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"'Kay," Holley said, slapping her hands together in satisfaction. "There it is. All ready to go." She stood aside for them to inspect the van.

Ocelot opened up the back door. All of the items they had requested were neatly laid out there: a longcoat and helmet for Hildebrandt, a taser, and a Narcoject pistol. The van's windows were all dark-tinted except for the windshield, and there was space enough inside for the four men to sit in relative comfort. "Not bad," Ocelot said.

Hildebrandt was shrugging into the bulky armored coat. It was a little large for him, but he didn't seem to mind. "This thing's heavy," he said. "Do you guys wear this stuff all the time?"

"Not all the time," Ocelot said. "But it's a good idea to keep it on whenever possible when we're up against stuff like this. Never know when somebody's gonna take a shot at you."

The ork shook his head. "I could never deal with this life," he said. "I'd be nervous all the time. I want to get this over with and get back to my nice, safe research. It might be boring, but at least nobody shoots at you. Most of the time, anyway."

"You never really get used to it," Ocelot said. "I think if you did, it'd be time to give it up. But you learn to deal with it eventually. You learn to keep your eyes open all the time."

"Better you than me, I guess," Hildebrandt said.

They killed time until Winterhawk and ShadoWraith had emerged from the back room, looking marginally more awake than they had before, and then got the van loaded up while Hildebrandt settled up with Holley. "You don't have to buy the van unless you don't bring it back in one piece," the dwarf said. "But you break it, you bought it." Hildebrandt didn't even argue. Ocelot wondered if he realized just how much this stuff was going to cost, but figured that if he wasn't complaining, then he must be able to afford it.

Twenty minutes later, they were on the road, and an hour after that, they were back on 101 headed south. The meeting with the contact had gone well. They had met him at a downtown bar; he was a small human of Aztlaner or possibly Native American origin, soft-spoken and direct. Harry had already given him what details he'd known, and they supplied the rest, along with a hefty payment. The man, who had identified himself only as Hector, had gone off somewhere for half an hour while the four runners waited over a round of beers, and had returned with four ID chips that he said would be able to get them past the border of Ute Territory and back into Seattle. "What are we supposed to be?" Ocelot had asked. "What's our excuse for being there?"

"It's all on the chips," Hector had told him. "You should get familiar with them before you go in. These two--" he pointed at Hildebrandt and Winterhawk "--are doing scientific research on some magical stuff in Ute. You two are their assistant/bodyguard/security advisor types. That explains the weapons--there's some nasty critters out in Ute. It won't hold up to close scrutiny, but it should get you past the border crossings without too much trouble. It's the best I can do on this kind of notice."

Knowing that not only was he probably right, but it was certainly the best they were going to get on such short notice, they had accepted the chips, finished their drinks as Hector had melted off into the darkness, and gone on their way.

They drove straight through, with Winterhawk and ShadoWraith switching off driving. Ocelot sat in the back seat near the sliding door so he could get out in a hurry if he needed to, leaving Hildebrandt next to the side that didn't have a door. The weapons and other gear were stowed in a locked box in the back, which had been provided by Holley when they had noticed that there wasn't any secure place to store their weapons out of sight. "So," Ocelot said, "We're going to UCLA?"

"Yeah," Hildebrandt said. "Got a friend down there on the faculty. He's a parabiologist named Hank Foley. We were fraternity brothers in college when I was an undergrad. We kept in touch all these years, and when I was down there, I stopped by to visit him for a day or two."

"Where's the chip?" Ocelot asked.

"It's in a little trophy I gave him." Hildebrandt smiled a bit sheepishly. "Just a dumb little thing that nobody would want except us. I don't even remember what it was for anymore, but we had some stupid contest and I won, so he gave it to me as a joke. I just drilled a slot in it, shoved the chip in, and filled it back up again, then gave it to him. He thought it was a great joke that I still had it after all these years."

"So then," Winterhawk said, "all we have to do is convince him to leave us alone with this trophy long enough to get the chip out. Shouldn't be difficult."

"No," Hildebrandt said. "I sure wish I could give him a call first, but I don't want to tip anybody off."

"We'll be there soon," Ocelot said. "We'd better just keep quiet until then, just in case."

From San Luis Obispo, it took them a little over five hours to reach the Los Angeles area. After the confrontation that had occurred last time they had tried to stop for a meal, they made do with drive-through fast food which they ate in the van on the way. At least this van had a proper autopilot. The only other stop they made, reluctantly deciding that it was necessary, was a quick detour to a clothing store in Ventura to pick up a few changes of clothes for Hildebrandt. It was the quickest clothing-shopping expedition they could manage without risking the arousal of anyone's suspicions.

Getting stuck in the rush-hour traffic on the Los Angeles freeways consumed another hour, and by the time they approached UCLA, it was after 17:00. "Will he still be there this late?" Ocelot asked.

"He might be," Hildebrandt said. "We should check, at least. He could have late classes or be in his office. If we don't find him here, I guess we can try his house, but that's about half an hour away in good traffic. We're here now."

They pulled into the parking lot of a closed store near the campus and assessed their options. "We might have a little trouble getting in," Hildebrandt said. "The campus is closed--you need to have business there to get in, or at least a reason. I don't know how we're going to--"

"Can you get in?" Ocelot cut in.

"Yeah, no problem."

"But you're saying that getting all of us in there won't be easy."

"Welll...yeah," Hildebrandt said reluctantly. "No offense, but you guys don't look much like students, even without all that armor."

The beginnings of a smile began on Ocelot's face. "What about professors?"


Winterhawk was mirroring Ocelot's smile. "Yes. Excellent idea. One of us could pass himself off as a professor--a visiting one, most likely--and go with you, while the others remained as close by as possible and in communication."

"We can all leave our phone connections open," Ocelot said.

Hildebrandt was looking back and forth between the three of them. "Well...if you think it'll work." He didn't look convinced. "Who's it going to be?"

"I think I can pass myself off as an academic," Winterhawk said dryly. "I'm the best choice, I think."

Ocelot nodded. "Whatever we're going to do," he said, "we'd better do it pretty quick. Doc, is there a place where we can get close to where you'll be so we can be ready if anything happens?"

"Hmm..." Hildebrandt thought about it for a moment. "I might even be able to bluff you on to campus, using those fake IDs we got from Hector. But you'd have to stay in the van. We could park pretty close to the office building, especially this time of night. I'm betting he's in his office if he's still around this late."

"Quickly," 'Wraith said. He'd been silent for quite some time, listening to the plans without comment.

"What?" Ocelot swiveled around to face him.

"In. Out. Quickly. The doctor is using his true identity."

Winterhawk nodded. "Quite right, and a very good point. They'll have records of Dr. Hildebrandt's entrance to and exit from the campus. It will make us more traceable, but I don't think it can be helped, can it, Doctor?"

Hildebrandt shook his head. "I don't think so. They're closed up pretty tight, security-wise. I'm gonna need to be the real me to get us in there."

"Well, we'll have to do it fast then," Ocelot said. "Let's get going."

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