NaNoWriMo 2011 – Week 3

Fragments of Writing

Chapter 4 – The Division

David did not relax until they had cleared the outskirts of Madrid and were driving through rural countryside. He was deliberately avoiding the major highway and using the SUV’s navigation system to find a more indirect route. No one had spoken. Dr. Alvarez was apparently still trying to absorb what had happened back at the Museum. Brad was the one who seemed to be worse off. This was his first active mission and David had forgotten that he had never been on a mission that turned hot and didn’t have the military background he and Alicia had. Adrenaline had carried him along until he got back to the SUV, but he had been silent ever since. He no longer looked as if he was going to be sick but David noticed in the mirror that he still had his eyes closed and his jaw clenched tight.

“First time seeing death up close and personal like that.” he thought.

Alvarez was the one who finally broke the silence. “OK.” she said quietly in an even voice. “Are you going to tell me what is going on here or not. There’s no way all of you are with the NSF. NSA, maybe. But I think I deserve to know what is going on.”

“We’re sorry about your friend.” Alicia said.

“That wasn’t what I asked. And I somehow doubt you are.”

David shook his head. “Whether you want to believe us or not, we actually are sorry. But you are right about us not being with the NSF.” He paused. “Actually, I’m with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

Alvarez flared angrily. “I am tired these games! Who the fuck are you and what the fuck is going on!”

“He’s with the Division of Fish and Wildlife that does this sort of thing.” Brad said weakly, opening his eyes. He tried to smile at the joke but failed.

David glanced at the two in the back in the mirror then over at Alicia. She was looking at him curiously. “Should we…”

David sighed then nodded. “Dr. Alvarez, I really do work for Fish and Wildlife. Dr. Braddock here is with the Department of the Interior and Dr. Howard is a physicist with Lawrence Livermore. But we all work for an… unusual Division of the Government as well.”

“A Division.” she said, cynicism obvious in her voice. She had picked up on the capital letter.

Alicia picked up the story. “Yes. The Division. It’s a cliche, I know, but officially… we don’t exist. And we don’t. We’re made up of people from all over the Government who get called in when something out of the ordinary comes up. Something that someone decides needs to get handled outside of normal channels comes up. They figure out who they need and call them together to take care of it. The agencies or whatever we work for think we’ve just been temporarily loaned out to another division. That’s where the name comes from by the way; we literally *don’t* work for some secret Government agency. We just… do things.”

Alvarez looked at her dubiously. “And you want me to believe that?”

“It’s true.” Brad said. “This is my first assignment. Well, the first assignment I’ve been on that I’ve known about. Being ‘Aware’ they call it.” His color was starting to return, David noticed. As if having something to talk about was helping.

“OK.” He continued, taking a deep breath. “Let me start at the beginning. The Division… and Alicia is right, we call it that but it really doesn’t have a name… started sometime after World War Two. Someone, and I don’t know who or even if it was one person or several people, realized that they were facing several problems. First, things were happening that someone needed to react to but the bureaucracy that developed during the Cold War was such that it was impossible to react to *anything* rapidly. Plus, the different agencies and divisions were starting to fight with each other for funding and personnel and so didn’t want to let anything out of their control.”

“Plus the agencies were getting too focused on their own areas and only knew how to react in their own way.” Alicia interrupted, turning partially around in her seat to face the two in the back. “So the only way the military knew how to respond to anything was to attack it, the only way the intelligence services knew was to study or assassinate it, and the only way most of the bureaucracy knew was to talk about it endlessly.”

Brad was warming to the topic. “Anyway, sometime in the 1950s, we think, someone saw a problem. Rather than go through the normal bureaucratic channels they pulled together a couple of people to solve the problem and sent them after it. It worked. They told people they trusted about it and a little network of people who could be trusted to do things got built up.”

Alvarez shook her head. “So people are building their own little private agencies inside the Government?”

Alicia shook her head. “You might think so. I would have thought the same thing when I first heard of it. But that’s the second part of what makes the Division work.”

“The other problem that the original Division tried to solve was people pushing themselves or their own agendas. Just like the agencies I mentioned were all trying to defend their own areas of interest and their own budgets the same applied to the people working for them. Everyone wanted to solve problems or make discoveries for themselves in order to boost their own reputations and improve their own careers.”

Alvarez nodded. “That describes at least half the people in academia. Their reputation is more important that anything else.”

“So the Division decided to solve that problem too.” Brad took the story back over, starting to gain some of his enthusiasm back. “They tried to find people who were more interested in simply solving problems than in simply taking credit for the solution.”

Alvarez looked at him cynically. “People who ‘just want to do the right thing’?”

David had been listening silently and occasionally glancing in the mirror. “Yeah it’s a cliche, but as I’ve said; cliches get started for a reason.”

“Yeah, but how do you find people like that?”

“That’s the problem.” Alicia said. “There’s a joke that the people who want to go into politics are probably the ones you least want to. The people who would want to join a secret Government organization are probably the ones you really don’t want in it either.”

“So that’s the other part of the Division’s secret.” Brad said, looking at Alicia in annoyance for taking over his story. “People in the Division are always keeping an eye out for likely recruits. When they see someone who they think might be a good candidate they just give them an assignment without telling them that it is anything out of the ordinary. The candidate will realize that what they are doing is a bit outside of their normal assignments and that it came to them in an odd way but, hey, Government bureaucracy works that way sometimes.”

“If the candidate does well they may get more assignments. If they pass all of those then eventually their recruiter will pull them aside and make them aware of the Division. We call them ‘Aware’ at that point. They are the ones who get the assignments where they have to know what is going on in order to continue. Like this one.”

Alvarez looked around. “So all of you have done this before?”

Brad flushed red. “Well actually… this is my first mission that I was Aware for.”

“And the rest of you?”

Alicia shrugged. “My third. David and I worked together on our last one.”

Alvarez turned to David. “And you?”

David glanced in the mirror. “I’ve lost count.”

Alvarez shook her head. “And you expect me to believe that all of you are here simply because you’re trying to ‘do the right thing’?”

Brad nodded. “Why not? As the saying goes, someone has to do it. And besides, it’s a lot more interesting than working on equations for hydrogen fusion triggers.”

“It’s easy to be cynical and assume that everyone is always out for themselves.” David said. “And most of the time you may be right. But there are a few people who do try to make things work out right. The whole purpose of the Division is to find those people and let them do what needs to be done.”

Alvarez didn’t seem convinced. “I’ll believe there are people like that when I meet them. No offense.” Brad started to say something then changed his mind. They drove in silence for a while.

Finally Alvarez spoke again. “Forgetting who you are for a moment, who are these people after you and why do they want the skull? It’s a fascinating artifact sure, but is it worth killing people for?”

“It’s a weapon.” Alicia said. “A directed, ranged explosive. We told you about what happened at CERN. If someone could figure out how to reproduce the crystal structure inside the skull, they could create a device that can destroy buildings at a distance. Why bother getting a bomb to a building, or an airplane, when you can set one of these things up a mile away and achieve the same effect.”

“Assuming you have a convenient linear accelerator nearby.” Alvarez said dryly.

“That’s not the only possible use.” Brad said. “Stored and directed energy release is the principle behind lasers. The crystal structure could be used to create far more efficient lasers, which can be used for anything from medical to fusion power research. For that matter, it could lead to far more efficient solar cells. Imagine being able to soak up solar power during the day and release it at night. The big problem facing solar is that it doesn’t work at night; this gets around that. Lots of people would love to be the one who controlled something like that.”

“Or the one to block it.” Alvarez said. “I suspect there are more people who wouldn’t want to see something like that.”

“Possibly.” David nodded in agreement. He looked in the mirror again then pulled off the highway and onto a smaller road winding up into a range of hills.

“Taking a short cut?” Alicia asked him.

“Just thought it would be better to get off the main road.” he replied.

“Anyway,” Alvarez continued, “whatever their reason, who are these people after us? The accident at CERN was only what, yesterday? How did anyone learn about this so quickly.”

“We call them Ronin.” Alicia told her. “Basically, out of work or laid-off spies. Some of those either go to work for private industry as industrial spies while others just find smaller countries or independent groups to work for. But others go into business on their own as independent contractors so to speak. Mercenaries in the cloak-and-dagger business. They jump on things like this hoping to get their hands on it or on information about it that they can then sell to the highest bidder.”

“What? Not a top-secret international crime syndicate?”

Brad shook his head. “Sorry. Reality is seldom that exciting.”

“Be careful what you wish for.” David said, glancing in the mirror again. “I think we have company again.”

Brad turned around and looked behind them. Two motorcyclists were following the SUV about a quarter-mile behind them. They were slowly gaining on the curving, hill road. “Who are they?”

David shook his head. “I don’t know. They showed up about 10 minutes ago and have been pacing us ever since.”

“Think they’re trouble?” Alicia asked?

“I don’t know that either, but they kept the same distance even when I changed speed then followed us off the main road. And I don’t believe in coincidence. Brad, see if there’s an emergency kit in the back.”

“Sure.” Brad turned around in his seat and rummaged behind it, finally coming up with a large, red case. “This?”

“Yeah. See what we have inside.”

Brad unzipped the case. “Usual stuff. Jumper cables, emergency flares, reflectors, flashlight… oh, and a gun and a couple of grenades.” He held up a Glock, waving it around to show everyone what he had found. Alvarez pulled away from the gun and Alicia reached back and took it away from him. David sighed.

“Brad, do me a favor and take a couple of firearm lessons when you get back to the States, OK? You really need to…” he stopped, looking in the mirror again. “Shit.”

The others turned to look behind them. One of the motorcyclist must have seen the Glock when Brad pulled it out and the two were now rapidly closing the distance to the SUV. One had pulled out a weapon of his own and was holding it close to his chest as he accelerated forward.

David slammed down the accelerator and the SUV surged forward but the large vehicle was not designed for high speed maneuvering on the narrow, curving road and the motorcycles were easily closing the distance. Alicia pulled her Colt 1911 from the glovebox and offered the second to David who just shook his head; he was too busy driving to worry about shooting things too.

There was a sudden shift in air pressure and wind started rushing though the vehicle. David looked back to see that Brad had rolled down his window. “Brad, what are you…”

Brad twisted the top on one of the grenades and tossed out the window.

“Shit!” David took a glance up the road then squeezed his eyes tight. A second passed then he heard a distinct *crack* behind him, followed by a gasp from Alvarez and a yell from Brad.

David looked up again and in the mirror in time to see the second motorcycle slew sideways, its rider struggling to maintain control before hitting a rough section of roadway. The motorcycle flipped over sideways and the rider flew off of it, tumbling along the road for several seconds before coming to a limp stop. The second cyclist glanced back at his colleague then lifted his gun and fired several shots at the SUV.

David swerved but between the guardrail to his left and a rock face to the right he didn’t have much room to maneuver. He heard one shot hit the back of the SUV while a second hit the rear window, causing a spiderweb of cracks.

“Get down you two! And give me that!” he looked over his shoulder long enough to grab the second grenade from Brad’s hand. He held it up. “Blue. Flash-bang. Got it?”

“Hey, it worked, didn’t it!” Brad said defensively.

David shook his head. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t try to…”

Another shot hit the rear window, shattering it. Glass flew into the vehicle and Brad threw himself sideways onto the seat where Alvarez was already sheltering.

“Get off of me, you idiot!” she yelled, pushing him forward and onto the floor.

Alicia turned around in her seat and fired several shots at the motorcycle, which was now swerving back and forth in the road. David was also swerving as best as he could and her shots went wild.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

“Hope he doesn’t hit a tire before he runs out of bullets.” The SUV’s tires squealed as he swung around the latest turn. Looking ahead, he briefly saw a large truck making its way down the hill before losing it behind a curve again. He got an idea. “Alicia, hold your fire.”

The exchange of gunfire between the two vehicles had stopped. The motorcycle rider had stopped firing, presumably to conserve ammo since they really couldn’t reload while chasing the SUV on the curving road. Alicia kept tracking him with her own weapon but as requested did not fire. She hit the button to lower her window and the rush of air through the vehicle and out the rear window increased.

David scanned the road ahead, it was clear until the next curve. He suddenly swung into the oncoming traffic lane and reduced speed, jerking the steering wheel back and forth.

“Are we having trouble?” Alicia asked.

David shook his head. “No, but let’s hope he thinks we are. You two in back, stay down.”

The motorcyclist hung back for a moment, watching the now erratic movements of the SUV, then gunned his machine forward. David swung the SUV around the curve, temporarily taking them out of its view.

Ahead he saw the truck coming toward them. The truck blew its horn at them but David continued driving straight at it. The horn blew again.

“What are you doing?” asked Alicia with concern.

“Close your eyes.” David said, lifting the grenade with one hand and twisting the timer. “And duck.”

For several long seconds the SUV and the truck barreled straight toward each other. David was beginning to have second, third and fourth thoughts about his plan when, seemingly at the last second, the truck swerved into the other lane with a squeal of brakes. As it did, David flung the flash-bang through the missing rear window of the SUV. He glanced in the rear-view just long enough to see the motorcycle race around the corner before squeezing his eyes shut.

The squeal of brakes merged with the *crack* of the grenade and a tearing crash of metal.

David opened his eyes and looked behind him. Dazzled by the grenade, neither truck nor motorcycle had had an opportunity to swerve. As he watched, the rear wheels of the trailer rolled over the mangled wreck of the motorcycle, dragging it down the road. The rider’s limp body tumbled along beside it. David swung back into the correct lane and sighed.

Alvarez sat up and looked behind, seeing the cyclist as he rolled to an unmoving stop. Then they were around the next curve and out of sight.

“You… you killed him!” she said, almost in shock.

“He was trying to kill us. It only seems fair to return the favor.”

Alvarez flushed in anger. “But you killed him! No… worse. You got someone else to kill him for you! What kind of monster are you!”

David looked at her in the mirror. “The kind of monster who is trying to keep you and the rest of us alive. You saw what these people did back at the museum. Do you think they won’t stop to do the same thing to you, me and everyone else in this car or anyone else who gets between them and this thing!” He jerked a thumb toward the back of the vehicle.

Alvarez glared at him. “And you had the nerve to say earlier that you were someone who ‘did the right thing’!”

David sighed. “And what would you have me to do? Just give the skull to them and assume they’ll just leave us alone?”

Brad had sat up, brushing glass fragments off of himself. “Yes, we can’t…”

“Shut up!” Alvarez snapped at him. “Just… shut up! You… murderer! You’re all murderers!” She swung around and stared out the window. Brad looked around helplessly.

There was a long silence then David glanced at Alicia. “See if you can find the nearest town with a train station.” he said, pointing at the GPS. “We need to change vehicles.”

The nearest station turned out to be about 45 minutes away. David had felt the familiar itch between his shoulder blades the entire time, expecting at any moment to have the people after them or the authorities to show up and intercept them, but no one seemed to be paying them any particular attention. He had rolled down the SUV’s windows and rear window to hide the shattered glass and so they did not appear too unusual as they wheeled into town. David pulled into the station parking lot and found a spot near a wall that he could back into, hoping to hide the damage to the rear of the SUV a bit longer. They all got out.

Alvarez had remained silent since her last outburst and was now standing to the side of the SUV, looking toward the exit. David stepped toward him and she looked at him uncertainly.

“Ms. Alvarez.” David said quietly. “I know you have more than enough reasons to mistrust us, but believe me when I say we really are trying to help you here. The people after us have already proven that they are willing to kill to get what we have.”

“And you’re willing to kill to keep it.” she said flatly.

He shook his head. “I prefer to think that I’m doing what I have to do in order to keep from being killed myself.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.” She refused to look at him.

“Look.” he said. “These people know who you are. They know you know where the skull came from. And they have shown how badly they want that information. If you come with us, at least we’ll be able to protect you.”

“Really?” she said sarcastically. “People seem to die around you.”

“Only the bad guys.” said Brad.

Alvarez swung on him with a dirty look. “Luis was *not* a ‘bad guy’!”

“I… I didn’t mean…” Brad stammered and turned red.

“Why don’t we contact Peter?” Alicia asked. “See if someone from the Division can take care of her?”

David shook his head. “We’ve been compromised.” he said. “Someone is onto us.”

Alicia and Brad both looked at him in surprise. “What?”

“Remember back in the museum? I realized that it wasn’t Ramos coming down the hallway because I heard his footsteps. Ramos had removed his shoes and was only wearing socks.”

Alicia nodded. “I wondered how you knew that. Good catch.”

David shrugged. “Anyway, almost as soon as I reported in to Peter the guy knew we were on to him. That’s when he hit the lights. The only thing that makes sense is that he was monitoring us through the earpieces. And those are encrypted so it had to be someone on the inside.”

“Then there were those two motorcyclists. They found us somehow. I suspect they were tracking the locator beacon in the SUV.”

“There’s a locator beacon in the SUV?” Brad said, surprised.

David gave him a look. “It’s a government vehicle. Of course it has a tracking beacon.” He sighed. “Anyway, that’s how they’ve been right with us every step of the way.” He turned to Alvarez. “And that’s how they know of the importance of the skull; we basically told them.”

He sighed. “And that’s also why I think you will be safer with us. Right now the only people I know I can trust are the four of us.”

Alvarez considered him for a moment. “All right.” she said finally. “I’ll come with you. On one condition. I get to decide what is done with the skull at the end of all this.”

“Deal.” David started walking along a row of cars. “Grab your gear everyone, we’re moving.”

“Taking the train somewhere?” asked Brad, pulling his computer bag out of the SUV.

David shook his head. “No. If they don’t already they’ll know we’re at a train station as soon as they track the locator again.” He stopped in front of a car and ran his fingers through the dust on the windshield. “We’ll drive.”

“We’re stealing a car?” asked Alicia. “Won’t that attract more attention?”

David ran his fingers through the dust again and showed them to her. “This one’s been sitting here for a while. Hopefully the owner is on vacation or something and will stay away for a few more days. Long enough for us to get to an airport anyway.” He pulled his multitool from his vest and worked on the door for a moment, then opened it. “Get in.”

“Where are we going?” asked Brad, opening the back door. “On to Barcelona?”

David shook his head and climbed in, looking behind the visor and in the glove box. “No. Whoever is on to us knows that was our plan. They’ll probably have someone waiting for us there. We may be safe heading back to Madrid at this point, but I think we’ll just drive overnight and head for Lisbon. We can get a plane there.”

“To where?” asked Alicia as she settled into the passenger seat.

“To where the skull came from.” said David, reaching under the seat and coming up with the key. He started the car. “South America.”

Chapter 5: Rio

The trip to Lisbon had been mercifully uneventful. David had driven the entire way while the others tried fitfully to relax. At the airport they had booked travel separately, in case someone was looking for a group of three or four traveling together but for the moment at least they seemed to have eluded their pursuers.

David’s only concern was that they had been forced to check the case holding the skull. He had no idea what it would look like in an x-ray machine, assuming that it didn’t blow it up, and didn’t want to have to explain what it was to an airport security worker. Still, everything seemed safe at the moment.

Arriving at Galeão International airport, David made his way through customs and down to baggage claim. He only had his carry-on himself but wanted to be there to help recover the skull and book. He saw Alicia and wandered over to her.

“Any problems?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No. I saw Brad wound up sitting next to Dr. Alvarez though; I hope he didn’t say too much.”

“That was my doing, actually.”

She looked at him in surprise. “What?”

He shrugged. “I suggested to the agent that he was wanting to spend some time with her, slipped him a 20 and he adjusted the seat. Someone needed to keep an eye on her and I don’t think she trusts either of us that much. Brad’s more of an academic; he can probably relate to her better.”

Alicia gave him a look. “And you really thought that was a good idea?”

David interrupted by pointing to where Brad and Alvarez had entered the area. Brad was talking animatedly to her while she maintained a look of polite interest. She noticed the two of them and, getting Brad’s attention, led him to where the other two were waiting.

“Good flight?” David asked as they arrived.

Brad nodded. “Yeah. I downloaded a new game before the flight and played it most of the way over.”

“What game?”

“Skyrim! It’s great! See, you play a…”

“I think we’ve heard enough about your character for now, Brad.” said Alvarez. She looked at David. “He’s really excited about it.”

“Sorry Patricia.” said Brad. “I’ve just been waiting for this game for a while.”

Alicia looked at David. “I told you so.” she mouthed, silently. David shrugged. Anything else he thought of saying was cut off when a buzzer sounded and the belt started moving. The waiting passengers pressed inwards as pieces of luggage started coming up a conveyer where airport workers took each one and tossed it onto the moving belt.

“So what now?” asked Alvarez.

“We’ll have to find someone who can take us up into the jungle. Preferably someone who won’t ask too many questions.”

“Why aren’t we getting the rest of your Division involved?”

“Because we don’t know where the leak is.” David shrugged. “I want to get to the site and at least do a preliminary look-over. Then we can contact the Division and get someone down here to secure it. We’ll have to be careful since we’re operating in a foreign country, but we’ve run joint operations with portions of the Brazilian government before.”

“Divisions of it anyway?” she asked with a slight smile.

“Yeah, something like that.” He stopped and looked at her. She smiled a bit more.

“Brad didn’t spend the entire flight playing his game, though I think he would have if his battery hadn’t died. Anyway, we talked a bit about your ‘Division’ and how it operates and… I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. For now.”

David tried not to show his surprise. “Thank you Dr. Alvarez, we’ll try not to let you down.”

She shrugged. “Thank Brad. He can be quite persuasive when he starts talking about something he is passionate about. Even if it is a video game.” She rolled her eyes. “And since we may be traveling together for a while you may as well call me Patricia. ‘Dr. Alvarez’ sounds so formal.”

“Thank you Dr… Patricia.” David nodded. He looked around. Much of the luggage now seemed to be on the belt and one of the workers was walking along with it, straightening suitcases and helping people retrieve their bags. He noted the case holding the skull and sighed in relief. At least one thing was going their way.

“We’ll be quite grateful for your help too.” he continued, leading them towards the belt. “If we’re going to be looking for an archaeological site your expertise will be invaluable.”

“Don’t thank me for that.” She shook her head. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of a bunch of amateurs like yourselves poking around a site without supervision.” She reached for the case as the belt brought it in front of them.

“Excuse me miss.” The airport worker who had been pacing the belt suddenly grabbed her arm. “You’ll have to come with me.”

The workers other hand reached inside his jacket and David moved, grabbing the man’s wrist and elbow and twisting sharply while shoving upward. There was a pop and the man screamed as his shoulder was dislocated. The Glock he had been reaching for fell to the floor. David shoved the man aside and picked it up as nearby passengers started to gasp in surprise or scream in fear.

“Run!” David shouted. He grabbed the case and shoved it towards Patricia then raced towards the nearest exit, the others behind him. He saw another worker attempt to grab Alicia only to stagger backward as she gave a sharp punch to the side of his neck.

“Stop!” someone yelled behind them.

Security guards started running into the room from the main terminal. David fired two shots high over the crowd, sending it into a panic and causing the guards to duck. Another guard moved to block the exit but, emitting a loud shout of “Fus Ro Dah!”, Brad launched himself into the guard and knocked him to the ground. The guard dropped the gun he had been holding and Brad grabbed it, then the group was outside.

David ran to the nearest taxi, yanked open the door and shoved the gun into the driver’s face. “Out!”

Panicked, the driver hesitated and David grabbed the collar of his shirt and hauled him from the seat, dropping him onto the pavement. He then dove into the driver’s seat himself. The others piled in through the other doors.

Two security guards, weapons out, exited the terminal. Brad fired several times at the side of the building, causing them to duck back inside and the people outside to duck or run in panic. Then the cab took off, Alicia still struggling to close her door.

The exit gate from the terminal area was ahead, several lanes each with several cars in them. David swung the cab into a unused lane and slammed the accelerator down. It smashed through the crossbar then the tires squealed as he turned to the exit road. Horns blared and brakes squealed as he blasted onto the main road, swerved and headed towards the city.

“Now what?” asked Brad. He handed the gun to Alicia as he turned and looked over his shoulder. There was only ordinary traffic behind them but that wouldn’t last long.

“Hope we can lose ourselves in the city before the local police figure out where we are.” The cab blasted through an intersection and they were rewarded with a sudden flash of lights and the blare of a siren from a cross street. David shrugged. “So much for that idea.”

He yanked the wheel and slammed the brake, spinning the cab in a reverse turn then shot past the patrol car that had been racing towards them. He slammed the brake again as he turned sharply into a side street. There was a loud *bang* and screech of metal as they bounced off a sign then they flew down the street, horn blaring to send startled drivers and pedestrians out of their way.

“You do realize that you’re going the wrong way down a one-way street, don’t you?” asked Patricia with surprising calmness.

David grunted. A truck turned into the alley towards them as the patrol car turned into the alley behind them. David quickly surveyed the street.

“Slow them down.” he said. “Truck first.”

Alicia nodded without saying anything and cranked at her window. As soon as the opening was large enough she stuck the gun out and fired two shots into the front of the approaching truck. Hot water and steam erupted from the trucks damaged radiator and it braked abruptly. She then turned in her seat and fired two more shots through the rear window of the cab, the shots loud in the vehicle’s interior. The window of the pursuing vehicle shattered and it too braked sharply but someone in the car began returning fire.

“Hang on!” David shouted. He spun the cab into a side street, scant feet from where the truck had rolled to a stop. They shot a dozen yards down the alley before he twisted the wheel a last time and brought the cab to a crashing halt, wedging it diagonally across the alley between a wall and a dumpster. Brad yelled and Alicia grunted in pain as the airbags deployed forcefully.

David shook his head then wrenched his seatbelt free. “Everyone! Move!” He yanked at his door and, when it did not open immediately, kicked it free. He staggered out and turned to see Alicia getting unsteadily from her own door. Patricia climbed through the shattered rear window and helped pull Brad through after her. Alicia was favoring her arm and Brad was bleeding from a cut on his face but everyone was a least still moving.

“Grab the skull!” David yelled, jumping onto the hood of the cab then from there onto the dumpster. Another jump brought him to the base of a fire escape ladder which he pulled down. “This way.”

He scrambled up the ladder, trusting the others to follow. As he hit the landing he heard a metallic *spang* as a bullet ricocheted off the railing of the fire escape. He turned without aiming and fired twice towards the entrance of the alley. The cop there dropped back out of sight and David immediately turned back. There was a window facing the fire escape landing and he fired another shot through it then paused a few seconds to kick shards of loose glass off the threshold. “Inside!”

Patrica went through first, helping a still unsteady Brad after her. Alicia paused beside him as he kept an eye on the entrance to the alley.

“This isn’t good.”

He nodded. “If you’re being shot at, something has gone wrong somewhere.” he quoted. “Get inside.” He fired two more shots at the alley entrance to keep the cops there away for a few more seconds then dove through the window after her.

They found themselves in an apartment block, in a stairway landing at the end of a long hallway, doors opening off of both sides. Someone opened one of the doors and looked out but ducked back in when David waved the gun in his direction.

“What now?” asked Brad, getting his breath back.

“Upstairs.” David said. He ran upwards, taking the steps two at a time.

The stairs led up two more floors before ending in another hallway. David ran along it, looking upwards until he spotted what he was looking for; a panel in the ceiling. He jumped upward, knocking it open then turned and looked at the others.

“Can you get up there?” he asked.

Alicia nodded and without hesitating leaped upwards. She grabbed the edge of the opening but grimaced in pain as she took her weight on her damaged arm. David caught her before she could fall and shoved her upwards, letting her shift her weight and pull herself up.

David turned to Patrica and offered a hand to her. She waved him away then leaped up herself, easily pulling herself into the crawlspace. He nodded then turned to Brad.

“You OK? Can you get up there?”

Brad nodded unsteadily and jumped, barely, nearly falling when he landed. He shook his head unsteadily.

“Sorry.” he said. “I’m still a bit woozy.”

“OK.” David said. He knelt and formed a cup with his hands. “Here. I’ll boost.”

Brad put a foot in David’s cupped hands and he stood up, lifting Brad. Patrica and Alicia grabbed him and the three of them were able to push and drag him into the crawlspace. As soon as he was up David leaped upwards himself and pulled himself up as well.

“Right.” he said, looking around. Exposed rafters stretched out before them, apparently running the length of the building. Dust and cobwebs were everywhere and dim light filtered through occasional ventilation slats in the side walls. He kicked the panel on what was now their floor back into position.

He pointed down the length of the crawlspace. “All of you, get down that way towards the end then get out as close to the eaves as you can and get down between the rafters. Try not to disturb the dust or insulation too much, no need in leaving them a trail.”

“But it’s a dead end!” protested Patrica. “If they figure out we’re up here we’ll be trapped!”

David shook his head. “Leave that to me.” he gestured again. “Move!”

The group set off along the length of the crawlspace, Alicia and Patricia helping Brad balance on the rafters. About halfway down David suddenly turned off towards the side. Alicia stopped but David motioned for her to keep going.

David went to side of the attic space, kicking insulation and dust around until he reached one of the ventilation slats; a dormer-like protrusion on the side of the roof. He kicked violently at it, splintering the wood, then again, kicking the wooden frame clear of the building.

He looked out. Several people stood in the alley some stories below, looking in surprise at his sudden, violent exit. He pointed the gun he still held in their general direction and fired a shot, aiming close enough make them scatter while far enough away to not hit any of them. The slide locked back, empty, but the shot had its effect. The people ran for cover. He had a few seconds before they came back.

David swung out on to the roof. There, he dropped the gun into the valley between the dormer and the roof then, after a quick check to make sure that no one had re-emerged into the alley and was looking in his direction, swung back into the attic.

Back inside, he sprinted along the rafters, now taking care to not disturb anything any more than he had to, and caught up with the others crouching near the eaves on the far end.

“Get down!” he said. “Between the rafters.”

“God, this is disgusting.” Alicia said, looking at the dirt, debris and rodent droppings covering the insulation but she dropped down into it. Patricia followed her, as did Brad after a moment’s longer hesitation. David took a final quick look around then lay down himself, rolling over onto his back. For what seemed like long minutes he lay there in the semi darkness.

“What are we…” someone started to ask.

“Shhh!” he said, as loudly as he dared. Indistinct voices came from below and suddenly the light level in the attic space increased as someone opened the panel. There were more voices in Portuguese and a flashlight beam played across the attic.

He froze. More flashlight beams appeared and shadows flickered as several people entered the attic area. He fought to keep his breathing as quiet as possible and tried to force himself lower between the rafters. Something ran across his leg and he fought to ignore it. A few seconds later he heard a sudden but quiet intake of breath from someone else. No one moved.

The shadows moved and a change in the lighting indicated that one of their pursuers had moved to the broken vent. The person yelled something and faint voices from outside. After a few seconds he heard the sound of someone outside on the roof.

A voice from outside yelled excitedly and more shadows moved then he heard more footsteps on the roof. The eyewitnesses in the alley had reported seeing him on the roof and they had found the gun there. With any luck the authorities would think they had made their escape over the rooftops and not search the attic any further.

Footsteps moved around the roof and flashlights continued to flash around the attic but it appeared as if the search had moved outside. Most of the authorities who had been chasing them left but a pair of them stayed, apparently stationed by the shattered vent and talking between themselves, stayed for what seemed like an hour. Eventually they left and the panel to the crawlspace was dropped back into position.

David waited another long minute before sitting up. The others did as well, brushing the dirt and cobwebs from their clothing and hair.

“Something is biting my leg!” Brad complained, slapping it it.

“What now?” asked Alicia, trying to pull insulation from her hair.

“We wait for nightfall.” said David. “Then we go get some support.”

“From where?” asked Brad. “You said Division was compromised and I doubt the local authorities are very happy with us right now.”

David smiled. “I think I know someone who can help us.”

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