Geoff let out a relieved sigh as he watched the other trucks pull back into the old base. The decoy team had been out for less time than they’d figured, but from what he could gather by the lack of information, everything else had gone according to plan. The rest of the family was safe at the new base. That left the skeleton crew, most of whom would be on watch below to worry about.
Ten siblings below ground, five above, Eclipse and Bear. He mentally reviewed the roster. Rico and Tommy were still upstairs with Davy, Gina and Joey, the rest were relatively safe. They’d minimized the risks, but he still wished he could have convinced Joey to go with the others. He knew he didn’t have to worry about Eclipse, the man had more lives than a cat. And Bear, Bear was more than capable when it came to taking care of himself, and the others for that matter.
He looked over at Bear who smiled at him groggily. "How you feeling,"he asked.
"I’ve felt better,"Bear admitted. "I just need some more rest and I’ll be fine."
Geoff nodded. "I’m going to check in with Davy,"he told Bear. "Then I’m going to go home and grab a shower. If you want I can take you there, or I can leave you here in one of the dorms.
"I think I’ll stick around,"Bear told him. "Figure Joey and Gina could use another medic on call."
"After you rest,"Geoff urged.
"After I rest,"Bear agreed.
Geoff started to get out of the truck then paused. "Need help?"he asked when he noticed that Bear hadn’t moved.
Bear shook his head. "Just figured I’d stay her a little while,"he answered. "Not quite ready to hit the dorms and not see Duck or Tracker, or Boomer and the boys."
Geoff looked at him and then nodded. "I’m sure they’re alright,"he offered.
"I know,"Bear answered. "But I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we establish some kind of communications with them."
"I know what you mean,"Geoff answered. "I know what you mean."
"Hopefully, they’re all together,"Bear told him. He liked that idea better than Duck and Tracker facing the enemy alone.
Geoff nodded. There wasn’t much else to say. "I’ll see you later on tonight."
"Just be careful,"Bear warned him.
It was late in the afternoon when Bear finally woke and felt human enough to get out of bed. He knew it would be a while before he was up to full strength, but he figured a shower and a quick bite would prove enough to let him help out at the clinic.
Besides, it would give him something to do, something other than think about Duck and worry about the current situation. For the first time in a very long time, the weirdness seemed to be leaving him alone. Amused by the though, he headed for the shower. ‘Maybe my luck is changing,"he thought to himself as he walked down the empty corridors.
He noticed the halls echoed as he walked to the shower. It was hard to believe this was the same, bustling hive he’d left just a few days earlier. Again, the emptiness only seemed to make him think of the missing members of his extended family. His thoughts strayed to them, especially Duck.
‘You better be taking care of yourself,’ he thought to her. He knew she couldn’t hear him, but it was more of a prayer than anything else.
He’d witnessed the enemy’s power firsthand now, and knowing that there was nothing he could do for her frustrated him to no end. He was a warrior and he was helpless as his family and his lady were forced to fight a defensive battle.
Again he found himself trying to envision Duck, but instead of images of helplessness, he saw her as he knew she’d be: fighting, laughing. That was his Duck.
By the time he’d finished his shower Bear was feeling like his old self.
"Kenny, I need to talk to you,"Finagle stated as he paced around the break room of the warehouse.
They’d arrived two hours earlier and it had taken them all that time to get situated. Duck and Tracker had just left, saying they had some errands to run. It was hard for him to believe those two were the deckers in the group. He’d seen them in action and from what he’d seen they were as more than equipped to deal with the situation at hand. Their combat skills seemed to rival those of the Wilson brothers.
They’d divided into teams, each dealing with certain areas of the building’s defense. Duck and Tracker had handled the communications and technical aspects, leaving the magical and physical protection to the others. Boomer, Rabbit and Mercury had busied themselves seeing to the building’s security and establishing the patrols.
Kenny and Whisper and he had been discussing the magical aspects of their security, but hadn’t really established anything. He realized that Kenny was still having problems concentrating and realized it was well past time for them to talk about his past.
As he waited he saw Kenny and Whisper exchange some sort of information as they passed in the main storage area. Then Kenny joined him in the break room.
"You called?"he asked as he entered and poured himself a cup of coffee.
Finagle nodded. "I don’t know how to say this delicately,"he told him.
"You’ve been through quite a lot,"Finagle stated. "But have you given any thought to your past?"
Kenny looked at him and nodded. "A lot,"he answered. "But it’ll have to wait until we get the situation under control."
Finagle snorted. "You’re far from having it under control,"he commented. "Its controlling you."
Kenny thought about what the man had said and nodded. "I know,"he answered worriedly. "Three days ago, I didn’t know I had a life before my grandfather, before the Wilsons. That I had any other family. Now..."
Finagle nodded encouragingly as Kenny hesitated, his previous words came back to him. "Do what you can when you can?"he asked.
Kenny nodded. "For now, that will have to do."
Mercury watched Kenny as he tried to settle into a trance. He didn’t like the idea of somebody ‘working’ on him. Especially not after the incident with the doc, but he understood. If the doc was willing to leave the seeds to Briar’s control on some one he was trying to kill, such as Boomer, anything was possible.
He took a deep breath as he felt Kenny reaching out for him and surrounding him with his power. It was similar to the power he’d felt from the doc, but there were two very big differences. First, he could feel the healing intentions. Secondly it did not force its way through him. It eased around him, tentatively, then was gone.
He watched as Kenny looked up at him and nodded. "You’re clear,"Kenny assured him. "Thanks."
Mercury nodded. "Thank you."
Kenny looked at him for a minute and nodded, but Mercury could feel something behind the smile: uncertainty.
"What?"he asked bluntly.
Kenny shook his head, realizing for the first time that he had drifted off. "Sorry. Still trying to get a handle on things I guess."
Mercury nodded. Kenny had been through a lot. He knew that just from having talked to Fen. Fen himself would only talk about what had happened with a half a bottle of J.D. under his belt. Mercury felt guilty for holding back information on Kenny, but he wasn’t sure if he or Justin were ready. He realized his best bet would be talking to Finagle and go from there.
Duck looked at herself in the mirror as she prepared for the evening. She’d already scouted out the Chessman’s Club. Instead of opting for blending in, she had opted to look as normal as she could, and still be completely able to do her thing. That meant the combat deck and her travel kit.
She moved aside her hair as she plugged in the extension cable she had pulled from the kit and began the arduous task of taping it down her neck and then across her shoulder and down her arm. The tape was a putty like adhesive that would allow her to hide the cable as it trailed all the way to her palm. Unless she was inspected closely, nobody would ever notice.
When she was finished with the taping, she made sure her hair covered the tell tale Datajack and memory chips. The dead giveaways to her trade.
Her scouting mission had also revealed that the ‘usual’ crowd was on the young-side and heavy into leather. Duck pulled out her old leather jacket and smiled. The one bit of conformity she would allow. The jacket gave her just the right look that indicated that she was either a complete newbie, and way too old to be there, or somebody who knew a lot more than they wanted to let on, in which case, way too good to be there.
"Tracker,"she called using the sub vocals on her comm-line.
"Copy,"came the answer.
"I’ll upload whatever I get,"she stated. "Just in case."
"And you say I’m a pessimist?"
Duck shrugged into the mirror, knowing that he would see the gesture in the visual feed. "So, how do I look?"
"Like the Duck,"Tracker answered stoically.
Duck smiled at the mirror for Tracker’s benefit, then headed towards the door.
"And where do you think you’re going missy?"Rabbit demanded as he blocked her way to the door.
"Hmmm,"Duck answered as she looked him in the eyes. "I think the plan was for me to go play with some of the local deckers and see what I can find out about the last three people to die in security systems Tracker and I designed, by Black IC that we never allowed into the system."
"I know that,"Rabbit stated.
"And you think I’m going to let you go out there alone?"
"I’m not alone,"she objected. "Tracker’s on the comm. Boomer’s in the van. Bases covered."
"Except for your escort."
"Didn’t Tracker tell you?"he asked with a grin. "You drew the short straw."
Duck shook her head as he offered her his arm. "One of these days, I will figure out how to say no to you Rabbit."
Rabbit’s answer was to wiggle his eyebrows at her and walk out the door.
Duck made sure they arrived early, before the half price connect time. She slipped into one of the booths in the middle of the side wall. Despite her complaining, she was glad to have Rabbit on her side. She knew that he would never let anything happen to her.
As she put her hand over the matrix connection, she pugged in the extension chord she’d taped there. Quietly, she took controls of the local systems she’d need to make her point. Ten minutes later she was ready when two of the locals decided to check her out.
"Whatcha doin’ here,"the first one growled.
"Looking for someone,"Duck answered sweetly.
Rabbit merely glowered at them as they decided to make a scene. Duck was obviously some middle-aged decker-wannabee as far as they were concerned, and it showed in their behavior.
"Why don’t you look elsewhere?"the second one stated as he looked around the room, then back at Duck. "We don’t like your kind."
"And what would my kind be?"Duck asked sweetly as she allowed a slight edge to creep into her voice.
Rabbit forced himself to keep a straight face as the two local toughs tried to give Duck the ‘you’re too old to be anything in our world’ routine. Duck was easily twice their age as near as he could tell, but those years had been spent in the thick of things, pushing the technology, not riding on its trail. She, Tracker and Rico were still some of the hottest people in the biz as far as he was concerned.
Duck just smiled at them as she raised her right hand. Rabbit chuckled as he realized she was wearing the control glove to go with the combat deck.
"You know,"she stated with a wistful smile. "If I had decks like your alpha, and that sweet little Fuchi, I wouldn’t leave them plugged in at a table like that."
One of them looked at them before smirking back at her. "They’re both Fuchi’s"he informed her with a look of disgust.
"No,"Duck countered with a smile. "They’re both fuchi cases, but the one on the left, is an alpha in a Fuchi case. They never did quite fit right in Fuchi’s cases, but that’s because Fuchi never bought into the whole, modular one size fits all theory of design."she told him coolly.
As she talked Rabbit noticed that the second decker was smirking at the first. The man was not ready for Duck’s next comment.
"Course, if you ask me, the alpha is actually a better board,"she added with a smile. "The architecture isn’t just a re-hash of everything that Fuchi developed, but a fully integrated system. The big problem is, nobody really does it justice. You have to go in and hand tool it to take advantage of the design, but if you do, believe me, there’s no contest."
Duck looked up at them and smiled sweetly. "Of course, that’s just my opinion."
"Look, we don’t want you here,"the second decker informed her. "You don’t belong, so just go away."
"How do you know I don’t belong?"she asked innocently. "How do you ever meet new and interesting people if you chase everyone away."
"Its none of your business," he told her as he assumed an ‘I know more than you do’ pose. "So just leave before something happens."
"I’m fine,"Duck assured him, again the edge crept into her voice. "Its just a little hard for me to take the advice of someone who leaves his deck running unattended. I mean, old building like this... power could go out just like that,"she told him as she snapped her fingers.
As her thumb touched her ring finger for the snap, the power did indeed go out. She smiled as she continued.
"Or come right back on like that."
Again she snapped her fingers, this time the thumb and the middle finger touching. She held her thumb an inch away from her index finger as she played her trump card.
"And you’re about this far from a power surge that will take out those two beautiful decks,"she growled.
The first decker nodded in acceptance, but the second stared at her in disbelief.
"How, how did you do that?"
Duck smiled as she shifted her left hand away to reveal the plug she had hooked into the matrix connection.
"All it takes is the right connections and a little bit of time in the power grid,"she answered. She was still smiling at them as the first man put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
"Come-on Ferris,"the first decker stated as he pulled the other away. "Just leave the lady alone."
"Thanks,"Duck stated as she looked around the room again, looking for signs of the people she had met in the matrix. She mentally reviewed Halifax’s notes and realized that the two she’d talked to were the Knight and the Rook.
"Who are you looking for anyway?"the first decker asked her.
"Man calls himself ‘The Duck’,"she answered.
He stopped and looked at her. His expression going from one of nodding approval to disgust. "What’s your business with him?"
"Its personal,"Duck countered, reflecting the same sort of disgust right back at him. Then she softened her expression. "You too?"she asked.
"A friend of mine, Jazzy,"he told her evenly. "You?"
"Two consultants,"Duck answered as she watched his expression. She could tell from his face that his opinion of her had shifted again. ‘Good,’ she thought to herself. ‘Keep him guessing.’
Rabbit watched the exchange and smiled at them as Duck signaled them to take a seat. As the settled in, the first man introduced himself as Dancer. Ferris and Dancer, were, according to Halifax, the leaders of the chessman’s club.
"You investigating?"Dancer asked as he tried to get a fix on Duck.
‘Good Luck hon,’ Duck thought to herself as she nodded. ‘People have been trying for years to figure me out. So far, they haven’t succeeded.’
Duck waited as they weighed their options then looked at her. "What are you looking for?"
"The consultants were running Duckware firms. Its the only thing we’ve been able to identify that they had in common so far. If you have your friend’s deck, or copies of the firms he was using, I need to see them."
"I have copies,"Dancer admitted after a pause. "Backups,"he added defensively.
Duck smiled. His pirating the ware, may have given her the lead she needed. "Can I see them?"she asked.
Again, he hesitated, then went to his pack and pulled out two firms. "Labrador and Ferret,"he announced as he handed them to her. Duck looked at the boards for a minute then pulled out a reader and hooked it into the plug in her glove.
As she activated the system to read all the information, Duck looked at them again. "His deck?"
"Pretty fragged,"Ferris answered. "If you want I’ll go get it."
Duck nodded. "I’d appreciate it, this is going to take a while."
As Duck analyzed the firms’ content, Rabbit busied himself disassembling the remains of the deck Ferris had presented. As he pulled the firms out, Duck let out a low whistle and shook her head in disbelief.
"Red?"he called softly. What is it?"
"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,"she stated as she looked at the others.
"No, excellent code. Wonderfully consistent, reliable if a little obfuscated, and completely evil," she explained
"Come again?"Dancer asked.
"Catch,"she stated as she passed him a splitter that hooked into her hitcher jack.
"Got something better,"Dancer countered as he pulled out a portable screen. "This way everybody can see."
Duck nodded appreciatively, then got down to business.
"See this routine here?"she asked as she scrolled to the code in question. "As soon as the routines are loaded into memory, they start polling this node here. User doesn’t even have to activate the code, its actually running as soon as its loaded, and will work perfectly as long as the node gives it the right response. As soon as it gets the wrong answer, it calls this routine."
"And that routine does...?"Rabbit prompted.
"It starts generating Black IC, that targets the process’ owner. Not only that, but it basically renders the system defenseless against it."
"So you’re saying that it wasn’t faulty code that killed Jazzy,"Dancer asked.
"Exactly. This code Murdered your friend."Duck stated angrily. "Its actions are completely intentional."
"I’m going to find that Bastard Duck and I’m going to kill him!" Ferris swore.
"No you aren’t,"Duck stated calmly. "What you’re going to do, is release this code, tell everybody you know, to tell everybody they know, that if they didn’t burn their chips themselves with their own two little hands, from code they wrote, that they are to unload them, reverse assemble them and search for this code or code like it."
"What about the Duck?"Dancer asked. "We can’t let him get away with this."
"It wasn’t Duck,"Duck countered. "See this emblem here on the board?"she asked as she showed them the chips Rabbit had pulled from Jazzy’s deck. "Its a black rose. If it were Duckware, there’d be a duck cast into the board, not burned. But it could be sold as anybody’s ware. You duped this chip. It could have just as easily gotten you."
"How do you know about the emblems and all?"Dancer asked as he scrutinize Duck.
"I think you know that answer,"Duck stated with a nod.
"No."Ferris growled. "No way we’re letting some housewife wannabe from the sticks stop us on this. We’re going Duck hunting. Anytime he shows up on the matrix, we’ll hunt him down. Boot him, hit him with his own IC."
"And how do you know Jazzy bought the trick chip from the Duck?"
"Jazzy told me all about it. How he helped Jazzy pick the right deck for the job and everything,"Ferris screamed. "And I thought it was so cool that a guy with Duck’s reputation would help out a kid like that. I should have known, should have warned him."
"If you learn anything from this Ferris,"Duck answered softly. "It should be this: take nothing at face value, question everything and you might make it through the day."
"What are you saying?"
"I’m saying that Jazzy was duped. That this knight in shining armor sold him a time bomb, but it was Jazzy’s decision to use it."
"Oh thank you miss, all knowing,"Ferris sputtered. "I don’t see you losing any sleep over this, he wasn’t your friend!"
"Ferris,"Duck stated softly. "I’m here because of this. And if you think, that I’m going to let some butcher murder promising talent and use my rep to do it, you’ve got another thing comin’ junior!"
Duck nodded as Ferris’ jaw dropped. "You’re."
"Yep,"Duck answered with a grin. "I am the Genuine chrome plated, ROM writing, howling mad, code slinging, IC breaking decker from the hills."
Duck grinned her ‘go ahead and mess with me smile,’ while she let it sink in, then nodded as she looked at them.
Ferris shook his head then looked at her again. "Man!"
"And believe you me,"Duck assured him. "The imposter will be made to pay, but our first concern is making sure he doesn’t get anybody else. Y’all know the local boards, and folks, I’ll put the word out through my channels. Between us I figure we can cover most of our bases."
"What about the folks we miss,"Dancer asked quietly. Duck could see the tension and worry in his eyes.
"I’ll be working on that. If we can intercept the packet from the sender node, then we can keep it from activating, but we still have no idea what triggers the initiation sequence, and there may be more than one node reporting. That damage control should keep me busy for a while. I’ll get you some sniffer routines and see if we can isolate the sites and triggers."
Ferris nodded then smiled. "You know, you ain’t too bad."
"For a middle aged housewife wannabe."Dancer added with a wink.
Duck nodded. "Now, please, warn everybody you can think of."
"We’re on it,"Dancer promised. "And thanks."
Duck nodded then met Ferris’ eyes. "You find anything, you let me know. Let me handle the imposter."
"What you’re trying to say is we’re out of his league,"Ferris stated evenly. There was no shame in his voice.
"Nah,"she answered with a wink."I’m saying he’s been a bad little boy and ‘mom’ needs to turn him over her knee."
Her comment got the desired response from Dancer and Ferris. As they let out a ‘whoop’ she got up and headed out the door.
"Seriously though, he’s killing people on my rep, the killing part is bad enough, but when he uses my name to do it, I have to be the one to take him down. Lets just say its a matter of honor. You all be careful,"she urged.
"See ya, mom,"Ferris called to her.
"Give ‘em hell!"Dancer added.
Duck smiled as she headed out with Rabbit, finally they were getting somewhere on at least one front..
Bear smiled as he got off the elevator and headed for the break room. He chuckled to himself when he realized that he was actually looking forward to a cup of what could only be described as the world’s worst coffee.
"What are you so happy about?"Gina asked as he walked in.
"I found myself looking forward to a cup of coffee,"he answered as he pulled out the pot and tilted it dubiously. There wasn’t enough for a cup.
"You were actually looking forward to this stuff?"she asked in disbelief. "Here, take mine, you must really need it."
Bear grinned as he took the preferred cup. "Gina, you are a life saver,"he stated with a bow.
She rewarded him with a grin. "Geoff said you wanted to help out,"she commented.
"What’s up?"Bear asked as he recognized the questioning tone in her voice.
"I was wondering if you could take my shift tonight,"she told him. "I’d really like to get Davy away from the office for an hour or so."
"Make it a couple of hours and you’ve got a deal,"Bear countered. "You both could use a break."
Gina smiled at him as she threw her arms around his neck and gave him a hug. Bear managed to set the coffee cup down with minimal spillage before returning the hug. "Easy there,"he urged. "I’m an old man."
"Since when?"Gina asked.
"Last night,"Bear answered.
Gina looked at him worriedly. "What happened?"
"Nothing,"he answered as he kicked himself mentally. "You be careful tonight, you hear me."
"Me?"Bear asked innocently. "I’m staying in, what trouble can I get into?"