"Page 4A," the man said, roughly yanking Lord Raptor's helmet off his head. "Last paragraph of the continuation of the front-page article." We still couldn't see who he was--Lord Raptor's helmet did a pretty good job of concealing people's identities along with protecting them from stun-blasts--but he had a pretty obvious mad-on for Lord Raptor. Which put him on our side.
He put his gun right up to Lord Raptor's cheek, prodding deeply into the flesh. Lord Raptor played it pretty cool, but you could see from his eyes that he was nervous. And he knew better than we did what that thing could do at close range. "'Several locals are missing in the wake of the attack; local authorities are co-operating with the federal government to investigate.' Sorry, but I decided not to wait."
"I don't know who you are," Lord Raptor said, his voice tight with tension, "but you should know you can't possibly get away with this. I have hundreds of men--"
"You can call me John Q. Public, pal. Nobody in particular, nobody someone like you would care about. The kind of guy someone like you steps on and ignores, right? You didn't even think about those people you kidnapped, the kids that might be waiting for them, the families that don't even know if they're alive or dead..." His finger tightened a little on the trigger. "Yeah, you might have hundreds of men. And they're all on the other side of this snazzy glowing wall of yours, aren't they? In here, it's just you and me."
Lord Raptor's eyes darted to the force field, then back to John Q. Public. (Which isn't his real name...I think...but it's what he calls himself, even to the rest of us. Josh has been trying to get him to open up, but he just kinda smiles and says he's fine answering to 'John'.) "Kill me, and they'll slaughter you."
"But you'll be dead," John replied. "I've been watching you for about a week now. Switched places with a guard during your raid on the steelworks in Pittsburgh. You talk big, but I'm pretty sure you don't have a lot you're willing to die for. You surrender now, tell your men to stand down and get the authorities in here, you get to live to try being crazy another day. You try to be a hero, I guarantee you're gonna be a martyr. I'm betting you won't take that trade."
The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Josh and I looked at each other, then back to them. We weren't about to say anything, because we had no idea what to say or what to do. We were both pretty sure we didn't want anyone killing anyone...well, I was, and knowing what I know now about Josh I think he was, too...but it wasn't like we could do much about it. The tension turned seconds into minutes. Finally, Lord Raptor spoke. "Captain Williams!" he called out.
One of the men outside the field snapped into action. "Sir!" he responded, snapping off a salute.
"Contingency 14-B, I think," Lord Raptor said, as calmly as if he'd been ordering dinner. The captain snapped off a salute, and relayed the order through a comlink. "There, Mister...Public...we've activated Contingency 14-B. Now if you'll kindly put your gun away..."
"Not until I see this place so full of soldiers they can't breathe out too hard without being busted for fraternization, pal," John replied, giving a little jab with the gun to punctuate his sentence.
"I think you misunderstand," Lord Raptor said. He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes. "Contingency 14-B means that we've put all of the hostages...formerly the laborers...under armed guard. There are currently seventy-two menials in the holding cells that are at hazard--not the full prisoner populace, of course, there are a few prisoners who have turned out to have valuable expertise that I'm not willing to lose--but more, I wager, than you're willing to sacrifice on my behalf."
He paused. "Think of all those sons and daughters, all those husbands and wives you'll have to break the sad news to. And all because you put my death ahead of their lives." He picked up his wine glass, raising it in a mock toast. "Or you can just put the gun down, surrender to my relatively tender mercies, and at least know that you saved seventy-two lives."
John's hand hung in the air for a second, but we could tell he'd already made his decision. He slammed the gun down onto the table without a word.
"There," Lord Raptor said. "Wasn't so hard, was it? Don't get me wrong, I admire your initiative, lad. But I have planned for every contingency. That's why these men follow me, because I know what to do in any eventuality."
That was when the force field switched off. A second later, so did the lights.
TO BE CONTINUED...