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Leading Elizabeth out of the Kashmir Restaurant by the hand, Jack wove around couples dancing, people laughing, and spared only the occasional wary glance to the security posted at the party.
As much as he’d wanted to help Booker get Lot 192… He was grateful that Booker convinced him to go to the party instead. The brief time he was there with Elizabeth and simply talking – even about their plans against Suchong and Fontaine – felt normal for a change.
But when music cut to screaming and gunfire, Jack stopped and a chill overtook him as surely as if the walls had shattered around him. He might’ve preferred the ocean rushing over him, to be honest…
“Fontaine,” he muttered. His hand tightened on Elizabeth’s first and he took in a sharp breath. When he glanced back, it was to Elizabeth—the Kashmir behind her—and her again. She studied him, waiting for his decision. “The labs. Go find him.”
And Jack let go of her hand, running back towards the restaurant and the fight he knew he couldn’t avoid. He skidded to a stop beside a dead security guard, lifting the pistol from his cooling corpse.
Fortunately, he hadn’t gotten many shots in before he’d been taken out. Jack checked for spare ammunition, blood spotting on the sleeves of his white suit jacket in the process…
Booker would know how to get blood out of anything. If not him, Tenenbaum.
He looked back up to Elizabeth watching him and for a second, he cringed in embarrassment. “Go! Please, go.”
She examined the restaurant too, taking a steadying breath. The smoke from grenade launchers and gunfire rolled out of the entrance now and the fight wouldn’t be far behind. She pointed to the doorway of the restaurant, shouting, “There’s, it’s a crossbow! Keep yourself hidden, stay safe.”
“No, you—” It was no use, she took off without another word. “Be safe too.” He stopped to pick up the crossbow, pulling it over his head and one shoulder by the strap to drape across his torso. It would be a useful backup if the worst were to happen.
Stooping low, Jack used the smoke as cover to get behind an overturned table and listened for the movements of Fontaine—Atlas—and his men. Sobbing and disoriented groaning replaced the music and between pained cries, someone kept shouting, “Long live Atlas!”
“Be quiet now,” he ordered in a heavy Irish accent. It sounded so real, he really was… the best. Jack gulped and gripped the pistol closer. He was genetically designed by Suchong, who was paid by Fontaine, to make sure he would be a hell of an opponent. Time to make good on that. “I think we’ve got ourselves a guest.”
Jack set one foot forward, heel first, rolling to his toes to minimize noise. One cautious step at a time led him from the overturned table to the bar counter.
“To hell with ‘em!” One of the thugs screamed, shattering a glass and getting a muffled cry from someone else in hiding. “Oh, who’s this?”
“Would ya shut your gob?” He snapped, footsteps carrying Atlas closer to where Jack hid. An easier target at a closer range. “It ain’t her.”
His voice faded away slightly in the second sentence, but kept its distance. Atlas had turned his back on Jack without even knowing it. A smile came too easily and Jack took his position, elbows on the counter and just barely visible behind the staggered counter of the bar. Only enough visibility to aim.
As he settled Fontaine in his sights, Jack shivered and a tremor nestled in with the cold coursing through him. His finger hovered over the trigger but he couldn’t—He’d be so angry with Jack.
Who knew what else Atlas had on him? Were these trusted men of his, or would he hesitate to use trigger phrases around them? Biting his lip, Jack turned his aim to a woman past Atlas, putting her down in one shot.
“Shite,” he growled, sprinting to a battered table for cover in turn. Jack’s bullets strayed or ricocheted off furniture, never quite hitting home. Jack dropped down behind the counter, reloading and Atlas’ throaty laugh cut through him across the room.
“Real cute, that,” he taunted, continuing to talk to let Jack know exactly where he was moving. He knew it would be worse to know what was coming next.
The rebels with him were dragging their weapons against the walls, the floors, tables, anything to add to the mind games. There had to be four of them left including Atlas and yet it felt like an army. “Tell me, did ya come up with that yourself, boyo?”
Underneath it, he could still hear Fontaine just as plain as if he wasn’t trying at all. Or was that in his head? Jack maneuvered away from the bar towards a fallen pillar, pressing his back against that and straining to hear anything that might give Atlas away.
“Or did ya let the pretty lass do the thinkin’?”
The next few words were lost on Jack, staring at the vacant, clouded gaze of a heavily armed security guard gaping at him. A single grenade hung from a belt over his chest and Jack snatched it off him, dropping back against the pillar and pulling the pin. With all their racket, they didn’t even hear the grenade roll across the ground to their cover—
He hunkered down at the blast, a distant ringing stuck in his ears even as it faded. “—just a dirty lit’le maggot,” Atlas raged, storming behind the bar and Jack hurried out of his sight to the cover where is dead men waited. “Hide like a stinking coward, go on ahead! You won’t last pissing time.”
Jack exhaled and knelt by the blasted remains of a person, keeping his eyes on Atlas.
Who screamed next, Jack or the man at his feet, he didn’t know. Fingers coiled around his ankle and locked here, the splicer howling and pushing himself forward despite his legs ending in crude stumps.
Where’d the gun gone, when did he drop it? Jack pulled the crossbow over his head, beating the man over the head once, twice, again and again and again—
Breathless, he sat by the destroyed body and caught sight of the shoes at the other end leading up to the sneer on a familiar face. “I oughta kneecap you for that, boyo,” he drawled, gesturing with a gun to the dead man between them. “He was a right fighter, but I guess you figured that out.”
Every plan, every time he’d gone over this moment in his head, it was all gone. Jack backed away without even getting up and even the brief darkness of blinking, never mind looking away, had panic twisting his insides.
“Still an’ all, I’ve got one more experiment for you, Jack,” Atlas almost praised him and came down to his level, squaring the gun against his chest. “See you on the other side, boyo.”
The shot rang out and at first, it was just a tight pressure in his chest and a ragged breath ripped from his throat. After came the fire bursting in his chest not too much unlike the doses, the prodding, and his eyes rolled back.
“Don’t bleed out too quick, now,” Atlas taunted. “I’ll need a head start if I’m to get to the chamber before you. Remember,” his voice warped, pulse pounding in Jack’s ears. “God hates a quitter.”
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