I'll be watching.
Callie McDrake winced against the sudden bright light flooding into her tiny shelter. Pucklauncher already in hand, she peered at her visitor. Her eyesight wasn't so good these days. Widespread disease that often accompanies war had all but ruined one eye, and made the other highly sensitive to light. Spending most of her time in the dark didn't do much to contribute to it either, but in these harsh times, daylight was to be avoided at cost of life. Still, though blurry, the lithe silouetted form was unmistakable.
"Raye. Don't you believe in knocking?"
"On what?" The younger woman asked. Point made and dropped.
"Major McMallard sent for you half an hour ago," Raye continued, her voice characteristically cool. Callie wondered, not for the first time, how old she really was.
"All right. I'm coming," Callie replied, pushing herself up with a creak of stiff bones. She just wasn't as young as she used to be.
The two women made their way through the reckage of the former capital. Though Draganus had disappeared over a year ago, along with the first strike team and, rumor had it, the legendary mask of Drake Ducaine, the chaos had continued. Old grudges and traitorous acts had led to a muddle of civil war and feuding of the surviving upper classes, vying for control.
And there were still the droids to be dealt with. Draganus had left behind many of his battle machines, which had gone literally berserk at the loss of a central control. There were rumors of a rogue saurian behind the droids' bloody attacks, but these were unfounded and generally rejected.
But it was for these reasons that the populice of ducks had to stick to the shadows and shelters.
The two women finally arrived at a beat-up-looking old transport that lay on its side against what used to be an old prison facility. Raye nimbly leapt on top of the vehicle and rapped on the door. A few minutes later, the door lurched upward and open and a male duck poked his head out.
"Raye, tech ops and special missions agent. Callie McDrake, Strike Commando."
"Entrance permitted," the guard grunted in approval. Raye lowered herself into the transport, followed by Callie. As soon as all three ducks were inside the front portion of the vehicle, the guard ordered them to stand back against the wall. he then opened a hidden panel under the steering wheel and flipped a switch. The two female ducks found themselves shooting down and elevator tube, formerly unrecognized as such. Neither were surprised by this, however. Raye had helped design it six months ago.
The transport stopped at the intended destination, some hundred meters underground.
A gray-haired man greeted them.
"Major McMallard," Callie commented, "I'd thought you would be waiting in your headquarters."
"I was, Ms. McDrake, but I had to retrieve some files from another section."
"Pardon my asking, sir, but isn't that Donald's job?"
"It was. Donald died last night."
"Oh God. I hadn't heard. What happened?"
"That depends on who you ask," the Major responded bitterly.
Raye explained: "Donald had the Fever. He was delirious and was raging about last night in the open. We couldn't get to him before the droid did. It...tore him apart, but he was already too far gone by then....."
"Shit," Was all Callie could say. An uncomfortable silence enveloped the three as they walked down the corridors to McMallard's briefing room. Donald had been like a son to the Major. Rumor had it the the younger duck had been intended as the Major's daughter's husband. But then, that was only rumor.
The briefing room was already occupied, surprisingly. Callie recognized the some of the other four ducks as top secret military agents. What in the name of Ducaine's candy-ass--?
"I'm sure you'd like to know why I called you here," the Major began, with his usual pomp when displaying his power. The other agents seemed a little less than impressed. Callie tried not to stare. These were some of the most highly trained, not to mention deadly, ducks on the planet. What was going on?
"Tha' would be bloody helpful, major," said a rough-looking agent with a strong Eastside accent. He dressed in an open safari outfit and carried a whip (!?) at his side. The male duck sported a hat and bandana and a long, crooked scar up the side of his beak. He also had the air of a real wise-ass.
"Easy on the sarcasm, Cleech," a second agent said, his voice smooth as a knife's blade. This one dressed totally in black, like Raye, and had slicked back black hair and cold blue eyes. He was dead gorgeous.
"Thank you, Agent Thornefeather. I have assembled you all here because you're the best of the very best, and the mission I'm requiring you for calls for your kind of expertise."
"Get to the bleedin' point," Cleech growled. The Major glared at him but continued.
"We've found the energy source for the droids. It's in a hidden location just a mile east of Twin Beaks. Resources tell us that a teleprtation unit was spotted there as well. We want you six to infiltrate the facility, deactivate the power source, and then teleport yourselves to Draganus' current location and take him down."
That last put everyone present in shock.
"That's suicide! I didn't join this team just to jump into the fire," A buff young duck said. He had the clean-cut look of a marine. Must be one of the tops, Callie thought.
"I understand your reserves, Captain Pato, but-"
"How do you even know that teleportation unit will send us to Draganus? We don't know where he is...And the facility is bound to be cloaked." the last agent, a slim male in his prime, made the point of saying.
"That's where Raye comes in," the major said, a grin present on his visage. All agents turned to the young female. Raye raised an eyebrow.
"You must be joking," She said finally.
"I never joke, my dear girl."
"I hate to disappoint you, sir, but my....talents have never been tested in that sort of situation. I wouldn't suggest-"
"Wait," Cleech broke in, "What 'talents' are yer speakin' abo't? Tech stuff or what?"
"Not exactly," McMallard stated. "Raye is a brilliant young mind in that field as well, but she is also a talented practioner of, hmm, other kinds of fields."
Raye winced as the others stared at her suspiciously.
"God, sir, she's a kid," Callie finally said, unable to stand it any longer.
"It's a shame, Ms. McDrake, to be sending our children into battle, but this is war. Raye, I have every confidence in you. In all of you. Let's go over the plans, shall we?"
Raye had a tense look on her face, matching the permanently stormy weather outside. The younger woman was usually strictly devoid of emotion. Callie worried.
Leaning over, she asked Raye quietly "Are you all right?"
"What do you think, Cal?" She replied coldly. Callie shut up and leaned back, wondering again why she herself had been assigned to this mission. She had always led a good Strike team, but this was a highly sensitive operation. Cleech leaned across from his seat.
"So," he said, far too casually for Callie's opinion, "What do you do?"
"I'm a Strike Commando. I lead raids and that shit. Why? What do you do?"
He grinned, a menacing look on his face. "I hunt people."
A brief stare down insued between the two. Callie lost.
"What abo't you, love? You know some kinda secret t' seeing through cloaks or what?" Cleech asked of Raye. He was greeted with a look that actually made him regret asking, though he showed no sign of it.
"What I do is no secret. It just isn't high in public opinion."
"Well, join the ruddy club, luv. I'm a bounty hunter, after all."
"Cleech! Keep it in your pants or you go back without it," Thornefeather snarled. He had taken an unchallenged form of leadership over the team, having a sort of unquestioned superiourity. And no one else really wanted the task. Callie now knew all their specific talents:
Ian Thornefeather was a super-agent long before the invasion. The kind of devilishly handsome top secret mission operator that they loved to write movies about, back when movies still existed.
Cleech (his full name unknown, if Cleech was actually any part of his true birth name), obviously, was a bounty hunter. Callie wondered how they'd managed to get one of his kind into this kind of work, considering their reputation, but he had to be good at what he did for McMallard to even consider it. Cleech's rugged good looks made his personality almost bearable. And he was a dead-shot with that whip, which had an electrical surge in it that could stun or kill, depending on the setting and his mood.
Captain William Pato was literally the "best of the best". The top Marine in all of Puckworld. His battle record was unsurpassed in military files predating, well, a very long time ago! He also had an unshakable By-The-Book attitude that Callie just knew was going to start annoying her very soon.
And last, but not least, was Hal Webster. He was trained in ways of technology, particularly destroying it, that even Raye didn't know about. And that was saying a lot. How he was in battle, however, was to be seen, since he hardly looked like a fighter. Callie worried.
"Raye, we're coming up on the coords," Pato announced. He sounded like a young McMallard.
Raye unbuckled and stepped up to the cockpit. She glared in the direction ahead for a moment.
"I see it," she said. "Lemme fly."
"Are you licenced?" Pato asked. Raye narrowed her eyes and he held up a hand in defense.
"Captain..." Thornefeather said sternly.
"If we crash it isn't my fault." He did, however, relinquish his seat and Raye took over.
The craft turned slightly, veering toward the right. Suddenly, they passed through the barrier. The other agents gasped.
"We gotta go...through that?" Said Hal. The fortress was huge. Bigger, Callie realized, than the original structure that Draganus had used as his citadel, according to their specs. It was just as ugly, however, and had an eerily alive look to its design. Red metal tendrils wrapped around needle spires, frozen in a lifeless mockery that resembled pain.
The others looked on in horrid fascination, wondering how they had been talked into this, and how they were going to penetrate what looked to be an impregnable stronghold. Raye obviously had something different on her mind.
"They must use the spires to gather energy from the lightning in this area. The high electrical currents coming from Twin Beaks have enough charge to them to power hundreds of droids for weeks. Ingenious."
"It's ugly," Callie said, her loathing evident to all.
"Kinda phallic in shape too, but you didn't hear that from me," Raye said, dead-pan serious. She recieved some shocked looks from the other agents, particularly Hal. Cleech laughed.
"The main power generator should be through that door," he said, as they peered around the next corner. There was a huge door there, heavily sealed with a saurian symbol on it.
"Good work, Hal. Lemme verify that with headquarters," Thornefeather said, typing a code on his wrist comm. They'd had to use manual communicaters for this mission. No telling what the droids could pick up on.
As they moved forward in twos, Cleech, having been teamed with Callie by default, leaned close to her ear.
"Somethin' ain't right, luv."
"What do you mean?" She asked, irritated.
"There should be some kinda guard, don't y' think? Droids aren't programmed t' be irresponsible y'know."
He was right. They hadn't seen any sign of the saurian machines anywhere. Callie had thought to count it as a stroke of luck, but now...
"Methinks there's a traitor among us, m'lady," he whispered, for only her to hear.
"How do you know it isn't me?" Callie asked, knowing he wouldn't reveal these to someone he didn't think he could trust.
"I c'n see your type a mile away, and it isn't the sneaky type. No it's one o' them," he said, nodding at the others ahead of them. "How well do you trust th' girl?" He asked of her.
"With my life," she said in a tone that warned against questioning.
"Do y'? Then it leaves Pretty Boy, th' soldier, and th' bomber."
"You think Hal's capable of it?" Callie wanted to know, squinting at the young scientist as he tried to figure out the door code.
"Not really, but y' can never be to cert'in. Something else bothers me: your eyes. You can't see too well, can you?"
"The way you keep avoidin' the lights an' squintin' an' all. It doesnae affect your aim, does it?"
"Do you think I'd be on this team if I couldn't aim a gun, Cleech?" Callie growled. He'd touched a sensitive spot and he knew it.
However she was too disturbed to stay angry long. The idea that one of their own could turn on them at any minute mad eher more than a little anxious. Dammit all! She glanced at Raye, wondering if they'd actually survive this.
"Ah! Got it!" Hal exclaimed. The door hissed open.
There was an overwhelming silence behind the hum of the huge power generator. Callie looked to see if the others noticed, but they seemed obliviously.
"Well," Thornefeather said quietly, a satisfied tone in his voice. "This should be easier than I'd expected. Hal, get started on the bombs. Pato, stay with him. Raye, you and Cleech start looking for those teleporters. You know what they look like? Good. They should be located somewhere in the left wing there, according to specs. Callie, you and me will be keeping lookout."
"Looks like it's me an' you, kid," Cleech smirked as he followed the lithe young duck towards the specified wing. There were numerous containment units there, all sealed and coded.
"Cripes. Which one is it?" Cleech groaned. Raye studied the units curiously. Finally she pointed at one that looked a bit different from the rest.
"This isn't a containment unit. It's a teleporter."
"Wha-? But that's too big....isn't it? I mean, I was expecting individual wrist-teleporters....'
"So was I. Apparently, we were wrong. But it there's one this big, that means this place isn't intended soley for storage...."
"Wait a minute there, lass. Are you tellin' me what I think yer tellin' me?"
"There's something alive here," Raye said tonelessly.
"Mother of Ducks...." Cleech swore, chills threatening to creep up his back.
"Don't say anything yet," Raye said, glancing back at the others. Cleech realized she'd come to the same conclusion as he. There was a turncoat among them, and there was no telling that one would strike. the younger duck began to manipulate the wires under the control panel.
"Thornefeather, I've got some bad news," Callie said, meanwhile.
"I think we have a traitor. I'm not sure who. We may be walking into a trap here."
"Are you sure? That's a terrible accusation against top military agents you know."
"I know," Callie said, glancing around nervously.
"I'll keep an eye out for trouble," Thornefeather assured her. She smiled, grateful that he was taking her seriously.
"Almost set," Hal told his much larger partner. Pato grunted, glancing over at Cleech.
"That bounty hunter makes me nervous," he stated, disgust in his voice. "How did he get called on this mission?"
"You're asking me? I'm more worried about the girl anyway. What is she supposed to be? Her file said she was a Special Missions Agent." (S.M.A.? Heheheh....sorry.)"But she looks kinda young. I don't think she's out of her teens even."
Pato grunted again, obviously a man of few words. Hal set the last lock code on the bombs.
"That should do it," he said.
"Yes, that does at that," hissed a definitely nonduck voice. Startled, the two swerved around to see a large, darkly scaled saurian standing in the center of the room, having materialized out of thin air, along with several score of hunter droids.
"Oh shit!" Callie snarled, seeing them at the same time. She whipped out her pucklauncher and aimed at the saurian, only to feel cold, hard metal pressed to her temple. She regretfully realised her mistake.
"You were right, Captain McDrake. There is a traitor among us," Thornefeather said cooly.
"Uh oh," Cleech said, seeing what was going on.
"It's open," Raye said quietly, also recognizing the situation. "We got problems."
"Thank you, Thornefeather," the saurian was saying. "Would you please call the rest of your 'team' out here where I can see them?"
"Gladly." Thornefeather turned to the direction of Cleech and Raye. "Raye! I have your friend at gunpoint here. If you and that bounty hunter don't show yourselves in two seconds, her brains'll be decorating the walls."
"Shit," Cleech swore.
Raye silently stepped into the open, hands in the air. Cleech hesitated, his sense of self-preservation putting up a good fight with his honor, which he did have.
//I know you can hear me, Cleech. Just follow suit. I know what I'm doing.//
Cleech restrained gasping. Raye's voice had been so clear, it could have been spoken aloud yet he knew it hadn't. This was getting deep. Was she some sort of telepath? He didn't have time to really question, because some of the droids had joined them as a form of 'escort'.
He glanced at Raye. She seemed to be struggling with something internally.
"Agent Thornefeather," she said in a voice far too calm for the occation, "You are a disgrace to your species."
He shrugged. "Just remember who's being held at the wrong end of a pucklauncher here kiddo."
The saurian was staring at Raye intensely, however.
"Wait, aren't you-"
He didn't get any farther because the droids surrounding Cleech and Raye suddenly turned and opened fire on their master. The saurian let out a screech, barely avoiding being incinerated. Thornefeather let out a string of explicits, and Callie took the moment to jab an elbow into him. While he bent over in agony, she swung around and landed a fist into his upper back. Following suit, Pato opened fire on the hunter droids, while Hal displayed his fighting ability, bringing a surprisingly strong martial arts kick into the nearest droid. The machine fell over and short-circuited.
"Heh. I'll never make fun of the bombing squad again," Pato said with a grin. "And to think I had the impression they kept you guys busy equations up there in Intelligence."
"Et tu, Brutes," Hal grinned back. "Welcome to war!"
Meanwhile, Cleech was using his whip without mercy on the robot. And Raye, well, he wasn't sure what she was up to, fiddling around with the teleporter, a grim look on her face.
Thornefeather was laying on the ground, motionless. Callie hurried over as best she could to where Cleech was doing his best to keep them both safe. Shooting wildly, she took out five more droids.
"Some crowd, eh?" Cleech yelled over the blasts. "You think they like our performance?"
Callie smirked. "By the turnout, I think we're up for an encore."
Her minor joke had been correctly predicted. More droids were pouring in. There were too many for them to ever hope to beat.
A billowing of smoke and a hissing sound foresaw worse. The saurian had teleported across the room via wristport and was now confronting Raye.
"I thought your kind were demolished during the initial invasion, child," he hissed.
"They were," she said coldly, no emotion evident on her face.
"A pity. We could have been allies. I know why you've come, of course...."
Callie opened fire on the saurian. Looking vaguely irritated, he raised a clawed hand toward her. An energy beam issued forth, burning a hole in Callie's belly. She fell.
Raye angryly lashed out with a previously hidden ducksaber. The saurian easily avoided it.
"Pathetic. I would expect one such as you to use your naturally-born talents..."
"You keep thinking that," Raye replied, continuing forward till she was standing directly in front of the teleporter. The droids had taken out Pato and Hal. Cleech was barely holding his own. And Callie....she was still breathing, but the blood pooling around her was almost black. That meant the shot had taken out her liver. She wouldn't make it. However, the older woman wasn't going down without a fight. She aimed her launcher one last time.
"This is for Duke," she whispered the name of the man she'd lost. She pulled the trigger and breathed her last breath.
The shot was a little off. Her damaged eyesight had won in the end. It missed the saurian's cranium, instead hitting him in the shoulder. And seriously pissing him off.
"Damn you!" he cursed the dead woman, wishing she'd lived a few moments more for him to take his revenge. Cleech glanced at the bomb. Only a few seconds left.
"Get outta here, Kid!" he shouted. Someone had to survive.
"I will. But you're coming with me," she replied calmly, grabbing the scruff of his color and pulling him close. The saurian just grinned, no longer fighting.
"If you actually manage to find your way out of dimentional Limbo and find the Raptor, tell Wraith that Spectre, his son, sends his regards." Spectre raised his hand and shot another energy beam, this one weaker, however. Callie's bad aim had proven useful after all, the injured arm only able to manage pushing the two ducks through the teleporter into dimetional Limbo. He laughed gleefully, and perhaps a tad bitterly, but his victory was shortlived as he realised there was still the bomb to deal with. He reached for his wristport, only to discover it missing.
And time was up.
The explosion shoot the earth for miles around. A cheer could be heard answering it for nearly as far.....
To be continued in Chapter One.....