The Teacher finished feeding the tuna he had bought to Mary's friends. Since setting up in the motel room, Mary had befriended six more alley cats. It was amazing the way she interacted with the animals. It seemed as if she connected with them.
Mary was tougher to feed. The Teacher had seen babies raised in the cult, and at the least he knew how to prepare a formula, even though Mary was used to her mother's feeding her. He was beginning to enjoy the time he spent feeding Mary every night.
Tonight, he cradled her in his arms and fed her formula through a bottle. CNN played on the television in the room. The Teacher was still waiting for news about Golden Dragon. He knew that eventually their paths would cross again, but he wanted to speed the meeting if possible.
"You are a lovely child," the Teacher said. "Your spirit is bright and pure. If only you were destined to be trained by me. But yours is a different destiny."
"You remind me of my own daughter, when she was young. So innocent, so trusting. Now she is gone, stolen along with your brother. Don't worry, I'm sure they're both fine. Your father and I will find them."
"I believe your mother and father would be surprised to hear me speaking like this. Around the Golden Dragon, I cannot show anything less than honorable respect. But around his children, I can reveal myself. I am still human, even if I am the Teacher of the Dragon Cult. And I still have fears and doubts, as much as any father."
Mary hissed quietly and pushed the bottle away. She bit down on the Teacher's finger, as she did with her father. The Teacher didn't cry out, even though blood started streaming from the finger. Mary stopped when she felt the unfamiliar, coppery taste in her mouth. She pulled the finger out and looked curiously at it.
"I dearly hope that this remains an enigma to you, child. Your father and brother have become all too familiar with the sight of blood."
* * * * *
Dragon watched the blood spurt from the headless corpse in front of him. He brought his sword out and blocked the follow-through by the sword-wielding attacker. They had been on their way back to the tribe's village when ten men dressed in robes and armed with curved blades had appeared out of nowhere and attacked.
Kentaro was doing well, fending off three of the men with his spear, which was easily deflecting metal blades. The wounded young man was being guarded on either side by a warrior, but with two men on each of them, they weren't faring well. Unlike Kentaro, their staves broke under the onslaught of blades. Dragon heard one of them cry out as the blade slid into his stomach. He risked a quick glance behind himself and saw that the dying warrior had impaled his killer on a broken spear. That left only three to the other warrior, who had no weapon anymore.
Dragon turned his back on his three opponents, intending to fly over and protect the wounded boy. He was shocked when he felt a flash of pain in his back. He turned back and deflected another sword. He saw that one of them was now bloody. It was his blood.
"Magic...great." Dragon punched the man who had cut him. His opponent tried to dodge, but he wasn't fast enough. Dragon risked an almost full strength punch, knowing that he had to win quickly or his allies would all wind up dead. He winced when he heard something crack as his opponent went flying back into a tree.
The other two slashed in, and Dragon hurriedly blocked first one, and then the other with his katana. Another robed figure went flying over his head from Kentaro's direction. Dragon saw a spear wound in his side.
There was a scream from behind Dragon and he saw the other warrior fall. The two surviving attackers were preparing to kill the wounded boy. In desperation, Dragon swung out with all of his strength, sweeping his leg through the other two attackers he faced. They went flying to the side, falling unconscious to the ground.
Dragon flew over and landed in front of the boy on his side, just in time to catch two sword strikes in his chest. He screamed in pain as the magical blades tore through him. Blood poured from two long slashes in his now exposed chest. Kentaro, having dropped his opponents, spun and threw his spear. It struck one of Dragon's opponents in the head, knocking him down and out. Dragon kicked out at the other one, and he was knocked out as well.
The unconscious and dead bodies disappeared, teleported away. Kentaro rushed over to check on his warriors. Both of them were dead. He spoke in his native tongue to the boy, asking if he were all right. The boy nodded weakly. Then Kentaro looked up at Dragon. "Are you alright?"
Dragon grinned. "Sure, peachy." Then he passed out.
When Dragon awoke, he smelled smoke. He was lying in the center of a hut, and smoke was filling the interior from a wood fire in the corner. He coughed and the young woman at the fire looked up. She was a teenager, with the same dark skin and eyes as the rest of her tribe. She walked over to Dragon and pushed his head back down to the ground. He was too weak to fight back.
Dragon watched as she changed his bandages, replacing the blood-soaked cloth with new white wrappings. She lifted a waterskin to his mouth and let him suck down some of the cool water. Then she replaced the skin in a refrigerator in the corner.
Kentaro entered the tent. "Ah, I thought that was you. Can you speak?"
Dragon nodded. Kentaro said something in his tongue to the girl, and she left the tent.
"Where did you learn to speak English?" Dragon asked.
"I was educated at Harvard. It is something of a tradition among tribal chiefs."
There was silence for a few minutes. Kentaro handed Dragon a black cloth. "Touch this. Does it give you any sensations?"
Dragon felt it and got a sense of warmth and power. It actually felt like an infusion of energy. It faded too quickly, and was replaced by pain.
"That was something," Kentaro noted, his eyes raised.
"Yeah," Dragon mumbled. "That's been in contact with the gem?"
"You tell me," Kentaro said, stuffing the cloth into a pouch at his side. "One of my men found it combing the jungle."
"It felt like the gem."
"Can you find the gem?"
"I don't know. I've never tried to. But I do have a link with it."
"I know. Even in Africa, rumors of Wildside have spread. Some more accurate than others. Last I heard, you were wearing black armor and carrying a gun."
Dragon closed his eyes. He really didn't want to get into a discussion about that. He was glad that Kentaro let it drop.
"Just rest. Do you think you'll be up for some light travel in a couple of days?"
Dragon nodded again. Kentaro left, and at some point, Dragon fell asleep again.
When he woke up, he felt a little better. He managed to get up, but his side felt like it was on fire. He was stripped to the waist, and he could see that the damage was extensive. Bandages covered a lot of his side. Some even spread to the tattoos on his back.
Dragon walked over to a mirror and turned around. He could see that the enemy's blade had slashed right through the head of the dragon tattooed on his back.
"I don't know about you," he said to the tattoo, "but I think that's a bad sign."
* * * * *
"Of course I don't have to carry a gun," Sari said to Dave. "But given the recent threats, I thought it might be a good idea."
Dave was holding the weapon, a custom-modified Glock 17. It was modified to take larger rounds and had a removable silencer and laser sight. Without its accessories, it fit neatly into a holster inside Sari's right thigh. As a matter of fact, that's where it had been when Dave discovered it.
Dave pulled out his .45 and handed it to Sari. "Now that is a gun. Loaded with armor-piercing ammo, and guided by my steady hand. Once took down a Minuteman robot with it."
"Really? This gun?"
"Yep. You impressed?"
Sari slid her pistol back into its holster, deliberately raising her skirt higher than it needed to be.
"Very," she answered. She handed Dave his pistol back.
"Just be careful. I've found that men with large...guns can be dangerous."
"Who, me?" Dave said, with a wounded innocent look. "I'm not dangerous, I'm just a swell all-around guy!"
The door to the break room burst open and Durant yelled in, "Quickly! There's been an attack on the ambassador!"
Dave jumped to his feet, and Sari was right behind him. They entered the hall way in time to be shoved aside by Jeeves. Jeeves was carrying a handgun, and as he reached the exit, he turned and fired at Sari. Dave pulled her down with him and the bullet ricocheted off the doorjamb. The next sound they heard was the squealing of tires as a limousine pulled out of the embassy and tore off into the streets.
Durant came running back in the front door. "You've got to catch him! He just shot at the ambassador! He's alright, fortunately! But the two of you must go! I'll take care of things here!"
Dave grabbed Sari's hand and pulled her outside. The limo was gone, covered by the traffic outside. Dave punched his comm.
"Hey, baby, I need you to find me."
Sari gave Dave a strange look, then screamed when the windows on the embassy shattered. Above the embassy was the Vagabond, floating obediently in mid-air.
Dave pushed an extra comm into Sari's hand. "Gotta love my baby. She's beautiful and smart. Two to beam up."
The two of them disappeared. Seconds later, the Vagabond vanished as well. Durant smiled in the doorway. Another UNTIL agent ran up to him.
"Did our driver get away?"
When he answered, Durant's voice had lost its French accent. It sounded more like Chicago. "They're gone. Pass the word, Jeeves made an attempt on the ambassador's life. And Dave and Sari were in on it."
"Where's the real Jeeves?"
"He's safe," Durant answered, slipping back into his French accent. "Until I no longer need him."
Dave flew the cloaked Vagabond in among the city streets. He was polite enough to keep the ship at subsonic speeds.
"Did you catch the license plate?" Dave asked.
"Hard not to," Sari answered. "He stole my car."
Sari punched the license plate into the computer. She then voice ordered it to scan for the license plate. Dave gave her a surprised look.
"I've read everything ever written about Wildside's plane," she said. "I never thought I'd be riding in it."
Seconds later, the Vagabond's computer said, in a digitized female voice, "Target acquired. Fire meson cannon?"
Dave grunted. "No. Track and maintain sensor lock. She's still got a few bugs in her from Xavier's programming," he explained to Sari.
They flew in closer to the limo, matching it and staying with it. "Call up local street maps, guide plane along streets, avoid obstacles, remain in place relative to car."
Dave cocked his pistol and stepped back to the drop hatch. Sari yelled at him.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Stepping out." Dave pulled the drop hatch open and jumped onto the roof of the limo. He was followed seconds later by Sari. She had her pistol out and grabbed onto Dave's arm with her other hand.
"Not without me. This is my limo."
The driver, realizing what had happened, and suddenly having seen two armed people materialize above his car and drop on, started to swerve back and forth. His foot slipped off the gas for a second, though, and slid onto the brake. The car went into a strange skid and slammed into a nearby building, stopping it cold. In the process, it slid through a knife display and shredded all of its tires.
Dave grinned at Sari and cocked his pistol. "Do you believe the luck?"
He leaned down into the driver's side and knocked with his pistol. Meanwhile, Sari slid down and pulled open the other side of the cab.
The driver was ready. He fired his blaster at Sari as soon as she opened the door. She rolled out of the way of the shot, but couldn't poke her head in to see.
Dave smacked the window with his pistol, but the bullet-proof glass wouldn't break that easily. The door flew open, hitting Dave's hand and knocking his pistol into the street. With traffic going, there was no way to run out and recover it. Dave shook his bruised hand and slid down off the limo's roof in time to avoid another blaster shot from the driver.
It was clear that this was not Jeeves. He was a well-built Caucasian in his mid-20s. He took careful aim at Dave's head and prepared to fire again.
At that moment, a truck passed by Dave's pistol and its wheel just caught the corner of the handle. The pistol flew up in an arc and landed right in Dave's hand. Dave fired, hitting the driver in the chest. The driver stumbled back a little and was hit by an oncoming taxi. He flew up and over and landed on the street. Traffic stopped all around him.
The driver moaned and started to push himself up. Dave was ready to move in on him, noting that Sari had him covered, but the sounds of sirens stopped him. He looked up and saw UNTIL air cycles moving in. Two of them, and each rider was pointing a gun at them.
"Don't move! You are under arrest for the attack on the ambassador!"
"Oh, boy," Dave said. "Two to beam up. Then we're out of here, by Venus."
Dave and Sari disappeared, and there was a sonic boom, shattering all the windows on the street.