Michael wrung his hands as he paced the room. “Yes…this is our only option,” he announced.
“So you’ve said,” Marlowe replied. “Several times.”
“No!” Jen yelled, clutching Michael’s arm. “This is insane! You can’t go out there, they’ll kill you!”
“They wouldn’t dare,” Michael scoffed. “The entire nation is watching. Besides, I am a highly regarded lawyer, and we have the law on our side.”
“Jen, let him go,” Marlowe said, relighting the cigar she’d let burn out. She turned her attention to Michael. “You invited them here. You wanna go say hi to your soldier buddies? Go say hi, mister ‘highly regarded’ lawyer.”
“I didn’t…” Michael began to argue before he was interrupted by an amplified voice from the other side of the door.
“This is your final warning!” The voice on the loudspeaker blared. Marlowe recognized it as the voice of Henry “Mad Dog” Cain, full of swagger and arrogance. “Come on, MK! Surrender now, and I promise, no one will get hurt.”
Marlowe exhaled a puff of smoke and sneered. “I hope he’s including himself in that statement.”
“Huh?” Jen asked.
“He knows that even though I’m not tip-top, I can still whip his ass,” Marlowe answered. “Remember season two of ‘NTS’? He went against me in a head-to-head. I went to judo-throw him; I grabbed his arm and pulled.” She placed the cigar to her lips and took a long draw, exhaling it through her nose. “The arm went flying, but the rest of him…anyway, that’s why they took out intra-squad trials.”
Jen sighed. “Marlowe, you know that I never watched…whatever. It looks like he got a new arm,” She said, staring at the screen on her desk as she watched Cain’s squad secure their position outside her front door. “A really big and shiny new one.”
“Augs are only as good as the person they’re attached to,” Marlowe remarked calmly. “Even big shiny arms.”
“Look,” Michael said, returning to business. “Article Thirty-Seven guarantees your right to an appeal. We can find that evidence you described. You can tell them how you were kidnapped by those crazy traitors. We can win this. We have the law–”
“–on our side. Yeah,” Marlowe interjected. “You’ve said that a few times, too.”
“Michael…” Jen pleaded.
“Don’t worry Jen,” Marlowe interjected. “You heard the nice guy on the loudspeaker with the huge metal arm. They’re not going to hurt us. He promised.”
“Okay, I’m going out there,” Michael said.
“Go get ’em, tiger,” Marlowe said, drawing from her cigar.
Michael closed his eyes, inhaled deeply through his nostrils, and exhaled through his mouth. “Right…here goes,” he said, reaching reaching up to press the switch by the door. He hesitated a moment before slapping the button. The magnetic seals buzzed as they released. He grabbed the bar securing the door and slid it back, then cracked the door open.
He peeked his head outside only to see half a dozen heavily armored soldiers, all pointing rail guns at him. Cain stood just beyond them, commanding from behind a wall of his men. Michael’s forehead was immediately decorated with half a dozen red targeting dots.
“Hold your fire!” Michael yelled, raising his hands and taking a step outside to face the MilSec squadron. “I represent–”
The door slammed closed behind him. The magnetic seals buzzed.
“MARLOWE!” Jen yelled. “What are you doing?”
“Saving our lives,” she replied. “Move.” Marlowe pushed Jen out of the way and began dragging the desk toward the door.
Outside, Michael was sweating. His arms raised over his head and his voice creaking, he began pleading with the soldiers staring at him down the barrels of their rifles.
“I represent Marlowe Kana,” he said with a cracking voice. “By the authority of the Valor Writ, I hereby evoke Article Thirty-Seven on behalf of my client. She has the right to an appeal before the tribunal–”
“FIRE!” Cain ordered.
Metal slugs whipped through the air and in less than a second, Michael was reduced to a smoking ball of bloody meat.
“Oh wow…well THAT didn’t go well!” Marlowe said with a chuckle. She dragged a bookcase loaded with technical manuals and security books to the other side of the doorway, creating a makeshift tunnel. “Jen, you got your special insurance policy on this place?”
Jen stared blankly at the screen. Michael’s bloody corpse was featured through the lens of Cain’s Feed.
“JEN!” Marlowe yelled, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“..Wha?” Jen replied as she turned to face Marlowe, eyes wide, jaw hanging open.
“This place…it’s wired up, right?” Marlowe asked.
“Uh…yeah,” Jen replied.
“Okay,” Marlowe said, tossing boxes on top of the desk to create cover, “I’ll buy us some time. Go get everything prepped, and when I say so, hit the switch.”
“You… you killed him…”
“No, THEY killed him! They murdered him in cold blood in front of the entire nation, and I’m sure the audience just loved it. Ratings for ‘Next Top Soldier’ are sure to skyrocket. Michael did his country a great service.”
“You cold-hearted bitch!” Jen cried, emerging from her stupor. “How could you just let him go out there and face those monsters?”
“Well I didn’t think they’d actually kill him!” Marlowe retorted as she pulled the chair she had been sitting on alongside the bookcase. “I guess the rules of engagement change when ratings are on the line!”
A loud WHAM echoed from the door. And then another.
Marlowe checked the Feed on the screen. Two soldiers manned a battering ram, while another two stood on either side of the door, preparing to breach. Cain stayed behind the formation of soldiers keeping their sights trained on the doorway.
“That coward,” Marlowe said. “Fancy cybernetic arm and he can’t even knock on the door himself…”
“Michael was trying to help us!” Jen yelled, tears streaming from her eyes. “He was trying to help YOU!”
Another WHAM. And then another.
“Look, now’s not the time for this!” Marlowe snapped. She grabbed the green duffel bag, pulled out one of the AMP inhalers, and then held out the bag toward Jen.
“Blow the place up with me in it, or take this and yell at me when we get out of here. But either way, it’s time for you to go.”
Jen bit her lip and clenched her teeth. With a tearful sigh, she nodded, grabbed the bag, and turned to leave.
“Lock the door and don’t open it!” Marlowe yelled. “Not for anyone, including me!”
Jen retreated down the hallway as the soldiers continued ramming the door in perfect rhythm. Marlowe sighed, emptying her lungs. She placed the inhaler to her mouth and took a second full hit of AMP. After a quick shiver, she stretched her neck and cracked her knuckles.
“Okay, Jen was right,” she said, “I’m definitely going to puke.”
She listened closely as she picked up the hunk of wood from the collapsed couch. Another WHAM. And then another WHAM. And then, before the ram could hit again, she tossed the chunk of couch at the switch by the door. The magnetic seals buzzed, and the door creaked open, just in time for the soldiers to come surging forward, wildly off balance.
Marlowe sprinted toward them, grabbing the head of the battering ram. She locked her feet in place, and with all the power she could muster from her recently fueled up muscles, she pulled the ram forward, yanking the soldiers into the doorframe on either side.
She retreated with the battering ram down the choke point she’d created and took cover. More soldiers filed in in two-by-two cover formation. As they spread out at the end of the furniture tunnel, Marlowe swung the ram like a bat at the soldier nearest her, cracking his helmet and knocking him out cold. She then grabbed the handles of the ram, leapt forward, and demonstrated that the head of a battering ram could punch through the chest cavity of a human being if thrust hard enough.
She reestablished cover behind the other side of the choke point at the doorway. Well-versed in MilSec tactics, she knew what was coming next. She took a very deep breath, ducked her head, closed her eyes, and plugged her ears.
Several flash grenades flew through the doorway and detonated.
Textbook, she thought to herself as more soldiers filed into the house through the tunnel choke point. One of the soldiers turned in her direction with his rifle at the ready. Marlowe grabbed the gun by the barrel and yanked as she took a step to the side, pulling the soldier off his feet and causing him to pull the trigger. The barrel seared her hands, but adrenaline and AMP kept it from registering with her nervous system.
It, however, couldn’t prevent her from smelling her own cooked flesh. The stench, combined with the calorie-dense Battery nutrition bars and the first real cardio exercise she’d had in months all made her astonishingly queasy. As another soldier rounded the corner, she spewed milky white vomit on him.
“Agh!” The solder shrieked before Marlowe swung the rifle by the barrel at his head and knocked him out.
Two more soldiers came from the other side of the room after clearing their assigned corners, only to find themselves staring at a gagging, pissed off Marlowe Kana. They raised their rifles.
“Goddammit! I said no shooting!” Cain yelled as he marched through the doorway. “Who the hell fired that round?”
The two soldiers looked his way, then pointed at the puke-covered soldier at their feet.
Cain retched and said “Well, that smells just lovely.”
“I got more if you want it,” Marlowe said, brandishing the biometrically protected rifle by the barrel like a baseball bat. She couldn’t use it to shoot, but it was far from useless. “Come and get it.”
Two more soldiers filed in behind Cain and raised their rifles at Marlowe. Four red dots adorned her face.
“Good to see you again, MK!” Cain said. “Love the bracelets.”
“Nice to see you too, Cain,” she retorted. “Love the new arm.”
He patted his augmented right arm with his natural hand. “Yeah, I suppose I have you to thank for it. But I’m not mad…I actually love it. But as much as I’m dying to show you how well it works, it’d be better for both of us if you surrender.”
“And make you United America’s Next Top Soldier?” Marlowe retorted. “No way in hell.”
“You are outnumbered and have no place to run,” Cain stated. “The prize is doubled if I bring you in alive, but I won’t hesitate to order my squad to fire.”
“So I saw a few minutes ago,” Marlowe said drily. “Big brave ‘Mad Dog’ Cain…having his squad do all his dirty work. I’m sure everyone watching the Feeds right now is super impressed at how you’re able to tell your squad to shoot an innocent lawyer.”
Another squad of eight soldiers arrived on the scene and entered the doorway.
“Hold your positions!” Cain ordered. “I got this.”
Marlowe smirked. “Ah, so there is some fight in you.”
“You’re about to find out,” Cain replied. He tapped a switch on his right arm and it began to hum with electricity.
“Oh goodie,” Marlowe said, dropping the rifle-turned-club. “I do get to see how that fancy arm works!”
Cain chuckled. He reared back and then swung at Marlowe with all his might. Marlowe took one step to the side. The entire room echoed with a loud CLANG as Cain’s powered fist slammed into the steel partition wall behind her.
Marlowe raised her fist to retaliate. The squad raised their rifles and trained them on her.
“Oh, would you look at this!” Marlowe said. “The Mad Dog needs his little puppies to back him up!”
Cain growled. “Lower your weapons!” he ordered his team.
“But sir…” one of his squad members stammered.
“That’s an order!” Cain demanded.
The squad complied and lowered their weapons again. Cain began to circle Marlowe. He clenched his metallic fist and raised it at her. “You’re mine,” he said.
“You’re pathetic,” she replied with fists raised. She circled to the left, maneuvering Cain between her and the soldiers that stood by, agape at what they knew was going to be a fight for the ages.
“Come on!” Cain yelled, pounding his fist on his chest. “I’ll even let you take the first–”
Marlowe leapt into the air, lunging at Cain. Her right fist cocked fully back, she punched directly into the middle of his chest as she landed. Her overwhelming strength sent Cain flying backwards into his squad.
Cain’s body armor absorbed the force of the blow and dissipated it across his body, keeping her fist from sinking into his chest and ripping out the other side. Cain, however, momentarily lost his breath and balance, and his squad took the brunt of his weight. Like dominoes, they fell and tossed around in all directions.
Cain’s adrenaline kicked in. He rose to his feet and stumbled forward, swinging his powerful augmented fist. The weight of his massive hand hit nothing but air and sent him spinning right back to the ground with the rest of his squad, who were clambering on and around one another trying to get up.
Marlowe was already halfway down the hallway making her getaway. Without breaking her stride, she planted her left foot just above the door handle. The steel door took the the kick, and the deadbolt sheared clean away. The door slammed open so hard, the handle chipped away a sizable divot in the concrete wall.
Jen’s heart skipped a beat and a light shriek escaped her lips as Marlowe burst into the room. She had just pulled back the carpet and opened the hatch to a system of drainage tunnels once meant to handle overflow rainfall…back when rain still fell.
“Gotta go!” Marlowe yelled as she slammed the door shut. She yanked the dresser next to the doorway over on its side as a makeshift barricade.
“Move!” She yelled to Jen, who had just picked up a small device from her bedside table.
Jen nodded. She grabbed the top rung of the ladder and began to descend just as Cain’s powered metal fist punched a hole through the top of the barricaded door.
“GO!” Marlowe barked, placing her foot on Jen’s head and kicking her down the tunnel.
Cain grabbed a side of the hole and began furiously ripping the metal door apart.
Marlowe turned and jumped down the tunnel opening, grabbing the top of the hatch as she fell. It slammed closed behind her.
“Hit it!” She said to Jen, who had just sat up trying to regain her bearings. Jen looked at her empty hand. The remote had fallen a few yards away. She lurched forward and scrambled on her hands and knees toward it.
The hatch opened just as Jen reached the detonator. She glimpsed Cain’s metal fingers lifting up the hatch as she hit the button. The muffled sounds of explosions rumbled above the tunnel. The hatch fell shut. Screaming could be heard as flames danced around Cain’s hand in the cracked opening of the tunnel hatch.
Marlowe reached her hand down toward Jen. Jen took it. Without a word, they fled into the darkness.