Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Twenty-four

Jules’ eyes widened as he received the signal from Tracker and Whisper: They were coming in. He remained calm as he sent the acknowledgment and then signaled Papa D.

“Report?” Papa Dan prompted as soon as he was near enough.

“Tracker, Whisper: coming in,” Jules answered.

Papa D’s eyes flared slightly as he studied Jules’ expression. “No word as to why?”

Jules shook his head. “Just that they’re coming sir.”

Papa D nodded then looked over towards Gypsy. Two early arrivals, either it boded well, or they were in for a world of hurt. Either way, it looked like they would be on the move very soon.

“Keep your eyes and ears open,” he ordered. “Anything more out of the ordinary, sing out.”

Jules gave a short nod, and then turned back to the comm gear.

*** *** ***

Papa Dan noticed how Gypsy’s posture had changed since he’d heard from his friends. It was like he had been holding his breath, and now, there was something he could do.

He knew how his friend felt. “Gypsy, Tracker and Whisper are on their way back in.”

Gypsy smiled and nodded. “I know.”

Papa Dan gave him ‘the look.’ The look that said: ‘what are you up to old man?’

Gypsy smiled innocently, but Papa Dan had lost enough money to him over the years to be well acquainted with with that look. He shook his head in exasperation.

This seemed to only make Gypsy smile even more.

“Cat and Vermin have a piece of the puzzle. Tracker and Whisper another... and my niece... It is good to... have direction again, instead of flailing... simply surviving.”

Papa D smiled and nodded. He knew exactly how Gypsy felt.

*** *** ***

Tracker let out a relieved sigh as Whisper pulled the car into the warehouse. There had been no sign of a tail. He watched as Whisper shifted into park, and verified this magically.

“We’re clear,” he assured Tracker as he cocked his head to the side.

Tracker winced at the ‘crack’ that all but echoed through the car. Duck was still reviewing the information and adapting his system to suit her, but she seemed to be weathering the storm well, all things considered.

He looked at her as she sat there, oddly managing to look both completely helpless and completely in control. He gave her a relieved smile. They had found her in time, and she had found a way to continue functioning.

“So... you want me to carry her?” Whisper finally asked.

Tracker drew his gun and nodded. “Lets get her inside,” he agreed as he exited the car and covered them while Whisper gently picked Duck up and carried her towards the door. He paused there, allowing Tracker to leapfrog ahead and make sure they were still clear.

As he exited the room, Whisper caught a glimpse of Sundog and the D’s as they patrolled the area, in an almost undetectable pattern. When Tracker gave him the signal he moved, carrying Duck into the warehouse where the others waited.

Gypsy looked up from his equipment as Whisper entered and gently set Duck down on one of the cots. He’d known it was bad, her message had told him as much, but then he noticed that she was hooked into a deck.

He looked at Whisper questioningly as Tracker watched the door a moment longer before joining them.

“The people who kidnaped her,” Whisper started to explain. ‘They...”

Tracker shook his head, then met Gypsy’s eyes. “Euphs and BTL’s... not a pretty sight. Whisper detoxed her, but ... she’s in withdrawal. Hooked her in at her request, if she’s jacked in, she can still be useful, and not feel the pangs.”

Gypsy nodded. “Keep yourself busy and you don’t notice anything else?”

Tracker nodded. “Seems to be working.”

Gypsy nodded again, but he knew there was a lot more that Tracker wasn’t telling him. He could read it in Whisper’s eyes, the way Tracker would look at her. Something told him though, that he did not want to know.

‘Won’t do anybody any good,’ he told himself. ‘Plenty of time later... plenty of time.’

Tracker watched him for a minute, then handed him two notebooks. “Roger’s and Hammerstein, their case notes.”

Gypsy looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“They won’t be needing them anymore,” Tracker confirmed. Again, Gypsy noticed the look in Tracker’s eyes.

‘What did they do to my little girl?’ he asked himself. Then forced himself to look at the notebook, to work with the concrete. There was nothing he could do for Red now, except work against those who would harm her.

*** *** ***

Vermin looked at Cat as she relayed the message from Gypsy. ‘What about him?’ he sub-vocalized as he gave a slight nod towards Duke.

‘We bring him in with us,’ she answered evenly. ‘Something tells me we need to know what he knows,’ she explained, knowing full well that Duke’s ‘friend’ could hear everything they said.

Vermin studied her carefully for a moment then nodded. She could tell that he was still unsure about Duke. It didn’t help matters that she was still unsure about Duke’s ‘friend.’

Tckalleh-ch, for her part remained hidden and silent. This both relieved and worried Cat. She checked her watch and nodded to Vermin. “Head south, I’ll direct you from there.”

He nodded and once again pulled back into traffic. As Cat began navigating, he realized that she was not taking him directly there, but rather making random direction changes at arbitrary times.

‘Tails?’ he asked over the comm-link.

‘Not yet,’ she answered then drew a deep breath. ‘Time to go Astral.’

Vermin nodded as he continued to drive. ‘Clear,’ he said as he turned left onto one of the main boulevards.

Cat nodded and shifted her consciousness to the astral. She could see the normal city and sense the lives of those around them, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Nothing seemed to be interested in their vehicle. Once she was sure they were clear, she returned to the physical world and looked around.

“Clear,” she announced.

Vermin nodded. “Where to then?”

Cat nodded. “Warehouse district.”

Vermin sighed and headed towards their rendezvous.

*** *** ***

‘Car coming in,’ Jules looked at Papa Dan as Sundog’s report came in over the comm system. ‘Late model Ford. Man driving, woman in the front, another man in back.’

Papa Dan relayed the information to Gypsy who nodded. “That would be Vermillion and BlackCat.”

Papa Dan gave a brief nod. “Tell them to bring them in. They’re on our side.”

Jules relayed the information, then waited for a reply.

*** *** ***

“What now?” Vermillion asked as he began driving around the warehouses.

BlackCat looked around and then relaxed. “Pull over and wait,” she answered after a quick astral check. “They’re expecting us.

Vermillion nodded and parked the car. As he did so, he could feel, rather then see the two approaching. They were moving in parallel, watching both the car and the surroundings, ready for almost anything.

He carefully placed his hands on the steering wheel and kept them there. The last thing he wanted was to be shot by people where were, hopefully, on his side.

*** *** ***

SunDog signaled the D’s to hold their position as she moved out into the open and approached the car. The three within didn’t move. When she was sure they were the people she was supposed to meet, she walked around to the front of the car and nodded.

Slowly the man opened the front door and joined her.

She gave him a once over then nodded. “Looks like you’ve been having problems of your own,” she said softly.

The man nodded then looked at her. “Vermillion,” he told her with a slight smile.

“SunDog,” she acknowledged his introduction then signaled the others. “We need to move,” she told him as one of the D’s moved in. “Have your people get out of the car, we’ll go on foot from here.”

*** *** ***

Vermin activated his comm-link and gave Cat the all clear.

He watched SunDog and her companions carefully, as Cat and Duke exited the car. He wanted to play into their enemy’s hands even less than he wanted to be taken out by friendly fire.

SunDog gave him a half smile as she watched him as intently as he was watching her. He shrugged and looked at the others.

Once Cat and Duke had joined them, SunDog looked at Vermin.

“Keys?” she asked.

Vermillion nodded towards the car. “In the ignition.”

SunDog merely nodded. It made sense not to leave the other two dead in the water. “Little D,” she said in a tone that carried only to those gathered. “Hide it,”

One of her companions, an Orc nodded and went back to the car.

“The rest of you... follow me,” she said, and began picking her way back through the warehouses and fields.

*** *** ***

Vermin tensed as he felt rather then saw the defensive measures around them. These people were good. He realized that what was really bothering him was the fact that he didn’t know these people. For all he knew they could be the enemy.

He exchanged a tense look with Cat. She was wary too, but he could read her expression, if Gypsy gave the all clear on these people, they were on their side.

He nodded slightly, but it didn’t really make him feel all that much better. He trusted Gypsy, Cat, Duck... the others, but these people were not his.

The woman leading them around, SunDog seemed to sense this. She did nothing to convince him one way or the other, simply led then to safety. That in itself was somewhat of a relief. She understood and maybe was as apprehensive as he was.

He could tell they were almost to the safe area when SunDog signaled a halt. Vermin could hear her signal someone over her own comm-system. She paused scanning the area, waiting for an all clear. When she got it she nodded to them.

“No watchers,” she said quietly. “Through that door.”

Vermin looked at the door she indicated. It sat at an angle to them, just across a small alleyway. A quick scan proved the way was clear. He nodded.

“I go first,” SunDog added. “Then you and your people, then Big D.”

Vermin looked at here companion for a moment and then nodded. He watched as SunDog and ‘Big D’ exchanged a look. Then she was moving. He waited until she was through the door before signally Cat and Duke to follow.

Cat’s movements were quiet and graceful as she moved through the alleyway and then rolled through the door. He couldn’t see her anymore, but Vermillion knew that she had taken up a defensive position, covering their forward movements.

Duke was next, moving quickly. Vermin could sense that the man was not used to this sort of thing, but there was something in his eyes that said he would do whatever was required of him to see this thing through. He didn’t like involving civilians, but by his own admission, Duke was already involved.

Once he cleared the door Vermin looked back at the Troll, who simply nodded. Without thinking he pushed himself up and was moving. Just as Cat had taken a forward position, he held back, taking up a defensive crouch in the doorway. Once he was clear, the Troll began to move.

Big D smiled at him and nodded appreciatively as he barreled through the door. They were safe, but it was nice to know that their ‘guests’ were looking out for them. Once everyone was inside and the door was closed, SunDog stood.

“We’re here,” She announced then pointed to the stairs. “Everybody else is up there.”

Cat and Vermin nodded and took the lead as they climbed the stairs, they were still cautious, but the weren’t in ‘sneak’ mode. Cat took a deep breath and then opened the door, she was surprised when five pairs of eyes, and three guns met them.

“Mine,” Gypsy announced as he waved off the others. The three guns went down as Gypsy moved forward to greet them.

Cat and Vermin exchanged relieved looks and holstered their weapons. They were safe.

*** *** ***

Gypsy watched as Voodoo and BlackPaw began going through the information they had. Checking and cross checking everything until they had all the information collated and drawn up on the board. Once everything was ready and reviewed, Papa Dan nodded, signaling the others to join them at the table.

Gypsy nodded the members of both teams took their seats. He was surprised as Tracker hesitated, hooking something into his deck so that Duck could follow their progress as well. He nodded appreciatively.

Once they were all seated, Papa Dan stood and looked around the room. “All right boys and girls, lets get this show rolling.”

When he spoke everyone turned to him. There was something in his carriage that hadn’t been there during their last meeting. It took Gypsy a moment, but then he realized what it was: hope.

Hope and the promise that this nightmare would soon be over.

“We’ve got three new people here, BlackCat,” he stated nodding towards Cat. “Combat Mage, and detective, next to her is Vermillion, and... Duke... “ He looked a the man a moment and then turned back to Cat. “Care to fill us in?”

Cat stood and looked at the others. She’d picked up a few names, but most of them were strangers. Not strangers, but family, she corrected herself.

“As you know Vermin and I, we serve with Gypsy in Voodoo. We’ve been investigating Persephone’s death. With Duck providing cover, we were able to sneak into the morgue and ... collect a few soil samples. Geographically they could have come from any one of 50 sites. Magically, I’ve narrowed it down to one site.”

She moved over to the board and tacked her map to the board. Highlighted in red was the target area. “Now... Tracker’s been able to get me some satellite footage of the area, and these buildings are most likely where they’re operating. Their the only buildings with enough electrical, and thermo protection to hide their comings and goings. We know they have techs and soldiers there, and I can personally vouch that they have some serious magical backing as well. They are our opposite numbers in every way.”

She turned nodding towards Tracker.

Tracker drew a deep breath and moved over to the board. “They’ve got surveillance and attack drones patrolling the area. Its hard to pick them up from the satellite feeds, but believe me they’re there. Also... I’ve seen their deckers in action. They’ve got at least five of them operating as a team, that makes them dangerous. But if we’re going to do this thing right, we’re going to need to take over their base physically, magically and technologically.”

Papa Dan watched as the information was passed on and his expanded team began working on plans of how to achieve their goals. Ultimately, there would be no way of knowing exactly what would need to be done until they got there.

“Jules, you’ll be co-ordinating from here,” he stated with a nod, then looked over at Duck. “She in or out on this?” he asked Tracker.

Tracker grinned and nodded towards the monitor. One work flashed across the screen. “IN”

Papa D nodded. That answered that. “Okay, lets move out. I want a clean exit, no trail leading back to Jules and Duck... We cannot afford to have the device slip through our hands. We have to destroy it, and make sure everyone involved sees us do it.”

Everyone nodded in agreement as they made their way to their equipment.

Papa D gave Duke one last look as he tried to figure the man out, and then let is slide. Gypsy’s people had brought him for a reason and right now, he had too much else to worry about.

*** *** ***

Tonka tensed as her felt his comm-link activate. A quick look at WEJ confirmed that he too had received a warning.

As WEJ scanned the area, Tonka acknowledged the call.

“Copy,” he answered in a hushed tone then waited for the full message.

“Check in-- Seven - One - Seven stand-by,” Jules’ voice was calm and crisp as he transmitted. “Will advise in 1 hour.”

“Copy,” Tonka replied then looked at WEJ.

WEJ nodded. “Still clear... go.”

Tonka smiled and proceeded to translate the message that had been piggy-backed onto the standard, but cryptic transmission. His smile broadened as the decoded message came through.

“They found the girl... and the base... we’re on stand-by here waiting further orders.”

WEJ looked at him for a moment then nodded. “We need to get all the players at once.”

Tonka nodded. “And then we close them down!”

That made WEJ smile. “Then...”

Tonka looked at his friend, his oath brother and nodded. “Then ... “

*** *** ***

The technician tensed as the soldiers moved into his work area. They stood there, assault rifles in hand, watching him as he packed up his gear. Everywhere people were scrambling to break down their equipment and get it ready for transport.

His deck had already been packed into its protective case and placed on the floor next to him, where he could grab it if the situation changed. Now it was a question of gathering all the development tools and peripherals.

He eyed his deck worriedly, it was his assault rifle, his defense against attack.

He knew better than to ask what was happening. He was only a soldier. His job was to follow orders and the order had been for immediate evacuation. As he tied down the last tensioner on the last shipping box, he grabbed his deck and fell into formation.

There were five other deckers in the line, all good little automatons waiting for their next orders. He hated it; hated them; hated Rogers and Hammerstein for getting him into this.

Self-consciously he looked down at the name tag, the name they’d given him, ‘Rogers’. They had robbed him of his life, his freedom and his name, all in the name of ending this insanity, but it hadn’t ended. It had only gotten worse and now Rogers and Hammerstein were as much the enemy as the General and his cronies.

He was alone and there was nothing he could do to end this nightmare. He moved forced himself to listen to the others as the muttered back and forth, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Somebody must have blown our cover.”

“Do they even have another location selected.”

“Less we know... the better...”

The technician mumbled something equally non-sensible in the interest of keeping his cover. But he couldn’t help the deep sinking feeling that was forming in the pit of his stomach. Had they found the messages he’d left for Duck? Had they found out about Rogers and Hammerstein? The questions flashed through his mind as his pulse skyrocketed to the point he was sure the others could hear it.

He forced himself to relax, to match the postures and stress levels of his peers. The last thing he wanted to do was to stand out. He stood in line, waiting for his orders, making sure he was neither the stiffest, nor the loosest person there. He was a soldier, he had a job to do.

It became his mantra as the line started to move. “I am a soldier, I have a job to do... I am a soldier...”

He kept it up as they filed through the corridor to the main control room. As they moved another line of soldiers joined them until everyone was present and accounted for. The General was waiting for them.

“Gentlemen, the security of this base has been compromised. A few hours ago, our magical support discovered a spell that sought us out, and pinpointed this facility. Countermeasures were activated, but the subject was already moving away from the spells area of origin. We can only assume the worst.”

He stopped, nodding to the different groups. “The researchers will be the first to be evacuated... the rest of you will be defending this base until they are safely away. I don’t need to remind you how important this project is.”

As he launched into a rousing speech about country and honor, the Technician mused over what was really happening. How many of these people were ‘just following orders’? How many of them even knew what was really happening? The General was a good motivator, and very good at hiding his true agenda from all but his ‘elite’ forces.

He prayed whoever breached security would come soon, otherwise, there would be no escaping this. He looked at the General as he met each man’s eyes. He knew that he was one of the ‘elite’... one of the few that knew the full score, one of the ones that would be protected above the others. But even that was no consolation: as the General was fond of pointing out, he was expendable, and nothing would stand in the way of his controlling this technology.

The Technician gave a barely perceivable nod. There was nothing else he could do for now.

*** *** ***

Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Twenty-five
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