Don’t Fall from Grace. Jump.
Distant footsteps sounded faintly at the end of the hall. I strained to hear. There was only one set of footsteps, and that meant only one guard.
Distract him. Just long enough to buy me a little time if you can. I’m not ready.
How am I supposed to do that?!? You’re the mindfragger! What do you mean you’re not ready?
This thing is ridiculous. I’ve nearly slit my wrist trying to break it. And hardly a mindfragger. I failed thaumaturgy and sorcery. You cloak. Me dagger, remember? I’m prepared to do the hard part, Flip. Surely, you can buy me a just a little bit of time. That’s all I need. Ask about the weather… If it was me I’d flirt with him, but that isn’t really an option for you, so… I don’t know, but keep the meatbag on your side and his eyes and ears on you until I can get this thing ready to pop. And don’t you even think about dropping the ball.
Frag you, Kirsten. I’m not dropping anything.
The voice that filled my mind was tinged with a fear I’d never before sensed in my co-conspirator, and the anxious vibes I was getting from him were thick enough I could taste it in the air mingled with the stench of mildew. I could have puked, though whether it was from nerves or the strain of being on high sensory alert is hard to say. Flip was normally ever-fearless, and his anxiety was partially what had me on edge. The door squeaked open at the end of the concrete hallway and closed with a thud, followed by the heavy hollow falling of the guard’s boots on the concrete that resonated louder with each approaching step. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins, pounding hard enough to nearly drown out all of it. Boom. Boom. Boom. I couldn’t tell if that was the footsteps in the corridor or my pulse.
Yeah, I know. Frag me… Keep your mind on the plan and the goal in sight. Timing’s everything. Once he’s in my cell, all hell’s gonna break loose. I got us in this, and I’m gonna get us out, but I need your help. Sink or swim. Y’ready?
The footsteps grew louder and paused in front of Flip’s cell across the corridor from mine. Then there was a jangling of keys, an electronic beep, followed by the screech and wail of the steel door sliding open, and I swallowed hard and worked quietly with as little movement as possible to evade the security cam in the ceiling. I was weary from lack of sleep and from concentrating to keep the mindlink open between us, but I reminded myself to focus. On everything.
As soon as the cuff was broken, the transponder attached to it would start to squeal and trip the security alert – If I was too late, Meatbag would catch me red-handed, or if it happened too soon it would put my cell in a state of lockdown instantly without any chance to get the jump on the guard, and I’d be hauled off to a solitary cell, probably mage-masked and left to rot or go insane, or possibly used for whatever purpose they could find. If I couldn’t get it off at all? They’d know my location anywhere I was within the corp, which meant escaping the cell block would do us no good, so the rest of the plan would be null. And forget that. That wasn’t an option. I’d die first. I’d lost almost everything and nearly everyone. All I had was Flip and my brother. There was a miniscule window of time in which to move. I knew enough about the security of this place from snooping in on my father’s conversations to know that much. Or maybe it just enough to hamstring us.
A wave of guilt and shame passed over me again as I remembered Flip didn’t have to be here. If I’d known what I was doing or the chain of events I’d already set in motion, I wouldn’t have run to him. I would have run as far as I could in the other direction and spared him the backlash of my mistake, but how could I have known? I was sheltered from the reality of the world I’d grown up in until a few months prior, when I met Flip, and until two weeks prior, I still had only the vaguest idea of the mess my father was tangled in. I also had no idea at all what I was stepping in when I stepped in it, and I didn’t know what to do but run, which had inadvertently led them right to me. And to him. Lesson? Clean the shit off your boots before you track it everywhere… Focus… Focus… Focus…
The details of our escape plan sped through my mind and made me dizzy as I struggled with the cuff, working a crude dull eating implement I’d snaked from my meal tray against my wrist so hard the skin was angry red and raw, but I was making progress. Maybe too much progress. The first step had worked. When the guard brought us our evening meal the day before, I’d managed to get enough of an eye on Flip that I could cast a mindlink to communicate and formulate a plan. That alone was risky, but I pulled it off by playing dumb and hungry. My security profile attached to my father’s listed me as “apathetic to my potential.” I found the file when I was snooping around two weeks ago, and it was accurate, at least regarding my take on magic in general up until now. My brother was the achiever. He made the most of the gift we inherited from our mother. I failed most of my classes, and didn’t much care about concentrating to do things I could get up and do physically in less time and with less exertion. What little I did know, I drew on for trivial mischief like talking to my brother on the sly or to whoop his ass when he pissed me off. Honestly, I had shown no signs I knew how to put my magic to any intelligent use at all and no interest in doing so, and their assessment was dead on. But that was then, and I wasn’t apathetic anymore.
I strained to hear the conversation going on in Flip’s cell. Nothing. Silence. I kept listening and eventually heard a metal clanging noise and the hushed sound of Flip’s voice pleading and then complaining loudly and then a scuffle. Then I heard the guard’s flat booming retort, but I couldn’t make out any of the words.
Flip? Ease up a little, or they’re gonna send in a mob of ‘em…
There was no response, and all presence of his awareness was gone. The link had somehow dropped.
“HEY! I DIDN’T GET MY LUNCH, BECAUSE ONE OF YOU ASSHOLES CONVENIENTLY RAN OUT OF FOOD EARLIER! BRING ME ANOTHER MEAL! YOU CAN’T STARVE ME!”
Flip was banging around the cell with such force, it was likely all security detail monitoring the block were focusing on watching him have a meltdown, so I began struggling wildly with the band of the transponder and felt a small pop, though it didn’t break entirely free, and my heart leapt as the mangled cuff still clung to my wrist awkwardly, but silent. Thank heavens.
*radio static* “10-42B. Send back up to sedate cell four.”
A door slammed shut and locked with a loud clatter. Then boot steps boomed across the corridor. As the door slid open I stopped struggling and tried my best to sit there on the cot nonchalantly.
“Hey, there! What do we have for supper tonight?” I smiled sweetly at the guard, pouring it on thick.
I looked at the tray of slop and stifled a gag at the stench of it and instead, formed a wide dimpled grin, “Ooooh. Cheeseburgers again! You guys are so wiz!”
I met his cold dull eyes with mine— not even a hint of a smirk. His gaze held suspicion and detest. Inside I was frantic. The guard looked around the cell. Satisfied I had nothing up my sleeve, he turned to leave. I rose to my feet and flung the tray at the security cam on the ceiling, sending the puddle of goo splattering, which coated the bulb of the camera. Meatbag turned and reached to draw his stun baton from his belt, but I had already started to concentrate, pouring every bit of my energy into him, boring holes through him with my gaze in an attempt to hit him with a spell to knock him unconscious.
I didn’t learn much in what few training sessions I had been forced to attend, but sometimes I had paid some attention. No dice- much to my alarm he wasn’t fazed and was moving toward me with a horrible glare on his face and now armed with the stun baton. He paused for a moment, as though trying to size me up and discern my intention was my assumption, but as it turned out he was trying to decide whether to knock me out or radio for back up, and he had made a decision when he reared back and moved to jab the stun baton directly at me. In that glimmer of a moment, I was still slightly overwhelmed from the exertion of trying to drop him, but I shook it off and swiftly stooped to grab the metal tray with the intention of using it to defend myself. In the process, I fortunately dodged his jab, but he stopped in mid-swing and did a double-take, recalculating his move. I slung another stunbolt at him, sloppy and feeble at best, but it was enough to knock him out, no telling for how long. And it sent me to the floor from the drain of it.
I blinked my eyes a few times to steady myself, because my head was swimming. Ha! That was almost too easy— apathetic to my potential my ass. Have a nice nap, Meatbag. Better to be underestimated. Let them always make that mistake.
Without further pause, I wearily pulled myself up from the floor, wedged the aluminum chair against the doorway and violently snatched the transponder from my wrist with a loud painful pop and tossed it in the corner, where it lay shrieking the alert.
Instantly, the heavy steel door snapped shut as far as it could, denting the chair, but there was still enough space for me to squeeze through. I stripped the guard of his longcoat, keys and security pass and peered through the narrow opening of the doorway to scan the hall. There was no one in sight, but we didn’t have long. I slipped through and unlocked Flip’s cell to see him standing there smiling smugly and looking handsome as ever, though tired and thinner, with a few days stubble growing in on his face. His expression nonetheless held the same exuberance I’d been drawn to the first moment I met him, and most of the apprehension I’d sensed earlier was gone now that I was standing face to face with him. He was magnificent, but I pushed those thoughts away and composed myself to carry out the next step of the plan. He raised his eyebrows and smirked at me.
“Hi, Angel. How was dinner?”
“Very funny. Get that thing off of you. Now!”
I tossed him the crude spoon contraption and wedged the chair into the doorway the same as I'd done in my cell. He started to exit the cell, but I shoved him back.
"No. I told you last night, you have to do it in here. If the transponder passes this band, this entire block will lock down, and we'll be stuck."
He started working as best he could to remove the cuff, and I went back as a afterthought to retrieve the stun baton from my cell. When I returned to Flip, he was still struggling with the cuff.
“There’s no time for this! Hold still. This is gonna hurt.”
Wham! I grabbed his arm and slammed his wrist hard into the metal frame of the cot and shattered the transponder. He winced and grunted in protest. WHAM! That did the trick. He cursed and wedged the spoon into the cuff and popped it off with a wounded grunt. The door slammed shut, but the chair held up enough for us to slip out.
“Gentle, Angelface, geez…” He stared wide-eyed at the door for a moment and then rubbed his wrist and hand, as though the weight of what we were getting into— or out of, had finally set in. I stopped to listen for a moment and scanned the corridor. No one in sight and no sign of the "back up" Meatbag had called in on the radio. There was no way we were just that lucky...
“Toss it. We gotta move.”
This is Chapter 1 of Quinn's story. Next up: Chapter 2. The history or the aftermath, not sure which. I had the outline of this long before I ever made her as a character on AW, but I decided to finally start fleshing it out. Be merciful. I'm rusty as a fiction writer. Constructive criticism is quite welcome.
"You punched me in the boob! Prepare to die obviously!" - Roxy Richter.