Gypsy held his breath as the guard passed within two feet of his location. Getting in had been hard enough, now he was in the middle of trying to get out, preferably without being seen. The Agency had sent them here, looking for a black box, but it had quickly turned into a game of hide and seek. He swore to himself. The only reason they were still alive was because he’d taken the precaution of having the team’s decker watch out for them.
It was supposed to be simple: just a two man run on a research facility. ‘Pick up the box and run,’ that’s what they’d been told. ‘More like pick up the box and die,’ he thought to himself. ‘Or it would have been, if there had been a box. As it was, as soon as they’d entered the lab the security system had gone off. Gas was released into the air, and the spectrometer results indicated that they’d be dead if Duck hadn’t taken control of the systems.
As far as security was concerned, they system had delivered a lethal dose of toxins. The camera’s recorded nothing but a wall of gas. Sometimes, it really helped to have a decker on their side. There was no doubt in Gypsy’s mind that he would be called on the carpet for this one. At least he’d be there for the ass-chewing, thanks to his disregard for orders.
Not that he planned on sitting still for the lecture, oh no. The prep team hadn’t done their work. If he hadn’t followed his instincts on the matter they’d be delivering the lecture posthumously. It was a point he planned on making in no uncertain terms... provided they survived the rest of the mission.
The lab had turned out to be a decoy, but the bullets the opposition were using were real enough. He felt his stomach turn as he realized that the guard was now closing in on Persephone’s position.
He tensed. There was no way the man would miss her if he got any closer. As he reached for a rock, the sprinkler system came online, dousing the entire area with water. The guard muttered to himself and headed off to the control box in the middle of the grounds.
Gypsy could hear the guard swearing and realized that this was not the first time they’d had this particular problem.
Duck smiled. There were times that knowing where your team was headed gave you a serious advantage. One week of odd power glitches and shorts in the system had been enough that the guards thought nothing of the sprinklers going off, or the pressure sensors being tripped by a fly. It was just another bug in the system... nothing to worry about.
Duck on the other hand was worried. There had been no sign of the device from the start of the mission. The whole thing wreaked. One more note in the black book was made, a book that Duck vowed would make it to Silly Wizard. The man knew more about systems and setups. It would be his call as to where the report went from there.
Duck guzzled some water, then allowed the deck to reassert itself. There were still too many variables in this and until things changed, the matrix was the only place to be.
Gypsy moved quickly. Any opening was better than none. Somehow he knew that Persephone was already ahead of him and heading for the wall. He thanked whatever fortune had caused the malfunction, but something in the back of his mind told him that it was not luck, not even a guardian angel, but a decker that was watching over him, and he thanked whatever providence had brought him to the team.
‘Now, all we have to do is get out of here undetected,’ he thought to himself, but something told him that this was just the beginning of his problems.
Gypsy, Anthony Malinov was not a pessimist, at least he didn’t think of himself as one. He wasn’t crazy enough to think of himself as an optimist, that was his niece’s job. No, he was enough of a realist to know that when things start off bad there’s only one way for them to go, and that’s worse.
He’d been at this game far too long to expect anything different. Twenty years of service bought you a lot of experience, and a lot of that hadn’t been good. It had almost become a constant companion over the years: the danger, the fear. It was what kept him young, kept him alive, kept him from having a family of his own.
As he took his next position, he looked over at Persephone and nodded. She was a good kid, a few years older than his niece Katya. Persephone had joined the military at a young age, full of idealism. He knew she’d lost some of her idealism, it was hard not to, but she was still hopeful. Hopeful and foolishly in love with a SEAL.
He oddly felt a fatherly sort of pride towards his teammate, but in Voodoo, The Old Man, was the father. He laughed about that to himself: if The Old Man was father then he and Gadje were the team’s crazy old uncles. But that was what kept them alive. And now he had other things to worry about when it came to keeping alive.
As he scanned the wall, he realized that their entry had been discovered. “Pers,” he called over the encrypted line. “Chinese Palace.”
“Kung Pow Chicken,” she answered in acknowledgment.
He nodded to himself as he hunkered in low and waited. If anybody had heard the conversation, they wouldn’t understand. Only he, Persephone and Duck knew what it meant. The Chinese Palace was a restaurant in New York that had certain menu items that were carry out only, others only for dining in. Persephone had chosen a dine-in item, and so they would wait.
Once he was situated, Gypsy activated his control rig on their car and gunned the engine, then had it speed away with its tires squealing. With any luck, they’d think he and Persephone were long gone.
Luck was not on their side, not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of relaxing their guard, the patrols had doubled in size. If that weren’t enough, they were getting ready to bring out the dogs. As Gypsy weighed his options a mechanical voice broke in over the encrypted line.
‘Eggroll?’ Gyspy wondered to himself and then gasped. ‘Eggroll, Duck Sauce...Hot mustard!’ The words rolled together creating a vivid picture in his mind. ‘Merde,’ he managed to mutter before the next diversion erupted.
This time when the sprinklers went off, he held his breath and closed his eyes, praying that Persephone understood the message and had done the same. He recoiled slightly when he made contact with another human being, but his radio sparked to life, telling him it was his partner in crime.
“I don’t know if I’m going to hug him, or kill him,” she sub-vocalized. “But when we get out of this... I’m going to go Duck hunting.”
“I will help you,” Gypsy assured her. “But right now, I believe we are chasing wild geese.”
“And the game wardens don’t look all that pleased,” she agreed as she let him lead her to the wall. As she reached for it she could feel the electric charge surging along the fence.
“Now what?” she asked as Gypsy pulled away from the fence.
“One thing at a time,” the mechanical voice sounded over the radio. “There’s way too much activity to track right now. Don’t go back to your hotel room,” the voice added as the compound suddenly lost its power. “There are people waiting for you there. Make your best way out... I’ll do what I can to cover, but somebody’s in the system, and it isn’t me. Good luck.”
Duck checked the incoming warning flags. There was no way somebody would close in this quickly without inside information. Sure, somebody could have broken through the security system that had been so carefully placed, but not this many this quickly. There were too many coincidences to be anything other than a setup.
It was a first class setup, but a setup none-the less. Voodoo had already lost two people on this mission, and even if Gypsy hadn’t asked Duck would still have been following them through the matrix and security systems.
Watching the video feeds, Duck studied the men going through the hotel room. Activating the cameras, Duck recorded their images. The men wore masks, but hopefully the images would supply some clues. These were not your ordinary thieves.
They were way too organized and thorough in their search. Duck was about to leave the system when the proximity alarm went off. Somebody was in the hotel security system, just waiting for someone like Duck to pick up the feeds.
Reflexes took over as fingers started flying over the keyboard. Preset utilities were fired off randomly as Duck tried to get a telltale on the attacker’s construct. A faint smile appeared as the telltale began sending back data about the decker and their code. It wasn’t enough to use, but it was something to go on, something to look for.
As the download completed, Duck activated a cross-link. There was a sudden disorientation as one Matrix node was switched with the next. The switch was low enough in the chain, that the other decker’s trace routing would simply come up with a disconnect, meanwhile, Duck was still in the system and able to continue the job of playing guardian to the errant members of Voodoo.
Gypsy forced himself to open his eyes. Years of training had taught him how to operate with pepper gas in his eyes, but it didn’t mean he had to like it. Persephone was still coughing, but at least she was functioning as well.
He scanned the area looking for trouble as she led him to her car. Then she began scanning the area as he looked for anything out of the ordinary with the car. He was about to signal the all clear, when he noticed something that almost looked like a grease smear. It was the size of the heal of someone’s hand.
Checking for anything within range of the print, he realized that the undercoating on the car was fresh. Someone had taken the time to re-apply the car’s undercoating to hide whatever they had done. Gypsy shook his head and nodded towards the street. They would take their chances on foot. Once they were clear of the area, he would activate the car’s control box and see what happens.
Persephone nodded and took the lead, quickly moving to a side street and out of direct view of the compound. Gypsy was liking things even less when he noticed how deserted the streets were. “This is not right,” he warned.
Persephone merely nodded. Not only were things not right, they had been that way from the start. She began to wonder if they had really escaped, or...
“Duck, get out of the system now!” she growled into the comm-unit. “Its a setup, the whole thing. They could have had us, but they’re stringing us along. You’re the objective....get out NOW!”
Gypsy drew a deep breath and turned his head towards the side. He should have realized. They were not the hunted but rather the bait.
He offered a silent prayer for the decker he had never met. If they survived, he would change that. They would have cigars on the back porch and laugh about this. He prayed they would survive long enough to do so.
“Copy,” came the mechanical voice. “They’ve got high altitude drones tracking you. When you see fireworks, go.”
Gypsy wanted to object, wanted to scream at the decker to jack out, but something told him it would be a waste of time. ‘He is too much like my Katya,’ he thought to himself. In spite of himself, he wondered how the decker would get along with his niece.
A minute later, there were three flashes in the sky. That was their signal: Duck had taken out the opposition’s eyes and now they were on their own.
Without a word they moved on. Both were pondering their next move, and wondering about the safety of their decker.
Duck was worried. Black IC seemed to be popping up everywhere now. The first order of business, the temporary safety of the team had been taken care of. Second order of business was to survive, third was to try and find the person or persons trying to prevent objectives one and two from being obtained and nail them as hard and as quickly as possible.
‘At least they’re not hiding anymore,’ Duck thought as another blob tried to attach itself to the decker’s construct. All of the attacking contructs had been generated using the same function libraries. That was a clue and a help.
Once you knew the flaws of the code, you could take advantage of it. Finding them however, was difficult. Difficult that was until Duck recognized the function calls. The attacker was using a military issue library. One that Duck had helped develop and maintain.
The hits were coming closer and heavier. Duck knew they were closing in now. As another piece of IC caused a blinding headache, Duck shut the system down. That would have to be enough for now.
Smiling to himself, the technician activated the security cameras in the base computer room. Very soon, he would have a face to go with the decker that had managed to crack into the base system.
There were three deckers in the lab. One corpsman who was on duty, a decker assigned to oversee a prisoner exchange, and a third that was listed as ‘stress testing’ some new utilities. He noted their id’s and shook his head.
As he pulled up their jackets he knew his target couldn’t be any of them. They were too by-the book to ever think of a cross-linked node switch, let alone have the skill and know how to try it.
Hell, until he’d seen it done, he never would have thought it could be done. No, a maneuver like that one required someone who could think on their feet. That left someone outside the normal constraints. Checking the records and cross linking them, he came up with call signs. The deckers he knew could pull it off were all military, all prime, all top drawer, all classified.
He took a deep breath. The boss was not going to like this.
TheOldMan smiled as he picked up the phone and dialed off base. “O’Donnel’s anyone?” he asked as the phone rang.
“Usual,” was pretty much the response. He smiled as he heard Tony’s voice on the other end.
“Tony,” he said. “Like to order for delivery.”
“TOM?” the voice on the other end asked and then laughed. “Red took your order already... she should be there soon.”
“She said something about heading out there with your subs...” he could almost hear Tony’s shrug. “Take it up with here when she gets there.”
TheOldMan shook his head as he hung up the phone. “Somebody already order?” he asked.
Gadje gave him a sideways glance then shook his head. “Not me,” he answered then looked at the others. “BC, Vermin?”
“If I’d known how you’d take it, I probably would have,” BlackCat admitted with one of her mischievous grins.
Vermillion simply shook his head.
As TheOldMan contemplated the information, he heard a page from security. “Red’s here with your order from O’Donnel’s,” a voice called over his comm-link.
“Send her on back,” he answered as he alternated between studying his team and watching the door.
BC sat on the couch with her legs curled up beneath her. She watched him innocently enough, but he knew her, and he knew her sense of humor. BlackCat loved to play the innocent, all the while plotting little games to make your life...interesting. Her dark eyes missed nothing, and as he looked at her, she met his gaze and smiled. BC’s smile could be very unnerving at times, but this time it was a simple innocent smile.
Vermillion on the other hand had already gone back to tossing knives at a target laid out for exactly that purpose. He seemed so absorbed in what he was doing, TOM almost dismissed it. But then again, Vermillion was always absorbed in what he was doing, especially if it involved knives.
There was a faint knock on the door before it was opened. There was no mistaking the young lady carrying the ‘Hot-Pack’ full of food. Her red hair had grown out enough from her last cut that it was already trying to curl. ‘Red’ gave them all a quick smile as she set her package down and opened it.
TOM smiled as he recognized the smells. “Who placed the order?” he demanded, sure that he’d find out that BC had been up to her usual tricks.
Red simply looked at him and shook her head. “Pastrami on Rye, German mustard,” she announced as she handed the first box to TOM. “Spinach Calzone,” she called out and smiled as Gadje stepped forward and bowed.
“Spinach salad?” BC asked.
Red simply smiled and pulled out a pack from the ‘Cool zone’ of her pack. ‘Cat looked at TOM and made a half curtsey as if to say ‘So there.’
“Vermillion,” Red called. “Wasn’t sure if you wanted the Roast Beef or the Grilled cheese, so I did a hot roast with cheese.”
Vermillion smiled. “Very good.”
TOM was still watching Red as she pulled out a final box. “What’s that?”
“Flautas,” Red answered with a smile. “Figure I needed something to eat too.”
“Anything else?” he prompted.
“Just the bill,” she answered as she looked around the room.
Gadja smiled and nodded towards TOM. “It’s his show...”
“If it's my show, why won’t any of you tell me who ordered?”
“I did,” Red stated with a smile.
“You? How ...”
Red looked at him and shook her head as she let out an exasperated sigh. “Uncle Tony’s off somewhere... probably business... If I were in Pueblo, he’d’ve asked Granny Se-se to check in on me... since I’m here, you’re the one he’d want to watch over me.” She paused, waiting for him to catch up.
“Your idea of checking up on me is to order lunch.” She shrugged as she opened her pack and dug in.
TOM studied her for a minute and looked pleadingly at Gadje.
“She’s got a point,” he agreed. “And you have to admit, she’s Gypsy’s niece.”
“Don’t remind me,” TOM grumbled. “What’s the damage report?”
Red smiled at him as she flipped the bill over. “20 should cover it.”
“Twenty?” he asks. “Family discount?”
Red shrugged as she concentrated on her food for a minute. “Any word from Uncle T?”
TOM studied her for a minute, then shook his head. “He’s still out,” he told her quietly.
Red nodded. She was used to this. Her uncle had a job to do, and a lot of the time, it took him into dangerous situations. As she looked down at her food, three MP’s entered the room.
“Id’s and passes,” the first one demanded. As he passed a bar-code scanner over each ID. When he got to Red, he stopped.
“This one’s a visitor,” he told the others.
The other MPs immediately flanked Red.
“What’s wrong?” Red asked evenly as she tried to remain calm.
“Security,” the MP grunted as he checked her pass and noticed the Hot-pack. “What’s a visitor doing with one of those?” he asked her.
“Bringing lunch,” Red answered questioningly.
“Red is family,” TheOldMan explained, his tone carrying just enough command that the MP’s would take note, not enough to threaten their authority. He might outrank them, but when it came to base security, it was their show.
“She brought us our lunch and stayed for a visit,” again, he kept his tone even. “Could you tell us what’s going on?”
“Intruder on the computer systems,” the first MP answered.
“Someone cracked the system?” Vermillion asked in disbelief. “Duck’s not going to like that.”
“Actually the intruder was decking from our system,” the second MP stated.
Vermillion let out a half snort. “Duck’s really not going to like that.”
The third MP hovered over the Hot-Pack for a moment, inspecting it. The insides were still warm. When he pressed the on button, the heating element sprang to life. Satisfied, he nodded towards the others.
“Sorry to have bothered you,” the first MP stated as he studied Red carefully. “Family hu?”
“Gypsy’s niece, Katya,” TOM told him.
As the other MP’s headed out the first one continued to study Red for a minute, gave her a half apologetic half wistful look then joined his team.
"I think the young man has eyes for you Katya," BC teased as she watched the exchange.
Red gave BC a startled look and then packed up her lunch. "I should get going." she muttered, then headed out the door.
"I do believe she's blushing," BC added as the door swung shut. “What?” she asked innocently as TOM, Gadje and Vermin all stared at her.
“Well she did,” BC muttered to herself as she sat back down and concentrated on her salad.
TOM shook his head as Gadje mulled over what BC had said. “Aw come on Cat... Katya’s got better sense than that...”
TOM thought about the exchange, realizing that Red hadn’t collected payment. He’d have to make sure and rectify that. Gypsy wouldn’t be happy knowing his team had stiffed the kid.
Red paused as she returned the visitor’s badge. She could hear the progress of the search as the MP’s continued their room to room search. She knew something very big was going on. The Guard merely smiled at her.
“Sorry bout the hassle Ms. Wjowski,” he told her as he handed her back her driver’s license. “You have a good day now...”
“You too Corporal,” she said as she gave him a shy smile. As she tucked her ID back into her wallet she picked up her hot pack and headed for the door.
“If I call O’D’s for delivery, would I get you?”
Red smiled and shook her head. “I only deliver to Voodoo,” she admitted. “That way they can check up on me and see that I’m still alive and kicking.”
The guard smiled. “I kinda figured,” he told her. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Red’s smile broadened as she looked at him for a minute. “Thanks,” she said, then left the building and headed towards the delivery truck.
A small sigh of relief escaped her lips as she started the engine and drove off base. As she passed through the gate and eased the truck back onto the highway, she patted the Hot-Pack lovingly. Safely walled away within the until was her deck.
Things were getting too close and she still had no idea what was going on. Somebody was spying on her uncle’s team and she had to find out why. Then there was the question of who was responsible for the attacks on the other teams. As it was she still had a lot of work to do. All she’d managed to get was a lot of minor information, nothing concrete. Hopefully it would give her contact something to work on. Once she was out of communications surveillance range, she dialed a number and waited for an answer.
When he picked up, her message was straight forward and to the point. “Wiz, this is Red, I got something...”