Chuck ran as fast as he could, but Sarah was still ahead of him. She shouted, "Federal agents! Stop!" and fired a warning shot. It must have been a warning, because it didn't hit anything and Sarah was an excellent marksman. She had to know a bullet hole in the canister would unleash the very nanobots they were trying to contain. It might not be as bad as having millions of them sprayed over who-knew-how-many corn fields, but even one spore let loose would be a Very Bad Thing. Rodchenko said they multiplied like crazy.
Rodriguez climbed up into the pilot's seat. He looked for a second like he would take the canister off his back, but decided against it when he realized how close his assailants were. Instead, he sat and started the engine. The biplane rotated. A blast of air from the propeller hit Chuck head-on. Oh crap. Giant whirling blade of death coming straight for us. Thankfully, Rodriguez was more interested in getting off the ground than slicing Sarah and him to bits. He kept turning.
This crop-duster had once been a two-seater, but the front seat had been converted to a hopper for fertilizer or pesticides. Presumably, Rodriguez needed to get the canister on his back emptied into the hopper at some point, so it was not too surprising when he unclamped the clear dome windshield and let it fall to the ground. Sarah nearly tripped over the rolling dome, but going around it gave Chuck the extra time he needed to catch up, so he was neck-and-neck with her.
Sarah stuffed her gun in her back waistband to free her hands. Chuck mentally allotted the tail end of the plane to her, since it was more accessible as long as the plane was still rolling. He would take the lower wing which was angled higher by the wheels in front. He thrust himself onto the wing and held on for dear life, even as he hoped Sarah could make the pilot abort the takeoff. I hate heights.
A look behind him verified Sarah had caught the fuselage between the pilot and the rudder and was presently climbing up. The propeller noise was deafening and the heavy flapping of his shirt told him they were picking up speed. Just then, Rodriguez pulled a gun and fired at Sarah. She saw it coming and ducked in time, but she was in too precarious a position to launch a counter-attack. She needed to hold on with both hands.
Suddenly, the wheel vibrations ended. Chuck felt the lift in his gut. They were airborne. Worried for Sarah, he pulled his tranq pistol, but decided it was too risky to tranq the pilot. They could crash and rupture the nanobot canister, not to mention kill themselves and possibly innocent civilians at the Hoedown. No. Instead, he stared at Rodriguez's gun and flashed.
World-class javelin throwers and dart champions lent him their expertise. Chuck hurled his tranq gun at Rodriguez's real gun and sent both guns flying out of his hand and down to the ground.
Sarah was making her way up the curved surface, but the pilot still had a much better tactical position down in the pilot's seat. Chuck couldn't bring himself to look down, but the force of the wind told him they were going too fast for anyone to survive a fall into the nearly-mature crop of green-bladed spikes of death. He couldn't leave Sarah to deal with Rodriguez alone. Paralyzed by fear, but determined to ignore it, he focused on the plane's wings and concentrated. Please be in the Intersect. Please oh please oh please.
He was hoping for some psychology to combat his fear, which he got, along with an extensive course in wing-walking. Buoyed by the Intersect skill flash, he grabbed a strut and hoisted himself up to a crouch between the upper and lower wings of the biplane just in time to see Rodriguez had pulled the canister off his back and was lifting it over his head. No doubt the next stop was the hopper, followed by the sprayers.
Now straddling the plane behind the pilot's head, Sarah grabbed the canister and yanked it away from him. Rodriguez sent the plane into a sharp bank that Chuck was afraid would end up a barrel roll. If they went inverted, he would be fine between the wings, but Sarah might fall off. Chuck was also more than a little worried that midair fighting with the pilot might end badly for them all.
The guy was dumb enough to turn around to get a look at his attacker. Sarah kneed him in the face and managed to get the canister secured in one hand. She employed her free arm to gain a chokehold on the pilot. Chuck couldn't hear the exact words she yelled at him, but her tone was pretty clear. The plane went back to level flight.
Chuck would feel better if Sarah wasn't playing the balancing act at 1200 feet. Intending to relieve her of the canister, he left the relative safety of the wings and crawled on his stomach down the fuselage toward the pilot's seat. If he stood or even sat up, his body would block the pilot's line of sight. At least he was close enough to scream, "Sarah, tell him to land!"
But the yoke was pulled back again and the plane was climbing. In the distance, Chuck saw another aircraft, but he couldn't tell what it was or which way it was headed. That was all they needed, to fly across the flight path of some airline or something. At least it looked like it was at a higher altitude. If they could level off or descend, they could ignore it.
Sarah gave Rodriguez one more vehement order to land. Chuck was pretty sure knives and/or choking would be next if he didn't comply. Rodriguez curled his lips in a sickly smirk-smile at Chuck. His left hand reached in a breast pocket and then traveled to his mouth. He chomped down hard on something. Oh crap. Chuck had seen this before with Ring members.
"Sarah, he—" But it was too late. Rodriguez was convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Sarah let go.
Chuck no longer had to worry about blocking the dead man's vision. He resumed his trek toward Sarah. One of them needed to get in that pilot's seat or they'd crash for sure. Chuck reached down and hauled Rodriguez's lifeless body out of the seat. He looked down to make sure they were over agricultural land and not a house or the Hoedown. Nothing but corn fields in every direction. With a cringe and a muttered apology, he released the body overboard.
He looked up at Sarah. Her blonde hair was whipping in the wind and she'd picked up a minor scratch in the scuffle somewhere along the way, but she looked all right otherwise. With all the wind and the engine noise, he had to scream, "You wanna hold the can, or you wanna land this thing?" He was certain the Intersect would have piloting a biplane in there somewhere.
"Land," she screamed back. Now holding the canister with both hands, she lifted it up and out to him.
Chuck took the canister, but then he wondered where to go. He couldn't sit in front of Sarah. She needed to see to land the plane. He would have to step over her and then sit behind her. He waited for her to get settled in the seat and then started slowly maneuvering to a stand. His wing-walking "experience" supplied by the Intersect kept fear from taking hold. He was fully upright and had one leg over her head when something went wrong.
"Chuck, hold on," Sarah screamed. The plane banked sharply.
He couldn't see what had happened, nor did he presently have any plane part within grasp that he could use as a handhold, even had he spared a hand from holding the canister. Off balance and unprepared, he lost his footing and slipped off into free fall.
What had he thought when he was quarterbacking about how it was fun to jump out of a plane when one had a parachute? He wished he had one now. At least he still had the canister. Damn. All this would be for nothing. The thing wasn't very heavy, which meant the metal couldn't be very thick. Surely, it would be crushed.
Chuck rolled over to look up at the sky. He would try to land on his back and hope his stomach would cushion the canister at least a little. He could see the plane above still turning. He could also see why now. There was a big radio tower out in the middle of the corn field that the plane would have hit otherwise. Sarah had been right to swerve.
He also noticed a helicopter with military markings on it, flying almost parallel, or maybe slightly higher than the plane. In the next split second, a huge net was launched from an open side door on the helicopter and enveloped his whole body. Weighted balls closed around him and tightened the net. It hurt more than a little when all his momentum abruptly transferred into the tethered net. He was certain to have rope burns and marks all over, maybe even a broken bone or two. But being caught up here meant he would live and the canister wouldn't hit the ground.
Immobilized, his eyes followed the tether which now towed his netted body through the sky. The rope ended at the bolted-down net gun on the helicopter. Casey stood up over the rifle sights and gave one of his closed-lipped smiles and a half-wave, half salute. Chuck's ear bud crackled and Casey's voice came through. "Hey. Bartowski. No falling out of planes without me."
Sarah cried, "You got him? You got him?" and Chuck was pretty sure he heard Morgan asking the same thing. Had everyone been talking on comms all this time and he hadn't heard because of the propeller noise?
"He got me," Chuck groaned through the pain. "I'm alive. Package is secure."