Disclaimer. I don't own any of the characters from BMFM, nor do I make any profit from this story yadda yadda. Any character here not mentioned in the series is my own creation, unless otherwise indicated. Feel free to use them, but do let me know, and let others know where to find them. Otherwise, just read and enjoy. Cheers, Mez.
Two days later Throttle, Modo, Vinnie and Rimfire returned from battling encroaching sand-raiders to find a note from Deakin saying the data disk had arrived. They rushed down to operations to find Deakin in the middle of a heated argument with Raid.
"This is a waste of your time! We have enough to do already without you spending precious hours poring over tapes that have already been analysed!"
"Well they haven't been analysed by ME, Raid, and if you don't mind, I'd like a little peace of mind on this one!"
"Yes, I DO mind! When your department can't pull its weight because it's too involved in outside interests, then it affects the whole base!"
"WHAT?" Deakin thundered.
The room went quiet. People began to edge away from the angry pair. When Deakin next spoke his voice was deathly quiet.
"Are you saying that my department is failing in its duties?"
"Well, I "
"Are you saying that my people can't handle their work?"
"Well, they "
"Are you saying that Stoker is now an outside interest?!" Deakin snapped, his voice rising to a shout.
Raid pulled himself up. The top of his head barely came to Deakin's shoulders, but he was easily twice the weight of the slender Operations commander.
"Yes, I am! Stoker by his own actions has made himself none of our concern and your people would do better putting their efforts towards matters affecting this base!"
Deakin leapt for Raid, the momentum of his attack bringing them both to the ground and making the crowd scatter. Throttle bolted across the floor, the others hot on his heels, and between them they dragged the angry combatants apart. Modo gripped Raid with his metal arm while Vinnie and Rimfire restrained the still furious Deakin.
"Cut it out, both of you! This isn't the time or place for fighting!" snapped Throttle.
Raid struggled free of Modo's grip, a feat which Throttle viewed with something approaching awe. He straightened his shirt, clearly still furious but controlled.
"I shall be raising this matter at the next meeting, Deakin. If you won't listen to me, then perhaps a higher authority can talk some sense into you!"
Deakin snarled at Raid. Raid's eyes narrowed but he said nothing as he turned and stalked out. Vinnie and Rimfire cautiously released Deakin. He was unhurt except for a swollen lip where Raid had landed a solid punch.
"Deakin, are you insane? That guy could wipe the floor with you and have the leftovers for breakfast!" said Rimfire.
Deakin scowled and tenderly touched his lip.
"Yeah, well, that guy really pushes all my buttons," he said gloomily, moving across to his station. The guys followed. "If he makes one more crack about Stoker being "no longer our concern", I'll "
"Yeah? You'll what?" snorted Throttle.
Deakin pondered this for a moment then grinned at them.
"I'll make him wipe the floor with me, and I won't stop until breakfast!"
They laughed weakly, and the tension eased a little.
"Okay, no more fist fights," said Deakin, taking a disk from one of the pockets on his vest and inserting it into a data slot. "Let's see what this baby has to offer us."
Deakin began typing furiously. His efforts were hampered however as a young girl with pale gold fur appeared suddenly beside them and attempted to place an ice pack on Deakin's swollen lip.
"Not now, Piper!" he said distractedly, pushing her hand away and trying to type.
Piper smacked his hand and pressed the pack against his face, making him wince.
"Oh stop being a baby. Here, you hold this, I'll type!" said Piper, rolling Deakin's chair out of the way and moving her own chair across in its place. She began typing furiously, Deakin occasionally giving her cryptic instructions.
"So what's this tape about, anyway?" said Vinnie, bored already.
"This is supposedly a tape made by Army Intelligence showing Stoker handing information over to the Plutarkians." This, along with some bank records showing a hell of a lot of big deposits from unknown sources and some really suspect testimony from a captured Plutarkian commander is what they used to put the boss in jail."
"Deposits?" said Throttle. "How much?"
"Somewhere in the order of several thousand Gold Gills."
Vinnie whistled appreciatively.
"But, hang on," said Modo slowly, "Stoker doesn't have a bank account. He says all the banks are corrupt bloodsuckers controlled by the Plutarkians. In fact," Modo scratched his head, clearly thinking something through, "I've never even seen him with money. Aside from the occasional bag of eighth gills that he won off some rookie."
"Prove it," said Deakin.
"Prove it. Prove someone doesn't have a bank account full to the brim with ill-gotten gains."
Deakin took pity on him.
"We looked at that already Modo. Like Stoker says, the banks are corrupt, and whoever went to this much trouble to frame him isn't going to be worried about paying out a few thousand gills to set up a bank account in his name."
"And the Plutarkian's testimony we can obviously dismiss."
"Yeah. The commander on Stoker's case didn't even want the guy in the courtroom, but they allowed it eventually. But this tape is the real clincher. The other stuff is just circumstantial evidence. This is what got him put away."
"Ready!" said Piper abruptly. She tapped madly for a few seconds more before inserting another data tape into the computer. "I've set up a log file which will strip the video as it plays. Any code fragments, breaks, insertions or tags will be recorded."
Deakin rubbed his hands together.
"Splendid! Speak to me, baby!" he said, and played the tape.
Stoker awoke slowly to a sensation of light and warmth on his face. He opened his eyes cautiously. Sunlight streamed through a small barred window high up in the wall to his left. He glanced around, disoriented. He was in a small room, lying on a narrow bed. On his right was a heavy reinforced door with bars across the top. The room was an odd shape; the wall with the window was slightly curved outwards. For a moment he puzzled over this, before memory returned and he grimaced. He moved cautiously, testing his body for painful spots. He was unrestrained, but there was a tube in his arm and a selection of wires attached to round patches adhering to his chest. Something behind him beeped softly and he moved his head to look. The movement provoked a stabbing pain in his cheek and he brought his fingers up to gently probe the bruised and tender flesh. He heard footsteps approaching and there was the sound of a key in the lock and bolts being pulled back.
Stoker looked at the door as a tall, black-furred man let himself in. He was wearing the uniform of a prison guard, but with a doctor's coat over the top. He was closely followed by a guard in plain uniform, who drew his blaster and aimed it casually at Stoker. The doctor looked annoyed and gave Stoker a cold stare as he entered.
"So, awake are you?"
The man didn't wait for an answer but moved behind the bed head. A few moments later he leaned over and removed the patches from Stoker's chest. As he leaned over, Stoker could smell alcohol on his breath. He pressed a pad of cotton onto the needle in Stoker's arm before drawing it out. The man didn't say another word to Stoker as he dumped needle and tubes onto the trolley holding the monitoring system and wheeled it out the door. The guard stepped backwards out the door, still with his blaster trained on Stoker, locking it behind him. Stoker smiled as he heard the bolts click home. "So many years, but nothing has changed. Still so secure, and yet so open." He laughed out loud then, but cursed as his ribs complained.
Stoker sat up slowly, testing his injuries. Several days must have passed by the feel of them. He looked around for a mirror before he remembered. "No glass. Nothing sharp." Finding no reflective surface available, he removed the bandages and used his fingers to analyse wounds that his eyes could not reach. They were scabbed over, but a long way from fully healed. "Two or three days, at most." He replaced the bandages and stood, then grabbed the wall as his head spun.
When the dizziness subsided, he walked carefully around, testing his mobility. His ribs ached, but the stiffness in the rest of his body wore off after a short time. He found his prison garb folded on the chair and dressed, but stopped before pulling on his boots, leaving them lying on the floor. He walked over to the bed. It was bolted down and so stoutly constructed it would be impossible to dismantle without tools. He knelt down carefully, wincing, and crawled under the bed until he reached the wall. In the dim light he ran his fingers over some faint markings scratched into the stone and he smiled, reading the litany of names scrawled there in the ancient code. "Thurian, Attsic, Macca, Suraj, Jen." This cell had been breached and was no longer secure to someone who knew the trick, and luckily, he was one of those who knew.
Stoker crawled out again and dusted himself off, before lying back down on the bed to get some more sleep. He was only a few hundred miles from his goal, he was in an unsecure cell and he was on his own home turf. "Thanks, Grythe," he thought smugly, "I owe you one, you bastard." If he had been in top condition he would have left immediately, but he knew he wasn't ready yet. "Soon, though. Before those well-meaning kids come around sticking their noses in and tying me down."
There was silence as the tape ended.
"Wow," said Vinnie, "if that's a fake, it's pretty good."
Throttle agreed with him. It was often dim, and a large part of it was shot using thermal imaging, but there were several clear shots of Stoker exchanging packets with an unknown Plutarkian. Or someone who looked like Stoker, he told himself firmly.
"Well then, lets find out!" said Deakin.
Piper began typing and a string of data flashed up on the screen.
"I'm loading the data from the log file," she said, and pressed a key. Lines of code scrolled rapidly up on the screen. Piper stared at them and whistled.
"Well, well, well," said Deakin.
"It's a construct, but it's so well done it could pass for an original. Whoever did this has some awesome skills." Deakin tapped away at the keyboard and more code scrolled across the screen.
"So, what now? Can you tell up who made it?"
"Nope. But I can tell you where it came from, hopefully." Deakin tapped away some more and "Searching " flashed on the screen.
"Now, we wait."
"How long?" said Rimfire.
Deakin opened his mouth to speak when the computer blipped and "Located." flashed up on the screen.
"That was quick," said Piper.
Both of them leant over the screen as two lines of code appeared.
"I don't believe it."
"What?" Throttle snapped. This fiddling about was getting on his nerves.
"Well, we were searching the network for matching code fragments. And we found them. But not where I thought we would."
Deakin tapped two lines on the screen.
"This code is for the server at Ocsiron Army Base. Which means the tape was modified there at some stage."
"The Army Base? Is that it?"
"Yeah. I'll need the original tape to get any further info."
"How the hell do we find that?"
"I suggest we start at Ocsiron."
Deakin popped the tape out of its slot and strode off.
"Come on, let's see what Carbine and Stone have to say."
Another two days passed before Stoker decided it was time to move. His injuries were nowhere near as healed as he would have liked, but he couldn't risk waiting any longer. By now, Deakin would have analysed the tape and they would be puzzling over what it meant. Eventually they'd be around asking questions he couldn't answer. Not yet, anyway.
He waited until the guards had made their first round of the night. "Three rounds a night; one at lights out, one at dawn and one in the middle." It was the one in the middle that was the problem, but if he left now he had a chance. Stoker moved over to the wall and looked up at the tiny barred window and smiled. Babatyu's weakness was its reputation, and he was about to exploit that. People often disappeared from Babatyu Tower without a trace, usually people with enemies. And nobody would think it surprising if he went the same way.
He moved back to the bed and quietly pulled at the bed coverings, dumping them on the floor in disarray. There was nothing else in the room that he could rearrange. He pulled the dressing off his shoulder wound. Quick work with his nails opened one edge and he let the warm blood flow, scattering drops of it around the room, being careful to avoid stepping in it. Eventually, he staunched the flow with the dressing before discarding it on the floor. He examined his work. It wasn't much, but there was a suggestion of a struggle, and blood. It would have to do.
Stoker moved back beneath the window. He crouched down and jumped, his hands only just grasping the tiny sill. He felt muscles tear as he dragged himself up, getting a solid grip on the central bar in the process. He levered himself up until he could balance between the wall and his hand and looked down.
The wall dropped sheer down to the rocks far below. In the distance a sandstone ridge marked the edge of the desert. This was Babatyu's other weakness; nobody guarded the tower. One hundred and fifty feet of sheer rock wall with a very unforgiving landing was enough to deter most people. Besides, the windows were barred. Stoker smiled, and reached for a side bar. He carefully slid it upwards. It resisted for a moment, but a sideways jiggle slid the bar up and out of its casing. He did the same with the remaining bars, leaving the central one until last.
He switched hands, holding onto the sill this time as he moved the central bar up into its socket. He slid his lean body out through the narrow opening, wincing as his fractured ribs moved, careful not to leave any fur or blood around the window. Once outside, he hung by one arm and removed his boots, tossing them into the ravine below. He worked his toes into some small cracks between the ancient stones and began to slide the bars back into their sockets. He chuckled quietly to himself. "They always wiggle them. No-one ever thinks to see if they'll move up."
When the bars were replaced to his satisfaction, he carefully began his descent. The mortar between the bricks was old, and by digging it out in places he could make finger and toe holds. Climbing was something he was good at, a skill that always came in handy, and he could move up and down walls like a squirrel-bat. "Piece of cake," he thought, moving steadily down the wall.
"Well, what do you suggest?"
Throttle paced. Stone's very stillness annoyed him in a way he just couldn't define, until he realised that Stoker thought in exactly the same way; never moving more than was necessary. Throttle stopped pacing and flopped into a chair.
"I suggest you go to Ocsiron, via Babatyu Tower. Talk to Stoker, see if he's got anything to say, and take it from there."
Throttle nodded wearily, but he felt more hopeful. Stoker would talk to them, explain some things, point them towards trouble as he always did. Just to be out and doing something would be an improvement.
"You'd better take Carbine too. Ocsiron is General Torch's home ground, and he's a stickler for protocol. You won't be able to move without scratching him; he's a real control freak."
"Great," muttered Vinnie.
"Alright, we'll leave in the morning."
Halfway down and Stoker knew he wasn't going to make it. His fingers were bleeding from the hard stone, his vision was getting blurry and his breath burned in his throat. Grimly he kept moving, trying to keep to a slow, even pace. He still had a few hours before midnight, but there was always the chance a guard would spy him and that would be his last escape. "Not far now, keep moving," he thought as he looked down again. Past three-quarters now, he could no longer see over the ridge and the ground looked invitingly close. "But not close enough," he thought, as his bloodied hands slipped. He lost his grip completely and plummeted toward the ground, tumbling in mid-air in an attempt to slow his descent. It wasn't enough though and he hit the ground hard, his fractured ribs crunching with the impact, sending waves of sharp pain across his chest and knocking the wind out of him. He lay there, gasping, trying not to black out, knowing that he had to move but unable to.
Ten minutes passed before he could move without the sky spinning above him, and he dragged himself to his knees. That little effort alone cost him dearly and he bit his lip against the pain. Moving his head carefully he looked for his boots, then half crawled, half staggered over to them. He had several hours to reach the rails before the sun rose. Pulling on his boots, he staggered off towards the ridge and the entrance to the desert.
The watcher on the ridge jerked out of his half-doze as the lean figure stumbled into view. He frowned as it staggered, then collapsed into the sand. "Almost, kid, but not enough," he thought, stowing his night-vision goggles in one of the many pockets in the old army coat he wore and taking a swig from his canteen. He moved to the edge of the ridge and paused, then with agile grace he leapt from the ledge he was on, landing easily on the next ledge down. Nimbly he made his way down to the base of the ridge, his easy movements belying his advanced years. "Use it and you never lose it," he chuckled to himself. Moving swiftly across the rocks he soon reached the edge of the sand. He leapt across the sand and landed beside the unconscious figure. He bent down and lifted the body onto his shoulders, grunting at the burden. "Lucky you haven't put any weight on, kid," he thought. He looked around. The closest rocks were just within his distance. He crouched down, tensed his leg muscles and leapt, landing on one knee and only just reaching the edge of the rocks. Looking back he smiled. "Let them work THAT one out," he thought, pleased at his deception. Anyone without a sniffer-bot would find it near impossible to work out what had happened. He shifted Stoker's unconscious weight on his shoulders and moved off as rapidly as he could towards the rail lines. He had a long way to go, and a morning express train to catch.