- = TRAGEDY = -

It was one of those rare days in which the sky looked wrong. The red of

the early evening was normal enough, as were the dark clouds that rolled in promising

rain. Yet the sky seemed askew. There was a level of intensity that made the evening feel

anxious; like a wounded animal, cornered and more than ready to strike.

If anything, the weather was mimicking the strife in the world below it. A

madman had made his bid for global domination. His massive robot army struck without

warning. They rolled across cities and fortifications, leveling all in their path. There

seemed to be little method

to their madness. All this Dr. Robotnik seemed to want was destructions.

A flock of buzzbomber badniks had long since left the villa, but it's

decimated husk still smouldered. Jade look upon it with a kind of sadness. The sweeping lawn was

scorch and littered with the remains of statues, fountains and topiaries. Half the villa

had collapsed leaving

a gapping hole to the rest of the house. It was magnificence ruined, and it

always made Jade sad to see such things.

She was a raven quickly approaching her prime. Her feathers were a

beautifully deep shade of black that managed a sheen even in the retreating light. She dressed

simply in a pair of hip-hugging slack, short-cut boots, and a strapless top that somehow managed to

cover her modest bust. In honor of her namesake she wore a long, flowing jade-colored

scarf.

"Enough sight-seeing," she murmur to herself, "It's time to get what I came

for."

Taking wing, Jade effortlessly floated through the gapping maw of the

ruined villa. She knew the family here had been ridiculously wealthy. Jade had seen their family

name in the papers often, usually associated with stock growth or charitable donations.

They were one of the few upper-crust families that gave back to their community, and it almost gave

Jade enough reason not to rob their graves.

Almost.

Jade had poured over the stolen house plans religiously before she had

come. She hadn't counted on a blitzkrieg, however, nor for its aftermath. Thus, navigating the

charred corridors wasn't as easy as she had hoped. She paused numerous times to listen to sounds

of movement. She wanted to excuse it as settling debris, but she couldn't shake the feeling

she was being watched.

The thief finally made her way to the master bedroom. The large, round bed

was buried under what looked like half the floor above. It was obvious that the happy

couple had retired early. Jade bowed her head in a moment of respective silence for the newly

departed, then confidently strode to the eastern wall.

A small safe door stood exposed. The picture that had covered it had

fallen and shattered. Jade rubbed her feathery fingers together and tried to open it

immediately. It was locked. She smiled quietly to herself. She should have expected as much, but

she had robbed many more rich fools who never bothered to spin the dial to their own safes,

trusting their estate's security and "ingenious" hiding.

Jade set her ear to the door and quieted the thoughts in her head. The

rest of the world was easy enough to ignore. She listened intently as she slowly worked the dial,

reversing her direction at each minute "click." Finally, the loudest "click" sounded and she

opened the small safe. Jade smiled pleasantly at the stacks of bounds, jewels, and cash money

within. It was curious that a family of such wealth would have such reserves ready, as if they

were planning on having to run at some point...

Jade toppled and something jerked heavily on her scarf.

"Leave that alone!" a shrill voice screamed.

Jade squawked and flapped, immediately taking to the air. Whatever it was

holding onto her scarf was holding on fiercely, and Jade found herself flying in a tight

circle. She took hold of her scarf and pulled it free, dropping to the ground. The instant she

touched down, she shot forward, her beak aimed for the attacker.

It was a little girl, hardly above the age of eight. Jade adverted her

beak at the last second and merely knocked the girl back and against the wall. She would've

impaled her otherwise. Jade reached out with her strong wing-arms and held the thrashing

girl in place.

Her peach muzzles was scarlet with rage, which contrasted with her snowy

white fur. She was dressed in a sooty pink nightgown which billowed with her thrashing.

Her tiny, leathery wings flapped uselessly on the wall.

"Let me go!" she screech shrilly once more.

"After you calm down," Jade said in a quiet, firm voice. She mentally

corrected herself - this family had been bats, after all. While they could operate at all hours,

they were wealthy enough to afford their nocturnal habits. They hadn't turned in early - they

were on the verge of waking up. Jade silently hoped that they slept through their end.

"I won't let you take them!" the girl bellowed, her strength never seeming

to ebb. "That's for mommy and daddy! You can't have it!"

"They can't very well use it where they are now," Jade hissed. She

immediately wished she hadn't. The girl stopped for a moment, her large eyes swimming with tears.

With another shrill screech she lashed out again. She kicked Jade's leg, and the raven went

spilling over. Finally free of her grip, the young bat girl rushed to her parent's bedside.

Jade winced as she stood again, rubbing her leg.

"The kid has a hell of a kick," she muttered to herself. She frowned at

the young bat as she kneeled at the crushed bed, her face hidden in her hands. Jade looked at

the prone safe, then back to the girl.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. The girl didn't react. Jade sighed and

shook her head, then turned back to the safe. Something out the ash-frosted window caught her eye.

Jade slinked up and peeked outside. A large black van had suddenly pulled up. Three large,

white letters were stamped on the side - G. U. N. A number of Beetle-class surveillance drones

were flying out of the back, their spotlight caressing the walls of the ruined villa.

Jade frowned. She had heard of G. U. N. and it's controversial

paramilitary operations. She was also fairly certain they had a file on her for the stunt she had pulled

in London five years ago. While she sincerely doubted they were after her, her intuition was warning

her. G. U. N. was here for all the wrong reasons, whatever they were.

Jade looked instinctively back at the little girl. The warning bell in her

mind sounded even more loudly. Jade had learned from years of experience that her instincts

were seldom wrong. She snatched the girl up, who immediately began to scream and writhe

again.

"Shh!" Jade hissed.

"Leave me alone!" the girl wailed.

"Listen," Jade growled, "There's a bunch of bad people coming for us, and

I've got to get

you out of here."

"You're lying!"

"Look!" Jade hiss impatiently and swung the girl to the window. Her cries

stopped. A pair of Hunter-class robots had been wheeled out of the van and were unfolding

into a standing position. There were a number of soldiers standing on the villa grounds. One

pointed to their window.

"They saw us!" the girl yelped.

"Beautiful," Jade groaned. She turned and ran out of the room.

"Mommy!" the girl objected, reaching over Jade's shoulder.

"Can't help them now, sweetie," Jade replied curtly.

As she made to exit the bedroom, a Beetle-unit swung into view. Jade

cursed and quickly shut the door. The light of the drone slipped around the edges. Jade

looked around frantically. She felt the girl clinging to her.

"Close your eyes," Jade murmured, then went running towards the collapsed

debris covering the bed. She nimbly hopped up the mound and into what remained of the

floor above. Large spotlight suddenly passed over the wall. Jade could hear another two vans

idling - how had she missed the first one?

"That way," the girl said quietly, pointing to one of the doors.

Jade hurried in that direction. She hammered the doors open with her beak.

The girl continued to point out a path, and Jade continued to follow it. The sounds of

boots and voices were coming from far behind them. Finally, Jade burst into a large playroom.

The shattered full-height mirrors looked out into the forested ground behind the villa.

"Wait a minute," the girl said and wriggled out of Jade's wing-arms.

"We don't have time!" Jade insisted.

The little girl rummaged quickly in the dark, then came running back with a

rag doll. With some imagination, one could see it was meant to be a chao. The girl

clambered up onto

Jade's back.

"Okay," she said in a small, sad voice.

Jade bolted forward, her beak knocking the window from the frame. She

spread her wing-arms and soared off into the night. She glanced over her shoulder once or

twice to check for any pursuit. To her relief, there was none.

It was well into the night when they landed in Jade's loft. Jade had

proudly proclaimed that she was living proof that crime paid. Set in the top of one of the city's

larger buildings, Jade's loft was spacious but modestly furnished. While ownership was a joy,

Jade found the possession of the actual wealth more pleasurable.

The building itself had only suffered a little from Dr. Robotnik's assault.

Smaller building had been leveled. Military analysts were citing this as an example of

the conqueror's insanity. Jade didn't care, as long she had someplace to sleep.

Jade set down softly through the skylight. She slid the girl around and

cradled her. The young bat shivered and stared at nothing in particular. Jade carried her to the

bathroom and set her down on the sink's counter. She felt a pang when the girl clung a little.

Jade moistened a face clothe with warm water and began to gently wipe the soot from the girl's

face. Now in proper lighting, Jade could also see a number of tiny scratches on the girl's

face and furless arms.

"How did you get those?" she asked she lightly wiped them.

"Sneaking around," the girl murmured.

Jade smiled a little. "So you were following me around all that time?"

The girl's eyes flitted up briefly. "Yeah."

"That's impressive," Jade said as she gently dabbed one of the nastier

looked scrapes. "I'm a professional, kiddo, and you still caught me off guard. That's some

talent."

The barest of smiles flickered on the girls lips.

Jade smiled a little as she wound a feathery finger in the girl's white

curls. She then lightly tapped the chao doll.

"Who is this handsome fellow?" she asked.

The girl hugged it closer. "This is Gem," she said softly, "Granny made

him. He's my favorite."

"I can see why," Jade said, beaming. "And do you have a name, Ms.

I-Sneak-So-Well?"

The girl gave Jade a tiny smile. "Rouge," she answered.

- = Apprenticeship = -

Jade was worried. What she was doing was stupid. The timing was all

wrong. This was the worst environment to bring her into. This was going to be bad. While Mogul

conducted himself with some class, his cronies didn't always live by his standards.

While Jade and shrugged off unwanted advances most of her years, Rouge was

new to the seedier side of such a lifestyle. While still young, Rouge was already

beginning to blossom. She was taller now, and the curve of her figure was already beginning to show.

For some, that's was all the incentive they needed, and that's what worried Jade.

"Remember," she began.

"Keep my mouth shut, don't make eye-contact, don't react to anything they

say and don't touch them unless my life depends on it," Rouge recited with a twinge of

impatience.

"Good girl," Jade said stiffly. That was the other thing that worried her:

Rouge's attitude. Where had the sweet little girl gone? Where had this moody, snippy

teenage come from? Jade shuddered and silently asked herself, "When did I become such a

mother?"

The treasure hunters walked down a narrow alley. The wall rose high enough

to darken the passage, even on the brightest day. Widely spaces lamps cast stale orange

light. Jade smiled a little as she felt Rouge fall in closer step with her. At the end of the

alley stood a large metaldoor. A small rectangular slit was set high in the door. Jade lightly rapped

on it's cover. It slid away to reveal a pair of cruel eyes.

"Jade the Raven to see Mogul," Jade said quickly, putting on an air of

impatience. There was only a grunt for a replied, then the door creaked and opened. Jade shot

Rouge a quick reassuring smile, then led her inside.

The office inside was the complete opposite of the outside alley. It was

brightly lit and heavily decorated. Wood paneling lined the walls and was marked with gold

molding. Mahogany furniture was evenly place throughout the room. Every piece was

covered with velvet cushions and lined in gold. Indeed, everything present seemed to bear

some amount of gold.

Rouge dared to look around. Massive paintings and maps (in gold frames)

hung on the wall. Four individuals that Rouge guessed were bodyguards sat or stood in the

four corners of the rooms. A thickly-built gorilla stood close to the door. Rouge recognized

him for his eyes. A blueish hawk sat meditative opposite the gorilla. The back of the room was

watched by a wiry looking lynx and a neurotic looking frog. Something between them shifted, and

Rouge gasped. She wasn't sure what she thought he was at first, but only now did she notice

the giant elephant sitting at the desk. He smiled quietly.

"I do have that effect on people," the elephant rumbled. Dressed in a

pearly white suit, the elephant turned his attention to the raven.

"My dear Jade," he said, sounding amused, "You never told me you had taken

in an apprentice."

Jade made her way to the desk, an inviting sway added to her step. She set

her feathery hands on the table and leaned in, smiling. "Things change, Mogul," she said in

a candy-sweet voice.

"That they do," the elephant replied. He leaned back in his seat slowly.

It squeaked complacently. "Who would've imagined that our world would be beset by a madman

named after eggs?"

"Or that we would have child heroes in our midst?" Jade replied.

Mogul frowned slightly. "Quite. That is of little concern to me right

now."

Jade set herself on the desk and gave Mogul a brilliant smile. His

bodyguards twitched. Mogul raised one meaty hand and they were quiet again.

"What can I do for you today, Mr. Mogul," Jade asked, tracing a small

circle on the desk with a feathery finger. She glanced back at Rouge. The bat had a familiar look

in her eye. She was watching Jade attentively, unblinkingly - she was learning.

"I've been doing some research on our resident madman," Mogul rumbled.

"From what I've ascertained, he received a great deal of funding from various sources that

sought to benefit from his mad crusade."

"And here I thought the world had lost all it's philanthropists," Jade

crooned.

"Oh, it has," Mogul said with a smirk. "You see, they were all killed when

Dr. Robotnik attacked. He had also acquired the claims to all their fortunes, which he used

to fund his last attack."

"Fascinating," Jade said, sounding bored. "Are you planning on catching

him like the Feds did Capone?"

"No," Mogul replied slowly. His eyes rested on Rouge briefly. "I have

found a few funds evaded his grip and remain frozen with lack of an heir."

Jade's act faltered and she stiffened slightly. "You have been digging

deeply."

"Impressive what one can accomplish with the right resources, isn't it?"

Mogul replied, his smile growing. "Being the master thief that you are, I would like you to

acquire them for me."

"Sure," Jade agreed curtly, simply sitting on the desk now. "Did your

master sleuthing uncover where they're being held?"

"The funds were liquidated and are physically held in the vaults of a place

called Prison Island."

"G. U. N.," Jade breathed.

"Quite," Mogul confirmed, a knowing smile spreading between his tusks.

"Easy enough," Jade sniffed. She hopped off the desk and headed for the

door.

"Let's just hope it doesn't turn out like London," Mogul prompted.

Jade wheeled around, her eyes flashing. "Still dwelling on that, Mr.

Mogul?"

Mogul lightly tapped a finger to his temple. "My kind never forgets, Ms.

Jade. Perhaps you will remember that."

********

The sun was brilliant over the Carribean. The cruise ship was an

immaculate in the equally pristine blue of the sea. Humans and mobians milled about the deck,

their laughter and conversations as steady and unassuming as the sounds of the sea. Two mobians in

particular lounged in the sun.

"Sun-block?" Rouge offered.

"Don't need it," Jade replied.

"Just checking," Rouge replied, using some herself.

"Intent on being as white as your fur?"

"Mmm?"

"That's the third time in an hour that you've used it."

"Oh. Well, I have a running bet with myself."

"Being?"

"At least one of the men watching me will fall overboard while they watch

me."

Jade smiled broadly. "And you're not even of age yet."

"I know. Perverts."

Rouge sighed and reclined with a stretch. There was an unusually loud

splash from the pool.

"You made him fall from the diving board," Jade offered.

"Close, but no cigar," Rouge replied nonchalantly.

"Where did you learn to be such a minx?" Jade asked, laughing softly.

"You," Rouge replied lazily. "Although I have to say you didn't follow

through well back and Mogul's."

Jade fell silent.

"You're as observant as he is," she said after a moment.

"That's what you taught me," Rouge replied. She rolled onto her side and

propped her head on one hand. There was another loud splash from the pool.

"You also taught me to trust my instincts," Rouge continued, "And they're

telling me that there's more to these vaults than you're letting on."

"There's some odd correlations I've noticed," Jade said evasively, "But

nothing worth wasting a worry over."

Rouge didn't say anything for a moment, then rolled onto her back again,

raising one knee and crossing her leg over it. A moment later a siren howled.

"Man overboard!" someone yelled.

"You win," Jade said.

"I always do," Rouge replied.

******

Many onboard complained about the weather that night. The clear, hot day

had turned into a cloudy night. Lovers stood at the railing in hopes of a shining full

moon or a sky full of stars. Jade and Rouge wanted no such thing. They silently snuck across the

ship and up the smokestacks. Then, sailing on the hot air, they began their long journey across

the black water.

They conserved their energy by flying on the hot air from the ship and then

the strong sea breezes close to the water. They flew slightly higher only when they reached

the perimeter of Prison Island - above the guard buoys, but below the radar. They nimbly scaled

the sea-guards along the island's wall, then made their way through the jungle.

Travel was difficult. The undergrowth was thick and the vegetation closely

grown. There were also numerous Hunter-class assault droiods folded and on stand-by

hidden amongst the green. The thieves skirted each obstacle expertly until they reached a

clearing.

"Must be where they accept single aircraft," Jade murmured.

"How are we going to get in there?" Rouge whispered.

"Watch and learn," Jade replied with a crafty smile. She skirted the edge

of the clearing, watching it attentively. Then she beckoned to Rouge and slipped back into the

jungle. Confused, Rouge followed. Jade was investigating a small boulder when Rouge

found her.

"I don't get it," Rouge whispered, aggravated.

"If there's a problem above ground," Jade explained, "They need an quick

access to maintenance. It's well hidden, but this is the only clear path from the

clearing. And this," she said, clicking up a latch, "Is the personnel entrance."

Jade lifted the hollow boulder to reveal a ladder. She winked at Rouge,

then climbed down. Rouge followed, making sure to set the boulder back and to latch it shut.

They climbed down the narrow shaft slowly. Rouge was just beginning to wonder when it would

end when Jade squawked.

"Up, Rouge, up!" she called. "Go back up!"

Rouge froze. She heard Jade cry out again and the muffled sound of what

seemed to be a gunshot. Shot released the ladder and shot down. She went into a leg-sweep the

moment she hit the floor and toppled a Hunter-class robot. Rouge leapt as she heard another

soft gunshot.

Everything began to blur for Rouge in her panic. There was shouting, more

unusually quiet gunfire, and far too many lights and moving bodies. She felt a human

shoulder thrown into her, throwing her off balance. Another soft gunshot and she felt something

heavy hit her body. Rouge struggled, but her arms we amassed in a bubble of blue gel. She staggered

and fell to her side, and the world came into focus again.

Jade was in the same gel. A number of Hunter-class robots stood, their

canons slowly dripping the molasses-like fluid. A few dozen G. U. N. soldiers had appeared on

the scene, their weapons trained on both the raven and the bat.

"I told you to go up," Jade said crossly.

"So sorry I cared," Rouge spat back.

The soldiers parted as a pair of ranking officers approached. One was

sharply handsome with well-kept black hair. His eyes had a cruel, steely glint to them. The

taller one wasn't as attractive, but had a quiet charm about him. He looked as severe as his

companion, but not as dangerous.

"Have them..." the black-haired commander began.

"Execution isn't authorized," the taller one murmured.

"I know that, Forrest," the black-haired commander growled, but it appeared

he was disappointed all the same. "Have them taken to separate cells."

"Get their names," the taller one said to the moving soldiers, "I want a

full background check on them."

The black-haired commander muttered something.

"I want to see if they have a file, Commander Creed," the taller one

explained.

"Be my guest, Commander Greene," Creed said cooly. "I shall inform General

Tower of the incident in the meanwhile."

"Naturally," Greene replied. He gave Rouge and Jade a cautionary look,

then departed. Rouge was hauled to her feet, and both she and Jade were marched down the

central tower. Rouge could see three levels to the massive room, each one colored and marked

with a certain letter. They left the vault room on it's bottom floor and traveled down a

featureless hallway. Rouge kept track of each turn they made.

The brig was a dingy place. The low light and rusting grates carried a

sense of doom. Jade was placed into one cell, and Rouge in the neighboring one. The soldiers

left and the bars rattled into place. The thieves remained silent for a long while.

"I think this stuff has gone hard," Rouge said, finally breaking the

silence. "It feels brittle."

She heard Jade grunt, then the hollow clatter of the shattered gel.

"This will take forever to wash out," Jade griped.

Rouge strained and also broke free. As she dusted herself off, she began

to look around her cell. The walls, ceiling and floor were covered in calculations.

"Hey Jade?"

"What?"

"Anything funny in your cell?"

"Funny-ha-ha, or funny-strange?"

"Funny-strange."

"Well, it smells like prawns. Why?"

"Mine has a lot of math in it," Rouge said, squinting and trying to discern

some of the worn markings. "I'm no rocket scientist, but it looks like whoever wrote all

this was."

"I don't suppose he left instructions on how to escape?"

"Not that I can tell, no."

Jade snorted. "Thanks for nothing, Daedalus."

"Not to worry," Rouge said as she approached the bars, trying to see Jade,

"I memorized the way in. Once we get past the bars, we can double-back."

"That's sweet, Rouge, but you memorized too many turns."

"...what?"

She saw Jade's beak peek from between the bars. "I guess you were too busy

memorizing to notice. They took us down the same corridors more than twice.

You'd be so turned around that they'd have you again before your reached the exit."

"So what are we going to do?" Rouge asked, sounding panicked.

"We wait," Jade said, her beak disappearing from view, "We'll be patient."

This was easier said than done. The depressing atmosphere began to weight

heavily on Rouge. The wait was broken once by a flushed looking guard who quickly demander

their names. Rouge had lied, saying it was "Tiara," but Jade had corrected her.

What was really gnawing at Rouge was Jade's defeatism. They had stolen

numerous treasures around the world and had been cornered more than once. Jade had

always been of the opinion that they could get away, and they always did. Why was she throwing in

the towel this time?

By Rouge's best estimate, Commander Greene entered, a pair of folders in

his hands. He was glancing over the last page in one when he entered. A soldier followed him,

a folding chair in hand. The soldier opened the chair and set it half-way between the cells.

He sighed softly and opened one file.

"Jade, no surname," he read quietly. "Internationally wanted thief and

con-artist. You have stolen an estimated total of $37 million in rare items."

Rouge let out a low, appreciative whistle. Jade smiled in her cell.

Commander Greene gave them a stern look each.

"You earned our attention a decade ago when you stole an experiment from a

G. U. N. controlled lab in London," Greene continued. He looked at Jade with a mildly

curious look. "What happened to it?"

"I sold it to the highest bidder," Jade replied cooly.

Commander Greene sighed with a nod, then opened the other folder.

"Yoruhana, Rouge," he read. He glanced up at Rouge. "Problem?"

"I don't go by that name anymore," Rouge replied quietly.

"I see," Greene said. He pulled out a pen and made a few scribbled remarks

in the file. "Orphaned during Dr. Robotnik's first attack, assumed dead until now. All

financial assets liquidated and confiscated."

"Why?" Rouge demanded hotly.

Commander Greene looked at Jade, and unsaid question on his face.

"Yes, I raised her," Jade answered, "And no, I didn't tell her. I didn't

know at first, and I

didn't think it mattered when I found out."

"What are you talking about?" Rouge demanding, clinging to her prison bars.

"What do you know about your parents, Ms. Rouge?" Greene asked quietly.

"They were business people," Rouge answered. "They dealt with patents, or

something, I think. Maybe they were patent lawyers. I don't remember. They were rich and

they gave a lot of money to charities. They were good people!"

"Why do you say that?"

"...say what?"

"That they were good people?" Greene asked. He leaned in, an unreadable

expression on his face.

"Because they were and...and...I don't know!" Rouge exclaimed. She was

trembling. "It sounds like you're saying they did something bad."

"The Yoruhanas did deal with patents," Greene explained quietly, "They also

dealt with leasing land. They lost bids on some very lucrative plots before you were born.

They donated large sums of money to Dr. Robotnik. When he attacked, a great deal of their

holdings were obliterated. They would've received insurance checks in the millions. Their

fortune would've tripled in a day."

Rouge's mouth worked, but no words came from it.

"That's why your inheritance was seized," Greene continued. "We took it

from Dr. Robotnik. It was also a posthumous punishment. Now that debt to humanity falls

on your shoulders."

Rouge's head hits the bars with a dull "thunk." She stood there, her

entire body shaking. She was caught, not only for her own crimes, but for those of her parents. She

turned her head towards Jade's cell.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she croaked.

"Because I didn't want you to know," Jade replied softly.

Commander Greene stood and the soldier retrieved his chair.

"I'm going to talk with General Tower," Greene said quietly. "We will

discuss what happens to both of you. I will inform you when we've come to a decision."

With that, he left. Silence hung in the solemn cell for hours. Jade

cocked her head and listened after a while. She could hear Rouge crying softly next door. Jade

wiped a tear from her own eye and waits. When Rouge's sobs had faded, Jade dared to speak.

"A little over ten years ago," she explained, "I took a job for Mogul. He

wanted me to get some experimental energy source. I think he called it a Chaos Drive, or

some nonsense like that. It's not important. What is important is that it belonged to G. U. N."

"In London," Rouge said thickly.

"Yes, one of their bases in London," Jade confirmed. "But on my way back

to the States, I was contacted by another party. I think his name was Bobowski. I honestly

don't recall. Anyway, I sold it to him for double Mogul's price. I had to pull a number of

free jobs for him to stay alive after that, but I got into his good graces again...or so I thought.

"Do you see what he did? Somehow he found out about you and your family's

connection to Robotnik. With you there, he knew I couldn't openly refuse or

you'd get suspicious. I was hoping we could pull this job off and get him the money

without you ever having to find out the truth. He did this to us, Rouge."

"Yeah, he did," Rouge sniffed. "But you also lied to me."

"I never said anything about your parents."

"You lied through omission," Rouge hissed. "You weren't straight with me,

Jade. But then again, I guess it'd in your nature. Lying and trickery - it's all part of

your forte. And now you've infected me with it."

Jade didn't have anything to say to that.

A while later, Commander Greene entered again, this time with General

Tower. Tower was severe looking man who's age had done little to degrade his imposing

stature.

"This is the Yoruhana's girl?" he asked with a precise motion towards

Rouge.

"Yes sir," Greene answered.

General Tower gave Rouge a imperious look. "You said you've renounced your

surname?" he demanded crisply.

Rouge seemed to be pulled to her feet by his gaze. "Yes,"she said quietly,

then quickly added, "Sir."

"That does not absolve you for your debt to humanity," Tower said.

"No. Sir."

"The commander has offered you an option," Tower said, making a small nod

back to Commander Greene. "You can become an G. U. N. talent, hired out for various

missions. Once you've worked the equivalent to your debt, you will be cleared of any and all

charges and your record sealed."

"What will I have to do?" Rouge asked. Jade smiled at the energy in

Rouge's voice.

"What've you've been trained to do," Tower answered promptly. "Theft and

espionage."

"When can I begin?" Rouge asked.

"Immediately," Tower replied. "A small assignment will be redirected to

you. It will be a test of your loyalties in this matter as much as one of your skills."

"I'm as well versed in loyalty as I am in anything else," Rouge replied.

There was a point to her words that Jade felt she had missed.

"It may take me a while," Jade piped up, "But I can work off my

thirty-seven mil as well."

"Hardly," Tower said, his voice icy. "You'll rot here until a particular

nation finds the right legislation to cart you off. Then you'll rot there."

Jade was too taken aback to answer. Rouge was released. She was flanked

by soldiers and escorted out of the cell. She never looked back at Jade.

- = Divine = -

"For a bat," Rouge thought to herself, "I certainly see a lot of the sun."

Cairo, Egypt was blazing. The glass of the buildings glowed with their

reflected light, as did those of passing traffic. Of all the places on earth, why had Dr. Robotnik

chosen to base himself where it was so hot?

"Excuse me," a waiter said, setting another drink on Rouge's table. She

had five already. "The gentleman three tables to your right sends this to you."

Rouge looked over to see yet another mustached faced smiling hopefully.

She blew him a small kiss and sent it with a wink.

"He has my thanks," she said and set a coin upon the waiter's serving tray,

"And so do you, for putting up with it for the past hour."

The waiter chuckled, thanked her, and moved on. Rouge sipped at the drink

she had been nursing. A shadow fell across the table.

"Buy you a drink?"

"What's another?" Rouge said with a smirk. "Have a seat."

Jade sat down opposite Rouge, smiling. Her shiny feathers had seemed to

dull with her age.

"You've gotten old," Rouge observed bluntly.

"You've gotten big," Jade replied just as bluntly, helping herself to one

of Rouge's drinks. "Don't ever get pregnant or you'll be a perfect sphere."

Rouge kicked the raven from under the table.

"Oh, and this belongs to you," Jade said after she finished rubbing her

sore leg. She set an ancient looking chao doll on the table.

"Gem!" Rouge cheered, scooping up the doll. "You came back to mommy!"

"That was ingenious, kiddo," Jade said, "Embroidering the escape route on

the inside. I paid a lot of money to get him back to normal."

"I noticed," Rouge said, turning the doll over in her hands. "Thank you."

"Of course," Jade replied, sipping her drink. "You could've sent it a few

years earlier, though. That place was horrid."

"Yes, well, I was busy carrying a grudge," Rouge sniffed.

"Forgive me?" Jade asked, producing a thick folder. Rouge eyed it

curiously, then took it and flipped through it's pages. Her eyes went wide.

"I stole it on my way out," Jade explained. "It's the entire Yoruhana

file. Your entire history. You've got quite the criminal bloodline."

Rouge smiled as closed the file. "Thank you, Jade. If it's any

consolation, I would've sent Gem a full six months earlier if I knew you'd do this."

Jade smirked and finished her drink. "You're awfully hard to track, Rouge.

You're better than I ever was."

"I learned from the best," Rouge replied, "Then refined it during my solo

years."

"Out of their debt yet?"

"One or two more jobs," Rouge said. "I've been hired to infiltrate Dr.

Robotnik's operations and learn what he's up to this time. That Chaos thing from last time

has really got them worried."

"It has everyone worried," Jade confirmed.

"What about you?" Rouge asked.

"Oh, just a little bit of vengeance," Jade said with a smirk.

"Do tell!"

"Let's just say I later replaced your file with an even thicker one."

"Mogul?"

"From his playground bully days to his latest cooperate piracy."

"Isn't that a bit dangerous?"

"Oh, very. I already had a run in with one of his goons."

"Which one?"

"The cute one."

"The hawk?"

"No, the frog," Jade said with a frustrated sigh. Rouge laughed.

"Be careful," Rouge prompted.

"As much as my lifestyle allows," Jade agreed.

There was a sudden commotion. Both thieves looked up as a purple weasel on

a hover-bike went racing by. The trailer attached to the back of his bike held a

massive load, which was covered with tarp. A corner had come loose, revealing the glittering of green

gemstone.

"Ooh!" Rouge chirped. "Shall we, Jade?"

The raven shook her head. "Enjoy yourself, sweetie. I need to keep moving

until I reach my safe house in Moscow."

They stood and embraced tightly.

"Thank you, Jade. For everything."

"It was fun, Rouge."

They exchanged one last look, then Rouge took flight. Jade watched her

until she was out of sight, then left the cafe. She left a small ruby as the tip.

THE END