Tracker watched as SillyWizard stiffened for a moment. They’d been in the middle of reviewing the results of their respective searches when his phone had gone off.
Tracker waited patiently as his friend took the call. At first Wiz seemed annoyed that the person was calling him, but then he settled down, Tracker knew he’d just gotten a break. “I’ll be there,” he stated into the phone and then hung up.
“I may have something,” Silly Wizard stated as he gathered up his things. “I’ll be back in a few.”
Tracker stared at him for a minute, wanting an explanation, but trying very hard to respect his friend’s privacy. “Do you need backup?”
Wiz looked at him a minute and shook his head. “Thanks,” he added and Tracker knew it wasn’t just for the offer. Then he took a deep breath. “There’s a lot more to the rumor, I had a friend check on some things for me. She says she has some information. I need to find out what she has, and that she’s safe.”
Tracker nodded. “I’ll go over what we have here and see if there’s anything we can work with. Cross check it with some of the others.”
Wiz nodded. “Be careful who you talk to,” he warned. “This thing is big.”
Tracker nodded. He didn’t need a reminder; he’d seen what they did to Heartbreaker. “Same goes for you. Watch your back,” Tracker warned. “Who ever we’re up against seems to have the inside track.”
“I noticed,” Wiz answered. “You get a rundown, but please don’t do anything until I get back. Okay?”
Tracker nodded. It wasn’t like the SillyWizard to warn people off of something. Still, Wiz was the senior decker on the team. “Got it.”
Tracker watched as Wiz left and noticed the motion detector’s light as it marked his passing. It was starting to look like a very long day. He had just settled back into reviewing their notes and had started to put the pieces together when Papa Dan walked in.
Tracker gave him a startled look when he noticed how old the man was looking. “Sir?” he called worriedly.
“SunDog,” he stated woodenly. “They got to her cabin too late...”
Tracker gasped. He had hoped they’d been able to reach her in time. His next concern was the rest of the team. “Tonk?”
“They had to tranq him,” Papa Dan told him. “He didn’t take it very well.”
“I guess not,” Tracker commented. It was no surprise to him, and he knew it wouldn’t surprise anybody else on the team. Saying that Tonk and SunDog were very protective of each other was an understatement to say the least.
“The D’s are bringing him in now. WEJ is still at the site, going through the wreckage,” Papa D. added.
“Alone?” Tracker asked worriedly.
“If anybody can take care of themselves, it’s our Winged Eagle of Justice,” Papa D. assured him. “WEJ’ll be fine.”
“Seventy-two hours ago,” Tracker stated, “I would have agreed with you. I don’t know anymore.”
Papa Dan nodded. “You see Wiz?”
“He went to check on a lead,” Tracker stated he could feel his stomach drop. Wiz was out there alone, trying to track things down and somebody was gunning for the team. “I can call him in if you want.”
Papa D. shook his head. “Necessary risk I guess,” he admitted.
“We regroup and move ahead,” Papa D. answered. “We need to find out what we’re up against, and quickly.”
Tracker nodded his head. Two down, and no idea why. He felt a headache coming on, and there was nothing he could do about this one.
SunDog woke sporting a major headache. She groaned as she rolled over, then the images flashed through her mind. Images of the explosion, the chase... WEJ.. She remembered WEJ towering over her and telling her that Tonka wanted to see her.
When she remembered WEJ, she forced herself upright. He had told her she was dead and then she felt him slap her skin with something moist. ‘Must have tranqed me,’ she thought to herself as she tried to sort things out.
Something told her, she had to get to the bottom of things now. It was dark, but she could see a crack of light coming through a door. As she moved, the lights came on.
She winced as the light stabbed into her eyes. As she shaded her eyes, the lights dimmed.
“Sorry,” she heard WEJ apologize over an inter-comm.
“Talk to me WEJ,” she demanded. She knew he was up to something, but her mind was still foggy.
“I had to get you out of there.” His voice sounded hesitant even over the tinny speakers. “This is the only way I could think of to keep you alive,”
“Kidnaping me?” she asked in disbelief. “This is your idea of keeping me alive.”
“If they think you’re dead, they won’t come after you,” he told her patiently. “Everybody has to think you’re dead.”
She felt a cold chill as his words sank in. “You didn’t tell Tonk, did you?”
She could almost see him bow his head as he answered her questions. “I couldn’t.” She could also here the plea in his voice. He wanted her to understand, but all she could think of was what this was doing to Tonka.
“Bastard!” she yelled. “He’s your best friend. Do you know what this’ll do to him?”
“Yes,” again she could hear the pain in his voice, he knew all to well what he was doing to Tatonka. “Jen, there was no other choice.”
“No other choice, we beat them!”
“No. There are more of them. If they knew the others had failed, they’d send more after you. If they couldn’t get to you... they’d get to you through Tonk. He’s got to think you’re dead. They all do, otherwise you really will be dead, and so will the rest of us.”
SunDog shook her head, he was almost making sense to her. “WEJ, get me the hell out of here.”
“No,” WEJ answered sadly. “Listen to me... I’ll get him here as soon as I can.” He paused. “I hate doing this to the two of you, but it’s the only way you’re going to get out of this alive.”
“No!” she screamed, but when no answer came she knew he’d turned off the inter comm.
SillyWizard drove in silence. After all his searching he was still no closer to the reason than he was when all this started. He hoped the information Red had for him would prove useful. She at least had managed to access some of the systems he wasn’t ready to access.
He didn’t want to start an incident, at least not yet, not until he had all the details. He was sure of one thing right now, and that was the fact that they were dealing with an inside man. Somebody knew way too much about all of them for it to be anything else.
As he drove, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Things were getting worse all the time and he knew he had to be on his toes. The more he thought about it, the worse things seemed.
Pulling into the parking lot he checked his rearview mirror and nodded to himself. He’d been followed. Pretending not to notice, he entered O’Donnel’s and scanned the room. He recognized some of the regulars and saw Red serving in the back.
When the hostess asked to seat him, he asked for the smoking section. He knew Red was watching as Monica led him to a table on the wrong side of the restaurant. When he caught her eye, Red merely looked away.
He was amazed at how well she had adapted to her role as ‘consultant.’ When he’d tapped her he’d known she had potential; it wasn’t until he started working with her that he realized just how much potential she had.
As Red pulled out her pad and walked towards him, he studied the menu.
“Can I take your order, sir?” Red asked in a rather bored, waitressy voice.
“What’s today’s special?” he asked.
“We’ve got grilled salmon in a dill sauce, an Etufee that’s very good, and we also have chicken in a Dijon Mustard and Tarragon sauce.”
“Etufee?” he asked cautiously.
“It’s Creole for ‘you really don’t want to know’,” Red confided with a smile, “If you put enough cayenne on it, you won’t notice a thing.”
“Ah,” he answered with a smile. For a minute he wasn’t sure if she had understood his warning, but then he saw the glint in her eyes: she knew. “I’ll try the Chicken,” he told her as he handed her the menu.
“Very good sir,” she answered as she took the menu. He was amazed at how easily she palmed the data disk he held with it. “Would you like anything to drink with that?”
He gave her a startled look. It wasn’t part of the code. Then he realized that it was very much a part of ordering. “Iced tea,” he answered.
“I’ll be right back with that tea,” she told him.
Silly Wizard watched the comings and goings as Red returned with his tea. “Here you go sir,” she told him as he took the glass. She pulled two sugars from her pocket and smiled. “Your chicken will be up shortly.”
He nodded, as he flicked the sugars, he felt a data disk inside one of them. Sometimes Red was just too smooth and practiced to be as young as she was, but then, he knew she had a lot of secrets she had to keep. He began to worry that this case would reveal them, or worse, end the life of his protege.
When Red returned with his lunch he was pensive again. He began to wonder if he’d done the right thing by asking her to help him on this. Red seemed to pick up on his thoughts and winked. It was almost as if she was daring something to even try for her. For a minute he wondered if she truly was as innocent as he thought she was.
“You save some room for dessert,” she urged him. “We’ve got cherry pie in the back. Made with real cherries,” she added in a confidential tone.
He smiled in spite of himself. He had never met anyone quite like Red. She could make him feel protective of her one minute and then totally confident in her abilities the next. He wondered if that was all part of her chameleon nature.
As she made the rounds on her tables he saw two men walk in and wait to be seated. He watched them from the reflection in the back mirror as they were led to another seat in the smoking section. He tried to signal Red, but she was already on her way to the table.
He lit a cigarette as he watched her take their order. He could tell she repeated everything, down to her joke about the Etufee. The laughed politely, but they were obviously trying to find out why he had come here.
He knew that meant he’d have to take the long way back to base. He’d stop by several shops and maybe the park. He hated the idea of endangering civilians, but he didn’t want them to pick up Red. The kid was good in the matrix, and she could keep her head in spite of trouble. Still, a bullet could just as easily find her and end things just as quickly as black IC and there was no code written that would keep a bullet from killing you.
Tracker watched the clock worriedly as the minutes ticked by. It had been almost four hours since SillyWizard had left to ‘check on a few things.’ In that time he had gone over their notes enough times that he could almost cite them from memory.
The picture they painted was not a good one. They’d found nothing on the black box, but quite a bit on teams that had been involved in the case and the body count. There was more he wanted to check on but Wiz had made him promise to wait.
As the hours ticked by the wait was getting harder and harder. It didn’t help that the others had returned. Tonk was in no shape for anything. Flashes of the kid in Baltimore came unbidden. Someone had cut them deep and he knew the team would never be the same. He prayed it would end here, but something told him that whoever was hitting them hadn’t even gotten started. No, this wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
Whisper entered the room quietly, then sat down with a dramatic sigh. Tracker looked up for a moment and when Whisper signed ‘What?’ He simply shook his head.
“That bad?” Whisper asked, again signing.
Tracker looked at him for a moment and then realized he wasn’t being secretive: Whisper was just being Whisper. Sometimes he forgot that Whisper had grown up in the Galludet enclave and that sign language was his ‘native tongue’ : English more of a supplementary language than anything else.
Tracker closed his eyes for a minute then nodded.
“How about I give it a go,” he offered softly.
Tracker opened his eyes and looked at Whisper. Then nodded, they hadn’t really explored the magical aspects of trailing. “Maybe you’ll have better luck than we have.”
“Probably different luck,” Whisper countered. “But it’s worth a try.”
Tracker nodded as Whisper leaned back and shifted his focus from the physical to the astral. As the mage slumped against the wall, Silly Wizard entered the room. He took one look at Whisper and winked at Tracker. “What, he couldn’t sleep in his own room?”
“He’s checking,” Tracker answered with a shrug. “You get anything?”
Wiz nodded glumly. “I’d say so. Our opposition’s using a military issue library to generate their tools.”
Tracker sat up straight in his chair. That code was guarded protectively. Only somebody currently serving in the military would have access to the code. “Any idea what version?”
Wiz nodded. “Latest and greatest, so its not some retiree who managed to slip out with a copy.”
“Damn,” Tracker swore softly. “So not only do we have to deal with hostile governments, we now have to worry about our own people.”
Tracker bit his lip. He had figured things were only going to get worse, and now he had proof. There were times he really hated being right.
WEJ shook his head as he reported to Papa Dan. Everything he could find at the cabin indicated a professional job. The placement of the explosives, the detonator itself, none of them were really traceable. They were standard military issue.
Milspec. That seemed to sum up everything they’ve encountered to date. Baltimore Police were still waiting for the ballistics reports to come back, but the casings and load were all Milspec. As Papa Dan mused over the information WEJ studied him.
“What is it WEJ?” he asked softly.
“Tonk,” he started, then paused. “How is he?”
“The D’s tranqed him. He’s kept to himself ever since,” Papa D told him. “He’s not talking to anybody.”
“If you don’t mind sir, I’d like to talk to him.”
Papa D. studied him for a minute then nodded. WEJ was the closest thing to a confessor BlackPaw had. If anybody had a chance with Tonk right now, it was WEJ.
“I’ll let you know if we hear anything,” Papa D. assured him, then nodded towards the door.
Things were not looking well, by any stretch of the imagination.
Tracker muttered to himself as he reviewed the chip SillyWizard had handed him. He could see the Black IC that attacked the decker who sat there taking hit after hit, just to get a full analysis of the code and its source.
The information and results were irrefutable. The IC, the tracer routines, even the decker’s construct itself were all designed and created using the standard battery of libraries issued to every top level decker in the military.
Without meaning to, he began analyzing the decker that had provided Wiz with the information. He knew Wiz’s protege was confident in her skills and equipment but a little on the reckless side.
Thinking about it, he realized that reckless wasn’t quite the word for her. Each risk had been carefully calculated, and it seemed that she had only selected the ones that would yield the most information. Something told him that if he thought about it long enough, he’d be able to guess her formula for figuring which risks to take and which were too costly.
It was interesting. He saw the traps that she carefully avoided, intricate traps that would have snagged too many others, yet there were also traps that were purposefully triggered. Several of the traps that were triggered were less intricate, easier to notice, but the IC behind them was by far nastier than the ones she’d avoided. She’d triggered them and controlled the situation efficiently.
He should have figured, Wiz would only mentor one of the best, and this chip was her way of paying him back.
“Looking at the chip?” Wiz asked as he stepped into the room.
“Yeah,” Tracker stated. “Your protege’s...”
“Unconventional,” Silly Wizard commented, filling in the blank. “She’s headstrong, stubborn, and you’d probably want to kill her within a week.”
Tracker nodded. “I figured it was either that or we’d get along famously.
“Trust me... she takes a lot of getting used to. There are things she does that make me want to shake her and ask what she thinks she’s doing, and then I see the results...”
“Sounds familiar,” Tracker commented as he looked at his friend.
“Yeah, but you straightened out,” ‘Wiz answered with a snort.
“I wasn’t talking about me,” Tracker muttered.
“What?” ‘Wiz asked innocently.
Tracker studied ‘Wiz for a minute and shook his head. It was an old joke any more. When they first started they were too different for their own good, but they’d learned to work together, more over, they learned to blend each style until they provided a cohesive force.
Tracker shook his head as he brought himself back to the present, and the discussion of ‘Wiz’s protege. “Likes to take chances I see,” he commented.
“She’s very goal oriented, driven even,” Wiz agreed with a nod. “But she seems to have a knack for picking the right odds to play.”
“Looks like she took a pounding,” Tracker commented as he reviewed the notes on the IC.
“She’s fine,” Wizard assured him. “Contrary to what you see here, she does know when to back down. Sort of...”
“Sort of?” Tracker asked with a sidelong glance.
Wizard shrugged. “She doesn’t back down when its somebody else’s butt on the line.”
Tracker nodded. He knew the type, Silly Wizard was a prime example. Thinking about it, he realized that he and ‘Wiz had almost killed each other within their first week or working together. Literally.
“I just don’t like her getting involved in this,” Wiz sighed.
“Well, from what you’ve said she’s not the kind to sit something like this out.” Tracker commented. “Sounds like you picked a live one.”
Wiz smiled and nodded. He hated keeping secrets from Tracker, but Red’s secrets weren’t his to share. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he began once again reviewing Red’s notes. Something told him it was going to be a very long night.