Despite his intentions of becoming too drunk to care about how quickly the entire world seemed to be going straight to Hell, Ted Compton gave up before he had finished even half the bottle.
In truth, he had never been much of a drinker. According to his father, his grandfather had spent a lot of time inebriated. It was from his dad's experience that Ted learned the dangers of alcohol. The stories he had heard about his dad's childhood involved lots of beatings, curses and neglect. They were stories that scared him a little. After all, his dad had taken him to visit his grandfather quite a few times as a boy, and each time he had struggled to picture that man as a violent, abusive drunkard. Even when he and his grandfather were having a good time together, he had never been able to trust the man.
Ted had been lucky enough to have his dad as father. Inspired by his own dad's failings, Paul Compton had resolved at a young age never to touch a drop of the "Vile, venomous, intoxicating evil," a resolution he had never broken – at least, not to Ted's knowledge. Ted, having not had an abusive father, hadn't had this firsthand look at drunkenness, and so didn't feel as strongly about it. Just the same, he hadn't gotten drunk a day in his life, even after he turned 21. He drank alcohol, but never to the point where he couldn't control himself, and he made sure he wasn't lying to himself about his limits. He practiced the art of drinking responsibly. Nevertheless, there had been a time in his life where every drink that he ordered was accompanied by guilt, and he still had a fear of the substance. Not a terrified kind of fear, but an almost respectful kind of fear. The kind someone has when they deal with something they know could destroy them without any effort. From what his dad had said, it could.
Today, however, there was no fear and no guilt. He had dived into the bottle knowing full well that it had the capacity to ruin his night, career, or life. He had made peace with that. In fact, he awaited the sensation with open arms. He wanted to spend a night unable to control himself, a night he might be lucky enough to forget. Or he thought he had. But as the liquid level in the small bottle drew nearer to the dreaded halfway mark, he found himself hesitating more and more with each sip. An anxious feeling had built inside him until he couldn't continue any longer. As disgusted with the raw drink's taste as he was with himself for going as far as he had, he angrily twisted the booze's cap back on and shoved it into the bottom of his drawer. And that was supposed to be for my friend, he thought bitterly. I tried to get drunk to forget my problems and all I have to show for it is the need to buy another gift for my friend.
He could still see a thin beacon of light filter in from his window, and he could still hear the arguments of all the military personnel in the hallways and other rooms. Nothing new there. Turning away from the link to the rest of the building, he glanced out his window and saw a large group of local men advancing on the administration building. Military personnel were already heading out to meet them. Couldn't hurt to go out, Ted told himself. It might even be worth it.
For the longest time, Janet Riddowski hadn't said a word. She had merely looked directly in front of her, not entirely sure of how she had been convinced to get into the passenger seat of her car. Her eyes, so wide with apprehension, were an accurate reflection of the turmoil in her heart. The image of Richard Shore being slammed backwards into the wall by Dane's stolen shotgun was replaying in her head so much she could barely see the road in front of her. Everything else would blur and fade, but the panicky expression on his face was always sharp and clear no matter what. It was haunting.
Dane, who had actually shot Richard and apparently many others, was not shocked in the least. His calm demeanor after all the violence he had committed was just as horrible to Janet as the act itself. In any case, he wasn't bothered by her silence. He was driving her car, and she didn't care enough to ask where he was taking it. The shotgun was in the back where neither of them could reach it, but he was packing a small revolver just in case she tried anything. He offered no words to her, and she offered none to him. And so they drove on in silence, him concentrating on their destination, her on the event she had witnessed. He concentrated on the future, she on the past.
Of course, the future and the past have to meet at the present, and they couldn't just drive forever. She couldn't judge how much time they had spent traveling wordlessly, but eventually Dane spoke, breaking the silence that had set in so deeply: "I told you you wouldn't need to find me." Janet didn't respond other than to turn her worried gaze on him. He continued, "You kept looking for me, but I found you. I told you this would happen."
With nothing else she could think of to say, the NCIS agent asked, voice breaking, "What are you going to do with me?"
"You didn't believe me when I told you I only wanted to find my brother. I knew you wouldn't, but you will now."
Swallowing her anxiety down, Janet cleared her throat and repeated, "What are you going to do with me?"
"You've been trying to find Hayden too, right? Well, today is your lucky day, because you're going to meet him."
"So you were hiding him!"
"Oh, quite the opposite. They've been hiding him from me. I've just found out where he is now, and I'm going to save him."
"Save him from whom?"
As if he was going to answer but thought better of it, Dane simply faced her for a second before looking away. This time, she didn't need a translation. He was going to blame the little green men again.
Well, how can you be sure he wasn't telling the truth? She suddenly wondered. There's been weird stuff happening since this investigation began.
By the time Ted Compton reached the crowd, other soldiers were attempting to force them away. To their credit, none of the men were backing down. The feat was made even more impressive by the sheer number of assault rifles that, in the right hands, could go from resting at the soldier's side to firing into the crowd in just a few seconds.
One man at the front of the crowd had clearly taken charge. He answered every order and threat the soldiers launched at his group, and he held his ground. An argument between him and a burly sergeant was currently taking place, and it looked rather heated. The sergeant was growing more furious as the argument wore on. Despite this, the civilian leader remained calm. The more Ted watched him, the more impressed he was with the man's composure.
The burly sergeant's voice boomed, "Look, man, if you want to help yourselves, you'll get us our man!"
"We can't do that. We don't have any more of an idea where he is than you do."
"The search will go faster if we all do our part!"
"Your part isn't to rob us of all our freedoms. We haven't done anything wrong here! And every one of your men stuck keeping us in line is a man who isn't searching for this Dane Wesson character."
"Which is why you shouldn't cause problems," the sergeant fired back aggressively. Ted winced. Of all the responses he'd heard in his career, that was among the least reasonable he could remember.
At least the civilian had a good retort: "We aren't causing problems by exercising our basic rights."
"You are if we say you are," the sergeant growled darkly.
The civilian knew he was winning the argument, and the arrogance just barely seeped into his next words: "Is that a threat, Sergeant?"
Suddenly moving in fast, the burly sergeant was close enough to strike the civilian in less than a second. "No, that is a promise," he practically screamed in the man's face. But that didn't make the civilian stop, hesitate, or back down. He stood facing the soldier for another second, executing perfect control.
And then the shot rang out. For the first time, the composure left the civilian's face, replaced with one of pure shock. The man's jaw literally dropped, he leaned back just slightly, and his eyes cast downward onto the soldier directly in front of him. The most horrible, painful disbelief was in his eyes.
Both men were steady for the next couple of eternal seconds. There was no movement; not even the leaves were falling. The air was perfectly still as the two previously nonviolent combatants finished the last stages of their standoff. An almost graceful calm settled over the entire gathering. It did not last. Then the burly sergeant fell sideways onto the grass, crunching leaves under his body, leaving the other man standing lost. The civilian's gaze tracked the falling soldier all the way to the bottom. Everyone's did, in unison, including Ted Compton's. Also in unison, everyone's line of sight returned to the civilian leader still standing over the dead sergeant's body.
"Tell me your name!" One of the other soldiers ordered roughly.
Obediently, as if in a trance, the civilian answered, "Keaton Winston." All the defiance in his manner had vanished, replaced with the trauma and shock of what had just happened.
Without another word, a soldier – presumably the one who had just screamed at Keaton – drew his side arm and fired straight at him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder, and he went down. With him out of the way, Ted could see another civilian who had been standing somewhere behind Keaton. That civilian had a handgun of his own, which he raised at the soldier who had just shot his leader. He shot that soldier as well, if in fact he had been the one who shot the burly sergeant.
When the second soldier went down, the entire crowd of military might that had been opposing their civilian counterparts sprang into action. Weapons were drawn and fired into the crowd of non-military men, and more than a few of them dropped. The man with the gun managed to fire it off one more time before he was hit by several rounds and killed. Some of the higher-ranking military men were calling for the troops to cease fire, and they did. The violence had only gone on for a few seconds. But despite that, it had taken lives and wounded others. More people were lying on the ground then Ted wanted to count. Some of the men still standing on either side of the skirmish were wearing horrified expressions, and Ted was certain that he had one to match.
Turning away from the sight of the battle, Ted managed to catch a glimpse of a blue Impala driving down the street just in front of him. But he'd spent years as an NCIS agent; a glimpse was all he needed. In that time, he had confirmed to himself two important items: The car was most definitely the one that Janet had been driving, and the driver was most definitely Dane Wesson.
Turning back to the battleground, he said to himself, This is not the way we should be dealing with this problem. The military has brought things from bad to worse.
With that thought, Ted promptly spun on his heel and ran to the closest cop car. There was one parked just a little bit away. Nobody was in it, but there was a local police officer standing against it. The cop was holding his standard-issue handgun loosely, almost as if he didn't know what to do with it. Clearly, he had been spooked by the skirmish. His knees looked weak, and he was leaning forward slightly. The other hand was on one of his knees for support.
When Ted reached the car and threw the driver's side door open, the man barely looked at him as he asked in a shaky voice, "What are you doing with that?"
Not pausing, Ted answered, "I'm preventing the next catastrophe." The Impala was speeding away, and he didn't have any time to waste.
That answer was apparently good enough for the queasy cop, who obediently stepped away from the car, still watching the scene of the battle.
As far as Janet could tell, the fact that the unknown path Dane was following took them right by the police station was purely coincidental. First of all, how could he know what would be going on there at that exact moment? While it was true that he had accomplished several supernatural feats, she didn't think he could see the future. And secondly, the sudden, sharp crack of the gunshot scared him just as much as it did her. The pair yelled in unison as the sound rang out and their heads were synchronized as they swiveled toward the origin of the noise. Though she couldn't see his face – he was looking away from her – she imagined that his mouth was also hanging agape at the horrifying scene in front of them.
Dane must have pressed down on the brake, because the car slowed down significantly as they passed by the station. As the two of them watched, another shot fired and a civilian at the front of the group of civilians went down. Janet cried out again as this happened, but Dane appeared to have recovered from the initial shock a lot faster and remained silent. However, the car did slow down again, and they were moving at a crawl. Then another civilian pulled a gun, and a soldier took the bullet in the torso. Janet managed to stifle the scream this time, but her jaw was still hanging wide open, as were her eyes. More shots were exchanged, and many civilians went down, most ducking, some getting shot down.
Unable to hide her shock and fear, Janet could barely say, "What… What is happening here?"
Rather than respond to her question, Dane slammed on the gas, jumpstarting the Impala and whipping the agent forward. He swerved down a side street heading away from the police station. As they drove away, he looked over his shoulder and, apparently seeing something he didn't want to see, turned his head back swiftly and muttered, "Shit."
"What is it?" Janet's panicky face turned in his direction. He kept his eyes forward and shoulders set, speeding up more, refusing to answer her. She asked again, and when he still didn't respond, she turned and looked out the back window.
There was a cop car driving fast behind them, and in it was her direct superior, Ted Compton. For the first time in a while, she felt a twinge of hope.