“Duck, Tracker, wait up!”
Duck and Tracker turned long enough for Whisper to catch up, then turned and continued down the hall.
“Very Funny,” Whisper groused as they hit they doors to the briefing room.
The Briefing Officer looked at them as they entered the room and took their seats. “A class one emergency,” he told them, “means you get your butts here when the alert is sounded.”
“Yes sir,” Duck answered crisply. She knew better than to point out that they were within the time constraints. It didn’t matter with Anders. Last group in always got the lecture.
“What is the rule Wjowski?”
“When you’re early, you’re on time. When you’re on time, you’re late and when you’re late, you run. Sir!”
“And why weren’t you running?”
“I had to pick up Tracker and Whisper sir.”
“They’re on loan from Navy sir. Part of an exchange program.”
“This base is on a class one emergency Wjowski and you’re bringing ‘guests’ to the briefing. “You there, what can you offer this team?”
Tracker looked at Anders as he tried to dress him down. “Sir, I am field trained in combat decking, diving, demolitions and combat. If it’s got wheels, I can drive it, if it floats, I can steer it, if it explodes, I can control it. If it’s hooked into the matrix I can make it sing the Alleluia Chorus with full orchestration and harmony.”
The Officer studied him for a moment then turned back to Duck. He moved in till his nose was practically in her eyes. “I’ve got my eyes on you Wjowski.”
Again Duck forced herself to keep a straight face, but it was getting more and more difficult. “Yes sir,” she answered.
As Anders moved to the front of the room, Duck took her seat next to Tracker.
“How did Whisper manage to not be included in that little show?” Tracker asked over the encrypted line.
“It’s easy when you can make people ignore you,” Duck countered.
“The key is being able to get them to stop ignoring you afterwards,” Whisper warned.
“If you three are done with your smart asides,” Anders commented as he broke in on the line. “And Whisper, I would like a word with you after this.”
“Seemed pretty easy to me,” Duck signed with a wink.
“Thanks a lot guys,” Whisper signed back.
Duck and Tracker merely exchanged mischievous looks and waited for the briefing to begin.
“All right people, listen up. We’ve got ourselves a bonafide ‘situation’ on our hands.” As Anders spoke the lights went down. “As of 1400 this afternoon, this base has been put on full alert. In an attempt to extort funds and weapons from our beloved government, terrorists have placed three tac-nuke devices in three presently undisclosed locations. Our job is to see to it that these devices do not go off.”
“Information is scarce at this time, but we do know that Victor Rollins is involved.”
There was an audible sigh from those gathered. Victor Rollins was a known arms dealer, specializing in ‘banned’ weapons. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that he had access to the weapons. Nobody was really surprised that he had gone into business for himself either.
“Remind me again why we let him continue his business,” Tracker signed.
Duck looked at him and gave him two reasons: money and expedience. From time to time, they had been forced to get their equipment through Rollins.
“Duck, I want you and Tracker to dig up everything you can on Rollins, his business... I want to know what he had for breakfast this morning,” Anders stated.
Duck nodded then winked at Tracker. ‘Never a dull moment,” she signed.
“The rest of you secure your equipment and be ready to move,” he ordered. “Dismissed.”
“Why call us in?” Duck signed. “So he can yell at us and tell us to go be good little deckers and get him his intel.”
“Sounds ‘bout right to me,” Tracker answered.
“See you all later,” Whisper signed glumly as Anders signaled him to come over.
Duck and Tracker unstrung their equipment and prepared to research their sometimes supplier.
“Inventory.” Tracker declared.
“Location,” Duck told him. “And menu plans.”
Nodding to each other they linked the machines together and ran a quick check of their connections. Once they were sure the local connections were secure, they plugged their machines into the wall sockets and prepared to jack in.
Tracker nodded as he plugged himself in. Duck winked as she did the same.
‘’Xavier’s Ghost,” Tracker stated. “Screamin’ at the Dark.”
“2nd track,” Duck answered.
“Rock and roll,” Tracker stated as he activated his connection. Duck nodded as she popped the mini disk into her player and did the same.
First pass through the system was always cursory. You never knew who or what might be waiting for you. The problem was, Victor knew how to cover his tracks and protect his assets. It was usually easier to track the people selling to him than it was to track him directly.
Tracker made his first pass without notice. Duck on the other hand, had a more interesting task: find somebody going out of his way to say hidden. She moved through the system and positioned herself away from where she knew he’d be watching then tried to ‘break into his node’ allowing the system to destroy the constructs she’d created. Then she waited for the warning message in the hopes of identifying its source and following it to its destination. It wasn’t that easy. By the time the specified track had played a second time, they were both ready to begin their main run.
Duck passed a message to Tracker through their systems. ‘This is not going to be easy.’
His reply was simple, ‘That’s why we’re here.’
By the time the track played a third time, Tracker had a line on some arms dealers in Baun and Duck was starting to get annoyed with Victor. By the fourth time, Tracker had a partial list of the munitions and a name that Victor had used.
The name was what Duck needed to follow him through holding companies and aliases. With something to go on, the pieces started falling together. Duck didn’t like the picture it painted.
‘Man has more aliases than I do,’ Duck sent to Tracker.
“And more bombs then he claims,” Tracker added.
“Well sure, you know, sell some to unfriendly governments, blow up a few to keep the stock to a manageable level, extort funds from local governments to pay for more...’ Duck let the message trail off as she found another clue and began piecing together what she had found.
On the sixth repeat Duck signaled Tracker, ‘Grapefruit and toast.’
Tracker’s answer of ‘7 devices’ was all she needed. Duck deactivated her connection and waited for Tracker to join her in the land of the living.
By the time Duck and Tracker and emerged from their research, Anders had news for them. “We found the devices,” the told them.
“He’s got a total of seven,” Tracker stated as he coiled up his cables. “He may have planted more then the three of them as a failsafe.”
“Terrific,” Anders sighed as he enunciated each syllable. “Duck?”
“He’s got three bases. All of which could be used to control the detonations. None of them are accessible from here.” She told him. “Its looking like we’ve some serious infiltration and bomb squad action ahead of us,” she added.
Anders nodded. When it came to getting the job done, he knew to trust his teams. “Let me know what you need.”
“Sir?” Duck asked.
“You’re running the infiltration team. I want a plan within the hour.”
Duck looked at him for a minute then shrugged. “I’m going to need Tracker, Whisper, two more warm bodies. Transpo, full decking kits... Tracker and I have the rest of the gear we need.”
Anders looked at her for a minute and shook his head. “Why specifically Tracker and Whisper?”
“Tracker and I specialize in what we need to get into Victor’s bases. Whisper knows how we operate and is good at backing us up. The other two are needed to round us out, basically a support team,” Duck told him. “I figure you’re going to have your hands full co-ordinating the demo folks. Another reason I want Whisper, he can get word to you if communications are compromised. And with Victor’s expertise, its a good bet he’ll have the place either jammed or monitored.”
Anders nodded. “Okay. What about the bases?”’
“Figure we start with the one that just laid in a supply of Grapefruit,” she answered.
Anders studied her for a minute then nodded. “Chopper and men will be on the pad for you in ten minutes. “And Wjowski...”
“Sir?” Duck asked as she looked at him.
“Be careful, will ya?” he urged
“Always am,” she answered with a wink. Then added, “Sir!”
After Anders dismissed them, Duck and Tracker went to get their gear.
Duck looked at Tracker and smiled. “Who gets to tell Whisper?”
“I’ll let you break the news to him,” Tracker answered.
Ten minutes later Duck met with the rest of the team. Rounding out the group was Black Cat, Voodoo’s resident Mage and Spider, a combat specialist, just added to Voodoo’s roster.
Duck didn’t really like the fact that Spider was on the team, he was too green for what they were going to have to do and he hadn’t really even been in the field with them before. She sighed, since she hadn’t specified, she had no choice but to accept what she’d been given. Besides, from what she’d seen of the kid’s dossier their team’s mission was best suited to his skills. Everybody else had at least some experience with explosives.
As the chopper lifted off, Duck entered the co-ordinates into the systems controls. They were on their way.
Duck signaled the others to fan out. They were close now. The base was situated near a river and Duck could hear the ‘swamp-skimmers ’ as they patrolled the waterways. She tried to think of the security as a good thing. That much activity meant that they most likely had the right place.
Tracker and Whisper moved to the right: BlackCat and Spider to the left. Duck looked around and verified that everybody was in position, then nodded towards Whisper.
Whisper leaned up against Tracker as he began the first recon on the place. This was where he was in his element. When he returned he smiled at her and gave her the thumbs up. This was the place alright.
She watched as he signed to her the locations and numbers of the security measures. Dogs, astral watchers, heat sensors. Duck nodded as she mulled over the information and tried to devise a plan.
The security on the gates was tremendous, but it was all directed towards stopping entry, not exit. That would be the most likely escape route since the base would lock down when the gates were opened. That meant they might actually slow down pursuit if there was enough distance between them and their pursuers.
Duck sighed. At least the retreat was planned. There had been too many missions where that was the main question, but it didn’t really matter. All that mattered was keeping Victor Rollins from turning several cities into parking lots.
Duck watched intently as the guard jacked into the security system and began his scan of the area. Zooming in on the connection through the binoculars, she realized that it was a proprietary cable. The way things were running, it probably required a proprietary jack as well.
When the guard jacked out of the system, it was their signal to go. He was still shifting from immersion when Tracker hit him. The man was tranqed and sleeping before he knew what hit him. Duck was there a beat behind and confirmed her fears about the connections.
“Proprietary,” Duck signed.
“Pass the cable,” Tracker signed back as he began pulling out his diagnostic tools. Duck passed him one end of the cable as she cut around the shielding exposing the wires. Tracker spent the next 15 minutes analyzing the cable and making a patch cable that would translate its wiring to their own.
Duck let out a sigh of relief when he smiled and held up the results. The smile faded as Tracker plugged himself in and gained nothing.
“Damn,” he mouthed as he plugged the cable into the unconscious guard’s data-jack. He glowered at Duck for a minute then signed. “Crypto-circuit.”
“How much time?”
“Another fifteen at least” Tracker answered. “We just don’t have that kind of time.”
“By-pass it,” Duck told him.
Duck looked at the guard and swore to herself. It wasn’t fair to the man, all he’d done as far as she knew was chose the wrong man to work for. “Not a good day,” she signed to Tracker.
Tracker nodded and offered to take care of things, but Duck shook her head. “You keep working on your end,” she told him as she pulled out her knife.
She offered a small prayer as she set to work. Inside a knot formed in her stomach.
‘How much longer,’ she wondered. ‘How long would he keep her like this?’
She’d already endured more that she thought possible. Melody, for that was the woman’s name, had told her that after a while it doesn’t hurt anymore. She prayed she’d reach that stage and soon, but there was no relief?
He’d gauged her tolerances, studied her limits and now he played with them. Taking her to the threshold of unconsciousness and then waiting until her system had settled down before beginning again.
“You’ve been a bad little pet,” he told her.
“Leave me alone,” she said, or tried to. It came out more like ‘Lb mah lone.’
Tracker looked at the disgusted expression on Duck’s face as she handed him the crypto chip. He knew how she felt. Duck never took what they did lightly. Sure, she’d joke around about it, but she was one of the few people he knew that still believed that life was to be preserved. In the end it came down to numbers.
One bad-guy against countless thousands of ‘innocents’. Innocents always came first in Duck’s book. It was something he respected about her. It didn’t always make things easier, most of the time it tended to make them more difficult, but that was Duck, and when you played with Duck you played by her rules.
He could play by her rules because he knew that included in her rules was the fact that ‘Team’ counted as ‘innocents’ in her book. His only real complaint there was that she didn’t always include herself in the calculations and since he was usually with her, it tended to make things a bit harder on both of them
He never had to worry whether or not she’d take out the people who had to be taken, she’d do it in a heartbeat. The only problem was dealing with her after the mission, when she counted the cost. It was the cost in human life, and it weighted heavy on her soul. Duck took death very personally.
He also knew it would be up to him to cheer her up.
At least with the chip, this part of his job would be easier.
Duck watched carefully as she covered Tracker. She signaled the area where she knew Whisper was watching. The time required for all the little ‘detours’ they’d had had to make were adding up.
‘We’re still okay,’ Whisper’s voice sounded in her mind. “They’re doing the prelims on the bombs now, next check-in in 20 minutes.”
“Wake me when its over,” Duck signed back then continued scanning the area.
Duck recognized the shift in Tracker’s breathing as he disconnected from the system. She could also tell he’d found something that didn’t make him feel very good.
“This is the place alright,” he signed in disgust.
“What?” Duck signed back.
“You don’t want to know,” he told her. “Trust me, our job just got a lot more difficult.”
“Add a rescue mission, and I’m not even going to argue on this one.”
Duck looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
“Victor is a lot worse than a money grubbing homicidal bastard,” was all he’d say.
Duck wasn’t sure what Tracker had seen, but she knew it was bad. He hadn’t said a word since he’d told her about Victor. The way he was dealing with the guards left no doubt in her mind that it was bad. Tracker’s actions were cold, efficient and lethal.
Duck followed his lead, knowing that he wasn’t heading towards the computers, at least not quite yet. There was something he had seen that was much more pressing. He stopped along side a door and waited for the others to catch-up.
“Prisoners,” he signaled. “Observation camera’s already looping. Not pretty,” he warned.
Duck steeled herself for what was to come. When Tracker warned that something was ‘not pretty,’ she knew it wasn’t nice, not by any stretch of any imagination.
One look at the prisoners and Duck understood immediately. The knot in her stomach tightened as the women knelt by the doors to their cells, waiting.
“What the?” Spider asked.
Duck was already moving. “Spider, get them something to wear,” she told him quietly. “Cat, you watch the back. Whisper get the front. Tracker, verify the system.”
Tracker nodded. As he prepared to recheck the systems he met Duck’s gaze. Worry shone in his eyes.
“I'm fine,” she assured him in sign, then called to the women. “Ladies,” she announced. “We’re going to get you out of here.”
One of them raised her head, almost afraid that it was some sort of trick. When Duck met her gaze she looked back down again. Duck moved to her cell and knelt in front of the bars. “We are here to get you out of here,” Duck assured her. “You...do... want to leave don’t you?”
The woman shivered for a minute then nodded.
“Okay,” Duck told her. “You just hang on.”
There were seven of them all tolled. It took Spider a few minutes, but he came back with some surgical scrubs and a pair of overalls.
There was an audible click as the control systems released the door locks.
“System’s clear,” Tracker announced a few seconds later as his consciousness returned to the physical world. He moved down to the farthest cell and opened the door, and handed the woman there some clothes.
Duck ignored the look Spider gave her as she started doing the same on her end. “This wasn’t part of the mission profile,” he told her.
Duck turned and studied him for a minute. “Profile just changed,” she told him as she opened the door and handed the woman a pair of scrubs.
“Look,” he objected, wheeling her around. “I understand your position on this, but we have bigger problems then seven civilians. He’s going to blow up three cities if we don’t stop him.”
“We will stop him,” Duck answered, a dangerous look flared across her eyes as she started the young man down.
If Spider had had more experience with Duck he’d have backed down, but he didn’t. “You are endangering the mission.”
Duck pushed him into the wall behind them, resting her forearm across his throat. “I am in charge of this mission. You will do as I say. That understood soldier?”
He nodded, but the look he gave her told her it wasn’t over. Duck didn’t care. He rubbed his neck as Duck backed off. “You have to break some eggs to make an omelette,” he muttered.
Duck looked at him for a minute, her eyes narrowing. “The key junior, is knowing which eggs to break! Now help get these people moving.”
Duck took a deep breath as she turned to face the prisoners again. She knew the last thing they needed to see was what had just transpired between her and Spider, but time was running out and she knew it.
As the women assembled she recognized the look in their eyes. They were all afraid to believe this was real, and yet, there was hope. “We’re going to get you out of here,” Duck told them with a reassuring nod. “Cat, you and Spider, you take them out through the exit we discussed.”
She knew that would cut off her own escape, but it was like she told Spider, they key is knowing which eggs to crack. Still it wasn’t fair to ask this of the others. “Whisper, Tracker you game?” she asked.
“You know it,” Tracker answered. What he’d seen had bothered him enough that it was now personal. With anybody else, that would have been a bad thing, but with Tracker, it meant he’d do that much more to see the mission through.
“Somebody’s got to keep you two in line,” Whisper added as if it was obvious what his answer would be.
“But,” Spider objected.
“Son, when you’re calling the shots on the mission, you can object. Right now, you’re getting these people out of here, and you’re going to make enough noise when you go through that front door that they’ll be too busy looking there to figure out where we are. Got it?”
Spider nodded, but she could still see that he didn’t agree. That was all right: agreement wasn’t necessary, only acceptance.
“Luck,” Cat offered as she headed back towards the door.
“Please,” one of the woman stated quietly. “Ma’am?”
Duck turned towards her and smiled gently. “What’s a matter?” she asked softly.
“Minh.” the woman answered softly. “He is with her now...”
“His... private room...” she stated looking over at the far door. “Its around the corner to the left.”
Duck closed her eyes for a minute as she clenched her jaw. “We’ll find her,” Duck assured the woman. “Okay?”
The woman smiled thankfully.
*** *** ***
As they fanned out in front of the door Tracker verified his surroundings, then jacked in. It only took him a minute before he was back. He looked at them. “Rollins,” he signed. “Cameras are off, radio signal, possible deadman switch.”
Duck watched as Whisper nodded, then looked at Tracker. As she reached for the door, Tracker put a hand on hers and shook his head. His eyes told her what he couldn’t, what waited behind the door was not something he wanted her to have to deal with. She smiled at him thankfully and then opened the door.
I don’t know who was more surprised by their entry, Victor or myself. I do know who was more relieved. He reached for something but the woman, the one they called ‘Duck’ tackled him and twisted in such a way that when they landed she was sitting on top of him with her forearm against his throat.
He struggled, but she was like a tiger, intent on knocking him out. By the time she’d finished and looked up at me, the man, Tracker, had covered me with a blanket.
He was already untiing me when the woman joined him. I could tell from their expressions that he had known what was happening and that she had not. Shock, horror and disgust played across her face until she noticed I was watching. Then she masked her feelings, oddly I sensed it was to protect me.
Tracker watched as Duck’s jaw muscles flexed. He could gauge how upset she really was by the rate they tightened. He would have suggested they switch, but something told him that he didn’t want to be anywhere near Rollins right now, dead-man switch or no, he knew he’d probably have killed the man.
As he finished untying the woman, he picked her up and moved her into a chair that was not facing the table where she’d been strapped. He tried to concentrate on making her comfortable, but he kept thinking about what he’d seen.
He tried to tell himself it was over, but looking in the woman’s eyes he knew it wasn’t, not for her anyway. So he held her, offering what comfort he could. She leaned into his embrace and finally managed to say something.
He nodded then reassured her. “We found them,” he told her. “They were worried about you.” he paused. It was trite, but the only other thing he could have told her was that everything would be fine and he knew he couldn’t promise that. He did know that one way or the other, it was over.
He turned as he heard a thump behind him. Duck had unceremoniously dumped Rollins on the table and was strapping him down. He began to wonder if it was really better that he let Duck handle things. He saw the gleam in her eyes as she smiled at him. Somehow, he could almost pity the man. Almost.
He held the woman protectively as Duck finished her preparations. When she finished, Duck looked over at him for a minute.
“Tracker,” she called. “You want to try find her some clothes while I have a nice chat with Rollins?”
Tracker studied Duck for a moment then nodded. It was probably for the best.
Duck took a deep breath as Tracker closed the door behind him. She wasn’t entirely proud of what she was about to do, but after what she had seen, she couldn’t think of a more deserving soul for her line of questioning.
After a brief study of the controls on the table, Duck’s loathing had reached a new level. By the time Victor was conscious, she was in rare form.
“Morning sunshine,” she called to him, her tone was slightly sarcastic but dripping with cheer. “Did you miss me?”
Victor looked at her and suddenly realized where he was. As he struggled against his bonds Duck pulled up a chair and looked at him.
“Sorry to interrupt your evening’s entertainment, but you and I have a lot to discuss.”
Victor glared at her. It was obvious he was used to being the one in control. As he started screaming at her, Duck activated the controls.
“Victor, Victor, Victor. Such language,” she chided. “Now, be a good boy and tell me all about the devices you’ve planted.”
“Go to hell you...”
Duck cut off his rejoinder with another jolt from the table.
“Victor,” she told him as he stopped screaming. “Unlike you, I’m not enjoying this. As a matter of fact, all you’re doing is ticking me off.”
She paused, allowing her words to sink in. “Now, the sooner you start talking, the sooner this will be over with and we can all go about our business.”
“I’m not going to tell you a damn thing,” he told her through gritted teeth.
“Oh, I think you will,” she told him as she pulled out a probe and gave him a wicked grin.
I do not know what the child did the to the man, I am not sure I want to. I could see the set in her eyes when she closed the door behind her. She did not appreciate his... tastes... and had found a way to let him know that she did not find it... appropriate.
I think she gave him something to think about. It was odd really: I could sense her distaste for what she had done, even when she felt it was justified. It was but one of the complexities of my new friends that I was to learn over the coming years, but at that moment, there were much bigger concerns.