They were getting closer. Tatonka took a deep breath as the team from Zyerbien closed in on them.
“How much farther?” he asked as he gave WEJ a sidelong glance.
“Another ten minutes,” WEJ answered as he tried to keep out of range. As he moved, the security team from Zyrebien opened fire, trying make up for their previous inefficiency.
“They keep this up, were going to be dead long before we reach the party,” Tonka growled.
WEJ nodded as he whipped the car around the corner barely avoiding another barrage of gunfire.
“I think you’re right, lets switch to plan B.”
“We nab them and bring them with us.”
Tonka nodded. “Makes sense to me, you have any specifics on this plan?” As he asked he was forced to brace himself against the dashboard.
WEJ concentrated on the turn that had thrown his companion forward. Then looked around. “On the bridge... J turn...” he said as he started driving for the bridge.
“J Turn... on the bridge...” Tonka asked as he looked at WEJ. “Are you crazy???”
WEJ gave Tonka an answering smile. “Aren’t we all brother?”
Tonka shook his head as he took a deep breath. “Just remember... I can’t swim.”
“I’ll see what I can do!”
Papa D winked at his team as they took up their positions around the building. Tracker was scanning the area with his drone. When he finished, his voice cam over the comm-link.
“Only opps left are in the main building,” he announced.
Papa D nodded. “And no doubt, they’re waiting for our assault.”
Whisper nodded as he too once again focused on the physical world. “Eighteen signals... Two magically active, five that seem... deactivated, another that seems... entranced. Lots of firepower.”
BlackCat nodded in agreement. “They think we’re the aggressors. They’re just defending their people, their base.”
“Wonder if they even know,” Vermin asked sotto voce.
“I doubt it,” Gypsy answered. “But that doesn’t change what we have to do.”
“No... but maybe it changes how we go about doing it,” Papa Dan answered with a mischievous smile. “Whisper, join Tracker and Big D on the far side of the building, keep your eyes open. Cat, you, Little D and Duke, take the left side, the rest of you on the right...”
Gypsy’s eyes widened as Papa D bent down and patted the dog. “You are not planning on doing what I think you are my friend?”
“Why not... you did it once...”
“Once,” Gypsy objected. “Once was more than enough.”
Papa D winked at him. “Then its my turn,” he answered softly as he ruffled the dog’s fur, then straightened up. “Vermillion, I want a bullet barrier in the doorway.”
“Just do it,” Gypsy sighed as he watched Papa D move into position. “And pray to whatever gods you think might be listening.”
Vermin gave Gypsy a questioning look then complied with Papa D’s request. With the barrier in place, Papa D moved to the door – and knocked.
They were close now– the mages gathered near the door, preparing their final defenses. They may not be able to hold out against the onslaught, but at least they’d be able to take a few of their attackers with them.
They signaled the soldiers back as the team’s rigger trained his last drone on the front door. It was one final act of defiance. These people had hounded them, and they were going to pay.
The soldiers grimly arrayed themselves around the mages, knowing that they were the only thing standing between them and their enemy: that and 12 inches of reinforced concrete. As each one checked his weapon, they felt the shockwave as the last of the outside buildings was taken out.
They exchanged worried glances, then focused on the door. They knew the attack would happen soon. They were ready for anything – almost anything...
They were not ready for a knock on the door, or the man who now leaned casually against the door jam looking at them.
“Excuse me,” he said, his tone was nonthreatening, almost even social. He looked down at the dog who was standing next to him. “Any of you loose a puppy?”
Jules split his concentration between the security cameras and Duck’s monitor. It was going to be close. The intruders had made it through the perimeter and were converging on the warehouse. Watching them, there was no doubt in his mind that they knew exactly what they were looking for, and where to go to find it. He growled slightly as he realized that the men had probably locked onto their communications signals.
He checked BlackPaw’s progress: they were so close now: If things went according to plan, they’d have the device in less then ten minutes. The problem was, the suits would probably have control of the warehouse by then.
He looked worriedly at Duck. He knew his decision, but he wasn’t sure about hers. He walked over to the keyboard and told her what was happening.
Her only response was a simple, “tell them the General still has the device, but it looks like he’s planning on hiding it... They may want to get Tracker into the system soon, or we’ll lose him.”
Jules nodded and relayed the message. All they could do now was wait, and pray.
Duck continued to monitor the General’s activity splitting her concentration between the man and the system itself. She ran diagnostics on the available jacks to verify their status: she wanted to be sure that Tracker would be as safe as possible.
Once that was begun, she began working on the Technician’s system. She was fairly certain he was on her side but she wasn’t willing to risk her team on something that uncertain. Still, until Tracker could take over, he was their best bet.
Before reactivating his system, she inserted the code for oblivion so that if he decided to play things any other way than straight, he would be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Again, she was taking as few chances as possible when it came to her people.
She waited until the results from the diagnostics were in before relaying the information to Jules.
Several of the terminal points were indeed trapped. She identified them, and detailed her plans for the Technician. Once she was finished, she returned her concentration to the system.
There was still lot of work to do and, according to Jules, very little time in which to get it done. With a sigh, she deactivated the effects of Hurl, returning the Technician to full functionality.
As the last of the cancellations finished, the Technician’s construct stood shakily and then solidified. The image of the mechanic stood and looked at her, then bowed as he had done to Sensei.
The construct of a duck returned the bow, wingtip folded into wingtip. “Out of time,” Duck informed him quickly. “When I’m cut off... it’ll be up to you....”
“Watch over them... guide them to the General... protect them...”
The man looked at her for a moment then nodded. “Good luck...” he answered.
She gave a slightly satisfied sigh then nodded. “Going to need it,” she commented, then was gone.
The Technician stared where Duck had been and realized he was on his own again. He took over the security system, using it to monitor the situation. Downstairs, he could see the General, still trying to escape the building. He could also tell by the furtive glances, that someone was dogging his movements. He realized, to his surprise, that the General was looking for a way back to the main level. And no matter how hard he tried, he could find no sign of the General’s pursuers.
With a shake of his head, he continued to scan the output from the cameras trying to track the progress of Duck’s team and match it up to the others’ defenses. In the main room, he could see his own still form, and those of the deckers. They were still safely tucked back away from the line of fire.
Then he noticed the activity of what remained of his team. They were arraying themselves around the front door, waiting for a full frontal assault.
‘Fools,’ he thought to himself. ‘These are professionals you’re dealing with, they won’t walk through the front door and attack.’
He shook his head in disbelief as he continued to survey the area. He could see Tracker and another man near the back of the building, and the motion detectors indicated that there were others on either side of the building.
There were no real surprises in the activity outside; they were following a standard 2-by-2 deployment. At least it seemed standard until the alarm sounded. In surprise he turned to the monitors and realized that someone had indeed opened the front door.
He quickly switched to the output from the main room. He could feel his pulse rate quicken as he saw a man standing in the doorway. He was actually leaning against the door frame, just looking at the people where were crouched down, ready to attack.
He realized that the first concern was the last of team’s riggers who was preparing to activated his drone.
“Stop!” he sent the message through the building’s PA System. “They are on our side... The General... The project... its not...”
He growled as the rigger fired three shots into the speaker and then redirected his drone towards him and the other deckers. He couldn’t hear the man’s words as he screamed, but he could read his lips as he screamed “Traitor!”
Tonka was hyperventilating as WEJ put the car into a spin on the bridge. Holding on for dear life, he stared straight ahead. The car came to a stop, not facing their opponents, but blocking their way. He froze for a moment as bullets hit the side of the car, and then dove through the side door laying down a barrage of cover fire, that allowed WEJ to scoot out the side door. He slipped to the rear of the vehicle, clutching his gun as Tonka finished emptying his clip.
“Got any more bright ideas?” he growled as he crouched behind the car and reloaded his weapon.
“Just one,” WEJ answered as he pulled a pin on a flash grenade. “But you aren’t going to like this one either.”
“Do I ever?” Tonka asked as he looked at the grenade and shook his head.
“No... “ WEJ agreed, then threw the grenade.
They waited in silence for two seconds and then, the grenade went off. They were moving before the security men had a chance to respond. One of them tried to level his gun on Tonka, but was met by the butt of WEJ’s rifle. The other raised his hand in surrender.
Tonka covered the men as WEJ secured them in the back seat. He relaxed only marginally as WEJ moved towards the drivers side.
“No.. “ he said. “I’m driving.”
WEJ gave him an innocent, but exasperated look. “I did fine...”
“Yeah!” Tonka agreed sarcastically. “Great parking job!”
WEJ shrugged, then moved to the passenger side. “I could have gone for the car wash...”
Tonka looked at him and the water below. “My point exactly.”
WEJ smiled at him and shook his head as he settled into the passenger side seat. “Just drive already.”
The mages froze. Of all the things they were expecting, an average looking man with a dog was not on the list. Then they heard the synthesized voice over the PA system and the punctuated staccato of gunfire.
They wavered as the rigger sprung into action. Instead of going for the man in the doorway, he was aiming his guns at their own deckers as they lay helpless.
“I got him, watch the door,” the first one ordered as he fired off a spell at the seemingly crazed rigger.
“Stay where you are,” the second mage ordered Papa Dan. His voice wavered slightly, but it was obvious he was prepared to do whatever he had to do to protect his team.
Papa Dan nodded. “Don’t worry about me son,” he said evenly. “It’s the General you have to watch.”
It was obvious he was concentrating on the battle behind the second mage.
It was not going well: The rigger growled as the mage’s spell seemed to have no effect.
“Bastard!” he yelled as he pulled his gun and prepared to fire on the offending mage.
The mage let lose with something more potent and the rigger fell to his knees screaming. The mage was breathing hard as he surveyed the others, he was almost challenging them to say anything but they too were looking around and realized the General was nowhere to be seen.
In the doorway Papa D nodded. “He’s used you... lied to you... and killed members of my team.” He moved into the room a little bit more, allowing the remaining defenders a good view of his uniform. “You want to settle this... we do it through channels from here on out, but I have to ask you to surrender your weapons until such a time as a tribunal can be convened”.
The second mage took a deep breath. “That’s all very well and good sir, but how do we know that once we surrender, that you won’t just... “
“Kill you?” he asked evenly. “Do you have a better solution?”
“No sir,” the mage answered evenly. “Nothing, save your word...”
Papa D nodded, knowing full well that the mage was watching him for any sign of deceit. “I give you my word, as an officer and a gentleman, I will not harm you, or your companions as long as they do not threaten the safety of me or my men.”
The mage watched him for a moment longer then nodded. “Do it,” he urged his companions.
Papa D waited tensely as the others decided who they were going to follow. The fact that of of their own teammates had been willing to kill all their deckers gave them enough tho think about that they all hesitantly lowered their weapons.
Papa D breathed a sigh of relief as the men complied. If all went according to plan, no more innocent people would die because of the General and his device.
He signaled the others to move in.
Papa D looked around the room as his people set to work, securing the area and the prisoners. Then he looked at Whisper as he studied the deckers.
“What you got?” he asked as Whisper gave him a perplexed look.
“These first five... according to their equipment, they’re dead: flatlined. But when I look at them astrally, there’s nothing wrong with them -- nothing at all.”
Papa D looked at him a moment then turned to Tracker as he prepared to enter the system. “You know anything about this?”
Tracker looked at him and shrugged. “Hardware reports the information its feed. Its possible somebody looped ‘em into a crashed state. Something that would override the inputs and set it to signal only the low readings.”
Papa D nodded. “And the sixth?” he asked turning back to Whisper.
“He’s active and prowling the system,” Whisper stated with a nod.
Whisper nodded. “That’d be my guess.”
“Okay,” Papa D nodded. “Unhook the others one at a time. If they are fine, escort them to the holding area.”
Whisper nodded and deactivated one of the decks. He could see the reaction almost immediately, he’d seen Tracker go through it enough when he’d jacked out of the system. He smiled at the man as he got his bearings. “Hi,” he greeted the man with a cheerful smile.
The man jerked back reaching for his now empty holster. Whisper held the man’s gun out in front of him. “Looking for this?”
The man glared at him.
“Don’t worry, unlike you, we’re just going to lock you up and let the military deal with you.” He nodded towards Big D. “D1 will you please escort this gentleman to the hoosegow ?”
Big D shook his head as he offered the man a hand up. “You’ll have to excuse him,” he told the man. “He thinks he’s a comedian.”
The man ignored the hand and helped himself up, looking around at the others.
Big D pointed towards one of the storage areas. “Your companions are over there,” he said then waited for the man to move.
“You... “ he stopped, unsure what Big D or the others were planning.
“As my friend said, you will be locked up and taken to a military tribunal.”
“But... you’re...” He stopped, shaking his head.
“We’re...” Big D responded questioningly.
“Martin, Philip D. -121...”
Big D shook his head. “We’re supposed to be on the same side,” he sighed. “Your leader however changed that when he started killing my teammates. Now... we have to secure this area before we can track him down.”
The man looked at him a moment and then moved towards the door. The one comforting thought was the fact that if they were going to kill him, they could have done it already and he’d have never known.
Jules breathed a sigh of relief as Papa Dan announced that they had secured the first level of the building and were preparing to go after the device. He relayed that WEJ and Tonka were on their way with the team from Zyrebien.
“Good job,” Papa D told him. “Now... if you’ve got problems with rats, I suggest you book!”
“No complaints here,” he answered. “Meet you there in 30,” he promised as he checked the suit’s progress.
It was going to be close. As near as he could tell they’d have the warehouse surrounded in two minutes. Jules moved quickly abandoning the comm-gear: that he could lose, but Duck was another story entirely. He moved over and switched the deck back to simulation mode. Then he disconnected it from the building’s terminal jack and picked her up.
Moving as quickly as he dared he shifted Duck into a fireman’s carry and booked down the stairs. When he reached the landing he turned away from the door and headed deeper into the warehouse’s basement. From there he exited into the steam tunnels and began making his way back to the cars.
It took Tracker very little time to become acclimated to the system. He began moving through the system as if he’d created it himself. As he reached security, he found the Technician waiting for him. He tensed slightly, ready to send the activation codes Jules had relayed, but the need never arose.
The Technician simply nodded and showed him the display of the building’s security layout and the camera view of the General.
Tracker nodded as he fed the output to his screen and began closing down the exits available to the General.
It was just a question of time now.
BlackCat tensed as Papa Dan announced that they were heading for the basement. “Sir...” she objected softly. “We can’t go down there.”
“Why not?” he asked as he turned his attention to her.
BlackCat took a deep breath and shook her head. “Bugs sir,” she answered.
“Bugs?” he asked, his eyes widening just a bit.
BlackCat nodded. “They told me the General would go below, and there he would die... it would be death for us to follow him.”
“What about the device?” he asked looking from Cat to Gypsy.
“They want it destroyed as much as we do sir,” she answered softly.
“More,” Duke added. “They will not rest until it is destroyed.”
Papa Dan studied them for a moment and then moved over to Tracker’s console. After relaying the information Cat had given him, Papa D waited.
In less than two minutes, Tracker had an image from one of the cameras. There was no mistaking the image on the screen for anything other than what it was: the shadow of a mantid warrior.
“Bugs,” he sighed.
Inside the security system, Tracker froze as a message came through from Papa D. His eyes widened slightly, but then he began backtracking through the system, looking for any signs of bugs.
He was about to give up when he caught a slight shadow in one of the feeds. Quickly he accessed the camera’s tape and began rewound it to the frame in question. He fed the image to the screen as he began checking further into the system.
The Technician’s eyes widened as he noticed the output, but Tracker was already back to following the General and his men.
Tracker began feeding the camera output directly to his screen, the bugs were closing in.
Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker