Exercise 0001 – Free Association

[Free Association]

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Nothing had stopped her. She took what she had wanted for so many years. At last, it was finally her’s. It would stay that way… as long as possible.

Searching the halls, she clung to the artifact and hurried. If she could get back to the platform without being noticed, then she wouldn’t have to fight. Slipping on a short set of steps, K$sh stumbled past a camera with wide eyes. She hadn’t seen it there! It whirled, focusing on her. The red lights blinked at her.

Panic setting in, K$sh slammed her fist through the lens. The spiked brass knuckles tore the machinery apart. Sparks flew up, scorching parts of her long glove. Drawing her hand back, she hopped over a fence to hurry out the way she had snuck in.

Despite having demolished the camera, the wailing sound of alarms rose from the night’s silence. Escalating in pitch until reaching a shrill, blasting noise, K$sh prepared herself for the inevitable. Cradling the artifact in the nook of her arm, she drew her pistol. The silver metal gleamed in the moonlight as she surveyed the courtyard. The swathe of land was wide and a couple of miles separated her from the exterior fence.

Crouching underneath a vent that whirred lowly under the alarm’s repeated blaring. Lights were turning on as the guards became alert to the theft. The vibrant hum of florescent pallor covered the courtyard. Barely shadowed under the vent, she knew she had to hurry. Closing her right eye, she aimed carefully. If she’d been younger, it would have been difficult to do it with one hand, but by now, she had enough experience.

Bang! One. Bang! Bang! Two. Three. Bang! Four

After the shots rang out, instantly muffled by the alarm, K$sh returned her pistol to its holster. The yard before her was now cloaked in darkness. Taking a deep breath, she sharply exhaled as she moved out from under her hiding place. Unnoticed, she ran.

Sprinting, she held tightly onto her stolen prize. All of her efforts would be wasted if she didn’t succeed. Keeping her breath regulated, she made it half-way before spotlights from outposts began to illuminate the darkened portion. Still, she hadn’t bee seen yet. The spotlights were quickly approaching, however, as they scanned from the building towards the fence.

Skipping once to quicken her speed, her feet barely touched the ground and she rushed the last half of the yard. The alarm was still going. Guards had begun to shout. By now, they’d noticed that one of their outposts had been taken out. Most likely, they were scrambling to replace the watch. A spotlight came dangerously close, highlighting the spot she had been a mere second ago. The fence was in her sight though.

Ahead of her, the looming outpost tower stood between the fence. It’s iron grates were too narrow to slip through, but not impossible to climb. Pushing herself to move even faster, her muscles began to burn as she climbed the tower. As she got closer to the top, her hands and feet began to stick to the bars. There was something on them. Flipping over into the tower’s alcove, she nearly slipped. The sticky wetness beneath her could only be one thing. It had to be the blood from the guard she had previously shot in the head while hiding under the vent.

Hearing voices, she balked as she looked over to see the bouncing rays of flashlights underneath the tower. If she didn’t time her descent just right, she would become trapped. Crouching, she snuck through the bloody floor to the half-wall that led to the other side of the fence. Pulling out her pistol, as she peeked over the edge, she realized there were two guards she would have no choice, but to encounter. They seemed to be standing guard on the outside of the fence, their flashlights surveying in front of them in case she had already escaped.

Returning her pistol to the holster, briefly she wished that the artifact wasn’t so difficult to carry! She should have brought a bag or sling to carry it with, that would have been clever. Regretting her lack of cleverness, K$sh slipped slowly over the wall and began to silently climb down the outer side of the tower. Her gaze flicked downwards every other second, checking the two guards. They were entirely focused on their lateral surroundings, but not above.

She heard the others reach the outpost platform as one angrily shouted in regards to the slain fellow. As she heard this, she let go of the iron bars. There were a couple meters to fall, but she took the time to swiftly draw her pistol. Landing with knees bent, the two guards looked over. They looked at her with surprise, just in time to be shot in the face. The two shots rang out and she didn’t wait. As the noise echoed under the alarm, she leapt over the dying men and started running again.

These shots had been noticed by the guards in the outpost. As she ran, she heard bullets land in the ground behind her. Rubble flicked against her heels, encouraging her to move faster. Swerving her path to discourage aiming, she kept her sights on the hill in the distance. The artifact slipped slightly, startling her. It felt like her heart had stopped for a moment. Holstering her pistol, she tightened her hold on the prize.

The alarm was becoming quieter the further she got away. Whistling bullets, aimed much too high, sped past her. Her muscles were quivering, her breath denying. Sweat soaked her suit. The hill was getting closer, but she was losing energy rapidly. A lucky bullet nearly grazed her shoulder. Begging for her knees to not give, she sprinted up the land. Though the hill was squat, it felt steep and the muddy ground caused her to slip forward. She didn’t fall, but instead used the momentum to hurry over the hill’s peak and down the other side.

Relief washed over her when she saw the dark gray vehicle ahead. She was almost there. The passenger’s side door opened. This was the last stretch, she hurried into the car. Slumping into the seat, she shut the door and locked it. The car’s engine was already running, so they instantly began to drive away. There was no road, so the drive was bumpy, but Ksh$ was glad to not be moving anymore. Leaning forward, she coughed. Moving the artifact onto her lap, she admired it.

“That’s it?” Her driver commented.

“Shut up.” She snapped in return, “I didn’t pay you to talk.”

“Whatever.” The driver shrugged, placing their focus back on the make-shift road ahead.

The route they took was unseen by the archival complex, avoiding aircraft detection in ways that K$sh didn’t rightly understand. That’s why she had hired an expert to do it for her. Her muscles chilled and she leaned the seat back to rest. Part of her was giddy, but another part was apprehensive to allow such celebration to occur. She wasn’t finished yet and she wouldn’t be until the artifact was back in its rightful place.

They left the dirt roads in about an hour, entering the illuminated solar rails with gusting speed. Ksh$ pulled out her gun, reloading it. The driver cleared their throat, but she took the time to look over her weapon before placing it back.

“You still want to go to the same destination?” The driver asked.

“Yes,” answered K$sh, looking out the window as they began to enter civilization again. Domed buildings and blocky architecture dotted the landscape, expanding exponentially as they reached the city. The tallest buildings, ornate towers with needle-like points that made them resemble pyramids squeezed in a vice, marked the center of the community.