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Mutants & Masterminds: Future Imperfect - [Fic] Hong Kong Hustle (complete)

Travis Kincaid

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Las Vegas, May 12, 2006

Travis was having a great evening. He wasn't having sex. That the former was achieved without the later meant only one thing: gambling. "Gimme three hundred yo!" Travis called, tossing a handful of chips out to the croupier. He didn't have the dice, but that didn't matter, he had all the power to change the odds with just a thought. The rest of the table was a flurry of activity, bets being placed, winnings and losses being shuffled about from the last roll. A handful of people who'd been at the table as long as Travis hastily grabbed chips and called "yo" as well; his streak at the table was impressive this afternoon on the yo bet. Yo-leven, a single roll bet that the dice would come up on eleven, paid fifteen to one, and was a good way to earn a quick buck or negate losses when he wasn't cheating.

This afternoon at the Monte Carlo he was cheating. Just a little, his winnings today were only going to come out at around five percent of his stake, but fiver percent of ten large was still five hundred dollars. Five hundred bucks for a few hours of free drinks (watered down though they were), and perhaps as importantly, the comps. Casinos gave comps out to their players, the more you bet, the more you were comped, in Travis' case he had memberships at every casino in Vegas worth playing at (and some not worth playing at) and the comps he earned kept him in fine Vegas cuisine on a daily basis. His modest winnings paid the bills and then some, and the rest was invested. That is how Travis Kincaid turned a not so terrible secret agent's salary into a sizable nest egg and all the petty cash he wanted to spend on himself or his girl of the minute.

As far as Travis was concerned life was good.

The shooter tossed the dice, and with a subtle twist of will Travis ensured it came up eleven. "Yo! Eleven!" the croupier called and Travis watched in glee as 4500 dollars in chips was pushed his way. He pulled it behind the come line and was about to lay some of the stupid bets, the "sucker bets", just for giggles on a genuine roll, when his phone started to ring in his pocket.

"Damn." He stepped back from the table and pulled the phone out as it played "Secret Agent Man" from the old "Danger Man" TV show. He smiled and laughed a little to himself, the song was all too appropriate, and he knew Dresdener would have a cardiac if he was aware that his calls rang up to that tune. "Go for TK. Dressy my man, what is up?"

"Hilarious Kincaid, get your ass to the Taiwan field office ASAP. We have a situation." Dresdener was his usual businesslike and humorless self."

"I'm fine, thanks for asking. Sure, I can do that. Lucky for you it's tomorrow there and not my day off." Travis hung up as the German swore at him and turned back to the table to see all his bets gone; the shooter had rolled seven and out, and lost the table for everybody. Travis shrugged, at least cashing out would be easy. He pulled his chips from the table and walked to the cashier. "Taiwan?" he said to nobody, "Guess I'll need to take a 'charter' flight."

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Lena all-but purred as she flopped off of her partner. Fai grinned at her before tucking both hands behind his head. “You know what my favorite fuck is?” he asked Chinese.

“Dunno,” Lena said, her good mood fading a bit. Why’d he have to open his mouth? If he’d remained a cock and a great body, it would have been a perfect night.

“American fuck,” he said in terribly accented English. He grinned at her wider, as if she were supposed to find this commentary flattering.

“Shut up and get hard again,” she snapped, her pleasant afterglow pretty much dead. Fai’s smile slipped a bit; then he shrugged and started doing exactly that. Lena watched a moment, then took matters into her own hands. Fai put his back behind his head, his grin widening – until her phone beeped and she stopped.

Her companion frowned. “Don’t answer th- She’s answered that.” He puffed out a breath of air as Lena checked the text message.

Lucy sick. Mom says to think about coming home. Lena pursed her lips. That code simply meant that she needed to call her handler for a new mission. “Alright, we’re done,” she said before remembering that Fai didn’t speak English. “I have to go.”

“Aww…” he moaned.

Lena considered. “Get hard in thirty seconds and I’ll have time for another go.”

He was ready in fifteen.


Lena walked through the Hong Kong International Airport, her head high and her stride proud. She was going through the wallet in her hand – not her wallet, naturally. She pocketed the cash, a mix of Hong Kong and US dollars, then rifled through the photos. One of the baby pictures was cute, so she took that, too. With a napkin, she gave it a quick wipedown, then dropped it, still wrapped in the napkin, in a trashcan.

As she tucked her new picture away, Lena oriented herself toward her gate. She had thirty minutes to get there; with a smile, she headed for her flight.

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Sonic boom preceded him off the coast of Taiwan as Travis slowed from his maximum speed of nearly 4000 miles per hour to below the speed of sound. Travis came at the island nation from a high arc and headed down into its capital Taipei City. Locating the building that housed the local field office Travis touched down on the roof and shook himself thoroughly, trying to limber up and work out cramps. Even at three and a half times the speed of sound the flight from Vegas to Taiwan had taken several hours. Flight at top speed was a strain, and Travis flet the stiffness of the V trying to break down his body from the inside. He sniffled as he made he way to the rooftop door and down into the Taiwan field office.

The first thing he did was locate a restroom, and change from the warm leathers he wore for long distance flying into something more comfortable, a suit, fine wool, hand crafted in Europe. Once that was done he located coffee and something to eat. He checked his watch and realized the meeting was supposed to start in fifteen minutes; which gave him twenty or more to enjoy some noodles, and maybe flirt with one of the locals.

Travis was starting to feel better with coffee in him, and starting to feel human with food in him, when he walked out into the main office. Dresdener was already in the briefing room, Travis could see him pacing back and forth impatiently; evidently Travis wasn't the only one pushing the timing. He was perusing the local offerings when the elevator dinged and an attractive blond woman, Caucasian, exited looking slightly harried. "Hello, hello," Travis mumbled around a mouthful of lo mein.

He strolled over, almost a saunter, he was actually feeling pretty good, the V had barely taken a bite, and fell in beside the petite blonde. Up close she looked, young, barely even legal, if that, and Travis wondered if she wasn't a daughter of one of the agents. "Hi," he opened, a friendly smile on his face, "I'm new to Taiwan. Is it just me or are you gorgeous?"

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The flight had been a bitch. While not long, it had been full of children – a field trip or Chinese Mormon family or something. Lena hadn’t really paid attention; she’d merely stared out her window and lamented that she didn’t make enough money to hire a private jet. The abundance of rug rats had made the hour and half flight seem to take three times as long. Lena had wanted to slit all their throats but had no way of doing so without getting in trouble.

Her only consolation had come when two of the children had slammed into her seat while running around. Lena had spun and stared at them, putting every ounce of her hate and anger at them into the gaze. They had stared back, their eyes slowly widening until they’d run away from her. It was a small pleasure, but still a delight that she cherished.

The hotel was a little better; quiet and child-free. Sadly, she only had enough time to stash her suitcase and dig out her tool kit before she had to leave to make her meeting, more or less on time. Of course, being Lena, she had timed things carefully. Forty minutes to check-in. Twenty for the ride over from her hotel. Six minutes to pick a couple of pockets along the way, just to see what she turned up (a wallet, four quarters and a velvet box holding some kind of very nice diamond necklace). Two minutes to stop in the bathroom and check her appearance.

Lena never arrived anywhere early. Her time was hers; she’d rather be a little late than early and have to wait on someone else. So she kept to her schedule and didn’t sweat it when she found herself running a step or two behind. She was the agent; she was the specialist. They could wait on her.

As she walked across the lobby, she saw the man. He was hard to miss; tall and blonde, he towered over the natives like a lion among wolves. He was also smoking hot and Lena got a little wet just looking at him. Still, she didn’t make it obvious; she just kept walking across the floor. To her delight, he zeroed in on her like a dog smelling a bitch in heat. Okay, now the day’s looking up.

“Hi,” the guy said, a friendly smile on his face, “I’m new to Taiwan. Is it just me or are you gorgeous?”

“It’s not just you,” Lena replied, glancing up at him with a smile. Her walk slowed and then stopped, her desire to be mostly on time utterly overwhelmed by her libido. “Lena.” She offered her hand, her body language announcing her own interest in him with all the subtlety of a klaxon.

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Travis could have been called a student of the human animal, being extremely capable of reading people. Lena's body language broadcast her interest in a way that even a shut in would have understood. "Travis," he replied taking her hand gently. "I don't have anything pressing at the moment, would you like to?"

Lena quirked an eyebrow, a gold arch over her blue eyes. "To what?" she asked, wondering if this was going where she wanted it to go.

"To press me." His eyes sparkled, and his mouth turned up in a grin as he winked. "You know the old saying, 'press the flesh?'"

"I'm fairly certain that means a handshake," she replied, playing hard to get for the moment.

"You don't want to get better acquainted than a simple handshake? Suit yourself," Travis replied with a false glumness. He took a step back and gave her a once over, sub-vocalizing a grunt of approval and then slowly turned to go; the ball was in her court now.

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"Slow down, Tiger," Lena replied, darting forward and moving in front of him. "Just because I might want to start with a handshake doesn't mean I want to end there."

"Oh?" Travis asked, playing a bit coy himself.

"Yeah," she replied, taking another step forward and entering his personal space. He was a half-a-foot taller than her and she had to tip her head back to maintain eye contact. "I'd like to press other parts of flesh with you, too."

Travis's eyebrows rose at her boldness. "You seem certain."

"I know what I want," Lena said without hesitation. Her brown eyes were hot with lust and she was almost soaking through her underwear now. She reached out and trailed a finger down the front of his shirt. When the pretty blonde reached his waistband, she hooked her finger into the front of his pants and gave a gentle tug. "Do we want the same thing?"

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"Well, you know what you want, and I know what I want, and I know what you want." He pulled her closer, pressing her to him, "and now you know what I want." She could feel him, his arousal was self evident, and there was no denying her own arousal. Were they alone it would have been a short and violent flurry of action to render them unto each other. Instead they were in the middle of the Taiwan field office and people were starting to stare.

"Ah, we should ... perhaps, take a moment to find ... ah!, a more suitable venue," Travis said quietly, his speech halting as Lena's hand wormed its way into his pants. "OK! Time to go." A minutiae of effort lifted them inches from the floor, and whisked them quickly into a nearby conference room. The door shut and the shades fell seconds after.

Five minutes later Dresdener, looking agitated as always, emerged from conference opposite it looking for his two agents. "Fucking damnit! Verdammte Scheisse!" A string of other expletives followed in half a dozen other languages. Furious, Dresdener finally yelled to anybody who could hear, "When they finally stop fucking somebody tell them to get their asses in here!!"

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It was two slightly disheveled but very content agents who left the conference room. Lena all but purred as she finger-combed her hair back into place. “Thanks for the ride, Tiger,” she said as she started for the conference room where an enraged Dresdner waited for them.

Travis was moving that direction, too, and they both paused as they saw where each other was going. “Wait,” she said, “what do you do for UNISON?”

“I’m a field agent,” Travis said, suddenly aware that using the word ‘spy’ might be a bit less impressive to this woman.

“Wow, so am I.” Lena sounded bemused as she added, “No wonder that was so hot.”

“You don’t look old enough to drink, much less work as an agent,” Travis replied, taking another look at her.

“Oh, you’re sweet,” Lena drawled, reaching up to pat him on the cheek. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

“How old are you?”

Lena shrugged. “Dunno. I don’t keep track. I don’t age normally anyway, so it doesn’t matter.” They had reached the door and she opened it, announcing, “Hey, Dres, we’re here.” She gave the handler a smile that didn’t mitigate the scowl on his face an iota. “Whatcha got for us? And don’t bother with the introductions – we’ve already met.”

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Dresdener turned a deep red as he fought, and lost his bid, to maintain his composure. He slammed the conference room door and rounded on them, "Now you two listen to me, and listen well; I will not stand for insubordination! If you want to rut like a pair of dogs in heat do it on your own time, NOT MINE! This mission is time sensitive. You both knew this, and yet you blatantly disregarded this meeting for a goddamn tryst!"

Dresdener stuck his finger in Travis' face, "And I know you did it as much to be late and piss me off as to dip your dick. Keep your mind on the job Kincaid, or you'll find yourself doing wiretapping in middle Africa!"

Travis rolled his eyes, "OK, shit, five fucking minutes, I thought we had time."

"Bullshit." Dresdener looked at Lena, "As for you. You'd do well to not take after this idiot." He turned his back on both of them and moved to the front of the room. "There's a package that you two need to retrieve before it gets buried in a highest security Chinese military base." He flipped on the projector and turned to face the two of them, "If you can keep you minds off sex long enough to do the job that is."

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"Mmm, I don't know," Lena purred, glancing at Travis. She fanned herself a little, her voice becoming breathy. "I'm just a weak-willed woman, and I can't control myself around all these luscious cocks! Take me again, stud!" The blonde man had half-risen from his seat before Lena collapsed in laughter. "Seriously, Dres, I am a professional. I know how to keep the fucking in the right place. So! Debrief me, big man."

Dresdner rotated his head, creating an audible crunching noise from his neck. He appeared to be literally counting to ten, then he launched into the full debriefing. "Five hours ago, we got word that the Chinese had caught Mutant CK-C4-057."

"No name?" Lena interrupted, quirking her eyebrow.

"Name is classified. All you need to know is that he or she is a cyberkenetic who specializes in entering computers and stealing secrets. The trick is that CK-C4-057 physically enters the system he or she is trying to hack by becoming some sort of energy. The target this time was a Chinese system, only he or she was caught. Someone cut the line to the modem and he or she was trapped in the system. The Chinese are building a facility to force extraction and permanently hold Mutant CK-C4-057."

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"OK, I'm calling bullshit."

"Kincaid, I don-" Dresdener snapped.

"NO! I don't have time for this. We're putting our asses out there. If you have a file number you know something about this guy!"

"Or girl," Lena added.

"Or girl," Travis repeated.

Dresdener scowled, "CK-C4-057 goes by the hacker alias Proton."

Travis whistled, a low impressed sound. "You've heard of her?" Lena asked.

"Yeah. Proton is legendary. As in I didn't think he was real, didn't think UNISON had a file on him. The guy is a ghost, the best hacker there is. Which makes sense if he can physically enter a PC. He could hack at the speed of thought, but without the hassle of the microsecond delays in transmission and routing time. Attack firewalls and defend himself from Ice like you or I would throw a block or kick an enemy."

"Ice?" Lena asked, clearly confused.

"Intrusion countermeasures. Attack programs. Anti-hacker viruses." Dresdener nodded, "Mr. Kincaid is correct. We did have a file though, even though nobody knew is Proton was real or urban legend InterPOL, the FBI, us, MI5, and other, we all had files on Proton, just in case. Now we know he, or she," he said cutting off Lena preemptively, "is real, and is in the control of Chinese government. We cannot allow that."

"No shit, they flip him to their service and every other superpower on the planet gets real fucking nervous." Travis rubbed at his eyes, "This went from bad to worse."

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Lena didn’t look happy but she wasn’t too worried either. “So you want us to slip in and get Proton out before the Chinese can lock him up in their fortified compound. Sounds easy enough.”

“This won’t be easy!” Dresdner snapped, stabbing a finger at her like a weapon. “Get your attitude straight, Agent!”

“Don’t point that finger at me,” Lena said, her voice going from calm to heated in a second. “I know my job, and my job isn’t to sweat blood to your satisfaction over an important mission. I also know that you need the best available, and that’s why you called us. Or me.” Sparking brown eyes fell on Travis as she added with a smirk, “I do know some of your formidable skills, but I’m not sure what you bring to the mission. I assume muscle.”

“You assume correctly, Agent.” Dresdner might have allowed her to stop him but he didn’t let her keep the momentum. Pushing on, he said, “Kincaid is your meatshield in case of a problem. You’ll also find him to be quite capable of hurting the bad guys, and he isn’t terrible at sneaking around.”

“Do I get a briefing on her skills, too?” Travis asked casually.

“Wu is a thief. She’s damned good at getting where people don’t want her to be and stealing their things,” Dresdner said. “She also speaks and reads Mandarin and Cantonese, something you’re really going to need.” The agent looked at his living bane and said, “Anymore questions, Agent? Serious ones that pertain to the mission?”

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Travis shut his jaw with a click, a half amused smile on his lips. Dresdener was learning to anticipate his usual brand of juvenile behavior, he'd need to step up his game. "Termination policy?" he asked.

"If there's no other option destroy the containment system, we're not sure if that will kill Proton, or release him, her, whatever, but if it doesn't, terminate to avoid the Chinese getting their hands on him." Dresdener was all business, if the order gave him any pause to ponder the morals or ethics behind it, he gave no sign.

"Nice. Glad to see a mutant's life is still worth a dollop of soft shit if he can't be co-opted into working for the man." Dresdener started to reply, already starting to get red and flustered once more, but Travis ran right over him, "Fine. We get in, get the box, or destroy it and kill Proton, and all the secrets of the NATO countries stay safe. Anything else we need to know? If not I've got a mission to prep for."

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“Go, prep,” Dresdener snarled. He looked furious and annoyed but Lena didn't care. She was already considering what they would need, what tools to request. She smiled and stood easily, twisting at her waist to pop her back.

“So, where are our maps and diagrams? I assume we get some,” she said, smiling casually and leaning against the back of her chair. “I do so love my maps. I mean, that’s part of prep, right?”

“Agent, others may find your ‘zaniness’ the height of wit, but I don’t,” Dresdener grumbled. “Yes, you’ll have a chance to study your maps in-route to your drop point.” The handler suddenly smiled.

Lena had seen that look before. “And where is that?” she asked cautiously, suddenly sure she wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Lanzhou,” Dresdener told them, still smiling. “It’s a lovely city nestled in the Lanshan mountains.”

“Really?” Lena asked, quirking an angry eyebrow.

“What’s wrong with that?” Travis asked.

“You can explain en-route, Wu. Get moving, you two.”


“So,” Travis said, tilting his head to look at his pretty companion, “what’s up with Lanzhou?”

Lena was quiet for a moment. The hum of the airplane that was secreting them to their drop-point was a loud background noise. “I guess it’s not really that bad,” Lena sighed, crossing her arms. “I just hate it by proxy. My mother was from there and she raised me on the horror stories of three-eyed fish you could find in the Yellow River. It sits in this little valley in the mountains, but in such a way that no air gets in there at all. Now add in China’s lax laws on environmental pollution and you have a hellhole. The particle rating in the air is like three-hundred times the allowable levels, but the only way to fix it is to bulldoze a mountain – which they have considered doing. So we’re going to be working in smog soup.” She sighed dramatically. “I hope UNISON will cover my treatment for black lung…”

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Travis shrugged a shoulder, "We're expendable to them. To the normals I mean. It's like they reached some foregone conclusion that the V would wipe us all out and so now they just want to make sure to get the most use out of us that they can." He had changed, and now wore black fatigues. Other than a combat knife he seemed to have eschewed any weapons however.

"No guns? You a blaster?" Lena asked hoping to change the subject. She and the other et als were swapped out like interchangeable parts whenever the mission required. It had been like that even before, for May.

"You could say that," Travis replied evasively. "I'm a lot more than just a pretty face, let's put it that way."

"Oh, yes, I can agree with that, but," she added, clearly not dissuaded. "Don't you think it would be useful if we knew more about each others capabilities?" She eyed him up and down for a moment, "Outside of broom closets I mean." Travis grinned and started to reply, but Lena quickly interjected, "Outside of sex. I can find that out the fun way later."

Travis gave her a mock frown, "I'm telekinetic. So a gun isn't very utile when I can do the same thing without all the noise. Even without the V I can hit pretty hard. Think, forty-four magnum, but without the drawbacks. When I ramp it up and push myself ..."

"Abrams tank, yeah I can do the math."

Travis shrugged, "I can also lift a little less than a ton without effort, up to twenty or thirty when I push it." Lena seemed unimpressed, she might have been teasing, in fact it was likely she was. "Unlike most of the class two and three tee-kays, I can split my focus, use my power in multiple modes at once. Raw power combined with the flexibility to make use of it despite the V, that's why Dresdener has to put up with me." Travis smiled, a broad shit-eating grin, that spoke of a deep love for making Dresdener as unhappy as possible. "And you? Other than being very enthusiastic ...?"

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His remarks about being expendable hit a little close to him. Though it had never bothered Lena, some of the others had wondered what would happen if they were to die. Lena didn’t care; what she did now would have no effect on her outcome. None of them, not even May had souls. Lena would cease to exist at death and so life was to be lived as fully as possible until her final breath. However, she was going to do whatever she could to make sure that life was as long as she could make it.

Lena grinned at him and Travis had a moment to wonder what she was thinking. Then she rattled off, “I’m an accomplished thief and con artist. I’m very good at getting what I want without letting the other person know that it wasn’t their idea. I’m great in bed, as you know, but I’m even better at B-and-E.”

“B-and-E? Bondage and…?” Travis’s grin said that he knew exactly what she meant, but couldn’t let it go without comment.

“Breaking and entering,” Lena gamely supplied for him. “And I know Kung Fu.”

“So you’re sneaky, sexy and dangerous?” Travis asked. “Good to know.”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Lena all but purred. She leaned toward Travis, her black body suit clinging to her curves. She slipped her hands between his legs; Travis saw where she was going but didn’t see the need to stop her. He felt the briefest of pleasurable contact; then her body became translucent and he felt her hands pass through his groin. It was an interesting sensation, leaving a trail of tingles in the wake of her insubstantial fingers.

“Hey, now,” Travis said, discomforted by what she was doing and where she was doing it.

Lena giggled and drew back her hand. “And,” she added as her body became solid again, “I can do this.” Between one blink and the next, she had faded from view.

“That is handy,” Travis said, jumping a little as invisible fingers brushed his groin again.

He felt warm breath on his cheek as she murmured, “When this is done, I’ll have to show you fun games you can play when your partner can go invisible.”

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"Hey. Hey!" He managed to locate her invisible wrist, and grab it. "Nice as that sounds, we drop in," he glanced at the clock illuminated in red, "less than three minutes."

Lena returned to visibility, "Sex during freefall, I gotcha." She winked and Travis wasn't certain if she was for real or not. The timer hit two minutes and a tone chimed before the pilot came over the comms, telling them to prepare for their drop. Travis went to the hatch and hauled it open, the sudden rush of wind whipping at his clothing and casting Lena's hair about like a cascade of blood under the red night lighting.

The timer ticked down and Lena slipped into her parachute. She was buckling the last of it when she looked up at Travis, still standing by the door looking out. "Aren't you going to grab a chute?" she yelled as she captured her hair wrangled it under a black knit cap.

Travis smirked, "I thought we were going to do some free-fall bump-n-grind." Lena's eyes narrowed, now it was her turn to be uncertain if he was serious. The clock hit zero and the tone hit again signaling the drop. Travis shrugged, "Or not." Without another word he unclipped and dove out of the aircraft.

Shocked, Lena finished engaging the last clip on her chute and quickly dove out after him struggling to locate his black clad form in the faintly glowing smog soup, illuminated from the city lights below. "Travis!"

"You called?" came his shouted voice from behind and above her. She rolled and saw him, apparently falling at the same rate as she. "That outfit does amazing things to your ass by the way."

"You can fly too," she shouted, smiling at little at his comment.

"I can fly too; did I not mention that?" he winked and moved over and down so that they were side by side. "You should check your altitude, you'll need to open up shortly." Lena nodded, slightly infuriated by his smugness, and equally turned on by his confidence. She did need to pull the ripcord and did so, he body jerked ans the chute deployed and slowed her descent. Travis caught up to her easily, zooming up from below. "Turn your comms on. I'll locate the building and guide you down to the roof."

Without waiting Travis dropped out of sight only to return shortly, "OK, found it, you need to head a little east and south." With his help Lena touched down on the roof of the massive building and quickly had her parachute stuffed back into the backpack. "The door is over here, ball's in your court hot stuff."

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“So it is,” Lena said softly, sashaying over to the door. The swing in her slim hips was enticing as she moved into position to eye the security measures. “Bah, too easy,” she muttered as she pulled a roll of tools out of her pouch. “Sexy, I need a hand.”

“What?” Travis asked, even as he grinned at her description of him.

“I need you to stand like this,” Lena said, grabbing his wrists and turning his hands palm-up. The unrolled set of tools was dropped over his outstretched hands. “Perfect, just like that,” she murmured. Giving him a wink, she selected a couple of thin screwdrivers and turned back to the lock. Humming softly to herself, she began to pry at the cover of the electronic lock. “See, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.”

“I imagine so,” Travis said, shifting his hands slightly into a more comfortable position.

“See, the wrong way is to just pop the cover off from the top,” Lena lectured as she gently wiggled it from side to side, pulling steadily on it. “Now, it seems like the way to go, but as you can see, this is much better… because pulling it down rips at this faceplate, which, of course, sets off the alarm.”

“Naturally,” Travis agreed drily, not that he understood what she was saying.

“So,” Lena continued, kneeling to put the faceplate on the ground, “once you have it off, you need to hotwire the door.”

“Just like a car.”

“Not really,” she said, giving him a smile. It was by far the most natural expression he’d seen from her; there were no airs from her. He had the feeling that he was seeing the real Lena for a moment; the core of her that was really her. “The concept is not dissimilar, but it’s way more complex.”

“Of course,” he replied, nodding sagely.

“So… while I try to figure this out… amuse me,” Lena said, gentle tilting the key pad forward to peer at the wires behind it.

“Amuse how?”

Lena shrugged. “Tell me about yourself, where you’re from. Just talk to me. If I focus on just this, it won’t help.”

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"No. I don't talk about my past." Travis' tone didn't leave room for argument.

She looked over and grabbed a pick from the tool mat, "OK then, something else. Just ... do something, say something to help me focus." She turned to get another tool and found him gone, her mat hanging in the darkness alone.

"That doesn't make any sense," he said from somewhere behind her.

"Sure it does, its like people who listen to music while they do math. It helps them by taking all the left over garbage out of your conscious thought. So do somethi-" She felt his left hand first, cupping her breast, and then he was pushing up against her back as his other hand slid around the curve of her waist and down her front stopping between her legs.

"Like this?" he whispered in her ear. His touch both insistent and yet gentle, Lena felt herself grow flush and a pressure stirred within her, a heat that was being stoked as surely as the fires of a forge.

She swallowed hard, trying to focus on the lock and not wanting to. "Pretty much exactly like that, yeah," she murmured breathlessly, her hips wanting to find a way to grind backward into his front and forward into his simultaneously.

"You ever had sex in mid air?" he asked, his lips brushing her ear like the tickle of a breeze.

"N-no." Lena wanted to strip down right there and find out, instead she clenched her jaw and continued to work on the lock.

Suddenly his hands vanished from her breast and sex, his body no longer pressing into her back, her ass. "Oh, well, it's pretty amazing," he said mirthfully. She stole a look and found him lounging on an air conditioning unit. "Shame we're on a big important mission, otherwise you could find out. It's the most liberating sex you can imagine."


Lena turned back to the lock in surprise and saw it was popped, the door partly ajar. "Well, looks like we're in. Come along, put away your toys, we have a mutant to rescue..." He strode past her, confidence in ever fiber of his body, and whispered into her ear as he passed, "...into bondage."

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Lena followed after him with a smirk. Oh, he’s fun, she thought to herself, hoping that they did get the chance to incorporate their powers into another round of fun. Travis was proving more interesting than her initial assessment of him.

Focus on the mission, she chided herself. Normally, she didn’t have to remind herself to focus; she loved her work and felt most alive when she was in the middle of something dangerous or stupid. Preferably both. This was a little of both, delightfully. Right now, she could feel the blood surging in her veins.

Travis was ghosting down the stairs, using his telekenesis to float just above the stairs. Lena followed swiftly and silently. The stairs were the typical industrial setup; poured concrete and painted pipes welded together. They went down to a door, painted red with a white number eleven on it. “Ladies first,” Lena murmured as she went invisible and intangible in the same breath. The feedback from the virus made her grunt as she passed through Travis, getting a look at him in and out. Of course, it was hard to see inside him; it was dark in there!

Grinning at her own joke, Lena stepped invisibly into the hallway, looking both ways. A gaggle of technicians were babbling about the specifics of the black box in excited Mandarin; it was boring and Lena didn’t pay attention once she knew the topic. Tersely, she began poking her head through walls, looking for anything of that might help them.

When the hallway was clear, she said, “Trav, the hall is open. This floor is a bust; we need to go lower.” She put a purr into her voice that made the statement something a little dirty.

“Stairs?” he asked as he came out the door.

“This way,” Lena said, her voice coming from nowhere. She tapped on the door marked “Stairs” – in Mandarin of course – just to make sure he was following her.

One level down, Lena went back through the wall, nearly walking into the back of a technician. She stopped herself before her tell-tale tingle could give her away. Smiling, she pulled back and pulled out her garrote. She went solid and expertly wrapped the wire around him. In a second, the guard couldn’t breathe and Lena hauled backwards, taking him through the door. “Got a live one,” she said to Travis as the door slammed behind them, leaving the hapless guard alone with the two mutants.

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The man's color rapidly began to shift toward the unfavorable end of the spectrum and his struggling began to grow weak. After a moment he went slack but Lena continued to press the garrote into the soft flesh of the man's neck. "Hey. Hey!" Travis said, grabbing her shoulder, "He's out what are you trying to do kill him?"

"Well, yeah. He can't wake up to cause trouble if he's dead." Lena was almost giddy as she gave one final shake before nodding to herself and letting the fresh corpse hit the ground. "What?"

Travis shook his head; she had a point, but she seemed to almost enjoy it as well. He didn't have a problem with killing, but unless it was necessary he avoided it out of simple wastefulness; there was nothing to be gained in killing when it was not required. "Let's move," he said brusquely, hoping to get past this, but mentally making a note to watch her. She wasn't the first potentially unstable operative he'd met, and would probably not be the last.

Down they went, Lena scouting the levels before them. At the bottom, two levels below ground, they were turning up a whole lot of nothing. Lena stuck her head through the doorway into the stairwell, "Nothing."

"Bullshit. Dresdener may be a pompous stuffed shirt, but he's not one to jump at false intel. We'll have to check the whole level, there's got to be something we're missing." Travis pulled the door open the rest of the way, creeping into the hall.

"OK, ok." Lena grumbled.

"Stay behind me," Travis commanded.

"Oh, my big strong hero," Lena said sarcastically, "I can handle myself you know."

"I saw," he replied dryly. They moved down the corridor to a branch. One way was unoccupied, the other had two men standing outside what appeared to be an elevator. "Bingo," he jerked a thumb, "Take a look." Lena peered around the corner and Travis whispered, "Why guard the elevator?" She shrugged. "How's your spatial perception? That shaft isn't in line with the main elevators. I checked while we were on the roof. Bet you that goes down to a detention level."

"OK, now what? We've got to go down another level? I can just fall through but I can't take you with me."

"Then I take the lift. You go and take the far guy and I'll-" Behind them there was a cry in Mandarin almost immediately followed by the explosive staccato automatic weapons fire. The AK-47s of the two roving guards spat bullets down at the pair in a thunderous roar. Travis reacted instinctively, grabbing Lena and spinning her away from the direction of fire, allowing the impacts to hit him, his personal kinetic field taking in the bullets' energy and redirecting it into the ground; cracks forming in the floor.

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Lena took only seconds to reorient. "I've got the elevator guys," she said, even as his grip on her became a tingling grip on nothing. She jigged sideways through the wall - and Travis - disappearing into the rock. There was a second of panic; she'd been expecting another room, not nothing. Lena had long ago gotten used to the uncertainties of not being solid, especially in regards to breathing.

She pushed herself forward again, through the wall and into the corridor in front of the elevator. The two guards had advanced to the junction and were aiming to take shots at Travis. Grinning, Lena became substantial again and pulled out her knife. There was no hesitation as she jabbed it into the right-side guard's back, aiming for his kidneys. Not necessarily a fatal shot, but it hurt like hell and wasn't protected by the ribs.

The left-side guard turned at his companion's scream, just in time to catch the boot to his face. Lena twisted around, graceful and deadly as she pulled the knife lose with a twist and a downward slash, rounding on the other guard. He was holding his nose and bleeding profusely as she rounded on him, death in her eyes.

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Travis grunted a reply. He spun away as she passed through him and into the wall. He came up into a hail of copper-clad lead coming at him at three times the speed of sound. Dozens of rounds his him with enough force to shred flesh and shatter bone, but he felt nothing. Deformed mushrooms pattered into the ground like raindrops. To their credit the soldiers didn't panic, their fire discipline held them even as they switched from three round bursts to the steady thundering of fully automatic fire.

Travis ignored it, they couldn't hurt him, at best he might flinch away from an impact to his face. Instead he moved forward and drew kinetic energy from their attacks and sent it back to them. Impacts took them in the chest with the bone crunching force of a heavyweight boxer's best punch. More followed, gaining power as Travis siphoned energy from the impacts to his body. In spare seconds the two men were reeling, and then down, with broken ribs, ruptured organs, and a grim prognosis at best. They weren't dead, and might yet survive, but the blunt trauma they'd sustained was grievous.

Travis stopped, he couldn't hear anything from the other corridor, the downed men were groaning weakly, and his hearing swam with ringing from the weapons fire in close proximity. Working his jaw Travis backtracked to the intersection and then toward the elevator. He rubbed at his ringing ears in irritation, he still found it annoying that sonic energy didn't seem to count as kinetic for the purpose of his invulnerability. He was greeted by Lena standing over a scene of bloody carnage. One of the two guards lay in a pool of blood, his neck slashed wide open, his eye staring, glassy and dead, at the ceiling. The other man was also in pool of blood, but apparently he clung to life, though in obvious pain, one hand on his back where a dark stain showed where Lena had destroyed his left kidney.

A spray of arterial blood had colored the right side of Lena's face giving her the look of a berserker. Brandishing the knife at the man she demanding in Mandarin, "How many men are downstairs? How many guard the prisoner!"

"F-four m-more," he gasped, obviously in fear and agony.

"Thanks," Lena replied before jamming her combat knife into the man's abdomen, hauling it up at an angle where it would cut through the diaphragm and pierce his heart A killing stroke, but nt one that was merciful. Lena turned her head and saw Travis as she wiped the knife clean on the man's fatigues, "Oh hey, you're alive. There's four more down below."

"I heard," Travis replied, trying to decide if he should call her on her behavior or not. He opted not to, better to finish the mission first. He watched as she swiped an access card through the elevator call panel. The doors opened and the two got in. As the elevator started down Travis wondered if Lena's specialization was really thievery or if she was in fact an assassin.

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Lena’s form went murky again as the elevator slid downward. Smiling, she put her face forward into the door, letting her see the layout. “You go right,” she barked over their radio as she burst out of the car before it had even settled the guards in the hallway twisted to follow her path as she dashed between them. One unfortunate guard on the right got a little jumpy and sprayed bullets across the hallway, forcing both of the other guards to duck – and covering the ding of the elevator arriving with Travis.

“C’mon boys,” Lena laughed in Mandarin as she danced past them. “You need to try harder to get this little lady!”

Behind the guards, Travis stepped into the hall. No one was bleeding yet – Lena must be playing right now. He grabbed the two on the right and threw them across the hall, slamming them into the other two. It wasn’t nearly enough to knock them out, but it was enough to stop the barrage of bullets. Lena was grinning as she came back to the melee, and for the first time, Travis saw her fight.

She wasn’t the best fighter that he’d ever seen, but she was well trained. She snapped a gun up with her open hand, jabbing her right fist into the man’s solar plexus. As the air whooshed out of his lungs, his companion tried to step around and get a clear shot on Lena, only to find her moving behind his peer. That maniacal grin remained on her face as she shoved her target into the other man, making them stumble away from her.

The two men sorted themselves out and spun, snapping off a stream of rounds at the woman. She merely smiled and waved as the bullets pass through her without harm and into the two men that Travis still held with considerable harm before bouncing off his kinetic shield. As cracks formed in the floor around him, Travis dropped the two injured men and flung the kinetic energy of the bullets back through Lena and into the two men.

“Whoo!” Lena whooped as the two were thrown back down the hall; like a cat, she dashed after and pounced on one, feet first. Travis heard the crack of his ribs all the way down the hall. Still grinning, Lena hopped to the other man, not landing on him this time. Instead, she pulled her knife and bent over him.

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Travis quickly surveyed the two near him. Blood was hemorrhaging out from one, and it was clear that the man was a goner. The second was out cold, his shoulder red and wet, he might live, he might not. Travis looked up as Lena dropped to one knee, square in the middle of the back of the man she'd been standing over. He groaned as she ground her weight into him and again as she used her free hand to grab a handful of his short hair and haul his head back, her knife moved slowly down in front of his eyes. "You're gonna die now fucker," she said in cold Mandarin.


"Just a sec."

The knife was wrenched from her hand by a grip stronger than she could resist; Travis' TK. "Hey! What the fuck?" she yelled as she slammed the man's head into the floor and spun off of him to face Travis.

"I should ask you the same, what the hell were you doing?"

"I thought it was pretty obvious, I was going to cut his throat. I thought-"

"No! You're losing site of the goal here Lena. We're not here to kill these people, we're here to get the damn prisoner and then bug out. Fast and clean, not ... not this." He pointed to the man, unconscious now. "What do we gain by killing him?"

"One less obstacle to clear on the way out. He's an enemy Travis, he'd kill us if he got the chance."

"That doesn't mean we should go out of our way to kill them in return." Travis shook his head and started forward down the hall. The knife tumbled through the air to his hand, flipping the knife in his hand he held to out to Lena hilt first, "Come on. Eye's on the prize, we're almost on the way out."

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Almost isn’t done!” Lena hissed, her eyes narrowed as she plucked the slim blade from him. She was pissed and Travis had a moment to wonder if she were going to come at him. She didn’t, but he wasn’t sure if that was because she’d already seen him take bullets without flinching or because she really hadn’t intended to knife him wasn’t clear in her pretty brown eyes. “Fine, though I wasn’t going out of my way,” she huffed, putting away the knife. “I mean, they’re just lying around.” She smiled at her own joke; the smile itself was off-putting because it was so normal.

They proceed down the hall, Travis taking point by unspoken agreement. It really was too bad she was insane; she adapted to new situations rapidly. He didn’t need to hold her hand – except to stop her knife – and she was proficient. They paused only so that Lena could read some writing on the wall. “Secured Storage is that way,” she said, pointing to the right. “I’d guess that’s where they’re keeping him. Her. It.”

“What’s the other way?” Travis asked.

“Detainment,” Lena said, “but I can’t see them sticking a black box in a cell when a room would do it.”

“Agreed,” Travis said shortly. They turned down the corridor and followed the signs. At the next corner, Travis didn’t give Lena time to ghost around first; all the gunfire would have alerted anyone in the corridor to their presence anyway. He stepped out and took the gunfire to his chest without flinching. Six men were here, two kneeling in front while four stood ready behind them. Travis just smiled as they uselessly expended their rounds on him.

Behind the last men, Lena appeared, her knife out. Travis didn’t have the energy to stop her this time as she reached around one of the men and cut his throat. Her positioning also prevented him from just flinging damage at them. The arterial spray alerted the two nearest guards, and Travis saw them turning. “Lena, down!” he barked. She didn’t drop, but he saw her outline get murky and he threw out his power in a wave, hammering them. Within seconds, the only ones standing were Travis and Lena.

The pretty blonde bent down and grabbed an ID card off of one of the guards. “I think it’s in here,” she said, running the card through the scanner. The door clicked and the light on the lock went green. “You first,” Lena said, “in case there’s a cannon in there or something.” She grinned at him.

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With a wry smirk Travis pushed the door open, already bracing against a potential assault to the senses. "Well are you going to go in or not?" Lena asked from behind him. Travis peered into the room and was immensely disappointed. No guards, no automated sentry turrets (though hindsight made him realize that was unlikely), just a plain room. The walls and floor were bare, the room was almost empty of contents aside from a small tabled with a small black device sitting atop it. It looked like a janitor's closet.

"What the hell? That's it? No more guards?" Travis was disappointed, confused, and a little worried that this was far too easy. Too easy except for his homicidal partner.

"You sound disappointed."

"I am, I was expecting more. This wasn't even a challenge." Travis moved into the room and after an examination of the device and the table lifted the black cube. It was oblong, perhaps a foot square and half that deep. There was a single input/output on one face an otherwise it was featureless. Travis hefted it, not more than ten pounds of plastic, metal, and silicon served as prison for one of the last class five mutants on the planet. Travis shrugged, "Well, I guess we can go. You wanna lead or carry the whatsit?"


"I'll take the box, I can phase it with me." She took the box from Travis, hefted it, and nodded.

"OK, let's double time out of here. If we get attacked don't bother stopping, unless they have a energy projector I'll be able to handle whatever they throw at us." The pair ran back for the elevator and once back up to the basement level made for the stairwell. "I can carry you up, save your strength from the stairs." Travis didn't wait for her reply, and an invisible force took her up as Travis left the ground and the two of them began to spiral up the stairs.

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Lena smirked a little and casually kicked her feet in the air. She was getting a free ride, much preferable to having to run the stairs. Flying was fun; she was going to have to do this more often. Of course, given her partner’s recent moral pussy-footing, Lena doubted she’d get to do it with this mutant. Which was a damned shame.

Above them, a door slammed open, the metal ringing. “Company,” Lena said softly, even as Travis slowed their ascent a touch. Lena prepared to go insubstantial at a moment’s notice. That probably saved her life as she saw the mutant seconds before Travis did. She went ‘ghosty’ just as a bolt of energy passed through her. She wasn’t sure what it was or what kind, but she knew it was not healthy to let herself be caught in it. The railing of the stairs were twisted and the concrete gouged in the wake of that blast. Thankfully, the mutant had focused on her rather than Travis.

She hesitated only a second. “If we get attacked don't bother stopping, unless they have a energy projector I'll be able to handle whatever they throw at us.” So be it. Lena dashed on up the stairs, the box tucked firmly in her arms. It also carried her closer to the mutant who was coming down toward them.

The mutant in question was Chinese by ancestry, the same one that had presumably given him his mutant powers. He was wearing a Red Army uniform and a badge that marked him as part of this facility. He was also decently attractive, but Lena ignored that for now. The man aimed another bolt at her that went through her, tickling as it passed. Instead of screaming in pain, she simply giggled and said in Mandarin, “It’s not me you have to worry about, sweetcheeks.”

Travis, already dreading this fight, threw kinetic energy at the man, hoping to take him out quickly. It didn’t quite work that way; the man grunted and missed a step but wasn’t down yet. Lena continued to run up, ghosting past the man as if he wasn’t even there. She was determined to make the roof – though without Travis to extract them she was looking at a long overland hike to the first possible extraction point.

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"Fuck! Run Lena!" Travis wasn't sure what the Chinese mutant was throwing at them but by the way it melted steel and concrete he knew he didn't want to find out what it would do to him. As Lena raced past them both, already insubstantial, the solider wasted a blast on her and gave Travis the opportunity for an attack of his own. The man grunted as the blast struck him and took a step backward but quickly recovered, retaliating with a devastating beam of energy that forced Travis to throw himself out of the way. The stairs exploded into fragments and chips of concrete, and Travis grinned.

Flipping to his feet he gathered the shrapnel and debris into a whirling storm of concrete and steel that surrounded his body, forming a protective screen. Travis' mastery over kinetic energy was absolute, enough that physical impacts were diverted subconsciously, but true energy attacks, flames, cold, plasmas, electricity and the like, were another story altogether. Travis' only defense against energy was to not be hit in the first place, or give it something else to be absorbed by first; hence his debris shield. Now better protected Travis threw another series of blasts at the other mutant.

Above them Lena ghosted up the stairs and away from the sounds of battle. They'd made it up only a quarter of the way and now nearly thirty stories worth of stairs lay between her and the roof. Going down had been easy, they'd been stopping and had been working with gravity. Now it was a mad dash for the roof.

Travis made a quick hopping flight and passed the mutant landing on the stairs above mere instants before a blast of whatever it was slammed into his defenses. Steel and stone were battered aside or melted to slag, and yet still more energy slammed Travis backwards into the wall. Pain lanced through his chest. Glancing down he saw his fatigues on fire and his chest was red, nothing too serious, but he knew he couldn't last against this guy.

Gritting his teeth he risked the V and pulled still more debris around him, thickening the shield and increasing his protection. He felt worse almost immediately, a wave of soreness and the oh-so-familiar taste of blood in his mouth as he coughed. "Fuck," he grunted. He continued to press his attacks and back up the stairs. He could have escaped at speed, simply outrun the bastard via flight, but he was hoping that a hard target here would allow Lena time to get to the roof and set up her zip-line escape.

As she sprinted up the stairs Lena heard only the sounds of her own breathing, already beginning to become labored, and the battle below that sounded like some kind of war.

Click to reveal.. (V check for HKH)
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Lena hoofed it for the roof, panting before she was halfway. She wasn’t out of shape, damnit she just wasn’t used to running stairs. She silently ordered herself to get more time in on the StairMaster. As she rounded a bend, she heard the elevator grumbling, just on the other side, poking her head through, Lena saw that it was heading down, with two or three more guards. She heard, over the radio, a semi-familiar voice detailing what they looked like. One of the injured men had called reinforcements. “Damnit,” she growled, as the men in the elevator looked at her, startled.

The elevator passed before they could do more than gape at her in shock, but she had no doubt that they’d be after her soon. Turning, she forced her exhausted muscles to keep climbing. She had to get the box out of here.

Travis faced his opponent, narrowing his eyes at him. The two took a moment to assess; then almost at the same time, they threw blasts of energy at one another. Travis snarled as he was barely able to dodge a blast that shredded the stairs just above him. Another might have been worried about being trapped but Travis knew that was a temporary problem. Of much greater concern was surviving the Chinese soldier. So Travis let himself be backed down the stairs, dodging and ducking blasts as best he could. He could feel the blood starting to cool on his chest as he fought and danced, his breath coming in harsh gasps as the sweat from his exertion beaded his brow.

Likewise, his opponent was being worn down. The slim Chinese man leaned harder on the railing; when he had to jump a break in the stairs, he landed harder than he should have. Travis took advantage to slam him, only to find that the man rolled down the steps and dodged the blow. “You know,” Travis panted, “you’re good.” A slash of his kinetic force went wide, parried by a shield of energy; Travis ducked its return blast. “Where things different, I wouldn’t mind having you as a partner.” Another shot bounced off the Chinese man’s shield, driving the man back a step but leaving him unmarked. “Of course, you’d have to work for the good guys.”

“I do,” the man said in heavily accented English. “You work for the capitalist decedent Westerners!” He unleashed a powerful blow that shattered the capillaries in his eyes as it scoured the pipes and the concrete steps alike, knocking Travis into the air.

It wasn’t the soldier’s fault; he couldn’t know that Travis flew. Travis instinctively threw himself into a gravity-defying roll that brought his knee up into the soldier’s face. He didn’t expect it to do much, but was pleasantly surprised when the soldier collapsed. “All that effort!” Travis laughed, “And all I had to do was kick him in the face.” Still laughing, he shot toward the roof, hoping to catch Lena before she disappeared into the giant nation. But all he found was an empty zipline and disappointment.

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Well crap.

Travis didn't know how much of a head start Lena had, and when it came to a woman who could go invisible and intangible any lead was an insurmountable one. Yelling in Chinese, angry voices, the sounds of boots thumping up the metal stairs to the access door, all told Travis it was time to go. He flung Lena's cast of gear, the parachute, the second bag that had held the zipline and gun, away, across the roof, and then decoupled the proximal end of the zipline. If they didn't know which side of the roof they had left from their search area would be significantly larger, and commensurately slower.

Grabbing the line he jumped from the roof mere seconds before the soldiers burst out onto the roof. He fell quietly into the night stopping his descent only once he'd dropped half way down the building and the following the line back to Lena's departure point. "Lena?" He stood on the roof for a few minutes. Eventually that grew tiresome so he coiled the line, just in case, and then took off for the primary extraction point, or rather the primary departure point. Travis himself was the primary extraction vehicle, if he didn't show Lena would go to the secondary location and wait for extraction in 48 hours.

He took to the air once more at a leisurely pace and checked the small GPS unit for a heading. Passing over the city it could have almost been any western city, only some of the buildings and the cultural landmarks gave it away as anything but. The city fell away quickly, the "suburbs" disappearing in less than a mile and giving way to dark forest and dimly lit roads. He checked the GPS again, the little back-lit screen glowing onto his face in the middle of the darkness like the only light in the world. He located the coordinates and set down, he'd have some time to wait, unless she managed to get her hands on a car or a bike. With a shrug he found a place to sit and waited.

I hate waiting.

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Lena was tired of walking. She'd only been doing it fifteen minutes but her legs were burning before she started. "God, this sucks," she sighed. Buck up, she ordered herself. You don't want to walk, find some wheels!

At this time of night, things weren't busy, so it was another fifteen before Lena saw her chance. A young man alone on a bicycle pedaled through the night, bent on some mission. The bike even had a basket, so she could stop lugging the box around. Picking up a nearby stick, she simply stepped out of the shadows and poked it into the young man's side. He lost his balance and tumbled with a yelp; Lena then applied the stick to his head until he was silent. After checking the bike for damage, she propped it up on its kickstand and set down the box. It was the work of another couple of minutes to strangle the man and hide his body. Then she was pedaling her way to Travis.

Though she was still working, it went faster and soon she was zipping through the dark, following the roads out into the country. Her GPS showed her the way through the countryside, guiding her to a spot randomly chosen because it was remote and close enough. As she got close, she saw very little and had no warning as Travis stepped out from his hiding spot. "Nice wheels," he sassed as she slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop.

"Fuck off," Lena said, but she was laughing as she said it, making it banter rather than an insult. "I'm glad to see you survived. Not that I had any doubts."

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"Yeah, and I'm glad you didn't make me wait, though I suspect the owner of that bike would have I rather." Travis shook his head, "Don't tell me, you killed him right?"

Lena smirked, "OK, I won't tell you." Travis scowled which prompter her to scoff, "He was just some nobody. What's the big deal? I didn't want to worry about the police ruining a clean getaway."

Travis shut his eyes and shook his head. The woman was unstable at best, "Let's just go. If we leave now we can be in Taiwan by sunrise."

Lena approached, "Fine. Why didn't you just fly us in anyways?"

"Save my strength for the mission obviously."

They rose into the air, and Lena yelped at the unseen force that held her. "Hey! I thought you were gonna carry me!" Travis only laughed as they flew off into the night gathering speed.


They landed on the roof just after dawn. Dresdener and a woman with striking European features and dark hair met them. Travis floated the box from Lena's hands across the roof to the woman. "Dresdener, Raven, there's your box. I hope it's worth it." Travis and Lena followed Dresdener down into the building to be debriefed while Raven took the box to a secure room where Proton could be released and detained.

"...and once Lena got to the the rendezvous we flew back here," Travis finished explaining. Lenna nodded her assent, his retelling was clinical, and had made no mention of their bickering, but it was also accurate. Raven and a technician burst into the room before Dresdener could begin asking questions.

"The box was a fake! A forgery! Proton wasn't inside!"

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Lena stared at Raven for a moment; then she started to laugh.

“This isn’t funny, Agent!” Dresdener snarled at her.

“Oh, yes it is,” Lena giggled. “You’re just too uptight to see the humor!”

Raven ignored her. “Proton is still in the hands of the Chinese, and by now, they have no doubt moved him. That makes your task harder, Agents.”

“Score us reliable intel this time and we’ll bring him home,” Lena said, wiping away a tear forced out by her gleeful laughter.

“The intel was reliable,” Dresdener snapped, “you were the ones who grabbed the wrong box.”

Lena came to her feet, leaning toward Dresdener, all levity gone from her face. “We went where you said, we did what you said and we risked our fucking lives for it. If you don’t like the job I’ve done, get someone else to do it.” She turned her glare to Raven, hissing, “Get the purple nurple or your golden Frenchie to do it, since they can’t do wrong.”

“This is your mission,” Raven replied, raising an eyebrow. “Or are you passing on it?”

“Like I get the choice,” Lena snarled. Her expression was hard and angry, and Travis sensed that an old grievance was indirectly being aired.

“You can do nothing,” Raven said calmly. “That’s a choice.”

“You got that right. Nothing or no say. Wow, hard call,” Lena growled, dropping into her chair again. “I’m willing to keep going, especially with Travis to keep me company.” She winked at him but he could see that she wasn’t feeling the ‘sexy’ behind the gesture. She’d done it because she hoped it would annoy someone. “So what’s the next step?”

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"No." The word was stated quietly, with little emotion behind it.

"WHAT?" Dresdener sounded furious.

"I said no. Those Chinese guards weren't faking it, the mutant I fought wasn't just making our left look and feel real for our benefit. This isn't some elaborate Chinese plan, if it were they would have tried to seize us, or that box would have gone boom. Either they never had Proton and he played them, and us, for the fools, or Proton escaped somehow and is long gone. Either way there's no point in going back, and I'll wager my salary for the year that the intel coming off the mainland in the next few days will support that."

Dresdener looked ready to explode but Raven interjected before he could. "Travis has a point. If this were a Chinese ploy then why did they not have a better trap laid for our agents? If they knew it was a fake why'd they risk their own mutant agents? This doesn't add up in any way that says the Chinese knew that Proton had not been captured, or had escaped."

The overweight German seethed for a moment before turning to Lena, "And you agree? Or shall I assign you another partner?"

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Lena shrugged immediately. “I’m game for another go,” she said simply, “but that’s not my call. Is it, Raven?”

“It sounds like Dresdener is giving you that option.” Raven’s voice was calm and patient, more patient than it would normally be with a mouthy agent. “Do you want to try again with Travis?”

“I don’t care, and that’s true,” Lena replied. “If you think it’s worth the effort, then I will make the attempt. My duty and all that.”

“As her handler, I’d recommend not,” Raven said, turning to Dresdener. “Given her special skills, she’s too valuable to lose.” The light treatment, the kid gloves, even putting up with her sociopathic ass: it suddenly made more sense to Travis. She had some skill set she hadn’t divulged, perhaps under orders, made her more valuable. She was clearly talented enough for the field, but not an agent they really wanted to throw away. Like him, there was a point where that leniency ended; where she’d be tossed away if the mission were dire enough. It was just higher than his.

“Are we done then?” Lena asked, her expression still rather bored. Being let off the mission didn’t matter to her. She’d taken the news with the same casualness she’d killed, like she didn’t care.

“I think we are,” Raven said, tilting her head. “Do either of you have anything to add?”

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"Actually, yeah, I do." Travis swung his feet up onto the table and laced his fingers behind his head. "Just a thought I had, but what if this was the entire point?"

Dresdener's humorless expression somehow managed to get even less so. Raven grabbed a chair and sat down, leaning forward towards Travis. "Please explain what you mean by that agent Kincaid."

"Sure. What I mean is, what if this is all an elaborate setup by the world's last Class five cybermancer to disappear himself? What if this was all orchestrated by Proton to produce a situation where we think the Chinese government still has him, and the Chinese think that we got him back when we stole the box from them. Meanwhile Proton is out there free, and able to fall off the grid entirely, because we're looking at the Chinese and they're looking at us?"

"You mean, they Proton played us all from the start?" Raven sounded doubtful.

"Kincaid, why the hell can't you be this astute all the time?" Dresdener paced the room, "This is a fiasco. The intel we came in from online chatter, we were able to verify it but who's to say that it wasn't Proton himself providing the data and corroborating it? Damnit." He stormed for the door, "I'll get the analysts and intelligence gathering guys on this, you're all dismissed."

Travis sat up with a thump of his feet on the floor, "Great, glad that I flew half way around the world and risked my ass for a whole lot of nothing." He headed for the door himself. "Raven, a pleasure as always," he said with a wink for her as he passed by. Flatly he added, "Lena," with a bare nod, and then was out the door into the office.

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"That was a cold shoulder," Raven said to Lena after the door had closed behind Travis.

"Yeah," she said, her voice just as cold as Travis had been. Her eyes were heated, though.

"I understand you two had a hot moment before mission," Raven probed.

"You're not my mom," Lena huffed, standing up and grabbing the equipment belt she'd dropped on the table. "And we're not bee-eff-eff, Raven."

"Lena." The bark in her handler's voice stopped her. Reluctantly, the thief turned back, her face set in petulant lines. "Leave Kincaid alone."

Lena's eyes narrowed. "Whatever do you mean?" she said blandly.

"No finding him. No tracking him. Definitely no killing him." As she'd spoken, Raven had risen from the table and walked around, her expression hard. "If he dies from a strange death that can't be directly tied to his philandering ways or a mission, the first person who'll be questioned is you. And I'll be the one on the other side of the metal table you're chained to."

"I can ghost out any-"

"You can ghost out of a lot of things, but not your headmates. You kill another UNISON agent and I'm sure they'll turn your shared body into the most frustrating prison you can imagine." Raven loomed over the shorter woman. She was laying it on a bit thick but Lena generally needed to be pushed in the right direction - especially when she felt wronged or thwarted. "Leave this one alone - it's more grief than you want."

With an angry pout, Lena stalked out of the room. Raven relaxed; had Lena meant to disobey Raven, she would have argued more. "You owe me, Kincaid," she muttered, but she didn't sound displeased at the thought as she shut off the lights and left the briefing room behind.

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Travis fumbled with the chopsticks, his food slipping out from his grasp with every attempts. Raven laughed until Travis scowled and bade his food to rise under its own power to his mouth. "I still can't get over that you can't use chopsticks," she said with a smile. The restaurant was one of the better in Taipei, and Travis and Raven had decided to get something to eat together before he flex back to the US.

"Yeah, hilarious." Travis made show of using the sticks, but Raven knew by looking that the food was under telekinetic control more than manual control. Final he grunted, "So?"

"So what?" Raven teased.

Travis shook his head, "Fine." He looked grumpily at the meal, "So, Dresdender must be pretty pissed this whole thing went bust, eh?"

"Well, luckily I don't report to him," she smirked. "He can yell at the UNISON analysts that fumbled the verification of the source all he wants, but at least I don't have to listen to it."

Travis laughed, "I do love to watch him squirm. Plus, did you see the look on his face when he had to admit I was probably right? Priceless!"

Raven shook her head, "And no doubt doubly satisfying for you knowing that they'll chase that load of crap for days or weeks while AEGIS squeezes Proton to work for the right side of things for a change." Travis smiled back; there was no need to say more, she'd finally answered his initial question.

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