Alirio hurried down the concrete passage, ostensibly following Koya though there was nowhere to go but straight ahead. Koya had ignored a few dozen identical metal doors that lined the halls down here, below the Taskmaster’s compound. Between them, Jean Claude groaned and let himself be dragged along.
“Where are we going?” Alirio gasped out between breaths.
“We have less than ten minutes before surveillance on this level is back up,” Koya’s head made a jerk and he sped up, making Alirio stumble just a bit as he tried to keep pace, “before that happens we have to get out of the compound.”
“You know a way?” Alirio asked.
Koya nodded, “There’s a service elevator the Johns and Janes use. Leads to a tertiary launch site for emergency use. Sensors in the bay have been out for about a month, but it’s not a priority repair. Nobody worries about Does.”
“What about the one who helped you?” asked Alirio.
Koya smiled, “That’s my Jane. Nobody sees my Jane coming.”
Their route turned once, then twice. At the second corner they came face to face with another Taskmaster soldier. Koya was already firing before whoever was under that mask even thought to draw their weapon.
“This is getting harder and harder to explain,” Koya mumbled, as if to himself.
They reached the lift. Koya slipped some sliver of metal into the panel full of Taskmaster sigils and it began to rise.
Koya let Jean Claude slide off his shoulder, letting Alirio take all the weight as Koya began reloading his weapon.
Alirio propped Jean Claude against the wall of the lift, holding Jean’s face in his hands.
“Jean, are you still with me?”
Jean Claude smiled, lifting a hand to caress Alirio’s cheek. He missed, smacking Alirio lightly in the face.
Alirio couldn’t help but laugh.
“We’re getting out of here Jean,” Alirio told him, “Koya’s gonna get us off the island and we’re going to be free.”
“That’s nice,” Jean mumbled, eyes half closed, “Koya’s nice.”
Koya paused in loading his gun, “Thanks I guess.”
Alirio smiled and kissed Jean Claude’s cheek, “Just a bit further.”
Koya finished fiddling with his weapon and holstered it, “We’re almost there. Should be nobody around, so all we have to do is shove the both of you into a shuttle, plug in Jane’s spike, and then, with any luck, we never have to see eachother again. How does that sound?”
Alirio nodded quickly, though he wasn’t entirely sure what Koya meant. He supposed he didn’t have to.
The door opened on a large courtyard area. The walls were high and rounded, like the sides of an upturned bowl, arching up to the wide hole in the center. Around the base of the walls, several shuttles, like the ones Alirio and the other slaves rode to the mainland and back but much smaller. Smaller than the slave barracks huts even.
The center of the room was cluttered with crates and containers, arrayed about the open center of the courtyard with no discernable pattern.
There were five soldiers in the room, standing around a flustered and agitated John Doe.
They were already looking at the lift.
Alirio could tell Koya was thinking of shooting, but there were five of them, and some already had guns out.
Koya called out something in taskmaster, beckoning to the soldiers and pointing to Alirio and Jean Claude. Alirio thought he might be requesting assistance. Three of them broke off of the group, crossing the large room at a jog. The other two turned their backs and kept talking to the anxious John.
“Please step away!” one of the approaching soldiers pointed at Alirio and barked with the same menacing synth voice as every other Taskmaster soldier. Alirio complied. He didn’t even think, it was simply instinct. Well drilled habit had him breathing deep and trying to relax his body, anticipating the activation of his implant.
The soldiers were all dressed the same. Suits, boots, helmets and faceless masks; all black, save a white stripe over the left breast with a few black sigils on it.
Quickly, Alirio tried to glance at Koya, and commit to memory his sigils. He wasn’t entirely sure he could tell some of the sigils apart though. If things got particularly confused, he probably wouldn’t have known Koya from any of these soldiers.
The one who’d barked at Alirio walked right up to him, hand upraised, ushering him to the back of the lift with Jean Claude.
Koya was talking to the other two. He was quieter, but no less menacing with the voice of the mask. He gestured to Alirio and Jean, and Alirio got the impression that he was being interrogated as to Jean Claude’s condition. For his part, Koya was stalling. Alirio only knew a few Taskmaster words, but Koya was stammering, repeating himself, and even though his eyes were invisible behind the mask, just like all the soldiers, Alirio got the distinct impression that Koya was looking between these three for an opening. Both men talking to him though had hands on their weapons, and seemed to be giving him their full attention. Not as easily overcome as the guards they’d ambushed.
One of the three was still guarding Alirio. His weapon was larger than the others, one of the big rifles Alirio had only seen a soldier use once, on an elephant. The beast has wandered too close to the mine, somehow finding its way through a gap in the pain inducing field around the operation. The Taskmaster’s soldiers had started taking pot-shots at it with their handguns. Alirio could still remember the thundering trumpet screams of that elephant.
Finally, one of the soldiers had leveled his long-arm at the dying animal. There’s been a line of red across the yard that had burned Alirio’s eyes like looking into the sun, and a horrid screeching and crackling sound. There hadn’t been much of an elephant left after that.
The two facing Koya were getting angry, Alirio could tell. They kept pointing at the lift and asking the same question over and over.
Alirio wanted to do something. Koya had taken down those other guards quick enough, but he’d had the element of surprise. Maybe Alirio could give him a distraction. Something to get all of their attention. But how could he? The moment he made a move, the soldier guarding him would just activate his implant and then…
Alirio blinked, a bit astounded by the alien notion in his head.
No, he reminded himself, They can’t activate my implant can they.
The guard in front of Alirio turned his head slightly, looking over to Koya.
This soldier was shorter, like Koya, and Alirio threw his shoulder into the man, grabbing the rifle. The strap of the gun caught against the man’s body, so when he tumbled, Alirio (holding the weapon) went to the ground with him.
Alirio could hear shouting over him, but he ignored it. Koya would have to make do. Alirio threw a fist into the soldier’s mask. He immediately regretted doing so, feeling a few of his fingers break against it.
The soldier punched back, and Alirio felt the hard points of the glove cut into his own face. Alirio felt the blood running down his face, and could hear gunshots over him. Alirio could feel that he was stronger than the man beneath him, but the suit and mask of Taskmaster soldiers was too tough for him to really do any damage. Strong as he was, Alirio had control of the rifle, but as long as it was strapped to the man, he wasn’t sure he could use it against the man. While Alirio was thinking of what he should be doing next the man beneath him twisted somehow, and suddenly, Alirio was the one with his back on the ground with the soldier on top of him. Alirio, his hands still on the rifle, pushed up to get the man off of him, but the man was already raining blows down at Alirio. Punch after punch with those hard black gauntlets.
Alirio’s eyes stung, as much from tears and blood as the fists driving down into him.
He heaved up one last time, but the man had too much leverage at this point, and would not budge.
And then the gun went off. Alirio screamed as his eyes slammed shut against the searing light. His ears were overcome by the high pitched metal on metal sound of the blast.
For a moment, Alirio was certain he was dead. He was blind and deaf, and he felt a great weight pressing on chest. When his senses began to return, he realized the weight on his chest was the soldier.
At least, all of the soldier save his head.
The man simply ended at the shoulders.
Alirio heaved the man off of him, almost forgetting to take the rifle. As he was slipping the strap off the arm of the dead soldier, Alirio realized the room was silent.
Alirio looked around, peering up over boxes and crates.
He couldn’t see anyone still standing.
“Koya,” Alirio whispered, looking back towards the lift. Jean Claude was still there, dazed but awake, poking his head around the edge of the lift doors.
“Koya,” Alirio said again more loudly this time.
“Here,” came a grunt from over near the center of the room. Alirio began crawling along the floor between the boxes, until he came upon Koya, his helmet off, sitting with his back to a crate, and his legs stretched out in front of him. Beside him was the broken body of another soldier.
“Two more minutesh,” he mumbled, then shouted, “Jshean Claude, get out of the elevator now!”
“Sorry?” Alirio asked.
“Two more minutesh. If I’d had jussht two more minutesh we’d have you outta here with Jshean Claude and I’d be on my way shomewhere innoshent looking.”
“But they’re dead,” Alirio insisted, “We can go.”
“Not sho eashy now,” Koya began heaving himself up, and it was only then that Alirio noticed he was bleeding, “Get Jshean Claude out of the elevator. If he’sh in when the lockdown happensh in… twenty shecondsh, he’ll be shtuck.”
Alirio ran back and pulled Jean Claude out of the lift. Sure enough, mere moments after he did, the lights in the lift when red, there was a single sharp tone, like a drone when you did something wrong, and the lift door closed.
“Blackoutsh done,” Koya grumbled limping to meet them, “They’ll know you’ve eshcaped, they’ll know one of the Mashtersh ish dead, and shoon enough they’ll know I had a part in it. Sho…sho mucsh for that plan.”
“So what do we do now?” Alirio asked
“Come with us,” Jean Claude mumbled, “You should come and live with us. It’ll be fun.”
Before Alirio could say anything, Koya’s face split into that misshapen smile, and he burst out laughing, “Shorry kid, I don’t think thatsh happening.”
Koya limped over to one of the shuttles, opening the hatch at the front and shambling in. Alirio followed with Jean Claude. Koya slipped another of those metal slivers into the cockpit and turned to Alirio.
“You’re good to go,” He said, “Don’t washte your time out there. Shteer clear of the fighting and shettle down shomewhere.”
“What about you?” Alirio said setting Jean Claude down in a soft looking seat.
“In lessh than a minute a tac-shquad ish gonna come pouring into thish plashe” he reached out and took the rifle from Alirio, handing him back his sidearm, “I’ll give you the time to get out.”
“But…I can’t fly this thing!” Alirio protested.
“You don’t have to. The sship’sh already doing itsh own pre-flight,” Koya pointed to the control panels that were lighting up one by one, “It’ll take off and fly itshelf far enough away to give the two of you a good chanshe of not getting picked up again.”
Alirio didn’t know what else to say, “Thank you, Koya.”
“Yeah, well,” Koya hesitated, “You two be good to eash other. Ok?’
Alirio nodded and Koya stepped out, sealing the hatch behind him.
Alirio could hear someone yell outside, then a muffled screech of the rifle firing.
He buckled Jean Claude into his seat, then secured himself, all the while the sound of weapons firing back and forth.
The shuttle lifted up suddenly and slowly made it’s way to the opening in the roof.
Alirio could hear bullets hitting the hull, and an alarm started blaring.
There was another screech from the rifle, and the bullets stopped hitting the ship.
They cleared the rim of the open topped dome, and came out into the dazzling sunlight of the dawn. The ship turned east, towards the sun, and suddenly Alirio was shoved back into his seat, as the engines rocketed them towards the mainland, and freedom.