ECHO LANCE
By Dax
Chapter four - Retaliation


 

Nightfire-

I slept peacefully on the mattress in the guest room. Small golden spires of sun peeked through the blinds over the window. A small figure padded silently into the room, then over to me. I slowly woke up as I felt a light weight rest itself on my back. Then I smiled a little when I felt a small vibration as the cub started to purr. I slowly opened my eyes and looked over my shoulder to see Rosepetal napping on my back.

"Good morning," I said and rubbed Rosepetalís back. Seeing that I was awake shi quickly jumped off my back and started to run around playfully. I slowly got to my feet and was immediately pounced by the energetic cub.

I had been staying with Rivermane and Sunrise for a little more than a week now. The cubs treated me like I was a part of the family. Their parents were grateful that I was able to take care of them while they tended to other things. I did my best to help out around the house. I felt I owed it to them for letting me live here. There was also the issue of finding a job, and I spent a good deal of my spare time looking around. I was having a little trouble finding one, but I was assured that I could take as long as I needed.

I finally got control of the squirming cub and padded out into the hallway then headed for the kitchen. The smell of bacon, hash browns and eggs drifted through the house. It was a little later in the morning and breakfast was already on the table, Sunrise looked over at me as I came in with Rosepetal.

"Good morning dear," shi smiled. "How did you sleep?"

"Very well thank you. I had a little help waking up," I replied as I put Rosepetal down and she ran over to hir mother. Brook then raced up the small flight of stairs from the living room into the kitchen to join hir sister.

"Where is Rivermane?" I asked as I looked around.

"Shiís left for work already. Shiís one of the head officers at the police station," Sunrise replied as shi gathered up the cubs. I nodded, feeling a little silly for having forgotten that Rivermane always leaves early for the station. Then settled myself at the table as the three of them left the kitchen. I still couldnít get over how good Sunriseís cooking was. Everything Iíd eaten here was immeasurably better than what I had to eat in Delhi. I quickly ate my fill as I nearly inhaled the delicious meal.

The large bay window next to the table gave a good view of the small patch of forest behind the house and I looked out at it with a satisfied grin. The snow covered trees shimmered in the early morning sun, it was a very peaceful scene. I stared out the window for a little while, then gathered up the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I then went to take care of the cubs while Sunrise started cleaning up the house.

 

The normally peaceful forest around Sylverís cabin was suddenly filled with the sound of a deep metallic groan. Sylver kept his thumb on the ignition button as the metal beast around him shuddered in protest. The large, powerful turbine in its belly rumbled as it struggled to start. Finally there was a tremendous roar and the vehicle came to life. Sylver grinned as once again the Landmaster proved its reliability that had made it a transport of choice when it was in service. He then felt the body rise slightly as the hydraulic suspension came on line. Everything on this vehicle was built to last forever and take a huge amount of punishment.

Sylver then shut off the turbine and it sputtered to a stop. From the inside Sylver lifted the armour cowling on the turbine. He then started to pull tools out of the large metal box beside him and tried to realign the turbine shaft. It was true that the Landmaster would continue to run even if nearly destroyed. However, Sylver didnít want it operating in that condition.

Andrea was planning on coming over some time today as well to help fix up the Landmaster. It had started out as a wreck, but after about a week of hard work it was almost fully functional again. Everything worked well except the engine. Its mountings were very worn, and the turbine shaft kept slipping out of place. Andrea would be checking at the parts shop to see if the mountings he had ordered were in yet. With any luck they would be. Then the Landmaster would be in perfect working order. Until then he did his best to make the worn out components work. The instability of the turbine also made Sylver worried about using the liquid fuel booster that was fitted to the engine. When the fuel was injected into the engine system, it would convert the magnetic turbine into an old style gas turbine. While it was less efficient it provided far more power. Unfortunately, the force of the combustion could throw the turbine right out of alignment, destroying the engine completely.

Sylver finally finished and put the cowling back on the engine. There was nothing for it. Until the new mountings were in it wouldnít run smoothly. He was a little disappointed as he walked around to the front of the cabin. He washed off his hands under the hose tap then looked around at the forest. It looked like spring around his cabin. The tall trees around it usually shielded it from snow. The weather was also starting to warm up, melting what little snow was left. It seemed as though the change of seasons was coming early this year. Sylver chuckled to himself as he thought of how glad Nightfire would be to hear this news.

It wasnít too long before Sylver heard a PTV coming up the gravel pathway towards the cabin. It pulled up to the front entrance of the cabin and Andrea climbed out.

"Good morning Sylver," she said cheerily as she walked over to hug him.

"Good morning to you too," Sylver smiled as he returned the hug. Sylver then saw that the back of her PTV was sagging somewhat. Sylver grinned, "The mounts came in didnít they?"

"Indeed they did," she said as she released Sylver. She then went to open the trunk as Sylver ran off to get the engine hoist out of his garage. The mounts were large and very heavy. The hoist would be needed to move them. He wheeled the hoist out to the PTV. The two of them secured the chains around the two mounts and then lifted them out of the trunk. Sylver then started up the Landmaster again, moving it to the mounts instead of the mounts to it. This was going to be a difficult task, but they were confident that they could have it done by the end of the day.

 

Nightfire-

Two weeks ago I never would have dreamed that I would be going out to find a real job. Thatís what I was doing now though. I padded through city center, luckily the sidewalks had been cleared of snow. As much as I liked looking at snow, I really didnít enjoy walking through it. I still had to get used to the climate around here. My paws were still sensitive to the cold. There was a gentle breeze and I tightly pulled the jacket around myself. I then quickly darted into the first open shop I came to. Without even looking around I knew this was a hardware store. The scent of cut pine hung heavily in the air. It was actually quite pleasant, like standing in the middle of a forest. I stood there with my eyes closed for a little while, enjoying myself until I heard a voice behind me.

"Can I help you?" asked the voice. I turned to see an artic fox vixen with snow-white fur standing behind the counter. She couldnít have been more than a year older than me. She had the most intriguing ice blue eyes. They seemed to give a very piercing stare despite her friendly expression. I finally shook myself out of the little trance I was in.

"IÖIím looking for a job," I managed to say after a bit of hesitation. The vixen thought for a moment then nodded to me.

"Okay, I think we might have an open position. Just give me a second," She said. Then she disappeared into a room behind the cashier counter. I could hear her rummaging through papers for a little while before coming back out. She handed me some kind of information sheet,

"The manager isnít here right now but if you fill out this application and bring it back Iíll be sure that he gets it." I took the paper and nodded mutely. I was still mesmerized by her eyes, it was the strangest thing. I quickly brought myself back to reality and made a hasty exit before I ended up saying something stupid.

I didnít give much thought to the paper in my hand as I made my way back to my temporary home. The only picture in my head was those bright, glaring eyes. I could have sworn she was looking right through me, past my eyes and into my mind. It was a little unsettling but very interesting at the same time. I didnít even get her name. I couldnít seem to think straight at all. I was abruptly brought out of my daydream when I wandered into a snow bank. I jumped back and shivered a little, then continued on my way.

I finally got to look over the application form as I walked up to Rivermane and Sunriseís den. It really didnít seem that complicated, just a few bits of personal information. The cubs enthusiastically greeted me when I returned. They were followed soon after by Sunrise, who shooed away the cubs for a moment so I could get my coat off.

"So, how did things go?" shi asked quietly.

"Not too badly," I replied. "I tried a few places but only got an application form from one of them." Shi nodded to me and smiled.

"One is better than nothing." I then quickly handed the form to Sunrise as the cubs resumed their playful attack on me.

I finally got to filling out the application after the cubs were put down for their nap. Everything was fairly easy to fill out except for one thing.

"Education? What am I going to put down for my educational history? Iíve never been to school." I sat there staring at the form for a long time. I had no idea what to do with this. Sunrise then padded into the kitchen.

"Technically you could say that youíve been home schooled. Other than that Iím not sure what you can do." I frowned, this didnít seem like it would work. I took Sunriseís suggestion anyway and hoped that it would work.

 

Rivermane-

There were times when I thought that law enforcement involved entirely too much paper work. This was one of those times. I had been writing almost continuously since I got to the station. It didnít help that there was a man shouting insults at me every now and then. He had been involved in an isolated HF incident. He also seemed determined to put me in a very bad mood.

"You stupid animal! How did you end up running a police station? You should be on a leash taking a walk in the park!" he yelled at me from his cell.

"Iíd watch my mouth if I were you," I said with a soft growl. "As you pointed out I do run this station. What happens to you is up to me. So you should try to be a little more tact." That seemed to shut him up, at least for now.

I gave a bit of a satisfied smile as I managed to get through half the reports by lunch. I then switched on the com on my desk to check in with the officers who were out on patrol.

"This is Rivermane, how are things looking out there?"

"Quiet as usual," replied one officer.

"Donít worry. Weíll let you know if anything important happens," said another. There were a few more similar statements before I acknowledged them and switched off the com. Small towns were always quiet. I had only worked in a few larger cities before. Things were always in a mess then. I had no time to take a break.

"Hey you gender challenged fur ball! Are you gonna let me starve or am I getting lunch?" My claws flexed slightly. I was not in the mood for this. Instead of giving him his usual lunch I simply pushed a few cans of rations through the bars. I didnít bother to open them. I was still feeling nice enough to toss an old style can opener in there with him. I smirked as it turned out that he wasnít familiar with older kitchen utensils. He spent the better part of an hour trying to open the stubborn cans, cursing at me the whole time. Doing that was a little out of character for me. Still, seeing him struggle with the cans made my day. It also made my work a little easier to deal with. Unfortunately it wasnít too long until he went back to shouting at me. This was going to be a long day.

 

It was now early evening. Once again the silence of the trees was disturbed by a mighty roar. The Landmasterís floodlights bathed the clearing in a harsh white glare. It rose up on its hydraulics like an awakening beast. A large wolf and slight red fox stood next to each other. Both of them grinned as the electronics lit up and came to life. The cockpit was filled with a soft green hue as the tactical displays came online. The wolf then rested his well-built frame in the driverís seat. The machine bellowed again as he pushed the throttle forward slightly. The much smaller vixen sat at the tactical station, smiling at him. He then pushed the throttle further. The metal beast edged forward, then around to the back of the cabin.

"It runs like a dream," Sylver smiled.

"Indeed it does," Andrea agreed. "Nice work Sylver," she said as she leaned over and hugged him gently. Sylver put his arm around her.

"I had some help." Sylver shut off the engine and the two of them sat together for a little while.

"You still owe me dinner," she said finally.

"So I do," Sylver nodded. "Come on, lets go cook something up." With that they retreated back into the cabin.

 

Nightfire-

It was getting a little late and the hardware store was about to close. I was standing around the corner from the entrance. I will still deciding whether or not I was going inside. That vixen was still working. It appeared that her shift hadnít ended yet. I wasnít sure what I would do when I talked to her again. I nearly jumped out of my fur when I heard her voice behind me.

"Are you alright?" she asked. It quickly turned to see her poking her head out the buildingís side door.

"IÖuhÖhello" I stammered. "How did you know I was out here?" I asked in confusion. The vixen smiled, then pointed to the big garage door on the side of the building.

"The managerís a little paranoid. So the storeís loading dock has a security camera. I saw you standing out here for about fifteen minutes." My ears turned bright red in embarrassment. First because she had seen me standing out here. Second because Iím a skilled thief and I was too distracted to notice the camera. "Were you coming back to show your application?" she asked.

"YesÖI was, Iíll go in the front door," I replied a little sheepishly. I padded into the hardware store, still feeling a little nervous about talking to that vixen again. She emerged from the back room. She was followed by a chakat whose fur pattern had a striking resemblance to that of a raccoon. The chakat smiled warmly,

"Welcome, Iím chakat Blackears, daughter of Swiftwind and Onyx. I believe youíve already met Kate," shi said motioning to the white fox. I nodded,

"I met her earlier today. Iím Nightfire, daughter of Nightshade and Firedancer."

"Not from around here are you?" asked the rather large chakat.

"No Iím notÖis it that obvious?" Blackears chuckled,

"No one around here has short fur during this time of year." I then realized that my jacket probably gave me way as well. Iíd not seen another chakat wearing one since I got here. I handed over my application and waited a little nervously as Blackears looked over it. Then shi looked up at me,

"Iím not sure what youíre so worried about. This looks fine to me." I blinked in confusion, again forgetting that all chakats could sense others feelings.

"So, do I get a job then?" I asked tentatively. The burly chakat smiled,

"How about you come in Monday and weíll get you started." I grinned excitedly.

"Iíll be here first thing in the morning." I then said a quick goodbye and rushed back to tell Sunrise about the good news.

 

Ryan sat quietly in the hanger bay aboard the Echo Eagle. He sighed softly as he looked about at the equipment stored there. Earlier that week he had taken Sylverís advice and left the spaceport where the Eagle was kept between missions. It hadnít been particularly exciting. Boise had more than enough things to do. Ryan just wasnít interested. The engineering room of a ship is where he always felt most comfortable.

He had managed to get the Eagle back in top working condition since they came back from Chakona. Now there was little to do on the ship, he almost wished they would get another mission soon. Ryan looked up at the huge bay doors that dominated the side of the Eagle. This old ship had seen a lot of action, but somehow it always seemed to get out of tight situations. Its ability to operate at the brink of falling apart always amazed him.

Ryan perked his ears as he heard the faint hiss of the main access ramp opening. A tiger morph in a security uniform walked in. She started looking around the shipís hanger then padded over to Ryan.

"You donít leave here much do you?" she asked as she sat down on a cargo container a few feet from him. He slowly looked up then over at her. She wasnít very big. Her build was toned but not heavy. She had a very athletic look.

"No, no I donít. I donít like leaving the ship alone. Someone might break in."

"You donít give the security officers enough credit." The two of them have had this conversation before. The tiger visited Ryan every so often while she was on duty.

"I know Kim, but unexpected things can happen."

"Thatís what weíre here for," smiled the tigress.

"But what could I possibly do besides stay around here?" sighed Ryan.

"Well, my shiftís almost over. You could come with me and get some fresh air. Then we can watch a movie or something." Ryan raised a questioning brow.

"You mean like a date or something?"

"If you want to call it that," Kim grinned. Ryanís tail twitched as he thought about it, he was still uncomfortable about leaving the Eagle. However, he was in the mood for a change of pace.

"Alright, Iíll go. Just come and get me when your shift is over."

"Iíll do that," said Kim, then hugged Ryan before leaving the ship. The fox smiled softly as he watched her leave, then started to feel a little nervous. He had never been very good with females. Now he hoped that he wouldnít embarrass himself. Ryan sighed softly and relaxed. It wonít be so bad, he thought to himself. After all, we know each other pretty well. With that we went back to wandering around, thinking about what might happen that night.

 

Sylver-

Saturday morning and I was up at the crack of dawn. I had some work to do as today was the day I finally showed off my newest project. That of course was the Landmaster, I had spent most of the week fixing it up. Now it ran like new, and I couldnít wait to test what it was capable of. I was sitting up in the turret on the transports roof, it housed the vehicleís only defenses: a pair of 40 cal. machine guns.

After I finished cleaning up the turret and weapons I climbed back down and made sure that everything else was good and dirt free. I wanted the Landsmaster to look showroom worthy, and I did a fairly good job of it. I stepped out and turned to look at my handiwork. Aside from the scratches in the armour, the whole thing had a faint but satisfying shine. I looked almost like it had just rolled out of the factory. I was rather impressed that it turned out so well.

I went back inside to get something to eat before I left. I would be bringing the Landmaster to Roccoís place. He had a large field behind his bar. I had also packed some weapons in the locker inside the Landmaster. Hopefully I would get a chance to go out to the shooting range afterwards. I also had my truck parked inside it. I couldnít take the large transport down most of the streets in Whiteriver, and I still wanted to be able to get around if I needed to.

The Landmaster came to life again as I was finally ready to leave. It ran much quieter now with the new turbine mount in place. In place of a thunderous roar it gave a low rumble as it went down the winding path to the highway. The ride was surprisingly smooth considering that this was primarily an off-road vehicle. I simply couldnít get the smile off my muzzle as the large transport weaved nimbly around the dirt roadís tight turns then out onto the highway. The Landmaster quickly picked up speed, itís powerful engine pushing it on with no trouble at all.

Once again the highway proved to be more or less empty. But that was good as the Landmaster was only just barely street legal due to its size. Thankfully Roccoís bar wasnít too far from the outskirts of town. I saw Rocco standing out in the parking lot as the Landmaster rumbled up to the building. I opened the door next to the pilotís chair as he walked up to the transport.

"Just park it around back, then Iíll have a better look," said the aging panther with a smile. I nodded to him then drove around the bar to the field behind it. I shut down the engine and climbed out as Rocco came out the barís back door.

"So, what do you think?" I asked as I walked over to greet him.

"Thatís one big truck," he commented then started to look it over.

"That it is," I chuckled, then turned to see both Andrea and Duncan come out as well. Duncan smiled broadly as he admired his friends work, the Landmaster looked to be in pristine condition. Andrea ran her hand over the smooth polished armour, then smiled.

"Nice touch Sylver, this thing almost has a showroom shine," she said. I then got a bit of a surprise when I saw Nightfire emerge from the back door, followed by Nightwind. The smaller tiger striped chakat looked in awe at the dark green piece of machinery.

I opened the back hatch and gave a bit of a tour of the inside of the Landmaster. There wasnít much to show however, everything aboard was very functional and fairly dull. This hadnít turned out to be quite as successful as I had hoped. After everyone got a good look we headed back inside for a drink.

 

Five men sat quietly within the cabin of a scout vehicle. All of them were clad in light body armour and wore combat helmets that hid their identities. Their leader, who sat in the drivers seat, turned to face the rest of them.

"Is everything prepared for the operation?" he asked.

"Our hit man is a little late but otherwise weíre good to go," replied the second in command. The commander nodded,

"We donít have time to wait for him. We should be able to keep our targets distracted for long enough." With that he powered up the scout vehicle. It started to float silently with its anti gravity pads. Like a menacing shadow it drifted out of its hiding place in the trees and started towards its target.

 

Those who had come to see the Landmaster turned out to be the only occupants of Roccoís establishment. It wasnít surprising though. It was still fairly early in the day. A lively conversation had started as the lot of them sat down for a drink. Sylver was a bit disappointed however. His project had turned out to be less of a spectacle than he had hoped.

Nightfire on the other hand was terribly excited about hir new job. Though shi wouldnít admit it, Nightwind figured that shi was also eager to meet the vixen that worked there as well. Duncan was rather impressed with how much effort Nightfire had put into finding a job, as well as how quickly shi was able to do so.

It wasnít long until Nightwind decided to go back to the kitchen to make lunch for everyone. After quickly writing down the orders shi disappeared into the back. Conversation continued and Rocco brought out more drinks. Nightwind, as usual, had the delicious meals prepared very quickly. The conversation slowed a little as everyone sat down to lunch.

The two chakats were the first to look up when they heard the low hum of a hover vehicle outside. Soon everyone started to get up, wondering what was in the parking lot outside. They couldnít see it as it had approached on the side of the building, not the front where the windows were. Then there was an unsettling silence as the humming stopped. Sylverís hand started to slowly reach for his pistol. Everyone else also became a little tense. Then there was the sound of many careful footsteps outside on the gravel. There was more than one person out there.

The front door suddenly burst open and two men in black armour rushed in. Everyone dropped to the ground as the automatic weapons that the men carried started unleashing their fury upon the bar.

"Turn over the tables and get down!" called Sylver as he quickly returned fire. But even with his skilled aim the pistol was no match for the rapid-fire weapons. Then another two men ran in and started towards the tables that had been turned on their sides to be used as shields. The closest to the front door was Rocco. No one was able to get past the cover fire to help the panther as he was grabbed and bound by the two men. Rocco struggled as hard as he could as he was carried out of the front door. Sylver growled viciously, coming up from behind his table to empty another clip at the attackers. He was forced back down as more fire came from the guards at the door. The armed men then backed out of the door to follow their partners.

"Rocco!" cried Nightwind as shi kept over hir table in pursuit of the kidnappers. Duncan and Sylver quickly followed hoping that they could still stop the armoured men. Their efforts were in vain. The scout vehicle started to leave as soon as the four men jumped in with Rocco.

In all the confusion Nightfire had slipped the keys to the Landmaster out of Sylver's pocket and left out the back door with Andrea. The two wolves and chakat turned in surprise as they heard the transport roar to life behind the bar. The three of them hurried around back to join the vixen and chakat.

"Duncan, get in the turret," Sylver ordered as he sat down in the captainís seat. "Rounds for the turret are in the munitions locker. The chain feeds up through the bottom of the gun," Sylver instructed. Andrea, Nightfire and Nightwind quickly loaded the twin turret while Duncan climbed up into the gunnerís seat. The large transport actually kicked up a bit of gravel as it accelerated hard. It powered out of the back lot and out onto the highway.

The kidnappers had tried to take a short cut through the trees, but only succeeded in slowing themselves down. The Landmaster was only a hundred meters behind them as it pulled onto the road. Duncan quickly found his target and opened fire, pounding the hovercraftís engine nacelles.

"We were never informed that they had a military vehicle," said one of the men franticly as they were hit.

"It doesnít matter," replied the commander. "We have to complete the mission. One of our men is behind bars and we need to get him out. Weíll be getting info from him on when and where to strike next. This way we gain intel and hurt Echo Lance at the same time. Now man the guns and return fire!" the scout vehicleís pilot ordered. One of the men quickly complied and scrambled up into the hovercraftís small turret. The other three had their hands full trying to hold down Rocco. He was proving to be more trouble than they had expected. They had only managed to get his wrists tied together and a gag in his muzzle. He continued to kick and claw at the men as best he could, hopefully distracting the pilot and causing him to make a mistake. The scout craft jolted suddenly as Duncan managed to knock out one of its drive units. The hovercraft started to slow down, allowing the much less nimble Landmaster to keep up with it.

Sylver growled as he saw the gun turret come to life atop the kidnapperís vehicle. Itís single light machine gun started rapidly sitting out a stream of bullets. However, the hail of small rounds simply ricocheted harmlessly off the Landmasterís thick armour. Duncan responded with another volley of heavier rounds from his twin-gun turret. Thankfully the highway was completely devoid of any innocent drivers who might be hit by stray fire. This also allowed both military vehicles some room to maneuver, but it wasnít much. Despite having superior armour and firepower, Sylver was still worried about this situation. The kidnapperís scout vehicle was quicker and had far greater endurance than the bulky medium transport. Duncan was managing to do some damage, but they didnít have much ammunition left. The scout craftís speed advantage was gone, and that was good, but it would still be able to keep running longer than they could chase it. Sylver then made his decision, they would have to run the hovercraft off the road.

When Sylver purchased the Landmaster from the junkyard, he had also managed to get a hold of some liquid fuel. It was the old kind that had been used in internal combustion engines. The Landmaster could use it to boost the power of its turbine. Sylver hadnít been able to test the boost system, but it was the only way they could catch the kidnappers now.

"Andrea," called Sylver over his shoulder. "Just to the right of the supply locker is a release valve. Open it all the way, then all of you get yourselves strapped and secure," he ordered. Andrea nodded mutely and did as she was told, pulling as hard as she could, she finally got the valve to open.

"The fuel lineís charged Sylver," she yelled before joining Nightwind and Nightfire in the back of the transport. Sylver flipped open the cover of a switch on the control panel. His finger hovered over it for a moment as he said a silent prayer, then flipped the switch and braced himself. The Landmaster shuddered as its exhaust port belched black smoke. Then the turbine gave a tremendous roar followed by an abrupt burst of acceleration.

The scout craftís pilot looked in surprise at the rear-view monitor as the huge transport seemed to suddenly leap forward at them. Sylver held the Landmaster steady as it rushed forward. The big metal beast slammed into the back of the scout craft, causing the pilot to lose control of the damaged vehicle. The hovercraft veered wildly of the road and into a clearing surrounded by forest. The vehicle was then quickly halted as it broadsided a tree, nearly knocking the tall pine over. The Landmaster skidded to a stop at the opposite end to the clearing, blocking any escape. Escape seemed unlikely now though, as the hovercraftís anti-gravity units failed and the vehicle fell to the ground with a heavy thud.

Sylver leapt up out of the pilotís seat and threw open the Landmasterís weapons locker. Nightfire was absolutely shocked at the intensity of the anger that was emanating from the wolf. Never in hir life had shi felt such a powerful rage. Sylver pulled a huge rifle from the weapons locker and slammed a magazine into its side.

"You three arm yourselves just in case but stay in here. Duncan and I will take care of this," Sylver ordered. The two chakats and the vixen nodded mutely as Sylver opened the rear-loading hatch. Duncan gave another burst of suppression fire from the turret. He did his best to take the kidnapperís attention away from Sylver, who was now on one knee on the Landmasterís loading ramp. Sylver carefully lined up the rifles long barrel, setting his sights on the hovercraftís turret. Sylverís weapon gave a thunderous crack as he pulled the trigger, the recoil nearly knocking him over. The machine gun on the enemy vehicle simply blew apart as the rifleís big, high explosive round hit its mark.

The kidnappers were now frantic. The dazed gunner stumbled around the cabin, his ears still ringing from the explosion. If that wasnít bad enough, Rocco had once again managed to kick off some of his restraints. The old panther was proving to be more of a problem then they could have imagined. The commander practically jumped from the pilotís seat into the cabin as another echoing crack sounded from Sylverís weapon. The cockpitís windscreen blew apart, sending a bit of shrapnel into the cabin of the scout craft. In the confusion Rocco broke the grasp of the man holding him and stumbled out of the hovercraftís side hatch.

"Donít just stand there, get him!" cried the commander as he got back to his feet. The two men baring automatic weapons complied as quickly as possible.

Duncan had come down to join Sylver after the turretís ammo had run out. The two wolves rushed forward as they saw Rocco running out from behind the hovercraft. Sylver then growled viciously as he saw the men in black armour emerged in pursuit of their escaped captive. Both the wolves and the kidnappers leveled their weapons on each other. However, Sylver was the first to fire, but surprisingly he wasnít shooting to kill. The ground in front of the two men erupted, sending them tumbling to the ground. Sylver then moved with almost unnatural swiftness. He was on top of the men in an instant. Both of the stunned bandits tried to bring their guns to bare on the wolf, only to be met forcefully with the butt of a rifle.

Duncan just finished untying Rocco when he saw the last two men come around the other side of the hovercraft to try to attack Sylver from behind. Both of them stopped dead in their tracks as they were met by the huge burly wolf. The men hesitated, debating whether or not it would be a good idea to even attempt taking on the massive fur. But their hesitation cost them. Duncan easily landed a hammer fisted right hook on the first man. The force of the blow threw him into the side of the hovercraft, then he hit the ground hard, completely unconscious. The second kidnapper looked as his fallen commander then back up at Duncan. His helmet hid the expression on his face, but his body language made it fairly clear that was no longer in a fighting mood. Duncan growled and grabbed the neck of the body glove that the man wore under his armour. He lifted the man with one arm and held him against the side of the scout vehicle. Duncan held him so that they were eye to eye, the manís feet dangling almost a foot from the ground.

"Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?" growled Duncan. His tone was amazingly calm, but the anger in it was unmistakable. The man only gave a feeble whimper in reply. The bandit was then met with the far less patient gaze of Sylver, who had come to help interrogate the man after incapacitating the other two. Sylver pulled the man from Duncanís grasp the threw him back against the hovercraft again. There was a vicious snarl on his muzzle, and a very menacing look in his piercing eyes. He leaned closer to the man until his nose almost touched the visor of the manís helmet.

"You were asked a question," Sylver said slowly. "I suggest you answer."

The man remained stubbornly silent, despite the growing fear he had of what might happen. Nothing had gone according to plan. They had not expected there to be another military vehicle. All they really were was a distraction to get both members of the Echo Lance team out of the picture while the real job was carried out. The man then heard a small click, and seconds later found himself staring down the barrel of Sylverís pistol.

"Iím not in a very patient mood right now," Sylver growled as he pressed the weapon to the visor of the manís helmet. "You had best start talking before I decide that youíre not worth the trouble anymore." The man broke out in a cold sweat, he had been through combat training, but was by no means a hardened soldier. The threat of death quickly broke his defenses.

"Okay! Iíll talk! Just donít shoot," the man almost sobbed. "Weíre just here to distract you. We couldnít risk breaking our guy out while Echo Lance members where there to stop us. Our hit man was going to force the local police chief to release the operative they captured. Shiís a chakat so holding one of hir cubs hostage would get hir to do anything. Youíre too late now though. With any luck out man is already free."

Sylver froze for a moment. He knew exactly who the target wasÖRivermane. Sylver roared and threw the man to the ground,

"Tie them up!" he yelled, then sprinted for the Landmaster. Nightfire and Andrea started gathering restraints in the Landmaster while Nightwind tended to Roccoís injuries. No one had a com with then and the Landmasterís damaged com had not been a high priority on Sylverís repair list. He would have to get back to Rivermaneís den a quickly as possible. Sylver flung open the door of his truck that rested in the Landmasterís cabin. The Defender gave a low whine as Sylver started it up, then floored the accelerator. The powerful machine practically launched out of the back of the Landmaster, then tore off towards town.

 

A lone figure remained motionless down on one knee as he surveyed the home of his target. The trees and dense foliage around him shielded him from view. His elevated position on the plant-covered hill gave a good view of the surrounding area. He was assured that there would be no complications. All he had to do was sedate the parent and make off with a cub. He lifted his high power air rifle and loaded a tranquilizer dart. He wasnít to kill anyone or the plan wouldnít work. Then his mark came into view. He adjusted the scope and saw hir through a bay window in the kitchen.

He had the crosshairs right on hir neck when something distracted hir and shi moved away from the window. The man cursed silently, then after a moment saw what had caught hir attention. A forest green truck skidded to a halt in front of the house. The man cursed again as he saw a wolf morph who was wearing a very distinctive hat climb out and run for the house. ĎDammit!í He thought to himself, ĎThose idiots didnít keep them occupied for long enoughí. He loaded and cocked his rifle, then continued to watch the house through the weaponís scope. After a little while longer he saw the wolf emerge from the back door, scanning the yard for anything that was out of place. Then a wicked grin crossed the hit manís face as he saw a cub watch the wolf from the bay window. ĎThis might not turn out so bad after allí he thought as he brought the scopeís crosshairs to rest on the unsuspecting wolf.

 

Sylverís anger had turned to fear as he raced back to Whiteriver. He wouldnít know what to do if anything happened to Rivermane and hir family. The truck flew full throttle down the deserted highway. Sylver honked the horn wildly as the truck screamed around turns and rocketed through the streets.

Rivermane was doing a little housework while Sunrise was out shopping. Rosepetal and Brook wrestled each other in the living room while Rivermane started to clean the floor in the kitchen. Shi was just about start mopping the floor when shi heard the sound of a couple of large electric motors running at high speed. Rivermane quickly padded to the front door to see what was going on.

Shi was a little alarmed to see Sylverís truck screeching to a halt in front of hir den. Hir concern grew as shi saw him run from his truck with his pistol drawn. Shi could feel that Sylver was absolutely terrified of something, but shi had no idea what.

"The cubs! Where are the cubs?" he asked in a panic.

"Theyíre just playing in the living room," Shi assured him, as shi did hir best to calm the frantic wolf down. "Whatís the matter?"

"Hide them. A hit man is trying to kidnap them and hold them hostage until you release some prisoner at the station." Rivermane took a moment to think about what Sylver was telling hir. Then it occurred to hir that they were probably after the loud-mouthed man who had just recently been arrested.

Rivermane quickly went to gather up Rosepetal and Brook while Sylver checked around the hose for anything suspicious.

"Now you two stay here and keep quiet until I tell you itís okay to come out," Rivermane instructed hir cubs as shi placed them in their crib. Shi then hurried to hir bedroom down the hall to call Sunrise, who luckily had a cell phone with hir. Rivermane didnít want hir mate to come home until whatever was going on was dealt with.

Brook had laid down to rest, but hir younger sister Rosepetal was restless and still full of energy. Curiosity soon persuaded the little red and orange chakat to climb out of the crib and see what was going on. Shi quickly and silently padded downstairs and into the kitchen. Shi peeked in and saw Sylver walking out the back door. The little cub made hir way over to the big window next to the door and curiously observed the wolf.

 

Sylver-

I didnít know what to do now. I was in a frightened panic. Terrible memories came back to haunt me as I scrutinized every corner of the denís lower level. Nothing bad would happen to anyone this time, not if I had anything to say about it. Trouble just seems to follow me, I keep moving from one fight to the next. It wasnít a good way to live.

I then moved my search outside the den, walking out into the back yard. There was still a chill in the air as spring had yet to come. This situation made me nervous, every bit of half melted snow that fell from a tree sounded like a footfall. This was one of the very few situations where I was afraid of what might happen. I prayed that I found whoever was coming before he found the cubs.

My ears perked up as I heard something that was definitely a metallic sound. It had come from the forest that bordered the back yard. I cocked my pistol and carefully scanned every part of the tree-covered hill. I ducked and dodged left reflexively as I heard the thump of an air rifle. It was quickly followed by a sharp pain in my thigh. I looked down and saw a dart hanging from my right leg. Fortunately the dart had only grazed my leg, the needle had only given me a fair sized cut. The dart however still hung from my jeans, and I quickly pulled it out. I had only gotten a tiny dose of whatever was in that dart. However it seemed to be enough as I soon started to feel a little dizzy. I staggered slightly then saw a man in a forest camo uniform rush out of the trees. He had a far heavier build than the armoured bandits, and in my current condition I doubted I would be able to put up much of a fight.

He tossed his rifle aside and ran full speed at me. I quickly holstered my pistol and threw the first punch as he approached. My attack was easily knocked off target by the hit man. The drugs were taking effect now and I was far to slow to compete with the well-trained fighter. My vision was starting to blur as his fist caught me squarely in the jaw. The first punch was then followed by several shots to my stomach. I didnít care as much now however, the drug was dulling the pain. I was barely able to stay on my feet now, all my senses were dulled to the point of being useless. I felt him grab me and start running me backwards. I was only faintly aware of being air born before I lost consciousness.

 

Rivermane hung up the vid phone and sighed softly. Hir ears perked as shi swore shi heard Rosepetal mewing. Hir eyes opened wide as hir senses quickly told hir that hir cub was no longer in the nursery. Shi bolted out of hir room and down the stairs.

Rosepetal quickly leapt aside as an unconscious wolf crashed through the kitchen window. His limp body landed hard on the kitchen table then slid off it and hit the floor. The hit man then burst in the back door and looked down to see a little chakat staring up at him, frozen in terror. He snatched hir up by the nape of the neck before shi had a chance to escape. He drew his side arm and held it to the cubís head just as Rivermane appeared in the entrance to the kitchen.

"Donít move or this thing dies!" shouted the hit man. Rivermane looked in horror at the scene in front of hir. Sylver was knocked out on the floor and bleeding from several wounds caused by the broken glass. Hir cub struggled helplessly in the manís grasp with a blaster held to hir head. The chakat gave a ferocious roar and was about to leap at the man, but quickly restrained hirself. There was still almost fifteen feet between hir and the hit man. He could easily pull the trigger before shi could cover that distance. Every muscle in hir body tensed, hir deadly teeth were bared as shi growled at him.

The man gave a confidant grin, and tightened his grip slightly on the squirming cub. He started to speak with a cold, sinister tone.

"Iíll make you a deal you freak of nature. You walk your furry four-legged ass over to that phone. Call up the station and tell them to release the HF prisoner, and Iíll give back your precious little bundle of joy." Rivermane gave a deep growl again, hir claws flexing and digging into the living room carpet.

"I donít make deals with bigots like you."

"Then I guess this little thing isnít all that important to you," grinned the man. He pressed the barrel of the blaster into Rosepetal's back, causing hir to cry out to hir father again. Rivermane crouched to leap forward again but stopped as shi saw the hit man start to pull back the trigger on his weapon.

Things looked very bad. There was nothing Rivermane could do to save hir cub. The only option looked to be obeying the manís orders. Then hir ear twitched as shi heard something very faint coming from Sylverís direction. Shi didnít dare look in the wolfís direction, not wanting to tip off the hit man. Shi could barely hear whatever it was, which meant the man couldnít hear it at all. Then it got a little louder, shi finally recognized it, the sliding of metal on leather. It was the sound of a gun being drawn. Shi had heard it many times in the line of duty. Shi then tensed up again, trying to keep the hit manís focus on hir. He had no idea that the seemingly motionless wolf was now carefully lining up a shot.

The next few events all occurred in an instant. A shot rang out in the kitchen, but it wasnít from a blaster. The hit man gave a cry of pain and surprise as a single bullet hit the back of his hand. It shattered the bones and caused him to drop his weapon. He was then stripped of his hostage and struck with a powerful blow from the handpaw of an enraged chakat. The stunned hit man flew backwards out the open door and landed flat on his back in the grass and slush.

Rivermane held hir cub tightly, tears running from hir eyes. Sylver pulled himself to his feet and growled as he walked slowly outside. The dropped from his pistol and clattered on the brickwork just outside the back door. He then loaded a clip with a green stripe and lowered the gun at the hit man. The man was badly winded and gasped for breath as her struggled to get to his feet. There was a small pop as Sylver pulled the trigger and the man dropped to the ground, a silvery dart in his shoulder.

"You arenít worth a bullet you bastard. I hope your punishment fits your crime." Sylver then turned away and walked back inside to find a vid-phone and call the police.

Rivermane finally got a hold of hirself and looked at Sylver with concern. Shi could feel both rage and sorrow filling him completely. This attack had stuck his one true weak spot. His restraint when dealing with the defeated hit man had been incredible. Shi was almost certain that Sylver would have killed him. After hanging up the phone, Sylver collapsed into a chair in the living room. His eyes were shut tight, his hat still sat on the floor amongst the broken glass.

After a long silence Rosepetal was carried to hir room and put next to hir sister. Rivermane then came back downstairs and settled on hir hindquarters across the room from Sylver. Shi then went outside and directed the officers around hir den rather than through it. Shi didnít want the wolf to be disturbed right now. An old and very deep wound had been reopened in him. He would not be well again for a long time.

Once the officers had taken the sedated man away, Rivermane went back inside and sat silently with Sylver. His emotions were nothing more than a fountain of misery. Neither of them said anything or so much as twitched for a very long time. Then Sylver slowly got to his feet. He walked over and picked up his hat. Again there was silence as he left, he simply nodded to Rivermane and shi to him. Sylver walked slowly down the path from the den. He climbed back into his truck and drove away.

 

Nightfire-

We watched the squad cars drive off with the would be kidnappers bound in the back seats. The five of us stood next to the Landmaster, simply wondering what to do now. The old panther then broke the silence.

"Well, if one of you has any idea how to work this thing, I need to get back to my restaurant," he said as he motioned to the Landmaster.

"I do. Letís go," said Andrea, and we followed the vixen inside. She and Duncan sat up at the front and piloted the transport while we made ourselves comfortable in the cabin. As I sat next to Nightwind I started to wonder what had made Sylver so angry. All of us were obviously not pleased in any way about having Rocco kidnapped, but Sylver was far more emotional than anyone else.

"Sylver has already lost someone to extremists," Nightwind said quietly as shi picked up on my feelings.

"Extremists?" I asked as I looked up at hir.

"The ĎHumans Firstí mobs. They attack morphs and Ďtaurs at random. Their only reason is usually just the fact that their target is a fur. Theyíre not nearly as common now, but attacks still occur."

"We had people like that in Delhi as well, but what did they do to Sylver?" Nightwind gave a heavy sigh, shi frowned and turned to me.

"They did nothing to Sylver, at least not until he tried to save Sarah."

"Who was Sarah?"

"She was another wolf morph and Sylverís mate. If soul mates do exist, thatís what she and Sylver were. They were the happiest couple I have ever seen, nothing ever came between them. Sylver didnít always want to be a Star Fleet officer like his father. He used to be determined to become a professional soccer player. He certainly had the skills to do it. He was his teamís number one striker, and they were on their way to the national championships when he quit."

"If he was so good why did he quit?"

"Because of what he thought he caused to happen to Sarah. It was a semi final game. Sylverís team in Whiteriver was playing their archrivals for the chance to play in the championship. The crowd was a little rowdy obviously, but there was nothing too serious. Near the end of the second half Sylver managed to score what would turn out to be the game-winning goal. There was of course a party after the game, but he and Sarah decided to have a quiet celebration of their own before joining in." Nightwind then paused for a moment. Simply recalling the story seemed painful for hir. I told hir shi could stop if shi wanted, but shi assured me that it was alright.

"While they were out for a walk they had the misfortune of running into a group of extremists who werenít at all pleased about having the win stolen from their team by a fur. Of course this was ridiculous because their team had morph players as well. But it didnít matter to them. They took out their frustration on Sylver and Sarah. Sylver did everything he could to protect Sarah, but it was five to one, he didnít have a chance. After they incapacitated him they attacked Sarah, who was a fairly petite person. She had half of the bones in her body broken before the beating stopped.

No one was around to help as most of the town was celebrating the victory. Once Sylver was mobile again he carried Sarah to the town clinic as fast as he could. However the clinic was ten blocks away from where they were and Sylver was badly injured as well." Nightwind stopped and wiped a few tears from hir eyes before continuing.

"By the time Sylver arrived she was already gone, she had died in his arms on the way there. Sylver was absolutely devastated, there was no way he could play anymore. He felt it was his fault because he had won the game and angered those men. He spent months locked away in his cabin, until he was finally able to accept what had happened." I hugged Nightwind gently as shi started to tear up.

"When did this happen?" I asked, hoping it wouldnít upset Nightwind.

"Just over four years ago. Sylver never played soccer again after that. He had already been in basic training for a while, but after he stopped playing, the academy became his life. Duncan went with him and they both worked hard to get to the top of their classes. Not long after leaving the academy James recruited them into what became Echo Lance. Heís never truly gotten over her, he just distracts himself as much has he can. Things like this will only bring back bad memories for him." I nodded then sat quietly next to Nightwind. The Landmaster rumbled around us as we headed back for town.

 

Everything seemed calm again, but Duncan was still feeling very uneasy about what had happened. That had not been just some simple racist attack. Everything about it was far too organized for this to be an isolated incident. They had kidnapped Rocco to distract them from a hit man that was targeting Rivermane and hir family. The kidnappers had armour, automatic weapons and a military scout transport. They had gone through a lot of trouble for one prisoner. What was it that he knew?

Duncan was now driving down the highway towards the clearing where the scout craft had crashed. He hoped to find some answers there, and maybe even find out who planned all this. He turned off the road and parked in the clearing across from the hovercraft. Some of its displays could be seen glowing through the shattered cockpit windscreen. The big wolf climbed out of his PTV with some scanning equipment slung over his shoulder. The green hue from the flickering displays had a somewhat eerie quality to them in the fading evening light.

First he set up a small portable field scanner, looking for any distinctive markings on the hovercraft. He saved the scanner data to have a closer look at it later, then went inside to have a look around.

There wasnít much left inside the badly damaged vehicle. Just a few small pieces of equipment and some rations where in the storage lockers, nothing of any use to Duncan. The big wolf squeezed into the small cockpit to see if he could extract any information from the scout craftís tiny database. Unfortunately the computer had been wiped clean, most likely to avoid identification by the kind of search Duncan was doing now.

He gave a irritated sigh as the screens flickered again then went out as the vehicleís power finally failed. Duncan hadnít been able to learn much from the computer, hopefully the scans he took would be of more help. After doing a final check around the cabin, Duncan packed his gear and headed home.

Duncan started up his computer and plugged the scanner into it as soon as he got back. He was glad he had gotten to the hovercraft before the authorities picked through it for evidence. A cup of coffee in hand, Duncan sat down at the computer and started sifting through the scanner data. Most of it was just information that described the damage caused to the hovercraft in excruciating detail. An hour later Duncan finally found what he was looking for.

Most military vehicles are built only when there is an order for them in order to save on surplus. This meant that they usually have markings that indicate what company built the unit and for which organization they were built. Luckily both markings were undamaged. However both the organization and manufacturer were nowhere to be found in the unrestricted federation data banks. Duncan didnít have access to higher security information, but James did, even if it was limited.

Duncan then sent the information to James along with a brief explanation of what was going on. With any luck, James would be at his computer right now as he usually was, and have an answer in only an hour or two.

 

James-

I sat quietly in my study, reflecting on today, I had finally gotten a chance to spend some quality time with my family. All the missions and the paper work that followed always left me with little time for them. I felt good about the past few days though. I was finally making up for lost time. I really couldnít ask for a more understanding family. I felt like such terrible father for not spending more time with my own son, but he really didnít seem to mind that I left so often as long as I caught up with him when I got back. Apparently I was also one of the few fathers who had a Ďcoolí job, according to Jason.

I was interrupted when my computer beeped at me, indicating that I had just received a new message. It was from Duncan, the fact that it was marked as an urgent message was a little troubling. I was deeply concerned when Duncan gave a brief description of an attack that occurred earlier that day. I was thankful for his haste, this was a very serious matter, and also confirmed my fears of what might happen.

The computer now had my full attention as I ran the attached scanner data through every part of the federation data banks I had access to. Unfortunately I wasnít able to accomplish much more than Duncan. According to the federation, this model of vehicle and the company that produced it simply didnít exist. However, this did prove that the craft was indeed from the non-allied systems. I then brought up the Eagleís sensor logs from the battle over Chakona. As I had suspected the organization markings on both the pirate ships and the hovercraft were the same. This was all the work of the Star Storm pirate group.

I quickly sent a reply to Duncan, instructing him and Sylver to find a safer place to stay for a while. For the first time it seemed like we might be in over our heads. Echo Lance has never had a problem like this before, but apparently we stirred the hornetís nest this time. I put down my coffee and started to gather every bit of information I could on the pirates. If we were going to beat our enemy, we would have to know what we were dealing with.

 

The sun was setting, casting a crown of burning gold on the clouds that floated overhead. A soft breeze caressed the budding leaves of a tree that stood solemnly amongst the carefully placed headstones. A lone figure walked as a silhouette against the dimming sky, his steps slow and heavy. With his hat respectfully removed he continued on until stopping at his destination.

ĎHere lies Sarah Marliní read the perfectly carved stone, in front of which the figure stood. The brass instrument in his hand slowly raised to his lips. Then soft as a lullaby, the tune ĎAmazing Graceí came forth, the notes warm and full of emotion. The silent cemetery seemed to become quieter still, as if in appreciation of the music. He would never forget her, nor would he forgive those who took something so precious from him. Then the final note ended with tears running down the musicianís face. His strength failed him as he dropped to his knees and wept quietly, wishing hopelessly for his lost loveís return.

 


 

To be continued.

 

Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creations of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.

All else is copyright © 2004 to Dax.

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