Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Eight

SunDog held her breath as the men entered the shelter and called to their companions. They knew they’d found her, but how? She held her gun tightly as they closed in. Questions filled her mind until she wanted to scream.

She forced herself to remain calm, but it was hard. She knew then that something had to have happened to WEJ; he had been way too protective to tell anyone what he’d done. No, if he wasn’t willing to tell Tatonka, there was no way he’d have told anybody else, not willingly.

‘You will pay,’ she swore to herself as they neared the bathroom. Her heart rate increased until she was sure they’d hear. She forced herself to breathe slowly. There would be time to worry about the others later. She had to survive this before she’d be able to do anything else. ‘Easy,’ she told herself. ‘Bide your time, choose your target.’

She let herself fall back into the pattern of a hunter. She had the advantage here: they were the prey here, not her. She was the hunter and they were coming into her territory.

She estimated five men all told. One was coming into the bathroom, one in the kitchenette, another two in the main room and one in the doorway, acting as a rear guard. She took a deep breath and forced it out slowly. There could very well be more, waiting in the hallway, or just outside the house. As she waited she began to understand WEJ’s concern and his reasons for hiding her like this.

She swallowed. They knew to look here, but the didn’t seem to know about the hatch. That boded well for her. It was possible she could just wait them out and leave without a fight. She could hear the man make a sweep of the bathroom.

“Clear,” she heard him mutter into a comm device. Smiling to herself, she began scanning the frequencies until she locked onto their frequency. What she heard did not make her feel much better.

“Copy,” the voice was gruff, but used to calling the shots.

“Arms, ammo, demo, food... no sign of the girl,” another voice announced. The accent was crisp, deliberate: military.

“Sink’s wet,” a third voice commented. “Somebody was here.”

“Do another sweep, if you don’t find anything, blow the place.”

SunDog drew a deep breath. Just like that, ‘don’t find what you’re looking for, blow the whole thing up.’ There was no doubt in her mind that she would not survive the blast. As she weighed her options she heard another voice.

“We’ve got company,” the voice growled.

“Copy.” It was the gruff commanding voice again. ‘Brick, Angel, lay the det-cord. The rest of you, move out, we don’t want to get caught in the...’

SunDog listened intently as the voice cut off.

‘Boss?’ The question was greeted by silence.

‘Davis, this is Brick... ‘ again the voice was cut off but this time there was a slight squawk at the end of the transmission, as if it had been ended by somebody smashing the radio.

The man who had just entered the bathroom turned. She heard him call to his friends and when he received no answer, he began looking around for cover.

“Come on out,” a voice growled from the main room. “We know you’re in there.”

SunDog backed away from the hatch as the man went prone in the doorway. She knew if he backed up, he’d find the hatchway, just as she had.

“Give it up sonny boy,” another voice called. “We’ve already taken on your team.”

She could hear the man’s breathing as he weighed his options. One minute he was the hunter, the next the hunted. “So you give me a choice, stay and die or surrender and die?” He eased back slightly. “No thank you.”

She could detect the added weight on the floor as someone moved closer to the bathroom. “Nobody’s gotten hurt ‘yet’,” the voice added.

“Go to hell!”

She realized the one talking to the man was keeping him busy, covering the advancing figure. ‘Mage,’ she decided. Thinking about the layout of the room, the only way somebody could get that close unseen was through an invisibility or masking spell.

“Listen son, we don’t want to have to hurt you...”

“Then leave me alone you...” His sentence was cut off as the spell caster made his presence known by chambering a shotgun shell.

“He’s decided to surrender,” the man announced. SunDog could hear the smile in his voice. She could hear the movement as the others took their captive from the room. She was almost relieved when she realized that the Mage had stayed in the room. He knelt down by the hatchway and called to her. “They are gone now Miss,” he stated gently. “It may be safer if you came and waited with us.”

She weighed her options and let out a dejected sigh. There was no way she’d be able to fight her way free of all of them, and these people had saved her life... so far.

As she opened the hatchway she found a hand reaching towards her. She gasped until she realized that it was an offer of support. She took it and climbed out of the hiding place. She was surprised when the mage winked at her and handed her his shotgun.

“You are not a prisoner,” he assured her gently. “You are a friend of Howling Elk’s and therefore, a friend of ours.”

She nodded and followed him out of the shelter. “We will protect you, until he returns, but only if that is your wish.”

She tensed as they moved into the hallway. She saw no sign of the others. “They are being taken elsewhere. Howling Elk did not want them to find you...”

She nodded, unsure of her protector, but not ready to head off on her own again.

*** *** ***

Tatonka tensed as Little D pulled onto the street in front of WEJ’s bungalow. He could see the ‘neighborhood watch’ gathered on the corner. They seemed more agitated then usual, but that was not his prime concern. He was thinking only of SunDog.

“Heads up, we’ve got company,” Big D commented as Little D parked the Jeep.

Tatonka turned looking at he approaching mob. As they neared, they could tell they’d already been in at least one fight tonight.

He raised his hands and looked at them. He tensed as one of them moved closer and nodded. “You’re a friend of Jones aren’t you?”

Tatonka’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t know no Jones,” he answered cautiously. “Friend of Martin Howling Elk,” he added nodding towards WEJ’s house.

The man raised his hand, waving off the others. “There were some visitors earlier,” he informed them as he led them towards WEJ’s place.

Tatonka’s eyes widened. “A friend was staying there...” he told them worriedly. “I...”

“Don’t worry,” the man told him with a smile. “They were tearing up the place. Me and the boys put their lights out.”

Tatonka swallowed hard. “Was anybody...”

“We took them out without a shot being fired,” the man assured him with a smile, then he stretched out his hand. “Phil Mason,” he introduced himself, ‘block captain.’

Tatonka took the proffered hand and nodded. “Mike Waters,” Tatonka said as he shook the man’s hand.

The man looked at him and smiled. “Tatonka?”

Tonk looked at the man and once again squinted at him, nodding slowly. He tensed as the man continued to study him.

“Got a message for you from Howling Elk,” Mason explained. “The two with you... who are they?”

Tatonka took a deep breath. “They’re the D’s. Don’t go by any other name,” he answered tensely.

The man nodded, then made three hand signals. Tatonka’s heart sang as he recognized the signs. “Sun. Dog. Good.” He smiled as the man repeated the signs.

Mason studied him for a minute. “That means something to you?”

Tatonka nodded. “Sure does,” he answered patting the man on the shoulders gratefully.

“Come with me,” Mason urged as he nodded further down the block. Tatonka signaled the D’s and together they followed the man to his house.

*** *** ***

Persephone cursed as she swerved to avoid an oncoming car. Everything had gone according to plan until someone had blown their cover.

Adrenalin coursed through her veins as bullets impacted on the side of the car. She floored the accelerator and mouthed a quick prayer as she rounded the turn. Gypsy, sitting next to her, held his breath. They both knew what waited around the corner.

Zanyala woke with a start and shook her head. It had been almost two weeks, since the failed mission but it still haunted her. She rubbed the back of her neck and wondered how Gypsy was doing. She rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but it was no use: she was still wound too tightly from the past few weeks’ events.

She kicked the covers off and headed towards the kitchen. Pulling out some bread, she began making herself a sandwich. She opened a jar of peanut butter and spread it out over the bread. The other problem she had faced traveling with Gypsy had been his choice in foods. Gypsy had grown up on a farm, eating what he tended to call ‘real food’. Peanut butter and jelly did not come under the heading of ‘real food’ in Gypsy’s book.

She sighed as she reached for the milk and stopped the expiration date had come and gone almost a week earlier. Shifting slightly, she pulled out a can of soda and closed the door. She’d have to restock the fridge in the morning.

Sitting down she turned on the trid and tried to find something on. Even as she tried to bury herself in the mindlessness of the late night programming, Yala’s mind once again turned to France.

Everything had started out normally enough. They got their orders, transportation, reservation, cover had all been arranged. All they had to do was step into their roles and they would have full access to the lab and its facilities. That had been the plan. She and Gypsy were supposed to be visiting cyber-researchers, there by invitation of the Zyrebien Corporation.

They had been there less than 2 hours when the invitation had been pulled out from under them. The only explanation had been something about an equipment malfunction and a promise to reschedule their appointments. Two hours into the mission, the profile had changed so drastically it wasn’t even funny. That was when the real trouble began.

They were supposed to rendezvous with two agents already in country. There they were to have received the full briefing and the full details on the object they were to obtain. But when the arrived the Gendarme had already cordoned off the area.

Their contacts had been murdered. Looking back Yala realized that if they had not taken the call from Zyrebien, they too would have been found on the floor of the small out of the way bistro. From what she had seen it had looked like they had been killed by a small caliber bullet. Duck had tapped into the Gendarme’s systems and confirmed their findings. The men had been executed.

That was when they decided to go to the compound on their own and try to find out what they had in their research facility. That was when things had gotten worse. She hugged her knees tightly: she had come way to close to losing on this one. She forced herself to uncurl and began writing down everything that had happened. If some one had gone to the trouble of killing two of Daniel’s teammates, something told her they’d need every shred of information she could come up with.

*** *** ***

It was almost three hours later when she finally put her plate in the sink and went back to bed. As she started to drift off, she heard movement in the front part of her apartment. She forced herself awake and took a defensive position. If it was Daniel, they'd have a good laugh, but the way things had been going, she knew it was better to not take any chances. There had been too many close calls for all of them recently.

"Don't move," a voice whispered from the hallway. She recognized the thick accent as she relaxed and waited for Gypsy to find her. He slipped in next to her, placing his hand in her's.

"I am being monitored," he informed her with hand signals. "You may be as well," he added.

"I guess it was too much to ask for," she signaled back, “we make it back and we’re safe?”

She felt him make a fist in her hand and nodded. There was more, but they couldn't discuss it here. Some how Gypsy had managed to avoid detection, but here in her apartment, they were both sitting ducks. Silently she led him to the walk-in closet.

Once they were both in the small room, Zanyala closed the door and turned on the lights and the jamming equipment. She was not ready for the sight that greeted her.

"You look terrible," she stated matter-of-factly, as Gypsy looked around the room.

"Business hazzard," Gypsy smiled as he answered. He had been up for days, and he knew how bad he looked.

She grinned as he silently assessed his surroundings. She had converted the closet into a command center, complete with security equipment and a net-console.

"Tell me 'bout it," she prompted when he had finished his survey.

"Yala, we were too close to something in France. Someone wanted us dead. They still do," he answered softly. "Has your fiance been able to find anything?"

Yala shook her head. "Daniel was supposed to be back tonight," she answered distractedly as she stared at her console. "I was hoping you were him."

"With a gun in your hands?" he teased. "Yala, Yala, you remind me not to piss you off. Flowers and wine are a much better way of greeting long absent loved ones."

She smiled at his comment, but they both knew things were getting worse all the time. As they stood in silence, they both thought about the mission and their return. Something was definitely going on.

"You maybe want to return to base until this is over," he urged.

"No, if something has happened to Daniel, I'll need to be on the outside," she stated firmly. "Meet me at O'Donnel's tomorrow at seven."

He nodded. "Be careful child," he urged.

Zanyala nodded: he didn't need to tell her. "I have some work to do," she answered nodding toward the console.

"You want I should watch your back?" he asked, knowing that once she connected herself to the matrix, she would be helpless.

"Yes, but not tonight," she answered. "I'm just moving the equipment tonight," she explained. "If someone's watching you, there's a good bet I'm being watched too."

"Remember, O'Donnel's," he urged as she turned out the lights.

"Don't be such a grandmother, I'll be there," she promised. "Door," she warned then opened the door. She felt Gypsy brush by her, and then he was gone. She closed the door and began boxing her equipment. She had a lot to do before tomorrow night.

*** *** ***

Yala had almost finished packing up her equipment when she heard a faint hissing noise coming through the air vent. Her eyes widened as she pushed herself away from the boxes and rushed towards her bedroom and her gear. She made it three steps before the gas started to take effect. She tried to reach out as three masked figures descended on her. She was aware of them picking her up and dragging her from the room, then nothing else.

“Base, this is Blue Tiger,” the leader called over his encrypted line.

“Blue Tiger go”

“Mission accomplished,” he intoned.

“Proceed to base,” the answer came.

“Copy.” The team leader nodded towards his men and then turned on the air system in the room.

“Thanks boss,” their rigger commented as he closed off the valves from his gas tank. And watched the others exit the apartment. He checked the gauges and verified the environment. It would take less then fifteen minutes for the gas to dissipate. Then there would be no trace of it having ever been there. Once he was sure it was clear, he slipped out of the building’s environment controls and waited for the others to join him. He refused to relax until they had delivered their ‘package’ to base.

The team leader smiled to himself. The mission had been perfect so far. They target had been awake, that was not expected, but the gas had taken care of that. He scanned the area as they headed out. It was late enough, nobody was around. He nodded to the rigger as they piled into the Jeep.

“Phase one, good,” he announced.


*** *** ***

The General allowed himself a smile as he read the reports. The package was on its way, and soon he would have the situation back in hand. He did not like loose ends and this whole thing had almost been broken wide open by a nosey SEAL.

He looked at the tank and shook his head. It was probably just as well this one hadn’t worked out. His profile indicated a strong independent streak. Something the project could ill afford. Still, it was more important that the ‘recruit’ survive the transplant. Loyalty can be arranged through the proper training.

‘Too bad he had to talk to the girl,’ he sighed. ‘She’s got a good record, and a good head on her shoulders.’

He shook his head. He couldn’t afford to be sentimental, not yet. The project was still too delicate to allow his feelings to override what was needed. He pulled up the schematics of the device and smiled. ‘This will change everything,’ he smiled, ‘and I will be the one to control it.”

*** *** ***

Yala groaned as she tried to roll over and found she couldn’t. Her mind was still slightly muddled from the gas and it took a moment to realize she was rolled up in something. ‘Carpet,’ she thought to herself. ‘How cliche.’

She clicked on her comm unit was immediately hit the squelch as the signal was beamed directly back into her skull.

She could hear a muffled voice announce that she was awake. She felt someone shift the roll that held her tight and a voice sounded in her ear. “We will be arriving shortly,” a man’s voice assured her. “Your questions will be answered then. Don’t try to use the radio again.”

She tried to get an idea of her surroundings, but the sounds that came to her were muffled. She could tell they were in some sort of delivery truck, but other than that...

She waited in silence. After what seemed an eternity, the truck stopped and she was lifted up and pulled from the truck. She started tried to fight, but the carpet was rigid around her. Again she activated her comm-link and this time she screamed as the jamming device merely fed static and feedback directly into her mind.

“I warned you,” the voice stated calmly. “It will only get worse each time you try.”

She growled as the carpet was unceremoniously dumped on the floor, and her captors began unrolling it. She tensed, ready to spring, but was completely unprepared for the sight that greeted her.

“Daniel?” she gasped when she saw him sitting in a wheelchair across from her. His eyes blinked but there was no sign of anything behind the look. She practically screamed as two of her captors grabbed her arms and pulled her up.

“Miss Abberworthy, we have some questions for you,” a man announced. She looked towards the voice and trembled. The man stood behind Daniel, waving a hand in front of his eyes. There was no reaction from her fiance.

“What have you done to him?” Her voice trembled with pain and anger.

“In time,” he told her. “In time, but right now, I have some questions I need to ask you.”

She took another look at the still form in the wheelchair and pulled back shaking her head. “If you think I’m going to tell you damn thing, you are sorely mistaken!”

“We’ll see,” he told her. “We’ll see.”

*** *** ***

Yala screamed in pain as the man continued to ask her questions. He had warned her that things would get worse, but after seeing what they had done to Daniel she had no intention of complying with their orders. If they thought that seeing him would break her, they were wrong. It had only served to strengthen her in her fight against them.

It also helped that she had nothing to tell them. She knew that sooner or later they would tire of their games, but until then, she concentrated on their questions, trying to figure out what they were looking for. It was too late for them, but maybe she could learn something and find a way to let the others know. It was her one hope in all of this.

‘Daniel,’ she thought to herself. ‘Tuesday will be fine...’

*** *** ***

Duck tossed fitfully. Memories of being stuck in the air shaft made it impossible to for her to rest. She tossed her blankets off and moved towards the thermostat. Switching the fans to on instead of auto she looked around the confines of her apartment and shook her head. Even the apartment was too enclosed for her right now. She slipped on a pair of coveralls and headed for the garage.

She needed to set up a few extra secure decking areas, and if she wasn’t sleeping, she may as well be working. She looked at her watched and yawned: 0322, way too early. As she removed the cover from her bike she became acutely aware of her surroundings.

“Up awfully early aren’t you?” a voice called. She wheeled around and gave a relieved smile when she realized it was Barry, the garage’s security man.

“Had a lot on my mind,” she answered. “Thought I’d take a ride and try and work out a few things.”

He nodded, but as he watched her he shook his head. “Why don’t you come back with me to the guard office. Sometimes a cup of coffee and a friendly ear can work out a lot better than just wandering off on your own.”

She studied him for a minute, then smiled. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer, I just need to work this out on my own,” she answered with a gentle smile.

He shrugged. “Offer’s always open,” he assured her with a wink.

She smiled back at him as she mounted the bike. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she promised.

“You do that,” told her as he watched her start it up and move out of the space. She waved as she rounded the corner. He smiled to himself and then activated his comm-link. “Target is leaving the building,” he sub-vocalized.

“Copy,” came the answer a second later. “I have her in sight.”

Barry smiled to himself. If everything went according to plan, he’d be rolling in dough in no time flat. ‘You really should have taken me up on the offer,’ he thought to himself with a smile.

*** *** ***

Duck shivered in the predawn chill. As she moved towards downtown, she could almost feel somebody watching her. She gave a quick look around, and saw nothing. Still, she knew she had to be careful.

She parked her bike in a reasonably safe part of town and then continued on foot. Her favorite secure node had been compromised, now she had to verify the safety of the others. She ducked down an alley way and then entered one of the side doors. It led to a series of unused apartments. She smiled to herself.

Officially, they were unused, but there were several parties that used them as safe houses and meeting places. Even the owners of the buildings used them as a cover for some of their more secretive activities. Still there was a balance to their use. Nobody used the third floor, that was the corp’s. Second was open game for anybody who needed them, but on the first floor, was the washroom. Old unused washers and driers lined the walls, and in one of the storage areas was Ducks secondary node.

She waited inside the door listening for activity either behind or in front of her. When she heard nothing she eased into the washroom and began looking for signs of entry. When she found none, she proceeded to the door to the storage room. Again she looked for signs of tampering and smiled when she found her seals still intact. Once she was sure it was safe, she headed upstairs.

She needed to know who’d been using the building lately and that meant taking a quick look around. The second floor was not currently in use, but she could sense something on the floor above, something she wanted nothing to do with. With a sigh, she headed for the stairs. She had done all she could here, and she knew if she didn’t get some sleep soon, she’d be of no use to anybody.

She headed out into the night air, unaware of the scrying eyes that watched her departure.

Copyright 1998 - 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Nine
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