Max gasped as he launched himself forward from the chair. At first he wasn’t sure what he had seen, but it was there, if only for the briefest of seconds. He rewound the tape as and queued it up for replay. As he started the tape up, his hand trembled.
He watched as the old cow circled the O.R. and talked to an Asian woman who was mirroring her actions. He was unable to make out what they were saying, but it didn’t matter that wasn’t the important part. What mattered was the room itself and what happened next.
It was O.R. seven: the place where the Wilsons had tried to murder a doctor. Max swore. If the man had only stayed dead, he’d have all the grounds he needed instead of trumping things up. At least he now had the leverage he needed to deal with ‘Gran TwoBears.
As the tape continued he watched the Asian woman’s features as they blurred for a fraction of a section. He shifted the tape to quarter speed and rewound. He was smiling as he hit pause.
There in front of him, was the answer to his prayers. He wondered how much the TwoBears woman would concede to keep the woman’s secret safe.
“Probably nothing,” a calm voice stated behind him.
Max wheeled around in his seat. There, leaning up against the back wall, he saw a man standing with a sort of casual slouch. His cloths were plain enough, but they seemed to radiate as he looked at Max and shook his head. There was something in his carriage that conveyed the feeling that he was totally unaffected by the fact that Max was now pointing a gun at him.
Max glowered at him. How the man had gotten past the guards and the security systems was beyond him. “This area is off limits,” he growled as he reached the alarm signal.
“Don’t bother,” the man stated with a nod. “I’m not really here,” he added, then assured him. “And we both know, you really don’t want me to be here officially.”
Something about the man’s smile mad Max’s blood chill. “Who are you?”
“You wouldn’t know the name,” the man told him with a slight wink. “And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Besides, there’s nothing on the tape.”
There was something threatening in the man’s words, but Max couldn’t place it. Then, the man started to fade from sight. “I would recommend that you clean up your act however and soon... very soon indeed, your time is almost over.”
“Who the hell are you?” Max demanded as the man faded.
“Hell is the wrong direction Mr. Hicks. My friends call me Azra. You’d be best off avoiding me for as long as you can...” his voice echoed thought the almost silent room. Max turned as he smelled smoke coming from the recording equipment. He knew, even before he checked it, that the images of the woman were gone.
“I’m watching you,” the man’s voice echoed in his mind. “You’ve been given a second chance, don’t throw it away.”
Minh tensed as she felt a familiar presence. “Azra?” she called in disbelief.
"Yes Dear Lady," he answered as he materialized in the operating room. As he did, he paused looking up at the observation room, then bowed towards Minh.
Minh smiled as she took in his image. Instead of his usual pressed suit, he wore a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt that fit in such a way that it made her wish he always wore such garments.
“Minh, I’m surprised at you: thinking such, improper thoughts, a woman of your stature,” he teased, his expression one of mock surprise. “What would Auri say?”
“Did he send you?” she asked as she gathered her thoughts together. There was something about Azra that always managed to throw her off guard. This time was no exception.
“Nope. I was heading out on vacation, thought I’d stop by.”
Minh smiled again as a chuckle escaped her lips.
“What’s so funny?” he asked as he checked his watch.
“You,” she answered as she raised her eyebrows. “Taking a vacation.”
“It happens from time to time,” he answered. “I can’t stay long. I just wanted to warn you about a potential problem in the security room. He knows about you, and he’s trying to figure out how to use it against you.”
"Not a problem," he answered as he pulled out a note book and read something. He smiled to himself as he put the book away. "On the bright side, he won't be around all that long, but he has to potential to cause a lot of problems before then. I did suggest that he change his ways, and I did imply the immediacy of the need. I really hope he listens.” He seemed to reflect on the situation for a moment, then looked up and smiled. "Anyway..."
Minh nodded. She was used to Azra’s showing up unexpectedly. Of all of Auri’s brothers, Azra was the one she most understood. He was never one to play his ‘role’ with a serious delivery. It was good considering his responsibility. Still, he was also never one to stay in one place too long.
“Go safely brother,” she urged.
He smiled at her. “Be safe, your clan needs you, as do my brothers.”
She bowed formally as he faded from site.
‘He hasn’t changed,’ Rahalleth commented.
‘Death rarely does,’ Minh countered with a smile.
Niki tensed as she felt a change in the room below. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the momentary change in Minh. She had been watching, worried that what-ever had taken over Davy would try for his friend. For a moment she feared Minh had failed, then she recognized the form.
In that split second, she understood why Gran had allowed the woman to face this thing alone, and was confident that she would succeed. As she looked at the others she realized that she was the only one who had seen the transformation. The drumming having lifted them to another level of consciousness and they were oblivious of everything else.
As the beat rattled her bones, she turned her attention back to the room. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him in the room with Minh, a man yet so unlike a man. Until that point she had never believed such creatures existed. They were myths, nothing more.
She saw the shadow that traveled with him and felt a sudden chill as he met her gaze and nodded.
‘Fear not little one, this is a social call,’ his voice echoed in her ears. She shook her head, refusing to believe what she had seen. But the image remained with her long after he had left. She felt some how lessened and yet strengthened by the experience.
Minh took a deep breath as she walked to the door and waited for Gran’s people to open the door. She stiffened as the drumming ended. It had become such a natural part of her surroundings that she didn’t even notice it until it stopped.
The doors opened and Gran greeted her. The tenseness of her guards was not lost on Minh as she bowed respectfully to the old woman. Gran on the other hand merely ‘tsked’ her and pulled her into a hug.
“Thank you child,” she stated as she gently verified that Minh was indeed herself. “Do you need anything?”
Minh bowed again then turned towards Geoff. “Only to make some apologies, and explain what has happened. Then I must go back to care for my nephew.” She took Geoff’s hand in hers and looked into his eyes.
Rahalleth shrunk from the haunted, pained look in the man’s eyes. Flashes of images showed him the cruelty that the man had endured. Cruelty that he had so ruthlessly invoked in his rage. Worse, he had compromised the man’s anchor from that harshness, forcing him into the storm of rage and pain with nothing available to bring him back.
“I did no know,” he cried out. He was shocked by the sound of his own voice. Suddenly he realized that Minh had given him full reign of her form to make amends. He bowed his head, then knelt before the man, ashamed of what he had done.
“I beg your forgiveness,” he whispered. “For I have hurt both you and your brother in my arrogance and pride."
“Minh?” the man called worriedly, then helped her; him; them; to her; his; their; feet. It was so hard for him to think or explain what was happening. “Please, you didn’t say anything I didn’t deserve.”
“No, that is where you are wrong,” Rahalleth countered as he locked eyes with the man. He had to explain, but he didn’t know how. As he reached out, Minh gently guided them to a place where their minds could meet.
Geoff found himself staring into the eyes of a ghost, the ghost of a Eastern Great-Dragon, Rahalleth. The eyes blinked.
“I am truly sorry,” Rahalleth repeated. “Your brother was very angry with me. Now I understand why. Those things, those things were truly evil, and ...”
He stopped realizing that everything that IT had done to him, he had done to this man. It was as the other man, Davy had said: this man deserved nothing but respect. He felt the weight of his guilt pull him down.
Geoff looked into his eyes and saw a hint of what he, Rahalleth had endured. He merely nodded. “You understand,” Geoff answered. “You didn’t...”
Rahalleth reached out and for the first time in his life, touched a human being’s spirit with fear and awe. “It is as Minh says, you are both stronger and more fragile than we could ever hope to understand.”
Geoff merely nodded.
“Thank you,” Rahalleth added, to both Geoff and Minh.
Then the images faded.
Minh smiled as she saw the understanding in Geoff’s eyes. It meant so much to her and to Davy. As for her brother, he had learned much with the brief encounter. “Davy will be well,” she told him. “Though he fears what may have passed between you.”
“It was not between us,” Geoff assured her.
“I wish I could undo the harm that was done,” she told him as she gently embraced him. “Davy fears the same, for he felt your pain, even though my brother did not.”
Geoff let his breath out slowly and bowed his head as he tried to find the words. Then he shook his head. “I understand,” he stated, but it was obvious, he had a lot to think about.
Minh nodded. “I must go back, Kai needs that which Rahalleth can give him.”
Geoff nodded. “Let me know if there is anything I can do.”
“Be well,” she answered. “Let go of the past.”
“I keep trying,” Geoff answered, his voice thick with emotion. “But it keeps pulling me back.”
Minh nodded. “Talk to Davy, he needs you and he needs to know that you are alright.”
Geoff let out a snort then winked at Minh. “Man has a building fall on him, and he’s worried about how I feel. That’s the Wilson clan for you.”
She nodded. It was a shadow of his smile, but at least it was there. Given time, she knew he’d return to himself. In the meantime, there was work to be done. She wondered how long it would take for Duck to return to them as well.
Wulf turned towards the others and shook his head. “We’re meeting at the fall back position,” he stated. As he looked at Shateiel he pursed his lips and shrugged. “Sorry to do this to you Shateiel, but it looks like we’ve got work to do.”
She cocked her head to the side as she tried to figure out if that meant they were leaving her, or taking her along. Wulf answered it by nodding towards Meri, who stood behind her. In her hands was a pair of matched Predator II’s.
“From the looks of your hands, you fire ambi,” he stated as she took the guns and smiled at them both. “Figure the Predator would fit your hands the best.”
Her smile broadened as she felt their weight. Her eyes were almost tearing over as she sat down and began to check them out.
He watched as Shateiel checked the guns reflexively. Testing the balance and verifying their condition. When was satisfied with them, Shateiel chambered a round in each and flicked the safeties on.
Wulf nodded. ‘A warrior,’ he thought as Gris handed her some street cloths and some equipment. To his surprise, Shateiel unfolded the cloths started changing in front of them.
Gris quickly found a speck of something on the barrel of his pistol that required his immediate and undivided attention.
Wulf chuckled to himself as he watched his friend’s reaction. As he turned again towards Shateiel, he found a pair of sweats flying towards his head. He shook his head in deference to Meri who had obviously taken umbrage at his cursory glance, then chuckled as she started muttering under her breath about men being dogs.
Shateiel, for her part, merely continued dressing and armoring up completely unfazed by the whole exchange.
Boomer wrangled the truck through the traffic and then towards the tunnels. The remote would be forced to close in and follow them through the tunnels, or risk losing them. Either way, he hoped it would help them take control of the situation.
“Anything from our mage friend,” he asked ask he continued to monitor the scanners.
“Not a peep,” Kenny stated. “If I didn’t know better I’d figure she packed up her toys and headed home.”
“Nah,” Boomer agreed. “We’re never that lucky.”
“It’d be nice though.”
“Tell me about it,” Boomer stated as he shook his head. “Must have figured you were going to get to personal, and just launched another drone.”
“Maybe we should start a collection,” Kenny suggested. “You never know when somebody may want a remote that was only used by a little old lady from the hills.”
“Get serious,” Boomer sighed.
“This? Coming from you?” Kenny asked as he gave his brother a sidelong glance. “Okay, you can take me now, I’ve seen everything.”
Boomer shook his head as his brother sat there staring at the ceiling with his arms spread out. “This ain’t the time Brah,” he growled as he poked Kenny in the stomach then nodded towards the rearview. They had company.
Kenny looked at the mirror and then back to Boomer. “You driving or am I?”
“Take it,” Boomer stated as he let Kenny take the wheel before heading back to the gun controls. He smiled as he remembered teasing Duck about the amount of firepower she was putting into the truck. Now, almost a year later, he was very glad she did.
He keyed up the systems as the van behind them opened fire. Sparks flew around the tunnel as the bullets ricocheted around them.
“Tell me this thing is bullet proof,” he urged Boomer.
“Armored, extra protection around the tank and the engine. Run-flat tires, bulletproof glass, blowout gun ports, blast protection on the under carriage, explosion resistant fuel tank, remote start and bomb scan, ramming bumpers, you know, the usual Sunday driving stuff. Pretty much anything Duck could think of tacking on to it.”
“Duck’s design?” Kenny asked with a sigh of relief. He knew that if Duck had designed it, with her level of paranoia, just about every conceivable possibility had been considered.
Boomer laughed at his brother’s reaction. “I, on the other hand, designed the weapons systems,” he bragged.
“Then use them already!” Kenny groused as he found himself flinching as the bullets impacted with the front windshield. Bullets were now coming at them from in front of them, as well as behind. “They’re trying to box us in.”
“Working on it,” Boomer growled. “Just keep us moving, leave the ordinance to me!”
Boomer didn’t want to say it, but he had to hold off on most of the weapons in the tunnel. There were too many innocent bystanders, who their attacker’s had already endangered. He also knew that if they didn’t loose them soon, he’d have to contend with the police as well as their assailants.
Kenny seemed to realize Boomer’s dilemma as he floored the accelerator and closed the distance between the truck and the vehicle in front of them. “Hold for impact,” he growled as he put the ‘ram bumpers’ through their paces.
Boomer threw himself into the console seat as the first impact rocked the truck. He was strapping in as the second impact slammed him into the control console. He winced as he pushed himself up and strapped in.
“A little more warning would be nice,” he muttered as he activated the weapons and surveillance systems.
“I’m doing the best I can,” Kenny countered, his statement being punctuated by another impact on the car in front of them.
“Push it,” Boomer yelled as he saw the rocket launcher come online. “They’re bringing out the big guns!”
Kenny took a deep breath and diverted as much of the truck’s power to the engine. They were close to the exit, but the lead car was slowing down, trying to hold them there.
“They’re holding,” Boomer stated. “Looks like they want us alive.”
“Then I really don’t want to talk to them,” Kenny stated as he rammed the car at full speed. “I’ve seen how these people talk.”
Boomer nodded as he started counting down. “They’ve activated,” he warned as Kenny cleared the tunnel and the car which he had pushed into a spin.
Kenny pushed the truck beyond its specs. The armaments Duck had added may have been top of the line, but they were costing them heavily in maneuverability and control.
“Locked,” Boomer warned.
Kenny yanked the wheel to the right, hoping to throw off their attackers, but he was too close to the curb. “NO!” he yelled as the truck listed to the side. For a minute they sat leaning towards the right, then they were sliding on their side towards the edge of the off ramp.
Everything slowed to quarter speed as he watched the road disappear from beneath them. “This is going to hurt,” he managed to warn as the passenger side of the truck impacted with the ground. Then it flipped.
Kenny felt a yanking then heard a snap as his collar bone gave under the preasure of his restraints. ‘Duck is not going to like this,’ he thought to himself as the truck came to a rest on its roof.
Boomer groaned as the console shifted, practically pinning him to his seat. “Kenny?” he called worriedly.
“Here,” Kenny answered then winced as he tried to turn. “I think.”
As he reached for the restraint release, Kenny groaned. “Collar bone’s broken.” he stated as he tried to figure out how to get out of the seat without making things worse.
“Well move it Brah,” Boomer urged. “They aren’t that far behind us.”
“I can’t hit the release without really screwing things up,” Kenny countered angrily as truck shifted again. The movement jarred his arm causing him to groan again. “Boom, I’d really appreciate a hand with this.”
“Be glad to oblige you,” Boomer stated as he tried to wedge something between the console and his seat. “But I’m kinda pinned here right now.”
Kenny turned and saw the mess of cables and sparking wires that surrounded his bother. “Hang on,” he urged as he took a deep breath and hit the catch release.
Boomer watched as Kenny dropped from his seat, trying to roll to his right. He bit back a sympathetic cry as he saw Kenny’s left arm get tangled up in the webbing. Kenny managed to roll to his knees and was trying to catch his breath as several bullets hit the truck’s undercarriage.
“Get out of here,” Boomer urged.
“Soon as I get you out of that mess,” Kenny countered as he cut the power to the console systems. Once the wires stopped sparking, he moved in and began inspecting the console itself. “Just hang in there,” he urged.
“Dammit Kenny, you aren’t going to be able to lift it, not with your arm the way it is,” Boomer objected. “Just get out of here.”
“Yeah, yeah Boomer, will you shut up and let me concentrate?” Kenny countered as he tried to center himself. Slowly he felt his body responding to his attempts to control his breathing and pulse rate. Then he reached out, the spell forming in his mind as he looked at the console and focused the levitation spell on it. Slowly, it rose from the console chair, allowing Boomer to pull himself up between the two.
Kenny ignored Boomer’s movements as he forced himself to concentrate on the console until he felt Boomer’s hand on his arm. “It’s okay,” Boomer told him. “You can let it go now.”
As Kenny shifted his attention from the console to Boomer. Without his concentration, the console dropped back onto the chair with a crash. As Kenny slipped, Boomer caught him. “I got ya, I got ya,” Boomer told him.
He waited as Kenny regained his balance, then guided him towards the side door. “Just hang in there a little bit longer,” he urged.
Boomer turned as Kenny fell to the ground, growling in pain. There was something in the sound that conveyed the pain more than words ever could.
They’d spent the first half an hour trying to avoid their attackers. Now they were trying to slip past the police. He knew Kenny had broken more than his collar bone in the crash. He could tell by the pain in his brother’s eyes and the way their movements were taxing him.
“Kenny,” he whispered worriedly as he knelt by his brother’s side. Kenny’s breath was shallow and Boomer could tell he was dangerously close to slipping into shock. “Kenny, talk to me!”
Kenny merely looked at him and shook his head.
"You hold on, you hear me?" he yelled as he picked Kenny up and started to carry him away from the scene. He’d managed to make it a block before someone saw them. A patrol car pulled up behind them.
“Hold it right there,” a voice called over the P.A. system.
Boomer did his best to keep Kenny steady as he moved his hands out to his side. The car stopped. As the door opened, Boomer started running. He didn’t even bother looking back, to see if they pursued. He just kept moving.
He forced himself to move, dodging into alleyways and buildings as he tried to keep from being seen. He knew it was a losing proposition, but he had to try. As he dodged through one of the buildings, he felt the floor give way beneath him. He felt his ankle wrench as he tried to roll to protect Kenny as they landed.
He landed with a gasp as his breath was knocked out of him.
"Boom," Kenny managed to groan. "Get out of here while you can. Leave me."
Boomer looked at Kenny and shook his head. Rage and fear shone in his eyes. "Never leave a man behind," he growled as he forced himself to a kneeling position.
"Dammit Boom," Kenny gasped. "Stop thinking of yourself here."
Boomer looked at him and shook his head.
"There are two choices here. Leave me and they capture me, stay and they capture us. I can hold on if I know you're alright, if you stay, they'll use me against you."
Boomer shook his head. "I ain't leavin' you brah."
"Boom, you stay and the others won't find us. You go, they know what happened. Track me through the pager..."
Boomer looked down at Kenny as he pleaded with him and felt his throat go dry.
"Do it Boom."
Boomer closed his eyes as he shook his head. “Sorry man, I can’t. If I can track you, they’ll figure it out. They can track both ‘a us ‘cause I ain’t leaving you!
“That’s real admirable Boom,” a voice called from the doorway. “But completely unnecessary.”
Boomer turned and let out a sigh of relief as he recognized the officer standing there. “Sam,” he gasped. “About bloody time you showed your face.”
Sam shook his head as he cautiously moved to the center of the room and helped Boomer to his feet. “Boom, what am I going to do with you?”
“Right now,” Boomer sighed. “Take us someplace safe, then tell us what the hell is going on.”
“You got it,” Sam assured him as he helped Boomer carry Kenny to the car.