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It was a bit after 21:00. Winterhawk and Ocelot sat in their rented car, watching the trees and waiting for their opportunity.

The RV was parked off the road about a kilometer away. They had been reluctant to rent another car and possibly put others on their trail, but there hadn't been much choice. The RV was too conspicuous to bring up here where the road was barely wide enough for the car they were currently driving. They'd considered walking from where they would leave the RV, but eliminated that possibility when they realized that they didn't know exactly what they were in for, and also how mobile Dr. Hildebrandt was. They'd be in big trouble if they had to move fast and the doctor wasn't up to the exertion.

They were now a few meters into one of the more lightly-forested areas, where they had backed the car and turned off the headlights. Ocelot held up the map. "Okay. Got this memorized?"

'Hawk nodded. "To the extent that I need to, at any rate. Remember, if we do this right, Dr. Hildebrandt does want to come with us. If we have to go out guns blazing, we've done something terribly wrong."

"Still," Ocelot said, "It's better to plan for things to go all wrong. Like you said, it's a pleasant surprise if they don't."

The map showed a small complex containing seven main buildings. Three of these were identified as residences, one as the main lab, one as the auxiliary lab, one as a cafeteria/rec room, and one as the administration and security center. The complex was surrounded by a high fence, and the single entrance, reached by means of a narrow private road, was guarded by a security post. Several vehicles were parked in a lot off to one side of the complex, near the fence.

An astral scan Winterhawk had performed half an hour ago revealed three guards who patrolled regular patterns around the inner perimeter of the fence. Two of these guards had dogs with them. Additionally, he spotted extensive lighting on the buildings, and small boxes mounted on the corners of several that Ocelot, when informed about them, suspected were probably closed circuit security cameras. As yet, 'Hawk had made no attempt to astrally check out the insides of the buildings; they planned to do that right before they went in. "Too bad Johnson couldn't provide maps of the interiors of these buildings," Ocelot said.

"Easy enough to find out, unless they're warded," Winterhawk reminded him. "Come on--let's get on with this. The longer we stay here, the more likely it is that someone will discover us, or the monstrosity down the road."

Ocelot nodded. 'Hawk had a point. "Okay--you check the place out. When you get back, we'll go."

Winterhawk settled back in his seat, leaned his head back, and slumped, his astral form leaving his corporeal body. Ocelot glanced at him long enough to make sure he wasn't in any difficulty, then set about preparing his gear. He checked his armored longcoat to verify that everything was where it was supposed to be: Narcoject pistol and taser for nonlethal firepower, along with the monowhip in its special compartment. That was for the eventuality that things went a lot more wrong than they were supposed to. Rounding out his weaponry was the Ingram Smartgun, which rode in a special holster inside his coat. His helmet, along with Winterhawk's, was currently on the back seat of the car. He had spare rounds for the Narcoject and the Ingram in his pocket, and his grapple gun attached to his belt, next to three flash grenades and two concussion. He was loaded up and ready to go.

He looked over at 'Hawk, who, now that he didn't have to maintain the tourist charade any longer, had changed into his familiar dark, well-tailored suit. He hadn't even put on his coat yet: it lay across his helmet in the back. Ocelot knew that the mage didn't have many weapons with him; he had convinced 'Hawk to carry a Narcoject pistol along with his HK227, but that was all. As usual, he was largely content to rely on his magical firepower to get him through most situations. The HK227 was there only as a last-ditch backup. As usual as well, Ocelot, who was much more conditioned to count on a mundane offense, hoped that 'Hawk's reliance on things magical didn't come back to bite them. He respected magic a great deal, but he knew how capricious it could be, especially when the mage in question was hurt or tired.

He was checking the map once more when Winterhawk's head snapped up. The mage looked around to get his bearings, then turned to Ocelot. "All right," he said briskly. "The three guards are still patrolling, along with their canine companions. Aside from that, our man is in the recreation room. I think he's watching something on the trid. There are three others in there with him, and one in the kitchen, which is in the same building."

"What about all the others?"

"Some are in the residence buildings, and a couple are in the labs. Burning the midnight oil, as it were. I don't think we'll be needing to worry about them, as long as we're quiet. There's also the guard in the guard station, and the security rigger in the administration building. One must presume that he's watching the views from the various security cameras."

Ocelot nodded. "Is there any way you know of to alert Dr. Hildebrandt that we're here?"

Winterhawk shook his head. "I thought perhaps if he was alone, I might be able to astrally project myself, or send a watcher to give him the message. But as long as there are others in there, that's quite risky."

"We could wait until he leaves--"

"I'd advise against it. As I said before, I'm getting nervous about staying here too long. I don't think they have any magic-based security, but I'd hate to find out I'm wrong about that. Not to mention, we have no way to know that when he leaves, he'll go somewhere where he'll be alone."

"Okay," Ocelot said, opening the car door. "Then I guess it's now. We need to get in there quick and quiet."

"I can get us over the fence," 'Hawk said, gathering his gear from the back seat and shrugging into his coat. "I think if we're a bit careful, we can avoid the guards, though I'm not so sure about the dogs. Even if I make us invisible, I can't do anything about our scent."

"Could you tell if they have any motion detectors?" Ocelot asked.

Winterhawk shook his head. "No way to tell."

Ocelot shrugged. "We'd better just go, then. Can't be prepared for everything."

Slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible, the two closed the car doors and made their way through the underbrush toward the fence. With their dark coats and helmets, they blended into the shadows cast by the trees, though neither of them was as quiet as they would have liked. Ocelot was the product of an urban society, and far better suited for sneaking around on sidewalks and through alleys than for tramping through forests, while Winterhawk had never studied stealth of any type. Still, though, they made good progress. Their low-light cybereyes helped them pick out the proper path and avoid any mishaps, until at last, after what seemed like a much longer time than it actually had been, they stood in the trees about three meters from the compound fence.

"Any preference on where to go in?" Winterhawk whispered.

Ocelot pointed. "Let's try to get over the fence near the rec room. Once we're over, make it fast. If we can get in and out before they can figure out what's going on, we might be able to get back over without getting shot at."

"I like that reasoning," the mage agreed.

The two runners got into position opposite the rec room building, which was situated only a couple of meters from the fence. Still hidden in the trees, they waited while the guard (fortunately the one without a dog) moved past the building and continued on his rounds. They gave him two more minutes to get out of the way, then Ocelot turned to Winterhawk. "Okay. Do it."

As one, they moved out of the trees, Winterhawk casting his levitation spell as they went. As they reached the fence, they rose from the ground to the height of the fence, slipped over, and dropped down to land safely and quietly next to the rear of the rec building. "Can you get Dr. Hildebrandt back over too?" Ocelot whispered as this new fact dawned on him. He was glancing around as if he expected alarms to be sounding, but so far none had done so.

"Might take two trips for all of us," 'Hawk said, "But I can do it. Come on. We have to find him first."

Ocelot drew his Narcoject pistol and took the lead. He started to round the corner, then quickly drew back and flattened against the side of the building. "What is it?" Winterhawk asked.

"Shh. Someone's leaving."

Surprisingly, this news did not disturb the mage. In fact, it seemed to please him. "Trade places with me. Quickly."

Ocelot knew better than to ask. He moved down the wall and 'Hawk swiftly took his place, peering around the corner. The mage gestured with one hand, and made a "come on" motion back at Ocelot with the other. "Let's go," he said. "We've got our way in."

Ocelot moved around Winterhawk and immediately saw what the mage meant. The door to the rec room, which had been closed, now stood open a few centimeters. "You holding that?"

"Right you are." He sounded satisfied. "Now hurry up before someone catches us."

They slipped into the building and quickly closed the door behind them. Taking stock of where they were, they discovered that they were standing in what looked like an unused game or conference room. There were no lights in here. From off in the distance, voices could be heard; in a moment, they resolved themselves enough so the two runners could identify them as the soundtrack of a trideo show. "Okay," Ocelot said. "This is the tough part. Ready?"

Winterhawk nodded, serious now. He knew as well as Ocelot did that this was the part where they, Dr. Hildebrandt, anyone else in the room, or some combination of the above could be hurt or killed if anything went wrong. He disliked jobs that required indiscriminate killing; he would kill if he had to, but only when necessary. He much preferred getting in and out unnoticed, and he knew that Ocelot did as well.

When they threw open the door and burst into the room, the occupants were much as Winterhawk had described them: four people, one of them an ork, sat on comfortable-looking couches arrayed in front of a large trideo unit. All four jumped and turned quickly at the sound of the door slamming open.

Ocelot moved to cover the room with his SMG, which he had no intention of using. "Nobody move," he ordered.

Winterhawk took advantage of the confusion on the faces of the room's occupants to move quickly over to the ork. "Dr. Hildebrandt, I presume," he said formally, with a relaxed smile. "Your ride is here."

Hildebrandt stood, his expression apprehensive but resolute. He was a few centimeters taller than Winterhawk, and about twice as wide as the slimly-built mage. He looked around, quickly taking in the room, then looked at Ocelot. "Put that thing down," he said sternly. "We're not hurting anybody. Got it?"

"We're not going to hurt anyone, Dr. Hildebrandt," 'Hawk said, his tone smooth and solicitious. "Let's just make our exit, shall we, before anyone else catches on." He motioned the ork toward Ocelot, who still hadn't lowered the Ingram.

"Can't just go," Ocelot said. His gaze shifted constantly back and forth between Hildebrandt and the other occupants of the room. "These guys'll raise the alarm the minute we leave the room."

Winterhawk turned to Hildebrandt. "Narcoject or sleep spell?" he asked.


"We have to render them unconscious," 'Hawk explained. "That is, if you want to get out of here. Decide, or we will."

When Hildebrandt hesitated, Ocelot quickly stowed his SMG, pulled out his Narcoject pistol, and administered doses to the three frightened spectators. "Come on," he said, laying them out on the couches. "They'll be okay. We gotta go."

They headed for the door, with Ocelot in the lead, a hesitant Hildebrandt in the middle, and Winterhawk bringing up the rear. They had just reached it, and Ocelot's hand was on the knob, when the door on the other side of the room flew open and three figures burst in.

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