*** *** ***
Kenny's stomach knotted as he heard the megaphone squawk outside. He could hear hushed voices as people moved around the motel.
"Get Boomer," Rabbit urged as he headed for the bathroom. "I'll try and see what's going on."
Kenny nodded, then went to wake up Boomer. "Boom," he called as he gently placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "We got company."
Boomer could barely hear the movement outside, but he knew something was wrong. "I think we've overstayed our welcome," he whispered as he attempted to roll out of bed. "Where's Rabbit?"
"Checking out the back," Kenny told him as they moved towards the center of the room.
"Good to have you back," Boomer countered.
"I'll get back to you on that," Kenny countered as he watched the bathroom.
Rabbit returned a minute later with a sarcastic grin on his face. "They've got the van surrounded," he stated. "And the other room."
"What other room?" Kenny asked.
Boomer gave him a wide eyed innocent grin and shrugged. "Must be the room I actually rented," He grinned, "I could have sworn this was the room."
Kenny looked at his brothers and shook his head as he started loading up their gear. "Alright, so now what do we do?" he asked.
"Well, when they can't talk us out, they'll try gas. After that, when they don't find us, they'll probably start a room to room search," Boomer stated. "Course, once they break into the van, they're going to give it a much more thorough going over. Which means they're going to find the rifle, and Rabbit's blood."
"Which means we need to do something and soon," Rabbit informed him. "They've got choppers and roto's outside. Somebody's bound to see something."
"I'm open to suggestions," Boomer stated.
"You could turn me over to them," Rabbit told him.
"Rabbit," Boomer chided but as he turned he found himself staring down the barrel of Rabbit's Predator II.
"I was holding a gun on you," Rabbit told him. "You were afraid for your brother's life."
"Rabbit, they know you're our brother, they won't buy it. Now put that thing away before you hurt somebody."
"I'm crazy," Rabbit told him. "Everybody knows it."
"So? Everybody knows you wouldn't hurt any of us," Boomer countered. "So put it away."
"Never seen it coming. One minute he's normal as can be, next minute, he just snaps," Rabbit stated, his eyes flaring.
"Rabbit, it ain't gonna work, so just drop it," Kenny demanded.
"Well, if nobody comes up with anything better, I'm shooting Boomer." Rabbit stated as he pointed his gun at the ground.
"Hey," Kenny scolded. "No hedging your bets on the pool."
"What pool?" Boomer asked gruffly.
"Nothing," Kenny assured him. "We need a plan."
"I liked my plan," Rabbit said as he scanned the area.
"I didn't," Boomer stated. "So just let it drop."
"Touchy," Rabbit countered defensively.
"Yeah well, I like people shooting me almost as much as I like running from the police." Boomer growled.
"Oh really?" Rabbit asked. "And how often have we run from the police?"
"Rabbit!" Boomer exclaimed as he tried to think.
"Sorry, not helping," Rabbit answered. "Evasion or subterfuge are the only other things I can think of. I'm sorry I got you two into this mess."
"Uh Rabbit, man was about to shoot one or both of us" Boomer pointed out. "And I'd much rather be on this side of this mess, than his."
"Same here," Kenny added. "But if we're going to prove that he was out to get us, we're going to need to move."
"Which brings us right back to 'how?'"Boomer commented.
"We hide, they're going to find us," Rabbit stated. "IR's bad enough, but if they've got mages going astral..."
"Then it's not going to take them long to find us," Kenny told them. "That leaves subterfuge."
"They're looking for the three of us," Boomer added.
"So we break up, walk past them and rendezvous somewhere." Rabbit stated with a nod.
"House keeping's two rooms down from here," Boomer told them. "There's an Ice room's 5 down from there. And another one 10 rooms down the other way."
"I'll take housekeeping," Rabbit stated.
Kenny nodded. "That' leaves the Ice Rooms. I'll take the far one."
"We still have to see about getting out of the room."
"Ceiling looks old enough that it should be able to support us," Rabbit told them. "And there's probably a crawlspace underneath the building as well."
"You take the ceiling, we'll take the crawlspace," Boomer told him. "We'll meet at the impound lot, 1930 hours tonight."
"Where?" Kenny asked in disbelief.
"And they say I'm crazy," Rabbit muttered under his breath.
Boomer watched as Rabbit pulled himself up into the ceiling, then handed him the tile. He waited until his brother had slipped it back in place before he turned to Kenny. "You going to be alright?" he asked worriedly.
"I'm fine, or as fine as somebody can be when they're running from the police," Kenny told him. "Thanks for asking though."
"Lets do it," Boomer stated as he lifted up the cover for the lower register. "Its going to be tight," he commented as he pulled out the 18x20 inch filter and looked down the duct work.
"Should be fine," Kenny assured him as he started stuffing towels into his duffle bag.
"Kenny," Boomer scolded. "Stealing towels? What would mom say?"
Kenny shook his head. Sometimes he just didn't understand Boomer any more than he understood Rabbit. "Let's go," he urged.
Boomer shrugged and held the grating open for him. "After you."
Kenny tossed his duffle down the chute, then followed it. "Luck," he called, then started crawling towards the ice room 10 rooms down. Boomer paused, then eased himself into the duct, wedging himself so that he could close the grate behind him and slip the filter back into place.
Duck shook her head as she and Tracker went over Halifax's information. Occasionally they would cross reference some of the information, but for the most part, Duck merely correlated the information and translated it into a format she could use for further analysis.
When she was finished, she pulled out a jack and looked at Tracker questioningly. Tracker gave a slight nod and reached into the mission bag, pulling out a cable splitter. "What I'd like to do," she explained to Halifax. "Is show you what we're doing."
As she waited for his response, Tracker attached the splitter to the jack and attacked a lead to both ends.
Ange noted how they seemed to communicate in their own short hand of facial expressions and nods. No wonder Allison hadn't been able to understand their communications and why Aerocomm had been unable to catch them. Only somebody who had known them, worked with them even had a chance of understanding. That kind of communication required knowledge and familiarity, the kind that only comes with time. She looked at Allison as he watched them.
Allison smiled at her, he'd seen it too.
‘I need one of those bags,' he thought to himself with amazement, oblivious to the look he'd exchanged with Ange.
When Tracker handed Halifax one of the leads the younger Decker looked at it dubiously. "Its a hitcher, nothing more," Tracker assured him. "That's part of why I'm going in too. I promise you, she won't be able to do anything without getting me too."
Halifax looked at Ange, who again nodded. ‘These too are way too good to be true,' she told herself. They're willing to put themselves at risk for no other reason than to assure us they mean no harm. She wasn't sure if it was heroic or fool hearty.
Duck activated her deck, trusting Tracker and Halifax to join her when they were ready. She found herself wishing the combat deck had a screen, but that would have taken up too much real estate and would have been way too hard to hide. Still there were times where a screen would be useful, like now.
She called up the map she had created, taking Halifax's reports and marking them across the city. Each flag was coded, and depending on which filter she chose would show differing colors based on date, time and type of person involved. None of the dates were older than six months, but it was a start. She started with the first flag, an attempt on Candide: Mage. She followed the path up to the point where the flags changed from the magically active, to the techs. Third tech victim had been Halifax's sister, ‘Fuega'. The fifth had been Jen. Duck scanned the area and realized that the incedents in the area had ceased roughly four months ago. She ran through the list and areas one last time, then exited.
"You see that?" Duck asked as the others came out of the simulation.
Halifax nodded. "It circled the area, closed in and then moved on."
"What happened four months ago?" Duck asked.
"Why do you ask," Ange asked warily.
"That's when the local cases ended," Tracker explained. "That when you setup housekeeping in the area?"
"There are gaps though," Duck told her. "This thing's been active for at least a year, maybe two, that's a lot of time, and a lot could have happened. What we have seems to match what you'd expect. It started off slowly, mage and muscle mostly. But even with the sample we have, you can see the pattern shifting.
"Its getting more active, more daring. Even as little as six months ago, the disappearances were isolated. It was picking up right before the cases stopped in this area," Tracker stated.
"More likely than not, they moved on. Hit other places. We need to figure out where and how wide spread this thing actually is. Somehow, I don't think its just limited to the Memphis area," Duck added.
Duck and Tracker exchanged a look that nobody could mistake for anything other than what it was. They were up against something very big and very nasty and they had very little to go on. Neither one was pleased with the prospects.
"We're going to need a lot more information, to plot out this thing on a wide scale. And from the looks of it, its probably a lot more wide spread than we think. Either way, we're going to need to do some serious work fast," Tracker told them
"We'll need to access the records, and check around," Duck added. "Pass the information on to some of our associates, see what they come up with."
"In the mean time, we'll need to do some legwork," Tracker told them. "We appreciate what you've done for us, but we don't want to endanger your operation any more than it already has been."
Ange looked at him for a moment then shook her head. "We're in this," she told him. "And we want to help. We have people who can go places and do things you can't."
Tracker shook his head. "And people that you have to protect. You don't know us, you want to trust us, but you can't. Not as much as we're going to need to get this taken care of. We need to handle this our own way." He held up a hand before she could object.
"Don't worry, we aren't dismissing you and your people, not by any stretch of the imagination. What we are trying to do is keep this in cells so that if one part is compromised, the rest are still safe and can continue the fight. We need to establish a network and communications support," he told her. "There's too much at stake here. As it is, you're going to need to move your base when we leave."
Ange nodded. No wonder Briar wanted them. They were good tacticians and loyal comrades. They would be a welcomed addition to any fighting force.
She watched as Duck finished packing up her gear. Things seemed worse, but she knew they were actually better. Now at least they knew what they were up against.
"Where should do you want to start?" Duck asked Tracker
"Police?" he suggested.
"Doesn't Boomer have a friend on the force?"
"Captain Ranier," Tracker acknowledged. "Maybe our best bet."
"Sounds like a plan," Duck nodded.
Captain Samuel Ranier was not a happy man. In less than twelve hours he had lost an officer in his command, and an old friend had been implicated in the murder. He still couldn't believe that Wayne was involved, it just didn't fit with what he knew about the man. Wayne would go out of his way to keep people from getting hurt. That's just the way he was. Matter of fact, the same held true for the rest of his family. He knew that there was more going on, there had to be.
He prayed he could keep anybody else from getting hurt before he figured it out, but tension was high and his men had to come first. All the evidence seemed to indicate that Wayne's brother Derrick was the shooter. That would explain Wayne's involvement, but it still didn't sit right with him.
"Cap, we're ready," one of the officers announced as they had finished evacuating the other guests and surrounded the hotel room.
Captain Ranier took the bullhorn and turned it on. ‘Show time,' he thought to himself. He waited for the go ahead signal from his sniper, then put the bullhorn to his mouth.
"Alright Wayne, we know you're in there, come on out with your hands up," He ordered. He watched the door and window, but there was no movement from inside the building. "Wayne, we know you were down in the club district last night. "Come on out."
Again there was no response. "Wayne, I'm going to toss in a phone, okay, tell us what's happening."
Wayne turned as he heard Sam's voice on the bullhorn. ‘Sorry pal, you wouldn't believe me if I told you,' he thought to himself as he slipped into the milling crowd. If an officer caught him now, he knew they were just as likely to shoot him as take him in. Police looked after their own, and the case against them looked pretty air-tight. For all intents and purposes he was a dangerous felon, armed and dangerous.
It was up to him and his brothers to clear themselves of the charges, and to do that, they had to be at liberty. Answering a lot of questions down at Lone Star HQ would not get them any closer to the truth, then again, neither would lying on a slab down in the morgue. This thing could very well get them killed.
He surveyed the crowd as the police prepared to disburse tear-gas into the room. He figured they'd have five minutes tops before the police found out they'd never even been in the room. If they were lucky, the police would figure they were long gone. He knew better than to rely on his luck. Especially where Sam Ranier was concerned.
‘Five minutes,' he thought to himself as he prepared to slip away.
Kenny drew a deep breath as he saw the nest in front of him. Snakes. As he tried to move around them without disturbing them, he felt a sharp pain in his leg. As he turned he saw the last thing he expected to see, a water mocassin. It bit him three more times before he was able to move on.
As he tried to pull himself along, Kenny felt the power wash through him.
‘It is time.'
‘How can it be time.' Kenny asked.
‘You have avoided this too long. I told you then, you were my chosen. Now is the time. You must come with me.'
‘I'm kind of busy right now,' Kenny thought to the spirit.
‘Kind of? They will not find you here, and we have work to do.'
Justin gasped as he felt a cold chill wash through him.
"Easy," Rosco urged. "You got bit while you were down there."
"Mind Bender," Justin told him. The terror was gone, replaced by a clarity he couldn't explain. "Seven others. They took Fen. We have to stop them."
"We've got people on it," Rosco assured him. "Right now we need to know everything that happened."
"They had him when we got here. They were waiting."
"So you think the van was a trap?" Sable asked gently.
Justin turned, surprised to see the man outside the base. "No sir," he answered. He wasn't sure how, but he knew. Just as he knew that Sable would turn his back on Fen. There was nothing he could do for him. If Fen returned, he would be of the Briar. It was that simple in Sable's mind. But Justin knew better.
"Son," Sable stated quietly almost as if he'd read the boys mind. "You know what the Mind Bender can do, there's nothing we can do for him."
Justin shook his head. "We have to find my brother," he told Sable. Again, he knew it wasn't Fen he was looking for. The voice had told him, Serpent told him. "Find the people who brought the van," he added. "They can help us."
Sable shook his head. "We need to regroup. Once Mind Bender finishes, Briar will know where we are. We'll have to move, he's gotten too strong."
‘He will not see beyond his own fight. Your brother will show him the way, but you must find him.' The thought came unexpectedly
"I should tell my mother," he stated. He had to find the others, Serpent had told him. Briar wanted him and would use his brother to get him. Sable wouldn't help, he was too blind to see. Fen was not the end, but a means to the end.
Sable went to stop him, explain to him, but Rosco stopped him. "He has his own path to follow," he told Sable cryptically. "We have ours. We must survive until the time is right."
Sable nodded. It was getting harder and harder for him to fight the call of Briar, but he had to. The world was not ready for two such beings. "You're right," he acknowledged. "Good luck son," he told Justin.
Justin watched as Sable's men pulled out of the area, and he was once again standing alone.
‘In the end we are all alone.'
Rabbit sighed as he crawled along the rafters. His progress had been slowed by the design. The ceiling areas had been sealed up every other room. When he reached the first wall, he was forced to pry apart the particle board so he could move on. He was not the least bit happy with any of this. As he moved to the second and last wall he heard the roar of the bullhorn.
He moved as quickly as he dared. This was the five minute warning. He inched along the wall until he found the joint between two panels. As he began the process of prying them apart he could feel something looking for him. Rabbit shook. ‘Not here, not here,' he all but chanted. ‘Not here, not now...'
He held his breath as it passed through the ceiling and moved on. He could feel its passing but had no way of knowing if it had seen him or not. As the feeling dissipated, he resumed prying the boards apart and moved on.
Something told him that he couldn't stay there, that what ever it was it was looking for him. He also knew, it was not of the police. The boards finally gave way and he was in the housekeeping storage room.
He felt himself drifting in and out of consciousness. The past and present seemed to merge as he thought about his life.
Do you know where you are?
Kenny nodded. The memories that had haunted him, now brought him new strength. He had been terrified. All hope had been beaten out of him. The man had thrown him to the ground and told him to stay. He had been too afraid to move. He had been buried alive yet some how, Serpent had found him, guided the old man to him.
He had brought them together, but Kenny had been too young. The experience had proven too much and it had been buried, just as he had been.
You were too young, but your need was too great to ignore.
‘You saved me,' Kenny told the guide.
Now you must take the next step. I have given you strength, in return for your service. Are you willing to serve me now?
Kenny knew he should have been scared, but on another level he understood. ‘Grandfather' had shown him the path, Serpent had been his guide. But it hadn't been his choice. Now was the time for him to choose, just as the old man hand told him then, and Serpent was telling him now.
‘You have always been there for me,' Kenny acknowledged. ‘But my brothers, my family...'
It has never been my intention to take you away from them. Your work with them is important. I do not wish to control your life. I only need your service and allegiance. In serving me, you will serve them as well. Our enemy is strong and growing stronger. He will take those you care for, and he will soon have your brother.
‘Which one?' Kenny asked worriedly. ‘Which brother is in danger?'
Child, you are not listening. Which doesn't matter. You have been called upon, to serve as my spokesman. You must learn my wisdom and my path. Your brother is my sword, you are my voice. He will defend those you seek to protect, but it is you who must bring my healing to them. You must join forces with him, but before you do, you must be whole.
Kenny forced himself to breathe. Serpents words made no sense, but then Minh's words came back to him. "Serpent is wise, yet misleading. Don't let what you think you know interfere with the truth."
‘Show me what I need to know,' he asked softly.
You are wise to listen to that one. She understands the path.
The voice echoed in his mind as the power surged through him. Suddenly the broken pieces of his life fell into place. It had taken him far from his birth, put him where he needed to be. Made him who he was, but now the past had to fit in to his life as well. He was a child of the Serpent, chosen at a very early age. Serpent had been with him through out the nightmares, protecting him as best as he could. He had been forced to bring Kenny into the power when he was far too young, and that had damaged the plan as well, but Serpent is nothing if not resourceful.
He pulled himself through the nightmare and to the other side. Much has Rabbit had led his mind through the nightmare, now it was up to him to bring his spirit through, so that Serpent could heal it. Make him a vessel capable of handling the power to be bestowed. He had an inkling of the danger their enemy possessed, and knew that all their lives depended on him accepting Serpent's gift.
He forced himself to go on, the pain was almost unbearable, but the knowledge on the other side waited for him, called to him. He focused on his brothers' needs. It was not desire, or power that finally helped him through, but his love and the honor of his adopted family that gave him the strength he needed. Suddenly the pieces fell into place with blinding clarity. The power surged through him.
Welcome home my son
The voice resounded around him and through him. Kenny wept for joy.
Fen groaned as the power surged through him. He was losing the battle, losing his mind. All that seemed to exist was that night so long ago. The night when everything changed. He tried to escape, but the power kept dragging him back down. Hope was fading.
‘Yes,' he heard the voice tell him. ‘It is your fate. A fate that was sealed that day.'
‘It's a lie,' he thought back. He tried to remember the things he'd done since then, but everything else slipped out of his grasp. All that existed was his failure. He had survived only because of his brother's sacrifice.
‘Give yourself to me,' the voice urged. ‘I will free you from the shame. Together we will make a new history.'
Fen struggled against the pressure that threatened to destroy him, but it was only getting stronger. He had lost everything but the hope that he could protect Justin from sharing his fate, or his brother's.
‘You are too late,' Mind Bender's thoughts cut through him like a knife. Then he twisted it tighter. "You cannot resist. It is your path. There is no other choice for you to make. Serve, and be whole, or die, broken, either way, you will serve us."
Pain and emptiness filled him up until nothing else existed. All illusions of self and hope vanished finally leaving nothing but a broken shell.
"Please," he pleaded. "Please make me worthy."
"Welcome to the Briar." Mind Bender told him.
The voice echoed within his mind and without. Geffen no more, the man wept.
"I will show you a new way," Mind Bender promised. "Together we will take over the world, and none shall dare stand in our way."
Sable sat bolt upright in his seat as he felt the power shift. There was no mistaking the loss he felt as the spirit of his friend had died. "Fen," he gasped as he bowed his head.
Rosco and the others turned worriedly. Sable had grown weaker even as Briar had grown stronger. The loss of Fen effected him deeply.
"One is lost to us, yet another is found," Sable whispered. "Balance is shifting, yet maintained for now. Only for now."
"Sir?" Rosco countered, not understanding what had been said or its importance.
"Nothing," Sable told him. "It doesn't matter any more. The fight is no longer ours, and yet we must continue. Tell the others we are moving. Tell them that Fen is lost and not to be trusted."
Rosco nodded. He didn't understand Sable, but that was not his place. Sable had saved him from the Briar, and for that he owed the man everything. And yet he had never asked anything more from him than the others. He bowed his head.
Rosco wondered if there was any hope left for any of them.
"There is always hope," Sable whispered. "When hope dies, only then is all truly lost"
Everyone paused to take what comfort they could from Sable's words. But there was none. All that was left was determination. Hope was fading, and that was the true danger they faced.