written by David Kuijt

Temple had gotten them into the building without a problem, setting the group up as a visiting executive from another branch of Genom and organizing a tour. Jagger and Marta were clearly bodyguards; Ryan and Mojo were playing the parts of flunkies for Takeda and Noriko, who were posing as the Genom exec and his assistant.

Entering the building had required a pass-through on a sensor rig of some sort. It was certain to check for weapons, but Takeda and Noriko had discussed the possibility that it included a psi activity sensor as well. A positive reading on even one of them might set of danger warnings; from all three of Noriko, Takeda, and Ryan McKee it would not fit with their cover profiles, so their plan was to use Noriko's powers to dampen or blank their psi signatures when passing through the sensor.

It seemed to have worked. They had passed the initial sensor without problems, met their guides, and began a guided tour of the facility. The tour had taken an hour so far, with Takeda acting the part of a Genom exec easily, and everything going well. His training in Genom suited him well for the role.

They had gradually climbed through the building, moving through the various facilities. Viral and gene manipulation labs, clean rooms, some biohazard and the like. There was a huge device described as a 'gene drive' that took most of one floor and was used to break genetic material down into its individual components. Very useful for cloning, Takeda thought to himself. Now for the first time they were approaching the area near where Takeda believed Shion was held.

Takeda had kept a firm clamp on his powers, deliberately suppressing his normal psi signature as much as he could. It took concentration, and likely made him act a little distracted, but they needed every advantage of surprise they could get.

Their guide was leading them down a hallway when Takeda felt a familiar psi signature up ahead. He kneeled down to tie his shoe, his hair obscuring his face as somebody walked past them up ahead, crossing the main corridor on a cross-corridor. A woman with long white hair.

Tension seemed to fill the group. Takeda glanced at Marta, but she was controlling herself remarkably well—her eyes were tight, but nothing showed on her face. As they followed their guide down the hall past the cross corridor, Takeda allowed himself one glance down the way the woman had gone.

There was a secured door, reinforced, not ten paces down the hall. In front of it two women were standing, talking to the one who had just arrived. All three women had long white hair. All three women looked like Shion.

Takeda's mind raced as they walked a few paces on, following their chatting guide. The reinforced door had to be it. But what now? Their guide hadn't mentioned it, and it was bloody unlikely that he'd give them a tour. What now?

Then chance took the choice out of his hands. A door opened ahead of him, and he suddenly felt a familiar psi signature. Takeda looked up. In front of him down the hall stood a man his age. His clone-brother, Masaru. Once they could have been twins—few would notice that he was just a little stockier, a little shorter.

But no longer identical. Masaru had not survived the destruction of the scramjet unmarked. His left sleeve was pinned back, empty. And his left eye was covered by a patch. His remaining eye looked up, caught Takeda's, and widened in recognition.

"... Takahashi?!?"

Time stretched a brief instant to an eternity.

Then Masaru snarled in surprise and hate. Takeda threw a powerful telekinetic spike at him, side effects tearing up the corridor floor in a line towards his enemy, but Masaru threw up a barrier as fast, and it barely held back the blow.

"Take out the Shions!" Takeda yelled.

"Weren't dey a Motown group from de 60s?" Mojo muttered aloud as chaos broke out. Jagger laughed abruptly at Mojo's comment, but didn't slow his draw as he pulled out his huge pistol and fired at one of the three white-haired women.

Jagger's target dived behind the desk she sat at; the partition behind her shattered with Jagger's shot. Beside her another Shion hit an alarm button; the third stood up and her shoulder folded back, revealing a cybernetic blaster mount that folded up out of her shoulder. Mojo dived under the blast into a side hall.

At the other end of the corridor Noriko Kobiyashi assessed the telekinetic wall Masaru had put up. Rather than trying to punch through it with a spike of brute force, as Takeda had, she concentrated on exerting her telekinesis inside Masaru's chest, tearing him inside. Masaru's one eye bulged then rolled up and blood spurted from his mouth, and he collapsed in a heap.

Behind Takeda and Noriko their Genom guide stood open-mouthed in shock at this sudden outbreak of violence. Marta, standing behind him, coolly drew her pistol and shot him in the base of the skull, spattering Takeda with blood.

"Christ!" Mojo snapped, "I doan' suppose he has a gun?" He jumped forward and flipped the body of the escort over, checking him with expert fingers. No gun. "Fucking waste," Mojo snarled. He grabbed the escort's passcards.

Marta shrugged in response.

Noriko turned and stepped to Marta, noses a bare inch apart. "You better learn the word prisoner, really quickly," Noriko said in an icy tone.

"Sorry," Marta smirked.

The three Shions had recovered quickly from their surprise. The one with a shoulder-mount blaster shot at Ryan, only barely missing; the second Shion folded out a similar blaster, and the third one leaped the desk and kicked out at Jagger. Her cybernetic foot collided with his leg, but Jagger's legs were also cybered and armoured.

Jagger just popped his aimpoint up a bit and shot his assailant in the head, blowing a huge wound in her skull. The bone thus revealed was metal, not flesh; all three Shions seemed to be robots or nearly complete-body cyborgs. Nonetheless, the Shion collapsed.

With an explosive blast of air Takeda appeared beside the two Shions with shoulder-mount blasters and struck out with his open hand. The target dropped into stance to block the blow, but her intercepting cybernetic hand was insufficient to the task. Takeda's telekinetically enhanced blow crushed her cyber hand like tinfoil against her chest and threw her diagonally across the hall to shatter through the corner where Mojo had taken cover a moment before and blast a huge hole in the wall beyond.

Noriko turned icy-faced from Marta and concentrated, grabbing the final Shion cyborg with a telekinetic fist and lifting her off the ground. Beside the cyborg Takeda turned, drew back his hand, and nearly cut the helpless cyborg in two pieces with a spray of parts and fluids.

Marta trotted over to Jagger and looked down at the cyborg he had shot. It was twitching, trying to rise, riven metal skull revealed by the torn cyber skin. "Is this a prisoner?" she asked Jagger sarcastically.


Marta shot the twitching cyborg in the head with a full burst, and it collapsed limply.

Jagger shook his head, exasperated, and turned to trot down the hall towards where Masaru had stood. "I'll cover our backside," he snapped at Takeda. Mojo nodded at the sense of this and followed him, taking a position even farther forward in the hall.

Behind Marta in the hole in the wall there was a creaking, then the cyborg-Shion Takeda had knocked there rose, flipping her shoulder-mount blaster open. Her one arm hung limp, but it didn't affect her blaster. Marta dived under the first shot, but it nearly hit Ryan. The ex-ESWAT officer shot back, hitting her solidly in the chest with his Earthshaker and knocking her back into the rubble. Marta rolled smoothly up to one knee, drawing a second gun, and fired both guns at the cyborg as fast as she could pull the triggers. The heavy cyborg body of her target jerked and spasmed at the multiple impacts, then slammed sideways as Ryan's Earthshaker hit it again, finally sinking limply to the ground.

Takeda looked down at the shattered bodies of the cyber-Shions. Blood and machine fluids oozed onto the floor. Noriko paused and knelt by one of the bodies, opening her mind to try and feel what type of beings these had been.

She sensed that they were mostly metal and plastic, but deep within the armored skull flickered a faint life sign. The Shions were cyborgs, with a mechanical combat chassis built around the brain of a either a Lynx or a Puma.

Back at the other end of the corridor, Mojo held the point position. There was some regular sound nagging at him, but the he couldn't quite figure it out, and the hall was clear. It widened out into a large room with a small number of heavy doors, but there was no activity.

Then, with a scraping sound, two of the doors started sliding upwards. The heavy doors were surrounded with black and yellow hazard markings. Over the grinding of the opening mechanism, Mojo realized what the sound that had been nagging at him was. Footsteps. Heavy, metal, footsteps. "Boomers!" Mojo shouted back to Jagger.

"Oh, Shit."

Meanwhile Takeda had moved over to the huge armoured doors that blocked their further progress. The doors were easily strong enough to stop a tank or combat boomer. He stared at the doors, clenching his fists. Dust and debris started bouncing around him as unseen winds arose, whipping his hair around. Then with a shout and a gesture he ripped the titanium-alloy door in two like a sheet of cardboard.

"Jeezus," muttered Ryan.

"Team, we have Boomers!" Jagger's voice echoed down the corridor, yelling a warning from his rearguard position with Mojo.

"Jeezus twice!" Ryan muttered again. "Run like a spotted-ass ape!" Noriko looked at him very oddly.

Mojo still hadn't found a gun, and looked at the two oncoming boomers with intense frustration. BU-35 models. Most small arms wouldn't cut it anyway, but he'd sure like to have a gun. Just then one of the boomers stopped and its head opened smoothly at the jaw, sprouting the business end of an ion cannon. "Shit!!!!" Mojo took a flying leap for a side door, smashing it down as a bolt from the ion cannon shattered the floor where he had been standing.

Jagger took a straddle stance and fired his special-built handgun, thundering in the corridor. The bullets smashed into the armoured shoulder of one boomer, knocking it off-balance so its ion cannon missed in return fire, blowing a huge hole in the wall. Although damaged, the boomer didn't seem to be greatly affected. As the other boomer fired up its jetpacks and came thundering down the corridor, Jagger dove through the hole in the wall to get some cover.

Noriko stood up from the dying Shion-cyborg and started walking deliberately towards the oncoming boomers, her forcefield at maximum, hands outstretched as if holding an invisible ball. Debris swirled around her field and bounced in her wake. The two BU-35s detected the target and landed fifteen yards away, slowly deploying their ion cannon again. After a moment they fired, the energy weapons making ripping-lightning sounds.


One shot missed. Noriko blocked the other with the shield or ball of force between her hands, deflecting it into the wall not far from where Jagger was popping his head up for another shot. "Christ," the ex-cop yelled.

Inside the lab Mojo was staring at a security person. She was too perfect, too beautiful and vacuous to be anything but a purpose-built synthetic. However, Mojo thought, she was much less beautiful pointing an Ares Needlegun at him. Two labtechs stood cowering behind the synthetic. Jagger was ignoring them, firing his enormous pistol out the hole in the wall, and drawing fire and cursing as the ion cannon sought him out. Then he shouted in triumph as he hit the damaged BU-35 again, staggering it. Still functional, but badly damaged now.

"You," quavered the older labtech at the security synthetic, "shoot him!" His wavering finger pointed at Jagger. The synthetic pivoted aim, but that was what Mojo had been waiting for. He sprang over the lab table between them and collided with the synthetic, knocking her off balance. "'Scuze me, ma'am," Mojo choked out, striking and blocking against the synthetic, "but Ah need yo' gun."

Back at the far end of the hall Takeda stood by the door he had ruptured, panting heavily. As the dust cleared he could see four Lynx armed with M60s in defensive positions a little behind the door, but they weren't firing. They were stunned, staring in shock and disbelief at the shattered door.

Then Marta ran up beside Takeda and coolly shot one of the Lynx in the head. The rest took cover and started returning fire, and Takeda stepped back. Marta was firing rapidly, throwing an intense volume of fire, but with uncanny accuracy. As Ryan ran up another Lynx fell.

Takeda stood half hidden by the armoured doorway, recovering. Using his powers at such a high level was tremendously exhausting. His vision had nearly gone black. Incongruously, he became aware that the ringing sound wasn't his ears, it was coming from his cellphone.

Ryan took cover on the other side of the doorway, with Marta standing in the open between them. "Hey, Takeda," Ryan gestured at the phone, "you gonna fuckin' answer that?!?"

Takeda was caught between frowning and laughing. "Ryan, you're in charge here. I'm going to get the boomers."

Ryan's smirk collapsed. He spun his pistol—only one bullet left in his Earthshaker. "You remember what I said about not making decisions that get me killed," he yelled after Takeda's retreating form.

Takeda answered the phone on the trot. "What?!"

** Takeda-san! ** It was Kenji's voice. ** I was beginning to become worried. What is your location? **

"7th floor, right at the bend in the center of the building. Just look for the BU-35 cyberdroids, and that'll be us." He flipped the phone off and ran toward where Noriko and Jagger were fighting.

Ryan stayed under cover for a moment, scanning for Shion with his mental awareness, but no luck. There was just too many minds, and the results were confusing. Shouldn't expect anything, scanning in the middle of a firefight, Ryan thought.

Just then Marta took a full burst from a Lynx's M60, knocking her back for a moment like a spastic dancer. She fell clutching her shoulder, cursing loudly and fluently, but didn't seem to be much hurt. Her body armour must have taken most of the shots, Ryan thought. He popped around the concealment and took careful aim, firing his last bullet. BOOM! The Earthshaker recoil was a shock, and a Lynx went flipping backwards, out of the fight.

The last Lynx spun to spray Ryan with fire, but he got back under cover barely in time. Marta rolled to her feet and sprinted past him like lightning. A deep OOOF sound and the last Lynx was down. Marta kicked her enemy in the head to ensure that he didn't get up.

At the other end of the hall, Noriko moved further forward down the center of the hall with her forcefield at maximum. One of the BU-35 fired its ion cannon at her again, but she deflected it into the ceiling, spraying a cloud of debris that swirled around her. The other BU-35 fired back at Jagger, but merely blew another hole in the wall he was using as cover.

Behind the BU-35s Masaru had lain inert ever since Noriko's attack had hit him. He should have been dead—his chest was covered in blood, as was his mouth, nose, and eyes. But now he moved. He staggered to his knees, then crawled and fell to cover, out of sight at a corner.

Inside the lab, Mojo's adrenal booster had given him the edge of speed and agility on the female security synthetic, but she was able to take a lot of punishment, and well trained in martial arts. Mojo had landed a number of blows, but she was still up, and still had a grip on her needler. Finally she got some space and leveled her needlegun at him, spraying a burst that laced the air over his head as he dived under it.

"Yo'ah wastin' mah ammo!" Mojo yelled, and threw her to the ground with a legsweep, landing hard. One more punch and she twitched and went limp.

Noriko kept walking forward, ready to deflect again.

"Get out of my line of fire," yelled Jagger, shooting his damaged BU35 a third time, again in the chest. The boomer collapsed, inert.

With an explosive burst of air Takeda appeared behind the one remaining BU35, grabbing it around the torso. Without visible effort the slight young man picked up the one-ton combat cyberdroid and smashed it into the floor. Through the floor, in fact—the floor buckled and shattered, and both man and boomer fell to the floor below in a crash and cloud of dust.

On the floor below a pair of BU-35s stood on alert in the hallway, one facing each direction. The collapse of the ceiling got their attention. Takeda still held his cyberdroid in an unbreakable grip, but he had barely managed to get his balance, still exerting his telekinesis to resist the mechanical sinews of the BU-35.

Takeda was still kneeling, gripping the damaged BU-35 that had fallen with him, when the first one from that floor reached him. It swung an armoured fist back and punched Takeda in the head. A blow that would have smashed one of the walls seemed hardly to affect the young telekinetic, but he turned to glare at the cyberdroid standing over him.

Then thunder erupted, and the 8' tall cyberdroid was shattered by a hail of high-caliber autocannon rounds whistling over Takeda's kneeling form. Takeda's head whipped around to see the familiar sight of Kenji's powered armour suit halfway down the corridor, holding the heavy autocannon waist high.

"Good timing, Kenji!" Takeda concentrated briefly and tore the head off the cyberdroid he held. "Go up the hole in the ceiling; there's a firefight up there. I can handle this now."

"Hai!" Kenji ran up and sprang through the hole in the ceiling, augmented power-armour leg musculature making light of the task.

As Takeda turned and rose to face the one remaining cyberdroid, he felt the bright burst of psychokinetic noise associated with a teleport. Masaru, he thought. He'd left the building. Escaped again.

Noriko dropped down from the floor above and quickly assessed the situation with the remaining cyberdroid. "Takeda, I'll draw its fire—destroy it."


Noriko moved forward toward it, forcefield pulsating with power. The cyberdroid swung a huge fist at her, but missed as she ducked under the blow. Grabbing the fist as it went by, Noriko unbalanced the huge cyberdroid to the ground with a grunt of exertion and it fell crashing to the floor. When Takeda leaped forward, the two telekinetics quickly shattered the remaining boomer.

Upstairs Ryan and Marta had finished off the remaining Lynx at the shattered vault door when Jagger and Mojo came running up.

The new hall that they had entered was quite different. Pairs of glass-windowed doors sat just beyond them, but farther on were four heavier metal doors with huge numerals on them—1, 2, 3, and 4. At the end of the hall was one further door, a huge vault door like that Takeda had broken behind them. It too, had a numeral six feet high on it. "5". Nothing more.

"Hall's clear," Marta said.

They had only managed another dozen yards up the hall when she was proven wrong. Another quad of security Lynx held positions up near the far door, and were spraying the whole hall with fire. Ryan, Marta, Jagger and Mojo grabbed what cover they could and returned fire, popping their heads out for snapshots.

Ryan and Jagger had grabbed M60s from the fallen Lynx. "Crap," Mojo yelled, spraying the hall with his stolen security needler. "Howcome you get the big gun?"

Jagger just smiled. "Genetics, Pee-wee."

Ryan put down his gun and concentrated. He built up a picture in his mind and thrust it at one of the enemies down the hall; then a second picture, and he did it again. One of the Lynx cursed and started working the action on his perfectly functional M60, exactly what he'd do if it was jammed. The other one beside her turned with a shout and covered the door behind her. "It's opening," she shouted. "Tentacles, tentacles!"

With the fire slackened, and the additional support from Kenji who came running up with his heavy artillery, Jagger and Marta were able to shoot down the two remaining Lynx. As Ryan was zipstripping the two prisoners, Mojo's dark face turned grey and he staggered.

"What, man, you hit?"

"Nah," Mojo got out from a mouth tensed with exhaustion. "Adrenal booster jus' kick out. Leas' de timin' coulda' been worse."

Vault number five was clearly their objective, but it was locked. That wasn't likely to be a great barrier, though, as Takeda and Noriko arrived, wind whipping in their hair as Takeda flew them up the hall with their feet a foot above the ground.

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