The metal handle stopped spinning as it reached my feet. With the noxious smoke dispersing, a figure appeared at the door, a gas mask wrapped around their face, a short rifle tracking up, taking aim. Toni lay still, leaning back on her elbows, her eyes wide as she stared back at the figure taking tentative steps across the threshold. His eyes headed up to mine. A muffled sound came from behind his mask, but the words seemed as if not meant for us.
He took a step forward, his gun still on Toni, another figure arrived at his back. At first look they were identical. A burst of gunfire lit up the corridor, muffled shouts followed as if from all around. Anger rose in my chest. These were the people that had done this, these were the people that had beaten Toni. An urge to let my guard down built, I wanted the rage back, wanted the animal hunger to return so I could defend myself, defend Toni, but it wouldn’t come.
The other man stood with his shoulder at the door frame peering around a shallow angle out into the corridor. The soldier in the room was shouting something, his chest heaving up and down. With him he brought a thick chemical odour, the burn of plastic thickening the air. Across his dark, earthy uniform was a great line of splattered blood as if an artist had flicked a brush. The inside of his mask misted, the words muffled with the race of his breath and the protruding filter. Gunfire in the corridor wouldn’t let me concentrate, all I could do was stare back wide eyed at his noise as I shook my head, as he swapped his aim, snapping the muzzle between us.
His left hand stopped steadying the machine gun, instead hurried to unclip his helmet, dropping it to the desk as he flicked his head between the two of us, but his aim soon settled on me. He pulled the mask off and dragged in air. His red face ran with sweat, his short fringe dark, his bloodshot eyes flicked open and closed, frantic to rid the sting of sweat. Gunfire burst down the corridor, the soldier’s report at the door shook through my body and I flinched in his direction, not sure if I would see the gun pointed at me, the lack of pain a delayed reaction, but no, his aim was down the corridor and another volley rattled off as I stared.
The unmasked soldier drew my attention back as he spoke, his voice high, as young as his looks. So much younger than me. His wide eyes and the shake of his voice betrayed his recent loss of innocence.
“Stand up,” he’d been saying all along. “You’re coming with us,” he said, his words robotic, rehearsed.
“Stoppage,” came the muffled shout from behind the other’s mask. Our guy’s eyes lit up, his head rearing back. We watched as the soldier’s gloved hands raked the slide at the side of the weapon, pushing forward and pulling back. We watched as his motioned grew more frantic, watched as he vanished, leaving only the echo of the rifle hitting the floor.
I looked to the other man to make sure he’d seen it too and he stared back reflecting my disbelief. Toni didn’t pause, a hand pushed the pistol in a slide across the floor before grabbing at her rifle. Our eyes locked and I knew she’d seen it, seen him there, before a shadow darted past the doorway, grabbing the soldier and he’d gone.
“Aim that weapon somewhere else.” It was Toni’s sharp voice and I turned towards it, away from the doorway. She was standing at my side and I followed the aim of her pistol to his face. His mouth was hanging wide, his face turning from the corridor, the gun dropping in slow motion.
Sound came from the corridor. It was a noise I couldn’t at first describe, but soon I recognised something heavy being dragged across the carpet. We stopped moving, except for Toni. Her gun still pointed at the soldier, motioning him to the doorway. His eyes were still wide and I could see he was deciding, looking between the gun in her hand and the corridor, then to the window. He stepped to the glass and peered down, all with the noise in the corridor multiplying. I saw his eyes go wide as he peered lower, watched as he let the short machine gun down on its straps. Toni kept her gun pointed in his direction, despite the rising activity in the corridor. With the pant of his breath growing ever faster, the soldier unclipped the top of his holster and calmly drew a pistol out as he shook his head.
“What’s your name?” I whispered, keeping my voice as calm as I could, but he couldn’t take his look from below, all he could reply was the shake of his head. I looked to Toni and she looked back letting the gun drop, opening her hands and I looked back, the gun already under his chin. I dropped to my knees and felt the tears rolling down my face as I buried my hands over my ears, leaning against the desk. My body rattled as he pulled the trigger.
I heard the echo in my ears, heard the spent cartridge clink as it hit the desk. I heard his breath push out as he slumped to the floor and heard the scrape on the carpet stop, but only for a moment before it became an orchestra of drumming feet.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.