March 20th 2014
Two guards jumped on Yadav, a man and a woman, and pulled her out of the street. The others did the same with Jones, except they sought refuge on the opposite side of the thoroughfare.
Screams erupted from left and right as civilians rushed indoors.
Awnings were scarce — most of the buildings didn’t even have proper roofs with gutters or any kind of lip. Yadav plastered herself against the side of a building. The guards brandished their guns, scanning the rooftops.
Jones called to Yadav, but was quickly pulled down an alley and out of sight by her security team.
I knew it, Yadav cursed to herself. All the roses and sunshine, I am for the people crap was just that — a load. Someone had heard their fearless leader was walking tall downtown and had decided this would make a fine time for target practice. Yadav didn’t like getting this close to an assassin’s pot-shots.
With the governor on her way back to her ivory tower, Yadav let herself breathe deeply. Right up until her male guard stepped out of the shadows and went down hard. The rata-tat-tat of consecutive shots echoed between the cement buildings. The female guard pulled her comrade back and propped him against the building.
A heavy gurgle escaped his open mouth. “Stay with me, keep your eyes open,” the woman shouted, slapping his cheek. In the next moment he slouched to one side, lifeless.
Haddix’s face flashed before Yadav’s eyes.
Why hadn’t the assassin followed the governor? Who was left to target?
She crouched into herself, searching the rooftops for signs of movement. There — there! A dark figure, four buildings down. It shifted, revealing a long barrel. She tugged roughly on the guard’s collar. “Over there.”
“Damn. This way.” The woman shoved Yadav behind her and around a corner. She sighted the figure for a heartbeat, then decided not to engage. “Follow me,” she said, grabbing Yadav by the lapel and looking her straight in the eye. The woman was blonde and baby-faced. From a distance, without the heavy helmet and armored vest, Yadav never would have pegged her for a military type. Up close, though, her sheer presence was commanding. “Move only when I say. If I yell stop, that means instantly, got it?”
She pointed down a side street. “Move!”
A cross-hatch of shadow and light played across Yadav’s path as she ran down the narrow passage. Wooden slats and pieces of corrugated sheet metal created makeshift bridges between the buildings. The flat, unfinished roofs apparently served as a second set of streets, which meant the shooter had an easy means of pursuit.
The guard continuously barked out directions. “Left. Right. Left. Left.”
Yadav’s breaths became deep and labored. The air was too thin. She felt light-headed, her lips and fingers tingling, but adrenaline kept her going.
The city center, and the governor’s hill, moved further and further away. Gunfire at the rear kept Yadav motivated to stick with her guard’s orders, but she didn’t like that they seemed to be headed to the outskirts of town.
“We need backup,” the woman shouted into her radio. “Am being pursued by a single assassin, male, clothing: hooded, all black. Targeting suggests his mark is —”
She was cut short as bullets ricocheted off of the cement corner centimeters from Yadav’s head, revealing rusted rebar beneath. The guard pushed Yadav to the ground, while simultaneously shooting up and behind with her energy weapon.
When she ceased firing, all lay quiet. Yadav choked on the chalky dust swirling through the air.
“I’m going to count to three,” the guard said. “And when I say go, you run into that doorway ahead. You see it?”
Yadav picked her chin up out of the dirt. An open entryway lay about twenty meters away at her twelve o’clock. “Yes.”
“I’ll give you cover fire. Don’t hesitate. Sprint right through. Ok, here we go. One. Two. Three!” She yanked Yadav up by the nape of her suit, then gave her a push forward.
The sound of dueling firepower rang in her ears as she ran, pushing herself all-out to cross the distance in record time. The black maw of the doorway swallowed her up, and the building’s cool interior felt like a safe shroud.
The light outside seemed blinding now. Yadav shielded her eyes as she watched and waited for the guard to sprint in after.
Dodging from wall to wall, the woman took a less direct route, right up until the last few meters. She leaned forward, stretching for the finish line — but burst across it with an unnatural force.
At first, it looked as though she’d dived for the doorway, but she hit the floor face-first, dropping like a sack of stones. Yadav knelt next to her, but the guard did not move.
A fine trickle of blood made a winding path down the back of the woman’s neck. Gingerly, Yadav removed her helmet.
The top of her neck had been punctured, right where spine met skull. Yadav guessed she was dead before she’d finished falling.
With shaking hands, Yadav picked up the helmet and secured it atop her own head. Next she rolled the body over, unbuckling the vest. When it was free, she shrugged it on over the tight suit jacket.
She knew she should use the radio to call for help. She knew she should stay put until aid arrived. She knew she should keep her head down and out of the light.
But she also knew she couldn’t do any of those things.
Yadav had to find out why someone on this dinky planet wanted her dead.
Taking up the guard’s weapon, she crouched low, looking out and up through the slats. Pale blue sky was visible, despite the thick dust motes. Something rustled, like pigeon’s wings, above the door frame. Except she hadn’t seen any pigeons — or urban birds of any kind — on Sesen.
One step out that door and he’d have her.
Perhaps there was another way out. Boards covered most of the windows, and fragments hung by rusted nails in the doorjamb. She’d only gotten in because the door had been stolen.
Slivers of light shone through the boards over a window to her right. If she could open it — quietly — she might be able to slip out that way.
Quickly, she gave her new vest a pat down. Clammy fingers kept her from getting a good grip on the pocket flaps, but eventually she plucked a few open. One contained sanitary wipes, another mints. The third had a fresh battery. The fourth, a grenade of some kind.
What she really needed was a distraction.
The guard’s black boots drew her attention. They were much nicer, and better for outrunning gunmen, than the pumps the governor had lent her.
Hoping she was dealing with a patient assassin, Yadav yanked the boots from the dead woman’s feet. As she laced them, she noticed how slick the plastic pumps were. She gave one shoe an experimental shove, and it slid a long ways across the cement floor.
Tiptoeing the three meters to the window, pump in one hand and gun in the other, she steeled herself for flurry of action.
Three. Two. One. She tossed the shoe at an angle, so that it flew over the floor and through the open door. The gunman took the bait, and when he began firing, so did Yadav.
The dry wood burst into chips under the assault, leaving her a narrow hole to crawl through. She landed with an oomph in the adjoining alley. Instead of making a break for it, she held the gun at the ready and rounded the corner, until she had the assassin in her sights.
She didn’t want to kill him, she wanted to interrogate him. The lengths she had to go to for an interview. “Hey!”
He spun and froze, but only for an instant of uncertainty. Would he shoot? No. He ran.
Going from hunted to hunter in a split second, she gave chase. With every breath, another swear escaped her chapped lips. The new boots, though a size too big, gripped the dirt well and helped her keep pace.
“Stop,” she shouted at him again. Surprisingly, he obeyed — but only so he could open fire.
Their roles flipped again. Why hadn’t she just kept her mouth shut?
A galvanized rain barrel was her only chance at refuge. From a squatted position, she laid down a line of fire in the assassin’s general direction.
He pressed forward. The shots came closer. She had to flee.
A few times, Yadav doubled back and took him by surprise, but he always ended up with the upper hand. And still they traveled away from people — into a neighborhood full of half-toppled homes. Some walls had completely sloughed away from their rebar supports.
Graffiti covered everything. On the street that Jones had taken her to, things might have been collapsing, but they were clean. The people took some measure of pride in their surroundings. Not here. Ugly black and red streaks were abundant. In a few areas, the same square meter of wall had been covered again and again — one gang trying to blot out the other.
Yadav seized the upper hand once more. She wanted to stop this, get him to stay put. Once more, she examined the vest.
Yadav pulled out the grenade. It was heavy in her hand, and cold, like a river stone. She realized it looked different than the explosive grenades she was familiar with.
It wasn’t an explosive. She had a sound grenade — a pacifying tool. It emitted a strong burst of low-frequency sound, designed to knock people off their feet, compress organs and cause nausea. Perfect for halting a would-be killer in his tracks.
The assassin leapt over a large gap, from one disintegrating roof to the next. Yadav took her chance. She pressed the button and lobbed the grenade with all of her might. It bounced onto the corrugated metal at his feet. He pulled up short, surprised.
Yadav pulled herself into the fetal position, with her nose to the ground and her hands covering her head.
A deep whomp tore through her muscles. It knocked the air from her lungs, but otherwise left her unaffected. When she got up again, she shielded her eyes against the sun’s glare and scanned the top of the building. The man was nowhere in sight.
He must have been knocked off balance — and fallen.
Yadav rushed around the corner and gasped. He lay on his back, suspended above the ground, with several pieces of exposed rebar protruding through his chest.