Monday, November 25, 2013

Peaceful Genocide by J.A. Reynolds Excerpt

Peaceful Genocide Excerpt

A tank-sized, stiff old man loomed over her. “Congratulations,” he said. “You have passed your test.”
She jumped to her feet, a little wobbly and shaken, but mad as hell. She rushed the guy and shoved him in the shoulder. To her shock, her hand went straight through him and she smashed into the wall. She spun around. “What the fuck was that?”

The man’s face didn’t flinch and he stepped back in a lazy manner. In another blink, the man was gone.
Great. This place was ridiculous and bound to get Mitzi killed. No Christmas present for her parents this year. Not that she would’ve gotten them one anyway.
The little room she was in only had one white door. She groaned, already tired of these games, and stepped through it.
Another room came into focus. Clean, white, sterile. She could deal with that. Voices echoed around her. Taking hesitant steps, she followed the only hallway that led away from the door. As she walked, the layout imprinted in her brain.The flicker of the recessed lights overhead.The speckles in the floor beneath her.The grainy steel walls at her sides. She would remember every detail in perfect clarity, down to the tiny specks of dirt along the edge of the wall.
After a few short strides, the hallway opened into a room with plush red carpet, overstuffed chairs, and a long wooden table. There were only two doors in this room: the one she came in, and one by a small platform in the back. Twelve circular lights surrounded a black air vent in the middle of the room. She put the image of the room in her mind, matching it with the others areas of this place she could remember. Over time, she would create a diorama in her head. She’d learned from past experiences that the more she knew about the place she was trapped in, the better her chances for escape when shit went south. Not that she thought she’d be able to escape a detention center … but she could try. Then again, this place was already feeling very out-of-whack for a detention center.
There were three people leaning comfortably against the table. The tallest one, a buff kid with ragged brown hair, eyed her. His eyes, grey as the silver moon, reminded her of a hunter. Serious and determined.And cute. She had to admit he was cute. In that I’m-better-than-you-because-I’m-better-looking-than-you way. All jock.All cocky.Which was so not her type. He was the type she normally punched in the face after he tripped her in the school hallway.
“Took you long enough,” he said.
Another person, an impish girl who looked like she was getting ready to jump out of her own skin piped in. “Who got the best time? Me? I know it was me!”
Buff-kid let out a rumbling laugh. “No way. I was here first.”
Mitzi rolled her eyes.
“You look like someone dumped you out of a trash compactor.” This from a kid, maybe thirteen, with bright red hair and toffee skin. That was an odd combination.
“Whadoyou care?” Mitzi rubbed her sore arm and deposited herself in the nearest seat. Too bad it was only a few feet away from the entire population of Idiotville.
“What’s wrong with your hair?” Imp girl reached out and touched Mitzi’s hair.
Mitzi smacked her hand away. “Don’t touch me.”
The girl’s blonde hair fell over her pale blue eyes as she ducked and spun away.
“Hey.” Buff-kid bumped Mitzi’s shoulder. “No need to be rude.”
Mitzi flared her nostrils, jumped out of her seat and shoved him. “You don’t touch me, either.”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Red head boy stepped between them. “No fighting. We don’t even know what’s going on. No need to be at each other’s throats already.”
Buff-kid nodded. “Ralph’s got a point. But you, Smurf girl,” he pointed a sharp finger at Mitzi, “need to be nicer.”
“No name callin’,” Imp blondie called out from under her curtain of hair.
Mitzi held up her hand at the band of misfits. “Here’s an idea— stop talking to me.” She slid back down in her seat.
“The name’s Deuce.” Buff-kid held out his hand. Mitzi didn’t take it and he dropped it to his side. “This is Ralph.” He pointed to the redhead kid half his size. “And I think her name is Rose or Violet or something.”
“It’s Paisley,” the blonde girl stated.
“Whatever. I knew it was some kind of flower.”
Mitzi barked a laugh. “It’s not a flower, idiot. It’s a tear drop pattern shaped like a kidney originating from India.”
The boy who had identified himself at Deuce scrunched his face. “Well, whatever. What’s your name?”
“Mitzi.”
The redhead boy named Ralph chuckled. “What kind of name is that?”
Mitzi glared at him. “Jewish. So what?”
 “I think it’s pretty,” Paisley said.
Ralph shrugged his small shoulders. “Nothing. I was wondering if it was short for something. Jeez. Chill.” He turned and whispered something to Deuce. Deuce gave a lop-sided smile.
Great. Eight weeks of detention center bonding with these morons and she would go crazy.

* * * *

“Now back to testing your memories.” Mark locked eyes with Ralph. “You, Ralph. Tell me something specific you remember from the age of four.”
Ralph’s eyes darted up for only a split second before he blinked and smiled. “The carnival. July twenty-first. Dad spent forty-eight dollars trying to win me a blue, oversized teddy bear. It had four whiskers on each side, six buttons down its black coat, and no tail.”
“Good. Paisley? Age one.”
Paisley’s eyes fluttered. “December thirty-first. My first birthday and New Year’s Eve. We went to the lakeshore that night. Two hundred and eighty sets of fireworks went off. Red, green, white, all starbursts. Blue, yellow, green, big crackers with a loud bang and then a fizzle of red streaks—”
“That’s good. We don’t need to know about all two hundred and eighty.” Another smile lifted his face. “Deuce? Age ten.”
Deuce’s eyes brightened. “My first football game.Junior league. I was quarterback. Nervous. Blue forty-two was the first call. It had rained that morning. There were still droplets of water on the grass. We won. The opponents kept switching between two lame plays. That was the first time I’d told my coach I could memorize the other teams movements and intercept them. Jackpot.” A cocky smile split his face. Mitzi swallowed the groan that threatened to escape her lips.
Mark nodded, almost proudly, and looked at Mitzi. “You—age twelve.”
Mitzi shuddered. The age of twelve had been one of the hardest years of her life. She closed her eyes, trying to force the flashes of memories away from her vision. No luck. She saw it like it was happening right then. Sprawled out on the icky leather couch, her pants around her ankles, her face pressed into a researcher’s stiff cotton shirt. Her stomach churned as her memory sped forward. She laid face down on a bed, her back slashed open. She shook violently from the pain. Her father stood above her, his breath heaving.
“Mitzi?”
Mark’s voice snapped her to attention again.
“A bike ride with friends. Pink bike, white banana seat, twenty four spokes on each wheel. We went to the ice cream shop; four blocks and two rights turns from my house. August second.”
He tilted his head. “And your conversation?”
“Music.” She shrugged. “Makeup, boys.The norm.”
His brow lifted, like he wasn’t sure he believed her. Smart man.
“Good,” he concluded. “You should be happy to know that you four are the only four people we’ve found to have your gift of Perpetual Retention. There are those who have photographic memories, but that’s quite different. Your skills are more finely tuned and heightened beyond simply remembering a “picture” in your head. You four are the only subjects we have found that can remember how many little creatures hung from the mobile in your crib. You’re the only ones who can remember what the first words your parents said to you were. You’re the only ones with infinite memory capabilities, with proficiency at recalling anything from your past—down to the smallest detail—anytime.” His eyes glimmered. “Again … fascinating. And we’re here to study that gift. Then hone it.”
Hone it? Mitzi didn’t want to hone this skill. Her memory was already sharp enough. Too sharp. The last thing she needed was to enhance it.
“What if we change our minds?” she said, irritation settling in.
Another one of those half-smiles made Mitzi hide her shiver. “Too late. Payments have been made, arrangements already set. You’ll be released into your parents’ custody in eight weeks. No sooner. Sorry to say you’re stuck here.”
Tightness coiled around Mitzi’s chest. She might not remember exactly how she got here, or why in the hell she’d agreed to come in the first place, but she did know one thing—they couldn’t keep them here against their will. Even though they were young, they had rights.

*

“Welcome to The Fifteen.” Mark held both hands out to his sides. “Don’t get excited; you aren’t really outside. This is a simulated environment.”
Deuce slumped. It looked so real. Air breezed across his face, ruffling his hair. The bright sun made him squint. He could smell the freshly cut grass. It was too realistic to be fake.
“The Fifteen consists of only one thing: an obstacle course.”
Deuce sat up straighter. An obstacle course, no matter if it was real or fake, was definitely something he was up for. Something he could dominate.
“What do we get if we get done first?” Ralph piped up. “Do we win?”
Mark smiled knowingly. “This isn’t a competition, Ralph. You’ll all be going through together. And you’ll all be finishing together.”
A loud groan came from Mitzi. Deuce grimaced. He didn’t mind teamwork; quite the opposite, really. But working with someone who didn’t do teamwork was going to get on his nerves. And Mitzi wasn’t the teamwork type. Maybe he could tape her mouth shut, strap her to the energizer bunny, Paisley, and get out of The Fifteen fast enough to have an early dinner. Now that was a plan.
“First run starts now.”
Seatbelt-type appendages lifted from the back of Deuce’s chair and folded across his chest and legs, locking him in place. The others had been locked down, too. Mitzi let out a yelp, and Deuce rolled his eyes. Their seats were thrust upward, like they’d been shot out of cannon. Deuce clenched his teeth, but kept his eyes wide. The ground whizzed by beneath him as an invisible force shot him up and over the horizon. The ground below was oddly shaped like a huge piece of pie. Wooden buildings, metal mazes, and patches of black littered the landscape below. His heart rate escalated with the knowledge he would soon get the athletic release he needed.
His breath whooshed out as his forward motion stopped abruptly and he plummeted toward a small lake below. He clutched the arms of his chair. A pop from behind him made him lurch forward. A bright red parachute exploded out of the back of his chair, fanning out to slow his trip back to earth.
With a splash, he landed near the shore of the still, blue water. He was still strapped to the heavy chair and before he could blink, he was pulled underwater. Staying calm, he fiddled with the straps around his chest, easily finding a buckle on both shoulders. His fingers remained steady as he found the buckle on his lap belt. Pumping his arms and legs, he crested the water, inhaling a breath of warm air.
What a freakin’ rush.
His eyes scanned the top of the water. Paisley, Ralph, and Mitzi landed several yards away. Ralph was the first the breach the water, laughing. Paisley came next, coughing and splashing like she couldn’t swim. Within seconds she’d calmed herself and bobbled while her eyes darted around.
 After more than fifteen seconds, Mitzi still hadn’t surfaced.

*

Mitzi jogged down to her room. She didn’t care what Mark had said. She didn’t care that Deuce thought all of this research was for the greater good. She’d been in enough bad research situations to know when something was awry. And Mark and his people smelled more than fishy. They were outright foul.
She put her hand in the scanner, waited for the door to slide open, and then froze mid-step when she looked up at a willowy, tall blonde standing in the middle of the room. She looked familiar, but Mitzi couldn’t place where she’d seen her. Odd. Mitzi hated the blips that seemed to be missing from her memory. That wasn’t normal.
“Who are you? And what the hell are you doing in my room?”
The woman’s glossy pink lips curled in a smile. “This might be your room, Mitzi, but this is my facility. I have the right to be wherever I want, whenever I want.”
Mitzi’s expression went from flat, to flat-out pissed. She took a cautionary step, casting her eyes over the rest of her empty room. “What do you want?”
“I’m Ikea.” The woman held out her hand. Mitzi looked at it and grunted. “I’ve heard you’re having some trouble with the study. Would you like to talk to me about it?”
Vate faire foutre.” Mitzi could get used to the cursing in a foreign language thing. It made her feel better and no one knew what she was saying.
Ikea’s eyes went wide. “French?Qu’il lest intelligent.”
Fuck. Mitzi bit her bottom lip. “Qué hay de espanol?”
.”
Mitzi's temper flared. “Che ne dici di italiano?”
Ikea’s eyes glimmered like a predatory cat. “Naturalmente.”
Great. Mitzi’s breath rushed out. The woman spoke four languages—and probably more. Not that Mitzi wanted to stand there any longer and find out. After several minutes of staring each other down, Mitzi spoke. “Why do you think I’ll talk to you, because you’re a woman?”
A bubbly laughed escaped her lips. “No, actually. I’d hoped you’d listen to me because I am one.”
“Sorry.” Mitzi folded her arms. “Not interested. I need to check out of here. ASAP.”
Ikea’s perfectly round blue eyes widened for a brief second before she gave a soft smile. “So then,” she said in an annoying preschool-teacher-type voice, “no talking?”
Mitzi shrugged and pushed past the woman, heading for her foot locker. She wrenched it open and yanked out her clothes. “You can talk,” she grumbled. “Doesn’t mean I’ll be listening.”
Ikea’s four-inch heals clicked on the floor as she maneuvered to Mitzi. Mitzi froze when the woman’s cold hand landed on her own.
“Don’t touch me.” She jerked her hand away and continued stuffing her clothes into her bag.
“I know about you, Mitzi.” The woman’s voice was uncharacteristically calm and soothing.
“So?” She slammed the lid to the footlocker, swinging her bag around her shoulder. “Lots of people know about me.”
“Do they know that you killed a researcher during a study or that you tried to cripple your father?”
Mitzi halted at the door and half-turned to see Ikea, her jaw agape. “How do you know that?”
“I know everything. About all of you. This study requires me to know the most intimate details of your lives. I even know about your scars, Mitzi. And how you got them.”
Heat flared in her cheeks. “How do I get out of here?”
The attractive blonde shook her dainty head. “You don’t understand. This study depends on you. All of you.”
Something tight constricted around Mitzi’s body from behind. She jerked, but couldn’t move. Her legs kicked and flailed, but the squeeze continued.
“What—” She couldn’t breathe. The aired was sucked right out of her lungs.
Ikea’s face blurred. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Really…I am.”
Lights out.

*
Mitzi couldn’t tell if they were moving up, down, or sideways, but the centrifugal force she felt hinted at a circle. Weird. After several long minutes the door slid open. She followed Deuce out, making sure to catch every detail of this new space. And this new space was huge. By far the largest room Mitzi had come across since arriving. It was easily the length of a football field, and just as wide. The walls were a weird iridescent black, almost like huge tiles of see-through computer chips. As she took more steps, she was immediately flanked on both sides with rows of tables, computers and people—researchers with the standard OWR white coats. It looked like something out of mission control during those stupid space flights. The people looked up as she continued to follow Deuce, then she caught sight of the other people in the room, the ones lined along the walls behind the people sitting at the computer stations. They were men, all dressed in black camouflage, making them almost invisible against the wall. Their feet were spread apart, their shoulders stretched wide and tense, as if they would need to attack at any moment. They had harnesses around their shoulders, showcasing powerful automatic weapons. Each of them had dark eyes, intently focused forward. When Mitzi continued forward, she realized the men’s eyes were following them.
“Who are they?” Mitzi whispered to Deuce.
His broad shoulder lifted and fell. “They look like military … only different.”
Mitzi drew her bottom lip into her mouth. “Yeah.Scarier.”
Mitzi let her eyes continue to survey and catalog everything from the polished concrete floor to the round lights hanging over thirty feet above them. There were no other doors she could see, no vents hiding among the black walls or ceiling. Everything looked modern and digital somehow; sleek, clean, perfect. If she could picture the inside of a circuit board, this would be it. Except without the scary men.
Her gaze swept forward and she caught site of it. It being the only word she could think off. Jutting up from the center of the room was a muted grey… something…easily the size of two fire trucks stacked on top of each other. It was like a giant aerosol can perched on its side, off the floor, and held in a teetering position by a giant metal spring. Perhaps it was a giant airplane without the wings? But it had no windows and most certainly didn’t look like it could fly—not now or ever. Airplanes were normally built from aluminum and lightweight composite materials. Mitzi was no expert, but even from her distance she could tell the outer shell probably wasn’t aluminum. Her eyes narrowed in on the seams and rivets, noticing the thickness of the material and the difference between how this thing looked compared to the outside of the very building they were in.  Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t built the same as the building, definitely wasn’t lightweight, and most certainly not aluminum.  Steel perhaps.
A narrow set of stairs led upwards from the ground, beginning at the underbelly of the giant can. Which meant it might not have any windows, but there must be a door underneath it. Mitzi was pretty damn sure she didn’t want to go into this thing. There was no telling what kind of whacked out machine it was—or what it would do to them. Looking at everything they’d been through already, this machine was probably some high-tech torture device, meant to harvest their brains or something. Mitzi withheld a shiver.
It had a series of numerals and letters written across the top in white.  Mitzi put the combination in her memory, trying to find a connection to something. She came up with nothing. She didn’t like it when she came up with nothing. .
Mark came to a halt on a set of rubber mats that separated the shiny grey concrete floor—where the computers and people were—from a red floor, where the contraption sat. Mitzi craned her neck to get a better look at the thing. Even this close she couldn’t get a handle on it—or what it could do. It just looked like a giant un-winged airplane. 
“I seriously feel like I just walked into Star-Trek,” Deuce commented, which made Mitzi chuckle. What he saw and what she saw were two completely different things.
Mark gave a confident smile. “Oh, this is far better than Star-Trek, I assure you. There are things we can do in here that would fascinate the most obstinate critic in our field.”
The way in which he spoke had chills racing up Mitzi’s spine.
“Prove it,” Mitzi countered.
“My pleasure.” Mark waved them forward. “Step onto the rubber mat.” Mark stepped off.
Paisley stepped on without hesitation. Deuce cast Mitzi a sidelong glance, then moved forward. Mitzi looked around, met the fixated gazes of the people watching, and then shuffled her feet to the mat.
Mark nodded to the left and the airplane contraption lit up behind him like the freakin’ sun. Mitzi squinted. She’d scanned every inch of that thing and she was one hundred percent certain it didn’t have any lights anywhere on it. Was it glowing from within? Perhaps the outside wasn’t steel at all, but a thick cover of plastic made to look like steel. And if someone put circuits of lights behind the plastic and turned it on, bam! Instant blindness.
“That all you got?” she asked. Since letting her skeletons out of the closet with Deuce, Mitzi had let her annoying side back out. No more niceties for the staff. It was best to keep her guard up at all times. Annoying the staff, she learned, was the easiest way to get them to come unhinged and say something they weren’t supposed to. Thus far, Mark proved the hardest to provoke. “A giant Christmas tree ornament? Not impressed.”
Mark’s grin was fast and malevolent.
The rubber mat beneath Mitzi shifted, making her tense. Before she could speak, or even move, the floor beneath her sucked her down like a vortex. She screamed like the girl she was and the last thing she saw before the floor swallowed her completely was Deuce’s hand reaching down for her.

*

Mitzi lunged at the men, who had separated and swarmed around her. Good hell, they were like eight feet tall. Her brain went into high speed as she began rapidly eyeing the area around her and calculating the exact moment she would need to fry these guys and escape.
One of the gorillas rushed her, head bent down like a damn linebacker getting ready to pummel his opponent. She took advantage of his stance, leaping up on his back and pushing off. The momentum propelled her high enough to grab a low ceiling pipe. She clutched it with one hand, amazed at how easily she held her own weight. As the men continued to stalk her, she swung her feet at their heads, knocking some of them out.
Doing her best imitation of a gymnast, she rocked on the pipe, swinging her feet forward until she touched another pipe. A little less graceful, she hooked her leg around it and pulled herself completely up, the Retrospection Machine still safe in her free hand. The hot poker dangled below on the cord and she yanked it up.
The gorilla’s jumped and swatted, unable to get a grip on her. This pipe was thicker than the first and she was able to get up on her knees. Crawling across the pipe, she honed in on trying to zap the monsters around her. She counted six of them total; two had already been knocked out by her feet. Four left.
The pipe cracked as she crawled along, and then snapped completely, making her tumble forward onto one of the men. He clutched her by the throat and tossed her to the other side of the room. Dazed, she scrambled to her feet in time to see the four men form a wall coming straight at her.
This was sick. And not in a good way. Again she calculated her surroundings, certain she was trapped. The only way out was to fight. And for crying’ out loud, she was girl. Not that girls couldn’t fight. But one single girl could not out maneuver four grown men.
But men did have a weakness that girls didn’t. A wicked smile came from her thought. She crouched down waiting for them to close the distance. The hot poker thing was in her grip.
Three more steps.
Two.
One.
Bam.
Her right leg kicked out, slamming Mr. Macho man right in the balls and he fell to his knees. At the same time, she hurled the hot poker into the crotch of another man and pushed the  power button. He fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Her grin widened.
The two remaining men stayed focused on her, dragging her up by her coat and shaking her like a damn can of spray paint. Her neck threatened to snap.
“You should’ve followed the rules.” The icy voice of Ikea floated into Mitzi’s ears again.
“Bitch.”
Mitzi’s knee collided full force with a man’s stomach. He grunted, but didn’t lose his grip. With the hot poker thing still in her hand, she jammed it into the side of his neck. Fumbling, she found the shock button and pressed it.
Out like a light.
Swinging around before the other man could react, she rolled forward, putting herself behind him. With a lunge, she stabbed him in the back of the neck and hit the button. Another one bit the dust.
A hand gripped her ankle and yanked her down. She hit the floor with a crack, snapping her head back. She looked around, noticing that one of the men she had kicked in the head had woken … and looked mad as hell.
He didn’t say anything as he tossed her a shiny black ball. Mitzi recognized the detonation device quickly and tossed it away. But not far enough. With the vice-grip on her ankle, she couldn’t get out of the way.
The detonation device exploded, blinding her with a light followed by a deafening boom. Her ears felt like they busted out and sprays of glass and bits of metal fell all over her. As the commotion settled she tried to wiggle away. A large pipe lay across her right leg, and that damn meat-hook clung to her left. And then the man opened his eyes.
Without missing a beat, she jabbed the poker into his closest body part—his face—and slammed her hand on the button.
Bingo.
The man jerked and jolted like a fish out of water. Heaving, she stared at the crumbling ceiling, her vision breaking way to black spots. That sucked.

*

A flock of men, twenty or more, strode out of the abyss of night. Deuce could only see flashes of their movement and he hoped the men weren’t armed. He doubted it. Without even speaking, Mitzi and Deuce locked eyes and set out in a dead run into the blinding snow.
People rushed them and Deuce kept his arm out, clothes lining and bumping people out of the way. Mitzi ducked and bobbed, sending people over her back.
“There it is!” Mitzi shouted.
Their run broke into a sprint, faster than Deuce had ever run on any field. Ice formed around the condensation on his nose from his heavy breaths. The helicopter door was open and Paisley was frantically waving them forward. Crashing into the side door of the chopper, Deuce lifted Mitzi inside with one arm.
“Who’s supposed to fly this thing?” Paisley called out.
Deuce cast an eye back at the men closing in on them. “I don’t know.”
“Me.” The hard voice came from Mitzi. Deuce almost fell over in shock. She shook her entire body from head to toe and slid into the cockpit.
“Hurry,” Paisley called.
Deuce watched in amazement as Mitzi flipped on a set of switches, her face glowing red from the lights. She turned a key and the rotor blades whirled to life, whipping the snow up around him. He jumped in and went to slam the door shut. Arms like tentacles shot through the door, grasping and clawing at whatever it could. He couldn’t get it closed. The arms failed and tugged, pulling half a man’s body through the partially open door.
“Mitzi! We need to go up! Now!” Deuce batted away the arms. He opened the door a smidge and slammed it back shut on the man’s frame. He didn’t even make a sound, he just kept coming. His hands were joined by two more. Together their arms tried to pry the door open.
“What do I do?” Paisley squeaked. “How can I help?”
“Mitzi!”
“Stop yelling at me! I’m doing this from memory, damn it. I need a freakin’ second.”
“We don’t have a second.” He kept as much pressure against the door as he could but it was starting to inch backward.
Deuce reached for his gun. “Paisley, can you shoot them?”
Her eyes went wide with fear. She backed away.
“Paisley, remember what I said. It’s not real.”
Her little head shook, her arms waving around her in shock. “I can’t.”
Deuce eyed Ralph sprawled out on the floor. He wasn’t moving.
“Mitzi, I need your help back here.”
Her voice was loud and harsh. “I’m trying to fly a God damn helicopter right now!”
“Paisley. Look at me. Good.” Deuce applied more pressure to the door and kicked at the appendages. The things were like robots. “Do you like to fly?”
She nodded quickly.
“Good. Go take Mitzi’s place. She’ll tell you how to fly. Tell her to come back here or we won’t make it out of here.”
Paisley darted to the front. Deuce heard Mitzi let out a long curse before joining him, Paisley’s gun clutched in her hand.
“Shoot them!” Deuce commanded when she only stared at him straining.
She didn’t. She cocked her hip. “If I don’t hit them, or maybe even if I do, the bullet will ricochet and come back inside here. Do you want a bullet in your stomach?”
“It’s not real, Mitzi. Shoot the damn thing.”
“I’m not taking any chances.” She put her weight against the door, helping Deuce keep it shut. “When we get in the air, we’ll open the door and let them fall.”
Deuce nodded, in no mood to argue.
“Paisley,” she called out. “Put your right hand on the control lever. That stick in front of you. Now put your left hand on the horizontal stick to your left.” She grunted as she put more weight on the door.
Damn, these monsters were strong. The door continued to inch open.
“Got it!”
“Good. Lift the collective control stick—the thing in your left hand. It’ll make us go up. The Cyclic, the stick in your right hand will make us go forward when you press it forward. Make sure we’re up in the air a good ways before pressing the cyclic forward. And don’t press it too hard. You need to keep a balance.”
The roar of the rotors grew louder as the chopper lurched up.
“Hold on!” Mitzi shouted.
They were jostled about as Paisley tried to figure out how to steer the metal monster.
“Uh, how easy is it to crash this thing?” Deuce asked.
Mitzi blinked. “Very. Use the rudders, Paisley—those little pedals on the floor to keep us going straight.”
Deuce’s stomach heaved as the chopper dived to the left. The rotating blades crashed against the concrete outside, snapping the chopper back, wrenching the entire compartment in a jumble. Mitzi’s grip slipped off the door. Deuce snatched her hands and pulled her back. Jeez. They weren’t even that far off the ground yet.
“Get the balance of it, Paisley! Just like I explained. You can do it!”
After several long, bouncing moments, the chopper evened out. The arms still grabbed at the door.
“How high are we Paisley?” Mitzi yelled out. “Check the altimeter.”
“The what?”
“The altimeter. It’s a round gauge that says ALT. There’s a long, white marker on it and numbers one through ten. Where is the marker?
“Two little notches before the one.” Paisley sounded hoarse from all the screaming.
Mitzi nodded. “Good.” She locked eyes with Deuce. “We’re sixty feet up. Open the door.”
Deuce released his hold, allowing the door to whoosh open. The flailing sets of arms kept a firm grip. Deuce tried to pry the hands back, amazed at their strength. The two men were dangling almost six stories up, trying to pulling themselves into the chopper. And they were succeeding.
“Mitzi!Their hands. Help me.”
Mitzi pitched forward, arms out. One of the octopus hands shot out and grabbed her by the ankle. It jerked her off her feet.
“Deuce!”
Deuce didn’t have time to react before the hand ripped her right out of the chopper. “Mitzi!” He flattened himself on the floor and looked over the edge. A piece of the skid had snagged her jacket and she was dangling helplessly.
The two men were still trying to climb into the chopper. Deuce pulled his sidearm out of the holster and fired without thinking, hitting both men in the chest numerous times.  Their hands slipped and they fell into the whiteness of the blizzard below.
“Mitzi! Hold on!” He flipped himself out the door, putting his feet on the skid bar. The wind was turbulent, making his balance shaky. He went down on his stomach and scooted toward the edge of the skid. Mitzi looked up at him. Her eyes were the size of softballs, the whites streaked with red.
“Take my hand!”
She shook her head.
“Take it!” He thrust it toward her again.
Her head fell back, breaking eye contact. He edged closer, but not close enough to snatch her up without her help. She had to trust him.
“Mitzi!”
The chopper rocked right, nearly tossing Deuce off the skid. Even through the roar of the chopper blades, Deuce heard the rip of Mitzi’s coat. He threw his arm just in time. She latched one like it was a lifesaver.
He swung his right arm under the bar, gripping her shoulder with everything he had. The chopper blade whipped air down on him from the left. On his right side, there was a strange uplift.
“Do you trust me?” He asked her ghost-pale eyes.
Her fingers sank into his jacket. “Yes.”
“Let go.”
“What?” Her shriek could no doubt be heard for miles.
“If you let go, I can swing you around on my right. I won’t be able to pull you up on the left, the downdraft is too strong.”
If possible, her face paled even more. Her lips quivered, her nails puncturing the thick fabric of his coat and biting into his skin. He twisted his legs around the skid, giving him more of an anchor.
His eyes caught hers. “Let go.”
She did.




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