Welcome back to another Alpha Force fic. I know I left things at a bit of a crossroads at the end of the last one so here is the follow up, set 18 months after the events of Ransom.
I tentatively call it Repercussion.
Disclaimer: I do not own Alpha Force or any of the characters created by Chris Ryan. To claim otherwise may result in my throat being violently slit in my sleep by a pissed off Ex-SAS trooper ;)
It was a cold miserable evening to walk anywhere, let alone two city blocks.
Rain lashed the dark streets of New York in an uncompromising barrage; while wind tore flags from their poles and ripped lose debris up into dangerous projectiles.
The pretty, dark-skinned girl scowled disapprovingly at the tragic weather, as if hoping she could scare it into behaving. She stood hesitantly under the arch of a doorway clutching her satchel of workbooks to her chest. Behind her the last lights dimmed in the New York University school of Law library. The porous orange brick buildings of the campus looked decidedly less friendly in the late hour.
The lonely student reached into her bag and withdrew her slim touch screen phone. A small light illuminated her bedraggled face and she traced a lazy 'H' with her finger to unlock the device. White light shone against the darkness and she was disappointed to see that there were no new messages from a certain young man, who shared the background photo with her.
Resolute but grumbling, Amber slipped her phone back into her pocket and buttoned her dark coat up tight, turning up the collar to afford greater protection from the elements. She slid her flat satchel up the front of the jacket to keep it dry and held it in place by crossing her arms across her chest.
Ready as she was ever going to be, Amber stepped out into the rain and started striding briskly against the biting wind.
With her head down, concentrating on the journey, she angrily fumed that Hex was running late to pick her up again. By the time Amber had cleared the boundary of the campus, she was already thinking of different creative punishments to inflict on the hacker. Welcoming the associated warmth of the streetlights, she stepped out onto the pavement with long strides, determined to make it home before Hex to make him feel really guilty.
Suddenly Amber's neck bristled and the itch made her stop on the spot.
Am I just getting cold or is something going on here? She wondered internally at her body's involuntary reaction.
Her eyes, gummy from hours of reading case notes, warily scanned the dark streets and buildings surrounding her for any signs of trouble. A lone man in a navy blue parka was standing at the bus stop outside a closed shop, further up the road; the rest of the street was deserted.
There was nothing overtly dangerous about the partially concealed man's appearance and Amber tried to shrug off the feeling that something might be amiss. Putting it down to the cold, she rubbed her goose-bumped arms and continued on her path towards the bus stop.
A roar and hissing heralded the approach of a bus from behind her, the noise startling Amber in her jumpy state. The oversized vehicle pulled to a halt at the designated stop, as she was almost upon it.
Blue Parka remained seated and the bus rolled on without picking up or dropping off a passenger.
Mustn't have been his bus, Amber disregarded, as she passed his position.
Her eyes swept over his figure and finding nothing overtly aggressive in his appearance, she stuck with her conclusion and increased her haste to get home.
Amber was just turning the corner of that block when a thought occurred to her. It is pretty late at night, I'm pretty sure that was the last bus for the evening.
With this realisation in her head, she was preparing to covertly peek around the corner when she heard the sound of rapid footsteps coming from that direction.
Hex leaned forward as far as he could in the driver's seat of the black BMW M5 Sedan to squint out the windshield. The rain was bucketing down, flowing a torrent that seemed greater then what his windscreen wipers could deal with.
Unconfidently, he left his right hand on the steering wheel and reached down with his left to retrieve his phone from the pocket of his black trousers. The rolled up sleeves of his gunmetal grey shirt meant that the orthotic wrist brace on his right hand was exposed.
Made by Spectra, the black support brace kept his wrist in a neutral alignment with rigid supports strapped tightly with heavy-duty Velcro bands. The functional splint was now part of his life and one of the final stages in the ongoing rehabilitation process, which he was undergoing after taking a bullet to the forearm over a year ago.
Hex gave the guilty hand a dirty look, as he bitterly thought of the countless hours he had spent rebuilding grip strength and doing dexterity exercises.
After such a long time of relying on his right, it had initially been very frustrating to relearn everything with his left instead, which he had to make do with until his right had recovered. Having Amber around had helped him immeasurably during this initial period of clumsiness, his left was now more dexterous then his slow right and had far superior strength.
Finally retrieving his phone, he cursed when he saw the time displayed on the digital display. He was late. Working as a researcher for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, his hours were very flexible but often meant that he was kept late when his team got caught up in their projects. Hex loved working there, where he was primarily working with developing advanced cryptanalysis software.
Amber was also very proud of Hex for getting headhunted for such exciting and important work, but needless to say she was often displeased by the hours he kept. In that sense, Hex found himself torn between two passions, which made his being late this evening all the more significant.
He replaced both hands on the wheel and indicated off the highway and onto the city exit he wanted. A wry smile split his face as he drew closer to his girlfriend and apartment. The proximity of the research centre was always just a bonus, he rejoiced often on the ten-minute drive back to the upscale place where the couple lived.
Relying on the late hour and poor conditions to save him from police, Hex lowered his foot on the accelerator a little deeper. His grin grew larger as his revs climbed in the powerful car. The sly smile he wore was for his secret vice, one that Amber constantly berated him about too.
It wasn't that he got a huge buzz off going fast or anything, it was simply a desire of his to beat the clock, to get to his destination quicker. When you dealt with high-powered software, anything slower then near instantaneous was not quick enough.
Reluctantly Hex slowed for an intersection and it was just as he was clearing it that the unseen moving truck explosively T-boned his vehicle from the side.
Quickly weighing up her options, Amber turned as quietly as she could and started walking again. She reached for her phone with one hand while the other kept her bag in place and she entered her speed dial for Hex. Seconds seemed to drag as the dial tone rang through, hazarding a glance over her shoulder Amber noticed the man in the blue parka round the corner.
Thinking fast Amber crossed the road as the dull tone rung in her ear.
"Hey.." Hex's voice started through the small speaker, before Amber cut over top of it.
"Hex where the hell are you? I think there is some guy following me, I'm really.."
She stopped her self mid-rant as Hex's voice continued and she realised in frustration and panic that she had only reached his answer phone.
Fighting the impulse to angrily throw the device on the ground and curse the man who had bought it for her, Amber peeked over her shoulder instead. A shiver racked her again; this time it definitely had nothing to do with the cold as she saw a figure in a blue parka crossing the road to meet her path.
Pushing down the impulse to run that came with the dump of adrenaline her fear provided, Amber took a deep breath and repeated her message for the sake of Hex's answer phone.
She didn't need to turn back to know that her stalker was mere metres behind her now, his cadence and the noisy chafe of the jacket betrayed him.
"Amber Middleton?" He hoarsely enquired in a shout to be heard over the rain.
Amber turned suspiciously, having recently learnt first hand that her fame and prosperity made her a potential target to the lower elements.
"Who wants to know?" She shouted back rudely, keeping her distance from her follower and freeing one hand to keep in front of her. Her second hand trailed diagonally up to rest at the collar of her jacket, a harmless looking gesture that actually provided her with a disguised defensive hand position.
For the first time Amber was able to take in greater details of the stalker's appearance as she faced him. He was a Caucasian male, about six foot with a solid build, shaven head and a stubbled chin. She couldn't place his accent but it was definitely not from New York.
An unpleasant smile split his face, like that of shark before it dines.
"Well that about answers my question." He concluded and suddenly stepped into her.
Amber felt the impact in her abdomen and wondered for a second why the man had punched her before her training took over. With the man already so close to her, Amber's arsenal of strike were limited and she instinctively resorted to one of the most basic yet effective self-defence techniques.
With her right hand splayed, she stabbed her fingers at his eyes as hard as she could.
She felt the head snap back as her fingertips made contact with both gelatinous orbs. A terrible scream of pain and insult escaped from her blinded stalker. The instinct to survive overcame any squeamishness this sensation caused and she quickly compensated; changing the direction of the attack from backwards to down, turning the gouge into a scratch. Amber finished the brutal rake of his face and avoided his hand as it flew towards his ruined eyes.
Amber forgot the high keen of hurt emitting from the injured follower, when she looked down and noticed the knife suspended in her torso.
A still black handle silhouetted against the grey pavement was all that remained in sight of the bladed weapon. Amber just stared at the imbedded foreign object with dull eyes, as she fought a sudden wave of dizziness to stay on her feet.
The young hacker was jolted sideways in his seat, his bulky frame straining against the seatbelt, as the large truck smashed into the rear driver's side of the BMW. Front and curtain airbags deployed immediately after impact, the safety system cushioning the interior of the vehicle and in all probability, saving his life.
Glass shattered and tyres shrieked as Hex's car was spun off the road sideways and through the front of a coffee shop, where it finally came to a stop.
Dazed from the collision and still reeling from the suddenness of the accident, Hex fumbled for the door handle to the car. The loud bang from the crash still echoed in his ears, but he finally managed to find the door release. He pulled with weak hands and spilled out of the vehicle and onto the glass-covered floor of the coffee shop.
There he rested on his hands and knees, trying to clear his head. A steady trickle of blood dripped onto the carpet of debris from a small cut above his eye.
Hex looked around at the destruction of the café and breathed a sigh of relief to note that it was abandoned. A path was carved straight through the front window from his cars trajectory; the wooden chairs and tables were strewn to aside, leaving a clear line to the window.
The pneumatic hiss of airbrakes could be heard outside as the truck that had hit him limped to a stop outside the disaster scene. Hex heard a door slam as the driver disembarked the vehicle.
Deciding to see if the driver was injured and to demand an explanation, Hex tried to push himself to his feet. His hand immediately dug into a long shard of glass from the broken window and he promptly abandoned this idea and knelt once more to address the new wound. A four inch dagger of glass was pressed longways into his right hand, luckily the nerve damage he had previously sustained meant that his recovering right felt very little at all.
Nice when you accidentally cut yourself, not so much when you want to hold your girlfriend's hand. Hex sourly reflected, as he removed the jagged foreign object.
The crunching of footsteps on broken glass at the entrance, drew his attention. He looked up from his hand to see the shadow of a man outlined against the light from outside. The shadow scanned the destruction slowly, taking it all in before turning slightly to inspect the car that had sunken into the shadows. Light momentarily caught the figure for an instant with this movement.
It was just long enough for Hex to see the silenced pistol that the driver held in front of his body.