Author: Redhawk
Story Title: CyberEpic: Part Two
Characters: Dusky/Shannon
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Uber. The meeting of a dark young nomad leader and a foreign courier set against the backdrop of the future Second American Civil War.
This rating is for explicit f/f sex.


See disclaimers in Part One

**************

CyberEpic: Part Two
by Redhawk


SURVIVAL

Part IV: Survival

The Dawning

Conway wearily rubbed at her eyes before continuing. It wasn't quite dawn, yet. The sky hadn't begun to lighten, but what little nature was still present in the world held its collective breath in anticipation of it. "So you haven't found her then?"

"No, ma'am. We have located two of the three nomads that brought her in, however," answered the woman across from her, the one who had just recently been promoted to sergeant.

The elderly woman sat at her desk, chewing her lower lip. Either the kid knew that the jig was up, which was highly unlikely, or she was just out having a good time and would be back for business hours. "Where are the nomads?"

"They've apparently set up residence at Ritzy's for the night. We've seen the two men exiting and entering the building. Right now, the younger one is under surveillance in the bar. The older one seems to have a room there."

Conway considered this, remembering the courier's adamant defense of the pack. Hmmmm..... Maybe we could killfile two birds with one script..... "Get ahold of the local authorities. Let's have the bar raided. Of course, the military will 'help'." She pulled her keyboard to her and began typing away. "Let's see if we can arrange an 'accident' for the nomads. I think our chances are pretty good that the courier's with them."

"Yes, ma'am!" The sergeant saluted smartly and left the office.

*****

Shannon's eyes opened slowly, not wanting to yet unwilling to continue sleeping. She lay on the bed in Dusky's room, a strong nomadic body wrapped around her smaller frame, a sheet draped over both of them. With a soft smile, she turned her head and studied the other woman as she slept, idly caressing the upper arm that crossed over her, tracing the ritual scarring.

It was still full dark outside, but it was the darkness of silent waiting, of the quiet before the storm, where everything held breathlessly still and awaited the rising sun. The moon had set long ago and the only illumination in the room were the lights from streetlamps and advertisements and the Ritzy's sign.

Her hand reached further up the arm, reaching to brush a lock of dark hair away from Dusky's face. She marveled at the soft smile this elicited. So.... sweet, Shannon thought. A list of words came forth - pure, innocent, loving. Her brow furrowed in doubt. But is this for me? Or am I just the one in her bed? What happens when this is all over? What happens when she wakes up?

Gently, so as not to arouse her lover, the courier eased out of the other woman's arms and off the bed. Not being able to help herself, she scooped up Dusky's discarded shirt and donned it rather than her own dress, wanting to have the nomad with her even in their physical separation. Shannon quietly curled up on the floor in the corner by the window, staring out.

She had no illusions that this was all some romantic lark. Dusky was from a completely different culture than her own. And, in that culture, Shannon was a gringa, a foreigner. Not of the body, she thought with a smirk, remembering an ancient science fiction vid'. Things were going to change, as soon as the dark woman opened her emerald and silver eyes. This afterglow of - is it love? - would have to deal with the harsh light of reality.

Shannon remembered the previous evening's talk of Aryans and scalps and wars. Could I live with that? Knowing that everyday would bring a new opportunity to kill or be killed? Knowing that she would have to kill? Or die? I don't know.... She unconsciously shook her red gold hair. Providing that option is even open, she continued ruefully, remembering Remy's dissatisfaction with her.

She paused as Dusky stirred in the bed, rolling over on her side to face the courier. The woman frowned in her sleep, hand searching for her bedmate, but didn't wake. She relaxed, clutching at the pillow for a substitute.

And what if that's not an option? Her royal blue eyes distractedly roamed the graceful curves of her lover. She imagined Dusky in Canada, living with her, meeting her acquaintances, plugging into the local scene that the courier was hooked into. No. She shook her head again. No. It'll kill her to live like that. And the Wolves wouldn't have a leader. And somewhere deep down inside, Shannon didn't want to be the one responsible for the broken woman the nomad would become in that scenario. Never cage the wild.

She sighed and stared back out the window. All of it was a moot point anyway, if she couldn't get out of Boise. Corps wanted her dead, Uncle Sam wanted her dead. And what of GovMin? Why send her to certain death unless they were involved too? And who's involved with who, anyway? No answer was forthcoming. Elias, if you get out of this with your skin, you stick to small contracts from now on. No more government involvement, regardless of the money, she vowed.

It was a long time before she heard the low voice. "Preciada?" it asked.

Shannon looked back to the bed. The nomad watched her with strange eyes that flashed in the minimal light. The redhead smiled softly and rose to her feet, crossing the small room. The oversized white shirt slid easily from her shoulders and she eased back into the bed, Dusky covering her with the sheet and wrapping herself back around the smaller woman.

"Are you okay?" Dusky asked, cradling the courier and brushing her fingers through red gold hair.

"Yeah. Just thinking."

When nothing more was forthcoming, the nomad brought her thumb over to caress a cheek and jaw. "About....?" she prompted, wanting - no, needing - to know.

Shannon gave a slight shrug and dropped her eyes. "A question you asked downstairs last night." Pause. "Now what?" She looked back at Dusky.

The dark woman nodded in understanding and lay back, holding Shannon closely, staring at the ceiling. Now what? "Now, we survive," she said. "We take it one day at a time and get through this feedback. There's not much else to do."

The redhead nodded, resigned, hearing what she hoped not to hear but expected. "Um.... Could I ask for your help in getting me back to Canada then?" she asked hopefully, wanting to spend as much time in the dark woman's presence as possible.

Dusky's eyes narrowed. Canada? Didn't mi preciada understand? "Do you want to go back to Canada?" came the whispered question.

"Well.... no...." the courier shrugged again, wondering.

Dusky rolled over, propping herself up on an elbow and looked down at the other woman. "What do you want, Shannon Elias?" Silver/green eyes bored into the courier's.

The redhead was so startled by the sound of her name coming for the first time from Dusky's mouth, that she answered truthfully. "I want to stay with you." She mentally smacked herself in the forehead as soon as the words were out. Angered at her inability to keep her mouth shut, she broke away from Dusky's grasp, sitting up on the edge of the bed and wrapping her arms around herself. Zero, zero, zero!

She felt the bed shift behind her, felt the warm body heat radiating against her back. Muscular arms wrapped around her from behind as did tanned legs, breasts pressing into her back. Warm breath whispered into her left ear.

"Then stay with me." Not giving the redhead a chance to respond, Dusky continued in a low voice. "I told you, you're mine, preciada. That hasn't changed." As Shannon leaned back into the embrace, she asked, "Do you have someone else? Someone at home?"

"No," was the whispered reply.

"Then what is it? Why are you fighting this?"

Shannon snorted tearfully, entwining her arms with the dark woman's. "Why? Your uncle hates me, both sides of your civil war are after me, Canada might be after me, too. Besides, even if things work out, in America I'd be an illegal alien - I couldn't even get any work. I'd be a burden to you." She snorted again. "And if your uncle doesn't hate me now, he'd hate me for that."

The redhead released the tension of the last two days, her lover holding her, supporting her, humming a quiet song in her ear. As her tears of anger, fear, and frustration fell, she was rocked gently.

Dusky held her lover in her arms, crooning a song her mother used to sing when she was a child in need of soothing. Another, deeper part of herself tried to sort out what she was feeling. This woman she held was... what? Everything? And when did that happen, anyway? The dark woman caressed light skin. What do I have to offer her, anyway? Not much. Life on the road, no permanent home. Dusky knew that the nomadic lifestyle was not for 'normal' people. It was something she had been raised in, not Shannon. Unless the redhead could adapt thoroughly, she would be miserable. But, I've got to try. We've got to try.

Eventually, the sobs faded, the tears dried up, and she sniffed. Shannon found herself turned slightly to the left, a corner of the sheet used to clean up her face.

"Feel better?" asked the low voice.

She gave Dusky an only slightly watery smile. "Yeah. Some."

"Good." The Wolf pulled away to lay back on the bed, propped up against the wall. She beckoned Shannon to her and they snuggled together. "First, Remy does not hate you. He's an old man, set in his ways. He's just seen nearly his entire family wiped out by gringas." Long fingers caressed the redhead's arm and shoulder. "He worries about me. He wants me to find a husband and give him lots of little ones to dote on in his old age." She closed her eyes, remembering the running argument over the last two years.

"Second," she continued, eyes opening. "this mess will work out. Hell, we've been wanted by the government for over forty years. It's slow and clunky and it'll take forever for it to catch us. The Corps just want what's in your head, and we're gonna give it to them." She gave the woman a squeeze. "And Canada.... Who cares? They sent you to die," she growled. "It's nothing to get citizenship papers forged. We've got connections in several cities for that."

Dusky hugged the courier to her. She whispered, "Besides, I want you to stay, too."

"You do?" came the plaintive question.

"Yes. You're mi preciada. I don't know how or why, but I feel that we belong together." The dark woman swallowed nervously. This baring of the soul isn't an easy thing. But, I'm a Red Wolf, the leader of my people, and I will be strong, she told herself, gathering her courage. "Shannon Elias, I am Dusky Holt, leader of the Red Wolves, and I love you."

There was a long silence, punctuated only by two heartbeats. Both women had stopped breathing, one in fear and the other in surprise. With no answering words forthcoming, Dusky's face became stonelike. She reminded herself to breathe and relaxed her grip on the redhead. I will be strong, she told herself.

She loves me...? Shannon's mind chortled. Me?! She wrapped her mind around that thought, not realizing what the silence was doing to the dark woman. When she felt the arms loosening their hold on her, her heart fluttered, slightly panicked. She clutched Dusky to her, not relinquishing her grasp. Royal blue eyes looked up into a stone faced nomad's. "I love you, too, Dusky," she breathed. The rigid mask broke apart under her gaze and fell away, revealing a beautiful young woman and Shannon smiled.

"Y..you do?" the nomad whispered. She suddenly felt like she was four years old and being given another piece of fry bread by an indulgent aunt. "Then you'll stay?" Slight trickle of dread. "No! You don't have to answer yet.... Let's just get through this feedback first." She gathered Shannon up in her arms.

There was an insistent rap on the door. "Dusky?" Shake's muffled voice came through.

The leader growled, disentangling herself. "That boy has some serious work to do on his timing." She flashed a smile at the giggle from her lover.

Rising, she quickly threw on her shirt and padded to the door. Shannon watched her hips sway and the muscles in her legs flex as she wrapped the sheet around herself. Beautiful doesn't cut it at all......

The door unlocked, Shake fairly burst into the room. He grinned apologetically at the half naked pack leader. "We got trouble downstairs. Army's chippin' in - weapons and all."

*****

The Siege

Dusky sent the teenager to gather his things and roust Remy. Within minutes she was dressed in her leathers, strapping soft boots onto her feet. She had thrown some clothing at Shannon - the shirt she had worn earlier and a pair of soft trousers. "Roll up the leggings. That'll have to do until we can get outta here."

She checked her weapons carefully. The grenade launcher was gone, but she still had the sniper rifle on her bike in the garage. Three knives, a .45 automatic, and an Armalite 44 heavy autopistol. The pack leader also had three fragmentation grenades left that she transferred to the pockets of her leather jacket. With a moment's thought, she handed the .45 to Shannon.

The redhead gulped nervously as she took the handgun. It's heavy! she thought, before concentrating on what Dusky was telling her about the weapon. Safety switch, extra clips, how to change ammo. Okay. "Got it." Shannon removed the magazine from the base of the weapon, reloaded it, and cocked the .45 to show her comprehension. It was a little awkward, but she made up for her lack of experience with efficiency.

There was a sudden loud pounding on the door. Someone screamed in the hallway. Shots were heard. The screaming stopped, choked off.

"Dammit!" Dusky hissed. "He was followed!" She shoved her lover to one side, away from the doorway. "Get down!"

Shannon crouched behind the Wolf, thumb on the safety of her pistol and heart in her throat. Peering to one side, she watched the door closely over Dusky's left shoulder. The dark woman held her own weapon loosely in her left hand, staring intently at the door.

There were more shots, the door around the locking mechanism disintegrating. Light glared through the holes, illuminating the smoke and dust of the destruction. Dusky lifted the Armalite, taking careful aim. The door was kicked open and something metallic tossed in.

Fuck! Grenade! Dusky was moving without thought, the deadly dance begun. She fired two shots at the door to discourage any further invasion as she flipped through the air. She landed beside the still rolling grenade and with a well-aimed kick, sent it flying back out into the hallway. The dark woman had just barely enough time to return to her lover, driving the two of them to the ground before the explosion jolted the hallway.

There were more screams that gurgled off to moans. As the dust settled, Dusky picked herself up and edged to the door. She quickly darted across the frame, getting a quick glance of the hall. The dark woman's attention was drawn to movement from Shannon, and she held up a hand, indicating that the courier stay put. The redhead nodded and stood up against the wall.

With slow grace, Dusky eased around the corner of the door. Three soldiers lay in the destruction of their grenade. Two were in pieces, but there was one that had been a few feet further down the hall who was still alive, moaning and writhing as she held her innards. At the end of the hall were the bodies of two civilians. The screamers. There were no signs of her packmates, yet. At least Shake was out of the area when they got here.

The dark woman quickly moved to the third soldier and knelt beside her. "Looking for me?" she asked, eyes continuing to scan the hall.

"Nomad...?" the blonde woman moaned. She coughed weakly, blood spattering out of her mouth, before shaking her head no. "Elias. Courier."

Dusky's face grew grim. "Wrong answer."

Knuckles turning white from gripping the pistol so tightly, Shannon edged closer to the door. She didn't hear much from the hallway. At least no gunshots. Peeking around the corner, she saw the carnage and her stomach did flip-flops. Oh, yuck! She looked away from the remains of the two soldiers, drawing in huge gasps of air to calm her nausea. Movement caught her eye and she watched in horror as Dusky executed a third soldier she was kneeling beside, pumping a round into the woman's head.

She ducked back into the room, leaning against the wall. She felt lightheaded and couldn't seem to catch her breath. Knowing that the nomads killed was one thing. Actually watching the process was quite another. Shannon's legs gave out and she slid down the wall to sit on the floor. Get through it, Elias. Deal. This is the way it'll be if you stay.

She felt a hand on her head, pushing it down.

"Put your head between your knees," a low voice ordered. "Breathe deeply, slow count of five."

Shannon complied. Her breathing evened out and she felt more connected with her surroundings. After a few moments, she raised her head to look into concerned silver/green eyes. A dark hand ran through her hair, caressing her neck.

"You okay to move now?"

"Yeah." She gave a wan smile and hefted the .45 she held in one hand.

Dusky nodded and planted a kiss on her forehead. "We've gotta get to Remy and Shake," she said, breaking away to grab up her saddlebag. "I need you to follow my orders implicitly." The dark woman watched Shannon intently until she received an answering nod. "Okay. Stay behind me, keep your eyes open." She moved to the door. "Let's go."

The two women moved through the halls, Shannon resolutely not looking at any bodies scattered around. Noises filtered up from the bar below - gunshots, screams, some explosions. The fire alarm was sounding, set off by the smoke from weapons, adding to the cacophony of sound and confusion. There was more gunfire on their floor, but the women couldn't see any threat. Several patrons were dashing about the halls in various stages of undress, fleeing rooms, grabbing up gear, looking for exits.

They rounded a corner and found much the same scene that was in their own hallway. Two soldiers were down and a third was prone, using a dead comrade as cover while he traded shots with the nomads in Remy's room. Dusky shoved Shannon back behind the wall, took aim and killed him.

"Uncle," she called softly. "It's clear." Seconds later, the two other members of her pack trotted towards her, weapons and gear in hands. "Everybody okay?" As she scanned them both, Dusky stopped to raise an eyebrow at Shake. "You were followed, little man," she said, grinning at his flush. "Don't let it happen again." She cuffed him on his good arm and turned away.

Dusky led them towards the emergency stairs, where everybody else was heading, too. "You remember how many there were, Shake?"

"A dozen, maybe up to twenty. They're working with the bacon on this raid. Lotsa blacksuits down there, too."

Shannon frowned. "Blacksuits?" she asked.

The elder was bringing up the rear. "Police," he answered. "Riot gear."

"Oh."

The pack found one of the fire exit doors, not because of the flickering 'Exit' sign above it, but by the mass of humanity huddled around it. The door was closed and no one was moving.

"Get the fuck outta the way," Dusky ordered, shoving people aside.

Only one burly man took umbrage at her brisk manner and she pistol whipped him as she passed, knocking him on his butt. The man growled and prepared to rise, blood trickling from his mouth. He found himself looking down the barrel of a .45.

"Don't," Shannon said firmly, backed up by two other Red Wolves bristling with armament.

The man raised his hands in surrender, a silly grin coming to his bloody lips. "Okay. I won't. It's chill, input."

Shannon frowned. "Input?"

"Girlfriend," Shake supplied over her right shoulder.

"Oh." I have got to get a slang dictionary for this place. She shook her head and moved away, leaving the man to the tender mercies of the nomads.

Dusky had made it to the door. A dead woman was there as well as two wounded men. A third man was applying pressure to a wound to stop the copious bleeding. "What's going on here?" she asked, kneeling by the medic.

"Troops on the stairs. Firing at everything that moves," he answered. The man he was working on went into convulsions, dying in a sudden smelly moment as all the muscles in his body completely relaxed, flooding the area with urine, feces, and blood. "Dammit!"

Dusky looked exasperated. She stood and turned to the crowd behind her. "Anybody have any weapons?" she demanded.

Several did, but all were either knives or small caliber pistols. The dark woman shook her head scornfully. "Stupid sheep," she muttered. "Have you tried the other stairs?"

"Yeah," a woman answered from the back. "Same thing there."

"Remy? Shake? You got anything?"

"No, Dusk," the elder answered. "You still have grenades?"

"Yeah." She pursed her lips, silver/green eyes distant as she considered her options. Uncle Sam is after mi preciada. And, it looks like us as well. Three grenades. Three sets of stairs. She eyed the crowd who was now looking to her for direction.

Picking two men, she pulled two grenades out of her pocket, handing them over. "Go to the other stairs. When you hear an explosion, toss these down and then rush the fuckers." She watched the men nod and leave the crowd, trotting away.

The dark woman turned back to the door. "C'mon, let's get these bodies out of the way."

A few minutes later, the corpses were stacked further down the hall, the wounded man with them. The Wolves were huddled by the door, checking ammunition and prepping for the run. All of the civilians were backed away from them, domesticated animals in the presence of wildness.

Shannon had checked her pistol for the third time, scared and nervous. Will it always be this way with these people? she wondered. Constant stress, danger? The redhead sighed. God, I hope not. I can't take this on a regular basis.

"You okay?" a low voice asked.

Startled, Shannon looked into a pair of elderly green eyes. "Um...yeah, I guess." She shrugged at Remy. "This is all kinda, you know.... new."

He nodded solemnly. "You'll get used to it. Adapt. It's not always this way." He took a deep breath. "I apologize for my earlier behavior and words."

The courier blinked at him. "Accepted."

Remy nodded.

"Alright," Dusky cut in. "Let's do it."

*****

Amelia Lukich, newly appointed sergeant in charge of the courier termination, stood at the base of one of the fire exits with a private. Some blood dripped down from above onto her crisp uniform, but she didn't mind it much. It just meant she was doing her job well.

The platoon had lost contact with 1st squad. 1st had been sent up after the boy. 2nd was deployed outside the exits, picking off the few that were escaping the firefight in the bar. She was with 3rd on the stairs, keeping the hotel patrons pinned.

As soon as the police were finished, she was going to have 2nd move up to her position and she was going to take the upper levels. There was no way in hell she was going to end up like her previous sergeant, demoted and sent to Bumfuck, America. Conway was going to be very happy with her.

There was noise above when the metal fire door was pushed open a bit. The private in front of Lukich eased up the stairs, peering through his rifle sights at the landing above. She brought her own rifle up to her shoulder and followed, backing her soldier up.

She frowned at the metallic clatter she heard. What the hell....? Lukich froze as she saw the round object bounce by. "Grenade!" she yelled, surging up the stairs, shoving the private forward.

The explosion tossed her and she felt the shrapnel shredding her back and legs. The sergeant fell forward, trapping the private's legs. The door above burst open and the nomads she had been looking for were there. The elderly man with the braided beard raised his pistol. There was a flash from the muzzle and then it was dark.

*****

Even as Remy finished off the soldiers in the stairwell, two more explosions occurred from the other stairwells. "At least they can follow orders," Dusky grumbled.

Shake pushed past Remy to take point, wanting to redeem himself for leading the soldiers to his packleader. A second round went into the private as he passed, a booted foot shoving the corpses to one side. At the bottom of the stairs, the door to the balcony area of the bar was teetering on one hinge, the metal dented and torn where shrapnel had hit it at close range.

The teenager slipped past the door and eased closer to the next set of stairs. He snuck a peek downwards, quickly pulling his head back, just in case. There was no one further down. He moved slowly forward, looking for traps and soldiers.

Behind him, Remy followed with Shannon, Dusky bringing up the rear. The dark woman glared at the civilians in the hall, her threat imminent. No one wanted to charge down the stairs. At least, not until the nomads were off of them. Several people turned and headed for the other stairways, knowing them to be clear now. As they passed the bodies, Dusky picked up the private's rifle, holstering her pistol.

Shannon swallowed hard, refusing to look down as she passed the dead soldiers. After passing the door and moving further down the stairs, she felt something warm dripping on her arm. Glancing over sharply, she watched another drop of blood splatter on her.

A part of her wanted to rage at the injustice of the killing and destruction. She wanted to wipe the blood off her arm, knowing that it would only smear and remain as a stain on her soul. And there was another part of her, one that was primal and feral, a part that had long been dormant. That part wanted to survive, at all costs.

Shannon inhaled deeply, counting to five, and exhaled the same way, regulating her breathing. She continued down the stairs, ignoring the blood on her arm. Deal, Elias.

Remy glanced back at her once and nodded at her acceptance, a speculative look on his face.

As Shake reached the next landing, he signaled that it was clear. The door beside him opened out onto the bar proper. From the sounds of it, there was a hell of a firefight going on inside. Obviously, some of the patrons didn't particularly like the police and were making their feelings known.

The door itself was a bit dented in places. Whether from the current situation or previous raids was unknown. The teenager scanned it with a practiced eye, noting the wires. "Alarmed," he said softly.

Dusky moved forward to take point, bringing Shannon up between the two men. "Let's see if we can make it to the garage." As they moved past, Remy took the rear guard.

Again they met no resistance as they reached the bottom of the stairwell and the final door. Behind them, the alarm went off as the crowd from above finally made it downstairs to the bar level and opened the door. The noises from the firefight echoed in the small confines, sounding as if all the minions of hell were at war. The acrid smells of plastique, cordite and gunpowder filled the stairwell.

"Well, so much for a silent attack," Dusky called to her packmates. Ignoring the wiring on the door before her, she pulled it open and dived into the basement garage, rolling and rifle ready.

The alarm hooted mournfully. Shake dashed in and to the other side of the doorway, using a beat up hovercar as a shield. Remy put a hand on the redhead's shoulder, keeping her pinned to the wall inside the stairwell.

Nothing happened.

After a few seconds, Dusky peered over the car she was hiding behind, scanning the garage. It wasn't completely abandoned. A few people from the other fire exits had made it down to the parking area. They were more interested in getting away from the raid than dealing with armed nomads.

Deeming it safe for the time, the pack leader rose to her feet. "Let's get to the bikes."

They trotted to where the motorcycles were parked, Remy glancing over them with a practiced eye. When he nodded, the others surged forward to mount them. Shake's new bike wasn't as beat up as his previous one, but it was still a Harley. Dusky shoved the rifle into an empty scabbard and attached her saddle bags with a practiced hand. She kick started the engine and took Shannon's forearm, helping her onto the bike.

Remy took the lead, the teenager keeping the rear guard for the time being. Their top priority was seeing that the redhead survived. The three bikes moved slowly for the garage exit, weaving between refugees from the fight upstairs.

Only one man was stupid enough to try and grab at the escaping nomads, and he wasn't going to be grabbing anybody else ever again. Shannon shuddered and buried her face in Dusky's shoulders, the spray of blood from the man's throat catching her right side. The nomad's knife disappeared and her hand squeezed the redhead's around her waist before returning to the business of getting them out of the basement.

The elder had to veer to one side as an old Chevy squealed its tires and fishtailed by. The vehicle hit a man in leather, tossing him to one side to be smashed against a pillar, but never stopped. As it sped through the entrance and into supposed freedom, it blew up in a huge fireball of orange and yellows. It's momentum kept it going for a few more feet, despite the fact that two of its wheels had literally been blown off. It hobbled to a stop, lighting up the street.

"Shit," Dusky cursed, pulling to one side of the garage opening, with Remy. Shake soon followed. The three left the bikes, Shannon on one, to investigate. Another car blew through the opening, making a hard right turn and trying to get away. This time, the nomads were able to see the brilliant flash and whoosh of an anti tank missile being fired from across the street. Even with bad aim, the vehicle was hit and exploded. "Must be heat seekers," the dark woman said.

"Maybe we won't put out enough heat...?" Shake suggested.

"No. Heat seekers are pretty sensitive. They've probably calibrated them just for motorcycles. Anything with a larger heat source would simply be easier to hit," Remy said quietly.

Dusky growled. "Well, hell! Now what?"

As they pondered their rapidly dwindling options, a few civilians ran out of the garage, opting to stay away from their cars. That didn't work either, as automatic gunfire from across the street cut them all down.

"Shit!" Dusky cursed again.

Suddenly a riot car came speeding around the corner, blocking the soldiers' view of the garage entrance. Weapons on that side of the car began blaring, taking part of the 3rd squad out. The drivers' window opened and a familiar face looked out at them.

"C'mon! Let's go!" Delva yelled.

Not needing any further encouragement, the Wolves clambered back onto their bikes and took off. In a matter of seconds, the riot car followed. It pulled up close to Remy, who was still in the lead.

"Follow me. I've got a safe flop," the large nomad called. At Remy's nod, the car pulled forward and sped up, the three Wolves following closely.

*****

Shimizu was pretty sure that whoever had designed this room had seen far too many ancient science fiction vid's.

It was large, almost cavernous, and extremely dark. The major source of lighting came from the huge computer displays on one wall. Several workstations were set up in rows and each had their own individual lights, as well, currently manned by several people who were plugged into the 'net. People bustled back and forth with files and paperwork on the catwalk above.

The Asian man sat at the command center, a large half circle workstation with three others. He was there only as an observer for his employer.

The largest display on the wall was a line drawing of the world map. Several other displays showed the current rates of exchange and stocks. However, two panels were showing maps of the area around Boise. On these displays, there were two groupings of red triangles and two groupings of small blue dots. The triangles, according to the maps were several miles away from the Wall, while the dots were quite a bit closer.

"Alright, people," a man next to him spoke up. "Let's look good." The man was dressed in a jumpsuit that strained at its fastenings from his bulk. "Report!" he barked into an intercom.

One set of triangles blinked. "Beta One in position." Another set blinked. "Beta Two in position." Then a set of blue dots. "Comrade One in position." The final set of blue dots blinked. "Comrade Two in position."

"Let's do it, then. Commence radio jamming." The man leaned back in his chair, a frown on his face. "Beta One and Two, fire at will. Repeat. Fire at will."

*****

Conway sat at her desk, chewing her fingernail. The raid had been engaged at Ritzy's for a quarter hour. The last communication with Lukich had told her that the squad sent into the hotel area had lost radio contact with the rest of the platoon.

According to what she was picking up from the police scanner on her desk, apparently a booster gang had been in residence in the bar when the raid commenced. The original blacksuits had gotten pinned by their fire, and the police had been forced to send in their SWAT team. The fighting was ferocious with many casualties on both sides.

So long as they get the courier, she thought to herself. Maybe I should send another squad or two......? Conway mentally shook her head. The less people who know about the operation, the better. She leaned back in her chair and ran fingers through her short, graying hair. Hope they finish it soon.... This waiting's gonna kill me!

So involved with the police scanner, it took the woman a few moments to realize that she was hearing an air raid siren in the distance. Even as the sound registered, another closer one took up the mournful call. What the hell....? She felt the building shake. A second rocking occurred as she made her way to her office door. This time, the accompanying explosion reached her ears as well. She threw open the door and looked into a chaos-filled hallway.

Grabbing a passing soldier, she demanded, "What the hell is going on out there?"

The soldier, a young man barely out of his teens, stared at her. "We're under attack, ma'am," he squeaked, freckles standing out against a pale face.

"I figured that!" she snapped. "By who?!"

"Corps, ma'am!"

Conway left the soldier, dashing back into her office. She picked up the phone and tried to get hold of HQ. A busy signal was her only answer. "Damn it!" she exploding, smashing the phone down. "Now is not the time for this shit!"

She stood in her office for a few moments, trying to think of what to do. If they were lucky, Mt. Home Air Force Base had been alerted and back up was on the way. If they weren't, they were screwed. She had to make sure the courier was dusted. The only option was to go to Ritzy's herself.

Mind made up, Conway opened a desk drawer and pulled out an Ares Light Fire pistol. Checking the load and scooping up extra clips of ammunition, she headed for the door. Next stop, motor pool, she thought grimly.

Miles away from the base, the Azteca Corporation tactical group nicknamed Beta One launched another fiery present from its perch on Table Rock towards the Uncle Sam city of Boise. It was lovingly gift wrapped in the white and orange plastic of a missile. Within seconds, it soared past the Boise Wall and began a graceful arc downwards.

Conway stepped out of the building. Hearing a whistling noise, she looked up. In eerie slow motion, she saw the orange cone of a missilehead falling from the sky. There was no time to dodge or run, she could only helplessly watch as it approached her with lethal speed. As it impacted with her frumpy body, it exploded, taking out quite a bit of the building her office had been housed in.

Justice had been served.

*****

The commander of Comrade Two waited until the attack from Betas One and Two were well underway before he ordered his men in. His two point men used Panther cannons to eliminate the towers at the gate he was positioned at, twin pyres raining shrapnel and body parts down upon the unsuspecting garrison.

Comrade Two was positioned along a ridge, just within firing range, to the south of Interstate 84. As the garrison came to the awareness that they were being attacked by a more pertinent threat that the missiles flying overhead, they began to concentrate their efforts at maintaining the integrity of the gate.

With radio jamming in effect from the Corps, it took precious moments of time for the information to filter back to HQ at the base. Finally, the danger was assessed and troops were found to support the defense. As the two forces engaged each other, the commander smiled and picked up his radio. "Comrade Two to Comrade One. We are engaged, repeat, we are engaged. She's all yours."

There was a tinny response. "Comrade One to Comrade Two. Thanks, partner! Give 'em hell! Out."

*****

Comrade One roared down from the northern foothills, three large riot cars filled with shock troopers and several smaller vehicles for support. They zipped past an ancient pioneer cemetery to their right and, as they neared the Boise Wall, they spread out and opened fire. Time to take the city.

*****

The nomadic convoy didn't appear to have anyone following them. What with Uncle Sam still trying to extricate what was left of their attackers from the Ritzy's fiasco, they were safe for the moment.

Shannon held onto Dusky's waist tightly, face still buried in the dark woman's shoulders and hair. She was still feeling shock at the amount of violence that had been aimed at them.... At her. This was all for me.

"You okay back there?" the packleader called over her shoulder.

The redhead squeezed the waist and nodded forlornly, still caught up in self recriminations.

Dusky scowled to herself. The way her preciada was clinging to her, she doubted that the woman was okay at all. If it had been a wound, Shake would have seen it and told her by now. It's gotta wait 'til we get where we're going, dammit.

Over the sounds of the Harleys, air raid sirens could be heard in the distance. Explosions, as well, though the Wolves didn't have time for speculation. They had to get to wherever Delva was leading them before they were spotted by Uncle Sam.

They cruised along N. 3rd, within sight of the Boise Wall. On Fort, they took a left, following that with another left onto Franklin, and headed further back into town. As they neared the intersection of Franklin and 8th, a huge fireball to their right grabbed their attention.

A few blocks away, the towers that were guarding the Foothills gate were in flames. There were sounds of automatic gunfire and another explosion as the gate itself became shredded metal links. A white riot car burst through the smoke and flame, gunports blazing.

"Shit! It's a Corps attack!" Shake cursed from behind them.

Dusky sped up, passing Remy and matching Delva's riot car. "How far?" she yelled.

"Not too.... Just a coupla more blocks!" he returned.

"Well, hustle, dammit! We're gonna have a hell of a party with the Corps chippin' in!"

Delva nodded and accelerated. The dark woman stayed with the riot car, her packmates bringing up the rear. As promised, three blocks later, they slowed down and pulled around the back of an old brick apartment complex.

As the vehicles ground to a halt, two strangers, a man and a woman, piled out of Delva's car, dragging camouflage tarps with them. In seconds, the bikes were covered, blending in with the overgrown yard. The man ducked into Delva's vehicle, emerging with some weapons. The woman waved the nomads towards the complex.

"C'mon! Through here!"

Dusky looked at the big nomad, eyebrow raised.

"They're chill, Dusk. They can help the gringa." He took her forearm, gripping it tightly. "I've gotta get back to the base. It'll be expected."

With a curt nod, she said, "Stay alive, Wolf. We need you now more than ever."

Delva nodded and grinned. "I'll be there, just wait."

Dusky looked back at the nomads waiting at the door with Shannon and the gringas. She made the decision and the group entered the building. Delva clambered back into his riot car and pulled away.

*****

After nearly two hours of fighting, the word finally came through that the Uncle Sam city of Boise, Idaho had been taken. Little resistance was left, just small pockets of soldiers or police, and those would be taken care of swiftly.

Shimizu grinned to himself. Now we search for the courier. It was all he could do to not rub his hands together and cackle.

*****

The Virus

"I'm Liz and this is Tank," the woman said as they hustled through the apartment. She was an older woman, hair nearly white, with a small, wiry build. The man who took up the rear was much like his nick - at first appearance, a muscle bound jock with a bald head. Upon closer inspection, the soft brown eyes belied the dangerous exterior.

The apartment they had entered was abandoned, with trash and broken furniture scattered about. Dusky's heightened sense and cyberoptic picked up a rat moving in a far corner. There was just enough light from the rising sun coming through the cracked and dirty windows to illuminate the area.

Liz led them to a small door under a set of stairs. "Ladder here, folks," she warned. "Watch out." She opened the door, grabbed a rung set into the wall and swung down with the ease of familiarity.

The Wolves looked at their leader and Dusky nodded, urging them on. A quick glance out the window showed the flames from one of the towers in the distance. The building shook from a distant explosion, and then it was her turn.

Once Shannon got off the ladder, she stepped away to give Shake some room and looked warily around the basement. The elder was already there, keeping an eye on Liz as she bustled around, turning on lights.

The basement was large and roomy, the only illumination being the lights that the woman was turning on. On closer inspection, all the windows had been boarded up. Despite the size, it still had a cluttered appearance to it - computer parts, books, extra clothing, tools, old dishes and cups all vied for space on every conceivable surface. To one side of the room was a long table made of an old door and beat up filing cabinets. Three computers rested there, at odds with the rest of the couple's belongings. They were sleek and shiny, obviously well tended.

Up on the ladder, Tank finally entered, shutting and locking the door behind him before coming down. Shake and Dusty were already waiting, the nomads creating a lethal triangle around Shannon. No weapons had been drawn, but the tension was thick and their stance indicated that it would take no time to quash any attack.

Tank lumbered past the four, setting his weapons down on the coffee table. He turned and looked them up and down before moving over to Liz at the computer stations. His hands began to weave a tale, moving through the air with a grace that belied his rough and tumble appearance.

Liz turned to them. "Tank wants the courier to have a seat so we can do a diagnostic on her processor."

Shannon took a step forward, but was blocked by Dusky's arm. "He's deaf?" the dark woman asked.

Both of the strangers smiled. "No, no. No vocal cords. He can hear just fine."

"Good." Dusky moved forward and glared into soft brown eyes. "If anything happens to mi preciada, you'll live to regret it," she growled.

Tank nodded his bald head solemnly even as Shannon stepped forward and put a hand on the dark woman's shoulder. Dusky turned to her, face softening.

"It's okay. I've done this before," the courier said quietly. "It's the standard way of doing things."

Dusky studied her for a few moments and then nodded agreement, stepping back. But not too far. She glanced back at her packmates and Shake moved to the other side of the room for a different vantage point of the proceedings. Remy turned and idled off, poking around and getting a feel for the layout of the basement.

Shannon settled down into the chair offered. The couple acted much the way a nurse and surgeon would act in the operating room - Tank worked on her while Liz occasionally helped by handing him tools and diagnostic equipment.

First off, Tank checked the port behind her right ear. With a few hand signals, he and Liz retrieved a computer pad and adapted a cable for it. Tank handed the plug to Shannon and watched as she expertly hooked it up. Several minutes passed as the big man peered at the information he was receiving, occasionally typing in commands.

Remy returned to Dusky. "Two bathrooms - one's being used for a film lab. Two bedrooms - one used, one not." He glanced over at the courier. "How long we staying?"

"Dunno. Depends on if and when they can get the proggie out of her."

"I'll take our gear to the unused bedroom, then." He moved away at the nod from his niece, gathering their gear.

Tank signed something and Liz asked, "You know what the download codes are?"

"No, they were sent separately," Shannon responded. "My contact at the base said she had them."

"Well, no bother. It'll just take a bit longer while we figure it out."

Another, smaller computer pad was hooked up to the courier. Numbers and letters began to flash across it's tiny screen as it fed bits of data to the courier's CPU, trying to hit upon the proper codes.

"Well, now we wait," Liz said loudly. "Anybody for breakfast?"

Shannon's stomach growled. She blushed lightly and Dusky grinned.

"Oh, I'd say so," the dark woman said, moving forward and putting her hand on her lover's shoulder.

As Liz threw sandwiches together in the kitchen under Shake's watchful eye, Remy set up shop in a corner of the living room and cleaned his pistol. His rifle was close at hand. Tank retreated to another long table that was a clutter of electronic equipment where he worked on dismantling an old computer to salvage the parts.

Dusky left the redhead alone long enough to find a bowl and a rag. Filling the bowl with water, she returned and settled down on a stool, beginning to clean the blood Shannon's face and neck. She was careful not to jostle the cord running from the woman's neck to the computer. The courier closed her eyes and enjoyed it.

When the dark woman moved down to get the blood from her upper arm, Shannon opened her eyes. "Can I ask a question?"

Silver and emerald eyes flickered up to her face before returning to the task at hand. With a slight smile, Dusky said, "Sure."

"Where'd you get the cyberware?" the redhead asked, the fingers of her left hand tracing the path of the tiny red tattoos on Dusky's right cheekbone.

"Mmmm. Training accident in the Marines. They call it 'friendly fire'." The pack leader finished her clean up and set the bowl aside. She moved the stool around until she was seated behind her lover.

"You don't look old enough to have been in the Marines," Shannon observed, feeling long fingers begin to massage her stiff shoulder muscles. "Oh, that's nice."

There was quiet for a moment as Dusky concentrated on a particularly recalcitrant knot. "It's a tradition with us. When a warrior reaches sixteen, they participate in the Sun Dance. After they heal up, they join the military." She shrugged. "We usually have a get-together during the summer solstice. Have ceremonies, do the dance, welcome home those who've served their time. This year we couldn't."

"The Aryans."

"Yes. Looks likes Shake's gonna be a year late."

Across the room, Remy spoke up. "We could always have the ceremony when this is over. No need to wait for next year." He finished with his pistol and began reassembling it.

Dusky's brow furrowed. "That'll leave only two of us for nearly a year. Would that be wise?"

Remy finished with the assembly and holstered his weapon. He looked at the two women. "One person ain't gonna make any difference, Dusk." Green eyes settled on the courier. "Will it?"

Dusky felt the redhead tense under her hands.

Shannon blinked at the elder. "You're asking me?!" A simple nod was her only response. She felt a sympathetic squeeze on her shoulder and then her lover's hand were gone. "Is this a test?" She studied Remy who returned her gaze steadily. "Well, one person does make a difference," she hemmed. At his nod, she grew a bit bolder. "Still, with only three of you now, his leaving will have an effect. You said it's not always this way?"

Again the nod. This was accompanied by the low voice behind her. "It only gets this bad once or twice a year. We've already seen more fighting this year than we do in most."

"Shake will know intellectually that you couldn't weaken your position further by allowing him to go. But his heart will still feel held back, not a warrior, not a man." Shannon's eyes lit up. "That's it, isn't it? It's what your people do to become adults in your pack!"

"What would you do, courier?" Remy asked.

Shannon wondered if she was going to pass this test. And how many more will there be? "I'd let him go, do the ceremonies and the dance. When he's healed, enlist him."

"And what would you do, Uncle?" the voice behind her asked. A warm hand settled back onto the redhead's neck, rubbing it.

With a slight quirk to his lips, he tilted his head to one side. "I'd do the same." He rose and stretched. "I'm gonna go take a nap, Dusk. Three hours sleep doesn't make it for these old bones." He sauntered down the hall.

"I guess I passed," Shannon muttered. She blushed lightly when the dark woman behind her chuckled, not realizing she had been overheard.

"Yeah, I'd say you passed."

*****

General Dan McAndrews chewed viciously on the end of the stylus as he stared at the satellite maps laid out in front of him. Since losing contact with Boise, his staff had been collecting all the data they could get their hands on and he'd already been in contact with the President.

His office at the Mountain Home Air Force Base was fairly large, as befitted his rank, with an ancient mahogany desk and shelves. The desk was currently buried under surveillance and recon maps and reports. The other chairs in his office were occupied by his aides - one on the phone with NASA and one twitching and spasming in that unique dance of the online connected.

It was a given that Boise had been taken by the Corps. The Azteca branch, most likely. Most of the base itself appeared to be in ruins and there was severe damage to two of the gates. Some damage to the city itself. Them's the breaks in war, he growled to himself. It'd been a long time since any of the Corporations had made a move on a major metropolis. Why the hell they doing it now?

The printer on his desk livened up, spitting out more reports and paperwork. The aide on the 'net spoke, "Here're some numbers from the latest recon, General. Possible occupancy rates at this point." There was a pause. "It appears that Azteca is sending more shock troopers to the city. Looks like a regular convoy moving up I-84."

McAndrews' face soured. He chewed the stylus with more energy. Waving his hand imperiously at the aide on the phone, he ordered, "Get off! We need to set up an ambush."

*****

After everyone had eaten, the morning was spent quietly. Dusky sent Shake for a nap as well, the teenager having stayed up all night in the bar. Tank continued his salvaging mission in one corner and Liz elected to crash on the couch. At some point, the elderly woman had flipped on the vid' to watch the news reports before lying down. The dark woman took the opportunity to clean and sharpen the knife she had used in Ritzy's garage.

Not having much freedom of motion, Shannon closed her eyes and listened to the soft sounds of metal on stone. For some odd reason, the sound comforted her, soothed her. A feeling of peace invaded her to the depths of her soul and she drifted off to sleep.

Dusky finished up the blade and slipped it into a scabbard on her wrist. Next out was the .45 which she automatically disassembled for a thorough going over. Hearing a soft snuffle, she glanced up at Shannon, noticing the deep even breathing of sleep.

Mi preciada, she thought. Will you stay with me? Or will you come to your senses when this malícia is over and return to your home? Her fingers twitched, wanting to reach out and gather the redhead in her arms, to hold her forever. Instead, she dropped her gaze and returned her attention to the pistol. One day at a time, Wolf. One day at a time.

Never had she felt this way for a woman, gringa or not. Never had a woman had so much of an impact on her within minutes of meeting. Dusky wasn't sure exactly what prompted her to invite the courier to join them after the ambush two days ago, but she sent her thanks to the Great Spirit for it.

The pistol, having not been fired, was still clean as a whistle. Dusky put it back together, loaded it, and stuck it in her holster. Next up was the rifle she had liberated from the soldier on the stairs.

She examined the standard issue M22A2. It was the same model as the one she had discarded on the road the day before. With a little credit out, she'd be able to pick up a grenade launcher for it and be back to her original armament. It was good to know that there'd be a use for the grenade rounds she still had.

Dusky dismantled the rifle, beginning the arduous process of cleaning the discharge from every nook and cranny. Her thoughts drifted back in time, to another love that she had been lucky enough to witness.

The love her parents had held for each other had become almost legendary in the clan. Camilla Three Mountain had been a beautiful young woman. Some said that Dusky looked just like her. Camilla had been Ice's second wife, the first having died childless in the time before he and his brother joined the Red Wolves. Dusky's childhood memories were full with her parents' adoration.

When she was ten, Camilla died in childbirth, the baby later being named after the mother. It had been a hard time that almost crippled Ice. But, Remy took over the raising of his nieces, allowing the pack leader time to heal and refocus on his clan. As her uncle had never married, the baby became the property of the entire clan - she had been nursed, spanked, and doted on by every woman in the clan at some point or another. Dusky herself had begun her warrior training in earnest.

Her father never married again. And now Dusky understood why. Once a love of that magnitude had been experienced, all else was a pale imitation. Silver/green eyes studied Shannon's sleeping face. What will I do if you go home? Her heart ached and a lump formed in her throat. She swallowed hard and returned to the rifle. You won't go. I'll do everything possible to keep you with me. "Everything," she whispered, a fiercely quiet vow.

Lost in her thoughts, the pack leader finished up with the rifle. Her final weapon, the Armalite 44, was removed from its holster. It hadn't been fired, but it was best to have a look anyway.

Remy entered the room, nodded at Tank and pulled up one of the desk chairs to the stool his niece was resting on. Sinking into it, he pointed a chin at the sleeping courier. "How's it going?"

A quick glance at the lit display on the instrument connected to the redhead and Dusky said, "Pretty good. Looks like we're only a couple of numbers short. Should be any time now."

Her uncle nodded. "Good." He watched the dark woman work. "How are you, vida?"

Dusky smiled and looked up. "Doing good, Uncle." She glanced over at Shannon. "You remember my mother?"

"Yes, Dusk."

The dark woman shrugged sheepishly. "She reminds me of her."

Any idea that this was a simple case of infatuation died at this point. Remy finally understood the depth of feeling his niece held for the gringa. And, truth be told, seeing them together reminded him of another pair of women he had known as a child, back before the world fell apart. His brother's young voice trickled through the years and he could almost see Ice standing before him in all his boyish bravado.

"Ice? Cool! My name is Ice now!"

The younger boy pouted a bit and shoved a stuffed animal onto the ground from a park bench. "What about me?" he asked a golden woman, eyes pleading.

The young woman cocked her head to one side, happy to oblige. "How about Remy?"

"Remy." He chewed his upper lip and nodded in thought. "Okay.... I like Remy." His face broke into a smile. "Thanks, Rickie!!"

Shaking himself, Remy came back to the present. He reached out and took his niece's hand. "Dusky, you have my blessing."

The dark woman's face broke into a smile. Her green eye looked suspiciously damp, but no tears fell. "Thank you, Uncle," she whispered, squeezing his hand.

The instrument hooked up to Shannon began screeching an alarm, jolting the redhead awake and the nomads to combat readiness.

Tank hustled over, Liz close behind rubbing sleep from her eyes. The big man cleared the alarm, shutting it off and tapped in a few commands. He signed vigorously at the others and unplugged the cable from the box, inserting it into one of the computers.

"Tank says we've got the code! We're gonna download it now."

Remy reholstered his pistol. "I'll go get Shake."

Dusky nodded, her own pistol in hand. She put it away and reassembled the Armalite. "Good morning," she said to Shannon with a grin.

"Morning," the redhead grumped, a cross look on her face. "Have I told you how much I detest alarm clocks?"

Dusky chuckled. "We don't usually have much need of them."

"Hallelujah," Shannon breathed and sat up carefully. "Yet another valid reason to hang out with you folks."

The dark woman chuckled again and ran long fingers through red-gold hair.

Liz cut in. "You said ten megs compressed, right?" At the answering nod, she continued, "Okay, then. This should hold it. Might even be able to crack the encryption, too! Wouldn't that be a hoot?" The older woman fairly cackled at the thought.

The courier grinned at her enthusiasm.

Tank pushed the keypad to Shannon, pointing to the 'enter' button. He nodded to her, indicating it was all hers.

"Okay." Shannon settled herself in her chair, finger on the button. Downloading was almost as bad as uploading. It always felt like her sinuses were totally plugged and suddenly all drained away. While the resulting sensation was one of relief, it also made her head feel hollow, like there was nothing left inside. Taking a deep breath, she centered herself, closed her eyes and hit the button.

All eyes were on the computer screen. A small bar graph appeared, blinking 'download in progress.' As the information transferred from Shannon's storage unit into the hard drive, a green bar began to grow and numbers beneath remarked on the percentage downloaded. It wasn't a long process, by any means. Within thirty seconds, the halfway point had been reached. At the end of a full minute, the markers showed it at ninety percent. Just as it reached one hundred, two things happened simultaneously.

Dusky's hand was still on Shannon's head. There was a loud snap and the nomad's hand was literally thrown off. The redhead's body stiffened up and jerked. The smell of ozone was in the air.

At the same time, the computer that the information had been downloaded to appeared to crash. The screen flashed once and went dark, but a modem could be heard dialing. The computer next to it showed a download in progress, even as the first computer connected with an outside network.

"NO!" Dusky yelled. She grabbed the cable connecting her lover to the computer, feeling the jolt of electricity feeding through it, and yanked it out. Shannon stopped convulsing and passed out. Shake and Remy helped their leader move her away from the computer workstations.

Tank grabbed the keyboard to the first computer, punching in commands that were ignored. The second computer's download completed itself and the same thing happened to it. In desperation, Liz yanked the connections to the third computer before it, too, could get infected.

"It's a fucking virus!" she whispered, hearing the modem on the second computer fire up. She reached behind the computer and yanked out the phone lines before it could connect. By the time Tank thought to reach for the first computer's lines, it was too late.

The computer plague had begun.

********

OMEGA

Part V: Omega

The War

The major in charge of the Rolling O's fighting wing barked orders at the four other pilots. "Alrighty then, boys. Coming up on their last known coordinates. Stay sharp and keep your eyes peeled. They couldn't have gotten far."

He busied himself with the controls of his 'copter, an R34 Recluse, rechecking altitude, weapons, and location. The ground below them rushed by in a blur of desert brown. They would be coming up on I-84 within minutes.

Official reconnaisance and satellite photos had shown the Corps convoy to be about ten vehicles and heading east for Boise. Operatives inside Azteca were unable to give any decent information on manpower, however. It was a pretty sure bet that the corps was sending relief troops to stabilize their hold on the city.

The 'copters came in low over a rise and the interstate highway lay before them. Heading west, they cut through the dry air.

"There they are! Twelve o'clock! Right on the money!" a pilot, Iggy, exclaimed happily.

As their information had stated, ten vehicles were heading for them. Six were fully armed riot cars. The remaining four looked to be armored personnel carriers - not much in firepower, but thick skinned enough to cause some difficulties.

The major, known as the Boss, said, "Let's go, boys! Fire at will! Let's flatline these puppies!"

The five machines swooped towards the lead vehicle, Boss' wingmen coming around to the flanks of the column. The major opened up with his Walther cannons, the first round exploding too far forward to do any damage. Getting a better range, Boss fired again. The lead vehicle, a riot car, exploded in pyrotechnics. The personnel carrier behind was unable to stop in time and plowed right into the explosion, blowing itself up as well.

A riot car behind the explosions pulled to the left and opened fire on one of the flanking 'copters, even as two riot cars from behind roared forward to get into the action. A fireball erupted to the major's left and he heard one of his men say, "They got JC!" The vehicle turned towards him and fired a missile. Boss jerked the controls of his Recluse, pulling himself out of the missile's path by mere inches. The wingman on his right fired at the riot car, catching it square on and destroying it.

"Score three for Uncle Sam!"

"And one for the Corps," Boss muttered.

Of the two Corps vehicles that had moved forward, the one on the left fired several rounds at the remaining bird on Boss' left. The radio crackled as he heard, "I'm hit! I'm losing fuel!"

"Pull out, Snoop!" the major ordered. He watched as the pilot hesitated for a second. "That's an order, lieutenant! Return to base!" he barked and the 'copter pulled away.

A flash of white and Boss cursed. The riot car before him was firing as he hovered dead in the sky. He pulled to the right to avoid another blast and nailed the vehicle with the cannon.

"Four to two!"

"Shaddup, Mac," another voice cut in.

Two riot cars on the right fired simultaneously at the 'copters near them. The furthest one veered right and avoided any damage, the missile shooting off to detonate in some field. The pilot open fired, decimating the car.

The other 'copter wasn't as lucky.

"Dammit! I'm hit, Boss!"

"Pull out, Mac! Follow Snoop!"

"I can't, sir! Controls are sluggish.... I'm losing altitude!" the frantic voice said.

"Then unplug, dammit!" barked the major. There was silence and he checked his control panel. The lieutenant was still plugged into his bird. "Unplug, Mac! Get offline!"

"No, sir." The voice was calm. "I'm gonna take these suckers out."

"Mac! That's an order! Offline now!" the major bellowed.

There was no answer as the smoking, wounded 'copter began to fall. The pilot fought the controls for every inch of air time, targeting the center of the remaining Corps formation. The tortured bird shook and shimmied before plummeting down. The resulting crash took out another riot car and an armored personnel carrier, clipping yet a third APC that had been too close.

"Seven to three," the major murmured.

*****

McAndrews chomped viciously on his stylus, staring down into the amphitheater. Technicians removed the virtual reality helmet and gear from Lt. MacNelson, revealing dead eyes and blood running out his nose and ears. One tech checked for a pulse and shook her head. She gestured for a gurney and the body was removed.

Three of the five pilots remained in their chairs, hooked to the Recluses that were miles away. Lt. Lapotasky wasn't at the fight, having been sent back. His was going to be the longest VR trip, flying his wounded bird home manually.

"We have a surrender, base," the major's voice could be heard over the speakers. "One riot car and approximately thirty shock troopers from the remaining APCs."

McAndrews punched a button on the console beside him. "You know the drill, Major."

"Yes, sir. No mercy."

"Affirmative. Take 'em out." He paused a moment. "And congratulations."

*****

The Courier Virus was a rather interesting little computer glitch. The Canadian Government Ministry had worked for years to develop it and its counterpart.

While the purpose of any computer virus is to crash a system, this one went a step or two further. It wasn't content to crash a system and be done with it. It wanted to share itself, to be a true virus, to be as contagious as possible. Therefore, when it had been downloaded into Tank's computer, it searched for the modem and Internet software. Accessing the phone and network lines, it proceeded to spread its message to others.

Having connected to Tank's 'net provider, it uploaded to the main computers that were running that system. And then it filtered itself down to the hundreds of other current users. Those people who still used archaic keyboards were safe, though their systems were not. Those who were physically attached to their equipment through interface cables, however, got a rather rude shock.... Literally. Not enough to do severe damage - as one hacker would state months later, it was "just enough to scramble, not enough to fry."

Once downloaded to these new computers, the modem/software search began again - accessing other providers, telnet 'puters, old fashioned bulletin boards, email proggies and intranet computers. And so on and on. It really didn't take an inordinate amount of time before it began to infect governmental and corporation computers.

*****

"Shimizu!" the man barked into his phone line as he chased bits of data across his desktop. He was seated in his office, doing his best to keep updated on the convoy's progress.

"Harrelson here, sir. Are you online?" the voice asked anxiously.

The Asian scowled. "Of course I'm online, you idiot! I'm working!"

"Unplug now, sir!" the aide said sharply.

"Why?! Whatever for? What's going on, Harrelson?"

"A virus, sir. It's been downloaded to some of our systems. It's just a matter of time...."

"Virus?" Shimizu's eyes narrowed. "Have you run the proggie we got from the courier?"

"Yes, sir." There was a pause.

"And....?"

"And nothing, sir. It's not the same! It's a completely different virus altogether!"

The executive began swearing. "Well, fix it, Harrelson! NOW!!"

"Yes, sir, we're do--"

And the power went dead all over the Pacific northwest area.

*****

Two frantic groups moved within the confines of the basement. Liz and Tank worked diligently over their computers, quickly dismantling them to see what kind of physical damage had been done over and above the programming. Liz had moved the remaining computer to one side, as if physical separation from the infected ones would make a difference in the long run.

The Red Wolves surrounded the couch where Dusky had settled her unconscious lover. The dark woman checked frantically for a pulse, relief evident in her face when she found the steady rhythm. Peeling back eyelids, she peered into royal blue orbs, noting the uneven dilation of the pupils. "Concussion," she murmured. Looking up to Shake, she said, "Get me a wet rag. We need to wake her up."

Shannon fought her way up from the blackness surrounding her. Her head throbbed and there was a burning sensation where the port on her neck was. As she approached consciousness, she felt someone cradling her, coolness on her face and neck. With a groan, she opened her eyes. A pair of silver and emerald ones gazed back at her, full of concern.

"How do you feel?" the dark woman asked.

"Like crap," she mumbled, moving slowly to sit up. Warm hands helped her. The redhead reached up and rubbed her temples. "What happened?"

Dusky pursed her lips, setting the wet rag down on the table beside her. "What do you remember?"

Shannon's brow furrowed. It hurt to think. "I dunno. Did I fall asleep?" She felt for the port, finding herself offline. "Did we get the data?" The courier looked at her lover in confusion. "What am I doing over here? And why can't I remember the download?" She looked over her shoulder at the two computer techs working on their electronics. "What happened?"

The pack leader took Shannon's hand. "Calm down, you're okay." She brushed a hand through red gold hair. "Whatever you were carrying caused the system to crash. There was some sort of electrical feedback through the interface cable. I disconnected you and brought you over here."

"Caused it to crash?"

Liz looked up from what they were doing. "You were carrying a virus. It infected two of our decks and made it to an outside phone line."

"Well, I guess that explains why Uncle Sam didn't want it," Remy said from where he was standing behind the couch. "Question is, if they knew what she was carrying, why'd they set up an escort for her?"

"And such a poor one, at that." Dusky's eyes narrowed. "Maybe they didn't want her to reach Boise. If that virus had gotten into Corporation hands first...."

"Uncle Sam'd win the war," Shake finished, brown eyes wide.

"Well, Uncle Sam must have the proggie to control it, then," Liz growled in exasperation. Tank's hands flew in intricate patterns and the older woman's face became even more irritated.

"What'd he say?" Shannon asked.

"He says not necessarily. Otherwise they wouldn't have had a problem with you downloading to their system in the first place."

"True," the redhead murmured.

"Now, wait a minute," Dusky said crossly, standing up to pace the room. "Canada GovMin sent a courier to Uncle Sam with a virus.....so Corps could capture it? But Uncle Sam doesn't have the proggie to fix it? We're talking major malaçia here, on a fucking global scale!"

The bald man signed again and Liz said, "That about covers it."

Shannon caught the dark woman's eye. "Malaçia?"

"Double dealing."

"Oh." Her head throbbed and she lay back against the couch, closing her eyes. Shannon felt movement as someone sat next to her. Fingers brushed the bangs away from her eyes.

"Oh, no, preciada. You have to stay awake for awhile. That jolt gave you a concussion."

The courier opened her eyes. "It did?" At the acknowledging nod, she groaned and closed her eyes again. "No wonder my head hurts so much."

"I've got some 'dorphs in my bag," Shake volunteered. He made a move to go back to the spare room but was stopped by Remy's outstretched hand.

"How long we staying, Dusk?" the elder asked his niece.

The dark woman frowned and shrugged. "We should wait until the heat's off outside. We might have a better chance of getting out now that the Corps are mucking things up." Despite herself, she yawned.

"You need to relax for a bit. Let's wait until nightfall?"

Dusky considered it and nodded. "Sounds good."

"Now you and your señorita go back into the spare room. We'll keep an eye on things here." At the woman's blank look, he raised an eyebrow. With an air of innocence, he continued, "She needs something to take care of her headache."

Shake snickered and turned away. The courier blushed as the pack leader beside her smirked slightly.

Well. Puta to señorita in less than twenty-four. Will wonders never cease? "Okay, uncle, it's a deal." She rose from the couch and grasped Shannon's hand, pulling the smaller woman to her feet. "C'mon, preciada, let's take care of your headache."

And then the power went out.

There were muffled curses from Shake and Liz. Dusky's infrared option on her cyberoptic kicked in and she was able to keep tabs on all occupants in the room. As Liz spoke and moved, she kept her hand on her pistol.

"Everybody stay put," Liz ordered. She groped her way across the pitch black room until she reached what had appeared to have been a closet. Opening the door, she fiddled around with something inside. The sound of a motor filled the room and a few of the lights came back on. "Generator for emergencies," she exclaimed with a grin, shutting the door. "Brown outs are a bitch."

Tank nodded in agreement and turned back to his computers. Remy settled down on the couch and pulled out a knife and stone. The older woman dusted off her hands and wandered back to the computer station, Shake following to curiously watch the dismantling.

Dusky gave the room a final scan before squeezing her lover's hand. "C'mon, preciada," she said in a low voice. "I'll check Shake's bags for the 'dorphs." The dark woman led Shannon out of the room.

*****

Now that the power grid was down, further infection from the virus was a moot point. The concern, at least in the larger towns and cities, was now going to be man. Even as the power failed in Seattle and Portland, Tacoma and Lewiston, the darker element reached out to stir things up. Gang wars flared, the downtrodden took their chance to better their lives, neighbors long held in check by civilization resorted to vigilantism to right the wrongs done to them. And, as darkness settled over the communities, it would only get worse.

The virus itself had reached far further than the Pacific northwest, however. It diligently propagated itself, spreading and spreading and spreading...

*****

Dusky directed the redhead to sit on the bed as she dug through the gear. A low light over the door burned dimly, hooked up to the emergency generator in the next room. After a bit of rummaging, the pack leader found what she was looking for and sat next to Shannon.

"How ya feeling?" she asked, moving honey gold hair to the side. "Any nausea? Upset stomach?"

"No. I don't think so." Shannon felt pressure as an endorphin patch was firmly pressed to the base of her neck at the hairline. "Just a splitting headache. My port feels a little weird...." Callused hands gently guided her head to one side.

"Looks a little red, but that's all," Dusky said after a close inspection in the semidark. "We'll have to have it looked at when this is over. I know a decent ripper doc in Tacoma who's good with processors."

"Great." The pain in Shannon's head began to abate, the 'dorphs speedily coursing through her system. She sighed and slumped a bit as the worse of the throbbing disappeared. Soon, even the dull ache would be gone for awhile.

"Better?"

"Oh, yeah. Much," the courier breathed in relief.

"Think you could eat some?"

Shannon tilted her head to one side as she considered. "I could give it a go." Her stomach grumbled and she blushed with a slight smile.

The pack leader chuckled and moved back to the gear, rummaging around for some rations. She plopped down next to her lover and handed the woman a food pouch. "Take it slow, preciada."

"Thanks." With a nod of red gold hair, the courier opened the pouch and began nibbling at the heated food. The pain's gone. That's a relief! She kept attention on her belly, not wanting to get sick and waste the pack's dwindling food supply. Shannon was mildly happy to note that her stomach was quite happy with its offering and had no complaints.

When she was finished, Shannon moved further onto the bed to sit on her knees, back to the headboard. She patted the mattress in front of her. "C'mere." At Dusky's raised eyebrow, she said, "Your uncle said you need to relax. Nothing more relaxing than a back massage." Shannon grinned. "I come from a long family line of master masseuses."

"Really?" the dark woman asked, a smile quirking the corner of her lips. "Looks like I got a pretty good deal when I picked you up." She, too, moved further onto the bed, settling down in front of the redhead. She felt a tap on her shoulder and she turned to look at Shannon.

"The jacket and shirt's gotta go, lover," the smaller woman stated with a grin. "Otherwise, you won't get the full... uh... 'benefits' of the massage." She wiggled her eyebrows.

With a chuckle Dusky did as she was told, tossing the garments to the foot of the bed. "Anything else?" she drawled.

"Well, yeah.... But that can wait until later."

The pack leader smirked. She moved her thick hair to her right shoulder and felt small hands dig into her shoulders and neck. Her head dropped and her eyes closed in contentment as long abused muscles were given their due.

"My god, Dusky! These are rocks, not shoulders!" Shannon exclaimed. Her only answer was a dry chuckle.

"So, tell me about Shannon Elias, master masseuse," the dark woman said.

The redhead pursed her lips. "Hmmm. Not much to tell, really. My life hasn't been near as exciting as yours has." She became silent in thought. After a few moments, she continued, "I'm a poor little rich girl, a Corpsbrat. Only child, private schools, tutors, you know."

"How'd a Corpsbrat end up a courier? That's an independent career. Didn't wanna follow in your parents' footsteps?"

Shannon shrugged slightly and concentrated on a knot in the muscles before her. "My folks had been assigned to the Panama embassy. They were killed in a terrorist strike during the Food Riots of '41."

Dusky stilled the hand on her left shoulder as she turned a bit to look behind her. "I'm sorry," she said in all seriousness.

The courier shrugged again, this time with a slight smile. "Thanks. It's okay, though. That was years ago." She squeezed the shoulder lightly before directing her lover back to her previous position, continuing on with the massage. "Anyway, I ended up running away from the Corps Orphanage they put me in. Spent a few years on the streets, doing what streetkids do." Her hands moved lower, palms applied to the shoulder blades. "About three years ago, a fixer found me. Said I had some money coming to me from the Corps my parents had worked for. After giving him a cut for locating me, I had enough for a processor and storage unit." Shannon heard a small groan as she applied pressure to the muscles beneath the shoulder blades and grinned. "And there you have it. What about you?"

"What about me?" Dusky asked, startled at the turn of the conversation.

Shannon laughed lightly. "Okay... For starters, tell me about the tattoos."

"Oh." The pack leader blinked silver/green eyes. "Well, they represent belonging and rank in the tribe."

"And....?" the redhead urged.

Dusky blew out a breath. "And." Her brow furrowed. "Let's see. The first one is given on the naming day of a baby to signify belonging. The second is for reaching adulthood. The third is for completion of military service. Uh, the fourth is reserved for those people who reach some sort of position in the clan."

"But, Shake's got two and you said he hasn't been through the ceremony yet."

"Yeah, but we've seen some pretty heavy fighting this year. He's made several kills on his own and collected several scalps. That alone makes him an adult and warrior in the clan. The ceremony is just that - an acknowledgement."

Shannon's hands moved to the tanned lower back. "Do all of your people have to go through the military?"

"Oh, no!" Dusky shook her dark head. "It just depends on the individual. Those that don't want to be warriors don't do the Sun Dance or enter the military. The youths are considered adults at sixteen. Instead of military service, they get another tat when they've reached some sort of precision with their chosen fields - you know, like mechanics, electronics, and that."

"Oh, okay." The redhead returned her attention to the woman's shoulders. "So, you and Remy have the same number. Elders equal leaders?" She dug firmly into the muscles.

"Mmmm. No." God, this feels good! "When my father was killed, it put me in charge. When we have the ceremony for Shake, I'll have another tat added."

Shannon leaned forward, bringing her lips close to the pack leader's left ear. "If I stay with you, do I get tattooed as well?" she asked in a low voice. She grinned at the shiver that ran through the woman's body.

Dusky gulped. "Um, if you want to. It would help integrate you into the pack." She felt warm breath on her ear and closed her eyes, trying to maintain some control. "Will you stay?" she whispered. There was a long pause behind her as the hands on her shoulders varied between strong kneading and light caresses. She could feel the tickle of her lover's hair brushing her back.

"I haven't decided yet," was the responding whisper. Shannon sat back and studied the dark woman before her, hands playing across skin. In a louder voice, she continued, "There's something I need to know before I can."

Bracing herself, Dusky asked, "What?" She swallowed again.

The redhead leaned forward again and whispered into her ear, "Will you give yourself to me, Dusky Holt?" The woman before her froze and she sat back again, continuing the massage, allowing the dark woman space to think.

"Will you give yourself to me, Dusky Holt?" Will I? It's not that I don't want to. Can I? That's the question, isn't it? The younger woman searched inside, delving into places she rarely went, for the answer. Her father's voice. "You have to control yourself before you can lead. You cannot control others, but they will follow your example if you're strong." She had always been in control, in every aspect she could be - childhood games, emotions, battles, sex. Even in the Sun Dance she had been in control of herself, the very last of her peers to tear herself away from the agony and visions that had enveloped her.

Her eyes closed, Dusky searched herself. Royal blue eyes staring into hers for the first time, the flash of - what was it? - arcing between them. The comfort of arms around her waist as they rode the bike. Feeling like this woman was the other half of her soul. Their kiss, her taste, her smell. The fiery temper to match the hair. The dark woman remembered the previous night, the courier writhing beneath her hands, moaning. I'll do everything possible to keep you with me. "Everything," she whispered.

"What?" The hands on her shoulders stilled.

Dusky cleared her throat, opening her eyes. In a louder voice, she said, "I'll give you everything."

Unshed tears stung Shannon's eyes, tears of relief, of love, of awe. She leaned forward again, hands moving down to caress the darker woman's upper arms. "I don't want everything, love," she whispered fiercely. "I want you."

"You have it," was the response.

Shannon rose up on her knees and leaned against the strong back. Her left hand traced feather light patterns across her lover's shoulder and neck, grasping her chin and tilting her head for a kiss. Their lips met with the same hunger that they were becoming accustomed to, ravenous desire, never quenched. A tongue sought entry and was allowed, lips parting. The courier felt a hand in her hair, pressing her into the kiss, and she growled into the woman's mouth, a surge of fire running through her system.

A hand trailed up the tender underside of Dusky's arm, moving past the crook of her elbow to slide up and surround the wrist that was buried in polished red gold. Another hand splayed across the ribs on her right, inexorably gliding around to her belly. The dark woman's hand was pulled away from its haven, brought firmly down and pressed onto her leather-clad thigh. As her preciada pulled away from the kiss, she groaned, mourning the loss.

"No," she was told firmly. "Give yourself to me."

Dusky bit her lower lip and nodded. She was rewarded with another soul searing kiss as the hand on her wrist released her and slid back up the way it had come, teasing sensitive skin. Goosebumps followed in its wake and she shivered despite the heat she was feeling. The hand on her belly moved up until the thumb traced the swell of her right breast. Again the kiss broke off.

"You're very beautiful, princess," Shannon whispered into her ear, caressing it with her tongue, delighting in the shivers and sighs she created. One hand continued up to cup a breast, thumb barely brushing the nipple. The other continued its movement down the ribs, past the hip and along the stretch of thigh. "I dreamt of you that first night. Dreamt of having you, of taking you."

Moaning, Dusky weakly lay her head back against the woman behind her. Lips and teeth found their way to her neck, nibbling and nipping the flesh. Fingernails on her thigh scratched a path back to her hip and she sighed with a growl, heart pounding. It was so hard to not just spin around and take her tormentor right there. The thumb brushed her nipple again, harder this time, and she felt the resulting burn through her body, centering between her legs with a tingling throb.

Shannon tickled the woman's belly with her left hand, fumbling with the buckle of the pack leader's belt. "Do you want me to take you, princess?" She bit down on the tanned shoulder before her even as she pinched Dusky's nipple between thumb and forefinger, rolling it.

Her hands clenched into fists, the dark woman arched into the contact with a gasp and a loud groan. She could feel herself soaking her leathers, her skin on fire.

"What do you want, princess?" asked the husky voice behind her.

Dusky felt a wry grin on her face, despite the delicious agony she was enduring. Paybacks are a bitch. She inhaled deeply to work her way through her body's inability to communicate. Her nipple was pinched again, the breast squeezed firmly in a warm hand, and she lost all thought at the sensation, gasping yet again.

"What do you want, princess?"

"Take me," she whispered back, panting. And her lover complied, hands moving down to finish loosening the belt and unfasten the leather pants she wore. Small fingers played in dark curls, tracing a volatile path to their destination. Dusky moved her legs to allow easier access.

Shannon traced fingers back up the taut stomach to tease the other breast as her right hand continued to blaze a trail northward. It was a tight fit, but not uncomfortable, as she worked her way down and felt moisture. She moaned at what she felt. "You're so wet," she murmured, immersing her fingers in the slickness. The redhead felt her lover's hips move and she heard a sighing moan. With slow, measured strokes she matched her movement to Dusky's.

The dark woman rode her lover's hand, her fists digging into the bedding on either side of her. A warm mouth and hand never stopped their own attentions on her throat and breast, kneading, licking, fondling, nibbling. A thumb found the raw bundle of nerves at her center, driving Dusky even further in her passion.

For her part, the redhead reveled in the woman flexing and moaning under her hands. This is it. This is the dream. She released a nipple long enough to guide those beautiful lips towards her own, taking her princess, owning her. As she felt Dusky reach the edge, she broke off the kiss and growled passionately into her ear, "You're mine, princess. Come for me."

Dusky froze, barely hearing, as she fell over the precipice. "Preciada!" she called out, muscles clenching as she felt wave after wave of sensation roll through her body. Her lover continued her ministrations, encouraging yet a second orgasm to shudder through her body, before slowing and finally stopping.

As her lover fell back against her, Shannon propped herself against the headboard, keeping her arms wrapped around the dark woman. "I love you, princess."

*****

The Flight

"Alright, I want everything in position by oh three hundred," McAndrews growled to one of his aides.

The captain dutifully took down notes. "Yes, sir. I'll have the message encrypted and sent out."

The general chewed on the ever present stylus. Damn, what I wouldn't give for a cigarette! His office was lit by two lanterns, the electrical and phone lines useless. In place of his phone was a battery powered field unit, an archaic piece of equipment that had long ago been abandoned in favor of the newfangled contraptions of the 21st century. "Thank God, Uncle Sam doesn't throw anything away," he mumbled to himself.

"Sir?" the aide asked.

McAndrews looked up sharply. "Nothing. Talking to myself. It's called senility."

"Yes, sir."

He sighed and removed the stylus from his teeth. "We attack at dawn. Make sure the proper attack codes get out there." He turned towards the window, watching dusk fall. "Damn, I hate short-wave radios."

*****

As darkness began to fall in Boise, the two women wandered back into the living area of the safe house, arms around each other, the smell of food beckoning them.

Remy sat at a table in the kitchen area, solemnly peeling potatoes, as Liz sliced them up and set them to frying on a propane camp stove. Tank was still working on his computers, though he had apparently decided that they weren't worth the effort to fix. The two that had been infected were now at his other work station where he was dismantling them for salvage.

Shake was peering at a book as he sat on the couch, occasionally moving his free hand and studying its position. He glanced up at the women and grinned. He winked at Dusky and said, "You relaxed now?"

"Very," she responded, smiling rakishly back and squeezing her lover's waist. There was an answering squeeze and she looked down into royal blue eyes, a faint blush tinting the fair skin. Her smile softened as she imagined small wolfprint tattoos on the courier's face. Mine, her eyes said.

Mine, was the answer.

"It's getting on towards dark, Dusk," Remy called from his seat. "Figured out what we're gonna do, yet?"

The pack leader tore herself away from her preciada with regret. She ran long fingers through her dark hair and moved closer to her uncle. "There was a lot of damage to the gate out there. I figure our chances are pretty good getting out that way." She settled down in another chair, leaning elbows on knees. "Has there been any word from the outside?"

Shake, Tank, and Shannon moved towards the conversation. The redhead stood behind Dusky, gently rubbing the woman's shoulders. Tank pulled up a third chair and straddled it as the teenager leaned against the counter.

Liz stirred the frying food with a spatula. "Actually, we were able to pick up a little bit from a short-wave we keep for emergencies," she said. "Can't seem to pick up much outside of Boise, but we've gotten several reports from inside the city." She adjusted the flame and covered the pan, turning around to face the younger woman. "Apparently, the Corps attacked from two sides - this gate getting the worst of the assault. No other gates were messed with that we know of."

"There's rioting, of course. Looting," Remy continued. "It'll be getting more violent once the sun goes down. Don't know how many of Uncle Sam's people made it through the attack - not many, I suspect."

The group considered their friend and packmate, Delva, solemnly.

Tank's hands began their dance and Shake stared at them intently. Liz said, "At least we're in a good location. Not many people will be looting houses just yet. Most of the stuff's gonna happen outside of the residential areas."

"True," Dusky said. She chewed over the scanty information she had. Gotta get preciada outta the city and away from both factions. One decently damaged gate and lots of rioting in the streets to keep Corps distracted. "Anybody hear anything from outside?"

Liz blew out a breath and scrubbed at her face. "Not really. I've gotten some garbled stuff. It was kinda hard to understand." She brushed her white hair out of her eyes. "We're not the only ones without power. I think it's pretty widespread. That virus took a lot of systems down, Uncle's and Corps'."

Remy finished his chore and set the knife he had been using on the table. He rose and went to the sink to rinse his hands. "You know that Uncle Sam ain't gonna let this ride. They're gonna take the city back, even if it's in pieces."

Tank and Dusky both nodded in agreement. "It's just a matter of time before Uncle Sam sets up a form of communication and gets their troops in place," the dark woman said. She considered for a moment. "Probably at dawn tomorrow. That should have given them enough time to do something about it. And," she offered with a glance at her uncle, "if I know Corps, they've already sent reinforcements here."

Remy nodded at her.

Dusky sighed and leaned back into the gentle caresses on her shoulders. "Let's bail late at night, early morning - before Uncle Sam has a chance to attack. If we make it out, their attack will help cover our tracks."

"Sounds good," Shake said. "What about Delva?"

The pack leader scowled. "He's a grown man. He can take care of himself." I hope, she added. "If he's made it this far, he should be okay. He'll meet up with us when he can." She looked Liz and Tank over in speculation. "You two wanna chip in with us?"

Liz's eyebrows raised in surprise at the invitation. "Um.... I dunno." She glanced at her husband. "We'll have to talk about it."

Dusky nodded. "Alright. Let me know before we leave. You two are good in a firefight. We could use ya." She stood and stretched. "Now where's this short-wave radio you're talking about?"

*****

Delva huddled in the basement of a house on the north side. Surrounding him were members of his platoon - what was left of them. About fifteen had made it through the bombing and subsequent battles at the various gates.

"Dammit! I say we cut and run! Corps ain't gonna give a shit!" said one of the men.

"No way! I'm no coward!" another responded.

This verbal battle had lasted far longer than any fight the group had been involved with. Their superiors were dead and now they drifted with no direction.

"What do you say, featherhead?" a third asked. "You outrank us all at this point."

Delva grabbed the man by the throat, lifting him as he stood until toes were dangling inches above the concrete floor. "First, I say that my name is Featherman, and don't you forget it," he growled. At the man's strangled agreement, he released him, dropping him to the ground with a thump. He looked around the basement, watching wary eyes regard his large form. "Second, I say we killfile two scripts with one proggie. Let's get out of the city and hook up with Uncle Sam at Mt. Home."

There was a muttered round of agreement and Delva squatted down again. Time to make some plans.

*****

Darkness fell over the country in a thick blanket of chaos. It covered half the United States, reaching from the virus' origin in Boise, Idaho, to Colorado, Texas, and nearly to the Great Lakes. There were some vague meanderings on news programs on the east coast, but the urgency of the situation was lost from the lack of comprehension, the inability to understand just how extensive this computer virus was.

And America wasn't the only one suffering. Large portions of South and Latin America were experiencing the same problems, the virus having found its way through corporation and governmental computers to the country's allies. In Europe, Paris was burning and the pope was unable to give comforting words to his worldwide flock.

Some countries appeared to be unaffected, however. Canada being the primary one, despite its proximity. Australia, India, the British Isles, South Africa. There were a few other scattered countries in the Eastern bloc, as well. Somehow, walls had been erected in the cyberworld, causing the virus to crash uselessly against them.

But, the virus wasn't particular. So long as there was some way to move, to multiply, it did - washing uselessly up against the barriers that had been put in its path, rampaging on like a wild river successfully diverted to other places. And multiply it did.

*****

The nomads finished their meal, Shannon and Dusky helping Liz clean up. Tank had returned to his beloved computers while Shake and Remy went to the back room to get their gear gathered up for the coming assault on the gate.

"So," Shannon said. "How long have you and Tank been together?" she asked the older woman, taking a stab at making conversation. Her lover was currently doing her 'Big Bad Pack Leader' rendition and hadn't spoken more than two words after they had begun eating.

"About seven years," Liz replied, handing over a foil wrapped package for the redhead to put in the refrigerator. "I came up from Laca, searching for this badass hacker who messed with my friends," she continued with a small smile. She chuckled. "It was love at first sight."

"Really?" Shannon asked.

"No." Liz laughed. "He seemed to think so. I sure as hell didn't. I just wanted to mess up his deck and go back home." She shrugged. "Couldn't get past his security."

Tank rapped on the table to get her attention, signing away with a grin.

"Yeah, yeah," Liz laughed good naturedly. "He says he had to do something to keep me coming back. Well, it worked!" Finishing with their work, she wiped her hands off and approached the large man. "Next thing I know, I'm moving in with him and becoming his personal techie."

The other women followed her into the room, Dusky sprawling on the couch and Shannon perching on the arm next to her. A possessive arm draped itself across the courier's thigh, the hand caressing her kneecap. Shannon ran her fingers through dark hair.

"Do you think you'll come with us?" Shannon asked the couple.

The man and woman looked at each other. "Well," Liz started, "it really depends on this virus. If it ain't too bad, there's no reason we can't continue on here."

"And if it is?" Dusky drawled, silver/green eyes watching the couple steadily.

"Well, then --" Liz froze at the sound of a door slamming upstairs.

Dusky shot out of her seat, pistol drawn. Remy and Shake silently made their way into the main room. With a grace and silence that belied his size, Tank also rose and moved over to the ladder, picking up his rifle along the way.

The group could hear the floorboards above them creak as the intruder slowly walked across the room above. Shannon could follow the person's progress with her eyes, matching the noise and the shuffling location.

Whoever it was stopped upon reaching the closet door. Tank took the safety off of the rifle and brought it up to his shoulder, sighting the door overhead.

Shannon found a .45 put into her hand and felt a strong hand guide her quietly to stand behind the pack leader. She glanced at Liz and found the older woman pointing a rifle that could easily have been referred to as an 'elephant' gun in days of yore. The other two nomads were positioned to triangulate their fire with Tank's.

There was a soft rapping on the door above, a staccato of sound that varied and lasted for nearly a minute.

Tank grinned and brought his rifle down, setting it against the wall before surging up the ladder to the door.

Liz was smiling as well. At Dusky's sharp look, she assured, "It's okay. It's a friend."

The nomads slowly relaxed their stances but didn't put their weapons away. They watched as Tank unlocked the door and scrambled back down. Seconds later, another large man came down into the room.

"Delva!" Shannon exclaimed.

The big nomad grinned, hands held away from his body. "Well, who the hell else did ya expect?"

*****

It was nearly three in the morning when the pack was ready to go. Dusky stood on guard with the others as Shannon, Tank and Liz finished packing the couple's things into Delva's riot car.

The news from the big Wolf hadn't been good. Boise was going to become a bloodbath as the two sides of the civil war took out their frustrations on each other. The only safe place to be was somewhere else. There weren't enough Corps personnel to keep the city easily and Uncle Sam was going to throw it's relatively hefty weight around. It was a sure bet.

Further out in the lot, hidden from normal eyesight, were four soldiers - part of Delva's fire team. The other two teams were already in position, he had said. They were preparing to take the gate and escape. Dusky had no trouble keeping an eye on them with her infrared optic. According to Delva, these were the last of Uncle Sam's troops in the city, the last of his platoon. Their survival lay in the hands of a few soldiers that had been out for Shannon's blood.

She didn't trust them.

Glowing red behind her was the downtown area. Fires had been started from the rioting and looting and the sounds of angry voices and gunfire drifted easily towards them. Even this far away, the smell of smoke and blood assailed her nostrils.

"We're ready to roll," Shannon said softly as she approached the darker woman.

Dusky nodded and looked over to her packmates. Without a word, they mounted their motorcycles. Liz and Tank were already inside the riot car, starting it up.

Delva trotted over to his pack leader. "Give us five minutes to get there. We're on foot. Then, the riot car comes behind us and you three behind it."

Nodding in agreement, Dusky kick started her bike. He jogged away, calling his fireteam together and the five soldiers moved north.

With a smile of reassurance, the dark woman helped Shannon get on behind her. She put the .45 back into the woman's hands. "Don't fail to use this if you need it," she said over her shoulder, a serious green eye mock glaring at her.

Shannon swallowed. "I won't." She gripped the pistol tightly and wrapped her arms around her lover's waist, leaning her head against leather clad shoulders.

Dusky steered her motorcycle towards the riot car. When Tank opened the window, she glanced in at the two of them. "Ready to go?" At his answering nod, she said, "Okay then. Let's do it. You're in the lead."

Another nod at the riot car pulled away, flanked by Shake and Remy with Dusky bringing up the rear.

*****

Delva paused his fire team about a block and a half away from the gate. He sent two of his men to either side, signaling his other teams to begin their attack. Even as his men returned, he saw the beginning of the assault on the wounded gate before them.

One of the two gate towers had been completely burned to the ground in the previous attack by Corps. The other was burnt so badly, its usefulness was hardly an issue. A hastily erected guard shack had been set up to the right of the gate, in front of the decimated tower. Two machinegun nests had been built on either side of the road, as well. Aside from the manning of the machineguns, there appeared to be four Corps shock troopers hanging out in front of the wire contraption that had been placed across the road.

The fireteam to his right, B Team, swung in a hair earlier than the one on his left, A Team. Within seconds, the shocktroopers were aware of an attack as their machinegun nest on the right exploded with a large report. Another explosion occurred to the left, but the gunner in the sandbagged area was uninjured and opened fire on A Team. Even as the shocktroopers in the open dived for cover, two soldiers from A were killed, falling to the ground in a hail of bullets.

The three remaining members of A split up. One dodged right, firing his rifle and nailing two of the shocktroopers before they could reach any sort of cover. As the middle soldier sprayed rounds at the machinegun nest, his buddy went to the left and was able to get close enough to toss a grenade into the hole. The nest exploded in flame and there were screams as bodies flew out of it.

The two remaining shocktroopers had finally made it to the relative safety of the machinegun nest on the right. To their surprise, the weapon was still in firing condition, having suffered no damage from the explosive round that had been lobbed into it at the beginning of the fight. As B Team neared them, one of the troopers laughed and opened fire. Three of Uncle Sam's soldiers danced as the rounds perforated their bodies. The other two dived for cover. One of the soldiers tossed a second grenade into the nest, taking the entire thing out for the second time.

The three remaining members of A Team finally reached the gate only to discover that there were two more machinegunners on the other side. Alerted by the noise of the battle behind them, the troopers outside the gate had had time to reverse their positions. One soldier of A dashed around the corner of the ruined tower, receiving a rash of bullets in his chest for his troubles. His remaining friends reversed their direction, ending up in the destroyed machinegun nest on the left.

After a quick conference and an examination of the machinegun, the two soldiers burst out from their cover, making a break for the gate. One fired the machinegun, the other his rifle until they got within sight of the nest on the other side. The second soldier fired a grenade into the position, whooping as it took the nest out. Their joy didn't last long, however, as a second machinegun outside the gate cut them down.

*****

"Sir!" The aide rushed into the makeshift office.

"What, captain? We attack in less than an hour. What else is there?" McAndrews growled, looking up from the city map he was studying. The ever present stylus was moving furiously around between his teeth.

"There's fighting at one of the gates, sir! Explosions, gunfire."

The general stopped chewing and blinked. "Any idea who it is?"

"No, sir. We can't get a good ID on them. Whoever it is is giving the Corps hell, though, sir."

"Show me which gate!" McAndrews ordered.

The aide moved forward and eagerly pointed out the position.

The general studied the map, eyes narrowed, stylus moving. "Everything's in place?"

"Yes, sir."

With a satisfied nod, he removed the stylus and pursed his lips. "Roust the men. We attack in five minutes." As the aide blinked at him, he barked, "Now, man!"

"Y... y... Yes, sir!" The captain ran out of the room.

"Let's kick some Corporation butt."

*****

Now aware of the danger lying outside the gates, the remaining members of A Team carefully moved along the wall towards the half ruined tower. They stopped at the machinegun nest along the way, only to be disappointed that the weapon was useless.

Delva looked behind him and saw the approaching vehicles of his pack. "Finally," he breathed. "Okay, fellahs, let's go in there and kick some butt!" With a yell, he lead his fireteam down the middle of the street towards the gate, firing his rifle on automatic at the remaining machinegunners. One shocktrooper raised his head at an unfortunate time and lost it, a round taking out his brain.

The machinegunner opened fire, taking out two members of C Team as the three others scattered to either side of the road. Behind them, the well protected riot car roared forward, its own gunports blazing.

Overhead, missiles could be heard whistling through the air to explode inside the city. As the riot car took out the final resistance and smashed through the gate, another missile could be heard as it neared. The three motorcycles followed it through the gate, as well as the remaining five members of Uncle Sam's garrison.

And the gate exploded as McAndrews' orders were followed, a massive fireball reaching up into the dark early morning sky.

********

FUTURE

Part VI: Future

Even as the pack approached the gate, Dusky could hear the staccato popping of gunfire coupled with grenade explosions. She was directly behind the riot car, using it for cover as it was better armored than her bike. Shake and Remy flanked her on their own wheels.

Another explosion, this one from behind them startled her. The woman clinging to her from behind yelled into her ear.

"Missiles! From outside!"

Dusky nodded curtly at the data. Her cyberoptic picked up Delva's fire team entering the fray before her vision was blocked by the vehicle in front. Ahead of her, Liz and Tank began to fire on the shock troopers at the gate. She glanced to either side, checking her backup. "Here we go!" she yelled as the car crashed through the flimsy wire barricade.

And then they were through. Behind them, the remainder of Delva's soldiers dispatched the last of the troopers and followed on foot. The plan called for the motorized pack to get through the gate, go a safe distance, and stop to pick up the soldiers and transport them from the war zone. But, as usually happens with all plans, shit happened.

A missile flying overhead impacted with the gate - a direct hit. The resulting fireball and shockwave completely decimated what was left of the already crumbling structure. And the pack was caught on the edge of the killing field.

Despite the fact that she was at full throttle, the repercussion pushed Dusky's bike forward. The riot car had more mass and wasn't as heavily affected. The Red Wolf fought for control, using all her strength to keep the bike upright. Her lover squeezed her tightly around the waist, hunkering down against her back.

The back of the riot car was approaching fast. Too close! No time! "Shit!" she screamed, a warcry from the depths of her soul. It helped focus her physical and spiritual being into a final act of domination and control. From deep within the pack leader's very will caused her to recover from the shockwave. At the last minute, the bike cleared the rear right bumper of the riot car by a fraction of an inch.

"Fuck me!" she crowed in relief. Her control of the bike was restored and the pressure behind dissipated. She heaved a sigh, preparing to continue past the car and take the lead. And then there was a frantic tugging on her jacket from her passenger.

"We have to stop!" Shannon insisted at the top of her lungs, ears still ringing from the explosion.

Dark brows frowned in irritation. "We're still too close!" She craned her neck around to glare at her lover. Her exasperation faded as she saw the fear and worry in royal blue eyes. She could make out the word 'stop' and 'Remy'. Remy?! "Hang on!"

With her heart in her throat, Dusky downshifted and braked, veering away from the riot car as it pulled away. The tortured motorcycle screamed its agony at the treatment, but dutifully obeyed its master. The pack leader left deep black marks on the pavement as her rear tire skittered around. The acrid smell of burnt rubber lent itself to the mix of incendiary devices and woodsmoke.

The gate and apparently half the city of Boise was in flames. Even as Dusky accelerated, she saw her uncle's bike still sliding along the pavement in a crumpled heap. Her infrared was messed up by the fire, but the vision enhancement picked up a body lying nearby, its own forward motion just recently halted. She pulled up next to him and dived off the bike, leaving Shannon to wrestle the monster onto its kickstand.

Remy's face was covered in blood and the white of bone protruded from the unnaturally twisted left leg. Dusky was relieved to feel a pulse. She ran her hands over the unconscious elder, accessing damage. Looks like the head and leg only. Definite concussion, blood loss.... Wonder if he'll walk again?

Shannon knelt down at her side. "What do you need me to do?"

With a tight, grateful smile, Dusky said, "Hold his shoulders, pin him down. I've gotta straighten this leg and get the bone back into place."

The redhead nodded and swallowed nervously. She scooted to the head of the man and leaned on his shoulders.

"Ready?" At Shannon's nod, Dusky pulled the injured leg, working the bone back through the wound it had made. Even in his unconscious state, Remy moaned and weakly tried to move away from the pain. "Hold him!" She felt the bone grate sickeningly before she got it to where it needed to go. "Okay. It's good."

Shannon released Remy's shoulders as Shake pulled up on his bike. His own shoulder wound was seeping through the bandages and his dark eyes were wide with fear.

Dusky ripped the front of the elder's shirt off and wadded it up, placing it on the leg wound and gesturing her lover closer. "Here! Put pressure on this. I don't think he severed an artery, but we can't be too careful." To Shake, the pack leader ordered, "Go get Tank and Liz! We've gotta get him outta here!"

The teenager nodded vigorously and took off after the riot car.

The dark woman wrestled with Remy's belt, pulling it off and beginning to wrap it around the man's thigh above the wound. As she tightened the substitute tourniquet, she glanced up at a pale face and scared blue eyes. "How ya doing?" she asked. "You okay?"

Shannon swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay." So much blood. She swallowed again.

Delva and the remainder of his fire team trotted up. The big man immediately dropped at the elder's head. Out of one of the many pouched on his belt, he pulled an emergency first aid kid and began tending the head wound. His two soldiers took up positions to cover them.

"You've got a head wound," the pack leader said, noting the blood running down Delva's face.

"Just a scrape. Took a short flight away from the gate and landed on a rock." He mopped blood away from Remy's face. "I'll be fine."

Dusky nodded quickly as she returned attention to her uncle. She took over from Shannon and leaned on the leg wound to stop the bleeding.

When the riot car showed up, Tank dived out of the passenger side and threw open the back doors. Between he and Delva, they situated the injured and still unconscious man inside. The big Wolf and one of his soldiers climbed in after, Tank getting back into his seat. The other soldier mounted Shake's bike to offer extra firepower should anybody be tailing them. The women got on Dusky's bike and the convoy pulled away.

*****

A weary pack leader pulled to the side of the dark rest area. Behind her, a riot car and one other motorcycle growled to a halt and shut down. Soon, the only sounds were the gentle ticking and pinging of cooling engines and movement from the pack. They had been traveling for a couple of hours and this was a good chance to work the kinks out.

The soldier on Shake's bike dismounted and stretched, his low voice making some sort of comment. The teenager grinned and climbed off, as well. Liz opened the driver's door of the riot car, her voice full of grumbles about 'old ladies' and 'chamber pots'. She made a beeline toward the dark building that housed the toilets, flashlight bobbing in a pool of light.

Shannon leaned back and released her hold on the dark woman's waist as Dusky brought the bike onto its own stand. She slid her hands up her lover's back, running across warm leather until she reached the collar. The courier took hold of the heavy braid and pulled it from the left side to behind. She left one hand at the juncture of neck and shoulder, a finger caressing tan skin as she leaned her forehead forward against Dusky. She inhaled deeply of leather and cinnamon and smoke.

Dusky sighed and closed her eyes, basking in their proximity. "How you doing?" her low voice rumbled.

"I'm good." Despite herself, the courier yawned. "I think I need a new patch. The headache's coming back."

The pack leader nodded her head and got off the bike. "Go tell Shake you need one. I'm gonna go check on Remy."

"Okay." Shannon stumbled as she climbed off the bike. Looking up into concerned silver/green eyes, she smiled reassurance. "I'm alright. Just not used to all this riding. My rear's gonna have calluses before the month's up."

The dark woman's face broke into a grin. "Maybe you need a massage," she suggested with a leer.

Shannon stepped forward into a warm embrace. "And you come from a long line of master masseuses?" She snuggled against her lover, face buried in a warm chest.

A low chuckle. "Well, not really. But I'm eager to learn...." And a long hand snaked down to squeeze a bit of flesh, pressing the smaller woman's pelvis tight against a muscled thigh.

And then the redhead was standing alone as the pack leader walked away towards the riot car.

"Oooh, I hate it when she does that," she grumbled. She turned toward the other bike and the two men talking quietly beside it.

Dusky pulled open the back door and surveyed the interior of the riot car. A pair of familiar green eyes looked back at her. With a grin, she climbed in and sat down next to her uncle's prone form. "How ya doing?" she asked as she began going over his injuries.

"Pretty good, all things considered. It takes a lot to kill a Red Wolf," the elder said, his voice slightly slurred. "Liz kept me up after I woke."

The dark woman snorted as she took time to glance at the three other occupants. Tank was snoozing in the passenger seat, bald head back and the seatbelt the only thing keeping him in upright. Delva and his soldier were curled up nearby, for all the world a couple of hibernating bears. "Guess I know who's pulling guard duty first."

Remy chuckled and then hissed in pain at a particularly rough prod of his leg.

"Sorry."

"S'okay, Dusk. The endorphins are wearing off, is all."

While the leg had been set, the pack leader could see it wasn't where it needed to be. "You know this is set wrong?" she asked. At his nod, she continued, "We'll get you to a ripperdoc in Seattle, first thing. Have 'em reset it." She finished her examination and studied his face. "And maybe a plastic surgeon. Whaddya think?"

"I'm all for the ripperdoc," the older man agreed, adjusting himself with a grimace. he scooped up his canteen and uncapped it. "But, let's skip the plastic surgery, eh? Somebody once said that battle scars draw the women." He wiggled his eyebrows at his laughing niece and took a drink of water.

By this time an audience had gathered. Shake leaned into the vehicle to grip the elder's shoulder with a relieved smile. The soldier he'd been riding with stayed a respectful distance away, keeping an eye on the surrounding area. Shannon leaned against the doorway, arms crossed and watching them.

Another door opened, causing the vehicle to jostle as Liz clambered back into the driver's seat. She turned to stare over the headrest. "Well? Now what?"

Dusky sobered. "Now we roust these lazy asses and put 'em on guard while the rest of us catch a nap." She rose from her seated position and kicked Delva's boot. "I wanna be outta here by dawn."

As the big Wolf dragged himself to wakefulness, Liz shook her lover. And then the sleeping soldier was rudely awakened. After hearing the plan, the three men stopped their grumbling and hopped out of the riot car to stretch and prepare for duty. There was a moment when the soldier seemed disinclined to do the pack leader's bidding, but Delva shoved him out the door saying, "Watch it, Doughterty. She outranks me."

Liz climbed into the passenger seat that Tank had just vacated and reclined it, sighing happily. Delva replaced the elder's endorphin patch and opted to hang out at the entrance of the car to keep the wounded man company and awake. Tank and Dougherty moved away from the group to take up positions on the perimeter. Shake and his new companion decided to crash outside the car on either side as additional protection. Finally, Dusky set up her sleepbag and spare blanket next to her bike in the scraggly grass of the rest area.

Those that could fell into a heavy slumber, exhaustion taking over.

*****

"Yo, Dusk."

The dark woman groggily came to. Three hours sleep in nearly forty-eight didn't cut it and even her teenaged body was beginning to feel the effect of the abuse. Opening tired silver/green eyes, she looked around and found Delva squatting nearby.

"Time to get up," he said softly.

Dusky nodded in acknowledgement and the big Wolf rose to his feet and headed back towards the riot car. The lingering smell of coffee wafted her direction as she stretched. The body that was in the sleepbag draped across her long form mumbled a protest and tried to burrow back into the solid form. Dusky grunted in surprise and used her hand to block the worst of the damage from a very sharp elbow.

Shannon floated sleepily along in that place where time meant nothing and all was well. There was movement somewhere, outside, far away, and she ignored it. And then there was noise. Eventually, her mind could discern that it was speech. A low contralto voice weaved itself across the warp of her slumber and the courier shivered in pleasure.

"Preciada.... Wake up...."

The redhead groaned. "Don't wanna...."

Dusky studied her stubborn woman. Nothing short of a bomb going off beneath her was going to roust Shannon. An evil grin crossed the pack leader's face. Well.... Maybe something will....

With a gentle movement, she rolled over, pinning the smaller woman beneath her. The redhead's only response waws to murmur under her breath, squirming a bit to get more comfortable. Dusky eased up onto her elbows to free her hands. And then she found the fastening to the sleepbag and began to unzip it, looking for her lover inside.

It wasn't long before red hair gave way to a sweet face. The dark woman began gracing the lighter skin with kisses. Her lips blazed a trail along the jawline, parallel to the slowly forming smile. At the ear, Dusky traced it with her tongue and paused to give the lobe some intimate attention. The body beneath moved restlessly against her and she could feel her lover's heartbeat pick up. The pack leader moved upwards and placed soft kisses on closed eyelids, smiling at the surprised flutter that occurred there.

Shannon felt a comfortable weight on her body, holding her in the most delicious way. There was rustling and movement and then feather light touches on her face, tracing her nose and jaw, wetly investigating her ear. She writhed against the weight above, a tightening sensation in her belly. And then the redhead's eyelids were brushed, her nose, her chin. And then there was a pause.

The dark woman ceased her activity, her face hovering close to her lover's. She watched with heated curiosity to see what the older woman would do now. There was no doubt she was awake - the heartbeat, ragged breathing and slightly parted lips attested to it. The smaller body, wrapped in the sleepbag moved against her sensuously. "Wake up, preciada," she rumbled.

With a sign of disappointment, the courier opened royal blue eyes. Her face broke into a soft smile. "Mornin'," she mumbled. She tried to get her arms out of the sleepbag to rub the sleep from her eyes, but was unable - the tangled material and her lover's body made it all but impossible to move. Looking into Dusky's odd eyes, she relaxed. Not a bad place to be trapped, that's for sure.

Smiling, the pack leader lowered her head and rewarded Shannon with a hot and zesty kiss. One hand roamed northward to knead a firm buttock and the other headed south to bury fingers in redgold hair. Dusky felt the woman moan into her mouth as her body writhed insistently against her own.

After several minutes of exploring, Shannon could sense her lover pulling away. With the blood pounding in her body, she tried to prolong the contact. Her struggles to free herself increased, but Dusky was having none of it.

The dark woman rolled back over on her back, an armed draped tightly around the smaller woman. She began pulling back from the kisses, finishing with a final nibble on a full bottom lip. "You awake now?" she asked with a chuckle.

Shannon sighed in frustration. "Yes." She heard laughter and craned her neck. The blond soldier - Doughterty, her mind supplied - was drinking coffee by the riot car. He was obviously watching the two women as he leered and winked at her before making another comment to the group around him. The redhead blushed crimson in embarrassment and buried her head in her lover's neck. "Great," she mumbled.

"My, aren't you the shy one, preciada," Dusky said with a smile. She squeezed her lover in a hug. "Don't worry about it. He'll either learn not to be rude or he'll be dead."

"Dead?" Concerned, Shannon lifted her head to study the beatufiul tanned face below her. "You wouldn't kill him for that, would you?"

"Well..." the pack leader drawled. "Probably not." She grinned at the obvious relief. "He's just unaware of oru ways. If he stays, he'd better wise up, though. Otherwise, he'll be hurting for sure."

Shannon afforded a quick glance up at the rest of the pack. The only indication of change was Doughterty's grimace of pain as he held the back of his head and the glares from the other Red Wolves. Tank, Liz, and the second soldier had stayed out of it. "Oh," she said softly.

Dusky rolled to one side and released the smaller woman. "C'mon. Coffee's on and we need to keep moving." She rose and stretched before picking up her blanket, shaking it out, and folding it up.

As the two women approached the riot car, Delva shoved the blond man forward. "Doughterty wants to say something."

The pack leader accepted a cup of coffee from Liz and sipped it, all but ignoring the man.

After a rude poke at his shoulder, Doughterty mumbled, "Sorry about laughing like that."

Dusky handed her cup to the courier with a reassuring wink. She turned around and crossed her arms in front of her, staring with an impassive gaze at the blond man before her.

Long minutes passed and the soldier began to fidget, a flush of crimson rising from his open collar. He swallowed nervously, eyes flickering to the other people there. When the woman's eyes never wavered, he looked back, setting his jaw in anger.

And then the dark woman changed before him. Her gaze was no longer the stern, stoic ruler. It had become warmer, a little more inviting. "Not pleasant to be stared at, is it?" she asked softly.

The man's anger dissipated and he dropped his gaze in shame and confusion, shaking his head.

"In your culture you have houses, walls, doors and locks. In mine," and Dusky opened her arms to include everything around them. "In mine you have the road, wheels, maybe a tent. A camper or trailer if you're lucky. No doors to lock. No walls to hide behind." She reached forward and offered her hand. "Apology accepted."

Doughterty stared at the long fingers for a moment before accepting it and shaking hands. He looked up into her weird eyes and found an understanding smile. With a look of wonder, he returned it.

The pack leader turned away from the soldier and looked everybody else over. "Well, rations for breakfast and let's get going. The further from Bosie we are, the better off we'll be." She returned to Shannon and took back her coffee, wrapping an arm around the smaller woman's waist.

After a nutritious and disgusting meal of military rations, the group prepared to move on. Delva took over Shake's bike with the second soldier, Correa, behind him. Doughterty took over shotgun with Tank driving and Liz hanging out in the back of the riot car.

It was just beginning to really get light out, the greyness of dawning making way for the blue skies. Dark trees were beginning to become less of shadow and more of scraggly growth. The rest area had become home to several other vehicles in the night, though there had been an unspoken truce among the various refugees. A peace of sorts to get everyone through the night.

As Dusky stomped down on her bike to kick it over, the sky brightened considerably.

The illumination was so sudden and so strong, she could have sworn it was midday. Except that the shadows were all long and facing north. Several people turned and stared, some in shock and others in anger. There was quite a bit of cursing to be heard.

The dark woman turned and could see the top of a mushroom cloud over the hills. It was small and not as intense as it could have been, but it was enough to cause dread to form in her heart. "Let's get outta here," she ordered, reaching out for Shannon's arm to get her in place.

And then the Red Wolves left the rest area, the beginnings of a mass exodus of people fleeing for their lives from the tactical nuclear missile that had been unleashed on the city of Boise.

*****

(Excerpt from the British Columbia Press-Tribune, dated July 31, 2048.)

According to the Canadian Government Ministry today, any country willing to sign a non-agression pact with Canada and it's allying nations will receive much needed aid in the removal of the Courier Virus from computer systems. Also, the Pact will help those countries with skilled and non-skilled labor to bring them out of the twenty-first century dark ages that they have fallen into.

Spokesman Robert Bremerton states, "What has happened in America is a tragedy of the highest magnitude. It can easily be diverted. We were fortunate enough to be able to defeat the virus in our country and look forward to sharing that information with others. All we want is to live in a peaceful world with our neighbors."

*****

(Excerpt from Azteca Regional Newsletter, dated week of August 23, 2048.)

TRANSFERS AND PROMOTIONS!!

Congratulations to two lucky individuals this month!

First off, Kenneth Shimizu has made the grade! He's transferring to our primary office in South Dakota to continue his hard work and dedication as the Midwest regional security director. Ken's been with our company for twenty-two years and has had an exemplary record. We were unable to get ahold of Ken for a few words, but wish him the best. Good one, Ken!!

Replacing him will be Ted Harrelson, formerly Ken's assistant. Ted's been working with Azteca for nine years and this is a major step up for him. "I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said. "Getting our systems virus free and back online is one of my priorities." When asked about the rumors that have been floating around the Pendleton Corporate office: "The allegations that Mr. Shimizu was forced to commit ritual suicide (seppeku) on his employer's office floor are greatly exaggerated. Ken's a great man and a good friend. I wish him all the best in the future."

*****

While the field was nowhere near as full as she remembered from her childhood, Dusky was proud of the thirty or so survivors and recruits to the Red Wolf clan. She stood on a slight rise, surveying her people.

The bowl of the field was filled with vehicles, a couple of campers and a few tents. Liz and Tank had opted for a camper, preferring to protect their computer and tech gear from the elements. There was a tall pole in the center of the field with three sets of ropes dangling in the breeze.

Shake did a good job, she thought to herself. Lasted longer than the other two. Of course, they were gringos. It was to be expected. At least a little bit, she chuckled to herself. The two soldiers that had decided to stay with the clan had turned a little green when Delva had explained the Sun Dance to them, but they had toughed it out surprisingly well.

Silver/green eyes flickered to the small tent her uncle had been using during his recuperation. The elder was seated in a cracked plastic lawn chair, a small fire heating a pot, as he told tales to three wide-eyed children. His leg was still in a cast and would be for another couple of months. And the long, deep scar on his face was a permanent fixture, giving him the dangerous look he said he had always craved. Aside from that, he was healing quite nicely.

Her eyes wandered over the children with him. Two had the telltale features of Native Americans. One was white-blond with blue eyes, the son of one of Delva's soldiers. The other children belonged to the few members of the Pacific Tribes that had decided to join them on the road.

After leaving the Treasure Valley, the small pack moved north into the Rocky Mountains, planning on cutting west across Washington. In the Coeur d'Alene area they met up with the fifty fighters that Dusky had made arrangements with. It had only been a week, but it had felt like years since the Aryan war. With their help, the Wolves made it back to the west coast with relative ease. Upon hearing of what had happened, the Pacific Tribes had been very generous in their aid to the decimated tribe, giving them everything they needed to help replenish their losses. And, after two weeks, when the Wolves left they had four families and two warriors added to their ranks.

Of the four families, one was a medicine man trained in the rituals and magic of his people. This did not leave a dearth with thePacific Tribes. Richard's father had been a medicine man and had trained all three of his sons. While his elder brother stayed with the Pacific Tribes, Richard decided to take a chance with the Wolves, supplying them with the much needed level head of spirituality. He was of an age with Remy and the two elders had spent hours warming their bones by the fire, reminiscing of the before time of the twentieth century.

Dusky inhaled deeply, smelling the roasting meat from the cookfires. Now that the Sun Dance was completed, there would be a feast to celebrate. There would be drums and dancing and good food and laughter. After the summer of hell the Red Wolves had been through, it was going to be a welcome relief.

The dark woman felt a presence behind her and smiled to herself, not turning around. Seconds later, slim arms wrapped around her waist and she felt a head rest between her shoulder blades as the person molded their bodies together. Dusky rested her arm on top of one at her waist, wrapping the light and dark fingers together. "Preciada," she rumbled.

"Hi there," Shannon said, giving her lover a slight squeeze before moving around to settle next to her. She looked up with a smile. "Shake's doing good. Just finished the stitches and Richard's starting the tatt."

Dusky turned, gathering the redhead into her arms and peering at her. "And how are you?" she asked, thumb gently brushing the four small wolfprint tattoos decorating Shannon's face.

The courier winced a little at the contact. "They burn a little, but that's all." She grinned. "Actually, I kinda like 'em." Her face screwed into a scowl. "Makes me look wild and dangerous, don't ya think?" At the answering laugh, she grinned ruefully and slapped Dusky's arm. "Hey! You saying I don't look dangerous?"

The pack leader pulled her into a tight embrace, shaking with laughter. "No, no! I'd never say that!" As her chuckles abated, she continued, "You're very dangerous, preciada. You have my heart."

"And you have mine, princess," Shannon murmured back, enjoying the feelings of warmth and security that always seemed to accompany her when she was in her lover's arms.

They stood there for quite some time, wrapped up in each other. And then Shannon's stomach rumbled.

"C'mon, let's get you fed," Dusky said with a chuckle and a quick squeeze before releasing the smaller woman. "Don't want you fainting away from hunger tonight... Too much partying to do."

Shannon's blush subsided and she grinned. "Partying, eh? I think I'm gonna kinda like being a Red Wolf."

The two women walked towards the cookfire arm in arm.

*****

(Excerpt from the Washington Post, dated April 9, 2049.)

In a bold move today, Congress indicted General Albert C. McAndrews on several charges of war crimes that were committed in the Boise Massacre last summer.

"The man had no right to bring tactical nukes into the fight," said Senator Jimmie Hannigan of Washington (Rep.) "There's nothing left but a sunken hole in the ground now! The half life alone is going to keep people from living anywhere in the Treasure Valley for the next three thousand years!"

Neither Gen. McAndrews or his attorney, Daniel Cunningham, were available for comment.

FINIS

*****

Author's Note:

Thanks to all you folks who have been so patient regarding this tale. I know the last couple of weeks have been hel - not only for the people waiting for the finish, but for me and the job hours and such. Not much of an excuse, but there ya have it.

Special thanks to Jett (in-house editor) and Garnet (outta-house editor.) They's the one's that helped me with all the technicalcrap that I missed.

I've included a glossary at the end of this.... For all those weird words from three different languages that I used. Don't speak a lick of any of 'em, so please be gentle in your critique of their usage. Got all my information from online dictionaries!

Redhawk
August 30, 1998

Additional Note:

Okey dokey..... A reorganized first chapter, several bits and pieces (nothing major,) and an expanded final chapter for all you folks out there to enjoy. I dunno, but it feels more finished now.... What do you think? Comments to dmredhawk@usa.net.

Redhawk

December 17, 1998

*****

GLOSSARY


SPANISH:

preciada - precious, possession - actually this was supposed to be an adjective.
puta - prostitute.
querida - dear, beloved.
gringa - foreigner.
ni˝a - little girl.
vida - life, term of endearment.
senorita - young woman.


CAPOEIRA: dirivitive of Brazilian, is my guess.

malandro - tough guy, streeth tough, bad guy.
malašia - trickery, double dealing.

CYBERPUNK:

chippin' in/out - joining/leaving.
input - girlfriend.
blacksuits - riot gear, cops.
Laca - Los Angeles, California spread.
flatline - to kill.
deck - computer.



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