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[Fiction] Extras


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For every nova's story, there are a million others.

This is one of them.

* * *

Ben Davis sat by the window, drinking a cup of coffee and staring out at San Francisco Bay. He tapped a pen idly on his leg, and reviewed security for the millionth time.

"Something bothering you, sir?" came a voice from the hotel room's sole chair. Davis looked over at its occupant, Donald Ericson, a young man with blonde buzzcut hair, brown eyes, and a remote control in one hand that he'd just used to turn off the Nathan Black show.

"It's nothing, Agent Ericson."

"It's something. C'mon."

Davis sighed. He was in his mid-thirties, so he could get a good sigh going. He was of African descent, with a buzzcut and a goatee that he grew to cover the scar on his chin. "We should have moved yesterday."

"You think we've been made?"

"No. I just want to make sure we haven't been made." Davis looked over on the bed at its occupant, a young man who couldn't be far out of high school who was sleeping. "They still haven't announced the arrest after a week. I'm getting worried."

"They're just getting their ducks in a row. You know how Utopia's legal department can be."

"Yeah, I know." Davis squeezed the pen in his fingers, uncomfortable memories resurfacing. Memories of solid charges evaporating like rubbing alcohol against a barrage of carefully chosen paperwork. "Wish we could get an update."

"Me too." Ericson rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Poor guy's been through enough. Dragging this out's bad for the case, bad for the witness... just plain bad. Why'd they switch the IntCell from Sesame to Holiday?"

"If I had to guess - and I do - something Titan-class came up that needed a specialist in Sesame."


"Yep. Haven't see anything about it, so no idea what it could be. Just have to hope that it gets handled."


"How long before we get to wake up Richards and Clarke?"

"Two hours," said Eric, looking over at the wall. At the next hotel room over, Rachel Richards and Zachary Clarke, the other two agents in the hunter team, were catching some sleep. It was a rule - two people awake and with the witness at all times, in circumstances like these. All of them were armed. None of them were sure they were armed well enough.

Davis turned back to the window, and Eric flipped open his phone. He reviewed the briefing they'd received from Directive C3I.

Top Secret

Assigned Cell: OpCell Codename Bulldog

Operation Screwdriver

Objective in Brief: The safeguard of one Noah Smalls until the arrest of Lily Styles

Timeframe: Ongoing, Further Updates Pending

Briefing: The baseline subject Noah Smalls is the ex-boyfriend of nova Lily Styles. (See attached files SCREWDRIVER-H1 and N1.) Witness statements given to legal authorities indicate this relationship has recently become abusive. Smalls also claims that Lily Styles is guilty of the homicide of one Stuart Fitzgerald, an accountant for McDougal & Hunt Accounting, Ltd. Motive for homicide, according to Smalls, is related to a monetary dispute. (See attachment SCREWDRIVER-F1)

Lily Styles has disappeared. Best efforts are being made to track her. Until such time as she is detained and arrested, Operation Screwdriver is in effect. Its goal is the safeguarding of Noah Smalls from any harm, up to and including the Titan-class threat Lily Styles.

Lily Styles is codenamed Sister Siege. A full summary of extranormal abilities is included in SCREWDRIVER-N1. In brief, she is a telekinetic, able to fly, move objects with her mind and project a 'force field' around herself. Conventional weapons will be useless while this force field is up. The Hunter OpCell in question is authorized to carry and use the following weapons:

(2) Canisters of Eufiber Neutralizing Agent

(1) 'Banshee' sonic rifle

(1) CF-12 Mark 2 Man-Portable Assault Laser (MANPAL)

In the event of other threats to the subject, OpCell Bulldog is authorized to draw conventional arms.

C3I recommends rotating locations and security detail. IntCell Sesame will keep Bulldog appraised of all updates (UPDATED: See attached file SCREWDRIVER-F4.)

Good luck and good hunting.


Ericson turned off the phone and tucked it back in his pocket. "You read the report on how they found the body?"

"They thought it was a freak accident at first. Someone's head pops right off their body, no signs of it being touched. Not how I want to go out."

Agent Ericson nodded. "Not how I want to go out either."

"You were training at the City when Stephen Klein made his run for it, weren't you?"

Ericson blinked, and looked at Davis. Davis smiled. "I do my homework. Were you there?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I was there. They told me not to talk about it- "

"They tell everyone that. Word still gets around, even in this organization."

"I didn't see any of it. I just heard rumors. I didn't know it was Klein until after the fact. It wasn't like I expected. It wasn't this controlled and planned and executed takedown, it was just a bunch of guys and girls with guns running around, praying that they weren't going to die."

"You still took him down. And now we're all fully trained, and better armed, and we know the subject's coming. This'll be cake. We'll guard Noah Smalls over there - " Davis waved towards the bed. "Until Holiday pulls their thumbs out of their asses and finds Lily Styles, and she's going to go get locked up where Klein used to be. No one's worthy of our fear. They still teach you that?"


"Remember that. No one means no one - "

They were interrupted by the chirp of the ringtones to their phones. Ericson's played the Indiana Jones theme song. Davis' was 'Livin' La Vida Loca.' They pulled them out and checked the screens, which read "Incoming Message: Urgent."

Davis opened the message after letting the phone verify his identity. He paled slightly.














"Ericson," said Davis, his voice level and calm as he used the phone's keys to tap out a response. "Go wake up Richards and Clarke. I'll wake up Smalls. Warm up the van."

"I - I - " Ericson stared at the message on his phone, pale as a sheet. "Jesus, she's coming right for us - "

"Agent, no one means no one." Davis' face hardened. "Go warm up the goddamn van."

* * *

"Oh, God, she's gonna kill us all - "

"No. We're getting you out of here, Mister Smalls. Just take some deep breaths. Put your head between your knees. That's it..."

Agent Rachel Richards, a black-haired woman with a pale complexion and a scar on one eyebrow, had her hand on the back of Noah Smalls, who was sitting along with Ben Davis in the back of the van. To his credit, Agent Ericson had recovered quickly enough, and was driving the van down the freeway with Zach Clarke riding shotgun, a large man with a deep tan and thick hair he grew out to hide the scar on his scalp.

Ben was cradling the Banshee, a dull grey rifle that looked for all the world like a blunderbuss by way of Star Trek. The design amplified the sonic waves that the Banshee focused on its target, which could cause anything from disorientation to pulverized bones. He didn't like relying on it, however. It was touchy. But it beat the hell out of emptying a submachine gun into your target while they laughed.

He kept one eye on the motion tracking suite. It was designed to pick up motion in a large field radius, on the street as well as in the sky. It didn't work too well wen you were doing ninety down a road, but if the target came after them from above it would give them early warning. If it picked them up.

Noah was trying to hold it together. That was good, thought Davis. If things went sour, the fewer unstable elements the better. Richards was doing a good job with him - she'd been a hostage negotiator for the FBI before the Directive had recruited her, and she had a way around her that bled away stress.

A blip showed up on the motion tracker - but then it vanished. David scanned the brief report and concluded it was an LALE flying cruiser.

Davis looked up front. Ericson had one hand on the wheel, the other one resting on the armrest. He watched, and sure enough, Clarke's hand rested next to it. Clarke squeezed Ericson's hand, with a gentility that surprised Davis.

Davis turned back to Richards, who'd noticed it too. Let it go, she mouthed to him.

Davis turned back to the computer. "Let it go." No. No, he was no homophobe - well, not much of one, but he led an examined life and knew there was a little ingrained prejudice in there. No, what Ben Davis couldn't abide was relations between his cell members that were anything other than professional. He'd seen it crash and burn and leave agents useless for months.

Yes, being in a cell was hard on everyone. The only people who understood the pressure you operated under, the ins and outs of the job, the spirit-crushing things you had to do... the only people who understood were the ones you couldn't date. But it didn't matter. They'd be miserable, but alive. He'd take that over happy but dead.

Another blip, the same as before, caught his attention. "Hmm."

"Problem, sir?" Richards spoke up.

"Motion sensor says we have a flying car up there. Probably LALE, but... Ericson, how far to the new locale?"

"About ten minutes, sir."

Davis nodded. The new locale was one he'd secured himself, a hiding hole in the basement of an office complex. After several years in intelligence, you learnt to set things like this up. In the event that you couldn't trust anyone else, you could at least trust yourself. Most of the time, anyway, barring mind control or pheromones or just those novas with perfect bodies who broke your heart with a wink. If it got to that point, where you couldn't even trust yourself... then you were screwed no matter where you went.

He'd have preferred the other one he'd set up in the countryside, but there was no time to get out there. Maybe if hey made it through the night.

The blip showed up a third time, and then there was another blip. A smaller one, close to the cruiser, about the size of a...

"Shit shit possible contact! Seven o'clock at about sixty degrees." Davis lunged for the window, looking up.

There was indeed a car up in the air, and it was indeed flying. But it was a 1996 Buick, and it wasn't supposed to. It was surrounded in a field that rippled and bubbled in the air, as was the woman next to it, a woman with black hair and a perfect physique and unblinking rage in her round, brown eyes.

Davis slipped the earplugs he had round his neck onto his head. "Earplugs, everyone! I say again, earplugs! Confirmed contact. Evasive maneuvers, Ericson. Clarke, get back here and help Richards with the MANPAL - "

Lily Styles pointed. The car flew towards them like a rocket. The motion sensor system wailed. Everyone in the car knew how it felt.

The car didn't hit direct, and that was the only thing that saved them. It collided with the side of the van in a shower of torn metal and glittering glass. The van began to tip on its side...

"Brace brace brace!" Davis barked the order and everyone found something firm to grab onto, even Noah Smalls. The van fell on its left and skidded, the air filled with sparks and the screech of shredded metal. Rachel lost her grip and hit the side of the wall. Ericson was shouting something that Davis couldn't hear through the earplugs. Noah was screaming in terror.

The van whirled around lazily as it lost momentum, like an amusement park ride winding down. Davis steadied himself and popped open the rear door of the van. It hit the ground and bounced as they skidded along, giving him an opening.

He slid out through the opening, prone, rifle in hand, trying to sight the target. Lily Styles hadn't taken evasive maneuvers, and that was just about all that was in their favor. The novas did that often, though not often enough. They weren't used to biting something that bit back.

Indeed, she'd come closer... and suddenly the van began to ripple. Lily was grabbing it, telekinetically, and for a moment Davis' mind was filled with a vision of all the terrible things she could do. Crush it like a tin can. Throw it up in the air a few hundred feet. Maybe toss it out to sea and let them all drown, or take them out one at a time and do what she'd done to Stuart Fitzgerald.

The Banshee had taken a bump. Davis wasn't a religious man, but he offered a quick prayer anyways, that the damned rifle would hold together long enough. He sighted, and fired.

The noise made his teeth ache. He heard shouts from inside the van over the rifle's high pitched whine (too high pitched?) The effects were immediate. Lily Styles looked like she'd been hit in the gut. She tumbled end over end towards the ground.

The rippling field around the van dissipated. Lily Styles hit the ground, and bounced - actually bounced, like a tennis ball. Momentum carried her, and Davis realized that she'd go over the edge. They'd lose her, unless he stayed on her.

"Oh, this is going to hurt."

Davis slid forward out of the still-moving van, hitting the asphalt and rolling along the road. After a few seconds, he stopped. He fought his way to his feet, disoriented, and held the rifle up as he ran towards the edge. His ears were ringing from the din.

He ran to the edge of the stacked freeway, peering over and trying not to throw up from the sudden vertigo. No sign of Lily Styles, so they were still in trouble. He had trouble staying standing, because the ringing just - the ringing -

He looked at the rifle. Its cracked LCD read CRITICAL OVERLOAD ERROR.

He didn't drop it in time.

* * *

" -s? Ric- -thi- -coming ar- "

Davis slowly opened one eye, then the other. He groaned, as he tried to wiggle his fingers and toes to make sure everything was working. He was staring up at a cobwebbed ceiling, laced with PVC pipes.

He tried to sit up, and immediately regretted it, as aches and sharp needles jabbed at him. He looked around, and managed a smile. They were in the safehouse, a basement he rented out in an office complex. Running on emergency generators, yes, little supplies other than service automatics, food, water and emergency hush money, yes, but they were in the safehouse.

He looked over at Clarke, who was looking relieved. " -ome back, sir."

Davis squinted. "What...?"

"I sai - " Clarke's lips moved, but no sound came out. He thought for a moment, then stood up, crossing over to Davis' right side. "Can you hear me now, sir?"


"I have good news and bad news."

"Good news is we made it to the house?"

"Yes, sir. Richards is with Smalls right now. Ericson's doing a perimeter sweep."

"Bad news is..."

"Bad news is you're hurt, sir. Bad. I think you might be deaf in your left ear."

"Banshee exploded, didn't it?"

"It did."


"That's not all. Sir, uh... you... you need to count your fingers."

"I can feel them all just - " Davis stopped in mid-sentence, remembering how often he'd told others to count them anyways, that you could still feel a missing limb because the mind did funny things. He held up his hands, which were shaking.

The right hand was okay. The left hand was burnt, covered in bandages, and missing the ring and pinky fingers.

"Shit," he repeated.

"Just take it easy, sir. We'll get you to a hospital once we get reinforcements."

"How're you all doing, then?"

"We're fine. Ears are ringing but we'll be okay."


"Also, Noah Smalls said he had something important to tell you. You want me to go get him?"

"Sure, go get him." Davis leaned back, reaching in his coat pocket. He fingered the service automatic. Well, better than nothing. You never know.

A few minutes passed, and Davis had time to slowly realize that this was the end for him. Even if they made it through, even if they got him to a hospital and even if he got most of his hearing back and some grafted biomechanical fingers... he'd never be 100% again. This was a job that demanded all that and more. Oh, maybe they'd keep him around for a while out of charity, but...

But, no. This was the end. It beat the Wall, but it was the end.

Not for the first time, Davis wished he could be that one in a million. That one person who lucked into cosmic power and a perfect body. He knew that doing so could cost him his job. He'd heard the reports about how the organ that gave novas their powers also gave them brain damage. But still...


Before he knew it, Noah was there. His face was coated in grime, with twin trails of tears carved across it. "Hi sir."

"Hi, Noah. You doing okay?"

"I - yeah. I'm alive. I can't believe how much you've all done - "

"Don't sweat it. We get paid for our time. What can I help you with?"

"It's about Lily."

"Okay. Before you continue, I read your witness statement and I know all about the case with Stuart Fitzgerald - "

"This isn't something I told the cops. It was - I didn't want to speculate. It was only something I felt, I couldn't prove it, but... but I know it's true. I know it now."

Davis nodded. "Okay then, Noah."

"Lily's not well."

"Well..." Davis tried not to smile. "I figured that - "

"No, I mean really not well. She's changed. Things she's said, and done... I did a little checking on the OpNet and I think she's psychotic."

"No shit, Sherlock. What was your first fucking clue?" was what Davis wanted to say. Instead, he just nodded. "Go on."

"I don't mean psychotic as in like a slasher flick. I mean - look, what I read, to a psychopath, people aren't real. To a psychopath, tearing up a picture of a person is the same as killing them. Right?"

"I think you're thinking more of solipsism, but... yeah. Go on."

"She doesn't think any of us are real."

"Any of us being..."


"She thinks we're figments of her imagination."

"It's things she's said. The way she acts sometimes. She's abrupt with baselines. Like she's not putting in an effort to... to suspend disbelief. She acts like she's in a... a story."

"She said this to you?"

"It was a few months back. She didn't need to sleep that night and I was up late and it was that time of night, you know? Where everything's quiet. And we were talking and she said that sometimes, she felt like she wasn't in control. But that someone was in control of her, and only her. Some... higher being, like an angel or God. And that everything else around her was there for her. Her parents were there because she needed to come from somewhere. I was there because she needed a... a supporter. The way she put it, it was as if all of us were controlled by something else, for her benefit. That she was in a story and that we were background elements. Extras."

"She thinks that the rest of us are extras? Like in a TV show?"

"Or a movie or... or something. That's - I think thats why she killed Stuart Fitzgerald. He wasn't real to her. He was just there for contrast, to show how powerful she was. It was - you ever play a video game, something with friendly fire, and you just let loose on someone passing by, not one of the enemies, just some random dude, just to see what'll happen? I think that's what it's like for her. Like we're all in some kind of game."

"Hmmm." Davis was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was steadier. "Where do you work, Noah?"

"Uh, a Pepsi bottling plant."

"What do you do for fun?"

"I - I watch movies... I like to hike. Sometimes I play golf with my buddies from work."

"You remember your first kiss?"

"Yeah. Rose Kennedy. We'd snuck out for a smoke at recess. Just over where the bikes were."

"You remember the last good movie you saw?"

"Uh... that CGI one, with the ducks."

"Hey, I won't judge. All right. Two things. First..." Davis pulled out his semi-automatic with a shaking hand.

"Sir - "

"My hands are shaking. I'm toast. Can't shoot straight. Line these sights up, flip off that safety. First round's chambered. If she doesn't have that force field up we'll have a shot."

"I - I can't - "

"You can. Please, take it. It'll do you more good. Just don't flip that safety off unless you are serious about firing that gun."


"Second thing is this. My job is to make sure that novas don't step all over baselines. The reason for that is that, even when the rest of the world forgets, we remember that baselines are people too, and they deserve a lot more than just getting tossed around or blown up or having their heads fucked with by some lucky assholes who think they're the only ones that matter. You're Noah Smalls. You work in a bottling plant to pay the bills, you golf, you watch movies and you are nobody's goddamn 'extra.' No one is. And we're going to make sure this woman never treats you like one."

"But - but I've seen bullets just bounce off that force field she does. How are you gonna stop her?"

Davis didn't answer.

* * *

The night wore on. Clarke changed the dressings on Davis' hand. Ericson and Richards were making practice runs with the MANPAL, making sure thy could carry it into position quickly enough. It was a two-person job, carrying that thing, but it'd be hopefully more effective than the Banshee had been.

The hideout didn't have advanced security, and the van was totaled so what few bugs they had had no receiving apparatus. So they patrolled. Noah kept looking at the gun and sighting with it, pointing at a wall. Davis wondered if he'd made a mistake giving him the gun.

He'd requested an update via satlink. It wasn't encouraged, but he felt that since they weren't dealing with organized nova resistance the reward outweighed the risk. All he was told is that their relief was inbound, and to hold out. He'd acknowledged, and sat tight.

A siege mentality had set in. Ericson and Clarke stole a few moments to talk, and Davis didn't feel like getting in their faces about it. Richards was telling Noah a few stories about operations, with a bit of a wink and a I-shouldn't-be-saying-this-really conspiratorial tone, which elicited a chuckle from Davis because he had a few stories like that too, with a few I-shouldn't-say-this-really details to satisfy people's curiosity, so they wouldn't ask after the no-really-they-will-kill-me-if-I-say-this, I-still-wake-up-at-4AM-in-tears details.

Davis checked his watch. Coming up on five in the morning. He imagined the sunset coming up over the Golden Gate bridge, something he got up early for once in a while. The gurgle of coffee makers as they started up. People stumbling out of bed, stiff and groggy. He'd been up for over a day, and was starting to feel it. Little excuses to take a nap, creeping into his mind.

They all scattered like roaches after the lights turned on, when Clarke came running down the stairwell, out of breath. "Contact! Contact!"

"Are you sure, Zach?" Ericson rounded the corner.

"Positive. I saw her outside."

"How could she have found us?" Richards asked.

"People on the street," replied Davis. "Even in the middle of the night, someone saw the crash and saw you all get out. They'd remember a bunch of people carrying a man with half his hand blown off and lugging a giant military-grade laser. She just asked around."

"Shit." Ericson turned to Davis. "Sir, do you have a backup car around here?"


"Any way out?" The panic was starting to seep into his voice.

"One way out. We run up those stairs as fast as we can and we make a break for it. Hit Lily Styles with eufreeze and the MANPAL and steal or flag down a car." Davis struggled to his feet.

"Sir, do you think that'll work?"

No. "Yes. She's been flying around all night, throwing cars, she's probably drained. You all know this, but for Noah's benefit, novas have a reserve of energy stored in their skulls. It replenishes from ambient residual quantum energy, the background noise of the universe. It's possible to drain it faster than it replenishes. If we freeze her eufiber, and if she's tired..."

And if we're very, very lucky...

"Then we've got a shot. We stay down here and she'll kill us all." Davis pulled open the storage cache they'd been raiding throughout the night, and pulled out a taser. "If anyone's got a problem with this, speak up now."

Richards looked up the stairs, and sucked in a deep breath. Noah was wide-eyed and shaking. Clarke and Ericson shared a glance, and Clarke walked over and picked up his half of the MANPAL.

"I have one canister. Ericson, you have the other?"

Ericson nodded.

"We hit her with it at the same time. One of them might get through. Clarke, Richards, lead the way. Noah, you stick to Ericson like glue. Ericson, after you throw your canister, Noah is entirely your responsibility. You get him out of here. Don't look back for anything."

"Yes, sir."

"Let's go."

In silence, Richards and Clarke jogged up the steps, lugging the laser. Ericson followed, Noah close behind. Davis brought up the rear.

I don't know if you're up there, o Lord. If you are, all I have to ask is this. If you have to take anyone, just take me. Clarke and Ericson, if one of them dies the other's heart'll just break in two. If Richards dies we lose the best negotiator I've ever seen. I'm down my fingers and my ear. I'm done. If you take anyone, take me.

They reached the top of the stairs, a steel door that led out into the building's main foyer. Richards peered out of the glass window set through with wire mesh.

"Target spotted. Two o'clock."


"None. She's floating around. Turning over desks. Looking for something."

Well, that's good news. More she uses those powers, more they might give out.

"Okay. Ericson, grab the door. You two rush into position and nail her. On three. One... two... three."

Ericson opened the door. Richards and Clarke and out fast as they could. Ericson and Davis followed, Davis holding a taser in one hand and a canister in the other.

Lily Styles heard them. She whipped around, and laughed as her body was surrounded by a corona of rippling, bubbling energy, that cast weird reflections off the glass floors ad glass ceiling. "Well, hi there, Noah - "

Richards sighted, and fired. The beam lit the building up, and cut a red swath through the air. It hit Lily direct. She actually flinched as her force field flared, and the skintight outfit she wore hardened around her chest, fighting off what got through the force field.

"Oh, is that all? That all you got?"

"Ericson! Pull!"

With his index finger, Davis pulled the tab from his canister. Ericson did likewise. Both of them threw.

Lily caught one telekinetically - Davis couldn't tell whose. The other one hit, and sprayed its contents.

The canisters were dispensers, designed to spread the interior agent via aerosol or direct application. The latter just splattered on the force field. But since Lily Styles still needed to breathe, the former made its way through. The effects were immediate - the skintight costume sagged, loosing its luster, and suddenly Lily screamed as the laser started to hurt her.

Lily turned her gaze towards Richards and Clarke, as Ericson grabbed Noah by the hand and made a run for the entrance. A rippling field formed around the MANPAL's main barrel.

"That hurt, you bitch! That hurt. Oh, but this'll hurt you more - "

Richards fought it, but the look on her face was plain - she wasn't strong enough. The barrel swung up in her hands and into her face, still firing. Glass shattered all around them from the heat as the laser skittered across the ceiling. It cleaved Richards' head in two, and she crumpled to the floor.

Clarke switched off the laser, and dropped into a kneeling position, drawing his service automatic. He fired, and his heart froze as the bullets bounced off the rippling field. Lily scowled at him, and he flew straight up. He looked up just in time to see the Plexiglas ceiling as he was thrown into it, hard enough to dent the Plexiglas, hard enough to crush his skull like a grape.

His body dropped to the floor, his head a mess of red blood and gray brains and tanned skin. Lily turned, and shook her head at Ericson and Noah as they just about reached the door. "Oh, no. No. Not today."

Ericson was surrounded in the rippling field, and screamed. His left arm came off first, followed by his right. His head twisted around like a corkscrew, with a sickening wet sound like bubble wrap being run over by a car. His head came free, Lily twisting it at the end to dislodge it from the rest of the spinal column. It fell, discarded.

Noah did exactly what he shouldn't have. He froze, and screamed. Lily turned her sights to him, and he began to rise... five feet in the air, and now ten, and now...

"Dammit, Noah!" Davis charged Lily, seeing red, jamming her with the taser. "Run!" The stun gun crackled, and Lily grunted, her concentration broken. Noah fell, and there was a flat crack as he landed, one of his legs breaking. Lily turned back to Davis, who kicked her in the stomach.

She didn't flinch. He felt something give way inside his foot. He staggered back, and fell, unable to stand.

"Oh, I'm going to have fun with you two. So much fun. That laser really hurt. It'll take a couple of days at least, before it's better. I'm going to let you watch. I'm going to keep the two of you around and let you watch as I pull all the teeth out of your head and start stabbing you through the heart with your own ribs, like this..."

Davis refused to scream, even though he wanted to very much, as he felt one of his ribs snap off and wriggle around inside of him. Suddenly he couldn't breathe. He wanted to cough, and realized exactly what she'd just punctured.

"Oh, don't worry about that," she commented offhandedly, as suddenly he could breathe again. "I can keep the wound shut telekinetically, just like I'm doing now. I can keep the two of you around for ages and you can watch as this little burn mark here - " She indicated her chest. "Heals right up without a scar. All the harm you did, gone. And then I'm going to kill you. Then I'm going to go back to work. I have a lot on my desk and this week's just been killer."

"Let him go. Dammit, he's your boyfriend - "

"Oh, well. Like I can't get another one of those. There's six billion of you people, I think I can find someone. And it'll make a great sob story to Nova Beat. 'Oh, it was terrible, I wished with all my heart that he was as invulnerable as I am' and blah blah blah." She shrugged, her force field fading. "You all look alike after a while. You all sound the same. Oh, don't even think about that, Noah - "

The semiautomatic in Noah's hands jerked away. It folded up into the shape of a U, and clattered to the ground. Noah stared at it, and at her. "Lil, please - "

"Don't you 'Lil, please,' me. God, what did I ever see in you? Look at you. I was on the cover of TIME magazine. What the hell have you done with your life? Perfect name there. 'Smalls.' In more ways than one. Who the hell would remember you if you died tomorrow? Not as many as would remember me - "

Lily stopped, and looked out the window. "Oh."

The van crashed into the plate glass, tearing it out of its frame and sending it clattering across the foyer. It pulled a bootlegger's reverse, and as the rear spun to face her, it burst open.

"Go go go!" shouted a harsh voice with an English accent. Three streams of automatic weapons fire erupted from the rear. The side door slid open and spat out two people.

Normally, it would be hopeless. Or apparently hopeless. But Lily was tired, and Lily was drained, and Lily was wounded, and doused with eufreeze. She didn't have the power to raise a shield in time, and her eufiber, limp and unresponsive, did nothing.

She was riddled with 7.62 mm bullets. The three of them emptied their clips, and she was still standing at the end... and then, Lily Styles, rising star of Project Utopia, cover story of TIME magazine, fan favorite of Nova Beat, toppled over stone dead.

Davis felt blood seeping back into his lungs. He coughed, and blood bubbled out of his mouth. He looked over at the newcomers.

A black man with a shaved head and a gentle way about him, along with a dark haired woman with a severe demeanor, gave Noah the once-over to make sure he was okay. An Asian-American woman with orange hair emerged from the back of the van in tactical gear, followed by a red-headed young man who seemed older than he looked. The last of them emerged, grey hair and sideburns. He spoke with an English accent, and carried himself like he owned the place.

"Agent Dayes, make sure Styles is dead. Orange, secure the perimeter. Yahawei, Sudov, how is he?"

"Broken leg, sir." Agent Yahawei, the black man, knelt next to Noah, who was staring mutely at the fallen body that the red-haired man was checking. The oranged-haired Asian-American was doing a perimeter sweep, while the dark-haired woman looked around at the bodies.

The gray-haired man knelt next to Davis. "Commander William McSweeney at your service."

"Ben Davis," said Davis weakly. "That's Noah Smalls - " Davis coughed, more blood coming up.

"Oh, Jesus. Punctured lung. Yahawei, call an ambulance." He looked around. "Call two. Don't try to talk, Davis. Help's on its way."


"Dayes, is she dead?"

"If she wasn't, I'd be able to do my trick, sir. She's gone." The red-haired man stood slowly.

"Oh God," said Noah. "Oh God. Oh God. Lilllyyyy...!" He buried his face his hands.

"Take care of him for me," said Davis. "I'm not gonna make it, McSweeney."

"None of that shit, Davis. You're going to make it - "

"Yeah, well, just in case I don't. Take care of him. He's Noah Smalls. He worked in a bottling plant and - " He coughed up more blood. "And he golfs. He stole his first kiss while sneaking in a smoke at high school. He liked the movie with the computer ducks. Make sure he lives. He deserves it. He - "

Ben Davis, who had never been on the cover of TIME magazine, who had never been a fan favorite of Nova Beat, who was only known as the commander of OpCell Bulldog to most everyone he worked with indirectly, breathed his last ragged breath, and was gone.

* * *

In the Forgotten City, in the midst of Siberia, where young Directive recruits go to train and dangerous novas are locked up, there is a wall.

It's made of black slate marble and stands twenty-five feet high. It is full of names, organized two by two in neat columns.

The Directive is a multi-national organization, and should any of its agents or workers pass on, their body is sent back to their member nation and family, to be buried or cremated as appropriate. But ask any Directive agent and odds are you'll get the same answer: those agent's bodies may be buried abroad, but really, they are buried here.

On the left of each column is the agent's assumed name, taken by many who opt to have their past identities erased upon entry. On the right, next to each name, is their real name.

New names are not etched often into this wall. The Directive is careful about throwing its agents away in meaningless fights. But they are etched in often enough. If you go there, in the newer section, you will see eight names.

Zachary Clarke: Roderick Toole

Donald Ericson: Peter Ftichar

Rachel Richards: Nora Dempsey

Ben Davis: Ronald Howell

The wall stands on open ground, surrounding a gas-powered flame. It is viewable from air and from high-resolution satellite and by nova-enhanced perception. Many think this is deliberate; that the wall's planners decided that in death, there was no more need for secrets.

Ben never gave voice to it, but his thought stayed with him until his death: the hope that if one nova saw that wall, beheld the list of all the names that hardly anyone else gave a second consideration to... that that person would, later on, when faced with the motive and means and opportunity to do the horrific, would stop and perhaps, think twice.

We may never know if he hoped in vain.

Davis, Richards, Clarke and Ericson were given full honors in death, and their families were given posthumous medals for bravery in their name. Their families, however, would rather have had their loved ones back.

The death of Lily Styles fell out of the hands of the hunters and the spooks and into the hands of men and women with briefcases and ties. Surprisingly, Project Utopia had elected - at least in public - to cut Lily Styles loose, and congratulated the Directive for helping them to stop a rogue nova. Privately, the feud only grew more bitter, and Utopia's stonewalling of inquiry more pronounced.

The autopsy of Lily Styles revealed that her Mazarin-Rashoud node was the size of a baseball. Neither the Directive nor Project Utopia made this information public.

Nathan Dayes, Cassandra Orange, Natalya Sudov, Makeem Yahawei and William McSweeney are still active OpCell agents.

Noah Smalls moved to Sacramento and took a job in a supermarket. He got trained as a meat cutter and made a respectable living. He found someone he loved and eventually, with the help of counseling, put the whole black business behind him.

Occasionally, investigative reporters will contact him, asking for a quote or an interview, anything to illuminate his part in the Lily Styles story.

He never says yes.

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