Papa D looked at the dog as they jogged near the obstacle course. The dog had proven very well behaved and Papa Dan was curious to how he'd take to the training course.
"C'mon boy," he urged as the course came into view. He knew he had to come up with a name for the dog, but so far, nothing seemed to fit.
He was about to enter when he noticed that one of the K9 units had already commandeered the course. He was turning to leave when one of them called to him.
"Hey, Pappa Dan, why don't you get yourself a real dog?"
Papa D turned and looked at the man, he was the lead trainer. "Martinez... " he sighed. "We're just out for a run, aren't we boy?" he asked the dog.
The dog looked up at him, its mouth open in what looked like a grin.
Martinez moved closer, his expression mortified. "You haven't even named him yet have you?"
Papa Dan looked at him for a minute and shook his head. "I couldn't think of anything that fit."
Martinez looked from Papa D to the dog and back again. "Mind if I take a look?"
Papa D nodded, remaining slightly tense as the K9 trainer examined the dog with a critical eye.
“Good eyes, nice coat..” Martinez muttered as he reached down and let the dog sniff his hand. “Friendly. Where did you find him?”
Papa D chuckled. “He and three others were sent to attack us.”
Martinez shook his head. “This guy– he’s a lover not a fighter.”
Papa D nodded. “The first two– I tranqed. He just stopped. I don’t think he’s got it in him to hurt somebody.”
“I can see that,” Martinez sighed as he stood up. “He’s got a little terrier in him, looks like some lab, and maybe some wolf-hound... I think if somebody threatened you, he’d react, but as for attacking on command,” again he shook his head.
Papa D smiled. “I noticed that about him,” he said. “I was curious to see how he’d do on the course.”
Martinez nodded. “Why don’t you come down next week sometime, we’ll put him through his paces.”
Papa D smiled at the suggestion. “I’d like that.”
Martinez turned to go then looked at Papa D, a very serious yet mischievous look on his face. “And Cap... name the poor thing already!”
Papa D bowed his head and looked at the dog then back an Martinez and nodded sheepishly.
Martinez wandered back to the others muttering about people expecting dogs to behave and be a part of the action when they don’t even bother naming them.
Papa Dan was about to continue his jog when he heard a van pull up and the side door opened. “Papa D!” Whisper called from the van. “We found them, c’mon, we gotta move.”
Papa D looked up sharply. “You found them? Already? They must be planning something.”
Next to him Little D patted his rifle lovingly. “That’s why we’re figuring on going in ready for anything.”
Papa D looked at the brightly colored gun and smiled. It was the SuperSoaker 79000 XSFPD. “Not taking any chances I see...”
Sundog’s laugher escaped from somewhere inside the van. “You think that’s bad, you should see the potato salad.”
Papa D nodded curtly. “Well then, lets not keep them waiting.” He jogged over to the van, the dog at his heals. “C’mon boy...” he urged and the dog jumped into the van. He shifted uncomfortably until he found a place he could lay down, out of the way. Papa D followed waited for him to settle down and then climbed in, closing the side door as soon as he was in. “Roll it,” he urged Jules.
“On our way,” Jules answered as he pulled away from the curb.
It had been a good dream. Duck stretched as she watched the sunlight stream into her room. For the first time since Gypsy had brought her home that she had felt good enough to get out of bed before noon. She dressed trying to remember the dream.
She had been in the matrix, following the trail of something– the device. She had found the last references to Aurora in the system and deleted them.
Stretching she headed for the door.
Cracking into the system had been easy, she floated through it like a dream. While she was there, nothing seemed to be able to touch her, she was faster than the security, search routines were a breeze.
She headed down the stairs, the scent of pancakes and fresh syrup wafted through the house. As she came into the kitchen she remembered another part of the dream:
She could feel a tracing routine trying to lock onto her, but she was too fast for it. With the quickest of movements, she darted around the routine, like a mongoose avoiding a cobra.
It was all so vivid, so alive in her memory.
She felt almost angry as she looked around the system and prepared to leave. She had done what she had come to do, but still felt–betrayed. With a slightly gleam in her eye, she attacked the core system and sent it tumbling into an abyss.
She felt oddly satisfied as she entered the kitchen and stat down at the table.
“Good Morning,” Gypsy called to her happily.
“Morning,” Duck answered with a slight yawn.
“Sleep well?” He asked gently.
“Better,” Duck admitted. “Had a dream where I was decking, figure I must be getting better if I’m dreaming about work.”
Gypsy chuckled at that. “As long as it was a good run...”
Duck smiled. “The best,” she sighed. happily. She inhaled deeply as he began piling fresh pancakes on her plate. “You trying to fatten me up?” she asked after he had stacked five on her plate and gave no indication of stopping.
Gypsy gave her a sheepish look and then set the pan down. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I am just...” he stopped and just looked at her. “I worry about you child...”
Duck chuckled. “You should.”
Gypsy snorted at that. “Yes, I guess I should.” He paused, looking at the clock and then back at his niece. “Are you coming with me?”
Duck smiled. “Its memorial day, of course I’m coming.”
Gypsy smiled and then handed her the syrup. “Then eat... eat...”
Duck laughed as she took the syrup and began dousing it on her pancakes.
Vermin waited, hovering along the tree line as the van pulled into sight. “Target approaching,” he announced.
The Old Man nodded as he signaled Gadje to be ready. Cat was already waiting at the ambush sight. He was about to check with Gypsy and Duck when he felt somebody tap his shoulder.
He turned, raising his hands as he realized that he had been had. He turned to find himself staring down the business end of a supersoaker, there was nothing else he could do. “WEJ,” he sighed.
“Sir,” WEJ greeted him. He nodded respectfully then let lose with the supersoaker. “You are dead.”
TOM nodded. “I kinda figured,” he answered, an odd smile crossing his face.
WEJ had enough time to start to turn before the load of a “drop” drone landed on him.
“Then again, so are you,” TOM added as he patted WEJ’s back.
WEJ shook his head as he looked around for the drone’s owner.
“Ah, ah...” TOM scolded. “No support from the great beyond... “
WEJ nodded and made an ‘after you gesture.’
Duck sat at the picnic table watching as her friends filed in one and two at a time. It was good to see them laughing and smiling. TOM and WEJ, the first casualties were adapting well to their new rolls as cook and cook’s assistant. As the smell of grilling meat and veggies filled the air the others started filing in.
Duck laughed as a very bedraggled looking Cat walked over to the table and rung her hair out before sitting down.
“How’d they get you?” Duck asked as she ran a hand through the stubble that had been her hair.
“For future reference... bullet barriers do not work against water balloons.”
Duck chuckled, her eyes sparkling. “I’m sorry... its not funny...”
Cat shook her head. “Maybe not, but it is something good to know.”
Duck nodded. When Cat continued to stare at her, she looked at her friend questioningly.
‘She knows,’ the alien voice whispered silently. It was more like reading data on the matrix than listening to someone speak.
Duck took a deep breath as she forced herself to accept the information and not react. It was hard. When she looked at Cat, she knew the exchange hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“How is it?” Cat asked softly.
Duck chuckled. “So far not too bad. We had a disagreement over an ant.”
Cat looked at her, unsure if she was kidding or not.
Then Duck’s grin broadened slightly. “Fortunately, she hates roaches even more than I do.”
Cat shook her head and sighed. If Duck was kidding about it, she’d probably be all right.
Duck looked at her, her expression very serious. “Cat... it beats what happened to Daniel...”
Cat nodded with that. “I guess you’re right.”
‘Of course she’s right,’ Tskallleh-ch’s voice was barely a whisper, but they both heard it.
Duck shrugged. “There you have it...”
Tracker smiled as he snagged a towel and sat down next to Duck and Cat. “This kind of combat, I can deal with,” he announced.
“Yeah,” Cat agreed. “Sure beats bullets.”
Tracker looked at Duck and smiled. “Good to see you up and around.”
Duck nodded. “Good to be up and around,” she admitted.
Tracker smiled at her oddly.
Tracker shook his head. “Nothing,” he assured her as he tried to figure out how to phrase his next question. “Have you... used the device at all?”
Duck shook her head. “I’m having enough problem recovering from the operation... That’ll wait,” she assured him.
He nodded, but somehow looked more worried.
Tracker looked at her for a moment. “Somebody cracked the Agency’s system early this morning.”
Duck looked at him sharply. “The files?”
“Hard to tell but it looks like they were accessed before someone brought the whole system down.”
Duck sat up a little straighter as she stared at Tracker. Flashes from her dream came back to her. “Did they get anything... ghost traces of the decker... access information?”
Tracker shook his head, but noticed the look in her eyes. “As far as they were concerned, it was a ghost. Whoever it was moved faster than anything they’ve ever dealt with.” He watched her as an odd expression crossed her face. “Duck?” he asked gently.
“I... dreamed I... was in their system... deleting the records and... taking the system down with it...”
Tracker gave Duck a worried look. “You... dreamed...”
Duck looked at him, an incredulous smile crossing her face. “It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
Tracker ran his hand over his chin, a slight gleam in his eyes. “I think we need to keep this to ourselves for now.”
Duck nodded her eyes gleaming at the possibility. “Wow...”
“Yeah,” Tracker agreed.
Cat shook her head. “Deckers,” she sighed. “You are aware that they almost killed you with that thing aren’t you?”
Duck nodded. “But they didn’t...”
Papa D looked out at those gathered: his family. After an afternoon of running water-gun battles, and eating, there was only one thing left to do: remember those who were no longer with them. He looked over at TOM who nodded.
“You have the honors,” he said softly, then called the others to order.
The rest of the two teams quieted down, knowing all too well what was coming.
Papa D smiled, opening a bottle of conac and began pouring it into paper cups. “Every year we gather together to remember those who are no longer with us...” he sighed heavily. “And this year, we’ve lost quite a few... too damn many...”
He could sense the agreement in all those gathered.
“I would like to toast them all,” he said, as the last glass was poured. “To HeartBreaker, Silly Wizard, Persephone, Hercules, Diogenes, Raster. Friends no longer with us, their loss will be felt for a long time to come. We are glad to have known them.”
As one they raised their cups. “Here, here.”
As he took a sip, Papa D smiled. “We also have reason to celebrate, with two of our ‘lost’ returned to us...” He looked meaningfully at SunDog and Duck. He was about to drink then stopped. “And to Duke,” he added once again raising his glass.
As the others raised their cups, the dog stood and barked at Papa D, almost as if he too was mourning the losses. A slight smile crossed his face. ‘Duke,’ he thought as he looked at the dog and nodded.
Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker