Halfway to the top, a shot rang out. I leapt up the last few steps and crashed through the door into the office. It swung open, and I rolled through just in time to hear another gunshot. A hole appeared in the door in the exact spot my head had been two seconds earlier. I stayed low and ducked behind a small desk.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Devil himself. Come out and play with me, Devil.” KJ said, followed by three more gunshots through the office window.
I looked around the room I had so unceremoniously entered. As I had thought, it was filled to the brim with monitors showing the main floors of the entire building. I quickly located the one with KJ, who had started slowly moving towards the stairs. There was also someone slinking along behind him with a knife in his hand. I looked closer; it was Johnny! How did he get in? Not that it mattered; he had made it in and was about to take care of my little KJ problem. I watched him stay close to KJ, who had no idea he was there. Johnny took his steps at the exact moment KJ did, disguising his movements. The man should have been an assassin.
“Come on, Devil. Let me send you back to Hell.” KJ was saying.
Johnny said nothing as he crept quietly behind KJ, a look of determination on his face. KJ was almost up the stairs, Johnny two steps behind him. He moved with focus, matching each step and breath KJ took. He was like a tiger closing in on his prey. Not bad for an accountant.
“Last chance Devil. Come out like a man, or I put you down like a dog.” KJ said. He waited a moment, then scoffed as he got up the last step.
I put my foot in front of the door, trying to buy a little more time. It’d be hard to shoot me if he couldn’t get in the room. I watched as KJ’s silhouette darkened the window as he raised his gun. As he did, I saw another shadow leap on top of the first. KJ cursed as they struggled. KJ dropped his gun, Johnny his knife. They were engaged in a battle of brute strength. Johnny definitely wasn’t going to last long against someone the size of KJ, so I had to act fast. I jumped out of the office just in time to see both men tumble over the railing.
“No!” I shouted as I watched.
Johnny landed spine-first onto a conveyor belt, making a sickening crunch. He looked unconscious or dead. KJ was lying on the floor screaming. He had somehow landed on the side of his feet, snapping his leg bones like twigs. The angle at which his legs had shifted was sickening. Bone protruded from his ankle. His screams were horrifying. The few employees in the room had gathered together and were as pale as the walls in the room. I slowly started walking down the steps, eyes fixed on Johnny. He hadn’t moved. I made a point to step on KJ’s ankle as I walked past him, making him scream louder.
"I'll kill you, Devil! I'll kill you!" he whimpered.
I got to Johnny and saw he was still breathing, if barely. He was covered in a cold sweat. He was coherent, but in agony.
“Go. Now. Do what we came for. Go, Jared.” He whispered.
“No, old friend. Not without you.”
“Damn it, Jared! I can’t feel my feet, can’t feel my left hand…I…I…I can barely breathe. Go.” He pled.
A gunshot broke our argument. I fell to my knees, grabbing my left shoulder. The pain ripped through my body like a lightning bolt. Somehow, KJ had found a gun and shot me. Resourceful bastard. KJ had pulled himself up with his arms and tried to shoot me in the back of the head, but wasn’t steady enough to hold aim. I was lying on the floor, grasping my shoulder. Luckily enough, it went through-and-through my shoulder. KJ smirked and tried to point the gun at me again. Another shot rang out, but not from KJ. It had come from the conveyor belt above me; from Johnny. KJ collapsed, never to rise again. Funny how a bullet between the eyes will do that for you.
“Jared! Jared! You ok?” Johnny said.
“Better than you, I’d guess.” I said, watching blood run through my fingertips. My shoulder throbbed, but it didn’t seem to be damaged too badly. I still had feeling in my hand, which hopefully meant the nerves were ok. The pain was bad enough I almost wished it had found one.
“There is a gas line in the back of the room. Get these people out. Open the line, and run like hell. I’ll give you as long as I can, then I’ll shoot. With all the particles in the air and the spark from the gun, this place should go up quickly. Get safe.”
“I’ll carry you Johnny. We’ll get safe together.”
“Jared! I can’t move much more than my right arm! You have a bad wing now. We’d never make it and you know it!”
“Just do it, Jared!”
“But you’ll d-…”
“I’m already dead, Jared! You know that! I haven’t got long left anyway. Let me die helping you save the rest of us.”
I stood up and looked him in the eyes, which now had tears running down his cheeks.
“Are you sure?”
“Our time is up, Jared. At least now you don’t have to be the one to end it for me.” Johnny smiled grimly.
“Even dying, you’re still an optimist?” I said.
“I’m still human, Jared. So are you. Good luck, my friend. Now go!”
I hesitated a moment, then sprung to action. I looked to the white-coats and said simply “get out.” They fled like little white cockroaches running from a fire. That actually wasn’t too far from the truth, now that I thought about it. I ran towards the gas lines piping into the machines and opened the valve. With a small hissing sound, my work here was almost finished. I reached out and grabbed a fire alarm, trying to alert as many people left as I could. I doubted it’d matter, but I had promised Johnny I‘d try. He gave me a weak smile as I walked by. I heard him start counting. I ran as fast as I could towards the exit. I crashed through the door, running towards the entrance I had come through earlier.
Another gun shot rang out, dwarfed in sound by the resulting concussion from the explosion. I was knocked off of my feet, hitting nothing but asphalt and landing on my injured shoulder. I cannot explain the pain that wracked through my body. Two ‘Damn it’s and a ‘son of a bitch’ later, I got up and limped away. The building was a goner; windows shattered, machinery exploding, and a silky black smoke began to pour from the building. Johnny’s car was about a hundred yards away from where I was, so I limped my towards it. The bodies of the two guards Johnny had been arguing with lay tucked behind the final checkpoint. Johnny had shot them both, probably out of nowhere during their argument. I smiled. Johnny had always had impeccable timing. And he had arrived just in time to save me. Again. I owed that man my life, and he had just sacrificed his own for me.
I climbed in the car and sped away from the blazing building. I looked in the rearview mirror as Veritas Inc. burned to the ground. My final target destroyed, now I had to lay low and watch the fireworks begin with Trystix and Raiden. I had to stay quiet for a while. Johnny had insisted on it, and now he was gone. Johnny, the last of my conscience, had just been martyred for my cause. My only friend was gone, and now I was alone in a world of enemies. But their time was almost up.
As I drove away, I thought of all Johnny had done for me. I was glad I didn’t have to kill him, though in essence, I kind of did. He gave everything he had to help me find justice, including his life. My throat constricted; my chest tightened. I steeled myself with a new resolve; I wouldn’t let him down. I murmured a silent goodbye to my only friend and sped down the road, passing police cars and fire engines as I went. They were too late. They had no chance.
And now, neither did Trystix.