by Redhawk


Copyright: 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 cant really say it only belongs to Gibson. Everything else is mine.

Warnings: 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?

Comments to Redhawk. No bad mouthin', lippy, attitude stuff. Honest criticism would be appreciated.



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.



The Job

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.



The Journey

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.



The Attack

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 Corporation

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 cycle 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.



The Escape

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."


The Pursuit


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 short 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, clean 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.



The Government


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?"

"Yeah. Some."

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.

" 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 Ritzy


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.

"Mr. Shimizu?"

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."

"Yes, sir!"



"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 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."



The Conspiracy


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 Darkening


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."


Part IV: Survival


The Dawning

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah. Just thinking."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," was the whispered reply.

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

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

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

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

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

"Feel better?" asked the low voice.

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

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

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

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

"You do?" came the plaintive question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Siege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You okay to move now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shannon frowned. "Blacksuits?" she asked.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Shannon frowned. "Input?"

"Girlfriend," Shake supplied over her right shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Remy? Shake? You got anything?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You okay?" a low voice asked.

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

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

The courier blinked at him. "Accepted."

Remy nodded.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shit!" Dusky cursed again.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Corps, ma'am!"

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

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

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

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

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

Justice had been served.


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

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

With radio jamming in effect from the Corps, it took precious moments of time for the information to filter back to HQ at the base. Finally, the danger was assessed and troops were found to support the defense.

As the two forces engaged each other, the commander smiled and picked up his radio. "Comrade Two to Comrade One. We are engaged, repeat, we are engaged. She's all yours."

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"C'mon! Through here!"

Dusky looked at the big nomad, eyebrow raised.

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

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

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

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


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

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



The Virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Aryans."

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

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

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

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

Dusky felt the redhead tense under her hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, I'd say you passed."


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Dusk."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The courier grinned at her enthusiasm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The computer plague had begun.


Part V: Omega


The War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Score three for Uncle Sam!"

"And one for the Corps," Boss muttered.

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

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

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

"Four to two!"

"Shaddup, Mac," another voice cut in.

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

The other 'copter wasn't as lucky.

"Dammit! I'm hit, Boss!"

"Pull out, Mac! Follow Snoop!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Seven to three," the major murmured.


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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir. No mercy."

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir." There was a pause.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Caused it to crash?"

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

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

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

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

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

"What'd he say?" Shannon asked.

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

"True," the redhead murmured.

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

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

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

"Double dealing."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dusky considered it and nodded. "Sounds good."

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

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

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

And then the power went out.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

"Think you could eat some?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?" The hands on her shoulders stilled.

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

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

"You have it," was the response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you want, princess?"

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Flight

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

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

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

"Sir?" the aide asked.

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

"Yes, sir."

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


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

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

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

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

Mine, was the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remy nodded at her.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Really?" Shannon asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Delva!" Shannon exclaimed.

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


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

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

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

She didn't trust them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"Show me which gate!" McAndrews ordered.

The aide moved forward and eagerly pointed out the position.

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

"Yes, sir."

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

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

"Let's kick some Corporation butt."


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

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

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

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

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


Part VI: Future

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

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

"Missiles! From outside!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Yo, Dusk."

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

"Time to get up," he said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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



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

Congratulations to two lucky individuals this month!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two women walked towards the cookfire arm in arm.



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

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

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

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



Author's Note:

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

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

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

August 30, 1998

Additional Note:

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


December 17, 1998





CAPOEIRA: dirivitive of Brazilian, is my guess.



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