B...e...n...d...e...r... C...o...l...d... H...u...r...r...y
Tracker froze as he heard the clicking on the comm unit. At first it sounded like static, but then he realized that it was too controlled. Kenny looked at him as he held up his hand. It was morse code. He felt a chill as he translated the message.
'MindBender, Cold, Hurry' Duck! Tracker looked up at Kenny and let his breath out. "Duck's alive." Kenny watched as Tracker stiffened, there was more to the message.
"She's running out of time." Tracker stated evenly as he translated the last of the clicks. "We have to get to her, now!."
Kenny looked at his patients. There was no way he could leave them, even with Minh on her way, and there was no way he could defend them if they needed him as healer. Three lives vs one. He tried to reduce it to numbers, but he couldn't. This was Duck they were talking about.
"Take Rabbit and Merc," he suggested.
"I'll need the van," Tracker answered. "Hopefully I can lock in on her signal before it's too late."
"Do what you can," Kenny told him. "I'll hold down the fort till Minh gets here."
That won't be necessary I am here.
Minh's voice sounded in both their minds as Boomer let out a surprised gasp. It was obvious he hadn't heard her until she was there.
Easy children, she added gently. Leave the injured, I will watch over them, find Duck, she is in great need.
They reacted as one. Minh was used to people obeying her commands, but in her present form and state of mind, only the very foolish would disobey. There was no voicing of concerns. There were no chivalrous offers to protect her. There was no need to protect the fair maiden from the dragon here. It was abundantly clear that the maiden was completely capable of taking care of herself.
"You heard the lady," Tracker growled. "Let's move."
As they prepared to move out, Eclipse stood and started to follow.
And where do you think you are going young man??
Eclipse paused then looked at Minh. "I'm going to help."
Yes, you are. By staying here. You have pushed yourself far harder than you believe. You will be a greater help here.
Eclipse shook his head, but found no support from the others. "E, if Minh says you aren't in any shape to go, you aren't in any shape to go. We'll meet you back at the club."
Very well. Go carefully children. This one is very dangerous.
Her warning was unnecessary. One look at Kai was more that enough warning. If Briar was capable of causing that much physical damage with no actual contact, there was no doubt in anybody's mind that they were going to get dirty on this one.
Tracker listened carefully as he tried to lock onto the original signal, rather than one of the ghost signals that echoed through the area. Once he locked on the signal, it would be easier to triangulate... Tracker paused as he looked at the others in disbelief. The signal, that had been clear in the tunnels had simply faded away to the point that it didn't even register with his equipment.
"What's wrong?" Rabbit demanded. "Talk to me."
"We've lost the signal, " Tracker growled as he boosted his equipment and reset the squelch. "Boomer start circling, but be ready to stop."
"Copy," Boomer stated as he started driving in slow sweeping circles.
Tracker let his breath out as he began the task of locating the signal. As the truck eased around the corner, he picked up the signal again. "Stop!"
Boomer stopped dead in the middle of the street, trying to give Tracker the time he needed to lock in on the frequency. Tracker felt his pulse rate double as he first located then locked on the signal. It was weak and fading, but still there. He fought to keep himself calm and functional as his fingers slid across the controls, feeding the statistics into his deck. As he got the signal and the first line he nodded.
"That's one," he announced.
"Next?" Boomer asked as he started driving again.
"Take it East," Tracker stated. "We're going to have to move it though, signal's fading."
"Hold on," Boomer stated as he stepped on the gas.
Tracker took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His jaw muscles twitched as he tried not to think about the timing. It was a job. 'Find the target, just keep moving,' he told himself, the thought almost overrode the scream that filled his mind. 'We aren't going to be fast enough.'
Rabbit just looked at him and nodded. Tracker spared him a quick glance, but there was too much to do. Rabbit knew that as well as he did and he could see that Rabbit was trying to stay as calm as possible.
"We'll find her," Rabbit told him. "We'll find her. It's the only option."
Tracker nodded as Boomer accelerated onto the freeway. "Should have the next point in about 5 minutes," he promised.
Tracker nodded as he started scanning in and around the frequency for Duck's signal. He caught a bounced signal, not enough for a location, but enough to know she was still sending. "Hold on Duck, we're coming," he sub-vocalized into the comm-unit. He didn't know if she'd be able to here him, but he hoped it would encourage her if it did.
Five minutes later he began his second scan. As Boomer slowed the truck to a crawl, Tracker searched frantically for the signal. As he rotated the antenna he tried to draw a line on the signal. When he did find it he was worried about how weak the signal had grown.
"Come on Duck, don't let me down. I've almost got you, just hold on..." He spoke it this time. Sending the message across the channel, with no encryption, praying she could hear him, but the signal simply repeated the morse code.
"Boomer, head for the south, I have two points, that's enough for the area, but not for the locale." he called out. "I don't think she has much left in her," he added.
Boomer didn't say anything as he pegged the accelerator. As they headed out, Rabbit offered a simply prayer as he rocked back and forth. "Come on girl, we haven't given up on you, don't you dare give up on us."
No one felt like reminding him that as far as she knew, they were all dead.
Wulf looked at the building as the van pulled to a halt. "Meri, talk to me," he called.
"We're on top of the signal," She confirmed as she looked up for the first time and saw the building in question. "Man!" she swore.
"Can you get us any closer?"
"I'm working on it," she stated. "But this may take some time. If Jade and Gris can check it out, they may have a better shot."
"We on it boss," Gris stated as he put the van in park. "Jade, you work up, I work down."
"Got it," Jade answered. Without further discussion then both slumped forward as they began searching frantically for the source of the signal.
As the others tried to home in on the signal, Wulf, Ni and Daff stood watch. Meri was the first to emerge from her search, but when she focused in on them all she did was shake her head and look hopefully at the others..
"I'm 98% sure this is the building," she told them. "Other than that, I couldn't tell you a thing."
Wulf nodded. "You've done enough," he assured her as he patted her shoulder.
Since they had arrived, the feeling that they were on the right trail had increased to the point that he was not only sure they had the right building, he was sure they had the right person.
They waited in silence as Jade emerged from the astral and looked at them. Wulf saw the look of disgust in her eyes when she focused in on him. "Fourth floor." she stated. "Room 48."
Wulf nodded. "Any sign of MindBender?"
Jade shook her head then shuddered. There hadn't been any sign of MindBender the last time, except for Merc's warning, and by then it had been too late. She turned hopefully towards Gris as she heard the sound of him coming around.
"Any luck?" he asked Jade immediately.
"Fourth," she stated. "Any sign of him?"
"Lets move then," she told Wulf. "She's cold and alone."
"Got it," Wulf stated. "Gris, Meri, Daff: Stay with the van. Gris, you see, feel or hear any sign of MindBender, you get the hell out, 'cause that means its a trap. Jade, Ni, you're with me."
Jade's only answer was to check the clip in her gun and nod. Ni gave Meri and Daff a worried look and then turned back towards the boss.
As they reached the fourth floor, Wulf could feel the urgency growing. He paused and turned towards Jade signaling the question 'which way?'
Jade looked at him and waved towards the left twice then forward once. Wulf nodded then signaled Ni to move out. They proceeded down the hall until they came to room 48. It was then that Wulf noticed the bugs crawling over all of the walls.
Jade caught his eye and signaled, "its worse inside."
Wulf took a deep breath as he reached out for the door. Before he touched it, he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. He paused as he looked at Jade. She merely nodded and leaned against him as she left her body for another scouting run. This time she saw the battery attached to the door. At first she thought it was a trap for whoever was opening the door, but then she saw that the connection, once made, would electrocute the woman they were trying to rescue.
As she returned to her body and pulled away she looked at Wulf and shook her head. "Trap," she signed. "You open that door, she's dead."
Wulf nodded then signaled Ni to move in. "Door's trapped," he told Ni quietly. "Jade says that if we open door, it's going to..."
"No problem," Ni stated with a smile. "One door coming up."
Without a second thought, Ni forced his way through the wall. Ni smiled at them as they climbed through the hole he'd made.
"Primative, but effective," Jade stated.
Wulf merely shook his head and moved in. Once he was sure that the area was indeed clear, he moved in on the bathroom. The door was ajar, but even with Jade's warnings, Wulf found himself growling as he saw what MindBender was doing to the woman.
Without a second thought, he reached in and pulled her from the tub. The ice water chilled his arms instantly, and she had been laying it, almost drowning. As he pulled her out, he noticed the cables connected to her data-jack and realized it was recording every sensation and thought that went through her mind. The thought chilled him more than the water had.
"Ni, your coat," Wulf ordered as he began pulling off the woman's soaked tank top. Her shivering had grown more violent as he stripped off his own coat and shirt and began drying her with the shirt. Once she was dry, he wrapped Ni's coat around her and put his own coat back on. Once he had her cocooned away, he concentrated on the recording device and the cable that linked her to it.
"Boss?" Ni asked as he watched Wulf pull the cables and toss them aside in disgust.
"Bastard was recording it," Wulf growled.
"Let's get her out of here," Jade agreed as she headed back for the makeshift entrance. As Wulf followed, carrying the decker with him, Ni turned and smashed the recorder.
"Don't tell Meri," he asked sheepishly. "She wouldn't like it."
Wulf wasn't sure if Ni's concern was what had been done to the decker, or that he had destroyed the equipment, but at that point, it really didn't matter.
"Let's get out of here," Wulf urged.
Ni nodded signaling Wulf that he'd take the rear. Once they were clear of the room, Wulf handed the decker to Ni and headed for the stairs
"I'd love to stay and follow whoever came to pick her up, but at this point..."
"Don't worry 'bout it," Ni stated. "We trust you boss, 'sides, Daff can always sick a drone on 'em. Believe me, he's dying to after what happened with Mercury."
Wulf nodded. Ni had the makings of a good tactician, when he didn't let his 'direct' approach get in the way. Ni was too fond of using his size and only relying on tactics when strength had proven less than effective.
"Here?" Boomer asked as he again pulled off the freeway and onto a side street.
"Good enough," Tracker stated as he began looking for the signal. But even as he locked on, it stopped. His sudden intake of air made the others look at him.
"I've got the direction," he told them. "But the signal..."
"Tell me where to go," Boomer told him. "We'll get her back, one way or the other." He didn't say it, but they all knew, that if Duck was dead, she would be joining the ranks of the undead, if they didn't find her and soon, there was no way they were going to let that happen to her.
Tracker fed the triangulation to the truck's control feed. "Be there in ten minutes tops," Boomer assured him.
Tracker merely nodded and began sending out his own signals, just in case. Eight minutes later, they pulled up next to the building at the center of the co-ordinates.
"Where now?" Boomer asked as he looked up at the once glorious high rise.
"Hold on," Tracker urged as he fed the results through the computer and compared it to the building's blue prints. "Fourth floor. Room 48."
"Tracker," Boomer called. "How do you want to run it?" He may have been in charge of his brothers, but this was Tracker's show.
"Merc, Rabbit: you're backing us and each other. You see anything, you sing out. "Kenny and Boomer, you take the east stair-case, Finagle and I will take the west one."
As everyone prepared to take their assigned positions, Tracker looked at each of them and stated, "we move and we move fast. Mercury, you're our first line of defense. You see anything, you feel anything, you let us know."
Mercury nodded then looked at Rabbit. "You aren't prone to mind control are you?"
"I can barely control myself," Rabbit stated with a grin. "Nobody else stands a chance."
Mercury looked at him, unsure how to take the answer. Thoughts of Gris ran through his head as he resorted to a simple, "Not another one."
"Rabbit, give us the all clear when you're in position," Tracker stated.
"Check," he answered as the truck rounded the corner. As they moved down the street, Rabbit and Mercury picked their positions and nodded respectfully to each other.
"Five story, down the block, good view of the room in question," Rabbit stated as he compared the location to the target building's blue prints Tracker had displayed.
Mercury nodded in agreement.
Boomer stopped the truck long enough for them to get out, then circled back and parked away from the building, but still in site of Mercury and Rabbit's proposed position.
They waited in silence as each prepared themselves for what was to come. Then the call came in from Rabbit. "All clear," he told them over the comm-unit. "I've got no heat signals in the area, or in the room."
Tracker felt a cold chill wash through him. The reality of what they might find was just too much for him to bear. 'She has to be alright, she just has to.' he thought to himself, but somehow he knew they'd arrived too late.
Tracker nodded to the others and they exited the truck as one then split up into their respective teams. "By the numbers," Tracker reminded them over the comm-link. In unison, they began their ascent.
Mercury maintained surveillance of the surrounding area as Rabbit concentrated on the street and buildings facing them. As they watched, each team made their way to the fourth floor door on their staircase.
"Ready?" Tracker's message came across the comms.
Boomer's reply of "Copy" was followed by Rabbit's, "You're clear."
Tracker held his breath as they prepared to open the door and moved into the hallway. He tried one last time to reach her over the comm-link, but the only answer was silence. "Move," he ordered as his hand turned the knob.
He could see the movement at the end of the hall, but ignored it, knowing that it was Boomer and Kenny. As he checked around the corner, Finagle covered him. It was some relief knowing that their actions were being mirrored by Boomer and Kenny. Once the area was as secure as they could get it, they moved in on the room that held Duck.
He could hear Finagle's intake of air and could almost feel the man's disgust as he checked their surroundings. Tracker, for his part tried to ignore the roaches as they watched the four men move into position. As they neared the room, he saw the gaping hole in the wall and signaled Boomer and Kenny to join them.
"What?" Kenny signed in disbelief
Tracker merely shrugged. He signaled Kenny and Boomer to take covering positions, and indicated that Finagle was to follow him in through the hole. Kenny shook his head and pointed towards his temple.
Tracker paused for a moment before nodding. Boomer merely moved behind his brother and supported him as his consciousness left his body long enough to check the area.
Kenny could feel the taint he'd learned to loath as his mind slipped through the walls and into the apartment. The place was practically devoid of furnishings, and those that were there were dilapidated enough that they couldn't be trusted.
Here, as in the hall, bugs crawled across the walls. But far worse was the lack of any other signs of life. As he began his search in earnest, he saw the wires stretching from the door knob into the bathroom. The tub was filled with water, but other than that, there was little to no sign of anybody ever being there.
Then he noticed the soaked tank top on the floor next to the tub and the pile of red hair. Duck had been there, and from what he could see, not all that long ago.
He made one last check of the area then returned to his body.
"She was there."
Tracker stiffened as Kenny's first words were directed at him. 'She was there.' Was. Tracker nodded then signaled that he was going to make a sweep of the apartment, looking for physical clues.
Kenny nodded as he moved to the far side of the hole. "The door was trapped," Kenny added. "I think whoever made this hole knew that," he added disjointedly.
"It ain't pretty," he warned.
Tracker nodded as his mind slipped back to the last time he was in a place this rundown looking for Duck. That hadn't been pretty either. By the time he'd found her, her captors had addicted her to so many different things it had nearly killed her. They'd been lucky then, and she had survived only a bit worse for the wear. He tried not to think about how all luck runs out sooner or later, then again, Tracker didn't believe in luck. Luck was what you made of it.
As he entered the apartment, the first thing he noticed was the stench. The next thing he noticed was the wiring, primitive, but effective. He followed the wire to the bathroom and felt his stomach churn.
He took in everything in one pass. The tub, filled with melting ice, the balled up shirt on the floor, the pile of red hair next to the sink, the bugs, the filth... the smashed recorder. It was almost too much for him to process as he began concentrating, first on the hair, then on the recorder.
As he moved in, he could hear Finagle gasp as he looked in for the first time. Tracker merely turned and signaled him to check out the rest of the apartment as he picked up the shattered recorder and recovered the chip inside. He slipped it into a storage tube and began looking for anything that would help them figure out what had happened to Duck.
Once again, he wished Bear were with him, and at full strength. He could have made sense of all of this. But wishing for what you didn't have never got you any closer to completing a mission. Duck's first concern would be the others' safety.
Their first concern was her. He took one last look around the room and joined Finagle in the main room.
"It's clean," Finagle told him. "No physical evidence, no psychic residue. I feel disgust, but I can't tell you if it's somebody else's or mine."
"I know what you mean," Tracker assured him as he radioed the others. "She's not here, we've got very little to go on. Taking the west case."
"Clear," Rabbit answered as he tapped Mercury's shoulder. "That means they're taking east," he signed. "Cover them, I'll watch everything else."
Mercury nodded as he covered the stairs and Rabbit began sweeping the area looking for any trouble that might come their way. Then he saw it: a gang of toughs gathering in the alleyway next to the building.
Un-fraggin' believable," he sighed into the radio. "You got company," he warned.
"Good," Tracker answered. "I've got some questions I want answered."
"Tracker," Rabbit countered. "I don't think these guys could tell you what time it is, let alone what happened."
"You'd be surprised." Tracker countered as he cleared the stairs. "You'd be surprised."
Rabbit wasn't too sure he liked Tracker's tone on the comm-link. The man was sounding more and more like him.