The group adjourned to the more comfortable lounge to give Hex a better position to work from and also to grab some refreshments to keep them going.
Alpha Force was on it's second round of gourmet mini-quiches when Hex sat up from his palmtop in triumph and turned it's screen so the others could see. Dark footage showed the dramatic kidnap in all its sombre detail. The group gave a collective gasp as they watched the men in black assault and abduct John Middleton. Hex squeezed Amber's hand in support as he witnessed the pain it caused her to watch the traumatic event.
"Okay so we can see where and when it happened." Camilla noted breaking the heavy silence.
"The who might prove difficult because of the balaclavas, but from what we can see they seem to be fairly organised as far as a plan and equipment goes." Alex mused with a grave look spreading across his face.
"Are you thinking maybe it's a professional job Alex?" Hex inquired sharply, turning to his friend.
"Maybe, it certainly looks like that way; very organised and watch the way the guys move; they all look so fluid like they've done it before." Alex admitted, voicing the subtle observations he had made.
"It certainly looked smooth, rehearsed; those guys were good." Paulo agreed sadly.
"Can you rewind this footage a bit Hex?" Amber asked, trying to ignore the implications of a professional kidnapping.
The hacker grunted in affirmation and started to play the feed in reverse.
"Stop!" Amber shouted as she pointed her finger at the small screen, "Magnify," She commanded.
Hex increased the zoom where Amber's finger was pointed.
A number plate came into view with blurry, but readable letters and numbers, the dark-skinned girls face lit in triumph.
"Alright we got a plate, now what?" Li asked, excited to finally have a lead.
"We find the van, maybe we find your uncle." Paulo suggested.
"I'm sending the plate to a friend of mine who operates a special vehicle tracking program that might give us its location." Hex declared without looking up from his screen as he navigated the small device with rapid keystrokes.
"Okay sounds good. Lets get organised to move at a moments notice then." Alex decided his brain snapping to work, prioritizing what they needed.
"Everyone get changed into something more appropriate and clutch up anything you want to take with you on an urban mission. Paulo can you work with Amber and sort us some transport?"
"I'll keep digging here." Hex stated shrugging off his jacket and stretching his fingers in preparation for some serious hacking.
Five minutes later the six teenagers were standing back in the lounge doing last minute checks on their equipment. The standard look seemed to be clothes in dark colors that covered up as much skin as possible, with the occasional long jacket for the possibility of concealing extra equipment. A pained look crossed Alex's face as he noticed Camilla in similar attire and looking determined.
He had quietly not wanted her to get involved again with the danger their work often involved. Last time she had almost been killed several times and now with things between them out in the open he wasn't sure he could go through that agony again.
"Got it!"Hex announced, causing his friends to gather in around him eager to get the location. Amber had to restrain herself from hugging the young hacker in appreciation.
Hex's friend had tracked the vehicle to an underpass on the outskirts of New York City and the team was fizzing to get out the door to go and check it out.
Paulo held up a hand to bring silence to the excited group.
"Problem; our ride can only take a max of five," He announced to a stunned group as they realized someone was going to have to remain behind.
With a sigh Hex sat back down again, "I guess I'll stay here then, I wanted to do some research into recent kidnappings and any groups that were held accountable anyway. I guess I can do it from back here and maybe help coordinate your effort out on the street." The London teen looked quite sullen as he withdrew his palmtop from his pouch again and got back to work.
Amber was a bit startled by the idea of her special friend staying behind and she immediately felt decidedly less safe leaving the house.
The remaining five looked at each other and Alex saw his opportunity. "I think someone should stay back here with Hex to help him with his research and run operations from this end. Camilla do you mind?" He asked trying to keep his voice steady and make the request sound normal.
Camilla looked back at Alex; confused and a little bit hurt, she nodded before dumping her daypack loudly and dragging up a seat.
The rest of the group turned on the spot to make for the car that Amber had arranged, Alex shared one last lingering look with his girl before she broke his gaze sadly and turned to help Hex.
The four friends piled into the nondescript BMW that Amber had brought around from the garage and the tense journey to the vans location began.
In what felt like no time at all, Amber was double checking her GPS unit and telling Paulo to pull over to the side of the road in a dilapidated suburb of New York City. Collectively the group's heads scanned the area looking for the van from the surveillance video, it was Li who eventually spotted it parked in the shadows under an overpass.
"Over there!" She exclaimed with barely contained enthusiasm.
Paulo had barely parked the vehicle and applied the handbrake, before Amber was climbing out of the passenger seat and moving towards the shady van. In a haste to catch up with their friend, the rest of Alpha Force piled from the vehicle and followed Amber, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
The girl strode right up to the van where it was partially obscured by a wide concrete support pillar, the noise of traffic passing overhead drowned out the warning cries of her friends. Amber stopped short of the van and noted there was noone in the cab, before placing a hand on the door handle of the slide door and pulling with all her might. The shrill crescendo of metal on metal contrasted heavily against the riot of traffic as the door slid open.
The rest of Alpha Force had just caught up as Amber slid the door open to reveal the seat-less interior of the van, which was completely devoid of inhabitants. Amber slumped in disappointment, hiding her eyes from her friends as they peered into the interior of the large vehicle. Alex had to restrain himself from opening the narrow lockers that ran along the bottom of one wall. He was sure Hex would be excited by the wide array of monitors and communication equipment that stood beside it.
"Hmmm I wonder where the guys from the van went?" Paulo pondered as his eyes raked the uninhabited vehicle, his mechanics eye drawn in by the tyre iron in the doorwell and the bag full of tools beside it.
Li froze in place a few steps back from the van, her eyes widening in shock.
"I don't think they went very far at all." She revealed as the rest of the group's attention was drawn from the darkened vehicle they had been inspecting.
Slowly flanking the group from either side of the van were four men dressed in black.
The group's attention was divided as they tried to watch all four at once and they ended up facing two different ways with their backs pressed close together. Li and Paulo faced towards the cab of the van facing two burly opponents who were slowly and confidently closing the distance. Directly behind them, Alex and Amber planted their feet defensively in the opposite direction as they squared off against another large opponent and his wiry companion. Focusing on the middle distance and keeping their eyes directed at about chest height on their foes, Amber didn't immediately recognize the smaller man opposite her.
Their opposition stopped about two meters away from the friends and finally one of the men spoke in a gruff voice.
"I don't know what the hell you kids are doing snooping around our van here, but I think it is time you leave."
Relief flushed through Alex as he saw an opportunity for them to walk away from the situation safely. We know it's the right van anyway and now we have some faces to trace too, he concluded in his head in triumph as the four men left an opening for the group to pass through. His feeling of success was blown out of the water as an accented voice halted the group in its tracks.
"Wait guys, this is the targets niece; Amber."
Alpha Force whirled at the sudden change in circumstances and Amber recognized in shock, the smaller man of the bunch who had just spoken. He was the new gardener her uncle had hired a few weeks back.
"Miguel!" She shrieked in outrage and confusion. So this is how they knew where my uncle would be and it explains how they knew about my trust fund, Amber seethed in fury.
Her friends stared in stunned confusion as Amber carried on.
"You fucking snake! We let you live on our property and you goddamn sold us out!" Amber growled her voice dripping with malice.
The Latino man laughed coldly at her outburst. "Maybe your stingy Uncle should have paid me a bit more to keep your gardens?"
The larger man beside Miguel sneered his ugly flat face at the childish displays in front of him before gruffly speaking again.
"Well this changes things. We take her back to the boss and this whole mess gets sorted a whole lot quicker."
"What about the extras?" One of the other thugs inquired in a harsh tone.
"Kill em," The leader snarled. "They've seen our faces and we only need this one alive." He finished pointing at Amber.
"Come and get us then." Li dared raising her guard, her palms outwards in a fighting stance. Her friends quickly mirrored her position and started sizing up their opponents.
The four men around the outside raised their fists and began to circle into attacking range on Alpha Force.
"Oh I'm going to enjoy giving it to this snobby little bitch." Miguel crowed at Amber. "I won't kill her, but nothing says I can't smack her around a bit to bring her in."
"We'll see who gets smacked around." Amber corrected as she danced forward agilely and broke the scrawny mans nose with a straight palm strike.
The traitor collapsed to his knees with a scream and a swollen nose that was pissing blood, Amber for her part simply darted back into line beside Alex.
Adrenaline rushed through the teen's veins and pulses began to skyrocket as Alpha Force braced itself for the imminent onslaught.
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