Disclaimer : I do not own Level 9, or it's characters, with the exception of Teigra, Steve, Max, and Loon. I hope the plot is original and interesting enough that you read to the end. Otherwise I will be distraught.

I may still change some things, so tell me if you think I missed something, or if this downright sucks. I appreciate the input. No, I meant that.

One End of the Stick

By: Bonnie Seidel


Roland Travis opened his eyes slowly. The world around him was hazy, but he could make out small details. Like that Jack Wiley was standing next to him. "Where am I?" Travis tried to sit up, and found that his hands were cuffed behind his back.

"Cops found you unconscious in the middle of the road, Travis." Annie Price said coldly. "Any idea how you got there?"

Travis furrowed his eyebrows. "Naw, it's a blank."

"Do you remember anything from last night?" Wiley asked less harshly than Price.

"I..." he had to think about that. "I was with Jargon, and I bailed on him to chase...something." he realized what he was saying, and tried to cover it up. Chasing Marvin Bates was the only thing he could remember just then, but Price and the others did not need to know this.

"That was three o'clock in the afternoon, Trav." Wilbert Thibideaux replied in his soft voice.

"What do you remember after that?" Price demanded. Travis squirmed, trying to crack his shoulder blades. "Well?"

"There's nothin' after that. Can you take these off, please?"

Price folded her arms across her chest. "You're under arrest, Travis, they stay on."

"Under arrest? For what? Being unconscious in the middle of the road? That's highly unfair. It's not like I was drunk. Someone musta clobbered me."

"Do you actually remember someone clobbering you?" Wiley questioned hopefully.

"Wha - no," Travis shook his head slowly, his frustration showing on his face.

"You weren't drunk, Travis, but your bloodstream was just crawling with illicit substances." Price relished the fact that he was going to get thrown back in jail.

"What?" he demanded. "That's not possible! I didn't - I wouldn't do that! It violates my parole!" he was struggling harder against the hand cuffs.

Wiley put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Calm down, Trav. Just try to remember."

"I can't remember! It's gone! Big blank! Please, you have to believe me!" Price was already outside the holding cell. "Oh, no. No! Don't do this, Price!" Wiley remained at Travis' side, and he turned his pleading gaze on him. "Jack - "

"Wiley," Price cut in sternly. "Coming?"

"We'll figure this out." Wiley told Travis reassuringly.

He watched the three of them disappear down the hall.


"What are you thinking, Annie?" Tibbs asked her, as they made their way out to the car.

She replied, "I think he's lying."

"He is not lying, Annie. He's scared out of his wits." Wiley interjected. "You've gotta be able to see that. Prison is the last place on Earth that boy wants to return to."

Tibbs watched Annie's expression, but it did not change. "He's hiding something, and if he doesn't want to share, then playtime's over." she replied evenly.

"Don't you think you're being a little harsh?" Tibbs put in. "Travis isn't the bad guy, here."

Price stopped and turned on him. Before she said anything, she reminded herself that neither Tibbs nor Wiley had heard about the previous night's homicide. Not yet wanting to touch on the subject with them, she covered with, "The boy used to work for CrayZhorse, Tibbs. Travis is helping him out with something, he must be. That makes him the 'bad guy'."

"There's no arguing with you." Wiley rolled his eyes. "I am woman, hear me hiss and growl and order people around."

"Don't start with me, Wiley."

"Heaven forbid." he muttered.


"I feel really bad, Sosh." Jargon leaned back in his chair in front of the computer. "Like this is my fault."

"It's not your fault, Jargon." she tried to console her best friend. "We'll figure this out."

"I shouldn't have let Travis go off alone."

"You didn't know that - " she paused, searching for the right word, "Something would happen to him."

Jargon looked over at Sosh. "That's the thing, isn't it? Maybe he did go out and get stoned."

Sosh shook her head. "Travis valued his freedom too much to screw himself over like that."

"Are you sure? I mean, he hasn't exactly been acting like himself lately."

"You don't know him well enough to make that call, Jargon."

"Fine, fine. You're right."

"Of course I am." she grinned. "So, where should we start looking for stuff to help him?"

"How about surveillance cameras in the area we last heard from him?" Hooten suggested, jogging up the stairs to their niche.

"Sounds good." Sosh agreed. "Just give me a grid."


***


Teigra Paulson placed the two drinks beside the two young men according to their orders. Not that they had placed orders; they were regular attendees at this particular nightclub. The pair, Max Owens and Jarvis "Loon" Perry were laughing about a recent occurrence, but Teigra had not yet picked up the details.

She had, however, turned on the tape recorder securely fastened under the bar.

Max gulped down his beverage, then turned glassy eyes on the young woman across the counter. "So, Tig, whatcha doin' later?"

"Nothing with you, Max. Nothing with you."

"That's too bad. I feel like celebratin'." he grinned at Loon.

They started laughing again.

Loon managed between outbursts, "Too bad Roller ain't here, eh Tig?"

She stopped scrubbing the shot glass in her hand, and looked up at him curiously. Roller was the universal nickname for Roland Travis among the Great Uprising, a terrorist group under CrayZhorse that she still belonged to. Travis was also her ex-boyfriend - though she had never convinced herself that it was over between them. After he had been arrested for the transference of two million dollars into his personal account, Travis had stressed that she not mope around waiting for him to be released. His sentence, afterall, had been ten years in prison. Teigra had nodded, unable to form coherent thoughts as they took him away, but she still believed that they would get back together.

Though not anytime soon. . .

Now, hearing Loon mention his name like that, she was worried. "What did you guys do?" she asked innocently, knowing that they were drunk and would tell her anything, especially Loon. He had a reputation for that sort of thing, and she had had personal experience in the past. No, Loon was not one to trust with a secret.

"Well, you see, Tig, we sorta just framed him." Max replied nonchalantly.

"For what?"

"Murder," and Loon burst into hysterics.

"I'm tellin' ya, Tig," Max jumped in, "He didn't even see it comin'. I just whammed him in the back of the head, and he was out like a...candle."

"After you blow it out, that is." Loon clarified.

"Shut up, Loon." Max snapped, slapping his counterpart in the shoulder.

"Ow!"

"So, anyway, then we drag 'im back to HQ, hooked him up to this thingy and left him with the Horse."

"Why?" Teigra asked. "What did he want with Travis?"

"A date." Loon cackled.

Max joined in the laughter. When he got control again, he replied, "Are you kidding? He's the one with all the Level Nine know-how. And the Horse wants to get that thorn out of his side, Tig. Permanently."

Loon laughed harder. "He was a pretty doped up thorn when we left him in the street."

Max laughed at this, too. "That he was."

Teigra tried not to look concerned, as she placed another set of drinks on the counter.


***


Travis took the phone from the guard as he sat down. It had been nearly twelve hours since his arrest, and he was restless. Jargon was waiting on the other side of the glass shield. He looked nervous, as he said, "Hey, Trav,"

"Hey," They sat staring at each other in silence. "Look, you only get ten minutes." Travis reminded him.

"Yeah, um, look, I'm sorry I let you get yourself into this."

Travis went with full-on sarcasm. "I'm sorry too, Buddy. Maybe you can tell me what the hell I got myself into, hmm?"

Jargon sighed heavily. "Me 'n Sosh are workin' on figurin' out what happened the other night."

"Good luck. Apparently, I was out getting high."

"All of us know that's not true. Someone's setting you up, and we're going to figure out who."

"Price doesn't. She's been out to get me from the start." he muttered. A young woman walked by behind Jargon, and something flickered in his mind. He stood up, trying to see farther down the hall, but he could not. A guard came over and forced him to sit down.

"What is it, Trav?"

"I-I thought I recognized someone."

Jargon stood up, and looked down the hall. There were so many people down there that he would never be able to pinpoint one person. "I can look at the video surveillance when I get back. Just gimme a description."

"No, no, it was nothing." he shook his head. "So, Pinky, what have you and the Brain come up with so far?"

"Well," Jargon sputtered for a moment. "Nothing yet."

Travis looked disappointed. "Oh."

"But we'll find something. Soon." Jargon hoped he sounded reassuring. Travis nodded, feeling like a leaf in Autumn, waiting to be blown off its branch. "Anything you can tell me would be helpful. Price won't hear any of it - not from me or Sosh - I promise."

Travis considered telling Jargon about Marvin Bates, but he decided that he could not trust him with that information yet. "I think..." he absently rubbed the place on his inner elbow where he had located the tiny needle prick. "I think they gave me some form of tranquilizer, something with dalmane in it, 'cause I've got hives on my arm around where the needle went in, and I'm allergic to that stuff."

"Well, did the hives just start showing up since you've been in here? Because they could be from anything - "

"I - I guess I can't be sure, seeing as I was unconscious for several hours, but I did notice them earlier when Price, Tibbs and Wiley were here."

"Maybe you're just having a reaction to her." Jargon half-smiled.

"Yeah, right," Travis chuckled.

The guard returned, and said gruffly, "Time's up."

"Well, thanks for coming by, Jargon. I'll see ya."

"Don't be like that, Travis. Things'll work out."

"Yeah, right." he muttered on his way back to his cell.


***


Price dropped a folder on the desk in front of Sosh. "These are the pictures of the body." she paced, as she always did when giving out assignments.

Sosh ran her finger along the edge of the folder, not wanting to look inside. "Body? What body?"

"Marvin Bates, a former employee of our dear friend CrayZhorse. I want to know everything about him." Price leaned over the side of the desk, her expression deadly serious. "And you can't tell Jargon any of it."

Sosh was taken aback by this last statement. "Why not?"

Price straightened up again. "Because, Sosh, he'd tell Travis, and we don't want that."

"We don't? Why not? Why can't - "

"Listen to me, Sosh. This is a side assignment, you have to keep it to yourself, that's all there is to it. No one but us knows about this."

"Why is it so important to you?"

"Look, you are on this, that's all there is to it. Get to work."

Sosh picked up the folder reluctantly, then left the room. Price scratched her forehead absently, wondering how long the girl could keep a secret.


Sosh sat down at her computer, holding the folder uncertainly. She was not sure she wanted to see pictures of a recently murdered victim. She gathered her nerve, and flipped it open, squeezing her eyes shut.

Slowly, she opened one eye at a time, until she was wincing down at a blood-soaked sidewalk.

Sosh quickly closed the folder again. Biting her nails nervously, she flicked on the monitor, and went to her favourite search engine. She typed in 'Marvin Bates', then waited as the electronic sifter worked its digital magic.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed movement. She quickly switched off the monitor, so that the newcomer would not see what she was up to.

The newcomer was Jargon. "Hey, Sosh."

"Hey," He sat at his computer, then sat there with his head in his hands. "How is he?"

"Huh?"

"Travis. Is he okay?"

Jargon shrugged. "He's a little more bitter than usual, but he seems okay."

"Did he tell you anything helpful?"

"Not really. Just that he has hives on his arm, and he thinks it's from being given dalmane."

"He's allergic?"

"Apparently,"

"You don't believe him?"

"Well, hives aren't something you can see through a glass shield, y'know?"

"Yeah, I get it. Well, we should find out what sorts of things have dalmane in them and then what combinations of those things can knock a person out for a few hours."

"That's what I was thinking," Jargon agreed, "But Travis worked for CrayZhorse for a pretty long while, right?"

Sosh shrugged uncertainly. She really had no idea how long Travis had worked for the notorious hacker. For all she knew, he'd gotten caught on his first day, though she doubted that.

"Well, it just seems to me that someone like CrayZhorse would not do something so stupid and obvious as give Travis something he's allergic to. He'd know about it, wouldn't he?"

"Maybe he didn't. Maybe CrayZhorse was hoping the reaction to the drugs afterward would kill Travis."

"Yeah, or maybe there's something else going on, like CrayZhorse wants us to find him, or whoever did this. I mean, the other thing is that it may not have even had anything to do with him. Travis could have millions of enemies just from working for CrayZhorse that he doesn't even know about."

Sosh leaned back in her chair. "This just keeps getting more and more complicated."


Teigra sat in front of a computer, as she did everyday and when she was not working at the nightclub. Roland Travis' criminal record was on her screen, her green eyes locked with his angry brown ones.

"Starin' at it ain't gonna make it go away." Steve Kasper, Teigra's African American friend and co-worker stated from behind her. "He's a bank robber me Dear, plain and simple."

"No, he's not," she sighed, swiveling her chair around to face Steve. "But I can't prove it."

"You gotta jis let it slide, Sweetie. Bein' all hung up o'er it ain't helpin' no one."

"Thank you, oh Intelligent One. I had forgotten that nothing gets done by staring at it."

"Well, then s'a good thing I reminded you. So, what's on the sched t'day?"

"I don't have a sched for today. Not yet."

"Then have I got the assignment for you."

"Oh, God. This can't be good."

"Ouch! Seriously, though, CrayZhorse wants into the water softener salt shipping orders for Clenzer, Inc."

"What? Why?"

"I dunno, I'm jis the messenger."

"Water softener salt," Teigra shook her head. "What will he come up with next?"


***


"Ummm...Sosh?"

"Yes Jargon, Dear?"

"What's all this?"

She moved her chair over beside him. "Ummm...an encryption?"

"I can see that. Why won't it let me in?"

"'Cause you need to crack it first?" He fixed her with an 'I know that' look. "Want me to try?"

"Please do."

Sosh tapped away at the keyboard. "What am I cracking, if I may be so bold?"

"I'm not sure. An old file on Travis, anyway."

"And it's encrypted because...?" she let her voice trail off inquisitively.

"I'll tell ya when I see what's in it."

"Sounds good,"

The scattered letters on the screen gradually shifted, and lined up, revealing a readable document.

"Thank you, Sosh, you're my hero."

"Aw, is that all?" she pouted.

"Very funny. Now let's see..." Jargon skimmed the text for anything useful. He scrolled down the page, nothing yet catching his eye.

"Whoa, wait. Who's that?" Sosh pointed to the picture onscreen. It was of Travis, and a young woman about his age holding his hand.

"I haven't a clue." Jargon shrugged.

"His girlfriend, maybe?"

"Knowing Travis, she could just be some chick he picked up at a club. He's like that, right?"

"No, I think there's something between them. Really something. I mean, look at the way he's looking at her." Jargon fixed her with a raised eyebrow. "What?"

"Nothing,"

"Hey, I'm just trying to help Travis, okay? Maybe this girl knows something." she pointed out the Great Uprising tattoo on her ankle.

"The mark of the CrayZhorse." Jargon nodded.

"Her name's Teigra Paulson." Wiley piped in. The two turned in surprise upon hearing his voice. "I've been trying to find her myself."

"Why?"

"Same reason you just said: Maybe she knows something."

"I dunno, you guys. This pic's like four years old." Jargon said, pointing out the date at the bottom of the page.

"Hey, you know as well as I do that Travis keeps his company when they're that good-looking." Wiley smirked.

"I have a feeling he wouldn't appreciate you saying that, Jack." Sosh shook her head, suddenly feeling very alone.

"Nah, he'd give me one of those goofy grins and nod."

"Yes, he certainly would do that." Jargon agreed.

"Whatever, you two. Can you be serious about this? How can we find this girl?"

"That's a very good question." Wiley smirked.

Sosh groaned, rolling her eyes. "Do I really have to put up with you? Come on, our teammate is in jail, here. Get serious."

"Right, right. Serious. Okay." Wiley looked from Sosh to Jargon and back again. "Find her." and he left.


***


She fidgeted nervously, waiting for Travis to arrive. She wished there was another way for them to meet, but considering he was being sent to prison in three days, there were no other options. The guard gestured for Travis to sit, but he was too surprised by who he saw.

"Hey, Gopher,"

"T-Teigra? Wh-what are you doing here?" he demanded, still not sitting down.

"I came to help you."

He examined her expression, trying to figure out if she was telling the truth. "How?"

Teigra took a deep breath. "I know what happened to you."

"Oh, really?" he was still skeptical. Her stoic front did not waiver. "Did you know that they were going to set me up for bank robbery, too? Why didn't you help me then?"

Now she had her back up. "Don't you think that if I'd known about that I would've given you the heads up?"

"I don't know, would you?" he returned.

"Gopher - "

"Don't call me that. You don't get to call me that anymore." snapped Travis.

She glared at him through the glass. "Roland - "

"You don't get to call me that, either."

She stifled a laugh. She knew perfectly well how much he disliked being called by his first name. "No one does,"

"Time's a goin', Teigra."

She sighed, gazing into his dark brown eyes. She had gotten lost in those eyes more times than she could remember. "They hacked your brain that night."

"That's impossible." he scoffed.

"Is it? Why else can't you remember? CrayZhorse had Max and Loon corner you in an alley, and they took you back to HQ for splicing."

"Why would he do that? He got me thrown in jail to get rid of me."

"Info, Goph. The Horse wants to know about Level Nine, and you were his best bet. He could get what he wanted, and have the satisfaction of locking you up all over again."

"You expect me to believe that?" he scoffed. "That's a waste of his time."

"Oh come on, G - " she caught herself before she said it, and his eyes met hers again, anger in them. "He's been out to get you for the past three years. And he'll do anything to do it, too."

"I know this already, Tig. Do you have any real info, or what?"

She leaned back in the uncomfortable chair. "I have all the info, but I can't tell you here. This is too open."

"How else are you s'posed to - "

She cut him off, "How can I get in touch with one of your Level Nine friends?"

"Who?" he mockingly pretended not to know what she was talking about. Although, he did not consider anyone in Level Nine a 'friend'.

"Come on, this is the only way it'll work out for you. There's nothing you can do from in here. You need someone on the outside. Surely you weren't a bitch to all your co-workers?"

"Oh, thank you for that, Tig. I needed a kick in the teeth just then."

The guard was coming over to take Travis back to his cell.

"You don't have time to argue with me, Gopher. Who can I talk to on your side of the fence?"

He looked her straight in the eye, and sensed that she really did want to help him. "567-2332. Ask for Jargon."

"Time's up." the guard announced, resting a hand on Travis' shoulder. He got up slowly, reluctant to leave, despite his hostile attitude toward his visitor.

"Gopher," He turned back to her. "Don't give up. We'll straighten this out."

"Yeah, so everyone keeps telling me."

"Well, you know I mean it."

Travis sighed, "I hope someone does."