by Drea O'Dare

The smoke had cleared some inside of the air duct; the sounds of the whirring fans inside her air mask were filling her ears, droning loud. The men ran underneath of her in response to the silent alarm, and Jett tensed beside her. The Comm was dead silent from their ends, not even Spaz was cursing in frustration, his breathing was deep and even. Her husband, aptly called Silence, nodded to her, and motioned that the invisibility spell was on hold, ready to be thrown on as soon as the guards were gone.

They stayed still, as a group, for as long as they could after the men had passed, and he let go of the will holding the spell back. He let out a long breath he didn't realize he'd been holding as it took effect, the air around them seeming a little heavier, the only indication that the magic had done it's job. He thanked Owl as the slightly hawkish cast of his face returned, only a slight twinge in his guts letting him know that he'd still be able to walk in a few minutes.

His entirely black cybernetic eyes blinked behind the goggles, a trickle of sweat running down the side of his face as he watched for Pink's signal, and she gave it, all of them dropping down one by one, first her, then Spaz, then the girl Jett, and finally himself. Lucas was still patched into the Network, setting off fire alarms, and little breaches of security around them, drawing the sec forces away from their party. The woman they'd planted to be the company Security Rigger this night wouldn't be able to keep up the facade of unable to bring control back under the Corp's control.

They started to patter down the hall, the rubber soles of their second skin black suits slapping against the tiles of the hall, loud in the quiet of the hallway. The air here was clear, but they kept the masks on just in case they were assaulted again.

Jett walked on ahead, her body fading into total invisibility as she padded along, unconsciously activating one of the odd powers she had received only a few years ago. A freak time spent in what they all referred to as Dreamtime, which had left her almost like the grim spirit of Death himself, and changed the rest of them as well. Soon Pink slowed as her ears were filled once again with the whir of the breathing masks.

Pink, I've got three more guards headed your way Jett whispered through the Comm system. Her continual peeking into the astral space was quite handy - even if she didn't do it on purpose. The Nagual saw to that.

Pink stuck out her arm, making the sign to halt, and Silence pulled of short to her right. Spaz fanned out to her left as Jett rattled off details, and brought up his Vipers. The edge of a glove separated from his black suit, revealing skin as white as snow, as white as the pearl lines laid into his guns. He was on edge already, moving back into the groove that'd come so natural to him for so many years. Both he and Pink were Spike Babies, elves born before the resurgence of magic had made it almost commonplace to be a meta. Sometimes it made Si jealous that wasn't a true elf, made up by surgery he'd never even asked for into the look of a long dead man. It never bothered Pink visibly, but there were times that he knew she thought about it. Their mind link was strong enough that he could hear her thoughts even when he slept.

Silence raised up the barrel of his gun, a Squirt, frowning on Spaz's more lethal solution to the witness problem. Spaz didn't want anyone even thinking that he might've been there unless he scrawled his name across the walls in bright aerosol induced colors. Pink pulled up her Preds, and the guards rounded the color, right on schedule. Five shots fired in the dark and blood sprayed against the walls in shades of dark maroon and liquid black. The third man fell heavily to the ground, sagging on his gun, then laid sprawled in the middle of the corridor, asleep.

Si smiled to himself as he followed his wife and her mentor up the halls, thinking of the unconscious man as one more guy that'd earned his pay and wold still be able to see his smiling kids tomorrow. Pink had explained to him millions of times that they wouldn't hesitate to fire on THEM, but it helped him sleep better at night.

The second of the major silent alarms was tripped, right on schedule, and Pink grinned inwardly, a feral looking thing if anyone could've seen it. Things were moving along swimmingly, with everyone on a tight budget of time and movement, the least work for the most profit. This was what it was all about to her. This was the stuff that made her blood sing. Oh sure, childbirth had been a great life affirming thing, and she thanked Wolf everyday for her two children and the two cubs she'd adopted. But this....this was the stuff of life itself. The things that made life truly worth living. The rush of adrenaline, the feeling that right here, right now, you were truly alive.

Silence didn't understand it, Jett didn't understand it, and if Spaz had, he'd forgotten about it sometime in the past few years, when he'd wandered off into the Spiral and changed. She didn't know how, but he had. The albinism had been the most visible, like Jett's eyes disappearing and Silence's hair going red. She hadn't changed at all, except for that little permanent mark on her side, shrunken to the size of a birthmark. She remembered a time when Spaz laughed. He didn't anymore. And somehow, that was worse than Jett's being a ghost in a mortal shell.

All clear Pink said into the Comm, and Jett muttered something to the affirmative. This thing was feeling more and more awkward as she moved along. She ought to be out with the guys tracing down those bugs, not stealing a bunch of files for some shmuck that was scared of losing his patent. Of course, they'd already done that, heaven only knew why Pink was going deeper into this place. She had only glanced over the case summary, to get the where and when and what supplies she'd need. She thought, fleetingly, that maybe she was getting a bit to old for this. She stopped in front of the huge double doors that Pink had marked as their objective, and clambered up the wall, grabbing onto a lamp cover and the edge of the door to hold herself steady, and turned around.

She snapped a quick picture with the camera that Pink had given her, and waited for the film to come out. It was one of those panoramic jobs that took the wide and long shots, and as it spooled out the picture of the empty hallway, she fiddled with the little attachment that would hold it in place on the camera. Finally she slipped the photograph into the curved glass and hooked it onto the camera as it got near the wall. That way no one watching would notice the edge of the picture coming into the field of view. The picture was firmly in place now, just showing the empty hallway over and over. A simple trick, but effective.

She waited patiently for the others to arrive, taking off her gas mask and putting it in a small pouch on the belt at her waist, taking a deep long breath as the cool air touched her skin. Pink rounded the corner, her silver hair done up in a tight top knot, her equally silver eyes glittering with what Spaz would call a touch of nutso. Spaz nodded to her and Jett, and brought out a few little rolls of putty and a great deal of wires, and set to work. Demolition was an exact science, and Spaz was the king of the techies. He had the entire thing set in less than 5 minutes, and everyone backed away as he connected the two wires. He felt the little trace of goosebumps up his back that he always got just before the current hit the plastique and the whole thing went up in smoke, the little thrill that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up straight.

His hair was cut very short now, in stripes of black and white, like a zebra. Pink had said that it made him look silly. Not a good way to start off an evening.

The door creaked as the bomb went off, and fell forward, landing with a heavy thud. The camera was still oblivious, watching the picture attached to it with an intensity only seen in zealots and other machinery.

Silence pushed his head into the opening closed his eyes. All around the room were cots, quite a few stained with old blood.

He pulled back out, and looked at Pink questioningly. She let out a long sigh, and strode into the room, clearing her throat.

"Follow me," She said nonchalantly as she walked down between the rows of beds, and as Jett looked closer at the stains she saw the singe marks and the wet puddles that smelled strongly of fear and sadness that decorated the hall of beds. One lonely bunk was occupied by a teddy bear, it's left eye missing and it's fur blackened and burned, stuffing coming out of the right forearm where it'd split at a seam. Across it's white tummy, written in faded blue Magic Marker, was the name "Andy."

"Pink...what were they doing here?" Spaz asked, his raspy tenor voice dampened by the gloom and thick air around them. His eyes were wide and wet, compensating for the darkness with the same natural lowlight that Pink possessed. He licked his lips and picked up the teddy bear, tapping the eye with his pinky. The long nail made a loud click against the plastic.

"Breeding, Killian. They were creating a new breed of psychics. We're here to rescue the last child, Joshua. Isn't Aztech a wonderful place to live?" she said wistfully, her voice dripping with sarcasm, as she opened her arms wide to take in all the filth and blood. Jett stood by Silence as he doubled over, his hands around his middle, dry heaving. The thought of a bunch of kids, here, in all this horribleness, made him sick to his bones. His wife pressed on while Jett patted him on his back, and he closed his eyes, trying to get a sense of dignity back.

"I'll check the corridor while you go on with the others," he said to Jett, and she nodded, giving him one last look before she went on after the others.

He stepped back out into the hall, letting the cool air seep into his lungs and slip against his body on its way into that horrible place. The guards were still on a quiet alert elsewhere in the building, but it was clear that the "Corp" security rigger was back on duty as the light alarms went off all over the building, the halls bathed in red swirling lights. He walked back into the room, shape changing into the owl's visage, and vanished long before the two groups of guards rounded the corner, alerted by the movement of a sensor.

Pink stopped short at the doorway that was surrounded by yellow and black stripes, and brought out a small flashlight, running it from left to right in front of the door, changing the angle as she went. She cursed. "Monowire."

Spaz took out the small monofilament knife he carried at the same time she brought out hers. They grinned at each other, and began to cut down the side of the door, about a foot to either side, slicing through the metal like it was warm butter. Jett watched them from her place in the shadows, the holes that once held her eyes giving her an air of detachment. Inside though, she seethed. She and Spaz once acted like that, a long time ago, before she'd left to run the shadows of Seattle alone. That Pink and he melted into their roles of student and mentor so quickly after all this time made her feel slightly ill.

The finished cutting down, and with two quick swipes across, the section of doorway fell, and Pink scooted it, and all the wire, out of the way with the leg of a bed she'd broken off. The three of them traveled through the doorway in single file, and Pink began purposely moving down the row of doors, looking at each number as they went past. She stopped in front of the 7th door on the left, and brought out a set of lock picks. She brought up three of them, and looked at the tumbler lock, and Jett reached out, turning the knob. The door swung open, and Jett threw up her arms high above her head, and mouthed the word "Goooooooal!" Pink had to laugh, covering her mouth to muffle the sound.

"Hello?" a small voice called out as the light poured into the room, and Jett hissed in a breath, bringing her hands up to her mouth before she screamed. The little boy was huddled up in a corner, his wrists chained to his ankles, the walls covered in his own filth. His clothes hung on his small gaunt frame, the evidence of neglect plain to anyone who looked. An owl flew up to Pink's shoulder, and buried its head into her hair, trembling. Pink was frozen in place, as was Jett. Spaz finally going forward and slipping a maglock key through the space in the shackles, the metal snapping open and falling off to either side of the tiny body.

The child looked at the white haired elf, and then down at the floor. "Are you hear for more tests? I promise I'll be good. I promise."

Spaz's heart jumped to his throat as his own childhood flashed back behind his eyes, and he scooped up the child in his arms, the boy trembling violently.

"No. We're here to take you away from this place."

He pushed past Pink and Silence and Jett, and started back through the rooms, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set. The owl flew off Pink's shoulder and slowly formed into Silence, his feet coming down first. He brought out his squirt, and motioned to Pink. She hoisted him up onto her back, until he was riding piggyback style, and he slipped into the astral.

The entire room lit up before his eyes, ghosts of the past slipping in and out of his vision as he slipped from behind Pink. Her flaming aura took up a lot of space, spreading out into the room, lighting it up like a bright lamp in the middle of a sea of darkness. Jett's was almost like a black hole, but there was a center of light, and occasionally a wisp of a face was seen, always different, the different personalities in her always evident under the surface. Spaz was a mundane through and through, his aura showing that he'd been burnt by magic not just once by twice.

He moved forward, faster than them, unhampered by any burden like a body, and hit the hallway before they'd cleared the cutaway door. So he saw the line of guards, their guns leveled at the opening, before the rest. He quickly did an about face, moving as fast as possible back to them, and whispered hurriedly into Pink's ear as he woke up and slid off of her back, her feet never breaking stride. She alerted them all over the Comm, and they veered off to the left.

"We can't get out the way we came. We'll have to go down the side," she said, indicating the windows with their wire mesh screens that kept the current of the security system running through them, one of the many neat things that Knight Errant charged the big bucks for here.

Spaz nodded, and set the boy down a moment, picking up his cell phone and punching in a few numbers. Lucas answered in a few seconds, the near silent sounds of his hoverplane buzzing in the background. The rigger was one of the best, an elderly gentleman that made most of his money smuggling. Spaz himself had called him in for this job after the run in Japan where Lucas had preformed so well.

"Hey Spaz. You guys ready to haul ass? I'm near the entry point as we speak. Gotta dodge a couple of bullets though. That costs you guys extra."

"No, Lucas, we got a change of plan. You think you can get that hunk of junk to move down next to the building at the 12.13.98 coordinates?"

"Yeah, no problem. This thing moves better'n you, old man," Lucas snorted into his ear, and Spaz could feel his smug grin on the other end of the line, "Over and out."

Spaz shut the phone with a click, and nodded towards the window. Shifting the kid around until he was clinging to the straps of the white elf's shoulder pack, he and Pink began cutting around the window precisely, to make bridging the gap easier. The sounds of gunfire erupted outside, and the screaming hiss of Lucas' jet engines brought the sense of urgency into a sharp relief.

The guards' footfalls started, and came closer, and Silence pushed both of the elves out of the way, raising his hands high at the window and then pushing HARD against the air in front of him. The window blew out and a wave of air shoved against Lucas's plane, making it wobble like a cheap model before it steadied, rubble still falling around the shaman. The cargo door went down, hitting against the building and screeching down the cement until it settled, and they started crossing, Spaz, then Pink, Jett, and finally Silence bringing up the rear as the shots rang out in the room of cots, the guards having finally caught up to them. Bullets pinged off the heavy armor shell of the aircraft, and Lucas shut the door sharply behind Silence with a thought, wincing every time the plane shuddered and shook. He pulled the engines open full throttle, the wires snaking from the four datajacks in his temples twitching as he swung his head from the left to the right, the vidscreens o! n the control panel giving a nauseating view of what he saw. He quickly outran the helicopters of the Aztech Corp, and settled into a nice steady path back towards downtown Seattle.

Spaz set the kid down in one of the seats and buckled him in. The boy fell asleep almost instantly, a contented smile on the little angel's face. Pink took the seat opposite him, and did likewise, her fear of flying knocking her unconscious immediately. She wouldn't wake up until they were about to land. Silence studied a book, sometimes looking up at his wife. Spaz and Jett studied each other from across the plane while they thought neither one was looking...

Pink unplugged the jack from her temple, and took a deep breath as she oriented herself after coming out of the Matrix. She turned to her husband, the image of the UCAS site fading from the huge vidscreen. The little boy was still asleep, having been transferred to the couch while Pink ran through the Matrix, making him a SIN and a whole new identity. He looked back at her with those dark, depthless black eyes, a smile on his face.

She smiled. "Congratulations, honey. It's a boy."

©1998, Drea O'Dare - used with permission