Kennedy darted to the stairway door, waving it open and taking a long look down inside.
"Shit," she said. "I see lights coming up from below, and–"
Gunfire stitched up the hall toward her position, and she threw herself flat to the floor, the wall spitting sparks above her head from bullet impacts.
"Kennedy!" Buffy gasped, then glanced helplessly down toward the other end of the level's main corridor; there weren't any Skitters visible in that direction yet, but there was a wavering in the quality of the illumination there that suggested approaching aliens with their own light sources, and she could hear the impacts of mech footsteps and the shrieks of angry Skitters. They'd been cornered.
"This way," Zahra gasped, staggering with her burden toward a narrow side corridor several paces beyond Mason's cell. It was still lit only by the dim glow of the overhead lighting, suggesting it might yet be a safe escape route.
Buffy hesitated a second, waiting to be sure Kennedy hadn't been hit and was scrambling after them, then bolted for the gap herself, Mason's bulky frame unbalancing her a little as she ran. She heard a thunk as she staggered a little making the turn, and winced; but he barely groaned. She hoped she hadn't just made things worse for him, but better a headache than leaving him in that cell.
Zahra slowed as they neared another door that looked like the elevator they'd found on the hangar level, but Kennedy didn't, bolting past Buffy and Zahra both to lead them further on. "They'll be coming up that way, too," she gasped by way of explanation, weapon at the ready as she ran.
"Then what–?" Buffy objected.
"Rope. In Stasia's pack," Kennedy panted. "And considering where we came up – we should be near an outer wall." She skidded around another corner that was barely even visible before she reached it, and kept running; Buffy heard three more gunshots before she and Zahra made the turn themselves, and saw three commander types' bodies twitching and bleeding on the ground.
Zahra awkwardly detoured around them. Buffy didn't bother, running right over them with a grim feeling of satisfaction. And beyond that–
"I guess they're not much for air conditioning or pretty views," Kennedy snorted, as she drew to a halt at the dead end beyond. Several doors opened off the corridor – maybe the offices for the jailor aliens? In which case, she was doubly glad Kennedy had run into those three in the hall. At the stubby end, a gap opened in the wall instead, about a yard tall. It was wide enough for Kennedy to stand in from the inside, but narrowed through the thick metal to only two handspans at most, dim starlight reflecting of off water visible below. A window slit, like the archer's embrasures in castles of old.
"I guess glass is harder to salvage than metal," Buffy said grimly. "And their weapons are better than ours; they could fire out of each floor this way if they had to."
"They really don't plan on going anywhere, do they?" Zahra mused. "Never mind. Kennedy, move. Take her; I've got the mech bullets, remember?"
Kennedy moved away from the gap, accepting Karen's limp, harnessed form over one shoulder, but kept her handgun ready as she backed away. Buffy moved to the side, too, lowering Mason to his feet to brace him next to her as he started to struggle in her grasp.
"Wait," he struggled to say, between panting breaths. "Wait – I shouldn't have said. We. We're going to have to leave Karen; they'll track her back to the Second Mass. I can't risk. And Ben. They said–"
Zahra ignored him: she started firing systematically into the sloping walls of the embrasure, punching right through the lower-quality metal they were constructed from in a dotted line. She reloaded twice during the process, shooting as fast as she could, then began kicking at the nearly severed chunk of wall, trying to knock it loose into the night outside.
"There are three more of us with Ben; don't worry about him," Buffy hissed in Mason's ear. "And we'll figure something for Karen. We have to get your tracker out anyway, you said. Worry about you."
He gave her a long, intense look at that, a searching intelligence in his gaze that belied his physically worn state and the stress he must be under. Finally, he nodded, just as the red glow of mech targeting lasers shot around the corner to illuminate the walls of their cul-de-sac. "There's a collaborator not far from here," he said. "She might have something – shit. Gun. Do you have–?"
"Just stay there," Buffy hissed, and darted out into the corridor, laying down covering fire as a pair of Skitters led the way.
She'd barely tagged those when a door opened unexpectedly to her left; there must have been more of the tall ones in there, waiting for the appropriate moment to step out. Duh; jail offices, they probably had security cams of some kind–
Before even her impressive reflexes could turn her to face them, though, some kind of energy bolt leapt from the nearest of them, and everything went blurred and heavy and ow–
She had an impression of shouting, and more movement; the spang of bullets impacting with mech carapaces; someone else falling to their knees next to her outflung arm, followed by an explosively loud sound above her ear and a splash of warm wrong-smelling blood across her face; and finally a hand, waving in front of her slowly blinking eyes.
"–Ma'am? Ma'am? Are you–? Damn, I think they–"
It sounded like Mason, she thought. Huh. He hadn't stayed where she'd put him.
Then Kennedy was there – she'd never mistake that scent, even under the tang of sweat, slime and gunpowder – levering Buffy up off the floor again.
"Buffy," she tried to say, thickly, but couldn't quite get her tongue to cooperate. She wasn't anybody's ma'am.
"I've got you," Kennedy said, and started dragging her toward the outer wall. She could feel a breeze on her skin now; so Zahra had probably – oh. That tugging feeling – something being tied around her–
"Zahra's taking Karen down first," Kennedy barked after a moment. "You next; we'll bring up the rear. I'm sorry, professor, but you're going to have to climb on your own. And don't you dare let go; Hal's waiting for you. Do you hear me? Your kid and Maggie are waiting for you in Acton."
"I'll manage," he said, a quiet conviction in his voice. "Here's her gun; don't you die for me either."
"Way ahead of you there," Kennedy said grimly. And then there were scraping sounds of moment. Followed by more gunshots. Then a dizzy swinging, a clunk of her head against something hard, and – air. Moving air, with a creepy sensation of great height beneath them. Buffy shivered, gradually coming to full awareness as ruined Boston became visible over Kennedy's shoulder, and tightened her arms around her girlfriend as the feeling returned to her fingers in a wave of pins and needles.
"Flyers," she murmured, as soon as she was sure she could say it coherently. She didn't want to startle Kennedy while she was climbing for both of them, but if someone shot at them while they were swinging out over the rooftops of the damaged city–
"I know, I know," Kennedy hissed. Zahra's down, she–"
Kennedy broke off, and Buffy winced, as staccato gunfire started up again from below. They were close enough to the rooftops now to see green-skinned creatures moving on them a block or two over from where the rope came down, like great nasty spiders with long-range stingers.
"I gave her Stasia's Scythe rounds, they were in the backpack too," Kennedy breathed. "If Mason – shit." Kennedy jerked, and Buffy cried out in pain as a bullet fired from somewhere below angled up to graze Kennedy's leg and pierce Buffy's thigh.
"Same. Damn. Leg," Buffy groaned; her knee was still a little sore from their last firefight with the Fifth Massachusetts.
"Shit. Can't – I think we're close enough – hold on. Mason, MOVE!"
Gravity took hold; darkness swirled around them, and then they fell, still tied together, impacting on an unyielding surface. Buffy gritted her teeth past the shooting pains from her leg and the newer bruises, thankful for her Slayer healing, and fumbled her knife out of its sheath; the way Kennedy was pinned, she wouldn't be able to do it. There hadn't been time for Pope to cast her a mech-metal kukri yet for Skitter hunting between bullet moldings, but her old one would do the job, for this.
She sawed through the ropes binding her to Kennedy, then stood and staggered free, nearly knocking Mason down as he limped over to aid them.
"That collaborator," she hissed, gripping his arm and clutching at her thigh with the other hand. "Near–?"
The gunfire nearby picked up briefly as Kennedy got up and dragged herself over to join Zahra; then fell off again as they finally took down the nearest group of snipers. They had to go before more boiled out of hiding, and maybe knowing the quarry was temporarily holed up with one of their own allies would give the fleeing group a smidge more space to figure out a way around the tracker and the harness. 'Cause they sure weren't performing even amateur surgery on anyone now, not with two fourths of the rescue party wounded themselves and another missing and the whine of flyers finally leaving the structure–
"Close enough," he said. "I know where, from here. But you're bleeding–"
"I'll take care of that," Kennedy said, storming back and digging into Stasia's backpack of bounty again. She pulled out three more items: an energy bar and a bottle of water, which she shoved at Mason, and then Dr. Glass' first aid kit. "Eat; we can't have you dropping on us if you're supposed to be the guide. Zahra? Get the girl and cover us. Buffy? This is going to hurt–"
She fumbled a bottle out, then poured some kind of cleansing fluid over Buffy's leg; the world erupted in sparks of white fire behind abruptly clenched eyelids. "Fuck," she hissed; or maybe Kennedy did; or maybe both of them at once.
Quick motions tied a length of bandage and absorbent pads in place. Then Kennedy packed the supplies away and pulled Buffy to her feet again, arm braced over her shoulder. "You good to go?"
They were halfway home. Which meant practically there, right? Buffy tried to reassure herself.
"'S'long as you're with me," Buffy breathed.
They moved, heading for the stairwell access and the first steps of their route out of the city.