Tracker watched as the van pulled up next to the old Victorian house and a woman was guided from the van to the house. He looked worriedly at Finagle. If they didn’t get through to somebody soon, he was going to have to be the one to break into the house.
As he watched, a man climbed out of the passenger seat and looked around. He recognized the man from the recording. It was MindBender. He felt a rage building up inside of him as the man gave the area a satisfied smile and entered the building.
“You sure that’s the building?” Finagle asked.
“If I wasn’t before, I am now,” Tracker answered barely reigning his temper in. “That’s the Fragger that did Duck.”
Finagle winced at the intensity of Tracker’s stare. There was no way he wanted Tracker going into the house. Not in his current state. As he tried to think of an alternative plan, he heard a familiar voice on the comm-link.
“Ollie, ollie oxen free!” It was Rabbit.
“Rabbit, where are you?” Tracker sub vocalized.
“Quick-ee mart, two blocks from your locale,” Rabbit answered. “Want to brief me?”
“Be there in five,” Tracker answered as he looked at Finagle. “You want to brief him or should I?” Tracker asked Finagle.
“If you’re still planning on taking over the security system, you’d probably be the one to brief him,” Finagle told him with a shrug.
Tracker nodded. “Keep an eye on things here and yell if anything happens.”
Finagle nodded. Somehow he knew it was going to be a very long evening. Still it was best for everybody if he watched and let Tracker call the shots on this one. Infiltration was not something he had studied at the police academy.
Rabbit watched Tracker carefully as he described his plan. He was used to working alone when he was scouting, but as Tracker had pointed out, this was not a one person mission. He didn’t think it was wise to point out the fact that it shouldn’t be a two man mission either. It didn’t help that nobody had heard from Boomer and Kenny.
He looked at Tracker for a minute then shrugged. He really wasn’t the person to advise Tracker on anything involving sane operations.
“Tracker man, you sure about this?”
Tracker looked at him for a minute and shook his head. “Not really. But I do know that we can’t leave those two people in there.” He answered, then shook his head. “Not after seeing what he did to Duck.”
Rabbit put a hand on Tracker’s shoulders and nodded. “Lets work it.”
“Okay, pick your spot. When you’re ready give me the signal. Once you’ve signaled, give me five minutes, then head on in. I’ll provide electronic cover.”
“Communications?” Rabbit asked.
“Motion sensors on the security system,” Tracker answered.
“The one thing,” Rabbit stated evenly, his eyes were perfectly calm as he locked eyes with Tracker’s. “If it goes south, I want you take me out.”
Tracker swallowed at the request and then nodded. “If it comes to that, you won’t feel a thing,” he promised.
Rabbit nodded then winked at Tracker. “Okay then, let’s get this show on the road. You got cover?”
Finagle will be watching over me,” Tracker assured him.
“Then lets do it.”
Tracker watched Rabbit as he headed out and for the first time wondered which of them was the saner of the two.
Wulf concentrated on the spirit as Shateiel followed his directions. It was hard, since Jade’s friend wanted to take the straight route. Whenever Shateiel would deviate from its chosen course it would whine at him ‘No, No... follow, must come...’
He tried to reassure it. He tried to get it to follow the roads, but all it would do was to vibrate at him. He realized it was tracking her by sense, but he couldn’t very well drive through the buildings. So he was left dealing with a silent driver and a frustrated spirit. Still he was glad he had the company.
“Turn left and then take the next right,” he told Shateiel as the spirit started trying to get him to go diagonal.
‘No, no, not that way,’ it whined again. ‘Too far, too far, must follow.’
Wulf took a deep breath as he tried to prepare for battle, but the spirit was vibrating constantly now.
“Close,” the spirit finally announced as they headed into a more suburban area.
A few minutes later it was practically dancing in front of him saying “There! THERE!!!” He looked at the house indicated and let out a low whistle. The place was a virtual fortress.
“Begin,” Rabbit stated as he moved into position near the gate. After a preliminary check, he’d narrowed the entry point to three places. Two seemed very inviting, almost too inviting, and the third he picked as a standby.
His next sweep had revealed the weaknesses of each. There was a dead tree in the back yard that butted up against the fence, but it was wired. It was designed to lure the potential burglar to it. The second choice was an area that was covered by a boxwood hedge. Again, it was wired. The final one option was to cut his way in through the wrought iron fence. Of the three options, it was the safest.
He entertained the thought of simply walking through the front door, but he’d seen the killing zone that was the front yard. There was no way he was going in that way.
He checked his watch as he waited for Tracker to infiltrate the building’s control systems and take over. He slowly began going through his plan in his mind. Roll up to the gate and slag the fence with some thermite he had.
As he looked at the exposed area he shuddered. It was a prime place to be taken out by a sniper. He began wishing he hadn’t sent Mercury back to the Playful Dragon, but somebody had to be there to watch out for the others. He hated to admit it, but not hearing from Boomer and Kenny was starting to worry him.
‘Do the job,’ he told himself. ‘Do the job and cut the chatter.’
He checked his watch.
‘Begin,’ Tracker heard Rabbit’s signal and prepared to jack in. He had five minutes to slip into MindBender’s security system and take control. He cracked his fingers and gave Finagle the thumbs up.
He was on. As he activated his system, Tracker felt a cold serenity take over. Here there was no pain, no worries, only electrons to be controlled and manipulated. He verified his deck’s functionality and moved through the system.
Bender’s security system was well built, but poorly implemented. He had all the necessary features, but it lacked any real control. Video cameras were placed throughout the complex but they were almost hap-hazzard in their placement, and they all fed into on centralized location.
There were no pressure sensitive monitors, but he could feel the drain in the power grid. That meant that there were charges placed. ‘Probably set up as a trap,’ he thought to himself.
Rounding out the security faults was the fact that there was nothing to keep someone like himself from taking complete control of the system in three and a half minutes. Tracker situated himself carefully then waited for Rabbit to make his move.
Rabbit checked his watch and took a deep breath. He’d been in the house itself for two minutes when Tracker had signaled him to wait. There had been nothing since. He tried to get a feel for the house, but all he could sense was an extreme wrongness to the place.
He kept one eye on the motion detector in front of him as he waited and listened. As he watched, the motion detector finally came to life. He was about to smile when he realized, it wasn’t morse code, but the detector had picked up movement nearby.
Even as he tensed, Rabbit knew something was different. He could feel the presence of another human being. He realized that that was what had been missing earlier. There were no thought patterns, only a static buzz, like when a radio with nothing to receive.
He tensed as he heard a synthesized voice over the comm-link. “Company.”
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ Rabbit signed to the motion detector.
The light stayed out.
“Henders, what do you see,” MindBender called to his ‘security drone’.
“There is nothing,” came the almost mechanical answer.
MindBender smiled as he looked at his two captives. Then leered at Jade. “I told you he would come.”
Jade glowered at him for a minute as she felt him loosen his controls on her mind enough that she could answer.
“You’ve got nothing.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong my dear. The machines aren’t picking him up, but that should surprise either of us. Your Wulf is far too good at sneaking in where he isn’t wanted.”
“He’s got the rest of the team to think of,” she countered.
MindBender smiled at her. “They’re all nicely tucked away at your apartment,” he told her. “And the machines aren’t what really matter. I can feel him. I felt him as he entered my domain, and he will be drawn here like a fly to the spider.”
He smiled as he stretched out his senses. Aside from his two captives and himself, there were no other thought patterns except for the man that was now sneaking towards them and his doom. The drones had no thoughts except those he gave them, so he knew that the new thoughts were coming from Wulf.
“Don’t worry,” he told Jade. “I’ll let you say good-bye.”
Jade cringed as she felt MindBender reassert his control.
Wulf signaled Shateiel to stay as he listened to the sounds of the house. He was pleased at how effortlessly she had followed him as he slipped into the building. He was amazed by the fact that her footsteps weren’t that much louder than his own. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
As he moved forward an inch Wulf felt the presence of another man up ahead. Focusing on the man, he realized that his back was turned. As Wulf prepared to deal with the sentry, the man turned and stared in his direction. Wulf held his breath as the man studied the shadows then turned towards the side where Shateiel was hidden.
As Wulf prepared to launch himself at the man, he seemed to smile then back up a few paces. Wulf was confused as the man pulled out a pen and wrote something on the wall, then moved on.
He waited for a minute then signaled Shateiel to move forward. Once she was along side him, Wulf moved forward and checked around the corner. The man was gone, but on the wall, he saw what the man had drawn: a smilely face.
Wulf tensed as he felt Shateiel move out from cover. When he looked at her, she was staring intently at the motion detector which was flashing irregularly.
When she turned towards him, her eyes were tearing over. Wulf felt a sudden chill as he looked into her eyes. For a minute he wasn’t sure what was happening. She stood there, and swallowed. He could feel her trying to speak, trying to fight the madness.
She smiled and nodded towards him encouragingly, then made two signs. “Friends” and “Stay.” That said, she moved past him and around the corner.
Tracker watched as the cameras seemed to keep missing the two people trailing Rabbit. He knew they were there, but they moved with practiced ease between the cameras field of vision. When he caught their shadows he let out a mental gasp. They moved like Bear and Duck, for a minute he thought it was them, somehow slipping in at the last minute, but he knew better. Bear was in no shape for this right now and Duck was still who knows where.
He sent a warning to Rabbit over the comm-link, his deck providing the synthesized voice. He continued trying to reach them, when the sensors reported movement with Rabbit. He viewed the output long enough to realize that Rabbit already knew he wasn’t alone.
He watched as Rabbit drew a smiley face and continued down the hall. ‘So, not only does he know, but he think’s they’re on the same side,’ Tracker thought with a shrug. He’d have to trust Rabbit’s instincts on that one. Still there was something about the two trailing him that seemed familiar.
Then he saw them. The smaller figure, a woman stared at the monitor and he felt his pulse flutter. It was Duck. He didn’t recognize the man with her, but it was Duck!
He watched as she signed “Friends” and “stay” to the man. He could see the look in her eyes and knew she was far from alright, but she was Duck.
Rabbit turned as he felt someone round the corner. He knew the woman was there before she came into site, but when he saw who it was, shock and joy overcame him. The stood there, staring at each other until Rabbit pulled her into a hug.
“Friends, captured. Trap,” she signed gruffly.
Rabbit nodded. He recognized the signs of the damage that was done to her, but he’d seen her through worse. Now was not the time for weakness and Duck knew it.
“Tracker followed a man here, they had a captive,” Rabbit signed evenly.
Duck watched the signs then squinted at Rabbit. He could see the pain and anger in her eyes. “You up to this?” he signed.
“No, not fine,” she signed. Again her gestures lacked their usual fluid grace, but they got the point across. “End this now!”
Rabbit smiled dangerously and nodded. “Amen sister,” he told her, then signed to the surveillance camera.
“Down. Basement. Caution.” came the answer in morse code.
Rabbit nodded, then heard the steps approaching them from the other side. He pulled a grenade that Duck recognized as a gas agent. Without thinking, she moved back around the other corner so that Wulf could see her.
Wulf waited tensely as Shateiel rounded the corner. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew he didn’t like any of it. He tensed as he saw her lean around the corner and look at him.
She pulled a gas mask over her face and flashed him “5...4...3...2...1"
He slipped his mask into place as he heard the “WWWOOOOFF” of a gas canister releasing its agents.
He moved forward as he heard two thumps up ahead. Gun drawn he rounded the corner to see Shateiel and the man they’d been following leaning up against the wall, grinning at each other.
He could feel the difference in her. She was still unstable but the pain that all but overwhelmed her was gone. She was among friends and they were about to kick-butt.
“What now?” the man signed to Shateiel. Wulf recognized the signs as Amslan, and not military.
Shateiel looked around the corner then back at both of them and smiled.
There was something both cunning and humorous in the smile as she winked at both of them. She pointed towards the two unconscious men and then to herself and the other man.
He watched as she then pointed to him and crossed her wrists. He took in a deep breath as her message became clear. He would play the part of their captive. Again, the possibility of a setup crossed his mind, but something told him that he was not the one being setup.
Jade tensed as MindBender’s smile broadened. “He is captured.” he told her with a smile. “And you my dear, are no longer necessary. “Your death will effect him greatly.”
Suddenly it was hard to breathe as the implication hit her. She had hoped for rescue, but MindBender would never allow it. She had been used to capture him, and now she would be used to break him.
‘Dear, don’t take it so personally. The master has a use for him, you on the other hand, have proven more of a problem than we are ready to deal with.’ His thoughts caressed her as he showed her what he’d done to ‘Shateiel.’ ‘He will watch as your light fades, as did this woman’s.’
Jade tensed as she tried to force her thought patterns to change. She couldn’t keep him out of her mind, but what if she wasn’t in her mind? The thoughts whirled around her as she remembered his inability to control Gris.
MindBender sensed her struggle and was about to force himself back into her mind when he felt Wulf’s presence at the door.
‘Later my dear,’ he promised. As he reached out with his mind towards Wulf. He could feel the man’s thoughts, the order, the serenity. He knew what he was doing and foolishly believed that it would save the woman. ‘You are both mine,’ he called to Wulf.
As the doors opened he noticed the man gathering his strength together. It was as he had planned. Then everything changed. Wulf raised his head and smiled at Bender. MindBender reacted by trusting his mind into Wulf’s.
It was as if he’d hit a brick wall. His mind reeling, MindBender reached out to take control of the security ‘drones’ behind him. Then he realized his mistake.
The two drones looked at him and grinned with the same smile Wulf had given him.
“Click,” said the first.
“Wrr” the second answered.
Stunned he realized that the second drone was Duck. He took a deep breath and plunged his mind into the nearest target. The first drone. He had gotten inside the man’s head, but was no where near ‘in control.’
He was in the swamps staring into the eyes of an alligator. As he screamed, the alligator seemed to smile back at him.
“You don’t want to be playing here,” a voice told him. “Ain’t no place for children.”
He turned and found himself staring at the mental image of the ‘drone’ he’d tried to control.
“Name is Derrick,” the man told him then gave him a wide eyed look. “But people call me the MadRabbit.”
MindBender shuddered as he tried to gain control of the situation. Tried and failed.
“I told you,” the man, MadRabbit, told him. “This ain’t the place for the weak of heart. I’ve been here all my life, and even I get scared...sometimes.”
MindBender saw the wide eyed look in the man’s eyes. Ignoring the warnings, he reached deeper into the man’s mind and tried to find his greatest fear.
As he opened his mind to take control, MindBender saw that he was in the same place in the man’s mind.
“This is my fear,” MadRabbit told him. “This is what I am.”
Bender found himself suddenly surrounded with three versions of the man, Derrick, Rabbit and MadRabbit, each more unstable then the next. Each of them registered as different on some level, yet at the same time, he felt nothing from any of them. It was as if they weren’t there.
“We aren’t,” Derrick told him with a smile.
“We never were,” Rabbit add, his eyes reflecting with a wicked gleem.
“WE like it that way,” MadRabbit told him. There was something very disturbing in the man’s smile. MindBender noticed the way the man’s eyes practically bulged as he stared at him.
MindMender tried to back away, but instead he found himself standing eye to eye with MadRabbit. “We don’t like you,” he stated.
Bender gathered himself together and tried to push his way through the image. He felt something give, but when he looked, he was once again right back where he started. MadRabbit held him close and stared into his eyes. He began speaking to him in a rhythmic pattern, reciting something that was almost, but not quiet poetry. The other merely watched MindBender and shook their heads.
Then the man’s words hit him:
What’s a matter Bender man, seen enough to blow your mind?
Looking for that darkened place where all the terror lurks...
Mind bending magic man, that trick never works.
Bender man you look surprised,
went for Rabbit between the eyes.
Silly Bender, its not fair,
you can’t bend what isn’t there....
The image of Rabbit pulsed in front of him, threatening to overpower everything that mad him who he was. He felt a pain start in the back of his head and push its way through his mind. In fear and desperation, he pulled back, calling on the power of his master, reaching out for Briar’s help.
He was safe. The swamp was gone, his master had saved him. “Master,” he called out thankfully.
He saw him coming, his face one of rage and wrath. “Child, what news?” Briar asked as he forced his mind into MindBender’s.
Images flashed of Wulf and Jade and Justin. Briar felt the pain that MindBender suffered when his mind hit the brick walls, but there was no explanation for the walls.
“YOU!” Briar yelled as his image shifted into that of a dragon, “have failed!”
Again the form shifted, Bender screamed as a Briar stood before him in his purest form: a demon with a thousand screaming suffering faces melting in and out of his form. His eyes glowed as he looked down on Bender and gave his decree.
“I reward those who serve me,” he stated. “You will punish those who don’t!”
MindBender screamed as his mind was turned in on itself.
Wulf reached over and cut Jade free as Shateiel and her friend dealt with MindBender. The man stood stock still as Shateiel started rocking. He was afraid that Bender was winning when suddenly MindBender let out a scream and fell to the ground.
“He should ‘a stayed out like I told him,” the man growled as he looked down at MindBender and shook his head. When he looked up Wulf could see and feel the change in the man. He turned and gently took Shateiel into his arms “Darlin’ you okay?” he called to her.
Wulf watched worriedly as Shateiel looked at the man and started to nod, then shake her head. He could feel her heart rate increase, and could feel the shallow breaths she took as she tried to piece herself together.
“Easy Hon,” he called. “He’s done with.”
Wulf moved over and cut the other prisoner free. Then looked over at MindBender. “What did you do?”
The man shrugged. “Wasn’t me,” he answered. “Wish it was, but...” the man shrugged. “He displeased his master.”
MindBender let out another scream as his mind continued to create the horrific scenes he was then forced to endure.
“It...co..couldn’t ...have....” Wulf turned worriedly as he felt Shateiel fighting the madness as she tried to speak. She was breathing heavy from the effort and her words were hard to understand.
It couldn’t have... happened to a...,” she stopped and swallowed as the man watched her carefully. “Nicer...mmmm ma ...Man.”
“You got that right Darlin,” the man told her as he led her away from MindBender. Wulf noticed the protective arm he kept around her. “You got that right.”
“Tra...Traac...” she asked as she pointed towards the security camera.
“Tracker’s fine, we’re all fine,” he assured her.
“We’re all fine. Tracker and Boomer and Kenny we’re all fine. Even Whisper. Bender let go when they thought they had us.”
“Everybody’s fine darlin’ we’ve just been worried about you.” He hugged her as she started shaking, then looked at Wulf. Gratitude and relief shone in his face as he looked at Wulf and mouthed, ‘Thank you!’
Tracker disconnected from the system and smiled at Finagle.
“Spoosh-cha?” Finagle asked hopefully.
“Spuszcza!” Tracker confirmed. His grin doubling in size..