Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Seven

SunDog was worried. It had been three days since WEJ had left her alone in the room: alone, with nothing to do but think. After the anger had worn off, she began to worry: WEJ was the only one who knew where she was. She knew he was fighting to keep her alive, otherwise she’d be dead already, but what if somebody had gotten to him? If anything had happened to him, she doubted anyone else would find her. She didn’t even know where she was; how would anybody else find her?

She forced herself to calm down and look at things rationally. Someone had tried to kill her; somebody had already killed Heartbreaker. It had to have been the mission, but what about the mission was worth trying to kill her or killing Heartbreaker? It just didn’t make sense: the mission had been a failure.

She sighed as she flopped down on the cot and began reviewing the mission. There had to be something about it that had triggered this whole thing. Maybe she had the clues and the review would tell her something, something the others could work on. At least it was something constructive; anything was preferable to just sitting there feeling sorry for herself. ‘Okay,’ she told herself. “It has to be something we saw or were supposed to have seen.”

Heartbreaker looked at SunDog and smiled; a cruise to the Bahamas wasn’t that bad of an assignment, especially when their usual assignments landed them in the middle of either shark infested waters or up to their elbows in mud and live fire.

“These Agency boys sure know how to pick a mission,” she sub-vocalized over the secure-comm-link.

SunDog looked at her and shook her head. SunDog knew she’d have been more comfortable with the mud. It was way too easy to lose sight of the situation on a cruise ship, and they had a job to do.

“Just keep an eye out for our contact,” SunDog warned. “This may be a cushy job, but they wouldn’t have picked us without need of our skills.”

“That and the fact that we look a lot better in bikinis then the D’s,” Heartbreaker added smugly as she watched two guys ogling them from across the deck. She lowered her sunglasses and looked at them over the top, smiling invitingly.

SunDog shook her head. She’d seen Heartbreaker do this too many times to not know what would come next. Heartbreaker was great at luring men to her... it was maintaining a relationship that seemed to bore her.

“Mission,” she reminded her friend.

“Cover,” Heartbreaker answered in the same tone. “Besides, they may be our contacts.”

“Neither of them looks like the world’s leading authority on cyber implants and they don’t seem interested on being ‘liberated’ from an oppressive corp,” SunDog sighed.

“You can never tell...” Heartbreaker sighed.

SunDog bowed her head. It had only been the calm before the storm. The two men weren’t the contact, that much was obvious. What wasn’t obvious was the fact that they were eying the two women for a lot more than their bikinis.

They were two of their contact’s bodyguards, assigned to him by the very same corp he was trying to escape. Worse, the two of them knew who they were and why they were on the ship from the beginning. Someone had warned them, and it had almost gotten them killed. It did get them killed, she reminded herself angrily. It had just taken them a while to getting around to doing it.

“Heartbreaker,” she cried out as she kicked one of the boxes angrily. The mission had been a failure before it had even started and nobody had had the decency to tell them. They found out the hard way, when they finally made contact: Dr. Henry Philip Rioux.

It had taken them three days to find him after he failed to show up at the rendezvous point. He was hard to miss once they realized who he was, but they were in for another surprise when they finally contacted him.

He carried the box with him. When SunDog tried to help him with it, he yanked it out of her hands and clutched it tightly to his chest.

No!” he yelled. “Leave me alone, you don’t know how this will change things. If this were to fall into the wrong hands...”

“Dr. Rioux,” Heartbreaker cooed. “We’re here to help you, don’t worry about the box...”

“This box,” he told her quietly, “is the reason you are here, don’t pretend like I don’t know it. You’ll never take it, or me...”

Heartbreaker shook her head. “The Agency has sent us to bring you on board. You know that, you asked them to rescue you.”

He snorted at her. “Just the ‘wrong hands’ I was talking about! They tried to steal this, recruit me... I said no, and the next thing I know, you’re here. I don’t need rescuing...”

That was when the trouble had really begun. The two men from the deck pulled their guns. They’d known their call signs, they’d known their comm frequencies, they’d even known the mission profile. She and Heartbreaker had been forced into the doctor’s room where all three of them ended up being held at gunpoint. They never even saw their back up, it had been Heartbreaker, with her ‘few extras’ in the cyber department that had saved them.

The men had the full medical reports maintained by the military, but Heartbreaker had had a few extra mods done on the sly. Looking back, that was probably what had saved them. Their captors had used an extra strong tungsten-steel carbide based alloy for their restraints. Its should have been enough to hold Heartbreaker’s cyber enhanced arms, but they had no way of knowing about the rather mundane set of lock picks tucked safely inside.

SunDog bit back the thought. Dwelling on it wasn’t doing her any good, and Heartbreaker was beyond caring. She was about to start pacing again when she heard a noise outside. It was a dull knocking as if someone was testing the walls, looking for something.

She realized they were looking for her. She drew her gun and started evaluating her situation and arms. “Dammit WEJ,” she muttered to herself. “You’re going to get me killed protecting me like this!”

*** *** ***

Tatonka sat waiting, his head bowed in a combination of prayer and exhaustion. WEJ had floated between coma and unconsciousness for almost 12 hours before finally drifting into unconsciousness. They doctors had monitored his progress carefully, but all they could really do was wait. Whisper had done the important work, and was still out cold himself.

Tatonka realized he really should check in on the mage, but he was afraid to leave WEJ’s side. He’d already lost ‘Dog, he wasn’t going to lose WEJ too. Not if there was something he could do.

“Come on WEJ,” he urged softly. “Don’t leave me like this...”

*** *** ***

‘WEJ... Leave... ‘ the words floated in his mind. They didn’t really make much sense, but as he drifted, he could feel the urgency in them.

‘WEJ...’ he thought. ‘Wedge, WEJ... edge... ‘

Finally he made sense of the first word. ‘WEJ,’ he realized. ‘I am WEJ...’

The second bit took more time to seep into his subconscious, but once it did it took up residence until the only thing he heard was ‘Don’t leave me like this...’ The voice he heard now was low, almost urging him to fight, what he didn’t know, but it was there.

As the fog continued to roll, he heard another voice, this one a woman’s. It was half pleading, half demainding: ‘Don’t leave me like this...’

It started softly enough, but it kept on, demanding he listen to it, demanding he respond. WEJ stiffened as he took a deep breath and forced himself clear of the emptiness that surrounded him.

*** *** ***

Tatonka looked up as he noticed the change in WEJ’s breathing. “WEJ?” he called hopefully.

His greeting was met with a loud groan from WEJ. “Tonk...” he managed to mutter. “Tonk...”

“I’m here,” Tatonka assured his friend.

“Dog...” his voice was barely a whisper.

Tatonka leaned forward to hear what WEJ was trying to say. As he listened he felt his heart take flight. A combination of joy and rage filled him as he pushed away from WEJ.

His eyes blazed as he glared at his friend. His breathing and pulse had increased to dangerous levels. “We’ll talk later,” he forced himself to say. If what WEJ had told him was true, he had more important things to do than stay here.

WEJ forced himself up, shifting his weight to his elbows. “Tonk... listen... take the D’s... not safe...”

Tatonka drew a deep breath and forced himself to listen. Someone had already tried to kill WEJ, taking him out would be just as easy.

“We’ll talk later,” he forced himself to say.

WEJ nodded sadly. He was sure they would, and none of the words would be very nice.

*** *** ***

Pappa Dan read the reports and shook his head. His team was imploding on itself, and he couldn’t say he blamed any of them. Heartbreaker and SunDog were gone, that wasn’t their fault. Someone had almost taken out WEJ and Tatonka; Whisper was suffering heavily from his efforts to keep WEJ alive. WEJ himself, was barely hanging on and Tatonka had rolled in, grabbed the D’s and disappeared without a backward glance.

If that weren’t enough Silly Wizard was AWOL, and Tracker had been taking on monster runs through the matrix trying to find something, anything to go on. There were no clues: no information and any leads Heartbreaker or SunDog could have given had died with them.

The worst part of it all was the fact that it was all out of his hands. He was a leader, but there was no longer a team to lead. He was pretty sure things couldn’t get any worse. On some level he knew, it could and would get much worse, it was just one of those situations...

*** *** ***

Tracker rubbed his eyes as he broke the connection with his terminal. He had been jacked into the matrix for nearly twelve hours this time, but there was still no word from Silly Wizard. He had lost contact almost three days ago, but Tracker didn't give up easily. They had been through too much together to give up now.

He shook his head. If only Silly Wizard had told him what he was up against. Didn't he know he could trust him? Tracker thought about that for a minute then realized the Wiz had been protecting him but it still didn't make sense.

He drew a deep breath and jacked back in. It was time to hit Wiz's account. Reality shimmered and distorted around him. He was no longer in the ready room on base, he was in matrix, a wolf in a world of constructs. He trotted between the data constructs like so much smoke.

Sometimes this world was more real to him than his own. Tracker had spent the better part of his military career here, and like most military ‘jackers’, he expected to die here. He approached The Wiz's private node and stopped. It was gone.

It hadn't been removed in the normal maintenance manner, it was just gone... He started his scan routine watching for any abnormal readings but it was just a blank spot.

He widened his search parameters and ran the routine again. The diagnostics revealed only scant traces of the account. It had been there, but not only had someone wiped the account, they had done a security overwrite on all his files. He backtracked through the system and checked for any telltales or tracing routines; this was getting too weird, even for the matrix.

To be on the safe side he ran his diversion routine and jacked out.

*** *** ***

The General was not a happy man. He had isolated the perfect decker to use as a test subject. The profile indicated everything they needed and implicated much more. The Duck had been a perfect choice. He was unconventional, tricky, resourceful, but there was something more.

This decker seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to trouble, and more importantly, a stubborn streak a mile wide. It was something the test subject would need if they were going to be able to fight the more adverse effects of the device and survive it. Duck was perfect, but those same skills and factors, had also made the Duck unobtainable. Once again, the decker had managed to elude them.

Instead of their prime candidate, they had been forced to grab one Daniel Andrews, the Silly Wizard. His medical work-ups had been promising, the fact that he had managed to infiltrate a military base on full alert and had escaped boded well, but not well enough.

He looked into the isolation tank as the subject contorted from the ghost messages the device was sending his brain. They were closer to finding the answer, the fact that he’d made it to the tank was proof of that. The first two subjects hadn’t survived long enough to even get them out of the O.R.

He shook his head. The subject was dying; his mind tearing him apart. It was only a matter of time. He looked at his second in command as he approached the door. “Get me his fiancé, we need to find out what he told her. Then.. Pull the plug.”

His second nodded as he headed for the door. “Both?”

He turned and nodded back. “Can’t have any loose ends. Have the doctors retrieve the hardware, we’ll try again.”

“Yes sir,” his second answered.

The General nodded; the were getting close. He took a deep breath as he exited the restricted area and rejoined the rest of his team. He needed a status report, and a new subject.

*** *** ***

"We almost had him sir," the technician reported. "But he jacked out."

"That's it, that's all you have?"

"You know how these people are; he travels in the net in the form of a wolf, that's all we could pick up."

"Anything else?"

"Yes sir, he's good. He has access to some very high quality diagnostics, and he knew what he was looking for."

"Find out what you can about him. Match up his profile with all known deckers: military or otherwise. We need to know as much as we can about this man, and I need you to find out as much as you can on this Duck. He’s become our prime candidate again.”

"Yes sir," the technician answered and went back to his console. He forced himself not to ask about the other decker, the one that had decoyed them away from Duck. It was simple math, if the Duck was prime again, he hadn’t survived. Biting his lip, he forced himself to get back to work. If the General even thought he was protecting the other deckers, he was as good as dead, or worse, a ‘candidate’ himself.

*** *** ***

Tracker shook his head as it reeled from the transfer. It was one thing to break connection through normal means, but by pulling the plug there was no gentle transition. His mind swam from the distortion from virtual to real.

He hated the feeling, but instinct told him it was necessary. It had saved him enough times that when he got that feeling, he followed through. He scanned the scant information he gleaned from Wiz's account and shook his head. None of it made any sense. He read it again before realizing that one sequence was repeated in three places.

RMF77...Tracker thought about the sequence. RMF77... thinking about it, he realized it was a pointer. Tracing the address, he found that it pointed to the Royal Marines.

Tracker jacked into the military cross system and attached to the Royal Marines File. Jacket 77 pointed, not to a Royal Marine 'jacker but to an American Military Team. Following the trail he found a file on a Special Forces Team comparable to his own SEAL Team.

Listed in the file were the code names of the Tiger Team Wiz had worked with on occasion. Tracker tried to think. He remembered the Wiz mentioned another 'jacker, one of the best. He read the list;

Tracker shook his head, the names were all standard code names, no listing regarding duties. He continued reading.

Reading through the file, the Wiz’s words came back to him. 'Talk to the Duck,' he had said. It didn't make sense then, but suddenly it did.

'The Duck then,' He thought to himself. 'But how do I get a message to the Duck?'

*** *** ***

Tatonka looked at the D’s as Little D maneuvered their car around the potholes. This was not the best part of town, but he knew WEJ had chosen it for a reason. People here were clannish. Sure they’d fight amongst themselves, but they would easily unite against an interloper. The only problem with that was the fact that technically, they were the interlopers.

He was pretty sure the D’s could handle any situation, but he knew better than to hope they’d help defuse anything. The D’s were too high strung for that. Still, there was nobody he’d rather have watching his back than one or both of them.

Little D was a little calmer than his ‘brother’, but that wasn't saying much. Tatonka wasn’t sure if that was because he was an Ork or just the way he was. It didn’t really matter, if you fought with one of them, you dealt with both. Sometimes he wondered if the two of them were joined at the hip.

Big D noticed his scrutiny and returned it in kind. “Tonk, you want to tell us what this is about?”

“Something WEJ needed us to take care of,” he answered evenly. WEJ had warned him about saying anything out loud. Even now he wondered if WEJ’s information had come too late.

“Tonk,” Little D offered. “You know we’ll do anything we can for you, but well...”

“We’d kinda like to know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Big D finished.

Tonk shook his head. “Once we’re there, you’ll understand,” he answered. “We just have to get there in time... L.D., can’t this thing go any faster?”

“Sure,” Little D answered. “If you want to bust an axle.”

Tonka took a deep breath. They weren’t getting there anywhere near fast enough and he knew it.

*** *** ***

Sundog gripped the gun tightly as she heard the tapping change. Whoever it was, they had found the room. She took a deep breath as she looked around and prepared to defend herself. She shook her head as she realized the safest place was the privy. It would provide the most cover, but still give her a decent line on anybody coming into the room.

Somehow it seemed poetic: making her last stand in the toilet. That pretty much said it all about what had happened over the past few days. As she took up a defensive position, she heard a dull thud as her foot hit the back wall.

She turned and smiled to herself. Trust WEJ to put an escape hatch in his shelter. She quickly got up and began analyzing the hatch. A smile crossed her lips as she closed the door and heard a click. Probing along the walls, she pressed against the tiles until they gave way. It was a simple mechanism, but you had to know about the hatch. She jumped up and started gathering up all the signs that she had been there.

Once she’d disposed of the empty cans and wrappers, she gathered enough of the munitions that she could keep going, but not enough to tip off anybody who found the shelter. Then she grabbed some food. As she piled the last of it in, she climbed into the hatchway and closed it behind her. It was a tight fit, but it gave her more of a chance then a stand off in the bathroom.

She held her breath as she heard the door to the outside room open.

Copyright 1998 - 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Eight
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