Red shivered as she pulled the car off the road and checked her watch: three-thirty. She sighed with relief. That gave her at least two hours of darkness to get where she was going. Tracker was right. She wasn't half as reckless as Gypsy thought, or half as naive. Things were getting very dangerous, but that was when she was at her best. Whoever had killed Silly Wizard and Yala were going to pay. She wasn't sure how, but she was knew somehow she would make sure of it.
As she eased the car into a grove of trees she ran a final check on her systems. She hadn't used this hideout in over a year, and the last thing she wanted was a surprise. As she got the final read-out she checked her pistol and eased it back into its holster. With a sigh she picked up her back pack and opened the door.
According to her scan there were no people between the grove of trees and her well hidden bike. She hoped the walk would help her clear her mind. It was getting harder and harder to switch between the roles she played. She knew it was only a matter of time ‘til Gypsy figured it out, but now wasn't the time to worry about it. She only hoped that no-one had else figured it out.
She took solace that Gypsy wasn't alone. Tracker was a good man. It was good for the both of them. Wizard had always raved about Tracker, almost to the point that she felt she knew him. She closed her eyes as she fought back the memories.
'Now is not the time, I have a job to do,' she told herself. 'Concentrate on the living.'
She quickened her pace. It wouldn't be good to be caught out here without a vehicle. When she reached the road she looked back and verified that the car couldn't be seen. When she was satisfied, she crossed the road and headed west, towards the mountains. She had to reach her bike by dawn.
Gypsy gasped as the guard’s weapons registered a lock on their car. This was not how it was supposed to end. He looked at Yala as she prepared her counter measures. At this range he knew they wouldn't help.
"Get ready to bail," she ordered.
"Won't do us any good," Gypsy countered. "They've got too much fire power."
Yala nodded as she hit the accelerator. Gypsy was right: they were seriously outgunned. She concentrated on the blockade, knowing there was nothing more she could do about the guns trained on them.
"Counter measures primed and ready," she said.
"Counter measures verified," Gypsy responded automatically, looking at the driver. It took a moment for Gypsy to see that Red was driving.
"Damn it Red, just fire already!"
Seemingly unphased by Gypsy's yelling, Red counted down from three. On the count of one, Gypsy swerved as Red fired a salvo of impact explosives. He covered his head as the explosion rocked their car throwing shrapnel through the broken window.
Gypsy shook himself awake as he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you okay?" someone asked.
"Wha--?" he began. He looked around, saw he was in his room at the farm.
"You were having a bad dream," the man (Tracker) explained.
He looked at him for a moment as the night's events came back to him.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"'Bout four-thirty," Tracker answered. "Want to talk about it?"
Gypsy shook his head, then smiled."Ah, hell. Come on, I'll make us both some tea."
Gypsy sighed as he inhaled the steam from his cup. "Where to begin," he sighed. As he stared into his cup he began describing the events of the past several weeks.
"Yala, Persephone and I were working the Eastern Sector, French Conglomerate. We were called in to recover a prototype they had stolen from the Swiss. Some how, they knew who we were and what we were looking for. We barely got out with our lives. We never even came close to the prototype."
“Do you know what it was a prototype of?”
Gypsy shook his head. “We were just sent in to recover it, strictly ‘need to know’.”
Tracker nodded. “Did they give you any information on it?”
“It was smaller than a breadbox, mineral. That’s all they told us,” he sighed, took a sip of tea. “They didn’t bother telling us people were willing to kill for it. That, we learned on our own.”
Tracker nodded. “Sounds like the same thing we’ve been working on. How many in your group were lost?”
Gypsy thought for a minute. “We’ve lost four now, that we know of.”
“Wiz makes three for us,” Tracker said solemnly. “First was Heartbreaker, then SunDog. Now Wizard.”
“I know that you and Red trust Duck, but I haven’t heard anything from him since France.”
"What do you know about the Duck?" Tracker asked.
"Military ‘Jacker, a combat trained Decker/Rigger. Does our systems work. I know he's relatively young. Best in his class, joined the team a year or so ago. Since then, we’ve never had a problem when it comes to systems."
"Before that?" Tracker prompted.
"Before that our 'Jacker' couldn't code his way out of a loop," Gypsy sighed. "Technically he was good, but the man had no imagination. The Duck? Well, I don't think Duck's ever cracked into a system the same way twice. There's just no point in comparing the two."
Tracker nodded. "I know the type," he stated. "My predecessor left after a series of failed security runs. The team had such a low confidence level in the capabilities of the available 'jacker's' that they opted to get two. Me and Silly Wizard."
"I've never thought of having two 'Jacker's' working together," Gypsy offered. "How did it work?"
"Not very well at first," Tracker admitted. "Wiz and I were about as different in our approaches as two people could be. We were both good, but working as a team--?"
Tracker shook his head. They'd nearly killed each other and the team on two missions before they’d settled into a workable routine.
"It took us forever to get the kinks worked out, but when we finally got our acts together, it was magic!" Tracker thought about Wiz's sense of humor, how it even came through in his code. "I don't think I could work with somebody like that again. Someone like that, there's just no equal."
Gypsy nodded. His team, his family, had worked together for so long they knew every move the others would make. When they were infiltrating a perimeter, he could count on The Old Man to be watching their backs and Gadje to be paralleling him as they advanced. They were a well oiled machine, but somebody was knocking the cogs out of their wheel. Gadje had gone to ground, he knew that. The Old Man was trying to get a lead, but the losses of Hercules, Diogenes, Raster and now Persephone had spelled the end of their tight little group. And as Tracker was so fond of saying: ‘something like that...’
"Any family?" he asked as he poured more tea into Tracker's cup.
"Not anymore," Tracker admitted. "We weren't a very close knit family. You?"
Gypsy nodded. "Have a lot of folks that are related by marriage. Red's my only real family. Her mom, my sister, died when she was-- lord, she must have been about eight or so."
"That must have been hard," Tracker commiserated.
"Harder than you think. She committed suicide, right in front of Katya."
Tracker leaned forward in disbelief. "How could... I mean, man that must have messed the kid up big time."
Gypsy nodded. "Eleanore, my sister, made some mistakes in her life, but the biggest was the way she hid from them. Usual story: married young, didn't know what she was in for. Hid in simsense and drugs. Euphs, dreamers, you name it. I'm not sure, but I think she started taking them before she had Katya. That's how she killed herself too... hiding away from the world, until she pulled a final fade out."
"But if you’ve been raising her since then, how...?" Tracker let the question trail off, afraid of probing too deep.
"We've got family in Pueblo. After my mother died, my dad married Erin MedicineHorse. Her sister took care of Katya when I couldn't. It was hard on the kid, but the only other option would have been to try and send her to her father. That would have been an even bigger mistake."
“How so?” Tracker asked, his curiosity piqued.
Gypsy gave a derisive snort, then studied Tracker for a minute. “Katya? She’s about as head strong as they come. Her father?” Gypsy shook his head. “He’s a ‘corper, tried and true: ‘The company is all.’ No way I could send her there. They’d kill each other within a week.”
Tracker studied him for a moment and realized Gypsy was speaking from experience. Thinking about it from what he’d seen of Gypsy’s niece, she was not the type to deal with that sort of attitude. Add in all the emotional family ties and you’d have a recipe for certain disaster.
When Gypsy noticed the scrutiny he merely smiled and nodded. “Poker?” he asked innocently as a deck of cards seemed to materialize out of thin air.
Tracker raised an eyebrow at the offer. When he noticed the innocent smile on the man’s face, he cringed: it was the same look he’d given the two men who had approached him at O’Donnel’s.
“I’ll pass,” Tracker told him.
He concentrated on his cup for a moment. Too many things had happened for him to truly relax. He took comfort in the thought that the more things that happened, the better their chances were of finding out what this was all about. He stiffened as a stray thought went through his mind: ‘How many more would die before they could put an end to it?’
Red smiled as she checked her chron. Five o’clock. She smiled. She knew that Gypsy had probably already tried to lure Tracker into a card game. At least some things could be counted on. She removed her helmet and ran a hand through her hair: it needed washing.
With a sigh, she dismounted and took stock of her surroundings. As she set the bike’s security system, she reviewed the equipment and people she’d need for her upcoming runs: ‘runs’, plural. There were a few thin leads, but she needed to trace them all down. First, she needed to find out more about the two men who had claimed to be police. Her preliminary search indicated that they were not police per se: they were from Interpol. Secondly, she had to find out about the ‘accident that had claimed the lives of two of her dearest friends.
As she straightened up, she caught her reflection in the chrome. Gone were the trappings she’d used as ‘Red’. She was beginning to feel less like the mild mannered waitress, more like a wolf on the prowl. There was something harder in her eyes, a coldness.
She was tired of being hunted, tired of having her friends tracked down and killed. Now it was her turn to do the hunting. She knew what she had to do; she would bait a trap with something their enemy wanted: The Duck. The only problem with that was the fact that she was ‘The Duck.’ At least it would make things interesting.
SunDog woke with a start in the sunlight filled the room. She tensed as she realized there was something across her chest, holding her down. She drew a short breath as she looked down, realized with a start that it was an arm.
“Dog?” the owner of the arm murmured softly.
She closed her eyes and let out a relieved sigh as she recognized the voice. “Tonk,” she answered softly.
He pulled her closer then sighed. “You’re safe. Everything is fine.”
“No Tonk... it isn’t,” she answered softly. “Everything is far from fine.”
He sat up and studied her for a moment. “You’re right,” he agreed. “But you’re here and that’s a start.”
“Tonk, what happened to WEJ? Where are the others?”
Tatonka sat up and let out a long sigh. “After--after the funeral,” he paused, “we were attacked. WEJ was shot. Whisper nearly put himself into a coma trying to patch him up.”
He shook his head as images of what had happened played through his mind once again. “When he finally came to, he told me where to find you. By the time we got here, you’d already had visitors.”
‘Visitors.’ She shuddered at the word. They had been looking for her. Failing to find her they would have blown up WEJ’s house on the off chance that she was there.
“Shh,” he urged as he took her in his arms. “We’ll get this sorted out... and when we do: they’ll pay,” he promised her. “But for now, we need to find out what they’re after.”
“They want me dead,” she answered softly.
Tatonka shook his head. “That’s the easy answer,” he told her. “If that were the case, why not just blow up the building. No, they wanted to talk to you before they finished the job.”
SunDog looked at him worriedly. She knew he was right, but she just hadn’t been able to put it into words. She let him hold her as the fear and worry were replaced by anger and resolve.
“We didn’t start this,” he told her softly.
“But we’re sure as hell going to finish it,” she finished.
Tatonka smiled at her and held her close for a few minutes. They were together again and heaven help the man who tried to change that.
Evan cued up the tape and was about to review the previous night’s sporting events when his computer signaled that he had an incoming, coded message. He hit the power button on the remote, then pulled himself from the couch.
With a grumble he activated the machine’s screen, opened the letter and pressed ‘decode.’
“Trouble time. Keeper waiting - DDG”
He let out a snort and pulled out his deck.
Barry was making his final rounds of the parking lot when he noticed the bike parked next to Katya’s Harley. It wasn’t one of the tenant’s, he was pretty sure of that. He didn’t know anybody in the building that rode an Indian.
He jotted down the licence plate. If she had company it might make things a little bit trickier when the time came. The Johnson wanted her alive. He smiled at that. Sure, they’d originally been hired to watch her. It was only a matter of time before he and Warren would be asked to ‘bring her in.’ That’s when the real fun would begin.
‘She’ll regret not having that cup of coffee with me,’ he thought to himself. He whistled happily. It was going to be a very good day.
Wayne shifted restlessly. It had taken 3 hours for things to settle down after Red’s hasty departure from O’Donnel’s. The police had been all over the place questioning everybody. ‘Who was the man at table 3?’ ‘Who were the two men with guns?’ ‘Have you ever seen them here before?’ ‘This ‘Gypsy’, who is he?’
The questions had gone on endlessly and he’d answered everyone of them three times before they were satisfied. And then there were the two detectives...
They claimed to be with the local police but he could tell there was something more to ‘Detectives Rogers and Hammerstein.’ Who did they think they were anyway? Did they really think anybody would believe that those were their real names. All of their questions had been about Red.
‘Girl, what have you gotten yourself into?’ he wondered as he stared at the ceiling. The answer came as a beep over his wrist phone.
When he picked up there was no voice, no video. There was however a simple, written message:
‘Trouble time. Keeper waiting - DDG’
‘Bout time,’ he thought to himself as he pushed off the worn out mattress and began dressing. He looked at the purple wig on the dresser and shook his head: if she was calling them in, she’d want as little attention drawn to her as possible.
He grabbed his shoulder rig and headed for the door.
Black Cat concentrated on the images playing across the video screen as the news reporter talked. She pulled the car back onto the road, tempted to turn the volume off. She shook her head: the incessant droning made trancing out easier.
‘The bodies were recovered yesterday evening--’ the reporter droned.
Two men, one steering the vehicle from the outside, the other pushing. Two people inside, one dead, one physically alive, but the aura... gone...
“We don’t have a confirmed report yet, but authorities think that alcohol was involved.”
Violence surrounded the deceased. Emptiness: the driver. The one doing the steering had seemed nonplused by the grim scene. The one pushing, was relieved that it was almost over.
“Such a tragic waste that could have been avoided...”
“Right,” Cat growled angrily. She focused once more on the reality around her. “And we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She took a deep drink of water, noticed a message crawling along the bottom of her screen:
‘Trouble time. Keeper waiting - DDG’
‘So,’ she thought to herself. ‘Duck is on the prowl and needs backup. Very good.’
She blew out the candle burning on the coffee table and unfolded her legs. With one graceful movement she rose and strode to the coat rack. She pulled her armored coat off and let it drop to the floor. She pulled her shoulder holster from its accustomed place on the rack and slipped it on. She took a moment to verify the gun’s ammo, then bent down and picked up the coat.
She gave the room one last look then opened the door and headed out. If Duck had called for back up, something was definitely on the pad. Knowing Duck it had everything to do with their current problems, and Persephone’s sudden demise.
Duck took one last look around the apartment as she headed for the door. Something told her it would be a very long time before she came back.
The messages had been sent, and the others were on their way. Hopefully they’d be able to provide the protection she needed. If not they were all dead, anyway. She sighed.
With her deck safely tucked away in her back pack she opened the door and walked out. It was time to get to work.
The technician was not a happy man. He’d seen what they’d done to Silly Wizard and he knew that his own time was running out. Silly Wizard had been one of the best. His work was imaginative. His code seemed to reflect his love for life. Now—? He shuddered at the thought of what had become of the man.
“What a waste,” he muttered to himself. He plugged himself in to his home deck. Slowly he downloaded the bits of encrypted information he’d been able to smuggle out of the General’s base. Security had been tight. He could not leave until a thorough search had been made, and his memory expansion scanned and erased.
It had taken him almost five months of steady work to get one tenth of the information he’d needed. Now things were moving way too quickly. When he’d volunteered for this mission, he’d known that people had died and would die again. He knew his own life was in danger, but if the General’s project was what he thought it was, it had already cost him more than could ever be repaid.
His contacts with Interpol were handling the official investigation. Downloading the data he began piecing things together. The older notes had to be translated, first from their original German, then from Swedish with a quick trip through the orient and back to Europe. He shook his head. No matter how bad the General’s work had been, it didn’t begin to touch the horrors the others had inflicted, both on their test subjects and on those trying to take possession of the ‘device’ as Rogers liked to call it.
Sometimes he wondered if Rogers and Hammerstein really cared about the losses and seeing that justice was served. He was beginning to wonder if they just wanted the device for themselves.
‘Rogers and Hammerstein of Interpol,’ he’d laughed when the police had introduced them. It had been a bitter laugh. His sister had been found only a week earlier. There had been signs of implant rejection but no device had been found. The coroner ruled it an unfortunate accident, caused by some back street ‘doc.’
He’d tried to tell the police that it was wrong. Lisa was a decker: she didn’t want any other mods. She had her datajack and memory. It was all that she needed and wanted. They hadn’t listened, but Rogers and Hammerstein did. They told him that there was a ‘device’ that was very experimental, and that some one was testing it out on likely candidates.
That was when they’d asked for his assistance, and he’d given it willingly. That was almost ten months ago. A one month briefing had been followed by an overview of the case, followed by four months of being groomed by Rogers and Hammerstein. Then the General took over, after he’d found his new ‘protege’. He’d seen the aftermath of the ‘testing’ but still had no line on the device. Rogers and Hammerstein kept telling him that they ‘had to make a case,’ and that if they moved now the General would walk.
He looked at the data and wondered for the umpteenth time if they really wanted to make their case. It didn’t matter any more; he was conducting his own investigation.
He scanned the last ‘transmissions’ Silly Wizard had made, when they’d stimulated his mind and gave him a false image of a matrix. The messages meant nothing to the doctors and even less to the Genera but to him it spoke volumes. He knew that he would have to translate the information for them in the morning but tonight, he would use what he had gained and try to get word out to the only two people he trusted anymore.
Although he knew them by reputation only, he knew that this was now a personal crusade for them. They were also the General’s next targets, his last hope: two deckers - Tracker and Duck.