Alan Ch. 24byjuliancoreto©
The street was dark as she briefly exposed herself to view. The Indian had dropped her off a few blocks from the target's house, and she stealthily moved through various yards; each time she had to cross a path she made a complete job of looking all about, making sure she was not seen. It was slow going, but before long she was standing in the Marshall's back yard. She pressed herself against the side of the house, inching to the front. Taking a deep breath she then darted out of cover, and in seconds was silently scampering up the tree. There she waited. She inserted the tiny speaker in her left ear and scanned up the road. It really was a good place to set up. The road dead ended a few meters behind her, so there was no way Alan Marshall could hope to sneak up to her. Her muscles tensed as she spotted headlights turning onto the street, but the Indian transmitted into her ear that this was not her target's arrival. Her hands were sticky, and she wiped them free of tree sap against her black robes.
She waited a long time. Most of the lights in the houses were already out for the night as she ate a simple meal of sticky rice wrapped in seaweed. From time to time a car came down the lane, but each time her earpiece crackled with the information that the vehicle in question was not her target's car. She wore no timepiece but knew the hour was very late. Many a time as she waited she considered meditating, but rejected the idea, wanting to remain fully alert.
Two pinpricks of light appeared in the distance, enlarging as the car approached. This time it was him. She rolled her head, loosening her muscles. The car pulled up to the house, not coming up the drive, but taking the spot by the curb. This came as no surprise to her. Hours before she had watched as Marshall's parents returned home, the vehicle, piloted by the father slipping in next to another one in the two car garage. Her body tensed as she prepared to spring from her hiding spot. She heard the engine shut down. There was a brief pause before she saw the interior lights of Marshall's car come on and the driver-side door swing open. The wind was picking up as she dropped to the grass below her.
Alan got out of the car and shut the door. The whole day he had been bothered, a feeling in the back of his mind that something wasn't quite right. It had receded by late afternoon, after he had left to pick up Kate at the train station, and by halfway through their sushi-and-a-movie night out it had disappeared almost completely. Now, however, it was returning, and with a bit of a vengeance. After dropping Kate off at her house and steering his dad's station car the few blocks home, the dull throbbing reappeared, something like a faint headache. He had looked around after cutting the engine, but had seen nothing, and reassured by the presence of the security men in the van halfway up the block, he had gotten out.
* * *
Karick had been pissed off for the last three hours. His hands gripped the wheel tightly as he drove, too tightly for comfort. He had just picked up Jack at the International Terminal at JFK, and had been relieved that the old man--well, not so old man now that he inhabited the body of Theodore Dickinson--had ordered him to take him up to see Alan at once. The problem was that Alan wasn't answering his cell phone. Karick didn't know how long Alan had been off the air, but he knew that he'd been trying to get a hold of him for the last three hours, and had as yet been unsuccessful.
Jack was in the back seat, reading over some papers as Karick sped up the Bronx River Parkway, doing at least twenty over the limit. His new assistant, Peter Gant, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was trying to calm him.
"Slow down, slow down," he counseled, "You're just going to get pulled over, and that'll just set us back."
"Young man," Jack piped in from the backseat, "We are in dire circumstances. There is no risk of our being pulled over. Leave the local constabulary to me."
Peter did not understand, but decided not to question how their passenger would prevent the smokies from stopping them. Karick put his foot down, and the car rocketed farther ahead.
Patrice and Eric, the two watchers on duty a few doors down from Alan's house set their cards down as they saw his car come down the street. Their shifts were soon to end, and they were looking forward to the rest of the night off. Eric turned in his swivel captain's-style chair and checked the monitor. The tiny transponder implanted behind Alan's knee responded to the signal and chirped an answer to the machine's interrogator. A small blip appeared on the screen and he keyed the two-way radio feature on his cell phone, paging Karick.
"Nest to Sentinel, Alan pulling up now. Are you still unable to raise him?"
The frantic quality to Karick's voice was evident through the ether. "He's there?"
Karick picked up speed. Jack then suggested that the two guard grab Alan and get him away from the house. Karick relayed the message. Patrice grumbled at these new instructions, ones contrary to the protocols he had been briefed with when he started this job. As Alan got out of the car they did the same.
* * *
She was about fifteen meters from him, advancing steadily. He had only taken a few steps towards his house when the quiet of the street was broken by voices coming from up the block.
"Alan! Mr. Marshall, sir!" two men cried out as they made their way towards the driveway. She watched her target pause, turning to face the calls. She sprung, her sword held high in a two-handed grip.
Just as he was completely turned around Alan noticed something out of the corner of his eye, a tiny flash of reflected light off a long thin metal object. "A sword. Headed at me," his brain instantly processed. He took a step backwards, the sole of his right foot coming down on an acorn, one still green from the recent rain, one scattered by the recent gust of wind. He fell on his ass, hard, but luckily as he saw the sword miss him, whistling through the air where he was, seconds before, standing upright.
A figure, clad in all black, its face obscured by a mask, twisted around, bring the sword towards him. Not thinking he reacted, using his powers to defend himself. With a clatter, the long weapon went flying down the road, more then twenty feet. He expected the bearer to be startled, allowing him a second or two to regroup, but the ninja-like figure paid this development almost no heed, kicking him while he was attempting to lift himself up, the crepe sole of her shoe smacking against his face, the back of his head striking the pavement with force.
"Hey! You there! Freeze!" Alan heard one of his guards yell. His vision, though blurry from the blow to the head, could still make them out, advancing toward him rapidly, their sidearms drawn, pointed at his assailant.
Her attention distracted momentarily, Alan hoisted himself to his feet and began to inch away from the scene as quietly as he could, his steps wobbly. The ninja person had turned his back on him, dealing now with the others. She waved her arm out, and to Alan's shock his two rescuers crumpled to the ground in midstride. Alan had managed to put about a dozen feet between him and the attacker before the ninja turned back.
"Keep away," he mumbled as loudly as he could through his swollen mouth. A warm trickle of blood was flowing from a small gash on the back of his skull, down his neck and under his collar, and he was slightly groggy. She sprung at him again, and it was all his effort to repel her with his mind. She was practically flying at him, her right foot tracing an arc through the night air headed right for his chin when he pushed against her with his mind. She missed him and curled into a ball as she landed, rolling over and bouncing up into a battle position in a single smooth motion. Her eyes darted over the landscape, searching out for her blade. She spotted it almost at once, lying on the hard pavement almost at the mouth of the next house's driveway. Clapping her hands together dramatically she concentrated on it and it lifted off the surface of the road, soaring to her hand. Alan saw it too, and he diverted it with his TK. It flipped over, the point of it now flying towards Michiko, and she dove out of its path so as not to be impaled.
Alan kept with it, causing the shaft of the blade to be impaled in the oak in his front yard, halfway to the hilt. The ninja, who by this time Alan had deduced was a woman, jumped up again, but he was quick enough on his feet to dodge this time.
"You've made a mistake coming here," he said with more confidence than he actually felt; blood was dripping from his mouth, and he spat to avoid swallowing some of it. He watched her wheel around, and midway through her move he reached out with his power to seize her mind. To his consternation he couldn't get a grip on her consciousness. Furiously he concentrated, but it was futile, like trying to hug a greased sow.
His mind probe momentarily startled her as she was in mid-kick, but she brushed it off easily; it did, however affect her aim, and her blow to him was only glancing, connecting with his side. Twisting her body around she struck at him with an open hand, connecting with a chop to his gut, and he doubled over in pain, the wind knocked out of him. Seeing this she scampered over to the tree and began to wrestle with the handle of her sword, trying to pry it from the trunk. She could hear him gasping a few meters behind her as she freed the weapon. Turning to him again she raised the sword high and advanced. Just as she was about to strike the deadly blow something went wrong.
She was flying backwards, and with a crash she collided with the oak tree, a massive blow, her whole body aching at the impact. "The little bastard," she thought bitterly, picking herself up off the grass, one hand brushing dirt and debris from the front of her robes while the other hand seized the handle of the sword. "Two can play at this game."
He was running down the road, trying to get away. A quick thought and he was down, having tripped over an invisible obstacle she had created in his path. By the time she had caught up with him he was on his feet again, making to run. A flash of steel and he was bleeding from a cut, though not as deep as she would have hoped, a gash running from his right shoulder to his left hip. His shirt was in tatters, and soaked red.
Alan lashed out with his TK and she went flying again, landing with a thud about thirty feet away, but to his chagrin she was on her feet within a second or two, charging again. Behind him he could hear a car approaching, its headlights casting long shadows on the roadway. She was almost at him once more, and with his strength abandoning him he repelled another attack, knowing within himself that he had not the vigor to do so again. His vision was blurry, both from the pain he felt and the copious amount of sweat dripping off his forehead and stinging his eyes, as he watched her approach again. With a vague sense of distraction, like he was a character in a martial arts movie, and not a soon to be victim, he watched the steel blade as it swooped towards his neck. He was going to die. He was going to die in the next three seconds.
She heard the squeal of the brakes, but paid it no heed. The moment of victory was at hand, and she would not be distracted from her mission. Two hands gripped on the handle of the sword, one quick slash and it would be over. She was already thinking about the follow through of her slashing action when the sword once again skipped from her hands, clattering to the pavement. Three men were approaching her, two with handguns pointed right at them. "Well," she thought, "This wont be anything but another slight annoyance, like the first two." Once again she waved her arm in the prescribed motion and said the proper incantation, but to her horror, nothing happened.
She was struck by a blow of immense proportion, not a physical blow, but a battering ram of pure mental energy, flooring her. This new player, the man in the middle of the pack of three walking towards her position, was playing the game on a higher order of magnitude, she feared. Slowly she rose from the ground to confront this new threat, but no sooner had she righted herself, spitting blood, than another wave of psychic power overwhelmed her.
Alan was sitting, propped against the Anderson's mailbox, blinking rapidly. Jack and the two others ran up to him. "I'm alive," he croaked, straining with effort to get the words out.
"Yes, my friend, but only just," Jack said quietly, crouching beside him. A few lights went on in the houses on the street, but with a quick global command from Jack they were swiftly extinguished, the residents returning to their beds. Alan could see his attacker, laying flat on her back in the center of the road, unmoving. Karick and the other man were tending to the two guards, trying to rouse them while Jack tended to his wounds. He could feel Jack's hands on the back of his head, and it felt as though he was being tickled as the skin on his scalp was knitted back together. A similar process took care of the bloody wound to his torso, and he attempted to stand up but Jack held him still, telling him not to move.
The former Dr. Massimo left his side and went to help with Patrice and Eric, all the time keeping a sharp eye on the attacker lying in the road. The two security men had been stunned into unconsciousness, and it wasn't long before they were finding their feet, slowly making their way back to the surveillance van, Peter and Karick fast on their heels carrying the ninja's limp body between them. Jack returned to the mailbox and sat beside Alan, his eyes closed.
"You're still a trifle shocky, Alan," he said very quietly, taking one of Alan's hands in his own.
Alan felt soft pulses of energy pass through their manual connection, and was soon feeling a whole lot better. Karick went over to the van and instructed them to wait, then returned to Alan and Jack, standing guard, his gun at his side.
By his wristwatch Jack spent almost ten minutes pulsing Seed energy into him as they sat quietly on the semi-deserted street, Karick pacing around them. At long last he felt his two companions grab him from his underarms and lift him up. Karick went and moved the car, parking it around the corner and out of sight as Jack led Alan back to his house and up to his room. Tadeusz joined them shortly thereafter.
"That was some scary shit," Alan commented after quickly downing a glass of water Jack had fetched.
"You're telling me!" Karick laughed, though his face was all business.
"Who is she, Alan?" Jack asked, his features circumspect.
"No clue. She was powerful. I couldn't penetrate her mental defenses. She came this close to killing me. It's a good thing you got here when you did."
"Yes," Jack replied dryly, "But it would have been a better thing if you would have answered you cell phone."
"Fuck! I turned it off when I went into the movie theater, and forgot to turn it back on when we left."
"Well, that's water under the bridge now," Karick said, "But I do hope you'll be more attentive in the future."
"Well, I'd love to stay and chat all night, but there are matters pressing, none more so than the young woman now out cold in the van. Rest up, my young friend," Jack said as a farewell, patting Alan's head paternally. He was asleep in minutes.
Jack stopped Karick as they were halfway down the driveway back to the car. "I think it is time to pick up the Indian. He is near, but headed back to Manhattan, to the hotel. We will collect him there. You and I will ride back in the van with the girl. Leave Peter and the Buick here to guard Alan." Karick nodded and jogged ahead to issue instructions to his team.
* * *
He didn't see all of it, but he did catch the end of it, and that was enough. After signaling the woman he had put his car in gear and made his way to the end of Marshall's block, parking just around the corner. With great care he inched his way on foot through the first yard to see the battle, and to be ready when the mission had been carried out. The appearance of the newcomers was a sorry happening, but there was nothing for him to do but flee. It was his luck that he was an unknown element as yet, he believed.
* * *
"OK, boss, where to?" Karick asked as they pulled away from Alan's street. He was driving with wet shoes, something he had never really liked, but was tonight a consequence of having to hose the blood off of the pavement in front of the Marshall house.
"Federal Plaza, in Manhattan," Jack instructed, and Karick accelerated through the dim streets towards the highway onramp.
"This time of night?"
"The guardians of democracy never sleep, my friend, though I myself could use some. I'm a little jetlagged."
It was child's play for Jack and Karick to gain admission to the building. Within minutes the INS and the FBI were in possession of the photo of Patel snapped just a few days before as he left London for Heathrow and the USA. The agents didn't know why they were to detain the Indian, but the knew that Mr. Lazarus was to be informed immediately when it happened.
The assassin was lodged in the secure office in Wilkins's suite, and at long last Jack was able to rest.
Two days later Mr. Patel was removed from a Dulles to Heathrow afternoon non-stop, and within hours the FBI had turned him over to Jack.
* * *
"I don't remember if I said this the other night, but thank you for saving my life. And thank Karick and the other guy, too.
"What I don't understand is the why of it," Alan was saying as he took a bite out of his steak. Jack paused as he brought his wineglass to his lips. They were in a semi-secluded booth at a midtown steakhouse a few days after Patel had been caught.
"My stepbrother is smart, but sometimes that is not enough. One can be too persistent for one's own good, a lesson he is dire need of relearning. I think a small part of him understands that this obsession of his, his thirst for power, is going to one day spell his doom, but his arrogance clouds his judgment to such a degree that he denies the folly of his course."
"What has the woman been saying?"
"Nothing, not a word, at least with her mouth. Her mind, on the other hand, is quite a revelation."
"So you've been successful in penetrating through her defense? I tried that night, but I couldn't get a hold around it. It was..."
"Slippery, yes, I've run into that problem myself," Jack chuckled.
"So how do you get around it?"
"Well, first thing, when you and her were doing battle she was honed for combat. Over the last few days I've been keeping her unconscious most of the time, and taking my time working around her ingrained defenses. I haven't learned much from her, but Patel has been most illuminating. Just the fact that she can repel our advances as she is able is the illuminating thing." Jack proceeded to tell Alan what her had learned by interrogating the Indian.
"But, but, but," Alan sputtered, "That wouldn't have worked! He really wanted to kill me and take my ring? Cut my hands off? Why would he think that my power derived from the ring?"
"Unlike us Vessels, he knows nothing of the true nature of the Seed, of its history, its origins. After his first attempt failed he became even more obsessed with the promise of the Seed, and is now willing to do anything, not matter how rash or badly thought out the plan might be. To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
"So, what do we do now? Are we going to go after him, neutralize him as a threat?"
"For now, we do nothing, at least nothing overt. I'm going to release Patel soon, let him go back to his master if he wants, and if he has the balls to go back to London, he'll report to me, though I doubt he'll risk the wrath of my brother. The female presents a far greater threat, and I will be concentrating my efforts on thoroughly shattering her defenses. When the house is ready she will be moved there. I had one of the small rooms in the basement made into a sort of makeshift brig. It's getting late. We should adjourn for the evening. I'm meeting your friend Anne-Marie tomorrow," he added with a wicked grin.