Voices, seemingly coming from far away.


"We've located the rogue personality, sir."


#LaCombe, they must be talking about LaCombe.#

#Kill them!#

#We can't. They've immobilized us, and it'll be at least a couple of hours before we regain control.#

#So you're just going to sit here and let them take me?#

#We can fight. I can take on whatever they send in.#

#No! Don't you understand, this is our chance! We can get rid of him once and for all! Then we won't have to kill all those people! Then we can make friends again!#

#I _like_ killing people.#


"Can we safely remove it? Is it possible?"


#I must admit, I would feel more secure in myself if the LaCombe personality was removed. He has overridden my advice time and again. He can only be considered a detriment.#

#I don't know...What do you think?#

#Huh? Oh, let him go. I can never get laid when he's on the run. And even if I do, I gotta let the bitch here kill them right after.#

#Who's a bitch?!#


"Should be able to. That is, if she doesn't try to fight us."


#That's enough! I'm thinking, don't distract me...#

#I can't believe you're listening to them. Think of all that we've accomplished! The money we've made, the deals we've won, the crimes we've pulled off!#


"All right, go in."


#Think of Deirdre, who LaCombe made you kill. Your best friend. Your only friend.#


"All right, going in now..."


#Oh my God, here they come! You've got to help me. Shasti! Shasti! Goddammit, help me!#


"Any sign of her fighting you?"


#Goodbye, LaCombe.#


"Got him! Now the rest should be a snap."


As LaCombe was removed, Shasti felt her Central Mind going into an unconscious state. She was mildly disturbed by what she heard just before she passed out.

"Good. Now for the second step..."



I Am One

by Sean Gaffney

Copyrights and credits appear at the end of Part 2.

NOTE: This story takes place between the Dark Horse stories _Sim Hell_ and _Fatal But Not Serious_.

Part One: Behind Blue Eyes

Shasti slowly felt herself come back to consciousness. She had no idea how long she'd been out. The last thing she remembered was seeing the LaCombe personality being removed from her head. She probed her mind to see if she felt any guilt. She didn't. Now that LaCombe was gone, she might actually be able to think on her own, without being constantly overridden. It had been fun for a while, but LaCombe had finally become tiresome.

*Now, to find out where the hell I am.* She went to activate the detective part of her mind, to try and work out as much as possible before she alerted anyone to her being awake.

She couldn't do it. The detective part of her had disappeared. She tried looking all over, but it was gone. Shocked, she tried to access the social and seductress personalities, but they were gone, too. She desperately called for the warrior, but to no avail. All she could find was herself, alone in her own head.

Her eyes snapped open as she began to panic. What had they done to her? This was obviously meant to incapacitate her, but was it permanent? Her mind was confused, rattling around between possibilities.

"Sir, she's awake." The voice came from across the room, and Shasti angrily tried to get to it. But they'd strapped her down tightly, preventing any movement. *Well, of course. If they're trying to incapacitate me, they'd be foolish to shut off the mind and leave the body to run around.*

Shasti jerked in shock. That had sounded like the detective! She made a quick search of her mind, but once again only found herself. But if she was alone, where had that observation come from? She'd always counted on the detective to do that sort of thinking for her.

While this was running through her mind, a door hissed open and a man entered. He was tall and burly, and Shasti mused that he was not a fellow to be intimidated. He looked down at her, actually having the gall to smile. She struggled against her bonds and made an attempt to snarl, though with the way her mind was working it probably came out as a whimper.

"Hello, Shasti. My name is DeFeo, and I'm the head of the department here. I imagine you've got a lot of questions."

"You bet I have! Where the fuck am I? What the hell have you done to me? How could you do this to me?"

"Are you saying that you didn't want the LaCombe personality removed?" DeFeo frowned momentarily.

"I don't give a shit about LaCombe! You've taken my other personalities. Left me with nothing! What excuse could you possibly have -- "

She was cut off by DeFeo. "The excuse, Shasti, is that you were the most wanted criminal in this entire system. You killed 10 of our best TC's before we could capture you, and you don't seem to show the least bit of gratitude!"

"Gratitude! For practically lobotomizing me?!"

"Oh, your personalities aren't gone. Not really. If you'd just shut up and listen, I can tell you what happened."

Shasti relented. It was obvious she was getting nowhere. She'd listen to what he had to say, carefully weigh all of it, and then beat him bloody. "All right, I'm listening."

DeFeo smiled. "Thank you. By the way, you're at WWWA headquarters."

Her eyes widened. "I see. Well, thank god I was saved by those who truly care about me."

"Good, you've still got your sense of humor. As I was saying, we've been trying to capture you for over three years now, and you were very good at stopping us. If it hadn't been for Kanuka and Taeko sacrificing themselves, you'd still be on the run.

"Now, the heads of 3WA simply wanted to kill you, but the CC overrode them. It knew you were still the best TC out there, even despite your... character flaws. It wanted to see if the rogue personality could safely be removed from you, and if so, whether you'd still be homicidal. So you were brought here, where the LaCombe personality was safely removed."

"Where is it now?"

"In its component atoms."

Shasti smiled. "Good."

"After that, we determined that, although still violent, bitchy, and slightly insane, you weren't criminally homicidal. In other words, back to normal. Then we took the second step..."

"Removing my other personalities." Shasti said bitterly.

"I told you they weren't removed. We combined them. The CC admitted that your multiple personalities were doing more harm than good, so it was decided to amalgamate them into one mind. They're still in there, you can still be a warrior, detective, or seductress. I dare say you could even be social, though the idea terrifies me. But they aren't sentient anymore, they're built into your core personality."

The reality of his words was beginning to hit Shasti. "What are you saying here?"

"I'm saying that you are Shasti. Not the warrior, not the detective, or the seductress, or the social personality. Shasti. All one person."

Shasti stared at him in shock. "What right did you have to do that to me?"

"Shasti, if you'll recall, you gave us that right. A few months before the LaCombe incident, you were in Ayoob's office, ranting and screaming about how you were tired of all these failed experiments and schizophrenic freak-outs, and you wanted to know whether there was a way to make you 'sane'. Those are your exact words, if you'll recall."

Shasti now looked puzzled. "I did? When?"

DeFeo began to look concerned. "I hope we haven't succeeded in trashing your memories. Shasti, this was before the LaCombe incident. When you were part of the best team in the 3WA, the Ultimas. Does any of this mean anything to you?"

Shasti lay back, desperately trying to remember. "Aargh...the 3WA, of course. But...the Ultimas?"

DeFeo looked into her eyes. "Yes. For two years, you and Deirdre were the best there was."

Shasti's eyes glazed over. Deirdre.

Her partner.

Her best friend.

Her only friend.

The friend she'd...

At the edge of her hearing, she could make out DeFeo yelling something about trauma and shock. It didn't register with her at all. All she kept thinking were the same five words, over and over.

*mygodikilleddeirdremygodikilleddeirdremygod...*

***

Cory Emerson was livid. She'd been this close to pulling off the story that could make her career. These women had appeared out of nowhere on Earth claiming to be looking for a daimon'cha, whatever the hell that was, and they were armed with heavy weaponry. The entire solar system was in an uproar, and Cory had been chosen by High Sense to cover the story. Unfortunately, she was ambushed by two 3WA goons and spirited off. She attempted to mention something about kidnapping and assault, but the goons simply said that the Central Computer had authorized them to use any means necessary to bring her to Pacifica.

Realizing that there was nothing she could do, she decided to amuse herself by making life a living hell for her two guards. By the time they arrived at the spaceport, they almost threw her off the ship, not even bothering to escort her to the 3WA's head offices.

*I could try to take off,* she thought, *but they'd just find me again. Might as well find out what is so important that they need _me_ to solve it.* She frowned as a thought came to her head. *I hope that Kei and Yuri are all right.*

Following signs, she came into a breezy, calming reception area, which seemed to lose much of its atmosphere as she walked in. A bimbo receptionist attempted to stop her, saying "But Miss Emerson, you'll have to wait until you're called in." Cory didn't even break stride. "They've already called me in, honey, and I'll be damned if I'll stay here any longer than necessary." And with that, she burst through the doors into the director's office.

They seemed surprised to see her get past all the security, but she'd learned that the easiest way to do that was to keep moving, no matter what. Thus she kept going right up to the guy in the center, grabbed him by the lapels, and murmured, "You are going to tell me why you kidnapped me and brought me here, and then I am going to leave. And if your explanation isn't good enough, I'll have you plastered on every paper in the sector, whether you're 3WA or not."

The man on the left was chuckling. "Pleasant as always, Miss Emerson. Nice to see you haven't lost your touch."

She turned, recognizing the voice. "Goulet. Great, just what I needed to really spruce up my day. What have those two gotten themselves into now, and why am _I_ the only one who can help?"

Goulet smiled the sort of smile that Cory had always wanted to hit. "Actually, Miss Emerson, this has nothing to do with the Angels, at least not directly. Frankly, we're just as surprised as you are, but the Central Computer was adamant."

Cory's eyes narrowed. She'd never quite been able to accept the fact that the agents sent off to die for the 3WA were chosen by a computer instead of a human. Sure, she used computers every day, and had her cyberplug, but when the chips were down, she wanted the decisions to be made by someone with experience, rather than a machine sifting through probabilities.

Reluctantly, she let go of the lapels of the man in the center and sat down. It looked as if this wasn't going to be resolved anytime soon. "So, the CC has decided you need someone with my particular skills. You'd think, after the last two missions I accompanied the Angels on, the CC would want to see the back of me as quickly as possible."

Goulet's expression turned serious. "I agree, frankly. We weren't exactly thrilled with the prospect, considering what you, Kei, and Yuri pulled on Tertius -- "

Cory stood up, eyes blazing. "IT WASN'T OUR FAULT!!" she found herself screaming, and then sat down again quickly, realizing who she sounded like.

Goulet soldiered on. "Nevertheless, this particular assignment has nothing to do with the Angels. The CC has suggested that someone of your abilities would be most likely to sur--"

The man on the right cut in coolly. "Director Goulet, if you don't mind, can we just tell her the background, without any bias?"

Goulet frowned momentarily. "Of course, sir. Cory, this is Joseph DeFeo," he pointed to the center man, a rather large swarthy looking man in his 30s, "a research head here at 3WA, specializing in psychological difficulties."

Cory moaned. "Agents that go snap. Great."

Goulet was getting tired of being interrupted. "And we also have Doctor Jim Daltrey, an expert in the field of bio-organic constructs. He'll be helping you with our little...problem."

Daltrey's eyes bored into Cory. "Ms. Emerson."

DeFeo raised his hand. "I'd like to move on, if nobody minds. Ms. Emerson, I need to fill you in on the exploits of one of our rogue agents...Shasti."

Cory cocked her head. "The 3WA has rogue agents? Do tell. Why have we never heard about these people? Confined themselves to not paying taxes, crossing against the red light?" Her eyes narrowed. "Or could it possibly be the 3WA's lovely habit of _covering up everything_?" Cory was still annoyed at the 3WA for allowing Kuan Yin to get away with their behavior on Kalevala.

DeFeo listened to all this with a resigned expression. "Shasti turned rogue about 5 years ago. Since then, the 3WA has put a great deal of its time and energy towards retrieving her. Recently, after sustaining heavy losses, our agents were finally able to capture Shasti. She's in our custody now."

Cory narrowed her eyes. "And you want me to record her final moments before the execution?"

"We're not executing her," DeFeo snapped. "There's something you should know. This isn't even common knowledge in the 3WA."

Cory had long since ceased to be angry at these developments. "What a surprise."

"Shasti turned rogue in the first place as a result of attempting to upload the personality of a psychotic criminal, LaCombe, in order to bring him to justice. Unfortunately, the LaCombe personality reacted to her own, and fused. This had the effect of turning her rogue. However, thanks to several of our agents giving their own lives, she has been brought back, and the criminal personality has been destroyed. Shasti is back to norm...is herself once more."

Cory was beginning to feel confused. "Why in God's name did she upload the personality in the first place? Everyone knows the danger that can result! I saw it myself on Kalevala! She should never have been asked to implant the guy in the first place!"

DeFeo looked at Goulet, who nodded, and Daltrey, who merely narrowed his eyes. "We have to tell her."

Daltrey spoke in almost a monotone. "You already know my feelings on this matter. To be trusting such delicate information with a reporter, particularly this one, is incredibly dangerous. I cannot predict what sort of effect she'll have on Shasti."

DeFeo smiled. "Precisely."

Goulet took it upon himself to respond. "The same reporter has been instrumental in the solution to two extremely difficult cases, and her reputation is impeccable. The Angels have nothing but good things to say about her."

Daltrey looked slightly amused. "Somehow I do not take that as a wholehearted recommendation."

Cory was sick of this. "_Getting_ back to the point...?"

DeFeo frowned at the two men. "In any case, if you are to be of assistance, you'd better know all of the facts. Shasti's story begins thirteen years ago..."

DeFeo quickly summarized Shasti's "birth" and development, leaving nothing out. Cory's expression grew horrified as she heard about what had been done to this woman by her own employers. She was amazed that Shasti had turned out as well as she did.

As DeFeo finished, Cory regained her senses once again. "So, cutting all the bullshit, what is the _problem_ here?"

DeFeo sighed. "Three days ago, we woke Shasti up, the computer having determined that she was no longer psychotic. She awoke confused and with short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, once she regained her memory, she recalled what she had done to her partner. She promptly entered a state of trauma, from which none of our doctors have been able to break her. We finally decided to ask the Central Computer for recommendations. It said that you were the best person to help Shasti. It did not elaborate. Having exhausted our other options, we arranged for you to be brought here."

"Kidnapped me," Cory said bluntly.

"If you wish," DeFeo said. "Nevertheless, Miss Emerson, here is what we are asking you to do. We want you to get Shasti back to normal. Talk to her, reason with her, do anything you like, but break her out of this shock. We need her, and you are our last hope."

Cory rattled her head around to make sure her ears were working. "Let me see if I've got this straight. You want me to be alone in a room with a woman who killed thousands of innocents -- "

"LaCombe did that, " DeFeo interrupted.

"You have no way of proving that. You want me to go into this room and try to talk this woman back to sanity, and get her to work for an organization that has treated her like shit for her entire life? What in the name of all the hells possessed you to think I would agree to this?"

Goulet was the one who answered that. "Because you sympathize with her. I saw the look on your face when we told you her history. The alternative is to leave her here to let our scientists deal with her, the same ones who've arranged her entire life. And you'll never be able to live with yourself if that happens."

Cory was silent for a few minutes. Then, calmly, she got up, strolled up to Goulet, and belted him across the chops, knocking him to the floor, unconscious.

Having thus calmed herself, she turned to DeFeo. "Fine, I'll do it. Where is she?"

DeFeo smiled. "I'll have you taken to her. Mr. Daltrey will be your contact for the duration."

Cory gave Daltrey a malevolent look, which he mirrored. "Why?"

"Because I am the expert in the Agency on Shasti. Most of the original team was let go after the LaCombe incident. I'm one of the few who can tell you what to do."

"I don't need to be told to do anything. Just let me get out of here, and you two can go back to your Machiavellian schemes."

She was stopped just before the door. "Ms. Emerson?"

"Yes?"

She saw DeFeo's face momentarily soften. "Thank you for doing this. Even if it is the 3WA's intent to merely see her restored as an active agent, it is _my_ intent to see her sane. That is your priority."

She nodded, gaining a measure of respect for the man. "Thank you. It's nice to know that the management aren't all cold, unfeeling weasels." And with that she left.

Daltrey peered after her. "How touching."

DeFeo grinned. "Would you rather I had her running around like a loose cannon? Someone needs to keep an eye on her. We need Shasti back to normal, and she's our best hope."

Daltrey frowned. "I still think this is dumb."

"You're probably right," DeFeo said. "I have been known to do a few dumb things in my time."

"I notice you didn't mention that the Computer said she only had a six out of ten chance of getting through this alive," Daltrey wryly mentioned.

DeFeo smiled. "I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid. We need her. She can do it. I have faith in her."

Still on the floor, Goulet merely groaned.

***

Cory groaned. She still had a slight headache from the dataplug that had given her all the information on Shasti. She made sure three times over that nothing was being held back, letting them know that any snippet of information they had could be the key to breaking Shasti out of her shell.

Privately, however, Cory was much less sure of herself. The 3WA had understated Shasti's background. The woman hadn't had a childhood, a social life, anything. They had developed her as the ultimate agent, and that was precisely what she had been. Unfortunately, that made her job of getting through to the "real" Shasti that much more difficult.

Daltrey was walking with her towards Shasti's room, giving her last minute instructions. "Now, we'll be monitoring the room at all times. When she wakes up, do your best to calm her down, to the point where we can get in the room. After that, you're free to go."

Cory turned towards him, stunned. "I don't believe this. You think I'm gonna do this just so you can brainwash her again?" She grabbed Daltrey's lapels, forcing him up against the wall. "Now listen up. I am doing this out of the goodness of my heart. You should know that that doesn't go very far. You are going to let me talk with Shasti, and you will let me bring her to a point where she can decide for herself whether or not to go with your scalpel jockies. And if you don't agree to these qualifications, then I will walk out of here and she can stay in there to rot for all I care."

Daltrey sighed, and seemed to change tactics. "Look, Ms. Emerson, we want this to happen just as much as you do. We _are_ concerned for Shasti. That's why we're doing this. But you just can't predict what shape this woman will be in. It's an unproven case, there's never been a recovery like hers before."

Cory looked surprised. This was a change from the cold soldier she'd seen in the office. "Yeah, well thanks. But the Central Computer, for some reason, thinks I can do this. Therefore I'm going to do it my way, and not be second-guessed by any of you. Is that clear?"

To her amazement, Daltrey grinned. "Crystal. I suppose I should wish you luck, then, Ms. Emerson."

"Cory," she responded before she could stop herself.

He smiled back. "Jimmy."

Cory was still trying to get to grips with this 180 degree turn when he said, "Here we are. From now on, you're on your own. Be careful, Cory. We want this to be quick and painless."

Cory glared at him again. "And you're supposed to be the expert? Trust me, _Jimmy_, this will not be quick or painless." And with that, she stepped inside.

***

As she entered the room, Cory noted that it had been tailored to its occupant's new mindset. White, sterile, no signs that anyone had ever been in here. And in the center lay Shasti, staring at the ceiling and whispering in low tones. Cory couldn't make out what she was saying.

Cory began to feel her doubts rise to the surface. What the hell did they expect her to do? She'd never handled hostage situations or anything like that, and she was certainly no psychologist. She was just a reporter with a history of bad luck, who'd had the unique opportunity of trailing the Dirty Pair on two of their cases. Cory had absolutely no idea what to do.

Luckily, not knowing what to do was a situation she _had_ been in before, so she just decided to wing it. She picked out a chair, the only other piece of furniture in the room besides the bed, and sat down.

She stared at Shasti for a moment. No doubt about it, the woman was a knockout. Cory had read that one of her personalities was a seductress, and that was easily believable. For a moment Cory felt a twinge of jealousy, as she recalled all the numerous times men had told her she was too harsh looking for their tastes.

The jealousy was leeched out of her as she remembered what sort of life had brought Shasti to this point. This was not the case of a child who'd grown up to be a beautiful woman, this was a body that had been grown in vitro, and subjected to a two month childhood where most would have fifteen to sixteen years. Cory was amazed that they had assumed that Shasti would be able to cope with the strain, it would have broken anyone.

That was the key, though, she thought to herself. The 3WA had never thought of Shasti as a person. They saw her as a tool, to experiment on and play games with, trying to coax an agent out of an empty shell.

Except that Shasti wasn't an empty shell. The CC had given her several of its private files, recorded secretly. Normally, this would have angered Cory, but the files provided a fascinating look at her "other" life. Her partner, Deirdre, had developed her own training program with Shasti, but this was a far more human one. Cory had watched the tapes in shock as she saw Shasti laughing happily. This was a side of the woman that no one had been able to see except for her partner.

The problem was that Deirdre had been dead for five years now, shot in the back by Shasti after the rogue personality had corrupted her mind. 3WA still maintained that it had "taken her over" in some way, but Cory didn't quite believe that. Shasti had to have been in some control during this rampage, as LaCombe simply did not have the intelligence to pull off her crimes.

The question now was whether Shasti could be trusted to come back to society. Had she truly been purged of the sinister side of her mind, or had it been combined along with the rest of her personalities into one mind, Shasti herself?

That was the final thing that worried Cory. Shasti had no experience of coping with a single personality. She had, according to the tapes, always delegated her tasks to the four main personalities: Warrior, Detective, Seductress, and Social. There had also been a central mind built, where Cory supposed Shasti "really" existed, but it had never actually been seen. Shasti had _always_ existed in her four distinct personalities. Now, according to what the medtechs had told her, the four had been melded into one individual, with the central mind the only thing remaining untouched.

Cory sighed. Enough of this inner monologue, it was time to see if she could bring Shasti out of her stupor. "Shasti? Can you hear me? My name is Cory Emerson. I've been assigned to try and help you out. Um... I don't suppose I understand how you feel, but I'm sure we could talk about it..." Cory sighed. God, she sounded stupid.

"Shasti? Can you hear me?" Cory decided that perhaps something else was in order. As gently as possible, she reached out and tapped Shasti on the shoulder.

***

Shasti came out of her stupor to find a woman lying on the floor clutching at her hand. Immediately, her 3WA training kicked in, and she walked over and tried to help her up. "Are you all right?"

The woman backed away violently, looking daggers at Shasti. "What the hell do you think? You nearly broke my hand!!"

Shasti's brow knit, as she tried to remember her previous actions. Unfortunately, the last thing she remembered was DeFeo trying to jog her memory. Fat lot of good that did her now. She glanced at the woman across from her. Judging from her stance, she was not a 3WA agent. What disturbed Shasti was the injury. "I don't believe it!"

The woman attempted, rather poorly in Shasti's opinion, to be blas‚ about it. "Don't worry about it, I shouldn't have grabbed your shoulder like that."

"Not that!" Shasti was beginning to get very annoyed with herself. "You grabbed my shoulder and all you've got is a bruised hand?! Your arm should be lying on the ground next to you! What the hell did they do to me? That used to be automatic!"

The woman went from apologetic to flaming mad in an instant. "Now look here. I came here out of the goodness of my heart to try and help you. If all you can say is that you're upset you didn't hurt me more, then maybe I should just leave!"

Shasti rounded on her. "And who asked for your help? I don't need another of 3WA's psychobabblers to tell me that it's going to be all right."

The woman got angrier, if that was possible. "I am _not_ with 3WA," she whispered. "I wanted nothing to do with this."

Now Shasti was puzzled. "Then why are they..." Suddenly it hit her. The Central Computer, of course. It had calculated every course of action, and found that this woman was the best way for Shasti to...to what? That gap in her memory still bothered her. She turned to face the woman.

"I apologize. If you're not with 3WA, we'll get along much better. Shasti, 3WA Agent, Ultimas."

The woman's anger abated somewhat. "Cory Emerson, reporter, High Sense. Do you want my ID number, too?"

Shasti grinned. "Now that's that's out of the way, maybe you can tell me why I have a gap in my memory. The last thing I remember is DeFeo telling me about my past."

Cory blinked. "You're remarkably direct."

"Sorry, but I've just been lobotomized after spending four years as a paranoid psychotic. It tends to sharpen the focus."

Cory winced. "So you do remember. Well, you're taking it better than I thought..."

Shasti frowned. Remember what? Inside her mind, where her social personality used to be, she thought she could hear something. A little wail, coming from inside her head.

*DON'T REMEMBER!*

Shasti cut it off. If her social personality was coming back, well, she'd been used to overriding it anyway. "Taking what better?"

Cory looked puzzled. "Deirdre, of course."
***

Her mind cascaded under the force of memory. She felt herself slipping away under the agony. Images of herself, shooting Deirdre over and over again, coursed through her mind. There was only one way to deal with it. Shasti let her conscious mind shut down, hoping to escape from the pain.

However, this time something was blocking it. There was a hand at her wrist. Shouldn't she be stopping it? But no, this time the pain was even greater. Nothing mattered anymore, just get away, hide, don't think about what you did...

*SMACK*

Shasti immediately came back to consciousness. Her mind immediately went to defense mode, looking for her attacker. She scanned the room, and finally noticed Cory hiding beneath the table, shaking.

"I'm sorry!" she cried out. She seemed to be terrified. "You were going back into catatonia, and I just hit you before I knew what I was doing! Please don't rip my arm off!"

Shasti slipped out of attack mode; Cory wasn't a threat. Unfortunately, this meant that she was thinking again, and she had all her memories this time.

It started in the back of the throat, barely a sound at all, more of a subsonic vibration. It gradually rose in volume until Shasti realized it was a cry, a deep wail of grief and loss. Astounded, she suddenly realized that it came from her own throat.

She crashed to the ground, sobs wracking her body. Her one conscious thought besides her grief was of someone taking her up into a hug. Deirdre had been the only one who'd ever hugged her. It still felt good. Shasti reached out and grabbed Cory, taking solace in her embrace.

***

*Great, I've finally broke through, and she's gonna crush me to death. I hate this. Why'd I hug her, anyway?* Cory knew the answer to that one, but preferred not to answer it. This was getting to be much more complicated than she thought.

She had to admit that slapping Shasti would definitely go down in her books as one of the stupidest things she'd ever done. Unfortunately, she couldn't think of a way she'd have done it differently. Shasti was beginning to go back into a comatose state, the exact state that they'd brought Cory in to avoid. And besides, it was sort of her fault for mentioning Deirdre in the first place. She had assumed that once Shasti remembered her criminal past, that she'd remember Deirdre as well. Well, it was too late now. Shasti was going to have to deal with it, that's what this was all about.

Shasti was still clinging tenaciously to Cory, though her sobbing had slowed down. She opened her eyes, and there was a haunted look to them.

"Oh god, tell me that I didn't. Please. Tell me I didn't do that. That I didn't shoot her. _Please._"

The look in her eyes was painful. Cory felt a lump in her throat, and once again cursed the people who'd made her this way, who tried to create the perfect agent and then couldn't handle the consequences. Cory wanted nothing more than to tell Shasti that it was all right, that she hadn't done it, that it was the LaCombe personality in her head. Unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to do it. Cory had read all the reports from the doctors who'd 'cured' her after her capture. LaCombe hadn't taken her over, he'd merely joined with her. The responsibility was still Shasti's, no matter how much she wanted to deny it. And accepting that would be the first step in recovery.

Of course, Cory still felt awful about it. "I'm sorry, Shasti, but I can't do that. You may not have been completely sane, but you did kill her. I'm...I'm sorry."

Shasti's face was the picture of grief. If she hadn't already sobbed her eyes out, she would have broken down again. As it was, she merely slumped down, falling to the floor. Her voice, when it came, was tinged with sorrow, but Cory was also relieved to see a bit of acceptance in there.

"She was the only friend I ever had. She never treated me as anything less than a human being. Not even when we first met. There was a time... when the 3WA tried to make me forget her. They thought she was becoming a bad influence on me." Shasti laughed bitterly. "They were right, of course. But that wasn't important. Deirdre found me, helped me regain my memories. I always loved her for that. Yes, that was it. I loved Deirdre. More than anything in the world. She was my soulmate, Cory. And I killed her. There is no way I'll ever be able to make up for that."

Cory frowned. She didn't want Shasti to deny her actions, but this was getting to be a bit much. "Look, Shasti, I know it hurts to know what happened. But you've got to let go. She'd want you to do that? Can you really see her letting you go on like this about yourself?"

Shasti smiled wanly. "She'd probably have me out in the gym, training hard. That's what we did whenever the 3WA screwed us over."

Cory got up. "Well, let's try that. Come on, we'll go work out!"

Shasti looked at Cory with a wry grin on her face. "You expect to keep up with me?"

Cory was vaguely annoyed. *Hey, not all of us were designed to be sexpots, y'know!* She kept that to herself, though, instead saying "Hey, I work out a lot. How do you think I keep this figure?"

Shasti grinned. "Very easily, I expect. A few cookies, some ice cream..."

Cory was burning mad now. "Right, that's it. _Out_. I'll show you who's out of shape. You've been getting soft, sitting in this hospital."

Shasti grinned again, and began to leave with Cory. Cory smiled, too. This was going pretty well so far. Not one hundred percent, though, as she looked at Shasti's eyes. Unlike her grinning face, her eyes told of the true extent of the pain within her. Cory had to think of something that would help Shasti to get over Deirdre's death.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), help was on the way...

***

They were walking down the hall towards the gym facilities when Shasti suddenly froze. Cory stopped to look at her, and saw that Shasti was fading out again. From her lips, there escaped a quiet whine.

*What the hell,* thought Cory, as she looked around trying to find out what had sent Shasti back into her catatonia. And then she heard it.

"...all _your_ fault, as usual!"

"_My_ fault?! And what the hell did you expect me to do? He shot my hair, goddammit!"

"Well, if you didn't wear it up like that, you wouldn't have to worry about it! Anyway, it'll grow back, which is more than I can say for that planet."

"Ex-_cuse_ me?! Who was it who put that shot into the generator? If I recall, you were going totally ballistic at the time!"

"Well, that was your fault, too! He called me flat-chested!"

"I refuse to let my big breasts take responsibility for your temper!"

"Why you -- "

This fascinating conversation was cut short as the pride of the 3WA, Kei and Yuri, the Lovely Angels, came around the corner and stopped dead.

For all of two-fifths of a second. Then they whipped out their guns and trained them on Shasti, ready to pull the trigger. They were blocked, however, by Cory throwing herself in the path of the weapons.

*This is really stupid,* Cory thought. *But it seems to be my day for doing really stupid things, so...*

"Stop!" she cried. "You don't know what's happened!"

Kei's voice was curt. "Cory, get away. We'll take care of it."

"Oh, I bet you will. If you two trigger-happy morons could listen for a second, I'd tell you what was going on!"

"We know what's going on," said Yuri, grabbing Cory's arm and trying to pull her out of the way. "You're obviously being held hostage -- "

Cory refused to budge. "If you two even _bothered_ to listen to the reports from the 3WA you'd know that Shasti was captured and cured! LaCombe isn't in her mind anymore! And I'm here to _try_ to help her get back to somewhere near her normal self, and you two aren't exactly helping!"

Yuri's face remained stony. "I do listen to 3WA reports, and there was no mention of Shasti's capture. I think she's done something to you, personally, but even if we assume this is true, does this absolve her of all the guilt? She killed hundreds of thousands of people! She killed her partner! Are you saying we should just ignore that?"

"No." The three of them were startled by Shasti suddenly coming back to herself. She looked up, and her eyes were full of tears. "They're right. There's no way I can ever make up for what I've done. There's too much blood on my hands. 3WA should have killed me while they had the chance." And with that, she tore off down the corridor, faster than either Kei or Yuri could track.

Yuri turned back to Cory, ready to yell at her again. She was taken aback by the fury in Cory's eyes.

"Thanks a whole lot. Hopefully I can stop her from doing something rash. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything better than rash decisions from you two." And with a look of disgust, she ran off after Shasti.

Kei and Yuri stared after them, lowering their guns. "What the hell was _that_ all about?" mused Kei.

Yuri smiled. "I don't know, but we're going to find out. There is no way that Shasti is getting away this time."

Kei gave Yuri a look. "Assuming Cory's not telling the truth."

Yuri just continued to smile. "Well, that's easy to find out..."

***

Shasti stumbled back into the room they'd given her, attempting to hold herself together. It wasn't easy. DeFeo had told her that her personalities weren't removed, but made a part of her. Shasti certainly believed that right now. Part of her was yelling to put herself together, another was still bawling over Deirdre's death and her part in it, still another was wondering why Kei and Yuri hadn't heard about her capture, and there was a small part that noticed that the 3WA uniforms had gotten a lot skimpier recently.

Put together in a mind that wasn't ready to deal with it, all Shasti could do was huddle in a corner and hope they'd shut up.

She heard the door slam and tensed, thinking that the Pair had followed her here. But it was only Cory. Shasti sighed in relief. Cory may not have been the best psychologist in the world, but she was the one person here that seemed to consider what Shasti was feeling. Cory was on her side, and that was something that Shasti appreciated very much.

Cory was looking at her worriedly. "Are you all right? I tried to tell them that you weren't the same, but they wouldn't listen -- "

"Why should they? The last time they saw me, I tried to kill them. In fact, the last five times they've seen me, I've tried to kill them. I think that's reason enough to hold a grudge."

Cory still grumbled. "They should have been more sympathetic."

Shasti looked at her. "No, they shouldn't have. The 3WA doesn't even know if I'm all right yet. That''s why you're here. _I_ don't even know if I'm all right yet. Until that's determined, it is much safer to keep thinking of me as a dangerous threat. Especially since they hadn't even heard that I was captured."

Cory frowned. "You noticed that too, huh? I need to have a talk with DeFeo and Daltrey and find out why they weren't informed."

"Daltrey?"

"Yeah, the number two here. Weird guy, but I think he's warming up to me." She turned towards Deirdre. "Will you be okay if I leave you here? I'll only be a bit, I just want to get this cleared up."

Shasti wasn't listening much anymore. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Don't worry." Her mind was racing however.

*Daltrey.*

*Why is that name so familiar?*

***

"All right, I want to know why Kei and Yuri were never informed about Shasti's recovery. I want to know this because they just tried to kill her, which I think is important if I'm to help Shasti recover. Having people not trying to shoot her would be number one on that list."

Cory looked at their faces. DeFeo looked apologetic, Daltrey looked stoic. *So much for Jimmy,* she thought.

"Miss Emerson, you have to understand how much of an embarrasment Shasti had become to the 3WA. The operation to capture her was done in complete secrecy, and the agents conscripted in complete confidence. Kei and Yuri were not among those informed. Their history with Shasti was a little too personal to make them objective."

"I still feel that I should have been informed of this."

"It was not sufficiently important to warrant telling you. We had no idea the Angels would be finished with their case so soon." Daltrey's eyes bored into hers, and she shivered. "You didn't have the need to know, Miss Emerson."

"I see." Cory was trying with difficulty to keep a lid on her temper, but Daltrey's two-facedness was making it difficult. "Is there anything else I 'don't need to know'?"

Daltrey allowed himself a cold smile. "If you find anything else, Miss Emerson, I'm sure you'll inform us."

Cory snarled and started to go. She was stopped at the door. "Cory, wait!"

She turned in amazement. That was Daltrey's voice. She saw that he was grinning again, that same asinine grin she had seen in the hall earlier. "Changing the subject, how is Shasti doing? We are worried about her, even though it doesn't seem like that."

Thouroughly confused by this point, Cory replied, "It's going okay. She's admitted her guilt in killing her partner, but can't seem to let go of it. It'll be a while," she paused and tried another tactic, "_Jimmy_."

Daltrey merely grinned. "That's good to hear, Cory. Take all the time you need. I'm beginning to realize why the CC chose you to help us."

Cory's eyes narrowed. This was getting really strange. "Then if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to her now." She turned to DeFeo, who hadn't batted an eye during this whole exchange. "Good day," she said, and stalked out.

As she left, she heard DeFeo's voice. "Jim, can I talk to you for a minute?"

***

Cory slipped back into Shasti's room, dazed. "I just can't get a handle on that guy. He is _weird_."

Shasti looked up. She hadn't moved since Cory left, still deep in thought. "Are you talking about Daltrey?" The name filled her with foreboding, but Shasti's memories were in such turmoil that she couldn't place him. "Why does he bother you?"

"Well, one minute he hates me, and wants me out as soon as possible, the next he's saying 'call me Jimmy' and being all buddy-buddy. I swear, the guy's schizophrenic or something.

Shasti stopped dead. Memories that had been buried burst into her mind, overwhelming her...


#Another one? What, this one isn't enough?#

#The CC wants to try another, since Shasti was such a success. Only two personalities in this one, though, so it should be easier. And male this time.#

#Male, huh? We gotta call him Jim, then#

#Why?#

#Don't you listen to old music? ~Doctor Jimmy and Mister Jim!~#

#All right. Don't be too off-the-wall, though. This one's meant for covert operations...#

#Heh. We haven't even gotten Shasti out of the tank, and the 3WA wants another one. It'll all end in tears, I know it...#

#You always say that.#

More memories, accidentally overheard....


#Cut it? Why?#

#The CC changed its mind. After Shasti's first mission, it decided not to risk having prefab agents doing covert ops. Too much could go wrong.#

#I suppose. Seems a shame to just waste him, though...#


Cory was shaking her, asking what was the matter. Shasti got up, her mind suddenly focused on this new problem. "Cory, we have to get out of here."

"What? What's the matter? You're in no shape to go anywhere at the moment?"

"True, but there's not a lot I can do about that. Daltrey is another multiple-personality construct. Your mentioning of his name reminded me. He was supposed to have been abandoned early on. The fact that he wasn't means that something is very, very wrong. I suspect we may be in a lot of danger."

Cory frowned. "Are you sure this isn't just paranoia? How can we be sure?"

Shasti grabbed Cory and dragged her out the door. "We run. If they start shooting to kill, then there's a good chance I'm correct. I do not want to stay here and test that theory, however, as I suspect my room is bugged. Therefore, we run."

Cory looked rather harried. "Y'know, I get enough of this from the Angels without you ordering me around."

Shasti flinched. When she turned to face Cory, there was a world of pain in her eyes. "Cory, please. Trust me. I would not do anything to endanger you deliberately."

And with that, she took a right turn where a right turn had no right to be, and plunged into darkness. Cory followed as best she could, plummeting and screaming like a banshee.

***

DeFeo and Daltrey were watching the monitor as Shasti and Cory disappeared. "Can we track her?" asked DeFeo.

"There's no possible way that she could have gone that way. There's nothing there but a wall." Daltrey looked uncharacteristically flustered.

"I'll take that as a 'no', then." DeFeo turned to face Daltrey. "Well, congratulations, Jim. Thanks to your inability to control yourself, we now have Shasti running around loose on the base. We should have given Cory all the information up front."

Daltrey sneered. "There was far too much there, it would have been dangerous. As it is, she can't ever leave here again.

DeFeo rose. "WHAT?"

Daltrey turned. "She's a security risk. She knows far more about Shasti than we ever planned to give the press. She's become a liability."

DeFeo was livid. "Now you listen here, Mister. You are going to find Shasti and Cory, and then we are going to finish the job that we set out to do. Then we will let her go. There will be no arguments."

"She is a security risk, Mr. DeFeo. She's a risk to the 3WA. Are you willing to endanger the organization all for the sake of one rogue agent?"

DeFeo suddenly looked very tired. "Yes. Yes, I am."

Suddenly Daltrey smiled. "Thank you, Mr. DeFeo, that's all I wanted to hear." There was a movement to the side, and when DeFeo turned, he was blown apart by a plasma rifle at close range. His body evaporated.

"A little bit of overkill there, don't you think?"

The agent holding the gun snarled. "Better safe than sorry."

Daltrey turned. She was still hidden in the shadows at the edge of the room. "You have your orders?"

The agent nodded. "Find Shasti and Emerson, and eliminate them. No other options."

"Good. Get on with it, then, she's sneaky. I've no idea how she got out of that corridor."

The other agent smiled. "Shasti was awoken with the 3WA plans in her head. She knows every nook and cranny of this building. Luckily, so do I."

"Good." Suddenly Daltrey changed expressions, and grinned broadly. "Hey, do good, kid. I'm counting on you."

"Thank you, Jimmy, but don't worry." said the other agent. She turned, letting her face come out of the shadows.

"There's no way I'm going to let that bitch get away again," said Deirdre.

End of Part 1