Aedus stepped into the rental car and set his phone back into the GPS holster. He checked Ammon’s phone and saw that it had a standard connection port. He took a cable and plugged both phones in together. “Command: Extract all data related to GPS and map data,” he spoke to his phone.
The phone whirred and returned with a reply in a female, Irish accent, “Limited data available. Live GPS coordinates are being fed remotely from a laptop computer. Outgoing GPS coordinates are being sent to the same location. Destination data is unable to be extracted.”
“Are the camera and microphone active?”
“I wirelessly disabled the camera and microphone from the restaurant, in accordance with past commands. I’ve just now spoofed the outgoing GPS as well.”
“Good, how far is the remote location?”
“The laptop is using an encrypted line and routing data through nodes. It will take time to trace it.”
There’s no guarantee that Ammon will be at the same location as his laptop lackey, Aedus thought. “Is the tracker on Elbert active?”
“Yes, it’s thirty minutes away. Shall I navigate there?”
“Yes!” Aedus shouted. “Fastest route. But feed their GPS with a simulated path that corresponds to their directions.” He wasn’t about to simply walk into a trap. Especially not without Jake. They’d know something was wrong right away. He needed to track them down separately, but trick them into thinking that he was following their directions.
Ten minutes out, Aedus was taken through a heavily forested route. Ten more minutes and he was directed off the road and onto a dirt path. The car shuddered against the uneven terrain but drove on.
The phone beeped and spoke. “I’ve retrieved the laptop’s location. It’s thirty minutes from your current location. Along the coast.”
“Send him the information about where I’m going, the location of the laptop, and the locations being fed from Ammon,” Aedus ordered. “Maybe add the time remaining too.”
“Message sent. You are driving awfully fast,” the phone remarked. “Be advised that high speeds are not recommended. Driving in these conditions are for professionals and in controlled circumstances.”
Aedus laughed and pulled tight on the steering wheel as the car whirled in a wet patch of dirt. He lightly pressed the breaks, adjusted course, and proceeded back on the path. “Am I not a professional, Elizabeth?” She was named after his mother.
“No, Aedus,” she replied. “You narrowly passed your driving exam.”
Five minutes later, Aedus spotted the front of a stone house atop a hill with a series of steps and arches. He slowed and parked a short distance away. He grabbed his sword and sheath from the car trunk and moved for the house, gun also at his side.
A gunshot erupted from the house and hit the car windshield. Aedus somersaulted forward and hid behind one of the arches. Bullets collided with stone, sending a hail of rock down the path, but Aedus was safe for the moment. He peaked out and spotted his sniper at one of the windows of the home. Aedus ran, bullets whizzing past him, while crouched low along the stairs and using the side walls for cover. He took position behind another arch. No more shots were fired. The sniper was waiting for an opening. Aedus slid out from behind the arch, took on a fencing stance that minimized the sniper’s target area, and pressed the trigger of his gun.
There was a thump and the sniper lay still against the window frame. Aedus hurried up the steps, maintaining his cover, and came to the door of the house. He waited at the side for one moment, then kicked the door open and stepped back. The interior was dark and Aedus grabbed a small high powered flashlight from his belt. He felt like a certain dark, knightly vigilante with all these gadgets. He switched on the light and flicked it around the interior. There was a chair, a stove, a table, a half eaten baguette with a jar of chocolate spread, and a door at the far end of the room. Aedus grabbed the baguette. It was hard, but still edible. Aedus reached into his pockets and pulled out a few adhesive buttons, like the ones he’d given Jake. He walked over to the next door, which had a supporting steel structure and a series of deadbolts. He pressed the inside of the buttons a few times, then placed them into the cracks alongside the deadbolts.
The buttons vibrated and seconds later exploded, damaging the deadbolts and blasting pieces off of the door frame. Aedus pulled open the weakened door, just as a weave of energy slapped him in the face, knocking him to the ground.
• • •
Jean drove Jake into a car wash where they dropped off the FBI agents and proceeded to drive the car through the wash. The agents stood at the front of the building waiting.
“I thought we were in a hurry to get to the coast?” Jake asked. “Why are we stopping to get a car wash?”
“It’s not an ordinary cash wash, Jake,” Jean smiled. “C’est très spécial… et il a un secret!”
“I understood special and secret,” Jake said. “That’s about it.”
“And that’s all you need to know!” Jean laughed.
Soap coated the windshield until nothing was perceivable around them, and then the car began to move. Not forward, but up, the next moment tilting and sliding down like a rollercoaster. Jake looked to Jean, concerned. But Jean appeared relaxed. Amused even. There was a clink, click, and the sound of gears churning. Then they lurched forward.
Jake’s eyes widened. “What kind of car wash is this?” he asked.
Water splashed across the windshield and Jake could finally see… darkness. The automatic headlights engaged and lit up a tunnel before them and a rail beneath them.
“It’s a tunnel built by L’Ordre. The sounds you heard were a platform lifting, a shuttling mechanism clasping around the car, and our movement along the rail. This rail will take us to the coast at over 240 kilometers per hour… or over 150 miles per hour. Très rapide.”
Jake checked his seatbelt and tightened it just in case. At first, he could see the steel rail ties pass below them. As they picked up speed, however, the tracks were a blur. Jake set himself back against his seat and wondered if this was what it felt like to be in a race car. Minus the turns, the racetrack, other race cars, or a single race car to begin with… okay, that answered his question. It was almost nothing like racing.
“Did you and Aedus get to talk much?” Jean spoke.
Jake looked to Jean. “Yeah. In the car and a bit at the restaurant.”
“About your powers and L’Ordre?”
“Right, except that he called it The Order. They’re the same thing, right?”
“We all have a term for it in our languages,” Jean nodded. “Aedus calls it The Order, having been born in Ireland. Rosso often calls it L’Ordine, because he was born in Italy and recruited there, despite having spent many years in Japan with his brother.”
“Rosso has a brother?” Jake had never really thought about Rosso having a family. He had only ever thought of him as his English teacher. Then a secret agent. But at his core, he was a human being just like him. With human needs, desires, loved ones, and a craving for purpose.
“Yes, an older half brother. He’s also with L’Ordre. A senior member who gives Rosso a hard time.”
“Should you be telling me all this?” Jake wondered. “Won’t you get in trouble with Rosso?”
Jean offered a smile of snow white teeth. “I’ve known Rosso for a long while, Jake. He might not like me sharing all this, but I think he’d agree that you should know about what you’re getting into. And about him. You can ask about me too. It’s only fair. I already know a fair bit about you.”
That was good enough for Jake. Now he wouldn’t feel bad about asking so much. “How do you know about me? And Aedus said you’re from France?”
“C’est vrais. I’m from France, yes. And I have a case file from Rosso.”
“What does it say about me?” Jake could only imagine the things Rosso would write about him.
“You look like you’re expecting bad things,” Jean laughed heartily. “I suppose that comes from him being your teacher. But Rosso has a great deal of faith in you. He wants you to succeed. And your case file reflects that. He admits that you struggle a bit, that you like sciences more than arts, and that you have an interest in a certain Michelle Lombardi.”
“He wrote that?!” Jake exclaimed.
“I’m kidding,” Jean grinned mischievously. “He confided that during a private conversation with me. He kept wondering when you’d tell her.”
Jake shook his head over and over and didn’t stop until Jean put a hand on his shoulder.
“I have a girl like that,” Jean added. “Back home. I waited to tell her. Until I couldn’t wait any longer. You’ve already told Michelle, haven’t you?”
Jake’s face flushed.
“Rosso will be happy about that. He’s also very protective of you. He’s defended you against his brother time and again. His brother thinks you won’t make it. That you won’t amount to much. But Rosso knows that you will. And from this short time with you, Jake, I know that you will too.”
Jake nodded slowly, suddenly more timid that usual. “Thanks.”
“10 more minutes,” Jean announced.
• • •
Ammon stood outside a fisherman’s shack. His techie sat typing away at a computer underneath the awning. They’d found Jean’s ship and onboard helicopter waiting at the harbor and were in the process of directing Aedus to their location. It was nice of Jean to leave his ship as it was the perfect prison for Clarice and family. Ammon had locked them in below the main deck, in the cargo hold, but not before ensuring that there weren’t any tools to use or secret passageways from which to escape. The helicopter too, was a wonderful gift, ideal for surveilling the area. One of his agents was stationed in the helicopter now, flying over the area.
There was little more than 10 minutes remaining before Ammon’s cutoff time. At which point his agents would take Jean’s ship out to sea. Ammon tapped his foot and surveyed the road that led to the dock. He didn’t give Aedus much time, but then again, it didn’t matter. He had no intention of handing over Clarice or Elbert. He wasn’t about to let Aedus or Jean walk away.
Five minutes later, Ammon’s two-way radio crackled and the helicopter agent’s voice came through. “Car spotted, though it’s different from the one we saw earlier.”
Ammon held up a hand. A dozen agents rushed to his side, rifles at the ready. Another agent brought him a pair of binoculars. A black luxury car approached from the distance. Peering through the binoculars, Ammon saw that the car was unmanned and heading straight for them at top speed. He signaled his snipers and they targeted the tires. The rubber flayed to reveal another dark material underneath. Whatever it was, it kept the tires from deflating. The snipers continued to fire, each bullet finding its target, but the car was unrelenting.
“Move!” Ammon yelled, running for the shack. Half of the agents headed for the ship and the other half followed Ammon. The car shot past them and came to a screeching halt at the shore. Ammon signaled for his agents near the boat, and they moved to investigate the car. Then they began to fall. The agent closest to the car stopped in his tracks and collapsed. Followed by the second, third, and fourth agents. The fifth and sixth looked toward the east in time to see a blur in the air before they joined the others on the ground.
Ammon scanned the bodies of the fallen agents with the binoculars. A dart had found its way upon each one. Fast acting tranquilizers. The doors of the car slid up like a sports car to reveal tiny holes along the sides.
“Get in the shack!” Ammon yelled, as two dozen darts flew from their chambers. Four of his agents fell before they reached the shack. The two remaining with Ammon escaped in time to hear the darts pelting the walls. One of the agents looked through the window. The car doors moved back into place and the back tires screeched as the car reversed course and drove off into the cover of a nearby park.
Ammon reached for the two-way radio at his side. “Take off with the boat,” he barked. “And pilot, find our attackers!”
The helicopter soared overhead.
• • •
The mechanism beneath the car detached, the concrete ceiling opened up, and Jean drove free of the tunnel. They emerged inside another car wash. Soap once again coated the windshield until the water jets cleared it off, and then high powered fans blew off the water.
“How do people not find out about these secret entrances?” Jake asked, seeing another car behind them.
“There’s an automatic rail, similar to the one in the tunnel, that carts cars through. The car owners wait inside. There is not a viewing area, however, to see the cars passing through. There’s a waiting room with monitors indicating the cars coming out. And it’s all automatic, so employees don’t come through either. If they did, they’d be covered in soap before they could see anything of the tunnel.”
Jake shook his head in disbelief. “How long have these tunnels been here?”
Jean smirked. “Longer than you.”
Jean’s phoned chimed and he pulled off and into a park. It was a message from Aedus. Jean checked his GPS and saw that they were within a short distance of the laptops coordinates. The direction feed from Aedus also seemed to lead in that general direction.
“Get out of the car, mon ami,” Jean said.
Jake did as he was asked and poked over Jean’s shoulder as the man continued to look through the data. Jean looked over at Jake and smiled as if they were about to play a game. “Have you ever wanted to be a secret agent, Jake?”
“When I was little,” Jake admitted.
Jean rushed to the back of the car and popped the trunk. Inside was a series of darts and a large dart launcher with sights. “Across from this park is our enemy.” Jean ran over and opened the door on the left side and flicked a switch located along the groove. The door made an electronic hum and shifted upwards at an angle, revealing a hidden section with built in dart launchers. Jean made his way back inside the car and set his phone on the dock. An app popped up on his phone screen and allowed him to set an automatic path and course of action. “And I’m going to turn this car into a trojan horse.”
“Are there people inside?” Jake asked. He wouldn’t doubt it, after all this day had in store.
“No, but there are tranquilizer darts, just like those shot from this launcher here. I’m going to set up the launcher at the edge of the park and poke at any enemies I can find. The car will move in and take down the rest. Care to help?”
“How can I help?”
“Just grab a pile of the tranquilizer darts, and here, I’ll show you how to feed them into the launcher…” He pointed to a slot on top of the launcher and demonstrated feeding a dart inside.
Jake followed Jean’s directions and nodded. “Alright, I can do that.”
“Excellent!” Jean fetched his phone from the car and initiated the command sequence. The car screeched back and moved back onto the street, speeding along the empty road. The Dark Karashingan agents fled from the car, thinking it was going to ram them. Instead, it stopped, and Jean fired at the distracted agents who were closest to him. He hit six and then the car disengaged the side door and launched another set of darts, taking out another four. Jean looked up as his helicopter soared overhead, one of Ammon’s agents inside. Jean took his phone and pointed it upwards, connecting to the wireless control system. A remote appeared on his screen and he navigated the helicopter like a toy, guiding it toward them. He handed Jake the phone, switched to the dart launcher, and hit the helicopter pilot. Jake handed back the phone and Jean brought the helicopter down and pulled out Ammon’s agent.
“We have the helicopter back!” Jean laughed triumphantly. “Now we’ll put it to good use.” He hopped into the pilot seat and invited Jake to be his passenger. “After this journey is done, I’ll have to drop you off at school in the helicopter. It’d make for a fun entrance.”
Jake laughed. It’d sure catch everyone by surprise.
“We’re going to save Clarice,” Jean said. “And I think I know where we can find her.”
Jean set his phone back into his pocket and took up the physical controls. He preferred the feel of direct, physical control. It was an experience in itself. Just like he preferred print over digital books. Jean and Jake clipped in and prepared to takeoff.
The helicopter blades rotated and spun faster until they were airborne. Jean saw this ship leaving the dock with a few guards on top of the ship and the bottom deck appeared barricaded. Just as he thought. Gunshots rang out and Jean spotted Ammon and his two men opening fire. There was a clink as one of the bottom rails of the helicopter was hit. Jean veered off to the side and increased his elevation, but keeping towards the path of the ship. The gunshots continued to come until Jean was an impossible target. As he descended upon the ship, the gunshots resumed, coming closer and closer.
“Jake, in the back of the plane there’s another dart gun. Train the site on Ammon and his men, including those aboard the ship, and take out as many as you can. It’ll reload up to fifty rounds. They’re not lethal, just like before. Nothing to plague your sleep. Just don’t aim for the head.”
Jean tossed Jake a bulletproof vest like the one he wore and he put it on. Jake felt like he was in a scene from his favorite space opera. He moved to the back and clipped into the rear seat. He took hold of the dart gun, finding two triggers on the handles, and he shifted the sites onto the shore. He pressed down on the trigger button and the gun vibrated and shot off two rounds at a time. One of the men fell.
“Yes!” Jake exclaimed.
“Great shot!” Jean said. “You may have to be my permanent co-pilot.”
Ammon and the remaining agent ran back to the shack. This time, Jake shifted his sights onto the ship and engaged the trigger. Twenty rounds assailed the ship of ten men who fled for the control room on the top deck. Seven of the men fell before they could make it. Another fell as he reached for the door. And the second made it inside as the dart pelted the door. He and a female agent joined the one driving the ship. The boat increased to top speed, but the helicopter followed fast after them. Jake opened fire on the glass paneled control room. The darts pierced through the glass. Another ten rounds and the captain himself was running for cover, but he fell before reaching the metal paneled section by the door.
Jean hovered above the deck and made for a landing, keeping the rear with Jake and the dart launcher facing the control room. The control room doors opened again and the two agents’ bullets thudded against the back of the craft. Jean almost missed the landing but adjusted his path, and kept them in the air. Jake ducked down as a bullet flew past him and hit the seat behind him. Jake pressed the trigger, shooting blindly, and shifted the gun left and right, rapidly unloading the remaining twenty rounds. The gunshots stopped and Jake looked back up. The door to the control room was shut and an agent was lying on the ground outside. The helicopter thudded against the deck of the ship, landing successfully. The rotors slowed and Jean unclipped his seatbelt and grabbed a gun from behind his seat, then jumped down from the helicopter.
The door to the control room opened again and the female agent pointed her gun at Jean and fired. The Frenchman moved low and returned fire. A bullet hit the corner of his jacket and he slammed against the ground. The female agent moved down the stairs and fired at Jean while he was stunned. He rolled to the side but wouldn’t be quick enough to avoid the point blank shot. It was then that a hail of darts flew past Jean and attached to his assailant. She fell on the stairs and was still. Jean stood and looked toward the helicopter, surprised. Jake sat grinning in the backseat, holding spare rounds he’d found beside the dart launcher. He was able to load them just as Jean had shown him earlier.
“You’re hired!” Jean cried with a laugh.
Jake popped out of the helicopter and ran over to Jean. He didn’t have any blood stains. Jake let out a breath of relief.
“Almost dislocated my shoulder,” Jean said. “Mais, il est…” He moved his shoulder about a little. “Just sore. Thanks to you, Jake!”
Jake smiled bashfully. “Thanks, I mean, you’re welcome.”
“Now let’s see if Clarice and the others were locked aboard.” Jean pulled an anchor off of cargo hold and untied a rope that was held about the latch.
Charles, husband to Clarice, stood waiting below. As Jean opened the hold, he jumped out and pulled Jean to the ground, clasping his hands around Jean’s neck.
“Stop!” Jake yelled.
Charles’ face was red with anger and he gripped tighter.
Clarice hurried aboard the deck, hearing Jake’s voice.
Jean kneed Charles with in the abdomen and pushed him off to the side. Then he took a deep breath and rubbed his neck. Charles held his stomach.
Clarice ran over to Charles and followed his gaze to Jake. “What are you doing here?” She asked Jake.
“I came with Jean,” he pointed to the Frenchman. “We saved you.”
Charles looked to Jean apologetically. “I thought…”
“Non, c’est tout bon,” Jean dismissed any apologies. “We’re not with them. This is my ship and they stole it. You were kidnapped for leverage. They want Jake.”
“Why do they want Jake?” Charles asked, standing straighter as the pain subsided.
“And where’s Elbert?” Clarice asked, urgently.
“Aedus is off to save him,” Jean said, answering Clarice first. “And he will. Why they want Jake is a story that I cannot…” He stopped and looked out past the ship’s bow. Two speedboats were fast approaching. “Ammon is coming!” The gunshots began before Jean could issue a further warning.
Clarice fell to the ground. Charles kneeled at her side. “She’s been hit!” He cried.
Another bullet narrowly missed Charles.
“Take her below deck!” Jean ordered. “I have medical supplies there. You may have spotted them already.”
Charles recalled the bandages, gauze, and antiseptic strips that were strewn across the floorboards by the agents during their search of the area. He nodded, picked up his wife, and carried her downstairs where their children, sans Elbert, were still waiting.
“Get below the deck too, Jake,” Jean said, using the helicopter as a shield. Jake stood next to him. “I can handle this.”
“You almost got shot,” Jake retorted. “I’m staying.” He didn’t know what he could do, but he’d already managed to take down two armed bank robbers and a Dark Karashingan agent.
Jean shook his head but didn’t argue. The speedboats pulled alongside the ship and Ammon and his agent launched grapples onto the side rails. Jean shot at one of the grapples and dislodged it as the agent was climbing aboard. There was a splash and the agent was left in the ship’s wake. Jean fired at the other grapple but missed. A hand gripped the rail and a gun reached over and fired, hitting the side door of the helicopter. Jean moved further around the helicopter, pulling Jake with him. “Feel any different yet, Jake?” Jean asked, wondering if the teen’s mission state would activate.
Jake shook his head, “Nothing yet.”
Ammon pushed the whole of his frame aboard the ship, keeping his gun trained at the helicopter’s edge. Jean reached around but Ammon was too quick and fired off two bullets. Jean slid back into place and waited.
“We’re far enough out to sea,” Ammon said, tapping the trigger of his gun while he thought it over. “No need to keep playing with toys.”
“There are military satellites and any number of fisherman who could be out here,” Jean retorted. “It’s not worth the risk.”
Ammon moved closer to the helicopter. “But why, Jean? Why do we fear the outside world? Are they going to challenge our power? They’re nothing to us.”
“Your superiors disagree,” Jean argued, pressed against the back of the helicopter. “It’s not just the outside world. It’s all out war between Light and Dark.”
“Exactly, why wait?” Ammon fiddled with his gun some more and came around towards the back of the helicopter. “The Dark is more powerful anyways.”
Jake raised an eyebrow. Jean reached out and fired three times. Ammon dropped his gun and stood in the path of the bullets. Before they could reach him, they disintegrated in a field of energy. Power coursed through Ammon’s veins and he pushed the helicopter off of the landing pad, revealing Jake and Jean. Jake was already tense, but the sensation increased until it covered his whole body. His head was pounding and his breath quickened. His pupils dilated further and his hands formed into fists. Jean put a hand on Jake’s shoulder and Jake managed a glance over at him.
Jean titled his head closer to Jake. “Not yet,” he whispered.
“I can’t…” Jake moved forward a step, but Jean’s hands, set firm against his shoulders, grounded him before he could go any further.
“You can,” Jean urged. “This power chose you. Not as a slave, but as a warrior. You can work with the power. Don’t strive against it.”
“I don’t know what else to do,” Jake grunted.
Ammon laughed at the boy’s struggle. “Let it take over, Jake! It’s the only way you’ll beat me.”
Jake clutched his head. “Why would you want that?”
Jean moved closer to Jake. “Mon ami, he’s lying. He wants you to struggle. You won’t be at your best. He knows that.”
Ammon sent a blast of energy towards Jake, but Jean pushed him out of the way and blocked it with a barrier of his own.
“You may have started a war,” Jean growled. “All for what?”
Ammon growled back. “To take back this world! To never live in fear again!” He produced a thicker field of energy and focused it into a form that appeared like an ancient text or intricate knotting. The stream of energy surged toward Jean as fast as a lightning bolt.
“This world was never yours!” Jean yelled and produced a thicker field of energy. The two streams collided and their impact blew Jean and Jake over with the force of a gale. Ammon held his ground, unfazed.
• • •
Aedus groaned and saw one of Ammon’s agents standing above him. The rock hard baguette lay on the floor beside him. Elbert sat tied in a chair at the edge of the room, with some kind of fabric covering his mouth. Besides the one man above Aedus, there were four other agents. Three had their guns trained on him, while the fourth had his trained on Elbert. Aedus unsheathed his sword and cut across the legs of the three men nearest him—they shrieked in pain. Then he rolled forward and lunged up at the agent guarding his brother. His sword made contact and pierced through the man’s bullet proof vest. Aedus stood and drew back his sword. The agent fell, with his gun clattering on the floor. Elbert made a high pitched sound. A bullet grazed Aedus’s arm and he let out a sharp breath. He swirled around and swatted the gun from an agent’s hand with the edge of his sword and slammed the hilt into their diaphragm. The next agent produced a violet weave of Dark Karashingan energy that he snapped as a whip. Aedus grabbed ahold of the improvised whip, pulled the agent forward, and slammed against him with a small blast of concentrated energy. The agent flew back into his comrade behind him, knocking them both out. Aedus sheathed his sword and simultaneously ducked as the remaining agent fired his gun. Aedus eyed the baguette at his feet, swiped it up from the floor, and lunged forward as the agent fired another bullet. Elbert’s eyes widened. It was another narrow miss. The baguette slammed against the gun barrel, knocking it from the man’s hand, and Aedus swung back down with the baguette, bashing it against the agent’s head. The baguette broke in half, but not before slamming the agent into the ground unconscious.
Aedus chuckled and tossed the remaining baguette piece aside. He drew his sword again and sliced through Elbert’s bonds. Elbert stood up, pulled away the fabric around his mouth, and embraced his brother.
“You alright?” Aedus asked.
“Yeah,” Elbert replied, his voice strained. “Thank you.”
Aedus tightened the hug before letting go. “The car’s around front. We need to hurry. Can you run?”
“Then let’s go.”