Whisper watched Tracker out of the corner of his eye as he drove through the darkened city. Neither of them had said anything since they had driven away from the bungalow. But Tracker had been especially sullen as they drove.
He just sat there, a very tense expression on his face. Every now and then he’d look back at their passenger.
“Tracker?” Whisper asked softly as he eased onto the freeway. “Wanna talk to me, tell me what our plan is here?”
Tracker finally looked at him, and then back at Duck. “I...” He stopped, drew a deep breath and then met the mage’s eyes. “We can’t take her back to base,” he finally managed to spit out.
Whisper nodded, then waited for the rest of it. He’d known Tracker long enough to know that when he got like this it was best to just let him go at his own pace. He’d seen the look in Tracker’s eyes, and he knew that it was echoed in his own.
“What they... did to her,” he finally managed to spit out.
Whisper nodded. “Its over now,” he said soothingly, but they both knew it was a lie. The BTL induced images were just as real as if they had happened to her, been done to her. And that was to have just been the beginning.
Whisper could feel his anger rising again, but there was no one left to take it out on. No one who deserved it at any rate. The guilty parties had been dealt with, now it was up to them to deal with the aftermath.
“It isn’t just that,” Tracker told him.
Whisper gave him a startled look, then realized Tracker understood him just well enough to know where his thoughts were heading. He waited as Tracker once again looked at their passenger. She lay unconscious in the back seat of the car, still trembling.
“They used Euphs on her...”
Whisper’s eyes widened as he began contemplating how to seek revenge on those who were already dead: the euphs were probably far worse than the BTL’s. The only thing good about them having used the drug was the fact that they used it in tandem with the BTL’s. That meant that at least some of the chip’s imagery would have been lost. But the drug itself presented a whole new list of potential problems.
Euphs were highly addictive to the point that even the smell of them could push a recovering Euphie straight back into its addictive grasp. There simply was no shaking the habit once it had a hold on the person.
Whisper knew this better than most: one of his cousins worked rehab and had told him all about it one evening over dinner. “They didn’t have her long enough to get her...” He let the question trail off.
“Addicted?” Tracker asked. “Under normal circumstances probably not... but Gypsy was telling me... how her mother died... thinks she may have taken drugs before Duck was born... Euphs were on the list.”
Whisper felt his breath catch. If she had been exposed to Euphs before, then the possibility of addiction would be more of a probability. He let his breath out slowly, then gritted his teeth. There was every possibility that this whole situation had just taken the life of another team mate.
Tracker nodded. “I... didn’t want to tell her uncle... He’s got enough to worry about right now. He doesn’t need to know... what...”
Whisper nodded, noting the anger in his friend’s eyes. There was no reason for what they had done, and even less reason to tell Gypsy what had been done. He found himself wondering if he knew any necromancers.
Tracker smiled at him for a minute, almost as if he’d read the mage’s mind. “We’ll see her through this... they aren’t expecting us back until we’re called in. We do what we can.”
“Yeah,” Whisper sighed. “Once again... we’re picking up the pieces.”
“And sifting through the ashes,” Tracker reminded him as he held up Rogers’ notebook. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
Whisper nodded wearily. “Where to now?”
“Rory still working at the treatment center?”
Whisper looked at Tracker, surprised that he remembered his cousin. “Downtown,” he stated as he changed lanes and headed back towards the downtown district.
Tracker merely nodded and watched the rearview mirror for signs of pursuit.
Black Cat studied the survey maps in front of her as she compared the soil samples that she and Vermin had collected, with the results from the spectrographic analysis of the soil and grime they had found under Persephone’s fingernails. There were too many places that offered potential matches. They had to narrow it down somehow.
With a sigh, she spread out an area map and then took the remaining sample and placed it in a vial. It was time to try a different tact.
“I’m going to need a few hours,” she told Vermin as she began pulling out some magical equipment.
He looked at her for a minute and nodded. “I’ll cover you...”
Cat smiled at that. She knew he was more than capable of watching out for her, both physically and magically.
With a deep breath she arranged her equipment and began the arduous task of finding the source of the sample.
Vermin watched from the window as Cat began chanting and rocking back and forth. He could see the sample in her hand as it dangled from a string, much like a pendulum. Without listening, he knew the powers she called, knew the spell she cast... He could feel it in his bones; he could hear it in his head:
Over and around,
Weaver of the way
Through the Veil,
Through the Shade
Show me the place I seek.
Like Seeks Like,
Fans the flames
Even and true
Show me the Trail,
Show me the way
Show me the source....
He stiffened as he felt the surge of energy behind him. He could feel the flash that destroyed the remaining sample, but he knew Cat had what she was looking for. He never understood how he knew these things... he just did. Just as he knew there was an answering spell heading their way. It was coming most likely from the source itself.
He moved without thinking. He grabbed Cat as she slumped forward in exhaustion, and gathered the map in the other hand. He was moving long before the answering spell had a chance to mark them. Again, he didn’t know how he knew... he just knew.
He drove into the night, knowing that Cat would be unconscious for most of it. It was up to him to protect her, and he had no intention of failing her.
Tracker scanned the area as Whisper parked the car in front of the 12th Street treatment center. Rory was already waiting for them as they arrived.
Tracker tensed as Whisper’s cousin came down the steps and moved to the back of the car. Whisper waited for Tracker’s go ahead, then hit the door lock and moved around to the door.
“Start talking,” Rory told him with-out preamble.
“Friend... “ he stated as he opened the door and unstrapped Duck. “Euphs.” He added as he pulled her out of the car.
Rory was already waving him off. “Sorry man... “
Tracker got out of the car, his eyes narrowing. “Why not?”
Rory took a deep breath then shook his head. “The kind of people who resort to Euphs... they don’t have what it takes to go straight... you can pull it out of their system, but the urge to use them will always be there... Sorry... there’s nothing we can do for her....”
Tracker was about to say something, but Whisper shook his head. “Rory, she didn’t take it willingly... someone... gave it to her...”
Rory’s eyes narrowed in a combination of rage and disbelief. “Some one....”
Whisper nodded gently. “I won’t take up any of your staff... we just need... one of your rooms...”
Rory looked at the doors to the center and then back at his cousin, then nodded. “Follow me...”
Duck’s mind swam as she realized the BTL images were gone but without them there was an emptiness... she could feel something in the back of her mind... something demanding that she do something about filling it.
It felt as if her world was spinning around, almost like a whirlpool, pulling down. Deeper and deeper she went, until it finally stopped.
She groaned. Slowly she looked around and realized that she was in a different room. She could hear two men talking. Somehow, through the mental fog that surrounded her, she knew that it wasn’t Warren and Barry.
“Easy darlin’,” she heard a familiar voice call.
She tried to focus on him, but as she moved, she realized that her hands were in restraints. She reacted without thinking, thrashing about, trying to break free. As she struggled, she realized that more than her hands were restrained. “NO!” she screamed as she fought madly.
“Easy darlin’...” the voice told her again. “You’re safe...”
“Safe?” she managed to groan, then strained against the bonds. “Call this... safe?”
There was a slight chuckle. “Yeah, it ain’t all that nice is it?”
There was something about the voice. It wasn’t mocking, wasn’t asking for... anything, just... soothing.
“Yeah... I know,” the voice told her. “But... we have to get you detoxed...”
“D... tox...” Duck repeated as she tried to fight through the cotton that was imitating her mind. “Drugs... Barry...”
“Yeah... “ the voice answered. “I have a friend here... he’s going to ... draw it from your system... okay?”
“... why ask... just... get it... done,” she managed to gasp as it registered that the owner of the voice was Tracker.
“That’s the problem,” another voice answered softly. “You’re fighting me on this...”
Duck looked at the new speaker, not really seeing him. She laughed, her tone turning slightly giddy. “Oh... that...”
“Oh, that?” the man asked in a slightly confused tone.
“I...” she sighed shaking her head. “Hard headed,” she finally sighed.
Whisper nodded with an odd smile.
Tracker looked at him, a question in his eyes.
‘Later,’ Whisper signed with a nod. If she was strong willed enough to fight him... there was hope for her. He tried to hold onto that thought, but for now... it was something, possibly the first bit of good news... provided he could get through her shielding and burn away the drug from her blood stream.
Vermillion looked nervously at Cat as he checked her vital signs and verified that his shielding was still functioning. Cat’s eyes fluttered as he checked her pulse.
“That hurt,” she finally managed to groan.
He studied her for a minute. “And they know you found them...”
She looked at him and then sat up. “The map... where’s the map?” she asked as she tried to organize her thoughts.
He pointed to the glove compartment as he pulled back into traffic. If she was looking at the map again, it was time to move.
Cat smiled at him and then opened the map, studying it and noting the location that still faintly glowed. “River basin,” she said. “I think there’s an old missile silo there.”
Vermin nodded. That made sense. “What now?”
“Now we leave a message for Duck, and try to get a hold of The Old Man.”
Vermin sighed, already knowing the answer. “Where... “
“You aren’t going to like it,” she sighed.
Vermin shook his head and headed further into town. He knew what that meant.
Vermin felt his breath tighten as Cat entered the building. It was the same building he had watched as Cat, Duck, Wayne and Devon had accessed the matrix. Simply looking at the building he knew he didn’t want to be here.
“I’ll only be a minute,” Cat had told him gently. Even the thought of her going into that building set him on edge.
“I do not like it,” he said finally. His voice was soft, but that only seemed to make his words more ominous.
“Its not that bad once you’re inside,” she had offered.
Vermillion had shaken his head. “I want nothing to do with that building or the magics protecting it.
Cat nodded then. “It is a bit daunting,” she had agreed.
Still, no matter how daunting it was, Cat had moved on. He could sense her inside, leaving a message where Duck would find it, but as he watched, he sensed something else. Something foreboding and completely alien. ‘Cat... get out. Get out now!’ he sub-vocalized. As he watched he could feel them as they descended on the building.
‘Cat...’ he called again, his eyes widening. When he received no answer he steeled himself. Cornering his fear, he forced himself to enter the building, but in his mind it was not a building anymore... it was a hive. His stomach rolled as he recalled the last time he had felt this way. It was not good then, and he knew it could not be good now.
Duke could feel her coming. Her guard was already closing in on him. He had failed her, lost one of her key workers... and for what? He bowed his head. There was no way he could explain this sufficiently. No, she would have his head for this, literally.
He trembled slightly. That was her way... their way her reminded himself, for even though he was a hybrid, he was still one of the hive. He had acted on his own against the queen’s plan. He had cost her dearly.
He, Ferron and Michael... his son. They were the first of a new breed of hybrid: a perfect blending of mantid spirit and human flesh. It was a blending that required no high magics, only human engineering. An implant that facilitated the perfect blending, a process that was now lost to them. Lost in the same explosion that had killed his son.
Part of him wanted to flee, but he knew it would do no good. He was part of the hive, which meant she and her guards could easily track him down no matter where he went.
‘I am coming... do not run!’ her voice sounded in his mind. She knew: she knew his fears, his thoughts even before he did. It was as it should be... he was but a humble servant, she, the queen. Still there was a voice inside him telling him that this knowledge was wrong. He should be at harmony with this... it was the way of things. Instead of peace, chaos filled his mind.
He trembled slightly as he waited for her arrival. As she appeared before him, he bowed his head.
‘Explain yourself...’ she commanded.
Looking up, he realized that she was not there physically; she had left the shell she used back with the hive where it was safe.
He could still feel the guards moving in. Their presence was very real, the threat practically tangible. He had no doubt that they were here for him, and that they would rend him limb from limb if given the chance. He was everything they were not. He was not a slave to the queen’s desires; that was his human side, a side that now communicated with him. It recited something from a poem:
‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’
The thought was purely human, and still somewhat appealing, for he was both human and mantid... and neither.
‘Rage... Rage against the dying of the light.’
‘Rage?’ he asked his human self. ‘Is that what this is?’
‘Why do you... hide your thoughts from us? This human frailty... the illusion of free will, self determination. It does not become you Tskallleh-ch.’ Her thoughts, perfect harmony stood against the back drop of the chaos that surrounded his human half.
‘Tskallleh-ch’ warred with the human for control, but the human spirit was strong. Stronger than it would have been had he been created in the normal way. Its impulses, its defiance both intrigued him and terrified him. It was not... their way.
“I was seeking those who destroyed the process,” he told her trying to silence his human half. It was very much a part of this, a part of him. It was true; he was seeking them out, not for the destruction of the process, not for a chance to recover what was lost. Vengeance had driven him, pure human vengeance.
‘But that is not why you seek them,’ she stated, again knowing his thoughts and motives: his very human thoughts and motives. ‘When the information was lost, you should have returned to us. We would have protected you, taken this human rage from you. It is unbecoming Tskallleh-ch, my beloved... I fear that hybridization has muddled your senses... you are more one of them than you are of us.’
Duke bowed his head. “Forgive me my queen.”
‘There is nothing to forgive,’ she stated, her mind buzzing pleasantly in his. ‘You cannot be faulted for what we made you... But,’ the buzzing intensified to the point that it hurt. ‘You must return to us... I cannot afford to have you jeopardize our mission.’
He shook his head. “Please, my queen... my love... I... must finish this. I must undo that which my human self has started. Please... allow me to redeem myself... the project...” he pleaded to her keeping his head bowed. “Then I will end this miserable unworthy’s life...” he stated softly.
He looked up at her, surprised by her response.
‘I cannot allow this defiance. This plea you make is not worthy of Tskallleh-ch. This plea belongs to the human does it not?’
That which was Tskallleh-ch nodded, it was not his... it belonged to Duke. Again he heard the poem as Duke fought the mantid’s will. ‘Not... her way... but ours... ‘ Duke’s voice growled in his ear. ‘She does not understand... but you do... you know... we must finish this.’
‘No My queen,’ Tskallleh-ch finally answered, mind to mind, as it should be. ‘It is not worthy of any of us... but, I find myself... unable to return until this is done...’
‘Very well, Tskallleh-ch. You will have your chance, but first, you must prove yourself... worthy. You will be hunted by my guard, and any of our enemies who are out there. You will have no protection from the hive. You will be outside the hive, and you will remain so, until either the guard has ended your quest, or the humans have.’ Her mandibles opened, revealing her feelers.
He longed to lose himself in her thoughts, to have no thoughts, but the human that surrounded him refused to let him win, refused to give him peace... was ... repulsed by her perfection.
‘Thank you... my queen...’ he answered with a bow, then allowed his presence to fade into the human, hiding his true self from any prying eyes. That was the best part of the process... the ability to hide completely.
She smiled. There was no kindness in her expression as she glared at him. “Do not fail us... the hive needs you...’ As she faded from sight, her guards closed in on him.
Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker