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Magic Man

Chapter Thirty-One


Redflare slept until late in the afternoon and awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. There were several reasons for that, and he felt no need to sort through them.

At this point, his mind had to be all biz.

Nima had spent the day assembling as much information as she could on the Bane Spikes and their base of operations. According to the latest sources, that base was still an abandoned warehouse in Old Camineet. It was ironic, Redflare thought upon being told; the Circle's first appearance to the hunters had been at one warehouse, and what they hoped would be the last would be at another.

"They'll have to move sooner or later--their antics have almost given the cops enough probable cause to storm the place in shoot-first-and-don't-bother-with-questions mode," Nima told her appreciative audience.

"I'm sure the Circle's got something up their sleeve," Dace grunted. "They have so far."

"Planning does appear to be their strong suit," Isis agreed. "They have consistently attempted to anticipate our actions and set traps to meet them."

Redflare nodded.

"If they're using their heads at all, they'll know we're coming for them. It's our logical next move. More than likely, they'll be waiting."

"Then why are we doing this?" Kemet asked. He was, as always, the most dubious towards Redflare's plans.

"We're going to go one step beyond them," the magician explained. "They think they know what to expect. As Dace and Julian's bailout at Herrod's proved, if they're wrong we can turn the tables on them. They'll expect us to make a move on them. They won't expect us to be bringing a dozen or so corporate sec-troopers along with us."

"Hopefully."

"You want life without risk, get a different job," Dace pointed out.

Nima extended a paw and gave a small IMVE palmcomp to Dace. The little unit was typical of the kind suits used as a business organizer, and that particular one had, in fact, been Ashlyn's.

"I downloaded everything I managed to pick up onto that, so you and Yoshida can set up the tactical details."

"Thanks."

"I also took a look--very carefully, so I didn't give anything away--at the site itself. There's nothing; no datanet connection at all."

Dace shrugged.

"I wouldn't expect there to be. Maybe while it was up and running, but the Spikes don't need a computer to run their operations. On the good side, security's probably minimal besides the gang itself. Not a lot of alarm work gets done at gang HQ."

"What's the DLE profile in this area?" Kemet wanted to know. It was always a good question to ask when contemplating a minor land war in the middle of the city.

"Negligible. That area isn't well-patrolled, being a lower-class area and a largely commercial sector." Nima's ears wiggled as she imparted the good news. "Truth is, most of the commercial sites in the area have their own security and only contact the DLE if absolutely necessary. It's too bad that Sarranas isn't on the scale of a Nakagaki or Scion-Colesburg or even, say, Alliance Oil. In a district like this, a word from corp authorities would have the cops taking the evening off even if we firebombed the place."

"Which actually wouldn't be a bad plan," Redflare contributed dryly. "Since we're basically waging war on the Circle at this point, bringing in a few military aerocoptors and reducing the building to ash with missiles and plasma cannons is a highly attractive option."

"Somehow I never expected to hear you say that," Ashlyn told him.

Redflare grinned.

"Wishful thinking, mostly. Though one could think of it as a disappearing trick."

"So you're saying that if we keep the pyro behind closed doors," Dace cut in, "the cops ain't going to get too curious. And, since a gang doesn't live long messing with corp turf, it's a good bet the neighbors aren't in a position to come over and say hi--maybe even paying protection to the Spikes and be glad to see 'em take a hit."

Nima wiggled her ears again.

"That's it exactly, Dace." Then her ears drooped suddenly mid-wiggle. "I just wish there was more I could do. Most jobs I can run overwatch on, but this one there's no point. There's nothing electronic for me to hack!"

Isis looked at her quizzically.

"Why does this disturb you? It greatly increases our chances of a successful strike."

"I know that, and I'm glad, but...I just feel so useless. I'm no use in a fight."

Redflare saw Ashlyn's mouth open for a second, then snap shut on what he was sure would have been a bitingly accurate comment. He wasn't the only one who'd had a change in attitude.

"Usually, though, I can help out from the datanet, but this time--"

"Hey," Redflare told the Motavian girl, slinging an arm around her shoulders, "that's why we're a team. Each one of us has our own skills, and that lets us take on different jobs. You can't see Dace or Kem doing a datanet run, can you? Or the team getting out of that bit in the Eppi Forest last year with anyone but Isis piloting the hovercraft?" Redflare hadn't been along for that one, and from what Dace had told him he was glad of it. "Heck, most of the time I'm not even invited along."

"I know that, but this one is important, and I'm leaving all of you in the lurch."

Redflare found himself wondering how old Nima was. It was hard to tell with Motavians; their fur obscured most physical features and their height didn't change much after puberty. He'd figured her for being about twenty, but he found himself estimating that downwards by several years.

"Sometimes, that's the toughest thing to do, to sit back and let someone else do something for you. I know it's hard, but that's the way it is, now and again."

He glanced at Dace; his old friend knew the girl better than any of them and Redflare hoped he could contribute something. As it turned out, he was up to the job.

"There is one thing we do need from you," he told Nima. "It's not glamorous, but it is important. We need you to get our backs."

"How?"

"Someone's got to monitor SDE comm frequencies. They're corporate, which means they might get tricky. If Yoshida and her squad start talking to each other, I want to know if they're just doing their jobs or if they're planning on gravestoning any of us 'cause we know too much or whatever bloody reason makes sense to people in suits."

Nima's attitude brightened at once.

"You've got it, Dace. If you can get them to hook up an open channel with us--"

"He'd better; it'd be damned hard to coordinate the hit otherwise," Kemet said.

"--then I can backdoor them and scan all the channels. Of course, if Yoshida's bright, she'll have an SDE gridrider doing the same to us."

"Tell him or her hi, then," Dace said with a grin. "Just keep your ears open."

She nodded eagerly, glad to have a task for her talents. Redflare made a mental note to ask Dace sometime how much of that had been serious and how much hot (though supportive) air.

"Yeah," he chipped in. "This'll be enough of a pain even if all our enemies are in front of us."

Dace glanced around the group.

"All right, then. That everything? We all ready?" Through nods and murmurs of assent, they all indicated that they were. "Let's get going, then. I've got a call to make and I'm sure Julian doesn't want me putting his pad at risk of a trace. As soon as we hook up with Yoshida, we'll be making our move."

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