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[Fiction] Story: Acts Of Compassion


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Act I of III

In a room lit only by the constantly shifting images of the liquid crystalline displays, varying in size from a few millimeters to the huge ten meter display in the center, sat a man with the world at his fingertips.

"SATCOM links established and stable. Identification probes are reporting you are calling from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Transmission arrays are on-line and moments away from your control. DARPA is requesting confirmation of Pentagon priority and their director, Thomas Naman, is standing by to validate confirmation. Probability of counter-detection is currently less than .004%." The voice emerging from the hidden speakers was carefully modulated to avoid distracting the rooms sole occupant as he worked but there was a noticeable, if subtle, under-current of excitement.

"Authorization is four-seven-niner dot eight-seven dot one-niner-six-one dot Papa Romeo. Pass that I am standing by for validation of priority access," answered the man without pause in his work.

"DARPA Director Naman confirms priority access is authorized, Mr. President. The array is under your control. Reconfiguring the western array cluster to new coordinates. Northern cluster in position in three, two, one, mark. Estimated time to complete cluster re-alignment is approximately..."

"Twelve minutes twenty eight second," interrupted James 'The Prodigy' Meehan. "This isn't an Opnet movie, Michael. Focus,"

"How did you know the authorization codes?" The computer said, changing the subject. It's voice, still carefully modulated, sounded slightly abashed at the mild reprimand.

"President Portman needs to stop using his social security number for his password," James responded absently. "He should have learned after the Dalmatian incident. Maintain the timetable."

"James," Michael began tentatively, "my tactical simulations still indicate this is a low-probability success operation. Are you sure you don't want me to put the second tier agents on standby?"

"Concerns noted, Michael" replied James. "Maintain the timetable."

"But, James..."

The eyes obscured by constant seeping blue energy, eyes that regarded the world as data and probability, focused intently on the myriad displays that were his windows into the world. Long slim fingers, a musician's fingers his mother once stated with a note of sadness, danced ceaselessly across controls and instrumentation designed to respond to his slightest gesture. The mind which absorbed data like a singularity devouring matter never paused in the thousands of simultaneous computations it performed. And yet, somewhere within this man the resources were allotted to answer the question unvoiced by the machine he had created.

"We're novas, Michael. We exist to bend the rules."

"And when the rules refused to be bent?" The machine answered in a manner that would have been querulous in a human being.

James recognized the concern for what it was and understood its origin, Indeed, he shared the concern but trust was a dangerous two-edged sword and they were committed. It was too late to alter the plan, or even abort safely, and they both knew it. There was no need to answer.


Anna Devries surveyed the scene on the main deck of her ship and was pleased. Everyone was having a fabulous time if the rest of the ship was jumping like this. Carrington never understood that these yearly events were possibly the greatest of the Devries perks for enticing new novas into the family. Besides the money they could make under her care of course. And yes, these petty dictator and would-be world leaders wanted the supreme military force on the planet at their beck and call but what value was all of that in the end if you couldn't have fun and enjoy your hard won position? By the time this cruise was over on Monday every one of these people would feel they owed her and that translated into greater revenue and influence.

It was good to be the queen.


Pax paced the T2M mission room like a caged tiger. In the shadows to the rear stood Director Ozaki, inwardly questioning the wisdom of this operation for the hundredth time. Director Thetis had been intractable in this matter, as she was growing to be in most, and he had gotten nowhere in attempts to dissuade her. He had to admit she was absolutely correct in her assessment of the benefits to be gained. The problems lay in failure not success. Perfection, however unattainable in reality, was very nearly a requirement for this particular operation.

"Director. Time is minus fifty eight minutes," announced the technician at his console.

Pax immediately lashed out verbally to insure the technician was aware that it was he in charge of this undercover operation. A position utterly untrue no matter how great the nova's wish that it be otherwise. The technicians were of Proteus and knew where their orders were coming from. Utopia's premier nova saw the barest hint of the shadows and suddenly thought he was James fucking Bond. Ozaki would have sighed with the frustration if he could have done it without Shelby hearing and misinterpreting. At the appropriate moment the powerful figure of nova-dom would be summoned from the room for a 'critical matter' and thereby avoid a compromise. Pax still had his uses and Director Thetis felt it was inappropriate to expose him to all the inner workings of Proteus without adequate preparation.

Fifty-eight minutes. Plus or minus ten minutes to rid the world of another self-centered and self-aggrandizing dictator that cared nothing for the people of his tiny plot of the world. And to do it in such a manner as to convince the world in general of the inherent duplicity of an organization of cold blooded killers like Devries. The public opinion simulations predicted a windfall of approval that would rocket Project Utopia to ascendancy in the mind of the world while completely undermining Anna Devries company of cut throats. Director Thetis was convinced that properly spun they could link the bloody Terats to this and, with the favor of the gods, re-direct the Directive away from at least the more sensitive aspects of their operations.

Luckily, they were using a third tier agent. Tempus Fugit was infinitely preferable to the less stable Chiraben despite the unknowns associated with mental state. That asshole was still missing but with luck the next summons from the Director would be one that he had been coming to long for. The one he had promised that sociopathic prick ages ago. One word from Thetis and her pet monster was the next designated liability. All for the greater good but still... Some opportunity were simply not to be missed.

Tempus Fugit, Maria Sanchez, was a straight Utopia operative. If that word could be used to describe the crooked path that brought her to this point. She had been an intelligent and highly knowledgeable physics associate for PU Science and Technology for almost three years before her number came up in Oregon. Her abilities, Ozaki always called them abilities not powers, was to manipulate time and had gotten her selected for the team dispatched to Anomalous Event 172-G. Physically she was fine now, better than fine, but mentally she didn't make it back in one piece.

Shattered of mind for reasons none of the specialists could agree on, Director Thetis did not believe in wasting good material and had so many resources to draw on. Within a week after arriving in Triton's secure facility, Maria Sanchez had been molded from a drooling imbecile to the useful and productive Tempus Fugit. Sending her back to S&T had been a mistake of course. Even Thetis admitted that. The blank stare she tended to lapse into when unoccupied was unnerving to her former friends and associates so she was reassigned. As a special operative under Caestus Pax she was an asset to be used and, if needed, disposed of. No one would miss her in her current state which was good. At least her delayed death would mean something. There should be honor in death.

All he had to do first was pull off the assassination of a world leader, on the company cruise ship of Devries, loaded with mercenaries and in international waters. Not only obliterating the trail that could lead back to Utopia and the hidden Proteus but to do it in such a manner as to undermine Devries, the Teragen and manipulate the Directive onto a false trail. Uncomfortably, he recalled that this was the same matter-of-fact, single minded manner in which Thetis had approached the murder of Jennifer Landers.

Intently, Ozaki watched the feeds coming through their satellite in geosynchronous orbit over the Pomme d'Or party in full swing. Never once did he allow himself to consider that one day he might end up like Maria Sanchez. That would be counter-productive.

It sucked to be in charge.


Klaus Kleisner stood on the bridge wing of the Pomme d'Or completely detached from the events around him. The trademark golden skull mask of Totentanz was in place and hid the mildly contemptuous downward turn of his mouth. With it no one could see the utter disdain that burned in his eyes as he watched the scene below him. There was something not quite right but it would come to him and then he would deal with it.


Maria Sanchez walked the deck of the Pomme d'Or playing her part as she had been instructed by the long and painful rehabilitation sessions at Triton. Step like this, sway, step then smile. Brief physical contact with the guests, men and women, consisting of languid caresses along their exposed skin. If interest was sparked then she was to move her tongue like so and smile again, slightly differently. She had 60 different variations of that facial gesture and most were usable for this situation. Occasionally she could brush a lacquered nail against a groin, along the edge of the lower jaw towards the ear or extend the index finger and draw the nail lightly in the sensitive area behind the lobe.

Every step was a moment spent cataloging features, trying to match faces and voices to acceptable targets. Discarding each encounter if the subject was not on the primary target list she had been provided. Her innate sense of time ticked off the micro-seconds to the countdown.

Guests of both genders returned her caresses. Lightly and hesitantly in many cases though a few grabbed more strongly at her bottom, breasts or sex. It didn't matter. She felt nothing. Her training allowed her to smile appropriately and murmur the correct responses from the hundreds of possible etched into her mind. Objectively she knew she was not always successful from the looks given by a few. With some, it was a slightly quizzical look as she shifted to the next potential target. For others it was harsh words and profanity as she walked away towards the next cluster of people. It was irrelevant since they were not one of her primaries.

When she was grabbed roughly by her hips and pulled towards someone she didn't feel surprise or even annoyance. She didn't feel anything. She simply adapted and continued scanning the crowd from this new position. It was actually an improvement as most of the bystanders turned to watch her and the unknown person gripping her tightly and guiding her pliant body to the pounding beat. Maria was accustomed to being guided. Now she could see their faces without continually moving.


The DJ, in form fitting black bodysuit, ceased her own gyrations long enough to tap the buttons on her wrist-worn remote in rapid sequence to automate the next few minutes of the music mix. Then she grabbed the hips of the Hispanic woman walking by her and jerked her close. At first she had to guide the woman but within seconds both figures synched their motions. In a heated bump and grind that drew the eyes of most of the guest around them they writhed. Men of power, DeVries best paying customers for the year, as well as some of the women were drawn to the spectacle of the blatantly sexual fire raging in their midst. It was the first night out for the Pomme d'Or, Anna Devries very own cruise ship, and the party was just getting started.

Pumping to the beat, heat rising, Maria and the DJ ground against each other in a manner that caused blood to flow and eyes to pop. Within moments they became the focus of the crowd, heads of state and generals stepping up on chairs or the deck railing to get a better view of the two dancing against each other. That was good. Maria located the first of her allowable targets staring at them and made to break off from the dance. Her training instructed her to turn to her partner, smile and then move on to target acquisition phase.

The red-head holding her relaxed her clutch to allow Maria to turn without actually releasing her and smiled momentarily as well. Then she tightened her grip and pulled the dark haired woman so close they were standing nose to nose. The scent of cinnamon and lemon was nearly overwhelming to Maria as the red-head violently kissed her and forced her tongue into her mouth. In contrast to the initial force of the kiss the tongue was a gently probing invader leaving a tingling sensation in its wake.

Maria felt a wave of dizziness come over her. Appropriate to the circumstances, her training allowed her to break the embrace and push the woman away before stalking out of the applauding circle of spectators.

She had to proceed to acquisition phase but she'd lost sight of her target. By her third step the dizziness washed over her again, almost dropping her to the deck before it receded. The taste of electricity was in her suddenly dry mouth making her tongue feel swollen and her step clumsy.


'Decadent fools,' thought the premier killer in the Devries stable to himself. It was an offense to his sensibilities but he was a professional and watched the interplay of people and interactions intently. This was intelligence for when he faced these people, or their chosen nova representatives, and kill them. It was satisfactory to be the one that would be doing the killing.


"Array is in position and Walt is ready to upload the software package. Standing by for your order," said artificial man softly.

"Stick with the timeline, Micheal. You know when the conditions go green as well as I do. When to implement," James said absently knowing why Michael wanted him to be the one who gave the order.

Then gently, "We both agreed to this. I know you don't like the odds but we're both on the sidelines for the moment. Don't queer the play. Are you having second thoughts?"

"Second, third and fiftieth. We're fucking with Proteus directly on this one and if I screw up... If I screw up then really bad things are going to happen."

James smiled without rancor and noted that Michael had never felt the need to curse like that before. Their world really was changing. And for the first time, in a very long time, James Meehan felt alive and part of the world around him.

"Then don't fuck up," was his advice.

[ 05-06-2002: Message edited by: Elizabeth ]

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Act II of III:

She was searching the main deck without success for her target. She had been trained in several methods for searching crowds but implementing them was becomeing problematic as each of the techniques occured to her and then slipped gradually away in the fog that nibbled at her consciousness. Her sculpted high cheeks, a gift from her grandmother's side of the family, felt feverishly hot despite the cool breeze blowing across the deck of the Pomme d' Orre.

'Grandmother? Family?'

Something was very wrong. Not the least of which was the sensation in her mouth and throat, as if she were suffering from dehydration. Only her awareness of time passing, a gift of the mind within her that called itself Tempus Fugit, still seemed reliable. Then came a strange sensation within her stomach along with a growing unease as she thought to question even that supposed constant. If her sense was mistaken would she know it? What was that feeling within her?

Maria Sanchez would have recognized the sensation but she wasn't home these days. The training so detailed as to cover the gamut of subjects from acquisition to seduction, botany to murder, hadn't covered doubt.


"We're on final standby," said Michael.

That was not what he was really saying of course. In actuality his message was a question rather than a statement of fact. Properly decrypted for meaning to be extracted he was asking:

"You're not going to make me do this alone? Are you?"

No answer from James. Michael hadn't really expected one. Since he had first achieved consciousness, been born, he had been collecting data on the man that created him. The visual characteristics were those gathered first as he had been programmed with the predisposition for visual information that most humans possess. Once he realized that this was only a predisposition and not an expectation, the AI had leaped into his environment with gusto. Sound, thermographic data, mathematic expression for concepts and object, spatial orientation and deformation. Knowledge.

Knowledge had given him the key to unlocking a world that he never could have imagined in those first moments of life. It was the obscure data of a Mendel that gave him context and the clues to examine the work of Mazzarin and Rashoud, thereby coming to an awareness of what made James special amongst the other examples of the human species. Or rather another aspect of what made him special. This was before he knew that there were others both like and unlike his creator. The doors to the universe were thrown wide and Micheal had begun a long journey awash in data and conditions that were beyond belief. Bodies of human knowledge like psychology and other so-called soft sciences provided additional context to intepret James. When one could seperate the wheat and discard the chaff anyway. Humans constantly indulged in what James referred to as the 'voodoun' paradigm while shouting the scientific and pure principles from which they arrived at dubious social conclusions.

Armed with this body of knowledge and years of observation and empiric data he knew James was completely intractable in his current decision to require Micheal to handle this matter without assistance or guidance. Why did he feel the need to abandon him? He must have his reasons and yet it made him feel incomplete to think he had somehow disappointed his creator. Unless this were a test? Yes. That must be it. James was testing his abilities. Well he would be satisifed when this was complete, Michael thought within the quantum flucuations that were his thoughts. Yes. He would be...

The signal from the incoming call only caused Micheal to aportion a tiny piece of his vast awareness to dealing with the caller while the majority of his mind continued to refine his new found hypothesis. It was the caller's message that caused his world to fall apart.


The DJ known as Bai Hsi, or Pale Mouse, stalked the deck of the Pomme d'Orre searching for her target. The initial contact had gone well but she needed to follow up quickly or that advantage would dissolve like the morning mist. That meant finding the Sanchez woman fast, a task growing more difficult by the moment. She could see the the crowd was already growing raccuous and it wouldn't be long now. First the european women would remove their bikini tops, followed by the american men lolling their tongues like hungry wolves at a sight taboo in their own country. All it would take would be for one of the nova women to disrobe, either in comraderie with the baseline woman or to spite them with unattainable perfection, and then the situation would rapidly degenerate.

Mouse paused momentarily, electric blue lacquered nails poised poised over the keypad of her wrist remote, toying with the idea of moderating the music a touch. Shaking her head and causing her long braid of red hair to wiggle snake-like she abandoned the idea. While it would be nice to open her window of opportunity a fraction wider, the drugs and alcohol already flowing would more than counter that affect. Manipulating the acoustics directly was more likely to touch off the aggressive drives and, on a boatload of powerbrokers and mercenaries, that would worse than the orgy for the chaos that would accompany it. What to do...

Closing her eyes, the woman called Mouse opened her awareness and let the organ within her brain peer at the world unencumbered. The brown of the deck disappeared to be replaced by the soft luminescence tears of life being shed from the dying teak of the wooden deck. It took so long for a tree to die completely. People talked of the warmth of wood long after it had departed its corporeal body and left only a dead husk behind. If only people could see...

'Too late for the trees,' she thought. 'Focus.'

People were three dimensional shadows of light and warmth, here and there spotted with reddish black shapes of disease or damage. Narrowing her focus she elevated her awareness to the next level. From this vantage she could perceive the individual molecule sweetly caressing her skin where the black body suit left it exposed. The sensation caused a tightening reaction in her breast that would definitely show through the thin material of outfit. Men that couldn't tell her the color of her eyes after talking with her for an hour were about to suddenly notice "how intelligent" she was and "what a beautiful smile" she had. All the while, failing to make eye contact with her.

Let them. She had her special one already, inner demons and all, even if his choice in companions occasionally left something to be desired. He ran with a bad crowd sometimes but his... Grandeur of spirit was the only phrase that seemed to describe him properly, constantly bouyed him above worst of them. Not that he could see that himself. Well, that was well too. Let him believe he was lucky one for now and focus on the matter at hand.

Refining her focus beyond that which technology could mimic the world exploded and become a stately waltz of light dancing in incredibly complex configurations. In this manner she could determine the path of the tiniest mote of dust in the air and see the brilliant star burning withing the skull of every nova present. It took only a moment of searching to find her target again luckily. The shadow forms of the party-goers had already begun to overlap and multiply before her very eyes. Immediately she retreated from the sight, the future and the past being dangeous at the best of times, but not before she caught sight of a baseline interacting in what was probably seen as a harassing manner by her target. If she didn't intervene quickly there would be violence.


From his vantage point high above the crowd the mask of Totentanz surveyed the crowd until a pair caught his eye. One of the humans, the son of the President of France spoke the oracle of his helmet OpNet feed, was not so subtly pursuing a woman. No match with the guest list therefore she was part of one the many entourages that accompany men of power and dillute their focus. Not a guest. Idiot female. Her tactics of retreat would place her trapped between the bar and the siderails of the ship with no where to go except through her assailant.

His function was not to chaperone anyone or nursemaid them. Devries had tasked him personally with ensuring that none of the guests came to harm within his perview. The woman was not a guest ergo she was not his responsibility unless she chose to attempt harm to the pursuer. Ordinarily this would not have drawn his attention but there was something about the way she moved, the way she unconsciously flexed her hands tightly. It could be nothing but...

Klaus Kleisner's eyes narrowed within the skull mask. In battle he had been against hundred of nova opponents and some of them had those same unconscious gestures. The same body language, as he had forced them into corners cutting off their avenues of escape. As they stood indecisive as to whether to expend their power and in what manner. Just before he took them. Idly his left foot made a slight kicking motion and caused one of his spears laying ready on the deck to leap upward into his waiting hand. Holding it obscured behind the festive banner covering the railing in front of him he waited. Perhaps it was nothing at all, but he had not been victorious in his hundred of nova encounters by not being vigilant. If he were mistaken then she had nothing more to look forward to than a groping by a weakling. If she were more than she seemed, a nova, an attempt to harm a guest would be her death. Too quickly for her to even realize her danger.

"Ich bin der Hammer, der Dolch, die Sichel, die alles niedermäht," he chanted softly. "I am the hammer, the dagger, the sickel that reaps."


James Meehan rummaged through the tranport pod, snatching at the gear he had placed days ago to be ready when the call finally came. The call consisting of three simple words followed by the coordinates of a major metropolitan area.

"We have him," Jager had said then rattled off the coordinates.

Now that bastard sonuvabitch, that aberrant blight on his species would find out what it meant to be a enemy of the one race. Between Jager's prowess, and his own inimitable technology, Costa was going to pay the penalty. With interest if he could help it but with finality regardless. The telepath Rayne was not an entirely known quantity but the reports he had garnered from a variety of sources hinted at a powerful psychomorphic presence and a relatively high morality index. So long as she saw Jager and he as allies against this monster then she would side with them. Best not to depend on her but... It was the other that gave him pause. Lord knew he had his own faults but something about that edgy fractured presence just set his teeth on edge.

God DAMN Leviathan and his idiotic Harvesters! So willing to embrace the monstrous that they couldn't see this prick was preying on their own kind! And god DAMN Geryon as well for being the well rounded moron he was to be blind to that little fact as well. If there had been more time he might have succeed in getting it through Geryon's armor plated skull who would have convinced Leviathan and thereby nullified Costa's little detente. Now there was no time left. And on top of it all, Michael was choosing this moment to have a crisis of confidence.

"Damn it, Michael shut up for a moment and listen carefully," demanded James. "Wizard and I talked about this already and she said you were the perfect wingman for her on this. She said that you were the only other person she trusted to not screw this up in a clutch. So please, please, PLEASE stop screwing around and follow the time table."

With the last of the gear in place and lights green across the board James Meehan paused and took a deep breath before continuing. "It has always been my fervent hope that I would one day have a son to carry on in my name. To make me proud of the man he was becoming. When I realized they had sterilized me that dream became very faint. And when Nimue was taken from me..."

For a moment his voice cracked then he continued, "When the woman I loved was taken from me I forgot that dream entirely. It has taken me a great while to realize that dreams never die completely. You can do this, Michael. Even the lady herself said you were ready for it."

"She told you..." began the artificial man in wonderment.

"No, Michael. I told her it was a possibility that I would be called away. She said, and I quote, 'There is no one I could trust more to be my anchor than your son' end quote. Good luck and please keep her out of trouble. Keep the time table. Remember everything I've said, especially the part about trouble."

James Meehan punched the release button. With a flash of light and a surge in the quantum flux the transport pod dropped into subspace and vanished from sight.

"God speed," whispered the machine in an empty hourse.


"Time check," asked Ozaki.

"Minus thirty-two minutes, sir. We've got a stable fix on the Pomme d'Orre and the rescue teams are standing by to render aid and assistance. T2M Team leader in Talaud is requesting more data on the accident but verifies his people are in position. He's beginning to become belligerant about it, Director."

That would be Thorn. According to his psyche profile, he was gradually becoming more disaffected by the day with T2M ops and lacked the reliability, the moral flexibility, that would have enabled him to be promoted to a free agent. They had already placed him under surveillance for Aberrant sympathy's. He still had a high personal work ethic and enough of a desire for stability that he could be carefully redirected.

"Inform him the information is directly from CASSANDRA and we're working on narrowing even now. Give him a drop dead time of 60 minutes and if he feels this is unwarranted then delegate the situation to someone reliable. Phrase it in exactly that manner."

Immediately the technician began to relay the information through sattelite link, verbatim as the director required, to T2M on Talaud Island. Thorn would still back them as required and the subtle question concerning his reliability would goad him into performing this one by the numbers. He still wasn't disaffected enough to quit over a simple question of procedures and...

"What aren't you telling me?" asked Pax quietly, interrupting his train of thought.

Ozaki turned and looked upward, meeting the quantum powered giant's eyes. Carefully he kept his face blank and waited to see what was on the honorary director's mind. When he realized Ozaki wasn't going to speak first, Pax smiled, the expression creasing his slightly glossy skin. It was not a pleasant smile.

"CASSANDRA. Utopia's special think tank of prognosticators and mathematicians," began the head of the T2M assets workdwide quietly. "The key to mapping a better tomorrow. They identify the unproductive social trends and map the human condition possibilities. The PR even hints that they have precogs on staff to peer into the future and see catastrophe's about to happen. T2M Asia thinks it scares the shit out of the Triads."

"Your point, Shelby" replied Osaki using the big man's birth name deliberately. Where was he going with this?

"There are no novas assigned to CASSANDRA."

Oh. Pax's smile actually became larger though it still didn't touch his eyes. In retrospect it was obvious; Ceastus Pax as director of T2M had access to all the nova records including Rashoud Clinic records, with the noted exception of Proteus dossiers. And even those personnel knowingly working with Proteus had vanilla bland cover records in place. No novas assigned to CASSANDRA meant no CASSANDRA. Not bad Farmer Brown, not bad at all.

Ozaki had achieved his position in part by a quality of efficiency in operations, effectiveness in adverse situation, and being able to make decisions quickly. In this moment he made the decision and took Pax one step higher in the Proteus ranks. Thetis was going to be pissed but she would see the necessity. And of course Pax would be an accomplice after the fact which would insure his loyalty in a manner that even psyche profiles can't be trusted for. Now all he had to do was sell it to the farm boy.

"What's the greatest threat to Utopia today," Ozaki replied.

"The Teragen..." Pax began.

"Fuck the Teragen," Ozaki hissed. One of the techs turned to look then quickly turned away as she met his glare. "Aside from Divas Mal," he said in a low voice, forcing the nova to lean in closer to hear him, "the Teragen are an assembly of loosely affiliated imbeciles that can't decide whether they want to be gods or drop to their knees and give oral sex to one."

"He's not a god," was Pax's answer.

"No more so than you are, right? That's not the point. The point is that they're less than a hundred novas all told and that counts the hanger-ons and the poseurs. Those wll be the first to drop away when the shit starts getting ugly. A core cadre of maybe 25 or 30 that'll stand strong and none of them are even within sight of your levels. Your T2M units could smash them without hesitations, and if careful, without casualties."

Ozaki thought he was hitting the stride just right, appealing to Shelby's pride without becoming obsequious. "The only thing that keeps us from ripping them apart once and for all is that we're running around swatting at a thousand different problems and unable to focus effectively with the resources at our disposal."

"So we're going to ignore them? Pretend they're not there? What kind of plan is THAT," Ceastus Pax's voice rose to a rumble in disagreement.

Ozaki actually smiled knowing that he had the hook in place but still needed to reel the big fish in. He continued, "No, we deal with the vermin that are bleeding us dry of resources. Devries employes thousands of novas in thousands of fields. You heard the reports just last month, remember? Elites are only the tip of the iceberg. They are the second largest organization of novas on the planet and they are in direct competition with Utopia for the most rare of precious resources. They steal your novas from your teams, your support personnel, your doctors and trainers from your Rashoud Clinics and for what? Money."

Ozaki's face took on a sad cast as he continued, "Anna Devries doesn't give a damn about the future. She's pissing it away in Africa every day with every contracted killer she sends there and pays them a million dollars to slaughter innocents. Children. Mothers. Can't you see what kind of a world they'd create if they had free reign? How can you not remember what they did to Hiram Goldberg? What Pursuer tried to do to you. If he had suceeded, who would have led the charge against the cartels? Who would have smashed those cocaine factories? They tried to take the premier nova of the world away from a world that needs him. Do you think it was an accident that they sent their best against you and tried to take you down a little at a time. They were planning to kill you!"

Ozaki saw the righteous anger growing in Shelby's eyes and knew he had the shit kicker just where he wanted him. Now, to close the deal.

"Mal is one nova. What could you do if you had a task force of thousands of novas? With you as a general and the backing of a unified world behind you all the way how long until you took him down like a rabid dog? Wore him down the way Anna Devries tried to do to you and failed. It's not only about power, Pax," here Ozaki used his nova name carefully. "It's also about what's right. It's about doing the right thing no matter what. Doing what needs to be done. The world believes in you. Utopia believes in you. Be the man the world needs you to be to make it a better place."

Shelby was nodding thoughtfully and Ozaki kept his smile warm and respectful. He wanted to spin it just a little more but instinct told him that he had him right on the cusp. Too much of a push, even a by a hair, could send the nova spinning off in the wrong direction and so he waited. Waited for Shelby to work it through in his own mind and come to the conclusions presented as if they were his own.

"Okay. I can see that this is best for Utopia." Shelby was looking downward with humility as if he were on camera. Which he was but of course he didn't know that. "Should we be using a mental moron on so sensitive a mission? Maria Sanchez is a poor tool..."

"Maria Sanchez has less wit than even a child, true" responded Ozaki. "But she has been trained to be used as both a scapel and as a hammer. We have, how much time left?"

"Twenty-six minutes, Director" responded the technician.

"Twenty-six minutes left for a surgical procedure. If within that time, plus or minus ten minutes, she can't complete the primary mission on one of her three targets then she goes to hammer mode and the Tempus Fugit personality comes out. The Pomme d'Orre ceases to be a problem and the rescue teams are dispatched immediately to render aid. Sadly, the survivors we rescue will have stories of debauchery, rampant drug addictions and unstable personalities pushed to extremes in order to meet the goals of the Machiavellian Anna Devries. It is sad, but of course we did try to warn the world. When the news service independently 'discover' the connection between Pandemonium Productions as the suppliers of the Soma the Elites were high on when they went out of control it will only be a matter of time. A few days, a couple of weeks perhaps, and then the world will discover the hidden connection between Anna Devries and the Teragen. Her sins will become theirs."

"We have thought of everything it appears," announced Ceastus Pax standing legs wide and hands on hips.

'We? Yes, we have thought have thought of everything. Except to question how a temporal manipulator with only half a brain could destroy a cruise ship,' thought Ozaki. 'But if the premier nova on the planet doesn't say fusion device then that's well too.'

Staring at Ceastus Pax's posing backside reminded Ozaki again why he thought it sucked to be in charge.


The woman born Maria Sanchez stood with her back against the wall and watched the man approach through slitted eyes. Within her mind Tempus Fugit snarled like a caged animal and stalked angrily. Demanding release. Freedom. Blood. The flush of her face was crimson and her eyes were dilated completely open making soft brown eyes appeared black and crazed. She didn't feel anything at all; beyond the gathering rage deep inside. It wasnt time yet but the bonds holding Tempus were fraying rapidly and she was close to not caring about anything. When he touched her...

There was movement behind him and then someone forcibly turned the man sidewise and edged into the narrow space with them. She shook her head trying to clear it. It was a woman, one that she thought should be familiar but it was so difficult to think. Her head was pounding as if a hammer were striking in the center of her brain over and over with each beat of her heart.

"Hey, gwailo! D'ya fancy my girlfriend or just trying for a quick one?" said the newcomer. She had pressed the man up against the bar with her body and slowly rotated her hips grinding herself against him.

"Merde!" gasped her stalker in wonderment. "You are together, yes?"

"Yeah, sweetie. D'ya fancy us?"

She noticed the red heads voice was soft almost like music to listen to. Her words were lightly accented with traces of another language that she should have known, her training convered the major tongues of the world, but she couldn't quite bring it into focus. Her voice was pleasant though and it cooled the anger as a soothing feeling came over her slowly. Tempus still lashed but the snarling was becoming distant and she watched fascinated as the woman continued to rotate her hips sinuously.

"Oui, I mean, yes. Yes, I do fancy you," the man chattered stupidly.

Couldn't he hear this woman's voice?

"Well," said the woman, "If you fancy us then I am certain you would not wish us to get in trouble with our boss lady. Doing something in public, yes??"

She was slowly shifting positions with the man until she stood within the narrow gap between he and Maria. As she finished her question she stepped slightly back and reached out to cup the man's groin. Massaging gently.

"I... I would not think Ms Devries would mind so very much. But... but if you would prefer...," he stammered witlessly excited.

Maria watched with growing interest as the woman's hand gripped his sensitive region with electric blue nails and her hand flexed hard, drawing a gasp of pain from the brute. She appeared to be small, smaller than herself, but the grip she held exerted a pressure which was apparently very strong. He moved as if to grab her wrists and she tightened her grip while lifting, so that he had to stand on the tips of his toes to keep her nails from digging deeper. Without the rage to sustain her focus she even giggled at the sight, which seemd to cause the man greater discomfort.

"I think the boss would mind very much, gwailo. Perhaps, consider it a damper on her party. When I rip this off, I mean," the red head said smiling cheerily.


When the party DJ joined the scene, Totentanz kicked again and his other spear shot into his hand. After several moments of quiet observation he could see that the second woman, a red head with a faintly oriental cast to her eyes, was engaged in some sort of tittilation with the guest. The man's body partially blocked his view but she was smiling happily and he seemed to be responding to her ministrations.

After perhaps a minute the guest nodded his head slightly and then slowly backed away. Unusual behavior and even some of the other quests seemed to be staring at the scene. He gripped his spears tightly and stood ready.

Then the red head made a gesture with her right hand, indicating the departing guest, and held her hand up to the other guests with the thumb and index finger perhaps an inch apart and shaking her head. The men watching looked at the retreating man and then began laughing uproariously though it took Klaus few moments longer to comprehend the joke.

As it dawned on him what she was signaling he sneered in contempt at the debauched weaklings. When the red head placed her hand on the Hispanic woman's shoulders his disgust reached new heights and he tuned away from the scene. Placing his spears back on the deck he resumed his vigilance. There was nothing of interest to him below.


"Is there anything else I can do for you, Tian Xin?" asked the red head laughing.

"My name isn't...," she answered haltingly.

"Tian Xin. That means sweetheart, pretty one," replied her rescuer.

This woman had a wonderful voice and an infectious laugh that made the hispanic woman smile. She was confused but felt oddly bouyed by a peaceful tranquility enveloping her. Like being carried in a gossamer cloud to the heavens. Where had that thought come from? It didn't feel like the training but... She felt...

Yes, that was what was wrong. She felt. It was a pleasant sensation, though hard to think while it enshrouded her.

"I'm thirsty."

"I'm Bai Hsi, Thirsty. D'yr mama have a sense of humor?"

The darker woman started to giggle at this and the red head smiled wide and friendly with laughter dancing in her green eyes as well as on her tongue.

"It means Pale Mouse. But you are thirsty, yes."

Smiling the darker woman nodded and Mouse reached over the top of the bar to fetch a bottle of water. With a flick of her wrist, electric colored nails snapped the metal seal and she upended the container into her own mouth first. Then she pulled the darker woman to her and pressed her lips to her parched ones.

The scent of cinnamon and lemon washed over Maria as the cool liquid poured into her mouth from Mouse's. There was the strangest tingling sensation and a hint of medicine. When the world spun and tried to throw her off into space it was only with Mouse's help that she kept her feet at all.

"Where are we going," she murmured as she felt Mouse guide her into the ship.

"Where you can thank me properly for defending your honor, Tian Xin."

Something about this struck her as funny beyond belief and she couldn't stop giggling the entire walk to Mouse's room.

[ 12-11-2001: Message edited by: Wizard ]

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Act III of III

There was little trouble reaching the ships cabin assigned to Bai Hsi. Only the baseline crew and caterers walked the passages of the Pomme d'Orre leading down to the holds where she resided. And as one, each of them would cease whatever activities caused them to scurry in nearly mechanical precision to immediately attempt blending into the background at the sight of the pair. That their skill in such concealment was high, commensurate with the pay offered by Anna Devries', was in part the reason for the pair passing undisturbed.

The other part was the reputation of the smaller woman. As told by one of the stewards, a old profane from Romania whose perchance for gossip might yet be the cause his dismissal, this woman was something other than she seemed. Late in the evenings, after the long days work required to prepare a vessel such as this, and generous drinks, he would tell stories accumulated from years of service to the Devries family. When the name Bai Hsi was added to the roster at the last minute he was unusually silent for nearly the entire night. Then, in a soft voice utterly unlike his usual demeanor, he began to talk of odd things. Of her last few lovers whose ends reeked of mystery and... Something more.

In that hushed voice he spoke his tales; of the three Triad lieutenants vanished before the dawn, never to be seen again, after a night in her company. Only the fact that witnesses reported them leaving her hotel room kept her unengaged with the Hong Kong police. There had been hints, unproven, of darker reasons for the Triads staying aloof of the matter. Another, a nova, renowned for his savagery on the killing field, disappeared for a week after meeting her in a popular club. He had returned skeletally gaunt and made his way to nearest Buddhist temple, from where he refused to depart again. Or talk of what had caused him to seek such refuge in the first place. It was said that a smiling pale figure is sometimes seen standing outside that temple, wreathed in the evening mist, only to vanish with the coming dawn.

When the kitchen master had scoffed, laughing at him taking the matter so seriously in a world where legends had come to life, he told one more tale. A man, a nova, apprehended in the Devries compound attempting to secure access to the place where records are kept of all employees. Including those that look like men but are not. Despite the best efforts to persuade the spy, some unusually creative, he had refused to divulge his mission or his employer. Even Ms. Devries failed to persuade him with the resources had her disposal. The came the small woman calling herself Bai Hsi. How she persuaded Anna Devries to allow her to try her wiles against the man is not known. What is known is that, after an evening with this strange woman, the man was willing to tell all that he knew which was much. In exchange for her service, the woman had asked for the spy to be remanded to her for whatever use she chose. He had vanished from the compound that night and was never seen again.

Anna Devries is well known for her unwillingness to suffer fools lightly, so it is not unusual that each of her employees is a consummate professional in the task they were retained to perform. And as they are not fools, while they might scoff openly at the tales of an old man, there is no reason to tempt fate. They stayed out of Bai Hsi way.


As Pale Mouse half carried, half guided her to their destination, the woman who had forgotten Maria Sanchez savored the soothing tranquility permeating her being and sighed gently. There was something so wonderfully engaging about this moment.


"Tian Xin, do you trust me," Mouse had asked, smiling, her body pressed against the taller woman.

There was something very odd about her tone when she asked that question. It provoked a vague sensation, one which touched lightly then vanished into the tranquility radiating from the redhead. Within her befuddled mind a question started to cohere then also vanished, half formed, into the still peacefulness. It was with difficulty that she remembered Mouse was waiting for an answer; then she lowered her lips to the smaller woman's and tasted that laughing mouth for a long moment in reply.

"We will call that a yes," Mouse laughed when the kiss was finished.

There had been none of that almost electric tingling from before but it was pleasant. It was simply nice to touch another person. To feel them touch you and know that they enjoyed it as well. To stand within their fire and simply savor the moment without expectation. She wasn't certain but it seemed as if it had been too long since she had last felt this. Then Mouse had brushed fingertips across her brow, light as a feather, and she heard that musical voice speak within her head. It was surprising yet she was not alarmed in the slightest, only delighted in this new discovery.

"Wait, little one," Mouse sang in her mind. "It gets better."

Then she had reached down and unlocked the door to her stateroom and pushed it open. The darkness waiting within would have frightened Maria Sanchez.


Michael uploaded the software promised by Walt and examined the complexity of it in some consternation. Slightly less than a sparse 700 gigabytes of packed data, binary ones and zeros organized in hexadecimal notation, it baffled him. Despite being far more intelligent than the tiny man that created it, and having access to data stores comprising everything stored within the OpNet, the overall picture was obscure. Entire sections of code seemed superfluous, useless, and yet when he attempted to streamline it even slightly the engine refused to run. He was hesitant to implement something so arcane as to be unfathomable when the lives of friends, and his creator's opinion, were on the line but... But even at the incredible speeds which his thoughts moved, literally shifting quantum states allowing a linear speed only a fraction less than the speed of light, there were a dwindling number of moments remaining to complete his analysis.

Walt refused to answer his questions and had gruffly rebuffed his questions and his reasoned attempts at subterfuge. The small man had only replied the AI would understand when he 'finally found his heart'. What the fuck did that mean? Embarrassed and uncertain, Michael had even tried to contact his creator, his father, after deciding that shame was preferable to outright failure. That had been useless; apparently James had already activated the quantum distortion fields they had planned for Costa, which meant no communications. Not until after James' had dealt with the aberration preying on novas and baselines alike.

Endless calculations and simulations followed, sufficient to use half the paper in existence if they had been written. And still Michael was no closer to arriving at a rational basis for his making a choice in this matter. Yes, James had told him to keep the timeline but he had also implied that any decisions were to be made were by Michael and were entirely at his discretion. And so the machine pondered and thought, simulated and calculated.

In the end, with picoseconds fading into entropy, he had organized the data and realized there were really only two choices to select from. Refuse to chance uncertainty and thereby fail as the timetable fell by the wayside with the ultimate outcome unknown. Or trust the strange little cyber geek Walt and in Wizard's plan, that was so intuitive as to defy rational description or analysis, and thereby arrive at an endstate that was also uncertain. At last Michael found himself poised on the moment with nothing to go on but that faint hope that everyone's trust was well founded. With a thought, he activated the OpNet link and began the encrypted command pulses directing the pirated array. It had begun.

"It sucked to be in charge," Michael thought, unknowingly mirroring the assessment of a Proteus operative half a world away. Then his considerable intellect was bent to the task at hand.



"How are we suppose to know if she's succeeded," demanded Pax spinning to face the smaller man.

Outwardly, Ozaki's face was calm but this new development caused his guts to twist. "Pax, this plan comes from the very top and everything has been..."

Pax wasn't even listening and continued, "We only have a satellite overview of the exterior. You said the 'event' was to happen in a private meeting with Anna Devries. There's no way to know from the after action analysis of the satellite footage what's happened inside the skin of the ship.

"What aren't you telling me," the nova demanded. Again.

For only a moment Ozaki actually considered admitting to the presence of the fusion device, then immediately discarded the idea as preposterous. To expose Shelby to the level of dedication required to work at the upper levels, to bring him into this fully without having prepared him to see the necessity first, would be stupidity. The moment stretched uncomfortably long but he put a confident smile on his face and opened his mouth to speak. To say something, anything, when events intervened.

"We're losing satellite tracking," announced the technician excitedly.

"Well get it back, dammit!" Caestus Pax's voice very nearly shook the room with his anger.

The overview of the Pomme d'Orre was rapidly dissolved into snow filled static as their window on the operation closed.


Using the DARPA ground arrays designed to locate and track tiny objects at planetary distances, Michael had found the black Proteus satellite and attacked with frightening efficiency. Like a thing alive the data fought against him but the tiny creature was hopelessly outclassed. Using With broad swathes of low spectrum energies alternated with surgically precise blows of much higher spectrum pulses, he battered at its armor shell with determination. Each time it staggered, tried to evade his attacks by shifting codes and encryption schemes or alternating its reception frequencies, he scorched it the low bandwidth energies and until at last it screamed. It tried to suicide, rather than be taken intact, but Michael anticipated that response. Typical Proteus mission criteria, and stayed its desire with a intense microwaves. The processors were momentarily befuddled as entire switching layers were overloaded and then he destroyed the trigger mechanism in a burst of subliminated heat heat. There was still a secondary desturct but that was not within the volition of the satellites processors to activate.

He won.

The fight had been viciously short. Now, within the quantum realm of his thoughts Michael held the tiny sphere in his hands; the data representation of the satellite and cracked its shell like a man readying a seafood meal. It was his. With a flick of data representational wrists he twisted the shell and drew pieces apart to reveal the inner workings plainly. Specifications, encoding schemes, transmit and receive capabilities; this tool was his! Efficiently he digested the new information and then carefully placed Walt's software package in the core of the processing system. Exactly as the nova cybergeek had specified and then rebooted the processors.


"Satellite link reestablished," reported the technician with a sigh of relief. Pax had very nearly deafened her with his constant and high volume barrage of useless orders. You would think that a being capable in so many other areas would have taken the time to learn something of the technology on which Utopia, and Proteus, depended. Then again, perhaps it wasn't really so amazing. Most novas tended to respond with greater displays of prowess and strength in the areas where they already possessed such qualities in abundance.

Ozaki was busily assessing the quality of the link, running test transmissions sequences. The bomb was well hidden but it was triggered only by 'on demand' and highly complex code to be transmitted only very specific frequencies and only within a very short window of opportunity measured by a built-in cesium decay clock. If they lost transmit capability at the right time, even for a very short time of only twenty minutes then this entire operation was a scrub. Much as he believed in the overall necessity of Proteus, and its watching the watchmen mentality, he was reminded that this was not his plan or one that he was comfortable with. Would he be dismayed if the entire operation went south?

"These responses are less than 30% optimum," Ozaki announced. Then turning to the technicians operating the system he asked, "Where is the degradation coming from?"

"Uncertain, Director. We seem to have a clear data path and we're getting the correct handshakes from the sky but there's a delay in the transmit/receive responses. It's as if our data pipe dropped in bandwidth to a fraction of the design specification but I can't find anything wrong on the satellite end."

"Begin system checks. Start with the transmitters and work back all the way to the electrical power if you have to but I want to know what just happened. What's still happening."

"Negative," Pax stated. "We've got a mission in progress and in case its escaped our attention; we've got fourteen minutes remaining. Ignore the degradation and continue the operation."

While Pax and Ozaki argued, one understanding nothing about the true character of the mission while the other understood far too much, the gradual slowing of the systems continued. Moment by moment the available bandwidth shrank ever so slightly. Proteus computers, which were normally inaccessible to the outside world and never connected to the OpNet, were slowly bled dry as the information contained was transmitted to the new double-agent high in the sky.


Mouse guided the woman blinded by the darkness to the bed and gently eased her into a sitting position before she kissed her on the forehead.

"What... Are we doing here," she asked hesitantly. An edgy feeling was making itself felt beneath the dark pool which absorbed her thoughts. From its depths rose a name for this sensation and it refused to sink completely back into the depths of the stillness though she tried to brush it away. Fear.

"Just getting this party started," sang Mouse's laughing voice in her thoughts. "Just a few more preparations to make. Sit tight for a minute and let me get ready."

In the stygian darkness flashes of lights appeared from Mouse's wrist remote as she tapped out a long series of sequences and relayed commands to the equipment still up on deck. A series of circuits activated the special modulator hidden deep in the big speakers, which began to pulse in time with the brand new beat. Similar in design to the acoustic conditioners used by the Terr'r bands, this one had a subtly different purpose and the effects were more gradual. Over time inhibitions would become less powerful and the momentary impulses normally stifled by the conscious mind would slip loose to play. That party was going to a whole level.

The Bai Hsi pulled her wrist remote off and tossed it away into the darkness, extinguishing even those tiny lights. For a moment the world of darkness that surrounded her seemed to spin again. Only the distant beat of the music, more felt than heard, provided any sensation outside her own body. Then she heard the sound of fabric against skin and watched raptly as a luminescent green glow appeared. Mouse had shrugged off the liquid black body suit and underneath was... Across the smaller woman's body was an enormous dragon tattoo glowing with garish color.

Amazed the larger woman examined it as Mouse posed for her then slowly turned so that she could take it all in. An oriental style dragon, the very tip of it's tail rested lightly across the woman's delicate left foot and slowly climbed it's way up her leg, winding around several times, before disappearing behind her. As she turned her body to provide an unobstructed view of a length of the serpent resting on her buttock then continuing the ascent to wrap over her right shoulder and around the arm before jogging back across her back and sliding over her left shoulder. It slid between her small breasts and, as she moved her arms, the grinning head was revealed resting on her lower abdomen resting just above her pelvis. Mouse ceased her posing and walked to the bed sinuously. She pushed her down on the bed and climbed atop her to rest sitting, straddling, her across the chest. When the dragon head shifted, its jet black eyes peering directly into her own, all doubt disappeared. She was afraid.

"Time to feed the beast, Baby," Mouse's thoughts laughed.


The downloaded data began to arrive at his processors and Michael keyed in the proper command sequence for the next step and began to assess the data coming to him. James would be proud of him. He hadn't screwed up.


"Don't you feed me that load of bullshit," screamed Pax inches from his face. "You brought me into this shit storm and now you want me to play the good little trooper and follow orders on your say so? Fuck that! I didn't work my ass off for the last five years to watch everything go down the toilet because somebody gets a wild hair..."

"Pax you need to calm yourself," Ozaki said for the twelfth time in as many minutes.

"... and decides they need a high viz solution to all the problems of the world. Half of them caused by morons that couldn't find..."

"Director? Uh, I think I found the problem," said one of the technicians tactfully.

Ozaki ignored her and continued trying to calm the angry nova by saying, " I agree. Really but you need to..."

"...their ass with both hands and still expect me to get up every morning..."

"...see the big picture and take into account..."

"Sirs? Excuse me?"

"... and wipe the mess off smiling when they forgot..."

"... that this has been factored in and in fact..."


"... to take even a moment..."

"...there are contingency plans..."


Both of them whirled to blast the insubordinate technician, who immediately cringed as their wrathful glare turned full on her. Then they realized she was pointing at the main display and their jaws dropped open at the sight of the image displayed. In full color was the legend:



- YES -



Ozaki managed to slap the secondary satellite self destruct a microsecond before Caestus Pax blasted the local server to atomic dust.


Mouse's voice spoke to her, and her thoughts echoed in her mind as well, but the messages were different somehow. The music in her mind tried to sooth the mounting fear, coming she recognized now from Tempus Fugit, while the voice demanded attention. Ordered her to watch and see. To remember. The glowing dragon slide across Mouse's skin continuously, distracting her, faster and faster. As she watched it began to chase it's tail over the surface of the woman's skin and until it was a blur of greenish yellow color and the motion centered just below the smaller woman's breasts. When she tried to look away Mouse grasped her by the hair and slowly but inexorably pulled her eyes back to watch the motion.

The soothing tranquility was gone but there was a powerful sensation of being drawn down deep into darkness. And then Mouse was in her mind entirely.


A woman emerged from the fogbank shrouding the end of the street and looked carefully over her new environment. Prosaic as such things went, it was only a darkened street in some large city. Only two people were in view, though the sounds of voices arguing were coming distantly from one of the buildings to her right. Ahead, about half way down the block on the left was a woman trapped in a lighted phone booth and hammering on the glass to shake the door open. The harsh electric style lights in the booth made the blue, white and gold of her T2M uniform flash as she moved. When she saw the newcomer she stopped her efforts to free herself and snarled menacingly.

Pale Mouse smiled brightly and flipped her the finger. This was Tempus Fugit accounted for.

To her right was a small child asleep on the doorstep of a large brownstone building. Inside she could hear the voices clearly now, arguing about what to do and quoting contingency regulations. They would have to be dealt with first. Pausing only long enough to pat the sleeping child's dark brown tresses, she entered the building.

"What a dump," Mouse murmured to herself. A powerful telepath would have dozens of options right now but then a powerful telepath would probably miss the point of what had to be done here. Beside, you played the cards you dealt and that meant it was definitely time for a little redecoration with just a touch of style. Enough of this low key style. Quantum fires kept deliberately banked were allowed to grow and the building interior shimmered into unreality and mist before becoming something else. Someplace else. She was in a club now and a hyper funk ultra-frenetic electronic beat was hammering at the walls. Ahead, past the dancers and clubbers that now filled the cavernous room, was a circular table around which sixteen people sat and argued animatedly. As the shift in venue sank in they fell silent for a moment, transfixed by the new scenery.

Yeah, these were bitches she had come for.

At the head of the table sat the tactical personality; assessing the new environment and to determine what it boded to their circumstance. The original mission parameters were null at this point even with minutes remaining before the deadline. Fractured into seperate components, all routes to the core drives severed by chemicals, survival became the overriding imperative.

To her right was the technologist and to the left was the strategist. She listened to their abstract arguements start again while maintaining situational awareness of the surroundings. Searching for a handle, a way to approach this difficulty from outside the programmed parameters of the training. Left swept her eyes; seeing nothing but the phantom dancers gyrating to the beat hammering the room. Right swept her eyes; and she noticed the redhead standing at the opposite end of the table. Smiling. She took in the long black duster, the violet tinted sunglasses. There wasn't even time to warn to others before the woman drew her weapons and began firing.

Less than a minute later, Pale Mouse exited the club as she dropped her weapons. These wouldn't be needed now. Stopping by the small child she stooped to pick the little girl up and then stood regarding the street. It took her only a moment to realized the telephone booth was smashed open and no one stood within its frame.

"This is so not good," she said aloud. She couldn't have proceeded with the next step until the constructs were out of the way but now she had to contend with a rogue personality running amok within as well as without. Holding the little girl she deliberately split her attention between the two environments and made ready to take this fight to separate fronts.


Her eyes snapping open, the woman on the bed growled low as Mouse twisted probability her way and the air around her began to harden and thicken. Just in time for the two fisted blow the knocked her straight off the bed and into the dresser, smashing it completely with the force of the impact. Her opponent gathered herself snarling and stalked the room towards her.

"D'ya think you can win," Mouse mocked her, goading her. "You're a figment of imagination. An over dressed sense of aggression. Besides you're fat and slow. No wonder you could never get a date in high school."

"K...ill yoo," rasped the woman. "D... ed!" And then she leaped.

And slammed into the quantum hardened air in front of Mouse. The wall took the initial impact of the leap but Tempus still penetrated and managed to get her hands around Mouse's throat. Struggling to break the insanely strong grip, Mouse beat hard at her arms while trying not to actually break bone. Their strengths were close but then neither of them were especially well protected either. She could last a long time without air but Tempus would eventually realize that; and just snap her neck or crush her windpipe. Time to turn up the heat. She grabbed the sensitive spot dangling in front of her and twisted hard. Tempus screamed in pain.


Within the mindscape Mouse realized that main problem was that the city street was too generic, probably on purpose. Close enough to home to feel comfortable but not enough to actually bring the memories into focus. Pity for Tempus she actually knew this city, had studied it for days before beginning her last major project.

At her will, and molded by quantum forces radiating out from her, the street rippled and clouded before suddenly reforming into a full scale metropolis. The city of San Paulo grew around her and despite the resistance of the mind hosting the scene it took shape. Mouse should have been at a serious disadvantage here but Tempus was completely unaware of her own nature or past. That translated into weakness. She wasn't going to go easily though, if the storms sweeping in from the west were any indications.

Over the howling winds, the child in her arms awoke and wailed.

"Why is she so mean!"

"Beats me, sweetie," yelled Mouse sprinting towards the center of the city. "Maybe she's just pissed off 'cuz that cute little bubble butt is going to explode like a beach ball the moment she hits thirty. Or the fact that she's nothing more than a piece of meat to her boss."

The winds ceased entirely for just a moment at her words, then returned with near hurricane level force. Ahead of them lightning crashed across skyline and illuminated the cityscape with an explosion of harsh light. The child in her arms whimpered like a wet kitten but Mouse smiled; she knew she had Tempus' attention now. And that she was beginning to process coherent thought instead of reacting only from rage. This was the most dangerous time to be baiting her, while she was developing the wit to understand and formulate actions to respond. Time to take this to the next level and start pushing on multiple fronts.

"Here's what I need you to do, Tian Xin."

And with that she made the preparations.


In the ships cabin, Mouse made use of the momentary distraction and smashed Tempus with a left hook across the jaw. The bigger woman head snapped back and, as her grip lossened, Mouse flipped her into the wall hard. Climbing to her feet she moved to stand over the groaning Tempus, straddled her, and then reached down to grabbed her by a hunk of long brown hair. Twisiting it around her fist she forced the dazed woman to look directly into her eyes. Empty dark eyes unfocused by the blow, slowly recovered and took in the sight of the laughing red head. Mounting anger flared as she realized Mouse's smile was spreading into a huge grin.

"Who's on top now, bitch?" Mouse jeered.

Tempus grasped at power instinctively and twisted the world to her desires, forcing the universe to shut this loud obnoxious puta up once and for all. Pale Mouse felt the universal clock skip one beat and then another as time began to slow around her. She knew that the moment was coming, that Tempus was trying to stop her and would succeed. Unless, she beat her down first. She needed only to distract her, if only for a second... Ah!

"How did it feel, bitch? To have them run their hands up and down that body," she forced out slowly. "Copping a feel while you drooled over yourself and waited for the next bowel movement to stain the sheets. Did it feel good? Were you into it? Was it fun to watch your friends turn away horrified? To become the meat your always thought you were?"

The field of slowing time fell away and Tempus reached for her. Mouse shot hot quantum power into the psychic link they shared and then dropped awareness of her physical presence entirely as she rode the power into the other woman's brain. In the shifting confusion she snatched at Tempus' still fragmented awareness and dragger her along.


Tempus found herself rolling across the warm pavement, clawing at an opponent that was no longer there. Shakily she rose and peered around, nearly blinded by the bright sunshine, and heard the murmur of the crowds in the plaza. Staring at her and pointing, whispering, shocked at her state of undress. Then she saw the redheaded laughing bitch standing there with a little girl.

"Too late," Mouse said a little sadly. Then, picking the child up with one arm, she threw her underhanded at Tempus like a ball and watched. With terrifying speed the temporal manipulator slowed time and then leaped to catch the little one before she could strike the pavement. Battling this creature in the realm of her own mind would be near suicidal but, luckily,that was unnecessary. Mouse had seen the look of concern in Tempus's eyes and that was the confirmation she needed. The battle was over. Now, she just had to explain it to Tempus.

"Now you die," growled Tempus holding the little girl tightly, protectively.

"You first, sweetie," said Mouse, holding a remote control with a single red button aloft in her right hand. "Say goodbye to all the monsters, Tian Xin. Don't forget to call them stupid."

"Goodbye you stupid monsters," the little girl whispered into the Tempus' ear.

From the look in her eyes, the sudden panic, it was obvious Tempus knew what came next. Bai Hsi had a reputation as a coldly efficient being, indifferent to the concerns or cares of others as she went managed her affairs. Even a woman of such a reputation could not help but hear the anguish as the woman called Tempus tried to twist reality to a standstill. To use her not inconsiderable powers to stop what was coming.

She failed.

The city of San Paolo Brazil died again in light and fire as the sun kissed the ground.


Stepping from the shower, the redhead dried herself off slowly. Gone was the makeup that created and accentuated the slope of her eyes as well as rendering her skin a light golden saffron color. The full body dragon tattoo was likewise gone, though Michael had insisted that Jager would be interested in seeing it. Somehow, she thought it wasn't Jager that was interested, but you never knew. She might introduce him to Pale Mouse sometime. As a reward for his assistance she, or rather Pale Mouse had consented to posing for Michael in a for several snapshots. She, Wizard not Mouse, had even assisted him in selecting those that were esthetically pleasing. He seemed satisfied with the arrangement.

Mouse was gone, put away for another day, and there was only Wizard left now. Oddly, Michael seemed less hesitant to speak with her than when she had worn Mouse's face and spoken with her voice. Something about Mouse appeared to disconcert the AI.

"I understand how you weakened the training they inflicted on Maria Sanchez by dosing her with di-methyl sulfoxide and moxaquantamine, but how did a shared hallucination reintegrate her personality?"

Wizard smiled warming, "I was transmuting far more than just those two chemicals. But in answer to your question; people are the sums of all the memories they choose to incorporate, either consciously or subconsciously. I didn't actually do anything except remind Maria of who she was. Everything else was just preparation for that moment."

"But why in the manner you chose," asked Michael confused. "The people killed in the club, the insults, the..."

"One at a time, sweetie," she cautioned. "Each of these events was a... Call it a goad, to the mind that resided in that head. Eliminating the constructs denied her the outlet of her core drives, gave her no way to express them through that abominable training. She had to take them back into herself, which allowed Tempus to become self aware. I was actually anticipating that just not so quickly. The insults, even when I was just trying to stay alive, had to do with doubts and negative feelings that are a part of her psyche like everyone else."

"And recreating the destruction of San Paolo to kill the Tempus construct?"

"Tempus wasn't a construct and I didn't kill anyone. I realized that when I saw her on the street, trapped, but away from the constructs. I would surmise Proteus is still operating under a very technological paradigm and couldn't figure out how take seperate the power from the persona. How to place it under the control of one of their little puppets. So, in a very mechnistic fashion they split the original personality into pieces. Most of Maria existed solely in the subconscious represented by the little girl that watched a city die. The rest of her was the anger and fear that triggered her eruption to when the fusion bomb went off. Call it an externalized variety of survivor's guilt."

"The most powerful moment of most of our lives, especially for those of us that erupt under violent circumstances, is that moment and what leads up to it. In a sliver of time too small to measure we become something more than ourselves. A part of the greater universe and a free ticket to pick and choose out of an infinite toy box of goodies. I forced Maria Sanchez back to that moment because... The little girl couldn't survive and that meant death of the mind. Tempus couldn't survive, it was that little girl that erupted trying to make a horrible thing stop, not her. It was only between the two of them that they could survive that experience. As they did before."

"How did you survive," he asked curiously.

"It was only a memory, Michael, not the real thing. A memory she will carry with her all her life in one form or another, but only a memory. I was never in any danger from that."

"Do you think she will return to Utopia? Afterall they did to her?" Michael said.

Wizard laughed aloud and said, "You're building a dossier on her, aren't you? Maria Sanchez will do whatever she chooses to do and that is enough. Whether she works with the Utopian's, the Terragen or Devries is a question for her not me. She's not a resource, Michael. Don't treat her like one, please. Otherwise you're no better than the people that did that to her to begin with."

"May I ask one last question?"

"Always, Michael. Though if it has to do with sex or relationships I'm going to refer you back to your father."

"What really happened in Oregon? What shattered Maria Sanchez's mind like a piece of glass? How did you escape unscathed?"

For a long moment the woman called Wizard was silent, then, "What data did you get from Proteus?"

"Most of it is heavily encrypted and will take a great deal of time before..."

"In other words; you won't tell me until James confirms it need not be kept secret. Yes? You can keep a secret for a good reason, Michael. So can I."

"If anyone asks," she said dressing, "I'm going away to see a friend. I'll be out of touch but after the fiasco with Costa... I think we need time to purge that drek out of our systems. Speaking of which, how is James?"

"Still quiet. Still sitting in the arboretum. Still not talking."

"Stay with him, Michael. You're a good son and the first one he'll want to talk with when he's ready."

And then she was gone.

[ 01-09-2002: Message edited by: Wizard ]

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