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Operation Hide and Seek pt. 5

The alarms went off at six thirty, the way they had every day for the past three years – and probably since the day Facility had opened its doors. Ryan groaned and rolled over, already regretting his decision to stay up late the night before. Maybe he could catch just a few seconds more…

“I would like to inform you that you are doing this to yourself Gigabyte,” Jeremy Tyler’s voice made its way to Ryan’s sleep-fogged brain a half-second before the blanket was unceremoniously yanked away. Ryan’s feet hit the floor almost before his brain registered what he was doing.

“I suppose I should thank you,” Ryan said as he shoved his legs into uniform pants.

“You should, but you won’t,” Jeremy answered. The dorm room was full of the muffled sounds of a dozen adolescent males waking up and rushing to the hallways. Ryan pulled his mask over his face – he was one of only half a dozen or so who ranked high enough to wear one – and joined the throng. Jeremy stayed close beside him, the breaker’s biceps and reputation providing protection for the much smaller and scrawnier Ryan. Jeremy was the strength to Ryan’s brains, and one of his few friends in this place.

“Anything of interest on the interwebs?” Jeremy asked quietly.

“Same old same old. Your parents bought a new car – 1968 Honda.” Ryan walked almost blindly, relying on Jeremy to guide him as he mentally flipped through zillions of bits of information coming at him through the wifi.

“I bet Dad was happy about that. Here, food.” Jeremy handed Ryan a tray of breakfast – waffles and fresh fruit – then guided his friend to a corner table in the gargantuan cafeteria.

“Don’t forget the assembly in an hour,” Jeremy said.

Ryan nodded. “Have fun punching things.” He waited till Jeremy had moved away before pulling out his datapad. He had an hour to cause chaos in the outside world. Ryan smiled as he logged into the message board for Operation Hide and Seek.

There once was a boss-man named Byte

who thought he was all goodness and light

but though he pled and cajoled,

I will not be told

that I should ignore my own plight

Byte had to laugh at the limerick that greeted him in his urgent mailbox. Sparrow was a good codename for the impetuous operative – she was constantly moving and could never suffer in silence. But somehow she still made a perfect undercover agent; her natural innocence perhaps.

Byte set up his spider to scan incoming traffic while he opened the rest of Sparrow’s message. She was lengthy, as usual:

“Day 329. My cover is holding, although next time can I please not try to play somebody so brainy? It feels like my grey matter has been stretched and folded and stretched again like taffy in my effort to sound like I know anything at all about latent inferiority complexes, narcissism, or sociopathology. I languish inside these sepulchuric walls like Antigone, buried alive amongst whitewashed corpses. Give but the word and I shall open fire on these bastions of manners and culture so a to make the corpses blush with color before returning to the earth from whence they came and from whence they refuse to acknowledge they have come.

“Seriously, everything is white here, and I’d almost welcome a bit of bloodshed. Can I sneak off for a weekend and run a breaker across the border? I want to feel the dirt again, instead of this concrete tomb. This is where dreams come to die – you can almost see the shattered remains glittering in the stone. And the Dreamers. Shuffling corpses, gazing blankly ahead, lost from the world, trapped inside an imagination not their own. They do mechanical labor, anything that requires mostly muscle memory. How can someone choose to live like that? With a pasted on smile because the dream is so wonderfully shallow.

“The tigress will die in here if you don’t get her out soon. The sparrow will suffocate in here if you don’t get me out soon. Inferno est!

“Sparrow.”

Byte wrote back a three word answer: “He’s coming soon.” That dealt with, he spent the next 45 minutes putting out fires in half a dozen other locations around the country – fudging a transmission here, warning a sleeper there – in other words, a day in the life.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 4

Drey pulled into the back lot of Kitty’s Coffee and powered down the Pursuer. Friday night, the place was packed. Not the public place, of course. That would be foolish – nothing broke up a party like the authorities. The basement though, where things were a little more hidden and a lot more relaxed, was where the action happened. Drey palmed in her biometrics and entered the Breaker underground.

A blast of smell, sound, and light greeted Drey as she entered. Drey maneuvered through the converted storeroom and the crowd, toward a table in the back where a lively card game was going on. She hooked an empty chair with her foot and swung it around to join the table.

“Deal me in Jack, double or nothing,” she said. The dealer gathered his cards quickly out of her reach.

“No deal Drey, You cheat too easy,” Jack said. Drey smirked, grabbed four cards from the top of the deck, and flipped them over to reveal four aces.

“You just make a rotten dealer.” She tossed the cards back at him and they landed as a king, two fours, and a seven.

“I didn’t think you were still in town,” Tommy, sitting across the table, said.

“I got a steady job now, bring in what I can for the cause,” Drey replied.

“Yeah, and we spend it all on booze,” Kirsten said as she drained a bottle of Coors Light. Drey shook her head, smirking.

“And to think – an outstanding citizen such as myself supporting a bunch of lowlife money grabbers.”

“Speaking of which, you owe me two hundred Tommy,” Jack said. Tommy grimaced as he dug a handful of cash from his pocket.  The card game started back up, people making bids and bluffing money nobody really had. Kirsten tossed her losing hand down on the table with finality.

“I still suck at cards. By the way Drey, Danny’s sick, and we could use a gunner on mission tomorrow if you’re missing action,” Kirsten said.

“You know me, I’m not much of a team player,” Drey answered.

“Me and the boys aren’t much of a team.” Kirsten popped the top off of another beer. Drey laughed as she reached for the neon blue electric guitar which was leaning against the wall.

“If this is another attempt to get me laid, no. Out of curiosity though, where are you headed?”

“Out towards Boulder. Byte has us running a mark down to San Antonio,” Kirsten answered.

Drey nodded absently, busy tuning her guitar. It was always a little sour on the e. She strummed a couple of cords, adjusting the volume and distortion on her amp.

“Play Freebird!” A random voice from the other side of the road called. She probably knew him, but didn’t feel like coming up with a name.

“Kirsten, are you going to play or not? I was beating you,” Tommy said.

Kirsten turned back to the game. “Deal us Jack, I need to teach the pup a lesson.”

“I’ll run interference if you need it Kirs, but I’m not leaving the state,” Drey said. She started strumming, playing with the distortion because she could. She played a couple of scales, then launched into a full-blown rendition of her own take on the cover of an old eighties song.

In a different time she might have sung, making up words to fit the notes that flowed from her fingers, but not tonight. Instead Drey played, taking requests when she knew the song, playing to someone’s voice when she had a singer. It was fun, especially when people started to feel generous and left money in her jar.

Eventually the night grew stale. People wandered off, left singly or in groups through the secret ways, people with something to hide and everything to lose if the wrong people saw them at the wrong time. Drey eventually hung up her guitar. When she turned around Blaze Hopkins was waiting.

“I thought you swore never to come back,” Drey told him.

“Byte sent me. It’s about Meg,” Blaze said. His hands were in his coat pockets as usual, his stance was keyed up, the way it always was, his voice caught when he said “Meg,” the way it had ever since everything had fallen apart.

“Meet me outside.” Drey turned back to the guitar to hide how much her hands were shaking.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 3

Ryan fired one last shot and the mother ship exploded into pixelated wreckage. He smiled. Somehow that was still ridiculously satisfying. Meg used to get so annoyed by the old eight-bit style, but there was something about the blatant unreality of it. In a world where the lines blurred, eight-bit seemed like one of the few honest programs left. Still, they’d had some violent arguments about it – each twin dedicated to their own views. Meg, always dedicated to making things better. Himself, wondering if they’d already reached the best at some point in the past and foolishly lost it. The world was spinning out of control, a repeat of history – of a history where the only end had ever been blood. Right and wrong… maybe Meg was right, maybe it would be better just to let Management have final control. Maybe utopia was worth everything Management and Facility had done. Were doing.

Ryan sat back and attempted to rub the thought out of his head. He knew better. Maybe. Utopia always ended badly in the books, but maybe Hobbes was right and peace was better than liberty. Maybe real life was different from the books, maybe people really didn’t care about freedom, not really. Management did provide safety – freedom from war, crime, hunger, illness… did he have a right to destroy all that like some toddler knocking down a block tower?

“Dear God.” Ryan powered off the computer. The room was thrust into pitch black. Light wouldn’t come on till six thirty am. The start of another day in hell. “Dear God, why can’t things be simple?” Like the thousand times he’d prayed that line before, there was no answer.

 

It was late when Megan finally left the lab – probably close to 1 AM. And in the end she only left because she ran out of coffee and was having trouble keeping her mind focused. She half ran the two blocks to the staff apartment complex, her coat wrapped tight around her against the cold. The apartment wasn’t much better – her roommate must be half polar bear. The psych expert was sprawled across the couch, a blanket mostly sliding on the floor. Megan dumped her coat, kicked off her shoes, flipped on the light in the kitchen and searched the fridge in the vain hope that there was something edible inside. Only two half-empty bottles of beer and a week-old takeout carton filled with something unidentifiable. Megan chugged one of the beer bottles simply to keep Dr. Becky Summers PHD from it and headed for the bathroom.

“You’re late again,” Becky said. Meg glanced in the mirror to see Becky sitting up on the couch, blanket wrapped around her, staring bleary-eyed. “You keep doing this I’ll have to send in a report.”

“I’ll be useless on drugs and Management knows it.” Megan leaned toward the mirror to ensure that each tooth was brushed with the greatest care.

“Well if you’d talk to me maybe we could work out your latent inferiority complex.”

“I’m tired. I am going to bed. Good night.” Megan shoved her way out of the bathroom. Becky attempted to follow her into the bedroom, but Megan slammed the door and locked it.

“Latent inferiority complex my foot,” Megan mumbled under her breath as she dug through her hamper for something vaguely clean. She knew exactly what was wrong with her, and there was no way she’d ever tell some stuck-up half-drunk so-called expert. No, the problem was Ryan – nobody else could get under her skin like her twin brother could. Why did he have to be the special one? The one with a power she’d practically kill for? He could do this crazy cyber-space manipulation thing, and all she had was a brain that wouldn’t shut up. She couldn’t keep up with people like him. She had tried the whole “I’m practically Batman, I don’t need superpowers” thing, and it had nearly gotten her friends killed. Friends who were infinitely more powerful than she was. No, this chance to do science at a real lab, where her ideas could actually be recognized, was much better.

Megan flopped into bed and stared at the pills that lay on her bedside table. They’d put her out for at least eight hours, which put her at… 10am wake up time.

“Its the weekend.” Meg downed the sleeping pills and flopped back under her covers.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 2

Drey ran her finger across the edge of the last crease and flipped over the tiny origami crane. Yes, the drive through was that slow today – reduced to folding up unwanted receipts to keep from losing what little sanity she had left. The kid’s meal bags were already folded, stuffed with cheap plastic toys and stacked floor to ceiling. The dishes were all washed, the floor had been mopped twice, the walls were even scrubbed. Drey blew her hair out of her face and watched the electric blue highlight hit the brim of her visor in the dark order screen. Only ten more minutes left of shift. Then… freedom. For another night.

Bing. Drey turned on her mike.

“Welcome to Burger Bell, what can I get for you tonight?” she asked, working hard to keep her voice cheerful.

“Yeah, thanks, I’ll have, uh…” Drey waited while the nameless, faceless customer placed their order, waited while they drove up to her window, took their money, and sent them on their merry way. The customer was gone when Steve, her manager, came to clean out Drey’s cash drawer.

“Got any plans for the weekend?” Steve asked. He punched in his code and the drawer slid open.

“Nah. Maybe watch a movie, nothing exciting,” Drey answered. She took off her headset and reached around Steve to punch out. “See you Monday.”

“Night Drey,” Steve answered. He gave a wave as Drey headed to the crew room. She spun in her locker combination and pulled out a padded blue motorcycle helmet. She paused a moment to wipe a squished bug off of the painted blue morpho butterfly.

They’d been three – Sparrow, Tigress, and Butterfly. Now she was the only one left – Sparrow with another team, Tigress gone. The last one, with a price on her head too big to ignore, a magnet for any bounty hunter’s bullet. What on earth was she still doing out here? She smiled. The adrenaline was still too much of a pull. She’d always been a fool.

Drey tucked the helmet under her arm and headed outside. The pursuer was in the back lot, behind the building and half hidden in the shadows. Drey swiped her hand over the console and the machine purred to life. A magnificent machine, Meg’s baby, abandoned when she’d bailed. Drey had inherited it, and it was the one thing she still kept kept from their time together. Drey straddled the thousand horsepower engine and took off into the night, whooping with the joy of being young and alive and free.

Operation Hide and Seek

Megan Cooper slid down the wall till her forehead could rest against her knees. This was one of the few unwatched corners of the lab, and thus her only privacy. Three years – God, had it only been three years? – and she had a sense for where cameras would be, she knew where to look for the tell-tale gleams, and she could map out in her mind’s eye every single blind spot. It was a skill she didn’t need anymore, except to fulfill the longing for privacy. Most of her life she’d shared everything with someone – Ryan first, later Sonia and Drey – but now that she was alone, she wanted desperately to BE alone.

Megan hugged her knees to her chest, adjusting the white lab coat to get it out of her way. Hair escaped from her ponytail, her bangs flopped forward over her face. She couldn’t remember what color her hair was now, she didn’t want to look. It didn’t matter anymore, her face didn’t show up on watch lists anymore. She knew, she’d checked. Management had been as good as their word. She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, images of steel at the molecular level dancing behind her lids. There had to be an answer, there always was. Something that could stand up to the stress of flight and still be light enough to efficiently scale up bird wings. The answer was there, floating deep in her subconscious, she could feel it.

Megan’s pocket buzzed gently. She barely moved. She knew who it was – only one person could have tracked down the number and disabled her firewalls. Maybe if she ignored him he’d give up. Yeah right. She’d been ignoring him for a week now, changed the number twice, and rebooted her firewall three times. She really should just get rid of the phone – all her files would transfer easy enough – but she couldn’t seem to let go of that part of her life yet. Megan fished the bulky customized iphone out of her pocket and slid her finger across the screen.

“It’s about time you answered your phone,” Megan’s twin brother Ryan said. A blue holographic computer materialized above the iphone’s screen. Megan smiled. It had been too long.

“It’s hard to stay in touch once you’ve gone dark,” Megan answered. She checked the hallway to make sure she was still alone.

“I already have control of the security systems, we’re safe,” Ryan said.

“It’s supposed to be a closed system, how’d you get in?” Megan shifted to sit on her heels and brushed her hair out of her face again.

“Closed systems don’t exist when you’re using wifi. Least not for me.” The holographic computer flexed spaghetti noodle arms that suddenly popped into existence.

“Forgive me oh mighty internet god, some of us are stuck doing things the long way round.”

“We miss you out here Tigress. Please come back.” The hologram folded its hands and made cartoon puppy-dog eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about it Byte,” Megan brushed her hair back and sighed. “Besides, I went dark for a reason. I fit here.”

“Fine Tigress, be Management’s lapdog. I thought it would take more than six months for my sister to be eating out of their hands though,” Ryan said.

“Not going to work Ryan. Anything you can say I’ve already thought of. Just leave it.”

“Fine. Can I at least send you some problems to work through from time to time? I’m swamped.”

“You realize where I am, don’t you? Too much illegal activity and I’ll be forced to run again. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s a decent life Ryan,” Megan said.

“You’re bored. You miss the adrenaline Meg Ryder,” Ryan said.

“Meg Ryder is dead. Listen Ryan, I gotta go before they start looking. Talk to you later.” Megan hung up before her twin could convince her otherwise. Much as she hated to admit it, Ryan was stronger than she was. Deep in enemy territory, his life hanging in the balance with every move he made, seeing people die daily – having to dispose of the bodies even. Herself? Megan had spent three years running circles around incompetent fools. When the game had changed, when it had started to get dangerous, she’d bailed. Meg Ryder had turned back into Megan Cooper. Management had offered her protection, on the condition that she work for them. That they be able to use and abuse her genius. That she remain dead to her family. She couldn’t go back – she’d burned that bridge the day she’d forged her own death certificate three years ago. No, there was nothing left for her out there, not when her lack of power only made her a liability to any team she was on. Meg stuffed her phone back in her pocket and started back down the hall to work.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 5

Wiping a stray hair from her eyes, Anastasia took up the hot iron again. She leaned pouring all her weight through her arm into the triangular metal tool. The hissing soothed her distressed soul as the stubborn wrinkles stood unmoved in the white table cloth. A trickle of sweat rolled down her neck into her collar. She hated sweat, she hated being dirty and smelly, and more so she hated working when there was a book unfinished.
She placed the iron back on the stove to heat. Sighing, she rubbed her exhausted shoulder, rolling the twisted muscles between her aching fingers, her eyes naturally resting outside through the window. It was a cloudy Saturday, the kind of day she wanted to do nothing but read. Her thoughts strolled without her in the park, under the trees, behind the great houses. But she never saw much except the inevitable book page clutched in her hands as she walked the familiar paths. Absently, she moved closer to the window.
“I can’t embroider that,” she hear Jemima exclaim. “It happens to be Saturday, you know.”
Sneaking towards the ajar door, she spied Jemima reclining at the bay window- empty handed. She felt her cheeks flush in anger as her younger sister lazed. Here she was, working like a servant while high and mighty Jemima played princess. Well, not anymore! Forget the iron glowing red, forget the cloth unfinished, forget the pile untended. She was going to read!
Anastasia pushed open the door, her face flushed from irritation as much as from the heat. Without glancing, she knew Jemima and her mother were staring open mouthed as grasping her coat in one hand and her book in the other she sauntered out the front door.
The cool breeze refreshed her wearied soul. Winding her way through the streets, she became depressingly aware that the grey clouds and sudden wind bursts foretold an impending shower. Her time was limited. A cold draft nearly swept her away. The chill from it convinced her to slip on her coat.
For some reason the motion made her think of Gerard’s kindness earlier that week. She tried to brush the thought away by studying the tumbling cloud mass. But it flickered in the back of her mind like a candle placed behind a screen: you know it is there, but you don’t want to go extinguish it lest you have to look at it. And so it burned gently hidden by other ideas swirling around. As she entered the park, the thought resurged more strongly. But with a determined will she smothered it with feigned indifference: It was no more than he would have done for any woman. I’m no one special. I shouldn’t even be thinking of him! What is he to me? A rich man who amuses himself with acts of charity. Her heart cringed at the injustice her remark assumed, yet she tried to justify it anyway. As the path stretched familiarly before her feet, she opened the book and lost herself in another world. By ignoring it, she denied all that had happened to her.
“Ms. Bartle! What a pleasant surprise!”
Anastasia looked up bewildered as her mind was rent from the critical battle on the page. Walking toward her was Gerard Thomas. Her heart leapt a little, like a sparrow hops before flight. “Good day, Mr. Thomas!”
“May I take a stroll with you?” He offered her his arm. “I had a letter from my sister. She will be coming home soon. I should very much like you to meet her.”
Anastasia smiled. The thought of another being in the world who was as charming as he seemed impossible. The mere mention of Greta Thomas seemed to be elegant in itself. “I would like that.”
“Good! Then I shall send you word if I don’t see you myself. This makes me very happy. You two will like each other. Although I feel it is only fair to say Greta is somewhat of an artist: she can be very… well, exuberant. She’s like the sunshine dancing in the trees, whereas you are more like- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say such things.”
Underneath her blush, Anastasia wondered what he thought she was like; stubborn, clumsy, ridiculous? It seemed so terribly important what he thought. But she had no chance to ponder farther.
“What were you reading?”
“Shakespeare’s Henry V; have you ever read it?” She offered the book to his scrutiny.
Smiling, he replied, “Yes, when I was in school. But it’s been many years. I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time anyway.”
“Oh, what a shame! The king has such a character! He’s dashing and courageous, yet gentle and considerate.”
“Is dashing a quality that you think important?”
There was a brief silence. “No.” She paused pondering why she had said it. “I suppose it’s not so much the dashing but the ignorance of it that is charming. For example, at one point Harry urges his troops to the breech by himself leading the charge. This chevalier act endears him, while definitely portraying his lake of self-interest. Moreover there is his famous speech of St. Crispan’s Day. He does not desire gold or anything temporal, but glory and honor.”
For a long time they talked as the path wended through the park, discussing the king’s tale under the trees. Every now and then Anastasia would quote a passage to support her point, and he would counter with a question. Eventually they were sitting under an oak reading the play scene by scene. And as the knights tramped across France behind their king, passersby remarked on the charming couple, many happy that the rich young man had finally found his special someone. But there were two brown eyes that were jealous of Anastasia.
At the end of act two, Gerard walked her home. There was not a moment were one did not have a comment, whether about the story or some tangential topic taken from who knows where. When they reached the small fenced yard where he normally said goodbye, the girl turned to him, “It looks like it might rain. Would you like to come in and wait?”
He smiled down at her. Somehow it wrenched his heart, guessing she was only being courteous rather than devising a way for him to stay for a little while. “Thank you, but I should be returning home. Mrs. Tundlemire will be worrying. But I suppose you know that!” He laughed. “Good evening, Ms. Bartle.”
“Good evening.” She walked up the worn trail between the rose bushes to the door.
Gerard waited until she was gone from sight, then turned homeward. What was it about her that confused him so? She was like the breeze, sometimes too strong, other times too soft. Why had he almost told her that? It was so forward. What must she think of him? Stupid man! Then again, she did not think of him as more than a friend. He was only torturing his own heart, attaching it where there was no returning affection. He felt a rain drop land on his neck and roll into his collar. When Greta came back, things would be different. She would take Anastasia under her wing and turn her into the social lady, as she always did. And then he would loss a friend. Did he dare think more?
Anastasia had watched him walk away through the lace curtains. What was this strange feeling? She had so wanted to keep him from going away, to spend just a little more time. But why? Such an impossible heart she had! A rain drop landed on the window pane. Instantly she ran to the door. Her hand landed on the knob, turned it. But she let it go. No, he did not want to associate with her more than cultured societal norms dictated. She collapsed on the first step, a sob stifled in her throat. What was this reaction for? Was she… Was this… No, foolery, that was what it was. Brushing a tear from her eye, she returned to the kitchen and the hot iron and the rumpled cloth.
Gerard arrived home, water streaming from him. All was silent and dark, the closing door echoing eerily in the empty house. He concluded that Mrs. Tundlemire must have taken a nap. With a sigh he collapsed against the door. The quiet dark seemed to crush him, or rather to pull all the emotion and tension out. He felt like his soul was evaporating. Why? Did he love her? Perhaps so, but he did not know really; and he only cared because of how it might hurt her. He must control his feelings, he must… for her. Slowly he sank to the floor, feeling all the weight of despair. Never would he be able to admit his love, and he knew it. For one, he reasoned, she is too pure and noble. She needs someone who will be strong, kind, completely worthy of her, like one of King Arthur’s knights that she loves so much. Someone who is not me. He dropped his head onto his knees, tears mingling with the rain water. I am just not chivalrous enough.
“Is that you, my dear boy?” Mrs. Tundlemire called.
Swallowing a sob, he stood up. “Yes, it is.” As the kindly lady fretted over his wet condition, Gerard thought again how hard it was to be the perfect gentleman. Yet that was what everyone expected, and so that was what he had to be. And that was not what she needed.
Each respectively went to sleep that night tired and heart-sore. Each wondered what the other thought of himself or herself. But there was no way of knowing, for he was not perfect for her or she was not right for him. Ah, but were they? You, as a reader, are obviously aware that they are a good match: kind and considerate, extremely caring for the other, ready to sacrifice anything if it could bring a smile to the other. But when you are in a relationship, especially one where you deny your own or the other’s obvious feelings, you inevitably decry yourself as worthless. But I apologize for ranting. I promise to remain a narrator and not a homilist.

Sky By Storm

So until I actually finish something – which might be soon – character concepts and random scenes are most of what I’ll be putting up. 

C.Angelina

Meg raced after the retreating jeep, claws digging into the soft red stone, dodging gunfire. She could see Drey hanging out the back, shouting. Meg pinned her ears back and dug deeper into the ground. A rock column toppled to the ground mere inches from Meg’s tail. She was really starting to hate Telekinesis. With a vengeance.

The jeep bounced around a stone pillar. Meg bounded up the same pillar, leaping for the back of the jeep. The pillar shifted at the last second, Meg twisted around, barely managing to dig her claws into the spare tire on the back. Drey grabbed her paws. Meg shed close to two hundred pounds of dirt as Drey changed her from tiger to girl. She scrambled inside the jeep just as a Tyler shot clipped the back fender.

“Get this show on the road Ty. Drey, change it as soon as we get to the interstate.” Meg ducked behind the spare tire to avoid another hail of gunfire. Tyler slammed on the gas. Within moments, they were finally out of range. After that, it was only a few minutes to the interstate, where Drey morphed the jeep into a Cadillac.

Meg put her head back against the headrest. “That was way too close.”

“Slider’s getting smarter. This calls for a total makeover,” Drey said.

“Sorry morpher, but you’re not coming anywhere near me,” Tyler said.

“If you had actually been watching our backs, instead of trading insults with bendy back there, this wouldn’t be necessary speed,” Drey snapped.

“You need hair dye anyway Drey. Ty, you’re sure you took out their truck?” Meg asked.

“I’m not totally useless. Just tell me this makeover involves a new name,” Tyler said,

“I told you, either tell us your true name, or come up with something yourself.” Meg closed her eyes. Maybe they’d be able to sleep in real beds tonight, if Slider was as stuck as Tyler seemed to think.

“Ryan. Ryan’s a good name,” Tyler said.

“You really want a Drey and a Ray?” Meg asked.

“Spoilsport,” Tyler mumbled.

Meg glanced over at Drey. “Hair only. Slider will be expecting a full body change.”

“Tonight. You’re lighter than last time we did the tiger, took too much out of me,” Drey answered. Meg nodded.

Meg drifted in and out of sleep through the rest of the day.  Drey and Tyler switched off driving. It was around midnight when Drey pulled into the parking lot of a dingy motel just off the highway. Meg dragged herself out of the car.

“I’ll get the room if you guys do a sweep,” Meg said.

“Already did. The place isn’t great, but there’s no goons and real beds,” Tyler said.

“Great.” Meg stumbled inside and up to the check-in counter. Ten minutes and fifty dollars later, she collapsed on a bed, kicking off her worn sneakers. Drey disappeared into the bathroom with a bottle of hair dye she must have stopped for while Meg had been sleeping, and Tyler plopped on the couch in front of the TV.

Flight of the Valkyries started emanating from Meg’s pocket. Byte. Wonderful. Meg pulled her cell phone out and flipped it open.

“I am not moving till ten tomorrow,” she answered.

“I’ve got an escaped bender in the capitol. I need an immediate extraction,” Byte said.

Meg sat up. “Two things. What’s a bender, and why on earth did you orchestrate an escape when we aren’t supposed to be down that way for another two months?”

“A bender is what you’d call ‘exceptionally gifted.’ In between normal and the breakers. Excuse me, supers. And I didn’t have a choice about the timing; I couldn’t only keep her drugged for six weeks without damaging her brain function. Look on the bright side, she’s listed as dead.”

“Byte, you never interfere in a death.” Meg twisted a strand of hair around her finger, weighing their options.

“She deserves a chance, Ok? So, am I moving your concert date up or not?” Byte asked.

“One week. The last thing we need right now is to be caught between Slider and Facility. The usual rules apply, twenty four hours plus concert time. If we don’t find her then, she’s on her own, I don’t care how attached you are.”

“Fine. When you get to the capitol, contact Officer David. He’s like you, a sympathizer.”

“You mean normal, I get it. Warn us if Slider makes a move, kay?”

“I can’t guarantee my intel on him will be accurate.”

“Make it accurate.” Meg hung up. Wonderful. Just wonderful. She pushed herself up and went to go lean against the open bathroom door. Drey had her head over the sink and was rubbing dye into her hair.

“Bleached blond? Don’t you think that’s overdoing it a bit?” Meg asked.

“It was on sale. So what did the geek want?” Drey asked.

“You think the police force in the capitol still remembers us?”

Drey straightened up, her half-colored hair hanging over her face. “No. No way. I would rather live, thank you.”

“Byte’s already kept this girl asleep for six weeks. If we don’t do it, he’s going to get amateurs in.”

“And they’ll get caught, and tortured, and give up all our secrets. Why on earth did we decide to put ourselves on the network?” Drey bent back over the sink.

“Because it sounded like a good idea at the time. So it’s a go?”

“Not like we have a choice. Get some sleep, you’re driving first shift.”

“Fine. Don’t stay up too late.”

“Alright mother.”

“You’re lucky I don’t make you eat your salad. Good night.” Meg pushed off the wall and stumbled to the bed. Tyler was still enraptured by the TV. He said all his TV watching was to catch up on his cultural literacy, but Meg suspected that it was mostly one of the few things that catered to his short attention span.

Meg slipped under the covers. She could feel just about every spring in the bed, but it was a hell of a lot better than the back seat of the car and a ton safer than an alley. She closed her eyes.