“Alice falls down the rabbit hole and her dress poofs up like a parachute} Alice: Well, after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”
Digital’s back slams so hard into the concrete wall behind her that it caved in and shattered the bricks that composed it. She dropped to the ground in a kneeling position with one knee on the ground along with both of her hands. She looked up just in time to catch sight of the Agent across the room from her reaching a hand under the lapel of his coat. She quickly made it to her feet and darted off to her left, bullet hole exploding into the basement wall trailing her.
She made it up the steps in a shot and exited through the door out onto the parking lot outside. She hadn’t bothered with the knob, opting instead to simply lower her shoulder and charge the door. The Agent who had managed to appear out of nowhere and get the drop on her left her with little rational thought. All she could focus on was getting out of there alive. Her long black leather trench coat flapped behind her as she made it out of the parking lot and turned down a sidewalk. Digital moved at full speed past the assortment of confused faces that scrambled to get out her way and let her pass. The sight of them all forced her to make an attempt to move faster, knowing that at any moment that Agent could materialize into any one of these pedestrians.
Gunfire again. The crowd on the street erupted in panic as did Digital. She quickly turned down an alley. “Agent! Agent!” she yelled out as she continued to pump her arms and legs.
“Oh, perfect,” Blitz uttered to himself. He turned and began moving in the same direction as Digital. A leap into the air placed him onto a fire escape high above the ground. He swung both of his legs over the side at the same time and started up the staircase. When Digital reached the fire escape she did the same. Bullets that the Agent hurled in their direction sparked the metal all around them as he trained his sights on their ascent. Blitz kicked his way through a window on the fourth floor and climbed into the ragged hollowed out squat. He quickly found the front door, exited, and made off down the hallway, soon noticing that Digital was hot on his trail.
The faint sound of a telephone ringing far off in the distance suddenly became apparent in Blitz’s ears as he made the corner in the hallway. It was soon overshadowed by the sound of gunfire. That Agent was as persistent as he was deadly. The ringing sound grew louder. Once he began slowing down to pinpoint the precise apartment door that concealed the phone he was after Digital began to close the gap between them. “It’s 413!” she called out to him as she ran down the hall. “I swear you’d loose your ass if attached to your neck!”
Blitz found the door. Gritting back his desperate desire to sling a retort back to her for her last comment, he instead concentrated on saving their lives. He kicked in the door and moved inside the apartment. The telephone was atop a small circular end table in the corner of the darkened living room. Blitz didn’t answer it. Instead he pulled 9mm handgun out from under his coat and stood guard over it until Digital found her way into the apartment. She picked up the phone and placed it to the side of her head. When the receiver dropped Blitz picked it back up and hung up the phone. He could hear footsteps. His pulse began to quicken and the sound of his own heartbeat filled his ears as he raised his weapon and pointed at nothing. A small sense of relief swept over him when he heard the phone began to ring again. He picked it up in a hurry and placed it to his ear.
When the plug was pulled out of the back of Blitz’s head he sat up in his chair to the sounds of complaint that were pouring out of Digital who was already up and about. “Just once I’d like to make broadcast without having to get the crap kicked out of me by some damned Agent. I mean, what is that, four in a row?” she rambled on. “I really think you should check your signal, Detrick.
“Did you ever think it could just be you?” Shamrock said in her signature Irish accent. “Maybe it’s a spot of luck you need instead of better signal. You’re turning out to be quite the jinx, you are.”
“Stay out of this, Shamrock. Nobody asked you,” Digital huffed.
“Was your contact compromised?” Cruze asked her on a more serious note.
“I doubt it. The guy was long gone by the time that Agent showed up. I think his only interest was in pounding my face.”
When the operator’s phone began ringing it got the attention of everyone in the ship’s core. There was a moment of silence. Shamrock decided to break it. “Maybe it’s someone from the Cassius. I believe their crew is out broadcasting.”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Detrick said. He answered the call. “Operator.”
“I don’t have much time,” the voice on the phone whispered.
“Who is this?” Detrick demanded to know. The crewmembers standing around him perked up their curiosity.
“If you enjoy releasing your precious species from the matrix and would like to continue doing so freely, be at the corner of Philmont and Beach in exactly twenty four hours.” The connection was broken and the call ended.
“Will you calm down,” Blitz said to her.
“No I will not. Some guy calls our ship, breaths into the phone like some weirdo, and we’re stuck standing on a corner like a pack of idiots?”
“You’re acting like you got stuck on latrine duty. Capt. Cruze just thought that it might be worth checking up on. We’ll be out of here in no time. I can think of worse assignments.”
“Well Cruze should have his head examined.”
“I have to throw in with Digi on this one,” Shamrock spoke up. “Don’t suppose I fancy having to spend any amount of time in here next ole Agent bait over there.”
Digital leaned forward and looked to her right, past Blitz’s chest, and over towards Shamrock. She was just about to fire back at her when the sound of shattering glass stole her attention. Her neck cocked back and her eyes shot up towards the individual was currently in the process of dropping six stories. His feet slammed down hard on the roof of a car parked across the street from the trio who found themselves shielding their eyes from the glass that exploded outward from every window on the vehicle.
“You recon that’s what we were called here to see?” Shamrock said, pointing her hand, palm up, at the scene across the street.
“You recon that’s what we were called here to see?” Digital repeated, mocking her accent.
Blitz flung his hands out and slapped both of their arms. “Fight later. Let’s go see what this guy has to say.”
They hurried across the street and soon found themselves running down the block after their quarry who had hopped down from the roof of the demolished car and shot out on his way as if the fall had little effect on him. They call out to him to stop but their words fell on deaf ears. He turned down an alley and the trio followed suit. Passing a trash can with a pole sticking out of it, Blitz snatched out the metal bar without breaking stride and flung it the alleyway ahead of him. He stumbled a bit after the bar smashed into the back of his legs and for a moment Blitz thought that was all the effect his short order plan would have, but soon enough he took a spill and the trio caught up with him.
“Hey, we need to talk to you,” Digital opened up with.
The stranger made his way back up on his feet. “Talk?” He sounded genuinely surprised at the notion. “I don’t have time to talk! I’m late enough as it is!”
He started to turn and go but Blitz grabbed hold of his shoulder, halting him. “Hold on a sec. We’ve just got a few questions for. That’s all.”
“No questions! I’m late! Late I tell you! Now back off.” A hard and very unexpected punch to Blitz’s chest sent him careening toward the dumpster behind him. Needless to say, this distracted the two women that accompanied him, turning their attention towards their friend who had just slammed into the side of a dumpster, and once again he was off.
Digital rushed over to Blitz who was sitting on the ground, his back propped up against the dumpster wall. He waved his hand toward the fleeing man several times. “Go after him.” Shamrock complied, leaving Digital to tend to Blitz. She eventually got him to his feet and together they started after Shamrock.
The two caught up with her in the basement of an antique shop standing over an angled set of open double doors. “It goes down into the sewer,” Shamrock informed them. “I took a quick peek, but there was no sign of him. Should we go in and look around a bit?”
“No way am I sloshing around some sewer after a guy that I don’t even know why we’re chasing,” Digital said.
“Well he did drop this.” Shamrock held a blue matchbox with white writing on the cover. She handed it to Blitz.
“The Tea Room,” he read aloud.
“I think it’s a club or something. Are we going?” Shamrock asked.
“Wouldn’t hurt to check it out, I guess.”
Digital huffed in aggravation as she turned to leave the room. “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” she said under her breath.
“It is the middle of the day,” Digital said.
“Come on,” Blitz chimed in. “The faster we get this done the quicker I get back to my game.”
The three of them exited the vehicle. “You and Cruze still matching your dim wits over the chessboard?” Digital asked him. They all started across the street. “How long have you two been playing the same game? I would have forfeited out of absolute boredom by now.”
“That’s because you don’t understand the game.”
“Right. I’ve been too busy understanding my life,” Digital shot back.
Shamrock pulled open the front door and they entered the building. They moved down the hallway toward a second door waiting at the other end of the short corridor. The passage intersected another that, along with the one they had just moved down, completed the formation of a capital T. Shamrock grabbed the door knob and gave it a twist. It hardly budged. “Locked.” they all heard and turned their heads to the left towards the upper torso of the man in a black suit and tie occupying the booth behind the pane of glass imbedded in the wall. It was strange that neither of them had noticed him manning his post there, but he certainly had their attention now. “Locked,” he uttered once again directly to their gazing faces.
“Exactly how do we get it unlocked so that we can go in?” Digital asked him.
“A keycard would get the job done nice and easy,” the sentry explained to her. “You see, this establishment only caters to its registered members. Members who would have been issued such a card after the process of registration was completed.”
“We don’t want to become members,” Blitz said to him. “We just need to get inside and look around for a few minutes.”
“Well that may very well be, but I’m afraid that without a keycard the door is still going to remain locked.”
“How in the bloody hell does a bloke come across one of these keycards anyhow?”
The gentleman behind the glass pulled a clipboard up from under the counter in front of him and slid through an opening at the bottom of the panel of glass. “Members only,” he said. Digital sighed heavily and went for the clipboard, anxious to get all of this over with. After five minutes of quick scribbling she slid the clipboard back under the glass. “There is the matter of the membership fee,” he said to her. “And I’m afraid it’s quite considerable.”
Digital drew back and punched through the glass, grabbing the doorman by his tie in the same motion. She jerked him forward over the counter. The leaning position he was in lifted his feet off the ground and brought him face to face with the shades she wore. “I suppose a temporary waving of the fee wouldn’t be completely out of the question…” He reached under the counter and came back up with a blue and white card that he slid towards her. “With the utmost confidence that you would clear up this debt at a later date.”
Digital released him and scooped up the card. “Count on it.”
She walked over to the door and swiped the card down the console on the wall next to it. The red light on top of it flashed green and she turned the doorknob. It twisted all the way around and the trio stepped inside the next corridor. The sound techno music filled their ears and the short hallway soon opened up into a huge dance floor filled with partying patrons. They moved through the crowd in search of the mysterious stranger that they had encountered earlier that day, very skeptical that they would find hide nor hair of him. This follow up was mainly for protocol purposes.
“Would someone kindly tell me who the expletive that is strolling through my party as if it were nickel beer night at the local pub,” she said, pointing a single finger towards the wall covered with small television screens from where she sat on the red velvet on the opposite side of the room.
One of the men standing steadily at his post beside the arm of the couch she was sitting one stepped toward the screen, squinting at the monitors that he knew had caught her attention. They had also sparked his interest, but he certainly wasn’t going to say anything if she didn’t bring it up first, fearing the repercussions of disturbing her solace. “They’re clearly human. Definitely not regulars. In fact…” He moved closer to the screens. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in here before, your, highness.”
“Well they’re here now, Jack,” she scoffed, causing him to straighten his stance and abandon his view of the screens for her eyes that bore into his back. “And they’re not just humans. They’re rebels.” He watched her pull in the arms she had stretched out across the back of the couch in both direction and lay her body down along the length of the seat cushions. “I’d prefer they were elsewhere. See to it that they are. Immediately.”
“Oh my God. Could you please call Detrick?” Digital begged as they moved through the club, scanning the crowd. “Tell him we need an exit yesterday.”
“You’d be good to hold that thought,” Shamrock spoke up.” Digital swung her head in her direction. “I think I’ve just found our guy.” The three of them turned and saw the elusive prey that had given them the slip in the alleyway that the four of them had once occupied enjoying a drink at a table to their left. They moved through the crowd in his direction hell bent on a cordial sit down.
“Come on, people. This is neither the time nor the place for such acts of outright violence,” he said, scanning the bodies surrounding him.
“I’d be willing to wager that ordeal against some information.”
“Information? What information? I don’t know anything.”
“We can start,” Digital said, “with you telling us what you were doing in that building before you decided to take a swan dive out of a sixth story window.”
“Oh that. Well I was just…”
A hand slammed down on top of Digital’s shoulder and she turned around. Her first instinct was to punch blindly and she did just that. Unfortunately the reflexes of the individual accosting her were much better than she predicted. The burly gentleman who was now standing before her caught her fist in his palm and was now giving it a very unpleasant squeeze. After wincing a little from the pain, Digital snatched her hand back. Looking around, she saw that they were slowly being surrounded by what appeared to be the club’s security. “You shouldn’t be here,” the man in front of her said.
“Sorry, pal, but I’ve got a keycard that says different.”
“May I see it?”
Digital whipped out the card and held it up in front of her his face, hoping that this misunderstanding at least undermined some of the pride he seemed to be taking in his position at the club. Watching him pluck the card from her fingers and crumple the plastic up in what she already knew to be a vice-like fist drained her of any such expectation. “Your membership’s been revoked. Here. I’ll show you to your exit.” All three of their attentions having been distracted by the six men whose buff physiques bulged their suits out were surprised to see that quarry had managed to slip out of their presence undetected while this exchange was taking place. Most likely he had left the premises, and even if he hadn’t they surely wouldn’t be perusing this crowd for him any further. Not without serious opposition. They were lead out the back door. When the doorway to the establishment shut closed they were alone in the alleyway in back of the building.
“Well that was a bloody waste of time,” Shamrock exclaimed.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Blitz said. “I mean, we got singled out and tossed out of that club pretty quick. And for no apparent reason other than our presence there being reprehensible to somebody. A club that we just tracked our Mr. Free faller to after receiving a call telling us just where to find him.”
Digital pulled a cell phone out of her coat pocket. “Nancy Drew I’m not. Nor do I care to be.” She punched in numbers. “We followed up on Cruze’s lead. It lead us nowhere.” The operator picked up. Detrick picked up. “Yeah, if it’s not to much trouble could you do what you can to locate the nearest exit for me? I’d be ever so grateful,” Digital said sarcastically. “Thank you.” She hung up the phone and stuffed it back into her pocket. “We’re out of this nightmare. Cruze is just going to have to be happy with the whole lot of nothing we bring him instead of the conspiracy theory he wanted.”
The plugs were pulled out of each of their heads. “I can’t believe I just ate into a quarter of my down time for that bit of rubbish,” Shamrock said, sitting up in her chair.
“You’re forgetting the best part,” Digital said, sitting up after Crackshot pulled the plug out of her. “No Agents. Number five…and no Agents.” She climbed out of the chair. “The curse is officially broken.”
“I sure hope that you came out of there with some kind of Intel more related to the task at hand than that,” Capt Cruze said to her.
Digital walked over to where he stood by Operator’s station. “The mission was a big bubkis, sir. Waste of time. Both yours and mine.”
Cruze glanced over her nonchalant demeanor and then looked her in the eye. “For our sake, I hope you’re right.”
Digital climbed a ladder and started out away from the ship’s core. She’d almost made it back to her quarters when she noticed that she was being followed. Stopping and turning, she saw that the culprit was Blitz. “Something I can help you with?” she asked him.
“Just wondering what it was that’s got you all tense lately,” he said, continuing to close in on her in the darkened corridor.
“You couldn’t ask me that back in the core?”
“Figured you’d be more comfortable talking about it in seclusion.”
She raised her hand up and pressed it against his chest when got too close. “I think you’re the one that’s looking to get a little more comfortable.”
His grin was devilish. “I can’t see anything wrong with working out our problems after we’re done with yours.”
“Accept there is no ours to work out.”
“Why do you keep pushing me away?” he asked her, leaning in again.
Digital gave him another soft shove. “Wake me up when my shift comes up.” She turned and continued on her way. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d fended off advances from him. Doubtful it would be the last. Digital had sparked his interest some time ago and had been dealing with him ever since. As amusing as it was she couldn’t really say that she reciprocated the feelings he constantly professed to have for her. Not that she would have him stop. The private entertainment Blitz provided her definitely helped break the monotony, especially on particularly long outings.
“And now I’m back in the matrix,” Digital said from the backseat of the car she was sharing with Blitz and Crackshot.
“Cruze got a hit on a potential,” Blitz explained from behind the wheel. “He was sure that this one would need considerably more work, but the realization of her situation hit her harder than anybody thought. We’re unplugging her tonight.”
Crackshot turned around and looked at her, the expression he wore laced with unbridled lust and desire. “You know the one, hot as all out sin.” Digital crinkled her lips into a mocking grin laden with disgust and he turned back around to Blitz. “You think maybe we could get her to join up with our crew? Not that I’m complaining about Venus, Shamrock, and sourpuss back there, but the Llorrac could always use another piece of eye candy wondering about. You know, to spruce the place up a bit.”
Digital slammed her boot into the back of his seat, giving his body a slight jolt. Crackshot was reduced to an overflow of chuckles. “That might actually be possible if every position on our ship hadn’t been filled already,” Blitz explained to him as he drove. “Maybe you could convince Cruze to give her a job turning down the beds and straightening up our quarters, leaving mints on the pillows after she’s done.”
“Wouldn’t get any complaints out of me.”
“Could you two be more juvenile?” Digital said to them, turning her head towards the view night blanketed cityscape outside of the backseat window to her left.
Crackshot turned around to her again. “We could, but I’m afraid it might be a little too much for your delicate ears.” He followed his words up with a quiet laughter that sounded like a rapid succession of coughs that he was trying to keep to himself.
The two cars came to a stop next to the curb in front of a seven story apartment building. When everyone had exited the cars Blitz stepped in front of Capt. Cruze’s path before they all started up the steps into the building. “What is it?” he asked Blitz.
“I was just thinking, sir. This extraction is pretty routine. You couldn’t possibly need all of us for this assignment.”
“What’s that got to do with the fact that I want everyone present here right now to assist in this?” Cruze replied. Blitz let his head do a quick left to right and he could see that he had the attention of his entire crew.
“What’s this?” Shamrock exclaimed. “You trying to shirk out on this crap job?” She received a look from Cruze that instantly straightened her spine. “I…I mean…this mission,” she said, batting her eyelashes repeatedly and turning her gaze toward the sidewalk.
“No,” Blitz said, turning back to Cruze. “I’ve just got a bad feeling about that mystery call we received. I think there might be more to it than we know.”
“According to the Intel your team brought back it was a wild goose chase,” Cruze reminded him. Eager to seek the completion of the current mission they were on, Cruze started to move towards steps again. Blitz’s hand pressing against his chest drew his eyes down to it and stopped his movement. He raised his head back up to him. “You’re pushing your luck here, soldier. There have definitely been better attempts to get out of duty, and, mind you, they genuinely come from people not already jacked in.”
“I’m not trying to get out of duty, sir. I’m just requesting your permission to pursue a separate course of action in regards to a previous mission that may very well yield significantly better results than previous attempts to do so.” Cruze arched an eyebrow. “I just don’t think we’ve seen this thing through,” Blitz said to him. “We need to go back to the Tea Room. I need to go back there. I seriously think there’s something we’re overlooking.”
Cruze stared at him for a second before rolling his eyes. “Fine. I guess I’ve worked with you long enough to trust your hunches by now. This job is pretty routine. If you think you need a little closure on this issue then go get it…but you’re taking back up.”
“Digital should be all the back up I need if you’re sure that it’s absolutely necessary,” Blitz said to him.
She perked up at the mention of her name. Having been following the conversation, she began shaking her head from side to side. Her lips parted and she poised herself to speak but was interrupted before she could get a word out. “Digital, go with him,” Cruze ordered her.
“But, sir, I…”
“Hey. Let’s not make a big thing out of this.” Digital looked at her captain and could see that his eyes were serious. She knew from experience that it was pointless to argue with him now. “Do a quick recon and meet back up with us at the rendezvous point. I want to make sure this thing is over and done with.” Cruze turned away from Digital’s disappointing gaze and looked at Blitz. “Do what you have to do.” He moved past him along with the rest of the crew that headed up the stairs of the apartment building.
Digital closed her eyes tight and scrunched up the other features of face, turning towards the only other person accompanying her on the sidewalk. Her muscles relaxed and her eyes opened. Blitz was in her sights. Her searing glare could have easily lit him ablaze had it had the power to do so. “Now what, dimwit? From routine to unnecessarily out of the way. You got anymore surprises you want to let me in on?” Digital said to him. She was unmistakably upset and all Blitz could offer to her piercing eyes was a sinister smile.
“Get in the car,” he said, walking around the front of the car parked behind the rear of the other. “We should hurry.”
Once inside the building, they found the entrance to the club locked just as they had the first time, only now there wasn’t’ any attendant to offer them a keycard to gain access. Scanning the area of the hallway, Blitz found the grate to an air vent high up on the wall next to the entrance of the building and pulled it away, dropping the fixture to the floor in front of his feet. He grabbed the edge and started to pull himself up when he felt a sharp tug against the waist line of his pants.
His feet came back down to the floor and he turned to Digital. “What?” he said, frustrated at her halt in his progress.
“Uh uh,” she protested. “It’s bad enough that you suckered me into this dummy mission just score some alone time with me. But there’s no way that I’m crawling through some dust covered rat hole with your ass in my face the whole way through. I’m going first.”
Blitz stepped away from the opening, staring at her in amazement. “A little conceited, aren’t we?” He watched her grab hold of the edge of the opening, filled with amusement. “And what makes you think I want to be staring at your ass crawling through this vent?”
“Do I even have to dignify that with an answer?” Digital pulled herself up and crawled through the vent. Blitz was up directly after her.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” she asked him after he ordered her around the next right corner.
“Just going on what I remember about the layout of the place from the last time we were in here.” The whisper with which he spoke with echoed softly throughout the silver tunnel they crawled through just as her voice had. “You should be striking gold five or so feet just ahead.”
Digital crawled on until she came to a point where the area of the ventilation shaft she crawled through split off into a four way intersection. The floor at the center of the cross section beneath body took the form of a slit covered grate. Crawling into one of the adjacent tunnels and turning around, Digital peered down into the office room below along with Blitz after he moved closer position. “What do you think?” Blitz said, alternating glances between her and the sparsely lit room below.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Digital said to him. “You didn’t drag me here for nothing.” She moved her foot into position and stomped down on the grate, forcing the barrier to drop down and swing open, swaying back and forth from the ceiling while the two intruders descended into the room.
“Can’t say. I just got a vibe that something wasn’t right about this place.” Blitz shuffled through a folder filled with loose leaf paper in the drawer that he had pulled open. “After ushering us out of here so fast I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that someone in here was trying to hide something.” He flipped his fingers faster over the edges of the papers he filtered through. “Hide something from us,” he said to himself, only loud enough for his partner to hear.
“If you ask me I think you’re loosing it,” Digital said to him, still going through the files in her hands.
Footsteps in the hallway just outside of the office door.
They both looked at each other in total surprise and then Digital took the initiative. She moved toward the center of the room and leaped toward the ceiling, springing upward through the open grate, into the ventilation shaft. Blitz was on her tail almost immediately. He pulled the grate up closed behind him and the two of them waited patiently as they stared down through the slits hoping to catch a glimpse of the party that had so abruptly interrupted their invasion.
The office door opened, spilling light into the room. “Good thing you caught that vent cover being on the ground,” a voice said as it entered the room and flipped the light switch. “No telling what she would have done had she come in and found it herself.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what she would have done,” another voice said. “She would have used her own two hands to give new meaning to the term decapitation.”
They both laughed as they moved further into the room. Digital and Blitz looked up at each other and then back down through the vent that they peered through. They were surprised to see that the two men had almost immediately began digging through the file cabinets they had just so recently abandoned. “Yeah? Imagine what she would have done had she been aware of the extraction occurring tonight by those blasted rebels?” one of the occupants of the office said. They both exploded with laughter.
“I would imagine she would be very cross,” a third voice exclaimed. It startled them both to attention as well as the occupants of the vent overhead. Digital and Blitz watched eagerly as a figure with dark hair laden with narrow streaks of red stepped into their view. “Deuce, Trey. What the hell are you doing here?" she asked them as they pushed the drawers of the filing cabinets closed and presented themselves to her.
“Your majesty,” they both said in unison.
“We were just…” Trey started.
“And don’t bother babbling out any lies about tonights little mix up,” the red and black haired woman said, waving her hand across her body in an arc. “I already know about the extraction being perpetrated tonight.” Digital and Blitz looked at each other again from their position on all fours over the vent. “You’re a little late as far as Intel is concerned, but I think I can see my way to sparing your lives…” The two men remained at their post on either side of the desk, heads bowed, as the woman who had entered the room moved towards it and stopped underneath the vent that hid the rebels spying on her and the others. She did a one eighty and leaned back against the desk. “…provided you can give me a good enough reason why you two are snooping around my office and I’m just now getting the 411 on a D Cell getting ejected without my esteemed permission.”
"It was...was Ace, your worship," Trey managed to stammer out, his hands cupped at his chest as he spoke. "He sent us here...to...to grab a few things for him. You know him," the fellow said, smiling a nervous smile at the grimacing expression the woman before him wore. "So absent minded sometimes."
"Well tell him he'd better work on his memory," she huffed and pushed herself off of the desk. She walked around behind it and took a seat, her two subordinates still standing at their post at the corners of the desk. "And that business about the extraction?" she asked. The two men exchanged confused with each other a number of times as they stumbled over an opening line. Fed up already, the lady behind the desk simply raised her palm up towards them. "Forget. I'll talk to Jack about it later. In the mean time you two better make yourselves scarce. Otherwise you'll find your heads on my chopping block by nights end."
“Smell what, your grace?” Deuce said.
She sniffed two more times. “Cotton candy.” Her eyes came down to them again and she stood up from her chair. “It smells like cotton candy in here. Did you two have any of those filthy little humans in my office?”
Listening to the two men beneath them explode into apologetic denial, Digital looked up at Blitz and mouthed the words “cotton candy” to him with a confused look on her face. Blitz responded with a hunch of his shoulders and turned back to the scene below the grate. They had to wait up there, making as little noise as possible, until the room beneath them was finally all cleared out.
“How can you even be sure that they were talking about us?” Blitz asked her as they back tracked through the ventilation shaft.
“Just how many extractions do you think are taking place tonight?” Digital replied. “We have to get back and let Cruze know about this.”
The two of them hopped down into the hallway next to the building entrance. “So now you think there’s something weird going on with this place. Guess I’m not loosing it after all,” Blitz said, grinning big at her.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that if I were you.”
Digital turned and moved toward the door. Blitz followed, shaking his head from side to side as he walked. They had to get back and meet up with the rest of their crew to jack back out. Digital was anxious to get Cruze‘s opinion on what they‘d just stumbled onto. Maybe it would all turn out to be nothing, but she doubted it. “I guess the old adage still holds true,” they heard a voice say after stepping out of the building into the night. “You go looking for trouble and you’re bound to find what you seek.” An eerie laughter followed. Digital had her gun drawn and they both turned in every direction, finding no culprit to pin the voice to.
“Who’s there?” Blitz demanded to know, now going for his own gun.
“That’s not really important, is it? You have to hurry.” More laughter followed. “Wouldn’t want to miss your ride.”
Silence. This night had started being too much for Digital a long time ago and now she simply wanted it to end. A light backhand to Blitz’s shoulder as he stood at her back staring off into the night told him that she was ready to go and they were in the car in no time.
By the time they made it back to the warehouse there was no one inside to greet them. The crew had to have been done with their charge by now and must have already gone through without them. The telephone, still on the small table where it had been when they had first jacked in suddenly began ringing as their car pulled in through one of the large bay door. “What do you think Cruze is gonna do about this?” Blitz asked her as they stepped out of the car and headed towards the table.
“What I’m more worried about is whether or not this is an isolated incident.”
“Well, here she is,” Shamrock greeted her. “Ms. Conspiracy Buff herself.”
“What’s she talking about?” Cable said.
“That’s right,” Shamrock continued. “Guess with being cooped up in that cockpit all day you don’t get to hear all the juicy tell all. Digi here’s been going all Cabbages and Kings about some blarney going on in the land of 1’s and 0’s.”
Digital shot her a scowl that sent the crowd standing around Shamrock into ripples of giggles. Their constant rivalry had always proved a never-ending well of amusement. The only one who had ever voiced the most disdain for it was Capt. Cruze. Possibly because of its frequent occurrence during business hours. “Right. And I guess the fact that the crew of Valiant just had a potential abducted from their custody by a small band of unidentified assailants and had to literally shoot their way back to their exit is just some other random mishap,” Digital spoke, her hands up beside her shoulders palms up. She let her arms drop, slowly going over the expressions on the faces all around her. They remained unconvinced. “Fine. Nobody believe me. But when whatever this thing is finally gets too big for us to do anything about I want all of you to remember that it was Digital who said we should have gotten out in front of this thing when we had the chance.”
“I’m sure you’ll be hailed as the patron saint of ‘I told you so,’” Crackshot said. “How the hell you know about anything going on with the Vigilant? Aren’t they still deployed?”
“Yes,” she answered him. “I just came back from the control room in the…” When Digital let her eyes drop to the earthen floor she was momentarily distracted. “What the hell are those?”
This time they all looked down. Four sets of bare feet were currently in the company of two fluffy white rabbits. “What?” Shamrock protested. “I told you already I hate getting the grit in me toes.”
Cable climbed into her seat in the cockpit and began switching on the controls. Capt. Cruze occupied the co-pilot’s chair and together they pulled the Llorrac out of port. The bluish-white glowing pads all over the hull sparked and hummed, electricity flickering out in small bolts whenever the hovercraft neared metal. The ship moved closer to Gate 4 and waited patiently in place as the gigantic barrier slowly parted and allowed the hovercraft to pass out into the darkened tunnels ahead.
Digital was on her back, tucked away inside of a very tight crawl space, with a small flashlight between her teeth. Both of her hands were busy with the thick, tangled mass of wiring above her. As if having to rifle through this haystack in search of one little short wasn’t frustrating enough, now someone was kicking at her legs. Digital scooted out of her cubby and was now lying on her back staring up into the face of her captain. “Sir?” she said to him.
“Finish up down here and get up to the core. Soon as possible.” He started off on his way and, with a sigh of disgust, Digital slid back into the crawl space.
She climbed up into the chair and had the plug inserted into the back of her head. Apparently the crew of the Zacharias were preparing for an extraction when their hovercraft experienced some technically difficulties that’s prevented them from broadcasting. Difficulties that most likely arose when their pilot, attempting to wolf down a wedge of strawberry bunt cake that he’d smuggled onboard while flying, steered the ship into the tunnel wall. The Llorrac had been handed off their assignment by Zion Control and were now in route toward their potential.
From where Digital was sitting she could see the matrix feed scrolling down the screens in front of Detrick’s operating station. She stared at the screens, the incredibly bad feelings she had about this mission twisting her stomach into knots. They shouldn’t be doing this. She knew it. But who could she complain to? Who’d believe her? She watched Detrick take his place in his chair in front of the screens. His fingers went to work at the keyboards.
Too late now.
“You calm down. I just want to get back to Cruze and get through that exit while I’m still in one piece.”
The two of them felt a hand pull back on their shoulder, Digital’s left and Blitz’s right. “What is it? What’s wrong? Is there something wrong?” the short neurotic gentleman asked as he wedged himself in between them. Digital shrugged off his hand. Blitz did the same. “Oooh. I knew I shouldn’t have messed around with this stuff. I knew something like this would happen. It’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Nothing’s the matter,” Digital explained to him as politely as she could. “I’d just like to get this over with.” The constant pestering of this tiny, rail thin character, fueled with the oncoming peril that she feared increased her urge to depart this place.
The balding, coke bottle glasses sporting gentleman that should have currently been the responsibility of the crew of the Zacharias pestered the couple with a fear for his safety with a nonstop stream of ramblings that had started from the moment Blitz and Digital went to pick him up and continued on with no sign of ever slowing, let alone coming to a most gratifying halt. When the trio reached the elevator Digital pressed the button to call the car. When it arrived she graciously invited him to step inside first, continuing to maintain her poise and an immaculate patience for his annoying demeanor. Once he boarded the two rebels stepped on after him and turned around to face the door. Digital pushed the button for the ground floor and then stood upright, the two of them shoulder to should like guards shielding a precious VIP. There was another pull at their shoulders. “Are you sure we’re gonna be okay?” he said to no one in particular. “Because I…”
Digital rammed her elbow back and sank it square into his stomach, forcing a heave of air out of his mouth that took the place of his bothersome words. The blow also knocked him back to the wall at the rear of the elevator. The man’s glasses nearly slipped from his face as he doubled over and clutched his stomach, the wheezing still coming at a steady pace. “Was that really called for?” Blitz asked her, still facing front as she was.
Digital hunched her shoulders up. “Technically, it never really happened.”
Blitz pulled the car up to a curb in front of a six story building whose gothic architecture litter with perching gargoyles and pointed archway windows stood out in an especially creepy manner against the cloudy night sky that flickered with lightning flashes. Digital got out of the car and stared up at the structure, once again feeling the wiggins that such an accommodation brought out of her. This was all just too much. All that was lacking was a hex sign painted above the doorway that the three of them stepped through to make the ominous appeal of this entire situation complete.
The equipment required to locate Mr. Watkins’s carrier signal and extract him from the reservoir that his expulsion from the machine power plant would eventually dump him into after said signal had been interrupted had already been set up. Stepping into the room and straightening his glasses on the bridge of his nose as he marveled at the mechanisms and personnel that filled the room, Mr. Wilkins was so aghast and bubbling over with questions that Digital eventually had to force him down into a chair. Threatening him with more physical violence was effective enough to get him to shut his mouth long enough for her to begin placing sticky nodes to his body with a reasonable amount of peace. It didn’t last, but, thankfully Digital was finished with her work. She marched over to Venus who was standing on the other side of the room. “Tell me you got a signal on this freak,” Digital said to her.
Venus raised up from the goggles she stared down into and shot her a smile. “Not yet. Give me a sec. Make yourself useful, get Detrick on the line.” She leaned her face back down into the mechanism in front of her.
“What the hell is that?” Detrick said to himself, pressing the right cup of his headphone set closer into his ear and staring at the encoded symbols streaming down the screens in front of him as he manned his post at the operator’s station.
Cruze, Venus, Crackshot, Shamrock, Blitz, and Digital. Their heads had all sprung upright on their necks and turned towards the door that had just been kicked open. Digital’s eyelids spread wide as she watched the cadre of eight, no nine, unknown, unauthorized well dressed individuals make their way into the room. They stormed in as if they owned the place, and didn’t seem the least bit surprised by their presence there. The unusual and out of place equipment in use also managed to fail at intriguing the intruders.
“No, no, no,” the individual who headed up the marauders spoke out. “This must stop.”
The rebels drew guns and the spokesman continued to approach the center of the room where the radically stunned Mr. Wilkins was seated, moving as if an array of water pistols were being trained on him instead of the assault weapons that the crew of the Llorrac were brandishing. “This man can’t leave,” he said raising a palm up in the air directly in front of the seated man. The stranger turned and glanced around at the odd and fearful looks he was receiving from the Zionites that occupied the room. “The proper channels that need to be considered. The guidelines to be abided by. The rules to be adhered to.” His head was lowered to the floor and the started to shake from side to side. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Well, I’m afraid this issue will have to be taken up with the proper authorities.” The man reached down for Mr. Wilkins and pulled him up out of the chair he sat in. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Capt. Cruze pulled back on the hammer of the 9mm he held and trained it on the talkative intruder’s forehead. “And what makes you think we’re just going to let you walk out of here with him?”
Jerking Mr. Wilkins’s arm and pulling him behind him towards the small crowd at his back, the stranger hunched his shoulders up higher and held his palms out in front of him and then let both of his arms drop. “I’m not sure.” Seven more people filed into the room through the door and mixed in with the crowd behind him. “Perhaps the fact that the choice isn’t yours to make could have something to do with it.” A pair of men escorted Mr. Wilkins out of the apartment, the two of them having to endure his constant badgering and whining as they did. For some strange reason Digital felt for the detail accompanying him. “The lot of you could open fire,” the intruder said. “But then…so could we.” He waved his hand toward the area at his back, bringing attention to their numbers present. “Of course, that would lead to quite the extensive clean up job, the likely recipients of such a duty being…us. So…if you would…” He bowed as he backed up toward the front door, the crowd behind him moving in unison. “Return the adieu…that I bid to you.”
And then, with a slam of the door, the crew Of the Llorrac were alone in the room with all of their high-tech, now useless, equipment. Sans one potential extracted citizen.
Digital’s eyes turned towards the set belonging to Blitz and no words were required for him to comprehend the self-gratifying smirk that he knew she was wearing on the inside. With no time to refute such a thing with suggestions that this could all be some sort of coincidence, she darted out, full stride towards the front door and he made off after her.
His chest collided with her back as he made it out into the hallway only to find that the fury with which she had started out with had suddenly ground to a complete stop. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only thing he’d come to realize after leaving the apartment. The rest of the Llorrac crew forced their way into the hallway and were immediately overwhelmed with the same disparaging sight. The abductors of their parcel couldn’t have been out of the apartment for more than a few seconds before Digital started out after them, and even though the corridor extended for some considerable length in both directions there was no one in sight. No Mr. Wilkins. No kidnapers. No one. The hallway was empty. At least it was until…
“The Duchess! The Duchess!” the six man crew heard and turned their heads in unison to the right to get a look at the commotion happening down the hallway from where they stood. “Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She’ll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets!” they watched the panicked individual stumble out of one of the apartment doors patting the each pocket of the dark suit he wore, one after the next, searching as if he’d misplaced something. His frustration finally getting the better of him, he turned back to face the open doorway. “Mary Ann? Mary Ann?” he called out into the domicile, receiving no answer back. Then his head turned towards his left shoulder and the shades he wore took in the vision of his gawking audience.
Digital didn‘t know if Blitz or Shamrock was as shocked as she was, she only knew for a fact that they should have been. Completely shocked to see that elusive individual that had lead them on the arduous chase to that basement in the antique shop, the one that had ultimately lead to the establishment they had come to know as the Tea Room.
And now…here he was again (coincidently?). Mr. Elusive. “Oh, no, no, no. I’ve no time for this,” he said before abandoning the doorway and sprinting off down the hallway away from them.
“Get him!” Digital yelled out before leading the chase that trailed after him down the hall. He certainly lived up to the label that she’d endowed him with. The pack of rebels raced down the building staircase and through the corridors on the bottom floor, all the while gaining little to no ground on the quarry they pursued. Once outside, engulfed by the darkness of the digital night all around them, the pursuing posse was able to fare that much better against their fleeing prey.
Their stride across the sidewalks and streets behind the moving body, whose worry stricken visage constantly turned back to gauge the distance between it and its pursuers, quickened with every collective step that the crowd made. Rounding corner after corner, their feet pounding hard against the pavement with the majority of the party not even fully aware of why they were engaged in such an ordeal, the crew of the Llorrac eventually found themselves approaching what Digital, Shamrock, and Blitz had previously been made aware to be the very unwelcoming doors of the Tea Room.
Mr. Elusive had already clumsily scurried through them, and when the Llorrac crew made their way down the sidewalk to the front of the building they all stopped. “What is this place?” Cruze asked, looking up at the wall encasing the structure.
“Some kind of clubhouse for weirdoes and such,” Shamrock offered up. “Frankly, I’m up for finding an exit and chalking this whole incident up to an episode of mass hysteria. Stress. Yeah. That’s the ticket. We could just say it was all brought on by stress. Whadayasay, Cap?” she said, turning to Cruze. “Are we heading back to the ship, or what?”
“Put a sock in it, Sham,” Digital said, glancing up at the building and then back down at the entrance before her. “C’mon,” she said, turning a quick glare to Blitz who stood on her right. She reached out and took hold of the door by its brass handle, pulling open the building entrance. “The tea’s a brewin’ and it would be a shame not to accept such an open invitation to a party.”
Digital stepped inside of the building. Blitz followed almost immediately. The rest of the crew retained a sense of reluctance and uneasiness, but when Capt. Cruze sought to sate his curiosity and stepped through the door, the remainder of soldiers could do nothing less than to follow.
She figured as much. With no keycard for her to rely on this time, a simple gesture of force would have to suffice in seeing her through this barrier. Lifting her right foot and stomping it against the door seemed to work just fine. The door swung open and the crew of the Llorrac moved through the small corridor and out into the expanse of the main floor of the Tea Room. Their footsteps on the wooden planks of echoed throughout the room. It was empty. No patrons. No employees. The lights were on, but no one was home. The small band of rebels that had just forced their way into this establishment were expecting to be find a somewhat formidable resistance inside, if not their very paranoid prey. Instead, all they found was a barren dance floor and a slew of empty small round tables adorned with multicolored lamps. “I don’t get,” Digital said. “Where’d he go?”
“Where’d who go?” a voice said that didn’t originate from any member of their crew. Looking around, none of them could immediately locate the source of the words. And then a figure emerged from one of the darker recesses of the club, just beyond the large cluster of tables to the left of the crew. The man in the suit winded his way around the tables, hands behind his back, in a curving zigzag motion, heading towards them. “Who could you possibly be looking for that would lead your search into these walls? That door was locked. I’m sure of it. You shouldn’t be here. You must leave at once.” He came to a sudden stop after moving past the tables and stepping out onto the dance floor, mere feet away from them all.
“Who the hell are you?” Crackshot asked. By now the entire crew was on edge and preparing themselves to be ready for any surprise that was lurking about and conspiring to spring itself on them with little to no warning.
“Me, sir? The name is Ace. I believe I’ve already made your acquaintance. Yes in deed. I prevented you all from making a very bad play not too long ago with a particular potential that you were potentially in peril of pulling from his pod prematurely.” He grinned widely. “Perhaps you should leave now.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Digital said. “Not until we get some answers.”
“No answers,” the stranger said, still smiling behind his shades. “Just instructions. Exit the way you came, or suffer the exit we make for you.”
“Blimey. Taking orders from a ponce like you?” Shamrock said. “It’ll be a cold day in Hades.” She moved toward the stranger, and after missing with a spinning heel kick (thanks to his quickness of thought to duck) she followed up with a roundhouse to his ribcage with her left leg. He caught hold of her ankle between his body and right arm, constantly grinning through the whole ordeal. With only her right leg to balance on, Shamrock bent her knee and sprang into the air, connecting her right foot to his chin, causing him to release her leg as she completed her back flip. After she landed she looked at him and noticed that he’d lost his shades after stumbling back into a couple of tables courtesy of the assault. “You take that for your instructions, Mr. Boss Man,” Shamrock said to him. “And go fetch that fleet footed one who darted in here, or there’ll be more of the same.”
Ace massaged his chin as he forced himself back upright, using one of the tables he’d jarred for leverage. “What’d you go and do that for, missy? If politeness were coin you’d be a pauper, rightfully so. But don’t fret. There’s time enough for mercy,” he said, collecting himself and straightening his suit. “Time enough indeed.”
Shamrock got a look over his shoulder and saw another individual emerge from the shadowy area of the club that this Mr. Ace had previously emerged from. He was soon followed by another. And another. And another. Eventually the crew gazed upon the steady stream of black suits and shades that began pouring into the room. Their numbers swelled until the Llorrac crew found themselves completely surrounded by an overwhelming number hostiles.
“Anymore bright ideas there, Sham?” Digital said to her as their crew positioned themselves into a small defensive circle with their backs facing each others’. “Because it’s definitely starting to feel pretty chilly in Hades.”
“WHAT’S THE MEANING OF THIS!?!” a voice boomed out over the large crowd that filled the Tea Room. The very sound of it made the numbers surrounding the crew seem small by comparison.
And then they saw it.
A figure shoving its way through the crowd in their direction. Bodies were being jolted away to the left and right of this force two, sometimes four at a time. And then, with a final extension of both arms, the crew of the Lorrac were face to face with the menacing eyes of a six foot tall savagely striking woman. A crown of red and black hair was draped down around the pinkish hue of her face that was beginning to flare up bright red around the snarl she wore. “Cotton candy,” she said through clenched teeth, her arms still extended out beside her, fists clutching the fabric over the shoulders of the two men standing on either side of her. Both of whom seemed frightened beyond measure. “Why is there cotton candy in my Tea Room!?!” This woman spoke loudly. So much so that each word that she uttered sent a shudder though Digital’s body. “Someone better answer me!”
Ace eased his body out away from the crowd and out into the open area of floor separating the large crowd from the small huddle of rebels. “Your majesty, these humans…they just barged in here. Said they were after the swift quarry they pursued. I ushered them away, but they would have none of it. And this one,” he said, indicating Shamrock, “went so far as to engage me in fisticuffs.”
The woman gasped in shock at the mention of such a thing and even leaned back a little. “Of all the nerve.”
“Actually,” Digital interrupted. “We’d be more interested in knowing why Mr. Wilkins was kidnapped from us tonight and why you people have been interfering with our extractions.”
The tall woman dropped her hands to her side and took a couple of steps in Digital’s direction. The crew readied themselves for battle even though present ratio of combatants tipped the scales largely towards their demise. “Your extractions?” the woman asked softly. “Your extractions?” She took another step towards Digital. “Their my extractions!” she bellowed, leaning down a little and closing the gap slightly between her face and Digital’s. “And seeing as how their my extractions there won’t be anymore extractions unless I say so. Do you understand me!?!” Digital was stunned, to say the least. Having this irate woman venting extreme audible steam this close to her was violation of every comfort zone that she possessed. She spun on her heels and immediately started back through the crowd, shoving and pushing as she moved. “Get them out of my building!”
Ace approach the crew. “By order of the Queen, I demand that you vacate these premises of you will be forcibly removed by any means in our possession.” He spoke loud, clearly, and formally, as if he were announcing the entrance of royalty into a ball.
“Queen who?” Digital asked.
“Why, Queen Muriel, of course,” Ace answered her. He stepped to the side and extended his arm out towards the club entrance. The crowd parted and made a path for them. “If you will,” he said.
Forced the face the inevitability of their situation, the crew of the Lorrac marched out of the club with as much dignity as they could muster after being chastised they way they’d just been. All that was left was to take their lumps and find an exit out of this place. The Council would have to be informed of this. Zion would need to be prepared. And Digital was going to have a lot of I Told You So’s to collect on.