Ocelot stared at Gabriel, the color draining from his face. “You mean his plane crashed?”
“Is he alive?” Kestrel demanded.
“What else did you find out?”
Gabriel held up his hands for them to stop. Pausing for a moment to organize his thoughts, he said, “I didn’t get much. As I said, the watcher’s power was waning, and Amazonia is not an easy place to traverse on either the astral or the material plane.”
“Do you know if he’s alive?” Ocelot repeated. There was an edge of panic in his voice, his body poised to do something even though he had no idea what that something was.
“Clearly he was alive when the watcher was here,” Gabriel said. “Otherwise it would not have completed its instructions. The fading I saw was not the winking out of a spirit no longer controlled, but rather the slow dimming as power level decreased with time.”
“So he’s probably alive now,” Ocelot said. “And he needs help.” He spun around, looking wildly about the room in search of something, anything, that would allow him to take action. Then he rounded on Gabriel. “Can you find him? Can you find out if he’s alive? Maybe even...do that astral projection thing and let him know we got his message?”
“I can try.” Gabriel nodded soberly. “But I warn you—as I said, Amazonia is not a place where it is easy to locate someone in this way. It is so strongly magical that even at my power level, especially without knowing anything else about his possible location—” he sighed. “I will certainly try.” He lowered himself back into the chair again and once more slumped to the side.
Kestrel looked at him for a moment, then at Ocelot. Her expression clearly said, now what? without any need for her to speak the words.
Ocelot’s eyes settled on her for a moment. “Kestrel, I’m sorry. I can’t think about this business with you and Gabriel right now. It’s going to have to wait for awhile until I can figure out what’s up with ‘Hawk.”
She nodded like that was obvious. “What are you going to do?”
He crossed the room in two quick steps and snatched up the phone, pushing a pile of clean laundry and two empty beer cans out of the way. “I have to find out where he was supposed to be going. That means calling somebody who should know.”
“The watcher said something about University. If he’s gone off somewhere in Amazonia on a field trip with his grad students, Aubrey’ll know where he was headed.” As he spoke, he was rummaging around in the little comm unit’s memory, trying to find the number for Stone Manor.
“You know you’re gonna worry the hell out of that poor old man if he doesn’t already know about this,” Kestrel pointed out.
“Yeah, but better now than after a few hours when nobody reports in.” He found the number he was seeking and began punching it in. In his haste he hit a wrong key, swore, and forced himself to slow down and enter the sequence correctly. Across the room, Gabriel had not moved.
Ocelot tapped his foot impatiently as the connection was made and the ringing began. It rang four times before being picked up.
“Stone Manor, this is Aubrey speaking.”
Ocelot’s concentration focused completely on the voice on the other end of the line. “Aubrey? It’s Ocelot. Terry.”
“Terry?” The voice sounded suprised. “I didn’t expect to be hearing from you, sir. Dr. Stone isn’t—”
“—isn’t home. I know. Listen, Aubrey—have you heard anything from him recently?”
There was a moment’s silence. “How recently, sir? He only left yesterday.”
“Where was he headed?”
“Sir, I don’t—”
“Please, Aubrey. It’s important. Where was he going?”
Another pause. “He’s with the University, sir. He and another professor and some graduate students were on a trip to Amazonia to study—whatever sort of magical things they study. He didn’t go into detail with me about it.”
Ocelot let his breath out slowly. At least now he knew that the spirit was on the level. “Aubrey, listen to me. I need to know as much as possible about where specifically he was going.”
“Sir.” The old man’s voice took on a slightly more stubborn edge. “Would you please tell me what’s happening? Clearly you are seeking Dr. Stone, but—”
“Something’s happened,” Ocelot said, cutting him off. “A watcher showed up here and tried to deliver a message from him, but it was at the end of its power and it wasn’t very clear. It sounds like—” he paused a moment, forcing his voice to calm, “—it sounds like his plane went down.”
There was a gasp on the other end of the line. “Dear God...”
“Aubrey! Don’t lose me now!” Ocelot snapped. “I need your help. Speed’s important, because at least a few minutes ago he was still alive. I need to get to him fast. And you need to do two things: tell me where he was headed, and get hold of whatever authorities you can and tell them about this.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Aubrey was clearly trying to regain his composure in the face of Ocelot’s shocking pronouncement. “But—the radio—Wouldn’t they—?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything else about this except what I told you. I’m gonna go on the assumption that nobody knows this happened except us. So get on it, Aubrey, okay? And where was he going?”
The old man took a deep breath. “Amazonia. There was a trip planned—one of the other professors’ husbands fell ill and she was unable to make the trip, so Dr. Leifeld asked Dr. Stone if he wanted to go in her place. He and another professor have taken a group of graduate students and were planning to spend two weeks there studying magical phenomena.”
Ocelot nodded. “Okay. Do you have the itinerary?”
“Yes, sir. Hold on—” There was a long pause and then the RECEIVING DATA icon on the bottom of Ocelot’s phone began to flicker. “I’m sending it now, sir.”
Ocelot waited until the transmission was complete, sent the data to print, and then turned his attention back to Aubrey. “Okay, good. Got it.”
“It’ll be okay, Aubrey. I’m gonna head down there as soon as I get off the phone. I’ll find him. What I want you to do is, like I said, contact whoever you think might be able to help. The airline people, the University, whoever. Let’s get as many people on this as we can.”
“Yes, sir.” Aubrey’s voice shook slightly but Ocelot could hear him regaining his stubborn grit. The old caretaker would do what was necessary, so Ocelot could concentrate on his end of the deal. “And—thank you.”
“Null sweat, Aubrey,” Ocelot said with more confidence than he felt. “We’ll get it done. I’ll call you when I know more. You do the same, okay?” He hit a button and punched in his mobile comm number, sending it to Aubrey.
“I—I will sir.”
“Thanks. I’ll call you.” He broke the connection and snatched the paper containing the itinerary from the tiny printer.
“What did you find out?”
He turned, startled—he’d almost forgotten Kestrel’s presence. “He was headed to Amazonia.” Glancing down at the paper in his hand, he added, “Left Heathrow last night, changed planes in Miami earlier today. So that’s where I’m headed to start, I guess.” Without further comment to her, he snatched up a duffel bag from the floor and began flinging things from the pile of clean laundry into it.
“Can’t. I have to get going. Need to make flight arrangements. Maybe Harry can—”
“What?” This time he turned, impatience showing in his eyes.
“I’m going with you.”
He shook his head and turned back to his packing. “Forget it.”
“What do you mean, forget it?” She glared at him.
“I mean, you’re not going with me.”
“You just aren’t.” He finished stuffing clothes into one duffel and grabbed another one, stalking around the room and occasionally pulling a weapon off the wall. These he wrapped and shoved into the second duffel.
“Ocelot, that’s ridiculous. I—” She stopped when she heard a sound on the other side of the room. Turning, she saw Gabriel was stirring in the chair. Argument momentarily forgotten she hurried over to his side. “Did you find anything?”
Gabriel stood up and stretched, the bones in his neck making gentle cricking noises. His eyes were somber. “Not much. Not as much as I’d have liked. The background count there is incredible. It’s as if the entire place is alive.” He paused a moment, then continued. “I think I found the general vicinity of where the plane went down.”
“Could you tell if he was alive? If anyone was?”
He shook his head. “No, I couldn’t get that level of detail.”
“Can you show me where the place is on a map?” Ocelot demanded, coming over. He was already punching up a map of Amazonia and its neighboring countries on his vidscreen.
As Gabriel studied the map and tried to place what he saw in a location, Kestrel turned to him. “Ocelot says we can’t go with him.”
“What?” The young man turned his head slightly to look at her as if he had not quite heard her correctly, then returned his attention to the map.
“He says he’s going alone.”
“Insanity.” Gabriel leaned closer in, moving the pointer around the map and zooming in for a better look.
“Look—” Ocelot began.
Gabriel glanced up again. “Why not?”
Ocelot looked as if there was something on his mind that he didn’t want to come out and say. “I—Kestrel—”
“You don’t want me to go because of what I told you!” Kestrel exclaimed, her eyes smoldering. “Ocelot, if you’re suddenly growing a protective urge after all this time—” She wheeled on Gabriel. “Gabriel, tell him. It’s—”
“It would be safer if you remained, Juliana,” Gabriel said softly. As she drew an indignant breath, he added quickly, “but you know me well enough to know that I would not presume to make such decisions for you.”
Mollified, Kestrel turned her glare back on Ocelot.
“Hey, wait a minute!” Ocelot growled. “I said I was going alone. That means neither of you are going with me.”
Gabriel shook his head. “Don’t be a fool, Ocelot. Our primary mission is to find Winterhawk and the others as quickly as possible.”
“Yeah. And I need to get going now.”
“He’s a dragon, Ocelot, or have you forgotten that already?” Kestrel leaned over the back of Gabriel’s chair and peered at the map over his shoulder. “Having him along can do nothing but help find ‘Hawk faster. And you know I’m better in the wilderness than you are.”
Ocelot sighed. They were right, of course, both of them. How could he come out and say that he didn’t want Kestrel to risk herself when she was—ah, hell. I can’t treat her like this. She’d hate me for it. I’m just gonna have to trust that she can take care of herself.
And that I can handle being that close to her for this long after...what’s happened, a little voice in the back of his mind added.
“Okay, fine,” he snapped. “You can go. But we have to get going now.”
Gabriel stabbed a button on the vid unit and sent another file to the printer, already pulling a mobile phone from his pocket. “That’s as close as I can get—the background count is making it difficult to get any more precision. Perhaps when we get there I can probe more deeply.” Without waiting for an answer, he punched a button on the phone and put it to his ear.
“What are you doing?”
“Transportation,” he said briefly, then turned away.
Ocelot sighed. He didn’t often like to admit it, but dragons could be very useful companions when you needed something done in a hurry. Especially dragons with the kinds of connections Gabriel had. He looked at Kestrel and let out a long sigh.
She touched his arm gently. “He’ll be fine,” she whispered. “We’ll find him. He’s tough, and he knows how to take care of himself. And if they’ve got a whole planeload of mages they can probably handle injuries.” I hope so, he thought, but said nothing.
Copyright ©2003-2004 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.