Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Twenty-six

The technician watched as the others prepared to defend the complex's computer system. He shook his head as not one of them thought to verify that the node was secure. They came in, assumed it was clear and took up defensive positions– effectively turning their backs on the real threat.

‘Sheep,’ he thought to himself; refusing to acknowledge that they were depending on him to perform that check. ‘Lesson one boys and girls,’ he thought to himself. ‘Trust no one.’

As he watched over them, he began wondering what Duck had in store for them. It had taken all he had to feign indignance when she’d altered the code to his personal constructs the last time. The others had been livid, forgetting or ignoring how easily she could have destroyed their constructs rather than alter them, and alter them she did.

The damage done in her ‘fun house’ was hilarious. Everyone of them had been forced to reload their personal routines. Nothing had been unaffected: persona routines had been altered to the point of ridiculousness; defense programs had been changed to non-lethal, non-effective routines; offensive routines had been rendered not only harmless but laughable.

The others had sworn vengeance, but he had mentally applauded her. She had taken them out of the action without harming any of them, and she’d done it with remote processes. He could only imagine what she could do to them live.

The others missed the fact that she’d altered their routines as they run, something that impressed him to no end. Changing static code and outward appearances was one thing, but she’d gone deeper than that. She’d changed dynamic code and its fundamental functions, and she’d done it while the code was active. Even more impressive was the fact that she’d done it without any of them noticing.

‘She,’ he thought to himself as he realized he’d fallen for another of her ‘tricks.’ He’s assumed that she was a he. The assumed name she’d used was a man’s and there had been no reason to think otherwise. ‘No wonder we’ve had trouble finding you,’ he chuckled to himself. No matter how he looked at it he had to admit, she was good.

The others thought they could beat her, but he knew if they did, it was going to be a hard fight and a long time in coming.

‘And this time, she’s not alone!’ he told himself with a slight smile. This time, he would be helping her.

*** *** ***

Gypsy let his breath out slowly as he heard the dogs. From the sound of things they would arrive after the drone, but he couldn’t chance it.

‘I’m on the drone,’ he sub-vocalized to Papa D and SunDog. ‘Get the dogs.’

‘Copy,’ Papa Dan answered as he switched to narcojet. Killing people who were trying to kill him was one thing. As far as he was concerned dogs were quite another.

SunDog noticed the weapon switch and sighed: she’d worked with Papa D long enough to know where he drew his lines. As long as the narcojet held the dogs back, she’d hold her fire, but their lives came before the animals’.

Papa D moved forward slightly knowing SunDog’s opinion on the matter.

Gypsy concentrated on the faint hum as the drone grew closer. From the sound of it, it wasn’t a gun drone... but the sort that was designed to deliver a chemical load. That meant he had to take it out long before it had a chance to release its cargo.

*** *** ***

Jules was concentrating on the communications between his teammates but continued to s other frequencies in the hopes of intercepting something. The equipment locked briefly on a signal then started to scan again.

He froze, then forced the scanner back manually. The communications weren’t human, but mechanical: instructions to a drone. Quickly he compared the signal against Trackers and verified it wasn’t one of his. It wasn’t.

With a smile he overrode the instructions, giving the drone new orders- trace its signal back to origination and perform its assigned duties upon reaching its source. That done, the then switched the drone’s frequency, effectively locking out its owner.

He took a quick look at Duck and the security screens, verified that they were still safe. Then he went back to monitoring the combat. He had to be ready to co-ordinate their attacks if necessary.

*** *** ***

Papa D let out his breath slowly as the dogs moved in on them. He could hear their baying as they called to each other. He could feel their excitement as they broke cover and moved in on their quarry. The first two were felled by the narcojet. This seemed to startle the third, but the fourth continued, intent on its job.

It bore down on the nearest target, Gypsy. Papa D gave Sundog a signal as he concentrated on the third dog. He could here the silenced shot from her pistol, and the surprised yelp from her target. He closed his eyes for a moment and then moved towards the third dog.

The third dog looked at him, unsure what had happened with its companions and gave a slight tail wag.

“Easy boy...” he called to it softly. “Easy...nobody’s going to hurt you...”

SunDog’s eyes widened as she heard Papa Dan call soothingly to the dog. “Papa?”

“Easy baby... “ he continued to call. “Atta boy...”

SunDog shook her head. The dog, not much more than a pup, had laid down in front of Papa D and was looking at him expectantly; its tail wagging.

*** *** ***

Gypsy’s eyes widened as he realized that the Drone had changed its course and was heading back the way it had come. Once he was sure it was no longer a threat, and nothing had come to replace it, he took stock of his surroundings.

He was expecting more trouble, but found only silence. Even the dogs were quiet. Looking up he saw the reason why. Three dogs had been downed and Papa Dan was petting the fourth.

He looked at him in disbelief. “One day... you will tell me how you do that,” he commented as he shook his head. With a sigh, he nodded towards their target and began moving forward again.

Papa D grinned and headed out as well, the dog following at his heels.

*** *** ***

Tracker watched as the car below headed for the gate to the compound. It felt odd to be watching the car, knowing that his body was inside with Whisper and Big D. He could see several guns being aimed at them from inside one of the small outbuildings.

As he adjusted one of his drones to fly interference, he saw Whisper start throwing smoke grenades. When the guards opened fired on the car, Tracker opened fire with the drone, spraying the area with bullets. He saw four rifle barrels pull back into the building before he had the drone lob a concussion grenade into one of the windows.

The remote hovered there a moment longer, ready to deliver another grenade if necessary. He smiled mentally when it became evident that it would not be needed. Checking the output from the other drone, he saw three drones bearing down on the current one.

‘So, you want to play,’ he thought to himself as he prepared a little surprise for them.

*** *** ***

Big D aimed the car at the fence and gunned the engine letting out a battle cry as he bore down on the gate.

Whisper tensed as he realized that Big D had no intention of stopping. Almost reflexively he cast a protective barrier around the front of the car. There was no time for anything else. As they crashed the gates he could feel the bullets bouncing off his shielding- then nothing.

He looked over at the building where the shots had come from and saw smoke pouring out of the building. He looked back at Tracker and smiled. “Have ‘Jacker, will travel!” he quipped as he turned around and surveyed the area.

He gave Big D a slight hand signal and surveyed the area.

“Five more on the outside, in the long outbuilding” he announced after a quick scan of the area. “The rest are in the main building. That’s probably where the main fight is going to be.”

“They were probably expecting a more... subtle approach,” Big D commented as he drove towards the building Whisper had indicated.

*** *** ***

The General growled as the reports came in. The outside perimeter had been compromised with barely even a fight. He gave a private signal to his second in command. It was time to bring out his elite team. If they had to escape quickly, he wanted them nearby and ready to move.

His second nodded and gave the signal to his soldiers. When he got the response he nodded. “They’re moving in,” he confirmed. “What about the Technician?”

The General spared a look in his direction. The technician lay there, decked into the matrix helping to defend the computer system.

“Has the transfer been completed?” he asked.

His second in command checked the status screen for the transfer and nodded. “Files have been sent,” he confirmed.

The General thought about this a moment. “Hold off with him, if need be, we’ll pull him out when the time comes.

The second nodded and checked the monitor. He could see the constructs that represented their team of deckers as they protected the system from intrusion.

The General smiled. “Keep an eye on them... let me know if anything changes.”

*** *** ***

BlackCat tensed slightly as she saw the mayhem beginning down below. For a moment she had lost sight of Tskalleh-ch, but then she saw the mantid moving in on the base.

‘No,’ she thought urgently. ‘You must wait!’

‘Waited... long enough,’ was the bug’s response. ‘I call my sisters to the battle... underground, they will go... underground– they will die. Warn your hive-mates. If they go below– they too will die!’

Cat drew a sharp breath as she received the warning. She knew that Tskalleh-ch was serious, it was not in the bug spirit’s nature to make idle threats. With a slight wish of ‘good luck,’ she turned and forced herself back to the physical world.

Tskalleh-ch turned slightly and looked at Duke. ‘Good luck?’ she asked.

Duke nodded. ‘It is their way of wishing you– good hunting.’ He answered.

Tskalleh-ch nodded and then faded from sight. ‘Good hunting...’ her thoughts echoed slightly then faded.

Duke shook his head as his consciousness returned to his body. It felt odd to be alone with his own thoughts – and yet, he could feel Tskalleh-ch’s presence even as she began her own ‘hunting expedition’.

Cat was watching him as he came to. “Lets move,” she urged. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

*** *** ***

Duck felt her way through the system, remaining invisible to the casual observer. She could detect a turtle in the security system, monitoring their team’s progress. With a slight smile, she prepared for her first attack.

She looked at her diagnostics and nodded to herself: they were still using her library, and that made them vulnerable to her insertion routines. ‘This is why you roll your own routines boys and girls,’ she thought to herself as she loaded ‘Hurl’ and picked her target.

With the turtle watching she knew it was important to make it look good and that meant going for the Technician first.

*** *** ***

The Technician felt his pulse rate increasing as a wave of nausea washed over him. ‘What now?’ he wondered as the Matrix seemed to spin around him. As he tried to overcome the vertigo, another part of his brain was analyzing the feedback from his deck. According to his monitors he was fine.

He took a step back from the problem and realized it was not his body that was causing the problem. The problem had been inserted into his construct, and it was feeding him the twisted images it now perceived.

‘Duck,’ he thought to himself, although he was unsure why she was attacking him first. ‘Doesn’t she know I’m on her side?’

It took him a moment to notice he was being watched and then he realized that not only did she know, but that was why she had singled him out to receive this attack. It gave all the appearances of an attack, but left no permanent damage– at least he hoped that was her plan.

*** *** ***

Duck turned her attention to the other five deckers as they became aware of her. Their images floated around her, as they pulled out their assault programs. Out of the five of them, only one was not using one of the default routines she’d helped supply.

She knew it probably wasn’t the time to play with them, but as they attacked, she couldn’t help herself. Images of Godzilla, Wolfman, The Shadow, Terminator and a Teddy Bear shifted becoming clowns. The cannon that had been aimed at her, fired: its cannon-ball becoming a banner that read ‘Bang.’

Her attackers were not amused. Despite her changes the clowns’ anger came through as they prepared a barrage of what transmuted into seltzer water and cream pies.

With a tilt of her head, Duck ‘upgraded’ their libraries, rendering them immobile. Then she inserted the code for ‘Oblivion.’ To the outside world, they’d gone flat-line; each system registering failure.

If someone were to jack them out, they’d be fine, but– since their systems indicated they were brain dead, there was no reason.

‘Class will resume after nap time,’ she told herself as she surveyed the damage.

Once she’d verified their status she set to work on controlling their security system and perimeter defenses.

*** *** ***

Jules was concentrating on their progress when Duck flashed the lights for his attention. He quickly turned around and smiled at the vision that greeted him. On Duck’s monitor were the visuals from the security system’s cameras: he now had visual.

With the views of not only the team, but their would be attackers as well, Jules began co-ordinating the attacks in earnest.

*** *** ***

Tracker watched intently as the three drones began a circling approach to his own. Who ever was controlling them was good. Text book good at the very least, but this was the field and he hadn’t survived as long as he had by staying with the book.

Instead of waiting where it was semi defended, Tracker activated the drone’s drive unit, sending it careening towards the other drones. He was switching his concentration between the high surveillance display and output from the attacking drone.

He could feel the change as the attacking drones were switched to auto. That was what he was hoping the rigger would do. He began maneuvering the drone with slight course changes. The others continued to home in on it.

With a smile he began herding the drones closer and closer together. The key now was getting them into position without getting close enough that they opened fire. He continued the subtle moves with the attacking drone, using the visuals from the surveillance drone. Once they were in position, he began a run at them, not from the attacking drone, but from the surveillance unit directly above them.

He rode it all the way down until it was on top off them, pulling out a second before impact. He smiled as he activated the drone’s explosives and the three drones disappeared in a ball of fire.

He quickly switched his attention to the original drone and began scanning the area. Only one drone remained moving, and it was headed for the last outbuilding.

*** *** ***

Jules took stock of the situation. The perimeter was pretty much secure, or would be once the reprogrammed drone finished its assigned duties. That left the main building and its inhabitants.

As near as he could tell there were around forty to forty-five people still in the building. Of those six were incapacitated deckers and maybe a dozen medical staff who were being herded towards a man who could only be ‘The General’ he’d heard so much about.

As he relayed the information to Papa D, he could hear some of the warehouses defenses activate.

“Jules,” he heard Papa D call. Even over the comm-unit he could sense his commander’s concern.

“Probably just some rats,” he muttered as he looked at the security monitors. “Big rats,” he added when he saw the seven men in dark suits converging on the warehouse.

“Get out of there,” Papa D growled, knowing that it would be ignored.

“Soon,” Jules promised. “But for now, you’ve got to deal with the people inside the building. Duck’s got their security system wrapped up, and there’s not going to be a better time to hit them.

He could hear the hard exhale as his commander weighed his options. “Call in WEJ and Tonk... make sure they get some observers from Zyrebein.”

Jules nodded. “You got it boss.”

He could hear the pause as Papa Dan tried to phrase the next order. “I...”

“Ain’t going anywhere boss,” Jules piped in. “So save your breath for the General.”

*** *** ***

Papa D shook his head in disbelief. Part of him wanted to lay into Jules for his insubordination, but this was neither the time, nor what he really wanted. Jules was exactly what he’d wanted when he’d tapped him for the team– dedicated.

He looked down at the dog for a moment and sighed. “If I told you to stay, would you listen?” he asked softly. The dog looked at him, wagged its tail and continued to follow him. “I thought so...”

With a nod he signaled Gypsy and SunDog. “Duck’s got the security system in hand. Jules says now’s the time to hit the main building.”

Gypsy nodded. “Then, lets not keep the man waiting...”

*** *** ***

Tonka looked up as WEJ tensed every so slightly. They’d been watching the folks from Zyrebien for almost eighteen hours when they’d received the signal from Jules. It had taken them almost another ten minutes to let their guard ‘slip’ enough that someone at Zyrebien had noticed them at all. From the looks of things, they’d finally been noticed.

"We seem to have drawn attention to ourselves," Wej quipped with a slight smile.

"Imagine that," Tonka answered evenly. "Guess we better 'run away', did they say when they wanted us to arrive with our... friends?"

"According to Jules we want to make sure they know that its destroyed. Other than that, all bets are off."

Tonka nodded once. "Alright then... lets go play."

"Lets," WEJ agreed, his smile taking on a dangerous tone.

*** *** ***

Little D scanned the area as the message came in, then looked at Vermin. “Looks like we’re on... you want to round up your people.?”

Vermin nodded and started to move forward when he saw Cat and Duke heading towards them.

“Tell them to stay above ground,” Cat stated evenly. “If the General goes underground, do not follow him.”

“What’s he got below?” Little D asked worriedly as he relayed the message.

“Trouble,” Cat answered, her eyes widening slightly. “Big trouble.”

*** *** ***

Tracker watched with fascination as the drone moved in on the out-building. As he scanned the area he could ‘hear’ transmission from the building. They were aimed at the drone, but the drone was not responding. He watched it for a moment longer and then activated his comm-link.

“Misbehaving drone,” he commented to Jules. “You?”

“A-firm,” Jules responded. “Keep your team clear... I think it will take care of our playmates in the block house.”

“Copy,” Tracker answered then withdrew from the drone’s control system.

Big D was steering towards the building when he let out a slight groan.

“Welcome back,” Whisper told him in a social tone. “Nice nap?”

Tracker attempted to glare at him, but all he managed was a slight wide eyed glance.

“Drone bearing down on target... stay clear...” he managed to state.

As he looked up, Big D was already banking hard away from the building. He turned and watched from the rear window as the drone reached its mark and released a liquid fireball on the building.

Wherever its load touched, fire erupted. It spread mindlessly as it consumed the entire building. His eyes widened as he realized that could have been any one of them.

“Bad time to be a marshmallow,” Whisper quipped from the front seat.

“Ain’t over yet,” Big D reminded him as he concentrated on the main building. “Others should be here shortly.”

*** *** ***

The General tensed as the reports came in. He knew it was only a matter of time now before their position was over run. “It’s time,” he told his second in a very low voice. “Get the medical team out. We’ll follow.”

After the orders were relayed his second turned back to him waiting expectantly. The General stared at the screen a little longer.

“Shame...” he sighed as he looked at the Technician’s faded construct. “We could have used him.”

An explosion outside the window convinced him it was time. He turned and headed for the tunnels, his second in command on his heals. He was in a shocked sort of disbelief. His men should have been able to defeat what remained of BlackPaw, even with a few members of Voodoo thrown in. They’d already been defeated and demoralized, and yet, here they were, retreating from their onslaught. Still, victory would be his, once clear of the complex, he would activate the explosives and be rid of them once and for all.

He looked back one last time as he caught up with the last of his elite officers. The man turned and handed him the black box.

“Sir, the research team is already in the tunnels,” he informed the General as he opened the vault door slightly wider.

The General nodded and headed through the door, concentrating on the tunnel at the other end of the vault. Then the screaming started.

Inhuman screaming that seemed to echo through the tunnels and into the vault itself vibrated in his head. He was about to send several of his men to investigate when he heard the gasped message over the comm-link. ‘Bugs.’

His heart began pounding as the screaming was replaced with an odd rasping noise. His eyes widened as he pushed his men back outside the vault. “Close the door!” he yelled at them.

When his men hesitated, he screamed. “Get this damn door closed before they kill us all!!!”

They moved in chilled silence, sealing the door a moment before something impacted with it. The General looked around for another escape route, but the only other path that was open to them was back the way they’d come.

‘So close...’ he told himself as he picked up the device. ‘We were so close.’

Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Twenty-seven
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