Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Sixteen

Vermillion paced the waiting room of the emergency room as he waited for Duck’s signal. It hadn’t taken Cat long to bring him up to speed, but when she had he knew that there was no turning away from this. He also knew that their opposition wouldn’t stop until it had finished its rather grisly research.

He shook his head. It was hard to believe that so many of his friends had been murdered over something that was little more than an idea. Sure, from what Duck said the design was good and in theory it worked, but the human mind was not designed to handle that much continuous input. It had already fried countless ‘test subject’s’ minds and now somebody wanted to use it on Duck.

Duck, Red, Gypsy’s niece; it turned out that that wasn’t half as hard to get used to as the rest of the information, but he understood Duck’s reasoning for the briefing. The more people who knew what was going on, the better their chances of actually being able to doing something about it. They needed to put an end to all their troubles before the trouble managed to put an end to them.

He looked at Cat as she held an ice pack to what looked like a very badly sprained ankle. Now all they needed was a record and a quick switch and the two of them would be on their way to the morgue. It was a rather grisly prospect, but they needed to learn as much as they could before anybody had the chance to obscure the facts.

With Duck watching over them through the security system, they had a very good chance of getting in and getting the information they needed before anyone was the

At least there was finally something they could do. It beat the hell out of waiting and counting the losses, or hiding.

*** *** ***

Duck tensed as she looked around and then pointed a motion detector at the door. She was becoming more and more paranoid and since she couldn’t be in the matrix and watching her body at the same time, she had to make a few arrangements. By setting her system to monitor the output from the device, she could at least know that she was in physical danger.

‘Like I need something to tell me that,’ she thought sarcastically. ‘Things should be on continuous flash the way things have been going.’

Once the device was in place, she shimmed higher into the phone closet and then strapped herself in. She began tensing her leg muscles, locking them into place. The harness was a safety precaution, something ingrained in her when she trained with the SAS. Everybody expected a decker to go limp when they were immersed; they had taught her concentrate and control her muscles. This way, she could be in some rather unlikely places while decking, and any little extra protection she could get was well worth the effort, especially now.

Once she was sure she wasn’t going anywhere, Duck began patching a connection into the substation’s computer system.

She tensed as she saw a light on her deck start blinking. It was the output from the motion detector. ‘No,’ she thought to herself. She could feel the pressure in the room change as the door opened: somebody was coming into the phone closet.

Two somebodies as a mater of fact. Duck forced herself to remain calm as her visitors closed the door behind them. She remained alert as they started discussing something, finally she relaxed enough to listen in.

“Look, how was I to know he’d drop by tonight?”

It was a woman’s voice, almost panic stricken. The responding voice was decidedly male, and rather angry.

“Dammit Maggie,” he growled. “He was never supposed to even see us in the same building, let alone together.”

“I know, I know... “ she told him.

“Look, if you can’t be any more careful than this...” he hissed angrily.

“Michael,” she called pleadingly. “Look, he didn’t recognize you. He knows I left South-side so that we wouldn’t see each other anymore.”

“You just didn’t tell him that I transferred here as well?”

Something in the man’s tone was turning smug.

“Well, no,” the woman giggled.

‘Terrific,’ Duck grumbled to herself. ‘Half the known world wants me dead and I’m stuck in a closet with a couple of hormonally challenged cops.’

Duck shook her head as the couple began to embrace.

‘Get a room people,’ Duck groused to herself. ‘I’ve got some serious breaking and entering to do and you’re cramping my style!’

The couple seemed oblivious to anything other then themselves as their breathing grew faster and heavier. Duck stared at the ceiling reviewing the plans she’d seen, anything to get her mind off the two below.

Finally they pulled apart and tried to curb themselves. “Tonight?” the woman asked.

“The Regency...” he answered. Duck could hear him pause as he kissed the woman on top of the head. “Just be careful, will ya?”

The woman murmured something Duck couldn’t quite catch. Then the door opened cautiously and they slipped out, straightening their cloths as the left. Duck let out a sigh of relief and got to work.

‘Next time, I’m finding a place where that will not happen,’ she swore to herself as she began testing the wires. When she found a comm cable that wasn’t active, she tapped into it and added a Y connector.

She checked the time. She’d lost ten minutes because of Michael and Maggie. That ten minutes was all the leeway she had. ‘No margin for error,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Thank you ever so much...’

After one last look around, she plugged in and activated her deck. The first stop was the surveillance cameras. Everything had to be in order before she cut the orders and she did not want anybody, other than the guy pushing the gurney to see Vermin and Cat as they entered the morgue. Even more importantly, she didn’t want anyone to see them leave.

*** *** ***

Vermin and Cat looked up in unison as the emergency light flicked on and off while the rest of the room’s power stayed still. The Doctor looked around and shook his head.

“Old building,” he sighed as he looked at Cat’s ankle and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Sorry about the wait, been a busy night.”

Cat nodded. “Can you give me something for the pain?”

He studied her for a moment and then shook his head. “You’ll be fine,” he told her gently. “No need for anything drastic.”

Cat looked up in surprise then shook her head. “I meant like aspirin...”

He relaxed. “Sorry,” he sighed. “We get one, maybe two people a night trying to get ‘scripts for narcotics.”

Vermin widened his eyes, feigning surprise.

“You’d be surprised what people would do for pharmaceutical grade narcs,” he assured them. “No, just stay off of it and ice it down for the first 24-48. After that, do alternating baths of hot and cold water....”

Cat nodded gratefully.

“I’ll have an orderly take you back to the waiting room and the duty nurse will process you out,” he told her as he looked towards the break room.

Vermin looked around and sighed. “Well dear,” he told cat leaning down over her shoulder. “Guess that midnight stroll will have to wait for another night.”

The doctor looked at them and gave a slight chuckle. “I’ll be right back...”

“Tell you what,” Vermin said looking at the doctor. “How about I take her back to the waiting room ... free up you and your orderly.

The doctor thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “Thanks.”

“Thank you,” Cat countered with a smile.

Vermin thanked the doctor, then started wheeling Cat out of the exam room.

“And no dancing!” the doctor called to them as he headed to the break room. He was too busy laughing at his own joke to notice that they were no longer in the hallway.

*** *** ***

They were moving quickly now. The hallway was lined with empty gurneys, but it was the last two in the hall they wanted. The two that had the empty black zippered bags laying on top of them.

Silently they prepared themselves for what came next. Cat took the gurney on the left and opened the bag. She stepped inside the bag and then leaned back and climbed onto the gurney. Without a word, Vermillion zipped her up and got her situated.

“Comfortable?” he asked sub-vocally.

Cat rewarded him with a slight glare. He winked, then zipped the bag up the rest of the way. Then he tucked himself into the second bag and climbed onto the gurney on the right.

Ten minutes later the truck arrived. An intern for the coroner’s office came in the back door and looked at the two waiting stiffs. Checking the id tags on the bags against his records he nodded to himself. He noticed that the bag on the right wasn’t zipped up completely and pulled the zipper up the rest of the way. One at a time, he wheeled them into the truck then headed off on the rest of his rounds.

It had been a very busy night for the coroner’s office as well.

*** *** ***

Duck checked her system timer. It had taken the coroner’s office one hour to collect the bodies and return with them to the morgue. From the surveillance system she watched as the newest bodies were lifted from their gurneys and deposited in refrigerated storage slabs. Each tag was carefully removed from the bag, and placed in a pouch on the door to the storage unit. As they worked, the coroner’s assistance chatted back and forth.

Duck listened to their conversation, but it was mostly idle chatter and graveyard humor. Finally, their job finished for the night, the two men walked to the time clock and checked out. She watched them leave and waited until they had actually pulled out of the parking lot.

When she was sure they were gone, she sent a message to her deck’s comm unit. The damage done during her encounter with Zyrebien’s security had required a few adjustments. There were no vocals now, only the steady dots and dashes of Morse Code. She shrugged, it was communication and it got the message through: what more could she ask for?

*** *** ***

Vermillion began working his way out of the zippered bag as Duck signaled the all clear. He knew that elsewhere in the holding area Black Cat was mirroring his actions. Once cleared of the bag he signaled with a single click on his comm unit. He tensed for a moment until he heard Cat’s double click indicating that she was cleared as well.

Duck’s answer was a resounding ‘click’ as she released the door locks that kept their refrigerated slabs locked down. Pushing against the top of his encasement, Vermillion pushed his tray out and took a deep breath of fresh air.

As he pushed himself off the slab, he could hear Cat land on her feet behind him. He signaled Cat to freeze for a moment as he translated Duck’s message: two numbers, the locations of their friends. Looking at the numbers on the compartments, he found one of the ones indicated and pulled it out.

His face was grim as he unzipped the bag and saw Persephone. As he looked at her face and neck, he knew that her injuries were not caused by the accident that had supposedly done her in. He continued the physical exam as Cat found and began her own magical examination of Yala’s fiancee`, Daniel.

The purpose of his investigation was to gather the trace evidence, yet leave a sample of the same for the coroner’s office. He adjusted his vision and spectrum of vision, scanning her clothes and body using every type of light installed in his eyes. He noticed the dirt under her fingernails and knew that Persephone had tried to give them as much to work with as she could. She’d known that she would not survive the encounter. That knowledge sent a shiver down his spine.

He finished gathering his samples then looked over at Cat. She sat cross legged hovering at the level of the second drawer. He could feel her reaching out and inspecting the man much as he had, except that her investigation was purely speculative. It would be hard to hide the fact that another mage had investigated the bodies. Somehow he sincerely doubted that the M.E. would bother with such a waste of resources, not on a pair of crash victims.

As Cat allowed herself to drift back to the floor, she looked up at him. There was no mistaking the anger and disgust in her eyes. He nodded: now was not the time to discuss it, but he knew they were both going to have a lot to talk about later.

Without a word or signal she stood and took his place next to Yala. He watched as she looked sadly at their friend’s face and then sat down on the cold concrete floor. With a nod he headed over to Daniel’s body and began searching him for trace evidence as well.

Fifteen minutes after the signal, they were ready to leave.

*** *** ***

Duck read the video feed from the cameras into her own memory buffers, not trusting those on her deck. Later, after she had done a full diagnostic run, she’d download the images, but for now, she would control the feeds internally.

She took a deep breath as Vermillion signaled they were ready. With a single click, she told them to proceed down the hall. They moved quickly down the hall as Duck fed the intercepted the video feed back into the system.

They played it by the numbers, moving down one hall, then waiting as Duck obtained the required footage for the next hallway. When she signaled the all clear, they would continue to the next stop point as she fed those images back into the system.

Duck tensed as she felt the motion detector go off inside the closet. ‘Company,’ she managed to signal them as she continued to record the feeds. There was nothing she could do if she was found out now, but she might still be able to get the others out. As they ducked for cover she activated everything at once. Warning lights began flashing: alarms rang. As the night shift began milling around, Vermillion and Cat separated.

Duck tried to cover them as much as possible. She realized that the major concern would be the security feeds from the cameras. With a wicked gleam in her eyes she overrode all the feeds with the only other images in her memory, she included the audio out put, broadcasting it over the P.A. system.

*** *** ***

Cat tensed as she slipped from stall to stall in the men’s room of the police station. She knew the chaos would not last forever, but she had to laugh as the alarm was replaced with the sounds of heavy breathing.

Dammit Maggie,” a male voice growled he growled. “He was never supposed to even see us in the same building.”

“I know, I know... “ a woman answered soothingly.

“Look, if you can’t be any more careful than this...” The man’s voice came out in a hiss.

“Michael,” the woman pleaded. “Look, he didn’t see you. He knows I left South-side so that we wouldn’t see each other anymore.”

Cat shook her head, wondering where Duck got this stuff. As footsteps raced down the hall, she slipped out the window and into the night.

*** *** ***

Vermillion smiled as he slipped into a uniform and blended into the crowd. He had to assume that they had lost supporting cover from the Duck. That meant that their escape had been compromised. His one hope was to get to the central security room and destroy any evidence of their passing.

He was amazed at how thorough Duck’s diversions had been. Sprinkler systems activated and deactivated randomly. He met with little resistance until he reached the security room, but instead of angry guards he found men, pointing to the screens and laughing. Moving closer he looked at the screens and smiled. Duck had covered everything.

Quickly he slipped from the room and vanished into the confusion. He should have known Duck would find a way to cover them.

*** *** ***

Once Duck was sure the others were safe, she checked the motion detector. It was still active. She swore to herself as she began the disconnect phase. It was still possible that she hadn’t been detected. The fact that she was still breathing was a good sign at this point.

She tried to remain quiet as she scanned the room. The lights were still out and she couldn’t sense anybody else in the room, but the motion detector’s light kept flicking off and on. She was not alone in the room.

The only light inside the room came from underneath the door. She began to wonder if the motion detector had gone bad, when she finally heard movement in the room. Whoever it was they were very good and hiding their presence. She slipped her tranq gun from its holster and closed her eyes. She knew she was only going to get one chance, but another part of her mind began to wonder why they hadn’t stuck yet. She had been helpless in the matrix.

She took a deep breath, hopefully there would be time to worry about it later. Right now she needed to deal with the intruder. Once her eyes had adjusted to the darkness she opened them and looked around the room.

Now there were faint details she could pick out. A few shadows, but mostly a pair a feet. Four feet to be exact: crossing in front of the door. She relaxed. They belonged to a rat.

She relaxed realizing that her company was as unauthorized as she was. She pulled herself up and disconnected the harness from the walls. It was time to make her own escape.

*** *** ***

Duck was the first to arrive at the restaurant/lounge the next evening. She circled the bar until she found a stool that let her watch the comings and goings of the patrons. Five minutes later, she watched as Cat arrived and was led to a booth in the back of the restaurant. She ordered a rum-runner and continued to watch the patrons.

She divided her attention between the patrons and the door as she waited for Vermillion to arrive. She breathed a sigh of relief when he finally appeared. No one seemed to be interested in him as the hostess led him down to a table near the dance floor. When she was sure nobody was watching either of her teammates, Duck took her drink and moved over to Cat’s booth.

Cat smiled at her and winked as Duck sat down and began to look at the menu.

“Good going,” Vermillion’s voice sounded through their comm system.

“Glad to see you both,” Duck answered.

“What now?”

“We exchange what we have, then split up..” The others nodded as Duck looked around. “I’m going to pick up a few things and brief Gypsy on what we have.”

Cat nodded. “I didn’t get much from Daniel. Whatever happened...” she shook her head. Duck reached out and clasped her hand for a moment. It was a comforting gesture, but it also hid the disk transfers.

Duck pocked the chip she got from Cat as she looked around the room. “I’ve read the results our friend left for us. He didn’t stand a chance.”

Cat looked away for a moment, remembering that Daniel had been Duck’s mentor and friend. “Sorry,” she sighed.

Duck nodded. “I didn’t find anything in the police reports while I was in the system. I’ll try to check back tonight. The autopsy was slated for today.”

Cat grinned mischievously as she thought about the coroner’s office. “Bet they were surprised when they find two of their bodies missing.”

It was Duck’s turn to grin. “Nothing’s missing,” she told Cat with a shrug.

“What are you talking about?.”

“There’s no record of you ever being there,” Duck’s eyes gleamed mischievously. “Or at the hospital,” she added.

“‘No records’ is fine, but those two men brought us in. They saw the bags.”

Duck’s grin widened. “It doesn’t matter. There is no official record, therefore it didn’t happen.”

Cat squinted. “But they brought us in there...they’ll know... “

Duck winked. “I doubt it,” Duck countered with a shrug.

“And what makes you so sure?” Cat asked not sure she wanted to know.

“That’s the nice thing about bureaucracies,” Duck sighed. “They’ll believe just about anything if its filed in triplicate.”

Cat looked at her, eyes widening for a moment: then she too was laughing.

Once dinner was over, Duck looked at her watch and sighed. “I better get moving,” she added as she prepared to leave.

“You be careful,” Cat warned her.

Duck nodded. “I’m going to pick up some provisions and join Gypsy. We’ll plan out our next move from the farm.”

Cat nodded. “See you in three days.”

“Three days,” Duck agreed with a nod. Then she was gone.

“She’s a good kid, she can take care of herself,” Vermillion assured her privately.

Cat looked over at him and nodded grimly. “A lot can happen in three days,” she sighed.

Vermillion nodded. “Think we should follow her?”

Cat thought about it for a minute then shook her head. “No,” she finally answered. “For now we find out what we can and get this information out to the proper authorities.

Vermillion snorted. “Who ever they may be.”

Cat gave him a lopsided grin from across the room. “Yeah, who ever they may be.”

*** *** ***

It was 10:30 by the time Duck finished running her errands. As she exited the grocery store she looked out at the night sky. In four hours she would be home, looking out the same stars from a much safer place. She took one last look around and headed for her bike.

“Hey!... Red!” she heard some one call as she neared the Indian. She turned, surprised to see Barry heading towards her.

“Barry?” she called questioningly. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

He smiled as he crossed the street and looked at her. “Kinda’ surprised to see you too,” he commented as he came closer. “What are you doing in these parts?”

Duck looked at the grocery bag and then back up at Barry. “Just picking up a few things,” she answered then froze when she noticed the gun in his hand. “Barry?”

He smiled at her. “Don’t try anything,” he warned her.

“Thought never crossed my mind,” she answered evenly as she sized him up. “Care to tell me what this is about?”

“Business mostly,” he answered with a nod. She noticed the leer when he added, “and a little bit of pleasure.”

Without blinking Duck threw the bag at him and started to dart around the corner, only to come fact to face with Warren. She backed up as he moved in on her.

“You really shouldn’t have done that,” Barry growled as he stormed towards her. “Hit her,” he growled at Warren.

Duck felt a grouping of darts pierce through her jacket and cut into her back. She screamed as she felt the first surge from the taser’s batteries. Her eyes widened as she lunged forward, grabbing Barry.

Barry’s eyes widened in pain as the power from the taser passed through Duck and grounded through him. As the battery packs were spent, Duck pushed herself off of Barry and turned to face her other assailant. As she turned, she felt something impact with her skull.

“Stupid move,” she heard someone growl as everything around her faded from sight.

Copyright 1998 - 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Seventeen
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