Closing in

Staying low, I backed away.

Three more figures came into view. Eight in total – heading straight for the house.

I moved a little quicker.

Then came the itch in the back of my head – someone was watching me. There were more people out in the woods.

Leaves rustled behind me.

I wheeled around.

A running figure flew at me – and knocked me flat.

I landed on my back on cold, wet ground. Stars fizzed in my eyes. My head span.

Two figures stood over me. One of them leaned in a little closer.

“Is this him? Is he wearing…”

There was no time to think. I took my chance. I rolled, pulled the gun from the back of my jeans. I aimed and squeezed the trigger one, two, three, four times. Both figures collapsed to the ground. I didn’t check to see if they were still alive. I didn’t want to. The gun belonging to one of them lay on the grass. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed it and ran.

The itch in my head told me the others had seen me and were pounding through the woods after me. I veered left and right, weaving through the trees, avoiding running in a straight line in case they tried shooting at me.

Suddenly the trees and everything around me were swallowed by darkness. A blanket of pitch black filled my night vision goggles. I tore off the goggles. I could see it happening around me – the night was disappearing in a blackness that swallowed up the trees and everything else.

Multiple footsteps thundered over the ground after me.

A volley of suppressed automatic shots reeled off close by.

I hit the ground.

They were close. But there was no way they could see me. Their best chance of finding me was tripping over me.

Then the darkness started to clear.

Eight dark figures materialised among the trees, just metres away. One of them turned in my direction and pointed right at me.

Eight assault rifles trained on me.

Eight bright red laser sights threaded through the darkness and beamed onto my chest.

 

 

Mutual Threat

Wolsingham nodded to the bartender. A file rose in the air from behind the bar. It flew through the air and dropped on the table in front of Hoyer.

“What is this?” Hoyer asked – without touching it.

“A retired detective who was asking a lot of questions.”

“About your people or mine?”

“Mine. They took care of him before he could cause any lasting damage. But there are rumours.”

“Concerning.”

“A file of evidence that he collected before his death. It has never been found. It is said to contain proof of my organisation’s activities and an accurate assessment of our goals.” “This sounds like your problem,” Hoyer shrugged.

“If what I have heard is correct, it also contains evidence supporting his theory of an underground criminal organisation, which employs professionally trained teenagers.”

Silence.

Hoyer’s expression changed. He flicked through the file, then cleared his throat. “I’ll look into it.”

“You should,” Wolsingham stated. “Jason Rybak is. And you do not want him locating the file before you do.” He moved towards a door behind him, then turned. “You can tell your snipers and armed response unit to stand down. Not that they would have been much use here anyway.”

 

The Hidden Venue

ShadowAspect melted through a couple of walls and emerged in a small electronics shop that had been closed hours ago. Heavy shutters hid what was happening inside.

The two men with guns lingered out of sight by the door. Their boss followed a woman dressed like a shop assistant to a door marked “Private”, then through a stockroom to a large bookcase covered in boxes set against the back wall.

Slinking behind them, ShadowAspect had already seen seven tiny security cameras. They had all been turned off – apart from the one in the bookcase.

The bookcase swung aside. They stepped inside and it shut behind them.

After waiting a few seconds, a heavy security door opened. The man made his way in alone and strode down a dimly lit corridor with impressionist paintings on the wall. Most were fake, but some were originals. The corridor opened out into a bright café with marble floor and walls.

A waiter with a Glock 17 strapped under his apron greeted him and showed him to a table under a rooflight. A glance around the room told the new arrival that everyone there was armed – in one way or another. And they were all watching him.

The Boss

A man climbed out of the backseat of the Jaguar parked up the street. There was nothing special about him as far as ShadowAspect could see – just some normal-looking guy in jeans and a blazer – but he strode down the middle of the road like he owned it.

Two men jumped out of the front of the car and followed him. They were bigger and more imposing. I could tell by watching them in the Infinistra that they were both wearing body armour and hiding guns under their jackets.

Their boss strode past ShadowAspect and up to a darkened shop front. He gave a quiet knock. A few seconds later the door opened. All three men marched in.

Escape

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Six turned and ran for it. I scrambled to my feet and followed. I felt dazed and a little delicate from being hit, but I just shook it off as I ran.

The farm was further away than it looked. Running in the darkness towards the shape of a group of buildings, I didn’t dare slow down. Glancing over my shoulder, it didn’t look like anyone was following.

Eventually we reached the farm and hid behind the wall of a barn. I collapsed to the ground, my lungs burning. My legs screamed in pain.

“Who the hell were they?” Six uttered. He wasn’t even breathing heavily.

“Dunno,” I gasped.

“They weren’t like ShadowAspect,” he thought out loud. “They were more like the woman who dodged my bullets.” He peered around the corner. “We need to get out of here before any of them see what car we’re driving.”

Six led the way and I staggered after him. He found a barn by the lane leading out of the farm and hauled the door open.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. Car doors unlocked in front of me. The lights came on inside the Ford Focus sitting in the barn.

Six jumped in the driver’s seat. I sank into the passenger seat. He accelerated and drove at breakneck sped out of the farm.

Floored

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I landed on my back. Six jumped in front of me and fired a volley of bullets at the shield. None of them got through.

Our attackers inside the shield ran right at us. Six didn’t move. He kept firing. The shield was going to hit him.

A shadowy figure shot past Six and through the shimmering shield like it wasn’t there. The shield vanished. The new arrival punched the shield carrier to the ground. He leapt and grabbed the flyer’s leg, yanked him down, then kicked him, sending him flying back into the graveyard.

He turned and waved at us, then pointed to the farm, ordering us to run for it.

ShadowAspect.

It was really good to see him again.

He couldn’t have timed his intervention any better.

The Bulletproof woman

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The flyer couldn’t deflect our bullets himself. He had to stay behind the shimmering cloud to make sure he didn’t get shot.

Six and I turned and ran. Six looked over his shoulder every few steps and fired another shot. Then he reloaded so quickly I almost missed it.

We were getting away.

A second figure leapt in front of the flyer. I could tell it was a woman. Like the flyer, she wore a mask and was dressed in all black. The shimmering air burst out from between her hands. As she moved in front of the flyer, the shimmering air enveloped them both like a shield. Once they were both protected, she ran at us, the flyer hovering behind her.

Six gave up trying to shoot them and we ran for it. We reached the last rows of graves. I glanced over my shoulder. They were still right behind us. The one wielding the bulletproof shield pushed her hands together, making a bright burst of power. She flung a blast out of her shield. The force hit me in the shoulder and blew me off my feet.

The Figure in the Graveyard

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The car was stuck. Six gave up stamping on the accelerator and scowled. My shoulder and ribs sang from where the seatbelt had dug into them.

“How the hell did that happen?” he grated.

My phone vibrated.

“What happened?”Silas texted. “Why did you stop?”

“Something took control of the car and crashed it. We’re fine.”

“Get out of the car now. Take what you need and run. Leave files and computer – I have copies of everything. Check the boot.”

I hated leaving my laptop and manuscripts, but I knew I couldn’t run with them. Six found guns, ammo and night vision goggles in the boot. With out night vision goggles on, we left the car and ran over the field we had crashed into, which rose up towards the silhouette of a church at the top of a small hill.

I reached the church gasping for breath and leaned against the wall before my legs gave way. Looking back towards the car, I could see three figures skulking around it. They were searching for us.

Six and I crept around to a graveyard at the back. It was like an army of stones standing to attention. Beyond the graveyard was a meadow leading a mass of buildings that was the farm.

We picked our way through the gravestones, staying close to the biggest ones. Then Six stopped and pointed. I froze. Across the graveyard someone was moving. I couldn’t tell if we’d been seen or not. It looked like a man in a balaclava.

He stopped and lifted his face into the air like he was listening for something. What happened next was so unreal, I don’t think I would believe it now – if Six hadn’t been there and seen it too.

The man in the graveyard spread his arms. He lifted slowly into the air and flew right at us.

Driving in the Dark

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Six swerved the Audi off the main road at the first turn and accelerated down a narrow country lane away from the streetlights and into pitch black. The headlights were on a low beam, sweeping over the road and hedges flying past on both sides.

We saw the turn late. Six skidded the car over the ground and jammed his foot on the accelerator, throwing us down the lane.

My phone buzzed. I opened the link Silas had sent. It was a detailed map showing our current location and every country lane around us. It gave a route to a destination 50 kilometres away.

“Isolated farmhouse,” Silas texted. “Change your car there.”

With me acting as navigator, Six took each turn like a rally driver, swerving down every turn at terrifying speeds. For once I was glad it was dark.

I shot a glance behind us every so often, looking for headlights following us, but there was no sign of anyone. I leaned back in my seat, allowing myself to relax a bit.

When we were less than a kilometre from the farmhouse, the headlights caught a dark shape moving ahead of us.

Six had seen it too. He pushed the brake.

The car sped up.

Six frowned and jammed his foot down hard on the brake pedal.

The car sped up again. Then it swerved violently.

Six gripped the steering wheel and hauled it back.

The car veered one way, then the other.

Six struggled with the wheel. I reached over and grabbed the wheel with both hands.

A force wrenched it out of our hands.

The car swerved. It shot straight off the road and ploughed through a hedge.

Six’s Driving Skills

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Bullets bombarded the windscreen and the bodywork of the Audi Six was driving.

They clanged and bounced off the car like it was bulletproof. The muzzle flashed. But Six ignored it and drove straight at the SUV. The gunman’s eyes widened in alarm, he ducked back in the SUV.

“Hang on,” Six uttered.

He accelerated. Then he heaved up the handbrake and hauled the steering wheel to the right. The car spun around. I clung on. As the SUV was about to hit us, the front of our Audi swung out of reach.

Then I was facing the opposite direction.

The car and the van had skidded to a halt behind us. It looked like they had just avoided crashing into each other. Then they turned around and set off after us.

We kept spinning until we faced the front again. The SUV screeched to a halt. It had just missed us.

Six accelerated and we sped away. My stomach lurched back into my spne. But for now, I was still alive.