One Hour [A Laura Axle E-Single (Liberatchik.com exclusive)]

Laura Axle

 

This is a work of fiction. Characters, institutions, products and organizations mentioned in this series are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously without any attempt to describe actual conduct or usage.

Copyright © 2013 by Craig S. Brantley

 

 

2:30 AM

Shanghai

 

 

“I’m dying,” coughed out the lean Asian man lying prone on the couch. Frantically checking the medipacks she had applied to his chest wound, the  woman could see that he was right. Nevertheless, she said, “No, you’ll be okay.” She pressed on the medipacks tighter. Like living clay, they adhered to the wound, pulsing, staunching the bleeding and injecting antibiotics. But they could do nothing for the internal injuries that the man had suffered.

 

The lithe blonde grimaced at her memory of the pickup of this defector, Guan Hua Tong. About an hour ago, she had met him as planned on a stone bridge in the Waitan District, what foreigners called “the Bund.” Everything had seemed completely normal. But everything had gone completely wrong, with plainclothes Asia Union Security Bureau men emerging seemingly out of nowhere—how did I miss that kind of heavy surveillance?, Laura kept mentally kicking herselfThe SB men bracketing them, demanding surrender in Mandarin and English, Laura answering with her Belgian-made FN 5.7, the SB men returning fire with their QBZ-95 assault rifles,   Tong wounded in the crossfire and Laura—like a lethally vicious magician– using a cheap but still-effective M18 smoke grenade to confuse their pursuers. Amidst all this were panicked pedestrians screaming—some of them also hit in the crossfire—and scattering in all directions.

 

Laura half-dragged the wounded Tong  into a Mercedes convertible stalled in the thick of this chaos, whose Armani-clad owner she’d had to kick twice hard in the head with her Alexander Mcqueen boots before he would abandon the car, spitting teeth. Laura then sped away in the stolen vehicle, chased by a flurry of 42mm rounds that would have riddled the car if the SB men had been able to get clear shots through the smoky  haze.

Which brought her back to the grim present.

 

“You’re not dying,” Laura repeated and, extending the lie, said, “I’ve seen people recover from worse.”

“I really wanted to see America. I’ve never been, you know?” said Tong. “I’m…not allowed to travel outside the AU.”

Now the man was coughing up globs of blood. A very bad sign, Laura knew.  “Just get some rest,” she said.  “Save your strength.” Laura cradled his head gently. But it was clear he was on  the way out. No amount of sisterly comfort was going to change that.

“America,” the man continued. “I wanted to experience it.  I guess it must sound so strange to someone like you…who was…who was born there.”

“America collapsed a long time ago,” Laura cautioned. “And you guys…the Asia Union…are one of the Big Three. America’s just a backwater now.” Why am I talking politics with a dying man?, thought Laura. Still, she looked gently down at the man and tried to project something of a smile.

“I know you guys are broke….been broke…and…. technologically behind for decades,” answered Tong, becoming hoarse now as he forced out his words. But you’ve got the right system. You’ve just got to fix it. Back to first principles, so to speak.”

“Just rest,” Laura urged.

Ignoring her, Tong went on, “I wanted to buy a gun, too. You know civilians can’t own them in the AU, right?”

Laura nodded, and then added. “Unless Langley puts you in a Complex, you’d certainly need a gun in America nowadays: 2 or 3 of them. No one answers 911 anymore.”

 

“Can I touch it?” He pointed toward the FN 5.7 in Laura’s shoulder holster, still visible under her Cole Haan brown leather jacket. Tong tried to raise his hand but couldn’t. What could be the harm now? So Laura popped out the ammunition clip, cleared the round in the chamber, and put it in the man’s hand. He was so weak now that he could not even close his hand around the grip.

And it was that sudden.

The quantum physicist, the man Laura Axle had come 12,000 kilometers to get, expired. His eyes glazed over, his breathing stopped, and he was staring at nothing but the next world. Laura checked his vitals to confirm what she already knew. She closed the dead man’s eyelids and, after popping the clip back in, holstered the FN 5.7. Then she crossed the Spartanly-furnished room, sat on her haunches and brooded. The mission was a failure. The AU genius would never have a chance to share his secrets with a rundown America that desperately needed them.

 

To cap everything, it would be a miracle if she could escape the massive security dragnet sweeping this continent looking for her. If this safehouse was blown, she’d soon be dead or in an interrogation cell. So nothing had come of any of this.

No, she corrected herself. Something had. For an hour …just one hour…a man had been set free.

 

Laura looked out the safehouse window at the Pearl River. On it, a lonely freighter sounded its horn as it headed out into the Pacific.

 

[END]

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Christopher Cook

    Sounds great!

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