"I'm going, John, and that's final." Susanne and Byers had been shouting at each other about this for the last half hour, and Frohike was getting sick of the noise level. Byers was, of course, insisting that it wasn't safe for her to go with them. She had retorted that it wasn't exactly going to be a walk in the park for them either, and besides, Landau had grabbed Langly, not her. They had made precisely zero progress in convincing each other. It seemed to be a textbook case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
"I won't let you!" Byers was giving her the clenched teeth, hairy eyeball treatment. Frohike was about to step in, if only to preserve his sanity, when Susanne slapped her gun down on the table.
"John, do you know how to use this?"
He looked at it uneasily. "No," he admitted quietly. The thought of handling a loaded pistol tended to give him butterflies under the best of circumstances.
"Well, I do, and we just might need it."
"What about Frohike? He can shoot," Byers offered.
Frohike shook his head. "I'm not sticking my foot into that right now. Besides, she's right. She should come with us."
"What?" Byers looked at Frohike as though he'd been utterly betrayed. "How can you say that?"
"Because it's true. Another set of eyes and hands may help keep us all alive, which is the ultimate objective here. We know she can shoot. And this is about her life, too. She should have a hand in helping herself." Frohike put a hand on Byers' arm. "She's not some wilting wallflower, you know. Susanne can take care of herself. You can't make that choice for her."
Byers sighed and turned his eyes to the floor, defeated. "You're right." He looked up at his lover. "I'm sorry, Susanne. I just worry about you, and I don't want you to get hurt." He reached out to her.
She put her arms around him and they held one another tightly. "I know, John. But I worry about you, too, and the only way I'm going to worry less is to be there with you, where I can do something to help."
"Not that I want to interrupt you two love birds here," Frohike said, "but we do have things to do before we head out."
They looked over at the older man, then started moving to gather the necessary equipment. Susanne stepped over to him and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Mel. I'm glad you understand."
He nodded. "Byers has this stubborn streak, and sometimes he just doesn't see the logic of things very well. Where you're concerned, he thinks with his heart." Or his dick, Frohike thought.
She smiled and went to help collect things.
OUTSIDE AN ABANDONED FOUNDRY IN YORK, PA
"Test," Frohike whispered into his headset, "Fenris, you out there?"
"Yeah, yeah," Byers replied, closely examining the blueprint of the foundry. "We're fine, we read you five by five."
Beside him, Susanne pointed to the access point shown on the print of the foundry's roof; the entry to the ventilation shaft they were supposed to climb through. Byers looked up through the night vision goggles to see if the stack was still there. The roof was awfully high up, he thought. The climb would be risky, but he and his friends had done far more difficult jobs in the past.
"Are you in position?" he asked in return.
"Check," Frohike answered. "All quiet on the western front. Do you see your access point?"
After a moment, Byers spotted the rusted out stack. They wouldn't need to remove the top to get in. Actually, it looked like some of the metal might be fairly sharp. He was glad for the protection of the leather gloves that were a normal part of their funky poaching attire. "Got it. Looks in bad shape. You?"
"I'm on approach."
"We're up and moving."
Byers motioned Susanne toward the wall with his head as he pulled a grapnel launcher from his pack. Together they moved stealthily across the overgrown gravel yard around the darkened building, making their way among rusting train cars and piles of ancient scrap. At least there's some cover, Byers thought. Better than some approaches they'd had to make. And no guards either. He hoped they had the right building.
Once near the wall, the pair stopped, silent black pools in the shadows. Byers eyed the roof, looking for the most likely angle for a good weight-bearing grapnel purchase. There were several possible options and Byers picked one at random, taking careful aim. He pulled the trigger and the grapnel flew skyward, trailing cable with a quiet shirr. He heard the grapnel hit the roof, and pulled, securing the metal hook to the edge of the roof and assuring himself that it would hold him. Detaching the remaining few feet of cable from the reel, he put the launcher back in his pack and checked his climbing harness. He'd instructed Susanne in its use before they left for this mission, and she checked hers as he'd taught her.
"Are you secure?" he asked her.
"Yes. A little nervous though. I've never done this before." She looked at him anxiously. He encircled her with his arms and held her close for a moment before returning to the task at hand.
"This is actually the easy part of the entry," he said. With a quick, practiced motion he linked himself to the cord and began walking silently up the wall. "Follow close but not too close. I'll help you over the edge at the top."
She nodded as he looked down at her, and attached herself to the line. Then she began her own, less assured ascent. Frohike could hear both of them beginning to breathe heavily from the effort of the climb up the wall. At least, he thought, Susanne's presence hadn't distracted Byers into frantic anxiety. He was feeling a little bit proud of the boy. They all knew that the main issue here was extracting Langly and rendering Timmy incapable of endangering them again, and Byers was really too sensible to let his anxiety over Susanne keep him from helping their younger comrade, particularly since they were together and he knew that, for the moment at least, she was as safe as he was.
"I'm at my point," Frohike whispered.
"Okay," Byers huffed, continuing to climb.
Reaching into his trusty lockpick set, Frohike pulled out a can of WD-40 and began the task of cracking the stiff, ancient lock. Never leave home without it, he thought.
Susanne followed John up the long vertical wall, breathing hard. She could feel her fear increasing the further she climbed, and she watched as he reached the top and hauled himself quickly and smoothly up over the edge. It looked dangerous, but revealed that John had rather more physical strength than a cursory assessment might suggest; even though she knew he had done this many times before, she worried that he might fall -- it appeared to be a somewhat awkward maneuver. For that matter, would she fall? She shook the thought from her head. John would never let her if he could possibly prevent it. The leather gloves provided a good grip, and the harness held her securely.
"Here," he said, reaching down to her, "let me help you up." Gingerly, she reached a hand up to him, and they both grasped firmly, then joined both hands. "Take a deep breath, then let it out slow and bend toward me," he instructed her. She did as he said, and he lifted her smoothly up onto the roof to her waist. He put an arm around her and helped her get her legs and feet over the edge. She stood shakily. "Are you alright?" he asked quietly. Susanne nodded silently, taking deep, steadying breaths. The roof was sloped and rather uneven.
"Do you want to hold my arm up here?" Byers asked.
She was determined not to let him treat her like a fragile, incapable creature. "No," she replied, "you have enough to pay attention to already. You don't need me to distract you."
He looked her in the eyes and nodded, then spent a moment reeling in the cable and sliding the slender coil over his shoulder. "Let's go."
They moved stealthily to their chosen ventilation shaft, and stopped to assess the situation. "Baldur, progress?" Susanne asked as Byers carefully examined the stack.
"Almost in, Freya."
"Let me see the blueprint," Byers asked. Susanne handed it over and they compared the original specs to the actual condition of the ventilation stack. "This is good," Byers said, "the stack's a good ten feet shorter than it was before. It should only be about. . ." he eyeballed it and made a quick calculation "eight feet to the first horizontal joint. It may not be in good shape, though." He pressed against the rusted shaft, and some of the upper three inches crumbled under his fingers. "This part may be dangerous."
Looking around, he spotted a nearby lead pipe rising from the roof and anchored the grapnel to it, dropping the coil of cable into the wide opening of the stack. "I'm going in first. If it's safe, I'll call you down."
"Be careful Joh -- Fenris."
"Believe me, I will." He snapped his harness to the cable again and rappelled down the short drop, landing as lightly as he could. One foot went partly through the rust-eaten galvanized shaft floor, but off to the side, just out from under the open hole, he found a stable area to stand. Exploring for a moment or two, he found a safe path into the vertical crawlspace.
"Alright Freya, I've found a way down. Come carefully. The metal under the stack won't bear your weight. I'll pull you toward the safe spot when you're a couple of feet over the floor."
Susanne's throat tightened. So far so good, but things could start going bad at any moment. The fear began solidifying into sour, pulsing knots in her intestines. She wondered how John stayed so calm in the midst of all of this.
Byers watched as Susanne lowered herself, pulling on the cable to direct her descending frame toward the stable metal. His heart was beating fast, fear mounting. He prayed silently that they would all survive this operation. Landau was extremely dangerous, and Byers felt it was quite apparent that the man was capable of some very sadistic behavior. He always went into these missions in a state of near terror, only adrenaline buoying him, keeping him from drowning in his own panic. Watching Susanne, he could see her determination, and he wondered how she managed to stay so calm and collected in the middle of such dangerous and difficult circumstances, wishing he was able to maintain such an impassive state.
Reaching out over the fatigued metal, he put an arm around Susanne's waist and drew her onto the stable metal where he stood. As her feet touched the floor, he continued to hold her for a moment, trying to derive some calm and focus from the nearness of her body.
She held his hand at her waist, breathing in relief at John's touch.
"I'm in," Frohike said, his voice raspy on the link.
"So are we," Byers answered quietly. "Proceed to phase two."
INSIDE AN ABANDONED FOUNDRY IN YORK, PA
Frohike entered through a door leading into a storage area. A few boxes partially filled with miscellaneous office supplies in various states of dust and decay lay here and there. He stopped briefly to examine his blueprint. If his calculations were correct, the next door should lead into a corridor through a series of offices. He thought it likely that Landau was living in one of them, and perhaps another was being used to imprison Langly. Moving cautiously to the interior door, he listened for a few moments. No sound could be heard from the other side of the door. He wasn't sure if this was due to the distraction of the quiet sound of Byers and Susanne moving through the ventilation system that came over the headset, so he muted it momentarily and listened again. Still nothing. Time to move out.
The door into the corridor squeaked quietly as Frohike opened it, and he cringed. After a moment of stillness and silence, he peeked out into the hall and looked both ways. No lights, no movement, and no sign of life or inhabitation were to be seen. With a soft sigh of relief, he moved with mouse silence into the hallway, walking to the left, to examine the greatest number of offices and storage areas as he made his way toward the main foundry workshops and production spaces.
"Quiet so far," he whispered to his unseen companions.
Susanne moved gingerly through the ventilation shafts on her hands and padded knees. Several times, they had come to dangerously unstable sections of metal, forcing them to stretch themselves out on their stomachs to distribute their weight enough so that the panels would not crumble beneath them and drop them to the floor far below. Each time they came to a vent screen, John would look through, searching for signs of motion or inhabitation, finding nothing. He would shake his head, consult their blueprint to determine their position, and then move on.
Byers moved with increasing frustration. Their goal was the catwalks above a foundry workshop area that led into the main smelting and pouring floor. They would enter the expansive rooms above the main level and continue their search for Langly and Landau. The encounters with unstable metal panels had unnerved him, and his body was starting to dampen with sweat from the stress and tension. If he made it out of this, he was going to be exhausted, he realized. Then again, he was usually completely drained, both physically and emotionally, after most of their missions that included infiltrating buildings. It had never been his strong suit, although he had, after a fashion, gotten used to the whole thing.
He remembered his brief adventure into the Lombard facility with Mulder and shuddered. Please, no goons with guns this time, he thought. Landau would undoubtedly be packing, and that was more than enough for him. He idly wished he was in Hawai'i, lying on a Molokai beach, contemplating the rising backs of whales. Maybe after this, he and Susanne could take that break that Frohike had suggested, and relax under the sun and island breezes.
Eventually they reached the right vent screen. He peered through and saw the catwalks below. "Got it," he whispered.
"Good," Frohike replied. "Nothing yet on my end."
"Keep looking. Meet you at the checkpoint."
Byers began the work of opening the vent screen as quietly as possible. First, of course, an application of WD-40 was necessary. Never leave home without it, Byers thought, the ghost of a smile touching his lips.
Silently, he motioned Susanne to join him in his efforts to ease the screen out of its frame. With the aid of massive quantities of lubrication, they managed to extract the screen quietly, then set it aside inside the shaft with them. Byers poked his head out cautiously, examining the situation. Seeing nothing of immediate importance, he lowered himself from the vent to the catwalk, feet first. When he touched down, he motioned for Susanne to join him, holding his hands up to ease her descent. When she had her footing, he motioned them along to the left, towards the main work area of the foundry.
Susanne edged along uneasily. She had never cared much for heights, and what passed for the floor of the catwalk was metal grid. In her opinion, it had far too many gaping holes with spectacular views of the ground floor, some fourty feet below. She clung tightly to the handrail as they walked quietly toward the door. John seemed totally assured as he moved, listening carefully and watching for movement below.
"Are you doing all right?" he asked her.
She nodded, not wanting him to know how nervous she was, moving along with such a thin support system holding them above the ground. She knew from the blueprint that the catwalk was only fourty feet in the air, but it felt like one hundred and fourty. Or maybe fourty thousand. She looked up quickly, concentrating on John's back to avoid the swelling vertigo that had begun to creep up on her.
It was not long before the two reached the door. Byers opened it carefully, listening before he entered the space. Something was going on in there. He heard voices below.
TIMOTHY LANDAU'S DEN OF INIQUITY
Timmy had been ranting endlessly for the last hour about how he would finally get his position back in the Company, once he had taken his revenge. Revenge, it seemed, included slow ugly deaths for Langly, Frohike, Susanne, and finally Byers, against whom most of his obsessional rage seemed to be focused.
Langly had originally attempted to make comments, to redirect Timmy toward less dangerous alternatives, but after repeated beatings, he decided that discretion, in this case, was definitely the better part of valor. Besides, he was too exhausted to say much else.
"And when your stupid, annoying friends show up in a couple of days," Landau continued, "I'll have a lovely series of traps awaiting them." He chuckled and poked Langly with a pencil.
"I'll need to build up my coalition of allies in the Company when I get back, though. You can never have enough dirt on anyone. Don't you agree?"
Langly did not reply.
"Don't you agree?" Landau asked again, his voice taking on a slightly shrill edge.
"Um, yeah, sure." Langly assumed that agreeing with everything Timmy said at this point was probably the best idea for avoiding further physical damage. So far, he had occasionally been fed, given water, or dragged to the toilet and allowed to relieve himself. He was feeling dehydrated though, and his stomach was protesting at the meager rations he'd been given. He wasn't sure whether it was protesting from simple lack of sustenance, or if the food was just so bad that even the rats were avoiding it. He lived primarily on junk food, but it was often interspersed with Frohike's amazing world cuisine, which was usually both nourishing and quite delicious.
This was definitely not his standard fare. He wished he was home at the office again, indulging in a Chef Fro cheesecake. Hell, even creamed spinach would be better than this. He wished his head would stop pounding.
On the catwalk above, Byers and Susanne moved quietly forward, watching Landau. Frohike opened a door into the smelting floor, pausing to listen and look. Landau's voice carried, unmistakable, nasal and whining, through the echoing open space.
"I think I found them," he whispered to his accomplices.
"We're very close to them," Byers responded. "I can see you from here." Frohike looked up and saw the pair crouching on the catwalk behind a tall coil of rusting chain. He motioned with his hand. Byers pointed toward Langly's position.
"Landau seems pretty preoccupied. You may be able to get close enough to surprise him before he can draw his gun," Byers offered. "Freya can offer some covering fire if it becomes necessary."
Frohike nodded and began the slow journey across the vast open space, taking advantage of his diminutive height and the shelter afforded by abandoned equipment, huge smelting crucibles, and stacks of metal molds. Byers and Susanne watched from their perch, giving an occasional warning when Landau would turn his head in Frohike's direction as he rambled on about a variety of disjointed subjects.
"He obviously seems to be suffering some severe mental and personality disorders," Susanne observed. "We weren't sure about any long-term effects of the AH drug. Those it was administered to were meant to act as assassins and then be eliminated, so long-term effects on people to whom the antidote was not administered were of no concern to the men that I worked for. Bastards."
Byers nodded, extracting a pair of binoculars from his pack to see if he could determine Langly's condition. His friend had been lying silently, strapped to a gurney, but they were too far away for him to see if he was injured. The first thing he saw was Timmy, looking agitated as he continued to talk with great animation. At the moment he was listing some of the items from the "If I Were An Evil Overlord" list of things not to do.
"Obviously, he forgot the one about not making your hideout's ventilation shafts large enough to crawl through," Byers commented dryly, moving his view to Langly's still form.
"Loki doesn't look good," he said. "Definitely several cuts and quite a bit of bruising that I can see. He's breathing, though, and moving just a little now and then."
Frohike's reply was quiet over the link. "I'm worried about what we can't see."
"Me too," Byers muttered. Susanne reached uneasily for her pistol.
Frohike was getting closer, now only about twenty feet from Landau's position. He moved cautiously, constantly watching the space ahead of him for evidence of any change in Landau's attention. Even though he had Byers to depend on for forward observation, he always felt it was prudent to keep his own eyes open as well.
"Shit, watch that..." Byers whispered sharply into his headset, but it was too late. Frohike tripped over a loose chunk of ore and caught himself on a stack of metal molds, but the damage was done.
"... loose lump of ore," Byers finished lamely.
Landau's head snapped up and swiveled in Frohike's direction, pistol instantly in hand. "Come out of there, you weasel!" he shouted. "You're early!"
Frohike threw himself around to the other side of the metal molds as Timmy opened fire at him. Overhead, Susanne took aim from her cover behind the coil of chain. "I'll cover you," she said. "John, take cover. If he starts firing at me, I don't want him to hit you."
Timmy moved swiftly toward Frohike's position, and Susanne fired her first shot.
Landau cursed, turning to try to find the shooter's location.
Frohike made a shoulder roll behind another pile of debris, and began moving as fast as he could toward Langly, wanting to get his companion out of the line of fire.
"Blonde bitch!" Timmy screamed, spotting Susanne on the catwalk above.
"I'll kill you!" He fired off a shot in her direction and shouted again.
"Byers, I know you're up there somewhere too. After your friends and your chickie are dead, I'm going to mess you over but good!"
Susanne fired at Landau again, and he ducked behind the molds that Frohike had been using as cover only a moment before. He stood, fired toward her, and ducked again.
The bullet zinged by Byers' head as he was moving, and he threw himself into the only shelter nearby, the control booth for the overhead crane that had once controlled the immense crucibles for pouring molten steel.
As Susanne and Landau exchanged fire, he landed hard against the operator's chair and fell awkwardly to one side.
Frohike dashed to Langly's side and began to wheel him toward cover.
As Byers struggled to right himself in the cramped space, his arm landed heavily on the control console. Byers heard switches clicking. The catwalk and control booth shuddered, and the air was filled with the sound of screaming metal.
Byers and Susanne looked on aghast as the huge superstructure of the crane's arm began to fall toward the ground. It was falling directly over the space currently occupied by Landau, Frohike and Langly. Byers screamed in horror, knowing what was about to happen to the two men that he loved like brothers.
Frohike, not bothering to look, continued to push Langly's gurney, running like the devil himself was on his heels.
Timmy looked up at the falling crane and cables, too stunned to move.
When the superstructure struck, the entire building shook. Byers and Susanne were both knocked flat by the force of the impact.
Susanne gripped the grating floor for dear life.
Byers lay on the floor of the control booth curled into a ball, sobbing uncontrollably.
As the dust began to clear, Frohike could be heard coughing.
Susanne spotted him, only about twelve feet from where the crane had fallen, his frame sheltering Langly's from the last bits of flying debris.
"We're okay!" he shouted, "we're okay!"
"I'm okay here," Susanne shouted back, her voice quaking with fear. "Do you see Landau?" The dust cloud hadn't cleared sufficiently for her to spot him yet.
"Can't see shit," Frohike replied. All of them heard Byers' continued sobbing. "Is John hurt, Susanne? Check on him, fast!"
She staggered to her feet, and found that her knees were not quite ready to cooperate with her. The shaking she'd taken had only intensified her fear of falling from this height, but her concern for John's safety drove her forward toward the booth. The sound of his agonized wails ripped through her, and she wanted nothing more than to stop whatever was hurting him.
She found him curled up lying on the floor of the booth, oblivious to her entry. "John, can you hear me? Are you hurt?"
He didn't react to the sound of her voice, so she knelt beside him and took his shoulders. "John, what's wrong?"
Her touch seemed to bring him around a little. He opened his eyes, and upon seeing her, he grabbed hold of her and held her in a vise grip.
"They're dead, I killed them!" he shouted.
"They're not dead," Susanne assured him immediately.
"Damn straight, Byers, you missed," Frohike snapped, "although you did a fine job of turning Timmy into road pizza."
Byers gaped like a fish, not quite able to accept what he was hearing. "The crane was going to hit them," he insisted.
"I'm fine," Frohike repeated. "But I think we need to get Langly to a hospital ASAP."
"Oh God, I killed him!" Byers said, distant and dissociated.
"No way, buddy. Landau did this to him. You killed Landau."
Byers buried himself in Susanne's arms, muttering "no, no, no..." Susanne rocked him gently. She was still terrified, but John was obviously in terrible shock over the falling crane.
"It's all right, John. Everything will be fine." She kissed the top of his head as she knelt next to him. "Everyone will be alright, but right now we have to get out of here."
"With all that noise," Frohike said, "I wouldn't be surprised if somebody heard it quite a ways away. It would be good to be out of here before the cops come along."
"Come on, John, you have to get up. We have to get out of here," Susanne insisted.
Still shaking, Byers attempted to push through his shock and terror and bring things into focus. Frohike had said that Ringo was alive. He'd heard Frohike's voice over the headset. It must be true. They must be alive.
"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.
"Langly says to get your wussy ass together and let's get the fuck out of Dodge," Frohike snapped. Byers was unable to formulate a suitable reply.
"C'mon," Susanne said. "How do we get down from here? I'm not going up onto the roof again, not for love nor money."
"Down," Byers said, "down... um, the catwalk ends on the far side of the room, beyond the control booth here. There's a ladder down from there." He struggled to his feet, Susanne steadying him.
"A ladder?" she asked, doubt evident in her voice.
"I don't suppose there are stairs anywhere?"
"Not that I remember," he said.
She took a deep breath and muttered "oh, great."
"Get a move on, you two," Frohike grated. "I'll meet you at the door down here. We've gotta help Langly move. He's hurting pretty bad."
Byers, his focus and composure improving with the passing moments, hurried toward the end of the catwalk. Susanne followed at a slower, rather unsteady pace. At the end of the catwalk loomed the ladder.
It was thin and very, very tall. Susanne looked down and slid to her knees. "I can't do this," she panted. "It's too high. I'll fall."
"You won't fall," Byers insisted. "This is easy. All you have to do is hold the outside of the ladder with your hands and feet and slide. It's fast and foolproof."
"What? I'll kill myself!"
With a frustrated sigh, he grabbed the ladder and stood on the rung at his feet. "Come on, Susanne. Put your arms around me and I'll piggyback you down."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Quit stalling," Frohike roared. "Do what he says or I'll leave you here."
Byers and Susanne looked at each other. She put her arms around him, closed her eyes, and held on with the tenacity of a terrier.
Byers shifted his grip and slid, regulating his descent with pressure from hands and feet. They both landed with a solid thump on the floor.
Susanne gasped a few deep breaths. "Where the hell did you learn that?"
"I umm... well... I learned it from old 1940's Navy movies." He blushed brightly. "The sailors always did it when they were running for their battle stations on lower levels. It seemed like a logical way to save time and energy."
"Shut up, you two. The longer you yatter, the longer Langly waits for his ER visit."
They turned and ran for the door.
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