The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and used here without permission. References to certain theories of dark, enigmatic, computerized futures belong to whoever.... The genre is so far gone now, I can't really say it only belongs to Gibson. Everything else is mine.
This story contains same-gender sexual subtext throughout to include at least one rather steamy scene of two women having a very good time. There are the standard scenes of violence. This story contains several expletives as well. This story has references to drugs/alcohol to include usage, sales and distribution of same. If you're under the age of consent, leave. If it's illegal where you're currently residing, move. If any of these bug you, then bug out.
Suggested listening: 'The Last of the Mohicans' soundtrack.... My inspiration! And, by extension, anything by Clannad! (Pretty weird when you consider this is a CYBERPUNK story.....) Consider this a 'Mohican/Johnny Mnemonic' crossover.....
Author's Note: Since finishing and posting this CyberUber tale in August 1998 I've been a little put off by it. I'm not the only one, either, since I heard from several of you folks out there that it just didn't seem.... finished.... Well, at the time, there'd been some major things going on in RL (doncha HATE it when that happens?) and I lost interest in the story. Couldn't seem to get the gumption to finish the blasted thing.
Now, I'm not saying that it's any better. For the most part, I've merely shuffled scenes around a bit. But I've added a smidge more cybernetics and, ultimately, maybe another scene or two.... We'll see how it all turns out, eh?
You can check out more of Redhawk's stories at Redhawk's Realm.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. No bad mouthin', lippy, attitude stuff. Honest criticism would be appreciated.
CyberEpic: Part One
Part I: The Hunt
It was early morning summer in the mountains. Dew clung to the scraggly, sickly trees and undergrowth. The still air was occasionally interrupted by the sound of a lone blackbird, calling and calling and calling. There was no answer. A low grumble silenced the bird, cutting through the quiet as it steadily grew louder.
On an old logging road, three motorcycles appeared, moving in staggered formation. The bikes had seen better days, each at least fifteen years old and all Harleys. The paint was chipped, metal dented and leather seats cracking. Road dust completed the effect. The riders didn't look much better. Clad in dirt stained clothing or hand made leathers, they presented a menacing sight. What wasn't covered with clothing was either scarred or tattooed. Their dark or gray hair was long and braided, their faces painted in garish colors. An older man sported a beard that was braided, as well, with bits of leather and feathers dangling from it. They were each armed with a pistol at their waist and at least one visible blade.
A slight cloud of dust billowed up in their wake and the throbbing roar of their engines filled the air. The blackbird flitted off for quieter realms. The three riders moved in low gear as one, without thought, as they searched for some sign of their prey.
The driver in the lead pulled to the edge of the road, studying the soft shoulder and surrounding gray-green foliage. The second biker moved past to pull up further down, keeping forward watch as the last driver stayed behind their leader to cover their tail. The young woman in the center dismounted and moved into the undergrowth for a closer look, her packmates vigilantly keeping their attentions to the road and surrounding areas.
In a matter of minutes, the woman returned, climbing back onto the shoulder. She shut down her bike and waved the two men closer. "He came through here, on foot. Can't be more than an hour ahead," she said in a quiet voice.
With a few concise hand gestures, she directed the others to move their motorcycles off the road, shutting them down. It wasn't long before the bikes were hidden in the undergrowth. As the camouflage was completed, one broke off, moving quietly through the trees. Then another drifted away. It was very reminiscent of a wolf pack following a scent. The woman stayed behind long enough to pull a well cared for rifle from the scabbard on her bike before following.
The trio trotted along without stopping. In an eerie silence, they kept pace with each other, mirrored each other, followed the well marked trail, their soft boots making little sound. During their jog, a canteen was produced and tossed from one to the other, the rifle also making its rounds as thirsts were slaked. The hunters slowed only once, at a creek where their prey had splashed along. Within seconds of roaming up and down both banks, they were up again, loping along, only minutes behind.
As they neared him, they could hear crashing through the undergrowth ahead, cursing. The trio closed in, practically smelling the sweat and fear emanating from the soldier. Soundlessly, the pack descended into a small hollow.
The man was dressed in a ragged camouflage uniform, dirty and disheveled. On the left shoulder was a patch of the American flag. On the right was a strange looking one - burgundy background, blue shield, a white 'N' and a sword that was wearing a three pointed yellow crown. His hair was blond, the bleach job growing out, and was longish and dirty. A bootlace headband had been crafted to keep it out of his eyes.
He knew they were out there. The scags had taken out his entire patrol. It had been only a few hours since the carnage, but he couldn't believe that they would just let him go. He was the last and despite the stupidity of it, he hoped that he had gotten far enough away. He had no weapons, his ammunition having run out during the attack. Somewhere along his flight, he had lost his knife, the empty sheath hanging next to the equally empty holster on the olive green pistol belt. His breath came in ragged gasps as he hurtled through the undergrowth, reeling in exhaustion. The soldier had only stopped once, just a little while back, to drink at the creek. He had no idea how close they really were.
A root reached out and tripped him, sending him to meet the forest floor. He scraped his already bloody knee on a rock and more dirt entered the cuts on his hands. Stinging tears entered his blue eyes and he blinked them furiously away. Pushing up on his wounded hands, he tried to rise. His heart about burst from fear when he felt someone kneel on his back, forcing him back down to the ground and knocking the air out of his lungs.
A strong hand wrapped itself in his greasy hair and he heard a low voice say, "Stay put." Turning his head to the side, he could just barely see from the corner of his eye a tall woman holding him down. Nearby, a graying man, his face painted with blue and yellow spots, watched over them with a rifle . The soldier stayed put.
The sound of metal sliding against leather brought his attention back to the woman. She had drawn her pistol. The quiet of the mountains was shattered by the sound of a discharge. The soldier felt the excruciating pain of his kneecap exploding. He let out a short scream, trying to writhe around but unable. Ears ringing, he barely made out what the woman said.
"That's for Remy's brother, Ice. The man your people crucified last week for not submitting."
The gray haired man nodded in satisfaction.
Another explosion, another kneecap horribly mangled, yet another scream.
"That's for Shake's mother, Lucinda. An old woman last month that your convoy ran down."
A younger man, face diagonally striped with red and orange, grinned voraciously.
Suddenly, the weight was off of him, and the soldier rolled onto his back, trying to grasp at his legs. The pain was so intense that he couldn't move them, and he couldn't stop moving from the pain. It was a consuming agony of a catch-22. He looked up at his tormentor, pain and hate filling his eyes. "Bitch!" he spat at her. "All you spics oughtta be dead!" He glared into her eyes, noting that one was a rich emerald green and the other a liquid metallic silver, denoting cyberoptic implants. A white stripe ran down her face, dividing it. The right side was black, the silver eye practically glowing in the night sky of her face.
The coldness in those eyes never wavered. In fact, it appeared to intensify. She aimed her pistol again. Again an explosion.
The pain in his crotch was unbearable. His scream was long and high pitched. He grabbed at something that was no longer there, feeling the warm blood pulsing from what used to be his manhood. He could vaguely hear her voice.
"That was for my sister, Camilla. She was only nine when you and your soldiers raped her to death three days ago."
Through pain filled eyes, he watched her holster the weapon. A knife glinted in the light and she stepped forward, putting the foot on his shoulder to hold him down. With a quick, precise movement, she yanked his head forward and scalped him. Holding up her bloody prize, she finally smiled.
"And this is for our clan, the Red Wolves," she indicated the other two with her. "Your Aryan Nation," she hissed, "will never destroy us." She stepped back. She spat on the soldier and tied his scalp onto her belt. And then she turned and trotted back the way they had come.
The two men with her didn't speak. They stayed long enough to urinate on the soldier, one holding the rifle for the other. Then, they trotted away, as well, not caring whether the man behind them lived or died.
Justice had been served.
With a groan, Shannon Elias rolled over in her tiny cot and slapped at the irritating alarm that was screaming into her ear. Her aim was not good and it took three tries for the incessant shrill whine to quieten. She breathed a sigh of relief and sat up.
Rubbing sleep out of her eyes with one hand, she arched her back and stretched out her other arm, nearly touching the opposing wall of the cubicle she had rented for the night. The woman scootched to the edge of the cot and swung her feet over the side. She had about a foot of space between her and the wall. Long, artistic hands ran through her reddish hair, pulling out the worst of the tangles.
Bracing herself for the coming day, she stood up briskly and shoved the cot into the wall, much like closing a drawer. A low hum emanated from behind the partition as the mechanism within sucked the used sheets off the thin foam mattress to be sterilized. She pulled a smaller drawer out of another wall and used the tiny sink in it to splash water onto her face.
"Big interview today," she reminded herself as she rummaged in her bag. The woman changed into a fresh pair of skivvies, tossing the used pair into the incinerator chute. She sniffed at the jumpsuit she had worn the day before and donned it anyway, promising herself a stop at a replicator kiosk on her way to the Government Ministry complex downtown.
A mirror and makeup case emerged from the bag and within a few minutes, Shannon felt more presentable. She ran a brush through her hair and mourned the lack of credits needed to have included a shower in the price of a room.
She packed up her meager belongings and glanced around the now bare cubicle. Royal blue eyes became distant, old memories of a richly furnished bedroom, lots of stuffed animals and a frilly comforter, a home. With a shake and a sardonic grin at such foolish meanderings, Shannon opened the door and headed for her appointment.
The GovMin complex took up several blocks in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. It had been built twenty years earlier, the cornerstone laid down in the year 2028. That was back before the North American Cold War had begun. Since that time, the United States didn't have much to do with its northern neighbors. While trade hadn't completely broken down between the two nations, it was sparse and sporadic.
Over the last five years, America had had its figurative hands full with a civil war of sorts. The corporations that had begun growing in the '80s and '90s had finally gotten so large that they wielded quite a bit of power. One business merged with another, and that with another, and so on until there were only five or six major conglomerations in the entire country. Those few got together over cocktails one night, selected a board of directors, voted in a chairman, and wrote up an official declaration of war against the United States government.
Congress being what it was, old and laborious, responded that way. No one could believe that Big Business had gotten that big. At least that was the prevailing thought until Corporate shock troopers tried to take over the Senate during session. After that, all hell had broken loose and America had found itself embroiled in another war on its own soil.
Canada had remained neutral, of course. The Cold War had been in effect for a number of years and the Prime Minister saw no reason to take sides and endanger her own people. Any negotiations for aid from either side were rebuffed. The country had beefed up its military and quadrupled the border patrol. Alaska had seceded from America on the basis of its location, offering itself to the Prime Minister and becoming a territory of Canada. Hawaii and Puerto Rico had seceded as well, hoping to return to their own forms of government while the Eagle was busy elsewhere.
Shannon approached the complex on foot. She was wearing a fresh jumpsuit of dark green and had her bag slung across her shoulders. The streets were crammed with pedestrians and electric cars, as befitted a large, industrious metropolis. Neon and blinking lights vied for consumer attention. The people were a colorful mix of stodgy business folk in their designer suits of the day, people in utilitarian jumpsuits much like Shannon's, a colorful rush of teenagers with neon hair and the latest cyberrage of cat's eyes and whiskers, and the very occasional booster gang member slinking around in leather and muscles and sporting blatant metallic limbs and cyberwear. It was too early for the real freaks to be up and around yet.
Shannon was blissfully unaware of the vagaries of her time as she entered the Admin building and began the long, arduous process of getting to her interview. It took nearly forty-five minutes of security checks, escorts, waiting rooms, before she ultimately entered an office that wasn't much bigger than the cubicle she had spent the night in. A small desk and two chairs adorned the room. On the desk was a state of the art computer and a potted plant.
While she waited for the office's owner to enter, she surreptitiously reached out and touched a leaf. Wow! It's real! And it's healthy! Shannon resisted the sudden urge to filch a leaf, forcing her hand down and sitting in a chair. She was impressed. And a bit more nervous. Despite the size of the office, owning a real potted plant in this day and age of nearly total environmental breakdown was a sign of wealth and power. The redhead began to wonder what this job would really entail.
She didn't have long to wait. The door behind her opened and a man entered. His dark hair was neatly trimmed and he wore a gray jumpsuit.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, Ms. Elias," he said with a smile, offering his hand. "I'm Robert."
The woman had risen upon his entry. She felt the coolness of metal as she shook his hand, looking down to see a cybernetic limb. "Please, call me Shannon," she insisted.
"Of course. Shannon." He gestured for her to regain her seat as he went around the desk and settled down in the other chair. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment," he said with an apologetic smile. "I haven't quite had time to review your file." He logged into his computer, clicking at the keyboard.
"No problem." She utilized this time to study him. He was a good looking man, probably about ten years older than herself. He exuded an intense calm and pleasantness. Shannon idly wondered if he was on the political track. He appeared to be a natural with his winning smile and 'real people' look.
Robert looked up from his files. "Well, you've come about the courier job, I know. Do you have any idea what it's about?"
"Actually, no," the redhead admitted with a rueful grin. "A friend of mine has taken work through GovMin -- Trace Foster?" The man across from her nodded in acknowledgement of the name. "She was already on another assignment when this job came up. She's the one who suggested I apply."
"I see." He flicked through more computer files. "And how many jobs have you done so far?"
Shannon pursed her lips and thought. "Let's see, all told, I've had six. The first three were minor ones. The last, however, was a 2.5 gig file for Consumer Affairs."
Again the man nodded. "And how much storage capacity do you have?"
"I can hold up to 5 gigs at this point. More if it's compressed, naturally."
He studied her for a moment, considering. Shannon refused to fidget under his prying gaze. Apparently coming to a decision, he straightened. "Well, I think we can take a chance on you. Your records are in order and the references you gave us all attest to your dependability and professionalism." As the woman across from him visibly brightened, he raised a hand. "You haven't heard the details, yet. You still have time to turn the job down."
"I doubt I will, but give me the details, anyway," Shannon said with a grin.
"You'll be transferring approximately 10 gigs of compressed highly classified data. It'll be encrypted, of course. Transportation and security has been set up. You'll be going to the States, to Boise, Idaho."
Shannon blinked. The States?! "Wow!" she said breathlessly. "Who'll be my contact?"
Robert smiled at her. "Not until you sign the contract."
The redhead madly worked out the details in her head. The States! She'd never been there. Travel between the two nations was frowned upon. Shannon had no illusions that there would be that much of a difference, but it would be fun to see. And maybe on the way back, she could stop in Seattle to see the market. She looked at the man across from her. "Transportation and security has been set up?"
"What about the return trip?"
"Transportation is provided. Obviously, security won't be needed at that point."
"Any chance for a... um... layover...?" she asked with a winsome smile.
Robert grinned. "How long a layover?"
"Only a couple of hours. In Seattle." She rolled her eyes. "I would love to see the market there. I've heard so much about it."
"I'll tell you what. You sign the contract, we send you out in two days, and I'll reschedule your debriefing back here for a six days later. Should give you plenty of time to get back."
"You've got yourself a courier, Robert!"
Their rite of vengeance complete, the three bikers had stopped at a deserted campground near Coeur d'Alene to clean up. They spent two days there, bathing in the lake, washing long ignored clothing, making repairs on their gear, and generally taking care of themselves for a change.
They were the last of the Red Wolves, a nomadic tribe of mixed Native Americans and Hispanics that had been evicted from their reservations and farmlands over two generations earlier. The migrant workers of the last century were the inspiration and, when Uncle Sam had booted the Indians off the reservation, it seemed like a good idea to join forces. The Cherokee were the last of the Natives on their own soil, having become too large a political force over the last century to be over run.
The Red Wolves had been founded by Stanley Three Mountain of the Spokane tribe about forty years earlier. The reservations in Washington state had been making far too much money on their casinos and the government had stepped in to take over. With brilliant planning, Three Mountain had brought the elders of the tribe to his banner, gathered the money from the casinos, and outfitted all who would go with him. When the United States came onto the reservation to regain 'their' property, they found very little. A few people stayed out of misguided loyalty or just because they felt too old for a life on the road. Of the expected riches, there was nothing. The Red Wolves were branded as thieves by the government and tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Over the decades, the band thrived. There were two splits over the years, mainly over political issues within the tribe, but it had worked out for the best. With smaller groups came easier anonymity and safer travel. The other bands took on different names and went different ways, one to Mexico - the 'homeland' of many of the Hispanics who left - and one to the southeast, hoping to connect up with the Cherokee nation.
The tribe had been away from the region of its origins for quite a number of years. A lot of time had been spent between the deserts of Utah and along the Pacific coastlines of California and Oregon. There was some work on the coast during harvest season. And the Mormons quite often hired mercenaries from the tribe for convoys and the like. On a lark, the leader of the Red Wolves decided to take a detour to eastern Washington, the place of his birth. And there they found the Aryan Nation.
It had been a long three months of fighting with the racist organization. What had initially started as simple harassment had escalated to an all out brawl on several occasions. After the first clan member had died from the wounds received at a local bar, the brawls became deadlier. No quarter was given on either side, and the local law enforcement was pulling its hair out by the roots in their frustration. The Rocky Mountains had become a war zone.
By far, the greatest coup was the nearly total destruction of the Aryan compound a month ago. Somewhere along their travels, the Wolves had picked up several pounds of explosives. With careful planning and timing, warriors slunk past guards and into the compound, planting everything they had. In a matter of hours, the place had exploded, burning to the ground and taking a large contingent of soldiers with it. The remainder of the battles had been fought on wheels and foot, a running struggle for the annihilation of each other through small towns, foothills, and mountains.
Within the last week, the final platoon of soldiers had descended upon the temporary settlement of the Wolves, killing everyone in their path. Their leader, Ice, was crucified and the remaining prisoners rounded up. One by one, the prisoners were tortured and maimed, most of them women and children, until they were all dead.
The three bikers had been away during this time on a mission to the Pacific tribes, looking for potential help in the battle with the Aryans. A deal had been agreed upon, the arrival of fifty fighters set up for the coming week. But, upon their return home, carnage was all that met them.
The older man, Remy, watched his niece through the flames of their fire. Her hair was loose about her shoulders and she had changed from the leather pants and jacket to a pair of soft trousers and an oversized sleeveless shirt. Four tiny red wolfprint tattoos adorned the skin at the outside corner of her right eye, denoting her rank within the clan. On either upper arm were the raised scars of the rank of a private. He knew that beneath the shirt would also be ritual scars on her chest. With a distracted look on her beautiful face, she diligently cleaned a .45 automatic pistol.
So much like her father, he thought. So much hardship. He remembered her birth nineteen years before. Born at dusk and Dusky had become her name. Her older brother had died of pneumonia not much later, making her the heir to Ice. She had been raised with the mantle of future leadership placed firmly on her shoulders. And she had not disappointed her father or her tribe.
The trip to the Pacific tribes had been her first official mission for her father. Remy had gone along as a backup in case things didn't go well, but he was hardly needed. Dusky had just the right mix of respect for the elders and brashness of youth to get the job done. Remy chuckled to himself as he recalled the elders nearly falling over themselves to please the young woman who had stood before them so regally. His niece seemed to embody the ancient ideals of leadership and strength. He was damned glad that he and his brother had worked so hard to regain the ancient ways of the nomads.
"What's so funny, uncle?" the woman's low voice asked, a slight puzzled smile on her lips.
"Nothing. Just remembering a young girl I used to tickle attack every once in awhile." Remy reached out a hand to Shake and took the whiskey bottle from him. He took a swig and passed it on to the woman.
The smile changed to a rueful grin as she accepted the bottle. "Wouldn't give you any great odds on getting away with it now." She took a swallow of the amber liquid and returned it to the younger man at the fire.
Remy laughed. "Nope, neither would I."
"So, what are we gonna do now, Dusky?" Shake asked. He was all of sixteen.
The smile faded, the serious leader once more in place. "We need to get back over to the Pacific tribes and stop their fighters from coming over." An idle shrug of the shoulders. "Waste of time and effort since the job's done."
The younger man nodded in understanding and the three stared into the flames.
"After that, who knows? Maybe head south, see if we can pick up with another clan...."
"No." The youths both looked at their solitary tribal elder. "We're Red Wolves and we'll stay Red Wolves. We recruit." He glanced slyly at Shake. "We find you a strong wife." He smirked at the younger man's blush. Turning his gaze to his niece, he continued, "And you a good husband."
Dusky grimaced and looked back to her weapon, shaking her head. "Ain't gonna happen, Uncle. So don't hold your breath."
Remy sighed mightily. "You've got to produce an heir, Dusky." They had had this argument many times over the last two years.
"And I've told you that I will. My way. No husband. No marriage. No one, got me?" Green and silver eyes snapping, she slapped the .45 back together, loaded it, and stood, stalking into the darkness.
The older man sighed and looked down to the ground. He reached out a hand, the bottle slipped comfortably into it and had another drink.
With an advance on her contract, Shannon was able to splurge and rent a cubicle with a shower for the remainder of her stay. She appeared back at the GovMin building at the scheduled time, feeling refreshed.
Another half hour of security checks, escorts and waiting occurred. Eventually, she found herself in a computer lab. Robert was there, as well as a frumpy, balding man in a white lab coat.
"Shannon, good morning," Robert said with a smile. Indicating the man with him, he continued, "This is Dr. Northern. He'll be seeing to your upload this morning."
The woman smiled and worked her way through the initial pleasantries. She allowed herself to be guided by the doctor to a computer terminal as her employer left the lab, stating he would be returning with her papers.
Settled down in the chair, the doctor prattled about computers and data storage and cybersystems. "What kind of processor do you have?" he asked curiously.
"A Mitsubishi 22X," Shannon informed him with a crooked grin. "Not exactly top of the line, but I'm saving my credits for an upgrade."
"And you have 5 gigs of storage, right?" At the redhead's nod, the man nodded as well. "Well, after compression, there shouldn't be a problem. Won't even cause a headache, I think."
He fiddled with the keyboard of the computer, humming softly to himself. After a few minutes, he handed her a cable. "There you go. Just hit 'enter' when you're plugged in." He moved away.
Shannon nodded and settled back into the chair. With practiced hands, she moved her hair to the left shoulder, located the port just beneath the bone under her right ear, and slipped the cable into it. Taking a steadying breath, she reached for the keyboard, bracing herself. God, I hate this part. She closed her eyes and hit the button.
While data upload wasn't necessarily a painful process, it was still extremely uncomfortable. Try as they might, cyberwear developers had been unable to completely halt the throbbing that usually occurred. It was simply something that had to be lived with in this line of work. Shannon stoically bore the irritation and hoped that her future upgrade would cause less discomfort.
Minutes later, upload complete, she opened her blue eyes, squinting at the brightness of the room. It always happened this way, her senses heightened for a few moments after the 'load. She breathed easily and used a meditative technique to clear the sensitivity away. As senses returned to normal, she reached up and pulled the cable out.
"All done," she called to the doctor.
"Good," Dr. Northern beamed as he approached. "Any problems?" He peered at her with intense curiosity.
"Nope, nothing unusual."
"Well, Robert's waiting for you in the next room. Good luck!"
Shannon shook hands with the doctor and left the lab to meet her employer and retrieve her VISA and other traveling papers.
Shannon stared longingly out the rear window at the Seattle skyline behind her. I can't wait to get this job done! she thought for the hundredth time in the three hours they had been on the road.
Initially, Robert himself had driven her to the Canadian/American border. Once at Customs, she had found that most of the arranged security were Military Police personnel from Fort Lewis, Washington. After a bit of haggling between her employer and the Army lieutenant, the redhead had been ushered into an ancient HumV. And there she sat for two more hours with an MP guard around the vehicle as her employer authorized the paperwork nearby.
At last, things had been put in order and the soldiers had piled into the waiting vehicles, all as ancient and outdated as the one she was in. The convoy consisted of five HumVs and three motorcycles. The bikes acted as scouts as the rest of the group trundled along.
The redhead shared her vehicle - the third in line - with three soldiers. The driver was so young, Shannon was sure he had lied about his age when he had enlisted. He was Private Notus. Next to him, riding shotgun in the literal sense of the word, was Private First Class Hook. He held his rifle loosely, barrel out the window, and constantly ran a knuckle over his thick black mustache. In the back with her was Sergeant Cunningham, an older woman with an irascible and abrasive attitude. Small talk was not one of her better qualities. The lieutenant was apparently in the lead vehicle, his staff sergeant bringing up the rear.
With little conversation in the making and hours to go before their overnight stop in Lewiston, Idaho, Shannon stared out at the passing bleak landscape. The plan was to cross the Cascades and head for Spokane, crossing into Idaho, and then moving south through the Rockies. They would arrive in Boise on the afternoon of the next day.
The redhead fiddled with the earring in her left ear. Another cybernetic device, it was hooked up into her aural nerves. The 'jewel' was actually a computer chip holding pre-recorded music. The strains of the latest popular Canadian music filled her ears at such a deep level, no one else could detect it. She stared out the window, watching the scraggly forest become desert.
The trio of Wolves watched from their hiding place among the rocks on the ridge. Remy was using binocs, watching the column of five vehicles approach the foothills.
"Looks like Uncle Sam," Shake said.
Dusky nodded, her cyberoptic being plenty powerful enough to pick up the markings on the vehicles. "Fort Lewis from the looks of it. Wonder where the hell they're going.... They're a long way from home."
The three had gotten a late start, enjoying the last of their leisurely stay in the campground. They had only been on the road for an hour, picking their way through old logging and back country roads, when they came upon the traces of what appeared to be troop movement in their path. They had picked up the trail and followed it west.
The young man pointed to the left. "That's who we've been following," he said.
Another column appeared on an intercept course to the first. It held three vehicles, all looking state of the art. Emblazoned on the side of each door was a red triangle with a blue eye in the center.
"Corps!" the woman cursed. Her eyes narrowed and she chewed the inside of her mouth as she thought furiously. "C'mon, let's get closer." She cautiously crawled backwards from the ridge before rising and running to the bikes. Her packmates followed.
While there was no love lost between the Red Wolves and the United States Government, the corporations were another matter. Since the ultimate merger and declaration of war, the corporations had actively 'recruited' the masses of downtrodden for cheap labor. Those that agreed ended up as indentured servants for the remainder of their days, never making enough money to become free. Those that did not were simply killed. No muss, no fuss, and no loose strings.
The three Wolves started up their motorcycles and roared down the dusty road, weapons within easy reach. It was time for war.
Shannon drowsed in the heat of the HumV. Little had been said between the other occupants for hours. There had been a break an hour earlier and she had enjoyed the opportunity to stretch her legs, but it had been all too brief. She had spent her time listening to music, daydreaming about Pike's Place Market, and wondering what Boise was going to be like.
A short burst of static came from the radio up front, followed by a frantic voice. "...repeat... Corps attack from three o'clock! Heads up!" The faint staccato of gunfire could be heard coming closer.
Notus paled, his freckles standing out. The vehicle in front of him sped up and he hit the gas to keep pace. Hook, next to him, brought his rifle to his shoulder, sighting the three white vehicles heading their direction. They were still out of his range, but he was going to be ready. The sergeant discourteously grabbed hold of Shannon's shoulder and shoved her down in her seat, forcing her charge to the floorboard, as she drew the pistol from her holster.
Another burst from the radio. "Bug out! Bug out!" In response to the lieutenant's order, the two vehicles before and behind turned towards their assailants. Shannon's driver poured on the gas and veered away from the fight, continuing on his course and hoping there were no surprises on the road.
The redhead peered over the edge of the window, watching her escort get chewed up by the superior corporation firepower. The lead HumV exploded, tossing shrapnel into the air. The radio on the dash crackled with orders from the staff sergeant, now in charge, directing his platoon. More weapons fire as another HumV opened up with machine guns. An anti-tank missile was launched into a Corps truck, blowing it up. And then, she was roughly shoved back down by Cunningham who glared and cursed at her.
Discretion being the better part of valor, she chose to remain where she was, not wanting to tangle with the diminutive woman beside her. Shannon could hear the screams of people dying and another explosion. And then there was a whoosh of noise and their vehicle leaped into the air. With a sickening roll it flipped over, tossing the occupants about the interior, and landed on its roof. PFC Hook flew out his open window, screaming. The redhead felt a sudden pain in her head and blacked out.
By the time the Wolves arrived, three vehicles remained - two military and one Corporation. As they roared down the hillside, they watched the Corps riot car take out the HumV soldier with the rocket launcher. He jumped and jerked as rounds ripped his body open before he slumped forward, the launcher pushed down to the roof of his vehicle. The weapon discharged and exploded.
The remaining HumV was showing some severe damage. The driver must have been hit because he was steering erratically. With a war whoop and a wide grin, Dusky and her packmates descended on the white Corps vehicle. The three motorcycles circled it, Remy using an old M22A2 machinegun and Shake his H&K MP-5 autopistol. As they distracted the occupants, Dusky came around the back and closed in for a quick pass in front. She used her teeth to pull the pin out of a fragmentation grenade and lobbed it with perfect aim into a gun port. She whooped again and the three pulled further out. Ten seconds later, the Corps vehicle exploded from inside and came to a slow stop.
Shake yelled excitedly, "Man! Did ya see that?! Popped it like a fuckin' zit, man! Totally flatlined!" He pulled up near Remy who was watching the last HumV. The pair witnessed the vehicle move in slow motion as it ploughed into the flaming wreckage of one of its own.
Their leader pulled up in front of them, blocking the view if not the sound of another explosion. "Check for survivors and let's see what we can salvage. The Corps'll be sending backup and evac ASAP." She grinned at Shake's enthusiasm. "The sooner we're outta here, the better." The woman rode off again, heading for the wrecked HumV that was furthest away.
Shannon didn't think she'd been out of it for too long. She felt something warm and sticky on her side. She looked down to see a severed female hand soaking her jumpsuit. With a little shriek, she batted the thing away and shuddered.
She was on the ceiling of the HumV, it having flipped over and landed upside down. Most of the weight of the engine had crushed the front seats. There probably wasn't much left of Notus, and she was glad she couldn't really see anything up there. She had no idea where Hook was and, if the hand was any indication, she didn't want to find Cunningham.
Outside, she could hear another explosion and some yelling. No gunfire, however. Gingerly, Shannon crawled out the window. She crouched beside the vehicle and took stock of the situation.
It looked like the Corps had won this round. No Army uniforms were moving on the road. Two long haired men in civilian clothing were picking through the refuse. She watched as one brought out a pistol and fired it into one of the bodies.
Mouth dry in fear, she looked wildly about. Nearby was a rifle... Hook's rifle! She darted over and scooped it up. Remembering all those many videos of her youth, she brought the weapon up to her shoulder and sighted down it, aiming for the man closest to her. Her finger pulled on the trigger just as a tanned hand reached out and grabbed the barrel, twisting it out of her grasp.
Emerald and silver eyes stared into royal blue. For the longest time the two women stood motionless, a sense of timelessness between them. Shannon finally realized she had stopped breathing and inhaled sharply. The dark beauty before her blinked and broke contact, glancing down at the rifle in her hands.
"You ever fire an automatic rifle before?" she asked in a low voice, bringing her eyes back up.
The redhead flushed and dropped her own gaze, shaking her head no.
Dusky grinned crookedly, handed the rifle back to the smaller woman and pointed to one side of the trigger guard. "Take it off safety, first." She then turned her back on the redhead, and returned to Hook's body, rummaging around in his belt pouches for more ammunition.
Shannon held the rifle, frozen. Warily she watched the other woman finish her scavenging and stand up. The dark woman looked at the two men. One of them waved and she nodded in response. The redhead swallowed as the stranger turned back to her.
"We have to get out of here now. Corps'll be here any moment." Cybereyes studied the redhead. "Chippin' in with us?"
The question confused Shannon for a moment. Not a hostage. Corps coming. For her, no doubt. Various scenarios ran speedily through her mind, not one of them pleasant. "Yes!" she answered.
Dusky nodded and turned away, striding towards a beat up old motorcycle nearby. Her packmates were already on theirs and moving off, back into the Rockies. She kick started the Harley, revved it up, and nodded her head to indicate the seat behind her.
For some reason, Shannon felt like this was some weird monumental moment in her life. To leave with this odd woman or not. A sense of deja vu rushed over her for just a second before it disappeared. She slung the rifle onto her back and climbed onto the bike, putting her hands on the woman's hips.
The Wolves rode into the mountains.
Part II: The Journey
The Asian man sat behind a desk in a medium sized office. Outside the smallish window was the town of Pendleton, Oregon, a backwater burg that had sold its soul to the devil and conceded to Corporation rule. The man was dressed in a navy blue jumpsuit with heavy stripes of white slashing across the chest and arms. A cable ran from the port in his right temple to the computer pad before him. His arms and hands moved hither and yon, head turning back and forth, eyes watching invisible movement. To the uninformed, he looked autistic, using ritual movements that his troubled mind had devised to compensate for his problem. In reality, he was hooked into the web, conducting business.
Kenneth Shimizu, regional security chief of the Azteca Corporation, grabbed up a piece of data running across his desktop, scanned it, filed it, and sent out a quick memo in reference to it within minutes. Other databits vied for his attention, leaping and cavorting around, blinking wildly in a variety of colors. With just a little concentration, his real time office came into view, the deskphone ringing.
With a quick flick of his wrist, he accessed his phone line, opening it. "Shimizu," he barked.
"Yes, sir, this is Harrelson, sir."
"Did you intercept the package?" Shimizu sent another memo out and accessed the Canadian Interference file. He listened as he scanned over the information.
"No, sir. They got lucky, sir."
The man behind the desk snorted in derision. "Lucky?! More like incompetence," he insisted in a sharp voice, visually running through the list of operatives involved. "I want everybody in the field demoted. Let's transfer in some fresh troops from Silicon Valley, too."
"Yes, sir." There was a pause. "Sir, there are no operatives in the field. No survivors on this mission."
For a tenth of a second, Shimizu froze before continuing his mental and physical manipulations. "Then I guess you'd better hop on that personnel transfer, eh?"
"Yes, sir." Another pause. "There seems to have been some outside interference - three sets of À%Àcycle tracks leaving the area. The courier must have been aided somehow."
"Do we have any idea who the courier is?"
"Yes, sir, I think so. ID/body match up is pretty consistent. We have an ID for Shannon Elias, Canadian National, but no body."
"Good, good. That's our target. Get those fresh troops in. ASAP!"
"Yes, sir. I'm on it!"
The security director severed the connection and brought up a map of the tri-state area. Time to play hide and seek.
Rather than continue on their original path westward, going into the desert and becoming sitting ducks for a Corps patrol, Dusky let them back into the Rockies. They traveled for about four hours, sticking to country and logging roads, spending only short periods of time on or crossing the highway. The three bikes rotated point every hour or so with no words spoken between them, the red gold hair of the woman behind their leader shining in the sun.
Dusky spent most of the time working through the thoughts in her head. And the unknown woman's proximity was extremely distracting, the jostling of the bike over ruts and bumps causing breasts to brush against her back and hands to grip her hips more firmly. At one point, the dark woman realized that she had been subconsciously and purposely hitting potholes and rocks, and a wry grin fleetingly crossed her face. Lecherous woman.
The royal blue eyes kept returning to her memory. When she had met those eyes, there seemed to be a spark, a flash behind them. And then it was gone. It was uncanny. She'd met gringas before, had bedded quite a few of them, but this one... This one was different somehow. And for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why. For a weird moment, Dusky could have sworn that the two had met before. But, she would have remembered meeting this gringa, no doubt about it.
And in Dusky's heart was a sense of impending..... something. Excitement, trepidation, dread, and relief all vied for their places. A whirlwind of emotions and dim feelings that scattered through the pack leader, leaving her sitting in dismay at the center of the storm. She shook her head, bringing herself back to the here and now.
Back on point, she turned off the highway and made for an old campground near Winchester, Idaho. The retreat was over. It was time to regroup, get their bearings, and figure out what to do next. They passed through the campground, finding an abandoned game trail and following it to a small clearing. She shut the bike down and regretfully moved away from the gringa.
As quiet settled on the clearing, she said, "We'll crash here tonight. No open fire after dark. Shake, you've got first watch."
"We're running low on water, Dusky," her uncle stated. He pulled his gear off the back of his motorcycle and set it on the clearing floor.
Removing her own tack, she nodded. "Let's get a fire started, then. We've got a couple of hours to boil some from the lake." She turned to the woman standing by her bike, looking her up and down appreciatively. "You ever go camping?"
Shannon shook her head. "Not like this. Only at government run camps." She sensed the American's disappointment and felt an irrational rush of sorrow at having caused it. She mercilessly stomped on it, almost missing what the woman said next.
"Clear away some of the debris in the middle here. Get some rocks and build a ring. About half a meter across." Dusky turned away from the redhead. "C'mon, Shake, let's go find some wood."
Shannon watched her leave the clearing with the teenager - Shake, that's his name. Hers is... Dusky...? She glanced at the older man with a braided beard. He unpacked their belongings and began to set up camp, moving efficiently and silently, ignoring her. The redhead heaved a sigh and began doing her chore.
The flight from the attack site had been uneventful, a good thing in her books. She had wanted to see the Americas and the Americas she was seeing. She had imagined what it would have been like in these mountains a hundred years earlier, before the beginning of strip mining, slash logging and the complications of global warming.
But those thoughts were fleeting. Most of the trip had been spent surreptitiously studying the back of the woman, the two men with them, and the motorcycles they were riding. At home she had heard horror stories of nomads. Nomads were bloodthirsty subhumans that indiscriminately killed everything in their path. They were filthy, covered in cybergear, and bristled with weapons. Nomads took over small towns and destroyed them for fun. They were used as scare tactics by parents in Canada - 'be good or we'll sell you to the nomads.'
But, these three didn't act very bloodthirsty. Except when they were dispatching Corporate survivors. They weren't filthy, just currently covered with road dust, as she was herself. About the only evident cybergear was Dusky's eye and the weapons didn't look too over the top. Shannon tried to imagine these three taking over a small town to rape, pillage and destroy. Despite herself, she snorted aloud as she finished clearing the fire pit.
"Something funny?" the older man asked.
Shannon looked sharply at him, wondering if she had offended. His face was closed to her and she couldn't tell. "Uh... no. I was just, you know... thinking to myself, that's all."
Remy nodded solemnly and finished putting the three sleepbags out. The Canadian started rooting around the clearing for rocks, placing them in a circle around the cleared area. Once finished, she dusted off her hands and stood there awkwardly.
"Maybe I could go get some water....?" she offered with a raised eyebrow.
"We'll both go," the man nodded. He picked up a medium sized cook pot and handed it to her, taking a larger one for himself.
Emboldened, Shannon asked, "What's your name?" as they threaded their way through the ragged woods.
"Remy." Silence followed.
The redhead sighed quietly. "You're a nomad, right?" At the distracted nod, she continued, "What... uh... 'group'?"
"Red Wolves." More silence.
"I'm Shannon," she offered, wondering if the other two were as reticent as Remy was. She got an acknowledging nod and then they were at the edge of a small murky lake. She smothered a sigh.
Remy waded out into the brown water to his knees, past the worst of the muck and debris along the water's edge. With a swipe of his hand, he cleared the oily looking scum from the top and plunged his pot into the lake, quickly pulling it up before it could get too contaminated. He handed the pot back to Shannon and took hers, doing the same. The elder returned to the shore, stamping his boots before heading back to camp.
Shake and Dusky were already there. The woman was building up a smokeless fire while her packmate was dismantling his autopistol for a quick cleaning before dark and his watch. As they approached, she rose and took the water from Shannon.
"Sit down," the low voice ordered distractedly. Dusky indicated a sleepbag and turned away to set the water to boil. Not bothering to see whether the redhead had obeyed or not, the leader sat on the same sleepbag and looked to the two men. "Well, what'd we score?"
Shake spoke up first. "Got quite a bit of ammo. Picked up another LAW," he indicated an olive green tube hanging from his motorcycle. "Only survivor was a Corps."
Dusky's silver/green eyes narrowed. "You flatlined him, right?"
The younger man nodded with a snort. "Of course," he said with a slight shrug of one shoulder. He continued to run small cloth patches through the barrel of his pistol, getting at the powder discharge inside.
The dark woman nodded her chin at her uncle. "You get anything, Remy?"
The older man had taken the time to retrieve his rifle and was beginning to disassemble it for cleaning. "Got some good stuff, Dusk," he said with a slight grin. "We've got food for a few more days now.... Picked up nearly half a case of rations from that HumV that wasn't exploded." He looked pointedly at a bag by Dusky's sleepbag.
The dark woman grinned and scooped it up, rummaging inside as she spoke. "Got me some more ammo. The HumV wasn't too badly damaged, but all the firepower was in the other ones. Not much else except her." With that, Dusky pulled a meal ration out of the bag and handed it to the her' in question.
Shannon gulped and accepted the foil packet, unsure if she was being insulted or not by the tone of the other woman's voice. "Um... thanks," she said softly. Go with the flow, Elias. You don't know these people or their ways.
Dusky pulled a packet out for herself and tossed one to each of the men. She continued to ignore the woman beside her. Using her teeth she opened the packet, the automatic heating element igniting upon contact with the air. In seconds, the food was steaming. The dark woman and her packmates lost no time in scarfing it down.
The redhead watched for a few moments, reminded of starving animals. She opened her own meal and sniffed at it, wondering if her kind judgement of these people had been too hasty. No utensils were used or provided so she adopted their style of eating, squeezing the food up to the opening to be eaten, albeit a bit more daintily than the Wolves.
As they finished eating, the packets went into the fire. Dusky checked the water to ensure it was boiling, adjusted a pot closer to the flame, and sat back down. Suddenly, the redhead felt all eyes on her. She took a deep breath and held her chin up, refusing to drop her gaze from the silver/green eyes that bored into her.
"Who are you? And why were the Corps after you?"
"My name is Shannon Elias, and I'm a courier for the Canadian Government Ministry." Seeing little reaction, the she continued, "I don't even know if the Corps were after me, let alone why."
She heard Remy say softly, "Oh, they were after you, alright."
Dusky reached out a bold hand and moved the red gold hair aside, grabbing the back of Shannon's head and tilting it to the side to see the port. She ran her rough thumb over it before letting her go. "You know what you're carrying?"
The courier shook her head no, trying to regain the equilibrium that she had lost with the dark woman's touch. It had been like an electric shock through her bloodstream. It's been far too long since I've taken anyone to bed, obviously. She fell back onto her meditative technique to settle herself.
The elder watched his niece unconsciously rubbing her fingertips against her thumb after releasing the woman's head. His own green eyes narrowed and he began watching the women closely.
"Where were you heading then?"
"To Boise. They've got the codes for my download." Curiosity getting the better of her and becoming decidedly irritated with the other woman's attitude of superiority, Shannon asked, "Do you work for the government, then?" She was not prepared for the response.
The three Wolves burst into laughter. Shake laughed so hard, he broke into tears and rolled on his sleepbag, howling. Remy's was a dry chuckle but he was able to continue cleaning his rifle. The woman next to her chortled, eyes dancing merrily at the thought.
If anything, Shannon's annoyance rose another notch. "So, you work for a Corps, then?" came the next question. This illicited even more laughter from the trio.
The teenager was holding his sides weakly. "Stop...." he begged her, laughing. "No more!"
Dusky wiped a tear from her green eye, still chuckling. "Oh.... That was good!" She looked at the redhead, noting the flush of anger and the soft lips pressed together in aggravation. God, she's beautiful when she's angry! Her laughter suddenly dried up and she fought to resist the urge to feel those lips against hers, to make them sigh and moan, to hear them call her name.
The elder continued cleaning his rifle, watching his niece, his own laughter gone.
Shannon saw the intensity in the silver/green eyes, felt an answering energy from within her. And then it was gone as if it never was. Her irritation and anger had dissipated, replaced by sudden confusion.
Dusky turned from her, using the pots of boiling water as an excuse to break away. "No, we don't work for either." She set a third pot nearby and used a thin cloth to cover one of the boiling ones. With a deft movement, she flipped the boiling pot over the new one, the cloth sufficiently filtering out the worst of the slime that had boiled up. That finished, she put the new pot back onto the fire and did the same for the other one.
"Then why were you there? Why did you take me with you?"
Shake began putting his pistol back together. He shrugged as he worked. "We found the Corps tracks and followed. Figured we'd get our licks in when we saw what was going down." He glanced up once at Shannon, brown eyes distant from her in ways she couldn't even begin to fathom. "You're just lucky enough to be with the military and not the Corps."
Shannon remembered the boy shooting a downed person and shuddered. That could have been me! Remy's voice broke in to her ruminations.
"Stop scaring the poor woman. She's been through enough today already."
The teenager at least had the sense to blush as he grinned at her apologetically. The courier returned it with her own small smile and a nod.
"As for why we took you," Dusky continued, "what the Corps wants, we deny if we can." She poked a stick at the fire, stirring the embers. She had a sudden urge to have a little fun with the gringa. With an idle shrug, her back still turned to the woman, she winked at the two men and said, "Besides, I found you. You're mine now." She felt an incredibly long silence building that suddenly erupted with sputtering. Dusky fought to master a smirk.
"W...w....what?!" Blue eyes were wide as she stared at the dark woman's braid. She looked at the two men for confirmation. Shake shrugged with a grin and finished reassembling his pistol. Remy's face showed nothing. "What do you mean, I'm yours?!" she demanded, her voice becoming high pitched and strangled.
With the experience of a master, Dusky schooled her features. She turned to regard the courier, her face as stone and one dark brow raised. "What part of 'mine' don't you understand?" she asked with icy calm. And as she said it, something deep down inside accepted and believed it. This woman was hers. It was just a matter of time. What the hell....?
Shannon's mind shut down. She could only sit there, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. She shot a pleading look at the older man, but he barely noticed her as he cleaned his rifle. Shake was no help either as he loaded his pistol and stretched out long brown arms. The redhead could feel her anger igniting. How dare she....? The audacity....! She glared into silver/green eyes. And there was a flash of.... recognition? A memory that was not, an incredible feeling of deja vu, the knowledge that what had been said was true, right. Complete. For the second time in less than fifteen minutes, Shannon's anger dissipated, replaced with bewilderment. She looked down at her hands, trying to marshal scattered thoughts.
Dusky's face softened. She looked apologetic, but didn't speak. She brushed red gold hair from the woman's right shoulder and grasped it. When the Canadian looked up, Dusky wordlessly raised her eyebrows. You alright? she asked silently.
Shannon gave a slight nod, a faint smile in response.
The pack leader released the woman's shoulder and turned back to the pots of boiling water. She glanced at her uncle and caught a wary gaze. Her own eyes narrowed. "What?"
Remy shrugged in nonchalance. "Nothing."
Dusky scowled, quite aware that it was more than 'nothing'. Rather than get into an argument, she proceeded to filter the water once more, removing it from the flames. She rose from her sleepbag, gathering their canteens. Within a few minutes, all containers were full of decent water and sealed against the elements. A short time later, three cups of tea were steeping on the rocks.
The dark woman handed out cups to the men when the tea was ready. Long fingers brushed against Shannon's as she passed a cup to her and the redhead swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry in response to the tickle tingle rushing up her arm. What is wrong with me? She took a shaky breath and blew on her tea to cool it.
As the courier drank, Remy studied the two women. It was no secret that his niece preferred to bed women. That was part of their running 'dialog' on producing an heir. He'd only caught her in the act of seduction once, when she had thought she hadn't been observed. It had been a wonder to behold. He had actually begun to feel sorry for the poor woman his niece had targeted. She hadn't stood a snowball's chance in hell against Dusky's concentrated charm. The elder could sense that this little scenario was different. Dusky isn't in control. Hell, neither of 'em are. He finished up with his rifle. Not good. Not good at all.
The four sat in silence, drinking tea or deep in thought. Dusky stared into the flames, lips pursed as she worked out what to do the next day. Get the courier to Boise, of course. Maybe crash there before heading back to the coast to stop those fighters from showing up. The dark woman realized that she really needed to let off a little steam. And soon. Or this little preciada is going to be up to her beautiful blue eyeballs in dark nomadic lust. Dusky smiled softly to herself.
She heaved a sigh and looked at her packmates. "Shake, I'll relieve you later. We leave in the morning for Boise, get this gringa to her destination before heading to the coast."
The teenager nodded, sucking his teeth. He stood up and moved away from the encampment, into the blighted undergrowth. Remy stood as well, helping his niece put out the fire. Now that it was beginning to get dark out, they didn't need a beacon. Someone was looking for the woman they had picked up.
Shannon sat quietly on the sleepbag, wondering where she was going to be sleeping. Her ribald mind conjured all sorts of thoughts on that topic, and she hurriedly swallowed the last of her tea, burning her throat. Get hold of yourself, Elias. You don't know what these people are capable of.
Her question of sleep options was answered when Dusky pulled a spare blanket from her tack. She jutted her chin at the sleepbag. "You sleep there."
The redhead blinked in surprise. She had assumed that she would use the blanket. Apparently, Remy had thought the same thing, as he froze for a second and watched the dark woman with narrow eyes. Silver/green eyes glared at him and he capitulated, gracefully turning away from her and preparing for sleep. The glare was turned on Shannon and, in haste, she did the same.
Satisfied, Dusky curled up with the blanket near the redhead. She lay on her back, hands pillowing her head and stared up into the night sky.
the cabin door opened. she strode in, searching, looking. a younger woman stood and rushed forward, bubbling, happy. the two met near the table, emerald and sapphire, dark and light.
hands caressed skin, cloth, leather. kisses started tender, advanced towards sultry, teeth and lips and tongues vying for supremacy over each other. clothing and armor and weapons fell to the floor in heaps and jangles. shattering of crockery as a long arm swept the table clear. skin on skin, flowers and cinnamon, musky arousal, wood grain grinding into tender flesh. sighs and moans and whimpers. the taste of salt, the feel of slick velvet. waves rushing in, sudden crashing as passion reached its zenith. gentle caresses, cooling bodies entwined, tender lips.
"Welcome home, Xena."
Dusky woke in the pre-dawn, wisps of an extremely erotic dream tickling her memory. She sat up, resting forearms on bent knees, blinking owlishly. Glancing to her left, she saw her sleepbag full of gringa. Oh, yeah.... An overnight stay in Boise is definitely required, she thought wryly. The pack leader rose, dusting herself off and nodding a greeting to her uncle who had taken the last watch. She folded the blanket and stowed it before moving away to relieve herself.
The elder moved into the clearing and knelt by Shake. With a slight nudge to the shoulder, the teenager was awake. He nodded to Remy also before stretching and rubbing sleep from his eyes. As the younger man sat up, the elder moved over and shook the woman they had picked up the day before. It took awhile and a lot of shaking, but she dragged herself from sleep with reluctance.
The courier blearily opened her eyes, staring into the solemn green of Remy's. "I'm up," she croaked and cleared her throat. The elder nodded and moved to pack up his gear. Shannon scrubbed at her face and sat up, looking cross. Mornings suck! She heaved a sigh, mind moving over the details of the dream she had been in the middle of. Verrry nice. Wonder if I'll get that kind of welcome when I get back to Canada.....? She giggled to herself at the thought and climbed out of Dusky's sleepbag. Not bloody likely!
The two men were packing up their gear. Shannon rolled up the sleepbag and put it with Dusky's pack. She wondered away to answer the call of nature.
The dark woman had finished her own personal duties and had moved further into the abandoned campground they had passed through the previous day. She shook out her braid, ran sure fingers through her hair, and rebraided it neatly. After a few minutes of stretching, she began running through her exercises.
Shannon saw movement through the scraggly trees and crept forward. The pack leader, eyes closed, was dancing. The smaller woman settled quietly down on a rock to watch, not wanting to cause a disturbance.
Dusky's muscles rippled as they moved in time with unheard music. Arms and legs weaved in and out with quite a bit of force, slicing the air. She whirled about, her body leaving gravity behind on some occasions, on others her hand the only contact with the ground as she spun head down. The moves were fluid and raw and powerful, not recognizable to the redhead as any dance she had seen before. As the dance continued, a thin sheen of sweat became visible on the woman in the early morning light, giving her the appearance of glowing. After long minutes, the dance slowed down, stopped, Dusky panting, her eyes still closed.
Realizing she might be intruding, Shannon stood and prepared to go back to the campsite.
"Stay," said the low voice, silver/green eyes watching her.
The redhead slowly sank back down, blushing at having been caught. "I... uh... didn't mean to interrupt or anything," she said uncomfortably.
Dusky shrugged and worked on her cooldown stretches. "No biggie. I heard you approach."
Studying her curiously, Shannon asked, "What was that, anyway? I've never seen anything quite like it."
"It's called capoeira," the dark woman responded, her breathing becoming normal. "It's a form of martial arts that originated with Brazilian slaves." Finished with her cooldown, she padded towards the redhead who stood up. "The slaves were forbidden to practice their fighting technique so they disguised it as a dance."
"It's beautiful," Shannon said. Her next thoughts fell out of her mouth before she could stop them. "You're beautiful," she murmured. Oh, God! Did I just say that?! She winced internally.
The physical exertion coupled with the sensual dream took their toll on the dark woman. Before the courier's eyes, Dusky transformed from a younger woman into a seductive jungle creature on the prowl. Silver/green eyes were hooded and took a long, leisurely look. Shannon could feel the fiery touch of those eyes on her from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. She swallowed convulsively.
Dusky took the final step, the women separated by only a few inches. Her strange eyes settled on the smaller woman's lips. Why not? she asked herself. Gotta get some reward for saving the damsel in distress. All the stories say so.
Sensing more than seeing the hand rise, Shannon reached out her right hand to stop it. I don't want this, she told herself firmly. A fleeting memory of her passionate dream crossed her mind and a smaller voice asked, I don't?! She felt long fingers wrap around her wrist, stopping its momentum. Another hand rose and took her chin, forcing it up, tilting the head just so. Despite her inner struggles, Shannon's lips parted slightly in invitation.
As their mouths neared, their breath mingled. Dusky inhaled deeply, committing this preciada's scent to memory. Roses, definitely roses.
All motion stopped, though the women's reactions were as different as night and day. Shannon froze like a deer in the headlights, tensing up and rolling her eyes to the right to see the elder. The dark woman simply stopped moving - a pause rather than a cessation of her activity - no stress, no tension evident. Her facial expression didn't change and her eyes remained on the other woman's lips. When the redhead tried to step back and away, Dusky held her firm by wrist and chin.
"Yes, Uncle?" she asked clearly.
Remy stood nearby, rifle cradled in his arms. "When do you want to be leaving here?"
"After we eat." She mentally dismissed him.
The elder nodded and turned away from the tableau. Now that's the Dusky I know, he thought smugly. Focused and unstoppable once the target is acquired. In control. As he made his way back to the clearing, he almost broke into a jaunty whistle.
Alone again, Dusky reminded the redhead of where she was, strong fingers on her chin and wrist squeezing gently. She lowered her head.
Their lips met, moving together. The dark woman's tongue caressed, demanding entry. She took what was freely given as Shannon deepened the kiss. It was a slow, measured exploration that Dusky engaged in, tongues entwining, familiarizing. She felt a soft hand wrapping around her right wrist holding the courier's chin.
Shannon melted into the kiss, the tingle burn of arousal blazing a sharp trail down to her belly. Eyes closed, she lost herself in the sensation. She gave herself. Echoing between the women were the words Dusky had spoken the night before "You're mine now."
The pack leader gradually broke off the kiss, retreating in increments until she finally nibbled Shannon's lower lip, causing the redhead to gasp and shiver. And then the connection was gone.
Shannon opened her eyes trying to get her bearing. She saw the dark woman walking away. Shaking her head to clear it, she heard the woman say, "Time to eat." The Canadian stood for a few seconds, touching her lips with her fingers. She turned to follow.
It wasn't long before the Red Wolves got back on the road. A quick breakfast of military rations and water before climbing aboard the bikes and roaring away. As they had the day before, the pack stuck to old logging and country roads with the occasional excursion onto the highway, rotating point among themselves in silence.
The monotony of the scenery and the steady rumble of the motorcycle put Shannon into a trancelike state. It wasn't long before she had her arms wrapped around the slim waist of the woman before her, head pillowed on a well muscled shoulder. She dozed off.
Dusky's driving became less turbulent and she used a hand to hold onto the woman's arms when she didn't need to shift gears. At one point, Shake moved forward to take the lead, grinning at the women and rolling his eyes at Dusky. The dark woman gave a slight shrug and a smirk. Whaddya gonna do?
After several hours, they pulled over to the side of the logging road they were on and into a small field. Their engines were shut down and the men climbed off their bikes. Remy worked some kinks out of his back while Shake dug in his bags for lunch.
The change in her surroundings rousted the courier. She unconsciously squeezed Dusky's waist in a hug before pulling away, her vantage point not allowing her to see the raised eyebrow. She stretched as the leader got off the bike. "Where are we? What time is it?" she yawned.
The elder said, "Somewhere around New Meadows."
Shannon carefully dismounted from the motorcycle, finding muscles she didn't remember having. Ouch! My fanny's gonna be killing me tomorrow. She accepted a ration pouch from the teenager and looked to Dusky. "How long before we get there?"
The dark woman stood a few feet away, her back to the courier. Shake responded for her. "Another four or five hours, give or take. It'll be slow going in the mountains until we get to the desert. We'll have a straight shot from there." He took a swig from his canteen.
Nibbling at her lunch, the redhead asked, "And then what?"
Dusky glanced back over her shoulder at the gringa, before turning back to study the surrounding hills. "We see if Uncle Sam'll pay a reward for his missing property. Plug in for the night. Split in the morning." She missed the courier's frown at the suggestion she was property.
"We gonna go to Ritzy's, Dusk?" Shake asked, brown eyes lighting up.
The leader turned around with a seductive smile. "Yeah, why not?" she drawled.
Remy snorted. "Yeah, well I'll leave that to you youngsters," he said with a grin. "Me? I'll get a drink and then head back to the flop. You guys can tear the town down." He raised his hand at Shake's beginning argument. "Somebody's gotta be able to post bail, ya know."
The rest of the lunch break was spent trying to convince the older man to join the teenagers at Ritzy's. From the conversation, Shannon was able to gather that it was a renovated warehouse near the rails in Boise and quite the hot spot. It was rumored that anything could be had there, both figuratively and literally.
Soon, the four were back on the road, all thoughts on their destination.
At Azteca Corporation, Shimizu was playing a solo game of racquetball when his phone rang. With a peculiar flick of his wrist, he accessed the line. "Shimizu!" he barked.
"Yes, sir, Harrelson, sir. The new troops just arrived. Where do you want them deployed?"
The small black ball came racing towards him and he gracefully backhanded it away. "Have 'em hang out between Boise and the mountains. There's no doubt that that's where the courier was heading." The ball returned and he sailed it away again with a resounding thwock! "Keep an eye on all roads coming out of the Rockies."
"Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?"
"You play racquetball, Harrelson?" he demanded, another approach, another hit.
The voice on the other end sounded mournful. "No, sir, I don't."
"Then you'd better learn fast. I'll see you at the courts next Thursday at one." Sweat ran into his eyes and he missed the next swing, the ball bouncing furiously away.
"Yes, sir! I'll be there!"
Shimizu disconnected the line and retrieved the ball.
The nomads eventually made their way out of the mountainous region, moving through yellow rolling hills. They skirted towns that grew progressively larger as the terrain flattened. The landscape was occasionally cut up into squares of varying colors of greens and browns as they neared farming communities.
Despite their attempts at distancing themselves from the locals, traffic around them began to pick up - beat up old vehicles that had seen even worse days than the bikes, the incidental electric car putting along at 25 kilometers per hour, even a lone three wheeled bicycle. And in all cases were the looks of fear, disgust and loathing on the peoples' faces.
Shannon watched the Wolves for a response and saw none. They continued on their way, ignoring the populace's opinions. Though, she had to admit that they appeared more stone-faced than earlier in the day. Running with the wrong crowd again, Elias, she quipped to herself. When are you ever gonna learn?
They passed through the outskirts of Horseshoe Bend, generally scaring the residents of a little shanty town in the shadows of the industrial area. A mangy dog chased them for a few blocks before tiring, stopping on the side of the road to pant heavily, sides lathered. The river that ran nearby had been fouled by the dog food plant and a hazy odor permeated the entire area. The redhead buried her face in Dusky's shoulder, nose wrinkled in disgust.
And then they were past the town. The air cleared up considerably, though hints of the stench wisped across their path from the filthy river nearby. They eventually passed a sign that read 'Boise 20 miles'.
"Almost there!" Shake hollered with a grin.
Dusky nodded regally and took point, Remy pulling up behind her and the teenager taking over as rear guard.
Shake saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to the right. He saw a white Corporation riot car paralleling them in the hills. "Corps!" he warned. He hit his brakes, skidding to a stop as he simultaneously reached for the LAW he had picked up in their last skirmish. Within seconds the tube had been extended, the site raised, and he was aiming the anti-tank weapon. Pressing the button, a rocket launched itself from his shoulder and arrowed for the vehicle. As it exploded in pyrotechnics, he said softly, "Gotcha." Shake dropped the spent tube and pulled away on his bike.
The elder had heard the boy's yell. He glanced back to see Shake stop and target the riot car. Even as it blew up, he saw another Corps car crest a hill thirty meters away. It opened fire on the teenager, a round knocking him down and others whining off the bike and ground. "Dusky!" he bellowed, turning his motorcycle around.
The leader heard the explosion and looked over her shoulder. She watched Shake fall and Remy turn. "Shit!" Dusky turned her bike around as well, pulling up short. A Colt M22A2 rifle with an attached grenade launcher was pulled quickly out of its scabbard. She sited the second Corps car and let fly two grenades. One bounced ineffectively off the windshield but the second blew the undercarriage and severely damaged the tranny. It slowed to a halt, smoking, and the shock troopers inside poured out.
Remy reached the wounded teenager and scooped him up behind him. He wheeled around and sped out of the area. Behind them another white riot car came into view, roaring past the second vehicle and ignoring the angry troopers wanting to be picked up.
Dusky fired another grenade but the mechanism jammed. "Fuck!" Rather than deal with a possible live round on her bike, she tossed the weapon aside. "Hang on, gringa!" she yelled, hitting the gas and spinning around on the road. Shannon held on tightly as the dark woman laid down rubber. Dusky accelerated away, her people bringing up the rear.
It was just a matter of speed and time now. The two bikes weaved back and forth to avoid being hit, throttles wide open. They were able to push it to nearly one hundred kilometer an hour before the Harleys started to protest.
Crouched low over the handlebars, Dusky risked a glance back. They had gained some time as the remaining riot car had to cut over to the road they were traversing. The Fort Boise Wall began to materialize before them as they neared. "C'mon, baby, c'mon, baby," Dusky muttered her mantra.
Shannon peeked over her shoulder as the Corps vehicle lurched onto the hardtop and began speeding up. There wasn't much of a noticeable difference, but they were gaining on the nomads. A small turret on top swung around, pointing at the fleeing bikes. "Here it comes!" she yelled a warning before burying her face in Dusky's back and clinging to her waist.
There was an explosion to their left and the bike wobbled from the concussion. "Christ!" the pack leader growled. The Boise Wall loomed larger. Remy's bike inched up beside hers, just enough to reassure. With a nod, she poured it on, despite the growing complaint from the motorcycle. She could make out people gathering on the wall and movement in the twin towers on either side of the road. Now let's just hope they can tell the difference between friend and foe. Another explosion rocked the bike, this time on the right.
Just as they came in range of the tower guns, a third explosion slammed the bike. Dusky fought with the handlebars to keep control, almost losing it and sending them both into the ditch. The flames from the round had come so close they had singed the hair off her right arm.
And then the big guns in the towers began firing volley after volley behind them. The bikes slowed down in the shadow of the wall and the riders looked back. The riot car sent out a final shot that fell shorts as it screeched to a halt and reversed. In seconds, it was high tailing it away, rounds bursting about them.
The four breathed a collective sigh of relief. "You okay?" the dark woman asked her passenger.
"Yeah, I'm good. Check on Shake," the redhead responded, releasing her deathgrip on the other woman's waist.
Dusky set the bike on its stand and dismounted, moving to her uncle's bike. Shake was swearing a blue streak and bleeding from a shoulder wound. Remy was already applying pressure to it.
"Looks clean, Dusk," the elder said. "In and out, smooth as a whistle."
The leader nodded in relief, gripping Shake's good shoulder. She heard a noise behind her and turned as the gates were opened. A squad of ten Military Police officers poured out, rifles ready. They spread out and covered the nomads as another man followed them out.
"Welcome to Boise, Idaho," he said with a smile.
After their weapons and transportation had been impounded, the four were escorted by the sergeant that had greeted them and several MPs to a nearby building. It was only a matter of minutes before they were put into a small room with bars on the windows and a table with three chairs in the center.
Even as the door closed and locked, Shannon was trying to explain what was going on. "Look! I'm a courier with the GovMin of Canada, damn it! Let me speak to Gina Conway!" The resounding click of the bolt being drawn angered her further and she kicked at the door in frustration. Hearing a dry chuckle behind her, she turned and glared, hands on her hips.
Remy had moved Shake to the table and was using his canteen to clean the wound. Dusky was standing in front of the window, smiling at the redhead.
"What's your problem?" the smaller woman demanded furiously.
Dusky's grin widened. "No problem. Just enjoyin' the show." She padded closer. "Tell me, gringa, you expected a different sort of reception in our company?" She laughed again, pulling up a chair and offering it to Shannon. "Take a load off, little girl. It'll be awhile."
Realizing the truth of the pack leader's statement did nothing to cool the courier off. Little girl?! Hell, I'm older than she is! She growled and crossed her arms in front of her chest, fists formed tightly. Shannon moved over to the window, ignoring the proffered chair, and glared out of it.
With a little rummaging between the three Wolves, they were able to dig up a sewing kit from their pockets. Remy finished cleaning the teenager's wound, splashing a bit of whiskey on it from a small flask he had. Shake hissed at the burning. The dark woman then took over with a needle and thread, sewing the wound up on both sides of the shoulder with small, precise stitches. She used her teeth to cut off the excess thread and rubbed the young man on the back.
"Congrats. Now you can show off the scar to all the women," she joked. "Women love scars." She was gratified by an answering smile.
"Yeah, well," the elder cut in, "don't use that as an excuse to get too many scars, boy."
Shake moved his shoulder slowly, wincing. "Don't worry about that, Remy," he said. "I don't think the pain's worth it."
Dusky moved over to the window, standing beside the redhead who was still fuming. She crossed her own arms over her chest as well, and stared silently out the window.
They had a fine view of the Boise Wall. Three meters high, one meter thick, and kilometers long, it surrounded the city. The only breaks were the occasional gates like the one they had been through. The residents weren't cut off from the outside, though. With the proper credentials and references, entry was allowed. Of course, the courier's paperwork was in her pack somewhere in the state of Washington. And the Wolves hadn't had time to have any forged.
In an offhand voice, Dusky spoke. "No need to go ballistic about it. This is SOP."
"SOP?" the redhead asked, brow furrowed and frowning at the woman beside her.
"Standard operating procedure. Now we just hurry up and wait." She rubbed her left upper arm. "Typical military behavior."
"You've had experience, I take it?"
Realizing that no more information was to be forthcoming, Shannon sighed in annoyance and turned back to the window. "Locking us up is stupid. I just wish they'd get their heads out of their asses and let me complete this job."
The pack leader's eyebrow went up, as did her level of interest in the woman beside her. Hmmmm..... Maybe this gringa has balls after all. She heard footsteps in the hall outside. "They're coming."
Shannon was amazed at the speed the nomads used. In a matter of seconds, Shake was tilted back in a chair, idly picking his teeth with a toothpick as he balanced on the two back legs. The elder had crossed the room and leaned casually against the window frame, staring out into nothing and pulling at his beard. Dusky had literally flipped over the table, settling down on its top on the other side, facing the door. For all appearances, three lazy lions relaxed in the room, only there on the sufferance of their pride leader.
There was a rattling at the door and it was opened. There were four armed guards standing outside. A corporal stepped into the room, glancing about at the occupants. "Shannon Elias?" he asked them.
The courier stood as tall as her smaller stature would allow her. "Yes?" she asked, staring down her nose at the man.
"I'm to escort you to Gina Conway."
She glanced over at the Wolves. "And what about my friends?"
The corporal shrugged. "They stay here until I get different orders, ma'am."
Shannon sniffed, preparing to argue the point. She heard a low voice.
"Go. We'll wait."
The courier moved around the table, looking at Dusky. She caught the slight nod, sighing in return. With a frown, she turned back to the corporal. "Well, let's go then. I haven't got all day!" She stepped past him and out into the hall.
Flustered, the corporal followed and the door was locked behind him. Two of the guards remained behind as they walked down the hall.
After a long series of non descript hallways, turnings and branchings, they finally arrived at an office. The corporal knocked and ushered her into the room, quietly closing the door behind her and remaining with the guards outside.
It was a small office as offices went. No potted plant here, she thought to herself. There was a full set of bookshelves to one side and file cabinets on the other. The plump gray haired woman behind the desk stood upon her entry.
Reaching across the desk, she held out her hand. "Ms. Elias, I'm Gina Conway." She gestured the woman to a chair and sat down herself. "I hear you've been asking for me."
Relieved, Shannon allowed herself a small smile. "Yes! I have! I'm from the Canadian Government Ministry in Vancouver, British Columbia."
"And you have something for us, correct?" Conway echoed the smile.
"Yes, I do. Ten gigs compressed. You have the download codes?" she asked anxiously.
The older woman made a face. "Well, yes and no." She flipped through a file on her desk. "We received the codes for download, but our computers are acting up at the moment."
"Acting up?" Shannon frowned.
"Yes. They've been crashing with some frequency over the last two days." She looked at the courier with sympathy. "I can't authorize your download quite yet. I'd hate for you to be online during a crash. There's no telling what that'd do to you or the information."
The redhead sighed in disappointment. She had hoped to get it over with quickly and see if she could hitch a ride with the Wolves back to the coast. But they're leaving tomorrow, providing their not under arrest. She focused again on the woman who had continued talking.
"...in any case. We'll set you up with a room for the time being. Of course, you have free reign in the city. We only ask that you stay fairly close during business hours, just in case."
"What about my friends?"
"Friends?" Conway consulted the paperwork again. "Says you left with a platoon of Fort Lewis military. None made it in with you." She glanced up in confusion.
"No, no. There're three nomads being held right now. They picked me up during the Corps attack on the platoon. If it wasn't for them, I'd be dead now."
"Oh! Nomads, well...." Conway shrugged with a dismissive air. "We'll set them back outside the walls, no problem."
Shannon felt the pulsing of a headache in her temples. Her brow furrowed once more and she glared with royal blue daggers at the older woman. "You're not getting it. I want my friends released and allowed free access to the city. I also want them rewarded for helping me. They've lost time, equipment and blood to get me here."
The woman's eyes narrowed. "You're not exactly in a position to be demanding anything, missy," she grated.
"And you're not exactly in a position to be denying me, either," Shannon answered in the same tone. "Just because you're computers are down doesn't mean you own me. And don't think that I can't find a terminal somewhere. I can trash this," she tapped her right temple, "before you even have time to think." At loggerheads, the redhead took a deep breath. Try another tact. "Look, what'll it hurt to allow them out for the next day? They just want to blow off some steam and leave in the morning."
Conway stared at her for long moments. Finally, she nodded her stiff neck. "You've got it." She pulled out a keypad and began working on it. "They'll be released within the hour, given a hefty sum as a reward and allowed free reign for the night."
"Thank you!" Shannon breathed with a sweet smile. "I really appreciate it!"
The older woman raised a disbelieving eyebrow at the sudden, innocent young woman that sat in front of her, before continuing with the keypad.
Part III: The City
The Asian man was fidgeting at a late lunch for all the regionals and deputies and vice presidents and ad nauseum of the Azteca Corporation. It was a real time type of get together, so working through it was out of the question. He pretended enthusiasm for yet another president of some such department's speech, index finger tapping mindlessly on the rim of his plate.
Looking up, he saw a well dressed waiter holding out a silver tray with a piece of paper on it. Snatching it up with a sense of glee, he thanked the waiter and paused as the man moved away. He popped it open and quickly scanned the contents with a frown. Shimizu refolded it and put it in his pocket.
With a minimal amount of fuss, he stood and whispered apologies to his neighbors for the interruption. Quietly, he made his way out of the banquet hall.
Out in the foyer, he flicked his wrist and accessed his phone line. Dialing quickly, he activated the subvocal routines. Now he wouldn't have to speak aloud to be understood over the line.
"Shimizu! What do you have?"
"Some good, some bad, sir." The underling sounded fearful.
"What's the bad?" the man asked grimly.
"We were unable to appropriate the original courier, sir."
"No survivors again?" he asked, acid in his voice.
"Actually, sir, most of the operatives involved in this confrontation survived. Only twelve casualties."
"Well, demote the rest of them." He chewed his lip. "What's the good?"
Harrelson's voice lightened. Shimizu could even hear the smile. "We picked up another Canadian courier, sir. This one was heading for Boise, as well."
"Where'd this courier originate?"
"Edmonton, Alberta, sir."
Shimizu digested that data bit for a few moments, eyes moving back and forth as he considered options. "Good, good," he murmured. "Drain the courier, let's see what GovMin's doing with Uncle Sam."
"Not a bad job, boy. You're due for a promotion soon?"
The voice blithered. "Yes, sir! My review's in forty days!"
"Excellent. I'll put in a good word for you." The Asian disconnected the line despite the continued gushing of gratitude from the other man. "Well, well, well," he drawled to himself.
Adjusting the collar of his 'suit, he reluctantly returned to the lunch.
After completing her conference with Gina Conway, Shannon played hell trying to relocate the room the Wolves had been held in. By the time she was able to find the corporal who had escorted her and returned, the room was empty. All that was left were a few blood and whiskey stains on the table where Shake had been sewn up.
The courier was saddened that she hadn't gotten the chance to at least thank the nomads. She allowed the corporal to show her to her quarters inside the complex. They were small but well appointed with a sitting room, a bedroom and - Lord have mercy! - a shower! Thanking him with her best blue eyed smile, she shooed him away and locked the door.
Before she even reached the bathroom, she was as naked as the day she was born. She luxuriated in the warm flow of water, lathering up with the government issue soap. Rinsing off, she leaned her hands against the shower walls and let the water cascade over her small frame. As the water turned colder, she shut if off and stepped out, toweling herself dry.
Wrapping herself in the towel, she returned to the bedroom to investigate her clothing. The skivvies were a goner. Her shoes could be cleaned up without much problem. She sniffed at the jumpsuit and wrinkled her nose. Yick! It had only been two days, but the 'suit was ruined. Bloodstains from the HumV crash, her own sweat and fear, road grime and the acrid odor of incendiary rounds all made for a rather pungent cocktail on the cloth.
Well, now what? I can't very well run around in a towel, she groused, eyes glancing around the room. She noticed the closet and decided to investigate. Bingo! Several different sized jumpsuits of olive drab hung inside. Poking around, she found one that wasn't too large. Roll up the cuffs and legs and I'll be set!
Finally dressed, she dug through the pockets of her old 'suit. A small gold keychain with three keys on it, a lighter, a receipt for the trashed 'suit, her credstick, and a small round disc holder for her earring. The redhead shook her head mournfully. She hadn't owned much to begin with and now it was even less. Maybe on the way back, I could swing by and see if anything got left behind...... She really doubted that would be the case, however.
Well, at least I still have creds, she thought brightly. Time for a new set of rags. Transferring the items to her new 'suit, she headed out the door. It was early evening and food was a priority. Besides, a night in an American city? She couldn't pass that up.
After finding a cafeteria and filling her stomach with something besides military rations, Shannon had hopped a public transport and proceeded to wander about the downtown area, looking at the sights. She had found a clothing store and spent a good hour looking through the choices available before settling on one. When she had stepped back out onto the street, she was wearing a simple black strap dress that came down to mid-thigh and flats. A golden belt around her waist carried a small bag that held her worldly possessions. She had made arrangements to have the olive jumpsuit returned to the base and continued on her stroll in the late afternoon August sun. Eventually, her jaunt had brought her to the famed Ritzy.
The warehouse was five stories tall and made of stained concrete bricks. The first three floors of windows had been boarded up and painted over. From the looks of it, the paint job had been done about a hundred years earlier. She had been able to feel the beat of the music throbbing in her ears as she neared the building. The entrance had been located at the loading dock and was already looking pretty active for such an early hour. She had remembered Shake's words at lunch. "We gonna go to Ritzy's, Dusk?" And, with a hopeful smile and a shrug, she had made the decision.
'Pretty active' had been an understatement of epic proportions. It seemed to the Canadian that the entire population of Boise was housed within the walls of this place. And it was still early. She could hardly imagine what it would be like after the sun set. Shannon pushed her way through the crowds pressing around her. Bright lights flashed, the music thundered, and the smoke machines in the warehouse colored the air with hints of herbal scents. Cigarette and stimstick smoke and other odors of a more potent variety mixed into it, causing a heady aroma. Patrons were dressed in all manner of garish or somber colors, cybernetics and tattoos that sparkled incandescently, hairstyles of varying lengths and hues. The wait staff dressed in clear plastic swimsuits, male and female, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. The courier had been in similar bars in Canada, but the American equivalent had a rougher, harder, darker edge to it than she was used to.
Shannon clutched her drink firmly and made for the stairs she had seen on the other side of the dance floor. There was another level above of balcony seating. She'd been unable to spot the nomads in this mass of humanity. Maybe she'd have a better chance up top.
Above, the redhead moved a bit away from the stairs and leaned against the railing, peering down at the dance floor. Watching the people jump around in time with the beat reminded her of the dance that Dusky had performed that morning. Another memory, one of warm lips on hers, tongue questing, came unbidden and she closed her eyes with a shiver. She calmed herself, her breathing normalizing once more, before opening her eyes and continuing her search. I'm not here for that, she told herself primly. Just wanna say thanks and good bye. The little voice inside her head said, Yeah, you keep on telling yourself that, Elias, and she grimaced and drained her drink.
Not sighting her quarry below - which was tantamount to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack - she decided to check the balcony area. This level was a bit less frenetic than the one below. It seemed darker, too, as most of the lights were focused downstairs. Hanging from the ceiling over the dance floor were several square cages at eye level with her. At first glance, she thought the people inside were dancing. Upon closer inspection, however, she discovered that they were doing something quite a bit more intimate. With a blush, she continued to walk along and peruse the balcony, eyes avoiding the cages. As she neared a corner, the flash of a stimstick lighting up caught her eye. Peering into the darkness she could see movement.
A tall round table was littered with glasses and bottles, a dim light in the recess of it the only illumination. Four barstools were around it and two of them were occupied. On one was a pale woman dressed in very little. Black boots, tiny clinging skirt and almost nonexistent tube top contrasted against her skin. Her white blonde hair was short and spiky. A tattoo of a dragon spiraled her left arm to her shoulder, golden hues catching what little light there was and glowing. She was the one who had the stimstick, inhaling the euphoric smoke and laughing at something her partner had said. It was her partner that drew Shannon's complete attention.
Dusky had changed from her leathers into a pair of dark pants and a crisp white sleeveless shirt, the buttons undone to the navel. Her hair was down about her shoulders in long, luxurious waves. Her tan arms also contrasted with the blonde's skin where she had wrapped herself around the woman. Even as the courier watched, the Red Wolf nibbled on the woman's long neck, her right hand coming up to roughly knead the left breast through the cloth of the tube top. The blonde moved her head to allow Dusky easier access to her neck and took another jaded drag off the stimstick.
Shannon froze at the railing, blue eyes wide. Emotions boiled within, seething. Shock at the dark woman's apparent disregard for public displays of extreme intimacy. Excitement and desire, wanting to be the blonde. Anger at herself for even considering it. A stab of jealousy aimed at the pale woman. Too much for her to deal with cognizantly, she whirled around, grasping the railing for support and stared down at the dance floor. Despite the thin cloth of her dress, she felt the heat of arousal mixed with embarrassment and was having trouble breathing.
I have got to get out of here, she babbled to herself, gulping air. This wasn't what I had expected. This wasn't what I wanted. What did you want? I don't know! Just not this! As her breathing normalized, she got herself under control. Okay. Don't turn around. Just go back to the stairs and get out of here. She won't even notice, she thought with a sarcastic snort.
Despite her admonition, she snuck a peek over her shoulder as she moved away from the railing. She felt a pain in her chest as she saw Dusky's hand slide up the blonde's thigh, slipping effortlessly beneath the skirt. And then Shannon bumped into someone.
"Hey, gringa!" Shake said loudly with a grin, wrapping his good arm around her waist. He had changed, as well, wearing tan leather leggings and breechcloth, soft boots and little else. His shoulder sported white wrappings to cover his wound and that arm was in a sling. Dark eyes looked her up and down in frank appraisal. "You looking good enough to eat! C'mon! The party's over here!" He steered his reluctant package back towards the table she had been avoiding.
Not knowing what to do, she did nothing, letting herself be guided towards the two women. Shannon was glad that it was darker here, because she could definitely feel the blush rising. When they were within hearing distance, Shake hollered, "Dusky! Look who came to chip in with us!"
The pack leader, lips currently occupied with the blonde's, opened silver/green eyes to have a look. Those eyes narrowed and she broke off the kiss when she spotted Shannon. "Gringa," she said with a sultry smile. She ignored the blonde's grimace at the interruption and plucked the stimstick from the woman's hand, taking a puff off of it.
The teenager eyeballed the blonde and said, "Whaddya say, Dusk? Wanna trade?"
With a wicked lopsided grin, the dark woman nodded. Within seconds the two bewildered women in question had swapped places, the blonde firmly wrapped in Shake's arms and Shannon seated on a warm stool with the pack leader.
Shake pulled the disappointed woman away. "Hey, querida. Did ya hear about the Corps firefight on the wall today?" he began, steering her towards the stairs and the dance floor below.
The dark woman watched them go with a smirk before returning her attention to Shannon. Strange eyes regarded the lithe form and she smiled. "Nice dress."
The redhead fidgeted, smoothing out a non-existent wrinkle in the fabric on her thigh. "Um... thanks." Dusky's nearness intoxicated her and she fought for some control. Rather than meet the dark woman's eyes, she glanced quickly around. 'Where's Remy?" she asked brightly.
Shannon's discomfort wasn't lost on the leader. She grinned and reached for her drink. "Upstairs. As he said, one drink and then he unplugged." She drained her glass and waved for a waitress. Glancing at the glass still clutched in the courier's hand, she asked, "What are you drinking?"
"Um... what?" Strong tan fingers brushed hers as Dusky took her empty glass. She gulped. "Uh... I dunno. Just ... something...." Shannon rolled her eyes. God, yer a zero. Feeling the need to explain, she continued, "It was just something that they were handing out at the entrance."
Dusky nodded in amusement before giving the waitress their order. She took another hit off the stimstick. Seeing royal blue eyes watch her warily, she held it out to Shannon. "Want some?" The redhead eyeballed the smoking cylinder and gave a little shake of her head. But, her tablemate wasn't about to be denied. "C'mon, it's just a little stimulant. Takes the edge off, nothing more." The other woman looked doubtful. Hedging her bet, Dusky leaned forward and stared into wide eyes. "That's an order, gringa." She watched, curious to see what the woman would do.
Shannon blinked. Twice. She'd had her share of stimulants, back in her wild misspent youth. You make it sound like you're ancient, Elias. It wasn't that long ago. She recognized that it wasn't discomfort with the thought of having any, it was the presence of the woman offering. A spark of anger glowed deep inside at the realization. She saw the challenge in the silver/green eyes and took it.
With a practiced air, she took the stimstick from the dark woman and inhaled the smoke. Piqued, she purposely exhaled the smoke into Dusky's face, ignoring the slow grin that played across it. For good measure, she had another puff before returning it to the Wolf's hand. As the dark woman sat back, Shannon saw the look of concession on the beautiful face. Score one for the home team, she thought, beginning to feel a bit more relaxed as the drug hit her system.
Their drinks arrived and Dusky paid for them. Turning back to the courier, she asked, "So, why are you here, gringa?"
Shannon shrugged, her hands once again occupied with her glass, eyes avoiding the dark woman by watching the passing people. "Just out looking around. I remembered you and Shake talking about this place. When I saw it, I thought I'd see if I could find you." She felt the woman beside her shift.
Stubbing the stimstick out, Dusky took a sip of her own drink. Her eyebrow raised and she studied the redhead. "You found me. Now what?"
"Now....." The courier chewed the inside of her mouth. Now what, is right! "Well, I just wanted to thank you for getting me here," she continued. "When I got back to the room, you guys had already left and I didn't get the chance." She drained her glass and set it down on the table, her mind a turmoil. This isn't about a thank you, Elias, and you know it. You want her and you're just too chickenshit to say anything. The vision of Dusky with the other woman passed through her mind. But I want more than that.....
Dusky nodded in understanding. "I see." She looked away, watching the crowd, as well. She couldn't deny that she'd been attracted to the gringa from the very beginning. And after our kiss this morning, there isn't much doubt on how the little preciada feels. There was a danger here, however. The nomad could sense it clinging to the redhead. This wasn't a situation of mutual gratification and that was that. An undercurrent of something else was flowing between the two women and, truth be told, it scared the big bad pack leader down to her toes.
She looked back to Shannon who was distractedly staring at the blinking lights. The lights caused her eyes to sparkle and her red gold hair to shine. And this dress! Black and shiny, Dusky longed to feel its texture as it slid against the woman while her hands explored its length, wanted to peel it slowly away from the light skin as she caressed breasts and hips and thighs. She closed her eyes and inhaled, smelling roses. No more thought, she told herself.
Dusky reached out her hand and grasped the gringa's chin, turning the pretty face towards her. She captured the royal blue eyes and leaned over, brushing her lips against Shannon's. The redhead's eyes closed and she sighed softly, further exciting the nomad. She demanded entry as she had that morning, and it was readily granted. Eagerly the two women tasted of each other, a sense of urgency present that had been missing earlier.
Again, a soft hand grasped Dusky's wrist, feeling the wild pulse. I caused that, the redhead marveled. Encouraged by the rapid heartbeat, her tongue battled with the dark woman's and she devoured the nomad's mouth. Dusky retreated, sucking on the redhead's tongue and Shannon moaned deep in her throat as she explored this warm new haven.
The hand on her chin was gone. Shannon transferred both her hands to the dark mane of hair, feeling its thick silkiness run through her fingers. Her mouth continued to move with the other woman's, even as she felt the thrill of strong, warm hands settling on her waist. In seconds, she was no longer sitting on the stool, but across Dusky's lap, the heat of the nomad's body pressing against her right side. She thought fleetingly that they were in a public place and should stop, but when Dusky released her tongue and went to work on her throat and ear all mental activity ceased. She could only feel the warm, wet mouth on her skin. Shannon's right arm extended around the nomad's shoulders, her left hand remaining buried in dark hair.
Dusky nibbled the redhead's throat hungrily. She used her left arm to cradle the woman, her right hand fondling the sensitive side and hip and thigh. The texture of the dress moving against skin was exactly as she had hoped it would be - slippery and sliding, erotic. As her teeth and lips blazed a trail to a tender earlobe, her hand moved up to slide over a breast, teasing the nipple to attention. She felt Shannon's arm grip her shoulders convulsively and heard the low moan in her ear. The nomad traced the other woman's ear with her tongue, breathing warm air into it and causing the body in her arms to tremble. "You taste very good, preciada," she said in a low voice, delighting in the sound rising from the redhead.
Shannon was amazed at the passion and intensity she was feeling for this woman. She'd slept with others before, but no one had done this to her. Her body was on fire and she couldn't seem to catch her breath. Hearing Dusky's voice in her ear sent sharp pangs down to her center, a gush of wetness following in its wake. She tilted her head, licking and sucking a path along the dark jawline until she reached the ear. She sucked the lobe into her mouth and bit down gently, reveling in the sighing moan she heard in her own ear. The hand on her breast never ceased its movement, kneading and pinching the nipple, increasing the fire between her legs. Her body arched into the contact.
The redhead slid her hand from the back of Dusky's head, down the side of her neck to the front of her throat, and drew a slow line inside the white shirt down to the nomad's belly. She felt the muscles tense and shiver as if tickled, smiling as she nipped at the earlobe between her teeth. Shannon brought her hand back up to cup the breast under the cloth, brushing her thumb across the already erect nipple.
Dusky growled and renewed her attack on the woman's neck with a voracious appetite. With deft fingers, she slid the strap off of the pale shoulder and followed the path of the collar bone to the shoulder with her mouth. From there, she moved down, biting firmly into the chest muscle above the low dress collar. Her callused palm stroked the length of the redhead's body, slowly moving up the outside of her thigh.
"Dusky?" A throat cleared nearby.
The nomad growled again, this time in frustration and glared at Shake. "This had better be good," she grated. The bundle of female in her lap shifted, appearing to be in retreat. Dusky stopped that rather quickly, clamping her hand on the woman's upper arm and trapping the hand on her breast. Shannon looked startled but stayed where she was.
Despite the threat in his leader's voice, the teenager smirked at the women. "It's good, Dusk." His own arm was still around the blonde, who was glaring daggers at Shannon. Next to him was a very large man. "You remember Delva?"
Dusky squinted at the big man. He stood two inches taller than the teenager beside him and was about seventy pounds heavier, all of it muscle. He wore a white tank top that clung to his muscular frame, tucked into black, silk pants. His face was clean-shaven and his dark hair was done in a military buzzcut. Ritualized scars on his upper arms were done in the design of a private first class and on the skin outside of his right eye were two tiny red wolfprint tattoos, exactly like Shake's.
The dark woman grinned and reached out a hand, taking the man's forearm. "Delva! You stationed here, you dog?"
The large man smiled back, firmly gripping the packleader's arm. "Yep. Got here six months ago." He took the stool offered and settled down. "One more year and ETS."
Shake and the blonde also sat down at the table, the woman looking haughty and ignoring the other women at the table. The teenager snagged a drink from a passing waiter and sucked it down before reattaching his good arm to her. He was delighted with her jealous decision to pay more attention to him by moving closer and nuzzling his ear.
As the three Red Wolves caught up with each other, Shannon was silent and listening. Dusky idly grazed her upper arm, playing occasionally with the dress strap that was hanging there. Unable to help herself, the redhead used her thumb to excite the dark woman's nipple, brushing against it in slow, circular movements. Her reward was a sensual smile and a slight squeeze.
At one point, the conversation turned solemn. "Heard about the Aryan thing on the news," Delva said. "Shake mentioned something.....?" he trailed off, questioning.
Dusky looked down, marshalling her emotions. She inhaled deeply, wondering how many times she was going to have to do this. She looked back at Delva, silver/green eyes intense. 'All dead. Only us and Remy made it through."
A flash of pain and anger shot through dark eyes and Delva ground his teeth. "The Aryans?" he grated, eyes narrowed.
"Gone for good," his leader assured him. "We picked up the last one five days ago." Dusky leaned forward slightly, eyes boring into the man's. "Your family died on their feet, fighting. Your brother killed six of them before they could bring him down." She swallowed around the lump in her throat. "When you get out, I have a scalp for you - the one who took your father's life is no more."
Shannon had frozen at this turn of conversation, not believing what she was hearing. Sudden bloody images of nomadic warriors screaming battlecries and killing indiscriminately filled her vision and she shuddered. She felt a strong arm hug her and she looked up into an amused gaze.
Delva had nodded. "Thanks, Dusk. I'm just sorry I couldn't have flatlined him myself." He took a long swig from his glass. Looking the redhead over, he asked, "Is that the gringa I heard you brought in?"
"Yes, it is," the dark woman said proudly, for all the world like an indulgent parent. Her right hand reached up to brush red gold hair away from Shannon's temple and tuck it behind her ear, running her thumb over the delicate organ. The smaller woman shivered at the touch, trying to hold onto the spark of anger that had arisen at Dusky's possessive actions and failing miserably. "She's pretty, isn't she?" Dusky asked the big man with a lopsided grin.
Delva nodded in agreement and glanced at Shake, eyes flicking to the blonde that was running black painted nails up and down Shake's chest.
Catching the look, the teenager's face became regretful and he nodded. "Querida," he said to the woman. "Chip out. Family business." Within seconds, she had been pushed off the stool and away from the table. "Maybe later, sweetcheeks," Shake leered.
The woman stared at the Red Wolves for a second before marching off in a huff. Delva grinned and shook his head while the dark woman simply ignored her. Shannon wondered if she was going to be as unceremoniously dumped, but found that she was held in a firm grip on Dusky's lap. She frowned in thought.
Without pussyfooting around, the big man nudged a chin at the Canadian and said, "They want her flatlined."
"Kinda figured," Shake said with a nod. "The Corps lost a lotta manpower trying to get her."
"No," Delva said. "The government wants her."
Dusky's weird eyes narrowed. "What?" she snarled. The redhead in her arms stared at the American, shrinking away from the anger. It wasn't easy considering her location.
"The government wants her dead. Whatever she's carrying, they don't want."
"Of course, they do," Shannon broke into the conversation. "GovMin in Canada sent the file to them." She looked around the table at the speechless Wolves, realizing she might have stuck her foot in it. "I mean... um... What's the point of sending me here if it's just to be killed? Right? It doesn't make sense." She scanned the table. The three nomads stared for a second longer at the gringa, apparently amazed that she could speak for herself. She felt the slow burn of anger spark inside and she pursed her lips. I am not an idiot!
"She's right," Dusky said. "What would be the point of hiring her, paying her, and then rewarding us for getting her here?"
Scrubbing at his face, the large man shrugged. "I dunno... Uncle Sam moves in mysterious ways. You know that, Dusk," he indicated her cyberoptic implant. "They've been looking all over the post for her for over an hour. It's only a matter of time before they send soldiers out through the city."
Shannon shook her head. "No! That's not right! I spoke with my contact already." She looked into silver/green eyes, still shaking her head. "She knew I was coming and where I was from. They have my download codes! She said there was no problem with me leaving post so long as I hung around during business hours. It's a done deal as soon as I download!"
"Preciada, you still have the file?" Dusky asked in amazement.
"Yes. She said their computers were buggy and crashing. They didn't want to risk the data in a crash during download....." She trailed off as she saw movement across the table.
Delva was shaking his head no. "We haven't had any crashes, gringa. Not for the six months I've been here."
Shimizu stopped what he was doing, interrupted by the insistent buzzing of his phone line. "Shimizu!"
"Sir, sorry to bother you, sir, but you said...." Harrelson stammered.
"I know what I said. What have you got?" The Asian man sat up in bed, the red silk sheets pulling away from the prostitute beside him.
"The courier, sir, the second one. We've drained the data from the processor. It's really weird stuff, sir."
"Any ideas?" The woman stirred, stretching deliciously against the silk ties that held her hands and his eyes watched her move.
"Well, sir, the lab seems to think that it's some sort of virus program." Harrelson's voice sounded doubtful. "But it's set up for only one virus and nobody's ever seen it before."
"The program," he asked, "or the virus?"
"The virus, sir. As far as we know, it doesn't exist."
Shimizu frowned, thinking over the problem. "Is it possible to extrapolate from the program what the virus does?"
"I don't know, sir. I'll get the lab working on it now."
"Good. Let me know as soon as you find out anything. And I want a full report on my desk by morning."
Shimizu disconnected the line. His finger traced the path of a red welt on the prostitute's back and he listened to her moan with a smile.
The three nomads crowded into the leader's room, Shannon in tow. With Delva's bulk, the room seemed even smaller than it was. Dusky sent the teenager to collect Remy. Shannon curled up at the head of the bunk, the big man seated at the foot. The dark woman stared out the floor to ceiling window at the city below.
It was just beginning to move into late evening. The sun was still shining fairly high in the sky, but darkness was coming and the denizens of the night had begun to roust themselves. Looking down to the loading dock below, the crowd of people demanding entry to the warehouse had doubled from the time of the Wolves' arrival.
How many are soldiers? Dusky asked herself. How many off duty malandros seeking the gringa's blood? She glanced over at the redhead, seeing royal blue eyes swimming in a pallid face. The dark woman gave a reassuring grin and turned back to the window, the grin fading. And what has this to do with the Wolves? Nothing.
She closed her eyes when she heard the door open and the elder come in with Shake. I am not looking forward to this. Trying to convince elders to do anything was practically impossible. Trying to convince Remy, considering the target was the gringa, was going to be worse. She remained silent as her uncle and Delva greeted each other with quite a bit of enthusiasm. Staying silent, she waited until the talk in the room had stopped. Instinctively, she knew when all eyes were on her.
While Remy had been glad to see a familiar face, he was a little put out that the gringa was there. Didn't we get rid of her already? he mused as he had spoken with the big man. Shake said it was a family meeting. What's she doing here? The welcome reception finished, he settled down on the small bunk, his back to the redhead and his attention on his niece.
Without turning around, Dusky said, "Tell him, Delva."
The elder turned to the big man on his right and listened to what he had to say. His brow furrowed in confusion. "So?" he asked.
"Preciada," the dark woman said, her back still to them.
Remy's eyes narrowed at the use of the term. He frowned and turned to glare at the redhead behind him. When her story was finished, he turned back to his niece once again. "I repeat.... So?" he said, knowing exactly where this was leading.
"So." Dusky turned around and faced the Wolves, arms crossed in front of her chest. "I'm gonna get her out of the city."
Shake rolled his eyes and leaned heavily against the door. The big man at the foot of the bed raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her, mouth dropping open a bit. Shannon ogled her in shock.
Remy rose smoothly to his feet and stepped up, toe to toe with the dark leader. "What did you just say?" he hissed.
The woman glared back, bristling with a dangerous air. "I'm getting her out of the city."
"What the hell for? A fuck?!" the elder demanded. "Have you even bedded her, yet?! What makes this gringa," he sneered at the word, "so special that you'd endanger your clan, Dusky?" Remy turned to glare at the redhead. He waved a hand at her. "A puta is a puta. This one's no different than any of the others you've fucked."
Shannon shrank under the onslaught, knowing that the elder was right about one thing. There was no reason the dark woman should get involved. They're after me, not her. It'd only put her in danger. The other things.... Well, now was not the time. If there was one thing she had ever learned, it was to never get in between a family fighting.
The teenager by the door watched as Dusky swelled up behind the elder. He shook his head, closed his eyes, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Delva closed his mouth and swallowed, staring.
With a quick movement, the dark woman spun her uncle around to face her. She placed a hand on his chest and began pushing as she spoke, walking him backwards until his back met the wall. "This is not for a fuck," she said, her voice and face feral. "And what I find special about her is none of your concern. Mi preciada is not a whore and I will never allow you to say it again. Is. That. Understood?" she grated, punctuating her last three words by poking his chest with a finger.
He looked down at the finger on his chest before glaring back up at her. Softly, he said, "You forget who you're talking with, niña?"
"No, uncle. You forget. You are the elder here, not the leader. You advise. I decide."
They stood there for an interminable time, matching each other glare for glare. The other three occupants of the room held their breath and tried to be invisible. Minutes ticked slowly past, the tension palpable and alive, the contest of wills rampaging through their minds and hearts.
Remy searched the eyes before him for the girl he had known and found nothing. She was gone as if she never was. And maybe that was for the best. A leader couldn't afford the luxury of being a child. The elder hadn't expected to have this battle so soon. He had miscalculated the young woman's strength of purpose. So like her father. Stubborn. Opinionated. Seeing his brother glaring back at him through her strange eyes caused a shiver to course through his system. Strong willed. Proud. Wise. He conceded, dropping his gaze. It's time for the youth to take over.
The leader's eyes softened at the victory, saddened that it had to come to this. She brought her hand up to the back of his neck and gripped it tightly, placing her forehead on his and peering into his eyes. With a final squeeze, she released Remy and stepped away. Cold eyes scanned the other nomads, searching for any threats.
Shake blew out a sigh of relief, blinking at her. The large man on the bed nodded in recognition and respect. There was no menace here.
"Alright," she said. "Here's what we need...."
Gina Conway glared at the sergeant that was currently standing at attention in front of her desk. He was beginning to find out what many a soldier had discovered over the course of her career. The frumpy, overweight exterior hid a mind and heart of steel. She'd only been stationed in Boise for two weeks, so word hadn't gotten around to him and it showed. While she glared at him, he stared over her head, eyes cold and face arrogant.
"Let me get this right," she said. "You didn't put a guard on her door or lock her in the room."
"No, ma'am," the sergeant barked. "You said to be discrete and not draw attention."
"You didn't have her followed when she left base."
"No, ma'am. She was wearing a bug."
Conway picked up the olive drab jumpsuit that had been delivered to the main gate. She pulled at one of the buttons, revealing an electronic device. "And you, in your infinite wisdom, thought the bug would be all that was necessary?"
"Yes, ma'am," he growled. "I wanted to use it as a training exercise for my men. They don't have many opportunities to work with seeker tech."
"A training exercise." She sat back with an angry sigh, crossing her arms in front of her bountiful chest. "And now we have loose in the city a woman who could conceivably destroy everything we've fought for." She studied the sergeant. "What were your specific orders regarding this woman?"
"Maintain surveillance, wait for her to leave post, and terminate her."
"Well, one out of three ain't bad, is it, sergeant?" she asked sarcastically. Conway's eyes narrowed as she considered what to do. She already had the post up in arms hunting for the courier. The next step would be to send soldiers out into the city to locate her. As for the sergeant, she already knew what to do with him. "You're relieved of duty." The gray haired woman continued, ignoring his break from attention to stare at her. "Demoted to private and... oh, I don't know...." She studied his paling features idly. "I think a transfer to Death Valley is in order."
"But..... But..... You can't do that!" he sputtered.
"That's where you're wrong, private," she growled as she stood, leaning her hands on her desk and jutting her chin forward. "Now get the fuck out of my office."
The soldier appeared to be gearing up for an argument, but her steely eyes stopped him. Something alien sparkled back at him and he realized deep in the murky depths of his mind that he was getting off lightly in this confrontation. He swallowed his fear and returned to attention, snapped a salute and left.
Conway sat back down, shoving the jumpsuit aside to access her keypad. As she entered the soldier's new orders, her mind worried at the problem of locating the Canadian. At least she can't leave the city, she thought with some sense of satisfaction. If things turn out alright, she'll come waltzing through the front gates in a few hours and an accident can be arranged later.
The evening had been spent hashing over the different options the nomads had available to them. Dusky had ordered food and drink delivered and the five of them ate dinner as they talked. Eventually, the three men were sent out on their missions.
Remy left the warehouse to see if he could hunt down another set of wheels for Shake. They had planned on just waiting until they reached Seattle to find something, but it was better if the teenager had his own transportation should things go horribly wrong.
Shake, in the meantime, was off to ride Dusky's wheels around the wall to look for anything that they could use to their advantage, any weakness either in the wall itself or the guards at the gates. And when he returned, he was to stake out the bar, watching for any malandros looking for the gringa.
Delva had been dispatched to a few of his contacts in the city. His hunt was for a computer that met the specifications given to him by the courier so she could download the file. Dusky felt that the less Delva was used, the better, and her uncle agreed. No need to mess up his service time on charges of treason. The Red Wolves needed all their people to come back to them from the various service branches to become strong again.
It was now almost full dark. The moon was three quarters full and provided the only illumination in the leader's room. After putting the food trays out in the hallway for pickup, she had locked the door and went to the window. Silver/green eyes stared out, unseeing.
Shannon watched quietly from her perch on the bed, drinking in the moonlit vision. She couldn't think of the right words to describe what she saw. 'Beautiful' doesn't cut it, she thought. Not that she isn't. God, is she beautiful. Her eyes roamed up and down the woman's body, memorizing the play of light and dark upon it.
And the feelings she invokes in me..... Not just the physical, but the emotional, as well. Is this what it feels like to fall in love? The redhead frowned at the thought, looking inward. Am I in love with her? She shook her head. I hardly know her. She's just a kid. How can I be in love with her? Unable to resolve the issue, she set it aside for future consideration.
Another question came to mind, one that she couldn't answer.
The dark woman heard the movement behind her, felt a hand on her shoulder, heard the soft voice.
"Why are you doing this?"
Several answers came to Dusky's mind - some acidic, some flippant. Instead, she said, "I don't know. It's just something that I have to do." She glanced over at the redhead with a small smile. "Why did you come find me?" she asked suddenly.
A grin played across Shannon's face. "I dunno. It was just something I had to do." She allowed herself to be pulled into the tall woman's arms, leaning her head on Dusky's chest and wrapping her arms about the slim waist.
The dark woman luxuriated in the feeling of the body she held close. She had been right earlier in the evening. It's already too late. Just the intoxicating taste of the courier had hooked her and now nothing else would do. Dusky had to admit that she was very apprehensive about the foreign emotions roiling around within her heart. But now that she had plugged in, she couldn't disconnect. Too late.
Unbidden, her hands moved, rubbing the woman's back and shoulders, hearing the silky dress whisper as it shifted under her ministrations. One hand slid up into red gold hair, tilting the head back. Dusky looked down into hooded royal blue. She bent and tasted again the elixir that had claimed her in the bar downstairs, kisses rapidly changing from gentle to voracious, claiming the lips for her own.
Shannon felt a strong hand move down the center of her back and she shivered even as she brought her own hands up to clutch at well muscled shoulders. The hand kept moving to points further south, running past the small of her back and over the swell of her buttocks. Fingers dug into the soft flesh, pressing her against the nomad's body, delicious pressure from front and behind. The redhead moaned, the passion flaring once again to the flashpoint, liquid forming between her thighs.
The dark woman felt the muscles flex under her hand as the courier pressed her hips into Dusky's. The sounds the woman made incited her, inflamed her. She had to hear more. She released Shannon's mouth and focused attention on the long, graceful neck, biting and licking and nipping. She was rewarded for her efforts, soft pleasurable sounds tickling her ear.
There was movement, and the smaller woman felt something hard and cool against her back. She found herself pressed against the window, a wild nomadic warrior devouring her from the front. Even as it excited her, a thrill of fear coursed through her. What if the window doesn't hold? Turning her head to the side, she looked down at the crowds awaiting admittance. They'll be able to see! came the second thought, which caused her to blush furiously.
Her quarry pinned, Dusky had both hands free now and she made good use of them. They roamed up and down the lithe frame at will, caressing, kneading, pinching. Her lover gasped at the onslaught, turning her head to the side and exposing the tender throat. She descended upon it, biting firmly with a growl, as any good Wolf would do. Shannon's belt was removed and it dropped to the floor. The hands on Dusky's back moved to the front of her shoulders and began pushing her away, the courier's body squirming against her.
The attempt to break free further stimulated the nomad. Her teeth bit down harder on the offered throat, hands rising to grip the smaller wrists. She pressed harder into Shannon, enjoying the woman's struggles against her. She took both wrists and held them in her right hand, raising the woman's arms over her head. Her left hand stroked the firm breast, bringing the nipple to a peak. Leaning back a bit, she studied the woman. "What's the matter, preciada? Too rough for you?" she asked, a slight tinge of disappointment in her low voice.
"Mmmm... No," Shannon gasped, trembling, torn between wanting the woman to stop and wanting her to continue with the fierce attack on her body. "The window," she husked. "The people..."
Dusky looked at the window and then down to the crowd awaiting admittance to the warehouse. She nodded in comprehension, a small smile playing across her face. She took her hand away from the breast, causing the redhead to whimper at the loss. Using her knuckle, she rapped on the window. "Plastisteel," she said. "It's not going to break." Her hand then moved to slide behind Shannon, working on the fastenings of her dress as she leaned closer to whisper in her ear.
"As for the people, who cares what they see?" she asked, licking the lobe. "They'll see a beautiful woman," soft kiss, "in ecstasy," nibble, "being ravished," another lick, "and they'll be so jealous," warm hand slipping inside of the dress and sliding on the skin of her back, "because they'll never have you." The hand on Shannon's back moved inexorably down, fingers tickling the base of the spine. Dusky groaned in the redhead's ear when she realized that the woman wasn't wearing anything under the dress. "You're mine, preciada," she hissed, pressing against the courier's warmth once again.
"Yours," the redhead moaned, her struggles resumed with a different purpose. She rubbed her body against the nomad, tried to bring her arms down from their warm prison to touch and stroke the dark skin. Her mouth was captured in a rough kiss and she accepted it, craving more. Shannon broke off the kiss, scooting down against the window in a fervent effort to partake of the smooth neck. She whimpered when she was denied, the dark woman pulling away just enough to keep it out of reach. Suddenly, her arms were free and she reached for Dusky who fended her off, blocking her arms and forcing them to the redhead's sides.
"Stay," the nomad growled.
Shannon swallowed and licked her lips, fighting the need. The silver and emerald eyes flashed seductively at her and she nodded.
The pack leader smiled, releasing her lover's arms and raising her hands to the smaller woman's shoulders. She took a step back, ignoring the woman's sigh at the loss of body contact. Slowly, she drew the straps of the shiny black dress off, moving the dress downwards, revealing creamy skin. Black material fluttered to the floor and the redhead flushed at the frank gaze that caressed her body. "You are very beautiful, preciada."
She stood uncertainly at the window, her pulse throbbing with her desire, naked to her lover and the world behind her. In an unconscious gesture, she started to reach for Dusky, but stopped herself. It wasn't allowed. Not yet. And the nomad simply watched and waited. Not able to stand it, Shannon brought her hand up to touch her breast, a finger circling her areola softly. As the nomad's nostrils flared, Shannon grew bolder, teasing her nipple, bringing it to erection. Her other hand slid over to her belly, dropping down to play with her curls. The courier's royal blue eyes closed to slits as she felt the wetness on the tips of her fingers. Running one finger over her sex, covering it with her own juices, she held it up and out to the dark woman before her, an offering.
Dusky licked dry lips, fighting for control. She eyed the redhead intently, and began to remove her shirt. "Taste yourself," she grated, the white shirt falling to the ground. She nearly lost it as her order was followed and Shannon brought her finger to her mouth. There was a tentative lick, a smoldering look, and the smaller woman's eyes closed as she put the finger into her mouth to suck it clean, humming with pleasure.
A mouth found Shannon's, tongue pushing inside to swirl with her finger and the taste of herself. Again she was pressed up against the window, warm naked skin against hers. Shannon brought her left leg up, rubbing the knee against the outside of a strong thigh, pushing her wetness against it. Dusky's hand stroked the leg, nails scratching lines from her rear to the tender skin behind her knee. The courier gasped at the feeling of strong muscles against her and ground her hips into the dark woman's thigh. Her hands found Dusky's bare buttocks and she pulled her closer, reveling in the feel of it.
The dark woman allowed the heated rubbing, matching the smaller woman thrust for thrust. The redhead's breathing became more erratic, as she was brought closer to the peak. Dusky returned to the pale throat, sucking and biting. When she felt that Shannon was close, she pulled away just a bit, ignoring the discontented sigh. The hands on her rear tried to pull her close again, but they were no match for her determination. She got hold of them again, transferring them to one hand and pinning them between Shannon's back and the glass.
Dusky held her body just out of reach of the redhead. She leaned her head against the window to one side of the red gold hair, her own dark hair hanging and tickling Shannon's breasts and neck. "What do you want, preciada?" she asked softly.
The smaller woman couldn't find the words. She tried to catch her breath, to still her heart, to try and think, but it was all for naught. Her body ached to be touched, her center dripping and throbbing at its lack of attention. She inhaled sharply as long fingers ran the length of her, barely touching but inciting the throbbing to triple. Her brow furrowed.
"What do you want, preciada?"
Shannon shook her head angrily, a tear leaking from beneath closed lids. Again the fingers slid against her wetness. Again they were withdrawn. She moaned loudly in frustration.
"What do you want, preciada?"
"You," she was able to finally whisper. She felt lips on her shoulder, kissing. They moved slowly down, stopping at her breasts to suckle. It seemed to take forever as the mouth and tongue traced a fiery path down her body. She felt a warm hand caress her inner thigh, teeth nipping at the tender flesh, before guiding it, draping it across a broad shoulder.
Shannon's hands were still being held behind her, but the dark woman braced her against the window to keep her from falling. She leaned forward, inhaling deeply of the musky arousal. With her tongue, she cleaned the wetness from the redhead's thighs where she had overflowed, reveling in the soft cry. With her free hand, she moved aside the fleshy folds, caressing.
The sensation of Dusky's strong tongue stroking her almost put the redhead over the top. "Oh, God," she groaned. And then the nomad was doing exactly as she had said she would do, ravishing her with an audience of a hundred in the streets outside. She felt fingers thrust into her, filling her, and she rocked against the woman beneath her. Loud sounds came from her mouth as she panted and moaned and begged. Dusky released her hands and they flew to the dark head, pressing it closer. When the nomad took her swollen nub in her mouth and began suckling, it was the end, and she convulsed against her lover's mouth, calling her name over and over.
Dusky rode out the woman's orgasm, drawing it out, increasing its intensity. As she felt Shannon go limp, she guided her down until she was leaning against the window and seated on the floor. Long arms gathered the redhead up and the two sat in the darkening, watching the moon.
The Asian man was awakened by his phone. Blinking wearily, he answered it, looking at the chronometer on his arm. "Shimizu!" he insisted, noting that a new day hadn't started yet. Not even midnight.
"Harrelson, sir. I think we've figured it out." The younger voice sounded excited.
"Well, spit it out, man!" Shimizu sat up in bed again, this time alone.
"The program we acquired - the virus it protects against.... Sir! It's a marvelous piece of programming!"
The Asian sighed in frustration. "Get on with it, Harrelson," he growled.
"Um... yes, sir! The virus appears to be a mutating one, sir. Just when a program has been able to detect and clean it, it'll shift just enough to propagate further! This proggie we've gotten mutates along with the virus, apparently keeping it at bay."
"And we don't have the virus?"
"No, sir. Presumably it's with the other courier. The one that we didn't get hold of."
Dark eyes flashed. "Report in the morning, Harrelson." And he disconnected the line. After a few minutes thought, he accessed his phone line again, this time dialing out.
Shimizu's entire manner changed from arrogance to submission. "Yes, sir, Shimizu, sir. I realize the hour, sir, but this is very important. Yes, sir. No, sir, but it has to do with Canada GovMin and Uncle Sam. Sir? I would suggest that we hit BoiseGov now."
Continue on to Part Two