(If you want, buy their previous rampages for $2 by clicking on the covers below.)
The smell of a noxious perfume fills their noses as Cassidy and Lloyd wake up to find themselves on the warm floor. Their muscles ache as they stand, a nearby column helping them avoid falling back down. Looking up, they can see the sweet-scented mist seeping out of vents in the ceiling, which is missing many of its tiles. It takes them a minute to realize that they are in an abandoned mall, which has been altered to act as a prison. Metal walls have been erected at the intersection to prevent the prisoners from reaching any of the old exits. Armed guards peek through the barriers while others rest in several of the stores that have been turned into heavily defended barracks. A stage with miniguns has been placed at each end of the hallway-like prison, the guards ready to unload on the crowd at the slightest provocation. With all of the holes in the neighboring stores, Cassidy and Lloyd get the feeling that the powerful weapons have been used very often.
The pair push through the crowd of people who are in various states of dress, most of them having already been subjected to Doctor Dragovic or the guards. Some people have scars on their heads, which have been shaved and opened up by the insane surgeon. Coming to a man who is arguing with his foot, Cassidy and Lloyd begin to think they were lucky to get out of the laboratory in one piece. Many of the prisoners have looks of fear and misery on their faces, the expressions feeling infectious whenever they turn to the wandering newcomers. Mixed in with the terrified and hopeless masses are those who are struggling to hide glints of defiance. They walk with more purpose and lack the full slump of the shoulders that so many have adopted due to constant cowering. To their relief, the pair see no children within the crowds, but it does not take long for them to worry that it is not as good a sign as they think.
Coming to the biggest intersection, Cassidy grabs Lloyd by the arm and nods her head at a crowd of the defiant prisoners. They are standing in a quiet mob, but she can tell that they are blocking something from view. Their attempts to remain inconspicuous are ruined by the way they hold their position and occasionally look back to whisper. Inching closer, Cassidy pretends to be searching for a dropped contact while Lloyd casually skips up to the nearest man. Peering through their legs, the mercenary can see a well-toned woman sitting in the middle of the crowd with a satellite phone in front of her. The prisoner is wearing a drab dress that is frayed at the bottom and kept up by staples in the shoulder straps. Hoping for an ally, Cassidy starts to crawl through one of the defender’s legs, but is knocked over when Lloyd barges into the middle and plops himself next to the startled woman. With the crowd in disarray, the mercenary scrambles into the center and takes a seat before punching her companion in the stomach.
“What the hell are you doing, dumbass?” Cassidy hisses as she waves to the men and women struggling to regain their composure. She smiles at the scowling prisoner who has three rows of sutures running along her shaved scalp. “I’m really sorry about my friend. He’s Lloyd and I’m Cassidy. We’re just arrived and woke up here after Dragovic did some examination. That should be enough of our story. What are you up to? More importantly, how did you smuggle a satellite phone into this place?”
“Don’t answer them, Lillian,” a man in the crowd whispers before he is silenced by a gentle pat to the calf.
“One of the stores had some in the back, so a guard that I had a fling with gave it to me for my silence,” the woman answers, her expression softening. Reaching out to Cassidy, she runs a finger along the mercenary’s forehead scar. “Sorry, but I thought that was something left by Dragovic. I can see you two haven’t been broken yet, which is good. The rebels could use more members on the inside. Are you local or did you get brought from the South? I ask because you have a touch of New York accent, which is unique here. I was under the impression that Tanner and his zealots weren’t having any luck in that area.”
“We’re from here and there,” Lloyd replies, leaning back when the woman takes a closer look at his face. He relaxes when she goes back to her satellite phone, which is making nothing more than clicks and beeps. “I’m a little confused here. My friend and I were told to come here and save the day. Trust me, we’re better at this than it seems. Why would Ben want us to be in Columbia if there was already a resistance?”
Cassidy nods her head and stands up to prevent her sore legs from getting worse. “One that already has people on the inside. You guys are about to make your move, right? I’ve seen a lot of you mixed in with the rest of the prisoners. This seems like an organized group, so what the hell are we going here?”
Lillian rhythmically taps the satellite phone on the floor for a few minutes, keeping her hand up for silence. Putting it to her ear, she listens to a series of noises and nods her head as if agreeing with them. A smirk on her face, she chuckles before going back to gently striking the device and waiting for a response. With nothing else to say, she turns the phone off and hands it to one of her allies, who slips it into a coat pocket. The crowd disperses and Lillian takes a hand to help her stand, the woman taking back her crutches. For the first time, Cassidy and Lloyd realize that her legs are covered in faint scars and the left one is practically useless. The limb remains stiff as the rebel leader heads goes in a different direction than the rest of her people and beckons for the newcomers to follow.
“Believe it or not, this happened before Tanner and Dragovic arrived. I was dragged behind a truck for being the type of person I am,” Lillian explains, her blue eyes darting from side to side. She nods to those who make a path for her, the looks of sympathy and pity no longer angering her. “This old guy named Ben showed up about a week ago and told my outside sources that help would arrive. If that’s you then you’re three days late. Not to mention we were under the impression that you would meet up with our people in the city. Instead, you’re in here and I’m guessing an electrified jeep that one of our scouting groups tried to claim is your doing as well. What in the world happened?”
“We ran into a hot tub and fully stocked kitchen back in Colorado,” Lloyd answers with a shrug. Most of those in earshot chuckle at the comment, but he notices that the lurking rebels are not amused. “All we have to go on is a map with stars and circles. That old guy gave us bupkis in terms of a time table and information. Unless it was that badly written jargon that I mistook for swirly doodles. Geez, that fossil must have written a note in cursive. There’s a time and place for fancy handwriting. Post-disaster wastelands aren’t on the list. So, do you still need our help or is everything good to go without us?”
“I’m killing Tanner,” Cassidy declares in a low voice. She cracks her knuckles and winces at a jolt of pain in her thumb. “That might have been a mistake. I’d like to shoot him with my mother’s gun. Feels like it would only be right. Where would they have put our gear? They disarmed us when we were brought in.”
“A constant problem on this adventure.”
“Shut the fuck up, Lloyd.”
“Seriously, we have a really bad habit of losing our shit.”
“Cram it in your suck-hole and go find some pants.”
“I’m fine as long as the main event is covered.”
Silently agreeing with Cassidy, Lillian reaches into a nearby bin and tosses a pair of dark red sweatpants to Lloyd. “They keep the confiscated weapons in a storage closet next to Dragovic’s lab. You might want to forget them once things start because there’s a long list of people who want to get their hands on the doctor. I’m more than willing to let you focus on Tanner while we take the prison over. All I ask is that you help with those miniguns. We’re positioning ourselves to claim them first since they’re the most dangerous weapons that our enemies have. Besides, two people with flamethrowers, who are waiting in the old shoe store. Have to stop talking since we’re almost in position. You’ll know when to move.”
After they walk a few more steps, Lillian lets out a curse and drops her crutches. She falls to the ground, her arms stretching to catch the edge of the stage. The guards are unsure if they should do anything since the woman is struggling to stay off the floor. Stepping out from behind his minigun, the nearest soldier moves to kick Lillian in the head. He stops when he catches the reflection of Cassidy sneaking onto the stage and getting to his weapon. Before he can shout, Lloyd hits him in the groin with one of the crutches and flips him into the crowd. With the rebel leader looking on in horror, many of the excited prisoners surge forward and others rush into the defended stores. The serial killer rolls onto the stage and lunges into the enemies, which shoves the other minigun operator away from the weapon.
The blossoming rebellion explodes into a massive riot when Cassidy opens fire on the metal barriers. Spotting snipers moving into the rafters, she strafes the ceiling and sends a rain of debris falling onto the crowd. None of the prisoners care since they are battling to escape and quickly realize that the destruction is being caused by their own side. Many of them shrug since a few cuts and bumps are worth not having to worry about the perched gunmen. The bodies that fall to the floor are practically ground chuck in clothing, the unfortunate people who are struck by them screaming at the top of their lungs. Cassidy can hear gunfire from the other stage, but there is no way to tell who is controlling the weapon. With a sharp whistle, she warns Lloyd to get to safety and swivels the minigun to unload on all of the enemies that are only a few feet away. Not seeing the serial killer, she worries that he did not hear her, but relaxes when he emerges from underneath the stage and rushes into the fray with a butcher knife that is still in its packaging.
Plumes of fire erupt from around the far corner, warning everyone that the flamethrowers are being used. The rioters’ fervor begins to dim at the thought of being roasted by the terrifying weapons. Before they can give in to their fear, the entire mall is filled with the sound of screeching tires and smashing stone. Vans barrel into the stores and pickup trucks smash through the metal walls, all of the vehicles coming from the outside and filled with heavily armed fighters. Wearing rainbow-colored bandanas, the rebels join the chaos and push their way toward the stages. A suit-wearing man with a machine gun stands atop one of the vans and fires at the guards with flamethrowers, who kill their enemy at the same time they are downed by bullets to the face. With so many heavy weapons destroyed or stolen, the guards begin to surrender or openly turn on their allies.
“This wasn’t how the plan was supposed to go,” Lillian complains as she hastily climbs onto the stage. She hops over to the other minigun, but curses when she sees that it has been destroyed by Cassidy. “Is this how you two operate? It’s amazing either of you are alive. I mean, you’re firing at anything that looks like an enemy while your friend is beating people with a plastic-covered knife. Sorry, he’s managed to get his hands on a lawn flamingo and . . . that’s disturbingly effective in his hands.”
“The man is a master at his trade,” Cassidy says with a grin.
Looking over her shoulder, the mercenary notices Chris Tanner and Doctor Dragovic running through the old department store. She swings the minigun around and strafes the glass doors, the bullets hitting the soldiers that protect her real targets. With a final burst from the weapon, she hits Dragovic in the back and sends him crashing to the ground. Cassidy curses when the minigun clips empty and she watches Chris duck behind a support column. She grabs a pistol and an assault rifle that are on the floor before sprinting through the destroyed entrance and leaving the chaotic battle behind.