Part Forty-Eight: Luminous Descent Of The Bright Star
By the time the luminous descent of the bright star unfolds
And tablets of strange love are shattered and bruised...
By the time you make up your mind, if you ever do
I'll hear the drums of heaven too
--- Rob Hirst
Heero hung back as a man brushed past him to catch Trowa, lowering the stunned man to the floor. Heero could only stare, registering Quatre's broad back and sweat-matted blond hair. Bewildered, Heero moved away from the threshold, into the hallway. He leaned against the wall and slowly slunk back down.
"Trowa, Trowa, come on," Quatre was whispering insistently. The gun was still in his right hand, and he shoved it back in his shoulder holster. Immediately his hand was returned to the taller man's shoulder, and he shook the man gently. "Trowa... it's me. Please, look at me."
Shocked green eyes fluttered open, and immediately closed again with a frown.
"Trowa, I'm okay, it's okay, it's all over now," Quatre murmured. "Can you stand? We need to get you to a doctor."
The elevator dinged again, and Heero could hear racing footsteps behind him. He didn't look, trusting that if Quatre wasn't reacting, the situation was under control. Heero registered the frantic pounding of his heart, and the way his entire body was shaking, but he made no effort to fight it. He could only stare, drinking in the sight of the other pilot, alive, and apparently in one piece.
Someone crouched down next to him, and the dark-haired man turned to see Wufei. The man's hair had come out of his ponytail, and dark strands were plastered to his face, hanging down to his chest. There was a bloody bandage on his upper arm, and his eyes were studying Heero with the precision of an experienced soldier.
"Sorry I hit you so hard," Wufei said quietly. "I had to make it look believable."
"It was believable alright," Heero muttered, and coughed, his chest aching from the reflex. "He's alive," he whispered. His eyes went back to where Trowa was staring helplessly at Quatre. The Sandrock pilot was running light fingers over Trowa's head and upper body, trying to ascertain injuries.
"I'll be right back. I think one of these guys has keys," Wufei said.
Heero nodded, closing his eyes. He leaned his head against the wall, embracing the throbbing pain coursing through his body. It meant he was alive, that he wasn't dead and dreaming. He felt Wufei's returning touch on his arms, heard a clinking sound, and the cuffs were off. The clatter as they hit the ground echoed painfully in his ears. A second later, Wufei had grabbed his arm, efficiently yanking and twisting it. The joint popped back into place with a shot of red-hot pain, and Heero choked the cry in his throat.
Someone groaned nearby, and Heero looked up to see Louie sitting up, his gun in his hand. The man muttered something, and raised his gun. Heero blinked, but Quatre's gun was already out, trained on the other man.
A heartbeat passed. Louie stared at Quatre, who was crouched in front of Trowa. He was blocking the Italian operative's shot. Louie's gun wobbled, and Quatre fired.
Louie's body was thrown back against the wall, a gaping hole in his chest from the close shot. Blood was splattered across the wall, the floor, and Quatre. The man re-holstered his gun, and grimaced.
"By the way, if you surrender, I won't shoot," he muttered. Then he flashed a grin at Heero over his shoulder, before turning back to Trowa. "Here," he said, "let me help you up."
"Come on, Heero," Wufei said, getting his shoulder under Heero's right arm. "Everyone's upstairs."
Someone else moved, and Quatre turned, his arm under Trowa's shoulder as the blond regarded the two men lying in the hallway. His tone was cheerful. "Stay here, and someone will be down shortly to deal with you. Or you can try to get away, and give me something to do next weekend. Or you could even try and fight back now, if you want to tempt me." Quatre's announcement was met with unnatural silence, and he shrugged. "Good. Stay there."
Heero smirked, and Wufei rolled his eyes, helping Heero to his feet.
Quatre was halfway down the hall, assisting Trowa, who still hadn't spoken. Wufei, upon realizing Heero could limp reasonably well, let go, but stood close enough to catch him. Heero recognized the unspoken continued assistance, but only nodded curtly. His mind was racing, and he stared at Quatre, questions battling in his head.
The blond diplomat sighed as they waited for the elevator doors to open.
"I know," he said quietly, his sky-blue eyes trained straight ahead of him. "I shouldn't be... you can blame Relena when you see her."
Wufei chuckled softly, and Heero raised an eyebrow.
Quatre caught the look and shrugged, a wry smile on his lips. "Sally... was trying to infiltrate the President's personal guard, and intercepted orders that they were to be backup on an assassination attempt at an L4 convention. That was all we knew. I got there in time for dinner... "
The doors opened, and two Preventers stepped out, their eyes immediately going to Wufei.
"Arrest the two still alive," Wufei said grimly. "The other one will need a body bag and a mop."
The two agents nodded and headed down the hallway, guns at the ready.
Quatre helped Trowa onto the elevator, Wufei and Heero following. Wufei hit the button for the first floor.
"I wasn't going to wear the armor," Quatre continued softly. "But Relena pretty much stripped me, shoved it over my head, and kicked me out of the hotel room."
"Relena was there?" Heero choked on the thought.
"No," Quatre replied. "We were staying in a Sector Four hotel. She insisted on coming, but I didn't want her near the action."
They stepped out of the elevator. Heero set his jaw as they moved slowly down the corridor, back to the conference area. His voice was barely a whisper, just louder than their muffled footsteps on the carpet. "Iria?"
"Stable. She'll survive." Quatre didn't look at him.
Heero dropped his head. "Quatre... I'm sorry... I--"
"It's okay," Quatre assured him. "You did what you could... and I understand why Duo didn't warn us. I don't like it, but I understand."
Duo had been right, Heero thought, and could only sigh in response.
His thoughts were interrupted by Trowa's voice. The taller pilot had stopped in the middle of the hallway, his blood-matted auburn hair hiding his face as he stared at the carpet in front of him.
"I... can't do this." Trowa's shoulders were slumped. "This can't be... I can't... I just... "
"Trowa," Quatre said, stepping forward to clasp Trowa's cheeks. "It's real. I understand. I forgive you."
Wufei nudged Heero. Quietly the two pilots stepped away.
"Duo?" Heero's voice was hesitant.
"He's okay," Wufei replied. "Got a little cut up taking down one of the guards, but the meds should be done patching him up by now."
"Thanks for coming to get us."
"We would've been sooner, but it was chaos." He shrugged.
Anything else he might've said was cut off, as a flash of blue caught both their attentions. Jeet was running down the hall towards them, a look of panic on his face.
Quatre, startled, stepped away from Trowa, only to be bypassed as Jeet skidded to a stop on the carpet, a foot from Trowa. The young artist's face was anxious, and his hands reached out, and then dropped.
"I... Nobody... knew where you were, if you were okay," he whispered, forlorn. Then he gasped as he was enveloped completely, silently, in Trowa's arms. Jeet buried his head in Trowa's neck, hugging gingerly as the taller man bent his head to kiss Jeet on the forehead. "I was so worried," Jeet mumbled.
Duo ambled up, his eyebrows raised at the tableau. He nodded to Heero and Wufei, then glanced at Quatre, who was standing a few feet away, his head down. The blond diplomat was frowning, his face set in a painful expression that all of them recognized from the war. Heero watched surreptitiously as Quatre swallowed hard, his fingers clenching in fists at his side, and then Quatre exhaled slowly, his face returning to a calm appearance. He didn't look up as Jeet continued to whisper inaudibly to Trowa, who still didn't reply.
Heero glanced at Duo, noting the longhaired man's shirt was rolled up to the elbows. There was a white bandage around his left forearm. Heero could see a rip in the shirt's side, and a glimpse of white told him there was another bandage underneath. Duo's braid was coming undone, and long strands of chestnut framed his face.
"You got them out," Duo said to Wufei, under his breath. It was a quiet statement of gratitude.
"Of course," Wufei said, frowning slightly.
Duo shook his head, a grin appearing. He glanced back at Trowa and Jeet, still hugging. The smile faded, and when he looked back, Heero could clearly see the lines of exhaustion on Duo's face.
"You didn't seem worried," Heero said, unexpectedly.
"What? Now? Not really," Duo said, tossing another apologetic smile to Wufei.
"No, before, during the conference."
"That." Duo shrugged casually. "I've known Relena for far longer than you. I trust her implicitly. I've seen her at work... her and Chang. And... Winner."
Heero nodded, frowning a little at the undercurrent of Duo's words. I haven't been around for five years, he reminded himself. People change, and I wasn't there to know who they'd become. He wondered if he knew, now. He wasn't sure.
Behind them, Jeet had disengaged himself from Trowa, and was sniffling quietly. He registered the other men standing around him in a circle, and his eyes went wide as he took in their blank, measuring faces.
"Is it true, what Hel said," he asked softly, canting his head up to stare into Trowa's face. "She said you're a Gundam pilot, and so is... " Jeet looked around, his brown eyes taking in Heero, and then all of them. "Wait... you're all Gundam pilots... "
None of them moved, their eyes steady on him. Even Quatre raised his head long enough to give the younger man a measuring look.
"You are," he breathed, as he turned in a circle to take in all of them. "You have battle eyes. I've seen that look before... " Jeet's eyes glittered as he turned back to stare up at Trowa, who merely watched him with a numb expression. "But this means they'll understand... that's a good thing. You're not alone... " He looked around the group one more time, as if satisfying himself of the truth of this statement, and was rewarded with a single curt nod from Duo.
Jeet swallowed hard, then ducked his head. He mumbled something as he brushed past, but Heero couldn't make it out. He listened to the soft footsteps as Jeet retreated, and somehow wasn't surprised when Quatre followed soon after.
"Come on," Wufei said, taking Trowa by the elbow. "You still need to see a doctor. And you, too, Yuy."
Heero nodded, following Wufei. As the group reached the doors of the conference room, he realized Duo had not come with them. He was about to say something, then glanced to his left into the conference room. He stopped, taken aback by the sight.
There were bloodstains on the wall and floors in several places, and a number of chairs were turned over. Medics were carrying out a body bag, and the two men stepped aside. Heero grunted as he bumped the doorframe, and Wufei turned, frowning. Trowa had shaken off Wufei's arm and continued walking.
"Come on, you've got to see the medics first."
"I'm fine." Heero scowled, pushing away the deep throbbing in his shoulder that was finally beginning to fade. "Just tell me what the fuck was going on that whole time."
"First, we bandage that shoulder and take a look at that cut on your forehead. Une should be done talking to Hilde and that other woman by now."
"The one with green hair?" At Heero's nod, Wufei smiled tightly. "She's got good aim. She took down a guy who thought Relena would make a good hostage."
"What?" Heero turned in place and planted himself in front of Wufei, glaring. "What happened?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle, Yuy," Wufei replied, an exasperated tone slipping into his voice. "Just get your ass over to the medics. Then we talk."
Throwing Wufei a startled look for the unexpected crude language, Heero snorted. The other man gave him a shove, and the two continued down the next room, where the medics had set up their shop.
Fifteen minutes later, Heero was pulling his shirt back on, his movement hampered by the tight wrappings around his shoulder and chest. Buttoning his shirt, he glanced around the room. Most of the medics were packing up their kits, and only a few Preventers were still being treated for minor injuries. Trowa was still getting attention, and Quatre was nowhere to be seen. Wufei had left after depositing Heero with a field doctor.
Disgruntled at the confusion, Heero wandered into the hallway, surprised to find Relena and Duo hugging. The young woman was sniffling softly, her arms around Duo's neck, and Duo's hands were clenched against her back. Heero held back, uncertain, waiting until they pulled apart. Other Preventers were moving around them, unconcerned by the quietly emotional display.
"Heero?" Relena noticed him first, and pulled away from Duo. "My god, Heero, I'm so glad you're okay." She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffled. "Sorry," she said, her eyes lowered. "I'm really sorry to have done that to you."
Heero nodded, his eyes dropping. He knew what she meant, but it was too much. He knew he was hitting the point of being overwhelmed.
"Relena," he whispered suddenly, unable to hold back. She leaned in close to hear him. His head was down, and he closed his eyes against the sight of her trusting blue eyes. "Relena... I killed eight people. I... " He choked, unable to continue. His hands were open, lax. He couldn't garner enough strength to clench his fists to keep himself from crumbling in her presence.
"Heero," she replied, gently placing one arm around his waist. She put the other at the back of his head, guiding his forehead to her shoulder. Heero buried his face in her neck, absently surprised to find his arms coming up as he clung to her. Relena turned her head to whisper in his ear, a soothing tone. "I don't know if it helps, but the policemen aren't dead... they were Maguanacs, and dressed in full body armor. The real policemen were in a storage closet, locked away. Auda is still upset about accidentally hitting Enny," she added ruefully.
His arms went around her waist, tighter, and she sighed.
"And those two Preventers deserved to die, for what they did to other agents," she continued, her voice steely. "And Iria's okay now, and the other two are going to make it." Heero started, and she laughed quietly. "The media doesn't always get their information right, and sometimes they aren't told--"
"It doesn't change... " Heero mumbled into her neck, his fingers clawing at her back. "I swore... "
"I know, and I'm sorry, so sorry... " Slowly she released him, her fingers still running through his hair. Stepping back, she gave him a watery smile, and he sighed, not quite meeting her eyes. Relena nodded, a tight line to her lips, and shook her head. "It's the price we pay for getting here, but I'm so sorry you had to be the one to pay it... again."
Heero wasn't sure what to say, and pulled away a step, struggling to regain his composure. There was still more to deal with, he knew, but he couldn't manage to control the anguish he feared was obvious on his face. Lost, he raised his eyes to Duo, only to find the other man was looking down the hallway. Someone was heading towards them, fast.
A second later, a bundle of energy had shoved past Relena to throw its arms around Heero, laughing madly. He barely had a chance to react before he was let loose.
"I got a job!" Enny shouted at no one in particular, and went running into the conference room. They could hear her telling Trowa. No more than five seconds later she was out the door again, and down the hallway, calling for Jeet.
"What was that about?" Relena asked, puzzled.
"Enny did this to get a job with Preventers," Heero explained softly. The distraction had been just enough time for him to shove the secret hurt back down inside himself. He smiled a little at the young woman in front of him. "I guess Une was impressed."
"So that's Enny," Relena commented. "She was amazing."
"She is," Heero said, and smiled shyly. "Enny will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear."
"I could use more people like that around me," the young woman replied with a smile.
"No point," Wufei interrupted as he approached the group. "You'd never listen, anyway. Yuy, Maxwell, Une wants to start the preliminary debriefing in a few minutes, if you want to join us."
"Hell, yeah, Chang," Duo retorted. "Wouldn't miss this for the world."
Heero nodded agreement, and turned to find Lady Une standing in the hallway behind him. Her large eyes were watching him closely, and she gave him a secretive smile as she tipped her head gracefully. Her brown hair was down, and it swayed a little as she moved. She looked exhausted, but pleased.
"Agent Day," she said, in her melodious voice.
He frowned, and glanced at Duo. Heero's frown grew deeper as he realized Duo's cheeks were lightly pink. Then Heero realized Une had been speaking to him. His eyebrows shot up as he returned his gaze to the Director.
"Ah, you go by Hito Yuy, now," she said, and there was a trace of teasing in her voice that was quickly gone with her next words. "First, I wanted to compliment you on your work. I loved your portrait series of L3 orphans."
Heero gave her a short bow, an eyebrow raised. "I didn't realize you were a fan."
Une laughed. "I can't wait to see the collection you're releasing next month."
"Excuse me?" He frowned.
"There was an announcement last week from the publishing company, about your recent digital color work. The pictures with the release were gorgeous."
"Ah... " Heero nodded, and gave her a crooked smile as he thought of Bernie. "I'm flattered."
"Now that we have that out of the way, let's get back to business, Mr. Yuy. Before everyone meets for the debriefing, I have some men waiting to speak with you, personally. Follow me, please."
She turned on her heel and strode off, not waiting for a response. Curious, Heero followed, catching up with her quickly. He was surprised to find that he was now an inch or two taller than the Preventers Director.
People change in other ways, too, he thought, amused. I'm not short anymore.
He stopped abruptly, though, when Une paused before a sofa in the hotel's lobby. There were two boys sitting on the sofa, poring over a laptop, with a young man perched on the arm. One of the boys looked like he was of Korean heritage, from the round face and full lips. The second boy's face had a British cast. His skin was pale, dotted with a smattering of freckles, and bright orange hair stood out at all angles. Heero guessed them both as high school age.
The young man next to them looked to be Heero's age, and his black hair was pulled back in a short ponytail. The two kids were wearing jeans and long-sleeve t-shirts, with advertisements for popular computer games. The young man, however, was dressed in casual business attire, with khaki slacks and a blue button-up shirt. The young man noticed him first, and stood up with a shy smile. The two boys looked up next, and closed the lid with a guilty snap.
"Wing?" The young man's voice was deep, but pleasant, and a little nervous. "Hi," he said, chuckling softly at his own embarrassment. "I'm... Nicholas. Uh... Rat."
"Rat?" Heero's eyebrows shot up, and he grinned suddenly, a crooked expression. He thought about offering his hand to shake, but realized there was still dried blood on it from fighting the bodyguards. Frowning, he scrubbed his hand against the hip of his slacks and instead gave an abbreviated bow.
Rat mimicked the bow, and grinned sheepishly. "These two," he said, turning to point at the kids on the sofa, "were the only ones who could make it. Meet Pinky, and Hand. Also known as Canh, and Mike."
"What's this?" Duo's voice came up from behind, and he positioned himself alongside Heero with a foreboding expression. "Which one of you is Mike?"
The second boy's gray eyes went wide and he nearly squeaked as he shrank back on the sofa. His red hair seemed to stand on end.
"Yeah, thought so." Duo grinned, a wicked expression. "Think you could show me how you tracked me down in the first place? I've been trying to figure that out."
Heero glanced sideways to see Duo's eyes dancing in mirth. To a stranger the expression was most likely more terrifying than reassuring.
"Duo," Heero muttered. "Shut up. You're not helping."
The longhaired man grinned cheekily, watching Mike uncurl from the sofa. The kid had clearly determined that Heero wouldn't let anything happen. Mike still watched Duo warily, but stood up between Pinky and Rat. Heero studied each, and waited. None of them spoke, and the silence grew thick.
"Well? Which of you is going to tell me why you're here?" Heero was startled to hear a note of irritation in his voice. The idea of three civilians, in the middle of a scene like this mission, was not sitting well in his stomach. He glared at each in turn, crossing his arms as he waited.
Pinky blanched, and looked at Rat. Mike stared at his feet. Rat looked back at the two kids, then swallowed hard as he met Heero's glare straight on. Out of the corner of his eye, Heero could see Une cover her mouth with a delicate hand, and Heero shot her a glare as well. She dropped the hand, revealing a suddenly serious expression.
"Remember back when you didn't check in for thirteen days?" Rat's deep voice was low, and hesitant. "We... ah... went ahead and contacted the person you'd mentioned in Preventers. Mr. Chang. He said he had no way to get a hold of you, and he asked that we notify him if anything really important came through and you didn't check in." He pursed his lips, his green eyes dropping away from Heero's glare.
"Stop doing that," Duo whispered in an aside to Heero. "I think you're scaring them more than I am."
"I'm waiting to hear what was so important that three civilians risked being in the line of fire," Heero stated flatly.
The two boys flinched, and Rat grinned suddenly. "Those emails were talking about the meeting, and that a Queen would be mediating. You hadn't checked in, so we contacted Mr. Chang. The news seemed too big... Anyway, he was about to leave Earth. He and I spoke by vidphone, and discussed the meeting. He explained the preliminary information he had about the hotel's security, and the fact that he didn't have anyone he could trust, who could hack the system to unlock the doors or install recording devices... "
"So we volunteered," Mike piped up. His pleased expression disappeared the second Heero's stern glance fell on him. "I told Mom it was Preventers business. Mr. Chang even called her! So I got here from L1... "
"Pinky and I live on this colony," Rat explained. "So this morning, these two set up in the bar."
"The hotel's system is wireless, but only inside the building," Pinky said, picking up the story. "So we hacked into the system through the bar's register."
"Snake helped break the security communications system, once we connected him through the forum," Mike said. "Then we broke a few things ourselves."
"And we changed the administrator program interface at the same time," the Korean boy added. He rolled his eyes melodramatically, and Mike giggled. "That was so not fun, figuring out their stupid antique code. Snappy and Allie actually figured out the code. I think they're like, old, or something."
"Shut up, kid," Rat interrupted, but without rancor. He turned to Heero. "Anyway, changing that meant when the systems administrators called the tech line, they were actually calling my house," Rat explained, his grin wicked enough to match Duo's. The Deathscythe pilot was struggling to keep from laughing as he listened, and Heero scowled. Rat noticed the look and attempted to appear serious. "So I naturally insisted on a personal visit."
"It was great," Mike added. His sudden grin was cheerful, but there was a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Pinky figured out how to unlock the doors, and I shut down the comm system permanently, and screwed the dampeners."
"Which meant I had to stick around and keep taking things down for reboots," Rat said.
There was a long pause, and the three hackers stared at Heero expectantly. He was still registering the remarkable similarity between Mike's predatory hacker smile and the Duo he recalled from the war. When Heero still didn't say anything, Mike bit his lip, glanced at Une, and then raised his eyebrows at Heero.
"So... you're really a Gundam pilot?" His voice cracked, and he blushed. "You seem... taller than I expected."
"I've grown in six years," Heero replied curtly, and paused, letting the memory of a smiling face on a hospital monitor fade from his thoughts. A crooked grin was tugging at his lips, and he couldn't help it. "You three are crazy for getting in the middle of this. I don't know what I would've done if any of you had been hurt."
"We heard gunshots," Pinky confessed. "But we hid behind the bar."
"With the bartender!" Mike nodded his head excitedly, adding in an undertone, "he let us have a beer while we hid."
"I couldn't even hear that much, from the server room," Rat said. He frowned, registering Mike's comment. "I didn't get a beer."
Heero sighed and scrubbed at his hair, tousling it further as he shook his head again. He gave each a long studying look, and then nodded, after a short pause. "It's a good thing you were involved," he finally said, a little begrudgingly. "Thanks."
"Mission accomplished!" Pinky turned and gave Mike a high-five. He laughed as he added, "You owe me twenty credits."
Heero glanced back and forth between the two giggling boys and Rat's long-suffering expression. Heero shook his head, raising a hand to forestall an explanation. "I don't want to know." Turning to Une, he raised an eyebrow meaningfully. "We were going to have a debriefing, right?"
"Right this way," she answered, tossing one last smile to the three hackers. "An agent will be out shortly, and you can turn over all the information you've collected. Your assistance with this is greatly appreciated, gentlemen."
"Any time, Lady," Mike said, grinning widely as Pinky flushed. Une rewarded him with a wink. The three hackers responded with beaming smiles and nods, and seated themselves again as Heero and Duo followed Une back down the hall.
"You go by first-name basis with them?" Duo sounded petulant.
"Mike and I discovered we're both fans of a popular television show," Une replied off-handedly. When she spoke again, her voice was all business. "We've set up a temporary operation headquarters in one of the private dining rooms," Une explained as she led the way. "The rest of the agents should be waiting for us there. And the L2 agents should be done reading rights and escorting prisoners out by now. We've had to keep many of them on-site, taking them to the L2 Preventer headquarters in twos and threes. Not enough transportation," she added calmly.
The three turned down a hallway, heading past the conference areas towards the restaurant. Down the hallway, Heero could see Jeet laughing with Sally, as Relena, Enny and Hilde passed the two. The three women were coming from the restaurant, chatting together quietly.
Quatre was by the conference room door, speaking quietly to Wufei. Trowa was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed. Trowa looked up as the three women approached. Between them and Heero, two men were being escorted from the conference room, their hands cuffed in front of them. Heero immediately stiffened as he recognized the short coppery hair.
Alan glanced up, his lips curling derisively as he saw the five pilots and Lady Une.
"I heard a rumor these are the notorious five," he drawled, his charm twisting with sarcasm. Alan's gaze fell on Une. "Although you're not much better than them, are you. Pleasure to meet you, pot, I'm kettle."
Duo snorted, and Heero turned his head away. The agent holding Alan's elbow tugged slightly, but Alan ripped his arm away, snarling.
"We paid for every penny of your training," he said, staring at Duo. The longhaired man's eyes narrowed, but he didn't respond, and Alan laughed softly. "You'd be dead in a gutter if it weren't for us. And even after the war was over, we protected you. We made sure there wasn't a repeat of that first unfortunate incident... you're ours. We own you."
With a quick jerk, Alan spun, grabbing the gun from the agent's holster. Bringing it up, he leveled the barrel straight at Duo's face. The entire group froze, stunned by the rapid movement. Heero cursed silently at the fact that he was still unarmed. Wufei had frozen with his hand on his own gun. Quatre's gun was out, but not yet raised.
"Move, and I'll blow his brains out," Alan told them. "I have nothing left to lose, but I'll be damned if I'll let some trained dog turn on my organization like this. We invested millions in you. If you're not with us, I'm calling in the debt." He took careful aim. "Time to pay the piper, Mr. Maxwell."
Alan cocked the gun.