Hammer Blow

Sanjiv, Ginetta and Dana are out of the concrete box. Having crossed the threshold they witness a group of armed figures approaching from the left firing but are alarmed when out of the ether appear another group flanking from the right side.

“Contact right!” Is the bellowed cry meant to alert the strike team members to the sudden appearance of this second group of identically grey clad, faceless, weapon wielding figures that open fire immediately. The outburst is delivered by Sanjiv; he felt he needed to do something.

A few of the strike team manage to half or quarter turn. Sadly, they end being cut down by weapons fire anyway. Sanjiv meanwhile squeezes off shot after shot after shot. He, Ginetta and Dana remain out in the open but they won’t be capable of remaining that way otherwise… A smattering of bullets tears through a section of wall close to Sanjiv, not from one of the advancing figures but from one of the terminated strike team. Unfortunately, there was an obstacle between the bullets and the concrete interior wall, Doctor Ginetta Panarello. She screams having been hit and collapses to the floor. Dana curses and drops low to offer aid. Reflexively Sanjiv grabs her hand. The battle is lost. They need to get out.

Barely a minute into this ‘fight’ which is clearly an ambush, there are few of the strike team left in fighting shape. A few are crawling desperately. Others are screaming in pain. I should’ve seen this coming. Fuck! Is the thought that goes through Sanjiv’s head as he hauls Dana up and away from the downed and injured doctor. Dana tries to mount a counter to the middle aged man’s efforts but fails and in doing so the director narrowly escapes having her own life terminated.

“We can’t leave her!” Is the exclamation that escapes Dana’s lips without consideration as to how close of a call she has just avoided.

“We have too. It’s too late. She’s gone.”

“No she’s…” It’s a statement the director never finishes for she looks to the downed younger woman only to find that Sanjiv is correct, she is already gone. Her life is over and again Dana feels an enormous pity of despair open up within her. It’s exactly like that night when her car was attacked and…

Ginetta might have been part of the strike team and as per that role knew there was a risk of death but that doesn’t mean the director ever wanted such a fate to befall her or any of the others who are now dead. What did you think happened out in the field? I don’t know, shut up, shut up!

By contrast, Sanjiv used to being shot at and under attack hence why he is not lost in any sort of argument with himself. Rather, he has the fortitude to drag Dana around the edge of the concrete box where the wall turns. It isn’t safety but should buy them some time, some being the operative word. More than likely it’ll be seconds, he knows.

“Ping count?” He demands needing to know precisely how screwed their situation is. His conclusion is very but he feels it prudent to be sure. You’ve been out in the field too long? Huh, if only. Anyone else might think that, but if that were true he’d be sick of it, or at least have accomplished what he set out to. What did you set out to accomplish? He ignores the query. Now is not the time for soul searching and personal assessment of his successes and failures. He and Dana need to get out of here, alive, long before he’ll resort to such considerations.

“Thirty seven pings showing no casualties. Strike team…”

“I don’t want or need to know about the strike team.” Is the cold reply he gives the AI. He follows it up quickly with, “Just give me the best route out of here, now!”

“Stairwell access, no pings detected.”

“Give me distance, heading, available cover.”

“A hundred and three feet, dead ahead, none save for structural supports.”

“Not good enough. We’ll be slaughtered like fish in a barrel. Seek alternate route.”

While the AI undertakes the orders he’s delivered unto it, Sanjiv cannot help but feel the noose closing around their necks with every passing second.

What little in terms of weapons fire remains would be best, in his eyes, be termed as a trickle. It could be one-sided. He isn’t inclined to risk a look see. Doing that might cost him his life, an eye or the reveal of their presence/survival. They have to know. Surely, they aren’t blind. Who cares, more time is something I’m not going to take issue with.

He turns to Dana, she looks distraught and not at all like the woman he’s known for most of his life, off and on. In fact, he might go so far as to say she looks her age. Sure, she looks older now he’s noticed since they reconnected but he would never have said she looked old until this moment. This isn’t the time! That’s right it isn’t and the middle aged man shakes himself loose from his considerations, regrets, etc so that he can whisper, “We need to get out of here Dana. I know it hurts. I know you’ve lost people. But we need to run. If we don’t we’re dead.” Sanjiv winces unsure that being as blunt as he has been is the correct thing for him to do. It wasn’t planned, intentional. That is simply how it came out. He regrets it but cannot take his words back.

Thankfully, Dana shows no adverse reaction to his pointed words and so he continues, “We’re being jammed. We can’t contact the outside world. It must be something they’ve done to the building. If we can get outside maybe we can…”

“Alternate route plotted.” The AI interjects at what the middle aged man would determine as the worst possible time. Yet, those three words as if by magic result in a change in Dana. Like the snapping of fingers she returns to being the composed director you would normally experience her as and even manages, “You’re right. Let’s go.”

The change is so sudden and severe that Sanjiv wonders if this is real. Of course it is! It has to be! She wouldn’t kill her own security and one of her strike teams. Why would she do that? She’s the director! She was Dana Marcello first. You know her. Does sacrifice sound like something she’d do? Not the Dana I knew but that was… Stop making up excuses and move!

“Are you armed?”

“No. I don’t carry. Not much reason to while sat behind a desk at…” Her voice trails off but her former friend gets her point.

Instinctively Sanjiv reaches round his back to fish out the backup weapon he keeps tucked away. He stops short when a declaration in his head is roared: She’s in on it! Don’t trust her! The cry gives him reason for pause. He is fully aware that Dana might be a part of this and yet… She can’t be. I refuse to believe it. Stay quiet. This isn’t the time for… Fine, get yourself killed by not listening to me.

“Is everything alright?” Sanjiv hears Dana say to him. Just as well he does because right then he spies the tip of a barrel; his eyes go wide at the sight of it. Instinctively he pushes Dana down, her legs buckle from under her and she crashes to the floor. Somehow she resists any urge she might have to cry aloud or erupt with rage. It is just as well for that gives Sanjiv the time to line up and wait just long enough for… The figure rounds the corner. Three shots are fired. The grey figure topples over resulting in a loud but dull thud.

“We need to get moving. They’ll know where we are now, respite over.” Sanjiv is staring Dana straight in the face. Her eyes go wide at the tail end of his statement. Yet, he does not react, Dana does and pulls the gun that he hadn’t realised he’d finished fishing from behind his back. She levels it, half aims and fires. Two shots ring out. One misses its mark. The other clips the new gunman in the collarbone area. The grey clad gunman spins, weapon tossed free in the process prior to crashing to the concrete floor. Dana curses for having missed a shot while Sanjiv finishes the job with a single bullet to the wounded figures head.

“Your aims off from having spent far too long sat behind a desk, director.” Is the remark Sanjiv offers with a wide smile, less mocking and more playful.

“Fuck you.” Is the retort he is greeted with and just as Dana spins about so they are back to back. They don’t intend on remaining where they are. Thirty five attackers against two are extremely poor odds, especially considering they have nowhere near the ammunition that would be required to put them all down. And that’s without Dana having missed a vital shot. It could have cost her her life. She chastises herself for her failure and swears to double her efforts and aim properly next time.

“What’s the plan?”

“AI says she has an exit.”

“I heard; that’s a no go.”

“No, this is a new exit.”

“What is it?”

“Give us the deets.” Sanjiv demands of the Doctor Tabar AI.

A pause follows, most unlike the AI; Sanjiv suspects he might be overthinking things when the AI answers, “Second stairwell, thirty feet to your left, no cover.”

“Does any route out off this place afford cover?” Is the rhetorical question that sarcastically escapes Dana’s mouth.

“It does not.” Comes the honest reply from the AI which both Sanjiv and Dana find irritating. And yet because of it a short half chuckle burbles from the back of Sanjiv’s throat. Following it he advises, “Dana was being sarky.”

The AI might want to but does not offer further query. The middle aged man is pleased about that for now would not be the time.

A fresh pair of the gun wielding figures emerges from around the corners of the box. Dana and Sanjiv both fire. Two shots are unleashed from each of their weapons. This time no one misses and both figures go down permanently.

“Time to split, I think.” The director says in a manner that sounds completely out of character for the woman and the position she holds. If proof of that were necessary then you would have to look no further than Sanjiv whose response comes in the form of a smile. After all, while such a statement might not sound like Director Dana Marcello it does undoubtedly sound exactly like his old friend Dana Marcello. To anyone else that might sound as though they are the same thing but Sanjiv would argue there is very little, except name and face, which is shared between the two versions of the woman. And yes, versions are indeed how he would describe them.

Nevertheless, Dana has a point and Sanjiv isn’t about to argue and so they both make a break, heading left toward where they have been assured a second stairwell can be found.

To be honest the middle aged man cannot see what they are heading for. As far as he can tell there is a solid wall that lies ahead on their new trajectory. In no way does it look as though there is a stairwell present. Trust the AI, she has never steered you wrong before. I know, but… Oh shit, you have to be kidding. It dawns on Sanjiv, because he is closer now, as to why it looks as though there is nothing but a wall ahead. It’s because the stairwell isn’t finished, or should that be it isn’t in one piece? It’s the latter! Yeah it is.

Sadly, with attention diverted as a result of his consideration it takes him far longer than it should have to register the presence of weapons fire. Once he does he is hauled back to the present, his thoughts lost and discarded, because bullets are zipping past his head. It was inevitably, he knew that, and yet he had dared to hope… Fire! The demand from his subconscious is louder than he thinks any previous one has ever been. He complies with it and turns while running to squeeze the trigger of his pistol. Mentally, he takes note of how many rounds from the seventeen shot magazine have been expended.

Alas, the same cannot be said of Dana, who though is managing to keep pace with Sanjiv, hasn’t a clue as to what the pistol, in her hand’s, capacity is or how many shots she’s fired. However, her aim has definitely improved, and several targets collapse in response to her latest round of shots. They might be Sanjiv’s. Fuck you, don’t doubt me. I am you. Then you should know better.

The gun in her hand clicks empty suddenly, the slide having jolted back to further illustrate the uselessness the weapon now possesses. Grumbling the middle aged woman turns back to face forward and then toward Sanjiv as if to query whether he has a spare magazine. He does not and is too focused on returning fire to take notice of her silent plea.

Just focus on running! I know, I’m not… Suddenly, a burning pain erupts and then blossoms in Dana’s side. She screams at the top of her lungs and stumbles forward. Sanjiv sees her get hit, helpless to prevent it, but manages to catch and haul her back to her feet. Were she not a diminutive woman he may not have been able. Count your blessings! He does but Dana is struggling now, limping, lumbering. They reach the stairwell.

“Oh you have to be kidding me.” Is the first thing the director says upon seeing that the stairwell is little more than a half intact set of concrete stair sections and levels encased within a vertical tube.

“We have to jump!” Sanjiv exclaims; his back to the stairwell as he continues to fire. He only has a couple shots left and the grey figures without faces are advancing rapidly. If they don’t jump they’re dead. No other way out.

“We’ll break our legs!”

“At least you’ll still be capable of crawling.” Is the half joke delivered by Sanjiv. Neither of them finds it funny in any way, not that they feel it appropriate to voice such criticism.

“Fuck you. I’ll remember this.”

“I have no reason to doubt that you will director.” A half smile flashes across Sanjiv’s face only to disappear when his weapon clicks empty resulting in a curse.

It happens right as Dana jumps. A scream escapes her lips and she closes her eyes expecting to at best feel her legs shatter beneath her and at worse never feel anything ever again. Neither come to pass. Instead, she feels her bones shake and shudder. Her eyes open to assess the damage, she breathes a sigh of relief at having landed on a section of stairwell she had been unable to work out existed because of the uniformity of the shaft. She feels like erupting with joy. She doesn’t and instead attempts to stand. A burst of inconceivable pain from her side stops her short and the director half crumples back to the stairwell and its steps. If she’d managed a full step and then suffered this she could well imagine she’d be tumbling head over heel down the steps, bludgeoning herself to death as she goes. Little does she know there are several more breaks in the stairs which tumbling down she would be likely to drop through.

Meanwhile having yet to jump, Sanjiv feels it appropriate to hurl his empty weapon at the advancing figures and so he does. They’ve stopped firing now, most unusual he’s thinks. What lifts his mood is when his spent pistol slams into the groin of an advancing figure. They bend double in response. Following that Sanjiv turns and leaps toward Dana.

Almost instantly the middle aged man reaches the conclusion that he isn’t going to make it to whatever solid area Dana is stood upon. He can’t work it out because everything in the shaft looks the same. His eyes go wide; he reaches out and braces himself for pain. A second after he slams chest first against the edge of the section that Dana is half stood upon. Sanjiv lets out an almighty release of air, the wind knocked out of him. Sadly, this is not the end of his misfortune for his hands scramble but try as they might there is nothing to cling onto and give himself purchase so he might pull himself up. His legs are even more useless and are left kicking at air. As the seconds drag by Sanjiv continues to lose his fight and slide closer to the edge and his doom. Suddenly Dana appears, she’s never looked this poor as far as he can remember; the wound to her flank must be worse than he initially thought. Not important right now!

The director grabs a hold of his hand and with all her might pulls against gravity to stop his slipping away. It works, Sanjiv is shocked. He was convinced he was done for.

“I’ve got you but I can’t hold you forever Sanjiv, do something.” Are the words that Dana blurts through gritted teeth and straining muscles as she ignores the pain in her side as best she can. That will be what forces her to falter rather than her muscles inability to continue the strain they’re under.

While Sanjiv is fully aware Dana is right, he can honestly say that he doesn’t know what he can do. So he resorts to struggling, wriggling and worming with every fibre of his being. It works and soon there is enough of him atop the concrete section that can feels capable of determining himself safe.

Meanwhile, Dana has withdrawn to give him space. In truth she slipped out of his grip using the last of her resilience to suppress her pain as he fought for survival. It’s why her back is currently pressed against one of the concrete walls of the shaft.

Her breathing is heavy, she looks exhausted and blood is dripping from the wound to stain the grey floor beneath their feet.

“Thank you.” Sanjiv offers while trying to catch his breath. He hopes his tone is clearly conveying how immense his gratitude is. It is, which is why the director soon offers a nod in response.

“Exit is two floors below your current position.” The AI chimes into both their ears.

“Will that… put us… on the street?” The director queries with difficulty. She feels as though she has ran a marathon and in desperate need of rest. Sadly rest is not an option available to her for the time being.

“Negative.”

“Then there will it put us?” Sanjiv asks before Dana has the chance.

“Pings approaching, movement is suggested.” The AI offers in place of an answer.

“Fuck, can’t catch a break.” The director blurts while thumping the back of her head softly a couple of times against the concrete. It hurts but is nothing compared to the wound in her side, she must admit.

“Can you stand?” Is the query directed her way once the middle aged man with her is back on his feet. He’s dangerously close to the edge but shows no signs of having noticed the precarious position he is in.

“I..” Is the beginning of a reply the director starts to mutter while making efforts to stand. Her attempt fails this second time much like it had the first. However, this time Sanjiv is there to catch her before she feels the sting of her landing on the concrete. This display is all the answer he needs and why he states, “We need to deal with that wound.”

“We need to move. Then deal with the wound. Don’t argue with me for fucks sake.”

While Dana might be adamant, there is nothing her former friend would like to do more than argue with her right. But now is not the time and she is right, they need to move. And so he helps her to her feet, draping one of her arms across his shoulders so that he can take some of her weight.

Not long after beginning to move, and disappear beneath a lip of concrete, the grey faceless figures appear at the shafts entry point. The figures don’t open fire. It’s as if they are under orders not to do so. If Dana and Sanjiv were not so laser focused on escape they might have taken note and began to wonder, but they do not. Escape is the only things on their minds currently.

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