When is the Duck not a Duck? (K. Wjowski)

Tracker once said, if you're running in the shadows, you may as well dance. Guess I took that to heart. Sometimes I think fate had plans for me, I don't know if that's true, but I do know she's taken me on a hell of a ride.

My father was a company man, worked for Aerocomm like his daddy before him. My mother, she married young and she just didn't realize that she'd always be second to the company in my father's eyes. It wasn't really his fault, that's the way he is. She dealt with it by not dealing with it. She buried herself in simsense and every drug imaginable till it killed her. It's a wonder I'm as normal as I am.

I know I don't want to die like that. I never want to give away the control. If death comes for me, I want to stare her in the face and meet her on my terms. I think that's my uncle's influence.

I went to live with Uncle Tony after my mom died. It seemed like the best thing for all of us. My old man, he didn't have a clue about what to do with a kid, and Uncle Tony did. He's been like my father ever since.

Things weren't always easy. Truth be told, they rarely were, but we were always there for each other. Uncle Tony, worked for the government, and there were times when he'd have to leave me with Grandmother se'se.

Now, Uncle Tony's place, that was on an area that was considered a "soft border" Technically it was in Pueblo territory, but my mother's folks, they belonged there. I don't understand all the politics behind it, I just grew up belonging to the extended family. And Granny se'se, she was my grandmother's sister. Funny thing is se'se is actually a Cheyanne word, meaning 'duck'. I asked her about it once, and she just laughed and told me it was a 'really long story.' I never did get to hear the story.

So when Uncle Tony was on assignment, I'd move in with Granny. This went on until my eighteenth birthday, when my father stepped back into my life. He got me my first Cyberjack and a job at Aerocomm. It was kind of nice, although things were strained at first. We started to get along, but then the wrong file crossed my deck. Next thing I know, security is closing in and I'm on the lam.

It was a good thing Gypsy had taught me a thing or two about life, and how to stay living. I was able to call a truce with the Corp. They leave me alone, and nobody gets the file. They spent a lot of time trying to break my accounts, they killed one or two, but they never could get them all.

I disappeared for a while, the military can be good for that. I learned quite a bit, then I started working for Uncle Tony. Now, Uncle Tony, Gypsy, was a member of Voodoo, a UCAS Spec Ops group based out of a river basin in the middle of nowhere. What he didn't know, was that by then, I was working for them too.

In person, they knew me as his niece, 'Red'. But I was also their decker, Duck, after Granny se'se. Now, in those days they tended to keep their decker stashed away somewhere nice and safe, so they never saw me. That was until the french developed a prototype Cyberjack/satellite link up. Everybody wanted that. With it, you could hook into the Matrix without a wire, without a trace. Oh, there were a lot of people who would pay a lot of money for that, and most of them were willing to kill for it.

They were willing to kill, and my friends, they were the ones who ended up dying. Voodoo lost three good men, and I lost another friend. His handle was 'Silly Wizard..' He was a decker, and my confidant. He was also a decker with BlackPaw, a Seal Team, comparable to our group. That's when I met Tracker. Wizard was his friend too, and we ended up working together. We managed to decode Wiz's files, but before we could do anything the enemy made their move.

While I was wrapping up a few details in town, I was kidnaped. They didn't know who they had. To them I was Gypsy's niece, a pawn for them to use to control him. They told him they'd keep me safe in exchange for the device.

'Safe,' that's a laugh. Their idea of keeping me safe was to load me up on dreamers, and Euphs and hook me up with simsense. I don't know how he did it, but Tracker managed to find me. Pulled me out of there, but by that time I was hooked.

It took me a long time to shake them, but Tracker was there for me. He made me go on, when I wanted to quit. He used everything he had to keep me off the stuff. I know I said and did some awful things then, but he stayed with me. I still can't watch somebody doing them. Hell, I've even sworn off of alcohol.

Like I said, Tracker, he helped me back, and kept me there. He knows me better than I know myself sometimes. He still watches out for me, and I watch out for him. We're a team, Tracker and me. We've been through too much together through the years to be anything else.

Well, after that, everybody knew who I was. That's when I started working directly with the team. The older guys, they still call me 'Red', but to most of them, I'm The Duck. I think Granny se'se would be proud of me.

It was a few years later when TwoBears, a Pueblo Force officer joined us for cross training. Danny TwoBears, a name I thought I'd never hear again. You see, Danny and I grew up together. As long as I can remember he'd complain that there were still 'Whites' living in Pueblo territory. We used to have some serious 'discussions' about that as kids. When he'd start into it, I'd end up asking him 'You want to get rid of me too?' That would stop him, since technically, I was 'Anglo', but I was also like his third cousin twice removed or some such thing. Anyway, he wasn't half as arrogant as I remembered him, and he was honestly glad to see Uncle Tony and me. Bear and I had grown a lot since the days when we were kids, and let me tell you if I knew that he'd turn out like he did, I'd never have lost touch.

Things were good for a while, and then fate stepped in again.

We were on maneuvers, just an exercise, when TwoBears got shot. Two drunks were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they just decided that Danny made a good target. We heard the shots and came running. There was no warning, and there was no stopping them either. They were just shooting at anything that moved by then, but by then, Danny wasn't moving. Nobody could get close to him without getting shot, so I slipped in behind them. I don't even think they saw it coming.

They got Danny 6 times, and couple of the shots would have killed him if it weren't for BlackCat and her bag of tricks. Now, magic may have saved Danny's life, but his body couldn't take much more. So, Danny TwoBears got a ticket to Rehab.

I was under house arrest pending an inquiry on the shooting. We were pretty sure I'd be cleared, but we had to wait. I was honored by Pueblo Force, but my own government had to review the case. None of us really cared a whit about that, all we cared about was Bear.

As I said, I was under house arrest, so I couldn't leave base, except to go to the Rehab center to visit TwoBears. It was about that time, I realized we had feelings towards each other that weren't entirely 'cousinly. At the time, I thought it was just infatuation on my part, but I know better now. We ended up treating it like a forced vacation, and tried to make the best of it.

By the end of the month, as I was cleared of all charges and put back on active duty. Bear on the other hand, had another month or so of Rehab. And that's where the next wave of trouble began. I was visiting TwoBears, when the Wilson brothers arrived. The older one was suffering from a crushed leg/replacement trauma. That was Davy Wilson. They had him on so much medication, I don't think anything would have pulled him out.

Derrick on the other hand was so messed up, they had to tranq him. Even tranq'ed the man would chatter insntly. Of course, you know which one ended up as Bear's roommate. As BlackCat is fond of saying 'Nothing is fortuitous.' Derrick need help, and Bear was the one to give it.

The TwoBears are Shaman, it runs in their family. And Bear, being Bear, couldn't help by see Derrick's need and want to help him. Bear spent a lot of time talking to Derrick, trying to reach him, and when he had Derrick's permission, he started the real work.

When he was finished, Bear didn't want to talk. He didn't want to do much of anything. I stayed with him that night, holding him, praying that he'd be all right. It was late when the nightmare seized him. Now, I've known Bear since we were kids. I know some of the things his family made him do as part of his training, and none of it ever effected his sleep. Funny thing was, it was the first night Derrick slept peacefully.

Bear looked at me, and was very quiet for a long time. Then he told me. Everything.

Man what they did to that kid. I could see it in Bear's eyes, long before he said a word. It was the sort of things that nightmares were made of, that's for sure. When he was done, I knew I had to do something. We knew Derrick had seen something he wasn't supposed to, and it was now up to me to find out what.

TwoBears tried to warn me, but I was so pissed at the time, I didn't care. Even as a kid I couldn't stomach this sort of thing, I'd be damned if I was going to let it slip as an adult. I clenched my jaw and just stared at him. TwoBears knew that look, he'd seen it in my eyes the night he was shot. He knew he couldn't reason with me, he didn't even try, he just told me to be careful.

The first stage was easy. These people may have been good at covering their tracks in the 'normal' world, but they had no clue about the matrix. Every transaction leaves a trail, every word, every file. Very few non-deckers ever come close to realizing one fraction of its potential. Here, I reign.

They'd erased files and faked documents, but no matter how you change a file, a trace of the original still remains; revision histories are maintained, and what you don't know, can hang you.

Data recovery, data encryption, these are the toys of a decker. The blocks we play with as a children, and I'm not a child anymore. This is my life, my work, and my hobby.

I found the original, non-doctored versions of the files, and I copied them, and the revised versions, with all the revisions that were made. I wanted to make sure we had enough information to prove that these were the originals.

There have been several recent legal battles, where the final evidence was a copy of an incriminating file. The Supreme Courts had developed a list of criteria for such information to be admissable. Dates on a file can be created, altered. But there are a few key items that can't be faked. I made sure that the documents had those elements. I wanted this to stick, cause let me tell you, it was bad.

I found enough evidence to bury the Wilsons' C.O. He was dirty and in bed with several big name Corps, and our illustrious Governor. It was some pretty nasty shit too. They were redirecting weapons and research to a Terrorist group. And things didn't stop there. There were plans to expand UCAS Territory into Ute and Pueblo lands. And if that weren't enough, they had information on chem warfare. Designer shit. Designed to take down any of the 'meta's' and leave us 'normals' alone.

Now, like I said, I grew up in the Pueblos, I got friends and family that these people are threatening. And I thought I was pissed before. This was too big to take risks on. I sent a copy to a blind account Tracker and I use. I knew he'd be checking it, at least one copy would get to the authorities.

I made another three copies just for good measure. One I left on base behind the commander's desk and took the others with me.

Then I caught the communique. I was being tailed. I knew they didn't know much about me, but they did have access to my records. That being the case, I knew meant that they'd have a pretty good idea of what I'd do.

I found some more more, and it was a lot worse. The furnace at the Rehab Center seemed about to develop some serious problems, and it seemed that there was a riot planned in the federal prison where a third Wilson brother was serving time.

I checked his record, a recon man, and that's what we needed. Now I'm fine at holding my own in a firefight, and with a deck, there's no question, but in this business, you know your limits, or you end up dead. This was mine.

They'd expect me to try to rescue the others, that was the obvious choice. I guess that's where Gypsy's training took over, they expect you to go left, you go anyplace else. I weighed my options and did some quick data modeling. I had to get Geoff Wilson out of prison.

I had never broken into prison before that night. Out, yes but in? Well, it turns out its easier to break in, which is good, because we were running out of time.

I don't know how much time I wasted trying to get Wilson number three to listen. I mean how do you start... "Hi, I'm somebody you've never met, and you have no reason to trust me, but here's what's going on." It helped that his brothers were in danger, but it was bad too. It sounded like a setup, even to me.

Then I showed him the numbers. He really didn't like them, but I think I convinced him. The numbers, my life and theirs, reduced to numbers. At least that's something I can live by.

Geoff couldn't be here when the riot started, he'd be dead for sure, since that was the plan, and somebody had to get the others out of the center. My plan was for me to take his place in the cell, that way he'd have another hour to get the others out before anybody was the wiser. Night time head-count required only that a warm body be in the cell. He kept pointing to my odds, I kept pointing to others'.

If I stayed, their survival jumped from 10% to 95%, it was that simple, but staying meant an 85% chance of the C.O.'s men capturing me, and only a 35% chance of rescue. Geoff didn't like those odds, but there was a lot more on the line than me. He started to tell me where he'd take the others, but I stopped him.

"If I don't know, I can't tell," I told him and that was that. He left without a sound and I took his place in the cell. I tried to comfort myself with the odds, but they weren't very good. Not very good at all.

Two hours later I learned just how shitty my luck really was.

You know its bad when your recorder goes on the blink, but at least I knew what to expect. One question, over and over, and a serious shock if I refused to answer. When I refused. I gave up even trying after a while. I just picked the easiest, most obnoxious song I could think of and started sing it, over and over again. I don't know how long it went on, and I know I passed out more than a few times. My status indicators went from overload to almost nothing.

When I was awake, my nerves were on fire. I tried to sing, I tried to do anything but the pain kept coming, and when they were done, I could barely move, let alone think. I think I would have told them anything at that point to get the to stop. Except I didn't have anything to say. They knew I had the information, and they knew I'd given the Wilson's a copy, but I couldn't tell them where it was, where they were.

They were getting desperate, and I'd seen what they'd done to Derrick. They were going to move into the next phase of questioning. Then I felt it, soft at first, almost cocooning me away from the pain. TwoBears was there, in my mind. He must have figured out where I was 'cause it was too long after that I felt someone gently shaking me, trying to reach me. It was Geoff 'Tendown', the third Wilson boy.

It wasn't too long after that, that I was discharged. I'd been through too much and I guess they figured I needed a break. That's when I started doing some research and a little bit of freelance work. It didn't take Tracker too long to join me. I'd see TwoBears when I could, but he was busy, and seeing the gang, well, to be honest, I felt out of place for a while.

Our research payed off, and we got Voodoo and BlackPaw some well needed toys. After all, they were still family.

We took a lot of cases, but there were a few assignments we made for ourselves. Like tracing the folks that were supposed to be getting those nasty little toys from the Wilsons' C.O. We caught them, had to call in Voodoo, BlackPaw, and the Pueblo folks, but we got them.

That earned us a stand-by status. Joy, reactivation with no recourse. Truth be told, I'm glad to be back.

Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker
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