Year 19

Chapter 26

by E.Escher - 2nd Mar 2017
It was, without a doubt, the stupidest idea he'd ever had.

At first he tried to hit the ground running, hoping to bleed off the momentum, but he almost immediately realised that he couldn't move his legs that fast. He flailed his arms to try to keep his balance, but it wasn't enough, and he began to tumble. The world became a chaotic blur of sky and road, head over heels and then elbows and knees as he crumpled and rolled along the ground.

He must have hit his head several times, there was no way he could have avoided it, but as he half-slid, half-rolled to a halt he quickly got his bearings and pushed himself up to a crouch. He bit back a curse, realising he'd left the shotgun in the car - he could have used it as a crutch about now. Everything hurt, his hands were bleeding and his pants were ruined.

The car was long-gone, with the police close behind, but they had to get out of sight before the police came back and spotted them. He looked around for Carmen and saw her face down on the other side of the street. She pulled herself onto all fours and tried to get up. Something was wrong, however, and she lurched over, eyes wide.

He hurried to her side, as fast as he dared with the world still spinning. 'What's wrong? Are you hurt?'

'My foot,' she grunted. Her knuckles were as skinned as his own, and she had a wicked abrasion down one side of her face, but her clothes were clearly made of stronger stuff than his own, and had weathered the skid just fine.

'Is it broken?' He looked down at her ankle, and was shocked to see a flopping pant leg.

'It came off!' She grabbed his hands and pulled herself upright. 'Find it! I can't walk without it, and we need to get off the streets!'

'Can't you hop?' he suggested.

She fixed him with a murderous stare. 'Hopping on one foot is not the same as hopping with one foot. Please, I can't leave it here for somebody to find. Just...' she looked down the street and pointed. 'There! Fetch it for me! Please?'

'All right, I'm getting it,' he took a few steps in the direction she was pointing and quickly identified the discarded boot, presumably with the foot still inside.

Slightly freaked out, he limped over and picked it up by the toe end. As he straightened he noticed distant movement in the corner of his eye. A tiny grey Smart car, blazoned with the fluorescent markings of a community support officer, was headed their way at full speed. Brian was at the wheel, his face a visible mask of rage even at this distance.

Colin groaned, and dashed to Carmen holding the foot. 'I got it, but Brian's here! Get moving!'

She scowled, and started to hop toward him with her hands outstretched. 'Give it to me! I can't run like this, just throw it!'

Instead he ran to her side and put an arm around her for support. She grabbed the foot out of his hands and bent down to reattach it. 'Lean on me and hop, or I'll carry you.' he threatened. She relented, and they took a few stumbling strides before the sound of the oncoming car was too loud to ignore, and Colin looked over his shoulder.

Brian wasn't stopping, he was going to run them down. In a Smart car.

There was no way they could both dodge, so Colin let go of Carmen and ran at an angle toward the approaching vehicle, waving his arms and yelling. 'Come and get me, you psycho asshole!'

Brian had other ideas, however, and maintained his course, heading straight for Carmen. She tucked the foot into her jacket and instead pulled out her little pistol, aiming low. The weapon shuddered in her grip, curiously quiet, letting out a long burp of rapid fire instead of the expected explosive reports. The front of the car disintegrated in a cloud of plastic and rubber, but it didn't stop, even as the tyres exploded.

Colin watched in horror as the car slid on a bow wave of sparks and slammed into her like a giant hammer. She bounced off the windscreen with a yelp, spinning in the air and landing heavily on her shoulder with a sickening crunch.

Some part of the car must have dug into the road surface, because it jerked to a sudden halt and the engine died with a tortured shriek. Brian shouldered the door open and hurled himself out of the vehicle onto the ground. 'You shot me, you zombie bitch!' He dragged himself a few feet and rolled onto his side, grabbing for his weapons.

Colin ran to Carmen, who lay on her back gasping. Her left arm lay across her chest at an awkward angle, and her face was pale beneath a mask of blood. Thankfully the wrecked car blocked Brian's line of sight, so Colin reckoned they had a few seconds. 'Can you stand?' he asked, belatedly remembering the foot.

She shook her head. 'Not a chance. Get me out of here.'

He scooped her up and ran for the football ground, keeping low to stay out of sight.

Behind them, Brian screamed for vengeance. 'You can't run from me, Colin! You're gonna die today! Both of you! You're already dead!'

Carmen rolled her eyes. 'Already dead. That's kinda the point, idiot.'

'You shot his legs. I don't think he can follow us.'

He ran for the biggest entrance door, and was relieved to see a blunt-faced goon in the now-familiar dark-suit uniform of Harbinger's men. The goon moved to bar their path, but Colin use Carmen as a battering ram to push their way past. 'Is Harbinger here yet?' he asked.

'Uh, yeah. Are you the guy?'

'Yeah, and this is the girl, and the other guy's out there with bullets in his legs. You wanna go finish him off?'

'No. I'm supposed to stop anybody coming in.'

'You're doing a great job,' drawled Colin, far from impressed. 'There's a killer out there and he wants to come in here. You're going to stop him, yeah?'

The goon frowned, but nodded. 'I'm supposed to stop anybody coming in,' he repeated, stubbornly.

Colin ducked past and through the doors, but the goon turned to follow.

Carmen began to squirm. 'Okay, I've heard enough of this. Put me down.'

Released, she dropped onto her working leg and held up the boot for the goon to see. 'Hey, big guy, wanna see a trick?' She put the boot on the ground and slipped her truncated ankle into it. After a few seconds, she bent down, unfastened the boot and wiggled her toes for the brutish guard to see.'

'How'd you do that?' he demanded.

'It's a trick. I can do another one, where I take body parts off somebody. Wanna see it?'

'Nuh-uh!' the goon backed away out through the door.

Seeing that Carmen appeared to have recovered her composure, Colin drew his gun and led the way through the entrance building toward the pitch itself. Carmen handed him the spare gun she'd picked up. 'Here, you've got more working hands than me at the moment.'

He took the gun, checked the slide action, and stuffed it into his jacket pocket as backup.

'Harbinger should be around here somewhere. I need you to keep an eye on him. We don't want him trying something stupid when the vortex opens.' She winced, trying to shift her left arm into a comfortable position. 'I think my collarbone's smashed. Can't lift the arm.'

'How's the foot?'

'Not good. I'm gonna put in a request for a new one when I get back.'

'If we get back, you mean. Brian's definitely going to try something if we have to hang around for an hour.'

'The vortex will open, trust me. You go find Harbinger, I'm going to find the ladies' room.'

'Yeah, you've got kind of a, uh…' he made vague pointing gestures at her face. 'Might want to clean that up.'

'I've also got a concussion, a fractured skull, at least three broken ribs, and if my blood pressure was anything like human I'd be gushing blood from every hole in my head about now. They can fix me up when we get back.'

'So what are…?'

'I need the loo. Geez. I'll be five minutes. You go find the old man, and keep an eye out for a temporal vortex in the middle of the field.'

'What if Brian attacks?'

'Shoot him in the face, I don't care.' She span around and limped away, leaving Colin somewhat lost and confused.

'Okay, find Harbinger, wait for vortex, shoot Brian. I can handle that.'

He set off to look for the old man. Figuring Harbinger would be watching for the vortex, Colin made his way out onto the stands and scanned the other seats for people. From his position he could see the entire stadium, but all the seats where empty - there was no sign of the old man or any of his men. That only left the executive boxes, which gave a commanding view of the pitch but couldn't easily be observed from below.

Frustratingly, he didn't know how best to get up there, and they would be a perfect place for a sniper. Like, say, any of Harbinger's professional assassins. He wasn't sure he had time to check all the boxes. Why couldn't the old coot be sat at the edge of the pitch, like a normal person? If Brian somehow got up there they'd all be in trouble.

'Damn it, old man, where are you hiding?'

He ducked back into the building and looked for signs that would help. Sure enough, there was a staircase marked 'executive hospitality'. That sounded like a good place to find the old man, so he ran up the steps two at a time, up four shorts flights and through a door, into a narrow corridor with doors along one side. He checked the first door, and found it locked. He tried the next, and found Harbinger reclining on a padded couch. 'Ah, Colin,' he smiled, turning around. 'You made it. Where is the lady?'

'Looking for the ladies' room. Listen, Brian knows we're here. How good are your guys? What've you got set up by way of defence?'

'One guy at each of the four entrances, two in the car park.'

'That's it? What about weapons?'

Harbinger looked offended. 'They're armed, of course. Each has their own favourite firearm, but they're limited to something easily concealed. We're not exactly legal, as you might recall.'

They both glanced up as gunfire echoed around the empty stadium. Three shots in rapid succession.

'Were you particularly fond of the guy at the main entrance?'

'Not especially.'

'Are you carrying?'

The old man's look was withering.

'Fine, come on. We need to finish this.'

He ran back down the stairs, took a different route out and found himself at the side of the pitch. It took him a second to get his bearings and work out where everything was. Carmen was at the opposite end of the pitch, waving to get his attention. He raised a hand to wave back, but she ducked out of sight. That struck him as odd, which rang alarm bells. He ducked down too, an instant before one of the plastic chairs behind him cracked and split apart.

Brian was inside the stadium and shooting, but where was he? He heard shooting, but it was quiet, a loud snicker-snap instead of the expected bang, but the acoustics in the stadium made everything echo, and it was impossible to place the shooter. How was he supposed to shoot back?

Instead, he kept low and scurried toward Carmen's position. She popped up and let off a few shots from her own curiously-quiet weapon, blasting glowing holes through the advertising boards on the far side of the pitch. There was no scream in reply, no death-cry, and the orange-blue muzzle-flash gave away her position like a neon sign so she had to duck out of sight immediately to avoid return fire.

She made slow progress, hindered by her wounds and a defective foot, and Colin found himself at a gap in the ad-boards. He would have to run the gauntlet and hope he was quick enough, or lucky enough, to avoid taking a bullet as he ran.

Carmen waved at him to stay put, but that was no plan at all. Maybe Carmen's fancy contact lenses could scan for life signs or something. He had to get to her, and they could make a plan, concentrate their fire, or something.

Harbinger's voice rang out from somewhere in the upper seats. 'Do it, boy! I'll cover you!' Colin looked around and saw the old man pop out from a doorway wielding a matt-black rifle. He began shooting, seemingly at random, and Colin decided it was now or never. He broke cover and ran.

For those first long paces of open air he felt utterly exposed, but those were the safest moments, before Brian realised what he was doing. Then he was behind the dubious cover of a plexi-glass shelter, which quivered and shook as he passed it, spraying plastic fragments over him as he ran. Brian had him in the crosshairs, and Colin was about to plunge back into the open.

Carmen provided a second distraction, blasting away with another rippling salvo of gunfire. Harbinger's rifle boomed as well, and then...

He was safe, he'd made it. He slid to a halt behind the boards, expecting a lucky bullet to tear through the thin wood any second. Carmen scrambled over. 'What are you trying to do?'

Harbinger whooped from his doorway. 'I think I got him!'

A hail of bullets made the old man think otherwise, and he vanished from sight with a squawk of surprise.

Carmen bit her lip. 'I think we just lost the old man. I was just getting to like him, too.'

Colin tried to focus. 'I was thinking, can your computer do a scan or something? If we knew where Brian was I could circle round and get the drop on him.'

She shook her head, then winced, apparently regretting the movement. 'Everything's a little blurry at the moment. I'm not sure I could hit him even if I could see him. My targeting reticule is all screwed up. I don't think the computer enjoyed being run down any more than I did.'

'Damn it.' He thought some more, peering over the board again to survey the scene, hoping for a glimpse, a clue, something that would help him out.

He blinked, and ducked back down. Could it be that simple? That obvious? He turned back to Carmen. She was the litmus test.

'Give me your grenade.'

She grimaced. 'Are you sure?'

'Trust me.'

'Okay.' And just like that, she put her hands together, twisted something, and then offered Colin her ring finger.

'The grenade is your finger? And that other grenade was the other one?'

She held up her left hand, now missing two fingers. 'I told you they were for emergencies. Bend it 'til it clicks, then straighten it out and throw. Don't waste it.'

'Right.' He bent the detached finger, wincing as the joint clicked. It was eerily like cracking somebody else's knuckles, and he didn't like it one bit. He straightened it back out, quickly, grimacing as the metal bones clacked back into place.

That done, he arched back, jumped up and hurled the thing as far as he could at his chosen target - a badly-peeling advert for an "A.K. Locksmiths". With his eyes on the target, he was rewarded to spot Brian peeking back, and the two made momentary eye contact. The finger plopped onto the grass about eighteen inches away from the board. That had to be close enough, surely?

The hitman wasted no time with pleasantries. A bullet clipped Colin's ear, and a second cut straight through the meat of his right bicep. He twisted and fell back onto the grass, gasping in pain. 'Son of a bitch, ow!'

The flash-bang of the grenade filled the stadium with an awful sound, but he didn't see the accompanying flash of light. Carmen crawled to his side and helped him to his feet, where they stood for long seconds surveying the devastated corner spot.

Colin shrugged. 'Harbinger did say they weren't playing today, I think.' There was a substantial hole in the ground, and smouldering turf had been flung for several yards in all directions. The shattered board had torn through the seating like so many wooden spears, apart from the segment closest to the epicentre, which was simple gone. Annihilated, along with Brian.

Carmen broke the silence. 'Do they give out red cards for unnecessary roughness, or is that a different sport?'

'Are you saying that wasn't necessary? It felt necessary. It felt right.'

She gave him a warm smile. 'It was right. I guess you finally got the hang of it, huh?'

'Yeah. So do we leave now?'

'Give it a minute. Just enjoy the moment while it lasts.'

It wasn't long before Colin felt the hair on the back of his neck start to rise. 'What? Do you feel that?' There was a charged atmosphere, a thrumming vibration that he could feel rather than hear. The air at the centre of the pitch wavered, like heat distortion, before erupting into a riot of colours, like rainbows and lightning bleeding out in all directions.

'Is that it? Is that the vortex?'

Carmen raised a brow. 'No.' She waited a beat. 'Of course it is, are you joking? What else could it be?' She walked around him with a sigh and made her way out onto the pitch.

Colin rolled his eyes, and turned to offer a silent salute to Harbinger. To his surprise, the old man was sat on one of the plastic seats, bleeding but very much alive. He returned the salute, his expression unreadable.

Colin followed Carmen onto the pitch. As he reached her side, the two travellers held hands and walked forward, into the future.
The curious tale of Colin Campbell
Part One - How did it come to this?, Chapter 1, Earlier that day
Chapter 2, Earlier still
Chapter 3, Making a withdrawal
Chapter 4, August 18th, 2362
Chapter 5, Angel of Death
Chapter 6, Welcome to 2016.
Chapter 7, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 8, After the crash
Chapter 9, Music of the Spheres
Chapter 10, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 11, Harbinger FM
Chapter 12, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 13, Excuses and lies
Part Two - So here we are, Chapter 14
Chapter 15, Quite a ride
Chapter 16, Talking the talk
Chapter 17, Leisurely pursuit
Chapter 18, Dinner Date with Destiny
Chapter 19, Chips with everything
Chapter 20, Harbinger
Chapter 21, Time to leave
Chapter 22, Manchester
Chapter 23, Colin's House
Chapter 24, On the road
Chapter 25, Chateau Harbinger
Chapter 26, Showdown
Epilogue, Debriefing
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