"Any luck decoding the message?" Lightning asked as Rico went over his notes for a third time.
Rico shook his head. "Duck likes to play word games," he explained. "Things that take some thinking and I'm just not getting it."
"When's the last time you slept?"
Rico looked at the clock, then at the calendar. "Point taken," he answered. "You going to be okay?"
"Why shouldn't I be?" she asked. "Boomers out gallivanting with Kenny and Derrick; it's two o'clock in the morning and I'm expecting all hell to break loose at any moment. It's just a typical Monday night around here."
"Okay, so it was probably a pretty stupid question," Rico offered.
"On a scale of one to ten, I'd give it a two," Lightning assured him. "I'm going to crash. You may want to do the same."
Rico looked at his notes then shrugged. The message was here and there was work to be done.
"It'll be here in the morning," Lightning told him. "And it might make sense when you're fresh."
Rico nodded but he couldn't help but look at his notes again. Lightning watched him for a minute and shook her head.
"What?" Rico demanded when he saw the look on her face.
"Here I was thinking I might start missing Boomer, but all I have to watch you in action. Neither of you can put something down. Once you're working on a problem, you just manage to tune everything else out. Its like the problem is the only thing that exists."
"Pretty annoying huh?" he asked.
Lightning nodded. "Cute. But annoying."
"Sounds like the family motto," Rico stated.
"Nurture," she stated after a little bit of thought. When she saw the confused look Rico gave her she started to explain. "The whole nature vs. nurture debate, environment vs. Genetics."
"Ah, it's late, so she waxes psychological," Rico interjected. "So tell me Dr, how would you classify our happy little family?"
"Well," Lightning stated while she tried to think of the right thing to say. "I'd have to describe y'all as a bunch of raving nut cases, dedicated, but completely nuts."
Rico gave her a slow nod and grinned. "In purely technical terms?" he asked.
"Those are the technical terms for most of you."
"Most?" Rico asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, I haven't met too many of the normal ones," she answered with a grin.
"We are the normal ones," Rico countered with a Rabbit-like grin.
Lightning shook her head and walked towards the door. "I'm going to bed," she announced.
"Want some company?" Rico asked teasingly.
"Get some rest Rico," she urged him gently before she left.
Rico watched the door close behind her and shook his head. 'Boomer, you better be taking care of yourself,' he thought.
Boomer watched as the search team went over the van one last time. Kenny was awake, enough to satisfy the medics that he was alright, but Boomer knew better. Kenny was far from being alright, and he had no idea how to help him.
He watched as the survey team handed the Senior Officer their reports. He could see the officer sifting through the information. Boomer prayed that the tranqs would keep Rabbit quiet until this was all over.
"Mr Wilson," the officer called signaling him to join him.
Boomer rested a hand on Kenny's arm and told him to hang on, then joined the officer. He'd calmed down some since they'd let him stay with Kenny, and even the officer seemed calmer, even vaguely apologetic.
"Look, I'm really sorry," the officer stated. "I, I overreacted."
Boomer nodded. He knew this was as close to an apology as he'd get from the man and it would have to do. "Like I said, I'd probably do the same," he added with a nod. "Didn't appreciate it, but I understand."
That was the closest he'd come to accepting what the man had done. They stood like that for a while before the officer signaled his men to pack it in.
"I hope you find the people you're looking for," Boomer offered as they headed back towards the chopper.
"Oh, we will," the officer stated confidently. "Thank you for your time."
Boomer guided Kenny back to the van as the officers cleared the van and moved back to the Helicopter. As he climbed into the van, the helo' lifted off with all the officers that had surrounded them. Boomer started the van and pulled back out onto the highway. At least traffic had moved on.
Reflexively he hit the analyze button and found the four bugs and two trackers that had been placed on the van. 'Better and better,' Boomer thought to himself then he flicked the second switch. He'd had enough for one day. If they wanted to pull him over again, fine, but he was not going to sit and go through another two hours of sitting around in handcuffs waiting for somebody to find Rabbit.
Somewhere in LoneStar's dispatching center, a listener got an earful of static.
It was pitch-dark and he could barely move. Kenny remembered that much. The flashing lights stung the back of his eyes as he watched the officers go over the van. He wanted them to go away. He wanted everything the way it was, but he had no idea how things were anymore.
Names came to mind only to drift away. They'd cuffed him, strapped him into a stretcher and then left him while they questioned the other man. Something told him that he knew the man but nothing quite fit together. He'd been locked in the dark so long and he was so afraid. All he wanted was his momma.
'Momma,' he thought, but no face came to mind. The man joined him as they were both uncuffed. He asked if he was alright, he remembered that. Everything was so disjointed. It was like trying to put together a puzzle, where nothing fit. Time passed, but again he had no idea how much.
"Kenny?" the man called. They were in the van again, just the two of them. Visions of the other man, the bad man, filled his mind. He remembered how the man towered over him. He threw up his hand in terror and screamed.
Blackness surrounded him. Nobody could hear him, nobody could help him. The blackness filled his mind threatened to take everything that made him who he was. Who was he?
"Come here," the man ordered as Kenny cowered against the door.
"Please," he managed to say. "Please."
"Kenny," he heard another voice plead. He could feel the worry and stress in the voice. "I can't help you unless you tell me what's happening."
"No!" Kenny screamed. "No!"
"Dammit Clearwater," the voice swore. "It's me, Wayne…your brother."
Brother. The images came back: his brother Geffen; the gunshot and Geffen falling. He deserved the darkness, Geffen had died because of him, because he hadn't been strong enough.
"Geffen!" he screamed as he fell.
Kenny woke with a start. He gasped as he tried to untangle himself from the sheets. Boomer was there watching him worriedly.
"Boom?" he called hoarsely.
"You know me?" Boomer asked gently.
Kenny nodded as he pushed himself up until he was sitting upright in the bed. He looked across the room and saw Rabbit stretched out the room's other bed. Kenny leaned forward, placing his head in his hands.
"You want to talk about it?" Boomer asked.
Kenny let out a slow breath and looked at Boomer. "Just a lot of images really," he answered slowly. "I have no idea what they all mean. It could be a repressed memory, could be the watcher delivered me into some kind of nightmare," he stated then shook his head. "I just don't know."
"Then tell me what you saw," Boomer suggested. "Share it with me, just in case you forget."
"I, I... gods Boomer, it was... I was completely helpless," Kenny managed to say.
"Take it easy," Boomer urged. "You're safe now. I'm here, Rabbit's here. You know we'll protect you."
Kenny looked at him for a minute then nodded. As he continued his story, Boomer couldn't help but think of the hopelessness and despair he'd seen in that look.
"I was young, maybe seven or eight," Kenny whispered. "My brother and I were playing when this man came up and grabbed him."
He stopped as the images played over and over again. Pain and fear surround him, and then it all focused on the sound of a single shot and Geffen falling. He pulled his legs in close and held them there as he rocked gently. "Boomer, I think he killed my brother."
"Easy Kenny," Boomer urged as he placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Just take it easy." Boomer clenched his jaw as he tried to think. Bear always said that the mind was a powerful thing, both healer and destroyer. They key was to find the balance. "What happened afterwards?"
"He took me away," Kenny stated as he tried to find the words to describe everything. "Then I was surrounded by darkness. I couldn't move."
"Easy," Boomer urged again. "It's over. You're safe now, you got that?"
Kenny nodded, but the images kept repeating. He let out a moan as the images took control.
He was trapped. Stale air surrounded him as pounded against the walls that held him to the darkness. It was small and confining. The man had thrown him in the crate and nailed it shut. Then he heard the rustling sound as dirt was piled on top of the crate, the man was burying him alive.
Boomer watched as the harrowed look crept back into his brother's eyes. He put an arm around Kenny's shoulders and held him. "You're not alone," he urged. "Just hang on."
In the darkness, Kenny screamed.
*** *** ***
It was late when they arrived at the complex. Masters navigated his car through the three security checkpoints and didn't relax until he'd parked the car.
"We're here," he announced. Max was sound asleep next to him, Tracker feigned sleep, and Duck merely watched him. "I don't know about you two, but I could do with a late snack," he added as he unbuckled himself from the safety harness.
"Food is good," Tracker answered without moving.
"My arm could be twisted," Duck agreed.
Masters noticed that neither one of them had moved and turned. As he did he saw the reason why: seven armed security guards had surrounded the vehicle. Their weapons were carefully aimed at both deckers' heads.
"Of all the bloody," Masters growled as he activated his comm-unit.
"You may want to wake up Max," Duck suggested.
"Since he's the one who called them," Tracker added.
"It would seem that Allison isn't the only one who covets my job," Masters commented wryly as his 'assistant' drew his gun and aimed it at him.
"Sir, I am relieving you of your duties as Senior Security Officer," Max informed him as he eased Master's gun from its holster.
"Care to tell me about it?" Masters asked.
"Simple really," Max told him. "Some of your superiors have seen your constant inability to control these two fugitives as a weakness. I have merely capitalized on that."
"See, we like Allison," Duck stated. "He doesn't like us, and he wants Master's job, but he's open about it."
"You on the other hand, are a weasel," Tracker agreed.
"We don't like weasels," Duck told him as she activated the car's internal security. Max pointed Masters' gun at Duck and chuckled.
"I don't care. In less than a minute, I'll have eliminated the company's top two security risks and carved out my niche in the company."
"Very clever," Duck commented
"Except that you overlooked a few minor details," Masters added.
"Like what?" Max asked. "I've got a gun on you, the car's surrounded."
"We don't trust you," Duck suggested. When his hand didn't waver, Duck grinned. "Oh, you want a list?"
"Well, for one, you're back-ups on the other side of the bulletproof glass," Tracker suggested.
"Two, Masters' gun isn't loaded," Duck added. "You want to take three?" she asked Masters.
"Three, say goodnight Max," Masters stated as he pulled his gloves off.
Max shook his head in confusion.
"You just got to love contact drugs," Duck told him.
"DMSO makes a very nice carrier," Masters agreed.
"Bastards!" Max growled as his heart started racing. He'd been so careful, so...
Duck shook her head and looked at Masters. "Was this what you wanted to see us about?"
"Not entirely. There was an incident with Black IC. We've heard a few things through the grapevine and your dad got worried."
Duck nodded. "Let's not keep the man waiting.
Life had not always been kind to Sergei Wjowski. He'd lost his wife to drugs and alcohol and their only child had proven too much for him to handle. Socially he was a failure, but he had still managed to rise to the position Sr. VP of Research within the company.
Things were finally beginning to pay off. He'd done well by the company and he enjoyed the perks that came with his new position. Additionally, Katya had somehow turned out alright in spite of his attempts to help her and they were at least starting to communicate.
He smiled as Masters led his daughter and her friend Tracker into the room. "Were there any problems?" he asked quietly.
"No more than usual," Masters answered.
Sergei looked up worriedly from his desk. The usual trouble could be very bad where his daughter was concerned.
Katya, the Duck, merely laughed. "Hey dad," she called with a nod.
"Katya," he smiled and offered her his hand. She moved like she was going to take it, then pulled him into a hug. Dumbfounded he returned the gesture. "To what do I owe this greeting?" he asked.
"For worrying about us," she answered softly. "And for trusting us to take care of ourselves."
"If I have learned nothing else, in all these years, it is that you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself," he agreed as he stepped back he looked at the woman his daughter had become. Tracker noticed the pride in the man's eyes as he turned towards the others.
"Tracker, how are you," he asked.
"Well enough, sir" Tracker answered. "Thank you."
"Sir?" Sergei asked in mock disbelief. "The last time we met, did you not call me 'the biggest self impressed, arrogant f.."
"No, dad, that was me," Duck interrupted. "Remember, I needed to find Tracker, and you wouldn't help unless I deleted every copy of the Ranson file?"
"Oh right, and you refused to delete them until after you had the information. You were so mule headed about the whole thing."
"Well, if I thought I could trust you," she stated blandly.
"True enough," he admitted with a chuckle. They could laugh about it now, but old wounds were indeed slow to heal.
"Sergei," Masters prompted.
He looked at his long time friend and nodded. "You are right my friend. We have much to discuss. If you would please to follow me."
He led the others to a small conference room. The table was littered with file folders, a thermos of coffee and five coffee cups.
"Five?" Duck asked as she sat down and turned towards her father.
"I have taken the liberty of asking the chief investigator on the Black IC issue to join us," he explained.
They all turned as Masters stifled a laugh.
"Let me guess," Tracker stated. "Allison?"
Masters nodded. "Allison."
"You have met him already?" Sergei asked.
Duck winced and nodded.
"Children, you have not been playing with my security forces heads again have you?"
"Just a little," Duck admitted.
"But he needed it," Tracker confirmed.
"Why do you insist on doing these things?" he demanded.
"We like him," Duck answered sweetly.
"If that's what you do to people you 'like,' I'd hate to see what you do to people you don't like," Allison growled from the doorway.
"Oh, believe me," Masters started. "They can be very creative in their 'lessons."
"I noticed," Allison commented wryly.
Duck looked up at him and grinned. "But it will stick with you won't it?"
Allison thought about it for a moment and nodded. "Guess so," he admitted.
"That which doesn't kill us," Duck quipped.
"Will probably get us on the second pass," Tracker finished.
"You ruin all my fun," Duck told Tracker with a pout.
"Children," Sergei chided. "Please take your seats. We have much to cover and a very limited amount of time."
Allison took his seat as Masters passed out the folders and then took a seat as well. Duck and Tracker checked the outside of their folders and then opened them. Masters simply shook his head. Sergei gave them all a chance to review the information before proceeding.
"As you can see, we have very little to go on. Our consultants were reviewing several products, but both of them were killed when they accessed different sites that you service." Duck shook her head. "You know we don't use Black IC on commercial sites," she stated.
"But you have used it," Allison countered questioningly.
"Of course we have. Governmental, especially Intel and Defense sites, that's SOP," Tracker admitted.
"But not on a commercial site, especially in a public area," Duck added in agreement. "Commercial, you boot-em out, trace-em, or glitch their decks, but never go for the kill unless you have to."
Allison nodded. "Like the bomb on the truck?"
Sergei looked up in surprise then turned pointedly towards his daughter. "You bombed his truck?"
"Not exactly," Duck said with feigned innocence.
"She warned me about complacency," Allison told him grudgingly. "And to never underestimate my opponents."
Duck nodded approvingly.
"And to always bring a change of cloths," he added menacingly.
"Sorry," Duck said with an apologetic shrug.
"How much of their equipment survived?" Tracker asked bringing them back to the matter at hand.
"Most of the software was fried. The firmware took some serious damage," Allison answered.
"Can we look at it?" Tracker asked.
"We've already gone over it, it wasn't a hardware problem," Allison assured him.
"That's fine," Tracker told him. "I want to see the systems, figure out their configurations and see if we can duplicate them."
"So we can set up a comparable system, trace what they did and try to identify what really happened," Duck answered.
Allison stared at them for a minute and realized something about them that wasn't in their files. They were daring, and crazy. "You're going to recreate the circumstances," he stated in disbelief.
Duck nodded. "After we run it through a simulator, and then run it through a filter. Then and only then do we try it live."
"With someone standing on the kill switch," Tracker added.
Allison nodded as he updated his appraisal to cautious, but crazy. "I'll get the equipment," he stated with a nod.
"What are our time constraints?" Tracker asked.
"I figure I can only keep you here for another two hours before my constituents raise the alarm." Sergei answered. "Several of them would much prefer to see you in an interrogation room."
"Then lets make it count," Duck stated.
Rabbit rolled over with a groan. He hated being drugged, almost as much as he hated being cooped up, in less than six hours, he'd managed to experience both. At least the evening had passed quickly.
The last thing he remembered was Kenny drugging him so he could remove the bullet without straining himself. Next thing he knew he was in the overhead storage compartment. He'd forced himself to remain calm, but it seemed to take forever for Boomer to open things up and let him out.
When Boomer finally lowered the platform, he was shaking from the after effects of the meds. He remembered Boomer carrying him in and depositing him on the bed. He knew something was wrong, but the meds always made his head fuzzy. He trusted Boomer and Kenny to watch over him and as he let nature take its course.
When the meds had finally worn off, Rabbit knew something was very wrong. He could feel Boomer's worry, but the sensations he got from Kenny were completely wrong. He pushed himself and looked around.
Kenny was sitting on the bed next to him with Boomer holding him protectively. "Kenny?" he asked worriedly.
Boomer turned and smiled at him, but it was an anxious smile. Rabbit could feel his thoughts, but Kenny's thoughts made no sense. "What happened," he asked evenly.
"He said there was a watcher following the van. It attacked while he was healing you," Boomer answered gently. "He said it stripped him of his defenses. He's been in and out like this ever since."
"You get some rest," Rabbit told him. "I'll stay with Kenny."
Boomer thought about it for a minute and shook his head. "We got more problems," he stated. "Things you need to know."
Rabbit closed his eyes for a minute and shook his head. "What is it this time?"
"Police officer was killed in the club district: sniper fire. The description matches your target, the shooter's description matches you."
"Bloody..." Rabbit gasped. "He was going to shoot you two," he added. "I had to..."
"We don't have all the details," Boomer countered. "But you should know. We got stopped."
"So that's why you stuffed me in the overhead."
"Shielded on both sides, virtually undetectable," Boomer agreed.
"And they let you go?"
"Well, they couldn't find anything, so they just bugged the van and added tracking devices."
Rabbit shook his head. "Never easy is it?"
"You said it. You okay?" Boomer asked worriedly.
"No, but I will be," Rabbit assured him. "Now get some sleep before you collapse. I've been where Kenny is, hopefully I can show him the way out."
"Yell if you need me," Boomer acquiesced.
"You'll hear if it comes to that," Rabbit assured him. 'Believe me, you'll hear,' he thought to himself..
Boomer held Kenny as Rabbit slipped in behind them and took over. His gentleness belied his demeanor. "Easy little brother, I got you," he stated. Kenny's only reaction was to whimper. Boomer looked at the two of them and took a deep breath.
"You sure?" Boomer asked as exhaustion started to take its toll.
"We're only allowed one crisis at time," Rabbit told him. "The police can wait their turn. This we have to handle right now. 'Sides there's nothing we can do about the shooting right now. Right now, Kenny's the only thing that matters. I'll be okay, ya hear?"
Boomer nodded. "It just keeps getting better," he commented as he fell back on the bed. He wondered if this was what Minh was trying to warn them about, but somehow, he knew that things hadn't even begun to go bad. They still had a long way to go.
Cold, dark, empty. That was his world. His throat was dry from screaming, and the air had grown stale. He'd given up. He was too small, too weak, it was too late...
Bright warmth filled every pore of his being as he opened his eyes. He was laying in the middle of a huge bed. He tried to speak, tried to, but failed. He heard a creak and turned. Instead of the big man, he saw an old man, sitting in a chair. The man watched him over him, and for the first time since the nightmare had begun he felt, what hope? The despair had lessened at the very least. But there was still so much inside, the emotions threatened to overwhelm him.
"Easy boy," the old man told him. "Easy."
The voice was gruff, but gentle. Kenny looked around fearfully, but there was no sign of the big man.
Rabbit felt the confused thoughts and emotions as Kenny rode wave after wave of memories. "Easy Kenny," he urged. "Easy."
"Wh.. who?" Kenny gasped, half in, half out of the memory.
"I don't know," Rabbit told him. "You tell me."
"He was... I was... " Kenny choked back a scream.
"Easy Kenny," Rabbit urged again as his mind raced. He tried to remember everything that Bear had done for him. The images flashed around him. 'Help him through it, repeat if necessary,' he told himself. "Talk to me, tell me what you're seeing."
"Rabbit?" Kenny asked softly.
"Yeah Kenny, it's me," Rabbit answered. "I'm here for you. Now let's see what we can do about this memory stuff huh? I don't think Boomer can take much more."
"Boomer?" Kenny asked again.
"Yeah, Boomer," Rabbit agreed. 'Half in, half out,' he told himself. "Okay, it's obvious there's something very bad in there," he stated evenly. He fought to keep a soft tone to his voice. "We're going back through it again okay?"
"No," Kenny pleaded. Rabbit could tell just from his brother's voice the memories terrified him, but he could also sense what gave the memory its power to hold Kenny in its thrall: guilt and utter dejection. It killed all hope and desire of redemption.
"Its okay Kenny," Rabbit told him. "You won't be alone this time," Rabbit swore to himself. This would be so much easier if Bear was with them. But as he'd told Boomer, he'd been there himself, way too many times.
Rabbit held Kenny and started reminding him of all the things he'd done in recent years. The lives he'd touched, the lives he'd saved. As Kenny started to relax, he started reminding him of his time in the army. 'Enforce the sense of self, gather the strength, then face it again.' he thought to himself.
Once he felt 'Kenny' in his mind, he took him back to the impasse. Kenny screamed, pleaded, cried even whimpered. Each time Rabbit assured him that he would get through it, that he was stronger than he thought. Each time he forced Kenny through it again, Rabbit wept, but he forced his voice to remain calm and soothing.
"Everything will be fine," he assured his brother. "We'll see you through this." 'Then I'm going to need a few hours with Bear,' he thought to himself.
Cold, dark, empty. That was his world. His throat was dry from screaming,. He'd given up. He was too small, too weak, it was too late...
Flashing lights filled his world as he was lifted into a stretcher and loaded into the back of a waiting ambulance.
"Easy son," the paramedic told him.
The fire in his chest had turned numb, but when he tried to breathe, it lit up like a Christmas Tree. Then the visions came back. "Kenny!" he screamed. "My brother, you have to find my brother," he pleaded.
He saw the fear in the paramedic's eyes, as he called the police officer over. "We may have another one."
"Please, he took my brother, you have to find him, please..." The pain overwhelmed him.
The nightmare didn't end there. For two weeks they waited as the kidnapper made his demands for money. But after telling them where to leave the money, he never came for it. They just never heard from him again. It had been two months before the police found out why. The kidnapper had died in an accident. They never found Kenny's body, just his jacket.
They buried the jacket in an empty casket. His parents fought, each blaming themselves and each other, but it was all his fault. Their marriage broke up. Again, it was his fault. He tried to be good tried to be strong, and when Justin was born, he knew he'd been given a chance to redeem himself...
Mind Bender chuckled to himself as he savored his subject's pain. "Ah Geffen, this is too easy."
He touched Fen's mind and brought him back to the point where his brother rushed in to save him.