I couldn’t quite understand what any of them were saying, but the tone of the conversation sounded ugly.
“Ugh,” I said, “I can’t make out who it is. Can you?”
Haley listened and frowned, “I think it’s the agents from the coffeehouse. We’d better hurry.”
We both stood up and she looked over the side of the railing as if she were considering jumping over.
We ran down the stairs and into the living room to find the crowd gathered near the front door. Solar Flare stood directly in front of it, the crowd giving him a big gap.
The only people standing next to him were Agent Brecker and Agent Satterfield. Satterfield stood facing him. Brecker watched the crowd.
The first line I could actually understand came from Solar Flare shouting at Agent Satterfield, “–dammit. She’s dead. She died today and the killer’s here.”
I didn’t hear Satterfield’s reply, but Solar Flare addressed the crowd. “Did you hear me? The person who shot Tiffany Sanchez is in this goddamned room and he’d better surrender before I find him.”
I didn’t hear Satterfield’s reply to that either, but hoped that Solar Flare would have the sense not to start flinging blasts of plasma inside the house.
Haley pushed through the crowd. I followed, making it to the front.
Looking at his face, I decided that whatever hope I might have about his good judgment had to be tempered with the fact that he was out of his mind. The most recent time I’d seen him, he struck me as amiable, but not especially smart (though not stupid either). Just then, his expression seemed to be stuck at rage, briefly switching to a blank look that I assumed to be grief.
We found ourselves standing next to Jaclyn.
“Hi,” I said.
Jaclyn whispered, “He’s nuts.”
He strode toward us, watching people’s reactions as they backed away.
We backed along with everyone else, leaving Solar Flare in the middle of the room next to the buffet. Light burned hazily around him.
“What are you doing?” He swung his head around the room to address everyone. “Protecting him?”
“We need to do something,” Haley said.
“I know,” I muttered.
Travis stepped out of the crowd. “Protecting him? What are you thinking? If the Executioner were here, we’d toss him out on his ass.”
“Travis,” Travis and Haley’s dad stepped up next to him. Though their father wasn’t as tall as Travis, he had the same bulky build — just thirty pounds heavier. “My son didn’t say it very well, but we aren’t protecting anybody. If there’s a criminal here, take him. We’ll help in any way we can.”
“Thanks for you help, Mr. McAllister.” Agent Brecker took a drink of the bluish liquid in her water bottle. Brecker and Satterfield had followed Solar Flare into the middle of the room. As I glanced at him, I noticed Agent Satterfield putting a hip flask back into his pocket as he watched the opposite half of the room from Brecker.
Very quietly, Agent Brecker said, “Settle down, Solar Flare, we’ll find him. Follow our lead.”
To Satterfield, only a little more loudly, she said, “Do it now.”
At first, I couldn’t see anything unusual, but as he turned away from the other side of the room, his eyes glowed red.
As he scanned our side of the room, bathing us in (hopefully low level) radiation, a number of things happened.
Haley said, “Down, guns,” and pushed me toward the floor.
Agent Satterfield pulled a gun out of the pocket of his sweats.
Jaclyn whirled around at an inhuman speed.
Then she lost control and fell over, tumbling into one of Haley’s cousins.
As she fell, my legs grew wobbly and I started to fall myself. I tried to catch myself, but my arms felt suddenly as if they were connected to someone else — or possibly no one.
We weren’t the only ones falling. People went down like bowling pins, thumping heavily on the wooden floor without crying out.
On the floor, I became aware of a humming noise while my mind ran over the most likely possibilities, finally settling on remote paralysis.
Paralysis devices seemed really clever in theory, I decided, but I wished that they’d blocked the ability to feel pain in addition to the ability move limbs. Hitting the floor face first had hurt.
The victim’s comfort probably wasn’t high on the weapon designer’s priority list.
From behind me I heard Ray’s voice. “Got ’em all. I tell ya, wide angle paralysis is the best.”
Gena’s voice said, “So, are we doing the usual for Feds?”
“Yeah, the usual.”
A deep male voice said, “We’re gonna kill the super-feds? They’re going to be pissed, Ray.”
I heard footsteps. Then Ray and Gena’s feet came into view. Ray wore black leather shoes. Gena wore Nike running shoes.
I didn’t have control of my eyeballs either. I’d landed on my face and that meant I could only see the shoes in the peripheral vision of my left eye.
“I’m in position, Ray.” Gena’s voice came from where Agent Brecker must have been laying.
“Just do it.”
I heard a muffled pop.
“I’ve got the other one,” Ray said. A gunshot followed immediately.
“What do we do with the hero?” The deep voice came from the middle of the room.
“We leave him. We’re not done with the guy yet.”
Ray’s shoes passed briefly through my field of vision.
“Hey Brian, if I can call you Brian, you’ve still got too many people left to lose. So for now, you live.”
“As for the rest of you, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ve had nothing but good times here every year and I don’t want to end it with murder. Well, not with mass murder. I’m sentimental that way. There’s nothing you know about me that plastic surgery won’t cure, you know?”
He paused, then said, “Bill, Gena… Could one of you grab the coats? I never remember where they put them.”
“Anyway,” he said, “back to you guys. That bit about not wanting to end this with mass murder? Well, that only applies if you keep your mouths shut. Otherwise, I may have to reconsider. Got it?”
From the front came the noise of the closet door opening.
“Well, it looks like Gena’s found the coats. G’night everybody.”
“I’ll see you later, Brian.”