The phone rang in the facility’s rec room as the speaker announced that the incoming call was for Papa Dan. That alone set the team on edge. There had been some talk of odd things happening to other teams, but as far as they’d known it had only been rumors. Nothing had happened to anybody they knew, and certainly nothing had happened to any of the members of BlackPaw. Something told everyone that that had just changed. A stunned silence filled the room as thoughts turned to the members of the unit that weren’t present and accounted for: Heartbreaker and SunDog.
As Papa Dan picked up the receiver there was no need to signal for quiet. Nobody missed the sound as his voice fell, and he woodenly hung up the phone. He tensed as he turned and faced his friends, his family... his team.
“Baltimore,” he stated woodenly. “HeartBreaker.”
Everyone’s expression went from a look of worry to one of shock. His tone of voice said it all. BlackPaw’s luck had finally run out. Whatever was happening had claimed one of their own. He watched, allowing the others to absorb the information.
Tracker and Silly Wizard, the team’s deckers/riggers sat up staring at him. Tracker ran a hand through his carefully trimmed hair as Silly Wizard shook his head in disbelief. Jules threw his handful of darts at the board with a growl of anger. Whisper bowed his head in silent prayer. Tonka looked up from the pool table with a worried expression on his face.
If somebody had hit the HeartBreaker, SunDog might be the next target.
The ‘Twins’ as always mirrored each other perfectly and this time they were a study in shock and sorrow. WEJ, as always simply shook his head and concentrated on his guns. Papa Dan was the only one that saw the single tear fall onto the firing mechanism.
He drew a deep breath. There was too much they needed to find out. They’d been hit and he needed to know why. The information he had was sketchy at best: HeartBreaker had been on leave after completing a mission for the ‘Agency’.
The mission had been so secretive the brass hadn’t even known what they had planned for her. They only knew that she was needed for the mission, as was Sundog. Two immediate goals were established in his mind: Find out why and protect the living.
He looked at them as they tried to pick up the pieces. It was time to give them the directions.
“Tracker,” he called. “I need you and Whisper and Jules to go and take care of things in Baltimore. The police are waiting, they have two suspects in custody, but I ...”
“We’ll handle it sir,” Tracker assured him. Papa Dan was more than their commanding officer, he was their mentor and their father figure. This wasn’t easy on any of them, but they were a team.
Papa Dan nodded appreciatively. “I’m going to try and find out what they called her in on,” he added, then looked at Silly Wizard. “Wiz, I want you to go through... unofficial channels... maybe there’s more to the rumor mill than we thought.”
Silly Wizard nodded then gave Tracker a look. The look that said they needed to talk before Tracker headed out. Tracker blinked in acknowledgment, then turned his attention back to Papa Dan and the others.
Papa Dan focused in on D1 and D2, the team’s physical powerhouses. D1 was an orc, D2 a troll. Physically they were as different as two people could be and still share the same shoe size. When it came to temperament the were exactly tuned to each other. Either way, if you face one of them, you faced both of them, they came as a set.
“D’s” he called to the ‘twins’ As they looked up at him he nodded towards Tonka. “Take Tonk and Wej. Find SunDog. Bring her in, fast.”
“You got it boss,” they answered in unison.
Tracker looked at Whisper and Jules, the team’s Mutt and Jeff. Whisper was the team’s mage, Jules their transport specialist “See what you can get in the lines of transportation, I’ll be out in a few.”
They nodded and left. One look at the rest of the team, and he knew it wasn’t good. As he headed out into the hallway, he found ‘Wiz waiting for him.
“Tracker,” he said. “I’ve got a really bad feeling about all of this.”
“What are they saying about the others?” he asked nodding towards the room.
Silly Wizard shook his head. “Its like everything we’ve heard. There’s a black box out there, and everybody who even gets near it is ending up dead. You be careful out there. If Heartbreaker was onto something...” He stopped, shaking his head. “I should know more when you guys get back, we’ll compare notes then.”
Tracker nodded. “You make sure you got somebody covering you.”
'Wiz winked in agreement. “Yeah, make sure Whisper earns his keep.”
With that they went their separate ways.
Tracker shook his head as he watched the men in the holding cell through the security monitor. “They’re friends of hers.” he told the Detective.
“Are you sure,” he asked as he studied Tracker.
“Very,” Tracker answered. “Their picture is on her desk... the three of them, at the Inner Harbor.”
The detective nodded. “They couldn’t tell us much,” he stated as he turned his attention to Whisper and Jules. “Do you have any idea who would want your friend dead?”
“Just about anybody she met,” Tracker answered.
The Detective turned, expecting some sign of humor in Tracker’s eyes, but there was only a calm patience.
“We called her the Heartbreaker for a reason,” Tracker explained. “She’s nice enough, but you’ll never get completely inside her armor... unless you’re on her team... Otherwise, you can just eat your heart out...”
Whisper moved closer to the detective. “You really don’t make a lot of friends with what we do,” he explained. “Enemies yes, friends... not really.”
The detective nodded. “So if I cut them lose, you planning on having a little chat with them?”
Tracker looked at the men on the screen again. “No, I think they’ve had enough. But I would like to review the transcripts and question them before you release them.”
“Don’t ask much do you?” the Detective asked.
“Someone just killed one of my friends, a member of my squad. Someone who I’ve depended upon for a very long time... what do you think?” Tracker answered with a question.
The Detective nodded. “Transcripts... “ he agreed then looked at Tracker and the others. “And they’ll be in interrogation three when you’re done. But,” he added as he sized them up. “I want to know what you’ve got.”
Tracker let out a derisive snort. “That’d be the transcripts and the interview...”
“We really don’t know much,” Whisper offered, trying to smooth things out with the detective. “We know that she was working on something that seems to have a body count associated with it, and from the looks of things, it bowled her over but good.”
“Blew her away,” the Detective corrected. “High powered, most likely a browning, sniper shot, well aimed, hit and run. One of her friends, the younger one... med student... did everything he could, probably more than he should have, but it was too well aimed, she was dead before she hit the ground and nothing could have brought her back.”
Tracker gripped the back of the chair he’d been leaning on. The only outward sign of emotion as he listened to the Detective was the whitening of his knuckles and a slight tremble to his breath.
The Detective noticed this and nodded, upgrading his opinion. These people were professional, and they were trying to co-operate. This was personal, sure, but they knew that if they didn’t handle things right, a lot more people were going to die. They weren’t in it for revenge, they weren’t in it for glory... they just wanted answers, justice... and a chance to prevent it from happening again.
He wished he’d had more answers for them, but by the time the police had arrived at her hotel, the room was blocked off as men in suits took over the scene. He never saw any of her personal effects.
Still, professional or not, these people would bear watching.
Baltimore had been a bust, except that they learned a lot from what they hadn’t been able to find. There was no record of the ‘Agency’ men that cleaned out Heartbreaker’s room. Her friends knew that something was up, but she’d never told them what it was. And the younger one... Tracker shook his head. He was taking it a lot harder than just losing a friend. He could see it in his eyes.
So, Heartbreaker hadn’t broken every heart she’d met... but then again, it turned out that she’d worked with them both before... so they weren’t just strangers. Course, now... in one final shot, she’d lived up to her name.
The kid was heartbroken.
One dead, a ransacked hotel room, and a heartbroken kid... not much at all, but at least they now knew the questions they needed to ask.
When they made it back to base, Tracker asked Whisper to brief Papa Dan. Then he tracked down Silly Wizard.
'Wiz was waiting for him. “This is a lot bigger than we thought,” he stated, not even bothering to say hello or ask how things had gone. He already knew.
Tracker nodded. “Nobody knows a thing.”
'Wiz nodded. “And nobody’s saying anything... Black box... Black box with a curse...”
“And a body count that’s getting too high,” Tracker agreed. “Anything on SunDog?”
'Wiz shook his head. “She had three weeks leave slated, and the mission ate up the first two. Nobody’s heard from her.”
“How’s Tonk taking it?”
“Like Tonka...” 'Wiz answered with a shrug. “Hard to tell.”
Tracker nodded. “Where do you want me to start?”
'Wiz looked up at him for a minute then smiled. “Knew I could count on you,” he stated. “I’m in the Army’s files right now... you want to take a crack at Air force, or Agency?”
“Still in the A’s I see,” Tracker commented as he pulled out his deck. “I’ll take the Agency, they supposedly cleaned out ‘Breaker’s room, they’d be my first choice for having a clue.”
“And a small army protecting the info,” 'Wiz commented with a nod.
Tracker smiled at him with a wolfish smile. “More the merrier,” he answered. “I’m in the mood for wringing some necks.”
“Just make sure its not your neck, buddy,” 'Wiz warned.
Tracker nodded, then activated his deck. The files and information became his world, and he was readily absorbed by it. The submersion lasted until he actually felt something pressed against his arm.
Tracker looked up as 'Wiz nudged his shoulder with a cup of coffee. “Take a breather,” he suggested.
Tracker looked at him a minute, then shook his head. “In a few,” he answered distractedly.
“Tracker...” ‘Wiz chided. “You’ve been at it for eight hours, you need to take a break, otherwise the first IC you hit will be your last.”
Tracker looked at him a minute then nodded, forcing himself to take the cup. “You’ll make somebody a good wife someday,” he said with a snort.
“Actually,” Wiz countered with a smile. “Been meaning to ask you to be the best man.”
Tracker turned and stared in surprise. “Zanyala? You actually got her to say ‘yes’?”
Wiz nodded. “And as soon as she gets back from her little vacation, we’re going to set the date.”
Tracker was practically beaming as he patted his friend’s back. “Daniel Andrews, I do believe there’s hope for you yet! Of course... I would like to meet the young lady.”
Wiz laughed. “Well, you know, I didn’t want to scare her away, but I guess its okay now, since she’ll be part of the family... Ah, Dear... I’d like you to meet my dad, Papa Dan,” he stated, pantomiming the introductions, “and these are my brothers Whisper, Tracker, Tatonka...” He let the sentence drop.
HeartBreaker was gone. Nobody had been prepared for her loss, or the fact that she actually had a boyfriend of sorts. Now he was alone and they were trying to find out what had happened and why she’d been killed. No matter what, it made a man think.
“Maybe we should wait until this blows over,” 'Wiz stated bleakly.
Tracker smiled and shook his head. “You postpone till the time is right, it’ll never be right,” he stated. “You have to make your own time...”
Wiz shrugged. “That’s why I want you as the best man,” he said with a smile. “Keep me thinking straight.”
“Love is not about thinking straight,” Tracker sighed. “Never has been, never will be. Now, if you’ll excuse me... I’ve got some research to do.”
Wiz nodded as he wandered back to his deck. 48 hours after news of HeartBreaker’s death had reached them, and they were no closer to finding out why. As he decked in, he picked a new target and began scanning the files looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Tonka drew a deep breath as they closed in on the cabin. It was the only other place he could think of. SunDog wasn’t at her apartment, her folks hadn’t heard anything from her either, but they mentioned that somebody had been looking for her.
The Twins were doing their best to keep him calm, but it didn’t look good. If somebody had taken out HeartBreaker on the streets of Baltimore, killing SunDog in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t be a difficult step.
He led the way in... of the four of them, he was the one who’d been here before... He tried not to think of the possibilities but it was hard not to. As he moved along the trail, a knife sailed past his face and lodged in a tree in front of him.
He stopped short and then turned to WEJ. WEJ for his part pointed down to a trip wire, two feet in front of him. The place was booby trapped.
So, she’d dug in, at least that boded well for SunDog. He allowed himself a relieved smile, but as he turned back towards the cabin, a flash all but blinded him. The D’s were pulling him back, away from the trip wire, but all he could see was the blinding flash. The sound of breaking glass filled his mind as he tried to think.
“SunDog,” he cried out. “Jenny!”
The D’s all but sat on him as WEJ knelt down next to them. “Tonk,” he growled. “Get a hold of yourself... You aren’t doing her any favors losing it like this. You stay crisp, you stay alert...we get through this. Whoever, whatever is probably still out there, and if it thinks were game, we’re all toast. Got that?”
Tonka let WEJ’s words sink in, then nodded.
“Okay then. Stay clear, stay alert, I’m going to scout around,” he told them.
Tonka looked up at his friend and realized he was looking very much like the ‘Winged Eagle of Justice they’d named him for. The man was proud, but there was an almost chill to his carriage. He was ice cold when he had to be, and WEJ had a lot to be icy cold about. The man let very few people into his life, and as far as anybody knew, his entire list of people he cared about could be summed up with BlackPaw’s duty roster.
WEJ moved away from the others, blending in with his surroundings almost immediately. He’d already lost too many friends, he wanted to keep the losses to a minimum. He tried not to think about SunDog, if she was in the cabin, she was gone. If that were the case, he would take out her killers, protect those she’d left behind... If it weren’t, he’d make sure they never got a second chance.
Cybervision switched to IR as he activated his camosuit’s thermo equipment and his own stealth spells. He smiled coldly as he shifted into the balance of tech and magic that made him the perfect weapon. Some would call him the perfect killing machine, he preferred to think of himself as a warrior and protector... but to be honest, when he entered this mode, somebody usually died.
He was on their trail now. Three distinct sets of prints. One, smaller farther behind... trailing the other two. He allowed a smile to form at the corners of his mouth. SunDog was alive and tracking her would be killers.
He picked up his pace. She was good at this game, but he was far better, and he really didn’t want to have to deal with Tonka if he let anything happen to her. This was his job. Track them down and kill them. Her’s was more to keep from being caught. He should have known she wouldn’t have let them back her into a corner.
As he closed in on her, he could hear the whine as a chopper prepared to lift off. “Dog! Down!” He growled as she reached the clearing. The pilot managed to catch her movement and laid down a swath of gunfire.
WEJ grunted as he threw himself to the side and activated a shielding spell and followed it up with a well tossed grenade. “Cover” he managed to growl right before the chopper exploded. As the debris settled, WEJ moved over to SunDog’s position.
SunDog rolled over and smiled up at him. “Better be careful,” she told him with a wink. “Tatonka’s going to get jealous.”
“Right now,” WEJ told her calmly as he offered her a hand up. “He would like very much to see you. Unfortunately... you are dead.”
SunDog’s eyes flashed as he pulled her up and threw her over his shoulder. She tried to push off and roll away, but he held her there tightly.
“Will you quit struggling? You’re supposed to be dead, now act like it!”