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Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - [Fic] The Algiers Job (complete)

Travis Kincaid

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UNISON Headquarters: location Top Secret

"KINCAID! Pay attention to the briefing and let Ms. Klipsch do her job!" Travis looked up, somehow managing a boyish innocent grin on his face. As he did Ms. Klipsch, a statuesque brunette with a winning smile and a habit of wearing rather short skirts, slipped her hand from Travis' and hurried away, her face already flushed red. Dresdener was also flushed red, but from fury not a mix of excitement and embarrassment. "Damnit, Travis, can we not get through one mission briefing without you trying to get into somebody's bed?" Their handler, a German in his middle years, hair too gray from stress, middle too round from convenience food and desk work, scowled at Travis, a look that would curdle milk.

Travis rolled his eyes somehow maintaining a charming smile, “Relax, I was listening. Algiers. Lab. Weapons. Bad guys.” Travis tapped his thumb on the wad of papers and photographs in front of him; the ones apparently ignored until now, “It's all in here.” He looked to Ronnie, giving her one of his inescapably winning smirks, the kind that made her heart race despite everything, no wonder she rarely stayed mad at him. Turning his gaze back to Dresdener Travis got serious, “What isn't clear is where this crap intel came from. Why are we risking our necks? In fucking Algeria no less! Do you know what they do to mutants Dresdener? It's fucking barbaric.” Travis waved a hand at Ronnie, “Barbaric! She'll have to wear a wig, or,” he shuddered dramatically, “dye her hair.”

"Verdammte Scheisse" Dresdener pinched the bridge of his nose, "Was habe ich nur getan, um das zu verdienen?" He locked up, “Yes, she'll have to dye her hair, or at least wear a head covering of some kind.” He held up his hand to forestall the incoming barb, “And yes, I know that Algeria's treatment of mutants borders on the Inquisition. And yes, I am well aware of the specious nature of the intelligence, however we cannot afford to let this go without looking into it.” He slammed his fist down on the table, “People could die if we don't verify this! The inel is shoddy, the source unverified, but we have NO CHOICE!”

Travis rolled a shoulder in a noncommittal shrug, “Or it could be bogus. A trap. We could walk right into a shitstorm.” He looked over at Ronnie again, “What's your take Grape Flavor? We gonna take a risk this foolish?”

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Ronnie, unlike her partner, had been listening. Her posture was full of nonchalance, with her boots crossed at the ankles. Her cigar hung from her mouth, wreathing her head in silver smoke. Her pants were black with plenty of pockets, while her shirt was a dark blue knit jersey, in deference of the winter outside.

She'd refused to allow his antics with the office slut to derail her, no matter how much Ronnie had wanted to reach over and rip the brunette's hair out. Besides, she reflected a bit sadly, it was hardly Klipsch's fault that Travis was flirting with her. If not her, then it'd be the next half-way hot girl. Or Ronnie herself. Strictly speaking, she didn't mind the flirting from a purely selfish standpoint, but it made it hard to focus on the work.

"Of course we are," she said, calm in the face of Travis's dramatics. "It's what we do." She looked up, her purple eyes meeting Dresdener's through the smoke. "You should watch your stress levels there. It'd suck if Travis were the death of you, no?"

The German bureaucrat - though it wasn't like they really made another kind of German - glared at her as Ronnie said, "I'll just dye it. It should last a couple of days." Her unique body never tolerated changes to it for long; even a permanent dye would fade incredibly quickly. "Some mascara for the eyebrows. Maybe I'll go brunette. Watcha think, Trav?" The last was asked with a sly sideways glance at him.

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Travis hung his head, "Fine. If we must, we must, but if I get killed ..." He threw his hands up, "I dunno, I'll haunt your purple ass for agreeing with him." Travis jerked a thumb toward Dresdener who's jaw was set hard the grinding of his teeth was almost audible. Travis swiveled around and threw his feet up onto the table. As Dresdener had a small apoplexy Travis grinned and said, "So, what exactly is the plan?"



The outdoor café was typical of the region. The tables were busy with men, and a few women, drinking overly strong coffee, smoking scented tobacco from hookahs, or eating light meals while doing business or people watching. They were waiting for a man, one who might have information about the location of the lab they were looking for. Ronnie scanned the area waiting, watching. "Stop staring at me Travis."

“I can't help it,” he replied over his coffee, “you look-"

"Weird?" Ronnie supplied, irritated. Irritated by the heat, the dust, and the dry air, all just for starters. Their late contact wasn't helping.

"I was gonna say really hot, but sure, let's go with weird." Travis waved smoke out of his face, "I think that damned hookah actually manages to smell worse than your cigars." He looked around before leaning forward, "The V is bad enough without you trying to give me the big C as well."

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Ronnie ignored the fluttering in her stomach at the “really hot” comment. He complimented her looks occasionally and it always caused this exciting, heart-pounding feeling. It made her want to say ‘yes’ one of those times he’d made an offer. It hurt because she knew he’d say it just as fast to another woman who caught his eye. “Please. You’re going to die an oozing, pus-filled death from some STD you pick up long before I could smoke enough to give you lung cancer,” Ronnie said instead, rolling her eyes behind her glasses. As a concession to their cover as tourists, she was dressed in khaki shorts, tennis shoes and baby-doll tee that proclaimed: Free Tibet with purchase of another Tibet of equal or greater value.

Irritated more than ever, she ran her hands through her dyed hair, wincing at the dry feel to the strands. Her hair did not like being dyed and usually gained the consistency of straw. The heat had taken care of the rest. And it was only going to get worse if they had to go inland. And the smell of the hookah was irritating her, though it just made her want a cigar she couldn’t have just yet. She was longing for the return to their hotel room, where she could smoke in air-conditioned peace. “And I mean it. Stop staring.”

A vehicle grumbled to a stop before their café; the two mutants eyed it without being obvious about it. Uniformed men hopped out and ambled into the fenced area that marked their establishment. Despite their relaxed demeanors, Ronnie and Travis didn’t relax. All four of the men were wearing the uniform of Algiers’s Anti-Mutant SWAT Unit. The AMSU men walked to a table and sat, talking amongst themselves in Berber. Though Ronnie couldn’t understand them, it sounded like some co-workers sitting down to lunch.

Ronnie glanced at Travis; with the ease of three years of working together, they decided to stay here. If their contact was too chicken-shit to approach them, he’d probably wait and catch them when AMSU left, or if Ronnie and Travis left now. However, if they left now, their guy would have a harder time finding them. “So. Coincidence?” Ronnie asked, leaning over and turning a brochure toward him, as if she were pointing something of interest out to her traveling companion.

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"Oh, I don't know, maybe we should see the basilica first and then go see the the casbah tomorrow," he replied shaking his head in reply to her question. Travis sat up and plucked at his shirt in irritation. Tourists. Why'd it have to be tourists. The khaki pants and short sleeved shirt were ill fitted to Travis' lean, long, frame. Part of why his closet was almost exclusively custom. Not only did he look foolish but he was uncomfortable as well.

He sighed, and looked askance at the AMSUs; five of them. He sighed again. Coincidence was, in Travis' opinion, something that did not play into the affairs of the covert intelligence community. "How about another coffee dear?" he asked as he caught the attention of the waiter for another round. If Algeria, wasn't so unfriendly toward mutants, going back even before the V, Travis could have actually enjoyed the country. Warm and dry, just like he liked it. They also had some killer coffee.

The waiter returned with a fresh carafe of coffee. Under the carafe was a square of yellow napkin. Travis' eyes slid right as he looked at the napkin under his cup. White. He lifted the carafe and poured himself a fresh cup, the black beverage steaming despite the days warmth. As he did a weak telekinetic force slid the yellow napkin along the table level and into his lap. Setting the carafe down Travis picked up his cup, and looked down at the note now face up in his lap. Red fez. Table in the back. He shook his head and looked over the coffee cup locating their contact, a weaselly looking man in a red fez sitting alone at a table in the dark rear of the cafe's interior. From the man's vantage point he probably couldn't see the AMSUs which led to a problematic rendezvous with their contact.

Travis sighed again and sipped at his coffee, Nothing is ever easy.

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Travis picked up another brochure and handed it to her. “What about this one? Look at the pictures inside,” he instructed. “Lovely,” he added with a smirk, though his eyes weren’t on the brochure or her face.

Snorting, Ronnie took the brochure and opened it, reading the message on the napkin. She glanced at Travis and he glanced casually over her left shoulder. “We should start planning, or we’ll never see it all,” Ronnie said, putting a surprising amount of touristy glee in her voice. “Which way is the basilica?” As she spoke, she twisted around in her seat, getting a good look at their contact while pretend to try to find landmarks. When she turned back, ostensibly to consult a brochure again, she said, “We need a tour guide. Think we could get a native to do it?”

“Most tour guides are natives.”

“A real guy on the streets guide.”

Travis quirked an eyebrow at her, catching onto her idea. “So you want to just approach a local and ask if he has the time to show us around?”

“With compensation of course,” Ronnie said, playing up the dumb American tourist stereotype. “I don’t want a professional guy, he’ll just give us canned speech and take us all the places that everyone else sees. I want a real native. Let’s just ask a few people – what could it hurt?”

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"Alright ..." Travis drew out the word. It was easy to sound like the reluctant husband because he was reluctant about the idea. He leaned back in his chair, stretching and looking around. It didn't take a seasoned operative to see that the AMSUs were giving their contact the stink eye. Ronnie's idea wasn't a bad one but if the AMSUs were even a little bit competent their cover could get blown, or worse, the cafe could become a sudden warzone. Travis noted with dismay that the AMSUs were armed with SMGs. Heckler & Koch MP5s in fact. Not a problem for him personally but Ronnie wasn't bulletproof and the collateral could become excessive.

"Well dear, why don't you ask around while I finish my coffee." Travis rubbed at his eyes with one hand, and placed the other on the table, his index finger extended toward their contact. "I'll see about getting the check sorted out as well," he added looking around for the waiter again. To Ronnie it was clear, the AMSUs were watching their man. His plan however was not, if indeed he had a plan.

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“Maybe we should ask the waiter about it,” she said, her eyes settling on the one who’d passed the note. “Maybe he’d know a local who can help us.” Her contact-tinted eyes studied Travis over the top of her sunglasses for a moment before she added, “Unless you have a better idea.”

“I just might, Violet,” Travis said, his expression brightening suddenly. Ronnie shook her head, smiling at her partner; she’d seen that look in his eyes before.

“Well, fuck,” Ronnie laughed, mentally preparing herself for literally anything.

“Seriously?” Travis asked. “Now? Tsk, tsk. I thought you were more… interested in our vacation.” His blue eyes were gleaming as he gave her a smile that had melted her before. “No matter, I’m willing to put the big tour aside for a few hours for you and our mutual satisfaction.” The heat in his gaze was enough to singe her skin, leaving her breathless. He held out a hand. “Shall we head back to our room?”

Click to reveal.. (A Memory Preventing Stupidity)
“Her name was Christine… or Katy. Whatever, that doesn’t matter.” Travis laughed and threw back his vodka. “She was all over me – licking, kissing, sucking. Anything she could do with her mouth and under the table. Let me tell you, she had suction like a black hole. And she swallowed. Then I saw her husband coming back to the table, so she ceased and desisted, but not before getting my number.”

“You really gave her your number?” Ronnie asked suspiciously.

Travis snorted. “What, like I want to hear from her again?”

Ronnie rolled her eyes, the fake blue of them doing little to detract from her beauty. She pushed his hand away, shaking her head. “Not now, honey. I have a headache. I want to see what we came to see.” Her smile became mocking. “I can see your naked ass any time I want.”

Travis mockingly narrowed his eyes at her. “Someday, this door may be closed to you,” he said sternly, waving a hand down his body. “You may regret turning down my hotness. After all, you never know what tomorrow brings. Live for the now, darling.”

Ronnie gave him a flat stare, though she was still smiling at their banter. “I’ll take my chances. Get on with it, bub.”

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Travis rolled his eyes. Quietly he said, "If you need to go to the ladies room, dear, now would be the time." Ronnie gave him a confused look. "It's in the back, on the right, next to the mens room. I'll wait right here for you."

Comprehension dawned and Ronnie stood up, nodding. "OK, I'll just go and ..." She demurred, which impressed Travis; he'd not realized Ronnie knew how. With a wink she turned and sauntered away, swaying her hips such that Travis would notice, but not so much as to be crudely obvious.

Travis watched her go for a moment and shook his head and looked down the road. The traffic here was perfect for Travis' plan. Unfortunately he'd need to risk the V to do it. The damnable virus made everything more difficult. Even if he could avoid triggering a fresh flareup of symptoms, the V impacted the way he worked; everything had to be considered and his power meted out carefully and husbanded to minimize flareups.

It couldn't be avoided in this case. Travis reached out and with his power he grabbed a large truck that was coming down the road. With a wrenching tug he altered the truck's path and sent it barreling towards the cafe. The truck swerved but couldn't course correct fast enough. Chaos erupted in an instant as Travis, the AMSUs, and the quarter dozen other patrons sitting in front of the cafe were scattering in every direction to avoid the truck. The AMSUs armored vehicle wasn't able to move however, and the truck collided with it to the sound of breaking glass and twisting metal.

The virus flared up almost immediately. He felt a sudden flush as well as an abrupt body ache. Damn. He hoped Ronnie could get to their contact and get him out through the back door, the one next to the men's room. Travis hauled himself to his feet and started for the alley next to the cafe. The virus' toll on his body doing an adequate job of simulating the shock and adrenaline that the others caught up in the "accident" would be feeling.

Click to reveal..
Travis uses a rank 7 move object. Subtle x2 so no visible effect can be traced to him.

Virus DC 22

Roll: [9 +10 Modifier -22 DC = -3] FAIL.

Injured, -1 toughness

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Ronnie walked toward the ladies room, feeling the sexual sway she was putting into her hips. She walked by the AMSUs without giving them a single glance, but she was very aware of them. She didn’t want to fight them but she also wasn’t afraid to clash with them. The mutant was very aware of her own prowess and very confident in her abilities.

Because of her hyper-attention to the table in question, she heard when one of them men rose. The chair scrapping on the stone tiles of the terrace tensed her shoulders, but Ronnie kept walking. When in doubt act like you were innocent. She locked eyes with Red Fez and saw the recognition in his. He started to smile; suddenly the smile faded and he paled. Well, shit.

Ronnie was almost to the table with their contact when a hand caught her arm. The disguised mutant was half-turned by the tug on her arm and found that she was indeed being manhandled by one of the AMSU men. “Hey!” she barked, restraining the urge to pop him in the nose and take him to the ground.

Her assaulter was shorter than her, with brown skin and dark eyes and hair. Ronnie immediately pegged him as a Berber Algerian, one of the people who’s ancestry resided solely in North African roots. Your standard American idiot would have thought he was from Iraq or Iran rather than Africa. “Madame,” he said in thickly accented English, “may I have a word with you?”

“Is there something wrong?” she asked, pulling her sunglasses down. She gave another tug on her arm, which he resisted.

“Perhaps,” he said, smiling thinly. “I was just noting that you are unusually tall.”

“And?” Ronnie asked, once again cursing her one-inch-shy-of-six-foot height. Someone else might have asked if that were a crime; Ronnie didn’t want him to answer in the affirmative.

“People with unusual traits are required to come to ASMU headquarters for genetic testing,” the officer said. He smiled and the expression was as discomforting as he’d meant it to be.

Ronnie swallowed. Shit! “I think you need a warrant for that,” she told him.

“Not in Algeria. This is not America.” The ugly smile became more sinister. “I can act when I suspect someone is sub-human.”

Ronnie’s eyes darted over to Travis. He wasn’t looking this way; he was staring up the street – at the trunk veering toward the café! “Oh yeah? Sub-human, huh?” Ronnie growled, her demeanor changing from relunctant American tourist to that of a woman enjoying the trouble coming. “All I have to say to that is truck!

The man frowned at her; Ronnie pulled him toward her, showing the strength in her body. He staggered forward, plowing into her rising fist, just as the truck slammed into the AMSU vehicle. The man had already let go of her arm; Ronnie grinned as he went down.

She spun to grab their contact-


And found him already gone. “Fuck!” she barked, already in motion. She ducked into the alley behind the café, looking both ways and saw a red fez bobbing along at the end of the alley. The coward must have run when the AMSU grabbed her. “Oh, for fuck’s sa-” She saw movement at the other end of the passage and turned to see Travis, looking flushed. She pointed at their fleeing contact before taking off after the man, knowing Travis would follow.

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Travis got to the alley and immediately moved inward, away from the eyes of those still out front of the cafe. With a little luck the AMSUs would be too preoccupied to notice he way gone. "Hey! Hey you!" a thickly accented voice called out.

Crap. Travis turned, expecting to see one or more of the racist soldiers needing to get pummeled. Instead the waiter was chasing him flapping a bill. Travis laughed and dragged out his wallet. He shoved the a few bills into the man's hand and then turned and continued down the alley. The waiter was about to protest when he saw that he'd been given enough to cover the bill four times over. Smiling he pocketed the extra and strolled back to the disarray of the cafe.

Up ahead Travis saw a man running down the long narrow alley, a red fez perched on his head, a black tassel bobbing and tossing about madly as he fled. This day just goes from bad to worse, he lamented to himself. Ahead Ronnie burst through the rear exit door like she had a grudge against it. She saw their contact fleeing and cursed. She turned and saw Travis and then took off after their contact without a word.

Travis was no track star, he knew that in a city like this, in back alleys that the man no doubt knew far better than they, that he only had one way of catching the man before he evaporated into the city like so much smoke. Casting a glance behind him to be sure no one was following Travis took a running jump and rocketed down the alley. Telekinetic force propelled him at over one hundred miles an hour. He juked around Ronnie and barreled down on their contact, reaching out for the man's shoulder as he dialed the power down until he was hauling back on the man and stumbling along the ground. "Wait damnit, wait! We need to talk to you, the AMSUs aren't going to be a problem."

The man slowed, stumbled, and spun around. He was breathing heavy, clearly not ready to have to run for his life. Ronnie came up behind the two of them and for a moment the narrow faced Algerian looked ready to run again. Instead he looked past the, saw that the alley was empty behind them, and nodded. He reach up and removed his sunglasses, revealing the source of his apparent fear, and the reason for his flight; his eyes were very clearly those of a mutant, orbs of nearly uniform silver broken only by the iris which held a faint blue glow. "I had to run. You see, I had to."

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Travis nodded, "Yeah, we see, and it explains why you wanted to trade the data for ..." Travis started patting down his pockets looking for the case. The motion got frantic as he realized he didn't have it.

"Here," Ronnie put in, holding the small case, retrieved from her purse. Travis cracked an amused smile at the image of Ronnie with a purse. "The tech guys had a field day trying to match your specifications, but these contacts should cover your eyes, and let you get out of this hell hole."

"Please, call me Hakim, and thank you. You understand that for me it has never been a safe life. The AMSUs they are getting more and more of the underground. It is less and less safe for us mutants here in Algeria, and the borders, they are watched closely. I put my life on the line for to get you this data in exchange for a chance to escape." Hakim slipped the case into a pocket on his vest. The hand came out again with a small USB jump drive. "The data, as you requested. It is encrypted of course. You understand I had to be sure that you would not cross me double, yes?"

Travis accepted the drive, "Understood. You have your goods, and now we need the algorithm to decrypt this, unless you plan to double cross us."

Hakim nodded nervously, "Yes, yes, of course. Actually the algorithm is built into the data file, it will decrypt and unpack the information with the correct password. When prompted all you need to do is ent-" The bark of a sub-machinegun and the sudden appearance scarlet blossoms on his shirt cut the mutant off before he could complete his sentence. This light was gone from Hakim's eyes, literally in this case, before his corpse even began to fall to the ground.

Travis was already moving, interposing himself between the shooter and Ronnie. Nine millimeter rounds thumped into his body at four hundred meters per second sending deformed led and copper wads tumbling to the ground. The stone beneath Travis' feet cracked and rippled at the kinetic energy of the assault was redirected and discharged into the ground. There was only one of them. Black fatigues and his MP5 made him as one of the AMSUs, apparently these men were better trained then Travis had given them credit for. Ronnie recognized the man as the one she'd assaulted inside the cafe.

"Shit, we're made," Ronnie said from behind her partner, her heart already speeding up in response to the threat. Travis grunted a reply, and as the next volley exited the weapon he caught the bullets in mid flight, stopped their travel by siphoning their kinetic energy, and then sent them back to their owner with the same force. The Algerian went down in a heap, blood pooling on the dry paving stones like an obscene puddle. "We've got to go Travis."

"I know. We have to go off the grid, and find somebody to crack that damn encryption." He turned toward her, "You know the drill baby doll; hang on tight." Ronnie didn't have time to quip anything back, her hands met behind Travis' neck and then they were off, tearing through the sky propelled by Travis' power.

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“Baby doll.” If only he meant it. Ronnie winced at her thoughts, the wind whipping her hair around her face in a frenzy. Travis had a hold on her as well and she was doing her best to ignore the hand that was planted on her ass. Calling attention to it would only result in him enjoying it more. Instead, her mind drifted back to the issue of nicknames. Well, not ‘baby doll’. Doesn’t really seem all that… respectful. But something like it. Something soft and special, just for her. Violet’s sweet but it’s not the same…

Realizing she was daydreaming, Ronnie locked one arm around Travis’s shoulders and twisted to see where he was flying them. As she turned, one of his hands adjusted, just as the wind snapped the edge of her shirt up. His hand landed on her bare side. Ronnie fought back a blush and looked at him; her blond partner wasn’t looking at her, but he was smirking a little too much. “Where are we going?” the purple-eyed mutant asked, praying that if Travis saw her cheeks, he would assume the blush was from anything other than the fact she was hyperaware of his hand on her.

“Hotel, then the fallback building.” Ronnie nodded in silent agreement; they’d picked an abandoned building as a place to meet up if they got separated if the shit hit the fan. While they weren’t separated, it was a good point to regroup and decide the next step.

Travis entered through the window, setting Ronnie down. His fingers curled and seemed to caress her skin, but it happened so fast Ronnie wasn’t sure. Oh, come on, that was Travis, of course he copped a feel, even in the middle of this FUBARed shit. Without consulting, the two mutants grabbed their bags and what little gear they had with them and left the way they came. This time, it was a strain for Travis to fly, but he didn’t have to go far before he set them down on the roof of the building. They entered the former apartment building through the roof access and selected a room on the top floor. The two mutants set up a base camp – a process which included discovering that they had running water from a hose and convincing the local rodents to live elsewhere for a time.

“Well, I think we’re ready for the costume changes,” Ronnie said, straightening and looking around. They’d blacked out the windows and cleaned out the worst of the trash.

Travis looked disgusted as he looked around the room. “Stupid AMSU,” he grumbled. “We could have been staying in a nice hotel room if not for them.”

“Are you first in the ‘shower’?” Ronnie asked, crossing her arms. “If we can get on this fast enough, we won’t have to sleep here.”

Travis grimaced again. “Yes.” He looked physically pained as he asked, “Do you have the scissors?”

“Yep,” Ronnie said, digging them out of her purse. “Are you sure?”

“My hair is way too stylish,” Travis sighed dramatically as he sat on a crate. “Just… don’t give me a bowl cut, alright?”

“I’ll do my best,” Ronnie said, swallowing hard. She picked up a comb and began to rearrange his hair. Standing over him like this, the smell of ‘male’ rose to her, flooding her senses and making her heart pound just a bit harder. It took five minutes to work up the courage to make the first snip. She worked in nervous silence, her fingers joining the comb as she worked on his hair. The urge to bury her fingers into his hair was almost irresistible; she could easily imagine he sounds of pleasure he’d make if she massaged his scalp. Focus. Get a grip! It’s fucking Travis, an emphasis on ‘fucking’.


“There,” she said, brushing his shoulders to knock the hair loose. “I think that’s good enough.”

Travis rose and used a broken fragment of mirror to look. He turned this way and that, wincing. “It’s… even,” he said, scowling.

“Well, it doesn’t look like your hair, which is the point,” Ronnie grumbled, sweeping up the hair. She dumped them into an empty coffee can and used her lighter to burn them.

“Yeah, you did a good job,” he said, turning from the mirror. “What about your hair? Want me to cut it?”

“Yeah, but hang on,” Ronnie said, leaning against a counter. She closed her eyes and focused, her attention becoming solely centered on her scalp. She felt her skin, like when she shifted her body, but this time, she only promoted what her body already could do. With a tingle, her hair started to visibly grow.

“Holy shit, I didn’t know you could do that!” Travis said, his voice amazed.

Ronnie didn’t say anything, driving the growth on. When it fell past her ass, she stopped. “Ugh,” she groaned, shaking her head and feeling the new weight. “It’s work to do that,” she said. “Not enough to trigger the virus, but… it doesn’t come easily. And it makes me hungry. Anyway,” she turned around, “cut off anything that isn’t purple, please, and then get it straight.”

His fingers in her hair forced a shiver. “Got a brush?” he asked. Mutely, Ronnie retrieved it from her purse. Her partner used it remove the snarls in her hair, straightening the new mass before cutting away the dyed hair. By the time he’d trimmed it so that it looked even, it hung to her belt. “I like that length,” Travis murmured, running his fingers through it one more time. “Good for playing over bare skin.”

“And a pain in the ass to care for,” Ronnie said bluntly, stepping away from him. “Go take your shower, then I’ll get ready.”

Travis smiled and started to strip off his shirt. “If you insist,” he all-but-purred, tugging at his buttons as if he were working for a tip. Ronnie moved behind him and pushed him into the bathroom before he could ditch his clothing. “Aww,” he said, poking his head back out. “Sure you don’t want to join me?” In answer, Ronnie tossed his bag at him. “Your loss,” he said with a laugh and wink, shutting the door. A moment later, she heard a string of cussing as he started the water.

As he washed and dyed his hair, Ronnie busied herself by burning her hair. Then she got out what she needed for her own transformation. More hair dye, another set of contact lenses, less touristy clothing and a scarf were selected, though not without a great deal of dissatisfaction. Ronnie really didn’t want to do this, but the mission required it.

“Your turn,” Travis said, stepping out of the bathroom, thankfully partially dressed. The scar from their mission on the submarine, when he’d almost died, was briefly visible before he buttoned his shirt. Ronnie blinked, staring. The dark brown dye made him look like a stranger. He saw her look and scowled. “Yeah, I know it sucks.”

“It’s not bad,” Ronnie said, dragging her eyes away from him. “It’s just different.” She grabbed her clothes and slipped past him before she said something stupid like “Just hot.” And he was – even with his hair colored, even though he didn’t look like Travis anymore, he was still annoyingly, heart-stoppingly hot. It was uncomfortable. Inside the shower, Ronnie actually welcomed the cold water, which rapidly removed any thoughts of sex; all she could think about was how fucking frigid the water was. She dyed her hair yet again, turning her purple into raven-black. She even dared to do her eyebrows, trusting that her regeneration would heal any blindness she might give herself.

Once her hair was dyed, Ronnie dried, put in her contacts and dressed; then she moved to the mirror and stared at herself for a moment before willing some more changes to her body. When she was done, she stepped out. “I think we need to find the local black market. We have enough money to bribe someone to crack the password for us… what?”

Travis stared at the woman in the door. Her skin was tanned to a brown hue not far from the natural North African hue; the color couldn’t hide her European features but it helped. Her eyes were now a normal but deep brown. Her hair was hidden under the head scarf, but the bit that he could see at the edge of the cloth was a shiny black. She looked a little heavier than Ronnie, her features softened by a bit of extra fat. It made her features a little more feminine than before, rounded her ass and hips and hid her muscles. Ronnie had once mentioned, in an offhand way, that she kept her BMI low, and Travis assumed she’d done it with dieting. Now he suspected that she’d ‘cheated’. Regardless, she looked like a different person now – only her height and her voice were the same.

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"Huh? Oh, yeah, black market tech. Sounds like a plan. These guys hide deep around here though, got any ideas how to ferret them out?" Travis shrugged, rolling his left shoulder, the earlier body ache from the virus had settled into the joint.

"Problem?" Travis looked up to see Ronnie watching him roll his shoulder, trying to work the pain out. Though she tried Travis was a capable student of the human animal; he could see the concern she tried to hide.

"Just a little V is all. Pulling a truck about isn't exactly a cake walk." He smirked, "Except for me of course." Ronnie rolled her eyes in exasperation, drawing a wider smile from Travis. "So, any idea on how to locate the black market? We can't exactly just walk past the regular market and the gray market and stop at the first store on the right."

"Hilarious. And yeah, I..." Ronnie hesitated, not sure how to explain the contact was not hers. One of the others had a contact in the region, in Algiers itself luckily, and Ronnie hoped that by association she could get them what they needed. She and Celeste had worked out the details in the shower where a few moments of shape shifting wouldn't be noticed by Travis. "I know of a man, he's worked with a friend of mine, I think he'll help us out."

"So ... a contact of a friend of yours may help us out?" Travis arched an eyebrow, "Great," he drew the word out long, obviously doubtful. "Well then, I'm ready when you are. Can't wait to get this crap outta my hair and off my skin."

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Ronnie and Travis were able to proceed through Algiers, more or less unmolested. As it was drawing late into the afternoon, most people were trying to get home for dinner. Few of them paid any attention to the man and woman who walked down the hill that the old section of Algiers was built on. The two mutants passed from the pretty parts of the city to the Casbah, the section of the city dating to the medieval era. The streets became narrow enough for bikes and pedestrians, and the houses pressed close on both sides.

Ronnie led Travis to a building that looked like all the others. Only the blue door made it stand out. Ronnie didn’t knock, but ducked in, signaling for Travis to follow her. He stepped into a dim room – and the loud sound of a revolver being cocked. Something was said in the rough, sing-song of Arabic.

“Uh,” Ronnie said.

On impulse, Travis tried French. Algeria had once been a French territory and many here still spoke the language. Hell, the national dialect was some unholy blend of Arabic and French. “Hello,” he said, stepping in front of Ronnie, trying to see in the dim interior. “We understand that you have skills we need.”

“Do I now?” the voice repeated. Travis followed it to a dark form behind a desk, half-hidden behind a bend in the room to the right. A light flared, revealing a lean, dark-skinned man. He had the tones of someone from further south in Africa, but he was dressed like any other Algerian. He was also armed with a high-caliber revolver of some obscure make. The man waved at the single chair across the desk and commanded, “Sit.”

Smirking, Travis sat down, looking up at Ronnie and patting his knee. She rolled her eyes and ignored him. “Can we put the gun down?” he asked, turning back to the man.

“No, I’m afraid that I can’t just yet,” their ‘host’ replied. “I haven’t decided if I’m going to shoot you yet.”

“I’d recommend not,” Travis told him, his voice going dangerous.

“I’m inclined not,” the Algerian said. “I just need to know what you want my skills for.”

“We have a password we need cracked,” Travis told him.


“That’s it.”

The man leaned back in his chair, his gun will trained on Travis. His dark eyes were thoughtful as he studied them a moment. “Very well,” he said.

“Price?” Travis asked, reaching for his pockets, only to remember that once again, Ronnie had the goods in her purse.

“Not money,” the contact told him. “I need something else. In Hydra, there is a man named Islem Essaid.” Their host rattled off an address. “He has a list of all the suspected mutants in Algeria and SADR territory in Western Sahara. He is selling them. I want a copy. You will get it for me and I will break your password. Deal?”

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Travis hung his head, "Are you serious?"

"What? What did he say?" Ronnie prodded Travis.

"He can crack the code, or so he claims, but he wants a list that somebody else has. A list of all the mutants in SADR and Western Sahara lands." Travis closed his eyes, trying to vent his irritation. "Are you sure that he will sell to us?" he asked the Arab.

"Yes, yes. If the price is right this man, Essaid, he would sell his own mother to Iblis." He burst into rough laughter but the gun never wavered from Travis. "You bring me the list and I will break your encryption."

Travis sighed, "Can't we just pay you so that you can buy the list?"

The Algerian shook his head. "No. His price, it is too high for me. Essaid dislikes me, he will not sell to me for a reasonable exchange. You two, he does not know, he will trade with you fairly." He considered for a moment, "Unless your woman would like to pay me ..."

Travis glanced back at Ronnie, unaware of the offer just made, "I wouldn't think that thought again if I were you."

He saw the look on Travis' face and moved on, "Get me the list, and you will get your code.

"Damn," Travis sighed again and stood up, "We'll be back." Travis grabbed ROnnie's arm and pulled her toward the exit, "Looks like we have another hoop to jump through."

"Why didn't you offer him enough to buy the list himself?"

"I did. He said that it wouldn't work. This guy Essaid doesn't like him."

"Damn," Ronnie muttered as they walked out into the late afternoon sun.

"That's what I said. Come on, he have to get to Hydra." Travis sighed, "This just goes from bad to worse."

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“No kidding,” Ronnie sighed as they started to work their way west. Both of them had memorized maps of Algiers for this mission, since they hadn’t know where they’d need to go. They were quiet for a moment before Ronnie said in German, “I hope you told him I’d cave in his face.”

“What?” Travis said, blinking at her, answering in the same. Better German than English in this part of the city.

“When the fucker said something about me.” Ronnie glanced at him, her brown eyes deep wells in the shadows of the buildings.

“What makes you think we were talking about you at all?” Travis said carefully, keeping his eyes forward on their path.

Ronnie shook her head, her hands toying with the ends of her hair scarf. “C’mon, I’m not dumb,” she told him. “He said something in that tone of voice that men get when they’re thinking about sex, and then you both looked at me. You looked annoyed and he looked like he was considering which piece of candy he was going to get to have. Then your reply was a threat and he changed his expression and tone.” She cast him an amused glance. “What, you’re not the only one who can read facial expressions. I just hope you told him I’d destroy him for even suggesting it.”

“I got the point across,” Travis admitted vaguely. “The next step of this mission had better be easy or I’m killing someone.”

“Before you resort to that, we can probably find you a whore,” Ronnie retorted. Sex seemed to be the ultimate distraction and/or decompression for her partner.

“You could help me unwind. Save the effort of finding someone else,” Travis said, running his knuckles down her arm. Even through the cloth of her sleeve, his touch sent tingles down to her toes.

“Yeah, because our room is such a charming place for sex,” Ronnie grumbled. “Who knows what diseases we’d get if we touched our bare skin to any part of it. Also, as a note, ‘you’re here’ isn’t as sexy as it probably sounds in your head.”

They bantered back and forth as they walked and took the bus across town. As they left the sea and the slope down the hill to said ocean behind them, the streets slowly widened. The houses stopped becoming one semi-merged building and became individual units. Many of them had attached garages; a handful had swimming pools. There was no doubt that they were in the wealthier part of town.

Essaid’s house was one of the nice ones. It was a white stucco with red accents. There were people hurrying in and out, bearing trays of food. “Hmm,” Ronnie muttered in German. “Looks like a party.”

“Now I’ve got a really bad feeling about this,” Travis muttered.

“Think he’s not going to want to do business right now?” Ronnie asked.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he told her, looking something between annoyed and concerned.

Signs in French and Arabic instructed non-guests to use the side entrance, so Travis and Ronnie walked to the side door and knocked. After a moment, a woman opened the door, greeting them in Arabic. Travis replied in French and got another greeting in that language. “Is Mr. Essaid here? We’re here on business,” the mutant told her.

“Oh, of course,” she said, opening the door wide. “You’re late! He’s been expecting you!”

Travis closed his eyes and counted under his breath; Ronnie looked worried as Travis opened his eyes, smiled and managed to say, “We’re not here for… whatever. We have other business with Mr. Essaid.”

The maid or whatever she was showed them into a room and left them, saying someone would be back for them soon. “So… what are the odds we have to come back tomorrow?” Ronnie sighed, not relishing the thought of being trapped in their sickening room for the night.

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Travis sighed, he'd been doing a lot of that on this mission. "Let's hope they are long odds," replied, wishing that this had been a simple door buster, or even an assassination. "Why couldn't this have been a door bust-," Travis cut off abruptly as a man entered the room. Switching to French once more he swiftly transitioned to a greeting, "Hello, Mr. Essaid? We have a business proposition for you."

"You ... are not my actors. Who are you? Where are my actors?" Essaid was short and rotund, with greasy limp hair pulled back in a ponytail. He all but waddled into the room and around Ronnie and Travis, looking them up and down, "You aren't my actors! Who are you? What do you want? Where are my actors?"

"We are here on business. We understand that you have a list. A database of mutants within the SADR. We would like to buy a copy. And we don't know what happened to your actors or where they are. Or why you need actors." Travis replied trying to get everything needed into the spare moment the little man have him to speak.

"What's he saying?" Ronnie whispered in his ear, unable to follow their conversation in French.

Travis sighed again and quickly before the other man could begin he asked, "Parlez-vous Anglais?"

Essaid stopped and turned to look at them, "Yes, I do. Who sent you here?" He didn't even wait for an answer before waving his hand in dismissal, "No matter. Yes, I have the database you describe. Three and a half million dinar and it is yours. That is ..." he seemed to do the math in his head, "approximately fifty thousand of your American dollars."

Ronnie glanced at Travis, concerned; they only had thirty thousand dollars to spend. "Absurd," Travis cried out, "I wouldn't pay more than thirty, not without a way to verify the veracity of the data within."

Essaid finally stopped his nervous pacing and turned to face them, his beady eyes narrowed. "The price is fifty thousand dollars..." he paused and seemed to consider them, "unless you wish an exchange of services. Your thirty thousand, and a simple task and the database is yours."

Travis' head went down, "I knew it, this is just fucking obnoxious. It's not fair," he muttered.

Ronnie was tempted to laugh at Travis' reaction, but instead she asked the pertinent question, "What is this task you want us to do?"

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“As you can tell, I’m hosting a dinner party tonight,” Essaid said, tightening his robe around himself. “My friends, my rivals – all are coming to see my new play-”

Oh, god. Something awful and cold settled into Ronnie’s gut.

“-that I have written. It is my masterpiece. It will make my friends weep with joy, and those who oppose my ship will be forced to bow before me.” Essaid stroked his hand over his hair, his eyes glittering with pride. “Yes, it will be my finest hour! But my actors! Do you know that the first ones said my work was puerile? And the second set refused! The third… they say they will do it but tonight, they are not here! Oh, they vex me!”

“You cannot mean to make us fill in for your actors!” Ronnie all-but-shouted. “I don’t know how to act, but I do know that it takes more than a couple of hours to learn lines, get down all the… stuff.”

“This is so fucked up!” Travis ranted, his face darkening. “You have lost your mind!”

“Please, I am no fool. No, no… there are no lines for you, otherwise this wouldn’t work,” Essaid said, waving his hands around. “It is narrated by me, you only need to act out what I say. You will not have to say anything. Oh, it will not be perfect –you will need to cut your hair and wear a wig.” He was eyeing Ronnie as he spoke.

Travis dropped his face into his hands. “Why couldn’t this be a door-buster?” he moaned.

“Oh, god are you serious?” Ronnie asked, rounding on Essaid. “Like, seriously serious? You don’t know that we can do this!”

“I know I have no choice,” Essaid said, his eyes becoming hard as he stared at them. “Either I do what I can with you two, or I am facing rejection before my peers. And you will be without the database. Do not think you can force it from me. You will do this or leave empty-handed.”

“Look,” Ronnie said, drawing in a deep breath, “let’s think about this logically. We’re just going to fuck up the play. We’re not actors. We’re going to ruin it!”

“It is already ruined, if my actors do not show,” Essaid barked, shaking his fists dramatically. “You cannot do worse than nothing!”

“Wanna bet?” Ronnie growled. “You’d be surprised what I can do when I put my mind to it.”

Essaid shrugged. “Then you may show yourself out,” he told them.

“Wait,” Travis snapped. Lowering his voice, he muttered, “I can’t believe we’re doing this. I hate this.” He cleared his throat and said, “This is a private show, right? I mean, it won’t end up on YouTube, will it?”

“No, no! That would debase its beauty!”

“Right,” Ronnie said coldly. “Travis…”

“What? We need that list,” Travis said. “Unless you’d like to give him a blow job.”

Ronnie reddened. “It would not be a blow job from her that I am wanting,” Essaid replied before she could. He smiled at Travis.

Travis blinked. “We’ll do the play,” he said. “What do we need to know about it?”

“Oh, it is a beautiful story… a love story… Virgin Love.” Essaid sighed, his eyes and expression softening. “It is my mas-”

“Yeah, yeah… your masterpiece,” Ronnie grumped. “What’s it about?“

“You will be performing the story of the ill-fated love between Captain Janeway and her first officer Chakotay,“ Essaid gushed. “I will tonight be the envy of the Algiers Star Trek Club!“

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"Aww ... fuck," Travis groaned. "You gotta be shittin' me."

"What? What's Star Trek?" Ronnie was looking from Travis to Essaid and back, apparently unaware of the 20th century's contribution to bad science fiction television.

"What?" Essaid gasped, "You do not know Star Trek? It is only the greate-"

"It's a low budget, crappy, science fiction TV show. It was one of those syndication deals that somehow managed to eek out enough ratings to continue getting shown on Saturday afternoons and overnights. Horrid junk. My dad used to watch it."

"Star Trek is not horrid! It's good, and hopeful, and ... and ..." Essaid was spluttering, his actors had all abandoned him, and now these two, his last hope, were unaware and unappreciative of the glory that was Star Trek.

"Whatever dude, we'll due your little whatever and you'll give us the damn database. OK? Good. It's this or ... this is what we're doing Ronnie." Travis looked ill, and irritated. He sighed, again, and wondered how much worse this mission would get.

"OK, Travis," Ronnie said, still not entirely certain what they had signed themselves up for.

Essaid's sour expression brightened, "So you will do it then? You will act out the parts in my play this evening?"

"We have little choice," Ronnie pointed out.

Travis, his head hung low didn't look up, "We'll do it,just don't get mad at us if they don't like our acting... or your play." The last bit was muttered, barely audible at all.

"Excellent!" the Algerian man cried, clapping his hands together in delight. "Quickly now, we have little time, and we need to get you into costume and makeup."

"Ugh. It get's worse."

"Costume? Makeup?" Ronnie had now idea what to expect but the earlier mention of science fiction and now makeup, had her worried about what this play, and its preparation, would entail.

"Yes, yes. Please wait here, I will return with your wardrobe!" The little fat man waddles out of the room at speed leaving Travis and Ronnie alone.

"What did we just agree to, Travis?"

"Something that neither of us will ever be able to forget. This stays off the mission report, no argument. We'll never live it down otherwise."

"You can't be serious. This can't possibly be ... that ... bad?" Ronnie had seen that look on Travis' face before. He was not joking, not even a little bit.

"Trust me. Unless we managed to locate a genuinely talented fan, and I'm guessing not since three sets of paid actors ditched, this is likely to be some seriously terrible stuff. I got one emailed to me as a laugh. It was so bad that I couldn't help but laugh." Ronnie wasn't sure what to say. Essaid returned, saving her the need to press the issue once she saw the red wig, and the two black and red jumpsuits.

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Essaid was followed by several servants, their expressions saying that their boss was completely insane but they were paid well enough to not care. As Ronnie and Travis weren’t paid and, in a way, were paying for this humiliation, their demeanors were not a comfort. Even less comforting was the speed which they jumped to follow Essaid’s orders, descending on the pair of mutants like refugees on a bag of rice. Essaid himself only stayed a few moments before leaving to get himself ready for his party.

Travis was easily prepared, though Ronnie couldn’t understand why they were painting some bizarre symbol on the side of his head. Ronnie’s suit had to be altered to make it work; they finally had to whip-stitch the butler’s pants to the existing top. The women spent several minutes arguing about what they could do to save Ronnie’s hair before Travis realized what they were saying. He couldn’t convince them that Ronnie was alright with it getting cut and had to explain this to her. She settled the argument by taking the scissors and giving herself a crooked cut just below the nape of her neck. The horrified servants were silent as they trimmed and straightened it.

They had thirty minutes after their primping was done to prepare; Essaid had a copy of the script brought to them, but it was in French. Travis only read a few lines before he was groaning to himself, a terrible keening noise. “Travis?” she asked.

“We will never speak of this again,” he told her. “Forget about just leaving it out of the mission report. If you ever speak to me about it again, I’ll probably kill you.”

“Aww, just probably?” Ronnie purred, grinning at him. “You do love me.” She paused, her grin widening. “You know, there is one bright side to this. You now know that a blowjob from you is worth twenty grand.”

Travis snarled wordlessly at her before lapsing into a sullen silence. He couldn’t bring himself to even finish reading the script. All too soon, the butler returned for them, announcing that it was the start time of the play in French. “Was that what I think that was?” Ronnie asked.

“Our doom? Yes it was,” Travis said. He drew a deep breath – which didn’t seem to calm him at all – and said, “Let’s get this over with.”

The butler led them through the house to a backyard verandah, where a small stage was set up. Roughly fifty people sat in chairs more or less facing the stage, but that wasn’t what caused Ronnie to stumble to a stop and stare at them. They were all dressed in weird clothing. Much of it was like hers; some of it was utterly bizarre. One woman wore so little that Ronnie knew she had to have something else to wear once she left due to Algerian morality laws; her skin was painted green. Another had pointed ears.

And Essaid was wearing some kind of brown facial stuff that created ridges on his face; Ronnie only recognized him by his voice. “Horrifying, isn’t it?” Travis muttered.

What is it?” Ronnie whispered.

“Trekkies in their natural environment,” Travis replied.

Essaid waved them over and the two approached reluctantly. He ushered them behind the curtain. Nervously, Ronnie rubbed her hands together. The wig was starting to bug her, adding to her annoyance. Travis looked miserable. It was a testament to his commitment to the mission that he was continuing on with this travesty rather than just giving up.

Essaid introduced himself and his play, then gave a short speech. It was in English, which made Ronnie wonder. Did all these guys understand English? That wasn’t a common language here. “And in closing, I give you the first showing of The Virgin Love of Janeway and Chakotay.”

To Ronnie’s surprise, people clapped. They actually seemed to be enjoying the idea of this thing. Maybe Travis was wrong. Maybe this will be alright.

Music swelled, started by the unseen servants helping out. “These are the voyages of the starship Voyager. Cast out by the cold winds of stellar fate, they wander the Delta quadrant, hoping that their next leap into warp… will be their leap home.”


“That was…” Ronnie didn’t really have the words. She didn’t really have anything to say. Behind them, Essaid’s house was disappearing into the darkness and becoming nothing more than a bad memory.

Neither did Travis. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “We went in, bought the list and got out.”

Ronnie rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said, pulling her headscarf closer around her neck. It was truly dark now and she was tired. It wasn’t the acting, though that hadn’t been fun; it was just everything. The running, the hiding, the general stress whenever she spent too much time around Travis. This time the play hadn’t helped; there had been a lot of long, lingering gazes at one another. Granted, Travis’s gazes had been largely filled with rage and ego-battered defeat rather than romance, but it had still been hard for the woman who was besotted with him.

Besotted. I hate that word. I hate it because it makes me sound stupid and I hate it because it’s true. I am besotted. Ronnie knew it was affecting her and it would someday affect the mission. After this, I’m going to ask for a switch in partners. Everyone, even Raven, will believe me if I tell them that I’m tired of working with him. The mere thought hurt: to not be with him, to not talk to him. She’d thought this before, but she knew that she had to do it this time. This had the potential to get her killed; to get him killed. She wasn’t playing at the top of her game at times like this and she knew it.

They went back to the Algerian’s house in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The man was just where they’d left him, sitting in a chair behind his desk. The only difference this time was that he was watching a soccer game when they walked in. ”Welcome back,” he said to Travis in French. “Do you have it?”

“Yes,” he replied, turning to Ronnie instinctively. She just nodded toward his chest pocket. Travis dug out the jump drive and handed it to the Algerian. The man plugged it into a battered laptop, did a few things and smiled. “Excellent. Now, where is your password?”

Ronnie passed it to him after Travis told her to, and the Algerian plugged it in. “This will take some time,” he said. “Have a seat, enjoy the game.”

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Two Days Later

The Land Rover bounced over the dry riverbed jostling its occupants constantly. Travis wondered if the vehicle would get to their destination in one piece, or if they would literally shake it into nuts and bolts before they found it. Ronnie was driving, mostly because she claimed that his driving sucked, and Travis was navigating, which mean that every hour he course corrected them slightly. Rocks to sand, sand to a riverbed, riverbed back to rocks. The process was hindered by the terrain. The maps they had were of some use but there was a great deal of driving fifty, sixty, or more miles out of the way to get around a canyon, or find a way down over an edge of rock. Travis could have sped things up considerably but the vehicle was heavy enough that he'd be stressing himself each time, taunting the virus, and all but begging for a flare up.

Travis slapped at the GPS unit in annoyance. "I swear this thing is just toying with us. It's like some cyber-k decided to see if we would drive in circles if the damn thing told us to."

Ronnie snorted, "Quit complaining. You know we're getting closer. Stop being twitchy."

He gave up and tossed the unit onto the dashboard. Turning he looked out the window at the rocky, dun colored surroundings, "How's the gas?"

"It's fine Travis. Jesus, what is your problem?"

"This whole thing. I don't know, I have a bad feeling about it. First the AMSUs, then the damn encryption and ... the other thing." Ronnie laughed, as embarrassing, and flat out horrid, as the experience had been for her Travis seemed to be taking it especially poorly; it was entirely amusing. "It's not funny." Ronnie laughed more, snorting as she tried to contain herself. Travis rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Wish I had a picture of you in that wig, you wouldn't be laughing then."

"I thought we were never to speak of it again," Ronnie teased, still chuckling.

"Two days into the desert, no radio in this heap of shit. What the hell else do we talk about?" Her partner's voice held an edge of irritation. "I swear, I think this is a setup, or something. Maybe not everything but, I just have a bad feeling."

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Ronnie was quiet for a long moment, the majority of her attention taken with maneuvering around the pit that had opened in front of them. Travis had never expressed this kind of doubt before; it was almost un-Travis-like. He waited out her long silence, too, though that wasn’t as unusual. He didn’t always have the patience to let her finish mulling the thoughts through her head. Today, he let her be while Ronnie picked through the various notions vying for her attention.

“Alright,” she said quietly. “Then let’s stop.”

“What?” Travis asked; Ronnie felt his eyes on her. It made her nervous and happy at the same time, and she could feel herself smile. Idiot! Fucking goddamned moron!

She tried to turn the smile into a zen quirking of her lips. “Let’s go back and tell them that we couldn’t find it,” she said. “Just… lie.”

“Are you sick? What happened to, this is our job?” Travis asked. He put a hand on her forehead. “You don’t have a fe-”

Ronnie knocked his hand away, annoyed. “Stop it,” she grunted, her words bouncing as much as her chest as they bumped over a particularly rocky patch of desert. “I’m serious. We just agree to tell them that we couldn’t find it. My eyes are up here, Trav. I need you to focus. I’ve had a bad feeling about this, too. Mine didn’t start in briefing, like I think yours did, but it’s been there for a while.” She sighed and stopped the truck. Putting it into neutral, she turned to him and said, “Yeah, this is our job, but if you have a bad enough feeling, then that comes first. We come first. So you decide – are we gonna say fuck it?”

“Why am I deciding?” Travis asked her, those beautiful eyes boring into her. “It’s your call, too.”

Ronnie shook her head. “I’m not thinking straight. I can tell that I’ve got it all messed up in my head,” she admitted. When this mission was done – whether they finished it or backed out – they were done. She’d put in for a new partner and probably never see him again. The only reason she got to see him so much now was because they’d gotten the majority of the Et-al’s time in the last three years. She’d been told that there weren’t that many missions that they could send her on alone, and she’d proven she couldn’t work well with anyone other than Travis. She’d have to be down for long periods of time, regulated to darkness.

But it was the thought that if they weren’t partners their paths probably wouldn’t cross again that did it. It was for the best; it was absolutely the right thing to do, but even Ronnie was dismayed to find out how much she cared about the womanizing schmuck. How much it would hurt to never see him again. How much she stupidly cared for him. Ronnie’s gaze went from calm and resolute to crumbling as she turned away from his blue eyes. Pull it together!

“Ronnie? What the fuck is wrong?”

“I think I need a vacation,” she mumbled, dropping her head forward until her forehead was resting on the steering wheel. Her short hair fluttered forward and hid her face. “It’s starting to get to me. I need some time down.” Some time away from you, so I can get over you. You’re the only guy I know. I need to meet someone else. Someone who has the capacity to give me what I need. Someone who can love me. If such a person existed. Could she find someone who would be happy with a fifth of a partner? Was she driving herself nuts just considering it? Maybe Tyler was right – they couldn’t have anything lasting anyway. Why bother looking and hoping for it?

Okaaaaay, I seem to be in even worse shape than I thought I was. Where was all this shit coming from? I must be repressing a mountain or something. “This is why you decide,” she told him, raising her voice so that he could hear her. “Because I can’t. If you say yes, I’ll shove all this emotional bullshit back down and be fine until we’re done. If you say we quit, you can drive us to Algiers and we go home.”

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"Emotional bullshit? What the hell are you talking about?"

Ronnie realized she'd slipped, she'd called it "emotional bullshit". "I'm just," she started, "I need a break, a vacation. I'm tired." Please don't press the issue.

Travis turned to face her, the car was stopped and the engine idled quietly. "Jesus, I don't know what the hell you are talking about." He reached out and poked her arm, "You're no precog, and I'm not either. Bad feelings are just bad feelings. For fuck's sake, it's probably just emotional trauma from ..." He swallowed and forced the words out, "... from that play."

"Yeah, that," she agreed, that hadn't helped at all. "I thought you never wanted to talk about that, or acknowledge it, or even remember it."

"Shut-up," he replied in irritation.

Ronnie rolled her head to the side and stuck her tongue out at him, “Maybe you're just jumpy because of that guy you think you saw following us.”

“You saw him too!”

“Once. … Twice,” she admitted. He pressed the question, and she replied, “Yesterday evening, I swear I saw somebody lurking outside the radius of the fire.”

“Why didn't you say something? Nevermind. You didn't, its done. I saw him this morning. Went to take a survey flight, I don't think he expected that.” Travis frowned, “What do you think?”

“Like I said,” he said with a shrug, “we could quit. Your call, but it's an option.”

He looked at her, hunched over the steering wheel, face obscured by raven black tresses. He was no precog, but he still had a bad feeling. Resolutely he decided that duty was greater that a hunch, "We're not bailing. Not now. Not after going through that. If we had wanted to bail we should have done so before going through with that." Travis sounded irritated again, but Ronnie felt a tired laugh trying to work itself out of her. His reaction to the play was something that would have been hilarious had she not lived it herself, and even still she found it amusing.

"Just drive," he said. "We're almost there. We get in, kick some ass, and get out. You can have all the vacation you want after." Travis had his jaw stubbornly set, his mind made up. The last time Ronnie had seen that look, Travis had been trying to get her to leave him for dead on the slim chance that she would live; he'd been wrong, they'd both survived.

"Fine," Ronnie said tightly, putting the Land Rover in gear and moving ahead.

"Fine," Travis echoed, staring out the window again. The silence lasted almost an hour, "What are you going to do on vacation anyway?"

Ronnie gave him a cranky look, "Don't say it like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I wouldn't know what to do on a vacation. I'd ... go to the beach. Read a book. I dunno, sleep in." She was flustered as she realized that she really didn't know what to do on a vacation, usually if she wasn't working, one of the other et als were.

Travis leered, "Bikini? Yummy. Care for company?"

"You're not coming with me. If I wanted to get ogled I wouldn't need vacation to do it."

"You can ogle me back, I won't mind." The GPS chirped, and Travis snatched it off the dashboard. It chirped again, "Shut the fuck up," he told the device. He looked up, "I think we found it." Looking around, outside the vehicle, he failed to see a secret facility, "Or ... where it should be."

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Ronnie slammed the truck to a stop, leaning over to peer at the screen. “Yep, we’re here… in the middle of bum-fuck Algeria.” She resisted the urge to punch the dashboard. “Look, why don’t you head up? If nothing else, see if our admirer is still hanging back there.”

The blonde mutant nodded. “Yeah, if I find him this time, I may drop in and ask a few pointed questions,” he added.

“Aww, save some pointy for me,” Ronnie requested as he hopped out of the truck. As her partner shot into the air, she drove a bit farther, parking by a large boulder. It was the only feature of note on the landscape, making it easy even someone at ground-level to find. Satisfied with her choice, she hopped out of the truck and began a recon on foot. She made a few shifts to her legs, so that when she took off at a run, she was clocking about thirty miles an hour at an easy lope.

Ronnie ran a wide circle, keeping her eyes open for other people or signs of the facility, adding the occasional hop to give herself a little more visibility. She came up empty and met Travis back at the truck. He was resting in the shade of the boulder, looking aggravated. “Nothing. All that fuckin’ work, and… that… for nothing.”

“You know, for something you never wanted to mention again, you sure do bring it up a lot,” Ronnie said with as much annoyance.

“It’s set the bar on this mission,” Travis whined. “If we don’t come up with something that justifies doing that, I’ll never be able to look at myself the same.”

“Whatever, you’ll be fine after a blowjob,” Ronnie grumped, dropping next to him. Her arms rested on her knees as she sighed, “Fuck its hot out here.”

“You could give me a blowjob now to make me feel better,” Travis said slyly.

Ronnie smiled despite herself. “It’s way too hot to touch you. I don’t even want to touch myself.”

“Maybe that’s your problem,” Travis said with a smirk. “Maybe you don’t need a vacation. Maybe you just need a Big O.”

Ronnie rolled her eyes but muttered, “Maybe.” Travis shifted, moving around to slide between her knees, his fingers already reaching for her fly. Ronnie moved instinctively, sweeping his hands away and planting the other hand in his face, stopping him. “That wasn’t an offer, damn it,” she growled, her angry purple eyes meeting his over her fingers.

“You have to be more clear about these things,” Travis chided her, even as he moved away.

“Maybe is not a yes.”

“It’s not a no, either.”

Ronnie growled at that remark. The two fell silent. “This sucks,” Ronnie snarled. “The only break we’ve caught out here is a damned shade rock.” There was a beat as both of them immediately drew the same conclusion, their heads both tilting up to consider the boulder and its possibilities.

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"Huh," Travis grunted, "Hand me the doohickey." Ronnie dropped the GPS into his hand. He studied it for a moment, "These are accurate to what? Twelve inches? Six?" Travis hopped into the air and started to slide laterally through the air over the boulder. He alighted on the apex, "According to this, it's sixty feet below me." He hopped down, "Care to bet the odds on a random big rock in a vast expanse of sand and small rocks?"

"Well, it wouldn't be the first one I've seen," Ronnie replied. Travis' brow furrowed and he gave her a look that just screamed, 'Huh?' "Uluru, Ayers Rock, in Australia," she told him, a slight smile quirked on her lips and Travis shook his head. "Other than that though," she added, "I'd say you have better odds of getting my pants."

"Well that's not really saying much, those odds are rapidly approaching a sure bet."

"You wish, horndog, and if you wish in your left hand and crap in your right, I think we both know which will fill up first."

"Classy, Ronnie, real classy." Travis walked around the boulder, guessing its size as a roughly fifteen by twenty foot somewhat egg shaped mass. "Think we can move it?" Ronnie shrugged and nodded. "Shall I?" She nodded again. "You're sure? You don't want to do it?"

"And give you a show? I think not."

Travis frowned, "Gonna make me pull the V you know."

"Pussy," Ronnie taunted back.

Travis smiled, "Yum yum." He turned to set to the task, pushing the boulder aside would force him to risk the a virus outbreak, the V, as it was known. The effort wasn't physical, but it was no less there, and with concentration Travis summoned up the deep reserves of his power. The boulder rolled aside as blood vessels in his lungs popped and his immune system flared up in response to the virus that was feeding off of some process his mutant powers utilized. He coughed, red flecks dotting the spit, as he saw the entrance revealed below the stone.

"Ow," he complained, "I think next time, you open the door for me."

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Ronnie smirked. “What a fuckin’ gentleman you are,” she sassed.

“Please, Violet, you aren’t exactly Emily Post yourself,” Travis replied, looking down into the pit. “Short ramp and a parking garage,” he reported, then added, “Completely empty.”

Ronnie eased over the edge and looked down, frowning at the mounds of sand that had seeped inside the hidden building and the layers of dust on everything. That implied a certain lack of inhabitation. “Too empty,” she muttered sourly. She’d been hoping to bust a few skulls to make up for the shitty time they’d had thus far. “Fine, let’s see what else there is.”

The parking garage concealed an elevator at the end of the small room. There was no electricity, so the doors would have to be pried open. “This door is mine,” Ronnie announced, stepping forward and wedging her fingers into the door. Planting her feet, the mutant easily muscled the doors open, revealing an empty car. “Huh, that’s not helpful.”

“Allow me,” Travis said, lifting off the ground. He floated up to the roof of the car, then through the safety hatch. “Stand back,” he warned Ronnie, his voice echoing in the shaft. She made a ‘duh’ face at him, waiting while he worked his magic. A loud noise boomed through the tunnel and parking garage, making the car shudder. The same noise came a moment later and the car dropped, crashing after only seconds. “Hmm,” Travis said, dropping to hover in front of the open doors and dropping the emergency brakes from his telekinetic grip, “what was that, two stories?”

Ronnie shrugged as he reached for her, putting her arms around his neck. “Dunno,” she said. “Maybe three, or two tall levels.”

“Let’s find out.” Travis descended, holding Ronnie close. She was suddenly aware of him, physically. She felt the heat of his body, the chill in the subterranean tunnel making it welcome. Her hands were close to his hair; her thumbs brushed the edge of his dyed strands. Maybe I should have hit that before, she mused, covertly watching him as his attention was on their drop.

Why shouldn’t she now? Her heart picked up at the thought, even as Travis slowed. “Here’s a door,” he said, taking a better grip on her waist. “Can you force it?”

Oh, yeah, I can, baby, and you’ll like it, she thought, glad for the darkness obscuring the blush that rose. She was going to lose him anyway. She’d always resisted him before because she was sure it’d wreck their partnership. But if it was splintering anyway, why not take what she could before it was over? “Yeah, I got it,” she said out loud releasing his neck and turning around. His arm pressed against her stomach, a solid support of strength; his other arm was wrapped around her hips. Her back pressed against his front as she leaned out, reaching for the doors. It was very distracting, particularly given her thoughts, but she ignored it and triggered the latch that locked the doors. She pushed them open with ease and bent the catch, locking the doors open.

She glanced back at Travis and laughed at his expression. “What, I’m not just a strong arm or a pretty face, Trav. I have a brain, too.” She grinned, her excitement clear even in the dark shaft. “C’mon, let’s finish and get the hell out of here.” Ronnie now had more interesting things do after-mission, and she wanted to get to them.

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"You're awfully chipper all of a sudden," Travis said, gliding into the dark corridor and releasing Ronnie to the floor. Looking around he frowned, "No power." Without further word he flew back up the elevator shaft leaving Ronnie alone in the dark. After a few moments she heard a heavy clunking sound and lights began to come on, illuminating the dusty corridor. Travis returned moments later, "Found the emergency backup breaker," he commented.


"Yeah. Probably could have just ridden the elevator like civilized people." Travis shrugged and started down the hall. The emergency lights provided enough to see by, but little else, the corridor was still dark and the pair cast long shadows between the inter-spaced light sources. "Looks like this is a flop, nobody has been here for a couple of years by the look of things."

"Looks that way," Ronnie said absently. She shook her head realizing she had been staring at Travis' ass instead of looking around. Pull it together, she chastised herself. "Pretty long hall-" she stopped next to Travis, her jaw falling open. The corridor ended at a balcony with stairs on one side and a lift on the other. Both descended into a massive open cavern, the natural stone of the walls and ceiling providing counterpoint to the technology within.

"Looks like we found our lab after all." Travis turned, "Hey Ronnie, you OK?"

Ronnie closed her mouth with a click of her teeth, "Yeah. Fine, let's see what we can see." She started for the lift and Travis laughed before jumping over the rail. Thirty feet below he landed in a crouch, his impact cracking the stone floor as he effortlessly bled off the impact into the floor itself. "Showoff!" Ronnie called from above, only to hear his laughter below.

The lift stopped and Ronnie located an electrical junction box. She flipped a series of knife switches and additional lights came up, computers began to hum to life, and other equipment switched on. "Crap," she heard Travis say. She oriented on his voice and quickly located him. He turned from the equipment he'd been looking at, "This isn't a weapons lab, not in the conventional sense. There's equipment here for chemical, and nuclear weapons," he paused and swallowed hard, "and biological weapons." He waved a hand around, "This stuff isn't just cutting edge, it's bleeding edge. Look around, see if you can find some samples or something we can bring back to UNISON. I'm going to see if I can't get anything off this terminal."

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“You want to pack a bio sample and just walk out with it?” Ronnie said, her eyebrows rising.

“Anything that dangerous hasn’t been left here,” Travis pointed out as he bent over the computer.

“You hope.” Ronnie believed in the inherent stupidity of the human brain. She picked another workstation further in the room and began poking though what was left. “I’ll see what I can find, but I’m not taking anything out of here that’s too dangerous.”

“Pussy,” came the reply.

“And you want it,” Ronnie said smugly, grinning widely.

Travis suddenly appeared next to her. “Was that an invitation?” he asked, his fingers hovering near the button on his pants.

“No, it was not,” Ronnie laughed. Not yet, anyway. She grinned, imagining his reaction when she finally said ‘yes’.

Travis’s eyes narrowed. “You’re in too good of a mood. And you’re hiding something from me.”

“I’ll tell you later,” Ronnie promised. “Not here. Now get back to work and let’s get this done.”

Travis stared at her for a moment before walking away. “Just for the record,” he said over his shoulder, “I don’t trust you when you’re like this.”

“Nor should you,” Ronnie replied, still smiling as she turned back to her work. Rifling through the workstation, she found a couple of CDs, but she didn’t know of what. Another drawer held some paper, all in Arabic, of course. “Knew I shoulda learned more than German,” she grumbled as she leafed through the pages, hoping to find something that looked familiar. She paused as she came to diagrams of complicated molecules and figured that was as good as anything. Stuffing it in a folder, she stacked them together and moved onto the next desk.

She had gathered quite a pile of papers and even a couple of test tubes of some hard gel. That seemed safe to being back, since it was still heavily stoppered and the tube itself was Pyrex. Glancing at her watch, she realized she’d lost track of the time. “Hey, Trav, you gotten anywhere?”

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Travis was back at the computer terminal working through the files. He was no hacker, but he knew enough to navigate a system. This one had not been heavily encrypted, probably the owner felt there was little need given the location's secrecy and hidden nature. He was reviewing and copying files as fast as he could, what he'd found was frightening, terrifying even.

"Hey, Trav, you gotten anywhere?" Ronnie's voice brought him out of his concentration. He shook his head, checked the time and was surprised at how long they'd been down there. He was furious at himself for being engrossed for so long that he lost track of time.

"Yeah, I did. You gotta see this! There's data there that-" Travis cut off mid sentence as the facility began to shake, a deep basso rumble starting to reverberate throughout the cavern. "Time to go!" Travis yelled rising into the air, trying to find Ronnie so that he could grab her and get both of them out. From above he could see Ronnie, some distance from the sole exit, and also another figure, thier mysterious shadow, lurking in a corner of the room.

Before he could shout a warning, or even launch an attack a massive section of rock dislodged from the ceiling and hit him mid-flight. The impact bore him down, smashing Travis to the ground under several tons of rock. He shrugged off the impact without injury, but its mass was more than he could handle without concentration. Stunned for a moment he recovered and began to marshal his power to the task of freeing himself.

Across the room Ronnie took off at a run toward Travis and the exit. She skidded to a halt at the end of the row however as she caught sight of them. Six people in a row, in cryogenic capsules. Frozen, and bound to die in this place. Worse Ronnie could see that they were mutants. They each had obvious physical mutations.

The weight rolled off of Travis as he concentrated, forcing the heavy load to move. The V caught hold, and brutalized his body even as raw fatigue began to weaken him. "Get off your ass! We've got a shitstorm here!" he yelled at the top of his lungs over the growing sound of their potential doom.

"Travis! There's people here! Mutants! They're frozen!" Ronnie called back, heaving on the door to the first capsule, no heed paid to the fact that the person would die if improperly thawed. The facility shook again, as if they were under attack. Ronnie slipped on the floor and nearly went to one knee. Her hands shook as she struggled to get the tube open, but she wasn't sure what she was doing; all she knew is that she couldn't leave these people, her people here.

Travis shook his head, they'd all die if he didn't shore up the exit tunnel. He flew up and exerted himself, blood starting to flow from his nose. "I need some fucking help here!" The third mutant lashed out at Travis with rocks the size of refrigerators, the impacts bounced off him like they weren't there, thier kinetic energy absorbed and redirected into holding the cavern up for even a minutes more; or a second.

"I'm a spy, not a babysitter, Travis!" Ronnie yelled back still pulling desperately at the door of the fist capsule.

"I don't need you to wipe my ass, Vi, I fucking need your help up here! They're dead either way!" He screamed back, the taste of blood heavy in his mouth. "Ronnie! Now!" Travis screamed. The fact that he used her name made her abandon her struggles, right as the tube opened. The occupant abandoned, she turned and ran for him, knowing that Travis was really in trouble. She bounded up the stairs on legs of spring steel, "Run damnit! Run for the exit I'll be right behind you!" Ronnie nodded, seeing the blood now oozing from not only his nose but his ears, and his eyes. This was the only way, she'd never be able to do what he was doing, never be able to hold up all of it at once.

Riding on rising columns of earth and stone thier attacker attempted to intercept Ronnie but she was too quick, her movements eating up distance easily. Travis was trembling, his body was being assaulted by the Virus more potently than ever before, his vascular system was rupturing, his organs beginning to shut down. Travis knew that he'd not make it out. Darkness was creeping into his vision even as Ronnie raced past him. The mutant, his form barely an outline to Travis, attempted to pass the telekinetic to reach Ronnie. In an instant Travis knew it was over, and he let go.

Ronnie was running down the corridor at a dead run when her feet were thrown from under her. She stumbled and fell as an explosion rocked the facility and was followed by a deafening roar. Ronnie hit the floor, coughing and choking on dust. The lights were gone, and the sound of rocks bouncing filled the silence after the roar. Dust? Light...

She dug out a flashlight and shone it back the way she'd come. There was a new rock wall not three feet from her outstretched hand. For one greedy second, she was glad that she was safe, before she realized that Travis wasn't. "Travis!?" she croaked, listening. She coughed despite herself, then shouted, "Travis!"


"Travis!" Ronnie cried again, coughing as more dust entered her lungs. She shoved her hair out of her face and looked at the piled rock. Without hesitation, she started to dig. A second collapse, brought on by the now destroyed cavern continuing to collapse in on itself, nearly caught her, and it was only luck that she fell the right way. Coughing harder, fighting back helpless desperation, she looked back at the wall. Travis...

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“Travis! Travis!” Ronnie screamed. Without thought, she turned back to the rock face, her body already reshaping itself. With a roar of outrage, she seized a boulder and moved it aside. Travis was going to be alright. She’d find him – never mind having to dig though the rubble. The rocks wouldn’t crush him but she had to dig him out before he suffocated. Her mighty arms grasped the rock and pulled loose the first rock. She set it to the side, focusing on which one to grab next. She worked on stacking the rocks to provide support to the tunnel. But Ronnie was also aware of each second rolling by; every moment was needed to find her partner.

She’d made a significant amount of progress when the rock shifted and bulged. “Oh, thank god!” Ronnie cried, pushing both arms into the shifting mass. Her hands felt cloth and closed; with a grunt, she heaved and pulled, already saying, “Jesus, you scared the shit out of me, Tra-”

The rock pushed at her, thrusting her across the room. Ronnie bounced off the wall and fell forward. She caught herself on her hands and knees; with a shake of her dyed hair, she had cleared her head. She was scrambling to her feet as a pillar of rock smashed out of the ceiling, impacting where she’d just stood. Snarling, she twisted to the side to avoid another hammering pillar, even as she bounded toward the mutant pulling himself out of the rocks slide.

A rock shield rose between him and her, but Ronnie punched through it without hesitation. It did throw her strike off and her fist missed the mutant. The man was dark-skinned, his complexion somewhere between Northern and Southern Africa. Ronnie caught only a brief glimpse of his face, but it was enough to commit it to memory, burned in by the understanding that this mover of stone was responsible for this collapse. She’d never forget the face of the man who had nearly killed Travis.

He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t.

The wave of stone came out of the floor and Ronnie was too close to dodge. She was tossed into the air and thrown onto her back. She rolled to the side again, knowing that the mutant was going to try to hit her while she was down. But she rolled toward her assailant, staying in this fight. She slammed into his legs and pulled him down on top of her.

“Bitch!” he roared in some unintelligible accent, as they rolled on the floor. Ronnie used her superior strength to try to gain an advantage, but he was augmenting his puny muscles with his rock-crafting. Flesh and stone wrapped around her in an attempt to grab her. Ronnie broke them off, but there were always more. Her blows were diverted by rock that flowed like water; her clinches broken by plates of stone that wiggled between them.

Their fight was almost intimate as they rolled and grappled. Ronnie finally surprised him; when they were face to face, she drew her head back and snapped it forward. Her forehead impacted his nose and he went limp, stunned. In that moment of weakness, Ronnie rolled him under her, grabbed his arm and broke it in three places.

He roared again, but this time it was a wordless bellow of pain. He looked at her and Ronnie flinched as blood vessels burst in his eyes and blood ran out of his nose. She knew what that meant, and she wasn’t surprised when a hand of rock rose out of the floor, snagged her and slammed her into the wall behind them. She started to punch her way out, but another wave of stone rose from the floor and pinned her there. In a moment, she was encased in stone.

Ronnie screamed in rage, but she had no choice. Already the air was thinning for her, and thought her mutant body would concentrate oxygen in her vital organs, she had no way of moving. She knew what she had to do. It was a risk, but they were risking life and death. Ronnie let go…

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And then she was Lena. With a grunt, the blonde released the bonds between her cells. Soon she was able to swim upward, her body passing through the stone. In minutes, she broke through the sand. Gasping for air, the mutant lay on the sand.

Suddenly, the earth rumbled and split before her. Lena, already flushed with the virus, immediately went invisible, acting on instinct. The earth mover appeared mere feet in front of her, holding his broken arm. Lena went still, waiting for him to leave. Ronnie would have attacked, but Ronnie was a dumb bitch; a dumb, loyal bitch who would have thrown their lives away to avenge Travis.

The earth mover looked to the north, then the ground rose under him and bore him away in that direction. Lena remained still, until she was sure he was gone. Then she rose and looked around at the wasteland around them. “Well,” she grumbled, “this sucks.” With a sigh, she released…

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UNISON Headquarters: location Top Secret

Tyler jumped into the light in Raven’s office. Their handler rose from the desk with a gasp as the man dropped to the floor. “Boss,” he rasped as blood poured down his face, “we need to talk.”

“Medical! My office!” Raven shouted into the intercom, then came around to help him. “What the hell happened?!”

Tyler leaned against her. “What didn’t go wrong?” he growled before starting to tell his tale.

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Darkness was creeping into his vision even as Ronnie raced past him. The other mutant, his form barely an outline to Travis, attempted to pass the telekinetic to reach Ronnie. In an instant Travis knew it was over, and he let go.


Travis weakly cracked one eye open. The other wouldn't he wasn't sure why, he was too numb with painkillers to feel the tape keeping it closed while it healed. What he could see was fuzzy. His ability to focus returning slowly resolving a standard drop ceiling and a variety of IV poles and medical equipment. Sound returned next, beeps mostly, the soft whir of a pump pushing oxygen into him. The voices he heard we remote, indistinct. He was alive. Somehow. Everything else would become clearer with time.

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