Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Eighteen

Papa Dan smiled as he looked at the others. “We’re back in the game,” he announced, his smile widening until it seemed to take up his entire face.

Seven pairs of eyes turned towards him as he hung up the phone. He looked at them and let out a contented sigh.

“Tracker,” he announced. “He has a friend with him and quite possibly some answers.”

Seven sets of eyes lit up: there was a chance they could put an end to this insanity, and perhaps, get some revenge.

Papa Dan nodded. “Gather your gear folks, we’re going on a hunting expedition.”

“Jules: Transport for ten, untraceable.”

Jules looked around the motor pool and shook his head. All the vehicles were either labeled UCAS MILITARY or wreaked of it non-the-less. He had to find something. He drew a deep breath and began looking around for alternative vehicles.

A smile crossed his face as his attention was drawn to the parking lot. ‘Transport for 10, coming up...’ he thought as he noted the available vehicles.

“Whisper you and WEJ, you take it easy... let us handle the big stuff.”

Whisper offered WEJ a hand up, giving Papa Dan ‘the look’. He had been cleared for duty, and WEJ’s reports had come back green as well. He was about to say something when he noticed the twinkle in the boss’s eyes. He nodded slowly. There was the possibility of people watching and as long as that was happening, he wasn’t going to tell anybody they were up to full capacity.

‘Almost full,’ he reminded himself. They were still two down, and those two weren’t coming back. It was a miracle that they hadn’t lost more. He looked down at WEJ and nodded. He had been thinking the same thing.

“Come on Grandpa,” he teased as WEJ slowly got to his feet and hunched over slightly. There was laughter in both their eyes. “Let’s leave the youngsters to their work while we sip lemonade on the veranda.”

“But I get the window seat this time,” WEJ countered, his voice sounding weak enough that Whisper gave him a worried look.

“D’s - I want you two loaded for bear.”

Big D watched as Little D started going through their equipment. They were not only arming themselves, but their teammates as well. They knew their opponents were well armed and well trained. Armed and trained by the same people who had armed and trained them, but they had one thing going for them that the opposition didn’t. They were a team, a team united with a purpose. Someone had cut into them, and pay backs were cold and personal.

Little D smiled at his ‘brother’ as he pulled out a few things they had confiscated from those they’d faced previously. Tonka had called it their ‘coup stash’ They called it the pile, and it had some rather impressive hardware attached. For good measure they threw in several drones, Tracker’s spare deck... and Wiz’s.

Big D shook a little as he packed the deck away. He was going to miss the man. Little D nodded, they were on the same page: as always.

“Tonk: Load as much Demo and ammo as we can safely carry.”

Tatonka loaded several cases of standard rounds, before he moved on to his private stores. Milspec ammo was all well and good, but after seeing the ammo SunDog’s would be assailants were carrying, he wanted something with a little more kick. If he knew the D’s they were pulling out the stops and he knew at least some of their stockpile could handle the heavier loads.

Explosive rounds were a very good start. Then came the demo. Carefully he unpacked the supply, verified it and packed it back up. He did not want anything going off prematurely. In a separate case he packed the detonators, and times. With a satisfied smile, he hauled his equipment to the assembly area.

“Dog: Get us a clear plan out of here and variations, we don’t want anybody finding us until we want to be found.”

SunDog ran through the maps mentally as she thought about terrain, cover and traffic patterns. The others may have laughed about her odd passion for maps, but there were times when it came in handy. It was almost a standard thing for her: she would walk into a house and immediately begin working out defensive positions and escape routes. Once she had finished that she would explore various routes to and from the building. The thing the others tended to forget was that this ‘hobby’ could be used in reverse, to figure out the best way to invade a place as well.

Something told her she was going to get to use that part of the game to their advantage, and soon. Once she had the routes committed to heart she nodded. Nobody was going to find them, until they wanted to be found... just like the man ordered.

Papa Dan watched as his people scrambled to carry out their assignments. He knew they would not be back coming back until this was over.

He took one last look around the office and pulled his ancient .45 from the safe behind his desk. Lovingly, he ran a rag down the blued metal and verified its functionality. Inhaling deeply, he could smell the solvent and gun oil. He took one last pass with rag and then placed it in his shoulder holster. He was ready.

Within fifteen minutes they were on their way.

*** *** ***

Gypsy scanned the warehouse and surrounding area then nodded. Tracker’s meeting place was secure enough. They could see anybody approaching. Together they entered the warehouse and took stock of their environment. It had all the amenities he required: hot water and coffee.

Tracker, on the other hand had other requirements, but those too were covered. He had made sure of it over a year ago when Black Paw had been stationed in the area. It had become almost standard operating procedure for him: team is posted, each member makes a hideout. Since this had been one of his choosing, he knew it already had a secure access line, piped in from another building. There were also three cots and a shower. It would do for now.

Once they were sure it was safe, they stowed their gear and got down to business: Gypsy hid the car nearby then began setting up some extra security measures: while Tracker began some security work of his own. He was just finishing up when Gypsy motioned towards the street.

“Two cars and a van,” he told Tracker. His voice was calm, but wary.

Tracker looked up at him and nodded. “That should be my people,” he answered. “They’re just passing through right now.”

Gypsy looked at him for a minute then nodded: if anyone was trying to follow them, they’d think this was just another detour in an attempt to verify that they weren’t being followed. The only problem with that plan was if their vehicles were seen again anywhere along the route their pursuers would know what they had done.

It was almost an hour later when a different set of vehicles arrived and parked in a nearby warehouse. Gypsy watched with interest as the group disembarked and headed for their hideout. Switching vehicles was not something he expected from a ‘band of youngsters’. It was an old timer trick. He had been unsure about working with Tracker’s team, and now he knew that there was more to them then met the eye.

His smile broadened as they exited the one warehouse and moved towards the other. ‘MadDog,’ he thought to himself as he saw their leader. ‘We may just have a chance after all.’

*** *** ***

Tracker waited until the rest of the team assembled in the secure area of the warehouse. His eyes lit up when he saw SunDog.

“Dog...” He commented. His tone was even but his eyes shined brightly.

“Hey Tracker,” she answered with a smile. “Was worried about you...”

He studied her for a moment and then asked, “exaggerated?”

“I got better,” she told him with a wink.

He turned to introduce Gypsy to the others, but he was already shaking hands with PapaD.

“Long time no see MadDog,” Gypsy commented as he looked PapaD over.

“You haven’t changed,” Papa Dan told him then shook his head. “Not one bit... Oh, and its Papa Dan these days.”

“These are your kids then?”

Papa Dan chuckled slightly. “Yeah, the whole misbegotten lot of em. You been keeping out of trouble?”

Gypsy nodded then looked at Tracker. “As much as one can under the current circumstances.”

Papa Dan nodded. “Things like this, make you feel real old, real fast.”

Gypsy nodded again, then sighed. “I have some information I need to review,” he stated. His tone was even but Tracker knew better.

From his reaction, so did Papa Dan. “Gypsy?” he asked worriedly.

“My niece may... have become a casualty,” he stated. His tone was even, but there was something dangerous in it as well.

Papa Dan nodded grimly. He’d met ‘Red’ when she was much younger and knew how much she meant to his friend. Worse, it was obvious that it had everything to do with the case that had already cost them far too much. He gripped his friend’s shoulder.

“We’ll provide your cover,” Papa Dan assured him after a few seconds.

Gypsy nodded as he pulled Duck’s disk off of the duplicator. “Thank you.” He said as he settled down to review the chip.

“While you’re at it,” Tracker started. “I have some things to check as well.”

“Get to work then,” Papa D said as he looked around. “People... this ain’t a vacation, lets look like we’re working here! D’s you’re on patrol, WEJ, SunDog, get familiar with the security layout. Tracker’s been here a while, you know he’s got the electronics set. Gypsy here’s an old-timer. I can guarantee you he’s set some interesting traps, and you won’t find them in any of the books. I want you to find them and get a feel for the way he works.”

Gypsy stopped where he was. “If you like I will...”

Papa D waved him off. “It’ll be good for them to try and find them. Curious to see what you’ve picked up over they years.”

Gypsy grinned.

Papa D looking at him and gave a low chuckle. “Or... maybe I don’t really want to know.”

“That my friend,” Gypsy said with a smile. “Is usually the correct answer.”

*** *** ***

Tracker drew a deep breath and started hooking his deck into the system. It became almost like a meditation as he slipped the cable into his jack and activated his deck. He waited for his consciousness to solidify in this reality and then moved through the system. There were still watchdogs surrounding the remains of Wiz’s account.

He ignored them and continued through the system. Whoever had killed Wiz was behind those routines, but right now he needed the background information. Something that would explain all of this insanity.

Force of habit took him to his account to check for messages. They appeared as a pile of mail in front of an inside door. As he gathered the messages and began going through them, another message slipped through the slot on the door.

Curious, he picked it up. It was a package claim check. He could tell the pickup point indicated was bogus, but something told him it was very important. He quickly sorted through the rest of the mail and found one from Red.

The message was cryptic enough, but he nodded as he read it.

“Data. Duck pond. Show respect.”

He flipped the message over and found a series of numbers at the bottom. It was an anagram of the return address on the claim check.

He looked at it for another moment and drew a deep breath. She had managed to leave him a message. Filing the rest of the information that was waiting for him, he opened the door and followed the mail routes. The door closed behind him with an resounding thud.

*** *** ***

Gypsy tensed as Tracker activated his deck. He was afraid. He wasn’t sure what worried him more: finding out what they were up against or finding his niece as they had found the others. He drew a deep breath and slotted the chip: it was time to find out.

The data pulsed in front of him. In spite of the technical information he could tell his niece was interested in the project. The idea itself was sound, simplistic, beautiful: at least to a decker. He could also sense her anger at the way it was being tested, and the slight sadness that it had proven a failure.

Still those who had the object were indeed tied to the military. “Black Ops.” he thought to himself and then chuckled reflexively: Voodoo was considered ‘Black Ops.’ as was Black Paw, and just about every organization he’d served with for the past 25 years.

As he read on, Duck provided a rundown on all their opposition. There was also the contents of the package from one of their opposite numbers had left for her. They were up against at least three different groups and at least one of them was the group that was hunting its own. There was a corporation, most likely Zyrebien and two Feds: ‘Rogers and Hammerstien.’ Their names were familiar, but he couldn’t quite place them. His major worry was the team that was hunting his people.

He shuddered at that thought, and then, when he saw the autopsy information he froze. The emptiness, both physical and magical, that had been found with Tracker’s friend was terrifying. Gypsy had spent most of his life fighting, working, very much alive... to be emptied like that sent shudders through him. He forced himself not to think of Red ending up like that, but it was difficult.

He forced himself to continue: to review and memorize everything and to not think of his niece. Somehow he knew the clock was running out.

He swallowed hard as he finished digesting the information and then began reviewing it again. Sharing the information would have to wait until Tracker was done with his run, and he wanted to be sure he hadn’t missed a thing.

*** *** ***

Tracker paused as he neared the indicated address. Something or someone was nearby, watching... he could feel it. Carefully he activated his sensors and began recording. As it moved forward, he could see a group forming near the gate to Duck’s node. There were four or five of them milling about as one of them started work on picking the lock to the gate.

A smile played across his face as the gate opened and the one picking the lock held the door open. He knew they couldn’t see it, but as they filed into the entrance ‘undetected’ their images shifted from that of a stealthy nondescript band of infiltrators, but to that of a peasant mob, complete with torches.

He’d found the right place alright.

He changed his appearance so that he matched the surrounding area and stood outside the unlocked gate watching. The ‘angry mom’ still hadn’t noticed the change in their appearance as their leader started work on the next barrier: a set of double doors.

His smile quirked slightly when he noticed the old man in the rock garden. Two of the invaders had turned to face him, afraid that he would attack, but he continued raking the rocks, oblivious to intruders. As the doors opened, the man continued his assigned task, ignoring them. Satisfied that they had not been detected, the mob slipped into the room and closed the door behind him.

Tracker chuckled as the man stopped, wiped his brow and then looked at him. With a sigh he returned to his normal form, that of a wolf and entered the antechamber. He smiled briefly as he looked at the double doors and then bowed towards the man. Duck’s message echoed through his mind: ‘show respect.’

The man returned the bow and moved back to his work, but this time, he moved the largest rock and stood aside. Tracker gave him a rather toothy grin, and then padded through the opening.

“Follow the signs,” the man told him, then went back to raking the rocks.

Tracker moved on, allowing the door to close behind him. Duck’s node was interesting, but he needed the information she had gathered. Something told him that her life, and maybe his as well depended on it.

When he saw the park, he had to laugh. A sign, prominently displayed, read ‘Please feed the ducks.’

“Obviously she’s running this on a token basis,” he thought to himself as he looked at the claim check. Then he saw the vending machine. “Token for token,” he sighed as he fed the claim check into the machine. There was a pause before it deposited a bag of what looked like duck food.

He took the bag and turned to face the duck pond. With a sigh, he began scattering the food. He wondered if he still looked like a wolf, but something gave him the impression that Duck’s visual jokes were reserved for people who were not invited. If it wasn’t, it really didn’t matter anyway.

The ducks began swimming towards him and then there was a disturbance in the water. An alligator appeared. He looked at the alligator and took a deep breath. It didn’t look like IC, but IC came in all shapes and sizes... and there was no telling what he was facing, or where it led.

Nervously he looked down the alligator’s mouth at the stairs and shook his head. He was beginning to understand Wiz’s warning, Duck was definitely an odd bird.

He followed the trail where it led and found himself in a rather plain looking office. Its walls were lined with bookcases and filing cabinets. In the center of the room was a rather large desk, one chair behind it, one in front. Again remembering the “show respect” directive he sat in the chair in front of the desk and waited. A small stuffed duck descended from the ceiling on a string. In its beak it held a piece of paper.

Tracker took the book and shook his head. As he unfolded the message confetti fell from the ceiling. “Baisingstoke...” he read aloud.

The confetti stopped and the duck disappeared. Then he noticed the construct sitting across from him. Instead of appearing as a duck, it looked like ‘Red’. She cocked her head slightly and let out a sigh.

“Well... I guess things didn’t turn out like I planned,” she sighed.

He looked at the construct and shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

“Ah well,” ‘Red’ sighed. “The full information is here,” she said as a filing cabinet opened and a rather large folder popped up. “That is everything I’ve been able to gather. Friends have copies of it as well... good luck.”

There was something almost wistful in her tone. Tracker stood and took the folder. “You have some uninvited guests,” he mentioned to the construct as he downloaded the file to his deck.

“Yes... I have been monitoring them,” ‘Red’ answered. As ‘she’ spoke a screen appeared between them. “They seem to be having a hard time finding anything though.”

Tracker looked at the screen and chuckled. The ‘angry mob’ was now in what looked like a fun house hall of mirrors. Their images were distorting even more and something in the way ‘Red’ gleamed at him, he knew... this time the effects were permanent.

Tracker shook his head. “Why?”

“Why do that?” she asked. “Or maybe ‘Why the hall of mirrors?’ Anybody who goes there is not supposed to be there... So... they’re fair game. It will take them a while to realize that they are in one big merry-go-round, and there is no brass ring. Personally, I’m waiting for the haunted house.”

“Is that where the black IC is?”

‘Red’ smile, even in construct mode, he could see the twinkle in ‘her’ eyes. “The whole place is IC and there’s no killer stuff on that side. That’s here. That is simply a warning... and I admit, a place I like to go for fun...”

Tracker looked at her again and shook his head. Even without dealing directly with the Duck he was getting a very good idea of the way she worked. She was definitely Gypsy’s niece.

Then the office shook. “Ah... looks like they got tired of playing... better get the files and go... Good luck,” she added as another explosion rocked the office. “Hope you fare better than I did.”

Tracker nodded. “You will be avenged.”

“Go... I’m about to activate all defenses....”

Tracker gave another wolfish bow and bounded from the room. He had what he’d come for.

With a shudder, he transferred from matrix to real, looking around to see who was there, then he verified that he had the files. They were all there. He looked sadly over at Gypsy as he disconnected his deck from the wall. She’d known, or at least expected what was going to happen.

*** *** ***
Gypsy watched as Tracker progressed through his sojourn through the matrix and sighed. Something told him it was going to be a bit of a wait for the information he’d found, but at least he had found something. Realizing that, he decided that he should check his own account for any messages. Pocket secretary in hand he activated the connection and began the download.
There were more messages than he expected... a lot more.

“Gypsy, this is Cat. Tell Duck that the samples are in and she’s not going to believe it. I’ll send you meet instructions after Vermillion does some field work. We’re back in the game on this.”

‘More than you know my friend,’ Gypsy thought sadly. ‘More than you know.’

“Gypsy, Old Man... break up... “

‘Late, but good advice,’ he sighed continuing to comment as the messages played. Then the message that caught his attention.

“If you ever want to see your niece again.... you will give us the information we seek. Give us the Duck and she’s free... We will keep her safe until we hear from back 7PM tonight... details to follow.”

Gypsy’s eyes widened. A combination of relief and fear played across his face. She was safe for now... It was as Tracker had said, they were fighting on more than one front. He began to wonder who would take his niece.

“Gypsy?” He heard Mad... Papa Dan call.

He looked up, the worry written plainly in his eyes. “They have my niece... They want to trade her for my team’s decker...”

Papa Dan nodded. “You want to contact him?”

Gypsy’s shoulders shook as he began laughing.

Papa Dan’s worry increased at his reaction and was already kneeling as Gypsy waved him off.

“Can you contact him?”

Gypsy shook his head and let out a slight sob filled laugh. “Red...” he managed to say.

“We’ll get her back... maybe your decker can help.”

Again Gypsy tried to wave him off, laughing bitterly at what seemed an inside joke. Finally he managed to look at his old time friend. “She is the team’s decker...”

Papa Dan’s head dropped as he too joined Gypsy. It was so ridiculous, there was nothing else to do but laugh.

*** *** ***

Tracker looked up at the sound of laughter. It was not a happy sound. He shot Gypsy a worried glance. “Duck?”

Gypsy managed to nod, and then shake his head.

Tracker’s eyes narrowed.

“She has been kidnaped,” Gypsy managed to explain. “But they will trade her for ‘The Duck.”

Tracker banged his head against the wall. All things considered, this was par for the course.

Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Nineteen
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