The four men piled into the bullet-ridden RV, dropping in an untidy heap on the floor. Ocelot disentangled himself first. "Come on," he said urgently, casting glances back toward the Denny's of the Damned. "We have to get going." Only then did it occur to him that their driver was once again indisposed. "Doc--drive us out of here, willya? Try the autopilot. We'll work it out as we go. I think we're gonna need you back here."
Hildebrandt nodded, taking the driver's seat and getting the RV turned around and pointed back toward 101.
Ocelot looked back and forth between the remaining two occupants of the rear compartment. Winterhawk lay near the back door; he was still conscious, but his eyes were starting to glaze over. The newcomer, the elf, had pulled himself forward stiffly, trying to sit up with minimal success. Ocelot ignored him for the moment, moving past him to `Hawk.
"You still there?" he asked, propping the mage up against the refrigerator and sliding his armored coat down off his shoulder to view the damage. Winterhawk's suit jacket and formerly white shirt were both stained with bright red; Ocelot could see that the bullet had entered and exited cleanly.
`Hawk stared dully at him. "Still--here."
"Can you heal yourself?"
"Don't...know," he whispered.
Hildebrandt, meanwhile, had discovered that the autopilot was in fact still functional, so he set it to carry them down 101 at or near the speed limit and came rearward to get a look at their situation. Noticing that Ocelot was taking care of Winterhawk, he knelt down next to the elf.
Winterhawk closed his eyes, focused, and tried to gather all his rapidly-dissipating mental energy together long enough to weave the healing spell to take care of his shoulder. He knew, through the haze of pain and fogged perception, that if he could heal himself, then he could deal with the elf's injury later. Dr. Hildebrandt and Ocelot would make sure that the elf didn't die before then. But if he healed the elf first, especially since he suspected that anyone who could move that fast must be positively brimming with cybernetic enhancements and therefore harder than normal to heal, then in all likelihood he would pass out from drain and blood loss and be unable to help himself.
"`Hawk?" Ocelot said with concern, shaking his uninjured shoulder gently.
"Shh," the mage said harshly through clenched teeth, fighting to maintain the spell. Healing was hard, because it wasn't instantaneous. If his concentration slipped now, the whole spell would be lost and he'd have to try again. He didn't think he had the strength to try again.
Ocelot sat back and waited until Winterhawk opened his eyes. He couldn't tell any difference: the mage was still bloody, pale, his face and hair dripping with sweat. "Did it work?" he ventured.
The mage nodded wearily. "Yes. Yes." He looked up at Hildebrandt. "How's our friend here?"
Hildebrandt sighed. "It's just a graze, but it's a deep one. He's lost a lot of blood. I got the bleeding stopped, but we're gonna need to do something more than that."
Winterhawk looked at the elf, who was watching him with the same wary suspicion as before, his eyes still hidden behind dark glasses. "Any objection to my healing you? I think we have a few things to discuss."
The elf shook his head, indicating his injured leg with a quick downward glance.
The mage crawled over to him, still weak but enjoying the feeling of having both arms functional again. Ocelot and Hildebrandt hung back and watched, with Ocelot taking regular glances out every available window to look for potential trouble. He was ready to catch Winterhawk as he sagged backward after completing the spell, the drain very nearly causing him to pass out.
The elf looked down at his bloody but now uninjured leg, then up at the three men who were watching him. "Thanks," he said to Winterhawk.
"My pleasure," the mage said as he tried to focus in on one image of the elf, rather than the three that were swimming there now.
"What do we call you?" Ocelot asked the elf. "Can't keep sayin' hey you, elf."
"ShadoWraith," the elf said. Pulling off his dark glasses, he folded them carefully and put them in the inner pocket of his leather jacket. His eyes were stark white, with tiny black pinprick pupils in the center. Cyber, obviously. Unsettling.
Ocelot nodded. "Okay. I'm Ocelot. The guy here on the floor is Winterhawk. And this--" he swiveled his head around and pointed at the ork, pausing for a moment "--is the Doc." The elf may have acquitted himself admirably in the fight, but that didn't mean that Ocelot was ready to trust him with sensitive information about their run. Such as the identity of their target.
Winterhawk hauled himself up to a sitting position next to Ocelot. "So," he said in as conversational a tone as he could muster, "What brings you to this lovely area on such a fine evening? Ambiance? Love of fine cuisine? Bad luck?"
ShadoWraith stared at the Brit for a moment as if trying to figure out if he was for real. "Vehicle failure," he finally said.
"Thought you said you didn't have a vehicle," Ocelot pointed out.
"I don't. It failed."
"A little more detail might be good," Ocelot said.
Again, the elf paused. "I had a motorcycle. Riding too fast. Blew the engine."
Winterhawk nodded. "Where were you heading?"
"What do you mean, `not sure'?" Dr. Hildebrandt spoke up. "How can you not be sure where you're going?"
The elf's steady gaze came up to meet the ork's. "I was being followed. Chased. The men back there."
"Hang on a minute," Ocelot protested. "Those guys weren't after you. They were after us."
"Yes," ShadoWraith agreed. "So I saw. But similar men were after me."
Winterhawk had been sitting back, thinking things through as the others had been talking. Fatigue, drain, and blood loss had slowed his thought processes down considerably, but there was still something nagging at him. "Did anyone else hear what those chaps said?"
"Huh?" Ocelot said. "What are you talkin' about?"
"I missed some of it," the mage said. "I was a bit busy at the time. But I distinctly heard things such as `dandelion-eater', `tusker-lover,' and other terms of endearment of that nature."
ShadoWraith nodded as if that was self-evident. "Yes."
"So they're bigots," Ocelot said. "There's lots of those in the world, aren't there?"
"Yes, true," Winterhawk said. "But they're not all after us. Or specifically, they're not all after the doctor here."
"And you say you thought they were after you?" Ocelot turned back to look at ShadoWraith.
The elf nodded. "Yes. I was--fleeing a similar group. An ambush." His face, the entire time, had remained expressionless.
Hildebrandt had been silent for a long while. "We need to talk," he spoke up suddenly. His voice, though he did not raise it, cut into the conversation with subtle urgency.
All three other faces turned to him. "This is about that pin, isn't it?" Ocelot asked.
The ork nodded, deep resignation etched into his face. He looked ten years older than he had when they had first picked him up at the Hermes complex. "Yeah," he whispered, staring down at his hands. Then he raised his head. "We need to go somewhere. I have a lot of things I have to tell you, and we need to be somewhere safe."
Ocelot stared hard at Hildebrandt, unsure of whether he should be angry at the ork for keeping secrets from them or just get on with things. Winterhawk made the decision before Ocelot did; he addressed ShadoWraith. "You're involved in this now; since you seem to be in a bit of a jam, p'raps you can give us a hand, at least until you can secure alternate transportation. From what I saw, you're quite a shot."
"Yes," the elf said in his odd monotone, just the tiniest trace of pride coloring the word around the edges.
"Wires?" Ocelot asked him. "Or physad?"
"Wires," ShadoWraith said, and then raised a questioning eyebrow back.
"Yeah. Me too," Ocelot said.
"Gentlemen," Winterhawk broke in, rising rather ungracefully to his feet, "Perhaps you can compare notes on your abilities later. For now, I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable about leaving our fates to the vagaries of the autopilot, aren't you?"