Friendly Fires

Sara let out a short laugh. "We've got the bugger. I'll let Jackson know and he can warn Hammer. Shoot! Hammer's at a press conference right now. Damn." She looked over at Dr. Jackson.

"Doctor, Paulus Redfeather changed his name to Paul Martin in 1992. You'd better warn the police. Who knows who he's been able to get his mental claws into?" Sara's eyes widened, her face suddenly went pale. The gallery. She turned her back to the others in the room and her voice fell to barely over a whisper. "Sam, he must have gotten to Josh, or even me, and I just don't know it. The only people who had keys and the codes to Colours were Josh and myself. Oh God, Sam. If he could pull the security code from memory, what else might he be able to get?"

There was a brief silence on the other end. "Most likely Josh, as you were working that night, remember. We are going to have to talk about this. If you are done there, meet me at the coffee shop across from E-Town's Friendship Center. We can figure out what to do then."

Kinuko glanced over at Sara out of the cornor of her eye. The young woman was whispering into the phone.

"No problem, Ms. Mclintock," Dr Scott smiled. "Mr. Telle, will you take these ladies back to their car? Dr. Jackson and I have some other things to talk about."

Dr. Jackson stood and shock hands with both women. "Nice to meet you, my door is always open."

The two scientists then turned and began speaking to each other, oblvious to the outside world. Mr. Telle bowed slightly and opened the doors. The drive back to Scott Industries was quiet, each woman lost in her own thoughts.

Kinuko's thoughts were chasing each other around in little circles. What was this person? How long did the effects of his powers last? And what did Dr. Scott know about her? Who else knew about her powers, and how much did they know? Did anyone outside the lab group that tested her know what she was? The worry was unproductive and energy-wasting, but she could not calm herself; a normal opponent she could deal with, even the priest and dog-men she had fought two nights before. But this man scared her; she had no defense against his powers. One look in her eyes, and she was his. And so she shrunk even smaller, huunkering down inside her servant's robes.

Oh Josh, Sara thought. What am I going to do? I have to tell you. You need to know. Oh God. Her heart sank, completely unsure of how he was going to react. If Redfeather knows about me, we're both in trouble. That would explain the bomb, unless it was because of my investigating. I wasn't exactly hiding my searches. Oh love, what are we going to do? But why is Redfeather doing this? What does he have to gain? Sara felt angry, outraged and violated. She had no defense against this sort of thing herself. How could she be expected to protect Josh?

Mr. Telle dropped them at Sara's car, and the drive to E-Town's Friendship Center resumed in quiet. As Sara pulled up, she saw Sam's car. She wasn't too hard to find. Sam looked up as they walked to the table.

"Paul Martin didn't show for work today. And here's one other piece. Mr. Martin insured each Friendship Center for almost 50 grand with a company called Rolinn Insurance. I have never heard of em and neither has my insurance broker."

"Might be a front of some sort. Only 50 thou? I'm surprised. The artwork inside should have been insured for at least twice that. He didn't show, eh? We may just be in big trouble." Sara sighed. "Damn, what are we going to do?"

Sam frowned and looked at Kinuko. Sam's face went expressionless and she switched to Japanese, dropping into the superior-to-inferior mode.

Sara blinked in surprise. What brought this on? Is she considering taking Kinuko into confidence?

"I know what your training was, Kinuko. What I have been wondering is this: Does someone who so casually threw away her honor and that of her clan have any concept of honor? Or are you more gaijin then even Sara-san is? Does one with no honor have or understand honor?"

In the same language, in the mode of inferior-to-superior, Kinuko replied calmly, "It was not a casual decision; I agonized over it for hours before I resolved to carry out my orders. But when the time for the death came, and I held my sword above him, I could not bring myself to kill the man I loved… love. I drove the blade through my own vitals, hoping I would die. Shutaro-sama woke, and ordered his people to save me. I put his life before my honour, yes. But tell me, could you so easily have killed the only man you had ever loved? That was my choice, and I must live with that stain all my days. Have I honour yet? That is for you decide; I think I have a few tattered shreds left. Once I failed in my duty to my lord. I will not so fail again."

Sam blinked a brief flash of pain went through her eyes, and then just as calmly she asked, "And who is your lord?"

"Mendo Shutaro, of course."

Sam nodded as if expecting it. "Even though he has given you to a new lord? Does not your loyalty then lie with Fugikaga-sama? And what was Mendo-tono thinking, hmm? He could not marry you or even keep you properly without your dishonor staining his. Love. You destroyed your life, the lives of any possible children."

"You know what I am; Mendo-tono also knows. My first loyalty is to him. But I will serve Fugikaga-sama faithfully as well." A faint, faint hint of sadness crept into her face and voice, "I do not know why he chose to save me, or why he did not have me executed when I told him my tale. I know he cannot marry me, or keep me properly; but he is still my lord. I have pledged myself to his house; I am dead to my former clan. I will serve him and defend him to the last, even at the cost of my own life, or my honour."

Her sadness deepened. "Such little honour as I have earned back, that is. The conflict between my duty and my love for Mendo-tono cost me my honour and nearly my life; now that love and duty are aligned, I may yet have a chance of redemption."

Sam leaned forward. "And do you know why he gave you to my lord in such a manner? You are little more then property now."

"I have speculations." And Kinuko smiled slightly, slyly. "But I, too, have questions, and you are the greatest. How does a Western woman come to sit in the place of the heir to Fugikagi-sama? Such a thing is without precedent, so far as I know."

Sam shrugged. "He adopted me. His reasons are his own and he rarely shares them." She paused and then nodded to herself. "I will not put your duties in conflict if it can be helped. I make no promises as to what Fugikagi-sama will do. Use it wisely, Kinuko."

She then switched back to English and leaned forward. "Kinuko, I have a job for you. We need information from Rolinn's Insurance. Do not get caught. If you do, pretend to speak no English and act frightened. Here is my cell number. You may defend yourself. We are looking for any info on the Friendship Centers."

"Yes, Lady. I assume you wish a 'classic' stealing-in, rather than an infiltration?"

"I will leave that to you." Sam glanced at Sara, smiling slightly at the curiosity that was burning in her eyes. "Forgive me, Sara-san, but I spoke Japanese for two reasons: one, Kinuko speaks better Japanese then English. And two, I know you do not speak it well. Kinuko's past," Sam paused, she knew that she could take a full page ad out on Kinuko's history and be perfectly in her rights, given her position. Yet privacy was important to Sam. She looked at Kinuko as she finished her sentence, knowing that the young ninja would take it as an honor from her, a nod where she deserved none. "…her past is not mine to share. Even with you, Sara-chan."

Sara accepted what Sam said and swallowed back the surprise at Sam's change in honorific. "I understand, and though dying with curiosity, will not ask. As always, hope for everything, expect nothing." Sara smiled. "Good luck, and though I don't need to say this, be careful. We have no idea what we're really up against."

Sara-chan? What was between these women? Kinuko shrugged mentally. It was no concern of hers. "How soon do you need the information?" She had a plan already; an old standby, long since perfected.

"Sometime before midnight," Sam replied.

Long after Kinuko left Sam stared into space, her eyes far away.

"Sam," Sara said cautiously. "You okay?"

Sara said Sam's name again; she was just about to repeat herself when Sam blinked and a small shudder ran through her.

"I'm sorry, Sara, did you say something?" Sam asked. Her face was a little pale.

"I just asked if you were okay. Sad memories?" Sara's voice was gentle. Josh was like this sometimes. Brooding and caught up in old memories.

Sam nodded, shaking herself out of her mood.

"So, what are we going to do about Redfeather? We've got no way to know what he pulled out of Josh's memories. There's no real reason to think he might have suspected Josh knew anything about Diamond for him to even look. But we can't take that chance. And what if the link is a permanent one, and that he can take over Josh anytime he wants."

Sam looked her in the eye and softly pointed out, "What if he never left?"

Sara suddenly felt sick. "Oh god," she whispered. She thought back over the days since the gallery break in. What had she said to him? She knew her knowledge of Sam's secret hadn't been told to Josh, nor the progress of their investigations. Other than what happened in the hotel room, had she seen him act strangely? She remembered the way he was acting with Akemi, and the way he was disoriented a few times.

Sam watched the thoughts chase each other around. "If we want to be sure, let's get him over to Jackson."

Sara nodded, her stomach knotted and sore. "How are we going to do this? Show up at the gallery and kidnap him or get him to meet us somewhere? We don't want to be obvious, just in case Redfeather is controlling…" Her voice trailed off.

Now it was Sam's turn. She leaned forward and put a hand over Sara's. "Sara?"

"Yes," Sara answered. She could feel the tears beginning to gather in her eyes.

Sam was at a loss of what to say so she squeezed her hand.

"Having him met us there would be the simplest. I'll call Dr. Jackson."

"Right," Sara said with a heavy sigh. She stood grabbing her purse and walked over to the payphones. She took a deep breath and calmed herself, trying to erase the cloud of unhappiness and worry. Fishing a quarter out of her pocket she dropped it in the phone and dialed Josh's cell number.

"Hello," came Josh's voice, he sound amused about something. Sara could hear someone saying something and then Josh laughed, "Hello?"

"Hello to you too, sweetcheeks. How ya doin?" Sara was reasonably sure that her distress wasn't apparent in her voice, and there was a good chance that only the real Josh could notice it.

His good cheer vanished instantly. "Is there something wrong, hon?"

"Listen, can I drag you away from work for a little while? I need to talk to you about something, and I'd much rather do it in person than over the phone. Can you meet me at 1012 Oak Street, Cookston in an hour or so? It's really important."

"Sure, I'll met you there."

An hour later Sara paced in front of Dr. Jackson's house. Both Jackson and Sam watched her. Soon a cab pulled up and Josh stepped out. He dashed up after paying the cab driver.

"Sara, what is it? What's wrong?" Why are we at a doctor's? Did I hurt her more than I thought?

Is that really you, Josh, or is that bastard inside you, watching? She smiled weakly. "I'm okay. Really," Sara answered, then moved to hug him, holding him tight. I don't care if he's in there right now. This is my Josh.

"Let's go inside and talk. The doctor will help me explain it to you."

Josh kept his arm around her, confusion warring with concern. What is Samantha doing here? He glanced at both women, catching something between them. Suspision flared, but he forced it down. Don't be silly.

"What's this about?" he asked as they stepped into a room that looked a lot like a Star Trek set. There was a very large table, about 12 feet in length and 4 and feet in width. It was made of shinning metal and sat in the middle of the room in a block. About 6 feet above it a machine that looked almost like a dentist's light hung suspended from the ceiling. The room was white and a large window occupied one of the walls. Behind the window, a control room with computers and consols could be seen.

"We are working on a piece," Sam answered. "Both Sara and I have been through it," she lied, "but we would like a second opinion. Sara said you were the most honest guy she knew. Sorry if we spooked you."

Dr. Jackson nodded, not missing a beat. "This is an experimental unit from Scott Industries. It scans the entire body down to the celluar level, just like a Sci Fi pic. You don't even have to take your clothes off."

Sara nodded silently, burying the worry. He'll be just fine. If Redfeather did it to him, we'll catch him, and I swear he'll pay. "It doesn't hurt a bit. I'll hold your hand if you're nervous," she said with a faint teasing grin.

He stared into Sara's eyes. Something is wrong here. Does this have anything to do… No, she can't know about that. Suddenly he felt panic. What if this thing can detect that? Oh God… Sara saw somthing change in his eyes.

He backed up, and smiled nervously. "I don't know. Experimental? Not reassuring."

"Don't tell me you're afraid," Sara said with a laugh, looking away from Josh. "This from the man who's willing to try anything he can't pronounce?" She turned away so her face was hidden from Josh. Putting her purse down on the counter, she mouthed the word Redfeather at Sam and Dr. Jackson. She turned back to Josh with a smile.

"Come on. Two people can fit on the table if they lie on their sides. Dr. Jackson, you can configure the machine to scan two people, can't you? We'll do it together then. We've got nothing to hide, right?" Sara took Josh's hands in hers and started to move towards the table.

Josh smiled at the others and pulled Sara a little ways away. "Sara, I am not comfortable with this whole experimental idea." They'll know. Not just Sara…

"Josh," Sara said, putting a gentle hand on the side of his face. "It's safe. Do you really think Scott Industries would let it be used on people if it weren't? Come on." She kissed him gently on the cheek. "Besides, he's a doctor. You know, patient confidentiality."

Panic. Oh God… He closed his eyes. "Sara, please," and then anger, "you could have at least asked me in private instead of putting me in this spot." He forced a smile at the others. "Fine. I'll do it, but I am not happy, Sara."

He climbed up on the table, lying on his stomach. The machine lowered till it was less then a foot from his body and then moved slowly over him, a light splaying over his body. Once, twice. Then it was over.

"I didn't feel anything. Is that what you want?" Josh asked in disgust, looking at the window, pointedly ignoring Sara.

Sam and Jackson leaned over the computers. Sara could see them talking and then Sam looked up, shook her head and gave an all clear sign.

"Thank god," Sara said with a sob as she collapsed into a chair. She leaned forward and covered her face with her hands, trying to stop the shaking.

Josh sat frozen, and then anger burst through. "What the Hell is going on?"

Sara looked up at Josh, her face covered with relief and apology. "We've found out who's behind the Friendship Centre fires, the gallery break-ins, and at least partially responsible for the bomb at the apartment, and how he does it." She swallowed convulsively, trying to clear the lump in her throat. "He's a mutant. A mind controller. People have no idea what they're doing or what's going on when he's using them. I was afraid he… Please understand," Sara whispered, her voice pleading. "This was the only way we could be sure. If we told you the real reason, and he was using you, we would have tipped him off. That machine," Sara said, pointing at it. "Can detect the signature that he leaves behind when he's controlled someone."

Josh stared at Sara and then slowly looked at the others. Sam nodded. His mind was blank and distantly he realized that he was in shock.

"I see. Well I have work to do. I take it I'm clean? No problems?"

"Josh," Sara said softly. "We need to talk. Are you okay?" Sara was worried about his demeanor. He seemed so distant. God, she really messed things up this time. It was all her fault.

"I'm fine. I just have a lot to do at work," he pulled her aside,"Sara, you know how much I support your choice of careers… But I want you off this case. Let someone else handle it, it's too dangerous."

"There's just a couple more things we have to check, then we're done and we'll hand it over Hammer. If it looks like something I can't handle, I promise, I'll back off." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I love you so much."

He gazed at her frustration clear on his face and then he nodded. Dr. Jackson and Sam watched as he left, waiting for Sara to join them.

"I examined Dr. Feldmen shortly after you left, Ms. Mclintock. Even after all this time I could still find traces of Red Feather's mind. Mr. Blackburn is completely clean, " Dr. Jackson observed quietly his eyes on her. Sam was tense, shifting every so slightly.

"But," Sara said. "What is it? There was something else. What aren't you telling me?" She looked between Sam and Dr. Jackson, her concern evident on her face. "What did the scan say?"

"Josh is fine, "Sam replied softly moving towards Sara, "so that leaves you."

"I know," Sara said with a heavy sigh. She shuddered at the thought of that man controlling her, let alone looking through her memories. If it was her, what else did he learn? How many of her friends were in danger if he had learned about Diamond? "So I just lie down on the table, right Dr. Jackson?"

Sara looked over at Sam. "Sam, I'd rather that you not see the results of the scan. Dr. Jackson can tell us if the scan was clean or not. There are some things I need to ask him afterward. Personal things about the scan, and about some other stuff."

Sara climbed up on the table and lay down, almost shaking with nervousness. "What are we going to do if it was me?"

"We'll deal with it then," Sam replied softly as she closed the door.

Sara closed her eyes and waited for the scan to proceed.


Kinuko turned up at the building that housed Rollin's Insurance. Like almost all office buildings, it had a cleaning crew that came in after hours. So long as you had the blue shirt and coveralls, the guards never questioned if you belonged. She consulted the building directory to find Rollin's, then let herself into the offices, after checking for alarms, of course. She ignored the lock; when she was sure she was unobserved, she simply folded the door away from the mechanism, swung it open, then closed and resealed it. Carefully, carefully, desk-walking as much as possible, she made her way to the file room. There was the evidence and information they needed; her microcameras (one full set of photos with each of the two cameras) clicked quickly, loaded with the fast film and set for the long exposure needed for very-low-light imaging. Carefully, carefully, she returned the documents to their folders, then retraced her route and walk calmly out of the building. A quick call from the nearest pay phone. In Japanese, in a heavy Shikoku accent, "I have them," and she gave Samantha her location.

Back at Dr. Jackson's…

A warm hand touched her shoulder, and Dr. Jackson smiled down at her. "Clean slate, Sara. What did you wish to talk to me about?"

Sara sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the table. She was about to speak, then hesitated. Don't be stupid. He's a doctor, and you'd have to talk to him eventually. "Did the scan say anything else other than the fact Redfeather's signature wasn't present?"

"A recent cut," he smiled reassuringly, "but nothing serious, seems to be healing well."

Sara sighed, and blushed slightly. "I need to ask you a hypothetical situation. If a mutant with… Oh this is stupid," she muttered. "If I were pregnant, would there be a good chance that the use of my abilities might abort the child when changing from one state to another." Sara gave the doctor a small, embarrassed grin. "We take precautions and even when I wasn't on the Pill I was as regular as clockwork. It's just that twice I was sick — nausea and vomiting, and my period started early. I saw my regular doctor, but he doesn't know I'm a mutant. He couldn't find anything wrong."

"Sick, nausea, vomiting. When? You mentioned changing. I can't give you an answer off the top of my head Sara. Every mutation is different and brings different problems. I would have to do a full work up and that takes time."

"The blood and any tissue work will probably have to come from me when I'm like this, because unless you have industrial drills here, Dr. Jackson," Sara said as she took a breath and initiated the change, biting down on her lip at the final spasm. "Because you won't get anything useful when I'm like this."

"Well, well. Welcome Diamond, I am happy to finally met you. Do you always experience pain when you initiate change? And… Damn. I would need a few hours, do you have it?"

"Not today, Doctor. Catching Redfeather is more important than how my mutation works. I'll call you and set up an appointment for when I have a big block of free time." Sara slid off the table and intiated the change back to flesh. She extended her hand. "Thank you for your help with this. Both things."

Sam was just getting off the phone when Sara came out. "Kinuko got the goods. Let's go."

Several hours later, the wall clock at Sam Carr's three bedroom home ticked 11:30 pm. The three women were pouring over blowups of the documents that Kinuko had retrieved. Sara stopped and rubbed her eyes, once again looking over Sam's place. It was well and tastefully furnished. Very neat and clean. A piano sat in one corner; on top was a family picture. Sam at about 16, and her parents. It was the only picture. Yes, neat, well cared for. But nothing of Sam in it.

I wonder if Sam actually lives here. Or even lets herself have some sort of life. Sara thought about all the little things around the apartment she and Josh shared that showed her presence there. It's almost as if she's trying to completely isolate herself. Cut herself off from her past. Sam's a photographer, and there's only one photograph here? She gave a mental shrug. If Sam wants me to know, she'll tell me. But now I know what to get her for Christmas. Something to cheer this place up. It's more like a monument that a home.

Kinuko was also looking around and wondering about her new mistress. The house had a decidedly unlived-in feeling, especially the living room. It was a completely Western house without a hint of true civialization to it. She was a contradiction. But it was obvious that if Sam stayed here, so did Kinuko.

How Samantha-san should be so seemingly civilized, yet live in a house — if live there she did — so utterly barbarian was beyond her. Perhaps it was a yin-yang duality? A wish to honour her barbarian parents? That would explain much. If the house were a legacy and maintained as something akin to an anscestral shrine, that would explain why it felt unlived-in. She would have to make proper prayers before she went to bed, and offerings tomorrow.

Sam whistled and grinned up at them. "Paul Martin was paid the insurance money this morning. His agent was one Bonnie Clyde. Very fast processing, don't you think?"

"When was the claim filed?" Kinuko asked, going through the blowups. "Ah. Yes, very quick. Perhaps one of us should visit this Bonnie Clyde person?"

"Extremely fast. Interesting name of the agent. Either had parents with a good sense of humour, or a pseudonym joke on everyone. Did he get the money for all the centres burned so far?"

Sam glanced quickly over the sheets. "Yep, including the one tonight."

"Tonight?" Sara said with a bit of surprise. "I've never heard of a company paying out before the fire happens." She looked at her watch. "If we're going to catch this guy, we're going to have to get moving."

Sam nodded slowly, gazing at Kinuko. "Kinuko, why don't you try to catch up to Bonnie Clyde."

She then stood and walked into the hallway and into a room, she emerged a few minutes later with a large gym bag and an IR case. "Let's go."

May 30, 2000, Elizabethtown Friendship Center

Sara stretched slowly and gazed back through the her camera. The IR lens painted everything in red detail. They had thought it best to concentrate on the Center rather then trying to cover any possible stores. Sara glanced at her watch feeling her eye lids drag closed. 2 am. What if they were wrong? They had heard from Kinuko earlier. She had been unable to find Bonnie Clyde and the agent's house was completely empty. Not surprising.

Sara smiled softly remembering Sam's swearing as her cell had finally gave up the ghost in the middle of the conversation. Sara sighed and rubbed her eyes. She blinked. There was a man standing down near the door. Dressed in traditional native shaman wear. He turned slightly, and Sara zoomed in.

Having turned up nothing on the (apparently) fictitious Bonnie Clyde, Kinuko had joined Sara on sentry duty, watching the Friendship Centre from the opposite corner. She didn't have the benefit of IR vision, but she didn't need it either; the human eye is a remarkable instrument, and she had used a simple trick from her training: she blindfolded herself for ten slow breaths, then removed the cloth and opened her eyes, now fully dark-adapted. She was now dressed in a Western burglar's darksuit. She would have preferred her nightsuit, but that was a secret best kept from Sara. She already would have many, many questions about just what Kinuko was. Of course, the suit was layered over her mail, and she had stashed her tools and weapons throughout it. She whispered into her tiny cell-phone "I am ready," wishing again that the phone link was encrypted, or that Sara at least spoke Japanese.

The man's features, though similar to Red Feather's, were different. He was older and fingered what looked like a fossilized claw of some bird. Sara frowned knowing from Father O'Mallory how real magic was — and a Shaman's garb? Sara and Kinuko froze as a sound reached them. Tantalizingly familiar, Sara's heart skipped and her mouth dried up. A rattle, dry and soft, bringing to mind elementary school. The tank and the snake coiled inside, tongue flickering, tail vibrating, the cone on the end warning its enemy.

"Kinuko," Sara whispered. "Can you see where it is? Where did that rattler come from?" She tried to look around her trying to see where the snake was but keeping as still as she could. She knew as Diamond she wouldn't have to worry about this, but as Sara, she had no idea if she'd be able to avoid the snake's strike.

Kinuko moved only her eyes, seeking movement.

Above the two another man crouched. His name was Rattler. His snake like eyes studied the situation. His boots and shirt were snake skin, his breeches soft leather. He smiled. He loved the fear, the way his victims froze looking for the snake whose trademark, Rattler vibrated in his throat. A side effect of his mutation. And then he struck. A powerful wave of high pitched force slammed into the roof between the two women.

Suddenly the roof gave way and both women were falling.

Across the way, Sam's nose had brought her the scent of another. She tensed already moving when the hiss of on arrow split the night. The device hit near her. The explosion was heard for blocks. It blew Sam off the roof.

Kinuko dove for Sara as the roof collapsed under them, but an unpredicable shift spun her off course. Despartly she tried to control her landing. She had a brief seconds time to dive under the large desk in front of her before debris rained down.

Sara iniatated the change into Diamond, hoping the falling debris will give her enough cover. She managed to turn her body as she changed and then she hit something hard. Her head swam and then the extra hardness of her body, punched her through to the next floor. Blinking, her vision cleared in time to see the debris coming down on her. Instinctivly she covered her head. The debris seemed unending.

And then there was silence.

Diamond moved cautiously under the debris, carefully digging her way out. Once her head was free, she looked around her.

Damn, that was too close, Diamond thought to herself. I've got to get back up there and check on Kinuko. I hope Sam was able to sniff out anyone going after her.

After a wait to let any last loose pieces fall, Kinuko reached into her suit, pulling out a small electric torch to survey her situation. It was not good. The desk was mostly intact, but it was also buried in spirits-only-knew how much rubble. Still, this wasn't a significant obstacle. She pulled off her gloves, and placing her hands on the rubble, began to shift its forms. Very carefully, paying close attention to the stresses she felt with her satellite machines, she began to make a small — oh, very small — tunnel in the debris. The job was far harder because it had to look like a fluke of the collapse, but she had no chice, so she continued to work, hoping that Sara and Sam were all right. If the heir died, the thought of her likely punishment for failure chilled Kinuko's blood.

Diamond looked up into open sky the whole roof, except for a small patch in the southeast corner was gone. The floor over her head groaned and creaked threateningly. The hole she had caused was just a little larger then herself. With determination, she pulled a large desk over to it; the one she had landed on being so much tinder now. With a small jump, she pulled her self to the next floor.

The floor was covered with debris. No sign of the attacker or Kinuko.

Kinuko paused feeling sweat tickle down her sides. She was growing tired, the combined effects of having to direct her nano-machines with such precision and moving through the small space. Up ahead the debris shifted a little and street light poured in. Kinuko stuck her hand through the opening. It was large enough for her head.

This was not the time to worry about stealth; a hole big enough for her head was big enough for the rest of her. It would not be pleasant, but she could do it. But first, a moment to rest. Then to remove more debris from the hole's edge so she wouldn't have to torture herself so much to get out. As she rested, she thought. If seh could see the light from the street lamp, then much of the roof had been destroyed. This adversary would be formidable. And what of Sara? She didn't have Kinuko's training or special powers; was she even still alive? If she was dead or injured, would she be held responsible? THAT thought made her break out in gooseflesh: if both her allies were dead, she would have to follow them — there would be no other way to atone for her failure.

Diamond heard a noise and spun. A glove encased hand waved around from a pile of debris. Kinuko? Diamond moved carefully over to the pile, then looked up just to make sure their attacker was not there.

"Hang on, whoever you are. I'll have you out in a sec," she said, hoping Kinuko would hear her. Cautiously she started to remove the debris, taking the big pieces off first. She was uneasy about the condition of the floor, afraid the blast had severely weakened the structure, and tried to keep an eye on the floor and the roof above, and an ear for the sound of immenent collapse.

Kinuko froze at the sound. A woman's voice. Soon the hole was big enough for the young woman to wiggle out of. Before her stood a woman of pure crystal, all edges and planes. Pale blue covered the entire eye slit, almost glowing in the night.

"Arigato, Diamond." She froze briefly, caught by indecision. Her activities weren't precisely illegal, but could reflect badly on her companions. But then, Sara was a barbarian — she had no honour to compromise. Samantha-san had not been caught in the collapse, and she herself — her heart sank. If Diamond chose to arrest her, she could probably do it. She would have to die to keep that shame from her lords. Still, Diamond herself was considered by some to be a criminal. Worry about that later. Find Sara now. "Perhaps you can help me find my friend? She was also caught."

Diamond held out her hand to the woman to help her out. "I'm a friend of Sara Mclintock's. Let me help you out of there."

"If you're talking about Sara, she's fine. It seems things are a lot more complicated that she expected, and asked me to give you guys a hand. Sara thought she saw something and since she'd be of no use helping you, she went to check it out." Diamond figured Kinuko might possibly pick up on the lie, but hoped she'd just accept it and not make any commment. There was no time to explain. "We've got to get down to the Centre and check to see if Sam is alright."

"Hai." This seemed an unlikely tale, but she would not question it. If the tale were not true, it would come out soon enough. And her duty to her mistress took precedence over her worry for Sara. As quickly as the debris and damage made possible, she made her way out of the building and over to the Centre.

As the two were about to step into the street they noticed the man in the shaman costume entering the building. There was no traffic, but in the distance they could hear police sirens. The top of the building on which Sam had taken watch was on fire, debris littering the ground.

"I'll go check on Sa…" Diamond started but before she could finish…

"Iie… iieiieiieiieiieiieiie… " Kinkuko plunged forward, heading for where Sam should have been, were she unconscious or — she would not think that. Samantha-san had to be alive. She had to. She quickly checked the ground near the roof's edge, to see if Samantha was there.

Diamond made to follow when suddenly a whistling sound appeared from above, followed by a loud scream of "Geronimo!"

Diamond barely had time to register a blur of movement as she looked up. She started to dive out of the way just as the blur hit. Diamond felt every bone and and internal organ vibrate with the blow. Something slammed into her back, causing her mind to reel and her vision swim. She lay were she had ended up, fighting to clear her vision, the ringing in her ears and her breath.

Kinuko heard the sound as she ran. The street under her buckled and surged. Kinuko lost her footing. Turning the fall into a controlled roll, she glanced behind her. Where she had last seen Diamond there was now a large crater, the edges pushed up and broken. Cracks and fissures ran in every direction, the pavement was cracked and loose. A few meters form the center, water sprayed straight up for several meters. A man dressed as an indian warrior rose out of the hole, his body spinning, arms outstreched, a grin on his face. As Kinuko wathced his speed increased until he was a blur of movement straight up.

Kinuko heard the soft scrape of soft leather to her left. Kinuko glanced left, ready to speed-draw her weighted belt or her tanto, dropping into the first steps of the First Path.

She heard the twang of a bow and dived to the side, her tanto in hand as she rolled to her feet. The arrow hit a light post, sending volts of electricity dancing along its length.

From where she croached, Kinuko glanced around trying to find the archer. Her eye was drawn by movement near the hole. The shaman was standing near the edge, arms upstreched, his hands began to glow. As Kinuko watched, a clear hand appeared and sunk fingers into the concrete.

Finally the ringing stopped and her eyes focused. Diamond was lying on dirt looking up at the night sky through a large crater in the street. She climbed to her feet, paused and then jumped for the edge. Her hand went over the edge, digging in, she slowly pulled herself up.

Ouch, Diamond thought to herself. Did anyone get the license of that truck? She carefully peeked over the edge of the pavement, ready to duck her head down again if she's going to get blasted again.

The first thing she saw were leather covered legs.

"You dare, white woman, to interfere with the War Party? You shall pay for your insolence."

Dimaond glanced up into the hate filled face of the shaman, noticing that his hands were glowing.

In one smooth move, Diamond exerted her considerable strength. Her hands dug into the pavement, her lower body swinging outwards, like a pendilum. For a heartbeat, her body balanced on her hands and then she pushed.

The streetlight, already fractured through the spraying water of the broken water main, glinted and threw small prisms of light off the angles and planes of Diamond's body as it bowed into a perfect backward flip. The shaman took a single step backwards, and suddenly Diamond's feet thundered into his chest. The force of the blow sent him sprawling backwards, to land in a heap a few meters away.

As Diamond dropped into a defensive stance and tired to get her bearings, a low familar rattle echoed through the streets. Kinuko could almost see the wave of sound that spread as a cone towards Diamond. Diamond spun towards the sound, the half step she had taken, tettered on the rubble of the hole behind her causing her to stumble. Only that saved her from being hit by the cone of sound. It continued past her striking a parked car, tossing the car with enough force to park it on its side on the sidewalk. Windows shattered in both the car and the building behind it.

Diamond gave a mental sigh of relief at being missed by the blast, despite the collateral damage being caused. I hope Sentry's okay, and that she - or someone — can take out that guy before I find out the hard way if he's going to hurt me bad if he hits.

Kinuko smiled slightly. The archer was still unseen, but this fool's scream was more than enough target for her, who could target a shuriken's thrower fromthe sound of the weapon's flight. Shadow on shadow, the tiny young woman reached into her suit, pulling one of her eggs, this one modified to act as a stink bomb. The Rattler couldn't scream if he was choking on the world's foulest stench. Diamond might or might not be hit, but the stink wouldn't hurt her — just give her a choking fit, and she was tough enough to survive the period of helplessness.

The egg spun silently through the night air, striking the building not centimeters from where the sound had orginated. The night breeze did the rest. Seconds later, coughing and gagging noises could be heard.

Across the street, the man who called himself Warpath cursed to himself. The situation was getting out of hand much too quickly. Eagle Claw down through his own arrogance, as well as Rattler. The Spirits only knew where Geronimo had gone or when he would return. It was time to end this battle. He drew fletching to his ear and released. As he did, battle horned reflexes screamed at him and he dived left.

The arrow sped through the night, little concerned with the fate of the one who released it, or its own fate at the point of impact. It struck true. A heartbeat. And then released its agents.

Black smoke billowed outward driven by the tiny motor. It quickly filled the street, thick and made damp by the falling water.

Damn, Diamond swore to her self. Where did that arrow come from? I can't fight in this. I've got to make sure that the shaman guy doesn't get away, and find out why they're attacking the centre. Especially if they're working for Redfeather.

She reached the spot where she believed the shaman guy had gone down. But there was no one there. Diamond cursed again, unable to see her hand in front of her face. Well, at least no one can see me. But the smoke was close and sound echoed strangely, just like a fog.

Rattler was no longer a threat, it seemed, nor was the shaman. Now to find the archer, she thought, as the arrow sliced down. There! On that roof!

Even as she thought that, the arrow released it payload of smoke. Kinuko cursed briefly, then forced herself into mushin discipline. She sprinted for the building the archer had fired from, finding and scaling the fire escape as quickly as she could, hoping (then putting aside the hope) that her quarry would still be there.

On the roof stood a samurai, squared off against a native dressed in camouflage. Her katana darted, moving with speed to be blocked by the bow. The man was on the defensive, with no opening to do otherwise. Movement caught Kinuko's eye. A streak of color in the sky, headed directly for the battling pair.

In mushin, thought was action. A shuriken flashed to intercept the streak. Kinuko didn't know what it was, but that was the point: she didn't know what it was. Better to take it out now, lest it hurt the samurai (who was apparently a foe to her foe).

The shuriken flew with unerring accuracy, reached its arc and fell back. With dawning comprehension, Kinuko relized that the object was further away and therefore larger then she expected. A faint sound was reaching her now. "Geronimoooooooooo."

The archer glanced up and with a oath dived off the building.

Diamond stepped from the smoke. Already it was beginning to disperse. She too heard the dreaded word and glanced up. The streak was moving quickly towards a building. She heard a car start up and the shaman called back to her as he drove off.

"Another time, pale one. You have crossed the War Party. Death to all white people," he finished with a rising cry.

Diamond took step forward and then a soft rattle came to her. Close by. It ended in a cough. There! Just inside the smoke.

You've rattled, now it's time to roll, Diamond thought to herself with satisfaction. She gathered herself and dove at the location of the sound, hoping to grab the villain to the ground, stunning him so he can't attack her right away.

Diamond encountered cloth and then her shoulder hit flesh. The cough turned into an explosive gasp as the two continued back into the smoke. Diamond rolled as they hit the ground. The man in her grasp lay still trying to take in air. He stank.

"Say good night, music mouth," Diamond said as she ripped part of his shirt off and shoved it in his mouth and formed a gag. Hopefully that will keep him from attacking. She wrinkled her nose at the smell, then looked up at the building. "Get off the roof," she yelled as loud as she could. "That's the guy who made the crater in the street!"

Yelling the Japanese equivalent of "Incoming!", Kinuko headed for the samurai. She had already got the same idea and was diving for the edge of the building. Kinuko followed, tucking and rolling on her landing. She felt the ground jar her, and her roll wasn't as clean as she would have liked.

The samurai had spun in mid air and snagged the fire escape. Her feet on the outside and the ladder slipping thorugh gloved hands, she reached the bottom, seconds after Kinuko. Just before Geronimo reached the building.

There was sickening crunch as he hit, a calmness and then the building shook, the ground buckled and the building came down. Slowly, almost one floor at a time. Kinuko and the Samuria grabbed each other at the same time, the same idea in their eyes. They dived for cover.

As the smoke cleared and the sirens of the police grew closer, Geronimo rose slowly out of the rubble. This time Diamond could see his expression. One of pure bliss. Spinning slowly, arms out stretched he started to pick up speed. Suddenly he was surrounded by birds — Pigeons, seagulls, bluejays. He glanced around and then waved at somone beyond Diamond. A pause. And then he rocketed away, not in a blink but a slow build up of speed until he was out of sight.

The last of the smoke had cleared away. The street was quite, the water main still spraying upwards, the demolized building still settling.

"I'm going to go find Sara. Someone had better stay here and keep an eye on this guy until she gets here and can deal with the police. Considering the current attitude towards collateral damage in fights like this, I'd be in big trouble," Diamond said as she gave one last look around. "Don't worry about her," she said directly to Kinuko. "I'm sure she's alright."

Diamond dashed around a corner, checked the area and initiated the change back to Sara. Pain. Immense pain. It sped through her, bowing her back, up on her toes, unable to scream, unable to breathe. Darkness.

Speaking over her shoulder to Diamond, Kinuko asked, "Will you please help me to find my companions?" in her calmest and most polite tone, hiding the fear the twisted inside her. If Sara were dead, Samantha might require a high price of her; if Samantha were dead, her own life would be forfeit almost certainly.

Receiving no answer, she turned to find the one called Diamond gone as well. The sirens were coming closer.

Augh! Kinuko was ready to panic. She had only a few moments; torn by indecision — stay to search for Sara and Samantha, or run? There was no real choice; she took a few moments to change her darksuit to a less-conspicuous jogging suit, and began to search the rubble — careful not to disturb things overmuch. When the police arrived, she smiled sweetly, and said in Japanese, in the heavy Shikoku accent she favoured for her "ignorant new immigrant" persona, "I am sorry, officers, but I do not yet speak English."

Sara heard her name as if from a distance, her eyes fluttered open. Sam, dried blood at the corner of her mouth and a blackening eye was kneeling beside her, concern evident in her whole being.

Sara stirred, bracing herself against pain. But except of a small headache, her body never felt better.

"Hi," she said unsteadily. "God, what happened. How long was I out? And please, not a word to Josh about this. He's upset enough that I came here tonight, and will be even moreso when word of the fight hits the news." Sara struggled to sit.

"Are the police here? Did they take that guy into custody?"

Sam nodded slowly. "You seem to have gained a bit of colour. I was worried when I saw the building on fire and all that debris on the ground."

"I do have a headache, but otherwise I feel great. I think I'm going to clear my calendar so I can see Dr. Jackson tomorrow. How are you doing?"

"I wasn't expecting exploding arrows," she answered dryly, "Nothing broken, a small headache myself and some tender ribs. And a broken camera. How about you, any picuters?"

"Not sure," Sara said with a grimace. "The guy with the sonic attack took out the roof. The cameras are somewhere in the rubble, unless they got thrown clear." She looked around to see if there was anyone nearby. "I managed to change just before I hit the floor, and ended up punching right through it and fell to the next floor down. I was afraid the building would collapse before I was able to dig Kinuko out from the rubble she was trapped beneath."

Sam nodded, "She held up pretty well. Do you think she connected the two?"

"I'm not sure. She probably suspected I wasn't telling the truth when I dug her out, but she didn't press and I didn't have time to try and come up with a better story. I doubt she would have seen the change, and I'm pretty sure the falling debris hid it from anyone else. Oh man, I hope the insurance company will pay up for the damage to that building."

Sara sighed. "They should cover us. While on the job and all that stuff. What do you think the chances are the camera I had survived. Think we should go take a look?" She moved to stand.

Sam grinned, as she helped her stand, "I've seen stranger stuff, but I don't think the cops would be too pleased to find us rumaging around."

The two stepped out into the street to a scene of controlled chaos. Police, fire engines. A paramedic hunched over the villain, giving him a shot to keep him out. SCU was out in full force, including Taglianetti. The the news was there as well. TV vans, newspaper reporters and photographers.

Sam sighed, "Lydon's gonna hit the roof when he finds out I was here and didn't get a single shot."

After giving their statements, the three headed home. Sam and Kinuko said goodbye to Sara and drove off, leaving Sara alone with her thoughts.

At least this is over, she thought to herself. But we still didn't catch Redfeather, and the others got away. Not to mention making a new enemy of the War Party. Sara sighed. Josh is going to have a cow when he hears about this. He was upset enough at what happened before. But how was I to know those guys would be there and attack?

Sara turned on the radio wanting to hear the news, hoping to hear something about what had just happened, and hoping not to hear any mention of Diamond or herself. With my luck, she thought to herself cynically, Josh is watching TV or listening to the radio.