by Maldoror


Chapter Ten: Bullet

The thick explosion-proof fire-doors close behind us, blocking immediate pursuit. All the other fire-doors around the section containing our target lab are already closed, sealing it off.

"That will hold them off for a little while." We're leaning back against the wall next to the door, catching our breath and eyeing the next stretch of corridor, weapons at a ready.

/Thirty minutes estimated./

"In that time we need to-"

"You sure they won't just blow the door off with a Leo?" Duo stares at the door as if he can see a MS taking aim at it.

I turn to snap at him, to remind him that our target is a lab with flammable gas and liquids in it, not something you shoot at with Leos.

The bullet scythes through my hair and imbeds in the wall, sending a few metal filings showering onto my shoulder.

Our two guns fire as one, and the OZ soldier, on the wrong side of a fire-door and stupid enough to take us on, is picked up and thrown back against the wall, jerking like a fish on a line.

/Danger danger dange-/ Yeah, a bit late for that.

"K'so." I mutter, fingering my hair. Close shave, I think, it bubbles into my mind out of nowhere. I would never dream of saying it and distracting Duo in this critical moment. Besides. There's such a grin on his face that I think he's going to say it -where else would I pick that up from- but there's something strange about his eyes, the fixity of his gaze, the curve of the jester's mask.


He blinks away from the bullet hole to focus on me. His gaze doesn't have to travel far. Not far at all. I see his lips twitch as if he's trying to say something.

"Come on, we're wasting time. The lab is up to the right."

" ...right behind you... buddy."

Still too many words where a simple silent nod would suffice. But he sounds strangely subdued. I don't have the time or inclination to figure it out.

There are no more guards, it's a high risk chemical laboratory after all. The cameras and alarm-activated doors which would be the normal defenses against us are helpless and do not slow down our charge through the labs and corridors to reach the negative pressure hazmat unit.

This would normally be a tense and dangerous moment. There are fifteen people in the huge sealed-off unit, working at various lab benches and isolated workstations full of dangerous chemicals. We can see them through the window of the unit's control room as we cautiously approach. They are all wearing lab coats but some of them are OZ military researchers with the know-how to be a problem even without weapons, and others are innocent civilians, working on vital medical research, even if it is funded by Romefeler. It's bad enough our raid is going to disrupt that research -I can see the headlines now, but the PR disaster is inevitable in Dr J's view- it is out of the question to kill an innocent.

/Unless no other alternative-/

It's out of the question.

The fact that none of these scientists are armed is not a guarantee this will go smoothly. There's something about getting held at gunpoint by what looks to be two teenagers that seems to rub an OZ officer the wrong way even if he's unarmed. I've had people like this try to be heroes and jump me before. I would rather it not happen today. I don't want to kill unarmed men, even OZ officers, but I don't want a fight in hazmat conditions either.

Fortunately today we have an alternative.

"This is where you get to play with your new toy, Duo."

/Unnecessary wording of a command. Unacceptable. Concentrate./

Actually, I'm trying to loosen Duo up. He still seems tense.

"Sure, just let Shinigami put a little sand in their eyes!" That sounded normal enough, in terms of Duo.

I hack into the hazmat unit's controls and stop ventilation out of the room, then give Duo a thumbs up. He's already cracked the simple lock keeping the hermetically-sealed door closed. At my signal he primes the cap and tosses in the neurotoxin, just as a few people look up, intrigued, at the sudden hush of the ventilation.

Duo slams the door shut and glances at his watch. We wait a minute -degradation in contact with oxygen is very fast- then another to be safe. Duo cracks open the door and goes in first, closing it behind him. A tense three seconds later, he's making faces at me through the control room window.

One of the scientists is slumped over a terminal with an open link to the lab's server, I don't even have to hack in. Three minutes later the data is on two disks, one for each of us. I wish I could download it direct to Dr J but now our presence here is known, they'll have communication isolation protocol in place to stop just that; even a wireless modem won't cut through the scramblers. Which means either Duo or I have to get out of here and back to the Gundams, hidden nearby.


Now this is really going to be the hard part.

The Biochem lab has a high level of isolation. Ventilation shafts are narrow and contain many hermetical seals and filters in case of contamination. There are only two ways out of the lab area, both sealed by the heavy fire-doors. From the sound of it, they're both being attacked by laser cutters.

"Which do you figure, buddy? Toss a coin? I should tell you, I've never had much luck with the devil's game, as Sister Helen called gambling, so you better toss. Or I toss and we do the opposite of the throw. Or would that count-"

His voice is back to being tight behind the babble, though he's hiding it well. Before our intimacy, I would not have noticed, I would just tell him to shut up.

I still tell him to shut up, but now I'm concerned as well. The odds are against us but that normally stimulates Shinigami.

"At this point, speed is crucial. We'll take the north exit, it's closer to our escape route. On three I open the door, you toss a flash grenade, we run out, try to make it to the control room, block the doors behind us, split and make it through the complex and the hospital and out. RV in the tunnel. Got that?"

He nods, his grin huge, his eyes two dark holes in a pale face.

/Status 02 - Analyze./

"Status?" I hiss at him as we hunker down near the door, where a slight warping of the metal shows it is under duress from the torch on the other side. When he stares at me I add: "What's wrong, Duo?"

"Nothing buddy, Shinigami is ready to deal the damage!" His voice is jubilant as always, but I feel...

/Status, analyze./

He's unfocused. And he's distressed. Well it's not looking good but we've made it out of worse.

"Duo-" If I ask him directly if he's worried, I know how he'll react. He'll say a lot but it won't be informative, or even very polite. I can see his jaw tighten in the grin, his eyes narrow as he gets ready to snap at me in anticipation.

"Duo, two weeks ago you handcuffed me to the bed."

I rarely catch Duo Maxwell off guard or get to see such a look on his face.

"Wh-wha-" He tries to recuperate. "Not that I don't mind some pleasant reminiscin', bab-Hee- why the *hell* are you bringing that up?!"

"You were in more danger then than you are now, and you enjoyed it. One, two-"


"Three." I punch in my override code and Duo curses as he hurtles the flash charge through the slowly opening door. He's still cursing and laughing as we burst through the dazed and blinded men guarding the equally blinded techs working on the door. One guard had been looking the other way, I shoot him in the chest before I even register that he's raising his weapon against us.

I hear Duo fire a shot in another direction. I am already pounding through the hallways, getting clear of the knot of soldiers, heading for the control room.

The base is completely disorganized, my hacking of the communication system has been effective. We pass people working, getting coffee, chatting or wandering around trying to figure out why all the systems have crashed. Startled looks and shouts follow us but we run by before they can react.

There's a single solitary tech working frantically on the system in the control room. I cold-cock him before he can even turn around; his body rotates one hundred and eighty degrees on the swivel chair before crashing into the desk. I hear Duo's steps pounding up behind me, I hear him take a shot through the door before closing it and hitting our override code, locking it and stopping our pursuers. The control room doors are reinforced, it will take them some time to follow us.

"All done, you set?" He's panting slightly as he leans over my shoulder but he's grinning in relief, the harder part is over now, as long as we can keep ahead of the pack.

"Let's go." I quickly glance around the outer corridors leading out of the underground complex. "I'll take left, you go right. We meet up at the Gundams. Go!"

We part without any further words, too busy thinking of blue prints and escape routes and other factors to dwell on the chances of both of us getting out alive.

/Escape route alternative, analyzing./

My mind is like a computer playing a grand-master level chess game, my every move thought out many turns in advance, every combination of my enemies' actions analyzed and neutralized.

The cold logic carries me through two firefights, up an elevator shaft, across the grounds, over the fence and back to the forgotten pre-war tunnel in the woods where we hid our Gundams. I arrive with five minutes to spare on our timetable. I download the information into Wing and send it on a tight beam to Barton for relay before the clock runs out.

/Mission objective, successful./

I jump down from Wing and position myself at the old tunnel's entrance, ready for anybody who might be pursuing Duo as he makes his way back to Deathscythe.

And then I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

/Mission objective, partially compromised./


On to chapter eleven

Back to chapter nine

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