Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Thirteen

Tatonka shook his head as the prisoners refused to answer the questions asked of them. He could tell by their posture the men still had something up their sleeves. Even over the video feed that confidence came through.

He didn’t like any of this. On a gut level, he knew these men were like his team, like BlackPaw. They were well trained, and unless he had completely lost his ability to judge a man, all military. The whole thing stank: the military was setting up and killing its own, citizens were being endangered by this ‘exercise.’ Somebody in the upper echelon was dirty. Before he had only suspected it, but now, there was no doubt in his mind. They had been playing games with their own people and carrying out covert ops to ensure that word didn’t get out. No, he didn’t like it one bit.

SunDog seemed to sense his anger and rested her hand on his shoulder. She tried to remind him that they’d been up against far worse and managed to survive, but the contact only served to remind him of what he’d almost lost.

“You’re not going to get anywhere with that lot,” Tatonka sighed as he looked over at Phil Mason.

Phil nodded. “Josh didn’t think it wise for you to get too close,” he added nodding towards the screen.

Tatonka and SunDog studied it for a moment, focusing in on the young man as he scanned the prisoners as his companion, Miki, asked the questions.

Tatonka’s eyes narrowed as he tried to remember the young man and realized he couldn’t. It was as if he was a completely blur in his memory. He nodded.

“He knows they’ve got some sort of plan,” Phil explained. “He’s not sure what, but while they’re busy not answering Miki’s questions, he’s busy scanning what they’re trying to suppress.”

Tatonka nodded, realizing that the reason his memory of Josh was a blur was because that was the way the boy wanted it. Thinking about it, he realized that the only member of the watch he could remember was Phil. On one hand it made him nervous, but on the other, he realized that these ‘civilians’ would probably be able to take care of themselves.

He looked at SunDog for a minute and smiled. They had taken care of SunDog, and that meant a lot to him. Then he turned back to the screen.

SunDog, for her part watched the screen, then studied their host for a minute, finally she spoke. “Can he do that with me?” she asked softly. “Find out what I saw that’s so all fired important that they’re willing to kill me rather than...”

Tatonka turned when he heard the catch in her voice. “Jen?” he called softly.

SunDog didn’t turn away from Phil as he studied them both and then nodded. “I can’t make any guarantees,” he warned her. “Josh’s gifts a little... unpredictable that way.”

“That’s fine,” she answered. “I’m not getting anywhere on my own, may as well try something else...”

He nodded, then turned back to the monitor. “One thing for sure, we aren’t getting anywhere with them.”

“You won’t.” They all turned as Little D spoke. When he noticed their expressions he shrugged. “They’re too well trained,” he added with a shrug. “Look at them.”

Tonk nodded. The men had remained silent: no posturing, no belligerence, just a stoic acceptance of their capture and subsequent interrogation. “What do you propose we do?”

Little D smiled wickedly. “We find out what we can about them, separate them, and make them think the others have rolled.”

“How are we going to find anything?” This from SunDog.

“Get ‘Wiz and Tracker on it,” he suggested with a shrug. “If there’s anything to be found, they’d be the ones to find it.”

Tonka shook his head vehemently. “No, we don’t involve anybody else.”

Little D studied his friends for a moment and then looked at Phil, almost as if to say ‘you talk some sense into him.’

Phil shrugged. He understood where Tatonka was coming from.

Little D turned back to Tatonka. “And what do you propose?” He asked as Tatonka sat there shaking his head.

“I say we beat it out of them.”

SunDog was surprised by the chill in Tonka’s voice. For once she honestly believed he was capable of extracting the information he wanted. She gently put a hand on his shoulder. “Tonk,” she called softly. “Don’t let them do this to you. Its not worth it.”

Tonka shook his head slowly. “They want you dead,” he answered in a soft growl. “They did kill Heartbreaker, they almost took out WEJ and Whisper...I’m not going to sit around here and let these people take you all away from me.”

SunDog shuddered as she saw the gleam in his eyes. His face was calm, but she could feel the icy rage as it burned through him. “Tonk, we can’t afford to make this personal, we have to keep it professional.”

“They made it personal,” he answered in measured tones. “They set the rules for engagement, I’m just ready to play along.”

SunDog gave Tatonka a worried look. She did not like what this was doing to him.

*** *** ***

Big D sat watching the morning news as the others watched the interrogation. With all hell breaking lose, the world as a whole seemed to remain the same. He was about to cut off the trid when the teasers for the next segment played. He froze, his could feel the blood drain from his face as he saw the remains of an all too familiar car being winched up from the bottom of a ravine.

His mind raced as he waited through the commercials, hoping he hadn’t seen what he knew he had. He felt his heart sink as the news anchor began describing a ‘tragic loss.’ Behind her two pictures were displayed. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath as he recognized Daniel, Silly Wizard and his fiancé, Yala.

“Last night’s accident claimed the lives of a man and a woman, police have now identified the victims as “Zanyala Smith age 27 and Daniel Andrews age 32. Their bodies were recovered yesterday evening, but as you see, it has taken until this morning to pull the car up from the bottom of the embankment...”

He watched in disbelief as the images played across the screen.

“The police are investigating, but sources near the investigation indicate that alcohol was a factor in the accident... In other news tonight...”

Big D turned off the trid. He’d seen enough. He sat there staring at the blank screen trying to make sense of it all. Finally he bowed his head and forced himself to his feet, he knew the others needed to know.

*** *** ***

Josh watched as Miki continued firing questions at the men who had broken into Howling Elk’s place. They managed to maintain a neutral posture, but he could sense something passing over their surface thoughts: they were dead, and they knew it.

He looked up with a slight start as one of them brushed his mind. He turned and stared at the man and he could feel the man trying to read him.

“M...M..Miki...” he managed to choke out.

His companion wheeled on the man, shoving a shotgun in his face. ‘You leave the kid alone,” she growled.

‘I didn’t do anything,’ the man stated with feigned innocence. ‘You people are guilty of kidnaping.’

Miki shook her head. ‘This isn’t a kidnaping,’ she answered with a smile. ‘This is a citizen’s arrest, we just need to know who to turn you over to.”

The man continued to smirk, but said nothing more.

She backed away, keeping the shotgun aimed at the man’s head. “Josh, you okay?” she asked. Her voice was now gentle, the harshness vanishing as she neared the younger man.

“F..fine,” he managed to say.

She knew he’d been shaken up, Josh’s stuttering always got worse when he was upset. “Just take it easy,” she urged. “They aren’t going anywhere, and if they try anything...” she let the threat hang, knowing that Josh didn’t like violence of any sort.

Josh nodded, but she could see his heart wasn’t in it.

“Why don’t you go check on the others?” She urged.

She was not ready for the expression on her friend’s face as he shook his head.

“M.m..mind...m..m...age,” he told her. He bit his lip as he tried to explain then gave up on verbal communication, it wasn’t working. ‘He’ll hurt you or anybody else he can... they want to kill the woman, and the rest of us. There is something more, but I can’t get a fix on it.’

Miki nodded, then turned towards the surveillance cam. “Tell Phil,” she urged gently. “Let him call it.”

Josh nodded, then phoned the captain of the neighborhood watch.

*** *** ***

Phil stiffened slightly as the phone rang. He nodded as Josh told him what was happening. Then he turned towards Tatonka and the others.

“They aren’t talking,” he stated quietly. “As a matter of fact Josh gets the feeling that they’re up to something, plus they’ve got somebody that can make mental scans... tried to do something to Josh.

SunDog turned her attention to the screen and then trembled slightly. “Phil, get your people out of there,” she urged suddenly.

He looked up at the urgency in her voice. “Ma’am?” he asked confusedly.

Tatonka studied SunDog for a moment and then nodded. “She’s right,” he said. “If she’s got one of her ‘feelings’ best thing to do is follow it.”

Phil looked at the two of them for a minute then nodded.

*** *** ***

Phil shuddered involuntarily as the fire crews continued to comb the wreckage of Howling Elk’s house, then turned to face his guests. “How did you know?”

SunDog shook her head. “The way they... “ she shook her head. “I could feel it... the way they carried themselves. They weren’t trying to fight or break free... they were just waiting.”

He took a deep breath and nodded. “So they knew they were going to die?”

SunDog’s eyes narrowed as she stared into space for a moment, as if trying to catch a thought that was drifting through her mind like so much smoke. She shook her head. “No... I think they thought they were going to be rescued. Their resignation was failure, not fatality.”

“But how did they do it... we defused the explosives they’d set.”

SunDog looked up at him, a distasteful look on her face. “The bombs were inside them... a failsafe.”

Phil nodded as he thought over what SunDog had said. He wanted to help them more, but he had the neighborhood to think of. “I’m... afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave,” he told them with a sigh.

SunDog looked at him for a minute, then nodded understandingly: these people were civilians, the people she fought to protect and they were in danger because of who their neighbor was. “I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused...”

He was surprised by the softness in her tone. When he looked at her, he could see the guilt in her eyes. “No,” he told her gently. “I’m sorry we can’t do more.”

SunDog smiled. “You’ve done a lot,” she said gratefully. “An awful lot.”

Phil nodded, and wrote down a number. “It’s a drop box for the neighborhood watch, you check there, if we find anything, we’ll leave you a message.

SunDog took the number and studied it. “Thanks... for everything.”

*** *** ***

Duck allowed herself to relax as the others took up their positions around her. It felt good to have somebody watching her back while she ran down the necessary information. The ‘safe node’ was as she’d left it and BC seemed to approve of her selected area for a change.

With one last look around she drew a deep breath and activated the connection.

Seven transfers followed by three blind routers, a satellite link up, a new continent and more of the same. The links began to pile up. She allowed her routing to take its time, knowing that the more links between her target and her home base the longer it would take for someone to trace her back to the city, let alone an old rundown building in the middle of no-man’s land.

Her breathing slowed as she fell into a rhythm. She was home, in a world that she could control.

*** *** ***

Devon watched over Duck through the hitcher jack in her deck. Normally he hated not being in the driver’s seat, but there was always something about watching Duck work that amazed him: it was like one of the wildest joyrides he’d ever taken, and he got that feeling every time he ‘rode’ with her. Finally the first objective was in site.

A quick mental review of the links made him smile. Almost every connection made so far had been police or police related. Now before them stood Interpol. The site loomed like a monolith of plasteel and iron: real iron. He could feel the Black IC that made up the walls of the node. Every piece of the construct screamed ‘don’t even think of messing with me.’

He smiled as Duck did just that. He could almost feel her laughter as she slipped inside the construct with the normal traffic. Then he saw the ‘Desk Sargent’ reviewing every piece of incoming information and every traveler. His pulse quickened as Duck moved up the line, patiently waiting her turn. Then he caught a reflection of her construct’s image. She had morphed it into the barest of beings: a simple bored looking messenger with a file folder. If he didn’t know better, he’d have assumed that what he saw was a simple bot-job: an information request with no details other than the required information and the return destination.

The request removed forward and the Sargent reviewed it. Devon could feel the probe as the Sargent analyzed the poor construct and finally nodded. All the sudden there was a loud thumping sound. He pulled back in surprise, only to find that the file folder now carried a large green ‘Approved’ stamp.

He sighed in relief as they moved past the Sargent and were guided to a weary looking clerk behind yet another desk. The clerk looked at them, gave a weary sigh and began retrieving the requested data.

He looked up as there was some commotion at the front desk and witnessed how bad things could have been. A construct of a ‘bicycle courier’ was met with no less than 4 officers all toting sawed off shotguns. He caught a slight movement next to him as the clerk too pulled out a shotgun and aimed it in the general direction of the commotion. He was distracted enough by all the firepower being pointed at the hapless construct that he almost missed the ferret as it escaped from Duck’s folder and began scampering through the file cabinets behind the clerk. A quick look around verified that no one else had seen it either.

He smiled finally understanding. The information request was a simple, proper request, simply the means of getting in. Once in, Duck had fired of the routine that would, hopefully, gather the desired information.

Once again, he forced himself to sit back and enjoy the ride.

*** *** ***

Reality distorted around them and finally they were back in the dimly lit storage room. Devon stared at Duck for a minute and then shook his head. ‘Girl, how did you pull that off?’

Duck looked at him distractedly as she reviewed the information she’d retrieved on ‘Rogers and Hammerstein.’ “Hu?”

Devon looked at her and shook his head. “You weren’t just rerouting the connection were you?”

Duck looked at him and smiled. “Are you sure?”

He shook his head as he watched the smile spread across her face. “No... from the fourth connection on, I started picking up messages and carrying them to different police precincts, gathering enough stamps and requests until I had a few good requests for Interpol.”

“And the bicycle courier?” he asked already knowing the answer.

Duck smiled and nodded. “He was mine,” she confirmed.

“And now?”

“Now we send a copy of these files to a blind account, and you my friend, start brushing up on our targets. I’m going to make a quick run to my own space and see how things are there. Then we start the real work.”

Devon looked at her for a moment. “Real work?”

She smiled wickedly. “That my friend, was just the warm up.”

Devon looked at her and nodded as she reactivated her connection and left him and the others behind.

Cat looked at him for a minute and nodded as he pulled out his own deck and began reviewing the information the ferret routine had provided. Even without full immersion, he would have been engrossed. ‘Rogers and Hammerstein’ made for great reading.

*** *** ***

Duck zipped through the maze of connections and uplinks until she’d once again lost the direct trail back to her node, then she circled her own node and once she was sure it was safe, she entered the antechamber. Looking at the pattern in the rock garden, she knew that somebody had visited the node. Counting the etchings she realized it had only been one, and Sensei had let him into the main account.

Warily she kicked the edge of the garden and gave Sensei a quick bow, he returned the bow and opened the door for her. With one quick look around, she quickly darted through the door and began scanning the park for unwanted guests or packages.

When she found the package she almost dismissed it as ‘too good to be true...’ but the information was too detailed, too precise to be anything other than what it was. Her hands trembled slightly as she took the information, replicated it and shipped a copy off to the blind account. Then she sent another message, this one to Tracker’s account. Encrypted, but not beyond his ability to figure it out was the address to the blind account.

Then she took the packet with her. She walked to the edge of the pond and began tossing ‘Duck food’ onto the mirrored surface of the pond. She waited as the ducks nearby started swimming away from the food instead of towards it, she smiled as an alligator surfaced and snapped at the food. Satisfied, it grew, transforming into a stairwell.

Duck took the stairs down to her ‘office’ and began going through the information gathered. She had had her suspicions, but they didn’t even come close to the information revealed. Things were far worse than she had suspected.

*** *** ***

Duck’s mind raced as she processed the information left for her. It was everything they had been looking for. She could tell that there was still a lot missing, but she could extrapolate the information.

Part of her wanted to kill the technician who had prepared this information, knowing that he had gleaned this information while countless people had died, but another wanted to thank him for giving it to her, and still another knew that he needed to be protected.

In the end it really didn’t matter. She could tell that he knew his time was limited and this was his effort to make sure that it ended. It gave them more than a fighting chance, because it also finally gave a face to at least two of their enemies.

She filed the information away and then shook her head. They had names, but no real locations. There was still one more run she wanted to make, and then she and BlackCat had some breaking and entering to do at the county morgue.

Copyright 1998 - 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Fourteen
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