The smell of sulfur in the air lingered longer than Megan's life.
Nick's hand wrenched cruelly backwards. His wrist cracked like a whip. Every muscle not already knotted in agony tensed in sudden shock as he brought the gun to life for one final time. In the same instant, when the jolt of recoil was sunk into his joints and his fingers were unraveling already their grip around the gun, he gave a shout, not from any unexpected jolt but rather from the depths of fear, for it seemed in that instant that a new competitor had appeared. An unknown force with one desire and one desire only, to smash him round his throbbing head until his vision flickered black and he drowned in the panic of it. But his breath came in, sharp and pained, and it went back out, squeezed through gritted teeth, and he knew he was alone except for the body that folded limply before him into a puddle of itself. The rolling blast, too, echoed out and died in the expanse of the mall and then only the pain and the blood and the ringing of his ears kept him company.
He stared down at what had a second ago been Megan. Two seconds ago. Five. He sat and he watched and he marveled at the swiftness of it all. She'd been gone before her body even started slipping sideways through the still air. Gone before she could think or scream or cry, before her brain could register the metal slug tunneling through it. He'd seen it before, far too many times already. The division between life and death, where a mind flickered out for the very last time. A soul still in reach of his fingertips if only he knew where to grab for it. It was haunting. Terrifying. Disgusting. And now... fascinating. How vulnerable they all were. How resilient. He stared and bled and tried and failed to count his wounds but there he was, still sitting, shivering, whimpering. And for the girl before him, just one flickering instant. That's all it took. A burning hole through the weave and structure of synapse where her mind had made its home, and suddenly Megan wasn't anywhere at all.
Nick shivered, and then he started as the speakers crackled to life one final time.
"Congratulations, boy number eight. You've won the game."
He started at the sound, turned and looked dizzily up for the words that came from nowhere to interrupt his reverie. The sound was muffled and indistinct in his ear, as if it were coming from underwater, but there was no mistaking the voice that haunted his waking hours and narrated his nightmares. The only constant on the island other than the smell of blood. The man behind it all, and his sickening jovial tone. This time he spoke directly to Nick, and his voice carried the unmistakable note of amusement. A game, he called it, and that more than the possibility he'd just won the man a bet sent Nick shivering. His fingers were stiff and white and the warmth of his body was dripping out over the floor, but it was the last truth that hit him harder than he could bear.
Danya continued after a brief pause, spilling out instructions in an uninterested tone. "The extraction team is currently making their way toward the North entrance of the mall. Should you be unwilling or unable to meet them there, they will be able to find you by the signal emitted from your collar." Another pause, and then a measured, personal aside. "Now, their job is to get you out alive, and we're running on a pretty tight schedule there. So unless you're feeling like a martyr, I suggest you get moving while you can."
Nick looked back down at himself. The edges of his vision returned. He had no illusions as to why he'd been asked to hurry. There was no hiding it, no denying it, no pretending otherwise if he wanted to get out of the battlefield that was quickly becoming a tomb. No qualms or issues about going along with any command the men who'd made him a murderer handed down if there was a chance it might help him get out alive. The ache was there again, and if it rose less sharp between the fire in his leg and the deadness in his chest, it made up for it all in quiet desperation. His goal was there, his real honest goal, if only he could force himself to reach it. Fall down seven times, stand up six, and drag yourself the rest of the way on your knees if you had to, just as long as there was something on the other side to reach.
He grabbed onto the floor and heaved himself forward. Then he stopped and looked around, and tried to fight the feeling of rising panic. Things looked a bit different from the ground, but even from his usual vantage he had no notion of which direction lay where. He knew where he'd entered, but was that East or West or somewhere else entirely? The bag, he thought suddenly, and braced himself for the trip past Karl's body.
"Your other north, Mr. Reid," the voice cut in dryly. "That's the way you came in, since you asked so nicely."
The noise of the speakers cutting out was beyond his hearing, but he supposed they must have gone with that parting shot, leaving him all alone once more. The only living human on the entire island, in fact, unless the extraction team was already lurking around. It sounded like they weren't, given that they apparently hadn't reached the mall yet, but the details didn't really matter so much as the thought. Nobody was going to sneak up behind him or jump around the corner at him. Nobody wanted to murder him at all, and he felt his head spinning as he thought it.
He could think on the move, though. His destination was behind him, but there was one thing that made him pause briefly as he shoved and sweated and gritted his teeth against the pain. Sa - his sword, the katana he'd carried with him for so long, was lying on the floor nearby. He seized it, even if it was heavy and awkward and even though he knew they wouldn't let him keep it, because it seemed so important to him as he set his sights on the exit.
There really wasn't any good way to do it. Trying to hop around was out of the question, and each time he pulled himself forward, he felt a sharp tearing sensation in his leg. His bleeding knuckles screamed each time he squeezed them between the hilt and the floor, and he wouldn't be surprised to look back and see a tattered calf laying by itself behind him. His mind felt slippery as he pressed on through the pain. Nothing seemed to stick very long, but wasn't that the truth of everything. The three fresh corpses laying at the site of the final struggle were just that. Not gasping or screaming or dying, but simply dead. The moments of their passage, the culmination of their entire lives, were just memory now, and not even theirs.
He'd cried before. Was crying now, but just from the pain. The whole bus, he thought. The whole freaking bus. And tears dripped freshly down his face. Everyone but him in that lively crowd dead, and himself responsible for a good portion of them. They'd ran around and laughed, changed buses because one was full or their girlfriend was in another one, and had no idea how quickly they swapped their fates around.
Getting closer. His head wouldn't stop spinning now. He laughed suddenly, and it sounded like some sort of injured dog because he tried to scream at the same moment. Maybe they'd let him into Valhalla if he asked nicely, came the thought. He had a sword right there in his hand. Or, he thought a bit further, maybe they'd let him in if he didn't ask nicely. Maybe that was the whole point of having to have a weapon on you. He felt dizzy and weak and not quite up to that sort of activity at the moment, and then he laughed again at how silly that thought was.
Not too much farther. There was a rumbling from overhead, but it came up just as strongly in his fingers through the floor. It sounded extremely familiar, and then he realized why. The whine that went with it, the part of the screech that wasn't coming from within his own ears. Something about the tail shroud on Coast Guard helicopters. He didn't really care what about it that was, or really for much else. He needed to keep going, knew it was worth his life, but he just wanted to lie down and sleep. Maybe he was dreaming already, and he just didn't know it. That would be nice, except that meant he'd wake up back on the island again, didn't it? Nobody could dream six whole days. It wasn't like that movie they'd watched in history class that one time.
He blinked, and some of the scenery seemed to stick to his eyelids, leaving dark spots in his view. Every time he pulled forward, it sparked out entirely for a moment, but he was almost there. The door loomed up before him. They weren't even there yet. Had he really saved himself? He floundered in rising panic. It wouldn't have been good for him to do all that. Could he open the door? That wasn't what he was trying to focus on, though. Had he really saved himself? That thought seemed familiar. Focus. It wasn't very quickly that he'd moved, but it had been a decent distance. It was hard to tell any more. Had he r-
A shiver ran through him, and it echoed and reverberated until his entire frame shook. Only a couple minutes, he'd saved the team, he thought gasping with a remaining shred of coherency. With his head bent he could see beneath the billow of his shirt the trail of red he oozed behind him like a slug. "Only" a couple of minutes.
The door swung out before him, and he looked back up. Two men filed in, along with a loud pulsing roar, the throb of rotors beating air. They carried rifles and wore some sort of body armor. The men, not the sound. That was good to keep straight.
The one to his left swooped in, pointed his rifle right at him.
"Drop the weapon," he said in a harsh tone. Nick stared at the end of the gun, but his eyes wouldn't focus.
He didn't even have a weapon, did he? Just himself and all his blood and the sword in his hand. He shivered again.
The second man pushed forward, pressed his hand on the others' weapon and pointed it down at the ground. He mumbled something Nick couldn't catch, and then knelt down close to him.
"Hey, let's go. We need to get you out of here."
Nick nodded slowly.
The man sighed, reached out and grasped the hand clenched around the katana.
"You don't need this any more, kid."
Nick looked up at the man and he blinked and he suddenly relaxed and let gloved fingers pry apart his trembling, whitened claw.
"Oh," he said. "Thanks." and let his eyes fall shut.
((Continued in Second Chances Epilogue))
Second Chances v1:
- [+] Spoiler
B08 Nick Reid - "It's been... well, it's sucked horribly. Better than it could've been, I guess."
To be concluded in the Elsewhere
WEAPON.............Ingram MAC 10...............AMMUNITION......|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| [3x32-round magazines]
WEAPON......Colt Single Action Army......AMMUNITION......|||||| |||||| |||||| |||||| |||||| |||||| [0x.45-caliber slugs]
WEAPON............Box of Condoms.............AMMUNITION......|||||||||||| [12/12]
G12 Kari Nichols - "It'll all be over in a minute."
Taking a dirt nap in the Eastern Shore