It was insanely hot inside the air duct. What his information had failed to mention was that this was one of the main heating vents for the buildings central heating. At the moment it was unfortunately quite active, pumping heated air though out the entire twenty-third floor. His mother, while sweating slightly from the increased temperature, was doing just fine. He, on the other hand, had a slightly harder problem to get over.
"Gods, I should have let you go first. I coulda just closed my eyes and pretended I was swimming or something in a large open area pool lots of visible sky." Though it had been more than forty years since he had been tortured by being locked in a small closet as a form of punishment, he was still deathly claustrophobic. In this line of work a fear like that could get you killed, but he had managed to suppress it during Runs. Unfortunately, it couldnt just be shut off. Venting about it helped take the pressure off, mainly because he knew his mother was supportive of his problem.
"Yeah, I know," she replied softly, keeping a careful eye out for spots where they had to stop talking or risk being heard. "You could always buy a football stadium after this is over and fill it with water. Youll have plenty of money to do so."
Chance nodded and continued crawling, navigating the mazelike turns of the vents by memory alone. He had not yet bothered to change back to his original form, instead staying five so the walls of the vents didnt seem to be closing in on him so much. He was sure his mother was silently laughing her ass off as she watched him from behind.
Admittedly, he must have looked pretty funny, a small boy wearing an all-black body suit. The suit acted as an advanced form of protection from physical attacks. If he was stabbed or shot, tiny nanobots were released from the cloth and went to work repairing his wounds. This wouldnt help if he were hit with a shotgun point-blank in the chest, but it gave excellent protection against most small firearms.
A super gun was all well and good, but for one-on-one fights a small handgun or at most a rifle was required for fast and accurate shooting. Chance wore a small handgun at his side. It was hidden at the moment due to the molecular rearrangement he had used to become a small boyand that his mother had used to get them past the security checkpoints. It fired condensed cobalt particles at incredible speeds, making them much more efficient than normal bullets. He had adapted the technology from an earlier version hed purchased when he was younger. His mother had one as well. Weapon development was a hobby of his, so to speak.
Suddenly he came to a stop, causing his mother to nearly crash into him. "Were here, moms. The vent to enter is right in front of me." He whispered so softly that even her heightened senses almost couldnt pick his words up.
This was going to be the hard part. Chance had to see how many men were in the room; then he and his mother had to move quickly to dispatch them, all before anyone could hit an alarm or well kill them.
It was almost impossible to get a good view from where he was, but if he leaned over the grate too far there was a greater possibility hed be seen. The lab was not terribly big, so at least he could see more than three-quarters of it from where he was. His eyes darted from one place to another. Silently he reached a hand behind him and held up four fingers, then made a silent snapping gesture. Next he made a fist and raised two fingers after a moment. He had just told his mother there were four guards and two lab techs inside the room.
She tapped him once on the back to indicate she understood, then withdrew her arm and drew her weapon. Doing the same, he touched a spot on his side, and seemingly from thin air withdrew a small silver handgun. He waited a moment more to watch the guards movements, then tensed, preparing for the drop into the lab.
He wished he could use his mental powers to speak with his mother, but almost every major Corp nowadays had mages to sense that kind of activity. It was why he had changed before teleporting to the spot they would approach the Corp from, and the other main reason he had not shifted back to his normal form as they crawled though the vents.
When on a Run his mother and he worked almost as one body. They could almost sense what the other was going to do, so it was easy to improvise when necessary. Of course, they had a roughly drafted-out plan. First and foremost, the guards would be taken out. If all went as planned he would take out two, as would she. After that the lab techs would either be killed or knocked out, depending on their ability at self-defense. Ideally, the whole thing would take about five seconds, assuming they took out the guards without any crossfire or interference.
Chances mother, seeing him ready to go, tensed as well, knowing it was Chances job to knock the vent out, then start firing. She would then drop and land back-to-back with him, eliminating the guards on his opposite side. They would then take down one of the lab techs.
Chance raised his hand behind him once more and put three fingers up, then two, then one. As his hand turned to a fist he leaped forward and put his entire five-year-old weight on the grate separating the vent from the lab. There was a loud clang as it dropped to the floor, followed immediately by himself. As he fell he naturally turned to his right and leveled the cobalt pistol at the first of the two guards. As he hit the floor his shot rang out, hitting the startled guard square in the forehead. Unfortunately, Chance also landed right on the fallen grate and slipped backwards in what would have been a comical way if people hadnt started shooting at him.
300-plus pounds of muscle dropped down right after him, nearly crushing his head as he floundered both to move away from where his mother would land and to target the second guard on the right side. He had no thoughts at all of the other two guards on the left. They were his mothers responsibility, and he hoped for both their sakes shed not make as stupid a mistake as he just had. Even after all the years hed been doing this, a mistake or two was inevitable, but slipping on the grate had to be his worst in a while.
But no time to think about that, as he felt a bullet penetrate his left shoulder. Had it been even the slightest bit lower, he would be bleeding seriously right now, but thanks to dumb luck his attempts to get back up and fire moved him just out of the guards shot. Purely by instinct his arm moved in a blur, aimed where he heard the shot come from, and fired.
A muffled scream was followed by two louder ones behind him. Leaping to his feet, he twisted around and saw the second guard hed aimed at, shot in the throat. No more fire came from his mother, so he assumed her guards were dead as well. His eyes instantly flicked to the lab techs not more than ten feet away. They were starring at the two of them incredulously.
"Come here, now!" Chance barked, watching their hands very carefully to make sure they didnt push any buttons on the consoles they were near. His mother was quickly at his side doing the same. The techs, however, just continued to stare blankly.
"I said now!"
Once again the techs didnt respond. But something was off. "Moms, something is wrong here very wrong. I dont like this."
In response his mother fired off shots at both techs, aiming right for their heads. Instead of ripping them apart, the shots passed though them, making them flicker for a moment. Holograms!
But they were more than mere images. The mechanisms that created them sensed the cobalt particles passing through them, and .
"Oh, drek!" was all Chance had time to scream as the lab exploded in a blaze of fire and shrapnel.
Acting purely on instinct, he snapped his hand up and tried to erect a force field to protect himself and his mother, but he was about half a second too late in forming it. The field could only act as a cushion as he was thrown hard against the back wall.
Vision blurred by the intense heat in the room, the last thing he saw before feeling many of his ribs and vertebrae crack was what seemed to be a piece of metal that slammed into his mothers chest, nearly cutting her in half. He tried to scream but was unable to move, let alone force breath from his lungs.
This was it. He could feel himself dying. I cant possibly survive this, he thought foggily as everything came to a stop. But he was wrong. The partially formed field had given him just enough protection to last though the blast.
Chance tried to look around, but all he could see was red. From what little he could feel he was on the floor which meant there still was a floor, along with the wall he had hit. The room had to be lined with titanium or some kind of very heavy steel. Enough to keep the explosion contained to this one room.
Neither his arms or legs would respond. He was likely paralyzed and would probably die if he didnt find a way out of the room now. The weird thing was that despite being blown into a wall and seeing his mother cut in half he felt no pain, no grief at least not at the moment. All that would come later, no doubt.
Everything seemed so logical, so very clear to him as his combat training kicked in. Nothing would stand in the way of his escape. His mother was just a casualty. Breathe in. Breathe out. Escape. Escape. Escape.
As he was unable to move, running was not an option. Instead, he reverted back to the original plan. Not bothering to close his eyes because he couldnt see anyway, he started to concentrate, hard. The power he was so accustomed to using as easily as breathing now burned through his body like an inferno. The slightest buildup was excruciating; the mere thought of applying it terrifying to him. If he didnt die here it was very likely he would die escaping.
The pain just kept growing in intensity until he was sure he could feel his bones splitting apart. He screamed, feeling as if someone was ripping every bit of skin off him and salting his unprotected flesh, as if lightning bolts rained down on him.
Why hadnt he passed out by now? No living being should be able to stay awake during this.
However, his pain paid off as a blinding bright blue light seeped out of his body and slowly ate him away from the room. Thats what it felt like, in fact, but in his shattered state, creating a true portal was impossible. In seconds he was no longer in the room; the only evidence that hed been there was a large pool of warm blood on the floor.
A wet warmth ran down his face. Sucking in a deep breath of air, Max got up from the office floor and touched his cheek. He half expected to see thick blood coating his hand, but they were only tearstears of pain he could not longer keep inside. It took him a moment to remember what was going on. When he did, he looked down at Jennifer.
Tears ran down her face as well. While she had felt nowhere near the level of reality he had experienced, she had still felt his basic emotions. To him it was almost like he had relived it, but to her shed been merely a visitor in his body, seeing everything though his eyesthe difference between being in the movie and watching it.
Quiet sobs racked her body as she spoke. "Im so sorry for you, Chance so sorry. I had no idea. Im so sorry."
He felt like sobbing himself, but no sound came from him. Being called Chance again so soon after the memory was a slap across the face. It had been so many years since hed felt anything like this. He wanted no part of that life any more.
When he was finally able to speak again, he whispered to Jenn, "Af after that I reappeared in a Doss not to far away from the Corp. I was unconscious. When I woke up my entire body was numb but I was cleaned up and lying on my back in a bed. I I had made a mistake. I wasnt in the safe Doss I had set up for after the mission. That that was actually the first day I met Solace. He and his little sister had bandaged up some of my wounds and had even gotten a Wagemage at great price to themselves to heal me. If they hadnt I would most likely be dead or paralyzed today."
Jennifer had turned her gaze from the floor up to him. Even though he knew she probably didnt understand most of what he was talking about he could not stop. A floodgate had opened, and he could not close it.
"See in the shadows its dangerous to take chances like that. If Solace hadnt been a runner like I was or if hed just decided not to take the time to help I wouldnt be here now. I owe him my life. God, I owe so many people my life. So many lives to many lifetimes."
He stopped himself then, knowing he was going over the edge. He had to calm down. Biting his lip, he turned away from Jenn and stared out the window behind his desk. When he spoke again, his voice was stronger.
"It took a few days before I was feeling well enough to walk. I spent over two months with Solace and Destiny. They rehabilitated me as best they could. While my body was quick in healing, my mind was not. I drifted in and out of consciousness. When I was awake, I barely talked. During that time I was able to think about everything that had happened. For weeks I waited for my mom to show up to find me. I had hoped she had survived that somehow she made it out but she never showed up and I can only guess she died in that room. I never saw it clearly there was always a doubt in my mind."
Max coughed into his hand and wiped his eyes once more, still staring out the window as if the answer to the pain he was feeling could be discovered out there. "That doubt faded as the years went by. ten, then twenty, then forty and now now its been over sixty years. I moved on. I left the realm I lived in and just stayed in this one. I was a runner for many years after that day but I finally couldnt do it anymore. The last run I ever did was taking out that Corp. I went in by myself and I personally killed the president the man I later found out had set up the trap." He sounded satisfied when he said that, but he was weighed down by all his grief from the rest of the memories.
"I tried to distance myself from all that. I never used my powers any more. I tried to forget everything and this this is the first time Ive talked about it with anyone."
Turning to face Jennifer, he was surprised to find her standing right behind him, though she was still tied by her wrists and ankles. She looked ready to topple, and he put out an arm quickly to balance her.
She looked into his eyes. "Chance I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I had known all this sooner I wish I had known who you really were."
He tried to smile but could not, his heart too grim for her words of kindness to touch him. "No, Jenn you would not have wanted to know all this sooner. What good would it have done you?"
She looked down at the ground, seeming to try and find the words. "Well, had I known all this sooner I could have ."
Her form suddenly blurred, faster than Max himself could have moved in such a short time. Before he could even think of reacting, excruciating pain filled his chest. As Jenns form came to a stop, he saw a hateful smirk on her face, followed by a view of the handle of a dagger that had been plunged into his heart. Questions filled his mind, but he was unable to move, let alone voice any of them. He fell to the ground and stared up blankly, seeing everything grow dark.
Jennifer stepped over to his side and looked down at him contemptuously. "Dont bother trying to move, Max." She spat the name out. "The tip of that dagger is coated with various toxins that have been introduced directly into your bloodstream, thanks to some good stabbing on my part. You should have about thirty seconds left to live."
Max tried to ask Why? How? But he could feel his muscles and mind being eaten away.
With a snarl, Jennifer knelt next to him. "My name is not Jennifer Craig, its Juliet Kethra, daughter of Donald Kethra, the man who you killed and whose Corp you destroyed."
An announcement like that should have shocked him, but in his current state he could barely feel anything. He could only stare up at the woman who had been his secretary for almost a year.
She stood up and looked down at him, spat into his face.
"It took me years to track you down, and when I did I knew I had to wait for just the right time. I had to make sure you were really the right person. I guess this was just my lucky day. Im glad to know that your final moments of life will be dominated by the memories of the mother you let die!"
Maxs eyes would no longer stay open. Everything was fading to black. As the last bits of consciousness drifted away from him he whispered with his last breath, "I ggget to see m my mother any second now b but your d dad will st still be dead and youll be alive to feel that pain."
Enraged screeching was the most beautiful sound imaginable to him as everything went blissfully black.
Maxwell James was never heard from again, nor was Jennifer Craig. Some speculated that perhaps the two had run off and gotten married. Some say they were kidnapped and just never discovered. But one other man swears to this day he saw Maxs body taken by a woman who vanished with it amidst golden rays of light.
Of course no one believed him. For that would have been magic and they all knew that magic doesnt really exist .
Russell Reznick has recently been officially inducted into the world of adulthood, having just turned 20 at the beginning of January. He also hates being referred to in the third person. Heh.
My love of reading started with Stephen King
books. I later moved on to Dean
I have just recently finished classes to become a computer repair technician and am now taking web design classes. I like pop, rock, alternative, and various other kinds of music. "I enjoy mountain climbing, Parasailing and water skiing" is something you will never hear me say because it's not at all true. My muse is named Jenn.