Ursa Non Grata

Chapter 2

Bear tried to concentrate on the road, on anything but the threat Salizar and his men posed to Duck. No matter how much she kidded about it, the Archer's Fist held her responsible for their failure. The thing was– if they'd done nothing, no one would ever have known. But they were too paranoid then and too vengeful now.

It didn't make sense, but it didn't have to. In their twisted reality, Duck had destroyed their plans and needed to be taught a lesson.

He clenched the steering wheel tightly as he thought about what they'd done to her. He had seen the hurt they'd inflicted on her. He alone saw what it had done to her spirit. It had taken so long for the spark to return to her– he couldn't let them hurt her again. Ever.

If that meant going to Quebec, he was going to Quebec. They had almost taken her away from him once-- they would not have the chance to do it again.

In spite of himself Bear chuckled. Duck would be annoyed with him for being so defensive of her.

He forced himself to move on, reminding himself that Duck was safe for the time being.

Tomorrow he would begin his own journey, and once he'd talked to Othello, he'd know where to go next.

Tracker and the others were standing by for the information. Once he had it– they'd put an end to Salizar and the Archer's fist.

He reminded himself that before that could happen he would have to get the information out of Othello. Without that information there would be no where to go. It was best he focus on the task at hand.

He climbed the stairs, knowing the time for preparation was limited and there was a lot to do.

Duck dozed off and on as the train made its stops. Staring out the window she watched the other passengers reflected there. Finally she took out the pouch Bear had handed her and closed her hand around it. She could smell the faint wood smoke that had permeated the leather of the pouch.

It reminded her of him-- of home. She paused a moment before slipping it around her neck and tucking it under her shirt. It wasn't regulation– but religious metals were allowed and a medicine bag from Bear should be covered. She laughed slightly when she realized that her hand had gravitated towards it as she thought of him.

It was getting harder and harder to say good-bye.

Finally her mind to return to the present. She studied her surroundings for a moment and then went back to looking out the window. It was going to be a long night.

Waiting was the hardest part of her job– at least that's how she saw it. When she was in the middle of a "situation" there wasn't time to worry about anything other than the moment and what her next move would be.

Sitting on the train, she had too much time and nothing to do but think, and worry and wait. Duck hated waiting.

Daniel TwoBears let his mind relax as the heat from his make shift sweat lodge seeped into his pores, burning out the anger and guilt he felt. It took him a while, but he realized that he felt guilty about what had happened to Duck.

Yes, she had endangered herself to buy them time. They were alive because of her sacrifice– but what happened to her afterwards... On one level he knew that if he had given the Archer's Fist what they wanted they'd have killed her, but on the other he knew that by refusing they had resorted to questioning her.

"That was a long time ago cub," the Spirit of Bear's voice whispered in his mind. "A long time ago."

Bear nodded as his totem let out a low chuckle.

"Doesn't stop you from wondering though does it cub?"

This time he shook his head.

"She doesn't blame you. She's proud of you."

"I let her down."

"You did what you had to do. The ones who did this to her, they are the ones who to blame. They would hurt my children– threaten those who walk my path."

Bear tried to understand, but it was hard. Bear was speaking to him– but he wasn't giving him the counsel he wanted. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. The spirit of Bear was with him, but as far as what was to be, Bear kept his own counsel.

He inhaled deeply, letting the steam work its way inside him and burn away the anger and the guilt. They would only weigh him down and prevent him from doing what needed to be done.

As he left, he swore he saw Bear smiling.

Duck checked her deck for the fourth time since arriving on base. She'd reported in as soon as her train pulled into the station and was now bunked down with the rest of the ‘reservist rabble' who'd been called up for training.

It was strange. For the first time in her life, she really felt like an outsider. She had been a soldier for so long and here she was, a civilian recalled for training purposes. It didn't help that she'd been called up with the reservists from the Memphis barracks– they at least knew each other. The only thing she really had in common with them was the fact that they were living in the Memphis area.

Only a few of them had seen real service, and only one of them had been in real combat. It was easy to tell who was who. There was something in their eyes, the way the took everything in that told her they knew what they were looking for.

They recognized her for what she was and simply left her alone. A few of the others tried to engage her in conversation, but they quickly realized that she wasn't the talkative type and left her alone.

There was an odd tenseness to the group. In the morning the training would begin, but until then they were still civilians, with one night left before that would change.

While other's played cards or talked, she reviewed her setup. This was the closest thing she had to meditation– the smell of electronics and plastic were her incense.

She smiled at the analogy, knowing how it would make Bear shake his head.

Her musing were cut short as one of the reservists sat down next to her, almost upsetting her toolkit.

Duck looked up at the person, trying, but not quite succeeding, at controlling her expression.

"That's a wiz setup you got there," the trespasser stated, oblivious to her expression.

Her expression turned from one of annoyance to one of abject horror as the yong man in question picked up one of her backup units and examined it. "Where did you..."

Duck snatched the equipment from his hand and quickly packed up the rest of her gear.

"What?" he asked with a slight whine. "All I did was look at it..."

Duck's jaw dropped slightly at his comment. "You don't touch... another jacker's equipment unless you have permission or they're out of the action and you need to use what they've got...."

He stared at her for a moment and shook his head. "But– that's military issue, its..."

"Proprietary," one of the old timers interjected, saving the youngster from the explosion Duck felt building up.

"I just wanted to–"

"You don't touch another jacker's gear." Duck repeated. Her voice was slightly calmer, but not much.

He started to object again when the old timer forcibly turned him around and steered him over to another bunk. Duck watched as the man tried to explain things to the younger man. Finally it ended and the man came back over to Duck's bunk.

"Sorry ‘bout that. Pvt. Rommy, the kid's new," he explained unnecessarily nodding towards the offending reservist. Then he smiled and introduced himself.

"Sgt. Mathers - Clipper."

Duck nodded. "Lt. JG Wjowski," she answered. There was a slight pause as she started to give her standard handle, then stopped. "Red."

"Imaginative," Sgt. Mathers observed as he looked at the red-ish stubble that passed for her hair.

Duck shrugged. "It wasn't one of my better days."

He nodded. "How long were you in?"

"I got out?" She asked in a surprised tone.

Sgt. Mathers chuckled at that. "Fair enough."

"You?" Duck asked as she carefully locked her gear down.

"30 years," he answered.

Duck nodded towards the others. "What's the story?"

Sgt. Mathers shrugged. "Kids mostly. Signed up for the GI Bill. One or two want to play soldier, the others have bills to pay."

"Bills to pay, but not willing to sign their life away."

He nodded. "Pretty much."

Duck looked around, noting the others. "Ten Brawns, two Jackers, three Techs and a mage?"

Sgt. Mathers nodded as she assessed her training mates. "One of the ‘Brawns' as you put it is Physically Adept."

Duck nodded. "Fair mix."

"They're reserves," he answered as if that said it all.

Duck nodded towards the youngster who'd accosted her equipment. "How long's he been in?"

Sgt. Mathers .sighed and shook his head. "Barely made the six month cut-off."

"Terrific," Duck sighed. "Guess I better go make nice."

"You don't have to..."

Duck chuckled. "Two weeks tend to go better if you aren't on the ‘Them' side of the score board."

"There is that," he conceded.

Duck sighed. One role she was definitely not used to was that of the ‘oldtimer.' In Voodoo, she was still considered ‘the kid'. Fifteen years in voodoo - five years service before that, and she was still ‘the kid.'

Now here she was trying to make the new kid understand that she wasn't being an ogre and try to help him fit in.

As she started over one of the other reservists interposed herself between Duck and Pvt. Rommy.

"I think you've said enough to him right now," she stated cooly.

Duck stared at the woman for a moment, then read her name tag. "Corporal Lewis," her tone remained neutral. "I suggest you step aside and let me talk to the Private."

Corporal Lewis glared at Duck for a long moment, and finally moved out of her way. Duck paused as she heard the subvocalized, "have it your way hoop-breath."

"Corporal," Duck called evenly, then smiled when the woman turned to face her. "One, I'm not the enemy here. Two- standard military protocol.. Corporals don't tell Lts. what to do. Thirdly you don't insult superior officers where it will get back to them and finally, if you're going to insult them– you've got to do better than ‘hoop-breath'!"

She turned, trying to keep a straight face as she made her way over to Pvt. Rommy. When she saw his dejected expression she had to shake her head. This was definitely new territory for her.

"Private?" she called trying to make her tone sound calmer than she was feeling.

Pvt. Rommy didn't respond, lost in his own misery.

"Private." This time there was less question in her voice.

To her surprise he still didn't move. Duck was starting to get annoyed now.

"Yo, Rommy! Lady's trying to talk to you!" Corporal Lewis called from across the room.

Duck looked at her and then back at Pvt. Rommy. He turned, suddenly aware of her presence.

"You were talking to me?"

Duck's shoulders sagged as she looked at him. "You are Private Rommy aren't you?"

"Just... Rommy," he answered slowly.

Duck shook her head. "Here, you're ‘Private Rommy,' or just ‘Private'. She watched his expression hoping he'd understand, but fairly certain he didn't.

As she looked around the barracks she suddenly realized it was going to be a very long two weeks.

Bear made one last pass through the kitchen, running the cloth over the counters. It was amazing how lifeless the place seemed to be without Duck. With her deck gone, it was almost as if she'd never been there.

He closed his eyes for a moment and called her laughter to mind. In spite of his worries, he found himself smiling. He looked around the apartment one last time and turned out the lights. It was time to get moving.

He locked the door behind him and set the guardian spells. To the untrained, it would look like any other door, in any other apartment in the building. To the trained– it was a sign that the door, and the apartment behind it were best left alone.

He headed down the stairs and out to his bike. A quick once over assured him that it was safe and ready to go.

He took a deep breath as his mind started going over the terrain between Memphis and Quebec. Then he donned his helmet and straddled the bike. Without ceremony the engine purred to life and he put the bike into gear.

It had begun.

Salizar smiled to himself as he witnessed his quarry's preparations. He marveled at the interloper's strategy– it looked for all the world as if she was heading elsewhere. Leaving her boyfriend to make his own way to Quebec.

He'd spent two years studying her. Studying her moves and what was known about her. She was a cagy one. That was why he watched the boyfriend. She could not be depended on to do what you expected but the boyfriend– steady, reliable... predictable. That was what they needed.

He made sure his deckers in the prison system were ready. There was no telling if the interloper would be with her boyfriend when he broke into the prison, or if she'd be watching over him in the matrix– it didn't matter. He'd make sure she was caught either way.

He continued to watch the images from the surveillance team. Everything was perfect.

Copyright 2001 - M.T. Decker

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