Mia Pavelec drove like the engine was on fire and their destination held the world’s last fire extinguisher. When they hit a little bit of evening traffic SMS stopped even trying to keep up his conversation with Cyber: he was far too busy grabbing onto whatever piece of the car’s interior he could reach to prevent himself from being flung around and smashed against the door like dice inside a cup.
The street signs, headlights, and honking meshed together into a turbulent blur until the car screeched abruptly to a halt and Pavelec kicked her door open, gun already drawn.
SMS was slower to react: he took a moment to steady himself and swallow his dizziness. He saw that they had arrived in an empty parking lot beside a tall, square warehouse covered in corrugated rust and fronted by three large bay doors and a broken neon sign. Shaking his head to clear the last fog of car sickness he grabbed a gun off the seat beside him and stepped into the cool evening air.
Pavelec and Bailey had reached the building by now, weapons held at the ready, and Pavelec was jamming a key into the lock of a small side door. SMS jogged over to join them, looking nervously across the parking lot and towards the street, expecting a black SUV full of masked soldiers to leap out of traffic at any second and spew half a dozen well-armed killers out onto the pavement.
The door lock clicked open and Pavelec nodded to Bailey. Brenda grabbed the door handle and swiftly wrenched it open, and Pavelec dove inside, rolling on the concrete floor. SMS saw her come up on one knee, her pistol held alertly. Then she froze.
SMS and Brenda exchanged glances. For three or four seconds that seemed to last forever, Pavelec was locked rigidly in place, unblinking. Then a voice inside said something muffled that they couldn’t understand, and suddenly Pavelec’s muscles relaxed and she let go of a long, slow breath. Her head bowed and her shoulders dropped, and she got to her feet and tucked her gun into her belt.
“We’re in time…” she sighed. She looked to Bailey and SMS: “Come on in, quickly. Get that door locked behind you.”
They obeyed, and SMS slammed the surprisingly heavy deadbolt shut once he was through. He saw that the warehouse was filled with hundreds of metal shipping crates, an ancient forklift, and endless stacks of broken wooden pallets. The air was thick and musty with decay.
A brown-haired, slightly overweight man holding a police shotgun was standing several feet inside the door, eyeing the newcomers suspiciously. “Who’re they?”
Pavelec stepped towards him, rubbing her neck. “They’re help, and there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to need them. Did you get a call earlier?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “We told ’em no new clients, like you said. Tried to track the number afterwards, but it was a phone booth at some movie theatre. Smart call on their part.” The man raised his eyebrows briefly, waiting for someone to catch his pun.
Pavelec ignored the lame attempt at humour. “That call didn’t come from the people I intended. We’ve got trouble on the way, probably sooner rather than later.” She rolled her shoulders in their sockets. “Rrrgh, I’d forgotten how much it hurts afterwards when you lock someone up like that, Peter.”
Peter shrugged. “One of the perks of spending quality time being held from afar in the gentle hands Peter Baldwin,” he smirked. Pavelec glared at him, and he wiped the sarcastic smile off his face.
“Where’s Taylor?” asked Pavelec.
“Um, there-ish,” said Peter, waving a hand in the general direction of SMS, Bailey, and the door they had just entered through. “Come on out, Brit. False alarm.”
SMS looked around confusedly. Who was the man pointing to? Then the air on the far side of the door rippled and with a kaleidoscope shimmer a young woman with pink hair, eight or ten facial piercings, a leather jacket, and a submachine gun materialized behind him. She wrapped her arms around her own shoulders and squirmed briefly. Catching SMS staring at her in surprise, she thrust her chin in the air, snapped, “Neat trick, huh?” and stalked past him to join Peter and Pavelec.
Not bothering to make formal introductions, Pavelec said, “Bailey, Baldwin, you two stay here and watch these doors. Taylor, bring me to Olivia. SMS, come with us.”
Brenda took up a casual position, leaning against a stack of pallets to watch the door they’d entered through. Peter Baldwin sat on top of a massive old tire and laid his shotgun across his knees.
SMS followed the pink-haired Taylor and Pavelec through a maze of crates and containers towards the middle of the warehouse, where he found a makeshift shack constructed out of three shipping crates arranged in a triangle with broad pieces of siding stretched across the top for a roof and a long pallet laying across the opening to act as a door.
Taylor pushed the pallet away, revealing a carpeted area within, decorated with a couch, a TV, a table, and even a toilet in one corner with a curtain rod stretched around it. This hidey hole hadn’t been thrown together overnight, that was obvious.
A thin wisp of a woman with pale brown eyes and a narrow chin was sitting at one end of the couch, wrapped in a blanket, staring at them wide-eyed and shivering. There was a space heater at her feet, humming softly. When the woman saw Pavelec, she relaxed slightly.
“Everything okay, Olivia?” asked Pavelec, in what was probably her best impression of a gentle tone.
The woman on the couch nodded, but her eyes were cold, like the warehouse air. From the looks of things, the rotting wood and rusting metal weren’t the only things slowly decaying in this place.
“You don’t have to stay here longer,” said Pavelec. “We’re getting you out tonight. Maybe we’ll take you somewhere warmer.” She turned to Taylor. “Does Baldwin have his truck out back?”
Taylor nodded. The movement of her head made a few of her piercings clink together almost musically.
“Good. I want us out of here in the next five minutes. There’s more help on the way soon, but I’m not going to count on our defenses holding up. I don’t know what kind of numbers we’re facing. Grab Baldwin’s keys and get the truck. I have to make a call, get us some way off the Island. SMS, you help Olivia pack. Bag’s over there. Take whatever you can fit. You’ve got three minutes.”