Story (c) 2000 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c) John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and Wanda Vixen(c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin Badger (c) James Bruner. Character John Silverback (c) Himself Character Kittiara and the restaruant "Callahan's" (c) "Kittiara" Character Katja (c) Herself Character Mark the cheetaur (c) Mark White Eric W. Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. Michael Jones (c) Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge (c) Keith Dickson. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners.

Identity Crisis - Chapter 40
Welcome my friend. Welcome to the machine.

  Zig Zag sat in between the two bench seats, tail between her legs, arms wrapped around her knees. This afternoon had turned into a nightmare. She had no clue what was going on with Arden. After running into the stranger, he had slowly changed until he had become someone she didn't recognize anymore.

  She had panicked when he had pulled out the gun and tried to get out of the car. Remembering the event, she rubbed her throat where he had strangled her to stop her. No apologies, no reasoning. He simply had commanded her with a voice that demanded absolute obedience.

  Then when the stranger had pulled up with the van, she had been too shocked to react. The pain of his claws in the fur on the back of her neck had broken the spell. Unceremoniously being tossed into the back of the van, she remembered landing hard and feeling violated by the impersonal treatment he had given her. It was like she was six years old again and her father was once again pushing her around.

  Feeling the vehicle stop, she heard the driver turn off the engine. Arden and the stranger talked for a few seconds before Zig Zag felt the door close. This was a waking dream, or a nightmare. Everything around her was surreal.

  Some time later she saw Arden open the sliding door and motion to her. Still looking at the gun, she slowly climbed onto her knees and crawled out of the vehicle. As he closed the door behind her, she tried to bolt. His hand grabbed her arm in a crushing grip, the pain penetrating the fog. Fighting him, she tried to strike with her free hand, only to have it casually blocked by his pistol hand. The last thing she saw were the knuckles of his gun hand returning just before they struck her head.


  Walking up the stairs of the decrepit building, we saw none of the other tenants. This was a good thing, as I'd have trouble explaining the unconscious form over my shoulder. I'm not sure why Zig Zag had freaked, but I didn't have time to be reasonable. We were vulnerable in the open and I wasn't going to risk a confrontation in public.

  Carrying her up to the third floor, I was glad to see that the stairs went no further. Zig Zag wasn't all that heavy, but she wasn't any helium balloon either. Waiting at the head of the stairs, I kept watch to make sure nobody was coming up while our friend did some elaborate mojo to open the door. Once it was opened, I followed her in, listening to her bolt it behind me.

  Stopping at the entryway, I waited as she proceeded into the apartment. This had been a warehouse that had been converted into apartment space. On the opposite end of the room, I saw a large cargo elevator with steel doors that were locked down. After a few seconds, our friend came back and got us.

  Leading me over to what was obviously her sleeping area, I put Zig Zag on the bed. Checking to make sure she was all right, I then went out into the main room.

  Seeing our friend over by a bank of electronic equipment, I approached. Standing a respectful distance from her while examining the displays. "You may as well come over and take a close look." She stated, "This is my tracking network. The various flags represent locations corresponding to homes, apartments, businesses and etc. that are involved. Green is third party, blue are good guys, and red are bad guys. The diamonds represent vehicles I've spiked with trackers."

  Examining the display, I spotted Zig Zag's car where we had left it at the restaurant. I saw that James was at ZZ's house. The others I didn't know. I spotted one blue flag next to a green flag. Pointing to it, I asked, "What's this marker?" Picking up a light pen, she clicked on the icon. A sub-window popped up showing the rental car that Bjorn was driving along with his picture and some statistics on how long the vehicle had been there and where it had come from. It showed Bjorn at the lunch café that Sheila had liked. By now, it would have been closed.

  Still examining the display, I asked, "Aren't you worried that they might pick up these trackers?" Shaking her head, she smiled, "Spread spectrum broadcast over multiple bands. It's hidden between the digital cell channels so it's almost impossible to pick it up unless you know exactly what to look for." Hide it in the cell traffic. That made sense. "Aren't you worried about someone picking them up?" I asked. Shaking her head, she replied, "Only people who are going to notice it are the maintenance crews for the cell towers, and even then it will look like a problem phone. Besides, they only broadcast when the vehicle starts moving, stops moving, at pre-arranged reporting times or if I ping them." That was pretty damned smart.

  As I watched her reaching to adjust receivers, I saw a hint of the tiger pattern I had first seen the day she had shot the assassin at James's. Smiling, I let out a chuckle. Turning, she shot me a questioning look, "So, what's so funny?" Reaching out to her arm, I twisted the muscle and fur so she could see it, "You're tiger strips are showing through. You were in a bit of a rush." She visibly winced. Taking a sniff, I continued, "And your sent mask is fading too. Next time try coffee, it's stronger, lasts a long time and people will just assume you spilled some on yourself."

  Turning to face me, she leaned back and crossed her legs. I'll be damned if she didn't look even more lethal in that pose for some reason. Studying the pose, I realized she had a thigh gun and it was pointed right at me. With a simple tensing of her legs together, she'd be able to shoot me without warning. Taking a chair next to the desk, I reached out with my foot and pointed her knee away from my gut.

  Her eyes closed to a thin slit; "Just who the hell are you?" She demanded. Giving a little shrug, I looked her in the eye, "Would you believe I'm retired SDF?" I asked. Curious, she looked me over; "You don't sound Japanese, though they got your kind over there. Who were you with, Rangers?" She inquired. Shaking my head, "No, Internal Security." I corrected her.

  Sitting up straight, she shook a finger, "No, no, no, no, no! Nobody retires from IS. That's like retiring from the KGB. Try again bucko." She declared. Interlacing my fingers, I leaned back casually, "Believe whatever you want. I worked out a bit of a deal with them. They don't hunt me, and friends of mine don't release certain documents."

  She just sat there, looking at me for a couple of minutes, not moving. I think she was trying to decide if I was still working for the SDF or not. Before she could make up her mind, I heard Zig Zag moaning in the other room. Getting up, I walked in there, conscious of the tiger at my back. Speaking over my shoulder, I asked, "So what should I call you?" "I go by Tigger," was the response I received.

  Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I looked back at Tigger and asked, "Do you have some ice? Maybe an icepack or a rag to put it in?" Nodding, she turned and left the room. Remembering how Zig Zag had freaked at the gun, I pulled it from my waist and tried to tuck it into the back. Remembering that I stuck out on both sides now, I tried to find a comfortable place to put it without screwing with my tail while still being readily available.

  Reaching over, I checked the side of her head. She was going to have a bruise on her temple from where the back of my hand had hit. Pealing open her eyes, I used my hand to create then remove a shadow, checking her pupils. While I did this, Zig Zag reached up and tried to knock my hands away, "Knock it off will you?" she demanded.

  Putting her paw to the side of her forehead she tried to sit up. Pressing her shoulder down with my hand, I spoke, "Lay still. You've taken a nasty shock to the head." Moaning again, she relaxed, "What hit me? Last thing I remember was getting out of the van and..." she explained, pausing. Her eyes narrowed and she glared at me, "You bastard! You hit me!" she screamed. Backing away from the bed as she tried to maul me, I made it a point not to be too hard in deflecting her blows. "I told you next time you risked our necks I'd knock you out," I stated calmly. Shocked, she stopped attacking and stared at me. Backing up to the door, I glanced to see Tigger coming over, "Tigger is bringing ice for your head. I suggest you lay back and try to calm down." I instructed her with a flat tone of voice.

  Leaving the room, I went back over to the console to keep watch. I could only hope that Zig Zag would get a clue that this wasn't some game. I was deadly serious about getting Sheila and Bjorn back and I wasn't going to let her fears cause problems.


  Zig Zag couldn't believe what she had just heard. She remembered what he said in the car, and the odd look he had given her, but she never imagined that he could do that. When he had hit Sheila, he had acted as if it were the most horrible act he could have done. Yet he sat there and matter of factually admitted he had knocked her out without any remorse. "What the hell was going on here?" she asked herself.

  Looking up as their host, he had called her 'Tigger', came in with an ice pack Zig Zag took the pack from her and pressed it against her head, wincing at the pain. Zig Zag still didn't understand what was going on. This afternoon Arden had been the same fun loving tight ass she had come to know and like, but now...

  Tigger's voice interrupted her thoughts; "You're a friend of his right?" She asked. Realizing that Tigger was talking to her, she looked over at her, "Yes. At least I thought so. Now... I don't have a clue who he is." Zig told her.

  Looking over at the door, Tigger got up and closed it quietly before coming back over and sitting down next to Zig Zag. "There's something you've got to understand about your friend out there. Right now, Arden as you knew him doesn't exist. That Arden was just a mask of civility that was created so he could function in the real world," she explained to a stunned Zig Zag. "If what he told me is to be believed, then right now he's being controlled by 'the machine'. It's a mindset that government assassins are trained to enter when they are on a hunt or being hunted. He has no emotions for you or anyone else. He has a set goal, an objective. Anything that gets in his way is expendable," she continued, watching Zig Zag.

  Seeing that Zig Zag had absorbed what she had said so far, Tigger continued, "Right now, he values you because of your past with him. You are considered an asset. If you keep fighting with him, eventually he's going to consider you a detriment to the operation. When that happens, I don't know what he'll do. I've seen guys like that shoot people for what you just tried to do." Again she waited for what she said to sink in.

  With a quavering voice, Zig Zag asked, "And when all this is over? What then?" She asked. Shaking her head, Tigger put a hand on Zig Zag's shoulder and gave a supportive squeeze, "I don't know. Some of them pull out of the dive right away. Other's I've seen take years to piece their lives back together. There are a few that never recover. Since your boy wasn't obviously a cold calculating killer when you knew him, I think he'll pull out. I just don't know how long it will take."

  Tigger had seen some of the twisted crap that governments did to their own people. If this guy had retired himself, then there was hope for him to pull out quick. If not, she may have to take him out after all. It was too dangerous to leave a loaded gun like that laying around, waiting to go off.


  Sitting at his desk at the police station, Michael closed the last folder on his desk and put it in the stack by the edge. That was the last case that the DA had signed off on. None of them were overly suspicious alone, but they did show a trend. The problem is that it wasn't enough to prove he was corrupt.

  Rubbing his eyes, he then ran his paws through the fur on his head. As he blinked and looked around, he saw an unfamiliar form approaching his desk. Looking at him, he saw it was another cop, badge hanging from his lapel. Sitting down in the chair next to Jones's desk, the guy fanned himself with the folder, "You're the guy working on the Zig Zag cases right?" Nodding, Michael turned and gave the other detective his full attention, "Yep, that's me. Have you found anything new?" He asked. Tossing the folder on the desk, the other cop replied, "You might be interested in this. It's a kidnapping that occurred this afternoon about one thirty."

  Opening the folder, Michael reviewed the information. Inside he saw that two clients had been dining the Café. After paying their bill they walked back to their car when several armed and masked assailants grabbed them, tossed them into a van, and sped off. Subsequent investigation of the vehicle resulting in learning it had been rented to Bjorn Ottersman. His companion had been identified as Sheila Vixen of ZZ Studios.

  Police had found the vehicle several blocks away. There were no fingerprints or fur that did not belong to Bjorn or Sheila. The van was stolen. It looked like a professional job. Attempts to contact Zig Zag at the studio once they had been identified had failed. According to the receptionist, she had left with his John Doe to try to locate the pair. No sign of them had been seen since.

  Looking backup up at the cop, he held up the file, "Do you need this?" He asked. Shaking his head, "Nope, that is a copy. If you find anything, let us know," the detective answered, standing to leave.

  Returning to the folder, Michael picked up the phone and started to dial. Hopefully he'd be able to call Zig Zag or Arden on their cell phones, but he wasn't taking bets on it.


  Giving Tigger a hand, I moved a couple of heavy footlockers from the storage out into the work area by the table. Watching as she opened one, I saw a candy store. Taking out hardware, she began to lay out enough equipment to fit a small squad. At the bottom of the second box was a large Bamboo and Leather case. Placing it in front of me, Tigger stood back and watched.

  Examining the box, I saw that it was tied shut with leather straps. Undoing the knots, I opened the box and saw a Katana, a Wakazashi, and a Tanto. They were sheathed in black lacquered scabbards. On the surface was engraved the name "Tamba (no) Kami Yoshimichi." Taking the Katana out, I withdrew the blade a few inches and examined its surface. The interlaced pattern, consistent with a blade that was hand forged was barely visible. If this truly was a Yoshimichi blade, it was easily two hundred years old.

  Putting it back in the sheath, I placed it carefully back in the box, and closed it. Looking up at Tigger, I could see amusement on her face. "Where did you get this blade?" I asked. Sitting down across from me, she became very serious. "They belonged to a very close friend of mine, Hikaru Ito," she declared. Hearing that, I sat up straight. Hikaru was my controller when I worked for the SDF. Seeing my expression, she continued, "Like you, he left the SDF. Not because he wanted to, but because he had been disgraced."

  I didn't know how to react to that. I knew that when I left, Ito would catch hell for it. I also knew that my blackmailing the SDF would also damage the entire group. I just hoped that I was not the reason he was drummed out of the service. Looking back at Tigger, she saw I had finished my train of thought and continued, "Two years ago he was killed by members of Echo Team. He had been hired to act as a guard for a high level Australian businessman. Echo team took out him and their target." Pushing the box back towards me, "He had no family. He was the last of his line. If you know how to use those things, then take them and avenge him."

  Opening the box, I again withdrew the Katana. It had been almost twenty years since I had held one. I still sparred with Kendo sticks occasionally, but it's not the same thing. Drawing the sword from the scabbard, I placed the scabbard on the table and walked out to the center of the room. Taking a deep breath to center myself, I began an exercise routine. Hesitantly at first, I began making the sweeping motions, lunges and parries. As I continued through the routine though, it all began to come back. Quickening the pace, I began to move through the motions at full speed, the blade whistling as it sliced the air. By the time I was done with the third set of the routine, the sword felt at home in my hand. Its balance was perfect, the blade an extension of my arm.

  Placing the sword back in the scabbard, I then replaced it in the case. Looking at Tigger, I panted slightly with the exertion, "Thank you. You have honored me with such a gift. I shall try to prove myself worthy." I told her gravely. Nodding, Tigger began to disassemble an MP5 that was in front of her. "Just kill as many of the bastards as you can before they get us. Do that, and Hikaru will consider the debt paid in full." She replied curtly.

  Picking up an SD5, I began to dissemble and inspect it; all while visions of baptizing the Katana in the blood of my enemies ran around in the back of my head.

Chapter 41