Whisper took a deep breath as the men closed in on the storage area. There was nothing he could do to warn the others without giving away his position. With a sigh, he dropped the cover, opting for a magical barrier that would actually stop bullets. Once the shooting started, he knew there would be no need to warn the others.
As the men moved closer he could see the zombies that filled the ranks. He counted seven of them, backed up by at least another three in their midst. Something told him that this wasn't all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He felt the spell as it hit his first barrier, then all hell broke loose.
He felt the pressure as some thing passed across his barrier, then tried to attack him directly. "Come on Duck, Tracker," he thought to himself. "I can't handle this all on my own."
His magic was probably enough to keep the zombies and shooters at bay, but the mages were trying to take that advantage away from him. He had to concentrate on one or the other but not both. He held his breath and prayed for help. Duck appeared, like an answer to his prayers, barreling through the door, guns drawn.
He felt rather then saw her push her way through the door. He instinctively stretched his barrier to protect her and then to cover the door. He knew full well that Tracker would be right behind her. Two seconds later, Tracker came through the opening as the attackers opened fire on him.
Whisper felt his pulse rate double as the bullets closed in on his friends. It was going to be close. He could feel the bullets as they hit the barrier. It held.
Tracker flinched as the bullets hit the shield and bounced away. His relief was all but audible as he let out his breath, and moved away from the door.
"Roll call," Duck growled.
"Ten on the ground. At least one mage," Whisper informed them. "Probably more, but that's all I've had a chance to ID."
As he spoke another barrage of bullets bounced off his shield. "I'm not going to be able to hold this much longer," he warned them.
Duck and Tracker took the que and dove for cover as the barrier dissolved in another blast.
"Mage is yours," Duck stated as she found cover behind a car parked nearby.
"We got the rest," Tracker agreed as he came up behind another vehicle. "Duck?" he called over the comm-link.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Maybe," she answered as she popped up and fired three shots. "How'd they find us?" she asked. "How do they always find us?"
"Exactly," he answered as he fired one over the trunk of the car, then another from the back end. "They arrived after we did," he commented.
"Could be they followed us," she stated as she fired over the hood and then rolled to the other end of the car. As she sat with her back against the car, she caught the movement from above. She only had a moment to see it before the barrel of a rifle settled in line with Tracker's head. "Sniper, six-thirty."
Tracker flattened himself as the sniper's bullet hit the car inches from his head. Duck fired three shots, but the sniper was hanging back.
"Or they could have been waiting for us," Tracker commented, as he glowered at the roof for a minute, then turned back to the advancing zombies.
"They do seem," Duck started then fired another shot towards the roof. "To be one step ahead of us," she finished as the sniper's rifle clattered to the ground.
"Yeah," Tracker answered as he fired on the advancing zombies. Two of them staggered back, but they still kept moving forward.
"Roll call?" Duck asked.
"You've got Seven on the ground. I can't get a fix on the sniper," Whisper answered. "Looks like two mages trying to confuse me.
"You clear?" Duck countered.
"Need Saran Wrap," Whisper answered.
Duck scanned the area as Tracker moved to the edge of the car. "I got him," Tracker assured her.
"Then I've got you," Duck answered as she again fired three shots into the approaching ranks. "Watch for a side run," she added as she noticed that they main force seemed to be coming up from an angle.
Rabbit tensed as he heard the sound of gunfire ahead. "That's inside the depot," he told his companion as he flicked on his radio.
The man behind the wheel looked at him and nodded. "You will keep your head down, and allow us to do our work," he told Rabbit.
"Your job was to get me here safely," Rabbit countered. "Not to fight my battles."
"It is our battle too," the man stated calmly as he pulled to the side of the road to continue the discussion. "And right now, we are better equipped to deal with it."
"So you think," Rabbit countered softly as he felt the tension grow between them.
The driver just looked at him for a moment and shook his head. "I do not doubt that you can take care of yourself Wilson-san. But I do not see the wisdom in placing yourself at risk."
"And I cannot see the honor in allowing others to fight in my place," Rabbit countered with a formal bow. "Or the wisdom in expecting others to live by your Bushido."
The driver looked at him intently for a moment. A slight smile played across the ninja's face. "Very well," he said and pulled back onto the road. "But please do not dishonor us by dying while under our protection."
"I'll try not to," Rabbit answered as he tried to suppress a smile and failed.
*** *** ***
Mercury looked at the door and then back at the truck. Part of him wanted to protect the two deckers, but another part realized that they knew what they were doing and were more than capable of taking care of themselves. That ‘injured teammate' routine was too well practiced to be anything other than the trick of a team that's used to trouble. As he dropped from the rafters, he heard Boomer start the truck.
He could pick up their radio chatter and realized, they were running on a military comm-link, with full crypto engaged. That made him feel better. They had the training and the will. Still, he listened to them in case they needed help.
Their conversation as an odd combination of analysis and code, punctuated with gun fire. He stiffened when he heard the woman, Duck identify the sniper. Something told him he should be there, taking out enemy snipers was his job. As he headed towards the door, Boomer called to him.
"Let them handle it," Boomer called. "We'll be in the thick of it soon enough."
Mercury nodded, still listening to their commentary. As he neared the truck, he heard the call for ‘Saran Wrap,' and stopped. He knew it was code, and then he realized the meaning. He shook his head as he joined Boomer and the others in the truck. ‘Odd codes and bad jokes,' he thought to himself. ‘They must be real fun at parties.'
"Everybody, lock down," Boomer growled as he put the vehicle in gear. As Mercury strapped himself in he began checking out the equipment. The outside of the machine had given no indication of the power hidden inside.
It was no wonder Boomer had figured they'd be coming for the truck. In light of the problems they've been having, the truck almost evened the odds. He could sense the magical barrier that seemed built into the metal, and the weapons systems were elegant. He had no doubt that the truck could almost take care of itself.
"Very impressive," he stated as the vehicle began to move.
Whisper stiffened as the veil between physical and astral wavered. He could feel the power of the one who waited for him.
"Shame you wouldn't join us like your wife did," the man taunted.
Whisper forced himself to control his reaction. ‘The man is trying to goad you into making a mistake,' he told himself. ‘Stay calm, stay cool.'
His opponent merely watched and smiled as Whisper fought to maintain control. "It's a losing battle," the man assured him. "But you haven't seen the outcome have you?"
Whisper stretched out his senses as the man tried to keep his attention. Then he saw the real threat. The second mage was getting ready to deal with Tracker and Duck as the first mage kept him busy.
"Do you even realize what you're doing?" Whisper asked as he prepared a spell that would stop the second mage.
"How do you know that I'm the decoy," the man asked him as he prepared to deal with the other mage. "He could very well be catching your attention, so that I can deal with you? We're not quite done playing with those two. You on the other hand have become more of a liability to us."
"Seeing you may upset our plans for your nearly departed wife," the second mage added.
Whisper seethed at the their taunting. Since they were both a part of the threat, he readied a spell that would effect all three of them. It was the only thing he could think of. He was so occupied with his spell and keeping the others in sight, he completely missed the third mage on the scene.
She slipped in silently. She had been so much a part of his life, that he completely missed her signature. He had no way of defending himself against her.
"One down." the first man stated with a smile as he forced his will through the woman and into her husband. The man who had called himself Whisper fell without a sound.
"Boomer's found the keys," Duck commented as she fired three shots to keep their attacker's from advancing, but it was having less and less effect. The zombies had no concern, no thought other then the order to advance and deal with whatever they ran into.
"Bout time," Tracker growled as he fired off a shot at one of the zombies that was attacking from the side. "Duck, we got more."
Duck turned, the tone in Tracker's voice did not sound good.
"There's a batch of them coming in from the south," Tracker told her. "There's more traffic coming in here too. There's no way of knowing what they're up to."
Duck took a deep breath and shook her head. "What kind of vehicles."
A car, two bikes and the ever popular nondescript white van," Tracker growled. "Looks like they're together."
Duck let her breath out slowly. "They could just be coming to check out the facility," she stated hopefully.
"I don't think so," Tracker countered as the procession headed towards them. "What kind of idiot drives into a fire fight?"
"Folks like us," Duck suggested with a shrug.
"Would you trust folks like us?" Tracker asked.
Duck nodded. "Okay, how ‘bout we grab Whisper, throw him in the truck and book?"
"That may be the only real option," Tracker countered as he flicked the switch on his comm-unit. "Boomah," he called
"Tracker, are you kids done playing out there?" Boomer responded. Tracker could hear the engine rev up in the storage area.
"Well, you know how it is Boom," Tracker answered as he fired off a shot at another side runner. "I mean Duck and I haven't had a good shoot out in oh, what, 10 hours?"
"Twelve, but who's counting," Duck chimed in.
"Zat all?" Boomer's laugh filled the channel. "Hell, we haven't had a good one since night before last."
"You hear that Duck?" Tracker called. "Man wants a shoot out."
"Tell him we'll trade," Duck stated, then switched back to the secure line. "It ain't working. The zombies don't seem to care, and there are folks waiting for them to either wear us down or expose ourselves. We aren't going to last much longer at this rate."
"Great," Tracker and Boomer chimed in.
"Well then, I hope I'm not too late," came a fourth voice on the secure line.
"Rabbit?" Boomer called.
"One and the same," Rabbit called. "Hope you don't mind I brought some friends."
"Rabbit, tell me that caravan of mismatched rolling wrecks is you," Duck asked hopefully.
"Me ‘n the Sushi Dudes," Rabbit stated. "You order take out?"
"Sushi Ninja?" Tracker asked as he scanned the area.
"One and the same," Rabbit answered. "They'd like to know which fish to slice."
Tracker paused for a moment then shook his head. "There was a sniper on the roof, not sure ‘bout him. We also got at least two mages running a line down on us. That plus the zombies and their backup singers."
There was a brief silence on the other end. "I got the sniper," Rabbit informed him. "My friends will take out the backup if you will be so kind as to keep the undead busy.
"We'll try hon," Duck answered as she fired off another two shots. "But ammo's kinda limited."
Duck looked over to Tracker and nodded. On his signal, she stood up and began firing at the approaching zombies. She took three of them out before their backup made any attempt to get her. She squatted back down as three bullets ricocheted off of the car.
She could hear Tracker's gunfire take over when her's had ended. She checked her clip and prepared take her turn as a pop-up target.
"I said ‘keep them busy,' not try to get yourselves shot," Rabbit growled over the secure line. "Sniper is cleared," he added as an after thought.
"They're busy," Duck countered as she popped of three more shots before dropping back down behind the car. "Last clip," she announced.
"Me too," Tracker stated as he slipped his clip back into place. Duck flashed Tracker a worried look then turned as the Buffalo came crashing though the storage area's door.
"Sorry it took so long," Boomer called. "But Rabbit didn't tell us where we were supposed to be, so we had to take a vote..."
Duck was tempted to throw something at the Buffalo, but Boomer had placed her between them and their attackers. As Duck watched, some one activated the top guns and effectively cut down the zombies.
Duck watched as the remaining three attackers tried to run, only to be cut off by the Sushi Ninja. At first the men seemed ready to surrender, but then they tried to pull their guns. The thugs didn't stand a chance.
Duck and Tracker waited, knowing that things were far from over. While Duck covered him, Tracker went to check on Whisper who was in the beginning stages of coming around.
"Hey man," Tracker stated with a smile as Whisper focused in on him. "You okay?"
Whisper nodded. "Think so," he answered. "That hurt."
"Just take it easy," Tracker told him. "We'll have you out of here in no time."
Whisper nodded as his mind swum. "Did we get them?" he asked.
"Yeah, we got ‘em," Tracker assured him. "Just take it easy."
As Whisper followed his suggestion, Tracker worriedly signaled Duck. The mage was worse off than the let on.
Duck looked at him and nodded. This was indeed too much like old times.
Duck scanned the area as Rabbit and the Ninja joined them. "No sign of trouble," she told them.
"There rarely is," the leader of the Ninja stated evenly. "I am honored to have helped ones such as yourselves."
"Ones such as ourselves?" Tracker asked warily as he helped Whisper over to the truck.
"The Rabbi has told us of your trouble," he answered. "We seem to have a common problem."
Tracker smiled and shook his head. "It is hard thinking of you as having a problem that would last very long."
"For the most part the leave us alone" the Ninja master admitted. "But they have become emboldened as of late."
Tracker nodded. "I've noticed."
The man turned and looked at him for a moment. "I'm sure you have," he countered. "Still, if there is any way my men or I can be of assistance."
Tracker thought about the offer for a minute and then smiled. "I think we may have just such a need," he stated as he looked at Duck.
Duck and Tracker exchanged glances and smiled.
"Sushi Ninja delivers," she quipped with a smile.
Tracker's smile lit up as he looked at the man and bowed. "Thank you sir," he stated. "And there is a something you can help us with. Our problem grows and there is no communications between others ‘like us.'
The man looked at him and nodded. "So you seek to have us deliver your messages, yes? Very well, come to our shop tomorrow and we will work out the details."
Tracker nodded as the man bowed towards them and made his exit.
"We should probably see about getting out of here," Boomer urged as the Ninja pulled away. "There was enough fire power that the Lone Star's not going to be able to ignore it for too long."
Duck nodded as she looked around. "Lets load-up as much as we can," she urged as she signaled Tracker to take care of things outside while she and Boomer went through the storage area.
"There's more?" Boomer asked in disbelief as she led him back into the remains of their storage area.
Duck smiled and pointed towards a side door. "Next room is also ours. We expanded," she explained when she noticed his look of surprise.
Inside was a supply of weapons, decks, cloths, id's and a pair of motorcycles. Boomer stared in amazement.
"I do get a royalty check on some of my better gear," she reminded him with a smile.
Boomer looked at her and shook his head. "And I was worried about you," he managed to gasp.
Duck grinned at him. "Come on Boom, lets load this stuff up and get out."
Boomer shook his head as he started pulling down some of the guns and began placing them in one of the duffles. Duck laughed at his expression as he tried to keep the weapons from being damaged.
"Sorry," she stated as she began pulling out ammo boxes. "Get these to the van. I'll load up the bikes."
Boomer looked at her for a minute and shook his head again. "I was worried about you two," he stated in disbelief.
"Well, that's about it," Duck announced as she wheeled the second bike out of storage and looked around at the others. "Now what?"
"Safe house?" Tracker asked as he looked at her.
"That or the warehouse," Duck answered with a shrug.
Tracker frowned for a moment then nodded. "That's probably our best bet. At least if it isn't, there aren't too many civilians around."
"Sounds like a plan," Duck agreed as she straddled the bike.
Tracker nodded then turned towards the others. "We've got a place," he informed them as he headed for the truck.
Tracker paused at the door of the truck and looked over at Boomer. "Boom, you want the truck or the bike?"
"How ‘bout I take the bike," Boomer countered. "You know where you're going and if we have to separate I'd rather be on the bike trying to keep up with Duck, then trying to find y'all in the truck."
"Sounds like a plan," Tracker answered.
"I've got dibs on the shower," Duck stated as she started her bike. After three days in body armor, she needed it.
Tracker gave Whisper a worried look as he settled into the van and prepared to leave. Whisper barely seemed to notice.
Wulf tensed as Sable got a faraway look in his eyes. He had spent the last twelve hours hearing the truth behind Briar and its relationship with the old man, and it was still too hard to believe.
It was bad enough that one man had brought this creature, Briar, into their world, but that an entire corp had at one time backed the project. It in itself was unthinkable. Worse, that same corp thought they could put the cork back in the bottle and nobody would be the wiser.
People had died. Good people. Friends, family... Felix. He would not let it slip. He couldn't let them get away.
Sable focused in on him again and gave him a half hearted smile. "Your friend, the one called Mercury. He lives and is well."
Wulf paused, it was a relief, but he could tell there was more the old man wasn't telling him. As he watched the man seemed to grow smaller.
"Another is lost," he stated sadly. "And soon many more will fall. You must stop him lad. I grow weaker even as he grows stronger."
Wulf nodded. "We'll find him," he promised. "We'll find him."
"You must start with the one he calls MindBender. He is his recruiter. He will start on a new victim soon. Very soon."
Wulf listened and realized Sable was still somehow connected to Briar.
MindBender smiled to himself. One more piece had been put into place, and it had been so much easier than he'd believed possible. He regretted not being able to play with his patient, but the woman's touch was far simpler. She already had a way into his mind and soul. All he had to do was work his magic through her and the man was his.
He will serve us well when it comes to the decker-woman.
"When?" he asked eagerly.
MindBender smiled in anticipation. He had watched the tapes of her in action and knew that she would prove a worthy challenge. "How should we proceed?"
We shall start by shattering her world.
MindBender ‘s heart soared. Soon he would have a new plaything. A spirited woman who had proven stubborn and resourceful. He liked breaking the spirited ones.
He looked over at Fen and smiled in anticipation. His old plaything was no longer any fun to play with. "Duck," he whispered longingly.