Chapter 3

The effort cost him a splitting headache, the pressure behind his eyes seeming to grow explosive. The dumpster shuddered and jerked, rolling of its own accord away from the man. Both Belle and he started at the sudden movement. Belle' recovered first, re-leveling her gun.

She held the Uzi like a large-caliber pistol, which, with the stock collapsed, was more or less what it looked like in her hand. Pressing home her advantage of surprise, she let fly with a burst into the wall, just over his head. "Drop your weapons and come out with the girl, nice and slow," she told him in a level voice, keeping the gun trained on him. "Or my next shots will decorate that wall with your brains."

He tossed something underhanded toward Belle, taking a step back and shifting so Willow's unconscious body was more in the line of fire. The object arched, then clattered to the ground, a black sphere… a grenade!

Belle's eyes widened, then she promptly took a running jump over the black sphere, toward the gunman, trying to get as far from the grenade, and as close to him and Willow, as possible. In mid-arc, she kicked in the Booster, rolling to her knees as she landed. This was to brace for the anticipated blast at her back while steadying herself to cover the man in black again, so she could blow him away this time. "You had your chance and you just blew it--sky high," she said with the full force of her Boosted presence. "Now I'm going to kill you." Her lips were drawn back like a she-wolf baring her fangs as she went for the kill. As soon as she could get anything that looked like a clear shot… A split second later the blast hit her like a sledgehammer, staggering her. Reflexively her finger tightened on the trigger sending a burst along the ground chewing up the concrete as the man ducked back and around a corner.

Clay cursed and raised a hand to his head, he needed to get closer. Heedless of any danger to himself, he went out he window. Letting his long body hang down, he dropped the rest of the way, rolling as he hit the ground.

"Clay… don't!" Gina shouted, running to the window. Marks held her back.

Blaze almost screamed in frustration, her power slipping its leash and erupting, a wave of flame billowing along the ground where the man had once been.

Blaze pulled herself together, eyes squeezed shut. This was no time to lose it. Turning to Gina, she spoke. "Ok, darlin. Clay and Belle have gone after him. Maybe with your help, we can follow. I know you don't know how to do this kind of thing, but Clay thought you could. Just relax, and think pleasant thoughts about Willow. What you know of her, what you feel around her, something. I can't relax enough to do it, so you have to try."

Gina looked from the window to Blaze and back again, biting her lip. Have to… jus' don't know how… she nodded, trying to think of Willow, casting out into the fog for her light. It wasn't there! Why couldn't she do it right?!

"C'mon, Gina. You can do it. Just concentrate on her light, on whatever it is that makes her Willow to you. We know you can do it."

Distantly, Gina heard Blaze's words, as she plunged deeper into the fog than she ever had before. It enveloped her, closing in like a thick blanket. Thoughts, voices in the darkness… She shivered and pitched forward into Blaze's arms.

"Marks, what can we do to follow? Any transportation? You said Artemis is sending a new vehicle… when?"

Marks grabbed the cable. "It should be here in approximately 5 minutes, 34 seconds. Stay here with Gina and Akemi."

"Marks, is there any way you can tell Artemis to hurry up?" Blaze asked.

"That is the optimum time." With that she climbed through the window and slid down the cable, holding on with one hand.

"Trevor! Get Akemi and let's try to get downstairs! Marks said some transportation will be here in a minute. Damn, damn, damn! Keep control, Blaze. If I ever see that son of a bitch again, I'll fry his ass… Gathering up Gina in her arms she headed for the stairs, meeting Trevor and Akemi. She was walking, still dazed her eyes cloudy as she looked around.

"Where's Clay?" Trevor asked, "and what's with Gina?"

"Someone took Willow, and Clay, Belle and Marks went after him. There's transportation coming for us, but we have to get downstairs to meet it, and I want to see if the heap that crashed through is in any kind of shape at all. Now MOVE! We don't have time to fuck around! I don't know what the hell happened, I just know that I missed that bastard and I want another shot. Let's get moving."

Holding the gently shuddering girl, Blaze murmured encouraging words. She couldn't know that Gina couldn't hear them. Her mind was someplace else, beyond her body, drifting in the "fog". There was no up and down, no where, just endless fog. Holding back panic, she tried to focus. Willow… had to find her… where was that flicker… she reached out mental fingers, questing. She was quite surprised when something grabbed her…

Akemi murmured something quietly, looking from Blaze to Trevor, her eyes unfocussed.

Blaze led the way down the stairs, treading as carefully as she could around the debris. The auto that had plowed through the front wall didn't look like it was going anywhere under its own power. Parked out in front, idling, was another van, this one black.

"Trevor, can you make it down the stairs? If not, wait here, I'll get Gina in the van and come back to help you." Trevor shook his head. "I'm ok… lets move…" Adjusting his glasses, he guided Akemi down the stairs.

The van door slid open as Blaze stepped up, making her start back a step, almost unleashing her flames. The inside was empty, not even a driver. Laying Gina in one of the rear seats she looked over her shoulder. Trevor lead Akemi out of the wreckage by her hand. The Japanese girl's eyes lingered on Blaze for a moment, almost familiarly, then it faded and she quietly climbed in at Trevor's urging. A crowd was starting to form and the cops could not be long behind. We have to get out of here, Blaze thought chewing her lip.

Sighing, Trevor started in as well. "Will the others know where to meet us?"

Blaze nodded to herself. "Give me 5 minutes." She headed for the rear of the house to collect Clay.

Clay went deeper, curling tighter. The feelings of loneliness crashed around him drowning out everything else. Someone, something shook him, you gonna let them beat you, going to let her go just like that… The voice faded to be replaced by a warm glow, beating at the center of his being. His mind hovered before it. Images floated across its surface…

Gina. Yelling at a much larger Belle. Defending him.

Akemi. Her love and relief at finding him.

Trevor. Watching him quizzically, yet the only one who knew him from before calling him Clay.

Blaze. The feeling of her in his arms, her kiss.

He blinked. The gift that Willow had given him working even thou she was so far away. Slowly warmth filled him. And the loneliness was banished by more images of his people. Yes. My people. My friends. My family. I am not alone.

Slowly Clay came back to his body, the inner journey leaving him both weak and strong. He stood slowly and looked around, his gaze finally resting on the window.

Oblivious to the smoke from the grenade, Belle rose to her full towering height; hair billowing out, her body in the early-morning light seeming almost to glow with the energy coursing through it, she looked like the ultimate exponent of classical Greek statuary. Had Clay been thinking along those lines just then, he might have guessed that this was what had held his life in its hands when he blew up in Belle's office the night before. Blaze, on the other hand, thought she might be seeing the bestial nature which Belle had referred to in the shower, and which she knew from the night before could not be normal, even for the blonde giantess. The woman herself, however, had but one thing on her mind: pulverizing the weasel--Hanes, she was certain--who had made an enemy out of her, as quickly as possible. She didn't even slow down for the flames that suddenly appeared before her, heading as fast as she could for the spot where he had disappeared. There she dropped into a crouch, out of sight of the corner, and swung around fast and low, ready to blow his legs off if he was in sight. She wouldn't waste any more words on him. If she could help it, she wouldn't waste any more bullets, either. Instead, she would teach him the meaning of "disarticulation".

Rounding the corner, she just saw a battered white van pulling out the alley, speeding off with a squeal of tires.

For an instant, Belle thought of running back and getting her car. That van couldn't outrun her Porsche if it had a jet engine. But she was here, now. And action was called for. Bracing and straightarming the Uzi, she let loose another burst, this time at its tires. Then she jumped up again and charged after the van at full tilt. If it was still moving, she would catch it, one way or another.

Clay rolled to his feet and looked around, reaching out with his mind for Willow. For the briefest moment he felt her, a fading mental cry, then nothing, nothing at all. Clay screamed. An animal cry of loss and despair. He hit the ground, curling up, drawing in on himself, body and mind. The emptiness hit him like raging fire and he drew his shields back tighter than before.

Marks hit the cement running ignoring the slight trail of smoke coming from the hand she'd used to slide down. Pistol out, she rounded the corner Belle had just taken. Belle was in the line of fire. A large quickly moving obstacle. A split second later the decision was made. She held her fire.

Belle's barrage sparked off the vans rear and sides as she ate up the distance in great loping strides. It pulled into the street, swerving into oncoming traffic. Leaving the alley, Belle was nearly clipped by another van as it turned to avoid her target. With an animal snarl she regained her balance, glaring after the receding van.

Anvil was rather surprised when the battered white van came screaming out of the alleyway nearly taking off the grill as it tore down the street. Seeing the armed naked blonde amazon running full tilt after it was admittedly a larger surprise. It was more a credit to Belle's boosted reflexes than Anvil's driving skills that she wasn't hit.

Noticing that Belle was in hot pursuit of the white van, Jim points towards it saying, "Anvil, stay with them!" The van had just rounded a corner. Anvil nodded, gunning the engine. Then Jim climbs in the back to open the van's side door to let Belle jump in.

Belle, still raging, turned on the van that had so thoughtlessly cut her off. She bounded over to the passenger's side and climbed in. Linda, just recovered from the sudden stop, got another shock as the naked amazon climbed in. "Shit… my horoscope was right…" she muttered.

Marks raced down the alley covering the distance in seconds and climbing into the van. She spoke calmly as she climbed in, not winded by the sprint apparently. "Artemis will transport the others away before the police arrive."

At the sight of the man who opened the panel door for her, Belle took a deep breath and tried to be cool--a tall order given that the situation and the very high quantity of chemicals pounding through her bloodstream demanded just the opposite of her. "Jim? What the--?" was all she could get out before Marks appeared. Upon hearing the other woman's statement, Belle whirled. But before she could say whatever was on her mind, she was cut off yet again.

Anvil hauled the van through a tight turn, ignoring the honks from the early morning commuters. He took the corner, sending the passengers against the side wall. Rounding the corner his eyes widened as he saw the bunch of kids crossing the street. He slammed on the brakes as they scattered, but one girl froze in panic, wide eyes looking up at him. Wrenching the wheel to the side he missed her by scant inches, the van screeching to halt. Linda was pitched against Belle, and Marks just fell hard. Jim grabbed the back of the passenger's seat and scrambled into it.

Under different circumstances, Belle might have welcomed the woman who tumbled into her bosom. As it was, though, this was just one more annoyance in a day made up of events which were pissing her off. She spared a glance before pushing her aside and looking out the windshield at her fleeing quarry, her face a study in rage and frustration. Her right hand clenched the grip of her Uzi until the metal could almost be heard to creak, while her left hand began to tear into the driver's seat headrest.

Linda staggered back, eyes narrowing behind her glasses. Who the fuck was this psycho bitch? Her hands slid closer to the pistol tucked her jeans. Just in case.

Glaring at Anvil for just a second, "What are you waiting for?!" Jim asked as he reached into his jacket and pulled out the pistol Belle had loaned him. He scanned the road ahead for their target ahead, there were several turn offs and no sign of the van.

Anvil glared silently at Jim. This was getting worse all the time. He started the van again after a moment, pulling away from the frightened child who was still staring at the van.

Marks got to her feet, noting the position of Linda's hand in a momentary glance, the lack of their target in another. "Pursuit at this times seems futile."

Belle looked back over her shoulder at these words. For a split-second it looked like she might do something unpleasant. Then she suddenly dropped on her haunches, sagging completely. After a moment, she looked up, and the animal savagery was gone from her face. "You're right, Marks," she sighed with uncharacteristic softness. Turning to the front, "Jim, tell our driver how to get to what's left of the house. I need to get my car and other things."

No. "Drive on down this street some more." Jim scans up and down the side streets as they pass them, looking for the van, anywhere that they may have hidden, or any signs that a fast moving vehicle might have made.

Driver? Anvil looked at Jim. "How about first you tell me who and why we are chasing these people." He glanced around the interior. "And who're your… friends?"

"Friends? Uh, right. The naked chic is Belle Maverick and the other is Ms. Marks. In that van was obviously Willow, and maybe Clay?" Jim replies, fishing for a little info on who was in the van from Belle and Marks. Anvil started up the street a little faster. "Willow is the girl, right?"

Marks spoke up. "One observed attacker has kidnapped Willow Anders and fled in the van. Jason Williamson is behind at the house." Linda shook her head slowly, this just kept getting worse and worse.

Belle sighed. "Up until a few moments ago, there wasn't time for social niceties. But now we can stop and have a goddam picnic, for all the difference it makes." She turned to look at the squat figure in the driver's seat. "Call me Bomber. It's as good a name as any. As for who we were chasing, well, they're gone now, so the point is academic. But they're the same people who've been dogging Jim and his friends for the last couple of days. You and your friend back there have been shanghaied into this, am I right? Well, so have I. But at least you'll get compensated for it, so don't feel too bad."

She turned to Jim. "They came and got Willow while you were gathering your reinforcements," she said matter-of-factly. "They knew exactly where, when, and how to strike. The action was surgical in its precision. They took exactly what they came for, in and out with a minimum of fuss. Whoever these guys are, they're beyond 'professional.' I felt like I was dealing with a machine. Nothing I did got any response out of the guy as he carried her away--except for the grenade he lobbed at me, maybe. And no, I didn't see his face. He was wearing a mask."

"Damn, you're that perceptive that you could tell all of that while he lobbed a grenade at you, and he's that professional that he didn't kill you in the process? Hmmm."

After a moment, Belle smirked. "I almost feel sorry for you. I mean, how can you possibly explain to your employers that you screwed up yet again--and with backup this time, too?"

"Well, I can explain to my employers that it was due to the incompetence of some of the involved parties. I just wonder how your reputation of being such a reliable person will suffer with the other people that you say you will help during a crisis." Jim replied.

Stepping back from the driver's compartment, she continued, "I'm not interested enough to want to hang around to find out, however. This is my stop." So saying, she pulled back the side door. "Oh, by the way, you in the back," she added without turning around. "A little friendly advice: leave the piece where it is. You'll live a longer and happier life that way."

Linda smirked, taking a seat. "Yeah, and you stash the attitude and we'll all be happier."

"If my attitude was the only problem anybody ever had," Belle said without missing a beat, "we'd all be home snug in our beds right now, without a care in the world."

With that, Belle jumped out, heedless of how fast the van was moving. Hitting the ground smoothly, gun still in hand, she rolled to her feet and ran back the way she had come.

"And not a moment too soon!" exclaims Jim.

Linda caught Jim's eye. "I am not even going to ask why the Lady Godiva impersonation."

Replying to Linda, "Good idea, and don't worry, I would have shot her before she could have done anything to hurt you. By the way, I don't believe I know who you are."

Linda shrugged. "The day I can't handle a naked American Gladiator… well anyway. The name is Linda Carlton, medical liaison from the United States Army… on loan currently."

Anvil swung the van around and headed back toward the building. Marks looked from face to face, then back to the large man driving. "Did you get the license plate number of the vehicle.?"

He rattled it off quickly and Marks nodded. "Artemis has begun a search. I don't agree with Belle Maverick's analysis of the situation. According to all indications, the organization we are dealing with has a high degree of manpower and resources. Why use a single operative and take only one target…? If Jason Williamson is suspected of harboring inside information then why was not a greater effort not made to recover him as well, and silence us all?" She looked at the palm of her hand a for a moment and frowned.

"I doubt it was Hanes, the guy that tried to nab them at Willow's apartment earlier. I know his drive and he would not have left any loose ends, namely us."

A look of recognition passed over Anvil's face. "Hanes, I've heard of him… big talent, little morals, typical merc. Present company excluded of course," he added. Which meant, "I don't trust you as far as I can throw a building." Jim nodded, getting the message.

She passed the still stunned bunch of kids who just stared as Belle passed. Fortunately the activity up in front of the house was drawing most of the attention. Only a few drivers got the surprise, or perhaps pleasure, of seeing Belle slip back up the alleyway and into the backyard. Clay was still there--calm, amazingly enough.

Yeah… It's the end of the world as we know it, Belle thought as she dashed down the street, grabbing up her bo staff where she'd dropped it, and I couldn't care less.

The sight of Clay in the backyard brought her up short. Especially about him. He's been nothing but trouble since he showed up on Latoya's doorstep. But I don't owe the police any favors either. Not that it makes any difference one way or the other anymore. Come to think of it, I have him to thank for showing me that, too. Besides, there's nothing else I can do, is there? All right, then…

With a sigh, Belle strode up to him. "Come on, loverboy," she said. "We need to get at least minimally dressed, and then get the fuck out of here."

As Belle approached he straightened. "You were dragged into this seemingly against your will, Belle. I suggest you leave now. Any who stay will be going to war. The time for running has stopped. Thank you for your help."

"'Seemingly', hell," Belle replied as they entered the house. "But what happens to me doesn't matter anymore. You're right about it being a war, though," she continued. "I figure it's a power struggle for control of the future of your species--or more accurately, Gina's species. As for me, I just wanted to find out why armed goons tried to kill a friend of mine and her daughter after they played Good Samaritan to you. Now I not only know the answer to that, but a lot of other things I wish I didn't know… except who's behind it all…" she trailed off.

Clay stopped short, "My species? Belle I am human just like you. I bleed, I die, I hurt, I love. You think what I can do is something new? Psionics have been part of the human race since the dawn of time. Soothsayers, witches, prophets. There were real ones in among the charlatans. Have you ever got a brief flash, a gut instinct that some place or action was dangerous? Then you, too, are of 'my species,'" Clay tried to keep his voice neutral but scorn seeped in the last words. "All Man has had is peeks at the powers of their own mind. All they did was blow up the doors."

Belle replied, "I don't believe this. Moral indignation from a man so unprincipled that he had no compunctions about using abilities he knew couldn't be defended against, for no reason other than to force his view of things. That's terrific. But you're completely missing the point. Look: there isn't time to explain all of this, but you and the others are a quantum leap in evolution. You're the next step in awareness, like it or not. I know I don't like it: I'm bitter as hell. But like I said, what I think no longer matters. All I can do now is admit what has happened, the real lesson you taught me last night: nature has chosen you and yours, especially Gina, to be the successors of homo sapiens sapiens--my kind. With the world in your hands, I don't think extinction is such a bad idea after all. But if you learn some ethics to go with those powers of yours, you just might have a shot at the future that's been denied to my species. You'll have to learn to see the forest for the trees first, though. Your leap in awareness doesn't seem to have had a matching increase in perception. Since you want to talk about history, try thinking in terms of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, and see if that helps any."

Clay stared, "I Didn't USE anything. God, you think I have control? My brain… Forget it. Why bother? Your mind is closed."

Both went inside hurriedly meeting Blaze as she came through the kitchen door. "Marks' van is here, but we don't have a lot of time." She spat out hurriedly almost overcome by the rush of relief she felt at seeing them both.

"Getting out of here is something I can actually do something about," Belle replied as she strode past.

Belle dashed up the stairs with Clay. Once on the second floor again, she sent him to the bedroom he'd just vacated, and headed into the bathroom. She wiped the dew off her leathers and slipped into her leotard with years of practiced ease. Boots, bracers, collar, and shades followed just as quickly, and in moments Belle was starting to feel like herself again.

Jason dressed, quickly, efficiently. This was certainly no time for panic. If they had Willow it was going to take maximum effort recover her and he needed to plan. He needed grunts as well. Belle Maverick was useful, powerful, and so unaware of her full potential. Blaze was a thinker, or at least was--something had changed. Marks was an utter wild card. He didn't even seem to affect her in the slightest, intriguing. He paused a moment, looking in the mirror. Perfect. A small smile crept over his face for a moment. He rejoined Belle in the hall.

As soon as she and Clay were ready, Belle headed down the front stairs and retrieved her cases from where she'd left them. The cops don't exactly make a point of rushing to this part of town, which ought to work in our favor, she calculated as she as she broke down her weapons and locked them up. Duralumin wasn't cheap, but moments like these made it worthwhile.

She pushed him out toward the waiting van. "Go on, get out of here. You're in deep enough shit as it is. You can't do Willow any good if you get arrested." Then she ran to her Porsche, giving it a quick once-over to make sure the tires weren't flat, and that there were no bombs under the hood, before putting her cases behind the seat and starting it up. "What are all these damn rubberneckers doing around here anyway?" she muttered as she pulled out. "Since when did this part of town become Grand Central?"

Pulling up behind the ground, Anvil came to a stop. "Your show, Jim." Marks looked up. "Artemis has secured transport for the others and there is a neutral location we can regroup in." She gave a few quick directions to Anvil.

"I don't like this. We're missing something… something important." Jim ponders the situation, trying to put a finger on the missing link. "Marks, where is this neutral location at?"

"It is a warehouse I use as a resupply locale in this vicinity…" she replied.

"Are the others already on their way there?" Jim asks Marks. She nods in reply, looking at her palm.

In the van, Clay and Blaze saw that Gina was awake, sitting beside Akemi and stroking the girl's hair. Turning to them both she smiled. "I know where Willow is."

Akemi saw Jason and her eyes lit up. Stumbling in the narrow confines of the van, she made her way to him and embraced him fiercely. "Jason-san!" her voice was small and choked with emotion.

"After what I did? You can still…" Clay hugged her. "We have to talk, Akemi."

She nodded faintly, clinging to Jason like life itself. Her eyes showed nothing but complete and utter devotion.

"All right, Gina! I knew you could do it! Akemi, nice to see you up and around." Blaze moved into the driver's seat and made sure everyone was in. "Okay, Artemis. Take us away…" Damn! This is nuts… I'm talking to air. I seem to have better control right now… but if I see that SOB again, I'll melt him from his hair down… or maybe set the end of his dick on fire like a candle. She smiled widely. Jason-san, huh? Seems that Clay has been around more than I thought… am I jealous? I don't know. Fuck! I'm so tired of "not knowing"… maybe after they're all safe, I disappear. I seem to be good at that.

The van pulled off, seemingly of it own accord. Gina grinned in the back, "Yeah… it wasn't that hard really… it's not even very far from here. But we should hurry, sweet Willow is in so much trouble."

Guess I'm not too surprised about the van… Gina? When did she start talking like that? Blaze put her hands lightly on the wheel, then spoke out loud. "I guess Artemis is taking us somewhere safe… Gina? Where is 'sweet' Willow? You said she was close. And what do you mean by 'so much trouble'? What can we do about it?"

Gina nodded, looking near tears. "Yeah… she is close and… and I felt pain… horrible pain… we've got to save her…"

Trevor winces at Gina's tears, holding his arms open and beckoning her to come to him. God, she feels everything, doesn't she? He collects her into his arms, holding her, trying to calm her tears. "We'll find her, Gina."

She fell into his arms, still sobbing quietly.

"How close Gina? Where?" Clay asked quietly.

"It's not far from here… don't know what its called…" she looked over to Clay, eyes pleading. "We gotta find her, Jason."

Under Artemis' direction, the van drove through the quiet Saturday streets. After about 10 minutes it pulled into the parking of Jackson's Tool and Die, a rundown looking industrial warehouse. A few moments later Anvil and crew pulled in as well. Marks led the them all inside, locking the door behind them. The room was a small office, dusty and dimly lit. Gina was antsy, looking around with wide frightened eyes, and Akemi clung to Clay as if he would fade should she let him go. Marks nodded after a quick head count.

"Akemi Tanaka has regain consciousness… perhaps she can provide more light on this situation."

"Damn it! I sure hope SOMEONE can… We need to get Willow back. Gina knows where she is." Why, I don't know. She patted Gina on the shoulder, looking around the dingy office, suddenly feeling cramped. Where's Belle? Shit! The closest thing I have to a friend in this mess, and she's gone. I am outta here, first chance I get! "They knew. Somehow they knew just when to get in… so what do we do now?"

Jim looks around the building and then at the group. "What happened to Belle? She find something better to do with all of this free time we all seem to have?"

"God, I hope so." Trevor mutters, smoothing Gina's hair, glancing at Akemi. "She should have a full checkup first Clay. As a doctor, I must insist on it." Gina sighed and leaned against Trevor, wrapping her arms around his waist. She looked worried still but calmer, her eyes on Akemi.

Clay frowned, "First we should get some things straight. Finding Willow is my priority, my responsibility. I would like to know who is with me in this?"

Akemi shifted in Clay's arms, her face growing worried. "Jason-san… Willow… the experimental girl? she has been taken by Fenris?"

Jim glances over at Anvil and Linda standing together before walking off to check out the warehouse. The door from the office to the warehouse interior was locked. Marks looked over at Jim. "There is no need to proceed further for now."

"What's in there, Marks?" Jim questioned her, wondering what she was hiding.

"Let us simply say for now it is a matter I choose to keep personal." She replied, no hint of sarcasm or anything else in her voice.

Nodding his head, Jim accepted that answer. "I can respect that… you've been sacrificing a lot to help."

Anvil held up one large hand. He stood near the back of the room his broad form seeming to take up most of the space. "Whoa… whoa… experimental girl… Fenris… what the hell is going on? Before this goes any further, I want answers."

Beside him Linda nodded, adjusting her glasses, "You told us your end, Jim… but I want to know just how deep the shit is I am in." She looked at Gina. "Sorry."

"'Sokay… um, Fenris is the bad guys right?" Gina replied, confused.

"Yeah, I think there ought to be a few answers for us. I'm in this for Willow's sake, but I'd like to know what we're dealing with. I think Akemi might even have a few answers for me… Trevor, I'll help with the physical, if you'd like." Damn! I hate the thought of being an 'experiment'! It looks like that is what it's boiling down to… I just want this to be done…

"Yeah… you've lost me too, guys. Who is Fenris? I can't fight someone when I don't know who I'm fighting," Trevor mutters, putting his arm around Gina's shoulder.

Clay cleared his throat, and held up a hand, "Okay first. Trevor do your checkup. Second, introductions. Third, where the HELL were you Jim and who the hell are these people? More of your friends come to complete your assignment? Well help me get Willow back and then we will see."

Anvil spoke up first. "Listen… this is second time today some punk I don't know has tried to act like my CO… and it was old the first time. First I want answers."

Clay stood and met the man's eyes, "I have no desire to be your CO," whatever that means, "but survival comes first."

Blaze turns on Anvil, "You may not like being given orders, but you sure as fuck ain't got no reason to be giving them! I don't care if you're God, don't just step in here like king shit when you don't know what the hell is happening!"

"Akemi, have the checkup. It won't take long, and then we can get down to business. She then looks to Clay, "How many experiments were there, Clay? Who gave you the right?" She spits the questions out rapid fire, eyes blazing with anger and something else, pain. Who gave ME the right, for that matter? "Willow may have forgiven you, Akemi may have too, but I don't think I'm that easy…" Blaze walks to one of the windows and stares out, wanting to escape the press of people around her but not sure of where to go.

Clay closed his eyes. So be it. He sighed deeply, hiding his hurt and bewilderment.

"Cool it, Blaze." Jim finds slight humor in his choice of wording.

"Next," he looked at everyone, "we secure this place. Jim, Marks, I suppose you two would know what to do in that respect. So please do it."

"It is secured." Marks reaches into the desk and takes out a pair of leather gloves. She slips them on.

Akemi shakes her head, clinging to Jason. "I do not need an examination… Jason… we must leave here… soon… it's no use…"

"Akemi, Trevor and Blaze will examine you. Discussion closed. Then you will tell us want you know about Fenris."

A look of near panic crossed the girl's face. "No… no, I won't leave you… not again…" She clings to him even more fiercely, seemingly on the verge of panic for a moment. Then she seemed to gain some control, looking around and gently blushing. "I… I am sorry." Her accent became slightly more pronounced with her embarrassment. "Jason… tell you about Fenris… you know already, you… we want to get free from them…"

Clay shook his head gently, "I don't know Akemi. I don't remember anything since I woke up a few days ago. I remember bits, snatches. Sometimes when I see something it will trigger a memory or sometimes they come on their own. But only bits. I know I know you and Trevor. I feel Blaze and I knew each other as well." His voice grew quieter, distant, troubled. He paused every few seconds, to make sure his voice stayed steady. "I am not Jason. Not the Jason you knew. I need your help, Akemi."

"You do… not…" Akemi's eyes widened and she grabbed Clay's arm rolling up the sleeve. When she saw the needle mark she visibly paled. "No, you used the Templates, Jason-san… that wasn't for you." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Even you didn't know what they would do. Why, Jason? What happened?"

Clay felt frustration building, "Akemi, please make sense. Do you know what the templates are? What they look like?"

There's just no easy way out… I don't know why I want to find Willow, protect Gina… find Belle… What the hell's going on with me… my mind is so filled with stuff that makes no sense… Well, whoever 'Fenris' is, they don't know about what I've got in my pack. Or they might have gone for Clay and me as well… I've just got to pull my shit together.

"There is no record of any intelligence, military or subversive groups titled Fenris in Artemis' records, at least none with above a 10% chance of being relevant. Please define Template, Akemi. I would assume that they are some injected agent that affects the mental faculties."

"Yeah, Marks. I guess you could say that," Blaze said quietly. Why did I say that? Blaze moves over to Akemi and Trevor. "Akemi? You know Clay… Jason… shit." Frustrated, she just pointed. "You know him! Do you know me?"

"I was coming to see you at the beginning of all this, and I don't know why. Were we friends? I just need to know who I am… Who did the experimenting?"

"Clay… I'm sorry. I don't know if this is your fault, or mine, or ours… but I'm sorry." With a visible shudder, Blaze straightens and walks back to the group. "Trevor, let's get the exam done. We need to pow-wow, get our info together, and figure out how to get Willow back. Does that sound right… I'm not so sure anymore… about anything."

Akemi nods slightly, never taking her eyes from Clay. With a deep long sigh she turns and looks at Blaze. "You are Corrinne Walthers… a scientist that Jason… recruited to examine the affects of the Templates… or you were too…" She paused. "You took them as well, didn't you?" Biting her lower lip she reached out to take Blaze's arm, paused, looking at her for permission.

Jim walks over to one of the windows closest to Anvil and looks out, scanning the roads, building tops, and alleyways. In a low voice, "Man, all I can say is that this is deeper than anything we would normally be in, and I'm not even sure if our 'boss' is aware of it. We've got to find out what is going on."

Anvil nodded. "My instincts are telling me to cut our losses and take in what we have."

"I don't think so. This is still my mission. We'll stay in as long as it takes to find out what's going on and who is behind this." Jim responds dryly.

"That's not are job or yours. You were sent to find out about the Andersons and how they screwed up. They're dead, hot shot." Anvil replied. "And we've been sent to reel you in."

"Do Gina first," Clay addressed them both, and looked down at Akemi. He kissed the top of her head. "Now, please explain. In an orderly fashion, Akemi."

Gina shook her head. "I'm fine… are there any more Templates?"

Akemi closed her eyes. "You remember nothing… do you remember… meeting me… on campus… at the medical convention…? You were a speaker there… Psychology and physical disorders of the mind. We meet afterward and had dinner that night and every one afterward. You loved me, Jason… touched my mind and my body so deeply." She looked into Clay's eyes, silent for a moment, then looked around the room, coloring deeply. "Oh. After a time you shared what… where you came from, Fenris and what they did to you… you wanted to get away from them, Jason." Akemi pressed a hand to her head, sitting on the edge of the desk. After a moment's pause she looked up again. "But you needed leverage and allies… others… being in Research and Development… you had access to files of potential psionics… you called them… Sleepers… you deleted some of them from the files… and kept them private." She looked at Trevor. "You were one of them… most were female… your abilities worked best on females… another was your daughter by a non-Psi operative and others. Some awakened, some did not… the Templates were supposed to be the last step… acquiring them would give you… us leverage against Fenris and a potent weapon… the Andersons were all too agreeable to go along with you, Fenris was cutting back on their projects. Corinne… you wanted her for scientific expertise, I would guess you… worked on her…" Her voice trailed off at the end.

Marks nodded. "Corinne Walthers, biologist and chemist, age 30, presumed dead in house fire 2 months, 3 weeks, 2 days ago. Cause of fire currently under investigation. Also killed in the blaze, her brother Morgan Walthers and two unknown Caucasian males."

Akemi continued. "Her death was what made you speed up… you thought they might have caught on. You did not want to be… clumsy but thought there was little time…"

Morgan… The name seemed to echo in Blaze's mind. Morgan… her brother… screaming at her, crying… men with guns… blinding pain… heat… OH GOD! She whimpered, holding her head. Corinne… Blaze… who was she…?

"What the hell's going on here? They came for me too! All because I had…" Blaze stammered, her head starting to throb yet again. A steady insistent rhythm that matched her beating heart. Her vision seemed to narrow, darkness hovering at its periphery.

Clay stood still, he seemed adrift, nothing real. He could hear the slow beating of his heart. He blinked slowly. The noise echoed in his mind. He took a shuddering breath, "A daughter? I have a daughter?"

Akemi only nodded. She could feel his pain, his confusion. Her Jason was there, only hidden. She had to bring him back. Leaning close she murmured to Jason in Japanese, comforting him, soothing him as best she could and praying that he would understand. Clay glanced at her blankly, confusion etched plainly on his face. She felt her heart would shatter.

And then Marks' words filtered through, "God. Blaze…" he reached out to her, "I'm sorry."

Blaze barely heard him, lost in her own world of pain. Nothing seemed real anymore. She was Blaze… wasn't she…? Hadn't she been? But then, she couldn't remember anything about "Blaze's" past. Her childhood, her friends… nothing…

Blaze focused on Akemi's face, holding out her arm. "I did this to myself? Destroyed my memory, my family, everything? Was it worth it? For anybody? They want the Templates… that's why they're after us. Because of who we were, and what we've become. I guess the big question is… CAN we end this?"

Akemi looked at her helplessly.

"Maybe if we give them back… they'll let us alone…" Gina suggested.

Anvil and Linda look around the room in silence and exchange a quick glance. Linda steps out the door motioning for Jim to follow.

Jim gives a quick glance around at everyone before following Linda.

Clay gathered Blaze into his arms, rocking her gently. His eyes met Trevor's and motioned to Gina. He held a hand up to Akemi, squeezing it gently.

"Jim?" Clay spoke softly.

"Ohhhhmyyygod…" Blaze exhales…

Blaze straightened. "Did Fenris force us into this? Were we so afraid that we HAD to try something? If so, what are they planning for Willow? Their 'successful' experiment…" She shivered. "We've got to find her."

Turning to Gina, she continued, "Kiddo, if all they wanted was the Templates, it'd be easy. But now they need us, so they can find out what went wrong, and try to keep it from happening again. You, you're a 'natural', it seems. I'm in, Clay. Whatever's in the way gets hellfire. They deserve that much. For my brother…my brother."

A disappointed look crossed Gina's face then she nodded. "Yeah… we've got to go get Willow back… I know they're hurting her."

"That kind of settles it, doesn't it? We have to go find Willow. We need Jim, and we probably need Belle too. She has the best underground network available that we know of… Marks, do you have a phone and a phone book?"

Marks looked over at her. "No. But I can provide the number for whatever locale you wish to call." Blaze asked for the number of Belle's club. After getting it, she started to dial, but paused to speak to Gina.

"I don't know if you can, Gina, but detach yourself for a while. I think you need some rest, girl." Trevor smiled fondly at her, and stroked her hair. He looks up then at Clay. "So they want to get us back, and dissect us or something? Find out what gear snapped?"

Clay nodded and looked at Jim. His gut tensed as he waited for the man's answer, as much as he hated to admit it, they would need him.

The phone at Belle's place rang for a bit then an answering machine picked up.

"Belle? Are you there? This is Blaze. Please answer… please. Damn!" Blaze turned to Marks, "What number do I leave her to call?" Marks replied while heading for the rear door. Ok, call me at (#) as soon as you can. Willow's life may depend on it."

As he was about to step through the door facing, Jim turned to face Clay "I'll be right back. Can it wait?"

"Gina, do you still have a lock on her?" Clay asked.

The little girl nodded quickly. "Yeah… I do. I can… feel her… she's hurting, Jason." A tear ran down her cheek. "Hurting bad…"

Clay frowned. Jason? A chill ran through him. He stood and walked over to Jim. Putting an arm around his shoulder as if they were old friends, he pulled him off to one side.

"Look you and I have our differences. But we both agree that getting Willow back is important, right?"

"Good I want us to have a fight. A big one. I don't want you going with the main group. I think it might be a trap and I need someone to back us up. Someone they don't suspect is coming."

Nodding, Jim keeps from looking directly at Clay. "I think I understand what you are thinking… and yes, we agree about Willow's safety. Give me a minute with her, and then we can discuss this further."

Before going outside, Jim turns to Marks. She had just returned. "Do you think you could do a check on a merc that's involved with our opposition named Hanes? He was Special Forces."

"I will have Artemis attempt to recover what she can." Marks replied and stood near the back of the room, looking from face to face. She did not seem to be expectant or eager, merely waiting for something to occur that required a response.

Jim walks out behind Linda, "Something you wanted to say doc?"

She stopped and turned to face Jim, taking a deep breath, more to steady her nerves than anything. The place smelled of fuel oil and garbage with a sharp undertone of rust. "I'm not sure you fully understand what has happened here. You have been pulled from this assignment… effective immediately. The situation has blown up into a major cluster fuck." Her voice dropped a to a whisper. "No way was this intended to become a shooting war with… with… well whoever the hell is after these guys." At the burgeoning look of anger and suspicion from Jim she raised her hands defensively. "No I don't know more than you do… not much more anyway… let's just say that the Akemi woman used a few key words in there that mean we should expedite our departure, at least for the time being." Taking off her glasses she rubbed them on the tail end of her sweater, eyes squeezed shut. "Personally all this is just too insane…"

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim spotted a car cruising along slowly. It was a white Ford, four door with tinted windows. Nothing seemed to set it apart from any other car on the street except it some how looked familiar.

"Anyway- Um hey kid this is private." Linda looked over to the door inside where Gina stood peering out at them both.

Stepping between Linda and the white car, "Gina, please go back inside. It's not safe out here. We'll be back in a minute." Jim is thinking hard who might be in the car. Something recent, maybe in the driveway of Willow's parents, or parked outside of the hotel. The girl nodded and went back inside, closing the door. The car pulled around a corner vanishing behind a burned out old string of store fronts. If he had to guess, it came to stop behind there.

"This will have to wait a few minutes, doc. I've got a funny feeling about that car that just drove by. I'm going to go check it out. Wait inside and tell the others… I'll be back in a few." Jim goes off in a direction that keeps the buildings between him and the alley that the car went down.

Crossing the street he was glad thing were so quiet around here, there was the drawback that if something was about to go down less witnesses to act as a deterrent. A convenient fire escape provided access to the rooftops and a good view of where the car went. He saw it, parked across in the alleyway. Jim peered at the car and the surrounding area for any signs of movement, either in or around the car, while taking his pistol out of its holster. The car was parked across the street, quiet and seemingly abandoned. It was hard to tell much though as he was about 3 stories up as well.

Walking over to the side of the building, Jim got a firm grip on his pistol and took a deep breath before jumping off the edge. As he dropped to the ground, his legs were able to take the blunt of the impact, but old habits caused him to roll when he hit the ground. Even with the roll, the shock went straight up his spine jarring his teeth. The prosthesis didn't suffer any but his hips were going to feel that in the morning. Looking around to see if he had been noticed first, he finds some cover near the rear of the vehicle as he tried to read the licence plate number. The car was parked fairly close to the mouth of the alley, engine off. He didn't seem to have attracted any attention and the license plate was in clear sight.

Memorizing the license plate number, he scurries back to the group. As he was turning his cellular phone chirped once. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out the phone as he rounds the corner of the building. A single command is issued by a male voice, utterly nondescript. The code words mean he has been pulled, return immediately.

Jim leaned back up against the wall and let out a deep sigh. He thought about the consequences of disobeying his employers, Willow's fate, Haynes and his team, the emergence of psionics…it was just too much for him to sort through. He began walking back to the warehouse before stopping and pulling out his cellular to call Rally. As he was dialing, a car coasted to a stop in front of him. It was a black four door, tinted windows. The front window slid down with a soft electric whine. Turning, the man in the passenger side regarded Jim for a moment. "Magnum. We're you're ride. You got the recall correct?"

Somewhat startled by the use of his codename rather than his first name, "Uh…yeah, sure. Hold on a sec and I'll be right back. Gotta go get something. Watch my car over there for me and make sure nobody messes with it. OK?" He turns and walks around the building, making sure he isn't being followed.

Peering at him for a moment the man nodded. Jim turned to head back to the warehouse. After he went off a few steps, the ground suddenly seemed to tilt out from under him, the concrete reaching up to smack him hard in the face, then blackness.

Linda watched Jim go, sighed and looked back at the building where the others were. Closing her eyes, she stood very still for a moment, not even seeming to breathe. Nodding once she opened her eyes and stepped back inside. "Well, it took some doing but I got him to change his mind, agree to taking this a little slower. We need to back up and regroup somewhat, then we can go for the girl." She grinned slightly at Clay's look. "Yes, the whole party, and yes, we are going to get her… just flying off half-cocked and underarmed isn't going to solve anything so let's get moving."

Anvil looked surprised but pleased. "Good… I thought this was only going to get worse. Where is he anyway?"

Linda sighed. "Got reassigned… one of those quick quiet cellular calls… spook stuff… we're just supposed to help out here… everyone ready to go?"

"You know what?" Blaze says, turning to the woman in the door. "Who gave you the right to give orders? I don't like you, and I sure as fuck don't trust you, especially since you just popped in at the end of this. Clay? Besides, we still have a couple of checkups to do first." Blaze holds her hand out to Akemi, pointedly ignoring the woman.

Akemi shook her head. "Please I am fine."

Linda sighs. "I'm not giving you any damn orders. I am trying to help you idiots. SO far you've managed to fuck up and lose one of your little band and still have yet to get off your asses and do something about it." She glared around the room then settled on Anvil. "Personally, I am sick of this spook business." She looked back at Blaze. "You want to keep going like you're going, fine by me."

"Idiots? She really burns my ass… I wonder if she'd like me to return the favor?" Blaze lets the power come up, enough to feel it. It'd be nice to burn something about now…

Marks spoke up. "I will meet with you at the site to recover Willow if you wish but regretfully cannot accompany you. There are other matters to which I must attend. Personal ones."

Clay frowned. Reassigned? He nodded slightly, with a look at Akemi, Blaze and Trevor that was almost pure Jason. A look that said, "I don't trust her."

"I suggest we go in two teams."

"I don't think we should go with her at all. I don't like her," Gina blurted out, moving to stand closer to Clay.

"We'd have to," Anvil grinned. "I don't think we can all fit in one vehicle."

"Fine," Clay nodded, "You two can be back up. Blaze you and Gina go in with me. Trevor," Clay paused thoughtfully, "let's go look through our things."

"Oh and one more thing, " Clay looked at Linda and Anvil, "we're going to need weapons. Can you two handle that?"

"Yeah that is one of the points to making a plan of some sort." Linda responded, rubbing her temple. "Jesus… "

Blaze ground her teeth, stepping back to the rear of the room to sort through her things.

"Trevor I don't like this at all. It might be a trap. I don't trust either of those two. Right now you are the only one I am sure of. I need you take Akemi and make your own plans. Something the rest don't know about."

Trevor swallowed hard. "I… I can't do that… I don't know anything about this." His voice was a dry, hoarse whisper.

"I'm counting on you Trevor," Clay gripped his arm, "Willow is too."

Trevor felt sweat beading on his forehead. What the hell was he supposed to do. He wasn't any kind of a soldier. God, he wanted out of this but there didn't seem to be anyway. He swallowed. "all right."

Turning there attention to the rest of the group, Clay sighed. "All right. Let's go." Anvil nodded, sighing,"finally." He lead the team out, Mark's standing and watching them go in silence. Gina shot Clay a worried look and stepped close to him. Splitting into two groups, Akemi, Gina and Trevor together much over the young Japanese protests. She squeezes Clay in her arms before climbing into the van. Linda and Anvil take the other with Blaze and Clay.

When the others weren't looking, Blaze took Clay's hand and squeezed it. "Have you noticed something odd about Gina?" she whispers. "And I don't like this at all. Something weird is going on."