Valentina had no shot. She saw N'buli and Dave disappear through the roof, but the building was too dense to see through any of her scopes. She couldn’t do anything from her current position.
'Nbuli! Dave! What's happening?'
'Can't talk right now, Val,' said Nbuli, his voice crackling over the radio. 'We're in a situation.'
Val tried several of the higher-tech options on her scope, infra-red and ultra-bleed, but still came up with nothing. She couldn't do anything to help from here.
'Bojemoi,' she whispered. Time to go. It took her seven seconds to pick up her rifle and exit the room, 27 more seconds to get down the stairs and 23 further seconds to get across the street and kick the front door in.
One minute after seeing her friends fall and Valentina was inside the building, dropping the first two guards with darts from her rifle. She was in a short corridor with only one exit and she kicked in the door, rolling into the room and ready for anything.
Except for the sight of N'buli MacGregor - last member of a lost Senegalese tribe and number one agent for global peacekeeping group LOVE - surrounded by women happily dancing, standing on a table with his pants around his ankles, showing off his Mr Spock boxer shorts, four open bottles of wine in his hands, a cigar in his teeth and the stupidest grin Valentina had ever seen on a human being.
N'buli's radio had been hooked up to a speaker system and was picking up a 80s revival station from somewhere, filling the room with some English tune Valentina couldn't place. Many of the women in the room had removed some of their clothing, but some still held on to their guns even as their tore off their combat jackets.
Valentina had been ready to fight to the death for her partners. Now she didn't know what to do.
'You!' said a harsh voice in heavily-accented English. 'Is this your doing?'
Valentina turned to find herself confronted by an older woman with a long, deep scar running down the side of her face. She gave Valentina a look that strongly advised honesty.
'Yes,' said Valentina. 'We are here to get Aziz.'
The woman reached into the crowd of her dancing comrades and pulled Dave out by his ear. 'And this one?'
'He's with me.'
The woman nodded and released Dave, who managed to grin and wince at the same time. She nodded towards a side room. 'My name is Sonya. That's my office. I think we should talk.'
Even with all its technological marvels, Max couldn't get Netflix to run properly on his plane. He'd pulled the engine apart three times and put it back together, but any kind of streaming service was always left buffering and it would drive him crazy. DVDs still worked, though, and Max ejected his latest disc and reached back behind his seat for another movie. The tech boys had managed to rig up the cockpit so that movies could be played on the inside of the plane's windows, creating a massive great screen. Max's job was to sit and wait for the call, and sometimes that could take hours.
Max was worried. He had only bothered to bring half a dozen DVDs and he was in danger of running out.
He decided to sleep on it. He had one last hit on the joint in his ashtray and shut down the plane, activated the security cordon and slouched back in his pilot seat in the dark.
'How did he fit four bottles of wine inside his fight-suit?' asked Valentina as Sonya closed the door. It cut out most of the sound of the music, which seemed to be getting progressively louder, and a window into the main room showed N'buli forming a conga line.
Dave shrugged. 'It's a skill.'
'It's a record. He's never managed more than three.'
'Why are they all drinking anyway, aren't they a Muslim group?'
'You always think we're bloody Muslims,' said Sonya. 'We all practice what we want, and most of us don't bother with that religious crap. Now sit the hell down.'
She sat on the other side of a sparse desk and motioned towards two chairs in front of it. Dave and Valentina sat down, with the Russian woman resting her rifle in her lap.
Sonya reached into the desk and pulled out a small pistol of her own, placing it on the surface of the desk. 'What is this about? What is happening here?'
'Hey,' said Dave, pointing towards the pistol. 'There isn't any need for that.'
Sonya gave him the cold, hard stare. 'I don't care what you think, I was talking to the woman.'
Valentina yawned. 'Don't bother. I'm just the muscle. If you need me to break somebody's leg, I'm there for you, but don't ask me to negotiate. Dave is the talker. He is the one who usually makes sense. I'll just make you angry.'
'And him?' asked Sonya, gesturing towards N'buli through a small window. He had somehow found a lampshade to put on his head.
'He's the best we've got,' said Dave. 'Look, we just want to sort everything out without resorting to bloodshed. Okay?'
'I don't understand any of this. You people burst in here, and we should be beating you to death and putting a bullet in your head just to be sure, but it's like a party has erupted. I don't know you people, but I want to trust you, and I've never trusted anybody in my life.'
'You can trust us.'
'But why do I feel this way?'
Dave shrugged, even though he knew exactly why she did feel like that. When N'buli had shot himself with the blissgun, it had instantly turned him into the biggest party animal in the room, and that was when Dave set off a gas bomb hidden in the sole of his boot. The gas that was released spread quickly around the room.
It had been one of N'buli's own concoctions, an odourless, colourless gas that provoked feelings of extreme well-being. Angry people exposed to the gas saw the most obvious effects, with a sense of peace, a realisation that violence was unnecessary, and the desire to trust everybody.
The effects of the gas lasted less than two minutes, but the charm of an Agent trained in tactical charisma, along with the residual positive feelings, had a much longer-lasting impact.
Dave realised Sonya was still staring at him coldly, gas or no gas. 'Who are you people?'
Valentina and Dave both smiled and spoke together. 'We're LOVE.'
'What is that supposed to mean?'
Dave waved off her question. 'It doesn't matter. What matters is the situation you're in. You've got a massive homophobe jerk of a government minister somewhere in this building, holding him hostage in a bid to overturn rampant institutional sexism. Yeah?'
'I don't think-'
Dave cut her off again. 'I'm sorry to interrupt like every other arsehole male in your life, but please let me finish. The real problem is this: what now? You can't let this guy go, he's not going to change his mind because of a kidnapping. And you can't kill him, because they're they'll come after you hard. We found you in a day and a half, the government can't be that far behind. What are you going to do when they come knocking on your door?'
'I don't need to discuss this with you. We have options you can't even imagine.'
'You could shoot him in the head,' said Valentina. 'There was a nice ditch on the edge of town we could use to dump the body. Lots of nice, big rats.' Dave gave Valentina his sourest look, but she just smiled pleasantly. 'Really. It would be no trouble.'
'That's not an option,' said Dave. 'What you need is a change of perspective. You need your enemy to feel empathy. You need to get him seeing things from your point of view. You need him to change his mind.'
'And how are you going to do that?' asked Sonya.
'Trust us,' said Dave, putting on his best smile. 'We're professionals.'
The door to the office burst open and N'buli leapt into the room. While the music from the other room was louder than ever, they could still hear N'buli clearly.
'I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm!' he cried, before diving back out of the room, thoughtful enough to close the door behind him.
Sonya tried to look stern, but failed miserably. 'Is he always that cute?'
Valentina shrugged. 'Only when he is working.'
'Look out honey, cos I'm using technology!' said Dave.
The women ignored him.
'Okay,' said Sonya. 'Let's say I give you a chance to show what you can do. I'm open-minded enough. What do you need?'
'One room, any candles you've got, two of your keenest members and a bloody big bottle of booze,' said Dave.
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