Tracker gave Gypsy a worried look as he mentally reviewed the information Duck had given him. He could tell from the look on the older man’s face that he’d received pretty much the same information on the chip she’d left for him. He could also see that Gypsy had reached the same conclusions.
It was almost ingrained in each of them: someone kidnaps a family member to use as leverage; they’re probably already dead, or as good as dead. They both knew ‘Red’ was in a lot more danger than the caller had claimed, and they knew what had to be done.
It was the standard reaction, the only logical reaction really. But it didn’t sit well with either of them. ‘Red’ was Gypsy’s niece: to Tracker she was Wiz’s legacy, the last living tie to his friend. Either way, she was family and there was very little they could do for her.
“Go,” Gypsy urged woodenly. “Tell them. I will stand watch...”
Tracker nodded. “We’ll get her back,” he said, although they both knew the odds of getting her back safely were negligible.
Gypsy nodded: it was not in his nature to give up. As he watched, Papa Dan called his team together. Slowly his thoughts once again turned to his niece, not as ‘Red’ but as Duck. The Duck he knew, was resourceful. Perhaps there still was a chance. He prayed it was so.
Papa Dan watched his long time friend as he stood his lonely vigil. It was bad enough losing teammate after teammate, but to have the violence spill over onto your family... He shook his head, that was part of why he’d never married... never had a family. His team was his family, and losing some of them had been bad enough.
He took a deep breath, verified that the white noise generators were functioning and then signaled Tracker. Tracker nodded and moved to the makeshift briefing board.
“As near as we can tell from the information available we have at least three distinct groups that are behind our problems to varying degrees,” Tracker announced slowly as he began writing on the board.
“The source of our trouble as you know is a little black box. Inside that box is an implant that would revolutionize decking... if it worked. This device is basically...the ultimate deck. There is no lag time between thought and function, because it is connected directly to the user’s mind. It is fully up-gradable and if that weren’t enough, it has the new ALS chip, that can automatically detect and connect via satellite. It’s a decker’s fantasy. Immediate connection, anytime, anyplace and it’s virtually undetectable. Needless to say, you can see why people are going to all of this trouble...”
He let the sentence trail off. He hated to admit it, but it was a fantasy toy. He, himself, would love to have something like the device, but he also knew the truth behind it... it simply didn’t work.
“The bad news is, this toy doesn’t work: it kills. It kills the implantee and those people wanting the device are killing people to get it, maintain it and test it.”
He looked at his friends and then at Gypsy. He didn’t doubt that Duck had included the list of potential recipients in the chip she'd left her uncle. She didn't strike him as they type to pull punches, not when so many had died. Gypsy knew the full score, probably better than anyone else there. He took a deep breath and continued.
“The major players are: Zyrebien Research. They have some of the top implant scientists in their employ. According to the notes, Zyrebien didn’t originate the device, but they are one of the few surviving entities who know about the device.”
“There are also two Interpol agents answering to the names ‘Rogers and Hammerstein.’ These boys should be on our side, but from what we’ve been able to gather...” He shook his head. “They have their own agenda on this. They’re glory hounds; they find the bad guys and they make their case stick, but they seem to have burned a lot of people on the way.”
“Case in point, a decker working for the third, and most dangerous group... He sent us a lot of information on the Black Ops group we’re up against. He detailed their operation, as well as how Roger’s and Hammerstein pulled him in on this. The man is trapped, but he’s still playing things a little too close to the vest. He’s in the middle of two behemoths and he knows where that’s going to get him.”
“He’s trying to help us, but he’s also trying to save his own skin, I think we should reciprocate. If we can help the man, without compromising ourselves we do it, but no risks... he’s not taking any for us, no need for us to get ourselves killed on his behalf. We’re merely his insurance policy.”
Tracker took a deep breath as he began reviewing the information again. The picture it painted was not pretty. Still the story had to be told.
“From what we’ve been able to piece together, Zyrebien had the device and was working on improving the design, quite possibly trying to work out the bugs on it. Gypsy's team was sent to collect it, but by the time they got there, it was long gone.”
“Their contact people had been burned and the whole mission seems to have been orchestrated to single out likely candidates for testing... In this case, their decker, Duck."
“The same time they were trying to get a hold of the device, HeartBreaker and SunDog were supposedly picking up a defecting engineer, from Zyrebien. The man claimed to have something that would change everything, but he never let them see it. He was killed and the device was stolen, most likely by the Black Ops Group. That wasn’t enough, they tried to eliminate the witnesses. They succeeded with HeartBreaker, missed on SunDog, and neither of them had any idea what was in the box, they only knew it existed. "
"This part is pure speculation, but we do know that Zyrebien wants the device back, and from the reports we’ve gotten, the Black Ops group has no intention of letting it go. As for the Interpol agents...”
Tracker shrugged. They were the wild cards. They knew something was up, but rather than shut it down, they’d been ‘building their case’.
He paused again, then took a deep breath. “Gypsy’s team, Voodoo’s lost more men then we have. One of them was Wiz’s fiancé.” He nodded as he noticed the team’s reaction. “Yeah, Yala was more then capable of taking care of herself, and they still managed to get her. She left a few clues for us to follow up on, two members of Voodoo are working that angle. Hopefully it will help us identify the Black Ops team.”
“Another person in the missing column is ‘Red’... she’s Gypsy’s niece. She’s also his team’s decker, and believe you me... she’s full of surprises. The only good thing about her disappearance is the fact that her kidnapers don’t know they have ‘Duck’... that’s her handle as the team’s decker. Matter of fact, they’re trying to trade her for the Duck...”
Tracker shook his head. “Now I don’t think the people who have Red are the same people that have been killing our people... its not their style... but that doesn’t really mean anything, kidnapers get what they want, she’ll be just as dead... and we’ll be just as out of luck.”
He took another deep breath. “Once we deal with those people, we’ve got to deal with the Black Op’s boys. They’ve been kidnaping decker’s with a specific profile and using them to test out the device... Wiz was their last victim, but they have a list of their next few candidates. I’m on that list, as is the man who dropped this information on us, as is Gypsy’s niece... She tops the list, I’m their number two choice... Needless to say, I do not want either of us to end up on their cutting table. We need to close these people down and soon.”
Tracker looked around the room one more time and then turned the briefing back over to Papa D. He stared at the board as the others asked questions and reviewed his report.
“There you have it boys and girls,” Papa Dan sighed. “And I agree with Tracker, first concern is getting ‘Duck’ back. After that, we close down this dog and pony show. The ware is bad and they aren’t going to stop trying to make it fit. We close them down, we destroy the unit and everything else we can find on it.
Tracker nodded. The device was a dream, nothing more. And it definitely was not worth the price they’d already paid for it.
“First thing we do,” Papa Dan stated. “Is stake out the players we know about, Big Z and the boys from Interpol... Tonk, WEJ, you’re on Zyrebien, Tracker, I want you and Whisper trailing Rogers and Hammerstein.”
He watched his team take their assignments and got down to business. “Gypsy,” he called. “You know the drill: you want to talk to her, play up the worried uncle; don’t overdo it.”
“There is no worry there,” Gypsy told him as he focused on his friend. “I will not be acting.”
Papa Dan nodded.
“Jules, you’ll be on the electronics, you try tracing the call, ID the source and the voices if you can. Dog:. see if you can find this Black Ops Group... ”
Jules nodded and went to break out the equipment while Dog began hooking up to Tracker’s secure line.
“Remember folks, we are not dealing with amateurs here. They’re stone cold and there is nothing amateur about them.”
Papa D looked at his watch one last time. “We’ve got 3 hours people... lets make this happen.”
Gypsy tensed as his pocket unit beeped. He opened it up and listened to the voice on the other end.
“Are you there?” The voice was almost cold, and he shuddered involuntarily as the man spoke.
“Yes, I am here... where is my...”
“I ask the questions here.” the voice interrupted. “I don’t want your niece... I want the Duck... you don’t even have to give him to me... just identify him...We’ll do the rest.”
“Not until I know my niece is safe,” Gypsy countered. He forced his voice to remain even.
“Don’t you trust me?” the voice asked.
“You have involved people who should not be involved....” Gypsy answered with a slight hiss. “And I have no way of knowing that she is even alive...”
There was a long silence on the phone. “Two hours,” it said and then the caller hung up.
Gypsy turned grimly and looked at the others.
Jules gave him the thumbs up. “Got the ID signal... “
Gypsy smiled a very unpleasant smile. “Good... Zyrebien?”
Jules shook his head in disbelief. “Interpol.”
“Look alive, it’s the boys...” Tracker stiffened slightly as the message came across. It surprised him that the news only slightly surprised him. From what he’d read, this was not too far out of the norm for them.
Whisper looked at him for a minute. “How do you want to work it?”
“As long as they stay together, we stay together,” Tracker answered as he thumbed a switch on his control deck. “We follow them, try to see if we can find Duck and pull her out before any exchange goes down.”
As they waited, the Interpol agents emerged from the police building and got in their car.
“I’d love to be a fly in that car,” Whisper commented.
“No problem,” Tracker answered as he flicked a switch and they could hear the agents' voices inside the car.
“Old man wants to talk to her, prove she’s okay,” one of them grumbled.
“The man is Special Forces... you expect otherwise?”
“Used to be a man’s word was good enough,” the first one answered with a chuckle. “I mean, people not trusting one another... where’s it going to end?”
“So... can you contact these ... friends of yours...”
When the first man answered, Whisper could hear the grin in his voice. “The were only willing to give me a phone number but... well you know... they figure they’ve kept themselves pretty well hidden, but... they just don’t know who they’re working for.”
The second man chuckled. “So are we going to pay them a visit?”
“After we get the information, I figure we rush in, ‘try’ to save the girl...”
“That would look nice on our records,” the second man agreed. “As long as the kidnappers resist and end up at the morgue...”
“My thoughts exactly, of course... the girl’ll already be dead... If I know our kidnappers.”
“Glad we’re on the same page.”
Whisper looked up at Tracker who nodded with a snarl. The Interpol agents had just moved themselves from the expendable list to the eliminate with extreme prejudice list in one easy conversation.
Duke looked at Ferron as he approached.
“What news?” Duke asked, knowing from Ferron’s posture that the news was not good.
“She vanished,” he answered shaking his head.
“She went into a grocery store, bought a few items, and was met by the security man from her building on her way out.”
Duke waited as Ferron shook his head in disbelief. “I figured she was safe. I turned my back for only a few minutes and she was gone.”
“And the security man?”
“He hasn’t been back to work since then... I have tried everywhere,” Ferron stated bowing his head. “I have failed you...”
Duke shook his head. “No my friend. You have stood by me as I followed this path. We must find this security man... for wherever he is, she will not be far away. “
Ferron nodded. “I will find him,” he vowed. “And if he has harmed the woman...”
“Easy my friend... we cannot be directly involved. Remember?”
Again Ferron nodded, but there was a forced tension to the movement. He had failed his friend in watching the woman. He would not fail him again.
Warren eyed Barry suspiciously as he unpacked the groceries. He could tell by his friend’s smile he was up to something, but Barry, being Barry, was taking his good natured time. As he put the last of the groceries away, his smile grew.
Warren let out a long-suffering sigh. “Well... are you going to tell me?”
Barry’s smile broadened. He pulled out a collection of BTL’s and tossed them to Warren.
Warren shook his head. “I don’t need this drek,” he growled. “It...”
“It ain’t for you, idiot! Its for her!” he said jerking his thumb towards the room where they held ‘Red.’
Warren shook his head. “Euphs’ll be enough to keep her down,” he commented, unsure where Barry was heading with all of this.
“Euphs cost money,” Barry countered. “And I figure... she’s going to need to pay us back somehow... “
“Yeah,” Warren said shaking his head. “I thought we’d agreed...” He stopped and looked at the titles, his eyes widening.
Barry nodded. “And believe you me, those were not easy to get... Most people don't like to be on the receiving end of that sort of... ‘action,” he said as he took the case and looked at one of the chips within. "But our little baby's going to need to know how to... pay us back for all our favors... and this is what Uncle Barry wants."
Warren’s smile broadened mirroring Barry’s. “I can hardly wait...” He looked at the chip as Barry held it up to the light and laughed.
Barry's smile widened as he pulled out another chip and waved it at Warren
"What’s that one?”
"It’s the other side of that one," Barry chuckled. "Thought we might... preview coming attractions."
Warren grinned. "Only once though... you don't want to get hooked on that drek."
Barry's laugh had a very unwholesome edge to it. “No need to worry about that... we’ll have the real thing here soon enough...
Warren smiled as he pulled out a needle and waved it in front of 'Red's' face. Her head moved woozily as he did so, but he could see how her eyes tracked its motion.
"Oh yeah... baby wants it doesn't she?"
Duck pulled back slightly, unable to fight the urge to reach out for it. She clamped her eyes shut, but still... she could almost sense its presence.
"Yes..." he cooed. "You can smell it can't you?"
Her eyes opened wide, and she gasped, looking at him pleadingly. She didn't want it... she wanted it out of her system, but its draw was too strong.
"But its going to cost you..." Warren teased. "Baby's got to trade something for the meds Uncle Warren's offering.
Duck wanted to scream, but all that came out was a whimper.
"Here... let uncle Warren fix you up... and then he's got a surprise for you," he said jabbing the needle into her arm. As the drugs took effect, Warren pulled out the chip and smiled at her. "Just so you know what to do...when the time comes..." he said patting her arm.
He chuckled to himself as he slotted the chip. "Baby's going to like this..."
She tried to fight her way clear of the chemicals, only to find herself locked into the images of the BTL chip as it played through her mind: vivid images where she could see, taste and feel everything. She was still ‘Red’, but she was also someone else...
She was lying tied spread-eagled to a bed. She could sense movement around her. Her body was taut. She looked up tensely as a man backed away and smiled at her. Then he pulled out a jar of something and began smearing it over her skin. She gave a panicked look around the room as the sensations crashed down around her.
The man smiled at her as the cream began to burn. “Scream if you want Baby... no one will hear you...”
Then he moved closer, an evil gleam in his eye as he leered at her.
Duck began to wonder if she could make her construct ‘hurl.’
She tried to move, but the ropes held her to the bed, helpless. The man continued to stare at her, laughing at her helplessness.
Duck clamped her mind down, trying to block off the images and sensations, but they were in her mind. They were her feelings, pumped directly into her brain and there was no way to shut them out. Every breath she took belonged to that woman. She shivered reflexively: the drugs were bad enough, but now this...
She tried to think of anything other than the chip induced sensations. She began contemplating the algorithm for hurling in earnest.
The calculations and routines helped somewhat, but the chip would override her thoughts: images and sensation would slip through, driving her deeper into her program.
She had made it up to ‘Hurling 4.01' by the time the chip had finished playing, but Warren had been prepared for that. After a few minutes the chip played again, this time randomly playing scene after scene. Very soon she was up to ‘Hurling 7.5.'
The next dose of Euphs brought a new chip and even more explicit images. She was on ‘Hurling II version 9.761A' in no time. As the images and sensation continued, she began wondering if she should allow user settings for the amount of 'chunkage' involved. One scene alone earned a special revision all its own as it played through her mind.
There was nothing else she could do. The Euphs ran though her body now... they were a part of her, and she knew, if it hadn't happened already, she would have to have them for the rest of her life.
On some level she understood, the chips weren't about entertainment; they were amusements for 'Uncle Warren' He was training her, giving her a taste of what was too come.
Duck began her first draft of OBLIVION 1.0 as she tried to work out a way to pay them back in kind.
Tracker monitored the screen as the Interpol agents drove through the city. He could tell by their meandering path, that they were looking for a tail. They were not, however, prepared for the people they were dealing with.
He held his temper in check. Rogers and Hammerstein were as bad, if not worse than the other players in this insane game. They were supposed to protect and they were right in there using people, all in the name of service.
“Only thing they’re serving is their career,” he muttered.
Whisper studied his friend for a moment. “Uhm... Tracker...”
Tracker looked up at him, his expression cold and angry. “They could have stopped this before we lost HeartBreaker. Now we’ve lost Wiz, and we may very well lose his protege.”
“Your friend’s niece?”
“Yeah, Gypsy’s niece. Wiz was her mentor.”
Whisper let his breath out slowly. “We’ll get her back...” he swore.
Tracker nodded in agreement.
There was a heavy silence as Tracker continued to monitor the Interpol agents’ progress. “They’re heading west on seventh,” he announced.
Whisper nodded and continued to parallel the Interpol agents.
They had been driving aimlessly for almost two hours when the agents finally pulled up to a small bungalow on the outskirts of the city. Tracker shifted in his seat as their quarry finally killed their engine.
“How do you want to handle this?” the first agent’s voice came across the speaker.
‘Knock ‘em out, nab the girl...’ the second one answered.
There was a long pause before the second one answered. “She’ll have seen us... we’ll have to ... be too late to save her... But we’ll get the creeps that took her.”
The first man laughed as he opened the car door. “Better hurry, its just about show time.”
Tracker gave Whisper a look of distaste as the men exited their car and moved around to the front of the bungalow.
“How do you want to handle this?” Whisper asked.
Tracker looked at him a minute and realized his partner was being serious. Tracker shook his head. “Our side walks away,” he growled. “With Duck.”
Whisper nodded. “Lets do it then.”