Welcome to Purgatory

"All right." Morsham smiled slightly, seemingly eager and pulled out a small headset. "Close your eyes and concentrate on clearing your mind." She placed it on Jennifer's head. There was a slight tingling, a sensation of falling, and then she was… somewhere else. A small grey room. Circe and Warp were there, in formless off-white jumpsuits. They looked up, startled and stared for a moment.

It took Jen a second to realize… she was naked.

Jennifer's lack of attire made it clear that she really did glow everywhere. The glow made her skin appear very pale, contrasting sharply with her shoulder-length black hair, the patch of pubic hair visible at the juncture of her legs, and her eyes.

As she realized she was nude, her face took on a set grin, teeth clenched. If she was blushing, neither Warp nor Circe could see it. She muttered something well under her breath, then faced Warp and Circe with her arms folded across her torso, just under her breasts. "Um… hi."

"Jenny, put some clothes on, I just learned more than I care to know about what you look like. Here to gloat?" Warp said with his back towards Jennifer.

She rolled her eyes. "If I were here to gloat, Doug, do you really think I'd have arrived in the nude?"

"Hello Jen," Circe said, stretching out her legs on the floor. "Nice of you to visit. They not letting you wear one of these adorable jumpsuits or the lovely lab coat dear Engrid had?" She looked Jen over professionally, evaluating her apparent physical strengths and weaknesses.

Circe chuckled. "What's wrong, Doug? Can't bear to think of your sister as a woman?" A wide grin crossed her face. "Even when we were kids, the other girls couldn't entice you to play Doctor."

"Evidently not," Jennifer remarked. A look of concentration crossed her face, then a pair of jeans and a t-shirt appeared on her. "OK, Doug, it's safe to turn around…" She sounded distracted as she spoke. The shirts and pants materialized, not images but real–or so they feel.

Warp turned around after doing a check over his shoulder. "I can think of my sister as being a woman. She's my sister, though, and I'm not into hiding the sausage with a relative…" Warp said with a wry grin. Unlike some others I can think of… "Circe, there are reasons for that also. So if you're not here to gloat why are you here Jen-bug?"

I do not want to know where that comment came from. She sighed, then, "As I recall, one of the things you were paranoid about was that you'd disappear without a trace… which you haven't. And… I wanted you to know that I didn't enjoy… what I had to do last night."

Circe shrugged nonchalantly. "I would never have expected anything else from you, Jen. We all do what we think we have to," she said. "And you were doing your job."

"No, I just hate situations where I'm not in control, and someone else is, when I don't know all of their methods. So who can I thank for the spider ambush and the other person who ambushed us?"

"Let's see… the spider ambush. I don't know for certain–but Paragon did say that you'd attracted the attention of 'a number of unsavory parties'–including the Yakuza. Apparently, they showed up at the medcenter. So list the people you've pissed off recently, and take your pick."

"The other person," she continued, "was Stingray. Member of the Genesis Knights, renowned for her sonic powers and hot temper." She paused, then, "Shooting at her was a bad idea, Doug… if she'd fired that blast at you, we'd probably be picking up the pieces, literally. Fortunately, we've been able to teach her some control. She surprised me with that maneuver, actually."

"Well, I guess it was fortunate I'm not a killer, and didn't use a more lethal attack against her then… now that I can see some differences with 20/20 hindsight…" Warp grinned. "So if I join you all the Genesis Knights would help me against the Yakuza?"

Circe shook her head slightly and gave a mental sigh. Still looking for other people to deal with your problems, she thought. You can't rely on other people to save your skin. Her lips twisted in a wry little smile. Better stop thinking like that. Looks like you will be part of a team. But will that team accept? Probably not.

"Actually, you'd be part of the Purgatory project, not the Knights. You may know more about Purgatory than I do, right now. All I know is that it's supposed to be a 'high risk'–whatever that means–enforcement team, made up of paroled metas. It's also got some conservatives in a snit, so there must be something to it." She grinned. "The best way I can answer your question right now is: we might. I'll know more later today, though."

"High risk," Circe said softly. "Wouldn't it be better to say expendable? They send us after metas like Warp and I. If we succeed, we get a pat on the head. And only if we succeed. If we fail, we're either dead or penalized. Not even a thanks for trying." Her voice was even, emotionless.

"Something to keep in mind is that they also send metas like me after metas like you and Warp. I don't think I'll say anything more about Purgatory… I don't know enough about it to be able to give the two of you a really accurate picture of what it's about."

Next thing they are going to say is we'll be doing it for free, and have no money for expenses. "Jenny, in the chase last night–or when ever it was–I lost a possession a briefcase. Could you find it for me? I think it might be where you found me. So, Circe, what do you think of this?"

"Of what?" Circe asked. She looked at Warp impassively.

"So what do you think of our options and this deal they are offering us?"

She shrugged slightly. "Does it really matter? It's not like I have much choice in the matter. Choose between being locked up in prison for the rest of my life and likely being turned into a drooling schizoid, or joining the Purgatory project, staying with them for the rest of my natural life and having even a little freedom? I'd rather have that damned implant than have my mind destroyed. I'm taking the deal."

"If the case was with you when you showed up," Jen remarked, "then it's still in the garage's parts room, probably."

"Will you lock it up someplace safe in the meanwhile for me?"

"You do realize that the places I could put it that qualify as safe will probably have people who'll want to open it, don't you?"

"Put it in your closet, and put other boxes on top of it if necessary. And don't worry, nothing in there is hot," Warp said with a grin.

"Good, because if anything in it was hot, I'd have to turn it over. It's one of those obligations that goes along with being in the Knights."

Circe looks over at Warp in disappointment. "You should know better than to involve Jen with what you were involved with, even now." She shook her head. "I don't suppose you stopped to consider that you've now made her a target for whoever's after you?"

Jen shrugs. "They probably already know who I am anyway. I did check him into that medcenter. Besides, if that case is still in the garage, then leaving it there could make everyone who works there targets."

"That's not the point, but it's not beyond repair," Circe replied. "If it's your payoff, Doug, cut your losses and let it go. Get rid of the case. It's not like they'll let you keep it. Money isn't everything."

"Even so, given who was after him, I still don't like the idea of leaving it in the garage."

"Then find out what's in it, and why they want it so bad," Circe said with another shrug. "Leverage against the enemy. Standard tactic when confronting an opponent."

"True… and I'd intended to look anyway. No offense, Doug, if this implies distrust–it's not supposed to–but if I'm supposed to store that case, I want to know exactly what's in it."

"Well, if you would rather do with it what I was going to with it, take it to this address." He gave her the address for an orphanage in the Sprawl. "Give the contents of the case to Mary and say it's from Phillip D. Kick."

"Right." And what I find in the case will determine what I do with it.

Seeing the look on Jenny's face, he added, "It's money, but most of it is going to that orphanage I gave you the address of. They might as well get all of it since I won't be anywhere to spend it." He looked disgusted. "And no, that money wasn't stolen either, that was money I had earned and promised to give to the orphanage."

Circe looked between them silently then settled against the wall. There was really nothing else to say.

Engrid was there, appearing with the strange suddenness of things in this "world". She glanced at the two prisoners, adjusting a pair of glasses. Then with a sheepish look on her face, she turned to Jennifer. "I must apologize for the error in your appearance… the interface is very touchy at this time."

"Yeah, well, warn me if something like this happens again."

"Of course, but it is difficult to predict… again, I apologize."

"Circe, Warp… your trial time has been set. It's in 10 hours." Engrid exhaled. "Things are proceeding as quickly as possible… perhaps… never mind. Is everything clear to the both of you?"

Circe nodded. "I'm still entitled to know what the charges are before I arrive in court. Can you tell me that, Engrid?" Her voice was calm and polite. I wonder if I'm reacting the way she expected me to. Or any of them expected me to. I'd love to know what was in my psych profile.

"You've been charged with the death of that executive as well as other deaths, the criminal use of telepathic ability, breaking and entering… and other charges. I can have them listed for you," Engrid replied quietly.

"Please," Circe said. "I'd like to be prepared, and I'd like to know specifics. I do have a question though. What if I'm being charged for something I truly did not commit? Would I still be required to plead guilty? I have no intention of avoiding any charges, but I will not do time for crimes I did not commit."

"No, you won't be expected to do that," Engrid replied.

"Well, I might as well hear what charges they have against me. Do you know what proof they have, also?" Warp asked while sitting on the floor in a corner.

"Accessory to murder, theft… among other things… all compounded by your use of paranormal abilities in the commission of these crimes," Engrid replied.

"OK, so what is the next step?" Warp asked while sitting on the floor. She's trying to keep us psychologically on the defense, since she can have a chair and we can't. They can manipulate the environment and we can't. They want us to do their dirty work… wonder how many other people Circe and I know that includes. Boy do I ever have a lot to thank you for, Jenny.

Oh Doug, Circe thought to herself. You still don't pay very much attention to what is going on around you. Plead guilty, get sentenced, then get the implant. Got through indoctrination, meet our keepers, then our first job, more than likely. Perhaps I can use this program as a way to get at the bastard that set me up and see he gets what's coming to him. Or her.

Engrid sighed. "Well if that's all… I must depart to make preparations." She looked from Circe to Warp.

Warp looked at Circe. Well, might as well keep my powers and stay with Mary… "Might as well sign me up for the purge program. But like Circe said, I'm not going to plead guilty to crimes I didn't do." So much for being free…

"Are we the first in the program, or will we there be people waiting to welcome us with open arms," Circe asked. "And will we be seeing more of you?" Circe grinned.

"You are the first two, but there will be more. And I am one of the staff members for the Project, so yes, I think we shall see more of each other." Engrid nodded, looking at Circe thoughtfully.

"Excellent," Circe replied, looking pleased. And I wonder how you'll be taking that comment. "And will we be working with the Knights at all? You had said that our experiences would be valuable, and it would definitely be to their advantage for us to train with them. Don't you think, Jen?"

"Definitely. Most of the Knights could use a good deal of training with their powers, and any help is appreciated."

"If we're the first in the program, how do you know that the devices you plan to implant in us are safe? Have they been tested in other people with powers, or are we guinea pigs for that too? Will we have educational opportunities?"

"The devices have been tested," Engrid replied. "As for opportunities, you may seek them out if you wish. The hope of this program is rehabilitation."

"I may just decide to do so," Circe said with a grin, then a thoughtful look crossed her face. "Will it be public knowledge that we'll be part of the Purgatory program?"

"There will be some media release, yes."

"For undercover purposes, wouldn't it be better to leave our names and meta names out of the paper, so that we could still be able to use our previously-made contacts without drawing suspicion to everything we ask?" Warp asked with a smile.

Great, just great, Circe thought with a slight frown. So much for doing any undercover work.

Engrid sighed. "You are meant to be undercover operatives… but also, a high profile example of the viability of the program and rehabilitations in the first place." She took off her glasses and wiped them carefully with a handkerchief from nowhere. A nervous habit, Circe noted. She could read people. It was pleasing to note that it wasn't all her talent at work. "Public outcry against meta crimes… in upper social levels, at the least, is growing quite disproportionately to their number. Calls for much harsher forms of punishment than imprisonment are getting stronger as time passes."

"OK. So how much longer do we have to wait?" Warp asked.

"It should be a few hours." Turning to Jennifer, she said, "Well, if you're ready, we can both leave." Jen nodded at the older woman.

Together they vanished, leaving Circe and Warp alone in the grey void.

Jennifer "fell" back into reality. The sensation of the meeting room, sights, sounds, everything was sharper than "in" there. The smell of the coffee was sharp and bitter and seemed so strong. For the first time she realized there was no smell in that "world" Warp was in. It took her a moment to adjust, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment.

Engrid spoke quietly, "It can be disorienting… we are not as linked into the interface as they are, thus the neural feed is not as… sharp, I guess is the best way to put it." When Jennifer opened her eyes, the older woman was sitting across from her, hands in her lap. Her face was, if anything, more pinched than before. A headache perhaps. "Paragon suggested you to be a liaison with the new Purgatory team."

Jennifer shook her head sharply to clear it. "Disorienting is the right word." She paused briefly, then, "I wish he'd suggest these things to me. But anyway… before I'll agree to anything, I'd like more info about Purgatory."

"Don't be too critical, your name merely came up in discussion. Nothing definite has been even begun to be worked out." Engrid took another long sip, seemed to mentally shrug. "What more would you like to know? I will tell you what I can."

"The objectives of the project seem clear. I'm more interested in the methods Purgatory will use–and the kind of people I'd be working with. Besides the two I know about, of course."

Nodding, Engrid finished her drink and sat the mug aside. "We hope to use less violence-prone metas in the initial program, such as Warp. Without Willow's insistence, Circe would not have been considered." Engrid paused. "But I begin to see more to her than I initially felt… an intriguing young woman… anyway. Method-wise there are the tracer implants to monitor the subjects. Its hoped to use them in situations where risk is to high for standard authorities, and as a supplemental force to the Knights. Holly, an AI program, will perform most of the monitoring function as far as the trace implants go. I didn't want to go into as much detail with the two subjects but the implants are not 100% and can possibly be gotten around with some persistence. There may also be some… changes as the program progresses." A frown crossed her face. "This is being done by committee… never a smooth process."

"Willow's involved in this?" Jennifer's skepticism was evident in her voice.

Nodding, Engrid continued, "Yes, she is one of the more outspoken members… Paragon has made this a multinational effort in many ways. Ivy is also involved, as is Nipponese government."

"Not a bad idea, actually… and if Purgatory works, I can see why so many people would be interested. I just don't trust someone who claims to be for peace, but surrounds herself with people who are armed to the teeth, that's all."

"I can't judge the woman's politics… but it is a dangerous world we live in… and pacifist does not mean naive," Engrid replied with a shrug.

"True. I try not to let my suspicions run away with me."

"But its hard not to in these times…" Engrid actually chuckled. "These times… God, I must sound so very old… I think people have been saying that since the idea of calenders came into being."

Jennifer gave a small smile. "Probably. Anyway, Paragon did say that he wanted to talk to me about my brother today… does that mean he's coming here?"

"Oddly, enough he was rather vague… he seems distracted as of late… the Project I imagine." She sighed. "I can well understand that."

"Hmm. I just wish I knew what his plans were, that's all. I have to work later today, so I can't stick around waiting for him forever…"

"Well, I am certain he will be in contact with you in any event… will you be staying with us for awhile or do you need transport now?" Engrid asks.

"I can stick around for a little while, but I've got some things to do before I go to work. Half-hour, maybe."

Smiling Engrid refills her cup. "Wonderful… do you have anymore questions about the project?"

"How big is Purgatory likely to be? Who are the other prospects right now?"

"We want to keep the initial team small, perhaps 4 or 5 members. Right now, Warp and Circe are it," Engrid sighed. "They are a rare breed… metacriminals that fit the correct profile to be included–and Circe only squeaks by… without Willow's backing its unlikely she would be included."

"The correct profile?" Jennifer finished off her own coffee, then refilled her mug.

"Yes… put simply, someone who could be rehabilitated. No sociopathic or psychopathic personas. Many metahumans are… insane to the common way of thinking. They have to be. They deal on a daily basis with power the bulk of humanity can only imagine, and they adapt. Unfortunately… the majority of the adaptations are negative–Warp's refusal to accept responsibility, Circe's alienation despite her empathic powers…"

"And of course, the whole thing would make very little sense if someone weren't around to help them deal with that. So there's got to be psychiatric help associated with the program. You?"

"That will be Willow's area. Both her powers and experience give her an understanding of the area no non-meta could possess. She's a rather interesting person to talk to, though a bit unnerving at times. You always seem to get the feeling that she already knows what you want to say, and is listening to make you feel comfortable." Engrid shook her head. "Or perhaps its just me."

"I wouldn't know; I've never met Willow. But she does seem to be qualified."

"Indeed; in fact, I would sa-" a soft beep from her breast pocket cut her off. "Just a moment," she muttered, taking out a small cellcom. "Yes… yes… I am on my way." Standing, she looked at Jennifer apologetically. "Sorry. Have to check out some problem on level 23. It may take some time. If you wish me to set up a transport for you…"

"Transport would probably be best if it's going to take you a while."

"All right, I'll see to it then." She shook Jennifer's hand. "It was a pleasure talking with you, Jennifer. I hope we have the opportunity to do it again. Good day." With that she turned to go.

A few minutes later Jennifer was speeding back home, thinking over everything that had happened in the last few hours. She couldn't really believe it. Her brother back… Shaking her head, she tried to focus on the present for now, finding the case and what's in it before anything came of it.

Jennifer absently climbed out of the transport, still thinking about how she was going to explain the case to Jesse–if it was there in the garage. She ran around, performing a few errands, before heading for work.

The garage was going full swing by the time she got there. Slipping in through the rear door, she actually managed to avoid much attention. Most of the guys were deep into interfaces, guiding servos around autos and engine blocks. Warp had "come in" to the rear store room, a little-used area, so maybe she was in luck. Jennifer headed back and was just about to step in when her name was called.

"Jennifer! Well, long time no see… the Mets finally bust you for stealing that antique you drive from a museum?" Jesse grinned as he walked up to her. The kidding about her car was a ritual. His was even older than hers, older than Jennifer as a matter of fact.

"No, but they did have a few questions about the hulk you drive." She smiled back at him; her answer was also part of the ritual. This may be easier to explain if I come clean… The smile slid off her face. "Listen, Jesse, can I talk to you?" She gestured toward the store room. "In private?"

"Sure thing, kid," he nodded, stepping in and wiping his hands on his coverall. He still liked to do things the old fashioned way, hands on. Turning as Jennifer stepped in. "What's the problem?"

"I had… an unexpected visitor while I was working last night." She paused a moment. "You've heard of Warp? Ghost, perhaps?"

"Nah… this guy give you some kinda trouble?" His voice went straight from worry to anger. "If he did tell me where ta find him and I'll kick his ass 'till his nose bleeds."

Jennifer smiled slightly. "I appreciate the sentiment, but if you tried you'd have to sneak into the Special Crimes Enforcement Building, and that's damned difficult to do. No, I wasn't in any danger from him… as it happens, I know him. But anyway, he may have left a small metal attache case here. Since apparently some Yakuza–among others–came after him, if it's here we need to get it out, as soon as possible."

He stared at Jennifer as if she'd suddenly sprouted another head. Actually it was the first time he'd ever look really shocked. The day she walked in, he hadn't even blinked at her glowing form. "The Yaks? Good Lord, girl, I know you're one a those Knights but… well… no, no case has turned up, but you're welcome to look."

Jennifer nodded. "Like I said, I don't want this case–if it's here–to stay here any longer than necessary. He arrived back here…" She drifted farther back into the storage room, toward the place where Warp had appeared.

She saw the tumbled boxes where Warp had "landed". A pile of rusted metal crates and old part among which glittered a small stainless steel case. Jennifer pulled it free. There was simple keypad lock on the clasp.

Jennifer looked at the lock for a second, then tried the obvious solution. She attempted to open the case. It snapped open easily, unlocked. Inside were several stacks of bills. Paper currency… it fit Warp's "zero" status, there was no way he had a real cred account… or would dare to use it if he did.

Jennifer quickly searched through the case's contents. Money was all it seemed to hold. Well, now I've got it… so what do I do with it, besides get it out of here?

She closed the case, then made her way back toward Jesse with it. "It's here. And the fewer people who know about it, the better."

He nodded. "I'm guessin' you need to take some time off?"

"Given that Warp arrived with a poisoned flechette wound, I'd say so, yes. I don't want to put everyone here in danger."

"Not a problem… but take care a' yerself, ok?" He paused, not meeting Jennifer's eyes for a moment. "Yer too good a mechanic to replace ya know…"

Jennifer's answering smile was warm. Jesse was one of the few people–she could count them on her fingers–who accepted her without question. She let her free hand rest briefly on his arm as she walked past him. "Thanks."

He turned away to hide the blush coming to his cheeks. "Don't mention it."

She quickly made her way to the garage's back door and slipped out. Mother Magdelene's Orphanage, from Phillip D. Kick, hmm…? I wonder if I should…

She hadn't heard of the place before. No big surprise really there must be thousands of independent orphanages and aid centers in the city. The day looked to be clear and hot, the warm winds carrying desert dust along the streets, sliding along the cracks and curbs. As typical hordes of people moved along the streets. Jennifer was surprised to see a lot of bare faces. Must be a low smog day. Her softly glowing form drew a few looks from passers-by, but most kept their gaze cautiously low. A practiced posture of the city dweller. If you don't see it, maybe it won't see you.

Jennifer looked around for a map, an unvandalized public terminal, something to help her find the orphanage. There was a data access terminal in good condition, where she called up the locale of the establishment. The place wasn't far, really… not in a bad part of the city. She stared at the terminal for a few seconds longer, committing the route she'd have to take to get there to memory, then reset the terminal. She began walking quickly toward the orphanage.

The early afternoon foot traffic was hellish, but she made it in about 20 minutes. The orphanage was a squat grey building at the back of a small park. What looked like real grass, not turf, covered the grounds. Walking up to the front door, Jennifer was greeted by a small voice.

"¡Hola!" Turning, Jennifer saw a girl standing just behind her. The girl looked about ten or twelve, with blonde hair, through which two small horns protruded.

Jen whirled, slightly startled. I don't remember seeing anyone… "Ah… hello."

"You be doin' a mercy run?" the kid asked, stepping closer. Her legs were digitigrade, and furred. She peered closer. "Heyhey, see ya on the vid… you big time cape at ya?"

"Yeah, I'm… well, I told a friend I'd drop this off for him." She hefted the case. She'd have to dispose of it later, too risky to leave it here. "And you probably have seen me a few times on the vids."

"Buncha times… bigtime mediasplash girl ya be, why ya down in the heaps? Not out flyin'?" she asked, stepping closer to look over the case curiously.

Jennifer shrugged. "Like I said… gotta drop this here." She knocked on the door.

The little girl stepped closer. "Its being a foolboy run for a big viddy girl like you… What's be the true in it… or you just dusting me?"

"Well, okay, he's not precisely a friend, but I did tell him I'd drop this off for him." She knocked again.

"Fer the Sister? They're chill… a little wonky but they're free with the fillers… so they're chill." She grinned, "Wanna let in or do they know ya?"

"I doubt they know me, so if you would…?" Jen gestured toward the door.

"'Kay." She stepped up to the door and her fingers flew over the keypad. After a few moments the door slid back, revealing a woman in a dark hood and robes. Her face was cast into shadow by the hood, only the lower part of her face visible. Her smile of welcome to the girl quickly turned to a slight frown as she looked up at Jennifer.

"May I help you?"

"Well… a friend asked me to drop this case off here. And judging by what I know it contains, I suspect it'll probably be the other way around. He said to say it was from 'Phillip D. Kick', if that means anything."

At the name the woman seemed to relax somewhat. "I thank you… please… come inside–and you as well, Spring, it's almost time for lunch." She stepped aside, beckoning Jennifer into the dim interior. The door led into a large hallway, a t-intersection, with branches leading off from the door on either side, and one going further back into the building. Doors lined the walls, most closed, but Jennifer could hear voices in the distance. Most of them sounded like children.

So this is what my brother has been doing with his money… Jen looked around, then sighed. I think I owe him an apology.

"Please come with me… Spring, you can go to the cafeteria if you like."

The kid nodded, "Certified," and trotted off.

Walking down the hall, the woman led Jennifer to a small office and closed the door behind her. "My name's Catherine, Catherine Smith… please call me Catherine." She gestured to a chair before a small metal and plastic desk. The furnishings were simple and well-worn, but clean, the only decoration being simple childish drawings on the walls. "You're not who was expected… we rarely get celebrities here." With that she moved the hood back from her face. The face underneath was young, not much older than Jennifer in appearance, with fine soft features that were pretty in a simple girl-next-door fashion, framed by long dark brown hair. Her eyes were striking, pale violet in color and oddly wide. "You are connected with law enforcement. I hope we are not in legal trouble."

"Oh, no… not that I know of, anyway. He is, though, which is why I told him I'd do this."

A look of relief crossed her features. "Ah… then again, I thank you. He has been quite a benefactor to us. The Humanities Budget has been very stressed lately, with the Wasting Plague and such… " She sat across from Jennifer.

Jennifer nodded. Nasty disease, that… "I'm not sure how much 'Phillip' will be able to help in the future, though."

"He's not in trouble is he?" Catherine looked worried leaning forward a bit.

"Oh, I'd say so, yes. He's under arrest, in point of fact."

"Oh my… on what charges?"

"Theft, primarily." Don't know if she's aware of Doug's powers or not…

"Oh… I see." A mixture of both concern and guilt crossed the young woman's face in that moment. She sat back, folding her hands in her laps. "I do wish him the best. He has been quite kind to us in the past. A very generous man in many ways."

Jennifer said nothing for a moment, looking off into the distance. Then, almost to herself, "I think I've misjudged him. Perhaps badly."

Catherine looked curious but said nothing. Suddenly the door burst open and the girl Catherine had called Spring ran in. "Hey! Way chill airship comin' over topside… ya can see it looks like a viddy dragon or somthin'!"

Holy shit! Speaking very softly, "Catherine, we may have a big problem. I'm going to go have a look at this airship… if I come back walking, no problem, but if you see me come back in here at a run, I want you to get the children to as safe a place as you can. If this is who was after 'Phillip' before he got picked up, believe me, they won't hesitate to harm kids. I thought that the way 'Phillip' and I met the other day would have thrown them off… no, I was certain, or I'd never have brought the case here." The thought that she might have endangered a large number of children was sickening.

With that, she rose from her chair and left the room, heading for the door.

Spring led her outside and pointed. Up above, she saw it. It looked like a dragon… a biomechanical construct so huge it blocked out the sun for blocks. Majestic gossamer wings caught the light and refracted it into a million different colors. The "head" seemed to rear back, looking over the city below with some amused detachment.

Jen looked skyward. Keeping her eyes on the "dragon", she fished out her cell phone and punched in Paragon's number.

The connection was made almost instantly. Jennifer could tell from the background crackle and whoosh that he was flying. "Jennifer… is there some trouble?"

"There might be." She gave him the nearest intersection to the orphanage, then asked, "You know where that is?"

"I have it… what's the situation?" his voice took on a new edge of concern.

Overhead the dragon ship continued placidly on, drawing attention even from normally jaded 'plexers'. Spring was practically hopping up and down with excitement now. "Too chill! wonder does it 'ave a fire ball or somethin'!"

"I really hope this is just my paranoia speaking, but given what happened with my brother the other night, I need to be sure. There's an airship passing by overhead, shaped like a dragon. Is there any way you can get some info on its flight plan?"

"Ah… that is Ivy's transport… The Brazillia Celestial." He chuckled a bit. "She would bring it in over the city…"

Jennifer chuckled. It was half-relief, half-embarrassment. "I've never seen it before. Obviously."

"Don't worry, few outside of Brazilia have… it is an awesome sight," he replied, managing to be reassuring without being patronizing. "I can just see the chaos the Metro police must be going through."

She shook her head, then looked back up at the airship. Well, you know what happens when you assume… She chuckled again. "Okay, panic attack's over. Thanks. See ya later." She killed the connection.

Jennifer spent a few more moments looking up at the "dragon", then turned and went back inside. Catherine waited for her in the doorway, looking up at the ship. "What… what is it?"

"Ivy's personal transport, apparently. The Brazilia Celestial. Looks like I was a victim of my own overactive imagination–sorry if I scared you, there."

"Nothing that you did… just its so… " she trails off at a lose for words. The ship passed overhead, casting the whole block into shadow.

"I know what you mean."

Nodding she stepped back inside and closed the door. "Is there anything I can do for our benefactor? I would hate to see him come to any harm." Catherine seemed honestly worried and troubled by the situation.

Jennifer sighed. "I honestly don't know. At least, not right now. Later, though, maybe…"

"All right. Please let us know though if you do find out. We owe him a great deal." Catherine smiled.

"I will."