Gaia’s Brood – Chapter 17
With my mind churning, I flee through the narrow maze of shady alleys; stumble down steps, trip on uneven paving boards, dodge lines of washing stretching between the shabby tenements of the underdeck; I pray I don’t accidentally choose a blind alley and scan frantically for anything that might help me.
When fleeing a pursuer, grab anything that presents itself as a weapon. Whatever you do, don’t slow down. Or even worse, fall over.
I try to clear my mind and focus on the task at hand. “Run to survive, run to survive, run to survive,” I chant silently in time with my breathing. I slow my pace a bit so I can plan where I’m going and place my feet firmly to avoid tripping. Gradually, my head clears, my focus sharpens, and my confidence rises. “I am the wind, sure and fast; I’m fleet of foot and clear of mind.” Thankfully, I enter the ‘zone,’ where running and breathing become automatic, and my mind is free to think about survival tactics.
I snatch a garment from a washing line as I race by it and start unthreading the belt, which can make a useful weapon, especially one with a metal buckle; extending your reach by another arm’s length.
Junction. I turn rim-ward into a wider street with market stalls along either side, and a clear space for carts down the center. I trust that all main streets lead to the docks, like on New Frisco.
The lead assassin is nearly on me. The belt finally comes free and I throw the garment behind me without looking.
I chance a glance over my shoulder and grin with delight to see an assassin’s legs flailing about in a tumble of fruit. A crowd is already gathering round him, and a young lady is beating him with a broom. The assassin scrambles up hastily to continue the pursuit, only for the broom wielder to expertly hook his feet out from under him, then whack him to the ground. I grin broadly: one assassin hand-bagged.
With quick glances over my shoulder, I reassess the situation: only one assassin still pursuing, but not too close—almost free of both assassins, but where are the others? Maybe I have lost them. But my gut tells me I have not. They know this area much better than I do; I increase my speed—I need to find steps leading down to level fourteen.
Random thoughts pop into my mind: Borker is leading the hunt to solve Felix’s murder which he wants to pin on me; Felix was killed by a Krys-knife, probably at the hand of an assassin. Borker is an assassin. What does all this mean?
Maybe I should just give up now so they let my friends go free. Perhaps I can bargain with them—my life for my crew’s freedom. But that’s not me—I never give up, not when there are still options. Concentrate on staying alive, Nina, just concentrate on staying alive. I push the jumbled thoughts out of my mind and run on. I’m back in the zone.
Suddenly, right in front of me, someone breaks out of a side alley to my left. Another assassin. Instinctively I duck right, down another narrow alley, toppling a stack of boxes as I pass; another few seconds gained, maybe.
I loop the leather flight jacket I’ve just snatched out of an aviator’s hand around my left wrist. If I have to stop and fight it might dampen a few blows—it’s worth a try anyway. If nothing else I can flick the dangling sleeve in someone’s face to distract them.
Another assassin; heading straight for me. Borker.
I turn left. Steps. Going up instead of down, but I have no option. I take the steps two at a time—I can feel my leg muscles starting to cramp, I don’t have much time left at this speed. The assassins are herding me: away from the Shonti Bloom.
At the top of the steps I double back towards the docks again. More steps ahead. Leading to the lower deck this time—thank goodness. I reach the head of the steps at the same time as an assassin coming up.
I try desperately to slow my forward momentum. But I already know I’m too late. A shocked female face. A flashing Krysknife. I catch the blade on the padded flight jacket, forcing the tip away from my body. But my speed still carries me forward. The knife stings my forearm as it slices through the flight jacket.
Suddenly, something heavy crashes into my back. I accelerate forward into the assassin, falling down the stairs, crashing into a second assassin further down.
We all land in a jumble of arms and legs on the deck at the foot of the steps. Two assassins beneath me and something heavy on top, which feels like another person.
I’m still focusing on escape, and getting to dock G14, so even though I’m just as stunned as the rest, I automatically struggle free. I scramble to my feet and dodge right. I’m vaguely aware of Borker leaping down the steps after me and a lot of shouting.
A fight breaks out at the foot of the steps between the assassins and some annoyed locals. Someone strikes out with a plank, almost taking out Borker’s feet, but he expertly leaps over it, landing clear of the scrap.
I run again.
I find myself in a dock area near warehouse nineteen, I have run, or more accurately been herded, in a full circle.
A deserted dock—cornered again.
Borker and two other assassins, one limping, one holding their arm, which looks as if it might be broken, approach me. They take their time herding me to the end of the dock. They know the game is won.
I use the time to study the gold plaque from the statue of Gaia—three numbers, totally meaningless. How could I have thrown my life away for three random numbers? But even as I think this, I know the numbers aren’t random—they have a meaning, I just can’t figure it out. I wonder if Eve held this plaque? Did she know the meaning of the numbers or were they meaningless to her too. Now I will never know.
A railing nudges me in the back and I know I’ve reached the end of the dock. In desperation, I throw the gold plaque like a missile at the assassins, but it misses. Still, one limps off to retrieve it, which gives me a bit more time to think. I stand there, nowhere to go. I hold up my padded arm and brandish the belt like a whip. I swing it in an arc to keep them back, but I feel pathetically under armed against three trained assassins.
Borker steps forward and tries to catch the end of my swinging belt, but retreats with a bleeding gash across his face—there is no way I’m going to make this easy for them.
When cornered, by overwhelming odds, there are three ways out: surrender, but I have thrown away my only bargaining tool; attack with everything you’ve got and hope the surprise carries you through, but where would I go; or do something dangerously crazy. There is no way I can beat three assassins and if I surrender I have a feeling I’m dead. Then I notice a sign on the wall. ‘Dock G15.’
My heart leaps, even as I try to suppress the feeling—a dashed hope is the last thing I need at the moment.
I glance quickly over the hand—rail, then just as quickly back to Borker who has taken the opportunity to move in closer hoping to get within the circle of the whistling belt.
Borker stands facing me, his piggish features twitching. “This is the end of the line, Miss Swift,” he grunts. “My instructions are to take you alive, but you’ve seen what I am, so now I have to eliminate you, for the greater good. By killing you, I save the planet.” He grins again, not even mildly regretful—more like a sadist enjoying the terror of his cornered prey. Whatever he hopes I’m feeling is wasted, because my mind has taken off down an entirely different track.
It’s strange what your mind does in extreme circumstance: I realize I detest Borker so much I would rather take my own life than let him have it.
“Not today, Borker,” I yell defiantly. Then, with my heart pounding, I leap the hand rail into nothingness.
Option three: do something dangerously crazy.