Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Twenty-eight

Tracker’s senses were alive as he passed through the system seeking out every possible threat. Once he was sure the system was secure, he split his concentration between the building’s security feeds and those from his own remote. His prime concern was the General and his men, but he couldn’t afford to let his guard down.

They’d come too far to lose now and he was not going to be the cause if they did. So far no one from the outside seemed to notice what had happened at the base and that was fine with him. But if anybody did notice, he wanted to be the first to know.

As he watched the General make his way through the tunnels, Tracker compared his progress to the maps provided by the security system and tried to anticipate his moves. He could sense the Technician nearby doing the same thing.

As he watched he felt the signal from his remote. Someone was coming into the complex. Immediately he was concentrating on the main road into the complex as a car made its way through the gate.

He allowed himself a relieved smile as he signaled Papa Dan that WEJ and Tonka had arrived. Then it was back to watching the General. There were still too many things that could go wrong. He looked over at the Technician as he tried to anticipate the General’s moves.

They both knew there was still too much that could happen.

*** *** ***

Tatonka breathed a sigh of relief as the complex came into sight. He could see smoke pouring from the remains of the longer of the outbuildings, but from the looks of things the fighting was indeed over and his team was safe. Looking up, he waved to Tracker’s remote as is maintained its surveillance of the area.

WEJ shook his head as he surveyed the area and nodded towards the main building. “They’ll be in there,” he commented.

The security men from Zyrebein studied them from the back seat. “Are you going to tell us what this is about?” one of them finally asked.

WEJ answered him with a wide grin. “The end of a nightmare.”

The man shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you do,” WEJ countered as he gave the man a menacing look. “You, your people have been playing with fire, we’re just here to pull the plug on it.”

Again the man shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“A deadly little box named Arora,” WEJ answered, then nodded when he saw the man’s eyes widen. “Yeah, your prize has taken its last victim.”

The man shook his head. “No, you don’t know what you’re throwing away!”

WEJ’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “No? How about something that’s cost us two teammates? Two friends?”

The man shook his head. “No... all subjects were willing...”

“Maybe yours were, but the people who stole it: their subjects were anything but willing,” WEJ shook his head. “It’s destroyed every life it’s touched, and it ends here and now -- and you’re going to let your bosses know what you see here today.”

The man sat back in his seat, scowling at Tonka and WEJ, still convinced they were mad.

*** *** ***

Papa Dan watched Tracker’s screen as he followed the General and his men through the basement. Now that he knew what the man was running from, he almost felt sorry for them, but shadows of HeartBreaker and Silly Wizard seemed to float in front of him on the screen. ‘No,’ he told himself. ‘They deserve no mercy...’

He forced himself to concentrate on the General. If he was willing to surrender, he would have to accept. He thought about that and shook his head. He found himself hoping the General would not take that option. As he fought with his conscience, the dog gave a soft questioning ‘woof’ and rested his head on Papa Dan’s lap.

Papa D looked down at the dog and smiled. “I know boy,” he sighed as he patted the dog. “I know.”

He turned his attention back to the screen knowing that the General still had something up his sleeves. The dog seemed to watch with him, a slight growl building up in his throat as the General made his way through the maze of corridors.

As they watched, Tonka and WEJ entered. Their guns were trained on two more men. “The gentlemen from Zyrebien are here to see you sir,” WEJ announced.

Papa Dan looked up from the screen and nodded. “Bring ‘em over here,” he answered nodding towards two empty chairs.

“Glad you gentlemen could make it,” he said as they sat down.

“We have been kidnaped,” one of them growled. “If we are not released immediately...”

Papa Dan looked at him, his eyes cold. “Give it a rest, you know as well as I do that you were trying to kill my boys for no reason other than the fact that they were watching you. For now gentlemen, just sit back and relax... The show’s about to begin.”

*** *** ***

The General looked behind them again as they moved past another fire door and closed it behind them. Two of his men went to work sealing the door as the others spread out defensively. They all knew that down the hall was the door to another series of rooms that ultimately led to a stairwell, and their last hope of escape. If they could lock the doors behind him, there was a chance they’d buy enough time to get away from the intruders. There was not other choice really.

Somewhere in the dimly lit corridors of the basement, he knew the enemy was closing in on him. Every one with him was tense: they could feel it too. As the two finished sealing the door they rejoined the group and to enter the first of seven rooms that would hopefully take them to safety.

On the General’s signal, they moved into a protective circle, one half watching their backs while the other half prepared to deal with whatever was on the other side of the door. The General nodded to one of his men who moved forward and reached for the handle. As he touched it, there was a resounding ‘click’ as the door’s locking mechanism was activated.

The General gave a startled look around and noticed the camera pointed at the door. He moved towards it, noticing how it remained focused on him.

“They’re in the security system,” he growled as he drew a bead on the camera. He knew it would do very little to stop whoever was watching them, but it gave him some satisfaction as he knocked the camera off its moorings.

He signaled his men. “Get us in there now!” he ordered. “Be sure and leave us something we can close behind us though. Those bugs are still behind us.”

They all shuddered as a strange clicking sound echoed down the hallway. No one needed a second reminder. As two of his men went to work on the lock, the others arrayed themselves around the doorway. It was going to be close.

The General forced himself to breathe evenly as his men worked on deactivating the locks. He could hear their attackers as they moved closer: a steady series of clicking noises echoed through the corridors. He shuddered. More than anything in this world, he hated bugs.

*** *** ***

Tracker flinched slightly as the slug hit the camera. He allowed himself a slight smile as he looked for alternative methods of spying on the General and his men.

He felt something akin to satisfaction, knowing that he’d managed to crack the General’s calm exterior. ‘How does it feel knowing you’re going to die?’ he asked the image on the screen. ‘This is what you put Daniel and Yala through... ‘

As the General’s men tried to break into the room, Tracker was already scanning the blueprints. In no time, he knew that the room, a series of rooms actually, led to an isolated staircase that would ultimately allow the General and his men to escape if they succeeded in making it that far. He displayed that section of blueprints to the screen, knowing that Papa Dan would take appropriate action.

Once he was sure Papa Dan had received the message, he continued monitoring activity in the area.

*** *** ***

The General tensed as he heard the first of their attackers impact with the fire doors. “Move it,” he growled.

The men who were working on the door needed no further encouragement. The General watched as they worked to override the electronic lock, but something was fighting them, struggling to keep the door locked against their best efforts.

The hallway echoed as something began ramming the fire doors. For the first time, the General began to wonder if he would get out of this nightmare alive. He looked back at his men, his elite guard. He realized now that they were more important than the device. He smiled coldly. If they wanted the device, he’d use it to bargain with these people but he vowed he would make them pay for it.

He turned as one of the men gave a relieved sigh. “We’re in,” he informed the General.

The General nodded noticing the beads of sweat on the man’s brow. They were good all right, but his men were better, and he still held the trump card. He waited as his men filed in and then joined them.

As the door closed behind him, he looked around for the surveillance camera. When he found it he walked over to it and held the device out in front of him.

“Can you hear me?” He demanded. “Anything happens to us... I will personally see to it that this device is destroyed.”

He smiled threateningly at the camera, knowing full well that the device was what this whole thing was about. He knew he was right, and he knew that they would do anything to take it from him.

He didn’t realize just how right-- and just how wrong he really was until he received a response over the building’s PA system.

“That, my dear General, is what this whole exercise is about.”

The General stared at the camera as the words sank in. They were indeed here for the device, but not the way he’d expected.

“Are you mad?” He demanded. “Do you know what you’re throwing away?”

He could almost hear the chuckle in the voice. “A piece of garbage– a broken toy that kills– just tell me when I’m getting warm...”

The General’s eyes blazed as he once again started to aim his weapon at the camera. He was about to shoot when he heard the blood chilling sound of chitinous armor as it struck metal. He could hear them now, the insects as they tried to break through the door. He looked around the room and saw his men were already working on the next look. Then he heard it: a distinctive clicking noise coming from above.

“The air ducts!” He screamed as the duct work collapsed and they were overrun from above.

*** *** ***

Papa Dan watched with a sense of vertigo as the camera came crashing to the ground. As the dust cleared, he could hear gunfire echoing through the basement, then silence. He let his breath out slowly, knowing that there was nothing they could do for the General or his men.

The dog wormed his way under Papa Dan’s hand and let out a soft whine.

“Easy boy,” he whispered as Tracker manipulated the cameras until he’d found the box with the device.

It lay in the middle of the room, vapors trailing from the box as acid ate through first the box and then the device itself. He watched as Tracker zoomed in on the remains of the box. The device was no more.

He looked at the screen one more time and bowed his head with relief. It was over.

*** *** ***

From the warehouse, the agency team watched the proceedings from Jules’ monitors. Agent Burnhill smiled as he pulled out his phone and reported in.

“The General has been neutralized,” he reported. There was a pause as he listened to the voice on the other end, then shook his head.

“No sir, the device has been destroyed.” Again he paused, a slight smile crossing his face. “Yes sir, right away.”

As he put his phone away he looked at his men. “We report back to base.”

“But sir,” Agent Saunders objected. “What about the targets?”

“We’ll have them soon enough,” he assured his partner. “Our work here is done.”

As the men filed out Burnhill took one more look at the screen and smiled. Now they had exactly what they wanted: The General and his device were out of the picture and as far as anyone was concerned the matter had been dealt with. ‘Perfect,’ he thought to himself as he moved towards the door. ‘Absolutely perfect.’

From a secure room in the steam tunnels, Jules watched as the agents filed out of the warehouse. He noticed the way the lead agent studied the screen. Something in the man’s eyes worried Jules deeply.

*** *** ***

Papa Dan smiled as he read the last of the reports and closed the file. He looked up at the base commanding officer and nodded.

“That’s pretty much how it happened,” he agreed.

The commander nodded. “I am recommending that your team be given an extended absence of leave. Also, following your recommendation, the surviving members of the General’s team have been reassigned, pending the results of a military tribunal.”

“Thank you sir,” Papa Dan stated evenly. “I don’t think they realized the full extent of the General’s activities.”

The commander nodded. “Still, they should have noticed something was amiss.”

Papa Dan nodded in agreement. “If that is all then sir, I’d like to get back to my people.”

The commander nodded. “Of course Captain Ruis, you are dismissed.”

Papa Dan stood and saluted. “Thank you sir.”

*** *** ***

Sundog smiled as she surveyed the makeshift party at O’Donnel’s. The D’s were already attacking the buffet and she knew that if she wanted anything to eat, she’d better get over there.

She looked over at her companions and shook her head. She’d grown more than a little tired of Tonk and WEJ’s discussion about the circumstances around her supposed death and was beginning to wish they’d both give it up.

Neither of them seemed inclined to agree with her on the matter though. With a sigh she walked over to the buffet line and watched as Big D and Little D seemed to be in competition for who could put the most on their plate.

“Guys, there are other people here,” she quipped as they continued to pile the food up on their plates.

Little D turned and smiled at her. “Hey, we’re just growing boys,” he objected innocently.

“Far be it from me to stunt your growth,” Sundog sighed, shaking her head.

Big D smiled at that. “Yeah, he’s got a lot of catching up to do.”

She chuckled as the two of them finished and headed over to a table. She was about to pick up a plate when BlackCat called over to the retreating duo.

“Hey, guys, you missed some of the broccoli,” she teased.

The D’s merely smiled in response.

Sundog sighed as she picked up a plate and looked morosely at the decimated buffet table. “Well,” she commented. “It was a nice spread.”

“Don’t worry,” Cat assured her. “Tony’ll restock.”

Sundog smiled as she looked around. “Where’s Duck anyway?”

Cat sighed. “She’s still being debriefed.”

“But– I thought that your people had finished their investigation,” Sundog countered.

Cat nodded sadly. “When she signed up she used an assumed name. Technically she’s still a civilian and therefore she came under the Agency’s side of the investigation.”

Sundog nodded sympathetically. “I’m sure she’ll be back soon. And they’d be fools not to reinstate her, assumed name or not.”

Cat nodded. “Have to agree with you on that one. Lord knows Gypsy’ll agree. If it hadn’t been for her he never would have made it out of France.”

Sundog nodded then stopped. “Wait a minute,” she gasped, her eyes widening slightly. “France, Zyerbien right?”

Cat nodded. “The Agency sent them there to pick something up.”

Sundog nodded. “Come with me,” she urged as she moved over to the hostess station and pulled up a calendar. “When were they in France?”

Cat looked at the calendar. “Almost three weeks ago now, why?”

Sundog stared at the calendar. “That’s the same time they had Heartbreaker and me on a cruise ship to pick up ... the device...”

Her voice trailed off as she looked at Cat as she scanned the official reports and cross referenced the dates. “But according to this, the General already had the device and had made several attempts to implant it...”

Cat gasped. “Then...”

“Zyerbein had another prototype...” Sundog agreed.

The Agency most likely has the second prototype...”

“And they have Duck..”

The two women stared at each other for a moment then nodded.

“Papa D!” Sundog called urgently as Cat called, “TOM!” in the same tone.

“We’ve got a problem!”

*** *** ***

Duke groaned as another jolt of electricity surged through his body. For three days it had been the same story. At first the questions had been pleasant enough, carefully worded, but when the answers were slow in coming, the methods had changed.

He could barely feel Tskallleh-ch’s presence in his mind now and he knew neither of them could take much more.

The only other person he’d seen had been Duck, but again, something told him she was not being questioned. The way they’d escorted her through the interrogation area he knew they had other plans for her. Then he’d seen it– the device.

It was different from the last one, sleeker, but he could sense the underlaying technology. Tskallleh-ch could sense the chip within. Someone had made another one and the madness had continued. Now it would claim its final victim.

He tried to contact the hive, but without Tskallleh-ch’s help there was nothing he could do. And so he endured the surges, refusing to give them anything that would help with the madness.

*** *** ***

Tracker looked across the table at the Technician as they set up their equipment. They’d been ready to put this whole mess behind them, but now it once again threatened to plunge them all into a new nightmare. Once again they were up against the clock and this time it was Duck’s life that was at stake.

Tracker gave the Technician a nod as he prepared to jack in. “You check the impounded equipment. According to the General’s notes, they need an isolation tank. They’re also going to need medical facilities...”

The Technician nodded as his finger hovered over the activation switch. “Luck,” he wished.

Tracker nodded. They were going to need it.

*** *** ***

Copyright 1999 M.T. Decker

Chapter Twenty-nine
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