Justin

"The investigation into Braymer is only beginning," Eyes Only said in his hack, thousands of TV's broadcasting the message. "This operation is only the top layer. And what the police are being paid to not find, the Informant Net will. Peace. Out."

The screens went black, and then back to their regular programming. Eyes Only, Logan Cale, the man I had looked up to for so many years, spun his chair around, putting his glasses back on and shrugged. "And that's a hack," he said.

Personally, I was torn between clapping or just throwing myself to the ground in a "we're not worthy" manner. Jhondie was out with Max, not caring that there was history in the making going on right here in this penthouse apartment. I was from LA, I should have been jaded to seeing someone famous in person, but this might just have been the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life.

"So now what do you do?" I asked, feeling a little breathless.

He glanced at his watch. "Now I make sure dinner is ready before Max gets home." He stood. "If she comes back from an Eyes Only errand and there's no food on the table, there's hell to pay."

I laughed, feeling more relaxed now. Logan and I had a lot of things in common, the least of which was how to keep fed a transgenic woman.

The trip to Seattle had taken place the day after Jhondie's college graduation, which had been the second week of May. Travel out of Seattle was difficult right then, so Max and Logan weren't able to come to the graduation, but I had called one of my brokerage firms up there, said I wanted to talk about some long tem things, and they had me set up with all access passes for both Jhondie and I, no problem. So now we were here, Seattle in the springtime and I was still in a state of total awe.

Right after Jhondie got back, I had been introduced to Logan and Max via the computer. But it was different seeing them in real life. He was the quintessential rich guy and she was total ghetto. Them living together should have been the premise of a sitcom but it seemed to work for them. I noticed that Max tended to draw Logan out, keep him from being chained to the computer day and night. He had been a workaholic before they met, so Max explained. Dedicated, he described it. Boring, she countered. No, focused. I'm sure they would have gone on, but Jhondie and I were laughing so hard by that point, their argument wasn't being heard and appreciated.

But Logan and Max weren't the only people there I wanted to meet. Zack was gone when we were there, but Alicia was settled in an apartment in a better area of town. Just another young newlywed with a baby on the way whose husband traveled a lot for business. Of course Jhondie was currently furious with Zack because he had removed Bryn from Seattle and wouldn't tell her where she was. He said she was fine and I guess Bryn was still so upset from her ordeal that she had taken to heart warnings that keeping separate would be the only way to prevent a repeat. Sick to play on fears like that, but I knew Zack thought he was doing the right thing. He was having a hard enough time with Jhondie and Alicia and Max. Neither of them were exactly the obedient type.

When we went over to meet Alicia, I was expecting some Valkyrie type warrior. Jhondie had described her, but I couldn't get the image of some six-foot blonde wearing leather and fur with a broadsword by her side. Instead she barely came up to my chest, couldn't have been more that 5' 4" or so. Tiny little thing. She was very pregnant by that point and looked like she was out of some housekeeping magazine or something. I would have expected her to be hanging by her ankles, blindfolded while she put a gun together. Instead she was baking muffins.

I thought we had the wrong place. It was the only thing that made sense until, after the polite introductions, she went to the kitchen and pulled out the muffins and took a bite, wrinkling her nose slightly. "This should not be difficult," she said. "Cooking is the same as building a bomb, just with edible components. It's all just chemistry." She sighed and smiled slightly. "But I've improved a great deal. Not quite the bakery, but they should be perfected in a few more tries."

I had never read that before in "Better Homes and Gardens". I still think I would have been okay if it wasn't for the fly. One had been buzzing around the kitchen. I hadn't noticed. That's why flies did. Until, in a motion so fast it was a blur, Alicia grabbed a knife off of the counter and flicked it towards the wall. Did I mention this wall was less than a foot from my head? I ducked, almost falling out of my chair and glanced up. The fly was neatly skewered.

My jaw dropped. That was mom and Zack was dad. This poor kid was screwed.

Alicia was looking at me, obviously confused. Her gaze turned to Jhondie. "Do all norms panic that easily?"

Jhondie laughed. "We're from LA. We take thrown knives seriously."

Alicia smiled at me benevolently. "I never miss," she said, not arrogantly, but with perfect confidence in herself. "Muffin?"

Jhondie

I had to appreciate Justin more after our trip to Seattle. Alicia scared the hell out of him. He thought Max was insane and her friends were worse. Logan, well, Logan he could get used to easily. It was more than a little weird to correlate Eyes Only with the real person, but Justin had no problem working on that. Still, he was making a very valiant effort to get to know and be comfortable around my extended family, and I loved him all the more for it.

Speaking of being comfortable, Kat had finally gotten him his new car. I'm not saying Justin loved it or anything, but we drove to Seattle rather than fly. The car was sweet. I didn't know much about them, but I could tell from the moment they drove it around to the front of their little shack in the junkyard. Justin had never been a "car guy" but even he fell in love. The thing just oozed power and seemed to say, "yes, I know, go ahead and stare, I know you can't help yourself". Kat had a great time showing us all of the extras that she and Scott had put in. There were hidden compartments that were so well done even I missed the tiny hinges. The interior was lush, inviting. And Kat immediately pointed out that she had made sure the backseat wouldn't cause a neck cramp. I made a mental note to have it cleaned, and went on exploring all of the little gadgets that were installed in the dash. I know Justin was impressed because when he gave Kat the check for it, she gasped, her eyes getting huge. I think she was trying to say that it was way more than what she was expecting, but only gibberish was coming out. Justin had smiled, told her it was called a tip and said that he thinks the difference was the exact amount of the motorcycle that she had been lusting after for quite some time. She had nodded, and then run inside, clutching the check and cackling gleefully.

But Seattle was well worth the trip. It was really going to be my last chance to relax for oh, maybe the next four years or so. Justin and I were getting married the last Saturday in July and then we were going on a long honeymoon. When I got back, I was going to have to get prepped and then start medical school. I had to admit I was really nervous now that it was really on me. Since my first day of college I had concentrated so hard on getting into medical school, now I was in and in a just a few years I was going to be a real doctor. Four years might seem like a long time, but sometimes it seemed like Justin and I couldn't have been together that long, yet we had been for over three years now.

But now I had another source of encouragement. Max was excited about me becoming a doctor. She figured with as many scrapes as she got in, having someone around that wouldn't ask for a blood sample would be a good thing. She also pointed out that when "Baby Boo", as she was referring to Zack and Alicia's impending bundle of joy, needed a medical release or something like that for school, it would be good to have a doctor that wouldn't need to ask questions that nobody wanted to answer.

For now, life was good. Mom and I had done a lot of talking. Real talking and not just shouting accusations at each other. She wasn't in love with Tom. As a good friend, yes, she loved him, but not in a 'let's get married and have a couple of late babies' sort of way. I was still creeped. But they were really careful not to show it in front of us, and I could deal with it. I had never realized how lonely she had been. I knew she had dated a few guys since Dad died, but I didn't know she had actually slept with two of them. They had made her feel like a score. I knew what she meant. It's what I had felt like when I was younger and made some bad mistakes when I was in a bad way. Tom made her feel like she was special. Cheesy as it sounds, it was true. He still wanted to be her friend as much as her lover, and that was rare to find in a man. So, she was happy. I told her that if I ever so much as once was asked to return a bra to her that she had left over at his place, I was never going to talk to them again. She had laughed and said that was perfectly understandable. Like I said, still creeped, but dealing a whole lot better with it.

So many of the things I had wanted all my life were right there now. I had Mom and Kay and now Max. It wasn't all of my brothers and sisters, but it was a start. I was starting to like Alicia. Anyone that could make Zack run in circles like that was deserving of a standing ovation. Logan had been a part of my life for a long time, and now we could go from respect to a real friendship so long as he never hurt my sister and therefore forced me to wad him into a tiny ball. I had Justin and his family, and soon they were going to really be part of mine as well.

I sat up on the Space Needle for a while on our last night in Seattle. It was raining lightly, chiller here than in LA. I could visit here a lot, I thought, but this could never be my home. I had a home. I had my family. Manticore had been dealt a death blow. It might writhe about for a while, even more dangerous for a short flare up, but it wasn't going to last much longer.

Home.

Family.

Freedom.

Whatever else was out there for me, I could deal with. I already had everything else I wanted.

THE END