Joe reached for the wrench and started to remove the spark plugs from his stock car, the rhythmic clicking of the wrench signifying his progress. He pulled out the old ones, tossing them into the box he was using to hold all of the used parts. He started putting in the new ones and heard raised voices coming from the alley. He recognized some of the voices as those of some of the mechanics and shook his head, wondering what they were arguing about this time.
Then he heard the Pit Manager’s voice raised in uncharacteristic fear. He pulled his head out from under the hood just as a yell echoed through the alley.
Alarm flared through him at the desperation in his friend’s voice. There was only one thing he could think of to drive Casey to give that warning because Casey was a fellow ISO operative. That meant it was already too late. The only exit from the garage was out into the alley.
He couldn’t transmute. It would blow his cover, if it wasn’t already blown. Any action he took could get people he cared about killed.
He was trapped.
Anger bloomed as Joe took a deep breath. The voices got closer. In seconds, five green clad troopers armed with Spectran versions of automatic rifles moved to block in the garage door. Joe’s fellow mechanics were trying to stop them, but the troopers pushed them back. One had his rifle pointed at Casey’s head. Casey was struggling against him and Joe could see a bruise already forming on the left side of his face. Casey turned desperate eyes on him, mouthing ‘I’m sorry’.
Joe fisted his hands, trying to contain the rage blossoming in his chest. At least Jason wasn’t here this time. G-Force was out on patrol. If he had been alone, he wouldn’t have hesitated to dive into the troopers to tear them apart but there were too many innocents present, too many people who thought he and his brother were just part-time drivers, part-time mechanics.
“Are you Joe Asacura?” the tallest of the five troopers asked. Unlike most troopers Joe had seen, this man sported a dark mustache and goatee under his mask. He leveled his rifle at Joe’s chest. Joe wasn’t sure if the troopers were humans who had allied themselves to Galactor or Spectran aliens.
Nine sets of human eyes were looking at him with a mixture of concern, anger and fear. Nine people who had families, who didn’t deserve to be drug into the war because they happened to work with him.
He squared his shoulders and nodded. “Yes.”
“You’re coming with us.”
Two of the mechanics started to protest and were rifle whipped and kicked for their trouble.
“Don’t,” Joe told them, careful not to make an aggressive move. He didn’t want to give the troopers a reason to hurt anyone further. “Don’t fight them.”
“We’re not going to let them take you.” The shorter of the two, Ralph, was doubled over but still defiant. Four more voices seconded him.
Joe shook his head at them. He had to try to keep control of the situation. “I’m not worth it. I don’t want your deaths on my conscience.”
“I suggest you listen to him,” Goatee said, “because I have no problem blowing your heads off.”
“Don’t.” Joe now directed his gaze at the trooper, his heart starting to race. He’d dealt with enough troopers to know this one was different. This one wasn’t afraid.
Goatee turned back towards him, moving up to his side. “Don’t what?” he spat into Joe’s face. Another trooper moved in behind him, effectively blocking him in.
“Please don’t hurt anyone,” Joe asked, meeting Goatee’s masked gaze with the most sincere one he could muster with his rage building.
The trooper laughed, turning to his men.
“Isn’t that sweet? He said please,” and he swung around, his rifle high, smashing the butt into the left side of Joe’s head.
He could have moved, dodged the blow, but then worse things might happen. At least he thought that before brilliant pain lit up every nerve in his head and the force of it drove him to his knees, his vision flaring with a blinding flash of light. Instant naseau filled his stomach as something warm and wet trickled down from his temple.
Casey was yelling again but Joe’s head was swimming and he thought he was going to be sick.
Something hit the small of his back with a sharp pain, pushing him down onto the asphalt face first. It hurt, but not as much as his head. Why was it always his head? His arms were wrenched back and cuffs were placed on his wrists. Two troopers hauled him up by his arms to his feet, but everything tilted and he had to struggle to stay on his feet of his own accord. He swallowed down the bile rising in his throat.
“Lord Zoltar’s going to enjoy talking to you. Take him to the ship.”
The two troopers pulled on his arms and he stumbled, unable to keep his balance through the pain and dizziness. They yanked, taking him away from the others, who began to protest again.
“And kill them all.”
Joe’s heart stopped and he twisted, instinct taking over. He round house kicked the trooper on his left in the head, screaming ‘No!’ as the others raised their rifles.But then something hit his head again and everything went black.