The door to the house opened and five men stepped through. Natalie quietly crept forward towards the kitchen, and stopped behind the counter separating the two rooms. Snow moved next to his partner behind cover. They heard footsteps, and then the door closed. “Call for backup. I’m going to see how committed they are to this course of action. They had to have seen the car, so they know we’re here.”
“Be careful,” Natalie said.
Snow stood up, gun drawn and faced the gunmen who had entered the building. They were, for the most part, exactly what Snow had come to expect from hired thugs and low-level henchmen. They were physically strong, each wearing blue jeans and short-sleeved shirts. Snow noted they had no shortage of tattoos. One man was bald, with a series of piercings in his left ear and golden hoops through them.
Their apparent leader, however, took him completely by surprise. Where he expected to see a thug who looked as though he could have recently been released from prison, he instead saw a man with short brown hair, a medium build, and a confidence that was born not from a life of crime, but from a life of responsibility. He wore a blue polo shirt underneath a light brown leather jacket. Snow knew this man. “Federal agents, don’t move!”
The thugs immediately raised their guns and pointed them at Snow. Snow pointed his gun at their leader, and held steady. He could immediately see sweat break out on the faces of the gunmen. They were not experienced at gunplay, and he hoped they needed to keep their leader alive for their operation to be a success.
“Agent, you know you’re outgunned,” said their leader, the former agent Anthony Scott.
“And I can see that unless you’ve changed the standards of those you associate with considerably since we last met, you’re a damn double agent,” Snow sneered.
“You had to wonder what happened to me,” Scott said. “I realize you’ve been doing infiltration work for the past several years, so you must be out of practice, but even you aren’t so stupid as to think that I could just disappear into thin air while my partner lie on the floor with a bullet in his head.”
“Of course, you killed him,” Snow said. He could hear Natalie, concealed behind the counter, quietly calling in backup. “So what was it? Found some piece of technology during your investigation and decided you’d do better off of selling it onto the black market than keeping with the agency’s wages?”
Scott smirked, “Something like that.”
“So what do you want? Why are you here?”
“Those who I work for are very interested in a certain piece of technology. Specifically, they are interested in a prototype. I intend to take it with me.”
“Of course you do,” Snow said. “Would it help if I told you it was worthless?” “Help you or help me?”
“Did you ever figure out who killed Doctor Russell?” Snow asked.
Scott shrugged. “I assume his involvement became inconvenient for the company he worked for.”
“Wrong!” Snow shouted. “He was killed by another member of R&D. He was killed by the guy who was testing the technology. Turns out that this thing has the unexpected side-effect of causing severe brain damage to anyone using it.”
“Of course you’d think that,” Scott said smugly. “I’m assuming that you’re coming at this thing from a strictly investigative point of view. I’ve studied the schematics. It was obvious to me what the side-effects to someone who is psionically aware could be…. If improperly modulated. I’m assuming that the prototype was improperly modulated to the brain of the person who was conducting the testing.”
“And you think that you can fix a problem that a whole team of scientists couldn’t?” Snow asked. “Is this really worth betraying the agency?”
Scott smiled. “At this point it has to be. I’m already beyond the point where I can turn back. I’ve made my choice. So tell me agent, do you intend to fire that weapon, or are you going to surrender?”
Snow knew that Scott wasn’t going to wait for an answer. He had already lined up his shot and only needed to squeeze the trigger. Snow gently squeezed the trigger and felt the gun recoil, then dropped down behind the counter. A hail of bullets followed him into the opposite side of the cabinetry. He heard several loud pings as a pots or other metal objects deflected the bullets intended for him. He heard several bullets whiz over the counter top and impact on the living room wall behind them. Snow stood up quickly, saw two of the gunmen standing, squeezed the trigger twice, then dropped back down. On his way behind cover, he could see a red dot appear on the man’s chest. “Well, now we’re only outnumbered two to one,” Snow said to Natalie.
“We’re going to get killed if we stay here,” she said. The pinging sound coming from within the cabinetry continued. “I don’t know what’s in there, but it must be some good cast-iron pans.”
“We’re not going to be able to gun them all down, but I have an idea,” Snow said. “Cover me.”
Natalie jumped up, squeezed off three shots, and dropped back down. Snow, still crouched, moved quickly back into the living room, found the silver colored headset, and placed it on his head. He could immediately sense a change in his awareness. He was still fully in possession of his mental and physical faculties, yet he felt as though his consciousness had been duplicated and he was suddenly able to concentrate on both his own physical presence as well as…. He could only assume the other awareness, the model helicopter. From his alternate consciousness, he was the helicopter. He could clearly see what was in front of it, though he immediately found that he was able to change his point of view to the rear, the sides, and even pull away from the item and look at it from a distance. He easily commanded the engine to spin up as he moved alongside Natalie.
“You have to be kidding,” Natalie said. “You know as well as I do that thing is likely to fry your brain.”
Snow jumped up, fired a couple shots, and then dropped back down. “What choice do we have? At this point we’re as good as dead if I don’t use it. Besides, now the odds are closer to even.”
He heard the sound of the whirling blades in the living room and from the chopper-consciousness, he felt as though he were raising into the air and flying over their heads. He immediately surveyed the room. One thug lie on the floor bleeding, his eyes closed. Three other thugs were looking at his chopper-consciousness. Agent Scott was nowhere to be seen. Snow and Natalie jumped up and fired at the thugs as the chopper fired several rounds at their opponents. His chopper-consciousness fired a bullet into the brain of one of the thugs as he himself shot another man in the shoulder. Natalie fired her weapon, hitting the last thug in the chest.
“You secure them, I’m going to find Scott,” Snow said as he removed the headband and dropped it to the floor. While the device could potentially give him a needed advantage against Scott, he didn’t want to risk brain damage any more than need be.
Natalie ran into the kitchen to see four bodies. Three of them were unconscious and bleeding fast. There was nothing she could do to save them. The last man was the bald man with the earrings in his ear. He had a rapidly bleeding shoulder wound. She trained her weapon on him, “Tell me, do you want to live?”
The man nodded.
“Then don’t move and do exactly what I say,” she said.
Snow knew that Scott was committed to obtaining the prototype controller, so he assumed that he didn’t flee the gunfight in the kitchen; more likely, he was circling to house so he could come in on the other side of the house and attempt to take them by surprise. Unfortunately, since the gunfire had died down, he probably changed his plans and now lay in wait for them outside.
Snow crossed the living room, walked down the hall, and found another exit from the house. He slowly opened the door and peered out. He couldn’t see anyone. He stepped through the door, and quickly surveyed his surroundings. A picket fence was a hundred feet away, and in between the house and the fence was nothing more than a well-maintained yard. Snow could see no hiding places. He began walking towards the front of the house to ensure that the vehicles were both still parked there.
He neared the corner of the house, then stopped. He sensed that he had missed something. He looked around, reaching out with his mind, hoping to get a better idea of what wasn’t as it seemed. As if on cue, he heard the sound of a gun cock next to his right ear. He turned his head and saw Scott appear no more than five feet away from him, his gun leveled at his head.
“No sudden moves, agent,” Scott said.
“OK,” Snow agreed.
“Toss your gun on the ground,” Scott commanded.
Snow immediately threw his gun to his feet, then looked at the former agent.
“You know this is nothing personal,” Scott said as he leveled the gun at Snow.
“Okay, look,” said Snow quickly, “I know that you think it will be in your best interest to pull the trigger and remove me from play, but hear me out, in that house is my new partner. You’re here for the prototype. There’s a rookie agent in the house who will shoot you if you go inside. Take me with you, and I can guarantee that you that she won’t shoot.”
Scott smirked. “So you think I’ll find you valuable as a hostage, knowing full well that the first rule of hostage negotiation is to shoot the hostage?”
“Let’s assume that you shoot me and go in there and take the prototype by force. There’s a fifty-fifty chance that you won’t make it out of there alive. I’m disarmed. I’m not a threat. If you take me in there you have a shield, if nothing else.”
Scott move to Snow, wrapped his left arm around Snow’s throat, and then pointed the gun to his head with his other hand. “Fine, you can live a few more minutes. Walk!”
Snow allowed Scott to slowly lead him back into the house. They walked quietly down the hallway, and then into the living room. Natalie had placed the prototype controller on the counter-top as she administered to the wounded thug.
Scott led Snow slowly to the spot where the device lay. He carefully released Snow, but kept his gun pointed at his head while he stepped towards the counter and extended his hand. It was then that Natalie sensed his presence, turned around, and pointed her gun at the former agent. “Don’t move!” She shouted.
Scott grabbed Snow by the throat again and moved his body between them. “I wouldn’t recommend shooting unless you intend to kill your partner.”
The counter rose to chest-height on Agent Snow. The only clear shot Natalie had on her partner would have to be a chest, shoulder, or neck shot, all of which could easily prove fatal.
“Do what you were trained to do,” Snow said to his partner.
“Wait,” Scott said quickly. “I’m here for that device on the counter. Let me take it and you both live.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Snow said.
“I know your training,” said Scott. “And I also know how difficult it is to lose a partner. Let me take the device. Let me leave. Is this really worth his life?”
Natalie hesitated for a moment, her gun still pointed at Snow’s chest. “Promise me that if I lower my weapon, you’ll let him go.”
“As soon as I’m out of the house,” Scott said.
“You’ll let him go once you clear the doorway,” Natalie said. “If you wait another second, I’ll shoot you both.”
“Agreed,” Scott said. He slowly released Snow again, extended his hand, grabbed the prototype controller, put his arm around Snow’s throat once again, then slowly started walking through the kitchen towards the door.
Natalie kept her gun on Scott.
“Okay, I’m about to step through the door. Don’t come any closer.”
Natalie stood motionless. Scott quickly opened the door while keeping his gun to Snow’s head. He then stepped back through the door, released Snow, and promptly fired two rounds.
Scott anticipated the shots, and lunged to the left as the shots rang out. Chunks of drywall exploded towards him as the bullets ripped through the wall, barely missing him. Scott didn’t wait to see if he’d hit his target. He jumped in his car and tore out of the driveway as fast as he could maneuver out of there.
“Should we pursue?” Natalie asked?
“No,” Snow said. “Scott has agency training. He already has too much of a lead on us. We’d be better off pumping this guy for information on Scott’s next move. He has to get out of Los Angeles, probably the United States, before he can deliver that to whoever he’s working for.”
To be continued...