Darien sat in the passenger seat of the SUV in the early morning sunlight, waiting. Nearby, the truck that was going to be transporting the Navshots was being loaded. Patience was still not one of those virtues that Darien paid a whole lot of attention to. At least when not planning a job, anyway. He wanted to get this damn thing over with and go home. Part one had been accomplished long before the sun had broken over the horizon and blinded them; the layer of ice and snow doubling and trebling the amount of light that would normally be provided. Had to admit, if grudgingly, that it looked damned pretty, but it was also cold. With the cloud cover gone, that arctic air had drifted in and taken hold. Walking on the snow had been anything but silent, but he'd managed and gotten the GPS on the truck with little trouble… and apparently no appreciable Quicksilver use, he still had only a single red segment, which shouldn't have been possible.
He rubbed his wrist, around the snake and then across the seemingly empty center where the microchip that controlled the whole shebang resided. For an instant he thought he saw a fair half the segments blink to red, but it happened so fast he blamed it on the tiny spots that his eyes retained for long minutes after staring out the window for any reasonable length of time.
Now all they had to do was wait.
Wait for the truck to be loaded, sneak into the back with or without Quicksilver and plant that second GPS into one of the crates, just in case they lost the truck completely. As it was, given the lack of vehicles on the road today, they would have to hang back, way back, in order to keep from being spotted as a tail. They were hoping that Goodrowe intended for them to take the main highway, especially given the bills of lading he'd had Hurst fill out to legitimize the whole thing, but it remained possible they'd be taking a less direct and more sneaky route across the border. A quick Google search revealed dozens of back roads that led straight to the Canadian border, and Goodrowe could use any one of them. All had some sort of border crossing, but those smaller ones would be far less heavily manned. Which would make it easier for those dummied up transfer papers to pass muster.
He wished they would hurry up and get the weapons loaded, because that would mean he would have something else to do, instead of wearing thin the path in his mind that involved that one scene that had been burned into it: Alyx holding Jarod's hand and acting as if it were nothing. She hadn't even tried to hide it… or explain it. Yeah, maybe she was putting the moves on him to draw him in and… Even he couldn't justify that train of thought. No, it made more sense that their night at the cabin had been a lot more up close and personal than she had let on, her actions after to the contrary. Though banging the new guy, truthfully, would not end her need for him, that mental connection still the one she relied upon to maintain her sense of self. Fuck, that would suck, needing him to remain whole, but in… with someone else.
He wouldn't allow that, couldn't allow that, it would hurt too damn much to try and maintain a partnership with her without the more personal relationship. He'd tried that once, and had not enjoyed the experience much at all. So, if this was how it would be, he would fight for her every step of the way. She would not walk out on him.
"Looks like they're finishing up, Fawkes," Bobby said as he watched through the binoculars. "You up for this?"
"I'm fine. I don't like splitting up, that's all," Darien commented, only some of his ire heard in his voice. Hobbes gave him a quick once-over.
"We already have the one GPS in place, we don't gotta have this second one."
"And if they offload the guns to a second truck?" he questioned as he double-checked the earpiece to make certain it wouldn't slip once he started moving.
Hobbes huffed. "Gotta play devil's advocate, don't ya? All right, but no risky moves. If you can get it in a crate, yay for our team, otherwise don't push your luck."
"Yes, boss," Darien snarked as he opened the door and slipped out into the chilly morning air.
"Keep in contact," Hobbes reminded leaning across the seat to look up at his partner.
Darien set a hand on the roof and snapped, "I do know what I'm doing, you know." He slammed the door shut and stormed off, Quicksilvering within a few steps of the SUV. He knew that had been a bad move on his part, but he'd been doing this more than long enough to handle slipping the GPS into… hell, onto a crate without being babied.
Darien flexed his hands, keeping them loose for the work to come, the gloves he wore thin, but insulating, to allow dexterous movement – a gift from Alyx, as the nights in SoCal could get chilly in the winter and she wanted him to be able to have his fun without his hands stiffening up with the cold. And that brought him back around to the problem he really shouldn't be thinking about if he were to get this job done correctly. Why would she do simple, kind things like buy him damn expensive thieving gloves if she didn't care? Granted, caring about him did not mean she wanted to be with him on a personal level.
He shook his head, trying to bring the real world back into focus. The last of the crates were being brought out and he sidled up to the side of the truck, thankful they had plowed the parking lot down to the asphalt, which meant he wasn't leaving any prints to be spotted. Though the looks on their faces would be priceless and probably worth the price of admission.
He pulled the GPS out of his pocket, making certain it was covered in Quicksilver, flipped the switch he knew armed it and prepared to slip it into a crate as it was carried by. Not as easy as it sounds when you can't see your hand or the object as anything other than an orangey glow, never mind the Quicksilver vision thing being washed out and decidedly compromised by the amount of sunlight glinting off the snow. That was new, and though he'd been Quicksilvered in the snow before, it most certainly hadn't been sunny. In fact, it had been one hell of a snowstorm that had damn near left them trapped in the wilderness.
Luck, then as now, was with him as one of the guys holding the crate slipped on a patch of ice, dropping his end hard enough to shift the lid, giving Darien a gap – both in time and physical – to throw the GPS at. The orangey blob hit dead center and he backed away satisfied, while the poor schlub got yelled at for putting the weaponry at risk of damage.
Darien backed away, in order to not be overheard, though based on the shouting match, he could play a marching band through here and they wouldn't notice. "The package has been delivered," he said softly into the comm.
"Heard. Checking to verify it is active," Hobbes responded, followed by the tapping of keys. "Five by five, Fawkes, everything looks good at this end."
"Does that mean we can blow this pop stand?"
"Soon as you confirm the number of mooks on the truck, we can," Hobbes reminded, which made Darien want to facepalm as he had damn near forgotten that part.
"Right, I'll just do that." He backed away, moving over towards the cars belonging to those who had come to do the dirty work, and hunkered down. He hoped this wouldn't take too long, since he really had no idea when the new inhibitor would crap out leaving him cranky and red-eyed. "Hobbes, any chance you brought Counteragent along?"
Vociferous swearing was the initial response. "Shit, Fawkes, no. Didn't even cross my mind. Why? You red-lining it already?"
Good to know his partner assumed the worst. Then again, given how his worst was, it did make sense. "Not that I am aware, just covering the bases."
"Which the rest of us forgot to do. Can you drop it for now or is your position too exposed?"
Just then a guy bundled up to the nines came around the end of the vehicle he had hidden behind. The guy was muttering under his breath, but made a beeline for the door and hurriedly climbed in.
"I'll take that as a no," Hobbes said in his ear. "Watch yourself, they can still walk into you."
No, shit. Darien thought, wanting to say it aloud, but not willing to risk being caught just yet. The pickup he was next to started, so he stood and backed away, his focus switching to the semi truck. Two got in the cab and the third, carrying very obvious weaponry, climbed in the back.
The engine started and it rumbled and shuddered away, the tires slipping a bit on the icy surface. Three in the truck, not too bad. Then two other vehicles, including the pickup he'd been using as cover, pulled in behind it. The second vehicle an SUV of the over-compensation type. He waited until all three had driven off before looking about to verify everyone had cleared out. Not a car remained to be seen, so he allowed the Quicksilver to flake away. "Houston we may have a problem." He walked backed towards his ride without any hurry; they needed to let the truck get ahead of them on the road.
"What now, Fawkes?" Bobby was apparently prepared to hear the worst; that Darien had chosen now to go off the deep end.
"Looks like they decided to send an escort. At least two follow vehicles," Darien informed him. "With at least one person in each. Didn't get a good look."
"Saw them." There were several seconds of silence then, "We stick to the plan for now. Ain't nothing else we can do."
Darien slipped back through the fence that they'd been using for the last three days to gain access to the warehouse, their rental SUV parked in the empty strip mall across the street. He opened the door and climbed inside, glad to be back in the relative warmth of the vehicle. "You got them on the grid?"
Hobbes pointed at the monitor showing the two blinking dots, one red, one blue to differentiate between the two trackers, practically on top of one another making their way through the various streets of Eureka headed towards the main highway from the looks of it. "You good?"
Darien did the mandatory check of his wrist, pulling the jacket sleeve back to reveal the nine green and one red serpent coiled on his wrist. "That can't be right, can it?" He turned to Bobby, actual concern surely visible on his face. This was just too good to be true, no way in hell the toxin inhibitor would be good for… he roughed out the amount of time he'd spent invisible the last few days in his head and came up with a solid hour give or take five minutes.
"Dunno, did the Keep give you an estimate of how much see-through time you'd gain?"
Darien shook his head. "No, just 'more'."
Hobbes handed over the laptop and started the engine. "Call the kid, she'll have the numbers in her head."
Darien growled softly, not really wanting to talk to her right now.
"We need to let them know the package is en route anyway," Hobbes pointed out, making Darien sigh in frustration.
Glaring at Hobbes who wasn't paying the least bit of attention as he pulled out onto the street and merged with the minimal traffic. He waited impatiently for her to pick up at her end.
"S'up, bub," she said in a cheery tone.
"The ball is in play," he told her, wondering why he was bothering with the code phrases, the likelihood that someone was overhearing their phone call was pretty much nil in this backwater town. "The truck and one crate are tagged with GPS, however, they have two followers."
"Urf, hold on let me put you on speaker."
Darien did the same, knowing this would go miles faster if he didn't have to repeat everything for Hobbes.
"You have them on the GPS?" Jarod asked.
"Yep, looks like they are taking 93 for now," Hobbes answered. "We won't know till we have them in sight if the escort stayed with them."
"Verify the escort and fake it from there," Alyx suggested, causing Jarod to chuckle softly. "We're moving into position, should be ready within thirty minutes."
That number reminded Darien of the other reason for this call. "Segue here, off speaker, please." Yeah, he'd be polite for the time being. No reason to let Jarod know he wanted to pound in his skull for making time with his woman.
"Okay, it's just me."
"Do you know how much extra time the new inhibitor was supposed to give me?"
There was silence so long he honestly thought the call had been dropped. "Max of an hour. And that would have you red-lining it." She paused, as if gathering her thoughts. "Everything all right?" The concern was audible.
"Kid, he estimates he's used a hour, minimum, but he only has a single red segment, and no obvious symptoms," Hobbes told her, probably to keep Darien from prevaricating.
"That's not right."
"No shit," Darien muttered. "Any chance the inhibitor worked better than hoped?"
"Honestly, yes, but not with so few segments turning. Assume the monitor is screwy and don't trust it. Did you bring the test kit or Counteragent?" she asked hopefully.
Hobbes sighed heavily. "No, kid, we kinda fucked up on that one."
She laughed lightly, clearly trying to keep them from worrying. "All right, no more… you know unless absolutely necessary, and I mean life or death sitch here. Dare, you know better than the rest of us if you're about to… run into problems. Trust yourself. Bobby, if trouble comes, abandon the truck and head back to the resort. We have the GPS info and can follow up later if necessary."
"Kid, I really don't want to have to do that… but you're right. If Fawkes blows his top he's not going to be of much use out here anyway."
"Hey," Darien argued, even though he knew they were right.
"Sorry, Dare," she said sounding contrite. "I'd cancel this party and come meet you to deal with this, but…"
That god damned but. "I know. I can keep it together and handle my end of things." He swallowed hard, not wanting to admit aloud that he wanted to be first in her life forever and always. "You rescue that family."
"Will do. I'll text when we're in position."
"Good enough, kid. Good hunting."
"Same to you, Bobby."
And on those words the call ended.
"This sucks," Darien muttered as he tucked the phone back into his pocket.
"What does?" Hobbes asked as he pulled onto the exit for the highway. "We still on the right track, kimosabe?"
"Yeah, we are. Wonder if they're gonna be dumb enough to follow the main road the entire way?" Yes, he had failed to answer the real question Hobbes had asked, not certain his partner, who had no real sympathy for their relationship plight, would react well to him stating that he hated that the work always had to come first, that because of what they were they rarely had time to be who they wanted to be. No, his partner would probably just give him a big dose of 'I told you so' and then refocus back on the job. Adding to the same damn problem.
"Here's hoping, this baby is tricked out, but not exactly designed for off-roading. 'Fish ain't gonna want to pay for the damages if we run it into a ditch."
Darien groaned. "Jeez, Hobbes, not like he's paying for the ride in the first place, Alyx got us the upgrade. 'Fish had us in a subcompact and driving in from Missoula. You didn't pay any attention to her bitching when she saw the travel plans, did you?"
Hobbes tore his eyes away from the road for an instant, a look of real surprise on his face. "You have got to be kidding me? I knew the boss was a skinflint, but seriously." He reached out and adjusted the heat, turning the blower down a bit, which Darien had to agree with, as it was quite toasty in here now, enough that he wanted to shed his coat. Decision made, he did so, squirming as carefully as possible with the computer balanced precariously on his thighs and the seatbelt across his chest. Hobbes chuckled. "You all comfy now?"
Darien shrugged. "Could use a beer and a cheeseburger, but not bad."
Hobbes grinned. "Never will change. Maybe on the ride back if all goes well."
"Works," Darien agreed, turning his focus back to the red and blue dots moving down the highway several miles in front of them.
"Problem?" Jarod asked, watching her carefully. He could read her pretty well by now, and after several days of exposure could feel her in the back of his head. She was concerned, but bottling it up for the moment.
"Maybe?" She cast a glance over at him, the road rugged enough that she dare not let her eyes off of it for very long. "Sorry about the obfuscation, but—" A surprise rut forced her full attention back on the driving at hand.
"They don't know that I know," he summed up.
"Nope. D is seriously Top Secret and I didn't think it was an appropriate time to get into the whys of it all."
"So instead you allow Darien to think we slept together."
She muttered under her breath for several minutes, and in several different languages, which he found most amusing. "You got that vibe too? Crap, crap and double crap. Though, truth be told, we did sleep together, there just wasn't any sex involved."
"I don't think he'd see the distinction," Jarod pointed out.
"See, that's not Dare. Mr. Id, yes, but not Darien. The madness toxin affects his judgment and reasoning skills. He's no less intelligent, but his paranoia and suspicion soars through the roof. He'll presume the worst and be unable to see any other truths."
"And that could be problematic."
"Yes. Though we'll probably be fine until we're all back together. Bobby'll be able to keep him focused on the job… for a while. When he sees me… all bets are off."
"And that's bad for you."
"That it is." She sighed softly. "Least he'll go after me rather than you. When he's gone red-eye he's extremely dangerous and very difficult to stop. The toxin gives him reactions like someone on a high dose of PCP. Feels no pain, stronger than normal. Combine that with the adrenal response for the gland…"
"And he's just about unstoppable," Jarod finished. "Have tranqs?"
She ducked her head guiltily. "Yes, actually. Well, pain meds pre-loaded into syringes. I always bring some along. Granted, they're for me more than him, but a half dose will work on him just fine."
Jarod shifted in his seat to all but face her given the seatbelt he was forced to wear. Oh, the Jeep was old enough it wouldn't set off an alarm, but the back road they had chosen to use had been poorly maintained for more than a few years, leaving it rutted and potholed, add to that the layer of snow and surprises abounded about every turn. "You dose yourself with pain meds? Why?"
She thought about that, almost certain it had come up the night they'd been snowed in, and while she recalled mentioning she could overuse her ability, had failed to mentioned the results of said overuse. "I know I mentioned I can't filter out everything."
He nodded. "A constant background noise."
"Well, I can also push too hard. Try to do too much and the result is pain. If I push it way too far I get nosebleeds and tend to pass out."
"Do I come across as so daintily feminine as to do something so tacky as faint?"She questioned with a feigned snort of disdain to accompany it.
He laughed. "No, of course not. You pass out just like us more manly types."
"Damn straight." She manhandled the jeep over what felt like a downed tree buried under the snow, using her mind to prevent the underside from being torn to shreds. "Crap. This road sucks."
"Yes it does. Sorry, but it was the only alternative to get to the estate without being seen." He really sounded apologetic, clearly wishing there had been another option aside from the main road and long, security riddled driveway, and the back route they had used and been caught on once before. "What is your upper limit?" he asked, not about to let the real discussion be derailed by the needs of the moment, and given both of them could easily compartmentalize and multi-task it became a far from impossible challenge.
"Wish we knew," she told him. "Tests seem to suggest I have unlimited potential, but in reality I definitely have limits, but it'll vary depending on what I am doing. Trying to identify one mind out of thousands in a small area will put me out pretty damn quick, all those voices in my head bloody well hurt. Lifting stuff, well I've never really pushed myself with that, flipped cars and the like, but never really had any aftereffects. Transferring energy is pretty easy and since it's a, for lack of a better term, natural part of my body…" She shrugged. "Not like I've tried to channel the energy coming out of a nuclear reactor or something. Generated lighting plenty of times."
She glanced over at him to see his look of amazement, which made her smile. Even Darien had begun taking her skills for granted, which had its good points as it meant he accepted them along with her, but at the same time she missed seeing that look of wonder when she pulled off a friggin' miracle using only her mind. "It's not that impressive," she assured him.
He snorted. "Yes, it is. And on top of all that you can… commune with computers."
She shrugged. "They're just man made brains, all electronics are, computers just have the capacity to be… smart, logical. Add in the web, and I have an entire playground for my mind to wander in."
"Or get lost in," he pointed out.
"Ah, and you have spotted the hazard few others are aware of." She had never actually gotten trapped in the web, always snapping back to herself when the connection has been unexpectedly cut, but the potential remained. One day her mind might go in and never come out.
"What if your body were to die while your mind was within a computer system?" he asked, tone soft and concerned.
Good frickin' question. "Not a clue, and I have no intention of finding out in the near future." The road came to an abrupt end, several trees having gone down recently, perhaps in the storm, and had thoroughly blocked the way. "So, do I move the trees and hope we can drive further, or should we just hike in from here?"
He opened the laptop, his as the boys had taken hers, and fired up the GPS to see where they were in relation to where they needed to be. "We're not far, actually. The road circles around behind the estate, but if we cut across here," he used his finger to trace the approximate route, "we'll actually be shortening our hike time."
"Then here it is. Let me just turn the jeep around for the proverbial quick get away and we'll gear up and go."
It only took a few minutes for them to get ready, and then they strode boldly into the woods, a handheld GPS keeping them on the right track. The snow made it difficult for her even with Jarod to break trail. They each carried a small pack of supplies, and their preferred weaponry and not much else. While any arrests would be legitimate, they could not be done until after the family had been safely spirited away. Sneaking in would be tricky, but doable once she had ascertained the location of everyone in the house. She was going to be in pain by the time this was over, but it would be more than worth it. She just hoped she would have enough energy to deal with Darien afterwards. She'd taken the time to mentally check on him, but he had still been blocking her, which meant she knew nothing, and worse, had lost that needed connection to keep her personality balanced.
She probed ahead, not wanting any human surprises this time.
"So far. How close are we?"
"Coming up on the extreme perimeter now," he told her after glancing at the device in his hand. He waved off to their right, adjusting their course. "Can you see the house?"
She concentrated, opening her shields to allow her to sense all that she could to nearly her full range. The house was still a couple hundred yards off, but she could feel a current far closer, a mere dozen yards in front of them. She focused on it for a moment, low voltage, low amperage and underground. It took only a few moments for her to figure out what it meant. "Crap," she muttered under her breath.
"Invisible fence for dogs, I have the feeling it's not for a Bichon named Muffy."
"I have the feeling you are correct, but we haven't much choice. If they come after us, can you deal with them quietly?"
She sighed, not really wanting to hurt an animal, but not really wanting to be mauled either. "Yeah, though if they're used to the fence, they might be resistant to one of my zaps." Then again, there might be another option. It wouldn't be the first time she'd crawled into the mind of an animal, and trained dogs would have a more organized mind than your average pet mutt. It wasn't something she'd practiced and she probably risked frying their synapses, but worth a shot, especially if it left them alive and unwilling to impede their progress.
She pulled out her phone and texted Darien that they were in position. They hunkered down waiting for the response.
'Truck on secondary road, two escort vehicles. Will stop once family is clear.'
'Roger.' She sent back then looked at Jarod. "How's the arm?"
"More than usable. Though I'd prefer not being shot again, it hurts," he said lightly, making her smile.
She headed towards the buried line, crouching down just before crossing it to get a better idea of who was where. They needed to be able to move swiftly and silently, preferably without setting off any alarms or alerts. Much to her amazement, there seemed to be fewer people here than last time and the security on a less vigilant setting. Goodrowe apparently confident that all would go according to his plan, their discovery the other day, probably waved off as lost hikers, or kids screwing around on the back roads. The guy who had shot at them, had not gotten a good look, mainly due to the heavy clothing they'd been bundled up in. "Want to see?"
"Sure. How?" Jarod sucked in a shocked breath as she removed her glove, set her fingertips on his bare temple, and transferred her ability over to him. "Wow," he mumbled, his eyes roving over the estate laid out before them, the house barely within line of sight, but lit up like a Christmas tree to her ability to see energy. That astonished surprise always seemed to be the first reaction of those she shared her inner sight with. "This is how you see the world?"
"No, I can turn this on and off, just so happens to be quite useful here and now." Opening her shields a touch more all the nearby minds rushed in, she slid through them, ignoring those of no interest to her and narrowing her field until she was reasonably certain of the location of all the Hursts – sadly Mr. was not with the rest of his family – and Goodrowe, who had Mr. Hurst near to hand. He seemed to be on a phone or radio with someone – she suspected one of the escort vehicles – which meant he had constant updates on their whereabouts. It also meant that if he went silent they would suspect something had gone wrong at this end, and might very well have a plan in place for that very contingency. Not that there was anything she and Jarod could do about that. Their objective was straightforward. Save the Hursts, arrest Goodrowe and as many other's as they could manage. "Once we make our move how soon can back-up be here?"
"Twenty minutes tops, and it'll be locals only, the nearest ATF office is in Missoula, the next in Helena. They might be here by nightfall once I make the call, but more likely tomorrow," he told her, still focused on what he could see.
"That'll have to do. We can hold the fort till then." She watched him look out at the world, seeing things as she did, and not reacting beyond amazement. He didn't find her strange, or odd, or scary and she found herself feeling thankful for that. Even her brother occasionally reacted in fear to what she could do, especially when she swung out of control. She needed to learn control, to have confidence in herself and who she was, but that continued to remain just out of her reach.
"The family has a single guard at the door. Two others with Goodrowe and Hurst and two… no, three patrolling with dogs." He blinked and shifted so that she was no longer in contact with him. "Can you affect the security?" She nodded. "Selectively, or in toto?"
"Whichever you wish," she told him. "Knocking it out entirely would give us a decided element of surprise, but he has a least one backup generator, which would give us a limited window to exploit."
"So selectively it is. I'll take the family, you take Goodrowe and Hurst. We'll meet out in the driveway, should everything go well."
"And if it crashes and burns from the get go?"
He chuckled. "What is it you and your partners say? We fake it." He got to his feet and held out a hand to assist her gaining an upright position. "Worry about the security for you only, I'll manage and you don't need your attention split that much."
She cocked her head. "You sure?"
"Very," he replied with a nod.
She narrowed her eyes. "You have an in," she stated, sensing that his confidence was more than just bravado.
"Maybe," he prevaricated, "Can't be giving away all my secrets on our first date, can I?" He tapped her on the nose and then strode away, leaving her standing there for a moment shaking her head in amusement.
The Centre's private jet.
Somewhere over the Midwest.
"Sydney. I found something you should see." Broots sat down next to the older man and pulled several small disks from his pocket.
"DSA's? Of who?" Sydney asked taking them from Broots.
"Michele. There isn't much. They only had a few occasions to record her I guess, but I found something odd." He pulled out the DSA machine and turned it on.
"Why didn't you show us these back at The Centre?" Sydney asked him as he waved for Miss Parker to come over.
Broots dropped his voice. "I was afraid to."
"And when aren't you?" Miss Parker said as she leaned over their shoulders.
Broots selected a particular disk and slid it into the machine. "This one is from when she was thirteen and hospitalized for a time."
The girl, truly a girl this time, was strapped to a hospital bed, looking exhausted and unhappy. The angle was horrible, from a hidden camera in one of the ceiling corners in the room. "Watch the television," Broots told them, staring at the screen in fascination even though he'd seen it already.
They did and were amazed to see it turn on and then begin to flip through the channels; slowly at first and then faster until the images were nothing but a blur. It ended when a light bulb somewhere in the room exploded with a blue flash of light and sparks. The girl didn't really react other than to blink and refocus on the television, which had settled on one station.
"She could control things back then? So why did The Centre leave her alone?" Miss Parker mused aloud clearly without really expecting an answer.
"Keep watching." Broots fast-forwarded to the next morning. Her parents had arrived and with them a boy of about the same age as Michele. "Her twin, Michael." After a moment the boy looked up at the camera almost as if he knew it was there and Broots froze the image. "See why I was afraid."
"My god," Sydney said in a hushed voice.
"No, Sydney, this was definitely the work of man," Miss Parker growled in utter disgust, "or at least The Centre."
The Hurst Estate
Montana, Northern Rockies
It was the dogs that caused the first problem. One of them caught their scent and, within moments, all three were charging up the hillside at them, barking, and howling loud enough to wake the dead, their handlers having released them to do what they did best: stop those not wanted on the property. Alyx stepped between Jarod and the mutts. Rottweiler's, nasty, dangerous dogs when trained for guard duty and she was betting these were trained to kill unwelcome guests. Reaching out she forced her way into their minds. She was in luck that they were all neutered males and that none seemed to be dominant to the others. Still, she didn't give them a chance to play nice and sent images and feelings into their simple, viscous little minds that convinced them she was their alpha female. It worked. They skidded to a halt some ten yards away and began to whine at her.
Alyx walked right up to them and all three crouched down wagging and snuffling at her. She held out her hand and they sat up as one, focused solely on her. She loosened her control slightly to see if they would revert to their previous behavior, but all trace of loyalty to those humans that used them to protect their property – and it was not Hurst – had been overridden. As far as these three were concerned, she was their god and would worship at her feet for all eternity should she so require it. Not quite what she had meant to do, but given she'd a) never done anything like this before and b) had been very limited on time if she and Jarod wanted to remain unbloody, was reasonably satisfied with the results. She hadn't fried their brains or killed them; they were simply loyal to her above all others.
She did not want to contemplate the god-like possibilities of that. Her alts might just get ideas… and not good ones.
Jarod came up beside her and all three dogs glared at him and began to growl, so Alyx sent another message proclaiming Jarod as alpha male. The dogs reacted by lying on their bellies before him, groveling before their new leader. She kind of hated the fact that it had been so very easy to do.
"What did you do?" Jarod asked reaching down to scratch one of the beasts behind the ears.
"I just made us the pack leaders," she explained, trying to keep her unhappiness at this nifty new ability inside. "They're coming. Three of them to see what our boys here have found." Alyx squatted down in front of the dogs. "Want to play?" All three dogs came to their feet panting happily at her. "Good boys." She sent an image into their minds of them chasing anyone who wasn't herself or Jarod, but to run away if guns were pointed at them. Alyx wanted to use them as a distraction not get them killed. When she was sure they understood she stood up and said, "Go." As one the three dogs ran off into the woods. Mere moments later shouts could be heard as they found their first target to torture.
"You sent the dogs after them?" Jarod asked her. "You have a rather devious mind don't you?"
Alyx just smiled. "Seems only right. C'mon we still have a family to rescue."
"Lead the way," Jarod said.
They made their way through the security fairly easily, but they both knew getting into the house would be easier than getting out with the Hursts. Of course, they had to get to them first. Alyx's mental foray into the minds of those within gave them a reasonable certainty where they were – that master bedroom where they'd been holed up the other day. Goodrowe and Hurst, however, were smothered by a ton of electronics, which meant they were most likely in or near the security office, or at least the hub for the entire system. From what she could tell, they still had two others nearby, but she was no longer certain they were in the room with them.
They were able to get close to the back of the house with her making the cameras fuzz out as needed. Based on the power grid in her mind, the exterior of the house was the most heavily covered, with two cameras in the garage and smattering inside, though she could not be certain what those rooms were precisely. Motion and sound sensors were at every window and door, but were simple to trick, which gave them easy access through a rear door that opened onto an elaborate porch on the exterior and a wet bar on the inside.
Getting to the security room was easy. She followed the map in her head and made certain the interior security had been disabled, which it normally was when people were home. The lack of human guards worried her, but not unduly… not yet, anyway. The boring plain door that she hoped led to the main security system was locked, which she solved by moving the tumblers with her mind. A quick glance at Jarod and he shoved his way in to find the room… empty.
"I'm getting a bad feeling about this," she muttered under her breath as they sat down before the monitors to sort out what was going on.
"Well?" Jarod said looking over the monitors with about as much success as she was having.
"The family is there." Alyx pointed to the northwest corner of the house, up one flight. "Three inside – mom and the kids – one guard outside." It was then Goodrowe showed his face on the monitors, in what looked like an office, one of the few interior rooms to rate a camera. "There he is." With him was Hurst, who did not look happy, but seemed to be unharmed as of yet.
"You take Goodrowe, you've got that advantage of yours. I'll get the family," Jarod said. "We'll meet up later."
"Good enough. I'm gonna kill the grid, make it look like a short. You'll probably have ninety seconds before the generator kicks on. If he has any secondary monitors in that office they'll be out until it comes back up. He might even have to do a local reboot before he can see anything." When Jarod nodded Alyx closed her eyes and followed the power for the security system back to its source and sent a surge through the system causing the breakers to go off and shutting down the entire security system. "It's down."
"Good luck, Alyx." Jarod opened the door and checked the hall before heading out.
"You too." Alyx Quicksilvered and followed him out the door heading the opposite way down the hallway. This should be interesting.
Alyx took out the sole guard standing outside Hurst's office with little effort then knocked on the door. When it was cautiously opened Alyx shoved herself against it slamming it into the poor schmuck who had been standing behind it. He went to the floor and, with one additional punch to the head, was napping peacefully. Goodrowe pulled his weapon and searched the room looking for something he still couldn't see. Alyx pulled her gun out of her holster and circled around Goodrowe, pressing the cool barrel behind his ear, she let it become visible while she still was not.
"Mr. Goodrowe, nice to finally meet you," she whispered in his ear. "Now, nice and easy, hand your weapon to Mr. Hurst."
Goodrowe did as requested, holding the gun out butt first for Mr. Hurst to take, though he looked utterly confused, which she supposed was understandable. She shed the Quicksilver, giving the man a wink as he started in surprise. "Have anything handy to tie him up with? Phone cord will do, if there's nothing else."
He hesitated for an instant, still staring in stunned disbelief at the person, namely her, who had seemingly appeared out of thin air, then tucked the handgun into the front of his pants and moved to the desk. Much to her amusement he withdrew a pair of handcuffs from a drawer and brought them over to her. "Will these do?"
"More than adequately," she assured him. Then to Goodrowe. "Be a good boy. Trust me when I say I'll have no problems kneecapping you if that's what it takes to get you to behave."
Goodrowe grunted as if kicked. "You have no idea who you are messing with. If you think you can just take over my territory—"
Alyx cut him off with a harsh bark of laughter. "Take over," she sputtered as she directed Hurst to put the cuffs about Goodrowe's wrists. "You seem to be under the misapprehension that I give a flying fuck about you. No, I'm just here for the Hursts."
Mr. Hurst twitched at that, concern flickering over his face.
"I'm here to rescue you," Alyx quickly elaborated. "Federal agent, working a joint project with the ATF."
Goodrowe swore at that revelation. "Let me guess, Agent Miner." Clearly a statement and not a question, and that worried Alyx. What if…
The cuffs secure, Alyx urged the man into motion. "Easy does it. Take a seat behind the desk if you would."
Goodrowe didn't argue, in fact he looked quite smug, which boded ill for things going as planned. *Jarod, we may have a problem.*
*What kind of problem?*
*The trap kind,* she informed him. *Might want to up the pace a tad.*
*On it,* he responded, fully understanding her concern and need for urgency.
She turned to Hurst. "Any inside info would be most welcome right now."
"My partner is working on that right now," she assured him, being most careful to not mention Jarod's name.
Hurst nodded and looked like a giant weight had lifted from his shoulders. "I don't have specifics, but I know he," he hooked his thumb at the arms dealer in the office chair, "was expecting this Agent Miner to interfere and planned accordingly."
Alyx sighed softly. "That would explain the lack of security." She dimpled at Goodrowe. "Care to give me the details?"
Goodrowe laughed. "I think not." The power blinked just then, not the generator, but the system resetting which meant the security would now be working again.
Alyx strode over to the desk and picked up a paperweight and hefted it in her palm. She closed her eyes and focused on the security system, making certain it had been automatically reset for the home setting then opened her eyes, and smiled at Goodrowe. "Valuable?" she asked of Hurst who shook his head. "Good." Then she tossed it through the window.
Goodrowe snorted. "You think that will do you any good?"
"Guess it depends on how good the security company is," she responded.
Hurst brightened. "Very, especially when they realize my phone lines are out," he turned to Goodrowe, a look of triumph on his features.
Goodrowe frowned. "You think it matters? There is no chance they'll be here in time."
Alyx shrugged. "They'll be here in time to clean up the mess. That's all I need."
She looked over the room, deciding to use the defunct phone cord to tie Goodrowe to the chair. She then stripped off his socks and shoes and shoved one of the former into his mouth. "Your contact in the Free Quebec Militia," she barked, which was effective. He shook his head, refusing to tell even while the name came to the forefront of his mind. She patted the man on the shoulder and turned to Mr. Hurst. "You willing to use that to protect your family?" She waved at the weapon stuffed into the front of his pants.
"Yes," he told her without hesitation.
"Good, we may just need it."
Jarod really disliked the lack of guards throughout the house. There had to be a reason for it as Goodrowe was usually not this sloppy… or overconfident. Still, Jarod would be more than happy to take the gift horse and use it to his advantage. He peeked around the final corner that led to the master bedroom to see who exactly was guarding the door and recognized the man immediately. Boldly stepping around the corner, the man reacted by going for his gun at first, but stopped as he realized he knew Jarod.
"Where have you been, Jarod? You still owe me ten." The guy had gone completely friendly and Jarod was able to walk right up to them.
"I know. I've got the money right here." Jarod pretended to reach for his wallet under his jacket, but instead pulled his gun and poked it into the man's nose painfully hard. "The keys, quietly."
The man wriggled a bit, but complied without a peep. Jarod unlocked the door and shoved the man inside. Ignoring the family for the moment, he quickly stripped the weaponry from the man then cold cocked him, leaving him to fall unconscious to the floor. Then he focused on the family, still dressed in their nightclothes. "Do you have clothes for the children in here?"
Mrs. Hurst appeared to be in shock, but nodded. "Yes, everything but shoes."
"Then get dressed quickly," he ordered, opening the door slightly to check the hallway, but all remained quiet. He turned about to see that Mrs. Hurst had yet to move, clearly not ready to trust this stranger who had just burst into the room. Her daughter came to his rescue.
"Mommy this is the man I told you about. He stopped that nasty man from hurting me."
"You helped her?"
He nodded. "Now, please, hurry." Jarod had spent several weeks working for Goodrowe, but so far down the food chain that the man had never seen him in person. He'd done some low level security and transport and used his access to delve deeper into the operation, which is how he'd found out about this move in Nowheresville Montana. Little reason for the ATF to look for trouble here, Hurst had kept his operation clean for years, and pressure from Goodrowe had been easily resisted until he'd taken a personal interest in the situation and the Navshots taking up temporary residence in his warehouse, Hurst's part of the manufacturing process simple, but necessary. Goodrowe had simply taken advantage of it and found the one thing that would make the man work for him: his family.
He checked the hallway again, pleased to see it remained clear for the moment, when Alyx's voice entered his mind.
*Jarod, we may have a problem.*
There was definite concern in her voice and he found it interesting that she could somehow send him images as well, specifically of a less than concerned Goodrowe restrained in an office chair. *What kind of problem?*
*The trap kind,* she informed him, her bad vibe about the situation coming through loud and clear. *Might want to up the pace a tad.*
Something was most certainly up, so to speak, and he wanted to be well away from the estate when all hell broke loose. *On it,* he assured her, not about to let any harm befall the Hursts. "Are you ready?"
"As we can be," Mrs. Hurst said, standing straight and tall, and containing a strength he had suspected had lain beneath the surface. "Can you handle a gun?"
She smiled. "Sharpshooting champ for three years in a row in my twenties," she told him.
Jarod smiled back and handed over the handgun he'd taken off of Goodrowe's man. "Use it if you need to," he told her, meeting her eyes with a look as serious as he could muster.
"I will, now how are we…" she trailed off staring at the alarm box set into the wall next to the master bedroom door.
"What?" Jarod asked, noting the blinking orange light and number four flashing on the screen.
"Motion alarm has been set off. The downstairs office window."
Jarod chuckled softly. "Don't worry, I'm betting it was intentional."
Mrs. Hurst relaxed only marginally. "You don't understand, yes the alarm will bring the police… eventually, but Goodrowe has an army. And they're far closer. If you are this Miner he's been talking about, us being here is a trap… for you."
Jarod's jaw tightened, the muscles flexing visibly in the lighting of the room. "All the more reason to get you out of here."
She nodded, not about to argue with that. "The garage would probably be best. There's a back stairway we can use, our boots and coats will be in the mudroom."
"Works." He opened the door a crack and looked out into the still empty hallway wary of a trap, including from the woman behind him. It was entirely possible that she'd either been in on this plan from the start, or could possibly have been swayed over to Goodrowe's side. Perhaps convinced that her family would go free if she helped lure Jarod Miner into a compromising position. Lacking Alyx's ability to read minds, he would just have to hope she wanted nothing more than to be free of this situation and her family back together.
They made their way down the back stairwell, through the elaborate kitchen and to the mudroom; where the threesome hurriedly donned their winter wear when the entire house shook from an explosion.
Alyx and Mr. Hurst had abandoned the office once she'd confirmed that Goodrowe hadn't been kidding about them not getting away in time. She'd thrown caution to the four winds and dropped her shields completely, casting her senses as far out as she could. Nearer to the house there were little more than the usual forest creatures, but to the east, almost directly opposite the way they had come in were dozens and dozens of men, all armed to the teeth and on vehicles that could handle the terrain. They hadn't been moving yet, but a quick search of their minds revealed they had mere minutes before they would be surrounded.
Their window of opportunity was swiftly closing.
The house was huge and though she had the power layout in her head, had no real idea where she was going. "Best way out?"
"Garage," he said without hesitation, and she waved for him to lead the way. He not only made guns, but also knew exactly what to do with them. While cautious they did not waste any time moving through the building. They were in some back hallway when an explosion rocked the entire house.
"What the hell was that?" Mr. Hurst questioned, one hand on the wall for support.
Alyx kept moving, but turned her focus outward, to find that the cavalry had arrived… and not theirs.
Their time had just run out.
His response was instant. *Mudroom off the garage.*
*Good. Stay put, we're en route to you. There are dozens of them out there and they are not the good guys.*
*There went that faint hope,* he groused mentally much to her surprise. *We'll be waiting. Hurry.*
*Fast as we can,* she assured and then broke contact. "Run," she told Mr. Hurst and he didn't even hesitate and just took off at a speed that astonished her. This was why she ran as many days a week as she could fit it in. It was a lot easier to run away from the bad guys if you were faster than them.
A single shot through the kitchen window caused her to dive forward into Hurst, getting him out of the line of fire as that lone bullet was quickly followed by at least three fully automated weapons unloading their clips into the room. She focused and threw up a wall between them and the bullets, one that curved about them as splinters from the counters and kitchen appliances began peppering the room. "Move," she urged him, and he pushed himself into a crouch and continued the journey across the kitchen, which suddenly seemed miles long instead of less than twenty feet. There was a pause as the first clips emptied and were replaced and then the hail of bullets began again. By then, thankfully, they had made it to the mudroom, where Jarod hovered protectively over the family crouched down by his knees. The kids squealed upon seeing their father and Alyx dropped the shield so that he could join them. She was pretty certain he had not even realized she'd been deflecting the bullets away from them.
"Methinks Goodrowe is pissed," she observed, tone wry.
"I have to agree with that assessment," Jarod stated, irony heavy in his tone. "You all right?"
He reached out and wiped a trickle of blood from her cheek. Only then did it start to hurt, burn more like, as if it were a paper cut. "Granite counter tops. Probably a splinter. Any ideas?"
"Not dying is good," the young boy suggested, making Alyx snort in amusement.
"Now, that sounds like a most excellent plan." She turned to Mr. Hurst. "Why the garage?"
"It's also one of my workshops, the entire building is reinforced," he explained. "Plus the ATVs are inside. Thought we might use them for a getaway."
She looked up at Jarod, who had frowned slightly. "Good plan, except for the unexpected army now outside. Any alternatives?"
"Miner, we know you're in there. Come out, hands up, and unarmed and I'll consider letting the family go." The voice was muffled, but clear enough to recognize it as Goodrowe.
"Shit, Goodrowe got loose," Alyx growled.
"More likely rescued," Mr. Hurst argued, "no way he could have gotten out unless he was cut free."
Alyx grinned. "True enough."
"Miner. You have five minutes, or we're coming in and killing anything that moves."
Alyx closed her eyes, the pain in her head upping a notch. "He's not kidding… not that he intends to let any of us walk away." She shuddered at the filth in the man's mind. Bad enough what he had planned for the children, but what he'd come up for her was… inventive and would be quite painful for a very long time.
"We won't let you do that," Mr. Hurst stated and Alyx opened her eyes, apparently Jarod had chosen to play the role of martyr; noble but very unnecessary.
"Oh, yes we will," Alyx informed them in no uncertain terms, "but not without an ace or two up our sleeves."
Jarod turned a questioning look upon her, but brightened almost immediately. "You mean…"
She nodded. "I'll get them out while you play bait. You'll be perfectly safe, promise."
He laughed. "I have no doubt of that." He turned to Mr. Hurst who looked confused at the half of a discussion he had just heard. "We have a way to get you out, all of you, but you have to promise to tell no one about it afterwards."
The family members looked at each other then all nodded. "We talking about some sort of Top Secret tech or the like?" Mr. Hurst asked.
"Or the like," Alyx answered, holding up an arm that she had allowed the Quicksilver to flow over; within seconds the appendage had disappeared from sight.
Mr. Hurst's eyes widened then narrowed as the potential registered on him. "It doesn't hurt?"
She flaked the Quicksilver away, falling onto the floor like glitter. "Nope. We'll have to stay close together, and in contact, but it should get us past their line and in the clear."
"And then what? You can't hold it forever, can you?" Mrs. Hurst had to be the one to ask that question.
"Don't need to, dear, just need to buy enough time for the police to arrive." Mr. Hurst glanced at the clock on the wall, clearly making calculations in his head. "Should be no more than fifteen minutes."
"Response time, once the security company contacts them should be twenty minutes given the driving conditions," Jarod said, after doing his own calculations. "They should be on the way at the very least."
"Then we'll just have to encourage them to drive faster," Alyx said. "I'm sure I can find something to blow up."
"They had ATVs and Hummers, and I know roughly how many are outside," the not so little girl stated with a shrug, even as her mom's eyes widened. "What? I watched them out the window. Not like I had much else to do."
"Out of the mouths of babes," Jarod observed with a grin. "So, we will wait till the last moment, out the garage door, all of you moving at a right angle to me, to the left would be best, I suspect and get behind them." To Mr. Hurst. "Anything to hide behind in that direction?"
"The woodpile," the boy announced brightly, wanting to be a part of the planning.
"Perfect. Follow Alyx's lead, she will protect all of you." Jarod glanced at her and she nodded. She would keep them safe and unharmed even at the risk of her own life.
"Any intel you can supply would be appreciated," Jarod asked of her, certainly knowing what she would need to do to accomplish this task.
She didn't argue, instead shifting to sit comfortably on the floor. "How much time do we have?"
"Two minutes," Mr. Hurst replied, clearly having a very accurate clock in his head, as it agreed with hers.
"Give me thirty seconds." She didn't wait for a response, relaxing her body and opening her shields. The noise nearly overwhelmed her, but she fought her way through, totaling up the individual minds, the vehicles, the weaponry – to a degree – and where they all were. She opened her eyes at exactly the thirty second mark. She pulled off a glove and raised her hand, which Jarod took as if they had done this a hundred times before. He stiffened slightly, sight turning inward as he absorbed all the info from her mental recon as well as her full plan. She had no intentions of leaving him unprotected. There was a fair chance that as soon as he came into the open Goodrowe, or his men would fire with the sole intent to kill Jarod, and she would not allow that to happen. Oh, they would be able to fire, but not a single bullet would hit him, and he would not be unarmed, though it would appear that way to anyone watching him.
"Got it," Jarod told her once he had sorted through all of it. "Let's get into position."