To Save a Child - the RP


Thomas Gillian was a desperate man. He had lost the most important thing in his life, his son Darren. After a week of being stonewalled by Lone Star, he had decided to take a different route. He has sought the aid of three people in the hopes of finding son. Three people from three very different walks of life, but all willing to help in his quest of finding his son.

What follows is the journal of their mission, from their first meeting on.

Here is where trust is tested and alliances are drawn...

Gantroc (Keeper of the Chronicles)

Sticks and his employer traveled further into downtown Seattle, the taxi's motor rumbling forward to their meeting at the Bass Line. Gillian had wanted to take his Saab to the meeting with Jess, but Sticks thought it better to be as low profile as possible. The older man's car stuck out like an old style neon sign.

The Bass Line wasn't anything Sticks was expecting. It's sign promised the "closest experience to true jazz this side of 2000." When the two entered, the feel of the music coming from a trio on stage seeped into the bone. The music was pleasant, mixing a fast tempo with a slow melody provided by the trumpet player.

Gillian began bobbing his head to the music, "It soothes the soul," he muttered more to himself than to anybody. He turned to Sticks. The Filipino seemed a bit out of place, as if he was afraid of gaining too much attention.

"Don't worry, this place is known for accepting everyone. It's all about music appreciation."

The older man lead Sticks towards a clearer area, "What table should we pick?"

True to form, Sticks looked for one of the tables against the wall. When a couple got up from a small table in the farthest corner, the Escrimador made a bee line towards the position before the bus boy had a chance to remove the previous occupant's tableware.

"Uhhh...Sticks?' Gillian said trailing in the teenager's wake. A little embarrassed by the younger

man's focused and uncool directness, the accountant reluctantly hustled along, only to stand waiting for someone to come clear the glasses.

"Sit down, Tom." Sticks said simply.

"But the....the table hasn't been cleared yet" Gillian said as though club-goer's etiquette was as obvious and natural as breathing. Standing quickly, Sticks gathered the corners of the table cloth and making a bundle of everything the previous couple had left by tying the corners together, carried it over to a waiter's station and deposited the bundle under a tray holder. Returning to the corner table, he changed the arrangement of chairs so the he was sitting with his back to the


"Uhm....Sticks, don't you think it will be difficult for Jess to find us tucked way back here with you being the only one facing the door?"

"If your other employee cannot find you in this club, she will not be able to help me find your son." Sticks replied. Forced to agree with the teenager's logic, Gillian nodded and tried to lose himself in the music.

As Jess approached the table she was reminded of the tension she had felt on the way over. This time however, the tension took the form of a Filipino man. He practically bristled at her approach.

This was not what she had expected, but at least she have learned not too expect too much, or more to the point, expect just about anything. The last thing she wanted to do was fight. That wasn't why she had come. Jess gave the young man one of her 'I'm not here for trouble smiles' and nodded.

When he acknowledged her gesture, she turned towards Mr. Gillian. "Sir," she said quietly. "I'm Jess."

"Yes, yes, of course, Jess," the accountant responded, "please sit down. This is Sticks. He's another person whom I've hired for the....uhm, investigation. I thought you I'd introduce the two of you and then we'd get the last member of the group. Unfortunately, Tal, the...uhm, elf magic user I told you about, is....uh, unavailable at the moment....."

Trailing off at the grimace on the Escrimador's face, Gillian watched the solemnity with which Sticks stood and greeted Jess. She seems to have many tools, Sticks thought as he noticed Jess' heavy gear bag and the equipment secured to her belt. This is good. She is prepared for many challenges. Perhaps Senor Gillian has found a professional to help me find his son. Looking at

the woman open countenance as he shook her extended hand, Sticks thought, She has the look of Madame Maria, the gypsy. A face which says "trust me, I am listening". If she has skill with it, perhaps she could talk with the sec man, Dan. He would certainly trust her before he would open up with me. There will be others she can talk to also, if her mind is sharp. When the two were seated Sticks asked "Does this magic man not understand the seriousness of what we do?

Does he not see that we must move quickly before the trail grows cold?"

Jess ignored the Escrimidor's scrutiny Jess focused on Mr. Gillian, her prospective employer. There were still too many things they hadn't discussed.

"There are some things I need to ask you sir. Some of the information I was given doesn't jive. If you don't mind, I'd like you to tell the whole story, in your own words..." Jess stated as she kept her tone soft and encouraging. There was a time for playing things hard, this was not it. Especially not with his companion, Sticks. From the sound of things this was more than a job to the man, which could prove dangerous under the wrong circumstances.

She smiled encouragingly. The man was obviously upset, as well he should be, but the stuttering could also be nerves. "I understand what it means when someone you care about disappears, but sometimes, even the smallest thing, something seemingly unrelated, may be helpful."

Jess took a deep breath. She did not like opening up those wounds, but again, they were against a clock and she needed the full story.

"I've told you everything I know," He complained. "What doesn't jive?"

"I checked missing persons this morning," she told him gently. "They never received a report on your son." She hated being this blunt, but she had to know.

"No report?" the man all but yelled. "I don't know what... " he sat back down, a stunned look on his face. He looked at her and shook his head. "I have no idea why they wouldn't... " He trailed off again as he looked around. "Sticks will fill you in on what's happened. With that he looked at Jess and shook his head then headed to the bar.

Jess let her breath out slowly as Gillian left the table. She could feel his anguish, that at least was genuine. She looked at Sticks expectantly. It wasn't unthinkable that Lone Star would bury the report, but what did they have to gain? She'd come here hoping for answers. Now all she had was more questions.

"I'd appreciate it if you could fill me in," she stated quietly as her mind raced. She wasn't sure how long a 'magic' trail would last, but something told her a week was asking a bit much.

"The man has much pain, but it is from his guilt over too much work and not enough family." Sticks said without preamble. "He knows little of this matter and each time he says what he knows it is another blow to his heart that he cannot make the world make sense. You know he is an accountant with Lankersham & Donovan? I think his world had much order and now has much chaos."

"I know amazingly little," Jess told him. "Please tell me everything you know, assume I know nothing."

After composing his thoughts, Sticks said, "I asked Senor Gillian and his wife to write down everything they remember from the investigation and what the star told them. While you read I shall make a few calls. Then we will talk of the other things I noticed in their home."

Jess nodded appreciatively as she opened the notes, lined them up and started reading them. 'Good,' she thought to herself. 'He got them to write it down.'

As Jess was going over the pages, Sticks got on the flip phone. "Thomas? Sticks...............Tu Madre, Cabron! He paid you well........As if anyone cares what you look like............Listen Omae, this biz needs some study. Put the word out. I'm scanning buzz on snatches in Tacland......right......creds for data. PAYDATA, clear? Oh, an give Kassie a sniff that creds

are available. I'll check back....... Later, mano."

Quickly dialing another number, Sticks said "A las Diez y media, por favor, Senor." and disconnected. He then put away the phone and waited for Jess to complete her reading. Noticing that she had both parent's notes side by side he thought approvingly Ah. This is smart. She has not met the Senora but she checks one version against the other to arrive at an opinion. Good. Perhaps she will be clever enough to spot what I do not.

As she read through the notes the second time, Jess started making notes of her own.

Lankersham & Donovan {Tomas/Kassie... A las diez y media please sir.} Lt. Backwaller - Last Conversation, first sign of problems, brush off First investigator, elf, Danrik, promised mage en route. never showed. Duty Srg. - Says they have all they need...sounded like a script... Mrs. Gillian's detailed notes...

"Okay, what do you know about Mr. and Mrs. Gillian. Friends, family, anything about Darren?" Jess asked as she tried to piece together the information and get a full picture of what was going on.

"The boy loves soccer. He is noted for his drawing on the computer and on paper and is fascinated with Dinosaurs." Sticks replied. "He was taken from his bedroom while his mother was downstairs. She sent him up, went to check and found him gone. All within 20 minutes."

Reaching into his pocket, Sticks produced some of Darren's drawings. "These were hidden where a seven year old would think they were safe. All involve some sort of flying Dinosaur. The family has money. Penthouse in Tacoma. The child could have been taken out of a skylight or out the front door. Nothing has been forced. Security man is named Dan. Tall, well dressed ork. Has saved Senor Gillian in some past trouble and is serious enough about his work that he acts as

doorman. He has an accent I have not heard before. I have not spoken with him as.....we are.....from opposing teams. Perhaps you can put him at ease and get paydata talking to him."

"Senora Gillian is attractive, blonde, younger then her husband. Named Sahara. She has fire but will take what help she can get. There has been no magic tracing of the boy and I lack the skill to do more with his computer then turn it on. It is central to the child's room though, which may make for a clue there. Again, perhaps you have expertise there?"

"I can probably help with the computer." Jess responded while writing.

When Jess looked up from her notes, Sticks signaled her to put down the pen and quietly said, "I am not trained in this and much of what our employer does seems foolish to me, but I have taken money and sworn an oath. I must follow this wherever it leads. I have called some people I know. One will start working the street and the other I must meet in a short while to see what he may know. Although you would not think it to look at me, I am the muscle." A hint of a smile played

with the corner's of the Escrimador's mouth as he signaled that it was Jess' turn.

Jess looked up at Sticks and nodded with a slight smile. "I still have some questions, but I guess those should wait. You've told me quite a bit, about the case, and about yourself, and I can assume, all you know about me is that I showed up..."

She paused for a moment as she looked around the room, then back at Sticks. "First off, Mr. Gillian is only a perspective employer to me..." She studied stick's reaction carefully as she finished her sentence. "The only information I have to go on is the file he sent, and what you've told me. I've done a preliminary check on the information, that's how I knew about the

report, or more to the point, the lack of report filed with missing persons."

"That was part of why I came here tonight," she stated. "I had to find out whether he was on the level or not. You say you have little experience in this, maybe I have too much, I don't know."

Jess thought about how much she should tell Sticks, and how much she really could tell him. She bit her lip for a moment and then nodded.

"A friend of mine seems to be acting as go-between on this. He recommended me I can only guess because I do have some experience with missing persons cases. He knows that if I take this assignment, I will do everything I can to get the boy back."

She took a long look at Mr. Gillian and thought about his reactions. They seemed true enough. She smiled as she carefully phrased her next sentence. "He knows that whether I take the assignment or not, I will do everything I can to see that the boy is where he belongs."

Jess looked intently at Sticks for a moment then smiled openly. "Now, the big question. Everybody says its a kidnaping. Why? From what I've heard, there's been no mention of ransom, no signs of forced entry... Is it possible that Darren left of his own accord?"

"Possible, yes. Anything is possible. Because he left his precious things behind, because he did not take the small items that a child values with him, because there were no other signs that he planned to leave, and because he disappeared at a time when he would be missed....." the tilt of Jess' head seemed to request elaboration, so Sticks explained "I am seven and running away. I pack my treasures. I may even say goodbye or leave an explanation- a picture that says why I have to go. I certainly wait until everyone is asleep before I depart for fear my parents discover I am gone and catch me before I can get away."

"It is good to keep an open mind to possibilities but when I was in the child's room I didn't get the sense that he was unhappy or planning to leave. I don't think he could have rascalled the building's security by himself. I think he was taken."

While Jess jotted down some more notes, Sticks signaled Gillian back to the table. This has all been a waste of time if the accountant does not hire the woman. They must work out the costs before this goes any further.

As Sticks looked up, he noticed Gillian talking with an elfin gentleman. One that matched the older man's description earlier. With a quick motion of his hand, he made sure Jess was aware of the new arrival, for he was approaching...

He was slightly-built man dressed in loose- fitting, comfortable looking clothes of grays and blacks. His long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail; his eyes were bright green, as he moved, he scanned the area and taking everything in.

As he got closer, it became apparent that he was an elf, although he could have pass for a slim human with his ears covered up. He was handsome but not overly so, and he had an aura of serenity around him. He smiled slightly as he came up to the table; when he spoke, his voice was soft, musical, and Welsh-accented. "Good evening to you both. I understand we're to be professional associates."

"That's a distinct possibility," Jess stated with a smile as she looked over at Sticks and waited for his response.

When Sticks remained silent, Jess was surprised. It was the first time she had seen him hesitate. Covering quickly, she stood and offered her hand to Tal.

"I'm Jess," she stated as he shook her hand. "And this," she stated as she pointed towards Sticks. "Is Sticks."

Tal inclines his head gravely toward both of them as he shook each hand in turn. "I am Tal."

With that she offered the man a seat. "I don't know how much you know about, what's been going on. To be honest, we're trying to figure out how much we really know and figure out where to go from there..."

Tal settled gracefully down into the offered seat. "I confess that I've not yet done much in the way of investigation regarding our employer, so perhaps you might enlighten me a bit since it seems I've come late to this party." When he spoke, his eyes alternated between holding Jess' and Sticks' gazes, drawing them both into his full attention. His aura radiated quiet calm and confidence.

"Excuse me," Sticks said quietly, "Your accent.....I do not mean to embarrass you, but the security man for our employer's building has the same....rhythm, uh...the same.... I am sorry. I have not the words, but it is the same to my ear and before today I had never heard it before. Where is it from?"

"A long way from here, that's sure," Tal replied with a smile. "I'm from Great Britain--Wales to be exact...or as exact as I'm willing to get at this moment." The smile took the edge off the words.

"Oh." Sticks replied

It seemed that Tal and the others had just finished their introductions and fallen into an uneasy silence.

Gillian moved around the elf and slid into the booth next to Sticks and across from Jess. Pulling a credstick from inside his coat, he slid it across the table to Jess. "I do believe I owe you this, and my thanks." He rubbed his eyes a bit and took another deep breath, the alcohol rushing through his fragile nerves. "I appreciate the fact that all of you came to this meeting without fully knowing me. I just can't thank you enough."

He looked to Tal, and nodded. "I think introductions are in order..." After making sure everyone knew everyone else, Gillian sat back in the booth's seat and looked expectantly at the group...waiting for their questions...or just ready to listen as they discussed what to do next.

Jess sat woodenly staring at the credstick in disbelief. The insult she was feeling reflected in her eyes. "Sir, we need to talk in private," she stated, her voice trembled slightly as she tried to control herself.

"Gentlemen," she added as she looked at Sticks and Tal as she stood. She walked off to another table that had cleared, without waiting for Gillian, or touching the credstick.

Gillian looked dumbfounded, as Jess walked to another table and took a seat. Then sudden realization dawned on his face. Not even thinking about bringing the credstick, he scrambled out of his seat and followed the woman.

*** *** ***

Tal glanced surreptitiously at the credstick, trying to determine what caused Jess to take such offense at her payment. Shrugging, he looked across the table at Sticks. "Not an auspicious beginning to our partnership, I'd say."

Sticks said honestly, "I do not know the word auspicious." As Gillian moved to the table where Jess waited, he continued, "But I know when one has been insulted. Jess said she had not yet agreed to take the job. I think Senor Gillian has made a mistake." Both runners watched the conference being conducted just out of ear shot.

Tal smiled ruefully and sighed. "I was being sarcastic, actually. Auspicious means 'promising,' which that meeting decidedly appears not to be." He watched the body language of Jess and Gillian, trying to discern something about their conversation, then returned his attention to the table and took a sip of his ale.

"Mr. Gillian is out of his element. That's obvious. I took that into account when I spoke with him."

*** *** ***

As he approached the new table, he could feel the anger coming from Jess like heat shimmers on the horizon. "I think I know why you left." Gillian took a deep breath, trying to formulate the words.

Jess looked at him expectantly as he continued, this time he could see something more in her eyes. Hurt?

For some reason he wanted to make sure he set things right. "I should have discussed the terms of our agreement further with you. With the effort you've already put into checking my situation, I can tell that was a mistake on my part."

"Sit down," she requested evenly as she nodded towards the chair. As Gillian took his seat, Jess kicked herself for not keeping her temper under control, but she had to make sure they both understood each other on this.

Once he was seated Jess looked at him as she tried to gather her thoughts.

Gillian folded his hands in front of him, searching for words again. He looked to Jess for any sign of sympathy, then he forged ahead. "I'm sorry. I hope that my actions have not jeopardized my securing your services."

Jess held up her hand as she took a deep breath. "What you did was very insulting, on many levels. And the assumption, was only part of it," she told him with a forced calm.

Gillian looked at her expectantly as he tried to figure out what else he'd done wrong.

Jess took a deep breath. She kept her tone even, yet quiet enough that others couldn't hear their conversation. "You don't get it do you? Think about the way you paid me. In the open like that. Did you pay the others in the open? or did you pay them privately?"

Jess let him think about that before she continued. "If somebody saw you do that, what would they assume? A woman, three men, the woman being paid? If I'm lucky, they'll be too busy thinking about how to take it from me to worry about how I got it..."

Again she paused. "And that's not the end of it either. You've endangered yourself with that little faux pas."

Her tone softened a bit. "If you were hiring a bookkeeper, what would the process be... Check my references, interview, decide if I'm what you want. I in turn would do my homework, checking you out. If we are both agreeable, you would then tell me what my duties would involve. What you considered the scope of my employment. I then would tell you what I would expect from you as an employer. Then and only then would we worry about money. Instead, you pass me an

unspecified amount and I have no idea what you expect in return."

She let him think about it, then smiled.

"Tentatively, let's assume I'm working for you, unless you decide otherwise. Tomorrow we can work out the details, in private."

"Thank you for sticking around. I would be happy to set up something whenever you like. For now, if you have any questions, I'll answer them to the best of my ability."

Jess smiled at him, then gave the booth a quick glance. "I have plenty of questions, but we should probably go back and discuss them with the others. I'm sorry about the display, but it had to be said. No hard feelings?"

Gillian looked relieved. "None whatsoever." The two rose from their impromptu meeting and returned to Sticks and Tal. He stopped short when Jess placed a hand on his shoulder.

"One other thing," she said as she looked him in the eyes. "I know what you're going through. You're being torn into little pieces and thrown in different directions. Don't wall away your feelings, but don't wallow in them either. You have to strike a balance, or your going to be unable to function when you need to. Accept the possibilities, but don't dwell on them. And if you need somebody to talk to, I know some folks you can talk to about it..."

The older man looked on the verge of tears. He nodded and moved on to the table in the back. As Gillian slid back into the booth, he swiftly retrieved the errant credstick and placed it back in his pocket.

"Alright everyone, where do we start? Sticks has gathered quite a bit of information, and Jess here has found out that Lone Star has not filed my son's missing person's report." He clenched his teeth at the last. Doing his level best to remain as professional as possible, he looked around the table for any suggestions.

Tal watched Jess and Gillian settle into the booth without comment. "Has anyone attempted a magical ritual to locate your son?" he asked softly. "It would seem to be the logical place to begin, unless there is something I am missing."

"Lone Star said that they had all the evidence they needed to conduct a magical search," Gillian said with a shake of his balding head. "But they never even sent a mage to the house." He looked at Tal hopefully. "Do you think that it's too late to try now?"

Tal sighed. "After a week--it's possible that it is, but there's certainly no harm to be found in trying. I should like to have a look at the boy's surroundings--and also speak with your wife, if I might. Although my colleagues--" he indicated Jess and Sticks with a glance "--have probably already covered this avenue, there might yet be magical traces."

Jess smiled and let out a soft chuckle. "Well, Sticks has, he was filling me in some earlier, but so far all I've heard or seen about this case is second hand information."

"Then let's do this," Gillian began. "Would it be a good idea to return to my home?" he asked everyone at the table.

With a small sigh to mask the frustration he felt over an employer who forced his agents to constantly review information which simple logic dictated should be shared with all at the same time Sticks said "I asked Senor Gillian and his wife to write down everything they remember from the investigation and what the star told them. You should read them." he said as he handed over the notes.

"The building security man is a tall ork named Dan who speaks, as I have said, with an accent similar to your own. Either you or Jess should speak to him as he is, perhaps, more on his guard against people like me. Senor Gillian thinks well of him and he acts as a doorman for the building to keep in touch with those he protects. He does not think highly of the star."

After a moment of silence during which the teenager obviously expected his employer to take up the narrative and was disappointed by the silence, Sticks gave a small shrug, shook his head and continued.

"The boy is seven, named Darren. Loves soccer, is skillful making pictures on paper or computer, likes Dinosaurs. According to his mother, a fiery and woman some years younger than our employer, she sent him to bed, went up to check on him and found him gone. No ransom and no action from the star after their first visit. There is a skylight to the penthouse apartment in Tacoma and Senor," he said, obviously reaching the end of his patience, "I understand that you are worried and unsure, that this has never happened to you before, but you are an accountant, are you not?"

Receiving a bewildered nod from the older man, Sticks continued, "Then have you not considered the amount of time we are wasting as we go over and over the same mater? You are the only one who knows what you said when you hired each of us. Surely you can start from there so we all know who we are working for?"

Tal nodded. "I concur. Mr. Gillian, perhaps it might be best if you go over your story one final time, so we can all be sure we're working with the same information."

Jess looked up and smiled. "And perhaps, since we seem to have agreed that we are 'on the case' so to say, we should adjourn to someplace more private."

Gillian nodded vigorously. "I think we should return to my apartment. That way Tal and Jess can have a look around. Does that sound agreeable?"

"That would probably be our best bet," Jess answered quietly. Her mind raced, she didn't entirely like the idea of heading over to their client's place, but it needed to be done, and as Sticks had pointed out, now was a better time then later

Tal nodded, finishing the last of his ale. "Whenever you're ready, then." He was anxious to get to Gillian's place, both to see if he could find any remaining magical traces and to have a chance to speak with the man's wife.

Gillian nodded and rose from the table, "I'll go and hail a cab," he nodded towards Sticks. "I probably don't have to say it careful."

And with that the older man left to get a cab for he, Tal and Jess.

"I have some things I have to check on" Sticks said. At the questioning looks from the people at the table, he elaborated: "Some legwork checking with people I know to see if there is any word on the streets. I will meet you two at midnight. Do you know the Bg Knobi Klub?"

Jess thought for a moment as she thought about the time. She'd have to keep her standard "Day Two" errands now more than ever. The constant meeting in public places trying to discuss private matters was getting on her nerves.

"How about you meet us here," Jess countered as she scrawled the address for her brothers' apartment. She pulled out the spare key and handed it to Sticks. "If you don't mind sticking with me," she added to Tal. "It's my brothers' place," she added when they looked at her questioningly.

She had been planning on giving the key to Ray so he could take care of the cats. But it looked like she was going to be turning her forced vacation into a working holiday.

"We're going to have things to discuss and a public place is no good. Just meet us there when you get done," she looked at them both and then shrugged. "If you don't mind, of course."

Tal shook his head. "I have no particular plans at the moment, beyond visiting Mr. Gillian's place and talking with his wife. You have transportation, I trust?"

Gillian returned to the table, "I've got a cab outside, everyone ready to go?"

Jess looked at Sticks and shrugged. "See you at the apartment," she stated with a shrug, then headed out after Tal and Gillian.

The three road the way back to Gillian's Tacoma residence in silence, all thinking about what to do when they arrived.

*** *** ***

"I phoned ahead to my wife to let her know we were on the way. She should have some things to eat prepared if either of you are hungry." Mr. Gillian informed them.

Tal and Jess nodded, looking out the window as the Williamson Estates towers loomed above them. Gillian held the door of the cab, then slotted the driver. At the front door of the lobby, they were greeted by a tall, well dressed ork with sunglasses.

"Mr Gillian?" the ork asked with an upturned eyebrow. His Welch accent was unmistakable.

Thomas waved a hand in front of him, "They are part of the team of investigators working with the young man you met earlier today, Dan. If they need anything..."

Dan merely nodded and held open the lobby door, moving with the smoothness of water over rock. "I hope you can find rest this evening sir, as tough as that may be."

Tal noted Dan's Welsh accent and made a mental note to talk with him later.

Gillian placed a hand on the security man's broad shoulder. "Thanks, Dan."

The three moved through the lobby, catching the elevator to the 122nd floor. "I should think that Dan would be someone good to get information from. I'm sure he'll be glad to talk to either of you," he said with a firm nod. As the elevator doors opened, the trio was greeted with the warm smells of pastries and Spanish food.

Gillian inhaled with satisfaction. "Sometimes I wonder how Sahara stays thin with the way she cooks." He walked into the penthouse, throwing his coat on the coat rack near the door. "Sahara," he called. "We're here."

The kitchen door at the end of the front hall opened, the head of an attractive blonde woman peaking out inquisitively. Making sure that it was her husband, the woman boldly exited the kitchen while wiping her hands on a towel. "Hello, all. I imagine that you know by now that I'm Sahara." She narrowed her eyes at Tal and Jess. "And don't let me hear you refer to me as Mrs anything."

Tal smiled at Mrs. Gillian, doing his best to put her at ease with his demeanor. "I wouldn't think of it." Offering his hand, he continued, "And you may call me Tal." Glancing at Jess, he waited for her to introduce herself, not wanting to presume.

"Yes ma'am," Jess answered reflexively then shook her head. Smiling she looked back up and added her own introduction. "I'm Jess."

Tal turned back to Sahara. "If you don't mind, Sahara, would it be possible for us to take a look around in Darren's room? I'm hoping that we might find something there that will help us." He was uncomfortable with such abruptness, preferring usually to spend a bit of time establishing a rapport with the people with whom he dealt, but there would be time for that later. He was anxious to get started on his magical examination of the boy's room and personal effects, which might give him a clue as to why he was taken.

"Well, you're welcome to anything in the kitchen," Sahara began as she led everyone into the living room. "I'd assume that you have questions for me." Before she reached the living room, she pointed to a spiral staircase to her left. "Darren's room is upstairs, first door on the left."

She opened then closed her mouth, then went into the living room without another word. When she sat down, her face was streaked with tears.

Thomas rushed to her side, his own eyes beginning to water. "It's alright honey, they'll be able to find him. Don't you worry." He began stroking her blonde hair reassuringly. Trying to sound professional again, he turned to Tal and Jess. "You can start in Darren's room, I think she'll be alright in a few minutes."

Jess looked at Tal and nodded towards him. "Why don't you go upstairs and look around, I'll take a turn when you're done.

That said, she knelt down next to them and rested a hand on Sahara's shoulder. She looked at her, her own eyes welling up, yet under control. "We will do everything in our power to help you," she promised. "It sounds a bit hollow right now, but I do know what you're going through, and you can get through it."

Jess sat there offering silent comfort as any doubt she may have had about the case left her mind.

*** *** ***

Tal nodded, realizing that Jess would probably have a better chance of comforting Sahara than he would at that moment. Without further comment, he headed upstairs to the room that the Gillians had indicated was Darren's.

He stopped inside the door, gazing around, taking in everything in the room: the bed, the furniture, the toys, the personal items, the pictures on the wall, attempting to build a mental picture of the boy for whom they would be searching. Shifting his perceptions to the astral plane, he looked around again, searching for any emotional nuances or anything to indicate the something violent had occurred here.

At that point, he moved into the room and sat carefully down on the floor in front of the bed, leaning against it for support. Closing his eyes, he projected himself fully to the astral and examined the room.

In the astral plane, even the most subtle of hints can turn into the largest of clues. Tal intended not to miss a thing. Taking his time, the elf moved over every square inch of Darren's room. In the corner of the room were Darren's drawing tools, resting neatly near his personal computer. This was where the strongest personal ties with the room lay. Yes, Darren did love to draw...and use the computer.

Taking mental notes along the way, Tal focused on any signs of struggle. Any darkness on the astral plane that indicated some form of malice...


It was near the bed, a wisp of something...a shadow of blackness...dead space in astral, like a malignancy. It was fading slowly, indicating that the mood at the time of the abduction was very dark.

...but the emotion was cold...uncaring. Strange that a trave so devoid of emotion would last so long.

Tal couldn't read anymore than that. He quickly registered everything, sure to analyze it upon the completion of his foray...

Something buzzed in his head, like he was being...watched!!

Tal whirled about in time to see a the dull looking orb speed away from the area.

Watcher spirit!!, Tal thought quickly, then...

He raced off after the watcher spirit. Even as he did it, he knew that it was probably not his wisest course of action, but like his totem, he was plagued by curiosity. If he could trace the watcher back to its source (or catch it!) then he might be able to find out valuable information. Nonetheless, he kept his eyes opened and prepared to flee if the need arose.

The dull, brown orb, roughly the size of a basketball, sped away. Tal gave chase, noticing with growing alarm the orb's increasing speed. It angled its flight deeper into what seemed like downtown Seattle.

Then the orb slowed, its color beginning to pulse with an inner light. And with a quick flash of brilliance, the orb disappeared from sight.

Tal stopped, carefully examining the area where the watcher disappeared. He tried to note landmarks, etching the location into his mind so he could attempt to find it later. He especially looked for landmarks that might tell him where in the physical world he was. Finally, he looked for any traces of Darren's presence (current or former) in the vicinity where the watcher vanished

He focused on surroundings, noting with interest the amount of guard spirits roaming the area. Using anything and everything as a landmark and observing the higher than normal levels of mana, Tal began searching for Darren's presence. The watcher spirit had discorporated right above a large office building. Towards the north he noticed right off, the towering shadow of the Renraku arcology.

The building below him, seemed unobtrusive next to the majesty of the Seattle city scape. Nevertheless, it was where the first trail ended. Marking where the building fit into the real world along with the "taste" of the mana in the area, Tal prepared to return to his body.

Tal's astral form reunited with his body with the familiar jolt that was both jarring and comforting. Remaining in his seated position a moment longer, he sorted through what he had found, pulling out a scrap of paper on which to jot a few notes. Then, finishing his inspection of the room, he stood, stretched, and headed back downstairs.

Tal returned to the living room to find Jess successfully raising the spirits of the Gillians. All three looked up at his arrival.

"Did you find anything?" Thomas asked hopefully.

"Possibly," Tal said, still mulling over the events. "There were some astral traces in Darren's room; while I was examining them, I discovered there was a watcher observing me. I followed it--I think that I can identify the place where it disappeared. I will investigate further when we leave here."

He turned to Jess. "I didn't disturb anything physically, nor did I touch anything, if that is relevant to your investigation methods."

Jess gave the Gillian's a reassuring smile as she stood and looked at Tal. "It shouldn't matter, but its good to know," she told him.

She took one last look around the living room and took a deep breath. With that, she headed up the stairs.

*** *** ***

As Jess disappeared up the stairs, Tal took a seat in the room near Sahara, trying to project reassurance that her son would soon be back home where he belonged. He looked around the room, subtly taking in the surroundings. He doubted that he would find anything to help him here, but it was in his nature to be observant--it was just something he did without thinking about.

Finishing his scrutiny, he looked casually at Sahara, still keeping both expression and tone neutral and reassuring. "Sahara," he said quietly, "There was something your husband said when he sought to retain my services, and I've been wondering about it. Perhaps it's nothing, but I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't ask."

When he had Sahara's attention, he continued, "Mr. Gillian said that he had spoken with you following Darren's disappearance, and that you had told him that 'they took him,' and that you were quite agitated. Of course it's quite likely that you meant nothing more than 'someone has taken my son,' and certainly it was clear why you were agitated, but...Is there anything else that you might have forgotten in the chaos?"

Sahara thought for a moment, drawing on the strength of her husband's grasp. "I feel bad because I made Tom feel like it was his fault." She shook her head, sighing regretfully. "I honestly don't know who they are...I just thought that it was something involving his work."

The woman paused for a moment, looking into her husbands eyes for some kind of assurance. Thomas nodded. "It's alright, honey. If there's anything, I'm sure it will help them along." He gave her hand another squeeze.

Taking a deep breath, Sahara forged ahead. "Well, Thomas' company works with a lot of different foreign companies. I just can't help thinking that one of those bastard corporations are responsible for this." She clenched her teeth, biting back the sudden rise of anger. A tear made its way down her cheek.

Thomas looked away for a moment. "I know you don't like the clients I work for, but they provide us with a life we all enjoy."

Sahara placed a hand on her husband's face and drew him back towards hers. "I don't blame you or your company. It was just a thought. Something to go on." Thomas nodded, trying to smile. Obviously, he didn't want to think of his company being responsible for his son's abduction.

The older man turned to Tal. "You said that you know of a location to start?"

"I think so," Tal said. Removing the scrap of paper from his pocket, he examined it for a moment and then looked up at the worried parents. "I've not been in Seattle long, but I think I can describe the location I found." Carefully, trying to fit every detail that he could remember into his description, Tal told Gillian and Sahara about the place he had seen. Flipping over the scrap, he made a rough sketch of the area.

"Does this look at all familiar to you?" he asked. "Perhaps a map of Seattle might be of use, if you have one."

The Gillians went white. "No need for a map..." Thomas began with a whisper. Sahara stood quietly and moved to the kitchen.

Tal gave a questioning look.

"That's my office building. Landersham & Donovan lease 5 floors." He cradled his head in his hands, fighting back whatever emotion was threatening to attack. Tal leaned towards anger. He could sense it pouring from the man.

From inside the kitchen the elf heard Sahara cry out in anger. There was the sound of crashing silverware and breaking dishes. "I KNEW IT!!!! I KNEW THAT BASTARD CORP WAS IN ON THIS!!!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs. The woman bursted from the kitchen wielding a heavy frying pan. She was staring at the ceiling. "CAN YOU HEAR ME YOU SONS OF SLITCHES?? ARE YOU HAPPY? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US?!?!?!?!?" The woman collapsed on the floor on her knees, sobbing through a hoarse voice.

Thomas moved from the couch and rested an arm around his wife. "I'll put things right, honey. Don't worry."

The man looked up from his wife, his eyes blazing. Tal knew that look. You didn't have to run the shadows for long to know what it meant. Murder.

Thomas stood smoothly, even for a man with his frame. Then, maintaining his silence, he went upstairs to what Tal thought must be his bedroom.

Tal looked back and forth between Gillian and Sahara, trying to decide whether to follow the man or remain with the woman. Finally he settled on the latter. Crouching down next to her, he said softly, "Sahara, please. I'm sure your son is safe, and we'll return him to you. We need you to be strong, tough--to help us with the information we'll be needing." He glanced upward, hoping that Gillian had not gone off to do something rash. He also hoped that Jess would return from her investigation of Darren's computer soon, as it appeared that they had a great deal to discuss.

Returning his attention to Sahara, he continued in his gentle, comforting tone: "Is there anything else you can think of that might lead you to believe that your husband's company might be involved in Darren's disappearance? Did anyone say anything you thought suspicious? Any little thing, even if you thought nothing of it at the time, might be of help." Mostly he was trying to get her talking again, and take her mind off her despair.

Sahara released her grip on the frying pan, Tal placing it onto the couch behind him. She dried her eyes on her shirt sleeve, then rested upright on her feet. "Why would I know? Why do those bastard corpers do anything?" She let out a long sigh, trying her best to diffuse her temper.

"I don't know, really. The only thing that worries me is the fact that Tom's firm deals with so many different companies. Any one of them could be responsible." Sahara paused, looking up the stairs at her returning husband. Her tired look turned immediately to alarm. "Where did you get that thing?"

"Never you mind, Sahara," came a very gruff voiced Thomas from behind Tal. The elf turned to see the balding man coming down the stairs, a large caliber pistol in one hand, and two spare clips in the other. He shifted his gaze to Tal. "I do believe that we need to meet Sticks." He paused, slamming a clip into the heavy pistol. "We should get moving, rather than discuss anything further here."

Tal's eyes showed slight alarm at Gillian. Slowly he rose. "Mr. Gillian." He kept the same soft, soothing tone he used on Sahara. "Please--unless you are more proficient with that weapon than I suspect you are, put it away. I would be very distressed if you were to become injured in the course of this investigation. You have hired professionals to locate your son--please let us do the job you have hired us to do. You'll be of far more help to Darren in an informational capacity than as a combatant." He did not say so to Gillian, but Tal feared that an unstable father with a gun would likely be a source of trouble rather than a source of aid. "Let's wait for Jess to return, and then we will find Sticks and compare notes about what we've found."

Thomas didn't so much look at Tal, as he looked through the elf. "I know what you're thinking," he said numbly. "Fat, old norm couldn't handle himself in a fire-fight." He paused, a rueful chuckle coming from the back of his throat. Thomas looked down at the pistol in his hand.

Sahara rose from her kneeling position, and approached her husband. Gently placing a delicate hand on his arm, she spoke softly. "I know what this means. You feel responsible." She shook her own head, as if to guiltily say that the thought had crossed her mind. "You're not. This was something that they're doing to get something on you. Maybe you have something that they need."

She stopped, moving her hand down the length of his arm to come to rest on top of the pistol. "This will only satisfy them more." Ever so slowly, Thomas relinquished the pistol to his wife. She in turn handed it to Tal. "They can get Darren back. I know they can." She looked deeply into his eyes. "We just have to have a little faith."

Thomas held his wife for a long time, then let her go. He looked over to Tal. "When you guys are ready to go, you can take my car. Or I can call you another cab."

Tal shook his head as he took the gun from Sahara. "I'm not thinking anything of the sort," he said to Gillian. "But I do know that one who is too closely involved with a situation--regardless of their capabilities--can often be unable to deal objectively with that situation. That isn't a judgment, Mr. Gillian--I am sure that I would react in a similar fashion were my loved ones at risk." He popped the clip out of the gun and put gun and clip on the table. "If you'll excuse me, I'll go see what Jess is up to." Turning, he headed up the stairs.

*** *** ***

Jess traveled upstairs, noticing the skylight Sticks had mentioned in the hall outside Darren'd Room. It was small, so if the child was taken through there, the kidnapper would have to have been fairly small as well.

With a sigh at the thought of a young child on the roof of a 122 floor high rise, Jess continued into Darren's room.

It was larger than a normal child's room, but not overly drowning with toys and other normal trappings of a spoiled rich boy. The immediate impression the woman got from what Darren had, which was still quite a bit in conventional terms, showed that he was loved. Darren's possessions pointed to attentive parents, ones that took a deep interest in what their child enjoyed.

Darren's creations lined the walls. Everything from crayons to computer generated pictures. The latter seemed to be accumulated about the child's PC near the back of the room. Checking behind the computer, Jess noticed that it did have a matrix connection.

Jess paused when she saw the matrix connection in the wall. 'Would they have drilled a kid that young?' she wondered to herself as she looked for alternative links, such as a net. 'Or did he turtle?'

She took one more look around the room, seeing if there was anything that caught her eye, then got down to business.

Jess took off her rings and deposited them in a pouch she wore around her neck. Once that was taken care of, she verified that the line to the matrix was not connected. The first thing she wanted to do, was backup his system as it stood.

It would take more time this way, but if there were any unpleasant surprises waiting, she hoped to have her bets covered.

Jess checked all the connections to the computer, noting with satisfaction that the connection was strictly a net server. The computer came to life with a touch, running it's warm-up cycle. Apparently, the computer hadn't been turned off, just put on a stand-by setting.

The screen flared to life, the image of a golden-retriever dancing in a field of grass. As Jess touched the keyboard, the image disappeared to reveal a black screen:

Keyboard or vocal interface? ... the screen asked.

Jess smiled to herself. If the computer could acknowledge audio, and it was turned on... maybe, just maybe there was an audio recording of the incident itself. She took a deep breath, she still had a ways to go before it came to that.

She moved the indicator to keyboard and activated it. As she did, she checked for all input devices in the area, audio, video the works. She smiled to herself when she saw that indeed have audio and visual feeds.

She said a silent prayer to whoever watched over children and the fools that went looking for them as the machine processed her request.

It took nanoseconds for the little desktop to process Jess' request. As it activated, several files were listed on the screen. Jess scanned down to the newest files and had the computer bring up one tagged with a date seven days ago...

The black computer screen was replaced with a video/audio file. Darren was facing the camera which was apparently mounted on top of his monitor. He was smiling the smile of the young.

"This is Commander Darren Gillian, officer of the UCAS orbital vessel..." The child paused to lean down out of camera view for a moment. Jess could see his room arrayed behind him. Darren sprang back into camera view, holding a picture drawn with pencil.

"...officer of the UCAS orbital vessel, Destiny." He paused again to brush his sandy-blonde hair out of his face. "This will be my last transmission from Earth, as I prepare to make my historic journey into deep space." Darren sat up straighter in his desk chair, displaying with an obvious pride the picture of a craft of some kind.

This was where Jess paused the video file. The picture was odd somehow...too well detailed for a child of seven's hands. Though she didn't have much background in the subject, she could have sworn that he was holding a schematic. The detail was just that great. What are you doing drawing something like that, Darren? Jess wondered at the computer screen.

Working with the frozen picture on the screen, she zoomed in a bit on the drawing. As she had guessed earlier, it looked to be done with pencil. The detail on the drawing looked like a blueprint. Jess sat back, and let out another long sigh.

Jess forced herself to stop as she pulled her unit from its spot in her bag. It probably wasn't big enough to store the information on it, but by copying it to chip, she figured she'd be able to backup the key files.

She carefully hooked the two together. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she copied Darren's files to the chip.

'Destiny indeed,' she thought to herself. 'If that kid drew those schematics, then I'm the pope!'

As the files copied, she thought about the schematics and the look of pride in the boy's eyes. 'Where are you Darren?' she wondered to herself. 'How did you get these drawings?'

She looked suspiciously at the matrix connection. 'Had somebody set him up over the matrix?' more questions flooded through her mind as the system finished dumping its files.

When she was done copying the files, Jess disconnected her unit from Darren's. With a quick flip, she made sure that she had a good copy of the blue-print before she removed the chip and added it to the pouch with her rings.

She took another deep breath and hit play...

Jess continued watching Darren's file. The child resumed motion, replacing the blue print on his desk. "I have finished preparing for my journey. Tonight, as commander of this secret mission, I go where no meta human has gone before." He stopped and scratched his head for a moment, his blonde hair falling into his eyes. Darren leaned in closer to the camera. "I just hope that I'm home by morning. Mommy's making real Belgian waffles."

The child giggled and moved away from the computer to his bed behind him. Humming a tune to himself, he pulled a bag from underneath. It was a small child's backpack. Still humming to himself, Darren placed his blue print into the bag along with a plastic wrapped sandwich.

"Hello?" Darren stopped humming, looking about his room for a source of some sound. Jess' hand darted for the sound quality enhancer, then rewound the recording to see if she could hear what had drawn Darren's attention.

...nothing. The child seemed to be hearing it all to himself. "Hello? I'm ready," he said, shouldering his bag. Jess began feeling that helplessness that most people get when they're watching something that can't be stopped. She wanted to tell him to stay call to his mother downstairs...

Her eyes nearly shot out of her head as he began floating up on an invisible cradle of air. She saw his face, not a hint of worry... Darren even took the time to glance back to his computer, "Off," he said simply. And the recording ended.

Jess sat there thinking for a moment, almost in a state of shock at what she'd just seen.

Jess looked down at her clenched fist and forced herself to relax. She'd known Darren had been taken from his room, it was her job to find him.

Now she knew that some one had contacted the child, lured him away with promises. As she feared, he had gone willingly. Now it was up to her and the others to find them. The entry was key, but there was more work for her in the room. She scanned the files began categorizing them. Watching them on the screen was taking too long. She pulled out her pocket unit and hooked it into the PC's matrix connection. Then plugged herself in.

She scanned the files taking mental notes of which involved the case and which did not. Once that was finished, she eyed the matrix connection suspiciously.

She keyed up the contact's list on the child's PC.

Jess dived into the matrix, checking any contact lists that might be on the child's node. It seemed that everything was clean. Nothing denoting a designated link to a point on the net. Jess tried pulling up everything that may be linked to the system from outside of the node.

There, just on the outside of the small node construct that represented Darren's terminal connection. She pulled in close to what seemed like the 3D image of a sleeping dog...

Sleeping dog?

Just as the question formed in her head, the dog sprang to its feet, its body formed of obsidian colored polygons. The dog's eyes seemed to glow when they passed over the form of Jess' icon, then it dashed away. Heading off into the labyrinth of the Matrix.

Jess tracked the movement and was off, following it through the twists and turns of the matrix as she started coding a response. Slowly the construct took form.

Dog Catcher. Her mind raced as she followed the dog. Several thoughts came together at once.

'Black! Obsidian... Didn't go for the kill... follow it... don't let it report in...what if its a trap.' Even as the thoughts came together, she eased her hand against the kill switch, just in case.

'Odds are they, who ever they are, know the Gillians had hired somebody,' she told herself as she thought about Tal's comment about the 'watcher.' Seems they covered their bases, she thought to herself.

She forced herself to stay calm as the dog reached its goal.

Jess' construct was enough to catch the running dog form. It was nearing a goal in the maze of the Seattle grid...closing specifically on a tall building construct with circling balls of obsidian standing (floating) guard,

She knew them for what they were...some form of IC. Jess prepared to throw a "net" over the running dog, at the same time running a quick analysis program on her query.

It's just a flag...warning icon to let someone know that someone else was on Darren's access node. As Jess prepared to lower the "net," the dog burst into a conflageration of 1's and 0's. The capture program was completely spoofed. Reintergrating itself much farther away, the dog made an end run towards an opening the IC guards were opening.

Jess took a deep breath as she moved. Acting on instinct she pushed her thoughts through the opening, following on the heels of the dog. As she threw herself in, she fired off two quick routines.

The first was a message to a blind account she shared with PushCiti. If anything happened to her, he would have the information she'd gathered and the location of the node in question.

The second routine would hopefully keep the IC from noticing her as she slipped through the opening.

Time stood still as she held her breath and prayed.

The obsidian colored IC spheres gravitated towards Jess' distraction, a hollow construct shining brightly. Jess scooted inside as the IC unleashed their attack programs, ripping the construct apart. Turning her attention to the retreating dog simulcrum, she gave a quick shudder then followed it towards the building node. On the front of the node was the emblazoned identifier:


Jess teetered for a moment between reporting what she'd found so far and following the dog-construct as far as she could. She'd already made it through the first level of security, but there was bound to be more.

On the other hand, once the dog reported in, security would either grow or the entire setup would disappear.

Knowing that she might not get another chance, Jess decided to follow it as far as she could, and maybe keep the dog from reporting in. Expecting nothing, hoping for everything, she pushed on.

Jess restructured her icon, becoming a ghost as it were, following the dog as it progressed through the node. She passed unnoticed through several additional layers of security before the construct finally came to its destination.

The image of a man waited patiently as he got the report then turned, facing her. Jess saw the rage in his eyes as he pulled back his arm threw something at her.

She tried to react, but she was too slow. Her mind reeled from the blow, her vision of the matrix wavering. Desperately, she struggled for the kill switch, but found herself locked.

"Haven't you done enough?" the 'man' demanded angrily as he unleashed another program. This time he let Jess see his creation. It was the size of a cherry bomb, but it was jet black.

'Black IC, but small' Jess thought to herself. She had enough time for the thought before he threw it at her. Jess shuddered as she tried to launch a defensive counter measure and failed. Another wave of pain washed over her.

"We know you have him, so stop playing these games!" he told her. "Tell me where he is and I'll let you live!"

On his signal, the dog advanced, growling at Jess.

Jess groaned as she forced her persona back to a standing position. "What do you people want?" she yelled back. "Why did you take him? Why did you lead him on? Why are you playing this freakin' mind game with me?"

The man hesitated as the dog closed in. Jess tried to clear her mind but it was getting harder.

"You aren't with them are you?" the man asked as he signaled the dog to stop.

Jess looked at the form and shook her head uncomprehendingly. "Where's the boy?"

"A seeker then," the 'man' stated cryptically. "This is not your affair youngster."

Jess stared blankly as the man canceled the dog routine. She tried to get her body to react, but whatever the 'man' had done still held her there.

"If you find him, we will be in touch. Pray we do not meet again." the voice echoed in her ears as her mind snapped back to her body.

After a few minutes of complete disorientation Jess looked around and saw Tal standing there watching her.

Jess smiled at him weekly and held up two fingers. "Three right?" she asked as she signaled him that she was alright. Except for the monster headache that was starting at the base of her skull.

As she started to stand, she heard the voice echo in her mind. "I will be watching you." She looked over at the connection and verified. It wasn't active...

Tal watched Jess for a moment as she pulled herself together, verifying that she did in fact seem to be all right. "Find anything?" he asked, crossing the room and sitting down on the bed.

Jess rubbed her head and nodded. "Something alright..." she said as she queued up the last journal entry. "You may want to watch this."

After she started the recording, Jess reached for her purse and some aspirin.

Tal sat down and watched the entry in silence, wishing that he could see more than simply the video pickup. That was the problem with technology--there was so much more there to see than it could record. He paid particular attention to Darren's face as he reacted to the unseen visitor, and watched very closely as the child was borne upward. His practiced magical senses attempted to determine if the abductor was an invisible person or a spirit.

Jess killed the video feed when she heard movement on the stairs. She didn't want to keep things from the Gillians, but until she had a better idea of exactly what was going on, she didn't want to upset them unnecessarily. She looked at Tal and shrugged

Part 2
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