped away the film of moisture from the screen and punched in the unlock code.

Eight missed calls, five from Mike and three from Danni.

A text message scrolled underneath it time stamped half an hour ago: ‘@jacks dads. cool dude. search missed us. call asap.’

So, not Mike.

There was a dull thud from below us. Something falling over? A stupid mistake by someone trying to keep quiet? That’s at least two people.

I took a glance around the room. It would be clear we’d been here, but then they knew that already, there was plenty of evidence of that as soon as they came through the door, assuming they had.

The floor was littered with the plastic from the dressings, empty bottle of disinfectant, and the pale red stain running from shower to drain, clothing strewn around the place…

I skipped over and grabbed my discarded vest and followed Beth. Didn’t have time to tidy up. The room was divided by block work that stopped short a few feet from the ceiling. It threw the cramped toilet rooms into a dank shadow that their own meagre lights failed to combat. It also left me with the constant fear that someone could pull themselves up and look over – but then this wasn’t school.

I didn’t want to get cornered, but it would be harder for someone to call for help at the back of the room than if I jumped them at the door.

Beth was pulling at the catch on the window trying to get it to open further than it was designed.

“It’s barred,” I said. Already been through this ritual. Mike’s grandfather hadn’t been a cheap fucker either, the bars were welded, not bolted, and straight to the metal frame.

I threw the vest over my head. The cold damp soaked right through the semi-dry t-shirt to my skin. I twisted to get at the straps but my rib screamed at me. “Here, help me with this.”

She gave up with the window with a frustrated growl before turning and snapped the straps at my side to pull the armour plates tight across my chest. They were battered, but mostly still good. I was unlikely to get shot in the same place twice in one evening.

I mentally cursed us for being in the one place in the building where was nothing I could use as a weapon. What was here was bolted down, and I was pretty sure even with my strength I couldn’t rip off a length of the stainless piping from the wall – besides, the noise and the mess would alert anyone to our presence.

“What if we-” Beth stuttered to a halt as the door opened.

Her fingers were wrapped around my arm, painful. I could feel the heat of her body pressed up against me.

There were quiet footfalls. Slow. A rustle, a boot nudging a box full of meds? The clink of glass on tile. Bottle. Disinfectant. All we could hope was that he’d give up, not notice the dark openings at the back of the room.

I couldn’t even hear Beth breathing, couldn’t feel her chest moving next to mine. We froze, eyes fixed on the opening to our hiding place, ears straining against the background noise for the slightest hint of someone about to leap around the corner and attack us.

Nothing. No more footsteps. No more movements. Was he gone? Or waiting, mirroring us on the other side of the stunted tiled wall, listening as intently as us for the slightest sound.

After an agonising minute of silence I heard the tap of boots again, towards the door-

Screaming. No, buzzing. A thousand bees, each and every one of them wanting us dead. Beth squeezed my arm, sending a jab of pain, but I hardly noticed, our little cocoon of silence was shattered.

Phone. Cast idly aside having served its purpose. Silent mode wasn’t so silent on a hard floor.

I jumped at it and mashed buttons until it shut up, knowing full well the damage was done.

There was a grunted “Hey!” Enough warning for me to get on my feet before he came around the corner.

I didn’t have time to prepare. No time to vault over the dividing wall and get behind him. He was on top of us before I could think. His gun was already out, ready. I lashed out with the phone, catching him in the chin, but his momentum carried himself into what was too-small a space for the three of us.

I fell backwards into the wall, my skull crashing into unforgiving tile. I slumped as I struggled to get my feet under me. My vision burst with flashing stars. I tried to blink them away as I pushed off to keep my guard up, only to find the focus of his attention on Beth.

She had grabbed the gun. My stomach jerked into a tight knot as they struggled for it, the muzzle pressing into Beth’s chest. I couldn’t watch her die. But she’d managed to drag back the slide on the top and the trigger was useless. He still lifted her from the ground and threw her against the wall with a bone-jarring thud.

They were so locked together there was no opportunity for me to get a limb for a lock. No elbows to break, no shoulders to dislocate.

I jumped on his back, target: head. Punching, clawing, so long as his focus was Beth he was helpless to defend himself. Anything to distract him from her. I gouged his eyes, fingernails clawing at skin. I grabbed an ear and twisted, hoping to pull his head down but tore, useless. It took him too long before he grunted with pain and pulled and arm up to his head to fend me off.

But he wasn’t going to let Beth get the gun, and Beth wasn’t giving up what little power she had. His one free hand pulled at my hair, my scalp burned as he tore at it. I gritted my teeth through the pain.

The crook of my arm found underneath his chin. He pressed it downwards as soon as he felt it close around his throat – he was no stranger to chokeholds.

But I’d hooked my fist under the crook of my other elbow, snaking one hand around the back of his head to brace all my strength into crushing his jugular. My weight pulled down against him, but he still had the strength for one last ditch attempt to dump me by throwing himself backwards onto the floor.

I held. But my grip slipped. Not enough pressure on the arteries. He was still conscious. No quick blackout as blood was cut off from the brain. He choked instead, his chest bulging for air. I denied it.

He kicked and bucked, twisting body wedged me into the space behind the stainless steel toilet, pipework digging into my shoulder blades. But I held, it gave me something to brace against, limited his reach as he tried to claw and punch at me. I hooked my legs around his chest to restrain his body and squeezed with all my strength.

Slowly. Painfully slowly, his kicking and bucking slowed, then stopped altogether. We were left, once again, in silence. I didn’t let go. I couldn’t risk it until I was sure. He could be feinting unconsciousness.


How long was it?

How long could you go without air? Minutes? I hadn’t been timing.

The silence wore on and the clammy skin of his head grew an unnatural shade of purple.

I unwound my arms and pushed at his limp body off myself, untangling myself from him. Panting, I looked to find Beth. She held the pistol out at him, tears rolling down her face.

“I couldn’t shoot. Not with you there.” I pulled myself to my feet, still keeping an eye on our intruder.

“I was fine,” I leaned against her, trying to catch my breath and persuade my knees not to shake so much. “I’m used to it.”

“It’d be too loud. I just didn’t’ want him to shoot, Alex. It’d be too loud. They’ll hear.” She shook, her whole body jerking erratically in my arms.

“You did good.” I put my hand over hers, and pushed the gun down to point at the floor. “You did good Beth, and we don’t need to worry about him.”

She looked at me, frowning.

“I think he’s dead.” I clarified.

*Vote on top web fiction*


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55 Responses to Chapter 4.18

  1. zeuseus says:

    I love your action scenes. Often it can be hard to follow the course of a battle but I find with this serial it’s very easy to keep track.

  2. “Half way” -> one word. “Halfway.”

  3. tijay says:

    What has happened with the newer chapters?

  4. mark says:

    I will still keep you on the top page of favorites. I have read a lot of Web serials that got put on a shelf, but it would be a shame for this one to get forgoten about. Good luck with whatever it is that life is throwing at ya and I hope that someday you have both time and inspiration to continue writing.

  5. fan says:

    When is this getting updated. Big fan so far!

  6. kitab says:

    Soo good. I love this webserial!

  7. DeNarr says:

    OK, over a month since the last author comment even. Think I’m going to have to put this away for now. Hopefully you start writing again when you have time.

  8. Proud2bHumble says:

    Just found this a few days ago and am already fully caught up. I just wanted to say there is a definite interest in seeing this finished. Good luck with whatever you might be handling now.

  9. Jesp says:

    Here’s hoping that a new year will bring renewed activity to this story. Looking forward to reading more. Thanks for all you’ve written so far, it’s been great!! ^_^

    • agreyworld says:

      I hope so. Still struggling with taking the plot somewhere decent.

      Glad you enjoyed it anyway!

      • lucinthius says:

        Sounds like you might need a story editor, someone you can bounce ideas off and get suggestions from?

        Writers block does suck! This story does not, would love more

      • agreyworld says:

        Yeah. I’m torn between a bit of a re-shuffle/re-write – in which case a second set of eyes for a big scene by scene, or even dump-this-plot-thread edit would be great.

  10. SadCat says:

    I am enjoying it and so want more. More I tell you. Now! Ops I did not buy the book yet so need to show some restrant. Great story and worth checking back once a week. Hope you get the bugs work out soon.

  11. BCRebel says:

    So I just caught up with this story from the beginning. I really love what you’ve got her so far. You’ve done a lot of really creative and interesting world building and have set up a lot of moving pieces that all interact with each other in unexpected ways. I’ve seen your comments about struggling with your muse, and I understand what that can be like and know there’s no telling when or if you might find it again, but I wanted to let you know I really enjoyed this story, and for what it’s worth I hope you find a way to finish it.

  12. Shell says:

    Alright. I’m just posting here to let you know, your fans are still here!

  13. Angel says:

    I second that. Hopefully you can get a direction sorted out in your head and start writing again. Good story and great scenes.

    • agreyworld says:

      Thanks a lot, I’m having a tentative step at continuing the story. I’m half tempted to re-write/restructure with a decent long-term arc/plan though.

      • Shell says:

        That is fine with me and I hope all your other readers will be fine with it as well. Do what you need to do.

  14. Angel says:

    *great action scenes

  15. DeNarr says:

    Yay, activity from the author! I’ve kept this page “followed” in the hopes of knowing when the story picks back up :)

    • agreyworld says:

      Sorry! I’ve started writing it a few times and just can’t get things flowing like they used to.

      I’m tempted to do some re-writing, but I’m not sure how people will like that given they’ve read all this. But I just feel the whole thing lacks a direction.

      But then I’d have to come up with a direction haha…

      I had some big plans, just the characters kept distracting me. Damn them.

      I’m still shocked it’s getting so many views, a year of inactivity and there’s still 10k views a month.

      • kitab says:

        anything! i will re-read a re-write gladly!

      • gregormcmac says:

        I’ve been voting regularly to keep it noticeable and hopefully to demonstrate that we would like you to keep writing! I’ll echo what others have said that I would be more than happy to read a rewrite, whatever it takes to keep the story going. You can do it!! ^_^

      • agreyworld says:

        Thanks. I’ve got some tentative outlining and started writing at least.

        I’ve noticed that I’ve still got votes every time I go check! Thanks for the support. It’s appreciated

  16. Dainpdf says:

    I can’t believe how lucky I am… I somehow lost the habit of checking in on this (damn college). Just when I return, I find out there’s activity from the author. Good to know you’re alive – good enough I abandoned lurker-dom. Do whatever you need to – whether it’s rewriting, wrangling some plot threads or taking some more time. I, at least, will keep checking.

  17. Shell says:

    Yup! I keep checking every other week or so (and voting when I’m visiting topwebfiction).

    • SadCat says:

      Voted this week. I do not want to let the good storys get away. Willing to give you lots of line but hope you come back to work soon. I need to know what happens to the ones in this story. Thanks SadCat

  18. Eren Reverie says:

    Hi! Just echoing the words of support everyone else has been posting. I’d love to read more of this, with direction or as a pure ongoing slice of life — because what a crazy awesome life it is! A rewrite would be cool, too — I’ve actually already re-read the archives a couple of times, just to re-experience some of the awesomeness. So I’m not going to protest doing it again. ;) Although, of course, if you do decide to let this go …and you happen to start something else… Just let us know, ‘Kay? This story is really cool, but it was your talent and effort that made it so, and Im confident that whatever you employ those on going forward (or backward, in the case of a rewrite) will be well worth reading.

    • agreyworld says:

      This is the first place I’d put up a note if I did any other stuff (ideas still bounce around in my head, I’m kind of curious to link it to this story too…)

      I plan to continue… but my attempts just don’t feel right atm

      • Eren Reverie says:

        I can certainly understand that. It’s good to know you’re still around, though. :) No pressure, of course, but: When you’re ready to post something again I’m sure you’ll find plenty of people who are ready to read it. ;)

  19. I rarely ever come out of lurkerdom, but this is easily my favorite web-serial. Wildbow is a brilliant plotter, but his characters eventually grow stale–but I still wonder at how wonderfully real Alex has become under your careful characterization choices. You write so delicately, I can place my complete trust and empathy in your characters, and wait patiently for them to develop exactly as you choose to mold them. As for potential rewrites, I can’t WAIT to see how you magick even more nuance into an already rich coming-of-age fiction.

  20. gregormcmac says:

    Will you post something here when there’s new or revised content or should we be looking somewhere else? Thanks and looking forward to the new material! ^_^

      • _Lost_ says:

        I read this a a while back in one big go and it’s honestly one of, if not the, best web serials that I have ever had the opportunity to read. I really hope you keep writing, wether it’s this story or something completely different, it’d be great to start reading some more of your work again.

  21. Norax says:

    Yeah, it is really good. I read the whole a couple of weeks backs.
    I’m just curious to know, if she will get an armor with heads up display, and taser weapons/projectiles with remote battery and stuff

  22. Nikht says:

    Damn, I reached the end. Again.

    I hadn’t realized how much I missed this story until I reread it. It really is one of the most engaging series I’ve found so far.

    Good writing, man, I hope you start this up again. However you choose, rewrite or a continuation.

  23. connor m. says:

    Well I just finished reading through the Archives and this Web novel is awesome. It’s made you one of my favorite web novel authors, and I’d definitely be interested in a continuation/rewrite or any other projects you might end up writing. So I’m going to make sure to come back here every once in a while to see if anything’s changed. And if you’ve been worrying about your readers having forgot about your story, don’t be, I wouldn’t be surprised if during your break you got even more dedicated readers.

  24. anonymus says:

    god, it has already been that long?
    I second the seconded from gregormcmac on the on of my favorite web novel authors situation (that sounds like shit, but it should be gramatically sound)

    i am currently running around as both anonymus and jeff091, if i ever confuse anyone

  25. murkytruths says:

    One of the top storys ive ever read… I’d rate this higher than worm, and i hope we getto se something no matter what it is

    • kitab says:

      Absolutely, I feel like there is so much depth just waiting to be exposed with this story, much like there was with worm.

  26. Michael L says:

    If you ever do a re-write, I’d really like it if someone would give the girl some whey protein powder. It’s a quick small meal, it tastes good, it can be cheap, and for building/maintaining muscle mass it can’t be beat. To stretch out her “strengthening” you could have her try it and like it but have her be lactose intolerant and give up on it, until she discovers lactose-free(and vegan) pea-protein powder.

  27. Julie says:

    I’m still holding out hope for an update. I keep coming back to this story!

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